Best Uganda Forest Birding Safari - 18 Days
Uganda is a small landlocked country lying on the elevated basin in between the western and eastern arms of the great rift valley, supporting a recorded 1,043 species of birds with Africa’s number one birding site and perhaps the whole world thus deserving a reputation of being the “Eden of Birding”.
Uganda, once the “Pearl of the British Empire” in East Africa is one of the most beautiful countries which is Africa condensed with the best of everything which the continent has to offer all packed into this small country to the size of Great Britain or the state of Oregon. One-sixth of its area is covered by water. Large lakes including Albert, Victoria the source of the White Nile, Kyoga, Edward and Lake George.
Situated on the equator, Uganda has an area contiguous with the great Guinea/Congo Basin rainforest on its western border. Subsequently there are a number of West and Central African bird species occurring in Uganda that are not found elsewhere in East Africa. These “Uganda specials” are very difficult to see elsewhere, come we try them out on this trip.
- Day 1: Bird in Entebbe environments
- Day 2: Birding to Mabira Forest
- Day 3: Morning birding in Mabira then transfer to Masindi
- Day 4: Budongo Forest at Kaniyo Pabidi. Puvel’s illadopsis
- Day 5: Birding the Royal Mile
- Day 6: Masindi to Kibale Forest National Park
- Day 7-8: Kibale National Park
- Day 9-10: Semliki National Park
- Day 11: Bwindi National Park
- Day 12: Whole day birding in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest
- Day 13: Gorilla tracking in Bwindi or birding
- Day 14: Birdwatching along Buhoma to Ruhija, north of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- Day 15: Birding Ruhija – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and transfer to Kisoro
- Day 16: Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
- Day 17: Birding Echuya forest at a later point in the day towards Lake Bunyonyi
- Day 18: Birding as we drive to Kampala and departure
Day 1: Bird in Entebbe Environments
On the arrival at Entebbe International Airport you will meet our representative who will transfer you to your respective hotel in Entebbe and give you a thorough briefing about your tour and Uganda in general, early arrivals will have an introduction to the birds of Uganda at the Botanical Gardens.
We stay at Papyrus Guesthouse Entebbe. Bed and breakfast.
Here we look out for weavers like the Slender-billed, Brown-throated¸ Golden-backed, Yellow-backed and Black headed, Grey-headed Gull, Cormorants, Common Squacco Heron, Yellow-billed Duck, Kingfishers- Pied, Giant, Malakite, Pygmy and Striped, Flycatchers-Swamp, African Paradise and Red Bellied Paradise, Broad-billed Roller, Hornbills- Black-and-white Casqued, Crowned and African Pied, Splendid Glossy Starling, Black-headed Gonolek, Orange Weaver, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Sunbirds – Red-chested, Collard, Scarlet Chested, superb, Green Throated, Olive, olive Bellied and bronze, Ross’s and great Blue Turaco, Open-billed Stork, Great Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Grey-capped Warbler and much more.
Day 2: Birding to Mabira Forest
After an early breakfast we’ll transfer to Mabira Forest.
Although isolated by the surrounding banana and sugar plantations, this remarkably productive forest is possibly the richest in the country, and well-maintained trails make birding easy. Mixed flocks are often found along the broad tracks, and noisy groups of the near-endemic Weyn’s Weaver, arguably the most attractive of the group, busy themselves in the canopy.
We can also hope to see African Pied Hornbill and Forest Wood-Hoopoe, while the seasonal pools can attract Blue-breasted, White-bellied, Dwarf and Shining-blue Kingfishers.
Yellow-throated and Speckled Tinkerbirds live in the canopy and Toro Olive Greenbul and Green-tailed Bristle bill are secretive interior inhabitants. If there are safari ants on the march, Fire-crested Alethe, Forest Robin and Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat may be in attendance.
Overnight in Mabira Forest Lodge.
Day 3: Morning Birding in Mabira then Transfer to Masindi
Today we shall travel north to Murchison Falls.
Along the way, we will no doubt find plenty of good birds. There are areas of moist grasslands and swamps where species such as Banded Snake-Eagle, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Green-backed Eremomela, Black Bishop, Yellow-shouldered and Marsh widowbirds occur.
Dry woodlands further north will provide our best chance of finding the unusual Yellow-billed Shrike and Yellow-bellied Hyliota.
