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Old Sunday 1st October 2017, 10:01   #1
dwatsonbirder
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Independent Uganda September 15th - 30th

Introduction

Uganda is a popular destination for eco-tourism as a result of its varied biomes, rich wildlife and stability. Many tourists visit the country specifically to observe the great apes; Mountain gorilla and Chimpanzee, and it was predominantly for this reason that my partner and I chose to spend 2 weeks there.
The range of other wildlife is impressive too, with at least 16 species of primates, as well as enigmatic megafauna such as elephants, hippos, lions, buffalo etc.
The avifauna is staggering; over 1000 species have been recorded, a figure that is perhaps all the more exceptional as the country is landlocked.

We followed the usual route and visited the following sites; Lake Mburo, Bwindi Impenetrable forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park (Ishasha and Myewa), Kibale, Budongo Forest, Murchison Falls and of course, Mabamba swamp. In visiting these sites we were able to visit a good selection of habitats and altitudes and as a result had a very successful trip, seeing all bar two of our mammal targets, and I caught up with pretty much all of the birds I’d hoped to see. I had hoped to see around 300 species, and had a few specific target species; both Trogons, Martial Eagle, White headed vulture, as many chats/barbets/kingfishers as possible and of course Shoebill - a species I’ve wanted to see in the wild since I was about 12 years old.

As we were driving ourselves, the actual time in the field was somewhat reduced and if one had more time you could see a massive selection of species, as well as catching up with some tricky birds, for example, we did not try for Green breasted pitta at Kibale, nor did we have sufficient time in Budongo to try for Yellow footed flycatcher. It’s always nice to have an excuse to go back to these countries though!

Logistics and general information

As we generally travel on a tight budget, we opted to self-drive and generally camped rather than spend more money on accommodation; even so, the total cost for the trip was approximately £5000 for the two of us for 15 days.
We hired a vehicle from Roadtrip Uganda, and I cannot recommend them highly enough - the level of support if required is fantastic, and they were also able to sort our trekking permits in advance. They provide 24hr breakdown assistance, a mobile phone and can provide a full camping set up. The daily cost of our vehicle and all camping equipment was approximately $55. We travelled approximately 2000km, which translated into approximately $200 in fuel, which was pretty good value.

Accommodation varied, and we found some excellent places to camp. Prices ranged from $10 - $45 per night for our accommodation, I will briefly outline the locations and prices in the various legs of the trip. Food was readily available and generally cheap - we had a couple of relatively fancy meals on our last two nights in Entebbe, but even with a few drinks the total bill came to less than $40.

Roads were variable; there is a lost of investment in infrastructure from the Chinese and quite a few large projects are underway. Once these are finished it is likely this will cut down the amount of time spent travelling between locations. Some roads such as Kyenjojo to Hoima were truly awful - Google estimates about 3.5hrs but in reality this single stretch took over 5hrs. Other areas were better (but still unmetalled roads) and other stretches such as Masindi to Kampala were pretty much at European standards.
From a birding perspective there were a few key resources; the excellent trip report by Dries Van de Loock was a key source of information. A copy of the Helm Birds of East Africa is essential, and I also downloaded a few calls from the Birdsounds app prior to leaving.

We used only two specific birding guides; for Budongo I strongly recommend Raymond +256777319865 or +256752930065 who has an incredible knowledge of calls and is very sharp. We did a mornings birding and paid him $30, which was excellent value in my opinion. We also used a guide for Mabamba swamp which was arranged at the very last minute by a hotel manager (Liam +256778303681 at Precious Accommodation in Entebbe) - the guide was excellent and the charge was $120 for 4 people for approximately 4hrs.

I will attempt to write the report of each of the stages as soon as possible, but please bear with me - it’s October and I will likely be in the field rather a lot over the next 4 weeks!
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Old Sunday 1st October 2017, 17:27   #2
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Arrival and Lake Mburo NP

After some issues with KLM causing a change in our scheduled flight, we finally arrived in Entebbe at around 3am on the 16th September. We had booked to stay in a hotel, but there seemed little point in heading to the hotel for just a couple of hours sleep, so we negotiated with Roadtrip Uganda to deliver our Rav4 directly to the airport at 7am.

It was light at around 6:30, so we headed out into the morning sunlight to wait for the car. There was a surprising amount of activity immediately out of the airport - Common Bulbul, Little swift, Hadada ibis, Ruppell’s long tailed starling, Pied crow, Marico sunbird and various weavers making up a rather noisy dawn chorus. Some rather loud and clumsy looking birds in nearby trees were Great blue turaco, and a couple of Black & white casqued hornbills flew between them, not a bad start at all.

With our car delivered on time, we set off on our journey, and headed firstly north out of Entebbe then east towards our first destination - Lake Mburo. A brief stop at some interesting looking papyrus beds produced an early highlight in the shape of an African Marsh harrier which quartered over the area for several minutes. The first day produced quite a good variety of raptors, with Tawny eagle in the NP itself, whilst others seen over the course of several stops along the way included Black chested snake eagle, Long crested eagle, Grey kestrel, Yellow billed and Black shouldered kites.

The journey took a little longer than expected (this was to become a running theme during the trip…) but we eventually arrived in the park around 3pm in the afternoon. The first of many Grey-backed Fiscal were noted along the access track, with other common species including Crested francolin, Ring-necked, Red-eyed and Mourning doves, Little bee-eater, Lilac breaster roller, Grey headed sparrow, Black and Red bishops, Green winged Pytilia, Red cheeked Cordon-blue and Red billed firefinch.

The first decent mammals began to make an appearance as we drove slowly through the park, with Olive baboon, Zebra, Kob, Warthog and Macaque all making an appearance.
Originally our plan had been to undertake a night-drive here, as Lake Mburo offers a good chance of Leopard, but after a very long day and having been awake for something in the region of 32 hours we decided that an early night would be a more attractive proposition.

After setting up the tent, we still had a few hours of daylight, so I went for a wander into the scrub immediately behind our camping spot. A bit of pishing resulted in Yellow fronted tinkerbird, White browed robin-chat, Brown backed scrub-robin, Green and Northern Crombec, Blue naped mousebird, Grey backed Camaroptera and Brown babbler all coming in to investigate - the birding was so easy and enjoyable here, I can really see why people rave about East Africa.

A little later in the afternoon I heard several Common bulbul and Brown babblers going rather berserk in a tree, so I headed over to investigate and saw the familiar mass of a roosting Verreaux's eagle owl in a tall acacia. I walked back towards camp for a well deserved beer and early night, but not before picking out Ross’s turaco atop a tree.

I awoke around 2am briefly as I’d heard an unusual noise which had penetrated into my subconscious and had startled me somewhat - I noticed Kathi was waking too so we listened together to the rather haunting but slightly chilling calls of Spotted hyena - we really were in the wilds now.

The next morning we awoke well before first light, and listened to the growing dawn chorus whilst we made coffee and waited for the sun to appear. In addition to most of the species I’d encountered yesterday, the racous calls of Bare-faced go-away birds were particularly notable - certainly in terms of volume!
A pre-breakfast wander produced a few more new species, and I was glad to catch up with African green pigeon, Harlequin quail, Brown parrot, Red-headed lovebird, White browed and Senegal coucals and Black cuckooshrike.

We packed up the tent and slowly began our return drive through the park to the main road and onto Bwindi, but not before some great views of the common game animals, Tawny eagle and best of all Grey crowned crane - another rather widespread species but another enigmatic species I’d been looking forward to catching up with.

Soon enough we were back on the main road, and heading for our next destination; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and one of the main highlights of the trip - the critically endangered Mountain Gorilla.
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Old Monday 2nd October 2017, 18:28   #3
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I will follow this with great interest. Reports from people doing places like Uguanda independently are few and far between. Definitely an option for the future.
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Old Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 09:24   #4
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Yes, me too. Daniel, are your "$" US, or what ?
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Old Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 10:39   #5
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Thanks Steve and Dave, hopefully complete the next part later this evening. It is a very easy country to bird and the people are fantastic. Only minor issues are road conditions and the distances involved between sites - we just used a road map to navigate, but a useful app is maps.me which allows one to download an offline road map and navigate in a similar way to using Google maps. The prices quoted are in US $, a good supply of Ugandan shillings are also essential, and for the first (perhaps only) time in our lives we became millionaires when exchanging a few hundred dollars into shillings!
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Old Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 12:41   #6
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I echo what Daniel says about the country and the people. I did a trip in 2014, Mburo, Rohija, Buhoma, QE National Park, Kasese, etc. Well over 400 species + lots of mammals.

