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Where the Rainforest Meets the Savanna Uganda February 2018




Many years ago, I was very lucky to be taken on a brief flying visit to Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda with my parents, some years later we decided to return for a proper tour of Uganda in 1997. Although that was a great trip our visits to one or two places didn’t go quite according to plan and also in those days, you couldn’t really visit Kidepo National Park in the far north. Kidepo NP is somewhere that I have always wanted to visit and the few reports here covering the park had simply confirmed that this was somewhere that I had to get to. Eventually after 20 years the lure of visiting Kidepo and returning to Murchison Falls and Kibale Forest became too great, the time had come to return to Uganda to visit some new places and go back for I hoped a more slightly successful visit to some of the places we’d been before.


Before launching into the actual main report, in one of my earlier trip reports on Guyana in South America I started off with a potted history of the country and I thought I would do the same here with this report, as it will be relevant to the rest of the report. I hope that the following history is broadly accurate but in trying to keep it brief I may have missed out some details, having decided to write this part, I then needed to work out how to post this section as I was worried that it would be a lot of text without any photos. I find large chunks of text with no photos or illustrations of any kind, slightly off-putting, so with help from Google Earth and Photoshop I’ve created some maps and then I found a few relevant photos from previous East African safaris to put in, alongside a couple from this safari.



The Nile


Part 1 a little bit of history


Exploration the search for the source of the Nile


In the 19th century the Royal Geographic society which was founded in London in 1830, was determined to solve one of the great geographical mysteries of the day, the location of the source of the White Nile. The Nile is the world’s longest river and has two major branches the White and the Blue Niles, these join together to form the main Nile River at Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The source of the Blue Nile had already been found in 1770, a Scot’s explorer James Bruce had travelled to Ethiopia in 1768 and after spending 2 years in the country, had travelled up to the source of the river near Lake Tana. He may not in fact, have been the first European to have reached this spot, but the credit for locating the source has generally gone to him. Though not so at the time, on returning to Britain his accounts of his adventures in Ethiopia, were considered so fantastical that no one believed him and he was subjected to ridicule. He held off writing a book of his adventures until 1790 and then struggled to find a publisher, only later was it confirmed by others who travelled there, that his descriptions of Ethiopia were accurate. Bruce conceded that the Blue Nile was the smaller of the two branches of the Nile, but regarded it as the source of the Nile that was known to the Ancients. Where the source of the White Nile was, was still a mystery, the assumption was that it rose somewhere in Central Africa, legend had it, that its source lay in the fabled Mountains of the Moon. Or perhaps it emptied out of some vast inland sea that was rumoured to lie in the interior of Africa.




Another possibility that had been considered, was that the Niger West Africa’s largest river, might connect to the Nile, all that was really known to Europeans in the early 19th century was that the Niger flowed east through the Sahel on the edge of the Sahara, whether it flowed south to the Atlantic, joined the Congo River, flowed into Lake Chad or even somehow linked to the Nile was unknown. Following the death of the Scottish explorer Mungo Park who was killed on his second expedition to the Niger River in 1806, just after discovering the river went south, in 1830 a Cornish explorer Richard Lander, travelled from the south coast up to where Park was killed (in what’s now Nigeria) and followed the river back down to the Atlantic, confirming that it flowed into the Gulf of Guinea. The Delta of the Niger is so vast and has such a maze of channels that none of the Europeans who’d been to this part of the West African coast, including Lander when he set off, had realised that it was the Niger’s delta. This discovery ruled out any link to the Nile. 


Burton and Speke


The RGS decided to send the explorer Richard Burton, to search for the source of the Nile, he asked John Hanning Speke to accompany him, this was a little surprising as their previous expedition together into Somalia had been a bit of a disaster. Their camp came under attack from a group of Somali Issa tribesmen, Burton saw Speke run from the back of his tent, mistakenly thinking he was trying to run away, he ordered him to stand firm, they and their men then bravely fought off their attackers, during the battle a spear was thrown that struck Burton’s face, going through both of his cheeks, although severely injured he remarkably survived. Speke had a difficult relationship with Burton after this, he was unable to forgive Burton for thinking he had tried to run away. Their instructions from the RGS, were to travel to Zanzibar on the East African coast and then journey inland, until they located the large lake, that was reputed to lie in the interior and which might prove to be the source of the Nile.




