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Africa Geographic Travel

With over 1000 species, Uganda offers the highest concentration of birds in Africa and is the most accessible place to see the legendary shoebill.

The misty peaks and fern-loaded forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, make this one of the best places in East Africa to search for Albertine Rift endemics. Furthermore, these mountains offer one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth: the opportunity to come face to face with some of our closest relatives: mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.

The trip will start on the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, exploring the prolific birdlife of the Botanical Gardens (the setting of Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies). From here we will move to the channels of Mabamba swamps in search of the mythical shoebill.

En route to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park we will stop at Mburo National Park in the Acacia clad plains near Lake Victoria. Here we hope to summon several iconic papyrus specials, as well as the highly coveted African finfoot and white-backed night heron along with the red-faced barbet and Tabora cisticola amongst others.

The following day we reach Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where birding for the Albertine Rift endemics will be spiced with the ultimate wildlife experience Uganda has on offer – the unique chance to trek and come face to face with the primal, hulking and ever humbling mountain gorilla.

Offering 24 of the 26 Albertine Rift endemics recorded in Uganda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, spans an ecotone from Buhoma’s lowlands to Ruhiza’s highlands. At Buhoma, pitta-like short-tailed warblers and kivu ground thrushes skulk in the mossy undergrowth while African grey parrots and chimpanzees can be seen deep in the forest. At Ruhiza, the cloud-swathed Virunga volcanoes (of Diana Fossey fame) loom in the distance. Here we’ll search for the near mythical African green broadbill and Grauer’s rush warbler. It is even suggested that at least one undescribed species might even be lurking in the park!

This great forest birding experience will be complemented with awesome waterfowl birding at Kasinga Channel in the nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Further north we will reach Kibale forest, one of Africa’s best primate exploration forests, where you can meet one of your closest relatives – chimpanzees.

Before returning to to Entebbe we devote some serious effort to tracking down the elusive green-breasted pitta and several other Kibale specials.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Entebbe

Arrive in Entebbe, Uganda where you will be met by an Africa Geographic representative and transferred to the nearby Boma Hotel. Visit to the Entebbe Botanical Gardens – a place of blooms, lush vegetation and gnarled old trees native to Ugand. A beautiful introduction to the tropics, made all the more exciting by the presence of Colobus monkeys, awesome insects and great birds.

Right at the entrance in the tall trees one usually finds a pair of Verreaux’s eagle owls. Closer to the water’s edge the key birds to see are orange-tufted and red-chested sunbird, as well as orange weaver. The latter breed in the bushes on the shores of the lake along with slender-billed, northern brown–throated, yellow backed, Jackson’s golden–backed, black-headed and Vieillot’s black weavers. Along the lakes’ edge one can find long-tailed cormorant, common squacco and black-headed herons, hamerkop, African open-billed stork, grey-headed gull, various terns, giant and pied kingfishers, and swamp flycatcher. Collared pratincoles are often present and the stunning black headed gonolek and red- chested sunbird occur in the dense scrub covering the headland.

Greyish eagle owl © Sherry McKelvie
Greyish eagle owl © Sherry McKelvie

Your guide will also join you at dinner and explain the plan of action for tomorrow’s assault on Mabamba Swamp in search of shoebill.

Overnight at Entebbe (Bed & Breakfast)

Flycatcher, African Paradise FB 2 4529
African paradise flycatcher © Sherrie McKelvie

 

Day 2: Mabamba Swamps and onto Mburo

One of the most reliable places to view shoebill, the most sought after bird in Africa is found a short distance from Kampala in the Mabamba Swamps.

Mabamba Swamp is a large marshland criss-crossed by various channels that provide the perfect habitat for countless waterbirds besides shoebill. Here, other marsh species such as swamp flycatcher, winding cisticola, malachite kingfisher, black-headed weavers, yellow-billed duck, long-toed lapwing, African jacana and blue-headed coucal, banded martin, grey-rumped and Angola swallows, African pygmy goose, rufous-bellied and purple heron, blue-breasted bee-eater, black crake, African marsh harrier, fan-tailed widowbird are not hard to find, and occasionally one can also be rewarded with the rare and endangered blue swallow.

After our morning search we proceed towards Mburo National Park. We will spend most of the afternoon getting there but will be able to bird and enjoy Mburo’s superb wetlands and acacia savanna woodlands in the afternoon and following morning.

Potential and sought after species include African marsh harrier, white-backed, lappet-faced and white-headed vultures, brown snake eagle and African hawk-eagle. Mburo’s woodlands are the northern-most example of the southern savanna system and are therefore home to several species at the edge of their range.

We will look for savanna and Acacia woodland species including blue-naped mousebird, spot-flanked barbet, nubian woodpecker, northern black tit, red-headed lovebird, green-capped eremomela, Ross’ turaco and the highly sought-after red-faced barbet, known only from remote northeastern Tanzania, Rwanda, and here.