Looking forward to the rest of your report Daniel. Sounds like a good start.
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Old Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 17:58   #7
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Bwindi Impenetrable forest

We arrived in Bwindi after a rather long drive through west and then through the mountains. As we had to navigate the unsigned dirt roads without a guide, there were few opportunities to stop to do any birding, but a stop by a river produced the first Vieillot's black weaver and Cape wagtail of the trip. We arrived at our destination of the Buhoma Community Hospital, where we would be camping at the guesthouse for a staggering $10pppn including 3 meals a day - astonishingly good value, and with the money you save on living costs, you may wish to make a charitable donation to the amazing work when you get home.

Straight out of the car there was a very different feel, and some of the core species changed. Pretty much the first birds flicking around the mature trees in the compound were African blue flycatchers, whilst nearby were Common wattle-eye, Yellow white-eye, Olive and Collared sunbirds, Common fiscal, Black nected and Baglafecht Weavers, Black crowned waxbill, Bronze mannikin and African Citril - not a bad haul even before we’d unpacked the tent from the car! By the time we had set up the tent dusk was beginning to fall, and there was no chance of any further birding today, save for the calls of Black-billed wood-dove.
The following morning we were up relatively late (7am) and I was pleased to hear Fire-crested Alethe singing from the forest bordering the compound, despite attempting some whistled interpretation of its song, I was only able to get partial views as the bird kept low in the undergrowth.

After breakfast we headed to the park HQ, and arranged for a guided hike through the forest along the waterfall trail. I spend about 15 minutes watching various species from the car park including Violet backed and Stuhlmann’s starling, Western Black-headed Oriole, White chinned prinia, Red tailed and Spotted greenbuls. We set off on the hike with our guide, who although not specifically a bird guide, had a sharp eye and knew a good number of calls. An early highlight came in the form of a displaying African broadbill, with the odd mechanical noise made by its whirring wings a telltale give away to its presence. A little further on our guide alerted me to the subtle single note refrain from a Black-faced rufous warbler, which he managed to whistle in for some half decent views, almost at the same moment a Scaly breasted Illadopsis hopped among the leaf litter in the same patch.
A little further on a Blue monkey could have been the mammal highlight, were it not for the raucous calls of our first Chimpanzees reverberating through the forest. We knew that Chimps were present in the area, but as they are not habituated with people, any encounter is a touch of luck, so we were happy to enough as part of the aural landscape knowing that we would have better opportunities to catch up with them in Kibale.

We continued along our walk, and having been lucky enough to spend some time in patches of forest in Central American and South-East Asia, both Kathi and I agreed that this was some of the most beautiful and pristine that we had visited. As it got later into the morning, the amount of activity decreased, but there were still some interesting birds about; Hairy-breasted barbet and Grey shoulder robin-chat were all seen rather well, whilst we managed to secure good views of a perched Bar-tailed trogon near to the second waterfall. Our guide picked out the calls of Black bee-eater high in the canopy, but despite my best efforts I didn’t manage to connect with this highly desired species during the trip. Another two species which were heard but not seen were Black-billed and Rwenzori turaco, which again was a great shame as this is a particularly attractive family. African Emerald cuckoo was very vocal in the forest, and we heard quite a few, and were rather lucky to pick one out amongst the crown of a large tree. The walk continued to grow more scenic with each bend, and it was a really enjoyable introduction to this special area. We headed back to the HQ, and then returned back to our accommodation for lunch. A family party of Red tailed monkey provided distraction whilst we ate, and was the first of many encounters with this species.

After lunch we opted to take a tour around the hospital (I had agreed to Kathi that it wouldn’t be 15 days of me looking into trees in a distracted state!) which was a fascinating insight into the trails faced not only by local residents, but also by the doctors, many of whom work tirelessly to provide not only superb levels of healthcare, but also education and community outreach programs. After the tour, we visited a local store and bought a couple of beers to have with dinner prior to an early night.

The next day dawned suprisingly cool and clear, and the big day had at last arrived; Gorilla trekking. This was to be one of many highlights of the trip, and eagerly awaited by us both. The trek to where the Gorillas were located passed through yet more breath-taking primary forest, whilst several steep ascents proved breath-taking on a totally different level; I was having flashbacks to the exhausting walk through Gunung Leuser NP a few years ago, and was glad of the 3 stops on the way up. To be honest, I was pretty knackered and had to be cautious of my footing, so opportunities for birding were few and far between. A pair of White-headed wood-hoopoe showed well along glade, whilst Mountaine oriole was seen well and heard a few times. Another Bar-tailed trogon was slightly more obliging than the previous day, but flew off just as I’d reached the camera out of the rucksack. I enjoyed good views of Rwenzori Double-collared sunbird at one point - a rather common but attractive Albertine Rift endemic - and as we climbed higher I noted several White tailed blue flycatcher.

That more or less concluded the sum total of birds observed during the trek, and the undoubted highlight was the unforgettable hour with the Mountain Gorillas, with our very first encounter being a massive Silverback, followed by three young who were so engrossed in their play they barely registered our presence. The hour passed in what felt like a blink of an eye, and we were soon descending back down to the village. There are so many things that one can say about spending time in the company of the great apes, but it is difficult to really articulate the experience without sounding trite or cliched, so perhaps a few images will convey this experience better that I am able to describe.

After the hike, we joined some of the group we did the trek with at their considerably more swanky lodgings, which proved to be a very good choice as the gardens and adjacent forest edge was alive with birds. Cardinal woodpecker, Speckled mousebird, Black necked weaver, Common wattle-eye Cardinal woodpecker, Yellow rumped tinkerbird, Speckled mousebird and Black and white mannikin all swarmed in and around the area, whilst overhead were large numbers of hirundines; Black saw-wing, Barn, Mosque and Angola swallows and Rock martin wheeled around and were joined by Little, European and Palm swifts. The skies darkened rather rapidly, and within 30 minutes a colossal storm had moved into the valley, which began with torrential rain, followed by 10+ minutes of near continuous lightning, and topped off with hailstones as large as golf balls - incredible to witness, but were we glad that we were sheltering in this nice lodge and not either still on the descent, or even worse - back in our tent!

Our last evening in Bwindi passed without incident, and we were soon packing our belongings into the jeep ready for the next leg of the journey. I managed to add Village indigobird to the trip list on the final morning, as well as enjoying good views of Cape wagtail. It had been a wonderful time in this incredible area, but I couldn’t help but feel that I had missed out somewhat by not heading to “the neck” or Ruhija where the best forest birding appears to be on offer. If I was planning the trip again, I’d add an additional day or so to further explore this area, which would likely result in many more sought after species. Alas, our time in Bwindi came to an end, and we were now to head north for the Ishasha sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, and more adventures...
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Old Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 19:06   #8
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Ah, the long drive to Ruhija, the puncture, the silly spare wheel, the 'nowhere to buy a replacement', the inner tube repair, the second puncture, the third puncture..... It's a good job the birds were worth it!

It's a pity you missed Black Bee-eater, it's certainly a 'sharp intake of breath' moment! And yes I ran up the hill to see it!
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Old Wednesday 4th October 2017, 19:46   #9
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Ishasha (Queen Elizabeth NP)

It was once again around Lunch time by the time we arrived in Ishasha, and we were ready for our first proper experience of a game drive. There were some colourful and confiding birds to see as we made our way to the gate; White-throated Bee-eaters hawked insects from roadside twigs, whilst Red necked spurfowl dust-bathed at the roadside. We managed better views of Grey kestrel, and I clocked the first of many Bateleur for the trip - yet another species I’ve wanted to see for a long time. A little further on down the track we saw a fine adult Golden-breasted bunting - a species I had previously seen in Namibia, but not as well as here, and yet another “golden wonder” with many Yellow-throated longclaw singing next to the car. As we pulled up at the entrance gate to buy our tickets, I could help but notice the first Lesser Masked and Spectacled weavers of the trip, whilst a small party of Wattled starling flock around some nearby roughly grazed area.

