Trip Report to Uganda by Sue Bryan
Nov 3rd – Nov 18th 2017
This was a birding holiday that was organised independently by a friend of friends who used to live in Uganda. My friends and I had enjoyed a meal together and we had talked about Uganda. They inspired me to visit (it was not difficult to persuade me!) My friends contacted Harriet Kemigisha and let her know of my interest in visiting Uganda. I emailed Harriet about my desire to concentrate on the forests, as this was where most of my wanted world ticks would come from, and my desire to see Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Harriet set about arranging an amazing trip for me staying at her home as well as other accommodation suitable for where I needed to be for the best birding opportunities. She was not only good company but a wonderful bird guide as well as encouraging local bird guides.
Guide Harriet Kemigisha
Nov 3rd Norwich - Amsterdam – Kigali (Rwanda) - Entebbe
Nov 4th Entebbe – Mabamba -Lake Mburo
Nov 5th Mburo
Nov 6th Mburo - Rahija
Nov 7th Rahija
Nov 8th Rahija
Nov 9th Buhoma
Nov 10th Queen Elizabeth Park
Nov 11th Semuliki
Nov 12th Semuliki
Nov 13th Kibale National Park
Nov 14th Kibale - Fort Portal - Masindi
Nov 15th Masindi – Royal Mile Budongo Forest – Murchison Falls
Nov 16th Murchison Falls
Nov 17th Murchison Falls
Nov 18th Murchison Falls - Luwero - Kampala - Entebbe - Amsterdam
Nov 19th Amsterdam - Norwich
International flights to Entebbe via Amsterdam and Kigali (Rwanda) with KLM (£540return)
US$600 (£445) A Gorilla permit is necessary if you wish to trek to see the Gorillas in Uganda. Harriet also hired a porter for me.
Visas to Uganda cost US$ 50 (£38).
I used an ATM at Entebbe airport to exchange about £100 to Ugandan Shillings for a few beers for Harriet and myself at the end of the day.
Uganda straddles the equator and has a tropical climate, generally rainy with two dry seasons (December to February, June to August). It is semiarid in the northeast.
Equatorial Uganda contains several very diverse ecosystems including multi-strata tropical forest, dry deciduous forest, woodland, mosaic grassland forest, savannah woodland and savannah.
I left home at 3am to fly from Norwich airport on an early morning flight to Amsterdam where I then flew to Kigali in Rwanda. After admiring Rwanda for a while I flew to Entebbe where Harriet and Bahati picked me up and whisked me away in the late night warmth to a guest house over-looking Lake Victoria.
Harriet and I were up early and I made the most of the birds in the garden of the guest house refreshing my acquaintance with some familiar African species. My first world tick was the second bird of the day, a Broad-billed Roller. A Red-chested Sunbird was next as well as an Angolan Swallow.
We were then driven to Mabamba Swamp where we sat in a canoe and were paddled out along the narrow channels and into the swamp. Slender-billed Weaver and Swamp Flycatcher were busy in their activities as was a Grey-capped Warbler. Our boatman was soon in difficulty as he had to battle with the vegetation to manoeuvre the canoe to a position where we could see the Shoebill and I could take photos. I was excited as we got nearer and soon I could see the rather large heron with the dinosaur looks! The bird took no notice of us as it caught its prey and devoured it. After taking many photos my pen was kept busy as I noted down familiar African species. Pied Kingfishers are always good to see as are Malachite Kingfisher, Glossy Ibis, Yellow-billed Duck, Squacco Heron, Hottentot Teal, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Long-toed Lapwing. They all went on my trip list as I added Winding Cisticola to my life list.
Harriet and Sue
We were up early for a game drive in the park. A Broad-billed Roller and Little Bee-eater posed for the camera and I was delighted by some Dwarf Mongeese that were playing in the road before running for safety in a rock. A Bushbuck was lurking in the roadside bushes, too shy to come out. I added White-headed Saw-wing and Brown-backed Scrub Robin as lifers as well as a Long-tailed Cisticola.
Rupell's Long-tailed Starling
Spot-flanked Barbet, Cardinal woodpecker and Green Wood Hoopoe were all seen on the game drive along with Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Brown Snake Eagle, Wattled Lapwing and Nubian Woodpecker. I continued to admire the animals and Topi were enjoying wandering the savannah. African Cuckoo, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Common Scimitarbill and Golden-breasted Bunting were all seen as I admired the Zebra, especially the one with an unusual pattern on its back.
African Green Pigeon
Zebra with unusual markings
Sue having a tooth extracted!
