With two little ones I don't get much time to go out birding, but with the mother-in-law passing by a few days ago I got the green light to escape for a few days. A friend-of-a-friend runs a tour company from Kampala, so I thought I'd see if he could help me. A few emails later and I had a quick four-day itinerary, with the main target being the Shoebill. I re-watched the 'Savannah' episode from the BBC's Africa series in preparation (a good segment on Shoebill!) and then I was off. Itinerary as follows:
- Day 1: Flight to Entebbe (1600 AED return, very reasonable). Birding Entebbe Botanical Garden.
- Day 2: Mabamba swamp for the Shoebill. Mpanga Forest. Then onward to Lake Mburo NP.
- Day 3: All day Lake Mburo.
- Day 4: Back to Entebbe for the flight home.
I was picked up by my driver, Abdul, and we made our way to the Boma guest house where I dumped my stuff. We did a quick turnaround and by about 15h30 I was at the botanical garden. I took a guide ($20) who had some knowledge of birds and we had a nice walk around, passing through wooded areas before getting down to the shore for terrific views across Lake Victoria. Then we went parallel to the shore, passing some reeds (lots of weavers) before heading back. We racked up 64 species over 2.5 hours and I would have probably had more if I'd brushed up on my birds a bit more. Highlights included African and Eurasian Hobby, Ross's and Great Blue Turacos, Black-and-White Casqued Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Hamerkop, Eastern Plantain-Eater and my first Marabou Stork (a lot of these are quite common but all lifers for me).
There were also a lot of weavers down on the lakeshore and I was glad of my camera so that I could pick out the different species later... They can look quite similar.
Full list here:
Day 4 was just a drive back to Entebbe, but at a Shell garage on the way we stopped for fuel. I had a look at the swamp area behind it and to my delight there were a couple of Grey Crowned Cranes! So I'll sign off with a couple of (distant) snaps of Uganda's national bird!
All in all it was a great trip, and I'm itching to go back. I managed around 160 species over the 4 days and I feel that I could have added a lot more if I'd've put a bit more time into studying the birds first. So definitely a sense of unfinished business! Anyway needless to say this is one of the best places to go birding on the planet and I would highly recommend a trip.
Day 3: Lake Mburo.
After an overnight at Rwakobo Rocks I had a morning bird-walk in an acacia-scrub-type area not far from the entrance with a ranger but unfortunately he wasn't that knowledgeable and I felt like I missed a few species.
By about 10am the guide signaled that the walk was over, but by this time some of the big eagles and vultures had started to appear in the sky, so with Abdul we hung around for a little bit to get a few snaps. I had trouble separating the commoner White-Backed Vultures from the Ruppell's Vultures and I couldn't definitively pick out any of the latter, even though I'm sure they were there. Much easier to spot were a couple of beautiful big Lappet-Faced Vultures. Also eagles are a bit of a problem. The one below I thought initially was Steppe but the shorter gape appears to suggest Tawny. Thoughts welcome.
Plus this one is still a mystery, possibly Wahlberg's Eagle?
Following lunch back at the hotel, we went back to the park for a planned boat ride on the lake. This is a good place to see African Finfoot and potentially White-Backed Night Heron.. However the boat was full of tourists and I baulked at the idea of spending a few hours with them (I'm such a snob!) so I made the tough decision to do a game drive instead. I do regret it a little... But we got some lovely birds including the amazing-looking Bare-Faced Go-Away Bird.
eBird lists here:
Then it was back to the hotel for a cold Nile Special.
Day 2: Mabamba Swamp and Mpanga Forest.
By about 07h30 Abdul had got me to the boat ramp and I could start the search for the Shoebill. Note that the other swamp specialty is the Papyrus Gonolek but by all account you need to be there earlier to see that one. To cut a long story short: We saw a Shoebill. In fact, two! But the other bird of the day for me was a solitary Goliath Heron. What an incredible bird. And a couple of Saddle-Billed Storks were another highlight.
Just a note on the boat ride... The boat is a little basic but it does the job. Note that lifejackets are not supplied so bear that in mind. Most of the time you're not too far from the reeds/marsh so it's OK.
To the photos:
Then after that it was on the road again, to stop at Mpanga forest. I met my guide Prossy at the entrance and we had a nice couple of hours walking round. We started at about 11am so by this time the birds seemed to be having a siesta and we didn't see too many birds. However I can't fault Prossy, she was excellent with a terrific knowledge of birds and calls/songs. She used playback to get some birds to come to us and just generally seemed really passionate about what she does. I can pass on her details if you message me.
eBird lists here: