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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Uganda: Shoebills to Gorillas

Saturday 23 June to Sunday 8 July 2018
with Brian Finch as leader

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The odd Shoebill is a confiding resident of papyrus stands along the Nile. Photo: Brian Finch.

Uganda is the jewel in the crown of East Africa, generally recognized as having some of the best remaining forest in Africa and with it some truly remarkable birdwatching. Our first taste will be a search for the enigmatic Shoebill at the edge of Lake Victoria. We’ll continue our journey to the papyrus-fringed lakeshore of Lake Mburo National Park, renowned for its mammals and birds, including White-backed Night-heron. The wonderful Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a magical place of mists, hanging mosses, and luxuriant vegetation, and it is also where we’ll see some of the rarest and most exotic birds of the trip. However, it will probably be a mammal that is uppermost in people’s minds here. Over half the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas can be found in this forest, and during our stay there will be the option to take part in a guided trek to search for a group of these magnificent animals. In Queen Elizabeth National Park we’ll encounter a variety of habitats more typical of East Africa along with an equally varied array of birds and mammals. In Kibale Forest we’ll be surrounded by birds as well as some of the eleven species of primate, including Chimpanzee, and in the rainforest at Budongo Forest Reserve we’ll explore the famous Royal Mile, a wide pathway through the forest that simply drips with birds. We’ll conclude at Murchison Falls National Park, where we’ll take to the water, not only to visit the spectacular Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile but with another chance to appreciate the unique Shoebill in its papyrus home.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening with arrivals into Entebbe International Airport followed by a transfer to our nearby lodging for dinner. Night near Entebbe.

Day 2: After an early breakfast with a sampling of amazing garden birds for company, we’ leave for the nearby Mbamba Wetlands. It’s not a long way to the wetlands, but we’ll take a winding dirt road that traces the contours of Lake Victoria. Our primary target is the unforgettable Shoebill, and the reserve is run by local fishermen who make additional income out of sharing their prize bird with visitors. As a consequence the birds are not molested and are quite tame. Other waterbirds are numerous and can include various waders like the secretive Lesser Jacana along with stocky Blue-headed Coucal and African Marsh Harrier, East Africa’s most endangered raptor. After our canoe trip on the swamp we’ll depart through a rich mosaic of open woodland, savanna, papyrus, and gardens. Birds here could include Palm-nut Vulture, Great Blue Turaco, Eastern Gray Plantain-eater, African Pied Hornbill, Splendid Glossy Starling, and Orange and Slender-billed Weavers. In the papyrus we can hope for startling Papyrus Gonolek, dowdy Carruther’s Cisticola, and the more distinctive but shyer White-winged Rush Warbler. Somewhere along the way we’ll stop for a picnic lunch. On joining the main road, we’ll drive to Lake Mburo National Park for a two-night stay. Night near Lake Mburo National Park.

Days 3: Lake Mburo is an attractive bushed savanna landscape with rich moist thickets and lakeshore lined in riverine tangles and papyrus. The combination of habitats results in an impressive variety of species. The most noteworthy bird is the dusky Red-faced Barbet at its only known Uganda location. Other local specialties include Black-shouldered and Natal Nightjars, the very rare Brown-chested Lapwing, Long-tailed Cisticola, and White-shouldered Tit, and a short boat trip will help us find hard-to-see waterbirds like White-backed Night-Heron and African Finfoot. Apart from birds, the place is rich in mammals, and we should encounter Hippopotamus, Buffalo, Waterbuck, and Oribi among others. Night near Lake Mburo National Park.

