This Uganda Birding safari was tailor-made with particular target species. The birdwatching tour covered most of Uganda’s prime birding destinations with much focus on the Albertine Rift region in western Uganda, home to some of the country’s storied birding hotspots.
The Albertine Rift in Western Uganda includes top birding National Parks, full of forest birds you would only find in the far west of the African continent, such as Maxwell’s Black Weaver, the Handsome Spurfowl, and many more ultra-rare endemics birds in Uganda.
The Albertine Rift in Uganda also has its own (23) endemic bird species, of which we saw 20. As the summary of the Uganda birding trip report in three weeks, we followed a birding circuit, that encompasses, forests, mountains, swamps, savannah, and lakes. We managed to see 519 species which was remarkable given that most of the common bird species were not given much attention. A new record during our 30+ years of birding. This was truly a wonderful and unforgettable birding and wildlife adventure!
We are Mwangi wa Gitau (ConQuest Adventures Ltd), Proscovia (Prossy) Nanyombi (probably the best female birder in Uganda), and three clients: Ian de la Rosa, Leonie Venroij, and Rick Jacobsen. We, Leonie and Rick, knew Mwangi from previous birding trips in 2015 – 2017 in Kenya and we consider him tremendously knowledgeable about all the birds in the region. Mwangi invited Prossy to join us, thus adding even more specific knowledge and experience to the trip.
We had chosen to minimize savanna birding in favor of the harder-to-get forest species. All of us had seen significant numbers of savanna bird species anyway. Those three weeks of Uganda birding were hard work; several species we would only see for a few seconds, such as the GRANT’S BLUEBILL. Others, which we expected to be near impossible (unless you do birding in Gabon or Cameroon, for example), were rather easy to find and in good numbers, such as the FOREST FLYCATCHER. Uganda as a country is beautiful with a splendidly distinctive range of habitats making it one of the best destinations for birding in East Africa. The country is often described as the “Pearl of Africa” No other place in Africa can match the incredible birds, and luxuriant montane forests, with a high degree of endemism.
We chose to visit the Albertine Rift in Uganda in the month of March. We were well aware of the risk of an early rainy season …and that rain did come early. But only once did the rain stop us from birding, and only for an hour or so. We noticed that the eBird stats for the Uganda Albertine Rift in March didn’t have many submitted bird checklists: many records of observations of bird species seem to suddenly stop by the end of February. Apparently, that didn’t stop us from seeing 519 species in top birding hotspots in Uganda! It seemed more that there were hardly any birders after February to submit eBird lists. Birds were simply underreported. We hope we contributed to improved stats in eBird for the Uganda Albertine Rift in March with our birding trip.
MARCH 3RD: MABAMBA SWAMP
We started the Uganda birding tour with a visit to the glorious Mabamba Swamp to search for the elusive Shoebill, despite the day being very wet, it had rained the whole night, and for the better part of the morning, our boatman masterfully moved the small canoe along the channel where we managed to see and photograph three individuals. The Shoebill is one of the most sought-after avians in any birdwatching safari in East Africa. The Shoebill is high on any birder’s list and our clients wanted to see this charismatic bird. This almost prehistoric bird is a bird that many people dream of seeing and ranks up there with being one of the most coveted birds to see on an East Africa birding tour. Birding in Mabamba is done by wooden canoes which are owned by communities living adjacent to the swamp who act as guides and custodians of the extensive wetland.
Our first momentous target for the tour was achieved, and the magnificent sighting of the Shoebill set the tone for the rest of the birding trip.
Other special birds seen in the wetlands include the African Marsh Harrier, Blue-headed Coucal, Great Blue Turaco, African Swamphen, Gray Crowned Crane, African Jacana, Black Sparrowhawk, White-winged Tern, and Eastern Plantain-eater.
MARCH 4TH: TRANSFER TO LAKE MBURO NATIONAL PARK
We departed for Lake Mburo National Park ( a top birding hotspot in Uganda) in the morning, arriving in time for lunch, afternoon we had a birdwatching session around the lodge, where we managed to see interesting bird species such as the Southern Red Bishop, Trilling Cisticola calling in top of bushes, Senegal Lapwing, Green-winged Pytilia, Black-headed Gonolek, Crested Francolin, Pygmy Kingfisher, Broad-biller Roller, Lesser Masked-Weaver, Fiery-necked & Freckled Nightjars, Angola Swallow, Buff-bellied Warbler, Black-lored Babbler, African Thrush, Black Bishop, and Plain-backed Pipit. We stayed at Rwakobo Lodge on the top of a big rock with a beautiful view of the savanna landscape.
