Perhaps there is no other bird that better represents the Arctic wilderness and the season of winter than the enigmatic Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus.
When one thinks of Snowy Owls, one immediately envisions a large ‘snow’ white owl with penetrating yellow eyes. While it is true that Snowy Owls possess extensive white plumage, all degrees of black barring exist with only adult males being pure white, while female/immature birds have extensive black barring.
The Snowy Owl is an inhabitant of the treeless tundra across the northern hemisphere, breeding further north than any other owl, though Short-eared Owls do breed on the tundra as well, but are not permanent residents. It is superbly adapted to this harsh environment with many adults remaining in the Arctic even during the darkness and bitterness of winter.
Though the birds preferred habitat is the tundra, they irruptively, but regularly, migrate south of the boreal forest to habitats that superficially resemble the tundra such as the prairies, beaches, farm fields and even airports of the United States and Canada. While they are known to hunt from the ground, in more southerly locations birds can be found loafing on fence posts, telephone poles, barns and even farm equipment.
Wherever they reside, these owls are excellent hunters, hunting 24-hours a day and specializing in rodents, particularly lemmings in the Arctic, but any number of rodents further south, even resorting to rabbits, hares, and squirrels. Birds that winter near coastlines will hunt ducks, even out in the open ocean, using buoys as hunting platforms! Even though this is the heaviest owl in North America, it is very agile and can even catch small passerines mid-flight!
During the brief Arctic summer, the males perform elaborate courtship displays involving rising high into the air holding prey and then descending to the waiting female where he then lowers his head and fans his tail, presenting her with a token of affection, namely a lemming.
Nesting on the ground, Snowy Owls are known for highly variable clutch sizes with up to 11 eggs. Survival of the chicks is highly dependent on the lemming population during that particular summer.
Whereas most owls are notoriously difficult to observe, photogenic Snowy Owls provide birders with excellent views and stunning photographic opportunities. Please join a future Nature Travel Birding trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where over-wintering densities of Snowy Owl are routinely higher than anywhere else outside of the Arctic!
This unmistakeable, unique, long-legged, mostly ground-dwelling raptor with possibly the coolest scientific name (Sagittarius serpentarius, meaning “of snakes) was announced recently as Birdlife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2019.
Appearing as if it is the offspring of an eagle and a crane, its English name is thought to be derived from the Arabic saqr-et-tair, which means “hunter bird”. Although they can fly, the prefer to stay on the ground, sometimes walking up to 30 kilometres (18 miles) a day!
It is quite a special sight to see one of these uncommon birds purposefully striding in the open grassland savannas of Africa, overpowering and eating anything from insects, lizards, small mammals, birds and of course snakes. Interestingly, despite its fearsome snake-killing reputation, snakes actually don’t make up a large proportion of the Secretarybird’s diet.
Secretarybirds build large flat nests in the tops of thorn trees or dense bushes and breed year-round. The female does most of the incubation and is fed by the male during this time. A clutch usually contains one to three eggs. Siblings do not show any aggression to each other and if conditions are good it is likely that all of the chicks will fledge successfully. Both adults feed the chicks by regurgitating prey stored in their crops while hunting.
Endemic to Africa, these amazing birds are most easily seen in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa, the Serengeti in Tanzania, Awash in Ethiopia and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
Secretarybirds are indeed special, and with populations rapidly declining and their habitat severely threatened, it is imperative that we try our best to save these charismatic birds.
Join us on a Nature Travel Birding trip in Africa to see these fascinating “snake-killers” in action!
Enquire by sending us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.naturetravelbirding.com for more information.
I am a keen amateur birder with a life list of well over 1000 species, seen on two continents (Africa and Asia).
I recently went on a Nature Travel Birding trip to the South American country of Peru. Having never been to the Americas, let alone gone birdwatching there, I didn’t have a clue of what I was about to experience.
The trip was incredible, with habitats ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the high Andes (we birded at 4500 metres above sea level!) to the Amazonian rainforest. I added almost 550 species to my life list in under two weeks and had a wonderful time. There was even time to see the magical Inca citadel of Machu Picchu!
However, the undoubted highlight for me was seeing my first hummingbird ever. I had often watched TV shows about them and seen them in books, but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the exhilaration of seeing your first one with your own eyes.
My first was one was the Purple-collared Woodstar (Myrtis fanny) seen on only the second day of our trip. We were walking in some coastal shrubland just south of the capital city of Lima, and our guide said “Oh look at this beauty!” Barely 5 feet away from us the tiny hummingbird was flying around in its characteristic eye-blindingly fast way, then perching and staring at us, and then buzzing away again at lightning speed. I just stood in awe of this wonderful little creature! It is found only in Peru and Ecuador and is the only species of the genus Myrtis.