As the countryside becomes drier with extensive grasslands dotted with fig trees, we may stop to search for African and the less common Bruce’s green-pigeons, White-headed Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, white Crested Turaco, flocks of Lesser Blue-eared and Violet-backed starlings and Piapiac, a small carved which associates with cattle and wild game.
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest and famous for its big game, spectacular scenery and the falls for which the park was named.
Abundant hippos, crocodiles, elephant, buffalo, Uganda kob and waterbuck can be seen along with occasional lions and patas monkeys.
There is another chance (if we need it) of finding Shoebill amongst a huge variety of widespread African bird species in the wetlands.
Other water birds abound and we hope to see Darter; Intermediate Egret; Goliath and Purple herons; African Finfoot; Woolly-necked, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed storks; Hamerkop (near their giant stick nests); Egyptian and Spur-winged geese; Osprey; African Fish-Eagle; Black Crake; Purple Swamphen; the regal Gray Crowned-Crane (Uganda’s national bird); Senegal Thick-knee; Long-toed Lapwing; Spur-winged Plover; African Jacana; flocks of African Skimmer resting on the sandbanks; Malachite and Giant kingfishers and dashing Wire-tailed Swallows. Burrows in the riverbanks represent colonies of either colourful Red-throated Bee-eaters or querulous Pied Kingfishers.
The elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl is even a possibility here and elegant Red-necked Falcons frequent palm trees, which line the banks.
In addition to the birds, large numbers of huge Nile crocodiles; hippopotamus; African buffalo; vervet monkey and olive baboon are often seen at very close range, and herds of African elephants sometimes bath en masse in the shallows.
The vista point at the top of the Murchison Falls offers incredible views of the Victoria Nile boiling down the narrow gorge. Bare, rocky islets are favoured perches and breeding sites of Rock Pratincole. We should see large numbers of these attractive waders wheeling in the spray of the falls. Thick riverine forest in this vicinity is home to the magnificent White-crested Turaco, often considered the most beautiful member of its striking family; Double-toothed Barbet; Yellow-throated Greenbul; Spotted Morning-Thrush; Red-capped Robin-Chat; Brown-throated Wattle-eye; the localized Red-winged Grey Warbler and Purple-banded Sunbird.
This evening (and tomorrow evening) it will be worthwhile to embark on a night drive in search of one of Africa’s most spectacular birds: the Standard-winged Nightjar. Witnessing a male Standard-winged Nightjar fluttering up from the track, his bizarre standards trailing behind him, is likely to be a highlight of the trip.
Other possibilities include Spotted Thick-knee; Grayish Eagle-Owl; Northern White-faced Owl and Slender-tailed, Long-tailed, Plain and Swamp nightjars. Nocturnal mammals that we may encounter include Serval; White-tailed Mongoose; African Civet; Crested Porcupine; Blotched and Common genets and Uganda Grass-Hare.
Overnight at Fort Murchison Lodge or Paraa Safari Lodge.
Day 4: Budongo Forest at Kaniyo Pabide. Puvel’s illadopsis
Early this morning we will turn back south the short distance to the famous Budongo Forest.
This will be our first introduction to central African forest birding, and we will spend much of the day in the vast Budongo Forest Reserve, the largest natural forest area in East Africa. Our efforts will be concentrated on the Kaniyo Pabidi area in the southern sector of the Murchison Falls National Park, and the only known site in East Africa for Puvel’s Illadopsis.
We can expect to find this bird as well as a wide range of other forest species. We will have much of the day to try and find a good mix of widespread species and more local specialties such as Crested Guineafowl sporting their “punk hair-do’s”, White-crested Turaco, Chestnut-crowned Eremomela, Yellow & Grey Longbills, Olive-bellied Crombec, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Little Green Sunbird, Crested Malimbe and Red-headed Bluebill among others. Here are many other special birds with a West African origin: White-thighed Hornbill, Green-breasted Pitta, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Blue-breasted, Dwarf and Chocolate-backed Kingfishers, Yellow-crested and Brown-eared Woodpeckers, Yellowbill, Western Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-spotted, Hairy-breasted and Yellow-billed Barbets, Green Hylia, Buff-throated, Black-throated & Black-capped Apalises, Black-eared Ground-Thrush, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, the elusive Lemon-bellied Crombec, Crested and Red-headed Malimbes various forest starlings among others.
