The odd Shoebill is a confiding resident of papyrus stands along the Nile. Photo: Brian Finch.
Uganda is the jewel in the crown of East Africa, generally recognised as having some of the best remaining forest in Africa and with it some truly remarkable birdwatching. Our first taste will be a search for the enigmatic Shoebill on the fringes of Lake Victoria. We’ll continue our journey to the papyrus-fringed lakeshore of Lake Mburo National Park, renowned for its mammals and birds, including White-backed Night-heron. The wonderful Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a magical place of mists, hanging mosses and luxuriant vegetation and it is also where we’ll see some of the rarest and most exotic birds of the trip. However, it will probably be a mammal that is uppermost in people’s minds here. Over half the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas can be found in this forest and during our stay there will be the option to take part in a guided trek to search for a group of these magnificent animals. In Queen Elizabeth National Park we’ll encounter a variety of habitats more typical of East Africa together with an equally varied array of birds and mammals. In Kibale Forest we’ll be surrounded by birds as well as some of the eleven species of primates, including Chimpanzee. In the rainforest at Budongo Forest Reserve we’ll explore the famous Royal Mile, a wide pathway through the forest that simply drips with birds. At Murchison Falls National Park we’ll take to the water, not only to visit the spectacular Falls but also to have another chance to appreciate the unique Shoebill in its papyrus home.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Entebbe. Night in Entebbe.
Day 2: After an early breakfast with a sampling of amazing garden birds for company, we’ll leave for the nearby Mbamba Wetlands. We’ll be able to store any unneeded luggage at our hotel for retrieval at the end of the tour. It’s not a long way to the wetlands, but we’ll take a winding dirt road that traces the contours of Lake Victoria. Our primary aim today is to see the unforgettable Shoebill and we’ll visit a reserve run by the local fishermen who make additional income by sharing their prize bird with visitors. As a consequence the birds are not molested and are quite tame. Other water birds are numerous and can include various waders including the secretive Lesser Jacana, stocky Blue-headed Coucal and East Africa’s now-most-endangered raptor, African Marsh Harrier. After our canoe trip on the swamp we’ll depart through a rich mosaic of open woodland, savanna, papyrus and gardens. Birds here could include Palm-nut Vulture, Great Blue Turaco, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, African Pied Hornbill, Splendid Glossy Starling and Orange and Slender-billed Weavers. In the papyrus we can hope for startling Papyrus Gonolek, dowdy Carruther’s Cisticola and more distinctive but shyer White-winged Rush Warbler. Somewhere along the way we will stop for a picnic lunch and on joining the main road we’ll drive to Lake Mburo National Park for a two night stay. Night near Lake Mburo National Park.
Days 3: Lake Mburo is an attractive bushed savanna landscape with rich moist thickets, and a lakeshore lined with riverine tangles and papyrus. This combination of habitats results in an impressive variety of species. The most noteworthy bird is the dusky Red-faced Barbet at its only known Uganda location. Other local specialities include Black-shouldered and Natal Nightjars, the very rare Brown-chested Lapwing, Long-tailed Cisticola and White-shouldered Tit, and a short boat trip will help us find hard-to-see waterbirds like White-backed Night-Heron and African Finfoot. Apart from birds, the place is rich in mammals and we should encounter Hippopotamus, Cape Buffalo, Waterbuck and Oribi amongst others. Night near Lake Mburo National Park.
Day 4: After a final early morning in Lake Mburo we’ll be heading to the southwest of the country with a few stops en route, especially around swampy areas for scrub and marsh-loving species such as Long-crested Eagle, Woodland Kingfisher and secretive White-collared Olivebacks. Entering the upper parts of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we’ll stop for birds along the forested roadsides on our way toward Ruhija and our lodging for the night. The surrounding forest is rich in birds of all sorts but most importantly species only found in the Albertine Rift such as Stripe-breasted Tit, Red-faced Woodland Warbler and Archer’s Robin-Chat. Amongst the primates here are troops of l’Hoest’s Monkeys as well as Angola Colobus and Red-tailed Monkeys. At night we may be lucky enough to track down a Rwenzori Nightjar. Night in Ruhija near Bwindi-Impenetrable National Park.
Day 5: Today will be spent on the climb down to and back from Mubwindi Swamp. Porters will accompany the group to carry packs, water and picnics. Sticks will be available as this is a steep though well-maintained trail at altitude. The main target here is the extraordinary Grauer’s Green Broadbill at its only known regular location (although can still be difficult to see). Other swamp residents include skulking Grauer’s Rush Warblers. On the walk we should encounter mixed species flocks along with the Albertine endemic sunbirds, namely Blue-headed, Regal and Purple-breasted, which sometimes attach themselves to these parties. Other regular mixed flock participants include Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Rwenzori Batis and Red-throated Alethe. Also possible along the track are Mountain Illadopsis, Red-faced and Dusky Crimsonwings and White-tailed Crested Flycatcher. In the afternoon on return we’ll depart with our luggage for the lower levels of Buhoma in the valley bottom, our home for the next three nights. Nights at Gorilla Forest Camp near Buhoma, Bwindi-Impenetrable National Park.
