Uganda / East Africa - Mountain Gorilla, Chimpanzee and Shoebill 17 Jan - 1 Feb 2022

Shoebill - Bronwen Scott - Inala Nature Tours
Shoebill - Bronwen Scott - Inala Nature Tours
Tour date: 
Monday, 17 January 2022 to Tuesday, 1 February 2022
Duration: 
16 days
Price: 
To be advised (2021 price US$9,695 per person twin share. Single supplement US$1,150).
Highlights: 
Uganda is a landlocked country comprising a mix of savannas, mountains and lakes. It lies within the Nile River basin and has an equatorial climate. The southern part of the country includes a substantial part of Lake Victoria (which it shares with Kenya and Tanzania). The Ruwenzori Mountains, which it shares with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are home to most of the remaining endangered Mountain Gorilla population. It is also a stronghold for the highly sought-after Shoebill which is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018. The variety of habitats makes it one of the most exciting bird and mammal viewing destinations in the world.
Overview: 
  • 1062 bird species 
  • A huge variety of primates including Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee
  • The best chance of seeing Shoebill
  • Iconic and scenically spectacular locations such as Queen Elizabeth NP, Murchison Falls NP, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP (Mountain Gorilla), Kibale (famous for Chimpanzee viewing)

This tour has been designed to maximise our birding and wildlife viewing opportunities while incorporating visits to spectacularly beautiful locations, meeting and supporting local communities and staying in strategically located accommodation with high ecotourism values. Cape Queen Elizabeth National Park spans the equator and boasts expansive grasslands, papyrus swamps and tropical forests which supports 95 mammal species including huge herds of Elephant, African Buffalo as well as Lions, Leopards and a massive diversity (610 species) of birds. Murchison Falls is the largest National Park in Uganda and protects a large chunk of untamed African savanna intersected by the Nile River. If it named for the dramatic Murchison Falls where the world’s longest river violently explodes through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment to plunge into a frothing pool 43m below which we will see at close range. The park’s large size and wide range of habitats allows for an impressive checklist of more than 460 species of birds and is the most reliable location for the iconic Shoebill stork. We have a great chance of seeing this species along the Nile delta. We also have other chances of finding this species as we explore various wetlands around the country. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to approximately half of the world population of Mountain Gorilla. This vast reserve offers arguably the most productive montane forest birding in Africa and supports 23 of Uganda’s 24 Albertine Rift endemic bird species which makes it a true birding Mecca.

Start Location: 
Entebbe
Uganda
Finish location: 
Entebbe
Uganda

UGANDA East Africa - Inala Tour

Monday 17 January to Tuesday 1 February 2022

Uganda is a landlocked country comprising a mix of savannas, mountains and lakes. It lies within the Nile River basin and has an equatorial climate.  The southern part of the country includes a substantial part of Lake Victoria (which it shares with Kenya and Tanzania).  The Ruwenzori Mountains, which it shares with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are home to most of the remaining endangered Mountain Gorilla population. It is also a stronghold for the highly sought-after Shoebill which is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018. The variety of habitats makes it one of the most exciting bird and mammal viewing destinations in the world.

 Inala Nature Tours’ Founder Tonia Cochran was privileged to be invited to Uganda by the African Bird Expo, Ugandan Tourism Association and private tour operators in November-December 2018 to gain a first-hand experience of this destination to see if it was suitable for Inala’s guests. This offer of two separate departures in 2020 reflects the huge success of the trip as one of the best destinations she has ever visited, which she classes as a life-changing experience. These tours are being offered at the best times of year in terms of bird and wildlife viewing and a comfortable climate. The arrangements have been made to maximise your safety and comfort, using the local knowledge of Tonia’s long-term friend, local guide Herbert and good quality, comfortable accommodation throughout. We invite you to join Tonia and Herbert on this trip of a lifetime.

TOUR LEADERS:

Dr Tonia Cochran, Inala Nature Tours.
Local guide Herbert.

HIGHLIGHTS: 

  • 1062 bird species 
  • A huge variety of primates including Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee
  • The best chance of seeing Shoebill
  • Iconic and scenically spectacular locations such as Queen Elizabeth NP, Murchison Falls NP, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP (Mountain Gorilla), Kibale (famous for Chimpanzee viewing)

This tour has been designed to maximise our birding and wildlife viewing opportunities while incorporating visits to spectacularly beautiful locations, meeting and supporting local communities and staying in strategically located accommodation with high ecotourism values. Cape Queen Elizabeth National Park spans the equator and boasts expansive grasslands, papyrus swamps and tropical forests which supports 95 mammal species including huge herds of Elephant, African Buffalo as well as Lions, Leopards and a massive diversity (610 species) of birds. Murchison Falls is the largest National Park in Uganda and protects a large chunk of untamed African savanna intersected by the Nile River. If it named for the dramatic Murchison Falls where the world’s longest river violently explodes through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment to plunge into a frothing pool 43m below which we will see at close range. The park’s large size and wide range of habitats allows for an impressive checklist of more than 460 species of birds and is the most reliable location for the iconic Shoebill stork. We have a great chance of seeing this species along the Nile delta. We also have other chances of finding this species as we explore various wetlands around the country. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to approximately half of the world population of Mountain Gorilla. This vast reserve offers arguably the most productive montane forest birding in Africa and supports 23 of Uganda’s 24 Albertine Rift endemic bird species which makes it a true birding Mecca.

Itinerary OUTLINE:

Day 1. Mon 17 Jan 22. Arrive Entebbe: orientation and welcome.
Day 2. Tue 18 Jan 22. Shoebills and White Rhinoceros Reserve
Day 3. Wed 19 Jan 22. White Rhinoceros tracking and Murchison Falls National Park.
Day 4. Thu 20 Jan 22. Murchison Falls: boat cruise with morning and evening game drive.
Day 5. Fri 21 Jan 22. Murchison Falls to Masindi.
Day 6. Sat 22 Jan 22. Masindi to Kibale.
Day 7. Sun 23 Jan 22. Kibale Forest National Park: Chimpanzee tracking and birding.
Day 8. Mon 24 Jan 22. Kibale to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Day 9. Tue 25 Jan 22. Queen Elizabeth NP: Birding and afternoon boat cruise.
Day 10. Wed 26 Jan 22. Queen Elizabeth NP to Bwindi.
Day 11. Thu 27 Jan 22. Bwindi Impenetrable NP: Gorilla tracking.
Day 12. Fri 28 Jan 22. Bwindi Impenetrable NP: Birding.
Day 13. Sat 29 Jan 22. Bwindi to Lake Mburo NP.
Day 14. Sun 30 Jan 22. Boat ride Lake Mburo NP.
Day 15. Mon 31 Jan 22. Lake Mburo to Entebbe.
Day 16. Tue 1 Feb 22. Botanical gardens and depart Entebbe.