We will also be in prime area for a wide range of primates such as blue and red-tailed monkeys and black and white colobus – and if lucky chimpanzees (this area is home to Uganda’s largest population of chimpanzees).
Overnight at Masindi Hotel.
Day 5: Birding the Royal Mile
Today our birding will be centered on what we call “The Royal Mile,” a wide forestry track considered to be the country’s premier forest birding locality.
Among the numerous specials we hope to find include Buff-spotted Flufftail; Tambourine Dove; Yellowbill a skulking forest coucal; the three forest-dwelling kingfishers; Chocolate-backed, Blue-breasted and Dwarf; the huge White-thighed Hornbill; Yellow-spotted, Hairy-breasted and Yellow-billed barbets and their diminutive cousins, the tinkerbirds (Speckled, Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped all being likely); Western Black-headed Oriole; Green Hylia; Gray and Yellow longbills; the rarely encountered Uganda Wood-Warbler; Gray, Buff-throated, Black-throated, and the stunning Black-capped apalises; Rufous-crowned Eremomela; Green and elusive Lemon-bellied crombecs; African Forest-Flycatcher; Chestnut-capped Flycatcher; Purple-headed Glossy-Starling; Little Green, Green, Collared, Olive-bellied and the aberrant Gray-headed sunbirds and White-breasted Negrofinch.
There are many confusing forest greenbuls to test us and we shall work slowly through any flock that we encounter, looking for Plain, Gray, Yellow-whiskered, Slender-billed, Honeyguide, White-throated, Xavier’s, Red-tailed, and the striking Spotted greenbuls.
This is the best place in Uganda to find the beautiful Nahan’s Francolin. It is fairly commonly heard, but we will require luck and patience to see this secretive and near-endemic species.
We will search the undergrowth alongside the track for the numerous under storey skulkers, which may include Scaly-breasted, Brown and Pale-breasted illadopses; Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Fire-crested Alethe; Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush; Red-tailed Ant-Thrush; Yellow-browed and Olive-green camaropteras and Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher.
We will keep an eye on any openings in the forest canopy, as Cassin’s and Crowned hawk-eagles; White-throated Bee-eater and Cassin’s, Mottled and Sabine’s spinetails are all possible. The spinetails occasionally drink from a nearby forest pond, and here we also hope to find a pair of brilliant Shining-blue Kingfishers. Canopy flocks support Yellow-mantled Weaver, Crested and Red-headed malimbes, Rufous Thrush and Uganda Woodland-Warbler
The area around the park headquarters is the only site in East Africa for the elusive canopy-dwelling Ituri Batis.
Day 6: Masindi to Kibale Forest National Park
Today we will take a longish drive south from Masindi to Kibale.
If time allows we may have time for birding along the journey at the Rift Valley escarpment looking out for Vinaceous Dove, Black-billed Barbet, Cliff-chat, Foxy Cisticola, Red-winged Pytilia and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver.
Birding here and en route should continue to produce species not found elsewhere in East Africa and more akin to West African rainforest: Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Great Blue Turaco, Lizard Buzzard, Red-Chested Swallow, Joyful Greenbul, Masked Apalis and Green-headed Sunbird.
Kibale is an extensive national park, c760 sq.km, at an altitude of c.4,000′, protecting a large block of rainforest that offers excellent birding. It harbours the greatest variety and concentration of primates found anywhere in East Africa and is famous for its chimpanzees. Superb birds and primates combined with easy access, a good infrastructure and a variety of interesting activities make this forest a "must-see".
Bird life in Kibale is magnificent and prolific with over 335 species recorded: African Crowned-Eagle, Afep Pigeon, Red-winged Francolin, Black-billed Turaco, Narina Trogon, Black Bee-eater, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, African Pitta, Grey-winged Robin-chat, African Broadbill, Willcock’s & Thick-billed Honeyguides, Cassin’s Honeybird, Mountain Wagtail, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Petit’s Cuckoo-Shrike, Joyful & Honeyguide Greenbuls, Banded Prinia, Masked Apalis, Black-and-white Flycatcher, Pink-footed Puffback, Chestnut-winged Starling, Superb, Green-headed & Green-throated Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weaver are all possible specials of the area.
Overnight at Kibale Forest Camp or Primate Lodge Kibale.