In 1856 they began their journey from Zanzibar, trekking across the centre of what is now Tanzania, following Arab slave trading routes, they eventually arrived at the shores of a huge lake, the world’s longest and second deepest lake known as Tanganyika.



There’s not a bad film from 1990 about Burton and Speke’s expedition called Mountains of the Moon, I haven’t seen it in a long time, all the African scenes were filmed in Kenya which I guess was easier then filming in Tanzania. Beautiful though Kenya is, one of the things that just slightly spoilt it for me is that when the two explorers and their entourage of porters finally reach Lake Tanganyika, they stumble out of a desert, down to the lake shore, because the sequence was shot at Lake Turkana which is surrounded by desert, whereas Lake Tanganyika certainly isn’t. As the following photos show the two lakes look just a little different.



Lake Turkana




The shores of Lake Tanganyika






What they now needed to know was, was this lake the source of the Nile, they’d heard that at the top end of the lake (in Burundi) there was a river the Rusizi, but did it flow into or out of the lake? No one had been able to give them an answer to this, Burton at this point had started to become seriously ill with malaria and Speke was suffering from some other illness, that had rendered him almost blind, rather than head north to find the answer, they decided to head back to Tabora in central Tanzania to recuperate. Fortuitously Speke recovered his eyesight and once he was fully well, he decided that he would travel north to look for another huge lake, known to the Arabs as Ukerewe, they had heard that this lake was just northeast of Lake Tanganyika. Burton was still too ill to travel, so he would stay behind, Speke in due course found himself on the shores of a vast lake, this he promptly renamed after his queen.



Lake Victoria


He felt certain having found Lake Victoria, that this was far more likely to be the source of the Nile than Lake Tanganyika, however, he didn’t have time to explore the lake and confirm this, so headed back south to re-join Burton. Having finally recovered from his malaria Burton travelled with Speke to Aden (now part of Yemen), but then perhaps unwisely allowed Speke to return to Britain alone.


Back in London Speke recounted their adventures and discoveries and informed everyone that Lake Victoria which he'd discovered, was the source of the White Nile. Burton on his return was very angry with Speke, feeling that they should have announced their findings together and also because he remained wedded to the idea, that Lake Tanganyika was the source. The RGS to resolve the matter, decided that Speke should lead a second expedition in 1860 to Lake Victoria, to see if the Nile really does flow from the Lake and if it is therefore the source. This time he would be accompanied by a Scotsman named James Grant. Like Speke, Grant was a hunter, both men have gazelles named after them (Speke's gazelle is confined to Somalia although it's possible that a few survive in Ethiopia), they found that Speke's assumption was correct when they discovered Ripon Falls where the Nile exits Lake Victoria.

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The Bakers


Just to be sure that they would finally get the answer to the question, in 1861 the RGS had dispatched another explorer Samuel Baker with instructions that he was to travel out to Sudan and then down the Nile and should rendezvous with Speke and Grant. Baker always travelled with his Hungarian wife Florence who he had rescued from a slave market where she was due to be sold to become a harem girl for the Ottoman Emperor. On meeting Speke and Grant at Gondokoro in South Sudan, he heard how they had confirmed that Lake Victoria was indeed the source and expressed his disappointment that they’d left nothing for him to discover. They informed the Bakers that they had heard that there was another large lake called Mwitanzige to the northwest of Lake Victoria and that the Nile flowed into this lake and then out again before going north into Sudan. They had tried to reach the lake to see for themselves, but in order to get to the lake, they had to pass through the Kingdom of Bunyoro (also called Bunyoro-Kitara), they visited and spent some time with Kamrasi the Omukama of Bunyoro seeking permission to cross his country, but he prevented them from carrying on and they had to turn back.




The Bakers approaching from the north were able to travel to the lake and are the first Europeans to have seen it, he renamed it Lake Albert after Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert who had just died.



