Day 1: Arrive in Uganda – Entebbe
Our Uganda Birding and Primate Safari started off with a meeting at the hotel in Entebbe. A quick tour briefing was done and we all settled in and enjoyed some time around the pool unwinding after the long flights and getting to know each other. We enjoyed an afternoon of birding in the Entebbe Botanical gardens, with top highlights being: Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Red-headed Lovebird, Double-toothed Barbet, Grey Parrot, White-throated Bee-eater, Great Blue Turaco, Palm-nut Vulture, Orange Weaver and Black-headed Gonolek. We also had sightings of all 3 Primate species in the gardens namely: Angolan (Black and White Colobus), Vervet Monkey and Red-tailed monkey. A great way to start a birding trip and get familiar with some of the Ugandan species. Dinner was enjoyed overlooking Lake Victoria while discussing the plan for the next 13 Days of exciting Birding, Primate and mammal viewing.
Our one client has a keen interest in Primates, while the other client has an interest in Birdlife, so Uganda is the perfect destination for them both.
Day 2: Mabamba Swamp – Masindi Town
After a good night’s rest we enjoyed an early breakfast, met our fantastic and experienced local guide and driver Stephen and headed off to start our Uganda Birding and Primate Safari. Our first stop was the famous Mabamba Swamp to see the world famous Shoebill. This bird is high on any birder’s list and our clients really wanted to see this charismatic bird. We jumped on board our little canoe and went in search of this very special bird. After about half an hours searching – the words we had been waiting came out of my mouth, Shoebill! We were treated to a fly over of a young bird, which flew directly over us. We watched where it landed and managed to get into the Papyrus reeds and were treated to awesome views of the bird preening and then calling for an adult to bring in food. An absolutely amazing experience which will be forever in the memories of our clients. This almost prehistoric bird is a bird that many people dream of seeing and ranks up there with being one of the most sought after birds to see in Africa. Our first big target for the trip was in the bag, and the incredible sighting of the Shoebill really set the tone for the rest of the trip.
The iconic Shoebill
Other worthy highlights at Mabamba Swamp included: Swamp Flycatcher, Blue-headed Coucal, Malachite Kingfisher, Winding Cisticola, Blue Swallow, Blue-breasted Bee-Eater, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Marsh Tchagra. As a South African birder it’s always a real treat to see good numbers of Blue Swallows at Mabamba, as in Southern Africa this bird is critically endangered and rare due to habitat loss.
After the excitement of the morning’s birding we moved towards Kampala, stopping en route to enjoy views of: Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Sooty Chat, African Pied Hornbill, Olive Bee-eater, Splendid Starling and Long-crested Eagle.
Lunch was enjoyed outside Kampala before moving onto Masindi Town. We did some birding along the way and along the Kaufu River, highlights for the afternoon included: White-winged Black Tit, Marsh Widowbird, Grey-capped Warbler, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Openbill, Pink-backed Pelican, White-headed Barbet, Grey-backed Fiscal and Moustached Grass Warbler. A great day’s birding was celebrated at the lodge over dinner and a nice cold beer. Another great day birding in the “Pearl of Africa”.
Day 3: Royal Mile (Budongo Forest) – Murchison Falls
An early breakfast was on the cards as today we made our way to the Budongo Forest, The largest natural forest area in East Africa and includes the famous “Royal Mile” a top forest birding road lying under the Budongo forest canopy. We had an incredible morning’s birding in the forest and some of the top sightings included: White-thighed Hornbill, African Dwarf Kingfisher, Western Oriole, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Little Grey Greenbul, Buff-throated Apalis, Purple-headed Starling, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Narina Trogon, Yellow-billed Barbet, White-chinned Prinia, Grey Parrot, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Ituri Batis, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Crowned Eagle and Yellow Spotted Barbet. As we were leaving the forest we were treated to a fly over of the resident Crowned Eagle.
