ULTIMATE UGANDA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ultimate Uganda: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Entebbe, situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. For those old enough to remember them, the name Entebbe brings to mind the infamous days of Idi Amin and the Israeli raid on the airport to free the hostages. Today there is little evidence of those troubled times and the gently rolling hills that slope down to the greatest lake in Africa have a timeless beauty that belies the troublesome past.
Today we will visit Mabamba Swamp, adjacent to Lake Victoria, and take a boat trip through an extensive papyrus swamp where we will be wanting in particular to observe the strange Shoebill or Whale-headed Stork. This extraordinary bird, which is placed in a family of its own, is confined to papyrus swamps and has its main stronghold in the inaccessible swamps of southern Sudan and central Zambia.
Other likely species at Mabamba include White-breasted and Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorants, Little Egret, Squacco Heron, Hamerkop, African Openbill, Yellow-billed Duck, African Fish Eagle (with its call that is so evocative of the African wilderness), Long-toed Lapwing, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed and White-winged Terns, Pied and Giant Kingfishers, the tiny Malachite Kingfisher, Winding and Red-faced Cisticolas, the confiding Swamp Flycatcher and Black-and-white Mannikin. The uncommon Lesser Jacana sometimes occurs.
We will also encounter a good variety of open country and woodland birds today, such as Western Cattle Egret, Black-headed Heron, Hadada Ibis, Yellow-billed Kite, African Marsh Harrier, African Harrier-Hawk, Shikra, Lizard Buzzard, Palm-nut Vulture, Grey Kestrel, Red-eyed Dove, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Green Pigeon, the impressive Great Blue Turaco, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater (constantly uttering its strange call), White-browed Coucal, Mottled Spinetail, Little, White-rumped and African Palm Swifts, Speckled Mousebird, Woodland Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, Crowned Hornbill, African Pied Hornbill (the local form is sometimes split as Congo Pied Hornbill), the grotesque-looking Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, African Pied Wagtail, Angola Swallow, Dark-capped Bulbul (split from Common), African Thrush, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Grey-capped Warbler, Pied Crow, Splendid and Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starlings, Olive-bellied and Red-chested Sunbirds, the gorgeous Orange Weaver, Black-headed, Northern Brown-throated, Yellow-backed, Vieillot’s Black and Slender-billed Weavers, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Bronze Mannikin and Yellow-fronted Canary. If we are lucky, we will also see the nomadic Weyns’s Weaver.
Afterwards we head northwards, passing by the capital city of Kampala, which, like Rome, was built upon seven hills, and then continue to Jinja for an overnight stay. Jinja is situated at the ‘Source of the Nile’, the place where the Victoria Nile leaves Lake Victoria before plummeting down the Owen Falls at the start of its long journey to the Mediterranean, a geographical phenomenon that seems of little concern to the African Darters perched in the waterside bushes.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 2 By steadily and stealthily working the wide trails of Mabira Forest we will enjoy one of Uganda’s magnificent forest reserves. Great Blue Turacos are marvellously common and leap dexterously from branch to branch, often spoiling one’s concentration as one peers at some small shape high in the canopy.
Amongst the major specialities here are Forest Wood-Hoopoe, Yellow-lored Bristlebill (split from Lesser or Green-tailed), Lowland Sooty Boubou (a bird that tends to skulk in the vines) and Weyns’s Weaver (a species that forages through the treetops in restless flocks).
Other species we should find include African Pied Hornbill, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Toro Olive Greenbul, the retiring Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, the shy Grey Longbill, skulking Brown-chested and Fire-crested Alethes, Blue-headed and perhaps Dusky Crested Flycatchers, Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike, Splendid Starling, Green-throated Sunbird and Yellow-mantled Weaver.
After our visit tro Mabira we will head northwards to the Kumi area for an overnight stay. This afternopon we will visit an arid area where the uncommon and little-known Karamoja Apalis can regularly be found.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 3 This morning we will set out early and drive to a swampy area where the smart but rare and localized endemic Fox’s Weaver can be found.
Afterwards we will drive westwards to Murchison (or Kabalega) Falls National Park, where we will spend a total of three nights (divided between two lodges, giving access to different areas of the park). En route we will drive through farmland, interspersed with swamps and patches of woodland, where herds of Ankole cattle with their magnificent horns are commonplace.
