Uganda Trip Report August 2022

Uganda Birding and Primate Safari
During the tour the temperature ranged from 07ºC to 29ºC. We recorded 42 mammal species, over 460 species of birds and 15 species of reptiles. The species mentioned in the daily summaries are only some of those seen.

Day 1:
Birding the Entebbe Botanical gardens

Our Uganda Birding trip started with a relaxed breakfast at our hotel in Entebbe before we made our way to the Entebbe National Botanical Gardens. It was good to walk around after all the sitting on flights and the birding got off to a great start with us enjoying sightings of Green-throated Sunbird, African Pygmy Kingfisher, great views and photo opportunities of Great Blue Turaco, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, and Northern Puffback. The Weavers put on a show, and we enjoyed sightings of Slender-billed-, Village-, Northern Brown Throated-, Little- and Vieillot’s Black Weaver. A few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen flying over Lake Victoria and as we left the gardens, we enjoyed views of African Hobby being mobbed by Broad-billed Rollers.

Day 2:
Mabamba Swamp / Masindi Town

After a delicious breakfast and bellies full, we headed for the legendary Mabamba Swamp- arguably the best place in the world to see the prehistoric Shoebill. This is Uganda’s most famous and iconic avian gem and after climbing into our wooden canoes we set off to find this magical bird. The legendary Mabamba Swamp is a large (16,500 hectares/64 sq mi) wetland on the shores of Lake Victoria to the west of Kampala, and is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, as well as one of Uganda’s 33 Important Bird Areas. A few roadside sightings on route to the swamp included African Harrier Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Striped Kingfisher and a stunning African Green Pigeon.
Boy,  was luck on our side this morning! Our sighting was one I will never forget. Not only did we see a Shoebill flying over us, but we were treated to an incredible up close and personal sighting of a one month old chick on a nest with the parents perched nearby- what a privilege and magnificent sighting of this iconic African avian.  This Ramsar wetland of International Importance plays host to many other bird species. Some of the birds we enjoyed included Red-headed Lovebird, African Jacana, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Long-toed Lapwing, African Marsh Harrier, Lesser Jacana, African Swamphen, Swamp Flycatcher and Blue-headed Coucal.

We enjoyed a lunch stop towards Kampala, before we made our way to Masindi. Our drive towards Masindi was uneventful and we managed to negotiate the notorious Kampala traffic with some ease. Roadside sightings included Black-headed Gonolek, Marsh Widowbird, Compact Weaver, Marsh Tchagra, Moustached Grass Warbler, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, White-eared Barbet, Wahlberg’s, Western Banded and Brown Snake Eagles.  A welcome surprise was a D’Arnaud’s Barbet just before Masindi;  a great bird for the tour as generally this bird is found more north in Uganda and neighbouring Tanzania.

We had interesting chats about the importance of birders contributing to citizen science through programs like eBird and chatted about bird tourism and the important role it plays in protecting the birds.  We reached our accommodation in Masindi, after an exciting, bird filled day, checked in and freshened up for dinner.  What a day after the amazing sighting of the Iconic Shoebill!

Day 3:
Royal Mile (Budongo Forest) / Murchison Falls

Our morning of birding took us to the Royal Mile- a section of Budongo forest that’s one of Africa’s most famous birding spots.  Budongo forest is the largest natural forest area in East Africa thus being exceptional for bird watching and primate viewing. On the way to Budongo we did some birding in the farmlands on route and racked up a good list with highlights being Grey-headed Oliveback, Black Bishop, Senegal Coucal, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Black-crowned Waxbill, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Copper Sunbird and Yellow-mantled Widowbird.

Our walk under the lush forest canopy started with a bang and we soon had our binoculars on a pair of Scaly-breasted Illadopsis that showed well.  As we proceeded down the iconic Royal mile the birds kept on coming; highlights being African Emerald Cuckoo, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Blue Malkoha, Speckled Tinkerbird, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Uganda Woodland Warbler, Ituri Batis, Chocolate, African Dwarf, and the stunning Blue-breasted Kingfisher. The Greenbuls put in a good showing, and we had sightings of Little, Little Grey, Slender-billed, Plain, Spotted, Yellow-whiskered and Honeyguide Greenbul.

