• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community, dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    You are most welcome to register for an account, which allows you to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Uganda experiences January 2017 (1 Viewer)

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
I had outlined the planned tour previously: http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=332268. It turned out nobody else wanted to join, so it was again a private tour in the end. Except that it did cost us more, this was just great, actually. Though we had originally planned to do the tour as a group of five. But when that fell apart, we decided to do it anyway. And that was clearly a very good decision. 8-P

Our tour guide and organizer was Deogratius Muhumuza of Uganda Eco Tours http://www.ecouganda.com. My brother had visited Uganda in July and he had warmly recommended Deo to us. I can only pass on this recommendation. Deo is both an unbelievably great spotter and a reliable and excellent organizer. The latter became particularly important when we needed a replacement tire shipped from Kampala as we had a flat that ruined one tire beyond repair. Deo had brought along Brian Tuhaise as a driver. But it quickly turned out that Brian was not only an incredibly fine driver (we had never felt as secure on any of our previous trips), but he was as well an excellent spotter in his own right. Actually, the two of them both seemed to have super-natural spotting capabilities, and they complemented each other to the finest. You definitely go for the best if you can book a tour with this incredible duo!

We did not go for maximal species numbers, my priority was to see as many of the species I had on my target list. But we wanted to see birds very well even if that meant missing some others. A maybe somewhat unusual approach among birders. But it's the way both my wife Doris and I can have a great time. It took our guides a bit of getting used to our way of doing things as they mostly lead tours for birders with "ants in their pants" as they called it. Others call them "gung-ho" birders or whatever. Anyway, we specifically omitted two birding hot spots (Semliki and Budongo) to have more time at the other - less neck straining - locations. Nevertheless, at the end of our 16-day tour our bird species total of actually seen birds was over 380, plus a number we only heard. Way more than I actually "needed" to be happy. As I am rather slow at times to spot a bird, that simply shows the superb job both Deo and Brian did to get us to see as many species as possible.

It would actually have been easy to get way over 400 to 430 bird species, but we also wanted to go for and spend some time with "big game" and the Mountain Gorillas. Uganda is actually the only country where all this, including Shoebill, Green Pitta and African Finfoot, can be so easily combined. And Chimpanzees would as well be possible. We had decided against including those as well, speculating that we might see them anyway. But it took us more time to get decent looks at the Green Pitta which had priority.
 
Last edited:

Jon Turner

Well-known member
Great shots of the Shoebill - the one I saw (at Mabamba) was a fly-over which then landed out of sight! It did come out but the distance and heat-haze defeated our attempts at photography.
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
When touring Uganda for birds, most people essentially visit only the western part of the country. And the tours either start by going north first or starting in the southwest. With the visit to the Mabamba wetlands for the Shoebill either added at the onset or at the end. "North" can mean driving up to Murchison Falls NP or only up to Kibale. Sure, there are more options, but the standard tours go about that far.

From Switzerland, we flew into Entebbe after having spent a night at Abu Dhabi. That just left time for an easy start with some birding at the Entebbe Botanical Garden.

On day two, we did the Mabamba wetlands boat tour. The Mabamba swamp is actually not far from Entebbe by aerial distance. But it takes a relatively long drive by car to get to the boat launch site. Mabamba seems a relatively secure place to actually get the Shoebill. Whether it can always be seen as close as we had it, I don't know. This was definitely my most wanted bird for this trip. So I was very happy that we got it right at the beginning of the tour. And it was great that we were able to spend a rather long time with the bird. First, it seemed to just stand there, almost motionless. Something I remembered from the days when the species could be seen at the Zurich (Switzerland) Zoo. Virtually never was there any great movement when I visited that bird there. So it was great when the Mabamba individual became more and more active, and we were able to just stay there and watch. Eventually, it flew without any coercion from our part. The boat tour also allowed fine observations of many other birds, so this was a great start.