Lake Albert


The Bakers confirmed that the Nile did indeed flow into and out of the lake and while exploring the Nile a short distance upstream of the lake they came across a large waterfall, which they named after Sir Roderick Murchison the President of the RGS.




While Speke was confident that he and Grant had settled the matter and shown that Lake Victoria was the source, they hadn’t in fact circumnavigated the lake. Burton was therefore still not satisfied and was unwilling to back down from his claim that Tanganyika was the source. To resolve the argument the RGS decided to hold a debate between the two explorers to be chaired by Dr Livingstone and the members would then decide. Speke just prior to the debate had returned to his estate in the country, one afternoon while out shooting gamebirds he apparently climbed over a drystone wall carrying his shotgun, his companions heard a loud bang from his direction but could not see him. When they ran over to investigate they found him mortally wounded having been shot, some people at the time suggested that he had committed suicide in order to avoid the debate, however as the shot had entered through his armpit this seems very unlikely. Even though he was a very experienced hunter, it’s more likely he was just being careless with his gun, because he had a lot on his mind and it was just a tragic accident.


Speke of course was broadly right about Lake Victoria being the source of the White Nile, while Burton was wrong, after their celebrated meeting at Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika the two great explorers David Livingstone and H.M. Stanley explored the top end of the lake and confirmed that the Ruzisi River flows in to and not out of the lake. The Ruzisi River in fact flows out of Lake Kivu just to the north and Lake Tanganyika is not in any way connected to Lake Victoria. Livingstone was convinced that another river called the Lualaba might link to the White Nile, but it was later proven to be a tributary of the Congo, he died exploring Lake Bangweolo in Zambia which he also wrongly believed might connect to the Nile. Speke was though in a sense also wrong, because having not travelled right around Lake Victoria he gave no consideration to the rivers that flow into the lake, the longest of these is the Kagera River which rises in the Nywunge Forest in western Rwanda, this is now considered to be the primary source. Later Stanley during his explorations circumnavigated Lake Victoria confirming Speke’s findings.





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All of this exploration inevitably paved the way for the colonisation of Uganda, the first attempt to lay claim to this territory did not in fact come from a European power but from an African one, Egypt. Egypt was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire but the Sultan’s power was by this time rather weak, the Sultan had appointed Ismael Pasha to be viceroy of Egypt granting him the hereditary title Khedive. Ismael decided that he would create a great African empire from the lands to the south in Sudan, his intention was then to keep going south and conquer all of the lands surrounding the Nile. Ismael did not trust his own people enough to think that they would be up to the task of creating his empire, so the Khedive hired outsiders to lead his conquests. To lead the conquest of Africa’s Great Lakes Region he chose the perfect man, the great explorer Samuel Baker, Khedive Ismael made him a Major General in the army and gave him the title Pasha appointing him governor of the new southern province of Equatoria. From there Baker Pasha would lead an army of Egyptian troops south to conquer the Kingdom of Bunyoro, by this time in Bunyoro the title of Omukama had passed from Kamrasi to his son Kabalega. Bunyoro had once been a great and powerful kingdom, one of the 5 Great Lakes kingdoms within what is now Uganda, the others are Toro (an offshoot of Bunyoro), Ankole, Busoga and the largest and most powerful Buganda, Bunyoro’s power had waned but the new king Kabalega was determined to restore its fortunes. He has been likened to Shaka the founder of the Zulu Nation because of the way in which he restructured Bunyoro’s army and set about expanding his kingdom. Baker mistakenly believed that the conquest of Bunyoro would be easy, he was swiftly proven wrong, he marched in, established a camp at Masindi a former capital of Bunyoro and annexed the kingdom for Egypt, Kabalega’s army attacked his garrison, his troops were routed and he was forced to retreat, he abandoned his plan to take over Bunyoro. His successors as governor of Equatoria General Gordon and Emin Pasha likewise failed to secure Bunyoro for the Egyptian empire.