By the morning it was clear that I needed to visit a dentist as I was in agony. Luckily today was to be a travel day and we were going to be passing through Mbarara a large town where Harriet knew she would find a dentist. We set off and stopped at Mbarara where Harriet accompanied me up to a dental surgery. We walked straight in and for the next half hour the dentist battled with extracting my tooth. It is not an experience that I wish to repeat in a hurry! The dentist equipped me with pain killers and antibiotics and coupled with malaria tablets the cocktail did nothing for the well being of my stomach!
We motored on stopping at a Papyrus reedbed where I just about could summon enough energy to look at the birds with my throbbing mouth. Leaflove was my first tick along with new trip ticks in the shape of Black-necked Weaver, Arrow-marked Babbler, Green-winged Pytilia and the specialist Papyrus Gonolek which gave itself up eventually. We also saw Holub’s Golden Weaver. We continued on our way but unfortunately I was in too much pain to appreciate the wonderful scenery as we climbed up into the mountains to 7600 feet high.
After stopping at the entrance to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park we admired McKinnon’s Fiscal Shrike, Crowned Hornbill and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater. We arrived at Rahija in rain, where I was taken to my cabin. Harriet requested some mashed potato and lentils for my tea and also found a hot water bottle for me. Bless her!!
Holub's Golden Weaver
Volcanoes erupting in DRCongo
Baby Gorilla making his bed
Sue with a Silverback Gorilla behind!
After an hour of being with the Gorillas it was time to leave them in peace and with a bit of difficulty I was helped back down the steep slope to the trail below. It took a while as we slithered back down and was not helped by the onset of rain that started after about an hour into our return journey. The streams that we had crossed became tricky but with a few hands being offered for assistance I made it back to the road, where after a short wait a minibus picked me up and took me back to the centre where Harriet was waiting. However I first had to be presented with a certificate of having survived a Gorilla trek!!!
Harriet and I returned to the lodge where we stayed for the rest of the day as heavy rain had set in. It was now cold and I was brought my own little fire in a bucket and had my boots cleaned for me, inside and out!!! I caught up on processing photos on my new little tablet and entering my bird data.
Harriet and I were up early and walked through Rahija until we met a side track through the forest. As we walked through the village we saw very little on the degraded hillside but once we were away from the village the birds became visible. Most of the birds were world ticks because I have done very little high altitude forest birding in Africa. Stripe-breasted Tit, Red-faced Warbler and Regal Sunbird all put in appearance before I had to get to grips with all the available greenbuls. An African Golden-breasted Bunting hopped around on the track as we admired a Great Blue Turaco sitting in a far-off tree.
African Golden-breasted Bunting
Harriet at Rahija
Great Blue Turaco
The monkeys were not to be out-done as I watched Black and White (Guereza) Colobus Monkey, L’hoest Monkey and Blue Monkey and took photos of them.
Great Sparrowhawk, Augur Buzzard, Thick-billed Seedeater, Grauers’s Warbler, Black-billed Turaco and Honeyguide Greenbul were all added to my list as I ambled along the track
We walked back for lunch where unfortunately it started raining again. We decided to leave and drove to a village where Harriet negotiated with some local women to buy some potatoes. They saw me and tried to drive Harriet a hard bargain. She was having none of it and we left with a sackful of potatoes for her homestay.
We motored on and birded ‘The Neck’ where I added Mountain Wagtail, Dusky Tit, Buff-throated Apalis, Dusky Blue Flycatcher and the much wanted Black Bee-eater.
Bwindi women unhappy with the price of potatoes
Dusky Blue Flycatcher
We spent the rest of the day travelling to Buhoma where we stayed in a women’s refuge. This was run by an inspiring woman Evelyn who had set it up to give abused women some skills that they could earn some money with. There were many old Singer sewing machines that the women had made items that could be sold to tourists and mechanics that mended bikes that were hired out to tourists. It was a cause close to my heart and so I did my Christmas shopping here!
Harriet had hurt her leg and needed to attend the local hospital, so she arranged for me to be guided by a local guide Chris, who was going to take me into the Bwindi Impenetrable forest along with two armed guards!
Nearly every bird that I was to see was a world tick and we had a wonderful morning as I desperately tried to keep up with all the birds around. We started off in degraded forest but we were soon in primary forest in very damp conditions. I added White-chinned Prinia, Black-billed Weaver, Little Greenbul, Grey-headed Nigrita, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Brown–capped Weaver, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, Ansorge’s Bush-shrike,, Green-headed Sunbird, Kakamega Greenbul, Grey-throated Barbet, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Bar-tailed Trogon, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Speckled Tinkerbird, Grey-throated Tinkerbird, Grey-throated Tit Flycatcher, Grey Apalis, Cameroon Greenbul, Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike, Equatorial Akalet, and Blue-throated Roller.