Redfaced Barbet
Red-faced barbet @ Christian Boix

We will also search for crested and coqui francolins, emerald-spotted wood dove, red-chested, jacobin, levaillant’s, klaas’s and dideric cuckoos, blue-naped and speckled mousebirds, lilac-breasted roller, striped kingfisher, green wood hoopoe, common scimitarbill, spot-flanked barbet, nubian and bearded woodpeckers, several swallows including lesser striped, red-breasted, mosque, red-rumped and white-headed saw-wing, black cuckooshrike, white-browed scrub robin, trilling cisticola, the meadowlark-like yellow-throated longclaw, chinspot batis, yellow-billed oxpecker, grey penduline tit, arrow-marked babbler, brubru, wattled starling, greater blue-eared starling, marico sunbird and red-headed weaver. Specials we will watch for include African finfoot, long-tailed cisticola and green-capped eremomela. 

Purple starling © Sherry McKelvie
Purple starling © Sherry McKelvie

Mammals we may find include foraging groups of banded and dwarf mongoose, common zebra, hippopotamus, common warthog, eland (the world’s largest antelope), defassa waterbuck, bohor reedbuck, impala, oribi, and topi. En route to Mburo and outside the park, we will come across some of the world-famous long-horned Ankole cattle.

Overnight in Mburo National Park

African Finfoot
African finfoot © Sherrie McKelvie

Day 3: Exploring Lake Mburo and depart for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Bwindi Forest is a magnificent verdant swathe across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley. This ancient rainforest – one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age – is home to roughly half of the world’s mountain gorillas. The national park has 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, of which the black-and-white colobus, with its lovely flowing white tail, is abundant. The forest birding ranks with the best in Uganda, with 23 highly localised Albertine Rift endemics present.

Birding will be weaved into the day depending on road progress and arrival time in Ruhija.

Overnight in Bwindi (Ruhija)

great-blue
Great blue turaco © Sherrie McKelvie

Day 4: Ruhija

The ranger station at Ruhija is situated at an altitude of 7,500 feet, and from our lodge nearby we will be able to enjoy the breathtaking views over Bwindi’s steep, forested valleys. If it is clear, we may even be able to see the distant Virunga Volcanoes that straddle the Uganda/Rwanda/DRC border. Ruhija is likely to be one of the highlights of any trip to Uganda with excellent birding in spectacular surroundings!

Explore these highland forest – the site with most of the Albertine endemics. The star attractions here are handsome francolin, montane nightjar, collared apalis, Ruwenzori Hill babbler, Grauer’s warbler, Shelly’s crimsonwing, dusky crimsonwing, archer’s robin-chat, regal sunbird, blue-headed sunbird, dwarf honeyguide and many others.

The trail to Mubwindi Swamp promises to reveal some of the most difficult of all rift-endemics including the mythical African green broadbill and Lagden’s bush-shrike. Mubwindi Swamp will yield Grauer’s rush warbler and Carruther’s cisticola.

Overnight in Bwindi (Ruhija)

Day 5: Ruhija to Buhoma

After a morning forest walk we head down towards Buhoma, birding en-route. Although the distance is not large, the birds we are after en-route deserve some time and patience.

A short distance down the road we reach a river crossing known colloquially as “The Neck”, and here we stand a great chance of sighting black sparrowhawk, western bronze-naped pigeon, cinnamon-chested bee-eater, Cassin’s honeybird, Petit’s cuckooshrike, white-chinned prinia, mountain wagtail, pink-footed puffback, the rare tiny sunbird, and the brown-capped weaver.

Cultivated areas along the road provide seeding grasses for several seedeaters, our main being the highly sought-after dusky twinspot and yellow-bellied and Kandt’s waxbills. African stonechat, streaky and thick-billed seedeaters, African citril and yellow-crowned canary, along with Chubb’s cisticola will mock us from the bracken, and hopefully the stunning Doherty’s bushshrike will make a stellar appearance to please the crowds. Mackinnon’s shrikes adorn the roadsides from high, exposed perches.

In the afternoon we shall bird Buhoma’s farm bush which can yield red-throated wryneck, copper and variable sunbirds, baglafecht, black-necked and African golden weavers, yellow bishop, village indigobird and black-throated canary.