We will stop amongst the swamps to look in particular for Marsh (or Hartlaub’s Marsh) Widowbird, as well as Yellow-throated Leaflove, Black-headed Gonolek and Fan-tailed Widowbird. We will encounter a variety of other birds during the journey, including the interesting Piapiac and such widespread species as Western Cattle Egret, Marabou Stork, Hadada Ibis, Black-winged (or Black-shouldered) Kite, Hooded Vulture, African Harrier-Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Wahlberg’s and Long-crested Eagles, African Green Pigeon, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Laughing Dove, Meyer’s (or Brown) Parrot, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater (constantly uttering its strange call), African Palm Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Grey-headed, Woodland and Striped Kingfishers, Little Bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, White-headed Barbet, African Grey Hornbill, Lesser Striped Swallow, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Grey-backed Fiscal, Yellow-billed Shrike, Lesser Blue-eared and Purple Starlings, Black-headed, Holub’s Golden and perhaps Golden-backed (or Jackson’s Golden-backed) Weavers, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Pin-tailed Whydah. We may also encounter one or two of the scarcer species such as Bruce‘s Green Pigeon, Yellow-bellied Hyliota or Bronze-tailed Starling.
Ultimate Uganda: Days 4-5 At Murchison (or Kabalega) Falls National Park the White Nile drops over the spectacular Murchison Falls on its way to Lake Albert, the water mostly forced through a gap barely more than 10 metres wide! A boat trip to the delta on the Nile below the falls will be a highlight of our stay here and gives us another opportunity to see the bizarre Shoebill. A few pairs frequent a narrow strip of papyrus along the Nile and often allow a close approach by boat. Here we should also see African Darter, Striated (or Green-backed), Grey, Purple and Goliath Herons, Little Bittern, Yellow-billed and Great Egrets, Saddle-billed Stork, White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, Knob-billed Duck, Black Crake, Grey Crowned Crane, African Jacana, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Lapwing, Rock Pratincole, Blue-headed Coucal, the beautiful Red-throated Bee-eater, Carruthers’s Cisticola and Papyrus Gonolek, as well as many Hippopotamuses and some huge Nile Crocodiles.
In the dry woodlands and savannas, in the gallery forest overlooking the Nile, or at marshy patches, we will look for White-backed, Rüppell’s (Griffon), Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, Brown and Western Banded Snake Eagles, Bateleur, Gabar Goshawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Martial and Tawny Eagles, Crested and Heuglin’s Francolins, Helmeted Guineafowl, Vinaceous and African Mourning Doves, Black-billed Wood Dove, White-crested Turaco, Diederik, Black-and-white and Levaillant’s Cuckoos, Senegal Coucal, White-rumped Swift, Blue-naped Mousebird, colourful Northern Carmine, Blue-breasted and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, the huge Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Double-toothed and Black-billed Barbets, Wire-tailed Swallow, Sooty and White-fronted Black Chats, Spotted Morning Thrush, Brown Babbler, Silverbird, Pale Flycatcher, confusing Singing, Whistling, Winding, Croaking, Rattling, Short-winged (or Siffling) and Zitting Cisticolas, Red-winged, Red-winged Grey and Buff-bellied Warblers, Western Black-headed Batis, Brown-throated (or Common) Wattle-eye, African Paradise Flycatcher, Northern (split from Common) Fiscal, Black-headed Gonolek, Marsh and Black-crowned Tchagras, Tropical Boubou, Brubru, Violet-backed Starling, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Western Violet-backed, Scarlet-chested, Copper and Beautiful Sunbirds, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Black-winged Red and Northern Red Bishops, Red-billed and Red-headed Queleas, Black-rumped Waxbill, and Bar-breasted and Red-billed Firefinches.
If we are fortunate we will also find one or two of the park’s rarer species, such as the restricted-range Dusky Babbler or Yellow Penduline Tit (first discovered here, and new to East Africa, by Birdquest in 2006), Cabanis’s Bunting or Brown-rumped Bunting. As dusk approaches we will visit the top of the falls, where we may see thousands of bats leaving their daytime roost and perhaps a Bat Hawk. We could well see Pennant-winged and Long-tailed Nightjars, and Greyish Eagle-Owl, as we spotlight along the park roads.