Unfortunately for me I discovered that my lens had fogged up inside with all the humidity and so this meant that I could not take any photographs. I was hugely disappointed because the birding was so good.
We continued on our track as I added White-tailed Ant-Thrush hopping along the path and White-bellied Robin Chat. Chris lead us down a side track but it soon began to rain really heavily. Luckily he knew of a shelter that we could have our lunch in. We certainly needed the shelter as the heavens opened. It was a long lunch stop as we waited for the rain to stop.
After the rain had stopped, we retraced our steps but the birding had slowed down considerably. We added White-headed Wood-hoopoe and Blue-headed Sunbird and then Chris heard an African Broadbill but could not see it. Luckily I saw it just before it took off and did a flying loop before disappearing never to be seen again! Back at the degraded forest we added Pink-footed Puffback, Slender-billed Greenbul and Vieillot’s Black Weaver before meeting up with Harriet once again.
Buhoma women's refuge
We left Buhoma early in the morning with the plan of driving straight through Queen Elizabeth National Park. We passed many tea plantations before reaching the national park. As I have done a lot of savannah birding in the past in Africa, Harriet knew that there was very little in the way of available world ticks for me. However if we saw a good bird posing nicely we would stop now and again for me to take its photograph. One such bird was a White-throated Bee-eater and another was a Lesser-striped Swallow sat on a bridge. I also ticked Uganda Kob grazing at the side of the road.
I added White-headed Barbet, White-winged Widowbird, Rufous-naped Dove, Croaking Cisticola, Whinchat and African Harrier Hawk to the trip list whilst we were motoring. However all was not well with the van as a ‘clunking’ sound had developed and our driver was telling Harriet that the van was not driving as well as it should be. Given the state of the road I was not surprised that the vehicle was struggling. We kept passing huge container lorries taking food aid to the D.R. of the Congo. One lorry had lost its trailer having tipped over and had a mechanic with it, so we stopped and asked him for assistance.
Mechanical trouble near the DRCongo Border
Off come the wheels again at Kasese
Sue and Justice
The going gets muddy!
We returned to the centre for lunch where I enjoyed Goat Soup and Matoke with my lizard friend.
Goat Soup and Matoke
Justice at the hot springs
Harriet’s vehicle was still waiting for a part to arrive from Kampala and so I stayed another night at Semuliki. Justice took me to another section of the hot springs for a bit of sight-seeing.
We saw several birds here but Justice soon decided to walk a trail that went alongside the swamp that he had not used for a while. Uganda had recently had a lot of rain so the trail was under water. It was deeper than Justice was expecting and we were soon in trouble as several bridges had either washed away or were in a poor state of repair. We then had a worrying few minutes as we could hear Cape Buffalo just the other side of the bushes where we were walking. Justice made a snorting sound and luckily they were frightened off. We continued wading along the path and crossed over some rickety bridges until we were eventually on some firmer ground. Here we saw Brown Illadopsis, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Northern Cuckoo, Red-tailed Greenbul, Fire-crested Athlete, Brown-chested Athlete, Forest Robin, Yellow-throated Cuckoo and Shining Blue Kingfisher most of which were world ticks for me.
We hopped back on the motorbike and re-visited the hillside that we had been to yesterday. Here we added Bronze Mannikin, Bi-coloured Mannikin, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-bellied Firefinch, Red-collared Widowbird and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
A short ride later along a forest trail we added Red-tailed Bristlebird and later aRed-throated Bee-eater was perched on a wire.
We returned to the lodge for lunch where Justice turned out one of his butterfly traps. He had fun sorting them all out and showed me many of them.
After a short wait Harriet appeared with a repaired vehicle. I had had a good time with Justice and thanked him for his efforts. Harriet and I drove to Fort Portal where I saw a Black-headed Heron in the river and then stopped for Harriet to pick up some supplies. Whilst we were waiting a Maribou Stork wandered around the car park.
We continued on our way and eventually arrived at Harriet’s home in Kibale where we stayed the night.
We drove the short distance to Kibale National Park where we were hoping to see the Green-breasted Pitta. I knew this was going to be a difficult species to track down but I had high hopes of Harriet as this is her home forest and she would know the likely areas to search. However it was not to be. However we added a few world and trip ticks: Brimstone Canary, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat, White-throated Greenbul, Narina Trogon, Hairy-breasted Barbet and Yellow-spotted Barbet.