MARCH 5TH: LAKE MBURO NATIONAL PARK
After the early morning sumptuous breakfast, we drove to the park, to search for the area specialties’, we got a pleasant welcome from an obliging African Crake along the driveway plus many exciting bird species such as the Crested Barbet, and White-winged Black Tit, Red-necked Spurfowl, Greater Painted Snipe, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Blue-naped Mousebird, Yellow-throated Tinkerd, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Sooty Chat, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting On our way back to the lodge for lunch we managed to see two special barbets, Black-collared and Red-faced at the main entrance, later in the afternoon we drove to Nyaturega River Mouth for a two-hour boat ride; two specialties’ African Finfoot and White-backed Heron plus; Water Thick-knee, Striated Heron, Gray-capped Warbler, Black-necked Weaver, and Yellow-throated Greenbul were spotted
MARCH 6TH: LAKE MBURO- MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK
We had our breakfast early morning and departed for Mgahinga National Park, The drive from the lodge to the highway had interesting birds which of course had seen previously but we had a surprise a young leopard that caught everyone unawares, with a shout of excitement, “a Jaguar” from Rick, before telling him we have no Jaguars in Africa. We proceeded with the birding tour with a stopover at the Equator crossing for a bathroom visit and a bit of shopping, Later we continued with our tour past beautiful sceneries along the way. We had our picnic lunch at Echuya Forest-The forest lies at the heart of the biodiversity-rich Albertine Rift region, we went birding along the road on different stretches where we were greeted by a whole new symphony of forest sounds, we were amply compensated by numerous Albertine Rift endemics such as the Regal Sunbird, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Strange Weaver, and Red-faced Woodland Warbler, additionally the following birds were also seen: White-necked Raven, Northern Puffback, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Green White-eye, and Gray-throated Tit-Flycatcher. Later we drove downhill to Kisoro to our accommodation in Mucha Lodge– an ideal birding spot too; an hour of birding in the lodge’s vicinity was quite rewarding with species such as the Black Crake, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Green-headed Sunbird, Slender-billed Weaver, Kandt’s Waxbill, and African Openbill.
MARCH 7TH: MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK
Spent the better part of the day birding in Mgahinga National Park, birdwatching which involved walking uphill on a nature trail accompanied by security guards due to the dangerous wild animals along the trail. We got wonderful birding the mountain forest has to offer, famous for foothill birdwatching and some unique Albertine rift endemic species
Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori Turaco, Stuhlmann’s Sunbird, and Western Tinkerbird were seen, the checklist had also the Dwarf Honeyguide, Black-faced Apalis, Albertine Boubou, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Blue-headed Sunbird, and Kandt’s Waxbill. On our way down we had a nasty encounter with a lone Cape Buffalo which sent everyone scampering for safety, luckily no one was injured in the melee
MARCH 8TH: MGAHINGA – BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST (RUHIJA)
Birding activities began early after breakfast we had a stopover at Kagano Wetland, a small swamp along Kisoro- Kabale Road. Forty-nine minutes walk yielded around 40 bird species, among them; Western Citril, Red-chested Sunbird, Blue-billed Teal, Red-knobbed Coot, Chubb’s Cisticola, Mosque Swallow, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Gray-headed Nigrita, Little Weaver, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, and Slender-billed Weaver. In the afternoon we explored birding trails in Ruhija. The bird checklist had species such as the Common Buzzard, Rock Martin, Dwarf Honeyguide, Black-tailed Oriole, White-browed Crombec, Black-throated Apalis, Thick-billed Seed-eater, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Levaillant’s Cuckoo.
MARCH 9TH: BWINDI IMPENETRABLE- RUHIJA
We had breakfast early and started birding in Ruhija, following the trail to Mubwindi Swamp, enthralling bird species encountered along this trail included, Afep Pigeon, Mackinnon Shrike, Dusky Tit, Stripe-breasted Tit, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Chestnut-winged Starling, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Red-headed Malimbe, Handsome Spurfowl, Grauer’s Broadbill- the most sought after bird in this trail, Lagden’s Bushshrike, Rwenzori Apalis, and Dusky Crimsonwing.
