UGANDA PART ONE:

BACK

GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS

PART TWO

 

 

GENERAL

After visiting Kenya in 2006 I did not expect to be back in East-Africa already so soon. As a matter of fact the plan to visit Uganda originated from my wife’s desire for years on to see Chimpanzees and especially Mountain Gorilla’s in the wild. Since the gorilla trekking is physically quite challenging we decided not to wait any longer and do it now. So I started surfing the web for information in order to built a birding itinerary around the two primate activities. It was soon pretty obvious that Uganda has a lot to offer bird wise and despite my earlier visit to Kenya in 2006 would yield a nice number of lifers. After reading several trip reports I decided to contact two local companies namely Access Uganda Tours and Avian Watch Uganda. In the end I decided for AWU for two reasons: they offered the best price and on top of that Alfred Twinomujuni (the founder of AWU) was able to guide us in person. Alfred is probably the best bird watching guide in Uganda and a real godfather of birding in his country. He knows practically all birds by call and if he is not calling them in by tape he is whistling them in. His skill to mimic birdcalls is really outstanding. He also does a lot of other good work to help improve eco-tourism by educating a new generation of bird guides all over the country and by involving the local communities. Besides that Alfred is a great person and very pleasant company. The entire trip was perfectly arranged and apart from some minor hick-ups everything went smoothly. All accommodation, transportation, food, entrance fees and Chimpanzee/Gorilla permits were arranged beforehand by Emmanuel who works at the office from AWU. We had a spacious 4WD car with pop-up roof perfectly driven by Gideon. The AWU home page is located at www.avianwatchuganda.co.ug

 

 

PREPARATIONS

For general birding preparations we used the usual websites like www.fatbirder.com and www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp. For reports we used www.travellingbirder.com and www.birdtours.co.uk. One particularly interesting report of Petri Hottola from Finland is available at www.bongariliitto.fi/matkakertomukset/Afrikka/Uganda/Uganda_2007-10-11_Hottola.pdf The report contains a lot of birding as well as general information which can be a great help for preparations of your trip to Uganda. Other interesting websites included: www.africanbirdclub.org/countries/Uganda/introduction.html, www.visituganda.com, www.ugandatourism.org and www.traveluganda.co.ug. For birding preparations we used following books: Field Guide to the birds of East Africa by Stevenson/Fanshawe (Helm Field Guides) which is probably the best guide for the region. Where to watch birds in Uganda by Rossouw/Sacchi is an excellent site guide book describing most of the best birding locations including (trail) maps and a list of species to be expected for every site. For mammal identification we used the Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals (pocket version). For general travel information we used the Uganda Bradt Travel Guide.

 

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Uganda is a very scenic and beautiful country with a very diverse set of different habitats. The people are extremely friendly and helpful. Most people speak English as a result of it’s British colonial background. The unit of currency is the Ugandan Shilling. The exchange rate during our trip was about USH 2.500 for 1 Euro, and USH 1.750 for 1 USD. Money changing is usually at the so called Forex offices. It is advised to use USD cash, but the Euro is also excepted. There are Forex offices at the airport and in all cities. ATM’s are a rare find in Uganda. The only place where you can find them is at the airport and in Kampala. A visa costing USD50 is required to enter the country. The visa can be obtained on arrival. It is advised to take vaccinations against yellow fever (you need to have a certificate) and malaria prophylactics. For info contact your local health authorities.

 

 

GETTING THERE

KLM has direct flights from Amsterdam to Entebbe. Another option is to fly with SN Brussels Airlines. They also provide direct flights from Brussels to Entebbe. In our case flying with KLM from Dusseldorf via Amsterdam to Entebbe was the cheapest option. We paid Euro 715 each including taxes.  

 

GETTING AROUND

All transport was pre-arranged by Avian Watch Uganda. During the whole trip we had a 4WD van with pop-up roof which came in very handy especially in the game parks. Road conditions are as one could expect in an African country. They vary from good asphalted roads to bumpy unpaved tracks. The main road from Kampala until Kabale was in fairly good condition. After Kabale all roads are unpaved into the south-west corner of the country. The main road from Queen Elizabeth NP to Fort Portal was an excellent paved road. Roads to Semliki and to Masindi via Hoima are all unpaved. The old potholed main road from Masindi back to Kampala has been improved a lot. During our visit only a small tract of the road was still in bad condition but the whole route will be repaired in the coming months. 

 

WEATHER AND WHEN TO GO

The southern region has two rainy seasons notably from March to May and October to November. Annual rainfall here is between 1500 and 2000 millimetres. The northern region gets far less rain with occasional rains between April and October. Most of the country lies at a relatively high altitude (above 1000 masl) with pleasant temperatures between 18 and 25 degrees C. The exceptions are Semliki NP and the north (Murchison Falls NP) with temperatures between 30 and 35 degrees C. During our trip we were really lucky with the weather with virtually no rain at all. 

 

 

ACCOMODATIONS & FOOD

If you are looking for haute cuisine Uganda isn’t the place to be. However generally meals were quite okay except at the Vanilla Hotel in Bundibuygo. I only had beans as they only had meat for one of us. The meat appeared to be some kind of rubbery chicken. Lodges and hotels range from very basic to luxury depending on the budget you want to spend. Except in QENP we meanly stayed in basic to midrange lodging:

 

Hotel Central Inn Entebbe http://www.traveluganda.co.ug/central-inn-entebbe/index.html : midrange hotel near the airport. Rooms with private bathroom and TV. Clean and good value.

 

Mantana Tented Camp in Lake Mburo NP www.lakemburocamp.com: nice semi-luxury tented camp. Tents on raised wooden platform with private bathroom overlooking the lake. Great food and service. Recommended.