We came across a young Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird that had no fear of humans as I took a picture of it with my little digital camera from a couple of feet away. All of a sudden Harriet heard the sound of Chimpanzees. We walked towards the sound and high up in the branches of the tree I could see an adult and juvenile Chimpanzee. I cursed my camera as it just would not focus; there was clearly too much vegetation in line with my shot. I was thrilled at seeing Chimpanzees in the wild for the first time though.
We returned for some lunch before returning to the forest in the afternoon for another try for the pitta. Harriet had spoken to a guide who had seen it in the morning but heavy rain was hampering our efforts and dusk was not far off. We called it a day and returned to Harriet’s homestay. Harriet offered me another day trying to see the pitta but it would mean cutting a day from Murchison Falls. We had seen very little in the forest that day and so I decided it would be better to move on.
I had given Harriet a list of my ‘wanted’ species before I had left home and Harriet knew that a flufftail was within walking distance of her home. Today was set to be a whole travelling day so she said that if I got up early we could go for a short walk around the field near her home before we set off. We walked a path down to the fields where after seeing an Olive-bellied Sunbird we stood and waited for the White-spotted Flufftail to appear. It did a mad dash along the pathway before coming back out for me to have a good look at it. Further along the path I added Grosbeak Weaver and Compact Weaver. A Chestnut-winged Starling also went on the trip list.
All too soon it was time to leave and we said goodbye to Harriet’s husband and children and set off on our long journey toward’s Masindi. We had to take a long route as the usual road was virtually impassable because of the recent rains. At Fort Portal I added Northern Fiscal Shrike to the trip list.
At Fort Portal, Harriet had been telling me about a local delicacy that is available to people in November and is a snack that is highly sought after in Uganda. She disappeared and came back with a bag of Grasshoppers. I had to try one! Let it be said, that at least I tried one, but it has to be said that I was very generous and let Harriet and Bahati finish the rest!
We drove for the rest of the day with brief stops for lunch and to add Lizard Buzzard and White-thighed Hornbill to the list at Masindi. We spent the night at Masindi where I caught up with some emails and posting pictures on Facebook with the good wifi available.
After a good breakfast we drove to The Royal Mile at Budongo Forest after brief stops to admire Whistling Cisticola and Yellow-mantled Widowbird. We also stopped to take photos of White-thighed Hornbills.
Once at the edge of the forest we stopped to pick up Raymond as Harriet likes to encourage local guides. We were soon adding world ticks in the shape of Superb Sunbird, Green Twinspot, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Yellow-crested Kingfisher, Ugandan Woodland Warbler, Rufous Thrush, African Shrike Flycatcher, Green Sunbird, Chestnut Wattle-eye, and Purple-headed Starling. Raymond and Harriet are both impressive with their knowledge on calls and the temperature was extremely pleasant as we wandered along the long straight stretch of forest on the wide track. The birding was excellent as I re-acquainted myself with Red-chested Cuckoo, Green Hylia, Rufous-crowned Eremola, Chestnut capped Warbler, Cassin’s Honeybird, Ashy Flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole and African Emerald Cuckoo.
All too soon it was time to leave as we had a long way still to go as we headed towards Murchison Falls.
We stopped as necessary to add birds to our list which included Beautiful Sunbird, Western Banded Snake-Eagle and some distant Abyssinian Ground Hornbills. A Dark-chanting Goshawk was a nice memory as it sat on a telegraph post as was a Brown Snake-Eagle.
As we neared Murchison Falls, we added Northern Red Bishop, Rattling Cisticola, Purple Heron, African Darter and a world tick of Moustached Grass Warbler. As were now into savannah habitat I was not expecting many more world ticks as I have birded savannah habitat many times before. However it was nice to catch up with the more familiar African animals once again.
We eventually arrived at our camp that Harriet had booked for the next three nights and it looked very nice but we had a slightly strange greeting as the boss would not let our driver anywhere near our cabins and expected his staff to carry my suitcase a long way when there was a perfectly acceptable road to drive on. I protested on their behalf and stood my ground and got the cases driven to our cabins. The setting was wonderful by the River Nile as we ate our dinner but all our requests were turned down. Harriet and I were not impressed with the level of service and Harriet was quick to find some alternative accommodation for the following two nights.
Harriet and I packed up early, left the lodge and took our bags to another lodge a bit further along the River Nile. As we drove along the track we saw a Long-tailed Nightjar and a roosting Greyish Eagle Owl. It was still dark as we arrived to pick up our packed lunch. We made our way down to the River and waited for the ferry to take us across the other side and into Murchison Falls National Park.