So far the trip had passed without incident, but the first “experience” was just around a bend. With drizzle turning into a pretty steady downpour, the road surfaces became rather greasy, and the roadside ditches were filling up rather quickly. At one point I noticed that there were several modified landcruiser behind us, and as they rapidly approached us, I decided that I would pull over to let them pass - this was a mistake. I tried to tuck the car over to the left, and a smooth and fast movement, the car slid firstly sideways, then down. We were now at a 40 degree angle in a ditch. Bugger. I revved the engine hard and the car moved a few inches forward, but it also sank deeper into the soft mud. Over the next couple of minutes I tried to free the car but furiously accelerating in both drive and reverse, but to no avail. Eventually one of the drivers of the convoy took pity on these poor “muzungus” and was able to free the car from the ditch and put us back on track. The cars behind erupted in applause and cheering, much to my embarrassment. Still, lesson learnt - don’t pull over!

We had opted to stay at the UWA campsite next to the Ntungwe River, quite literally a stone's-throw from the DRC border, and complete with neighbourhood Hippopotamus! This was a good campsite with decent facilities, and cost us 30,000UGX (approximately $9US) for 1 night. There is are utilitarian shower and toilet facilities, but you’re here to see the wildlife, not admire the plumbing. As this is a pretty wild area, there are armed patrols at night, and the rangers make a campfire for you - we game them a small tip which was appreciated.

After the tent had been set up, we set off to explore the park and find some wildlife. We opted first for the northern loop, which gave us good views across the park and of Ugandan Kob, Hartebeest, Buffalo, Baboons and Warthogs. The birding was pretty good too, with a nice variety of species (many of which we had seen in Lake Mburo) and some fairly common (but impressive nonetheless) species including African grey hornbill, White headed barbet, Sooty chat, Nubian woodpecker, Common scimitarbill, White browed and Senegal coucals. As we looped back around, we headed along a track near to the landing strip, and here we came across a good selection of dry-country waders, which were very loosely associated in a flock spread over several hundred meters. Crowned lapwing seemed to be the predominant species, whilst mixed in were smaller numbers of Senegal lapwing. I was very pleased to see a couple of Temminck’s courser also loosely associating with the birds, but my attention was drawn to a group of nine birds, which were feeding some 20m from the car. Initially they appeared similar to the Senegal lapwing that were in the same area, until one of the birds turned to profile - the brown cap, paler chest and lack of white above the lores meant this could only be a group of Brown chested lapwing - a rather notable species in Uganda.

We continued on our way after taking a few shots, and went on to enjoy some great - if a little distant - views of my first wild Elephant - a wonderful experience as they peacefully fed on some tender leaves. We then made our way across a large open plain where we enjoyed drive-away views of Black bellied Korhaan, before finding another gathering of Lapwing - this was a much smaller group consisting of 5 Senegal lapwing, and to my surprise another 4 Brown chested lapwing. We were at least 5km from the other group and had not seen those birds leave, or this group fly in, so it seems reasonable to assume that this was a second group.

We headed for an area of large fig trees near to the gate which are frequented by lions, but I could see quite a few large raptors dropping out of the sky on an adjacent track, so I suggested that we head over on the off-chance that this was a kill. This proved to be a very good decision as we encountered a large group of vultures; White backed, Ruppell’s, Palm-nut and Lappet-faced were the obvious members, whilst also present were a couple of Tawny eagle and a young Bateleur. We approached a little closer but it appeared that if there had been a kill, this had now been cleared away. As we began to pull away, something made me scan through the flock one more time, and I hit the brakes hard as I noticed a very different looking bird in the throng - a cracking White-headed vulture. This had been one of the species I thought we had an outside chance of encountering, but didn’t expect to see. As I watched it, a second bird raised its head from further back in the group, and I was able to secure a record shot.

By this time it was approaching dusk, and Kathi was keen to see some more big game, so we headed back to the gate to pick up a UWA guide to show us the lions. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the favoured fig tree, and there in the soft afternoon light lay two male lions, suspended between the boughs some 10 feet off the ground. We enjoyed the lions lazing (and occasionally yawning) for a while, whilst a few Little bee-eater caught insects from the lower branches. At this point, the UWA ranger said that we could try for the females and cubs elsewhere, so I started the engine, and off we went again. To cut a rather long story short, we drove around for about an hour without any success, before ending back at the original fig tree, now with sprawling three lions. After we had driven the ranger back to his post by the entrance the light was beginning to fade, but we were due one last treat. We drove down the track into the campsite, and Kathi said to reverse back up the track and look to the left - there not some 20 feet away were three magnificent Elephant, casually ripping the vegetation from the bushes. We watched them for a few minutes until they crept deeper into the cover.

The rangers made the fire and we cooked some dinner. I noticed quite a few pairs of eyes low in the foliage nearby, so I donned my head-torch and illuminated the bushes. We were rewarded with great views of Common genet - another new mammal for me. Soon enough we were wiped out from another early start and a long day in the field, and fell asleep to the sounds of hippos splashing about in the shallows, and the calls and laughter of Spotted hyena echoing in from further away.

Yet again I was awake before dawn, and emerged from the tent before the sun had fully risen. There was a lot of activity around the tent, so I grabbed my swaro’s and wandered around the campsite. There were several calls which were not familiar to me, but I soon located their origin; Black headed gonolek, African Paradise and Ashy flycatchers, Lesser Honeyguide, Little greenbul and Woodland kingfisher were all seen well, but a few calls remained a mystery to me. Whilst making breakfast I noticed a rather showy Yellow-throated tinkerbird in the trees above the tent and went to fetch my camera. I quickly became distracted by a small group of Grey headed nigrita and enjoyed watching these subtly beautiful finches pick amongst the foliage. Overhead a group of Barn swallow were joined by a few European bee-eater, and better still, by at least two Mottled spinetail - a very jammy sighting as this is another localised species which can be difficult to catch up with. My first Diderick cuckoo and Blue headed coucal of the trip were in the bushes by the river, and better yet was a single Cassin’s grey flycatcher hawking from overhanging branches just a few feet from a group of Hippo - I put the bird in the scope and showed my other half, but the response I got was “oh, nice” followed quickly by “wow look at these hippos through the scope!”. Oh well…

Once again it was time to pack up the car and hit the road, travelling due north towards the Kazinga channel. The journey took considerably longer than we had anticipated (nearly 5 hours!) but we had some wonderful moments, as we drove through clouds of butterflies which were extracting salt and other minerals from roadside puddles. Our next would be the Mweya peninsula and the Kazinga channel.
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Old Wednesday 4th October 2017, 19:52   #10
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A few photos

A selection of images covering the first few stops - shame about the twig!
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Old Wednesday 4th October 2017, 19:58   #11
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few more...

...again from first few stages
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Old Wednesday 4th October 2017, 20:04   #12
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Originally Posted by Jon Turner View Post
Ah, the long drive to Ruhija, the puncture, the silly spare wheel, the 'nowhere to buy a replacement', the inner tube repair, the second puncture, the third puncture..... It's a good job the birds were worth it!

It's a pity you missed Black Bee-eater, it's certainly a 'sharp intake of breath' moment! And yes I ran up the hill to see it!
Jon, unfortunately we missed out on the puncture front - we had a few "moments" in the car but a flat tyre wasn't one of them It was a shame about the Bee-eater, but a valid reason for a repeat trip in the future I think (along with Leopard, Green breasted pitta, Green broadbill, Lagden's bush-shrike, Short tailed warbler, Black and white shrike-flycatcher etc...)
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Old Wednesday 4th October 2017, 20:49   #13
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That drive through the QE park to the Kazinga Channel did seem to take forever.