Overnight in Bwindi (Buhoma)

Day 6: Gorilla trekking and birding Buhoma

After breakfast, take a short drive to park headquarters and meet with excellent local guides and trackers who will give a talk on the etiquette of gorilla trekking. We then hike into the forest where the gorillas were seen the night before and start tracking from that point. The trekking can take between 1 and 6 hours and you climb to altitudes in excess of 7,500 feet. The terrain is rough and at times muddy. Although the hike is physically demanding, the beauty of the forest and surrounding scenery make the trekking worthwhile. Once the gorillas are located all fatigue is forgotten, as the experience is often described as being the most profound natural history experience in the world. Picnic lunches are provided and it is important to take plenty of water. It can rain hence waterproof clothing is a good essential, as are zip lock bags for cameras and film.

Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is surely the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter that Africa has to offer.

Overnight in Bwindi (Buhoma)

Forest FB 9880

Day 7: Buhoma (Bwindi Impenetrable  National Park)

Today we will bird some of the forest trails leading out from the lodge. Species we will search for include olive long-tailed cuckoo, bar-tailed trogon, dusky tit, abyssinian ground thrush, white-bellied robin-chat, equatorial akalat, white-tailed rufous thrush, red-throated alethe, white-bellied crested flycatcher, white-eyed slaty flycatcher, Bocage’s bushshrike, northern double-collared sunbird, black-billed weaver and Magpie mannikin.

High exposed perches in the open forest are favored by African goshawk, the dazzling black bee-eater, blue-throated roller, sooty flycatcher and forest starlings including Waller’s, Stuhlmann’s and narrow-tailed. One of Bwindi’s star avian attractions is the diminutive, pitta-like Neumann’s warbler, a vocal yet very secretive bird!

Other under-storey birds we hope to see include displaying African broadbill, banded prinia and the handsome black-faced rufous warbler. The mid-storey and canopy supports Elliot’s and Tullberg’s woodpeckers, Cabanis’s, Kakamega and Ansorge’s greenbuls, the enigmatic Chapin’s flycatcher, strange Grauer’s warbler and white-browed crombec. The rare Jameson’s antpecker may also been seen probing under moss on dead branches or gleaning warbler-like in the canopy, while scarce swifts forage over the forest.

Other wildlife that we may be fortunate enough to find here include the huge yellow-backed duiker, guereza colobus, L’Hoest’s, blue and red-tailed monkeys, chimpanzee and several species of squirrels including fire-footed rope, Carruther’s mountain, Ruwenzori Sun and red-legged sun squirrels.

Overnight in Bwindi (Buhoma)

Day 8: Bwindi to Queen Elizabeth National Park

Leave Bwindi and head for Queen Elizabeth National Park, driving through a scenic area known as ‘Little Switzerland’, and descending into The Great African Rift Valley and Queen Elizabeth National Park, more specifically the Ishasha sector, famous for its tree climbing lions. Search the Albert Nile flats in search of shoebill and other waterfowl.

Queen Elizabeth National Park offers a myriad of habitats, from open savanna to rainforest, dense papyrus swamps and crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward, boasting one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game reserve in the world.

Almost 100 mammal species and a remarkable 606 bird species makes this superb safari territory, with elephant, a profusion of hippo, the elusive giant forest hog and handsome Uganda kob all regularly sighted around the tourist village on the Mweya Peninsula, which also boasts a marvelous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains.

Grey crowned crane
Grey crowned crane @ Sherrie McKelvie

Along the roads and tracks next to Kasenyi we may see Rüppell’s vulture, bateleur (one of Africa’s most spectacular raptors), brown snake eagle, peregrine falcon, grey kestrel, rednecked spurfowl, harlequin quail, kurrichane and the rarely encountered black-rumped buttonquails, African crake, pied avocet, temminck’s courser, senegal and crowned lapwings, the marsh dwelling black coucal, blue-breasted bee-eater, greater honeyguide, flappet, rufous-naped, red-capped and the scarce white-tailed larks, plain-backed pipit, fan-tailed grassbird, croaking, red-faced, and stout cisticolas, marsh tchagra, blacklored babbler, southern red bishop, flocks of red-billed quelea, red-billed firefinch and black-chinned quailfinch.

Overnight at Queen Elizabeth National Park

Day 9: Queen Elizabeth National Park to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

After breakfast we will take a game watching and birding cruise along the prolific Kazinga Channel. In the afternoon we will make tracks towards Fort Portal and then north along the eastern length of the Rwenzori Mountains, where you can sometimes see some of its glaciated peaks.

On arrival at Kibale we will check-in to our lodge and proceed to Bigodi swamp which is a good site to see white-winged warbler, papyrus gonolek and, with luck, a papyrus canary.

Papyrus Gonolek
Papyrus gonolek © Sherrie McKelvie

Days 10: Kibale Forest

Kibale National Park will be today’s birding destination. The towering Kibale Forest has the highest primate concentration and species diversity of any reserve in East Africa. Primate highlights might include sightings of central African red colobus, handsome L’Hoest’s monkey and the scruffy grey-cheeked mangabey. We will embark on a chimpanzee trek in Kibale where our chances of finding our closest living relatives are excellent.

