Sunday, March 20, 2011

Uganda - morning, Sunday March 6th - Mabamba Swamp

We've been planning on taking a birding holiday abroad sometime in the first few months of 2011 for over a year. Our initial plan was to use some of my air miles from work travel to go to Costa Rica, but we couldn't get anything like a sensible schedule, so we looked back at our plans and picked the next highest choice, Uganda. Luckily for us we could get seats (with BA) so went ahead and booked the trip. The next step was to choose a safari/tour company. Kenya taught us that while a company will say they do bird-watching, it's best to locate specialists - we didn't fancy another 'normal' safari with us expected to make do around the edges. Luckily, such a company exists in the form of Bird Uganda Safaris ( and they quickly responded to my request, providing a detailed schedule around locations we'd identified from the research we'd done in advance.

All we had to do then was to prepare ourselves for the holiday and, having just got back from the short-trip to the USA (see earlier posts), get everything ready for the early morning departure to Entebbe.

We arrived late evening and were met by our driver, Confidence, who took us to our hotel to settle in for the night. Harriet, our guide, joined us briefly and we agreed an early start on Sunday morning to head to Mabamba Swamp for our first birding in Uganda. I personally wouldn't recommend where we stayed, the Entebbe Traveller's Inn, as it's the only place we stayed in Uganda that didn't provide a mosquito net and there was nothing we could use to hang the one we'd bought along with us. We were duly dined on by the various beasties in the room during the night and managed just a couple of hours of fitful sleep in the heat of an African night.

The drive from Entebbe to Mabamba Swamp wasn't too long so with the pre-dawn alarm and drive we arrived in the first light of the day, sitting out the ominous rain in the tour bus (bus in the sense it's not a van and holds about 10 people, though frankly 6-8 is probably the maximum comfortable load). The timing of our holiday coincided with the change from the long dry season to the rainy season. We'd been assured the weather wouldn't prove an issue but were worried by this start.

It did indeed stop raining, however, and immediately a number of birds were visible including Slender-billed Weavers:

a female above, a male below:

Mosque Swallows:

The Mosque Swallow is much bigger than the Barn Swallow, quite a surprise when you first see one. A fabulous bird is the Great Blue Turaco:

We boarded a boat being paddled by two locals - a swamp guide and a paddler/assistant - to be propelled quietly out into the swamp in search of a Ugandan signature species, the Shoebill.

Birds encountered included the Yellow-billed Duck:

Spur-winged Goose:

Malachite Kingfisher:

Little Egret:
A fabulous species next, Grey Crowned Cranes, Uganda's National Bird:
Finally we did indeed locate a Shoebill, though relatively inaccessible, some dragging of the boat through reeds and careful balancing yielded some reasonable images:

Back on land we added some more species to the growing holiday list, including Grey-headed Kingfisher:

Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters (often seen together as pairs):

A fabulous bird that was moving around the boat area was the Black-headed Gonolek:

Finally popping-up at the top of a tree:

A lot of Africa's birds are very distinctive and colourful and for me the Gonoleks really do epitomise the vibrancy of the species present.
We headed from the boat area to a stop along the track back towards Entebbe (there are paved roads in Uganda but the vast majority are hardened-mud tracks, often continuously rutted and with significant erosion and wear, leading to some uncomfortable trips until you've adjusted!) and stopped at a public shore area, to pick-up Orange Weaver:

And to watch the Black-headed Weavers (Village Weavers) starting to build nests:

It was here that it became apparent that wherever we went we were going to be targeted as mobile cash machines, with locals offering to guide for us, spotting birds we'd already seen, etc. This varied throughout the holiday from tip oriented behaviour to youngsters shouting 'give me money' at us as we passed and people pleading with us when we stopped to look at birds and animals as we moved around the country. We do and did tip frequently and appropriately but it should be noted that prices rise, beers get more expensive and there's a general 'tourist tax' wherever your travel. All that said, having pre-paid the tour, lodging and meals, we spent less than £200 over the two-weeks on drinks, gifts, general tips (excepting our driver and guide who we tipped at the end of the trip), taxes, bribes, etc.
A fly-over bird was this male Black-and-White Casqued Hornbill:

It settled with a female:

Mabamba Swamp was a great start to the trip and we settled back onto the bus for the drive to Lake Mburo National Park.

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Blogger Edward Birch said...

Hello again Michael - We were interested on your comments about leaving tips -could you give us a clue about the amounts you were tipping to various people please? Was this in US Dollars or Ugandan Shillings?

4:20 pm  
Blogger Michael said...


Thanks for the positive feedback, it's much appreciated! We tipped in Shillings. I very quickly realised I had insufficient local currency in small denominations. That's easily fixed though with a trip to an ATM. Tips ranged from USD 15 to a guide for a prolonged walk/boat trip to USD 1.5 (equivalent) for service, etc. We relied our main (birding) guide for advice along the way. When you add it all up it remains a fraction of the overall cost but is genuinely appreciated. Safe travels and good birding!

7:07 pm  

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