Those Lions in a tree - we saw 2 males, much younger than yours.
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Old Saturday 7th October 2017, 15:49   #14
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Kazinga channel/Mweya penninsular (Queen Elizabeth NP)

After an unexpectedly long journey, we arrived at the northern sector of QENP. We headed to the UWA field office as our first port of call in order to organise permits and tickets for the launch cruise. Kathi kindly went into the office, whilst I hung about in the car-park. There were a couple of new birds for the trip, with a cracking Double toothed barbet in some bushes, whilst a showy African dusky flycatcher hawked for insects from one of the buildings. Soon enough we were heading west along the northern side of the Kazinga channel towards Mweya.
We opted for some UWA accommodation, which was considerably more comfortable than our tent, and the bed and hot shower were particularly welcome. We paid about $20USD for a basic banda, and there is a restaurant nearby which offer very good and inexpensive food (approx $5 for a rice dish and a couple of beers). There were several weaver colonies around the area, whilst the first rather noisy group of Black lored babbler were obvious residents. Many of the typical species of savannah (seen in Ishasha and Mburo) were also common here.

We had organised tickets for the 3pm cruise, and we were not to be disappointed. This offers a wonderful opportunity to have intimate views of Elephant, Buffalo, Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Hippos and Crocodiles, and a bachelor herd of Elephants was the mammalian standout - we even witnessed a testosterone fuelled battle between two adolescents - impressive to see, even if it was more akin to sparring.

The launch cruise also offers a chance of good views of waterbirds - an element that had so far been missing from the trip - and this proved to be a highlight for me. The most notable birds are Pied kingfisher as well as White winged and Whiskered terns which are present in their hundreds. As an aside, it was a really useful opportunity to study the latter species pair from the point of view of being on the “rarity-radar” - I have seen thousands in summer plumage when both species are easy, but the subtleties of 1w and adult winter plumage were easy to appreciate given the close views obtained.
There was also a good selection of palearctic waders on show too; Turnstone, Common, Green, Wood and Marsh sandpipers, Black winged stilt, Little stint, Ringed plover and Ruff. These were joined by more exotic waders too, with the first Spur winged lapwing, Water thick-knee, Three banded and Kittlitz’s plovers dotted along the riverbank. Overhead were several African fish-eagle giving the classic yelping call. Along the banks were stacks of White breasted and Long tailed cormorant, with Egyptian goose, African spoonbill, Yellow billed and Saddle billed stork, Sacred ibis and Black headed heron in good numbers too.
A little further along the channel is an area called the “bird sanctuary” and here there were more new species to be seen; Pink backed and Great white pelican were two rather obvious new birds, whilst good numbers of Grey headed and Baltic gulls loafed on the shore.

Back on dry land Malachite kingfisher and Slender billed weaver were new additions to the ever growing trip list, whilst Blue-spotted wood-dove seemed relatively numerous in the more wooded areas. We enjoyed a wonderful sunset and a few beers after a tiring but very enjoyable day. One last treat was in-store for us, in the form of Giant forest hog which was snuffling around in the dusk as we walked back to the banda. This species is tricky to catch up with as it generally inhabits densely forested areas, but there is a population which are comparatively confiding along the Mweya peninsula.

After a good night's sleep in a proper bed, we were again up rather early and ready for another long day on the road, with our next stop being Kibale. We decided that we would take a slightly longer route out of the park which would give us the chance of observing more game. We got quite lucky with a few sightings of elephants, but generally it was rather quiet. Driving through some long grass we encountered several rather spectacular Red collared widowbird which were performing their jumping display, whilst several Common button-quail flushed from in front of the car - a species I’d hoped to see, but didn’t anticipate to get decent views of. Overhead we saw a couple of Wahlberg’s eagle, whilst other raptors included Brown snake-eagle and Black shouldered kite. A brief stop at the equator on the Kasese road held a surprise Red chested cuckoo.

We continued hammering north to Fort Portal (where we had a brief stop for supplies) before heading south-east to our base for the next two nights - Rweeta safari camp on the edge of the Kibale forest and the shores of Lake Nyabikere.
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Old Sunday 8th October 2017, 16:59   #15
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Ah, enjoying your report. A friend and I did a similar Uganda trip in 2015, but I did have a Tanzania driver with us. It was following the severe reduction of tourism after the Ebola crisis in Africa, and infrastructure and lodgings were suffering. We did it relatively cheaply and picked up the occasional local bird guide. It might have even been Raymond in Bwindi. My travel friend was there for primates, so we would leave her to do day long visits, and driver and I would go birding. It is an amazing country, for sure and so glad to see the animal population returning after the Amin regime decimation.
I had been told that one needs 3 spares when self driving. Of course our spares didn't help when we hit a massive pothole in the back of beyond. Locals were able to pull us out, but oil pain was toast and being an automatic transmission, no one knew how to fix it. We had to arrange a driver from Entebbe to come pick us up from some little town so I could fly out the next morning. Left car and original driver there. A sad, stressful and unexpected farewell.
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Old Sunday 8th October 2017, 17:15   #16
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Kibale forest NP

We had originally booked to stay in one of the permanently erected tents at Rweteera, but on arrival we were glad to be camping - we paid $20USD per night, whilst the tents on offer were $45USD per night, and although they included a wooden bed, we didn’t think offered very good value. The location was pretty good, with some nice riparian habitat, and the main road through the forest a few hundred meters away.

This main road itself offered some good options for birding as it cuts right through the forest. One particularly rewarding area can be found at approximately 0.465535N, 30.370614E where the road crosses over a small stream and there is a good view of the forest edge, whilst quite a few species come down to the water to drink. Another area of note was approximately 0.487724N, 30.348156E where we encounter a group of approximately 40 African Grey parrot at dusk, and also a rather showy Grey-throated barbet, looking every bit like a muppets character. The main draw (other than Chimpanzee) is Green breasted pitta here, but sadly given our time constraints I did not attempt to see this species. There is a lot of activity in the forest, and I wish I had been able to dedicate more time to birding in the area, but such is the nature of the beast with a packed schedule.

Around Rweteera there was plenty to see. The waterside areas attracted the first Giant kingfisher of the trip, whilst Pied, Malachite and Grey headed were encountered frequently. In the margins I enjoyed good views of African Black crake, whilst Grosbeak, Slender-billed and Golden backed weavers frequented the papyrus beds. There were a few pleasant incidental birds around the general area, with Pink backed pelican a frequent feature on the lake, African hawk-eagle circling the adjacent forest most days, and African hobby hunting over the campsite and lake regularly. The mixed woodland/scrub around the accommodation proved to be productive also, with White headed saw-wing, Yellow throated leaf-love, Red bellied paradise flycatcher, Black throated wattle-eye, Green throated sunbird, African firefinch, Red fronted barbet, Great blue turaco, Black and white casqued hornbill and Grey woodpecker all observed frequently.

After a late lunch, we had a drive through the forest, and stopped for a while at the aforementioned stream. There was a good mixture of species on offer in the area and many allowed good views; African Emerald and Black cuckoo, Yellow throated and Speckled tinkerbird, Cameroon Sombre greenbul, Grey backed camaroptera, African blue flycatcher and Western black-headed oriole were all seen well, but most frustrating was the first Narina trogon of the trip, which called frequently, but the single view was of a bird flying across the road between trees. We headed back to camp for dinner and an early-ish night ready for Chimpanzee trekking the following day, and were treated to a large party of African Grey parrot at the previously mentioned location.

The next day was another pre-dawn start in order to reach the HQ in time for the trekking this morning. It was to be a day of contrasts, with exceptional encounters with the Chimpanzees and a lot of frustration due to the high volume of bird activity but inability to spend any time looking. There was a good colony of Vieillot's black weaver by the park HQ, and despite taking an hour for our group to get ready, I really struggled to see much around the immediate area save a rather brief Yellow throated tinkerbird.

