Trip Report: Uganda tour in February
A trip with Birding Africa guided by
This was a 12 day tour from 1 to
12 February 2006.
This 12-day, best-value trip was designed to take in the finest
of southern Uganda: Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp and the endemic-filled
Albertine Rift, best accessed at Bwindi Impenetrable National
Park. We visited also Kibale and Queen Elizabeth National
Parks, which boosted out total trip list to over 400 species.
Highlights from this trip included African Grey Parrot,
Shoebill, Red-chested Owlet, Papyrus Gonolek, Bar-tailed Trogon,
Neumann’s Short-tailed Warbler, Regal Sunbird, Grauer’s
Rush Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Handsome Francolin…
and, of course, some of our closest relatives, Chimpanzee
and Mountain Gorilla.
Total number of species recorded: over 400 species.
Detailed trip report
Day 1: Arrival in Entebbe
In the late afternoon, a group of excited birders gathered in Entebbe.
With just an hour of light to spare, everyone was keen for their
Ugandan birding introduction, and Entebbe did not disappoint. We
quickly racked up 40 species. Top contenders for bird of the day
included the colossal Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill, a sleek
Grey Kestrel and sharp Black-headed Gonolek, but first prise went
to a noisy African Grey Parrot that peered down at us from its canopy
perch. Also worthy of mention were Broad-billed Roller, Pink-backed
Pelican, Slender-billed Weaver, Grey Woodpecker, Angola Swallow,
Winding Cisticola, Black-and-white Shrike Flycatcher and Splendid
and Rueppell’s Long-tailed Starlings. As the sun set over
Lake Victoria we ambled back to our hotel.
Day 2: Mabamba Swamp to Fort Portal
With the aim of having Uganda’s most iconic bird under our
belt by midday, we wasted no time in heading for Mabamba Swamp.
While we waited for our canoes to be organised, we watched colourful
Blue-breasted Bee-eaters and Red-chested Sunbirds, and less flashy
Moustached Grass-Warbler and Swamp Flycatcher. Finally we were ready
to leave, and we forced our way down a shallow, choked channel towards
the main swamp. African and Eurasian Marsh Harriers quartered nearby,
allowing for good comparisons. Blue-headed Coucal sat heavily upon
papyrus heads, catching the first rays of sun, occasionally joined
by the semi-automatic rifle cries of Carruther’s Cisticola.
Other inhabitants of the shore-side vegetation were several weaver
species, including Northern Brown-throated, Black-headed/Yellow-backed,
Slender-billed, and the biggest surprise of the morning, Weyns’s.
The latter species was breeding in some of the swamps – rather
unexpected, since no nest of the species has ever been found! But
the main quarry was nowhere to be found. We distracted ourselves
with Long-toed Lapwing, Common Snipe and Fulvous Whistling Duck,
but our hopes were slowly fading as we turned back and started nearing
the exit channel. Then, suddenly we were upon it, a large, grey
mass amidst the tall grass. Shoebill! It paused for about 30 seconds,
before deciding it had seen enough and slowly heaved its bulky body
into the thermals, leisurely winding its way upwards.
With the day rescued, we happily headed for Kampala, and onwards
to Fort Portal. With a longish drive ahead we only made occasional
stops for conspicuous roadside birds - Double-toothed Barbet, Bare-faced
Go-away-bird and, in the late afternoon, Great Blue Turaco. While
observing these spectacular birds, we notched up several other species,
including Grey-throated, Yellow-spotted and Hairy-breasted Barbets
and Narrow-tailed Starling.
Day 3: Kibale National Park
Kibale is perhaps most famous for its impressive primate densities
and diversity. However, even the most dedicated birder will be impressed
by the quality and diversity of birds at this site. Kibale, unlike
many other forest sites, provides access to the forest via wide
roads, which allows uninterrupted views into the forest canopy.
In the morning we headed for the higher-altitude section of Kibale,
where we spent four very productive hours birding along the roadside.
Black-billed Weaver, Chubb’s Cisticola and White-chinned Prinia
skulked in the rank road-side tangles. Tiny Sunbird and Masked Apalis
were more conspicuous, flaunting their bright colours. Scanning
the larger trees we spotted several Speckled Tinkerbirds, a pair
of striking Red-headed Malimbe, Dusky Tit, White-breasted and Grey-headed
Negrofinches, Little and Cameroon Sombre Greenbuls, Buff-throated
Apalis, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, and the highlight, a stunning
pair of Black Bee-eaters. Joyful Greenbul flashed past, while overhead
we were impressed by the numbers of Sabine’s Spinetail, accompanied
by the odd White-headed Sawwing. At a small stream a pair of Cassin’s
Flycatcher hunted insects low over the water. Mammal highlights
included the localised Central African Red Colobus and Red-tailed
and Blue Monkeys.
At midday we made for our next hotel, this time set on the rim of
a picturesque crater lake near the Kibale forest border. While having
lunch we watched Palm-nut Vulture soaring nearby, and African Blue
Flycatcher and Brown-throated Wattle-eye entertained us in the gardens.