The birds at Kibale are typical of medium-altitude forest, with excellent mixed species flocks and specials such as Afep and the globally-threatened white-naped pigeons, red-chested owlet, Narina trogon, white-headed wood hoopoe, dusky-blue flycatcher, shrike-flycatcher, superb and green-headed sunbirds, chestnut wattle-eye and black-and-white mannikin.

It is also here that we stand a chance of finding the gorgeous green-breasted pitta, though we will require a good dose of luck and perseverance to find this delightful beauty!

All meals and overnight in Kibale Forest

Black and white casqued hornbill © Sherry McKelvie
Black and white casqued hornbill © Sherry McKelvie

Day 11: Kibale Forest back to Entebbe

After a full morning birding for any species that may have played hard to get, we will slowly return to Entebbe.

Day 12: Departure

A transfer to Entebbe International Airport, Uganda, for everyone’s departing flights has been arranged.

End of services

The Guide

Joseph Mutebi grew up in Mukono, he was born into a large family of eleven children and is the last born. He studied in Mukono for high school and then went onto do a diploma course in Tourism & Conservation.

Joseph started his guiding career working with one of his brothers in the safari industry but decided to branch out and joined Wild Frontiers in 2009 as a safari guide specialising in birdwatching clients and tours, thus making good use of his qualifications and experience in the field.   Joseph has furthered his training and acquired a walking safari certificate (dangerous game on foot) by Bushveld South Africa which was conducted in Tanzania, two 4×4 ( high range and self recovery) and a his Second Level certificate in professional guiding from the Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA) in 2012. Joseph’s language ability includes English, Swahili and a little bit of Spanish which makes him a well rounded, charismatic and popular choice of guide on our safaris.

Joseph Mutebi

Joseph is a superb guide in every way. When my son took a honeymoon trip to Uganda we specifically requested Joseph. He is attentive, personable and sensitive to his clients specific interests.    With 50 years spent working in Africa I have never  come across a guide better at spotting game or with a more encyclopedic knowledge of birds. His ability to identify birds by sight or call is truly astounding, making him one of the top birders in Africa. I would recommend him to anyone visiting Uganda: Richard Wrangham: Director Kibale Chimpanzee Project, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University.

 

Testimonials and Reports

June 2016 Uganda birding trip – Mr. and Mrs. Lund

 

Additional Information

Climate: Being located on the equator, Uganda is warm throughout the year. Variations do occur but they are negligible, only altitude has a real effect. The months of June – July are characterised as the cooler months, but even then temperatures will rarely drop below 20ºC at night. The probability of rain is low as the rainy season has already come and gone, and the next one is only in September. Even if it did rain earlier than expected, the most common forms of precipitation would be afternoon sporadic thunderstorms or light rain.

Difficulty: Walking the trails is easy throughout the trip. The exception is Ruhija in Bwindi which is slightly demanding as the hike to get to Mubwindi Swamp is a steep trail down, and slow climb up, and if it rains, it can be rather slippery. However this trail is vitally worth it and holds some of the best birds that Bwindi has on offer. In general a small degree of fitness is required.

The terrain during the gorilla tracking can never be predicted and can indeed be very steep, however walking sticks and an expert team of trackers and porters will be along to assist, wait and make sure the experience is a pleasant one.

Accommodation: This tour has been designed with a tried and tested, very affordable, and great value for money set of accommodations that understand birders needs and idiosyncrasies and will allow this trip the best flexibility, location and logistics required to be most successful.

Price includes: All accommodation, meals, mineral water during transfers, access to all parks and reserve, transportation in a 4×4 vehicle or minivan with pop-up roof, boat cruises mentioned in the itinerary, fuel, driver and guide fees.  24/7 office support.

Price excludes: International flights, visas, items of personal nature, telephone calls, laundry, alcoholic drinks, travel and medical insurance, tips, excess baggage charges, any activities not specified in the itinerary.

Gorilla and chimpanzee permits: Gorilla and chimp trekking are excluded from the price, given that it is an optional activity, and one that requires a certain degree of fitness due to the uncertainty of the terrain that will need to be covered in order to reach the assigned troops. Chimp tracking is not strenuous and across fairly flat terrain. At present the cost of a 2016 Gorilla permit is US$600 and chimp tracking permits cost US$150. Those participants not tracking these apes may bird with the guide elsewhere in the area.

Booking and payment details: Once you have decided to join this safari, you will need to contact us for a booking form, which will include details relating to deposit and final payments etc. As our groups are small they fill up quickly.

Further Resources

For more information about Birding in Uganda, see this post about the Top 10 Ugandan Birds on the Africa Geographic Blog.

Do not miss our recent book review on the latest Birds of Uganda publication

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