Besides the many birds, we can see that this part of the forest is home to both Gorillas and Elephants. There were many fresh footprints and droppings along the path. The forest is quite open with dense lower vegetation, probably influenced by the “grazing” of the elephants. We also saw one forest elephant. Ruwenzori Sun Squirrel was well seen
MARCH 10TH: TRANSFER TO BUHOMA
On this day we drove towards the Buhoma sector, places renowned for the best and most productive birding in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, birdwatching along the way with the “Neck” being one the fruitful, first stops along the River we saw the Cassin’s Flycatcher, Narrow-tailed Starling, Buff-throated Apalis, Red-tailed Greenbul, further ahead we had excellent views of the Black Bee-eater. So many forest birding situations present the same extremes: in the space of half an hour this one birdless spot had become a busy avian hub as a roaming foraging flock passed through. Thrilled we drove on to our accommodation destination in Buhoma
MARCH 11TH: BUHOMA NATURE TRAIL (BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST)
After another splendid breakfast, we headed out along the now-familiar nature trail accompanied by Nicholas Majani a very experienced local community guide. There was plenty of early morning activity; the gigantic trees near the entrance attracted a lot of birds. This forest merges birds of the low and highland elevations. A good day yields a great number of Guinea-Congo forest and Albertine rift montane ranges specialties’. Notable bird species; Tambourine Dove, African Green Pigeon, Bar-tailed Trogon, Gray-throated Barbet, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, White-breasted Nigrita, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Shelly’s Greenbul, Ansorge’s Greenbul, Purple-headed Starling, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, White-bellied and Gray-winged Robin Chats, Little Green Sunbird, Green-headed Sunbird, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Green-backed Twinspot, and Neumann’s Warbler-(This petite bird likes dense and dark entangles, remains low to the ground in bushy vegetation, and is generally an agony to see one)
MARCH 12TH: TRANSFER TO QUEEN’S ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
We were up good and early for breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and departed to Queen’s Elizabeth National Park, with a birding stop-over along the way, the first section awarded us with African Woolly-necked Stork, Palm-nut Vulture, Eurasian Kestrel, Black-throated Canary, Magpie Mannikins, Olive-bellied Sunbird, and Long-crested Eagle. We drove farther along the road towards the entrance of the park in Ishasha which provided a spectacular view across the recently burnt plains and distant mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Birds we busy feeding and singing along the road. In Maramagambo Forest we managed to see the flock of Western Crested Guineafowl.
MARCH 13TH: QUEEN’S ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
We rose early for breakfast allowing us to make it into the park shortly after dawn, the better part of the morning we spent in the park searching for the savannah species, the plains were productive with sightings of Black-chinned Quail-Finch, Caspian Plover, Temminck’s Courser, African Gray Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, Flappet Lark, White-tailed Larks, and huge herds of Ugandan Kob, Savannah Elephants in groups were also seen, sadly a young calf had a snare on its leg, which was hindering its walking.
Later in the mid-noon, we drove to Kazinga Channel for a boat ride to search for our target species- the African Skimmer. We also saw other bird species of concern the Pied Kingfishers which were breeding along the banks in their hundreds, Kittlizt’s Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Great White Pelican, Goliath Heron, Eurasian Marsh Harrier. Mammals were plentiful on the cruise with the herds of African Elephants, huge numbers of African Buffalo and Hippopotamus, and others such as Ugandan Kob, Nile Crocodiles, and Waterbuck all showing well for us.
MARCH 14TH: TRANSFER TO KIBALE FOREST
After another delicious breakfast, we left for Kibale Forest, the weather showed no signs of improving; the sky was overcast with a little drizzle, but that didn’t stop us from seeing some beautiful birds. We stopped along the main road inside the Kibale forest, obscured by the low gloomy clouds; Velvet-mantled Drongo, Sooty Flycatcher, Little Greenbul, and Red-capped Robin-Chat were the highlights.
We walked up the road a few hundred meters and were stopped by calls of Green Hylia, Green Crombec, and Olive-bellied Sunbird. Later we proceeded to our accommodation in Bigodi. After lunch we went for a walk in Bigodi Swamp, We spent the first little while checking the shy and skulking White-spotted Flufftail, yaffling incessantly in the dense thicket at the start of the trail, after a few calls back it showed up for a second and then disappeared. We had a couple of targets in the Bigodi swamp, The rain was threatening and it pounded heavily for more than 20 minutes, Despite the downpour we managed to see and record; 15 Great Blue Turacos, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Shining Blue Kingfisher, and many other bird species
MARCH 15TH: TRANSFER TO SEMLIKI NATIONAL PARK
Up early breakfast did a walk within the lodge’s compound to look for missed species from the previous session. We were greeted by sweetly singing Brown Illadopsis, Western Nicator, White-chinned Prinia, and the White-tailed Ant Thrush gave us excellent views on our way out. The Lowland Mask Apalis appeared in a flush and then disappeared in the high canopy we could hear the call but didn’t oblige to show itself
Later drove to Semliki National Park via Fort Portal where we had a birding stop at a small wetland near the town which had interesting birds such as Northern Masked Weaver, and spectacularly colored Black-crowned Waxbill. A relaxed evening of birding around the Bandas in Semliki National Park produced a few new birds for our trip such as the Bronzed naped Pigeon, African Pied Hornbill, Honeyguide Greenbul, White-breasted Nigrita
MARCH 16TH: SEMLIKI NATIONAL PARK
On this day we started our activity early after breakfast, accompanied by Alex – a ranger/naturalist who is knowledgeable about the fauna and flora of Semliki, the forest is the only connection to Ituri forest from the Democratic Republic of Congo with over thirty-five restricted-range specialties’ to be found in East Africa.