In the afternoon we moved lower in altitude, but still made the
most of roadside birding. Fruigivores were in abundance and we quickly
notched up Yellow-billed Barbet, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Black-billed
Turaco, Yellow-whiskered, Honeyguide and Slender-billed Greenbuls.
A large group of Scarce Swifts passed overhead.
The highlight of the afternoon was when we successfully tracked
down to male Chimpanzees feeding in the crown of an emergent tree,
and after dark found Africa’s smallest primate Demidoff’s
Day 4: Kibale National Park to Queen Elizabeth
Woken by the loud cackling of a pair of Giant Kingfishers outside
our bungalows ensured no-one overslept this morning. Soon we were
back in dark green of Kibale, watching a group of Crested Guineafowl
cross the road. A pair of Brown Illadopsis took some time to coax
into view, but eventually everyone obtained good-ish views. Grey-throated
Tit-Flycatcher proved a little easier. Soon to follow was a much-admired
Red-chested Owlet, which attracted the attention of many birds,
including Pink-footed Puffback and a pair of scarce Yellow-mantled
Weaver. This was followed by a succession of bright beauties: Narina
Trogon, Superb Sunbird, Blue-throated Roller and Chestnut Wattle-eye.
After some concentrated searching, a pair of Afep Pigeon were spotted
in the canopy. Honeyguides seemed to be particularly active this
morning, with Willcock’s and Thick-billed Honeyguides and
Cassin’s Honeybird being seen.
Eventually the activity started to slow, and we decided to make
our way to Queen Elizabeth National Park, but not before pausing
to watch a party of Grey-cheeked Mangabey crossing a small forest
stream. A lunch stop en route produced a popular party of Piapiacs,
following around a heard of impressive Ankole Long-horned Cattle.
Arriving at Queen Elizabeth, some decided to take the rest of the
afternoon off to put their feet up, which others opted for a casual
camp stroll that produced Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Buff-bellied
and Grey-capped Warblers, White-browed Robin-Chat and numerous waterbirds,
including the only Saddle-billed Stork of the trip. Perhaps most
popular finding, however, was a lone Giant Forest Hog, feeding on
the shores of the Kazinga Channel.
Day 5: Queen Elizabeth to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
We set off just after daybreak, the deep grunts of a Verreaux’s
Eagle Owl sending us on our way. Soon we spotted one atop a large
Acacia tree, batting its pink eyelids in our direction. Clumps of
Euphorbias revealed noisy groups of Black-lored Babbler and a pair
of Nubian Woodpecker, whereas Red-necked Spurfowl scurried for cover
as we approached. The open grasslands were alive with activity.
Busy flocks of Fawn-breasted Waxbill flushed from the roadside,
joined by smaller flocks of Compact Weaver and the odd Sooty Chat.
Broad-tailed Warblers displayed, showing that their name was well
deserved, and a single Black Coucal sat sunning itself in the distance.
Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier scoured the grassland for their
quarry, as a shy Black-bellied Bustard did its best not to be spotted.
Much of the grassland had been burned, proving excellent habitat
for Wattled and Senegal Lapwings, Caspian Plover, White-tailed Lark
and Temminck’s Courser.
Before heading for Bwindi there was one last important stop to make
– for Papyrus Gonolek. A White-winged Swamp-Warbler called
tantalisingly from the overgrown swamp as we waited for our quarry
to show itself. After some fleeting glimpses, a pair finally popped
out onto a large dead tree, ruining their reputation as master skulking
with unobstructed scope views for the whole group!
Our job done, we continued southwards through Ishasha, pausing only
for a picnic lunch, of, among other things, Trilling Cisticola and
Black-headed Batis. We arrived at Buhoma and settled into our rustic
accommodation before rounding the day off with a nearby stroll.
While watching both Luehder’s and Grey-green/Bocage’s
Bush-Shrike at close range, an African Goshawk landed nearby. Cinnamon-chested
Bee-eater energetically chased dragonflies, while Baglafecht Weaver
stripped palm fronds for nesting material, a green Green Hylia attended
its nest and parties of White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher sat on the rooftops.
The highlight was a pair of Mapgie Mannikins, affectionately allow-preening
and sunbathing in the last rays of light.
Day 6-10: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi is famed among birders for its high number of Albertine Rift
endemics (AREs) – species found only in the mountains on the
Uganda/Rwanda/DRC border. Of course no visit to Bwindi is complete
without a trek to see Mountain Gorillas – even for the most
dedicated of birders – which meant that we had four full days
to explore Bwindi’s birds.
Most of our time was spent in the mid-altitude forest around Buhoma,
where species diversity is higher. The main track through the forest
proved very productive as always. We worked hard on seeing as many
forest understorey skulkers as possible, notching up great views
of Mountain and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Cabanis’s Greenbul,
Equatorial Akalat, striking Red-throated Alethe (ARE), the near-invisible
Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat and the star of Bwindi, Neumann’s
Short-tailed Warbler (ARE). Rank secondary growth on the sides of
the track were home to Black-faced Rufous Warbler and Banded/Black-faced
Prinia, almost as hard to see.