On day three, we had a very long drive up north to Murchison Falls NP. About halfway, we had a flat tire. It turned out the tire had a hidden repair on the inside that blew. In the end, that tire was damaged beyond repair, possibly because we had to get the car off the main road first. Some birding was done along the road and Deo pointed out a formerly fine marsh that had just recently been drained and mostly destroyed. So more and more, good birding is restricted to protected areas in Uganda, it seems.

Day four brought a fine game drive with the only Giraffes we had on this tour, plus many other mammals including Elephants which we always love to see. Birds included Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills and Rüppell's Vulture, the latter one of my target species. The afternoon boat tour towards the Murchison Falls offered lots of fine observations of both mammals and birds. My favorite was the Rock Pratincole that I just barely managed to photograph on a rock before people stepped onto that rock from the boat for their stupid selfies in front of the still relatively distant falls. My only consolation was that I would not have been able to get that close to the pratincole if it had not been for the intended photo opportunities by the selfie shooters.
 

Attachments

  • P1200183crop Schuhschnabelred975club300.jpg
    P1200183crop Schuhschnabelred975club300.jpg
    171.9 KB · Views: 114
  • P1200174red975club300.jpg
    P1200174red975club300.jpg
    175.9 KB · Views: 119
  • P1200197_Shoebill flight cropret01red1024opush9.jpg
    P1200197_Shoebill flight cropret01red1024opush9.jpg
    66.9 KB · Views: 122
  • P1200850red1400.jpg
    P1200850red1400.jpg
    372.2 KB · Views: 120
  • P1200925red1400.jpg
    P1200925red1400.jpg
    164.3 KB · Views: 120
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Murchison Falls NP is actually not far enough north for many savanna bird species. They would best have to be searched at Kidepo NP, but visiting there would require several days more.

Day five for us was mostly on the road driving to Kibale NP. But first, we visited the top of the falls. In many ways, that was more impressive than the view from the boat where one just did not get close enough. Along the way to Kibale NP, we had another flat tire. Actually, Brian, our driver, had earlier already noticed some loss of air in that tire. So we had it repaired locally, and a second previously existing patch was redone as well. Nevertheless, one of those patches had given way again later. Good thing our replacement spare tire had made it in time to Pakwach/Murchison Falls. But this tire change offered a great chance to be a bit more in contact with the local people and kids away from the main tourist route. So the delay was actually a most welcome event for us who did not have to do the work. ;) The young lady with the long piece of wood kindly let me take her picture. We always admired the art of carrying loads on the head.
 

Attachments

  • P1210108red1400.jpg
    P1210108red1400.jpg
    412.4 KB · Views: 126
  • P1210110red1400.jpg
    P1210110red1400.jpg
    420.3 KB · Views: 121
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Day six was essentially split into two parts. In the early morning, we had a walk in Kibale NP in search of the Green Pitta which we eventually got to see, albeit only briefly. July seems to be the better time for this species. But at least we saw it. In the afternoon, we visited the Bigodi Wetland sanctuary, a community project. This place offered some good views of several species. But over all, species numbers were not all that great for this day.

Day seven made us realize just how important the banana trade is for Uganda. The drive brought us to Queen Elizabeth NP where we took the boat tour on the lower parts of Kazinga Channel. This boat cruise was one of the major highlights of the entire trip. There was such an impressive diversity of both birds and mammals along much of the shoreline. We were lucky to be on the 2 PM boat, as that meant there were still elephants at the water. Though a 1 PM boat would have been even better. Two specialties struck us in particular. For one, at least two of the elephants had tusks that reminded me a bit of pre-historic mammoths. Then, there was a albino (though the eyes looked very dark) Malachite Kingfisher. For the return to the hotel we used the picturesque drive along the explosion craters.
 

Attachments

  • P1210213_cropred1400.jpg
    P1210213_cropred1400.jpg
    206.8 KB · Views: 127
  • P1210367_cropred1400.jpg
    P1210367_cropred1400.jpg
    316.2 KB · Views: 123
  • P1210419_cropred1400.jpg
    P1210419_cropred1400.jpg
    413.8 KB · Views: 127
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
On day eight, we first took an interesting game drive that brought the only Temminck's Coursers of the tour. In fact the only coursers at all. Apparently, a pride of 16 (!) lions had been seen in the area. We did not find them, unfortunately, on our drive. And it was only with some special (and paid) extra help from a ranger that we got to see at least a single lioness in the area the next morning. She had a fresh kill but did not seem hungry. There was a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes with a small youngster, and along the main road we had a pair of Martial Eagles mating on their nest.