Primate highlights included: Blue Monkey, Angolian (Black and White) Colobus and Red Tailed Monkey, we also saw both Boehm’s Bush Squirrel and Red-legged Sun Squirrel. After enjoying lunch in the forest we finished off our birding and headed for Murchison Falls to our accommodation for the night, overlooking the Nile River. Birding highlights en route included: Black-winged Red Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Baglafecht Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Scarce Swift, Short-winged Cisticola and Black-bellied Firefinch. Our mammal tally increased with sightings of Warthog and Chacma Baboon. We had a lovely sighting of a breeding herd of Ugandan Kob, which our clients enjoyed seeing.
We settled in to our accommodation, took a swim and enjoyed sunset over the Nile River and were treated to a lovely dinner chatting about the great day’s birding we had. Our clients were still overwhelmed from spending time in the forest and enjoying the peace that the Budongo forest has to offer. Our primate sightings were also good and we did hear the Chimpanzees calling at a distance which got our clients’ hearts racing. We all slept well after a busy day of birding.
Day 4: Delta- Victoria Nile, Murchison Falls – Masindi Town via Kaniyo Pabidi Forest
We had a slightly later start this morning and took a little time to enjoy the view over the Victoria Nile, while enjoying a hearty breakfast and hit the road once again to make our way into the delta system by boat. Highlights of the boat trip included: Shoebill, Long-toed Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, Red-throated Bee-Eater, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Goliath Heron, African Darter and Wire-tailed Swallow. We also enjoyed the antics of the resident Hippo along the Victoria Nile. We ended our trip at the confluence of the Victoria and Albert Nile. It’s at this point the Victoria Nile flows South into Lake Albert and the Nile River continues into South Sudan and eventually to Egypt.
Our drive in the Savannah area of Murchison Falls National Park was most enjoyable and we had some really amazing bird and mammal sightings in the Park, highlights included: Speckled-fronted Weaver, Spotted Palm Thrush, Silverbird, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Waxbill, Northern Crombec, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-headed Lapwing, Grey-Crowned Crane- The National Bird of Uganda, Ruppell’s Vukture, Nubian Woodpecker, African Grey Woodpecker and Black-billed Barbet. Mammal highlights included: Ugandan Kob, Defassa Waterbuck, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Oribi, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Elephant, African Buffalo, Olive Baboon and Patas Monkey. Lunch was enjoyed on the banks of the Victoria Nile and soon we moved onto the top of Murchison Falls, where the river Nile displays its beauty.
We all enjoyed the breathtaking view of the falls as it’s at this point the Nile is transformed into explosive foam of thunderous wide water- funnels shaped through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment – a truly magnificent sight for our clients, who had the falls on their bucket list. We also had good views of the resident Rock Pratincoles on the rocks above the falls. We made our way to Masindi, our accommodation for the night. Dinner was enjoyed at the restaurant as we all chatted and went over the amazing day we had in Murchison Falls National Park.
Day 5: Kibale National Park – Sebitoli area
Our day got off to an earlier start as we had a lengthy journey ahead of us to get to Kibale National Park from our accommodation in Masindi. We enjoyed breakfast and moved on towards Fort Portal for Lunch via Hoima town. Birding highlights en route included: Long-crested Eagle, Village Indigobird, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Great Blue Turaco, Black-crowned Waxbill, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Shikra, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and Marico Sunbird. The area around Kagadi and Kagorro had some good rain overnight, which made navigating the clay rich dirt roads a challenge, but our fantastic local guide, Stephen did a great job. Lots of skidding and sliding but all in all a fun filled adventure was enjoyed by everyone. Lunch was enjoyed at the gardens in Fort Portal and our clients were very happy she could do some curio shopping at a lovely shop near to our lunch stop. After lunch we moved onto the Sebitoli area of Kibale National Park and we were treated to a great afternoon’s birding in the forest which included: White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Honeyguide Greenbul, Brown-breasted Barbet, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Blue Malkoha, Ross’s Turaco, African Dusky Flycatcher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-capped Robin-Chat, and Luhder’s Bushshrike. What a fantastic afternoon of birding in Uganda, with us also getting good sighting of Uganda Red Colobus which made our clients very happy as they loves their primates. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge over a nice glass of wine and settled in early for bed as the next morning we had an early start.