DETAILED ITINERAY
Day 1:   Monday 17 January 2022. Arrive Entebbe and Botanical gardens, orientation and welcome.

Arrive at Entebbe where we will be transferred to our hotel. If time allows, we will spend the afternoon birding in the Botanical gardens which has a plethora of bird species including Ross’s and Great Blue Turaco, Crowned Hornbill, Black-and-white-Casqued Hornbill, Ruppell’s Starling, Splendid Starling, Grey Parrot and a variety of bee-eaters and sunbirds. We will then gather at the hotel for a welcome dinner this evening.
Accommodation: Entebbe hotel (en suite rooms). Meals: D.

Day 2:  Tuesday 18 January 2022. Shoebills and White Rhinoceros reserve.
After an early breakfast, we will travel to some nearby wetlands on the shores of Lake Victoria. This is one of the few remaining swamps in the country which is protected by the local communities – it is an extensive papyrus swamp with its labyrinth of channels and lagoons, classified as an Important Bird Area and home to several pairs of Shoebills, Uganda’s most famous avian resident. This charismatic monotypic species is certainly amongst the most sought-after birds in Africa, and we’ll make special efforts today to find it by paddling through the channels in boats operated by local community members. There will of course be a good selection of classic East African water birds, including Long-tailed Cormorant, Goliath Heron, African Open-bill, Saddle-billed and Marabou Storks, Hamerkop, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, African Fish-Eagle, African Marsh-Harrier, African Water Rail, Purple Swamphen, Allen’s Gallinule, African Jacana, Long-toed and Spur-winged Plovers. Apart from the numerous water birds, we are likely to see a nice variety of open country and water edge species, perhaps including Speckled Pigeon, African Green Pigeon, Eastern Plantain-eater, Malachite, Giant, and Pied Kingfishers, Blue-headed Coucal, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Crowned Hornbill, Angola and Rufous-chested Swallows, Winding Cisticola, Greater, Grey-capped and Lesser Swamp-Warblers, Papyrus Yellow Warblers, Swamp Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Papyrus Gonolek, Slender-billed, Northern Brown-throated, and Golden-backed Weavers, and Papyrus Canary. We will then travel to a White Rhinoceros Sanctuary with some birding along the way.
Accommodation: Safari Lodge(en suite rooms) within the Rhinoceros Sanctuary. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 3:  Wednesday 19 January 2022. White Rhinoceros tracking and Murchison Falls National Park.
After breakfast, we will spend some time tracking Southern White Rhinoceros in a reserve that is home to the only wild population in Uganda. This is an amazing chance to see these animals at close range and learn about the amazing efforts to conserve and breed them. The entry fee contributes directly to the maintenance expenses of this conservation program. The sanctuary is also home to 340 bird species, including Bronze-tailed, Ruppell’s and Purple-headed Starling, Bruce’s and African Green Pigeons, Northern Crombec African Golden Oriole. This afternoon we will travel to Murchison Falls National Park, birding en route. After crossing the Murchison River, we will travel to our accommodation in the vast Murchison Falls National Park. We are likely to see a variety or mammals including African Buffalo, Lelwel Hartebeests, Bush Elephant, African Lion, Oribi, Duikers and Uganda Kob.
Accommodation: Safari Lodge (en suite rooms) within the Murchison Falls National Park. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 4: Thursday 20 January 2022.  Murchison Falls: boat cruise with morning and evening game drive.
After an early breakfast, we will take a morning game drive in the National Park. In the lush Bourassa’s grassland, we may encounter Bush Elephant, African Buffalo, Rothchild’s Giraffe, and a variety of antelope. After enjoying a packed lunch, we will then have an afternoon boat trip to the base of Murchison falls. Here, you have a chance of sighting the rare Shoebills and a variety of water birds including Goliath Heron, Sacred Ibis and Fulvous Whistling-Duck. Saddle-billed Stork, Senegal Thick-knee, Black-headed Lapwing, Long-toed Lapwing and Little Bittern can also be sighted along the shore and in the reed beds. Other specialties include Buff-bellied Warbler, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Red-winged Grey Warbler, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Marabou Stork, Silverbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Black-headed Gonolek, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Golden-backed Weaver, White-rumped Seedeater, Pel’s Fishing Owl, White Crested Turaco, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Chestnut-crowned and White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Carmine Bee-eater, White-rumped Canary, Secretary Bird, Abyssinian Roller and Ground Hornbill, Pied Kingfisher, Red-throated Bee-eater, Osprey, Red-necked Falcon, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Vinaceous Dove and Grosbeak Weaver. During our evening game drive, we will be searching for species like Spotted Hyena, African Leopard, White-tailed Mongoose and bird species like Square-tailed, Long-tailed, Pennant-winged and Standard-winged Nightjars.
Accommodation: Safari Lodge (en suite rooms) within the Murchison Falls National Park as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 5:  Friday 21 January 2022. Murchison Falls to Masindi.
After breakfast we shall cross the Murchison River on the vehicle ferry and drive to Masindi through the escarpment. We shall also pass through a section of Budongo Forest Reserve which is a good location for species such as the Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Ituri Batis, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Lemon-bellied Crombec, White-thighed Hornbill and many more.
Accommodation: Hotel in Masindi (en suite rooms). Meals: B, L, D.

Day 6:  Saturday 22 January 2022. Transfer to Kibale.
Kibale Forest National Park protects a diverse array of primates, from the minuscule, nocturnal Demidoff’s Galago to our closest living relative, the Chimpanzee. During the day, we will also see many other species of primates such as Red-tailed monkey, Central African Red Colobus, Mantled Guereza and Olive Baboon. Birds we should see today include Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, African Emerald Cuckoo, Purple-headed Starling, Black-billed Turaco, Yellow-billed Barbet, Grey-throated Barbet, Blue-throated Roller, Narrow-tailed Starling and Western Black-headed Oriole.
Accommodation: B&B near Kibale NP. (en suite rooms). Meals: B, L, D.

