Uganda – Beyond Our Expectations

December, 2022

Uganda is home to a large variety of animals and birds where we will be spending almost 3 weeks covering a large swath of this country. The Ugandans are an English speaking country and we will be visiting mountains, the Nile River and wetland areas. This equatorial country is landlocked and it is bordered clockwise by South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC (Congo).

Our mode of transportation while visiting Uganda.

🦜🦜 Birding Time 🦜🦜

Yes, you guessed it, we were traveling with Jim and Cindy Beckman who own and operate Cheepers! Birding on a Budget. We were a group of crazy birders that were accompanied by our excellent guides – Errol, William and Joel. Our time in Uganda will be spent not only looking for birds but multiple other large animals of great interest.

Mabamba Wetland

Even though this is only about 15 miles from town, Kampala (Entebbe), it takes about an hour due to the amount of traffic, the modes of transportation along the route and the conditions of the roads. But once we arrived at the wetland, we were in a new outdoor wonderland ready to find the Shoebill.

Ok, let’s chat about the Shoebill since this is a very different bird. They are classified as a vulnerable species because there are less than 5,000 of them in the wild. They stand about 5’ tall, they fly, weigh about 11 lbs and they stand totally motionless to hunt. They only live in freshwater swamps in Eastern Africa and they eat lungfish, eels, and catfish. They are waders and they will also eat Nile monitor lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles.

We arrived at the Mabamba Wetlands, hopped into the dugout canoes and off we went into the swamp looking for Shoebills. In route we saw may species of birds along the way. It was a fascinating journey and watching this large and amazing bird was just the first highlight of this country.

Three people to a boat. The brave stood up to take photos!
From the grass looms a Shoebill!
And they smile for the camera.

Bwindi National Park and Ride 4 A Woman Lodge

We spent several days in the Bwindi community as we not only did hiking for birds, but also trekking for Mountain Gorillas. The story of our gorilla trek can be found here.

Our first glimpse was of this 2 year old baby. He was happily eating without a care in the world.

The Ride 4 A Woman Lodge put on a set of traditional dances for us one afternoon. These women have come from abusive homes, loss of a spouse, AIDS and other difficult situations. The lodge has created a safe place to live, opportunity to work, learn a trade and sell their creations. They were very excited to perform their dances, but even more so when they had audience participation!

The ladies from Ride 4 A Woman put on a show of traditional dances. Yes, Jeff and his new shirt joined in the celebration.

Kazinga Channel

The Kazinga Channel is located in the Queen Elizabeth National Park located on the western edge of Uganda and the eastern edge of the DR Congo.

The channel is 32 kilometers long and connects Lakes Edward and George and is a dominate feature in the QE Park. It is rich with animal life, birds, boating expeditions, Nile crocs and one of the worlds largest concentration of hippos and one of the most important birding areas in Africa.

We had a great guide as we spent several hours in the channel boating. We logged over 33 species of birds, lions, buffalo, elephants and monitor lizards. It was an exciting and beautiful morning on the water.

While the picture might not be the greatest, you can see a small sampling of the bird population we saw along the channel. ( Marabou Stork, pink backed pelican and cormorants)
Lions frequent the areas around the channel.
This large water buck was enjoying a drink and watching the Americans.
This African Harrier Hawk was enjoying an afternoon treat from the local weaver nests.

Chimpanzees

The Kibale National Forest is located on the western side of Uganda and it protects 300 square miles of moist evergreen forest. It contains lowlands and mountains and is one of the smallest national parks in the country.

While we were trekking for birds in Kibale (over 325 species), we were also searching for primates. There are 13 varieties of primates but we are really excited to hopefully track a family of chimpanzee.

Kibale National Forest is home to around 1500 chimpanzees. We meet at the park conference room for a morning briefing. We are then grouped together (easy trek and difficult trek) and head out to find a family that is feeding in the forest. We had a wonderful guide who found a family eating in the trees after about an hour of hiking. Similar to trekking for gorillas, once the primates are found, we only have an hour to watch them.

Chimpanzees are quite nimble and move around the trees and branches in an entertaining way. They watch us and we watch them. Don’t stand directly under them or you might be the lucky recipient of an additional morning “shower”. I was quite surprised at how large these animals are in the wild – weighing up to 120 lbs and they possess an unbelievable amount of strength. Our guide told us that a family of chimps can kill a silverback gorilla. After just seeing those gorillas and their size, I was amazed.

We follow a trail into the jungle and once the guide hears them, we venture into the forest off the trail.
Yes, we even trekked into the jungle for chimpanzees!
They also watched us.

Murchison Falls National Park

This was by far one of our favorite areas to visit while we were in Uganda. As we arrived at our lodge, we were greeted by a mother leopard and her cub – what a way to start your explorations.

Momma leopard was quite chill as she napped in a tree outside our camp.
The baby leopard was quick to scuttle when we stopped to take pictures.

Murchison Falls National Park is located in the north-western side of Uganda. The Falls are part of the Nile River that fall through a gorge that is only 23’ wide and plunging 140’ down. The MFNP is home to 76 species of mammals, 450 bird species and the largest population of some really large Nile crocs. I’m guessing you have figured out why this is a hotspot!

MFNP is also a very popular place to visit as it is only a 5 hour round trip from the airport in Entebbe. If you are looking for giraffe, this is home to one of the largest populations of the Rothschild giraffe. We saw multiple towers of giraffe that numbered over 40.

The Nile River squeezing through a 23’ opening and dropping over 140’. It’s loud and it’s beautiful.
A very large Nile Crocodile checking out our boat.
Three Rothschild giraffe posing for the camera. Thank you!
What in the world is this animal? Well, a Hartebeest, of course!

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

The Ziwa Rhino Center and Wildlife Ranch is home to the ONLY rhinos in Uganda. The sanctuary was established in 2005 to start the process of reintroducing white rhinos back into the country. They started with 6 white rhinos – 2 from Kenya and 4 from Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the United States. Today, they have 33 white rhinos with the goal of slowing moving them from the sanctuary to the various National Parks where these animals once roamed free.

We stayed in one of the lodges on the grounds of the Sanctuary where the rhinos roam freely and we had to be cautious as we moved around the camp. The entire area is fenced and the rhinos are well protected by guards to ensure that they are not poached and are monitored for their health and vitality.

On our last day in Uganda, we did a hike to view the most recent mother and her baby. We were given strict guidelines – walk in single file, make NO noise, follow the guides rules at all time and ALWAYS stay behind the guide. The goal of the group is to stay out of the viewing area of the rhinos – which is only about 90′. As our guide said, they have terrible eyesight and they won’t be able to see you. So, we trusted him and we had a very exciting walk.

Mother and her 2-month old baby.
I know it looks like I’m toooo close, but the distance was guide approved.

Some Final Thoughts and Stastics

Total Birds Species Seen in Uganda: 486 Total.

New Species of Birds we recorded in Uganda: 117

Shoebills in the US: The Tampa Zoo has two Shoebills and one was successfully hatched in their confines. So, if you are in Tampa, go check out these prehistoric marvels at the Tampa Zoo.

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