Our guide Jessica was extremely knowledgeable and had been working in the area since the early ‘90’s. Our first encounters with the Chimps was somewhat underwhelming, with several adults high in the canopy, but we soon managed to catch up with several members who were on the forest floor. We enjoyed prolonged views (well over an hour if I am able to admit that!) and saw plenty of different behaviours, including the dominant male drumming on a buttress at close range - incredible! The experience was very different to that with the Gorillas, as you have to follow the group around and you really are tracking after them through the underground - it feels almost as if you are part of the troop! There were other primates around, and during the morning we clocked Olive baboon, Red tailed monkey, Guereza colobus and perhaps best of all L’Hoest’s Guenon. I couldn’t help but notice that once inside the forest there was near incessant birdsong. The problem with the tracking is that there is no time to stop and look at anything else, and despite the various whistles, squeaks, chatters and whoops, the only bird I positively identified was a pair of Cameroon Sombre bulbul.
Clearly, to get the most out of Kibale, one would have to hire a specialist guide and carefully creep through the forest, but sadly this was not something that time would allow for. On the way back to camp, we stopped again at the bridge, and as some form of avian compensation, I was rewarded with scope views of Narina trogon (my 22nd species of trogon!).

We saw much the same selection of species as the previous day, but after a pretty intense (and hot) few hours in the forest, I was ready to spend some down time, and we spent the afternoon enjoying a few beers and admiring the view of Lake Nyabikere. After the lack of time spent doing some decent forest birding, we agreed that we would spend a night at Budongo, to allow for a decent morning in the excellent forest there.

The next day we departed on the gruelling drive north (the initial stretch of road between Kyenjojo and Hoima is perhaps the worst road I’ve driven on) to allow us to spend the following morning birding in Budongo, and I was not to be disappointed. Our accommodation was at the forestry college in Nyabyeya and for $10 we got an en-suite private room, which was perfectly fine if a bit decrepit. Food and a range of drinks are also available, and are equally inexpensive. I had originally attempted to contact in advance but was unable to get through, but it appears arriving on the day is perfectly acceptable, and the college makes a great base being a 20 minute drive from the Royal Mile.
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Old Sunday 8th October 2017, 17:20   #17
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Thanks for the kind words Fiscalshrike, it is a wonderful country to visit, I really cannot recommend it highly enough. It sounds like we got very lucky with our car from members reflections on this thread, but we had two potentially serious incidents whilst in Murchison Falls NP which I will detail later. For anybody thinking about an independent trip, I really recommend Roadtrip Uganda who offer 24/7 support, recovery and breakdown if required.
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Old Sunday 8th October 2017, 18:29   #18
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Budongo forest (Royal Mile)

The time had come for some serious forest birding, and apparently there is no better place in Uganda than the Royal Mile.
There are some seriously good birds here, and perhaps the ultimate target is Yellow footed flycatcher.
Although we didn’t encounter this species, I can honestly say this was one of the best mornings birding I’ve had in tropical forest, massively assisted by our guide Raymond, who I cannot recommend highly enough. A member of staff at the college arranged for Raymond to meet us at 6am, and we ended up paying $90 all in, which broke down to $30 for Raymond for a half day (we birded for about 4.5hrs) and then $30 each for entrance/administration fee to enter the forest.

We arrived at the entrance at about 6:30, and initially things were a little bit quiet. The first calls were of Narina trogon, Tamborine dove and Brown chested alethe, the latter which Raymond tempted out onto the track by imitating its call. In the distance we heard Nahan's partridge calling, but unsurprisingly we did not manage to get eyes on this secretive species. An African Pygmy kingfisher showed very well in the half-light, and whilst scoping this bird I noticed some movement on a log in the background - a cracking pair of Green backed twinspot! We enjoyed these lovely finches for a while, and again whilst watching these, we noticed two larger birds were quietly feeding on the track Red-headed bluebill which performed extremely well. A series of raucous calls had us staring up into the canopy to enjoy both Black and white casqued and White thighed hornbills, and whilst watching these Raymond pulled out a smart African Emerald cuckoo and Yellowbill and then a great combo of Yellow crested and Brown eared woodpeckers in the same massive Ironwood tree.
Lower down in the vegetation we enjoyed great views of Grey headed nigrita, Superb sunbird, Yellow white-eye and reasonable views of both Brown and Pale breasted illadopsis. In the mid strata we enjoyed great views of African blue and Chestnut capped flycatcher until I happened to look back down the road to see a wild Chimpanzee! I pointed this out to Raymond, but Kathi was a little way down the track, and only managed the briefest of views as it slunk into the forest.

Shortly after this encounter, Raymond heard something and became very animated and urged for me to follow him with the scope. He had heard something that wasn’t even on my radar, and even more remarkably he had seen some movement about 50m up in the canopy. He moved the scope into position and told me to look whilst he brought a call up on his mp3 player. I saw a small pied bird moving about in the canopy, as I zoomed in I noticed the bird had a solidly black cap and a small white mark in front of the eye - I was watching an Ituri batis! This was an absolutely mega bird, and really difficult to catch up with. We enjoyed the bird in the scope for about 3-4 minutes before it moved off into the jungle.

The birding didn’t stop there, and there were many more quality birds on offer; Forest flycatcher showed so well I was able to make out the fine vermiculations on the throat and breast, and we also enjoyed good views of Grey throated flycatcher. Another rather vocal bird was coaxed out of the under-story and I was instantly face to face with one of my most wanted birds of the trip; Forest robin. This was getting silly, what a departure from all other forest birding I’ve done!
Whilst I was enjoying this, Raymond was off again, and looking hard into the canopy once more. He had located a singing Uganda woodland warbler, which showed rather well. Whilst looking into the canopy I noticed another warbler like bird which put me in mind of a cross between an Arctic warbler and a vireo - a lovely Green hylia. Raymond got onto a small party of Green-backed eremomela, but sadly I just couldn’t get onto the birds as my glasses had steamed up with all the excitement. A little further on we came across a group of White throated and Little grey greenbul, whilst in the background a Western nicator called, but sadly we couldn’t coax it out. Another series of loud harsh calls announced the arrival of a Harrier-hawk, which perched in a tree allowing for good scope views. Other good species were Grey apalis, Red bellied paradise flycatcher, Western black-headed oriole and Black throated wattle-eye.
The time had passed in a flash and we slowly made our way back towards the car, but Raymond had a pair of aces up his sleeve. He began whistling as we walked, and after about 2 minutes, stopped us dead and pointed. About 5 meters ahead was a stunning Chocolate backed kingfisher, I managed to get good views in the bins, but the bird flew off just as I set up the scope. Again Raymond began whistling, a slightly different call and I knew he was after another one of my targets. This time it took literally 30 seconds for the bird in question to appear, and was as equally stunning as the last - a Blue-breasted kingfisher. As we approached the car Raymond pointed out a mammal high in a large tree - the aptly named Tree hydrax.

It had been a superb morning at this legendary site, I suspect that if one had a few days to spend in the area you could clock up quite a list. It had been the perfect antidote to the forest frustration in Kibale, and I am very glad that we managed to fit the site into the itinerary. Alas, our schedule beckoned and we were soon enough back in the car heading north for our penultimate destination of Murchison Falls National Park.
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 19:26   #19
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Murchison Falls National Park

Our time in Murchison was to be one of the highlights of the trip, and was certainly one of the most anticipated. Murchison is one of Uganda’s crowning jewels, home to the White Nile, plenty of game and the eponymous falls. Although it had taken a long time to get here (it felt more like weeks than days since we were in Fort Portal) the park certainly delivered on our hopes for a “classic” game drive experience.

Much of Uganda’s big game had been extirpated under the regime of Idi Amin, but good levels of protection means that the ecosystems and animal populations are beginning to recover.

There were many highlights even on the first day; close encounters with Elephants and Giraffes, multitudes of Ungulates grazing on the plains and a large selection of new birds of course.

An early highlight was on the drive through the southern section, where we encountered a showy pair of Abyssinian Ground hornbill feeding at the roadside, whilst a little further on and a brief stop for a perched raptor saw the first Western banded snake-eagle of the trip. The southern section looked great for birds, but after the great morning in Budongo, I agreed that any stops would be brief to allow us time to look for mammals in the afternoon.