Day 7:  Sunday 23 January 2022. Kibale Forest National Park: Chimpanzee tracking and birding.
After an early breakfast we will drive to Kibale National Park. Here we will spend up to several hours tracking and observing wild Chimps on foot with our expert local guides who personally know the troop members and who will interpret the behaviour. Kibale forest is home to 13 primates. We will spend the afternoon birding along the road, nearby and forest trails for bird species that are hard to find elsewhere including; the Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, Cabanis’s Greenbul and Joyful Greenbul as well as White-spotted Flufftail, Dusky and Olive Long-tailed Cuckoos, Lesser Honey guide, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, White-chinned Prinia, Grey Apalis, Olive-green Camaroptera and White-collared Oliveback. We will return to our B&B this evening for a delicious home-cooked meal.
Accommodation: B&B near Kibale National Park. (en suite rooms) as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 8:  Monday 24 January 2022. Kibale to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
After breakfast, we will travel to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Park, which is named after the Queen of England who visited it in 1954, is the second largest national park in Uganda. Queen Elizabeth National Park boasts the highest biodiversity of any game reserve in the world and the habitat is comprised of a mix of open savannah, rainforest, dense papyrus swamps, crater lakes and the vast Lake Edward. Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to almost 100 mammal species and a remarkable 612 bird species, making it a superb safari territory, with Bush Elephants, a profusion of Hippopotamus, elusive Giant Forest Hog and handsome Uganda Kob all regularly sighted around the village on the Mweya Peninsula. The area also boasts a marvellous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Accommodation: Safari Lodge (en suite rooms) within the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 9: Tuesday 25 January 2022. Queen Elizabeth NP: Birding and afternoon boat cruise.
This morning’s game drive takes us through a productive area of grassy plains, which support large flocks of a variety of stork species including the Spectacular Saddle-billed and Woolly-necked Storks. Other species include the Bateleur, Grey Kestrel, Lappet-faced, Ruppell’s Griffon, White-backed and Palm-nut Vultures, African Crake, Black Coucal, Common Button-quail, Harlequin and Black-rumped Quails, Red-necked Francolin, Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks. Mammals we will look for include Uganda Kob, African Lion, Common Warthog, Bush Buck, Deffassa Waterbuck, Spotted Hyena, Leopard and many others. In the afternoon we take a launch tour of the Kazinga Channel which is a natural magnet for herds of Bush Elephant, Giant Forest Hog, African Buffalo, Monitor lizard, crocodiles and abundant Hippopotamuses.
Birding here is excellent with great photographic opportunities. Congregations of African Skimmers, Great-white and Pink-backed Pelicans, Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, Open-billed Stork, African Skimmer, White-faced Whistling Duck, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Malachite Kingfisher, African Jacana, African Wattled Plover can all be found here. Accommodation: Mweya Safari Lodge (en suite rooms) within the Queen Elizabeth National Park as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 10. Wednesday 26 January 2022. Queen Elizabeth NP to Bwindi Impenetrable NP.
After an early breakfast, we will drive through the Ishasha section of the National Park where, if we are lucky, we may be able to view tree climbing African lions. We will then continue to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Bwindi NP is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to approximately half of the world’s population of the endangered Mountain Gorilla. Once part of a much larger forest that included the Virunga Volcanoes in neighbouring Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is now an ecological island within a sea of human cultivation and therefore of big conservation importance. This vast reserve offers arguably the most productive montane forest birding in Africa and supports 23 of Uganda’s 24 Albertine Rift endemic bird species. Specialties include; Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Banded Prinia, Black-throated Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis, Red-throated Alethe, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Chin-spot Batis, Rwenzori Batis, Black-and-white-Shrike-flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Magpie Mannikin, Yellow-crowned Canary, Thick-billed Seed-eater, Streaky Seedeater, African Green Broadbill, Shelly’s Crimsonwing, Oriole Finch, Mountain Buzzard, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Handsome Francolin, Black-billed Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, African Wood Owl, Rwenzori Nightjar, Scarce Swift, Bar-tailed Trogon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Black Bee-eater, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-chested Owlet, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Elliot’s Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Western Green Tinkerbird, African Green Broadbill, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Petit’s Cuckoo Shrike, Grey Cuckoo Shrike, Archer’s Ground Robin, Toro Olive Greenbul, Ansorge’s Greenbul, Equatorial Akalat, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush, White-tailed Ant Thrush, Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Short-tailed Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler, and Red-faced Woodland Warbler to mention but a few.
Accommodation: A Community run Lodge in Buhoma, adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable NP (en suite rooms) as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 11: Thursday 27 January 2022. Bwindi Impenetrable NP: Gorilla tracking.
After breakfast, we will assemble at the National Park Offices for a detailed briefing before heading out on foot to track Mountain Gorilla with guides from the local community. This exclusive experience is a real privilege, as group sizes are limited and only one group is allowed to view each gorilla group each day. So, viewing permits are almost as scarce as the gorillas! Tracking can be a challenging activity involving a certain amount of physical fitness as it can take up to 8 hours of walking through thick jungle in the wilderness in search of these gentle giants.  On occasions the Gorillas prove elusive, but often can be found within an hour by the expert local tracker guides. It is a very emotionally moving once in a lifetime experience to stare in to the eyes of these gentle giants and watch them play and go about their daily activities. Each encounter with the gorillas is different and has its own rewards, but you are likely to enjoy the close view of adults feeding, grooming and resting as the young frolic and swing from vines in a delightfully playful display. On our return we will be issued with a certificate and provided with a chance to purchase a pictorial laminated sheet of the family that you have been tracking, with all proceeds going towards the conservation of this species and the protection of the forests in which they live.
Accommodation: Lodge in Buhoma, adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable NP (en suite rooms) as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 12: Friday 28 January 2022. Bwindi: Birding.
After breakfast, we will birdwatch in the main forest of Bwindi. Species we will search for include Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Bar-tailed Trogon, Dusky Tit, Kivu Ground-Thrush, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Equatorial Akalat, White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Red-throated Alethe, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Gray-green Bushshrike, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Black-billed Weaver and Magpie Mannikin. High exposed perches in the open forest are favoured by African Goshawk; the dazzling Black Bee-eater, Blue-throated Roller, Sooty Flycatcher and forest starlings including Waller’s, Stuhlmann’s and Narrow-tailed Starling. One of Bwindi’s star avian attractions is the diminutive, pitta-like Neumann’s Warbler, a vocal yet very secretive bird. Other under-storey birds we hope to see include displaying African Broadbill; Banded Prinia and the handsome Black-faced Rufous-Warbler. The mid-storey and canopy support Elliot’s and Tullberg’s Woodpeckers; Cabanis’, Kakamega and Ansorge’s Greenbuls; the strange Grauer’s Warbler and White-browed Crombec. The rare Jameson’s Antpecker may also been seen probing under moss on dead branches or gleaning warbler-like in the canopy. Overhead, Scarce Swifts forage over the forest. Birding at Buhoma is a truly magical experience. Other wildlife that we may be fortunate enough to find here include the huge Yellow-backed Duiker, Mantled Guereza; L’Hoest’s, Blue and Red-tailed monkeys, Chimpanzee and several species of Squirrels including Fire-footed Rope, Carruthers’ Mountain, Ruwenzori Sun and Red-legged Sun Squirrel.
Accommodation: Lodge in Buhoma adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable NP (en suite rooms) as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 13. Saturday 29 January 2022. Bwindi to Lake Mburo NP.
Lake Mburo National Park is a gem. Although it is just 370 sq km in size, its landscapes are varied and even a short drive is alive with interest and colour. It is the only National Park in Uganda to contain Impala and the only one in the rift region to host Burchell’s Zebra and Eland. In Uganda, Topi are only found in Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth National Parks. Other common wildlife species include Common warthog, African buffalo, Oribi and Deffassa Waterbuck. Common conspicuous birds we will encounter on our journey to Lake Mburo include Crested Francolin, Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, Brown Parrot, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Blue-napped Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green Wood hoopoe, Common Scimitar Bill, African Grey Hornbill, Spot-flanked Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Trilling Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Northern Black Tit, Chin-spot Batis, Greater Blue-eared Starling, and Marico Sunbird. The woodland in the immediate vicinity of Rwonyo also support many of these widespread species. Tonight, we will stay in an unfenced tented camp where hot water is delivered for your shower and where you are escorted to and from your cabins after dark by the wonderful staff - a truly amazing experience!
Accommodation: Tented Camp (en suite tents) in Lake Mburo National Park. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 14. Sunday 30 January 2022. Boat ride Lake Mburo NP.
This morning after breakfast, we will have a morning game drive in the National Park looking for mammals including Maneless Zebra, Impala, Eland, Topi and African Buffalo. We will also look for birds like Trilling and Tabora Cisticola, Crested, Spot-flanked, Black-collared and Red-faced Barbet.  In the afternoon, we will have a boat trip looking for bird specialties and other mammals in the Park, especially the rare African Finfoot, Giant, Pied and Shinning-blue Kingfishers, and Black-crowned and White-backed Night-herons.
Accommodation:  Tented camp (en suite tents) in Lake Mburo National Park as for last night. Meals: B, L, D.