Day 6: Kibale National Park – Chimpanzee trekking
Our day begun a little earlier than the days before today as this morning we headed off to Kibale National Park to try and locate one of the most sought after and charismatic bird species of the forest, the Green-breasted Pitta. We spent about an hour trying to locate the bird with just a brief glimpse and then as we started Chimpanzee trekking our luck turned and after a bit of climbing through the forest and getting low down we all got amazing views of this beautiful avian gem close in front of us feeding on the forest floor and then up on a tree branch. Other highlights included: Black Bee-eater, Grey-headed Nigrita, White-breasted Nigrita and Great Blue Turaco. We soon, after catching our breath, moved on to try and locate the resident troop of Chimpanzees that live in the area.
Our guide knew a group was nearby and it was not long and we had a top sighting of a troop of 20 Chimps feeding, playing, mating and displaying in the trees in front of us for well over an hour. We enjoyed watching the antics of the youngsters and also had the Alpha male display for us, this was a spectacular sighting and for our clients it was a dream come true that brought tears to everyone’s eyes. It’s a real privilege to watch these endangered Chimpanzees in the wild. The species of Chimpanzee in Uganda is known as the Eastern Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes schweinfurhi and occurs across Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and DRC.
After our exciting morning we enjoyed lunch and headed for our hotel just outside Fort Portal to check in, fresher up and have some down time before heading off to Sebitoli in Kibale National Park for an afternoons birding. Highlights for the afternoon included: Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Green Hylia, Brown-capped Weaver, Sooty Flycatcher, Purple-headed Starling, Chubb’s Cisticola, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul and Scarce Swift. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at our hotel and all slept well after an action packed day on Safari in Uganda.
Day 7: Semliki National Park – Fort Portal
Our day started slightly later today with a good breakfast before making the 2 hour journey to Semliki National Park. The forest tract of Semliki is an extension of West African forest that stretches from Equatorial Guinea through Congo forming a habitat for Guinea Congo biome species that do not exist in other areas of East Africa. En-route we had a wonderful sighting of a Grey Kestrel hunting next to the road, Blue-naped Mousebird, Black Kite, African Firefinch, Piping Hornbill and African Harrier- Hawk. The weather was not in our favour and was a little slow with rain and overcast conditions, however perseverance paid off and Simliki rewarded us with encounters of: Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Green Hylia, Orange-cheeked Waxbill( according to the field guide not supposed to occur in Uganda), Western Nicator, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Black-necked Weaver, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Wilcocks’s Honeyguide, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Xavier’s Greenbul, Grey-headed Sunbird, Red-tailed Ant Thrush and Western Bronze-naped Pigeon. Primate highlights included: Angola (Black and White) Colobus, Ugandan Grey-cheeked Mangabey and Red-tailed Monkey. On the way back to the hotel our clients got the chance to enjoy the views over the Albertine Rift Valley. They also wanted to do some craft shopping from the local Pygmy (Batwa) people en route.
After a good day’s birding and walking in the primary and secondary forest of Semliki we enjoyed freshening up and relaxing at the hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner and wine while catching up on our ever growing bird list for the trip.
Day 8: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Boat trip along Kazinga channel
This morning we had a slightly later start and enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel before heading to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Highlights en route to the park included: Little Sparrowhawk, Bronzy Sunbird, African Golden Weaver and Black-headed Weaver. We arrived in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a highlight for both our clients, quickly checked in to our accommodation and had lunch overlooking the Kazinga Channel.
During lunch we enjoyed sightings of: Snowy- crowned Robin-chat, Swamp Flycatcher, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher and Green-winged Pytilia. We headed into the Park for a game drive before making our way to the boat trip on the Kazinga channel, we were extremely lucky and we managed to locate 2 of the famous tree climbing Lions relaxing in a Euphoria tree. This was a dream come true sighting for our clients and we were incredibly lucky to have the 2 young males all to ourselves close to the car.
Birding highlights included: Pin-tailed Whydah, Senegal Lapwing, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, Stout Cisticola, Kittlitz’s Plover, White-throated Bee-eater, Black-lored Babbler, Common Buttonquail, Buff-belied Warbler and White-tailed Lark. Mammal highlights included: Ugandan Kob, Defassa Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Buffalo and Elephant. We made our way to the boat trip, that runs on the Kazinga Channel, which divides lake Edward and Lake George and enjoyed magical sightings of Buffalo, Elephant and antelope coming down to drink in the late afternoon.