Day 7-8: Kibale National Park
Early morning departure to Kibale National Park.
This is a rainforest which hosts over 12 species of primates, including chimpanzee, L’Hoests, red-tailed, blue monkey, red colobus, black and white colobus, grey-cheeked mangaby of the 12.
Among other birds you find here Scaly Francolin, Marsh Tchagra, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Green-backed Twinspot, Pittas, Bicoloured Mannikin, White-naped Pigeon, Afep Pigeon, Narina’s Trogon, Joyful Greenbul, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Black Bee-eater and many others. A nature walk at Kihingamy Wetland is rewarding.
This is home to Blue-headed Coucal, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Black-faced Rufous Warbler.
Lunch is included. Dinner and overnight at Kibale Forest Camp or Primates Lodge Kibale.
Day 9-10: Semliki National Park
After an early breakfast, we leave for Semliki Forest with our packed lunch for a whole day birding.
The forest is a lowland tropical rain forest about 700m asl. Sometimes in the rain season, some parts are flooded and therefore boots are necessary. However this doesn’t stop it from being the best forest for birding in Uganda.
This forest is a moist semi-deciduous forest that is home to Spot-breasted Ibis, Northern Bearded Scrub-robin, Capuchin Babbler, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Yellow-throated Green Cuckoo, White-bellied Kingfisher, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Black-winged Oriole, Red-eyed Puffback, Crested and Red-bellied Malimbe, Brown-crowned Eremomela, Zenker’s Honeyguide and African Piculet, black throated coucal, Congo serpent eagle, Grey throated rail, Eastern Bearded Greenbul, African pita, Rufus Sided and African Broadbill.
This is home to some of the regional endemics and West African Guinea-Congo biome endemics.
Overnight stay at Semliki Safari Lodge.
Day 11: Bwindi National Park
We leave after breakfast. We carry packed lunch and travel south birding to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. We bird through the seasonal Ishasha road – an area known for climbing lions.
We stay at Buhoma Community Rest camp or Engagi Lodge for three nights.
Day 12: Whole Day Birding in the Forest
Today after breakfast, we take our lunch packs and join the forest for the whole day birding.
Walking along forest trails is a wonderful natural experience with hundreds of colourful butterflies and areas of streams and tumbling waterfalls. Bwindi offers some of the best forest birding in Uganda.
Around the lodges and camps, look out for Black Sawwing, Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike, Black and White Shrike, African Blue Flycatcher, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Luhder’s, Bocages and many coloured Bush-shrikes, Mountain Greenbul, Black-billed, black necked, strange Weavers, Variable Sunbird and Grey-crowned Negrofinch.
On the main trail we enter the forest proper as it passes under huge trees and areas of lichen-lined trunks. Species recorded along the main track will be many; they could include crested guineafowl, black bee-eaters, olive pigeons, Fine banded woodpeckers, several species of tinkerbirds, barbets, greenbuls, starlings, warblers, akalats, flycatchers, and possibly Red-fronted Antpecker, Rufous chested Fluff tail, Red-chested Owlet, and Montane masked Apalis.
Another track takes us to the waterfall trail, a reliable area for Red-throated Alethe, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher and Kivu Ground Thrush, Cassin’s Hawk-eagle, Handsome Francolin, White-headed Wood-hoopoe and many other specialties. We also have a chance of locating primates such as L’Hoest’s blue and red-tailed monkeys and troops of chimpanzees.
Day 13: Gorilla Tracking
Today is a whole day gorilla tracking, we carry packed lunch.
Gorilla tracking depends on the movements of the gorillas in search for food. Walking varies from 20 minutes to a whole day. Note that these are mountain gorillas and therefore they live in the mountains.
The exercise therefore requires enough energy to go up and down the mountains including steep slopes. Porters are available from the surrounding community. They help to carry the bags and any heavy stuff from the visitors.
Above all gorilla tracking is a very captivating activity; it involves walking in the wilderness in search of these great apes. It can be a challenging activity; therefore physical fitness must be ensured.
Today we transfer to the southern part of Bwindi- Ruhija for an overnight stay.
Overnight at Ruhija Gorilla Friends or Trekkers Tavern Ruhija.