Day 15: Monday 31 January 2022. Lake Mburo to Entebbe
After an early breakfast, we shall have another morning game drive in search of some species we may have missed the previous day. We drive out of the park having our lunch on the way. We will make a stop at the Equator en route for photographs and continue back to Entebbe during the afternoon. Tonight, we will have a farewell dinner and reminisce about the amazing and life-changing experiences we have had on this trip. Accommodation: Hotel in Entebbe (en suite rooms). Meals: B, L, D.

Day 16: Tuesday 1 February 2022. Depart Entebbe. No activities are planned for today so that you can make your own arrangements for your departure flight to onward destinations.

Tour Price: To be advised (2021 price US$9,695 per person twin share. Single supplement US$1,150).

Based on a group size of 6-8 participants + Inala leader Dr Tonia Cochran + local guide.

Inclusions: Accommodation for each night of the tour, specialist guiding and transport for day and night tours in a private air-conditioned vehicle with specialist licensed local guide as outlined in the itinerary, all meals (B, L, D snacks and bottled water), entry fees to National Parks, permits for Chimpanzee, Gorilla and Rhinoceros tracking, boat cruises and guided walks as outlined int eh itinerary and all internal taxes and charges.

Exclusions: Any international and domestic airfares, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and expenses of a personal nature (travel and medical insurance, phone calls, laundry, tips etc), personal & incidental expenses and any additional activities not mentioned in the above itinerary.

 Please note: 

The above rates are based upon a group size of 6-8 people. If the tour does not achieve minimum numbers, a small supplement may be charged.  We would always discuss this with you beforehand.

Meals and drinks: Breakfast generally consists of an American style breakfast, which includes eggs to order, as well as cereal, toast, fruit, and tea/coffee.  Lunch will generally be a picnic style to be eaten in the field. Dinner usually consists of a soup starter, main course and dessert. Drinks (soft and alcoholic) are generally not included but at lunches and breakfasts juice may be made available.
The itinerary: Whilst we aim to follow the itinerary as planned, please note that the itinerary provided should only be used as a guideline.  Depending on individual trip circumstances, weather, and local information, the exact itinerary may not be strictly adhered to.  The guides reserve the right to make changes to the itinerary as they see fit.
A reasonable level of fitness is required for this tour, especially for the Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee tracking. However, there are usually options to stay near the vehicles and birdwatch close to the bus if you don’t wish to join these activities.
For much of this tour we will be in a wonderful yet remote part of the world. Most of the roads are unsealed and rough. If you have medical conditions or health concerns, it is important you make us aware of these in advance of this tour.

Trip Report Inala’s Uganda Tour 15 to 30 January 2020

Trip report prepared by Bron Scott & Tonia Cochran, Inala Nature Tours with additional input by Charles Stack. 27 February 2020

ITINERARY OUTLINE:

Day 1. Wed 15 Jan 2020. Arrive Entebbe.
Day 2. Thu 16 Jan 2020. Entebbe to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
Day 3. Fri 17 Jan 2020. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to Murchison Falls National Park.
Day 4. Sat 18 Jan 2020. Murchison Falls NP.
Day 5. Sun 19 Jan 2020. Murchison Falls NP to Masindi.
Day 6. Mon 20 Jan 2020. Masindi to Kibale Forest National Park.
Day 7. Tue 21 Jan 2020. Kibale Forest NP.
Day 8. Wed 22 Jan 2020. Kibale Forest NP to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Day 9 Thu 23 Jan 2020. Queen Elizabeth NP.
Day 10 Fri 24 Jan 2020. Queen Elizabeth NP to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
Day 11 Sat 25 Jan 2020. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP.
Day 12 Sun 26 Jan 2020. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP.
Day 13 Mon 27 Jan 2020. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP to Lake Mburo National Park.
Day 14 Tue 28 Jan 2020. Lake Mburo NP.
Day 15 Wed 29 Jan 2020. Lake Mburo NP to Entebbe.
Day 16 Thu 30 Jan 2020. Depart Entebbe.

DETAILED ITINERARY:

Day 1. Wednesday 15 January 2020. Arrive Entebbe.

Several guests were already well settled into the Hotel, by the time the rest of the group arrived in the late afternoon. Thanks to the hotel’s proximity to Lake Victoria and Entebbe Botanical Gardens, its carefully tended gardens were a haven for birdlife, including iridescent Ruppell’s and Splendid Starlings, Spectacled and Northern Brown-throated Weavers, White-browed Robin-chats, spectacular black and red Black-headed Gonoleks, Ross’s Turaco, a trio of sunbird species – Red-chested, Green-chested and Scarlet-chested – and Common Bulbuls (a.k.a. the Usual Suspects).