One of the major highlights was hearing and then getting great views of the extremely localised, and hard to find, Nathan’s Partridge. Unfortunately, we only managed to hear Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo…this one will have to wait for later in the tour. A nice bonus was great views of Red-headed Bluebill- a great trip bird.

We enjoyed our packed lunch in the forest while watching a pair of stunning Narina Trogons enjoy their lunch of butterflies and moths. The rest of our walk along the royal mile rewarded us with sightings of Grey Longbill, Forest Robin, Buff-throated Apalis, Yellow-billed Barbet Cassin’s and Sabine’s Spinetails. We unfortunately had to leave Budongo to make our way to our next destination- Murchison Falls National Park.  A few selective stops looking down on the Albertine Rift Valley rewarded us with sightings of Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Red- cheeked Cordon-bleu, Little Sparrowhawk, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and Beautiful Sunbird.

As we made our way through the savannah to our accommodation along the northern bank of the Albert Nile we enjoyed sightings of Grey-headed Kingfisher, Black-headed Lapwing, Silverbird, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Grey Kestrel, Splendid Starling, Collared Palm Thrush and Black-headed Gonolek.

Murchison Falls National Park gets its name from the dramatic Murchison Falls, which in turn were christened by explorer and naturalist Sir Samuel Baker. Baker named the falls Murchison Falls after the geologist Roderick Murchison, the president of the Royal Geographical Society in the 1860s. Notable visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British royals. We arrived at our accommodation in the early evening and settled in.
Dinner was served under the African stars as we updated our lists and chatted about our exciting day of birding. We fell asleep to the sounds of Hippos grazing outside our rooms. Got to love Africa.

Day 4:
Delta- Victoria Nile, Murchison Falls / Masindi Town via Kaniyo Pabidi Forest

After an early breakfast and enjoying some great Ugandan Coffee, we were off on our boat ride on the delta area of the Nile River. The boat ride took us on the legendary Nile river’s more relaxed waters as it joins the Albert delta. We ended our boat 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. Some of the special birds we saw included Carruthers’s Cisticola, White-winged Swamp Warbler, Great White Pelican, Little Bittern, Red-throated Bee-eater, Black-breasted Barbet, Red-necked Falcon, Goliath Heron and the sought after, and stunning Papyrus Gonolek.  A pod of hippos feeding alongside the bank was also enjoyed by all.

Much to our regret our time in Murchison had come to an end and as we made our way to Masindi. We were treated to a cool sighting of Olive Baboons and Black-and-White Colobus monkeys interacting on the road.

Day 5:
Kibale National Park / Sebitoli area

Our day started with a Barn Owl in the gardens of our accommodation- a good trip bird. Breakfast was excellent Ugandan coffee and a Rolex, not the watch but an omelette with onion and vegetables rolled in a chapati. Our scenic drive south to the Albertine Rift marked with incredible steep escarpments, the extensive rift valley flats and beautiful views of Lake Albert to our right, and the distant Blue Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo even further on the horizon. A few birding stops rewarded us with sightings of Compact Weaver, Village Indigobird, Dusky Twinspot, Martial Eagle, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Red-headed Lovebird and the stunning Meyer’s Parrot.
Our time on the drive was used to learn more about Uganda from our local guide, Brian, and to chat about birding trips across the world and where we all would still like to go. We chatted about the stunning birds seen in South America as we enjoyed our lunch and Ugandan coffee. It’s always interesting learning about the birds people have seen across the globe.

Day 6:
Kibale National Park / Chimpanzee trekking

The morning started with an early breakfast before heading into Kibale while it was still dark, in order to be in the forest when the Green-breasted Pitta begins to call. The way to see this beautiful and sought-after bird is to be in the forest as it gets light and one can hear where the bird is calling from and to get there to see the display. It took some searching but with patience and perseverance we had an out of this world sighting of this amazing avian gem. We had 2 birds show up in the open for us to enjoy.  Other birds in the forest included Black-billed Turaco, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Honeyguide Greenbul, Plain Greenbul and the impressive Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo.