The Red Monkey and Hot Springs Trails were quite rewarding and exceptional. The trail is flanked by tall mature indigenous trees and we were quick to see birds associated with more undisturbed areas. Some of the special birds we had great views of were the Piping Hornbill, African Green Pigeon, Rameron Pigeon, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Toro-olive Greenbul, Xavier’s Greenbul, Fire-crested Alethe, Orange-breasted Forest Robin which was well heard. It was an outstanding experience for these avian oddities, the trail is a fantastic birding spot
Next, our birding adventure headed to the Kirumya Trail– which passes through the forest toward the Semliki River. We hit some great pockets of birds, at one particular spot in quick succession, we were presented with the unusual African Piculet, Crested Malimbe, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Blue-throated Roller, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, and Lesser Bristlebill.
MARCH 17TH: SEMLIKI NATIONAL PARK
The day started nicely with an early sumptuous breakfast well prepared by Brian, later we embarked on birding in Semliki forest nature trails. The trails were a little quieter than in the morning but somehow we managed to find target birds; an extremely confiding Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Barbet, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Forest Scrub Robin, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, and the shy White-crested Hornbill
MARCH 18TH: Transfer- Masindi
On another travel day, the long drive was broken only by the occasional stop for roadside raptors mostly Lizard Buzzard perching on electricity poles, Wahlberg’s Eagles circling low overhead, and stops on the many swamps to try our target bird – Papyrus Gonolek
MARCH 19TH: BIRDING IN BUDONGO FOREST
Our birding session started well, the weather looked good so we ambled slowly through the trails, our first sighting was a feeding flock near the entrance to the forest in a big fruiting fig tree, White-thighed and Black-and- White Casqued Hornbills, Violet-backed and Purple-headed Starlings, were all foraging on the fruits. It was a very productive day in Budongo Forest. Most of the target species presented themselves quite well; we were treated to great looks of; the African Forest Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Western Black-headed Oriole, Golden-crowned Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, Cassin’s Spinetail, Grey, and Yellow Longbills
MARCH 20TH: TRANSFER TO MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
All day was spent driving through the vast Park which has landscapes similar to National parks in Australia, along the forested section the Blue-breasted Kingfisher was heard calling up in the canopy. The trees were quite tall locating its exact spot was a hard task. We decided to continue with the birding tour after all attempts bore no fruits. A lot of Common Buzzards were counted along the road.
MARCH 21ST: MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
Early morning drive to the park, the birding was combined with wildlife viewing, birdwatching was restricted to the vehicle with few designated areas where alighting from the car was allowed, nevertheless it was very birdy throughout the day, we saw many many more great and amazing birds. Besides the incredible birding, we had a fantastic large collection of mammals recorded in Murchison Falls National Park which consisted of; Lions, herds of Elephants, Giraffes, Cape Buffaloes, Patas Monkey, Common Warthog, Olive Baboon, Oribis, Ugandan Kobs, and Jackson’s Hartebeests
MARCH 22ND: MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
For our last bit of birding on the tour, we left our lodge early in the morning and drove back to where we were the previous day to search for missed species, For the rest of the afternoon we went to search for the Rock Pratincole in Murchison’s Waterfall which we successfully saw and photography. The Murchison Falls are spectacular and are formed at a point where the famous River Nile bursts through a narrow 8-meter and dives with an earsplitting blast that creates a rainbow, a truly magnificent sight.
MARCH 23RD: TRANSFER TO ENTEBBE
Our Uganda birding adventure came to an end, with a plethora of fabulous birds and other wildlife in our memories and our photographs. We ended up seeing a very large number of birds for 3 weeks. The majority of birds we saw on the trip presented high-quality views allowing plenty of photographic opportunities.