Later in 1890 the British East Africa Company dispatched Captain Frederick Lugard to visit the Kingdom of Buganda. With two other Europeans, a detachment of African mercenary soldiers and a beaten up old Maxim gun he travelled overland from the coast to Buganda, to force the Kabaka Mwanga to make a deal that would allow them to establish a protectorate. There were already French and British missionaries operating in Buganda leading to some concern that the French might try make a move on Buganda and then there were the Germans, the German explorer and colonial agent Carl Peters also happened to be visiting Mwanga at the time and had already persuaded the Kabaka to sign a treaty in favour of the Germans, however, he beat a very hasty retreat when he saw Lugard and his little army arrive.




The Maxim gun they had brought was very unreliable, hardly surprising, given that few years before H. M. Stanley had dragged the very same gun through the Congo rainforest, on his mad expedition to Equatoria to relieve Emin Pasha, who was being besieged by the so called Mad Mahdi and his Sudanese fanatics. Lugard set up camp and then built a fort on a hill opposite Buganda’s capital Mengo, they called this hill the Hill of the Impala as these antelopes were particularly common in the area, it had been a favourite hunting ground of the Kabaka’s, this name was translated into Luganda as Akasozi K’empala in time this was shortened to Kampala. Although it wasn’t reliable, the Maxim gun was still persuasive and Mwanga agreed to Lugard’s terms and signed the treaty that eventually led to the creation of the Uganda Protectorate in 1894. Buganda simply means Land of the Baganda, in Kiswahili they drop the ‘B’ so Uganda is the Kiswahili name for the kingdom and since Lugard and his men had come from the east where Kiswahili is spoken, this was then adopted as the name of the country.



Kampala looks a little different today


Meanwhile Kabalega in his attempts to restore his kingdom and make it the powerful nation that it once was, had conquered the breakaway Kingdom of Toro and reincorporated it in to Bunyoro. The heir to the throne of Toro, Prince Kasagama escaped and was living in exile in Ankole, in 1891 Captain Lugard signed a treaty with the prince and then invaded Toro throwing out Kabalega, allowing the prince to crowned as the new Omukama of Toro.  Lugard left Uganda and was replaced by James Macdonald in 1893 as the new commissioner of the Uganda Protectorate, he was determined that Kabalega had to be got rid off and proposed a full-scale invasion of Bunyoro. Samuel Baker after his humiliating defeat, had done a very successful job of blackening Kabalega’s name making him out to be an evil despot, with no redeeming features. In December 1893, Col. Henry Colville led a war party to attack Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro. Colville’s party included eight British officers, 450 Nubian (Sudanese) troops and an estimated 20,000 Baganda infantrymen armed with guns and, in some cases, spears. Inevitably Colville’s superior force defeated Kabalega’s Banyoro soldiers, however, Kabalega himself escaped and avoided capture and proceeded to wage a guerrilla war against the colonial occupiers.



King Kabalega escaped through the Budongo Forest


In 1897 Mwanga the Kabaka of Buganda decided to rebel against the British, unfortunately for him, his chiefs decided to side with the British forces who quickly put down the rebellion. Mwanga fled and joined up with Kabalega to fight the British, eventually they were both captured together in early 1899, during his capture Kabalega was shot through the arm which then had to be amputated. Kabalega and Mwanga were both shipped off to exile in the Seychelles, Mwanga died in exile in 1903, after 23 years in exile, Kabalega who had been taught to read and write and had converted to Christianity was allowed to return to Uganda, but he died before he reached Bunyoro at around the age of 70.


Britain then extended its rule, to encompass areas of northern Uganda such as Karamoja. The southern most province of the Egyptian empire Equatoria included a large are to the west of the Nile at the northern end of Lake Albert, Samuel Baker had secured this area in an effort to open it up to commerce and end the slave trade. In 1882 the Khedive Ismael having amassed a massive foreign debt, was forced to abdicate by the ‘Great Powers’ who had become more and more involved in Egypt, because of the Suez Canal. He was replaced by his son Tewfik Pasha, when a rebellion was started against his rule British troops were sent in to support the new Khedive, this led to Britain effectively taking over Egypt, Sudan then became the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan administered jointly, but in reality, it was now British territory or would be, once we’d defeated the Mahdi. We were at the time desperate to keep the French away from the Nile, as they were trying to link their colonies in Western and Central Africa to the Nile and at the same time King Leopold of Belgium, was desperate to have a bit of the Nile. The great empire builder Cecil Rhodes famously wanted to build a railway from the Cape to Cairo but there was one problem, Britain didn’t at this time, possess any of the territory in between Zambia and Uganda.