Day 7:
Semuliki National Park / Fort Portal

An early start was on the cards today as we headed for Semuliki forest. The forest tract of Semuliki is an extension of West African jungle that stretches all the way from Equatorial Guinea through Congo, forming a habitat for some special Guinea-Congo biome species that do not exist in other areas of east Africa. The 219 km2 (85 sq mi) park is one of Uganda’s newest national parks (established in 1993) and contains east Africa’s only lowland tropical rainforest and is contiguous with the DRC’s huge Ituri forest. It is one of the richest areas of floral and faunal diversity in Africa, especially for bird and butterfly species. The Park is also famous for its primordial hot springs. A Spotted Eagle Owl soon after leaving our accommodation was the start of a great day of birding.

Some of the incredible, sought-after birds we saw included Red-tailed Leaflove, Stunning Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Fire-crested Alethe, Crested Malimbe, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Mosque Swallow, Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Forest Robin, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Bristlebill, Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Banded Prinia, Yellow-throated Nicator, Icterine, Little Grey and Xavier’s Greenbuls. It was a hornbill day with us enjoying great views of Piping, White-crested, Red-billed Dwarf, African Pied and Black-Casqued Hornbills.

Our amazing day in this very special patch of forest was extremely rewarding and we headed back to our hotel enjoying incredibly scenic views on route. An exceptional dinner was enjoyed at the lodge as we updated our lists with some of the Guinea-Congo Biome specials we saw at Semuliki and we soon hit the sack as another exciting day awaits tomorrow  when we’ll head out to Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Day 8:
Queen Elizabeth National Park / Boat trip along Kazinga channel

This morning we headed south aiming for Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Queen, as the locals call it, was founded in 1952 and named Kazinga National Park but was renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. The Park covers a large area (1,978 km2 /764 sq mi) and extends from Lake George in the northeast to Lake Edward in the southwest, with the Kazinga Channel connecting the two lakes. Some roadside birding included Abyssinian Thrush, a great Martial Eagle sighting close to the road, Copper Sunbird Lizard Buzzard, Angola Swallow, Bronzy Sunbird and Grey Crowned Crane.

We arrived at the park and immediately the birding started with a bang. Some of the highlights for the morning included Senegal Lapwing, Rufous-naped Lark, Red-necked Spurfowl, Flappet Lark, Black-lored Babbler, Plain-backed Pipit and the best surprise was an African Crake walking on the track which gave us exceptional views. On the mammal front we enjoyed African Elephant, African Buffalo, Uganda Kob, Topi and Defassa Waterbuck.  A highlight for John and Jennifer was a male Lion resting under a Euphorbia tree. This was a great sighting of this handsome beast.

Our cruise on the Kazinga Channel was amazing with some great birding. The trip begun with an incredible sighting of 3 young male Lions coming down towards the water. Highlights for the trip included Malachite and Pied Kingfishers in their hundreds, African Skimmer in good numbers, Goliath Heron, Lesser-black-backed Gull, Black-crowned Night Heron, Common, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, White-breasted Cormorant, Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans. We also had all three Egret species- being Great, Intermediate and Little feeding together which the group enjoyed as we could see the obvious differences in size. We enjoyed some great views of Hippo feeding with a small youngster and had a herd of about 20 Elephants join and take a swim- what an exciting experience-for a moment it felt as if I was on the Chobe River in Botswana.  Multiple buffalo sightings meant we also enjoyed great views of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers- a bird family only seen in Africa.

Our drive back to the lodge yielded: A massive Elephant bull feeding in the road causing a traffic jam- you gotta love Africa. Southern Red Bishop at the edge of its distribution was a welcome tick. We checked into our accommodation overlooking Queen, freshened up and met for dinner to update lists, check in with those at home and enjoy a great meal. We chatted about future birding trips and destinations we all hope to visit. Tomorrow, we head for Bwindi.

Day 9:
Queen Elizabeth National Park / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

After a hearty breakfast we said our goodbyes and headed south enjoying a drive in the Ishasha sector of Queen. The birds kept coming and our list was growing, with some highlights of the morning drive being Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Crested Francolin, Trilling Cisticola, Black-lored Babbler, Blue-naped Mousebird, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat, Black Coucal, Double- toothed Barbet, Greater Honeyguide and a stunning Grey-capped Warbler which was enjoyed by all. As we made our way through the Ishasha sector of Queen we enjoyed sightings of Scaly Francolin, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Western Citril, a stunning African Crake in the road, Grey Apalis, Crested Barbet, Grey-headed Nigrita, Spot-flanked Barbet, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and Stout Cisticola. A Giant Forest Hog feeding in the open was a welcome mammal for the trip. Lady luck was also on our side, and we had the most amazing sighting of 3 lions up in a Fig tree next to the road- what a special sighting to see the tree climbing Lions of Queen in a tree.

