I just returned from a 14-day tour to Uganda and am over the moon for this incredible country. Where else can your search for 1,061 bird species be combined with an hour observing mountain gorillas, a morning tracking chimpanzees, an afternoon with hippos and Nile crocodiles as you cruise down the Victorian Nile, and a safari tour to see the incredible megafauna associated with the East African savannah? Where else can a ‘Jurassically’ tall gray stork, with a massive bill, send you a death stare from beyond a sea of papyrus? And where can your search for great apes be magnified by a herd of wild forest elephants, or topped off with crippling views of one of Africa’s rarest skulking birds, the Green-breasted Pitta?
All these experiences are possible (though not guaranteed, of course) on a two- or three-week tour.
I went to Uganda on the invitation of the Uganda Tourism Board and my friend Herbert Byaruhanga, with whom I’ve been plotting an African birding tour for years. Herbert is the director of Bird Uganda Safaris plus the “father of birding tourism” in Uganda. Through his work training bird guides and working with government and NGOs, no one has done as much to develop Uganda’s birding tourism trade than Herbert.
Uganda’s huge bird count results from its position sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, an area where the West African jungle meets the East African savannah. From its regional endemism (along the Albertine Rift) and high concentration of habitat diversity in a relatively small space, one can easily travel this lush and rich country and pick up an impressive bird list while enjoying deep forests and a traditional safari experience.
The fam tour participants, which included 18 writers and tour guides, landed in Entebbe and separated into four groups, each with our own safari vehicle and Ugandan tour guide. My group, which included three British birders (Alan & Ruth and Neil) and Marlene, a writer from San Francisco, had the great pleasure of being paired with Crammy Wanyama, whose was a highly skilled birder and excellent trip leader. Our companion vehicle was led by Prossie (Nanyombi Proscovia on Facebook), also an incredibly sharp birder and guide, and guide-in-training Denis Arineitwe. Participants in that van included Mark, Laura, and Georgi.
We circled Uganda in a counter-clockwise direction, making an initial stop at Mabamba Wetlands to see the iconic Shoebill (story here). We then stopped in Lake Mburo National Park (NP) before heading to the extreme southwest of the country near the Rwandan border. We then banked north along the Rwenzori Mountains to hit major parks along the way including Mgahinga NP, Echuya Forest, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth NP, Kibale Forest NP, ultimately passing through Fort Portal to arrive at our final safari destination of Murchison Falls NP.
This itinerary gave us a great understanding of what Uganda has to offer. We saw an impressive 430+ bird species, Shoebill, Ruwenzori’s Turaco, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, a spray of brilliantly colored sunbirds, bee-eaters, a lone GREEN-BREASTED PITTA, as well as two species newly added to the Ugandan checklist: Ruaha Chat and Northern Masked Weaver. This, in addition to dozens of wild and exciting animals such as Olive Baboons, Golden Monkey, mongoose, African Lion, elephant, leopard, Common Zebra, warthog, Rothschild Giraffe, African Buffalo, Uganda Kob, impala, and a loooooong Puff Adder crossing the road, made for the most epic wildlife tour of my life.
Our tour ended in Entebbe where we attended the first annual African Birding Expo, a showcase of East African tour companies, guides, nature organization, bird art, and birding gear retailers. Here, we had the honor of meeting Ugandan dignitaries to tell them about the wonders of Uganda, as seen through our eyes, and listen to their plans to build on the birding sector. We impressed upon them the importance of their natural resources, and just what it means to the rest of the world that the wildlife of Uganda exist — and called for their protection!
I am still processing my wildlife images and will continue posting about Uganda in the next few months. Here’s a few to whet your appetite (provided by long-time Ugandan guide Johnny Kamugisha). Come back for more!