Mammals are numerous in the short grasslands of the north bank and we may well encounter Defassa Waterbuck, African Elephant, Lake Chad Buffalo, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Lelwel, Nile Bushbuck, Sudan Oribi, Uganda Kob, Olive Baboon and Vervet Monkey. We should also find one or two additional species on the north bank that are typical of drier country. Possibilities include Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustards, Black-headed Lapwing and Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow.
We will also explore an area of moister forest where we have a good chance of finding Puvel’s Illadopsis (the latter was first discovered here in 1995, some considerable distance from its previously known range in West Africa) and, with luck, Rufous-sided Broadbill. This is also a good place for African Wood Owl.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 6 After some final birding in Murchison Falls National Park we will drive past Lake Albert en route to Masindi for a two nights stay. The shell-sand beaches are lined with rows of Borassus Palms and are virtually deserted except for a few small fishing villages. From here we will ascend the steep slope of the escarpment which affords magnificent views over the lake towards the distant mountains of the Congo. Here we will explore the scrubby vegetation in search of White-shouldered Black Tit, Green-backed Eremomela, the unobtrusive Foxy Cisticola and the localized White-rumped Seedeater. Other species we may encounter include African Pygmy Kingfisher, Black Scimitarbill, Spot-flanked Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike, White-browed Scrub Robin, Mocking Cliff Chat, Northern Crombec, Little Weaver, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Black-faced Waxbill and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 7 The forests of western Uganda, Rwanda and eastern Congo are known as the ‘Central Refugium’ and are among the most important forests for wildlife on the African continent. Not far from Masindi, the magnificent Budongo Forest gives us our first opportunity to see the birds of this special region. Access to the forest is easy and much of the best birding here is to be found at Busingiro and along the ‘Royal Mile’, a broad entrance track through level forest where the canopy towers far overhead. Sabine’s Spinetails and sometimes the less common Cassin’s Spinetail glide over the clearings and brilliantly-coloured butterflies dart across the track.
White-spotted Flufftails are remarkably common here but, as always with ‘pygmy crakes’, can be hard to see amongst the undergrowth. Chocolate-backed and Blue-breasted Kingfishers are common and noisy but rather difficult to spot, preferring to remain hidden in dense vegetation, in contrast to the gorgeous African Dwarf Kingfisher, which often perches in the open, seemingly oblivious of passing humans. Fruiting trees attract White-thighed Hornbills and Western Black-headed Orioles, whilst on the forest floor and in the understorey we will look for Brown and Scaly-breasted Illadopsises, Red-tailed Ant-Thrush and a bewildering variety of greenbuls including Little Grey, Little, Slender-billed, Plain (or Cameroon Sombre), Yellow-whiskered, Spotted and White-throated, plus Red-tailed Bristlebill. We also have a fair chance of coming across the secretive Nahan’s Partridge and Ituri Batis (although the latter can be hard to spot in the high canopy), while a small forest pond is often frequented by a Shining-blue Kingfisher. If we are fortunate we will come across Uganda Woodland Warbler (its scientific name budongoensis reflecting its place of discovery).
Among the other species we may find here are Black (or Great) Sparrowhawk, Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Crested Guineafowl, Tambourine Dove, the noisy Grey Parrot, African Emerald, Klaas’s, Dusky Long-tailed, Black and Red-chested Cuckoos, Blue Malkoha (or Yellowbill), White-throated Bee-eater, the grotesque-looking Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Yellow-throated and Speckled Tinkerbirds, Streaky-throated Barbet (sometimes split from Hairy-breasted), Yellow-billed and Yellow-spotted Barbets, Yellow-crested and Buff-spotted Woodpeckers, White-headed Saw-wing, Western Nicator, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Eastern Forest Robin, the skulking Fire-crested Alethe, Green Hylia, Buff-throated and Black- throated Apalises, the beautiful Black-capped Apalis, Olive-green and Yellow-browed Camaropteras, Brown-crowned Eremomela, Lemon-bellied Crombec (only recently discovered here for the first time in East Africa), Green Crombec, Grey and Yellow Longbills, Sooty, Fraser’s Forest Flycatchers, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, African Shrike-flycatcher, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Yellow White-eye, Grey-headed, Grey-chinned (or Green), Collared, Olive, Blue-throated Brown, Little Green and Olive-bellied Sunbirds, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Red-headed and Crested Malimbes, White-breasted and Grey-headed Negrofinches, and Red-headed Bluebill.