Day 4: After a final early morning in Lake Mburo we’ll head to the southwest of the country with a few stops en route, especially around swampy areas for scrub and marsh species such as Long-crested Eagle, Woodland Kingfisher, and the secretive White-collared Oliveback. Entering the upper parts of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we’ll stop for birds along the forested roadsides on our way toward Ruhija. The surrounding forest is rich in birds of all sorts, but we’ll focus especially on species found only in the Albertine Rift such as Stripe-breasted Tit, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, and Archer’s Robin-Chat. Among the primates here are troops of L’Hoest’s Monkeys as well as Angola Colobuses and Red-tailed Monkeys. At night we may be lucky enough to track down a Rwenzori Nightjar. Night in Ruhija near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Day 5: We’ll spend the day on the climb down to and back up from Mubwindi Swamp. Porters will accompany the group to carry packs, water, and picnics, and hiking sticks will be available as this is a steep though well-maintained trail at altitude. The main target here is the extraordinary Grauer’s Green Broadbill at its only known regular location (although it can still be difficult to see). Other swamp residents include skulking Grauer’s Rush Warblers. On the walk we should encounter mixed-species flocks along with the Albertine endemic sunbirds, namely Blue-headed, Regal, and Purple-breasted, which sometimes attach themselves to these parties. Other regular mixed-flock participants include Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Rwenzori Batis, and Red-throated Alethe. Also possible along the track are Mountain Illadopsis, Red-faced and Dusky Crimsonwings, and White-tailed Crested Flycatcher. On our return in the afternoon we’ll depart for the lower levels of Buhoma in the valley bottom, our home for the next three nights. Nights at Gorilla Forest Camp near Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Day 6: Today is devoted to an optional but unforgettable trek to see Eastern Mountain Gorillas in their mountain refuge. This adventure could take anywhere from three to six hours in the field, depending on where the gorillas are located. The trek will start at the Registration Center after introductions and a briefing from the guide on what to expect and how to act in the presence of the gorillas. Viewing the gorillas is a profound experience, but because the trek may be a bit rough for some participants, we are leaving it as an optional activity, not included in the tour price (the permits are quite expensive; see *note below). For those who opt not to take the trek, there will be a birding excursion into the adjacent forest with a picnic lunch. Later in the day we’ll return to Gorilla Forest Camp for some optional leisurely birding in the late afternoon. Night at Gorilla Forest Camp near Buhoma.

Day 7: We’ll spend all day in the Buhoma Forest, an extremely rich area where a good percentage of birds seen will be Albertine endemics. We’ll be on the lookout for Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Elliott’s Woodpecker, Bar-tailed Trogon, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Short-tailed Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Black-throated, Grey, Rwenzori Masked, and Rwenzori Apalis, Many-colored Bush-Shrike, the recently described Willard’s Bush-Shrike, Dusky-blue  and Chapin’s Flycatchers, and Narrow-tailed and Stuhlmann’s Starlings, to name just a few of the possibilities. Night at Gorilla Camp near Buhoma.

Day 8: After an early breakfast we’ll drive north past the border town of Ishasha to Queen Elizabeth National Park. We’ll have picnics with us as the drive up to the park and through its southern section is long but rewarding. This area has many mammals and we may encounter African Elephant, Spotted Hyena, and possibly tree-climbing Lion. Bird species to watch for include Harlequin, Blue, and Small (Common) Button Quails, African Crake, White-winged Warbler, Martial Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Papyrus Gonolek, Amur Falcon, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, and Temminck’s Courser. Night at Mweya Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Day 9: The extensive savannas and patches of woodland of Queen Elizabeth National Park are reminiscent of Kenyan reserves. There is a great mammal presence here, with Uganda Kob among the most numerous but also including Hippo, Cape Buffalo, a variety of antelope species, and for (the lucky ones) a glimpse at Leopard. As for the birdlife, the wide range of habitats means that this park has the largest variety of bird species of any in Africa, with over 600 species recorded. While here, we’ll take a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lakes Edward and George. There is a good variety of waterbirds here, and if we are lucky we might be followed by a flock of African Skimmers. Among the herons are the enormous Goliath, while pelicans and cormorants loafing near the local village’s fish factory are often accompanied by a Saddle-billed Stork. Game drives through the savanna can turn up skulkers such as Button-quails, African Crake, or Black Coucal, while Black-headed Gonoleks, Sooty Chats, and Grey-backed Fiscals are more easily seen. The lodge has a wealth of hungry weavers that will keep us company during meals, and the stunningly iridescent Red-chested Sunbird is a constant attendant to the flowers and eaves of the lodge buildings. The local Swamp Flycatchers have switched their social calendar about and come in after dark to feast on the abundant insects attracted by the lights. Night at Mweya Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Day 10: After breakfast we’ll continue driving northeast toward Kibale Forest National Park. Today is mainly a travel day, and once we leave the confines of Queen Elizabeth National Park we’ll travel through varied but mainly agricultural areas. However, we’ll certainly stop if we see something of interest. Along the roadside on arrival in Kibale we’ll be on the lookout for such gems as Black-billed, Ross’s, and Great Blue Turacos, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater, noisy Grey Parrots and Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills, Yellow-billed, Hairy-breasted, and Double-toothed Barbets, and Superb, Green-throated, and Green Sunbirds among many others. Night near Kibale.