Our base for our time in Murchison was meant to be the Shoebill campsite, unfortunately we quickly found that the track down to the campsite was impassable with our little Rav4. We had read a lot about the Red Chilli camp, so we decided to head there despite its popularity. I suspect that in peak season the campsite would be a packed and rather noisy place, but at the end of the season this proved to be an excellent option, with a bit of buzz and atmosphere at night without the rowdy party element which we were keen to avoid. I really recommend Red Chilli as it is in a prime location and close to the ferry terminal at Paraa. We paid the standard $10pppn for camping, and both food and drink was very reasonable, with dinner and a few drinks barely breaking the $10 mark. The staff we great and friendly, and the facilities were also fine.

As a very brief aside, I believe they work with Wild Frontiers, who I do not recommend - I enquired about a shoebill cruise and was met with a tepid response, when I asked about the price the answer I received shocked me “$120 if you have that kind of money” - I most certainly did as that is less than a day's pay, but there was no way I was going to be parting with that sum to such a rude person. Murchison was considered one of the best locations after Mabamba to catch up with Shoebill, but sadly this species escaped me during our time in the park - perhaps I’d have more success in Entebbe.

Around the campsite there were quite a few birds, and several common (but new) species were evident very quickly; Silverbird, Spotted morning-thrush, Chestnut crowned sparrow-weaver, Piapiac and Speckled fronted weaver were all present and showing well as I set the tent up for our stay. I could hear calling African fish eagle as well as the harsh scolding of Black headed gonolek, but there were many other calls that I didn’t recognise - it was time to get out there.
We opted for to cross the river to the northern side of the Nile which offers the premier game-viewing experience. As we waited for the ferry, I noticed several Hippopotamus almost totally submerged by the bank, whilst the now ubiquitous Pied kingfisher and several Wire-tailed swallow darted about the water's edge. On the bank, there were Spur winged lapwing, Water thick-knee and Common and Wood sandpiper.

For our first drive we headed down the Queen’s loop, which proved to be a great choice for mammals. A few stop-starts (Whinchat, Grey kestrel, Abyssinian Ground hornbill and Red necked falcon respectively) and we had entered good savannah. Our first close encounter with Elephant was a group at the roadside, tainted slightly by one of the tourist vehicles getting a little too close and slightly upsetting the matriarch. We pulled off and left the elephants in peace, and the other cars to explore different areas of the park. Up next were some very showy Giraffe (a personal favorite of Kathi’s) followed by another highlight in what had already been a fantastic day - a small group of Lion sheltering under an acacia bush. It was great to see these apex predators at even closer range, but again, there was little in the way of activity. Perhaps tomorrow. The plains were alive with Hartebeest, Kob, Topi, Oribi, Waterbuck and Buffalo, and we spent a good time enjoying the animals in the soft afternoon light. I did see a few birds as we drove around, but if I am honest, I did focus more on the mammals. Nonetheless I did clock Red cheeked cordon-bleu, Black bishop, Plain backed pipit, Black throated barbet as well as a host of Bee-eaters; Red throated, Little, Swallow tailed, White throated and European were all observed as we drove around, but the best was yet to come.

As we made our way slowly back towards Paraa, I noticed a large raptor circling around in the sky. I had a quick look with my bins, then reached for the camera as it became apparent this wasn’t another vulture or Bateleur, but an immature Martial eagle. This was too much, what a day! Although I am not a raptor connoisseur by any means, I remember watching programs showing Martial eagles hunting Vervet monkeys in my formative years, and wondering if I would ever see such a magnificent and powerful bird in the flesh. It only took some twenty odd years, but here was my very first Martial, soaring about a few hundred meters away.

We headed back to the ferry, as we were ready for some food and a few beers after a long and very rewarding day; it was strange to think we had been in thick rainforest this morning, and we were now watching the sun go down over the Nile and surrounding Savannah. A couple of African darter whizzed up river as the last birds of the day, and we managed to stay up drinking beer to at least 10pm, before exhausted returning to the tent.
In was in this slightly tipsy and somewhat delirious state that I walked right past what I thought was a rock when Kathi grabbed my arm - I had nearly walked into the back end of a Hippo - not a good move. We went back to the bar for 10 minutes (and one last nightcap) by which time the offending Hippo had moved on, and we were finally able to get some much needed sleep.

We were up early the following morning, and decided that we would head straight for the Queen's track, specifically in the hope of catching up with yesterday's Lions. We were not to be disappointed, and having prior knowledge of their whereabouts the previous day certainly helped - we were the first and only car with two Lionesses for a good 20 minutes, and we enjoyed watching them in full view.

After we had our fill of the lions, we decided to head over to the Albert track, before looping back towards the ferry for lunchtime. We were rewarded with more game viewing and more birds, the most notable being Northern Carmine bee-eater - yet another species I could remember being awestruck by after seeing on television as a child, and it was even better in the flesh. Another avian highlight came in the form of three Denham’s bustard which showed very well close to the river, this is another family that I get a lot of pleasure from as bustards are very characterful birds and often show rather well given time.

We made our way back towards Paraa, and as we were drawing closer, Kathi suddenly caught sight of something and stopped the car. Not more than 20 feet away a Side striped jackal was hunched on the floor. Although not an uncommon species, it can be difficult to catch up with these little scavengers, and we were both surprised to see one out in the open in broad daylight.

After lunch we had booked to go on the 2pm launch cruise up the Nile to view the falls. This is a good opportunity to view game along the river, and perhaps catch up with a few more wetland birds. Hippopotamus were very common, whilst I was rather surprised that we only saw a handful of Nile crocodile; I was a little disappointed as I heard the population was healthy, and that there were some large individuals in the river - perhaps it was the time of the day.

There were a few birds along the way, but many of these had already been encountered, with both Purple and Goliath heron being new to the trip, whilst Giant kingfisher, African Darter, Black necked heron, Water thick-knee, Red throated and Swallow tailed bee-eater, Golden backed, Yellow backed and Northern brown throated weavers showed well along the way. Despite grilling every meter of papyrus from the top deck, I didn’t happen upon one of the hoped for denizens of the waterways - the large grey stork with the funny looking beak whose name escapes me now... Perhaps later in the trip? The falls themselves were very impressive, and I regretted that we didn’t undertake the walk to view from the top. On the rocks at the base of the falls I found a pair of very handsome Rock pratincole which showed extremely well and posed patiently whilst I attempted to get a few images.

By the time we arrived back at the ferry terminal, it was gone 5pm, and having been up and out since 6am, we decided to treat ourselves to a chilled afternoon and early dinner back at Red Chilli. I wandered around the vicinity for a while, but didn’t really see much out of the ordinary selection of species.

On our final full day at Murchison, we decided to head over to the northern sector once again, but to eschew the usual route, and head east into the Chobe section. As it transpired, there were two main reasons why people don’t head this way; 1) there was a lot more cover and as a result we didn’t see a single mammal for about 3hrs, and 2) there are literally millions of tsetse flies in this area. Each time we stopped the car to scan, a swarm of tsetse would descend upon the vehicle, and as Kathi drove along, there were flies keeping pace with the car, following us through the scrub. It was like something out of a horror film!

We drove around this area for about 3.5hrs, before we gave up and headed back west. I was being particularly disparaging about this area, when Kathi stopped the car and pointed at a tree opposite (she has very sharp eyes and I apparently pay little attention to my surroundings!) where a stunning adult Martial eagle was perched up. I daren’t wind the windows down, but I still managed passable photos of this fantastic bird as it sat in the sun, apparently above the swarms of biting flies.

Unsurprisingly, I was feeling a bit better about our extended journey through this rather unproductive area after this sighting, however things were to take a dramatic turn.