As a solution, we decided to make a deal with the Leopold, we would lease him a large portion of Equatoria west of the Nile, in exchange they would give us a 25 km strip linking the northern end of Lake Tanganyika to Lake Albert, it would thus in theory be possible to run a railway line from the Cape up to northern Zambia to Lake Tanganyika, passengers and or cargo would then be boated up the lake and the railway line would carry on from the northern end of the lake up to Cairo. Giving Leopold territory on the Nile would help to prevent the French getting their hands on it and the land was only leased so we would eventually get it back. While we never actually acquired the land from the Congo Free State and the railway was never build, Leopold did get his land by the west of the Nile, this area had come to be known as the Lado Enclave, Leopold had planned to use the territory as a base from which his troops could conquer Khartoum, but he never realised this ambition. The Lado Enclave would remain in his possession until his death in 1909, when the lease then expired.




After reclaiming the Lado Enclave In 1910 the southern part was added to Uganda to become West Nile province; the northern part was added to South Sudan.


It used to be home to vast herds of elephants as well as Northern White Rhinos, unfortunately there was a period of lawlessness for a few years when Belgian troops had pulled out of the area, but Britain had not taken over. White hunters and adventurers from all over the world descended on the Lado Enclave and massacred the elephants killing them by the thousands. One of the most famous of the ivory hunters to go there, was W. M. D. Karamojo Bell. So serious was the slaughter that the matter was actually raised in the British Parliament.


The Lado Enclave—Destruction of Elephants.




Savanna Elephant by the Nile




Edited by inyathi
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Wow - what a history lesson @inyathi.    Curious to see your treatment of Idi Amin dada ...


And I'm really looking forward to the trip report proper.  


Is there a reason you skipped Budongo Forest and the "Royal Mile"?    I would have thought that was de rigeur for a serious bird enthusiast.


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@offshorebirder Thanks I will reveal the full itinerary quite shortly, I was going put it at the beginning but then changed my mind and decided to save it for part 2, but yes I did follow in King Kabalega's footsteps through Budongo. 


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Game Warden

I spoke a few days back about every day being an education on Safaritalk... I can only reiterate my own words again here in @inyathi's topic. Thank you to you all for sharing your encyclopedic knowledge of Africa.






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Independence to Present Day


Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962. For some reason someone had come up with the daft idea that rather than have an entirely federal Uganda, only the Kingdom of Buganda should be a fully autonomous federal state, the other kingdoms and provinces should only have partial autonomy. Not doubt this was decided because the Baganda are the largest ethnic group, however, it was a clear recipe for disaster. Milton Obote was elected prime minister and the following year 1963 the Kabaka of Buganda, Mutesa II (one of his first names was Frederick so he was known affectionately in the UK as King Freddie) was elected President. This arrangement didn’t last long, Obote was neither a monarchist nor much of a democrat, he had only accepted Mutesa as president, because he had been forced to. Back in 1893 when Col Colville was preparing to invade the Kingdom of Bunyoro, he had promised the Baganda that in exchange for their support, all of the land in Bunyoro south of a river called the Kafu or Kabi would be given to them, so after the conquest this land became part of Buganda. In 1964 Obote decided that this land comprising two counties should be returned to Bunyoro and that their people should be given a referendum to decide the matter, the people voted for the land to be returned to Bunyoro. This helped to create a major rift between Obote and the president, since Mutesa was still the Kabaka of Buganda and had to sign the documents ceding the land back to Bunyoro, a move that would not go down well with the Baganda. In 1966 Obote fearing that members of his party were intending to remove him, suspended the constitution and made himself in effect the absolute ruler of Uganda, banning all opposition parties. Mutesa having been removed from his position as president appealed to the UN, in response a detachment of the army led by General Idi Amin stormed the Kabaka’s palace, Mutesa managed to escape and made it out of the country to live in exile in the UK. A large number of Baganda who had assembled outside the Kabaka’s palace, in an attempt to defend their king were rounded up and disappeared allegedly many of them were thrown off the top of Murchison Falls.  In 1967 Obote abolished all of Uganda’s monarchies.