Day 14: Buhoma to Ruhija, North of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Today we will be moving from the lower forest biome to the seldom-visited higher forest in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
In scrubby areas beyond Buhoma, we will search for Ross’ Turaco; Rufous-necked Wryneck; Brown-backed Scrub-Robin; Bronze, Copper and Variable sunbirds; Baglafecht, Black-necked and Holub’s Golden weavers; Yellow Bishop; Village Indigobird and Black-throated Seed-eater. Further along the road, we will pass through “The Neck,’ another well-known birding locality. Here we will search for species such as Black Goshawk; Bronze-naped Pigeon; Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater; Cassin’s Honeyguide; Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike; White-chinned Prinia; the enigmatic Chapin’s Flycatcher; Mountain Wagtail; Pink-footed Puffback; the rare Tiny Sunbird and the attractive Brown-capped Weaver.
Even further up the road, cultivated areas provide feeding opportunities for many seedeaters. Our main targets here will be the highly sought-after Dusky Twinspot and Yellow-bellied, Black-headed and Black-crowned waxbills. African Stonechat; Streaky and Thick-billed seedeaters; African Citril and Cape Canary may also be found here. Noisy Chubb’s Cisticolas will mock us from deep within the bracken, and the beautiful Doherty’s Bushshrike can be lured out from the dense vegetation. Mackinnon’s Shrikes survey the road from high, exposed perches.
There are so many special birds at these elevations that we do not want to rush through. Thus we plan to stay at a simple, but well-organised private camp.
Two overnights at the Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort or Trekkers Tavern.
Day 15: Birding Ruhija – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Transfer to Kisoro
At the highest elevation bamboo forests, we will look out for African Black Duck and Mountain Wagtails in the small fast-flowing streams. Mountain and Augur buzzards; Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk; Rameron Pigeon; Brown-necked Parrot; Black-billed Turaco; Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo; White-headed Woodhoopoe; Western Green Tinkerbird; Olive Woodpecker; Thick-billed, Least, and the elusive Dwarf honeyguides; Black Sawwing; Gray Cuckoo-shrike; Eastern Mountain, Honeyguide, Red-tailed, Shelley’s and Yellow-streaked greenbuls; Olive Thrush; White-starred Robin; Stripe-breasted Tit; Mountain and the beautiful Gray-chested illadopses; African Hill Babbler (the local form often treated as a full species, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler); Black-faced, Ruwenzori, and Chestnut-throated apalises; Red-faced Woodland-Warbler; White-tailed Blue-Flycatcher; Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher; Ruwenzori Batis; Mountain Sooty Boubou; the rare Lagden’s Bushshrike; Sharpe’s Starling; Black-tailed Oriole; Strange Weaver, and Oriole Finch.
Flowering trees attract the incredible Purple-breasted Sunbird as well as Blue-headed and Regal sunbirds, all three being extremely beautiful Albertine Rift Endemics. Dusky, Red-faced and the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwings, amongst the most beautiful and sought-after of African seedeaters, are possible at Ruhija.
Day 16: Birding Mgahinga National Park
We start early after breakfast and with picnic lunch, drive to Ntebeko Camp from where we shall start our birding as we trek to one of the most scenic areas in Uganda.
We take the gorge trail that loops half way up Mt. Sabinyo, through a variety of montane habitats habouring the Dusky Turtle Dove, Rwenzori Turaco, Cape Robin-Chat, Kivu Ground Thrush, White-eyed Slaty and White Tailed Blue Flycatcher, Olive Wood-pecker, White-starred Robin, Mountain Yellow Warbler, White-napped Raven, Lagden’s Bush-Shrike, Yellow-crowned Canary, Streaky and Thick Billed Seedeater. On our birding today we shall have a bigger focus on the shy Shelly’s Crimson-wing among other birds.
Dinner and overnight stay at Chameleon Hill Lodge or Travelers Rest Hotel
Day 17: Birding in Ecuya Forest, Transfer to Lake Bunyonyi
After breakfast with our luggage’s and packed lunch, we transfer to Ecuya Forest for a full day bird watching activity, in search for the specialties that include the Mountain Hill Babbler, Ludher’s Bush Shrike, Northern Double Collared Sunbird and Black Faced Rufous Warbler among others. We latter drive on to Lake Bunyonyi.
Overnight at Bird’s Nest or Bunyonyi Resort.
Day 18: Departure
Birding as we drive to Kampala and departure.
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