A feature of Buhoma is the visibility allowed into the forest canopy,
giving good views of species such as White-headed Woodhoopoe, Western
Bronze-naped Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Sooty Flycatcher and
Stuhlmann’s and Purple-headed Starlings. We found a male Yellow-crested
Woodpecker drumming in a large dead tree.
However, most species inhabit the mid-storey. Calls allowed us to
track down Bar-tailed Trogon, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo and an African
Broadbill in enchanting display. Other species, such as Many-coloured
Bush-Shrike and Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, were more stubborn, refusing
to show themselves. Many species also frequented mixed-species flocks,
dominated by small insectivores. Noteworthy species included Elliot’s
Woodpecker, Thick-billed Seedeater, Ruwenzori Blue-headed Sunbird
(ARE), Green-throated Sunbird, Northern Double-collared Sunbird,
Brown-capped Weaver, Shelley’s Greenbul, Red-tailed Greenbul,
Black-throated Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis (ARE), Red-faced Woodland
Warbler (ARE), Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Grey Apalis, White-bellied
Robin-Chat, Toro Olive Greenbul (a particularly good find), Ansorge’s
Greenbul, White-bellied Crested-Flycatcher, Grey-headed Sunbird
and Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher (ARE). Raptors were notable for
their absence, with only Black Goshawk being seen within the forest,
although a calling Congo Serpent Eagle was certainly a surprise.
From Buhoma we made our way to Ruhija, stopping en route to admire
a soaring Augur Buzzard, dainty flocks of Yellow-bellied Waxbill,
Yellow Bishop, Brown-backed Scrub-Robin and female Red-headed Bluebill,
which unfortunately disappeared rather quickly. A short stop at
the neck proved very worthwhile, with a pair of Mountain Wagtails
on the road and one of the least-known AREs, Dwarf Honeyguide, showing
particularly well. Once at Ruhija we organised ourselves in our
new base before heading further up the road to the bamboo zone.
On the way L’Hoest’s Monkey and Black-fronted Red Duiker
were spotted in the road. We quickly notched up several other AREs,
including Collared/Ruwenzori Apalis and Strange Weaver. Other species
vying for our attention included a perched African Hobby, Stripe-breasted
Tit, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Eastern Mountain Greenbul, Chestnut-throated
Apalis, White-browed Crombec and a particularly confiding Black-headed
Waxbill. Lagden’s Bush-Shrike called from nearby, but refused
to show itself. After dark Ruwenzori Nightjar sang incessantly from
the valley below us, but refused to come any closer for a view.
Our final day was spent walking down to Mabwindi Swamp, a tough
but very rewarding trail passing over a series of ridges before
dropping steadily to a large upland swamp. As we set off, we were
surprised to hear Chiffchaff singing nearby. On the initial stretch
of the walk, high altitude species such as Grey Cuckooshrike and
Yellow-streaked Greenbul were conspicuous. As we dropped down, these
were joined also by the likes of Tullberg’s/Fine-banded Woodpecker
and Waller’s and Slender-billed Starlings. At the bottom,
the canopy opens up, with rank grown along several streams, the
favoured habitat of Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher (ARE), Archer’s
Robin-Chat (ARE), Grauer’s Warbler (ARE), Mountain Yellow
Warbler and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, all seen well. Perhaps the
biggest surprise of the day was how easily Grauer’s Rush Warbler
(ARE) showed itself, with a pair feeding right on the edge of the
swamp, while another ARE, Regal Sunbird favoured the flowering plants
on the edge of the swamp. The walk back was hard work, but was rewarded
by two separate sightings of Dusky Crimsonwing (ARE) foraging right
on the verge of the road.
Energised by our successful trek, we decided to round the day off
with a short drive, which produced Variable Sunbird, Doherty’s
Bush-Shrike and a smart, perched Peregrine.
Day 11: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to Entebbe
With a long drive ahead of us, we had only a couple of hours of
final birding in Bwindi. Setting out at sunrise, we kept our eyes
trained on the verge of the road for any gamebirds, and after a
few twists and turns were rewarded with our target, Handsome Francolin
(ARE). Overcast skies meant that birds took a while to wake up,
but we did managed to find White-starred Robin and Sharpe’s
Starling before it was time to hit the road. Our journey back went
very smoothly, with stops only for noteworthy roadside birds such
as Grey-crowned Crane and Fan-tailed Widow, and a longer lunch stop
that produced Little Bee-eater, several Common Snipe and a noisy
group of Black-lored Babbler.
Day 12: Entebbe Botanical Gardens and
Our final morning was spent in the very birdy Botanical Gardens
of Entebbe. Despite having already racked up over 400 species on
our short trip, we managed to add excellent views of White-throated
Bee-eater, Lizard Buzzard, Grey-capped Warbler, Red-bellied Paradise
Flycatcher and Northern Black Flycatcher. Our final bird, fittingly,
was a fine Ross’s Turaco, which we eventually walked away
from – we had a flight to catch!