Red-tailed and Gentle (or Blue) Monkeys, Guereza Colobus and Olive Baboon frequent the forest, while loud screams and chattering remind us that there is still a healthy population of Chimpanzees here.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 8 Roadside stops in areas of marsh and scrub near Masindi may well produce Black-headed Heron, Red-headed Lovebird, Ross’s Turaco, White-browed Coucal, Crowned Hornbill, the elegant Rufous-chested Swallow, Snowy-crowned and White-browed Robin-Chats, African Thrush, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Compact Weaver, Thick-billed (or Grosbeak) Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Black Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird, Brown Twinspot, Grey-headed Olive-back, African Firefinch, Common, Black-crowned and Fawn-breasted Waxbills, Black-and-white Mannikin and Black-bellied Firefinch.
Afterwards we will head southwards to Kibale National Park for a three nights stay. As we approach Kibale, situated in the Fort Portal region of western Uganda, we may get our first views of the distant Rwenzori Mountains. We will stop along the way to look for Joyful Greenbul and Lowland Masked Apalis.
Ultimate Uganda: Days 9-10 Some of our birding at Kibale National Park will be done from the wide road which bisects the forest and some of our time will be spent on the network of small trails which pierce the forest interior.
Here at Kibale Forest, the magnificent Crowned (or African Crowned) Eagle soars over the canopy striking terror into the troops of monkeys and flocks of Purple-headed Starlings gather to feed in fruiting trees where we may discover some subtly-plumaged Afep Pigeons.
Star attraction of Kibale is the jewel-like Green-breasted Pitta. Once a rarely-seen bird, the habits and location of this mega-speciality are now much better known and, with up to three mornings to search if need be (most tours visiting Kibale just have one or two), we have a very good chance of seeing this very special African bird during our stay.
Among the other birds we will look for are Black-billed Turaco, Narina Trogon, Alpine Swift, White-throated Bee-eater, White-headed Wood-Hoopoe, Thick-billed Honeyguide, Cassin’s Honeybird, Mosque Swallow, Mountain Wagtail, Honeyguide Greenbul, the delightful Snowy-headed Robin-Chat, White-chinned Prinia, Yellow White-eye, the striking Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Pink-footed Puffback, Petit’s Cuckoo-Shrike, Chestnut-winged Starling, Green-headed, Green-throated and Superb Sunbirds, and Black-necked and Dark-backed Weavers. If we are very fortunate we will find the rare White-naped Pigeon, perhaps watching one perched up high on an exposed snag, or come across a Red-chested Owlet being mobbed by angry passerines. During the evening, African Wood Owl may put in an appearance near our accommodation.
We will also visit a nearby swamp in search of the restricted-range White-winged Swamp Warbler, as well as Grey Crowned Crane, Ross’s Turaco and the elegant Rufous-chested Swallow. With a bit of luck we will also encounter the delightful but erratic White-collared Olive-back.
Kibale is home to no fewer than eleven species of primates and we should see Central African Red and Guereza Colobuses, Olive Baboon, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, and L’Hoest’s and Red-tailed Monkey.
Furthermore, Kibale Forest is one of the best areas in Uganda to see Chimpanzees. Local forest rangers keep a close watch on the activities of the various families and we will arrange to track Chimpanzees on one of our mornings here. There is a very high chance that we will encounter a troop of these most human of primates and it is often possible to have a good length of time with them (it all depends on how co-operative they are). We are sure to hear their deafening, blood-curdling screams echoing through the forest and we should enjoy wonderful views of these fascinating cousins of ours. We have even encountered Green-breasted Pitta on occasion during our Chimpanzee sessions!