In the afternoon, we drove to the Katwe area where the historic salt works impressed us a lot. The area had a number of birds, both gulls and shorebirds. And with luck, I discovered a male Greater Painted Snipe when looking at a Wood Sandpiper. It was only the second or third time in my life that I got to see any painted snipe really well.
 

Attachments

  • P1210493red1400.jpg
    P1210493red1400.jpg
    460.2 KB · Views: 102
  • P1210518_crop red1400.jpg
    P1210518_crop red1400.jpg
    478.2 KB · Views: 120
  • P1210564red1400 Martial Eagles.jpg
    P1210564red1400 Martial Eagles.jpg
    257.9 KB · Views: 112
  • P1210587red1400 Katwe lake saltworks.jpg
    P1210587red1400 Katwe lake saltworks.jpg
    256.7 KB · Views: 119
  • P1210605_crop Greater Painted Snipe M red1400.jpg
    P1210605_crop Greater Painted Snipe M red1400.jpg
    382.2 KB · Views: 138
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
The next day, day nine, was entirely devoted to find lions plus to drive to the Ishasha part of Queen Elizabeth NP. Ishasha is famous for its tree climbing Lions. Once there, we spent considerable time searching. But we finally found four of them together in the same tree. It was a female with three younger ones, most likely her own.

On day ten, we spent much of the time birding in the Ishasha area, before making the relatively short trip to Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP.
 

Attachments

  • P1210672red1400 tree climbing lions.jpg
    P1210672red1400 tree climbing lions.jpg
    398.1 KB · Views: 119
  • P1210685red1400 four  tree climbing lions.jpg
    P1210685red1400 four tree climbing lions.jpg
    433.2 KB · Views: 116

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Gorilla tracking day

Day eleven was reserved for our booked tour of tracking of a group of Mountain Gorillas. We had been a bit uneasy about this tour as one hears about very variable efforts that one has to put into seeing them. As a precaution, we each took a porter which was definitely a smart decision. Porters not only carry the backpack with lunch, camera etc., they also help in difficult terrain. We had to traverse and finally climb some steep slope. So it was good to have someone helping not to lose the balance, a problem that tends to come with age (we are both around 74).

The group of gorillas we visited has been habituated to humans for a very long time. Nevertheless, we were very much impressed by the relaxed way these great apes dealt with our visit. It was definitely a superb experience for us. Sure, it's costly, but realizing the benefits, it seems well worth the expenses. The benefit is at least four-fold. For one, the gorillas benefit from being protected, but it is also to the advantage of all the other creatures of these forests that they can keep their habitat. Third, of course, these activities provide a lot of income to the local people. This involves tracking teams who constantly monitor where the habituated groups move to. Then the guides, the porters and the people at the hotels etc. And finally, it is a great chance for us visitors to meet our close relatives in a way that one gets the feeling of being at a comparable level. Some people claim the visits would stress the gorillas. We did not get that impression at all. If there is an element of stress, it comes from the guides trying to cut away ferns and other vegetation that gets into the way for taking decent pictures. But the visit is limited to one hour per day only. So it's not a constant bother at any rate. One sign of us not having bothered the group came after we had left the gorillas. We had gone back to the road when we suddenly realized that the gorilla group had essentially followed us and was now crossing the road very close to us.

"Our" group consisted of the silverback male plus four females with a youngster each. The youngest gorilla was only three months old, the other youngsters were around one, two and three years old if I remember correctly.
 