It was sad leaving Queen after the amazing time we had but we also knew we had Bwindi Impenetrable National Park waiting for us. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park  composed of 321 km2 (124 sq mi) of both montane and lowland rainforest, and accessible only on foot due to the improbable steepness. Bwindi was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994. It is an amazing piece of land; it survived the last Ice Age (about 15,000 years ago) when most other forests in Africa disappeared.

In the local language (Lukiga), Bwindi means ‘impenetrable. As we made our way up the windy track to our amazing accommodation in Bhoma we enjoyed sightings of Augur Buzzard, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-headed Sunbird, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and African Blue Flycatcher.
After the exciting and rewarding day of birding, we got together for a scrumptious meal, update trip lists and socialised. We chatted about the exciting days ahead with the Gorilla trekking and an exciting day of birding around Buhoma tomorrow.

Day 10:
Birding the Buhoma Sector / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

After an early breakfast we headed out for the day to explore the fantastic forests of Bwindi. The Buhoma sector rewarded us with sightings of Grey-winged Robin Chat, Mountain Wagtail, Red-headed Bluebill, Mountain Oriole, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Black- faced Rufous Warbler, Speckled Tinkerbird, Grey Apalis, Ansorge’s, Plain, Cabanis’s and Kakamega Greenbul. As we progressed down the trail, we heard the characteristic call of an African Broadbill- this led to a great sighting of this unique bird doing it display call with unique circular flight and wing sonation. A stunning Red-throated Alethe and Blue-headed Sunbird were our first Albertine Rift endemics for the trip.

We also enjoyed sightings of Red Duiker, Le’Hoests Monkeys, Blue Monkeys and Black and White Colobus. As we proceeded on the track sightings of Cassin’s Honeybird, Equatorial Akalat, Mountain Illadopsis, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Slender-billed Greenbul, Bar- tailed Trogon and Willard’s Sooty Bulbul kept us busy and entertained. As if this was not enough, we soon heard the characteristic call of a Neumann’s Warbler calling, and after some hard work in locating this rift endemic the group was rewarded with top views of this real skulker.

We made our way back up to Rhuija and stopped at the famous “neck” and enjoyed sightings of Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Dwarf Honeyguide, White-chinned Prinia and Crowned Eagle. Just before getting to our lodge the heavens opened, but luck was on our side, and this did not affect our birding for the day. We freshened up and enjoyed a lovely meal at our lodge chatting about our amazing birding trip of Uganda. We discussed everyone’s top birds for the trip and enjoyed chatting about all the great birds seen on the trip. The excitement for our Gorilla trekking tomorrow was evident in our dinner conversation.

Day 11:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Gorilla trekking)

We enjoyed breakfast at our lodge before heading out for our Gorilla trekking- one of the highlights of any trip to Uganda. After a short briefing and dancing from the local ladies, the group was off into the forest of Bwindi. The setting was unreal, with mist rising from tropical forest it really looked like a scene from Gorillas in the mist. A welcome shower was enjoyed at the lodge, and we all sat down to have dinner as we chatted about our amazing day with the Mountain Gorillas and the great birding on offer. We all retired to our rooms and fell asleep to the call of the resident African Wood Owls on our roofs.

Day 12:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

A slightly relaxed breakfast was enjoyed this morning before enjoying the birds of the Ruhija sector. A visit to Umubwindi Swamp was our focus as the area is a famous location among birders as the rare and endangered Grauer’s Broadbill occurs here.  This species is highly localized, occurring in two isolated populations in Bwindi (Uganda) and Itombwe/Kahuzi (Democratic Republic of Congo). Our walk got off to a great start with us picking up on a birding party, birds enjoyed included Chestnut-throated Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Strange Weaver, Banded Prinia- offering great views, Red-faced Woodland Warbler- another rift endemic and Mountain Illadopsis.  A Bar-tailed trogon posing above the road was a bonus.