After a while we began to notice game increasing, and when we arrived at an idyllic looking waterhole, we were taken aback to find a family of elephants drinking and bathing. Amongst their number was a very little calf, which I pointed out to Kathi. I turned off the engine, and as we were a good 200m or so away, we settled down to watch them for a while, and it was a perfect encounter - good light, beautiful backdrop and animals that were either totally at ease with our presence, or totally unaware. The main group moved off after some 10 minutes, but one immature individual lingered at the hole. I reached again for the camera on the back seat, and as I turned to take a photo, Kathi mentioned that this individual didn’t look impressed with our presence.
The elephant had spread its ears wide out either side of its head, and was hopping from foot to foot. As I turned the key in the ignition, the animal trumpeted loudly, and began running around the side of the waterhole. I thought that a mock charge photo would be cool so I picked up the camera, and then realised that the little brute had rounded the shore, and was now running directly at us at full pelt, its bugles filling the air. I punched the car into drive and put my foot down hard, the elephant coming within 10m of the car, and then it followed in hot pursuit for some 10 seconds or so before turning back. I have to admit I was so shocked and shaken by the speed at which this happened, the only thing I was aware of was my heart beating in my chest. I pulled over a good kilometer or so away and turned to Kathi, and with one look at my sweaty ashen face, she erupted into laughter. I said something along the lines of “that was rather close”, and we headed back into the park.

We again opted for the Albert track, following it all the way to delta point, before making our way back along Buligi track. We enjoyed much the same as we had over the last few days, and got even better views of Carmine bee-eater and Denham’s bustard. We stopped for lunch near to delta point, and spent an hour or so just taking in the views. Birding was a little restricted, as Kathi really wanted to try for more game, but I did manage to grab a new bird in the form of Black billed barbet. By this time it was well into late afternoon, and a huge black cloud was advancing across the sky towards us. Not wanting to get caught out in a thunderstorm, we decided to head back and attempt to get the 6pm ferry. The light was now really falling, and the sky flashed with forks of electricity as we headed west towards the storm. It seemed that we were skirting around the edge, as the closer we got, the larger the puddles became, but there was little rain on the windscreen.

Kathi was keen to get back, so I put my foot down a bit along the Buligi track. This proved to be a very stupid idea, as I hit a hole and lost control of the car. We skidded sideways and into a ditch, where we were catapulted into the air. It was about this point that I imagined that we were going to roll over, and hopefully we wouldn’t be going home in wooden boxes. There was a second loud bang as the car suddenly veered right and at the point of teetering over, something had righted our axis, and we ended back on four wheels. This was now the second time in the day when I had brought us perilously close to danger, and we decided that we would take it steady the rest of the way.

This in itself proved to be very fortuitous, as about 10 minutes later we rounded a corner, and Kathi once again shouted to stop. Over to our right, not 50 feet away sat a rather soggy looking Spotted hyena - wow. Although we had heard a couple during the trip, this was one mammal I did not expect to see. It appeared as though Murchison wasn’t done with us just yet, as a few km further on, we came across 4 more including a very inquisitive youngster right at the roadside. After an eventful day, this really was the icing on a rich cake, and we spent a good 40 minutes watching these often misrepresented animals chilling out after the storm. One final treat came in the form of a group of Patas monkey - another final primate tick.


That more or less concluded our time in the park, and our time in Uganda was very quickly drawing to a close. The next day, we began the journey back to Entebbe, where we had put aside a full day in order to visit Mabamba swamp. I did clock a couple of new birds along the way, with a kettling group of Steppe buzzard and a few Woolly necked stork hanging out at some roadside pools being the best on offer.
We arrived in Entebbe around 5pm, and I received some rather crushing news when I finally got some wifi - the guide I had organised to visit Mabamba hadn’t contacted me to confirm our trip the following morning, and was now busy. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d missed the opportunity to see my main target, and that I hadn’t made a concerted effort in Murchison. This was difficult to accept, so Kathi took me out for dinner and beers to cheer me up. Once again luck was on our side, and a serendipitous encounter with a local hotel owner made a last minute miracle come true - he had a friend of a friend that was a guide, and after some calls, he confirmed that he had sorted a 4hr excursion to Mabamba with his friend.
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 19:56   #20
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This brings back fond memories of the river cruise we did up to the base of Murchison Falls in 1961! It was in spate at the time so when we later went to the top, the little bridge over the Nile had been washed away! As I was only 9 or 10 at the time it was amazing - the Crocodiles were vast and very numerous as were the Hippos. I wasn't into birdwatching in those distant days, but have since looked through some of the cine film and identified Saddle-billed Stork.
Keep the info coming!
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 20:34   #21
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Mabamba Swamp

And so it was, that at 6am on our last full day in the country, we were cramming into the back of an old toyota corolla with two men we’d met the previous evening, and a guide called Peter.
We drove through the grey pre-dawn streets of Entebbe until we reached a dock on the edge of the city. It had been raining since we had awoken, and now even though the light was increasing, it seemed there was no break in the dark clouds. I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic.
After waiting for 10 minutes for our boatman to arrive, we began to clamber into the leaky longboat, when a huge bolt of lightning shot directly into Lake Victoria. Our guide looked across the empty water and said rather sagely “perhaps it is not best to be the highest point in the lake in this weather” an excellent choice.
We waited for a further hour before the weather began to ease a little.

Along the shore a juvenile Wood sandpiper was pecking at the water's edge. It was incredible to think that here was a bird that had probably hatched out of an egg up in Scandinavia or Russian a few months ago, and had traversed all of Europe, the Mediterranean, the Sahara and a half of Africa to arrive at this very spot, before leaving sometime next year to do the same journey in reverse. There were other Palearctic migrants that had made the same journey too; White winged and Whiskered terns, Common sandpipers, European swift and Barn swallow all hawked over the water and reminded me that there are so many levels on which one can appreciate the world’s birds. I was here to try to see something a little less mobile, and considerably more sought after than all of these species however.

As we made our way across the lake a couple of new birds were noted, with Red knobbed coot and Yellow billed duck sitting on the surface. After a brief respite, the rain again arrived, and within 5 minutes I was soaked right through to my underpants.

We drew closer to the swamp, and we changed into a smaller boat with no outboard motor - we were going in. There were few birds about in the rain, but we did get good views of African and European Marsh harriers, Long toed lapwing, Blue headed coucal and Northern Brown throated weaver. Moving silently through the marshes, there was a strange ethereal feel, with constant drizzle, occasional patches of mist, and the throngs of papyrus waving as we went by.

Our guide perched at the front of the boat suddenly stood up and made a subtle hand gesture to the left. The boat moved silently towards a gap in the vegetation, and there stood a creature that seemed so perfect for this strange water world; Shoebill. This was a truly magical moment, and despite the fact that the bird stood motionless with its insanely glaring eyes and eponymous bill, it certainly ranks in my top 5 birding moments. We took the bird in for about 5 minutes until it silently opened it massive wings and lifted off a short distance across the swamp. Over the course of the next hour we encountered another 3 individuals, and had astonishing views of one bird as it lunged for something unseen below the surface.

I noted a couple of other birds as we drifted back, with a Black shouldered kite perched in the same clump of bushes as several Broad billed roller, and we had good views of Black egret, White faced whistling duck and Purple swamphen. There was a commotion near the front of the boat as our guide suddenly stood up again, but I couldn’t see what he and one of the other guests were looking at. Whatever it was scuttled into some reeds, and I was a bit annoyed to learn it was a Lesser jacana but as I’d seen Shoebill, I didn’t let it bother me too much.

We spent the afternoon having a relaxing wander around the Botanical gardens, which I must admit offered some excellent birding. We saw many of the species that had been observed during the trip extremely well, and I would strongly recommend this as a good introduction to the country when you arrive. I counted some 48 species in the afternoon, not bad at all, and the final addition to the triplist was a bird that I had expected to see fairly widely - African openbill - yet strangely this was the first one that I had registered during our travels.

It had been an incredible trip and a wonderful experience. The warmth of the people, stunning and varied landscapes and spectacular landscapes far exceeded my expectations. I had seen a good number of my target birds, and had ticked off another 3 species from my bucket list - Martial eagle, Carmine bee-eater and Shoebill. In total I recorded 317 species in 14 days, and considering that I only used a guide on 3 occasions and we had spent a lot of time driving between sites, I was pretty astonished at this total.
I cannot recommend a trip to Uganda highly enough to anybody with a keen interest in birds and the natural world, and I hope to return again in the future.
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 20:38   #22
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Systematic list

Here is a list of species recorded, I will put an annotated checklist on the completed trip report as a pdf, in the unlikely event anybody wants locations for specific species, send me a PM and I will be happy to help.