Attachments

  • P1210922red1400 silverback portrait.jpg
    P1210922red1400 silverback portrait.jpg
    201.6 KB · Views: 119
  • P1210939_retred1400.jpg
    P1210939_retred1400.jpg
    191.4 KB · Views: 118
  • P1210977red1400.jpg
    P1210977red1400.jpg
    323.3 KB · Views: 119
  • P1220043_croprethk red1400.jpg
    P1220043_croprethk red1400.jpg
    417.8 KB · Views: 118
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
On day twelve, we transferred from the Buhoma area to the Ruhija sector of Bwindi, and had an elephant replenishing its mineral needs on the steep slopes where I wondered that they were used by elephants at all. Elephants were also the reason why we were told not to keep any bananas in our tent-cabin. Birding was very rewarding in the NECK area along the way to our lodge. We had several of the so-called Albertine Rift endemics. Among them was Purple-breasted Sunbird that is usually a high canopy species. We had it again the following day, also lower down than customary on the Mubwindi Swamp trail.

As a side note, power for electricity and hot water is always somewhat of a problem for lodges in these remote locations when they try to minimize the use of generators. The hydro-power option of the Uganda power grid is also not too good an option as it is very unreliable. Our guide mentioned it could be out of work for weeks. Thus one often finds solar installations. A less attractive but locally feasible variety is the use of firewood to heat water tanks. Both at Buhoma and at our Ruhija area lodge, warm water was furnished in this way.
 

Attachments

  • P1220125_cropret purple-breasted sunbird red1400rets.jpg
    P1220125_cropret purple-breasted sunbird red1400rets.jpg
    461.1 KB · Views: 119
  • P1220135red1400.jpg
    P1220135red1400.jpg
    389.9 KB · Views: 113
  • P1220096_crop hot-water source red1400.jpg
    P1220096_crop hot-water source red1400.jpg
    232.9 KB · Views: 120
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Day thirteen was reserved for the Mubwindi Swamp trail. We did not find the African Green Broadbill that I had in my top-priority target list. Apparently, July is better for this species, when it is breeding. I did, however, get to see two other such top-priority target species on this trail, the Black-billed Turaco and the White-headed Wood-Hoopoe. The latter was literally a last-minute chance after we had earlier only heard the birds.

Mubwindi swamp itself was not very productive on our visit, it was along the trail to get there where we had many very interesting birds.

The Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater was not new that day, but it presented itself nicely in the evening at the lodge.
 

Attachments

  • P1220161red1400 Mubwindi Swamp.jpg
    P1220161red1400 Mubwindi Swamp.jpg
    424.8 KB · Views: 121
  • P1220162_croprethred1400 cinnamon-chested bee-eater.jpg
    P1220162_croprethred1400 cinnamon-chested bee-eater.jpg
    155.9 KB · Views: 116
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
On day fourteen, we transferred to Lake Mburo NP and had an interesting night game drive there later on. Much of the day was used just for the transfer, with only few birding opportunities along the way. We did, however, spend a bit less than an hour trying to get the air conditioning fixed at Kabale, the first larger town we got to. The belt to the air conditioner had snapped two days earlier. Fortunately, that was not a critical incident out in the "boondocks". It turned out that there was another problem with that air condition, so they were unable to fix it. As the time spent for this repair-attempt was not longer, we actually had the chance to get a more profound impression of such a Ugandan local country center. So the break was actually quite welcome. Along the way, Deo stopped at a small place where he knew they were selling local organically produced eggs. These are then sold along the roadside, well packed in special wrapping, forty at a time.

The night game drive provided - among others - the hoped-for Leopard, very nicely "draped" on a look-out rock. But we also got to see a beautiful Common Genet which pleased us even more as it was a "lifer" species for us.
 

Attachments

  • P1220229red1400 marabu on roof of restaurant.jpg
    P1220229red1400 marabu on roof of restaurant.jpg
    146.7 KB · Views: 107
  • P1220271red1400 leopard.jpg
    P1220271red1400 leopard.jpg
    231 KB · Views: 108
  • P1220215red1400 forty organic eggs each.jpg
    P1220215red1400 forty organic eggs each.jpg
    166 KB · Views: 106
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Lake Mburo NP

Day fifteen was our last full observation-day. We spent the morning on a game walk, and the afternoon was mainly used for a boat tour plus some birding and game watching later on from the car.

