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A feast for birdwatchers

Tuesday, 13 June 2023

Few countries in Africa offer birding opportunities quite as magical as the feast served up by Uganda. A birding safari to Uganda provides the chance to rack up fantastic sightings, with more than 1,065 bird species recorded in the country. Uganda’s varied habitats cover high and low altitude ranges, from afro-montane rain forests and wooded landscapes to grassland savannahs, marshes, papyrus swamps, fallow agricultural lands, lakes and arid areas. And the result is an astronomical diversity of birds to see.

When birding and wildlife photographer Col Roberts challenged teamAG’s resident birding pro, Christian Boix, to weave together a month-long birding safari covering the majority of the country’s habitats, AG’s safari experts were thrilled to oblige.

“To make things more interesting, I specified that I was mainly interested in seedeaters – waxbills, weavers, whydahs and parrots,” says Col. “But, how could I refuse other beauties such as turacos, barbets, papyrus gonoleks and the prehistoric-looking shoebill? I also specified I had a limited budget and was happy to stay in mid-to-budget-range accommodation.”

With that, teamAG got to work, and Col was soon off on a birding odyssey across the country, with Lake Victoria (and Mabamba Swamp), Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, Kidepo Valley National Park, Masindi, Kibale Forest National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Mabira Forest Reserve, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Lake Mburo National Park lined up on his itinerary.

Enjoy a few of the highlights Col experienced on his trip below. Or to find the ideal African birding safari for you, click here.

Cover image: Great blue turaco in Kibale Forest National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

As home to many endemic and rare bird species, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the soul of Uganda birding. About 350 species, including 24 Albertine Rift endemics, can be found within Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

(Clockwise from top) The lush surrounds of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; on spotting a dusky twinspot, Col says, “I was advised that the chance of seeing one was low, but our guide Saul picked up their call in a cultivated area near Bwindi’s Ruhija section”; a dusky crimsonwing was high on Col’s list of target species; spotting a Kandt’s waxbill in Bwindi was also a highlight of Col’s Uganda birding trip

 

Mabira Forest Reserve

Mabira Forest Reserve is the largest natural forest in the central part of Uganda, and hosts about 315 bird species. While conditions for photography can be tricky (as with all forest birding), a trip to the forest guarantees excellent sightings.

(Clockwise from top) The dense thickets of Mabira Forest Reserve; black-and-white mannikins perched on sugar cane, photographed during some farmland birding; a grey-headed nigrita photographed in the forest
Africa Geographic Travel

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is the largest wildlife reserve in Uganda, hosting more than 242 bird species, including savannah birds, migratory birds and endemics.

Uganda birding
(Clockwise from top) “I was fascinated by how the white-crested helmetshrikes searched for food together and flitted about from tree to tree in a group,” says Col; a red-and-yellow barbet spotted while driving between Pian Upe and Kidepo Valley; a red-cheeked cordon-bleu photographed just outside Col’s accommodation at Pian Upe Wildlife Authority bandas

Kidepo Valley National Park

The remote Kidepo Valley National Park stretches across the Karamoja region of northeast Uganda and is home to over 450 species of birds. Vast tracts of savannah are dotted with hills and rock clusters, traversed by the forest-flanked Lorupei River.

(Clockwise from top) White-crested turaco photographed en route between Pian Upe and Kidepo Valley; a sighting of a purple grenadier within Kidepo Valley National Park, not far from the South Sudanese border; a black-bellied firefinch – a reasonably common sight in Kidepo Valley; Kidepo Valley is also a prolific wildlife-viewing destination, with elephant sightings common in the park

Lake Victoria (and Mabamba Swamp)

Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater body in Africa and is home to about 260 bird species. From Entebbe and Lake Victoria, travellers can easily access Mabamba Swamp and its papyrus-lined marshes – for excellent sightings of shoebills.

Col spotted several shoebills while visiting Mabamba Swamp (Lake Victoria); seeing grey parrots in the lush grounds at Karibu Guest House in Entebbe was a highlight of the trip
Africa Geographic Travel

Kibale National Park

Six Albertine Rift endemics occur in Kibale Forest, and about 375 bird species can be seen across the area’s wetlands, tropical forests, woodlands and savannah.

Col photographed a papyrus gonolek outside Kibale National Park en route to Ntungamo; a sighting of a male red-headed bluebill (left) and female red-headed bluebill (right) in Kibale Forest

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Over 600 bird species have been recorded in Queen Elizabeth National Park across various habitats – from savannah to dense forest, lakes and wetlands. Col visited the south of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

(Clockwise from top) A white-winged widowbird photographed by Col in Queen Elizabeth National Park; Queen Elizabeth National Park also features lush rainforest habitat; and a fan-tailed widowbird also seen in the park

Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park offers epic birding at its lake swamps, Warukiri and Rwonyo.  Other habitats include dry hillsides, rocky outcrops and dense savannah. A total of 320 bird species occur here, including papyrus gonolek and shoebills.

(Clockwise from top) The lakes and swamps of Lake Mburo National Park offer excellent waterbird sightings; Col regularly spotted Ross’s turacos while in Lake Mburo NP; Uganda and Lake Mburo, in particular, provided plenty of opportunities for spotting grey-crowned cranes; green-winged pytilias were spotted often amongst cultivated fields and acacia woodlands; a black-crowned waxbill was also high on Col’s list of target species. “They were challenging to photograph amidst the acacias, but persistence paid off,” says Col

Follow Col Roberts at @colrobertsphotography on Instagram and Facebook. His works have been published in the books Finches of Australia and Gouldian – the World’s Most Beautiful Finch.

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