Day 11: Kibale Forest National Park is a protected rainforest with massive trees and open understory. Much of our birding in this area will be done along some of the smaller roads and trails that give access to the interior of the forest, where we’ll also have a Chimpanzee trek (see **note below). The main avian target is the very local and secretive Green-breasted Pitta, a true gem of a bird and one of the stars of the tour. Other species we hope to see here include Black-and-white Mannikin, Red-eyed Dove, White-chinned Prinia, Little Grey and Joyful Greenbuls, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Black-billed Turaco, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Red-headed Bluebill, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, and Narina Trogon. Kibale is home to no fewer than eleven species of primate, and we should see Olive Baboon, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Central African Red and Guereza Colobuses, and L’Hoest’s and Red-tailed Monkeys. After our lunch we’ll head to the Bigodi wetlands, a small local reserve that holds a large numbers of birds such as White-spotted Flufftail, , Yellow-spotted Barbet, African Emerald-cuckoo, Sabine’s Spinetail, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-tailed Ant-thrush,  White-collared Oliveback, Shining Blue and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Superb Sunbird, and White-Breasted Negro-finch. Night near Kibale.

Day 12: After an early walk and breakfast we’ll set off for our long drive to Masindi. This is another long travel day but will give us an excellent opportunity to see the varied landscapes of this country, including tea plantations and other mixed-use areas. Along the way, roadside stops in marshes and scrub may produce Black-headed Heron, Red-headed Lovebird, Ross’s Turaco, Crowned Hornbill, the elegant Rufous-chested Swallow, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Compact Weaver, Thick-billed (or Grosbeak) Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Black Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird, Brown Twinspot,  African Firefinch, Common, Black-crowned, and Fawn-breasted Waxbills, and Black-bellied Firefinch. Night in Masindi.

Day 13: The Budongo Forest Reserve hosts one of the richest forests in East Africa and is part of the “Central Refugium” with its Guinea-Congo biome endemics; there are many species here we do not encounter elsewhere on this trip. After a pre-dawn breakfast we’ll depart Masindi in time to arrive at the famous Royal Mile when the bird activity is heightening. Some of the trees are enormous and the canopy is very high, but birding should be excellent. Species we’ll look for include Nahan’s Francolin, Cassin’s Spinetail, Chocolate-backed and African Dwarf Kingfishers, Spotted Greenbul, Black-capped Apalis, Brown-crowned Eremomela, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Chestnut-tailed Flycatcher, Ituri Batis, and Forest Flycatcher—all species we’ll have our first chances for here. Night in Masindi.

Day 14: An early departure will take us to the Butiaba Escarpment. This is on the edge of the Albertine Rift and overlooks Lake Albert itself. Very different from the Budongo Forest, the rocky savanna escarpment is home to another set of birds we will not have encountered before, including Heuglin’s Francolin, Black Scimitarbill, White-fronted Black-Chat, Foxy Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Green-backed Eremomela, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Orange-winged and Red-winged Pytilias, and Brown-rumped Bunting. We’ll have our picnic on the valley floor before continuing on toward our lodge in Murchison Falls National Park. Night in Murchison Falls (Kabalega) National Park.