Day 2. Thursday 16 January 2020. Entebbe to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

Heading west from Entebbe, our first stop was a Swamp on Lake Victoria. The lake is Africa’s largest by area and is the source of the White Nile River. At the swamp’s edge, we clambered into two wooden fishing boats and were taken through stands of Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) towering over us. Weavers and cisticolas called from within the papyrus thickets; bee-eaters and widow-birds perched on top. Exquisite Malachite Kingfishers hunted from overhanging stems. In more open areas with Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea), we saw Yellow-billed Ducks and African Jacanas, and caught a brief glimpse of a Lesser Jacana.

A distant sighting of a flying Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) sent us paddling through the dense vegetation, but the bird was not prepared to wait, and we lost sight of it among the tall vegetation. Almost immediately after, we were rewarded with an exceptional sighting of a second Shoebill whose stare was fixed on something in the shallows. We watched as it lunged forward and snapped up a fish in its huge hooked bill. Its prey was most likely a Marbled Lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus), which are common in Lake Victoria and are the preferred food of shoebills. We were privileged to get such a good look at this rare bird.

On the way back to the boat landing, two Western Osprey flew over. Ospreys are rarely seen here, so our sighting was very lucky.

We had our own lunch (no lungfish!) at a pavilion next to the swamp and then left for our next destination, a Rhino Sanctuary near Kampala. We birded as we drove: Pied Crows and Marabou Storks were common in towns and Grey-backed Fiscals perched on power lines along the road. As we drove along the dirt road towards our accommodation, we had our first glimpse of a White Rhinoceros – an adult feeding on long grass at the edge of a trail. Our first day in the Ugandan bush had brought us a shoebill and a rhino. We were definitely on track for a productive trip!

Day 3. Friday 17 January 2020. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to Murchison Falls National Park.
In the morning, we went out with a guide to track rhinos. The Sanctuary is the only place in Uganda with wild rhinos. It holds 22 individuals spread out over 70 km2 (27 mi2), so we had been extremely fortunate to encounter one the day before without the help of a guide.  Our first encounter on foot was with a family group – mother Nandi and her two youngsters of different ages. They grazed quietly, accompanied by Ruppell’s Starlings catching insects around their feet, and a vivid vermillion and black Red-headed Rock Agama that was soaking up the morning sun. When the rhinos began to move towards us, our guide instructed us to back up a short distance, so the animals could get to their preferred track (and communal dung heap) without feeling crowded. Backing up had its own problems, because the rhinos were not as tidy with their waste products as we had been led to believe. On the way back to the bus, we encountered another rhino that was snoozing in the shade. At Ziwa, we also saw a Striped Ground Squirrel making use of the tracks around the lodge. After lunch we visited Murchison Falls, where the Victoria Nile cascades 43 m (141 ft) through a 10 m (33 ft) wide gorge before entering Lake Albert. (The Victoria Nile is the section of river between lakes Victoria and Albert.) Through the falls’ spray and the rainbows, we had distant views of dapper Rock Pratincoles flying close to the surface. Among the wide variety of raptors seen during the day were Dark Chanting-Goshawk and Grasshopper Buzzard, our only records of these species for the trip. It was also a good day for primates, with four species of monkey spotted, including Mantled Guereza and Tantalus Monkey. We crossed the Nile on a vehicle ferry. Wire-tailed Swallows caught insects over the water and brought them back to the nests under the steel deck of the ferry. Disembarking on the north bank of the river, we drove to our lodge which sits on the eastern bank of the Albert Nile.

Day 4. Saturday 18 January 2020. Murchison Falls National Park.
After an early breakfast at the lodge, we left on a game drive along dusty, bumpy roads. We passed through grassy savanna with Candelabra Tree (Euphorbia ingens), African Fan Palms (Borassus aethiopum) and acacia (Vachellia). Uganda Kobs were the most abundant large mammals. Herds fed at the side of the road, reluctant to move as we approached. Alongside the Kob, we saw Oribi, Lelwel Hartebeest, and Defassa Waterbuck. A Side-striped Jackal stalked something small – maybe a rabbit or a mongoose – in the long grass, but the predator was well-camouflaged and we soon lost sight of it. Small herds of Rothschild’s Giraffe strolled across the savanna, unperturbed by our presence. Patas Monkeys sat in trees, watching the show. Cheeky Piapiacs were everywhere; antelope hooves stirred up enough insects to keep the birds well fed.

We stopped for lunch at the Hippo Pool, where a large herd of African Buffalo were resting. An exposed sand bank provided a good spot for waders, many of which were overwintering migrants from Europe. A pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills picked beetles out of buffalo dung. (The ultimate in recycling?) Then we took a boat trip upstream along the Victoria Nile to see Murchison Falls from below. Viewing from the boat gave us access to a huge variety of birds and mammals – plus Nile Crocodiles and Nile monitors. Among the species observed were African Fish Eagles, Goliath Heron, Abdim’s and Saddle-billed Storks, Black-crowned Night-herons, Black Crakes, African Skimmers, which rose en masse to trawl the water, White-faced Whistling-ducks, and Senegal Thick-knees. Red-throated Bee-eaters flew in and out of their nest holes a few metres above the water line. A Western Barn Owl – our only owl sighting of the trip – peeped out at us from a crevice in the cliffs. Pied Kingfishers were so numerous that we nicknamed them the ‘Usual Suspects: Aquatic’. We were afforded excellent views of Rock Pratincoles, perched on a rock drenched in spray about a kilometre below the falls. We even thought there might have been a shoebill among the papyrus, but it was impossible to locate! Heuglin’s Francolin, Silverbird, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow, and Montagu’s Harrier were also seen at locations in the park.

Day 5. Sunday 19 January 2020. Murchison Falls NP to Masindi.

We left Murchison Falls NP and drove south to a nearby Forest for bird-watching along the road. The tall trees and harsh light made spotting birds a bit of a challenge, but we caught glimpses of White-crested Helmetshrike, Western (Black-headed) Oriole, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, White-thighed Hornbill, Yellow-spotted Barbet, and Blue Malkoha. A White-spotted Flufftail called in the forest – very close to the edge of the road – but the vegetation was too dense. Reluctantly we abandoned the flufftail hunt. There would, we hoped, be other chances later on…

This section of forest was also excellent for primates, and we saw Red-tailed Monkeys, Blue Monkeys, Olive Baboons and Mantled Guereza. We also spotted a tiny Alexander’s Bush (Dwarf) Squirrel scampering along the branches of a tree.