I went on to add another 38 species of hummingbirds to my list on the Peru trip(!), but I will never forget my first one! Written by a Nature Travel Birding Client
On our latest Nature Travel Birding Safari we spent a morning in the Mabamba Swamp in Uganda searching for one of Africa’s sought after bird species; the Shoebill. The sheer surprise we got when this prehistoric-looking bird flew over us is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our clients had wanted to see this bird for many years and to some the bird is almost something of a myth, so imagine the excitement when one of these giants fly over your boat in the middle of the Mabamba Swamp. Let’s just say we all had the sighting of our lives as the bird landed a mere 20m from us and started preening and eventually fishing for Lungfish. The sheer joy of seeing the bird and the high fives going around the boat after the sighting makes my job as a bird guide for Nature Travel Birding so rewarding.
With its massive shoe-like bill, and 1,2m height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs. In fact the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a Pelican than a Stork. These birds are found in Tropical East Africa in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey : West African Lungfish.
Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward with their sharp bill and pick up the creature, devouring it whole.
With a life span of 35 years, these birds have been classified as endangered with less than 10,000 birds left. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.
Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda on one of our tours. Our next Uganda tour runs in August 2019, so come and join us in finding this amazing avian gem and many other great birds in the Pearl of Africa – Uganda. We also trek both of the African Great Apes that being the Chimpanzees and Gorillas.
If one had to draw up a list of iconic birds to see on the African continent, the Green-breasted Pitta Pitta reichenowi would almost certainly be very high up on that list.
Like most of the other Pittas, it is a brilliantly coloured terrestrial bird with a rainbow of colours to show off. That is, if you can find it! It is a very shy and skulking species and rarely seen or photographed.
It is one of only two Pitta species in Africa, and is found in deep, dense, moist forests of the tropics from western Cameroon to southern Uganda and to central DRC. Pittas in Africa are almost impossible to find when not in display, but Kibale in Uganda has been a fairly reliable spot for some time now.
Interestingly, some authors have considered the Green-breasted Pitta conspecific with African Pitta Pitta angolensis on the basis of apparent intermediate birds from Cameroon and southern Congo and more recently southeastern Nigeria, resulting in a postulated hybrid zone extending from southeastern Nigeria to southern Congo.
The Green-breasted Pitta’s diet consists of mostly insects, including hairless caterpillars, beetles and beetle larvae, termites, small millipedes and small centipedes.
It probably breeds in most months of the year, laying 2 to 3 eggs in a fairly large, domed nest about 2 metres above the ground on a horizontal trunk or branch of a tree. The nest is built from a few large twigs and tough dead creeper stems interwoven with large mass of dead and skeletonized leaves.
A bird many enthusiasts want to add to their European or Asian or World Lists is the very elusive Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria, a small passerine bird found throughout the high mountains of Eurasia from southern Europe to central China. The genus name Tichodroma comes from the Ancient Greek teikhos “wall”, and dromos “runner”.
Its plumage is primarily dull blue-grey but its most striking plumage feature is its extraordinarily bright crimson wings. It is easy to see why its alternative name is the Red-winged Wall Creeper.
It prefers rocky regions, typically including steep, rugged cliffs and boulder-strewn slopes, and damp, shady gorges in mountains. In some areas in winter it may even be found in quarries and sea cliffs, also earth and clay banks and even city buildings. It is surprisingly difficult to spot on rock faces, as many birders can attest to!
It is the only member of both the genus Tichodroma and the family Tichodromidae. There is some disagreement among ornithologists as to where the wallcreeper belongs in the taxonomic order. Initially it was placed along with the treecreepers, while others believe it is very closely related to the nuthatches.
The female wallcreeper builds a cup nest of grass, plant fibres and moss, sheltered deep in a rock crevice, hole or cave. The nest is lined with softer materials, often including feathers, hair or wool, and typically has two entrances. The female usually lays three to five eggs and incubates them for about 19 days until they hatch. During incubation, she is regularly fed by her mate. Both parents feed the nestlings for a period of 28–30 days, until the young birds fledge.
The Wallcreeper is an insectivore, feeding on terrestrial invertebrates (damselflies, spiders, crickets, beetles, woodlice, centipedes, ants, bees and others) gleaned from rock faces. It usually forages alone and progresses mainly with short, jerky hops, sometimes with sidling, creeping and walking on vertical surfaces sometimes makes upward leap accompanied by single rapid wingbeat. It occasionally also takes prey in flight.
Join us on a Nature Travel Birding trip to Spain, India or China to see this rare and elusive, but very special red-winged bird.
Yes you read that correctly: we have Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger, to be more precise very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession.
Most birders will be familiar with this iconic, awe inspiring bird, the Pennant-winged Nightjar, Macrodipteryx vexillarius. The bird is an intra-African breeding migrant that moves down to South Africa from Central and West Africa. Birdwatchers take the annual trip up to Punda Maria rest camp in Kruger in November as this is possibly the best place in South Africa to see the bird.