Day 6: Today is devoted to an optional but unforgettable trek to see Eastern Mountain Gorillas in their mountain refuge. This adventure could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours in the field, depending on where the Gorillas are located. The trek will start at the Registration Centre after introductions and a briefing from your guide on what to expect and how to act in the presence of the Gorillas. Viewing the Gorillas is a profound experience but the trek may be a bit rough for some guests, and as such we leave it as an optional activity, not included in the tour price (as the permits are quite expensive). For those who opt not to take the trek there will be a birding excursion into the adjacent forest, with a picnic lunch arriving later in the morning. Later in the day we will head back to Gorilla Forest Camp where we’ll have the option for leisurely birding in the late afternoon. Night at Gorilla Forest Camp near Buhoma.
Day 7: We’ll spend a full day in the Buhoma Forest. This is an extremely rich area, and a good percentage of birds seen will be Albertine endemics. We will be on the lookout for Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Elliott’s Woodpecker, Bar-tailed Trogon, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Short-tailed Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Black-throated, Grey, Rwenzori Masked, and Rwenzori Apalis, Many-coloured Bush-Shrike, recently described Willard’s Bush-Shrike, Dusky-blue, and Chapin’s Flycatchers, and Narrow-tailed and Stuhlmann’s Starling to name just a few of the possibilities. Night at Gorilla Camp near Buhoma.
Day 8: After an early breakfast we head north past the border town of Ishasha for Queen Elizabeth National Park. We will have picnics with us, as the drive up to the park and through its southern section is long but rewarding. This area is rich in mammals and can provide encounters with African Elephant, Spotted Hyena and possibly tree-climbing Lion. Bird species to watch for include Harlequin and Blue Quails, and Small (Common) Button Quail, African Crake, White-winged Warbler, Martial Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Papyrus Gonolek, Amur Falcon, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, and Temminck’s Courser. Night at Mweya Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Day 9: The extensive savannahs and patches of woodland of Queen Elizabeth National Park are more similar to many Kenyan reserves. There is a great mammal presence here, with Uganda Kob featuring among the most numerous, but also including Hippos, Cape Buffalo, a variety of antelope species, and for (the lucky ones) a glimpse at Leopard. As for the birdlife, the combination of habitats results in this park having the largest variety of bird species of any in Africa, with over 600 species recorded. While here, we’ll take a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel which connects lakes Edward and George. There is a good variety of waterbirds here, and if we are lucky we might be followed by a flock of African Skimmers. Amongst the herons are the enormous Goliath, while pelicans and cormorants loafing near the local village’s fish factory often are accompanied by a Saddle-billed Stork. Game drives through the savanna can turn up skulkers such as Button-quails, African Crake or Black Coucal, while Black-headed Gonoleks, Sooty Chats and Grey-backed Fiscals are more prominent. The lodge has a wealth of hungry weavers that will keep us company during meals, and the stunningly iridescent Red-chested Sunbird is a constant attendant to the flowers and eaves of the lodge buildings. Swamp Flycatchers have switched their social calendar about and come into the reception after dark to feast on the abundant insects attracted by the lights. Night at Mweya Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Day 10: After breakfast we will continue driving northeast toward Kibale Forest National Park. Today is mainly a travel day, and once we leave the confines of the Queen Elizabeth National Park we travel through varied but mainly agricultural areas but will certainly stop if we see something of interest. Along the roadside on arrival in Kibale we shall be on the lookout for such gems as Black-billed, Ross’s and Great Blue Turaco, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater, noisy Grey Parrots and Black-and-White Casqued Hornbills, Yellow-billed, Hairy-breasted and Double-toothed Barbets, Superb, Green-throated and Green Sunbirds and much more. Night near Kibale.
Day 11: Kibale Forest National Park is a protected rainforest with massive trees and open understory. Much of our birding in this area will be done along some of the smaller roads and trails that give access to the interior of the forest. We will also have the option of trek to look for Chimpanzees (costed separately). The main avian target is the very local and secretive Green-breasted Pitta, a true gem of a bird and one of the stars of the tour. Other species we hope to see here include Black and White Mannikin, Red-eyed Dove, White-chinned Prinia, Little Grey and Joyful Greenbuls, Grey-winged Robin-chat, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Black-billed Turaco, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Red-headed Bluebill, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, and Narina Trogon. Kibale is home to no fewer than eleven species of primates and we should see Olive Baboon, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Central African Red and Guereza Colobuses, and L’Hoest’s and Red-tailed Monkey. After our lunch we’ll head to Bigodi wetlands, a small local reserve which hold a large numbers of birds such as White spotted Flufftail, Yellow-billed, Yellow-Spotted Barbet, African Emerald-cuckoo, Sabine’s Spinetail, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-tailed Ant-thrush, White-collared Oliveback, Shining Blue and Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Superb Sunbird, White-Breasted Negro-finch and more. Night near Kibale.