At Masindi, we checked in to our hotel.  Before dinner, the current owner and manager took us for a walk around the extensive grounds. When the hotel had been built, Masindi had been a quiet town with very few motor vehicles, but now the road is packed with traffic travelling to and from Kampala and Hoima. Despite that, the gardens are still something of an oasis and the huge trees are home to starlings, African Thrushes and Vervets. In 1951, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy stayed here while filming The African Queen. A few years later, Ernest Hemingway recuperated at the hotel after his second plane crash near Murchison Falls.

Day 6. Monday 20 January 2020. Masindi to Kibale Forest National Park.  

It was a long drive from Masindi to Kibale Forest, but we broke it up with lunch where we provided entertainment for the local children, and then with birding along the busy road in Kibale Forest. We saw our first Common Chimpanzees – a small troop crossed the road ahead of us and disappeared among the lush vegetation. The roadside walk also gave us two bird species with restricted ranges in Uganda. Looking down from a bridge over a fast-flowing mountain stream, we saw Cassin’s Flycatcher, a predominantly West and Central African species, and the high-altitude specialist Mountain Wagtail. We also spotted Great Blue Turacos, Striped Kingfishers, and the exquisite Black Bee-eater in Kibale Forest, as well as a group of Central African Red Colobus.  Our lodge’s small garden was full of birds including Tropical Boubou, hornbills and, of course, the Usual Suspects.

Day 7. Tuesday 21 January 2020. Kibale Forest National Park

After a very early breakfast, we piled into the bus at 6 a.m. to drive to look for the elusive Green-breasted Pittas. These ground-dwelling birds are restricted to equatorial rainforests. They have been recorded from Cameroon to Uganda but are patchily distributed and rarely seen. Although this is one of the best locations in Uganda for pittas, we had no luck. But we did have a really good luck with Common Chimpanzees. Not long after leaving the pitta site, we encountered a small group of chimps feeding in a massive fig tree. We then moved on to look for another troop of chimps, which we could hear calling to each other. Although most of the troop were high in the trees, two adult female chimps strolled past us to join them. It is quite something to see our closest living relatives from a couple of metres away.  Birding was tricky inside the dense forest, but we were fortunate enough to see a Narina Trogon, Yellow-billed Barbet and Red-bellied (Black-headed) Paradise-flycatcher. In the afternoon, we went for a walk around a swamp. The swamp is surrounded by patches of forest, providing varied habitats for birds and other animals. Avian highlights of the walk included African Pygmy and Shining-blue Kingfisher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Great Tit Flycatcher, Bocage’s Grey-green Bushshrike, Purple-headed Starlings, and the secretive White-spotted Flufftail, which skulked at the back of a stagnant pool. Boehm’s Bush Squirrels skittered around the trees and we saw the vividly hued Blue-headed Rock Agamas. Grey Parrots flew overhead, but most of us were concentrating on not falling through the boardwalk so we missed them! Uganda Mangabeys fed in trees at the edge of farmland. While we were watching them, a pair of Ross’s Turacos flew over. As we walked back to the bus, a family of L’Hoest’s Monkeys, the first for the trip, jumped out of a tree and ran across the track.

Day 8. Wednesday 22 January 2020. Kibale Forest NP to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Leaving Kibale, we drove south, birding on the way. We stopped in Kibale National Park and saw many birds, including Emerald Cuckoo, startling in vivid yellow and iridescent green plumage, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Little Greenbul, Green Crombec (heard elsewhere but not sighted previously), Grey-headed Nigrita, and a variety of tinkerbirds. Later, European migrants such as Whinchat and Pied Wheatear were also commonly encountered on the tops of bushes as we drove past. We also encountered several different species of sunbirds today including Blue-throated Brown, Bronze, Olive -bellied, Mariqua, Red-chested and Superb Sunbird.  We passed the Rwenzori Mountains on our way to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Unfortunately, we did not have clear views of these ‘Mountains of the Moon’ because of dust and smoke. We stopped for lunch overlooking Lake George, one of the smaller Albertine Rift lakes. After fresh local coffee from the Information Centre, we piled back into the bus and headed to our lodge.  The Mweya Peninsula is a rocky headland at the junction of Lake Albert and the Kazinga Channel and is accessed along a narrow ridge over steep cliffs. (Although, as we discovered later, the cliffs weren’t steep enough to dissuade elephants and hippos from wandering up them.) Arriving at our lodge, a family of Banded Mongoose – youngsters and adults – romped along the tarmac. A sign in the parking area advised drivers to check under the vehicle for mongooses before starting vehicles, as they liked to gather there in the shade. Warthogs trimmed the lawns around our rooms. Among the birds in the gardens were Swamp Flycatchers, African Pied Wagtails, Black-headed Lapwings, Laughing Doves and Red-billed Firefinches. In the evening, some bats skimmed through the reception area, catching insects that they ate while hanging from the ceiling. Others zipped past the windows to feed on huge swarms of chironomids and moths drawn to the dining room lights.

After dark, we had to be escorted to and from our rooms to avoid collisions with grazing hippos, one of the grumpiest and certainly the most dangerous wild animal in Africa.

Day 9. Thursday 23 January 2020. Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The morning drive through the park took us parallel to the Kazinga Channel, across the main road into the Kasenyi area of the national park, and on to the largest of many crater lakes in the park, and one of the few where locals harvest salt for both human and animal consumption. Although the crater lakes are usually highly alkaline, heavy rain had reduced the pH of most of them, and flamingos had abandoned them in search of better conditions. It still hosted a small flock of Lesser Flamingos, the only ones we saw for the trip.

On our trip, we encountered a mixed group of vultures feeding on a carcase. We saw at least four species – White-headed, Lappet-faced, White-backed, and Rueppell’s Griffon Vulture – as well as Bateleur, Long-crested, Tawny, and Wahlberg’s Eagles. We also saw Crowned Lapwings, and a large group of the diminutive Kittlitz’s Plover. One of the (many) highlights was a small flock of Red-headed Lovebirds.

After lunch at the lodge, we went on a boat cruise along the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake Edward and the much smaller Lake George. These lakes, including Lake Albert to the north, are within the Albertine Rift, a tectonic spreading zone formed by the splitting apart of the African plate and the Victoria microplate. The young crater lakes at Kasenyi and elsewhere are reminders of the complex geological history of the area. This complex history, including the uplift and volcanic activity of the mountain ranges, has contributed to the diversity and high level of endemism in the region.