A few years later in 1971 while Obote was away at a Commonwealth meeting, General Idi Amin the commander of the army staged a coup, knowing that Obote was intending to arrest him for misappropriating funds. This news was met with jubilation by the Ugandan people, glad that the hated Obote had been removed, but their joy was very short lived. Idi Amin or to give him his full self-awarded title “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” delivered 8 years of brutal terror that left an estimated 300,000 dead and completely destroyed Uganda’s economy, in large part because of his decision to throw out the country’s Asian community. It’s quite likely that he gave himself all of those ridiculous titles, so as to reinforce the image that he was a bit of a buffoon, in the hope that people wouldn’t realise what a brutal monster he was. However, the chaos and destruction he was causing was too obvious to hide, recently the British Politician Lord Owen, admitted that when he was the Foreign Secretary in the late 70s, he approached MI6 to see what they thought of the idea of assassinating Amin, their response was pretty much we don’t do that sort of thing, and the idea was dropped.


In February 1977, the Minister of Land, Housing and Physical Planning Erinayo Wilson Oryema, together with Archbishop Janani Luwum and Interior Minister Charles Oboth Ofumbi were arrested for their part in an alleged coup and died shortly after. One of Erinayo Oryema’s sons aged 24 escaped the country into Kenya hidden in the boot of car, once in exile he went on to become a successful musician.



In 1979 in part probably to take people’s mind of the economy and just the mess he’d made of the country, Amin decided that the British had drawn the borders of Uganda in the wrong places and that a large part of north western Tanzania known as the Kagera Salient in between Lake Victoria and Rwanda should have been in Uganda, so he invaded and conquered it.


Amin’s predecessor Obote was living in exile in Tanzania and many Ugandans who had in some way opposed Amin and even tried to fight his regime had also fled into Tanzania. The president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere summoned the leaders of the various Ugandan exile groups, this included Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Tito Okello amongst others, to a meeting in Arusha, he persuaded them to unite and found a movement and a guerrilla army called the UNLA the Ugandan National Liberation Army. The Tanzanian People’s Defence Force (TPDF) and UNLA then threw Amin’s troops out of Kagera and marched on into Uganda, Nyerere had decided that Amin had to go, the OAU as it was then, now just called the AU, did not support Tanzania’s action. The TPDF and UNLA ultimately succeeded in ousting Idi Amin, despite the fact that he was backed by Libyan troops sent by Colonel Gadhafi, the Libyans weren’t impressed having expected that they were really just there as reinforcements, when they found that they were in fact at the front doing much of the serious fighting. The TPDF drove Amin and his troops out capturing Kampala, they then carried on northwards pursuing Amin back towards his homeland in West Nile, they pursued the retreating Ugandan troops through Murchison Falls National Park. Amin though got away, he was rescued by the Libyans and went into exile in Jeddah in the Gulf where he eventually died.     


After several flawed elections in 1980 Obote was voted back in, Museveni was incensed by this and in 1981 took to the bush establishing a new liberation army the NRA National Resistance Army.  As the NRA grew in strength largely because of the people’s hatred of Obote, they started to win more and more ground when it became clear in 1985, that the NRA would soon be marching on Kampala, several leaders of UNLF/UNLA notably General Tito Okello decided to oust Obote establishing a military junta, Okello hoped that he could persuade Museveni to join his new regime, but Museveni refused and carried on the war. In 1986 he succeeded in driving Okello and his regime out forcing them to flee north. It is estimated that during Obote’s second run as president around 500,000 people were killed.  


Having ousted Okello and his military junta, Museveni was installed as president. He is clearly a very smart guy, he invited Ugandan Asians to return to the country if they wished and restored the country’s monarchies, of course he made sure that their power would only be ceremonial. This means that Buganda has its Kabaka and Bunyoro and Toro have their Omukamas, the Kingdom of Ankole however, was I understand too divided and couldn’t agree on who should be king so they have not restored their monarchy, likewise Busoga doesn’t have a king. This move won Museveni an awful lot of goodwill amongst the people of Bunyoro, Toro and Buganda. Yoweri Museveni has generally done a good job of rebuilding Uganda, but he has become more authoritarian over the years and increasingly intolerant of any opposition and is regrettably still in power after 32 years, he really should learn from Mugabe’s fait and retire before the goodwill has gone.