Day 12: After an early walk and breakfast, we shall set off early for our long drive to Masindi. This is another long travel day but will give us an excellent opportunity to see the varied landscapes of this country. We’ll transit through an area of tea plantations and other mixed-use areas. Along the way, roadside stops in areas of marsh and scrub may produce Black-headed Heron, Red-headed Lovebird, Ross’s Turaco, Crowned Hornbill, the elegant Rufous-chested Swallow, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Compact Weaver, Thick-billed (or Grosbeak) Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Black Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird, Brown Twinspot, Common, Black-crowned and Fawn-breasted Waxbills, and African and Black-bellied Firefinches. Night in Masindi.
Day 13: The Budongo Forest Reserve hosts one of the richest forests in East Africa and is part of the ‘Central Refugium’ with its Guinea-Congo biome endemics. As such, there are many species here we do not encounter elsewhere on this trip. After a pre-dawn breakfast we’ll depart Masindi in time to arrive at the famous Royal Mile when the bird activity is heightening. Some of the trees are enormous and the canopy very high but birding should be excellent. Species we’ll look for include Nahan’s Francolin, Cassin’s Spinetail, Chocolate-backed and African Dwarf Kingfishers, Spotted Greenbul, Black-capped Apalis, Brown-crowned Eremomela, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Chestnut-tailed Flycatcher, Ituri Batis and Forest Flycatcher; all species we have our first chances for here. Night in Masindi.
Day 14: An early departure will take us to the Butiaba Escarpment. This is on the edge of the Albertine Rift and overlooks Lake Albert itself. Very different from the Budongo forest, this is a rocky savannah escarpment and is home to another set of birds we will not have encountered including Heuglin’s Francolin, Black Scimitarbill, White-fronted Black-Chat, Foxy Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Green-backed Eremomela, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Orange-winged and Red-winged Pytilias, and Brown-rumped Bunting. We shall have our picnic on the valley floor before continuing towards our lodge in Murchison Falls National Park for the night. Night in Murchison Falls (Kabalega) National Park.
Day 15: On our last full day we shall have an early breakfast then spend the entire day in the National Park. We have an afternoon boat trip to the foot of the Murchison Falls, and explore the winding roads that lead to the estuary of the Albert Nile where it spills into Lake Albert. Once again we’ll be treated to numerous species encountered for the first time, and hope to see Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Silverbird, and White-rumped Seedeater near the river, with Blue-breasted and the stunning Red-throated Bee-eaters in riverine vegetation. In the grasslands there may be Northern Carmine Bee-eaters (possibly accompanied by the Southern variety), Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills and Denham’s Bustards. Smaller species such as Red-winged Grey-Warbler, Northern Crombecs and Beautiful Sunbird can be in the scrub, and noisy Brown Babblers in the undergrowth. This northern area is the start of the ranges of Vinaceous Dove and Black-billed Wood-Doves, and from the boat we should be treated to Senegal Thick-knees and Rock Pratincoles. Night in Murchison Falls (Kabalega) National Park.
Day 16: Today we have a long journey back to Entebbe, but not before a stop at Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, the only known haunt of Puvel’s Illadopsis in East Africa. There will be other species here that are now familiar to us, and hopefully some that aren’t. We’ll allow ourselves a couple stops along the way, but most of the day will be spent in the vehicle. Birds to watch for along the road include Red-headed Weaver, Yellow-billed Shrike, Vinaceous Dove , and Yellow-bellied Hyliota. We’ll arrive back into Entebbe in time to stop at our first night’s lodging to retrieve any luggage left behind and to freshen up before flights home this evening.
Gorilla Tracking Permit at Bwindi (Day 6): As of 15 June 2017 permits for visiting the gorillas cost around £500 per person. The Gorilla Tracking Permit price is subject to change and is not included in the tour price, partly due to the possibility of pricing changes but also because the trek can be rigorous and not everyone will chose to do it. This optional trek can take anywhere from 3 or 6 hours and the off-trail terrain can vary from moderate to difficult, depending on where the gorillas are that day. The hike will likely be between 1-4 miles roundtrip and may lose and regain an elevation of 1000 feet or more. There is an option to hire porters at an extra cost of about £13 per day to carry your bags and help you to negotiate the more difficult parts of the trek. Please be sure to let us know when you register if you want a permit, as we need to obtain it at the time of booking. The final cost of the permit will be billed to you when the tour is invoiced. It’s worth noting that neighboring Rwanda has recently doubled its gorilla permit cost, but so far, Uganda hasn’t followed suit. If you opt out of gorilla tracking you will be able to go birding with one of the leaders, though it’s likely you won’t add any additional species.
Chimpanzee Tracking Permit at Kibale (Day 11): As of 15 June 2017 this permit costs £125 per person and is included in the tour cost. This permit is included because a morning chimpanzee tracking session is also our best chance for Green-breasted Pitta. We’ll start with a pre-dawn visit to a known site for the pitta, and if our luck holds we’ll encounter this bird before moving down the trail to look for chimps (likely following their vocalizations). The chimp trek is another that involves an indeterminate length of walk over uneven terrain. The chimps range widely in their habitat and may move while the tour group is with them, in essence forcing the group into a hike behind the chimps at their walking speed. Or, the chimps may stay in one spot once found, making for a shorter walk. The habitat tends to not be as steep as for the gorilla trek, but hikers should be prepared anyway.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 14 June 2017