The boat trip brought us close to Yellow-billed Storks, Pink-backed Pelicans, African Skimmers, Striated Heron, many different species of waders including sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Black-tailed Godwits, Grey-headed Gulls, terns, and lots of the Usual Suspects: Aquatic

We stopped for a while at a spot where an old bull elephant was resting and had drinks and snacks while he took in the afternoon sun. On the way back, the boat driver pointed out a Leopard high on a cliff. The cat was lying down, watching over the lake and the shore below. The surprises did not stop there, and we caught a brief glimpse of four Giant Forest Hogs on the bank before they disappeared into the vegetation.

The big day was not over! On returning home from a drive at dusk, we were held up at the gate by a herd of elephants who were in no hurry to move away. Just as we were beginning to think that we might have to spend the night in the bus, we were rescued by staff vehicles leaving the lodge. The elephants moved far enough off the track to let us through. Crisis averted!

Day 10. Friday 24 January 2020. Queen Elizabeth NP to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. 

The drive from the Mweya Peninsula south to Buhoma in Bwindi took up most of the day.  On the way out of the park we saw Red-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl and Flappet Lark. Our guide spotted a Common Buttonquail and we caught a look at it before it disappeared into the tall grass. On our way, we saw Woolly-necked and Marabou Storks, as well as Grey-crowned Cranes in the fields. Grey-headed Kingfishers were common on the power lines. Birds of prey seen on the drive included Short-toed Snake-eagle, Long-crested Eagle with its jaunty topknot, African Marsh Harrier, and the widespread and common African Harrier Hawk.

We stopped for lunch at a gorge and we encountered a colony of Straw-coloured Fruit Bats, a partly migratory species, which sometimes travels large distances within sub-Saharan Africa. At a stop by a swamp, we tried for Papyrus Gonolek. We caught a brief glimpse as it flew past. While we waited to see if the bird would re-appear, a troop of Vervet Monkeys hung about in the trees behind us, completely unconcerned by our presence. We found out why a few moments later, when a man with a car boot full of bananas turned up and proceeded to distribute them to the eager monkeys. As the road climbed into the Kigezi Hills and the savanna gave way to rainforest and tea plantations, we caught our first views of Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Toro Olive Greenbul and African Dusky Flycatcher. We arrived at a town less than 2 km from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at about 6 pm and settled into our lodge.

Day 11. Saturday 25 January 2020. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP

We made a very early start in the pre-dawn darkness. After picking up an armed guard, we drove for two hours along the narrow winding road to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The trekking groups were briefed by ranger Augustine, who was also our guide. Only four groups of up to eight people are allowed into the area each day and contact with the gorilla troops is restricted to one hour per day.

‘Our’ gorillas belonged to the troop named Mukiza after the silverback. (Mukiza means ‘helper’.) The troop consisted of the 21-year-old dominant silverback, 6 adult females ranging from 11 to 30 years old, one 9-year-old sub-adult male, two 7- to 9-year-old juvenile females, and two 3- to 4-year-old infant females. Mukiza took over at the age of 16. The silverback at the time, Rukina, had been killed by lightning, and his death resulted in a battle for status between Mukiza and rival male Rukara. The troop split, with Rukara leaving with several females to form his own group.

The trek to see the Mukiza troop passed through dense rainforest on precipitous mountain slopes. In some areas, forest elephants had churned the soil into deep mud. We met the mountain gorillas – who had chosen a spot with safari ants! – and spent an hour in their company while they went about their business. Two youngsters tumbled and swung on vines. One gorilla mum nursed a new baby. When Mukiza climbed down the tree, Augustine instructed us to move back to give space to the big fellow. The silverback did not even give us a second glance! The time passed quickly and soon it was time to slog back through the forest.

Birding was difficult in the rainforest, but we still managed to tick some species during the trek and after it. Notable were the Rwenzori Batis, an Albertine Rift endemic, and several species restricted to equatorial rainforests, including Forest Woodhoopoe, Mountain Oriole, Stuhlmann’s Starling, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and Black-billed Weaver. One of the guides pointed out a giant something – probably an earthworm, but it could have been a caecilian or an amphisbaenid. Later, a juvenile viper alarmed the ranger and porters. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed close enough to identify which species it was. We returned to the lodge after 6pm, muddy, a little bit sweaty and tired, but most importantly delighted by our experience.

Day 12. Sunday 26 January 2020. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP.

Several guests revisited the gorillas, while the rest of the group walked along to the waterfall track to look at birds. Among the birds spotted on the walk were White-headed Wood-hoopoes, Black-billed Turaco, Grey-throated Barbet, the colourful Diederik Cuckoo, and Slender-billed, Red-tailed, Toro Olive and Honeyguide Greenbuls. We also had very good views of a Bar-tailed Trogon perched in a tree at eye level on the far side of the river valley. A pair of Black-faced Rufous-warbler played hard-to-get in the thick jungle undergrowth, but we eventually laid eyes on them. The flowers at the side of the track were laden with butterflies and grasshoppers. The track glittered with the remains of iridescent blue beetles, which must have made a good meal for something. We also saw a massive black millipede on the side of the path. At first glance it could have been mistaken for an irrigation hose!

On the way back to the information centre to rendezvous with the rest of the group, we heard a familiar sound – cracking branches. Looking towards the sound, we saw a shaggy black shape in a tree. After all the effort yesterday, we had just encountered a gorilla feeding in a tree at the side of the track. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an amazing place.

In the afternoon our local guides organised a visit to the Gorilla Conservation Centre.. Their Bwindi Field Office Manager and Community Health Field Officer gave us a presentation on the work done by the Conservation Through Public Health program. We were impressed by the program and the dedication of all involved.

It took us a while to leave the Centre’s property, because its position on the edge of a rainforested valley meant that it was popular with the local avifauna, including the colourful Ross’s and Great Blue Turaco. Lesser Striped Swallows had built nests in the building vestibule. The Usual Suspects shared the power-lines with Thick-billed Seedeaters, and a Dusky-blue Flycatcher hawked for insects from the garden beds. We eventually dragged ourselves away, because we had a second program to visit before returning to the lodge. Some of the group went for a late afternoon walk along the river track at the lodge, while the rest of us visited a community womans centre. The women who work there had gone home, but Shallon took us around the site, showing us the rows of Singer treadle sewing machines and the shop area where the women make and sell their crafts, a beautiful assortment of hand-made baskets, garments made of eye-popping prints, and cleverly-designed shopping bags and trivets. We learnt about the origins of the co-op, where local women were provided with a safe haven to live and a means of income, and we purchased some real treasures, knowing that the women who made them would directly benefit.