 

Kisoro Tourist Hotel in Kisoro http://www.aboutuganda.com/kisorotourist.html: lower midrange hotel. Rooms with private bathroom. Food quality was mediocre.  

 

ITFC Guesthouse in Ruhija: very basic with dormitory style bunk beds but nonetheless we had a great time there.

 

Bwindi View Banda’s in Buhoma www.traveluganda.co.ug/bwindi-view-bandas/index.html: banda’s with private bath but fairly basic. However the service and food was okay.

 

Hippo Hill Camp in Queen Elizabeth NP www.adventurecamps.co.ug/hippo_hill_camp.htm#: luxury tented camp. Poor service and mediocre food. You pay about USD 150 each but they are not even able to serve a cold beer.

 

Vanilla Hotel in Bundibuygo: lower midrange. Cramped rooms, noisy and very poor food. Only option in the area.

 

Chimpanzee Forest Guest House near Kibale www.traveluganda.co.ug/chimpguesthousekibale/index.html: midrange lodge with self-contained cottages. Beautiful location with great views of the crater lakes and Kibale NP. Excellent service and food. Recommended.

 

Nyabyaya Forestry Guesthouse near Budongo: basic and dirty self-contained rooms. Poor food. Not recommended but close to the Royal Mile.

 

Red Chilli Rest Camp in Murchison Falls NP www.redchillihideaway.com/paraa.htm: midrange camp. We had a nice self-contained banda. Good food and one of the only places with ice cold beers. Recommended.

 

 

BIRDING FACTS

 

Uganda has a great variety of habitats and despite it’s relatively small size it has a bird list of about 1080 species. With the exception of the game reserves (which hold more or less the same birds as neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania), the birding is mostly focussed on forests and swamps. These area’s hold most of Uganda’s main specialties that do not occur in other east African countries. The main attraction here are the so called Albertine Rift endemics, of which we managed to see 20 out of 24. Our total bird list ended up at 524 species and an additional 9 heard only. I saw 157 new species resulting in a life list of 2753 species. The highlights for me were Shoebill, White-spotted Flufftail, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Papyrus Gonolek, Shelley’s Crimsonwing and last but not least African Green Broadbill. All of the sites we visited produced a nice set of new birds although Semliki NP was a bit of a disappointment as a result of the very dry conditions during our visit. See the chart below to give you an impression of the quality of each birding site. However one must take in account that the duration of stay at each site is different and of course effects the number of birds seen. In general I must say that the best sites were Ruhija, Buhoma, Budongo and Murchison Falls. Although the chart does not really show it we were a bit disappointed in Semliki because we had expected more of this remote lowland forest site.

 

 

Location

length of visit

Total

Seen at one site only

Lifers

Mabamba Swamp

3 hrs

48

8

6

Lake Mburo NP

8 hrs

66

14

12

Mgahinga NP

4 hrs

27

8

6

Ruhija (Bwindi NP)

1 ½ days

71

23

16

The Neck (Bwindi NP)

4 hrs

42

14

6

Buhoma (Bwindi NP)

1 ½ days

67

25

20

Queen Elizabeth NP

2 days

87

29

9

Semliki NP

1 ½ days

52

20

12

Kibale NP (morning chimp trekking)

1 day

83

14

12

Budongo Forest Reserve

1 day

79

22

13

Lake Albert escarpment

2 hrs

34

11

7

Murchison Falls NP

1 ½ days

105

36

23

Other (birding en route)

 

 

24

14

 

 

Site accounts

 

Below a short description of the sites we visited. For detailed descriptions and target birds at each site you can buy the highly recommended “Where to watch birds in Uganda”  by Jonathan Rossouw and Marco Sacchi. The book also contains a complete checklist including the status at each site.

 

Mabamba Wetland: large papyrus swamp close to Kampala. Excellent site for Shoebill and other papyrus specialties.

 

Lake Mburo NP: lake surrounded by savanna woodlands located halfway between Kampala and Bwindi. Best place to see southern savanna species like red-faced barbet. The lake is good for African Finfoot.

 

Mgahinga NP: Uganda’s most scenic National Park located in the extreme south-western corner of the country. Three extinct vulcanoes part of the Virungas lie within it’s boundaries. Best site for amongst Rwenzori Turaco and Shelley’s Crimsonwing.

 

Bwindi Impenetrable NP: excellent montane forest holding 23 out of 24 Albertine Rift endemics and of course mountain Gorillas. The birding hotspots are at Ruhija, Buhoma and “The Neck”, a narrow stretch of forest connecting the southern and northern part of the park.

 

Queen Elizabeth NP: Uganda’s most popular game park with a wide variety of habitats that range from savanna and wetlands to gallery forest. This variety is reflected in it’s bird list of about 550 species.

 

Semliki NP: located in a remote corner in South-western Uganda. The park consists of the eastern extension of the vast lowland Ituri forest which stretches into Congo until the Zambezi river. Excellent site to find central African specialties.

 

Kibale NP: large section of rainforest that offers excellent forest birding and Chimp trekking. It harbours the greatest variety of primates found in East Africa. Specialties of the area are amongst Green-breasted Pitta, Masked Apalis and African Broadbill.

 

Budongo Forest Reserve: the largest natural forest in East Africa located just south of Murchison Falls NP. It has an impressive bird list of over 350 species of which many sought after birds like Nahan’s Francolin and Ituri Batis.

 

Murchison Falls NP: located in the north near Lake Albert this park holds a variety of habitats, game and birds. The park holds many northern specialties not present in southern Uganda.


TOP OF PAGE