Ultimate Uganda: Day 11 After some final birding at Kibale Forest we will drive to Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park, on the shores of Lake Edward, for a two nights stay. Our route takes us through the foothills of the Rwenzoris. This mountain range is one of the wettest in the world and the snow-capped summits, including Mount Stanley (5109m), are usually hidden behind a cape of low cloud and mist. If we are lucky and the weather is clear we may catch a glimpse of the equatorial snowfields above the layers of cloud. Upon arrival at Mweya we will settle in at our sumptuous lodge, which has an abundance of tame birdlife on the premises and wonderful views over the Kazinga Channel.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 12 Queen Elizabeth National Park is very varied with a mixture of West African-type tropical forest and open savanna more typical of East Africa. It boasts a birdlist of over 550 species, the largest of any protected area in Africa! Some impressive craters reflect the turbulent geological history of the area and large herds of African Elephants find a refuge in these natural enclaves. The elephant population is one of the most prolific on the continent; virtually all the females have calves and seem determined to redress the destruction that took place here during the lawless period under Amin and Obote. Mammals are much in evidence at Queen Elizabeth and we should find Vervet Monkey, Common Warthog, Giant Hog, Uganda Kob, Nile Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Topi, Lake Chad Buffalo, Scrub Hare, Marsh Mongoose, Banded Mongoose, Spotted Hyaena and Lion. We even have a good chance of encountering a Leopard.
The park is bisected by the Kazinga Channel, which flows between Lake George and Lake Edward, and this waterway teams with Hippopotamuses and Nile Crocodiles as well as an excellent variety of birds, including Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Yellow-billed Stork, African Sacred and Glossy Ibises, Black-winged Stilt, Water Thick-knee, African Wattled Lapwing, Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers, Brown-throated Martin, the elegant Rufous-chested Swallow and Lesser Swamp Warbler, all of which we are likely to see during an enjoyable boat trip. In addition, African Skimmers are often present.
Elsewhere in the park we will look for African Crake and the superb Brown-chested Lapwing, as well as Lanner Falcon, Red-necked Spurfowl, Collared Pratincole, Senegal and Crowned Lapwings, Ring-necked Dove, Black Coucal, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Olive (or Madagascar) Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, African Grey Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, African (or Grassland) and Plain-backed Pipits, Banded Martin, Arrow-marked and Black-lored Babblers, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Trilling, Wing-snapping and Stout Cisticolas, Orange-breasted (or Sulphur-breasted) Bushshrike, Purple-banded Sunbird, Lesser Masked and Spectacled Weavers, Southern Red Bishop, Fan-tailed and White-winged Widowbirds, Green-winged Pytilia, Brimstone Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Common and Black-rumped Buttonquails occur in the lush grasslands, but are usually hard to observe. At night we may find Square-tailed (or Gabon) Nightjars feeding around the lights of the lodge.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 13 Today we will drive through the Ishasha section of the park, famous for tree-climbing Lions, birding as we go. Afterwards we continue onwards to the lower section of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for a three nights stay at Buhoma. As we approach Buhoma we will see forested mountains stretching as far as the eye can see towards the Congo border.
Ultimate Uganda: Days 14-15 The Impenetrable Forest is one of the largest in East Africa and has a remarkable altitudinal range of continuous forest from 1160m to 2650m. This splendid forest is considered to be the richest in East Africa for plant, mammal, bird and butterfly species: over 330 bird species have been recorded here, for example. The Impenetrable is a wonderfully evocative name and often appears in the ornithological literature for Africa. The forest was so named not because it was any more densely vegetated than other forests, but because of the steepness of the hills which made progress almost impossible. Fortunately it is possible to see most of the special birds of this wonderful area by walking along the roads or along gently sloping tracks. On only a few occasions will we have to take to the steeper trails.
At lower levels the forest is easy to work and at Buhoma there is an excellent trail that follows a valley bottom through magnificent forest. Western Bronze-naped Pigeons and Olive Long-tailed Cuckoos call from the dense canopy, sedate Bar-tailed Trogons sit quietly overhead and weird-looking Grey-throated Barbets inspect dead trunks and boughs, but the real prizes of this forest skulk in the undergrowth and we will need patience to get views of the highly elusive Grey-chested Babbler (formerly Grey-chested Illadopsis but now reclassified as a member of a small bird family consisting of this species, Dapple-throat and Spot-throat). Other great undergrowth birds here include Red-throated Alethe (which often attends ant swarms), Equatorial Akalat, White-bellied Robin Chat, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, the unique Neumann’s (or Short-tailed) Warbler and Willard’s Sooty Boubou. Fruiting trees often attract an interesting selection of starlings including Slender-billed, Waller’s, Narrow-tailed and Stuhlmann’s.