Imagine the excitement when I woke to hear news that a male had been seen displaying with full pennants very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession, some 2km west of Albasini road(S3). The bird was spotted by Alision Drake from Nkambeni Safari Camp while on a sunset drive. I have had a look into previous records and there are records of the birds been seen around Pretoriuskop Camp and around Shabeni granite Rock. I had to make a plan to see this bird as it’s been a bird that is always such a treat to see and view.
We managed to get a drive to go out on Friday the 17th of November 2018 to see this amazing bird. I felt like a kid in a candy shop due to the excitement. Good distractions on the drive included: Bushveld Pipit, Violet-backed Starling, Cardinal Woodpecker and a female Leopard slinking through the grass with the sun setting behind her. The stuff dreams are made of in my opinion!!
We positioned ourselves on the rock where the male was seen displaying, and after a nervous wait of about 20 minutes, the call came out, “Here it is! Look!” Boy oh boy we were treated to a spectacle with the bird flying overhead, landing on the rock just in front of us and displaying on the rock. This sighting ranks as one of my top bird sighting I have had in my career. To have this elegant, awe inspiring bird flying overhead and in front of you with its full, long pennants on show is an amazing, mind blowing experience that will live with me for a long time. I was so blown away by the sheer size of the bird and how amazing it is I eventually stopped taking photos of the bird and just enjoyed having the bird displaying for us. We had 2 different males displaying for females.
It’s amazing to know that these birds seem to be breeding and are comfortable in Southern Kruger as the habitat in the area is suitable, and just shows how important the Kruger National Park is at protecting habitats for our Birdlife and Wildlife. I am hoping that these birds hang around and that a trip to see these birds might become regular for us in November in Southern Kruger.
“Unique” is an overused word these days, but, as a descriptor for the Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii), it is surely appropriate. It is a bird related to the waders, and in the same order as sandpipers and plovers, but still sufficiently distinctive to merit its very own family Ibidorhynchidae. The species is named in honour of Dr Struthers of Glasgow who collected specimens of the bird from the Himalayas in the 19th century.
It is a strikingly unmistakable wader; grey with a white belly, red legs and long down-curved brown to crimson bill, and a black face and black breast band.
It occurs on the stony shingle riverbanks of the high plateau of central Asia and the Himalayas, all the way from Kazakhstan to China, at an elevation of 1500 to 4400 metres (5000 and 14400 feet) above sea level. It occupies the same habitat in winter, but at lower altitudes, being an altitudinal migrant. The river valleys frequented by the Ibisbill tend to have very little vegetation and gentle slopes to ensure a slow flow of water. It must live near slow-flowing water in order to feed, limiting its habitat despite having a very large range.
They are generally not shy of humans. They are good swimmers and prefer crossing rivers by swimming instead of flying. Ibisbills are vocal birds and produce a ringing ‘klew klew’ call.
The Ibisbill is a monogamous breeder. The nest is located on a riverbank, river island or surrounding peninsula and is little more than a scrape on the ground, sometimes lined with small pebbles. Eggs are laid in the end of April and the beginning of May. The clutch size varies from two to four eggs. They behave similar to lapwings around the nest site, defending it quite vocally. Both parents share incubation duties.
It feeds on land and water invertebrates including mayfly larvae, stoneflies, beetles and crustaceans. It forages by pecking, probing and raking, usually while wading in water roughly reaching up its belly. It will also eat fish and insects such as grasshoppers.
Due to their striking appearance, distinctive taxonomy, solitary nature, the high elevations and special habitats where they live as well as their relative rarity, they are highly sought after by birders who often consider this species to be a “most wanted” bird.
Join us on a Nature Travel Birding trip to India for a chance to see this unique bird.
I recently ticked off two of my bucket list items when I travelled to magical India on a Nature Travel safari. I saw both the world’s tallest flying bird and the world’s highest mountain range in one trip!
The Sarus Crane (Antigone Antigone) is at 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) the world’s tallest flying bird, and was a main contender for title of India’s national bird, eventually losing out to the Indian Peafowl. It is an elegant bird with mainly white-grey colouring and a bright red head, throat and upper neck. It is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is considered sacred by Indian people. It was a magical experience seeing these birds in their natural swampy habitat in Uttar Pradesh, foraging for reptiles and plant matter. It was easy to see why the Sarus Crane is on most lists of India’s most beautiful birds.
Just a day later I was standing next to the road in the small town of Pangot, awestruck as the snow-capped Himalayas loomed large in front of me. The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 metres (23,600 ft) in elevation! They are inhabited by over 50 million people and are spread across five countries, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. The mountains are considered sacred by many religions in the area, and has had a profound effect on the cultures of the Indian subcontinent. The sheer majesty of this vast natural wonder was astonishing, and I just stood there for an hour trying to take it all in…
These two magical experiences were made possible by the team of the Nature Travel group, and can be enjoyed on one of their Nature Travel Birding or Nature Travel Expeditions trips to the diverse country of India. Written by : Nature Travel Birding client
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)