Lake Mburo NP is the smallest of the east African savanna parks, according to our local ranger-guide. The park also has more intensive joint use of the grazing lands by local people than we had seen before. So zebras, antelopes, warthogs and buffalos can - at times - be seen grazing next to a herd of cattle. With their so impressive horns, these look just like another wild game species. :eat:

Encountering zebras, antelopes and buffalo not from the car but on foot is a somewhat different experience. Particularly so when our armed ranger leader told us there was also a single male lion in the park. Apparently, that lion had found its way to the park on its own, moving in via a suitable corridor from not all that far Tanzania. The mammals we encountered were usually curious but then went their own way. If not, our ranger functioned as a policeman, in one case telling the warthog to go in a different direction by using sign language just like what we are used for directing traffic. Quite a funny experience for us, actually. The head of that warthog can just barely be seen sticking out of the grass in the upper right of the picture in front of the far trees.

The game walk finally provided good looks at Ross's Turaco, my top-priority target after the shoebill. For some reason, this not all that rare species had eluded us so far. We had by then only heard it a few times. In the evening, we also had Bare-faced Go-away Birds, another not really rare member of the turaco family that we had not seen till then.

The boat tour showed us African Finfoot quite nicely. That was also one of my top target species. We missed, however, the other two target species, the Papyrus Gonolek and the White-backed Night Heron. A morning tour would probably have been better for the gonolek, and the best area for that night heron was not accessible for our boat due to the low water level.
 

Attachments

  • P1220319_crop telling a warthog where to go red1400.jpg
    P1220319_crop telling a warthog where to go red1400.jpg
    445.2 KB · Views: 117
  • P1220570_cropret goliath heron red1400.jpg
    P1220570_cropret goliath heron red1400.jpg
    396.5 KB · Views: 103
  • P1220579_cropretred1400 fish eagles.jpg
    P1220579_cropretred1400 fish eagles.jpg
    453.8 KB · Views: 110
  • P1220654_cropred1400 impalas plus waterbuck.jpg
    P1220654_cropred1400 impalas plus waterbuck.jpg
    414.1 KB · Views: 106
  • P1220600crop_retred1400 African Finfoot.jpg
    P1220600crop_retred1400 African Finfoot.jpg
    237.6 KB · Views: 123
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Last day: day 16 was mostly another transfer day, only a bit of birding in the morning. Somewhere along the road there are the Kaku ponds where we stopped for a few minutes. Apparently, in November these were almost dry. Now, there was quite a bit of water and there were lots of birds, though no definite new species. But we were a bit far as getting closer makes one lose the overview. At any rate, this place had an impressive number of birds in an equally impressive variety. A scope was definitely needed, however. I had brought along my own scope, and Deo had one as well. So we were very comfortably equipped whenever it made sense to use a scope. As part of our wanting to be able to really see the birds well approach, the scopes were ideal.

Finally, I'm including three typical roadside impressions: fruit/vegetable stands were usually concentrated in some places. Our guides replenished their food supply to bring home. Busses are often rather pushy, and the Global Coaches in particular. Thus, it's not so clear whom the "SURVIVOR" is addressed to, their passengers or the cars they just passed. They have a number of different slogans that I did not pay attention to at first. Roadside selling includes a wide variety of items, the depicted clothes being particularly colorful.

As our flight was an early afternoon flight, there would not have been enough time to securely catch it on the last day of the tour. So we spent another night at the hotel where we had started out from. There had been some rains on return, thus clearing the haze and smoke traces that had accompanied us for the whole tour. So we finally got to see Lake Victoria from the hotel as its name implied.
 