Other species we may well see in the forest include Black (or Great) Sparrowhawk, the splendid Black Bee-eater, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Willcocks’s Honeyguide,
Cardinal and Elliot’s Woodpeckers, African Broadbill (a bird with a remarkable display), Ansorge’s, Cabanis’s and Red-tailed Greenbuls, Kakamega Greenbul (split from Shelley’s), the gorgeous but secretive Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, White-tailed Ant Thrush, Black-throated, Grey and Mountain Masked (or Black-faced) Apalises, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, White-browed Crombec, Dusky Tit, African Dusky, Dusky-blue, Yellow-eyed Black and the rare Chapin’s Flycatchers, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher, Many-coloured, Lühder’s and Bocage’s Bush Shrikes, Blue-headed and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, and Black-billed and Brown-capped Weavers. Exposed perches at the forest edge are favoured by Blue-throated Roller, while in the cut-over clearings we may find duetting Chubb’s Cisticolas, Cape Wagtail, Brown-backed Scrub Robin, Mackinnon’s Fiscal and Western Citril (split from African).
The Impenetrable Forest is also home to a healthy population of Eastern Gorillas. These Ugandan animals, which show shared characteristics of both lowland and mountain forms, could, in fact, be an endangered subspecies or even a full species in their own right. Those who want to will be able to go out with the park staff to look for these spectacular creatures during our second full day here, an experience which generally involves from three to six hours in the field, depending on where the gorillas are located. A close encounter with a group of these gentle giants is a profound experience which will make an indelible impression. The gorillas are fully protected in the park and you will be able to track a group of these marvellous animals through the dense, damp forest and thickets of giant bamboo on the slopes of the mountain. The terrain can sometimes be steep and rough, but the guides will cut a path through the dense understorey of giant nettles and wild celery if necessary. As you approach a group your guides will make strange grunting noises to reassure the gorillas that you are merely harmless tourists. These huge animals are surprisingly docile and often completely unconcerned by the presence of humans, so it is usually possible to get to within a few metres of them as they play, feed and rest. There is no need to say that this is an experience which you will never forget!
Ultimate Uganda: Day 16 After two full days at lower levels we will transfer to the higher section of the park, passing through ‘The Neck’, a narrow corridor of forest that connects the two forest blocks. We will spend some time birding along the winding track at intermediate altitudes where flowering Leonotis often attract Bronze and Variable Sunbirds and other possibilities include African Goshawk, Augur Buzzard, Scarce Swift, Red-throated Wryneck, Black Saw-wing, Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Cassin’s, White-eyed Slaty and African Blue Flycatchers, African Stonechat, Brown-crowned Tchagra, the glorious Doherty’s Bushshrike, White-naped Raven, Baglafecht Weaver, Yellow Bishop, African Firefinch, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, and Black-throated and Streaky Seed-eaters. If we are lucky we shall find the little-known Dusky Twinspot. We will spend the next two nights at a comfortable lodge at Ruhija.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 17 In the higher parts of the forest the mist lingers in the valleys until late morning and this perpetual dampness is reflected in the profusion of hanging mosses and epiphyte-encrusted branches. These Central African mountains are a centre of avian endemism which developed around the Albertine Rift, an ancient branch of the Great Rift Valley. A number of birds are unique to this region including Handsome Francolin, Archer’s Ground Robin, Ruwenzori Apalis, Grauer’s Swamp (or Grauer’s Rush) Warbler (with its insect-like song), Ruwenzori Batis, Stripe-breasted Tit, Regal Sunbird, Strange Weaver, Dusky Crimson-wing, the uncommon but unbelievably-plumaged Purple-breasted Sunbird and the uncommon and hard-to-find Kivu Ground Thrush. We have a good chance of seeing most of these exciting birds during our stay and shall also make a long trek up and down hill to Mubwindi Swamp where we will hope to locate the rare Grauer’s Rush Warbler (a species confined to high altitude swamps in the Albertine Rift) and of course the most sought-after bird of the Impenetrable Forest, the Grauer’s (or African Green) Broadbill. We have a fair chance of seeing this little-known species which, until relatively recently, had been seen by few living ornithologists.