The birding was exceptional and we added about 40 species to our list, highlights being: Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-billed Stork, Hamerkop, Pink-backed Pelican, Great White Pelican, Bronzy Sunbird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Greenshank, African Sacred Ibis, Wood, Marsh and Common Sandpipers. On route back to our lodge we enjoyed sightings of Hooded Vultures, Palm-nut Vulture and African Fish Eagle. Our clients thoroughly enjoyed the day today as they had always wanted to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, and we were treated to some exceptional sightings. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge and fell asleep to the sounds of the resident Hippos, Hyena, Square-tailed and Black-shouldered Nightjars calling from the Kazinga Channel in-front of our lodge. Another great day on Safari in Africa!
Day 9: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
We began with a nice early start and breakfast today in order to have time to bird the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our clients were hoping to photograph the beautiful Pyrprus Gonolek, so we tried an area the bird is known to be in but unfortunately with the rain the bird was nowhere to be seen. We made our way through the Park and as we approached the Ishasha section of Queen Elizabeth National Park we hit a really bad patch of road that was really muddy. A truck had got stuck in the mud and with us trying to go around the truck, we also got stuck. We managed to get out of the mud after a lot of pushing and this added to the sense of adventure when traveling off the beaten track in Africa. The rain lifted and we had good sightings of: Red-necked Spurfowl, Martial Eagle, Western-banded Snake Eagle, Black Bee-eater, African Openbill Stork, Compact weaver and Violet-backed Starling. Mammal sightings included: Buffalo, Elephant, Topi, Ugandan Cob, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey and Banded Mongoose.
We stopped for lunch , enjoyed a fresh pizza, got our boots all clean from the mud and made our way to the famous Bwindi Impenetrable forest, UNESCO World Heritage Site, home and stronghold for the Mountain Gorilla.
We checked into our accommodation, and quickly made use of the good weather to get some birding done. The forest was highly productive and we had a good afternoon of birding with highlights being: Mackinnon’s Shrike, Streaky Seedeater(en route to Bwindi), Grey-throated Barbet, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Green Crombec, Red-tailed Greenbul, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Dusky Tit, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Ansorge’s Greenbul and Elliot’s Woodpecker. We also enjoyed views of a troop of L’Hoest’s Monkeys. We just made it back to our lodge before the heavens opened up and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at our lodge overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Day 10: Buhoma Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After a lovely breakfast we made our way to the forest for some birding in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; this forest hosts some unique bird species and we had some good birding. Highlights being: Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Vieillot’s Weaver, African Black Duck, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Petit’s Cuckooshrike,Green-headed Sunbird, Pink-footed Puffback, Plain Greenbul, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Grey Parrot, Red-headed Malimbe, Mountain Wagtail, Shelley’s Greenbul, Banded Prinia, Mountain Oriole, Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Grey-chinned Sunbird, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Many-colored Bushshrike, Augur Buzzard and Waller’s Starling.
We enjoyed relaxing at the hotel for some time as tomorrow we have an early start to go Gorilla trekking. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and chatted and reflected on another great day in Uganda before we head off Gorilla trekking tomorrow. One of our clients has really enjoyed spending time in the Forests of East Africa, and admits that the birding is addictive, so it seems we have converted her into a keen birder. With birds like Shoebill, Green-breasted Pitta on her list, she would make any keen lister jealous. As we retired to bed, we had an almighty rainstorm hit us – the start of the rain season in East Africa!
Day 11: Gorilla Trekking. Ruhija Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
An early start was on the cards for us this morning as we had to drive to Ruhija across the neck for our much anticipated Gorilla trekking. We arrived at Ruhija at 8 a.m. for a briefing and headed into the forest of Bwindi to find the Mukiza Gorilla Group.
We were extremely lucky and fortunate and after just 45 minutes of walking we found a family of 17 individuals ranging from a baby of 7 months, infants of about 2 years of age, adult females and a big Silverback male. A real privilege to see these endangered great Apes in the wild. This was a once in a life time experience and will stay with us all for the rest of their lives. This Mountain race of Gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei is restricted to a part of the Virunga range, straddling the DR Congo/Uganda and Rwandan borders. The Mountain race is marginally larger than the three lowland forms and the coat is longer. After watching the Gorillas feed, play, interact for over an hour we moved off and let them continue feeding down the mountain side. We made our way out of forest, got our graduation certificates for seeing the Gorillas and made our way to our lodge where we were based for the next two nights
We enjoyed lunch and relaxed for a bit after the trekking before heading off to bird in the Ruhija area for the afternoon: Highlights for our afternoons birding included: African Hill Babbler, Mountain Illadopsis, Thick-billed Seedeater, Black-billed Turaco, Ruwenzori Apalis, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Strange Weaver, Little Sparrowhawk and Crowned Hornbill. After an extremely exciting and productive day we all enjoyed a lovely dinner at the lodge, celebrating our magical Gorilla experience over a glass of wine. Both our clients could not get enough of the Gorillias and the experience we had, and they said that coming face to face with a Silverback about 5m from you is an experience that words can’t describe and that they did not expect to see them so close. We all chatted around the fire for a while before retiring off to bed for a good night’s rest.
Day 12: Birding the Ruhija Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After our busy we day yesterday we enjoyed a slight lie-in and enjoyed a hearty breakfast overlooking the Bwindi mountains. We spent most of the day birding the surrounding areas and enjoyed views of: White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Mountain Masked Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Bar-tailed Trogon, Narrow-tailed Starling, Black-headed Waxbill, Crowned Eagle, Collared Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Ruwenzori Apalis, Equatorial Akalat, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Western Tinkerbird, Grauer’s Warbler, Mountain Greenbul, Mountain Sooty Boubou, African Citril and Cinnamon-Bracken Warbler. Mammal and primate sightings included: Black-fronted Duiker, Red-legged Sun Squirrel, Blue Monkey, L’Hoest’s Monkey and Angola (Black and White Colobus).
Dinner was enjoyed at the lodge around the fire place (it was rather cool as we are at the height of about 2000m above sea level). After the busy and long day we hit the sack rather early and all enjoyed a good night’s sleep after the busy day!
Day 13: Lake Maburo National Park – Birding Lake Maburo and Savanna areas
A slightly earlier start was on the cards for us this morning as we headed off to Lake Maburo, our final destination on our amazing birding and primate Safari in Uganda. En route we enjoyed sightings of: Long-crested Eagle, Augur Buzzard, African Stone, Handsome Francolin (as we left Bwindi), Augur Buzzard, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Long-tailed Cisticola. We enjoyed our lunch overlooking Lake Maburo from our accommodation and headed off into the park for an afternoon of bird and game viewing. We had a spectacular afternoon in this gorgeous park and enjoyed many good sightings including: Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Woodland Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Crested Barbet, Red-necked Spurfowl, Bateleur, Green Wood Hoopoe, Tawny Eagle, Tropical Boubou, Meyer’s Parrot, Spot-flanked Barbet and Trilling Cisticola.
Mammal sightings were also really good, and we had good views of: Zebra, Buffalo, Topi, Defassa Waterbuck, Impala, Warthog, Bushbuck and Vervet Monkey.
We enjoyed sunset over the Lake and had dinner together, chatting, laughing and thinking back on the amazing trip we have had in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
Day 14: Departure – Private Birding Boat Trip on Lake Mburo
An early start was on the cards this morning so we could get onto our private boat trip on Lake Mburo and enjoy the birdlife along the Lake before heading for the airport close to Entebbe. Highlights of the boat trip included: Squacco Heron, Water Thick-knee, African Finfoot, Ross’s Turaco, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher and loads of Hippos going about their antics early in the morning.
We left Lake Mburo to head for Entebbe and the airport and had a smooth uneventful drive to the airport.
An absolutely fantastic 14 days of birding and Primate viewing came to an end. I look forward to our next Uganda trip in 2019.
Report and Images compiled by Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)