Great white pelican
Pink backed pelican
White breasted cormarant
Long tailed cormarant
African darter
Cattle egret
squacco heron
striated heron
little egret
intermediate egret
Great egret
Black egret
Goliath heron
Grey heron
Purple heron
Black headed heron
Hamerkop
Yellow billed stork
Woolly-necked stork
African openbill
Saddle-billed stork
Maribou
Shoebill
Sacred ibis
Hadada ibis
Glossy ibis
African spoonbill
Egyptian goose
White faced whistling duck
Yellow billed duck
Yellow billed kite
Black shouldered kite
African fish-eagle
Palm nut vulture
White headed vulture
White backed vulture
Ruppell's vulture
Lappet-faced vulture
Bateleur
Black chested snake eagle
Western banded snake eagle
Brown snake eagle
African Marsh harrier
European Marsh harrier
Dark chanting goshawk
Gabar goshawk
Lizard buzzard
African harrier hawk
Steppe buzzard
Tawny eagle
Wahlberg's eagle
African hawk-eagle
Long crested eagle
Martial eagle
Grey kestrel
African hobby
Red necked falcon
Helmeted guineafowl
Crested guineafowl
Nahan's francolin
Crested francolin
Red necked spurfowl
Harlequin quail
Common button quail
White spotted flufftail
Black crake
Purple swamphen
Red knobbed coot
African jacana
Grey crowned crane
Denham's bustard
Black bellied korhaan
Black winged stilt
Water thick-knee
Temminck's courser
Rock pratincole
Spur winged lapwing
Long toed lapwing
African wattled lapwing
Crowned lapwing
Senegal lapwing
Brown chested lapwing
Kittlitz's plover
Three banded plover
Ringed plover
Ruff
Common sandpiper
Wood sandpiper
Green sandpiper
Marsh sandpiper
Greenshank
Little stint
Turnstone
Grey headed gull
Baltic gull
White winged tern
Whiskered tern
African green pigeon
Afep pigeon
Blue-spotted wood-dove
Tamborine dove
RIng necked dove
Red eyed dove
African mourning dove
Laughing dove
Brown parrot
African Grey parrot
Red headed lovebird
Great blue turaco
Ross's turaco
Rwenzori turaco
Black billed turaco
Bare-faced go-away bird
Eastern grey plantain-eater
Red chested cuckoo
Black cuckoo
Dusky long-tailed cuckoo
Diederik cuckoo
African emerald cuckoo
Yellowbill
White-browned coucal
Senegal coucal
Blue headed coucal
Verraux's eagle-owl
Eurasian swift
African palm swift
Mottled spinetail
Speckled mousebird
Blue-naped mousebird
Narina trogon
Bar-tailed trogon
Pied kingfisher
Striped kingfisher
Grey headed kingfisher
Giant kingfisher
Woodland kingfisher
Blue breasted kingfisher
Chocolate backed kingfisher
Malachite kingfisher
African pygmy kingfisher
Little bee-eater
White throated bee-eater
Swallow-tailed bee-eater
European bee-eater
Red-throated bee-eater
Northern Carmine bee-eater
Broad-billed roller
Lilac breasted roller
Green wood-hoopoe
White headed wood-hoopoe
African hoopoe
Common scimitarbill
African grey hornbill
Crowned hornbill
White thighed hornbill
Black & White casqued hornbill
Abyssinian Ground hornbill
Yellow rumped tinkerbird
Yellow throated tinkerbird
Speckled tinkerbird
Yellow fronted tinkerbirder
Grey throated barbet
Red fronted barbet
Black throated barbet
Hairy breasted barbet
White headed barbet
Black billed barbet
Double toothed barbet
Lesser honeyguide
Brown eared woodpecker
Nubian woodpecker
Cardinal woodpecker
Yellow crested woodpecker
Grey woodpecker
African broadbill
Rufous naped lark
Flappet lark
Rock martin
Sand martin
Mosque swallow
Lesser striped swallow
Barn swallow
Angola swallow
Wire tailed swallow
Black saw-wing
White headed saw-wing
African Pied wagtail
Cape wagtail
Yellow throated longclaw
African pipit
Plain backed pipit
Black cuckoo-shrike
Common bulbul
Little bulbul
Mountain greenbul
Slender billed greenbul
Little grey greenbul
Cameroon sombre greenbul
Red tailed greenbul
White throated greenbul
Yellow throated leaflove
Spotted greenbul
Forest robin
Brown chested alethe
Fire-crested alethe
White browed robin-chat
Grey winged robin-chat
African thrush
Sooty chat
Whinchat
White browed scrub-robin
Brown backed scrub-robin
Spotted morning-thrush
Uganda woodland warbler
Green Hylia
Green crombec
Northern crombec
Black-faced rufous warbler
Zitting cisticola
Croaking cisticola
Rattling cisticola
Winding cisticola
Singing cisticola
Tawny flanked prinia
White chinned prinia
Grey backed camaroptera
Grey apalis
Blue-grey flycatcher
African dusky flycatcher
Grey throated flycatcher
Cassin's grey flycatcher
Sooty flycatcher
Forest flycatcher
Black headed batis
Ituri Batis
Brown throated wattle-eye
Black throated wattle-eye
Chestnut wattle-eye
African paradise flycatcher
Red bellied paradise flycatcher
Silverbird
African blue flycatcher
White tailed blue flycatcher
Chestnut capped flycatcher
Scaly breasted illadopsis
Pale breasted illadopsis
Brown illadopsis
Arrow marked babbler
Brown babbler
Black lored babbler
White shoulder tit
Yellow white-eye
Bronze sunbird
Rwenzori double collared sunbird
Green throated sunbird
Olive sunbird
Superb sunbird
Marico sunbird
Beautiful sunbird
Red chested sunbird
Collared sunbird
Common fiscal
Grey backed fiscal
Black headed gonolek
Black crowned tchagra
Brown crowned tchagra
Fork tailed drongo
Piapiac
Pied crown
White naped raven
African black headed oriole
Western black headed oriole
Montaine oriole
Yellow billed oxpecker
Stuhlmann's starling
Greater blue eared starling
Ruppell's long tailed starling
Purple headed starling
Violet backed starling
Wattled starling
House sparrow
Northern Grey-headed starling
Speckled fronted weaver
Chestnut crowned sparrow-weaver
Black headed (village) weaver
Lesser masked weaver
Spectacled weaver
Black necked weaver
Baglafecht weaver
Grosbeak weaver
Little weaver
Slender billed weaver
Golden backed weaver
Yellow backed weaver
Northern brown throated weaver
Vieillot's black weaver
Red billed quelea
Red collared widowbird
Fan-tailed widowbird
Black bishop
White winged widowbird
Northern red bishop
Grey headed nigrita
Green winged pytilia
Green backed twinspot
Red-headed bluebill
Red cheeked cordon-bleu
African firefinch
Red bellied firefinch
Black crowned waxbill
Bronze manikin
Black and white manikin
Pin tailed whydah
Village indigobird
Yellow fronted canary
African citril
Golden breasted bunting
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 21:47   #23
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One word. Amazing!
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 22:13   #24
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Thanks Bubbs, that's probably the best word to describe Uganda.

Thanks to all of those that provided information before I headed out there, Jon Turner, Swissboy (Robert I believe) David and Sarah Blair, Bokmakierie99, Tim Marlow and Roger Evans.

To anybody thinking of doing the trip independently, don't hesitate.
Its good fun (depending upon what car you have) and as long as you pace the trip, the distances between the sites aren't unmanageable.
I'd say 2 weeks would be the minimum for this loop (if you don't want to be driving all the time) and 3 weeks would be better. Bwindi and Budongo definitely warranted more time than we were able to give them, and I think another 2 days to explore Ruhija and the neck, as well as another full day in Budongo would make for a cracking trip.
If you were doing this specifically for birding I'm sure you could get a much higher trip list than I managed (particularly using guides), but it really is worth spending some time enjoying the other wildlife, and chatting with local people.
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Old Thursday 12th October 2017, 23:05   #25
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Nice report Daniel and an impressive bird list. You make independently birding Uganda sound eminently doable.
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