Among the other birds we will look for in the forest are Mountain Buzzard, Ayres’s and perhaps Cassin’s Hawk-Eagles, African Olive Pigeon, the uncommon Grey-headed Parrot (split from Brown-necked), Barred Long-tailed and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Western (Green) Tinkerbird, Tullberg’s (or Fine-banded) Woodpecker, Rock Martin, Mountain (or Montane) Oriole, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler (split from African), Mountain Illadopsis, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Olive-breasted (or Mountain) and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, White-starred Robin, Abyssinian (or Mountain) Thrush, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Evergreen Forest, Cinnamon Bracken and Mountain Yellow Warblers, Chin-spot Batis, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher, the skulking Mountain (or Montane) Sooty Boubou, Northern Puffback, Sharpe’s Starling, Kandt’s Waxbill (split from Black-headed), Thick-billed Seed-eater, Oriole Finch and Yellow-crowned Canary.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 18 After some early morning birding in the Impenetrable Forest we will drive south towards Kisoro, where we will stay overnight. We will stop along the way in patches of remnant montane forest and bamboo stands and will have a further opportunity for finding several of the elusive Albertine Rift Endemics. We will also examine some papyrus areas where, as well as having another chance to see the more widespread papyrus specialities, we should also find the enigmatic Victoria Masked Weaver, Papyrus Canary and the little-known Papyrus Yellow Warbler. (The former was originally described as a full species, then dismissed as a probable hybrid: its true status is yet to be resolved.)
Ultimate Uganda: Day 19 Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a remote park, nestled in the extreme southwestern corner of Uganda, that forms part of the 434 square kilometres of the Virunga Conservation Area, a protected area that straddles political boundaries to include the Parc des Virungas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Parc des Volcans in Rwanda. The three extinct volcanoes within the Ugandan section, the tallest rising to over 4100m, create scenery that can only be described as breathtaking. The volcanoes are draped in extensive Afro-alpine forests, vast bamboo stands and, at higher altitudes, moorland dominated by towering Giant Lobelias.
Fortunately, we do not have to climb high up these unrelenting peaks to find our avian targets. Lower trails lead us through habitat where we will concentrate on finding the bizarre Ruwenzori Turaco and the beautiful Ruwenzori Double-collared Sunbird. Today we will also have another chance of finding other Albertine Rift endemics and specialities such as the elusive Handsome Francolin, Kivu Ground Thrush and Lagden’s Bush-Shrike. We have encountered the exquisite Shelley’s Crimsonwing, arguably one of the world’s most beautiful seedeaters, here, but we will count ourselves extremely fortunate if we come across this rarely seen species.
Other birds which we will look out for today include Dusky Turtle Dove, Cape Robin-Chat and White-tailed Crested Flycatcher. The beautiful Golden Monkey, a localized form of the Blue Monkey, occurs in the bamboo zone.
Afterwards we will head for Lake Mburo National Park, where we will stay for two nights, keeping a lookout for such species as Speckled Pigeon, African Black Swift and Long-billed Pipit along the way.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 20 Lake Mburo National Park is an attractive area consisting of the lake itself, papyrus swamp, open grasslands with dense clumps of bushes, and open acacia woodland. In the drier hinterland Lilac-breasted Rollers perch on high vantage points and parties of White-winged Black Tits feed in the flowering acacias, and at this time of year we have an excellent chance of finding the restricted-range Red-faced Barbet. This is a good place for seeing the shy African Finfoot and we also have a chance for White-backed Night Heron and Rufous-bellied Heron.
More widespread species include African Hawk-Eagle, Coqui Francolin, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Long-tailed (or Tabora) Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-faced Crombec, Southern Black Flycatcher, Grey Tit-Flycatcher (or Lead-coloured Flycatcher), Grey (or African) Penduline Tit, Black-headed Oriole, White-crested Helmet Shrike, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Greater Blue-eared and Wattled Starlings, Marico Sunbird, and Red-headed Weaver. At night African Scops Owls call around our accommodation and we have a good chance of seeing one, while if we are lucky we will also come across a Black-shouldered Nightjar.
Shy Oribis, graceful Impalas and Common Zebras can be found amongst the open, park-like woodland.
Ultimate Uganda: Day 21 After some final birding at Lake Mburo we will return to Entebbe, where our tour ends this evening.