That’s the history lesson over, now on to Part 2 the actual report

Edited by inyathi
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Thanks for taking the time to put together the background information. I find it very interesting. Look forward to the rest of your report.

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Part 2 On Safari



London-Addis-Entebbe on Ethiopian


Day 1 Afternoon and night in Entebbe

Day 2 flight to Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve for 3 nights

Day 3-4 TSWR

Day 5 drive to Kibale Forest for 3 nights taking the scenic route via Semuliki NP and Fort Portal

Day 6-7 Bigodi Swamp and Kibale Forest

Day 8 drive to Masindi for 2 nights

Day 9 Budongo Forest

Day 10 drive to Murchison Falls National Park for 4 nights

Day 11-13 MFNP

Day 14 Fly to Kidepo National Park for 5 nights

Day 15-18 Kidepo

Day 19 Fly to Entebbe

Day 20 Morning Entebbe afternoon fly Addis-London



Map of our route


With no direct flights to Uganda from the UK, it was a choice of going either via Nariobi or via Addis Ababa, we went for the latter option. After flying Ethiopian twice going to Chad, I was very happy to fly with them again, however, there are a couple of drawbacks, the first one, might seem a slightly odd thing to say about a long-haul flight and that is that, the London to Addis flight is just a bit too short. The problem is that it’s night flight and it’s only 7 hrs 35 minutes leaving LHR at 21:00 and arriving in ADD at 06:35, the problem with this, is that if you opt to have dinner which is served soon after take off and then breakfast, sometime before landing, this cuts down period in which you can try to sleep, making for a quite short night. Especially if you’re not that good at sleeping on planes or if you do as I usually do and decide to watch a movie, while you wait for the food to arrive, so that you're then still watching the film some time after you've finished your meal.




Approaching Addis Ababa







The second drawback is Bole International Airport, when you’re sat on the flight and you decide to watch a movie, they show you an advertisement, telling you how Ethiopian is now the biggest airline in Africa and they own half of Air Malawi and will fly you anywhere on the continent etc, etc, you think how impressive and then you arrive at Bole. They may be Africa’s biggest airline and their service may be pretty good, but their hub airport which is not run by them, is pretty horrendous or it can be. On my Chad trips, I didn’t have that much of a problem and found the airport to be fine, but this time, I was inclined to agree with all of the online reviews, which almost universally say the airline is great, but the airport sucks, the problem is it is really just far too small, for an airline that flies to every corner of Africa and beyond, at busy times of day, it gets seriously crowded. They also operate this curious system, whereby sometimes when you enter the airport from your flight, they direct you off up a passage that takes straight to the departure area. You are then effectively shut off from the shops, lounges etc, which are the other side of largely glass wall, if you want to get out and it’s busy, you have to fight your way through the crowd and walk pretty much the length of the hall to find the exit, all the way along it’s just entrances where people are coming in through security.


When you go down stairs, to where the actual departure gates, for African flights are, it’s complete chaos, the gate is divided into zones, so you have to check your boarding card, to find the number of your zone, this tells you which queue to join, when it’s time to board. We were supposed to be in zone 1, but the signs didn’t have zone 1 on them, so it was a case of assuming by process of elimination, that we were in the right queue, they board several flights at the same time and you all queue right next to each other, to get out to your different buses. It struck me that if you were bit switched off, it would quite easy to end up in the wrong queue and get on the wrong bus and find you’re headed for a plane to Kinshasa instead of Entebbe. I hadn’t realised until I’d been queuing for a short while, that the people standing right next to me in the next-door line were going to Kinshasa. I was confident that we were in the right line, but, when I got the chance I would try to have look at someone else's boarding card, just for confirmation, someone did ask me if we were going to Entebbe, because he wasn't sure he was in the right line. I’m not quite sure how, but somehow, they manage to make this work.