Day 13. Monday 27 January 2020. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP to Lake Mburo National Park.
After a long drive we arrived at Lake Mburo National Park in the early evening. Dropping down from the mountains with their rainforest and tea plantations, the vegetation changed back to savanna with acacia trees and red dust.

We made a few stops and birded from the bus as we travelled. Species we saw included Saddle-billed Stork, Augur Buzzard, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Trilling Cisticola, Black Bishop, Village Indigobird, and Grey-crowned Crane. Broad-billed Rollers hawked for insects from the power lines. A small group of Meyer’s Parrots perched in a tree on the savanna.

On the road through the park, we spotted small herds of Maneless Zebra and Impala, grazing alongside a small number of Bushbuck, Waterbuck, and Warthog.

Lake Mburo NP has a history directed by Ugandan politics. First a hunting reserve and then game park, it was used by locals who grazed cattle and hunted within its boundaries. In the 1980s, it became a national park, and farming and hunting were prohibited. Following the violent turmoil that resulted in the replacement of the Obote government, the park was re-taken by locals until a compromise was brokered. As a result, Lake Mburo NP is the smallest national park in Uganda – at 260 km2, it is only half of its original area. We had dinner that evening in the company of a Yellow-winged Bat, which swooped down on moths and ‘sausage flies’ attracted to the lights in the dining area. Sausage flies are the male alates of safari or army ants (Dorylus). Given our experiences with these ants in the Bwindi rainforest, we were more than happy for the bat to feast on them!

Day 14. Tuesday 28 January 2020. Lake Mburo NP.
Our morning’s bird watching started with a two-hour boat trip.  As we waited for the boat, a troop of vervet monkeys scampered around the parking area, and starlings, swallows and Pied Kingfishers zipped over the water. The boat kept close to the papyrus thickets, which were filled with weaver nests. Although it was difficult to spot birds among the long stems, we saw a Little Bittern, which finally gave up on its non-functioning camouflage and slipped away into the reeds. The birding highlight was two male and one female African Finfoot. Two of them lived up to their reputations of being secretive, lurking beneath dense overhangs, but one of the males ventured out into open water where we had excellent views of this usually hard to see species. Hippopotamus were also common. They massed in the shallows and some females had young calves, which they protected fiercely both from the boat and from the rest of the herd.  On the way back to the lodge we saw a lovely family of Common Dwarf Mongoose gambolling in the long grass and scrambling over termite mounds. A riverside drive to Sanga Gate gave us good looks at Senegal and African Wattled Lapwings, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eater, and Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, along with a variety of hirudines, including Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, and Sand Martin. By the gate, we had fabulous views of Lesser Striped Swallows perched on a sign right next to the bus. 

A Martial Eagle perched on a tree close to the track. It fixed its imperious stare on us while we took photos. A Lesser Honeyguide kept returning to us, perhaps in an attempt to lead us to a wild bee nest. When we did not follow, it flew off, hopefully finding a more biddable animal, such as a Honey Badger. Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were also seen on and around the many African Buffalo we encountered. On this drive we also saw our first Topi, several more herds of Maneless Zebra and Impala, and small groups of Waterbuck and Common Warthog.

On the way back to the lodge we spotted a gigantic Central African Rock Python, which must have been at least 4 metres long, curled up on the side of the road. It wasn’t in good condition, with loose skin and wounds on its back. We reported it to the rangers who checked and later verified that it had crawled off into the savanna. We also saw a beautifully coloured turquoise and green snake gliding across the road in front of the vehicle which we tentatively identified as a Jameson’s Mamba.   On our return to the lodge, we had great views of Spot-flanked Barbet from the veranda of the dining area. 

In the evening, we went spotlighting along Eland Track. Torches revealed Water Thick-knees, Topi, Maneless Zebra, a grazing Hippo, a Yellow-winged Bat, and Prince Demidoff’s (Dwarf) and Great Brown Galagos. After a big day, we were happy to get back to the camp, sluice off the red dust, and tuck into the now customary four-course dinner!

Day 15. Wednesday 29 January 2020. Lake Mburo National Park to Entebbe.

We travelled for most of the day on the long dusty drive from Lake Mburo NP to Entebbe. As we headed out through the park, a Honey Badger trundled along a drainage channel into the thick grass, accompanied by a chorus of ‘Honey badger!’ from the right-hand side of the bus. This was a lucky sighting, because Honey badgers are rarely encountered in Uganda. During the drive, African Openbills hunted for freshwater snails in swamps by the track, and Striped Kingfishers perched on the power lines.  We stopped again in an agricultural area, near a mustering spot for Ankole cattle, and spent about half an hour spotting grassland birds including a host of sunbirds – Copper, Variable, Red-chested, Scarlet-chested and Green-headed – as well as Golden-breasted Bunting, Red-headed Weaver and Southern Red Bishop.

On the way back, we drove past flooded rice paddies and extensive papyrus swamps, which hosted egrets and kingfishers. Traffic congestion on the outskirts of Kampala slowed the bus to a crawl, which – although frustrating, because it had been a long day on the road – rewarded us with a sighting of the rarely observed Dwarf Bittern.  

In Entebbe, we settled back into Boma Hotel, where we had spent the very first night of the tour. A Peregrine Falcon was spotted in the tower behind the hotel, so we were still adding birds to the list! This was our last dinner as a group. We were joined by Tonia’s old friend and legendary birding guide Herbert Byaruhanga, who we had met briefly earlier in the trip.

Day 16. Thursday 30 January 2020. Entebbe.

In the morning we went into Entebbe to have morning coffee with the CEO of the Gorilla Health Centre and her husband, who together founded the centre and the café which sells coffee which comes from Arabica plantations in the Bwindi area. It is grown by local farmers as part of the conservation program.

The meeting was followed by a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. The gardens were established at the end of the 19th Century and they provide a shady green escape from the bustling city. We saw Crowned Hornbills, Great Blue Turacos, a pair of Red-bellied Paradise-flycatchers, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrikes, and a gaggle of very vocal Egyptian Geese perched on a branch high above the ground. Among the quadrupeds were a Striped Ground Squirrel, a party of Mantled Guerezas chilling in a tree, and a large and cranky Nile Monitor. The gardens are one of the best locations for the rare local subspecies of Orange Weaver, which build their nests just above the water. We saw two birds, but, sadly, unseasonal rains had raised the level of Lake Victoria and the nests had been inundated. Returning to the hotel, we had a quick lunch and headed to the airport.

It had been an amazing tour through the varied landscapes of the Pearl of Africa, with 351 bird species seen and another 11 heard only during the two weeks.  We also saw 45 species of mammals and 8 species of reptiles.

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