Attachments

  • P1220671_crop02rethretsred1400 bare-faced go-away bird.jpg
    P1220671_crop02rethretsred1400 bare-faced go-away bird.jpg
    467 KB · Views: 110
  • P1220695red1400 Kaku ponds crop.jpg
    P1220695red1400 Kaku ponds crop.jpg
    151.6 KB · Views: 109
  • P1220703_retred1400 road-side stands.jpg
    P1220703_retred1400 road-side stands.jpg
    410.2 KB · Views: 104
  • P1220710_crop red1400 bus slogan.jpg
    P1220710_crop red1400 bus slogan.jpg
    137.8 KB · Views: 106
  • P1220713_crop ret roadside clothes selling.jpg
    P1220713_crop ret roadside clothes selling.jpg
    185.7 KB · Views: 105
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
While we spent a night at Abu Dhabi on the way to our Uganda tour, we did not do this again as we flew back. We had, however around 6 hours of lay-over time there. So we decided to have a look at the large modern Sheikh Zayed Mosque to shorten our waiting time. The visit was very much worthwhile. We had already seen the mosque on the previous visit, but only from outside. This time, we wanted to see it from inside as well. It is open till 10 PM which fit our schedule well enough. To facilitate things, we asked a freelance taxi driver to be our guide and bring us back to the airport as well. This was a bit costlier than necessary, but it was worth it for us to be sure it would all work out in time. The only thing that did not work well was that the fellow cheated us on the exchange rate. My fault, I should have done my homework better, or more precisely I should simply have consulted my own notes in time.

To finish this report: There is always the question about the costs of such a birding tour. Over all, including our flights, we spent a total of around US$ 11000 for the two of us. That includes tips, and all the extra expenses. So it was not a cheap trip, and compared to our Madagascar trip in 2015 (http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=3327395#post3327395) that was over a week longer, it was actually considerably more expensive with a comparable luxury of it being a private tour. But then, $1200 plus tips was just for the Gorilla tracking.
Add to this the fact that we actually had two superb guides not just one, and that we had a more comfortable car. And Uganda is a more expensive place to begin with. If we had been able to do the tour as being part of a 5-person group as originally planned, we could have saved about $2150. And we did not want to be in a larger group than that. So in the end, we are extremely happy that we were able to visit Uganda the way we did, and we can only repeat that Deo and Brian (see post #1) are a team that is hard to beat.

EDIT: I can't correct the pitta's name any more in posts #1 and 6. It should correctly read GREEN BREASTED PITTA! Sorry.
 

Attachments

  • P1220893red1400.jpg
    P1220893red1400.jpg
    128.3 KB · Views: 97
  • P1220887red1400.jpg
    P1220887red1400.jpg
    185.2 KB · Views: 98
  • P1220806red1400.jpg
    P1220806red1400.jpg
    199.8 KB · Views: 97
  • P1190904red1400.jpg
    P1190904red1400.jpg
    118.8 KB · Views: 115
  • P1220852red1400.jpg
    P1220852red1400.jpg
    211 KB · Views: 95
Last edited:

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
........ at the end of our 16-day tour our bird species total of actually seen birds was over 380, plus a number we only heard. .....................

Apparently, that number given in post #1 was based on an incomplete count by Deo. He usually counted simultaneously while we made the compilation for the day. Thus, it's easy to get distracted. After a serious compilation now, my total is 413 species seen well, plus 7 seen, but not well, plus 13 heard only. So my over all species total for this trip is actually at 433. :t: I still need to determine the number of lifers. :-O
 
Last edited:

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
Hi Robert, thanks for sharing. Some great photos and it sounds like an incredible trip. I'm looking forward to doing pretty much the same route in September!
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Hi Robert, thanks for sharing. Some great photos and it sounds like an incredible trip. I'm looking forward to doing pretty much the same route in September!

Please let us know in time about your experiences as well. Uganda is actually worth more than a single trip. If only my finances would allow it.

Meanwhile, I have also determined the number of life-birds, I had on this trip. Just counting those I had a decent look at, I had 145 lifers. That's after already having been to Africa 3 times before, but not east Africa. Just shows the high diversity Uganda has to offer. I'm actually very positively surprised about the numbers, both total and lifers, as it had not been a goal to get a maximum number of species, as outlined in post #1.
 
Last edited:

Users who are viewing this thread

Top