Our walk down to the swamp was most enjoyable, spending time in this incredible forest is such a treat. The birding was, as always, exceptional and we enjoyed sightings of: Stripe-breasted Tit, Slender-billed Starling, Ruwenzori Apalis, Mountain Oriole, Olive-breasted Greenbul, White-browed Crombec, Blue-headed Sunbird, Dwarf Honeyguide, Western Tinkerbird, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Archer’s Ground Robin, Willard’s Sooty Boubou and Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher- a stunning rift endemic.

Upon reaching the site where our local guide had seen the Grauer’s Broadbill we begin our search and looked hard and long but unfortunately could not get views of the Broadbill. We did hear the bird call but could not locate the little guy- it seems the youngsters have fledged and have dispersed from the nest site from May 2022. A short walk to the swamp yielded great views of the Grauer’s Swamp Warbler- another hard to see and special Albertine Rift endemic. Great views of Currether’s Cisticola was also enjoyed.

Our packed lunch was enjoyed in the forest after such an exciting morning and then the tough walk up and out the forest lay ahead of us. Our walk up from the swamp yielded some good sightings, with notable birds being Mountain Yellow Warbler, Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Regal Sunbird, Northern Puffback, Yellow-billed Barbet and Black-billed Turaco putting on a show for the group.

A welcome rest and time out was enjoyed back at the lodge as we chatted about the great trip over a few cold beers. Dinner was enjoyed at the lodge as we updated our lists and socialised. We again fell asleep to the distinctive call of the Wood Owl.

Day 13:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to Lake Mburo National Park

We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the mountains of Bwindi before picking up and leaving this incredible area to head for the savanna plains of Lake Mburo.

The 260 km2 (100 sq mi) park is a superb wetland and Acacia savanna sanctuary that is a famous spot for serious birders, and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders. Our drive to the park was uneventful and we enjoyed sightings of: Waller’s Starling, Slender-billed Starling, Kandt’s Waxbill, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Black-throated Canary, and Common Waxbill. It was a highlight to see a group of Crowned Hornbill mob a Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk out of a tree that led to us enjoying great views of the stunning raptor.

We enjoyed lunch on route to Lake Mburo and soon we found ourselves exploring this wonderful park. Highlights for our afternoon drive included Lappet-faced Vulture, Spot-flanked Barbet, White-winged Black Tit, Lilac-breasted Roller, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Tawny Eagle, Brubru and Bare-faced Go-away-bird. We made our way to an area to try for one of our primary targets – the Red-faced Barbet. This tricky, East African endemic cooperated wonderfully, and we enjoyed a great sighting of pair with a Black-collared Barbet in tow- what an incredible afternoon. Our mammal tally was also pretty impressive, and we enjoyed sightings of Impala, Cape Buffalo, Bushbuck, Burchell’s (Plains) Zebra, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Giraffe and Warthog. We also enjoyed our first sightings of Dwarf and Banded mongoose.

Day 14:
Lake Mburo to Entebbe International Airport and Departure

Unfortunately, with our tour nearing the end, today was primarily a driving day as we had to get back to Entebbe to catch flights home that evening. We however did enjoy a private boat trip on Lake Mburo. Highlights of the boat trip included Green Sandpiper, African Finfoot, White-winged Swamp Warbler, White-backed Night Heron, Scaly Francolin, Giant Kingfisher and loads of Hippos going about their antics early in the morning.

Our journey, although long, went well and we enjoyed a mandatory stop at the Equator to do the tourist thing and take photos. Road-side sightings included Grey-crowned Crane, African Harrier Hawk, Bateleur, Lilac-breasted Roller, and Bare-faced Go-away-bird.

We managed to bypass most of horrendous traffic of Kampala and arrived in Entebbe at our accommodation in the early evening. A welcome shower from the long day and a great meal is exactly what we all needed. We spent the evening chatting about the amazing birding in Bwindi and that we had seen 17 of 23 Albertine Rift endemics on the trip- just amazing!

Thanks to you all for being so wonderful, understanding, great guests and for the great time we had together. We all shared a good couple of laughs. A fantastic 14 days of birding and Primate viewing came to an end. We all had a blast and had an amazing time in Uganda and left with a tear in the eye after a lovely trip. Thanks go to Brian our driver /guide for all his knowledge, help in making the tour run so smoothly and driving us safely.  We look forward to our next Uganda trip.

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