Once we had crossed the river the bird-list grew quickly as I added Black-headed Lapwing, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Palm Swift, Zitting Cisticola. A beautiful Red-necked Falcon sat and posed as I added Shelley’s Sparrow, Lesser Kestrel, Rupell’s Griffon Vulture, Vinaceous Dove and a wonderful Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. I realised how lucky I was to be out in the sun watching such an array of birds.
African animals are always a delight to see as an Oribi sat resting close to our vehicle but I have never seen so many giraffes before as here in Murchison Falls National Park. They were everywhere.
A Denham’s Bustard and Grey-crowned Crane strolled by us as we delighted in watching a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture and a Martial Eagle with its prey.
Harriet alerted me to a new mammal tick for me in the shape of two Patas Monkeys that were hiding in a small hillock. They were not easy to photograph as they appeared to be quite shy. They are quite unusual as they are ground dwellers. After entertaining us we continued to see White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Vitteline masked Weaver and Red-backed Cordonbleu. We noted Black-billed Wood-Dove, Black-billed Barbet and just about saw Senegal Thick-knee. How Harriet spotted them hiding in the grass I shall never know!
It had got very hot by lunch time and we crossed back over the river Nile and drove back to our camp for lunch. I was given the afternoon off and delighted in sitting in the restaurant area watching all the animals and birds over-looking the River Nile. It gave me a chance to relax and catch up with my notes. The Baboons and Vervet Monkeys were entertaining me as one of the camp staff came to tell me about the African Hoopoe on the lawn.
In the evening we drove to the camp next door where I met up with Dave and Jacquie, two friends from Norfolk that were also in Uganda enjoying the wildlife and birds. My cabin at my camp was partly canvas, although one of the most luxurious tents that I have experienced in Africa with its own shower and bath that had views over-looking the river Nile.
During the night I was kept awake by Hippos that were quite clearly munching the vegetation right outside. They sounded very close, although having spent a lot of time in Africa before in tents it did not particularly bother me.
Harriet and I had a leisurely start to the day as we wandered around the camp. She was keen to show me two birds that she had heard calling as she knew one of them was a lifer for me. We watched Red-headed Weaver and eventually we saw Spotted Palm Thrush lurking in the bushes. However it took a while before she called out Red-winged Grey Warbler, which we watched at the top of a nearby bush.
We eventually left the camp and drove along the track to the top of Murchison Falls. We passed an Abyssinian Roller on the way. It will always be one of my favourite birds. Harriet had timed it perfectly so that we could have the falls to ourselves rather than share it with all the other tourists in the area. The falls are a wondrous sight as the River Nile forces itself through a very narrow gap in the cliffs. The noise was tremendous. Harriet, Bahati and I got quite wet from all the spray but being very hot it didn’t seem to matter.
Harriet and Sue at the top of Murchison Falls
After some lunch I was taken down to the riverside where I joined several other tourists and put on a boat. I had an amazing trip on the River Nile where my birding was washed down with some beer. I am not usually a beer drinker but my friends in England had told me that I was to sample Nile Beer. I have to admit that drinking Nile beer cruising on the River Nile whilst watching Red-throated Bee-eaters at a breeding colony in the glorious sun of Uganda takes some beating! What an amazing holiday this has been!
We passed Elephants and Crocodiles on the riverbank as well as Hippos in the river. African Fish Eagles were perched in the tree tops as well as flying overhead along with Yellow-billed Kites.
I saw all the usual riverside birds that one would expect to see along an African river, Including Great White Egret, Little Egret, Green Heron, and Black-crowned Night Heron which were new for the trip list. Eventually we arrived at the bottom of the falls and stopped to let off many of the passengers who were going to walk the trail to the top of the falls.
The boat was turned around and we sailed back along the river where Wire-tailed Swallows were flying overhead. All too soon we were back at the riverside where Harriet was waiting to pick me up to take me back to the lodge.
It was to be my last day in Uganda today with Harriet and so we had a leisurely breakfast and I had my last look at the River Nile flowing by as we ate. We packed our bags, said goodbye to the camp staff and loaded them into the van for the long drive back to Kampala and Entebbe. We saw a Woolly-necked Stork in a small stream as we drove and when we reached Luwero, Harriet stopped the van for me to add my last world tick in the shape of Hartlub’s Marsh Widowbird. Just before Kampala I added a Hammerkop to the trip list before getting caught up in all the traffic in Kampala.
Eventually we reached the accommodation that we had spent the first night in near Entebbe, where I freshened up and had a last meal with Harriet, before catching my flight home. It had been a fantastic trip which I thank Harriet so much for organising for me.