Day 15: On our last full day of the tour we’ll have an early breakfast and then spend the entire day in the national park. We’ll take an afternoon boat trip to the foot of the Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile and explore the winding roads that lead to the estuary of the Albert Nile where it spills into Lake Albert. Once again we’ll be treated to numerous species encountered for the first time: we’ll hope to see Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Silverbird, and White-rumped Seedeater near the river, with Blue-breasted and the stunning Red-throated Bee-eaters in riverine vegetation. Shoebill is again a possibility here, and we’ll certainly keep an eye out for this enigmatic bird along the water’s edge. In the grasslands there may be Northern Carmine Bee-eaters (possibly accompanied by the Southern variety), Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills, and Denham’s Bustards. Smaller species such as Red-winged Grey-Warbler, Northern Crombec, and Beautiful Sunbird can be in the scrub and noisy Brown Babblers in the undergrowth. This northern area is the start of the ranges of Vinaceous Dove and Black-billed Wood-Dove, and from the boat we should be treated to Senegal Thick-knees and Rock Pratincoles. Night in Murchison Falls (Kabalega) National Park.

Day 16: We’ll have a long journey back to Entebbe, but not before a stop at Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, the only known haunt of Puvel’s Illadopsis in East Africa. There will be other species here that are now familiar to us and hopefully some that aren’t. We’ll allow ourselves a couple of stops along the way, but most of the day will be spent in the vehicle. Birds to watch for along the road includeRed-headed Weaver, Yellow-billed Shrike, Vinaceous Dove, and Yellow-bellied Hyliota. We’ll arrive at Entebbe in time to stop at our first night’s lodging to retrieve any luggage left behind and to freshen up before flights home this evening.

Updated: 13 June 2017

Prices

  • 2018 Tour Price Not Yet Available
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Notes

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

This tour is limited to 10 participants with two leaders.

*Gorilla Tracking Permit at Bwindi (Day 6): As of 15 June 2017 permits for visiting the gorillas cost US$600 per person. The Gorilla Tracking Permit price is subject to change and is not included in the tour price, partly due to the possibility of pricing changes but also because the trek can be rigorous and not everyone will chose to do it. This optional trek can take anywhere from 3 or 6 hours and the off-trail terrain can vary from moderate to difficult, depending on where the gorillas are that day. The hike will likely be between 1-4 miles roundtrip and may lose and regain an elevation of 1000 feet or more. There is an option to hire porters at an extra cost of about USD $15 per day to carry your bags and help you to negotiate the more difficult parts of the trek. Please be sure to let us know when you register if you want a permit, as we need to obtain it at the time of booking. The final cost of the permit will be billed to you when the tour is invoiced. It’s worth noting that neighboring Rwanda has recently doubled its gorilla permit cost, but so far, Uganda hasn’t followed suit. If you opt out of gorilla tracking you will be able to go birding with one of the leaders.

**Chimpanzee Tracking Permit at Kibale (Day 11): As of 15 June 2017 this permit costs US$150 per person and is included in the tour cost. This permit is included because a morning chimpanzee tracking session is also our best chance for Green-breasted Pitta. We’ll start with a pre-dawn visit to a known site for the pitta, and if our luck holds we’ll encounter this bird before moving down the trail to look for chimps (likely following their vocalizations). The chimp trek is another that involves an indeterminate length of walk over uneven terrain. The chimps range widely in their habitat and may move while the tour group is with them, in essence forcing the group into a hike behind the chimps at their walking speed. Or, the chimps may stay in one spot once found, making for a shorter walk. The habitat tends to not be as steep as for the gorilla trek, but hikers should be prepared anyway.