On daytime flights I always try to have a window seat, if I think I might get a good view of Africa or wherever I'm flying over, if I get some good enough aerial shots, I then try to work out the location from Google Earth, if I don't know where we were at the time.



I believe this is the Kawalasee River near Lake Turkana in Kenya



Lake Bisina in Uganda from the air




Approaching Entebbe



The shores of Lake Victoria



  Entebbe Airport


The relative short night on the plane, just about guarantees that when you finally get to your destination, you are really pretty tired, our flight to Entebbe landed around 12:30, rather than head straight off on safari, we’d decided to stay the night in Entebbe and set off in the morning. When it comes to getting a Ugandan visa, they have an amazing system, you apply for the visa online and then get the visa at the airport, when you arrive. When I applied, I couldn’t believe how efficient it was, you simply scan the information page of your passport and then your yellow fever certificate, fill in the online form on their website, upload the scans and pay a small fee, I think I applied sometime just after 19:00 in the evening and by about 13:00 or so the next day, they’d okayed my visa and sent me the letter, that you need to print out and present at the airport. This was incredibly quick, however, queuing at the airport to get to the immigration desk, was not so quick, processing everyone’s visa took quite a long time.


We’d opted to stay at the Protea Hotel (Marriot), this is only minutes from the airport on the shores of Lake Victoria, it’s at the end of the road in and out of the airport, just beyond the boundary of the old airport, where the famous Israeli Raid on Entebbe took place. I don’t recall the exact time that we arrived there. but I would think it was sometime after 14:00, the hotel is not a bad place to relax for a few hours. it has a nice garden, a big swimming pool for those who want one and nice views out over Lake Victoria. Depending on where you are intending to go, it is perfectly possible after arriving on Ethiopian. to head straight off and not stay in Entebbe, you could certainly drive to Kibale Forest or even to Toro Semliki, where we were headed, or perhaps to Lake Mburo NP. We were flying, but It’s apparently only around 4hrs drive to Toro Semliki, so you should be able to get there before sundown and have time to check-in before it’s dark. If you to want to go straight there, you would have to drive, because the afternoon flight on Aerolink is at 12:45, so it would have left, long before you’d cleared immigration. However, for us catching up on some sleep and spending a little bit of time watching the marabou storks and other birds in the garden and on the lake made more sense, than immediately setting off, on a quite long car journey.





A little way along the shore of the lake is a club where local residents of Entebbe like to swim and generally have fun in Lake Victoria 



Pied Kingfisher



Things have changed slightly on the lake since Speke's day



Marabou stork doing an impression of a pterodactyl




We chose to spend the whole afternoon at the hotel, but if you want to do some slightly more serious birding, you could arrange to visit the Botanical Gardens. I did this on my last visit, but on that occasion, I was staying at the Lake Victoria Hotel, which was within a fairly short walking distance of the gardens, from the Protea I’m sure you could walk, if you really wanted to, but it must be a couple of miles so ideally a bit too far. Also, if you do walk there, you will get pestered by locals offering their services as guides or asking if you can help them to pay their college fees and that sort of thing. At the gardens as well as a variety of good birds like Ross’s and Great Blue Turacos, you can see Guereza (black and white) Colobus and Red-tailed and Vervet monkeys, it's quite a good introduction to Ugandan birds and wildlife. Unless you are staying somewhere very close to the gardens, I would suggest it’s better to arrange to be driven there.


The food at the Protea was really pretty good, but then you can’t go too far wrong with fish and chips, when you’re right next to Lake Victoria, my only complaint would be that the service was a little slow.

Edited by inyathi
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The new like function is interesting. I will use every button @inyathi just because I can. Very interesting trip and I look forward to reading about it.

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Very educational start and fantastic timing as I finish my planning for my January trip and can only read @pault Uganda trip report so many times in preparation!  One question @inyathi for me is about the yellow fever certificate. I got my shot more than 10 years ago and since the shot is now considered good for life how strict are they going to be on my expired certificate. Is it now impossible to apply online and should I just hope for the best at the airport and hope they accept my certificate. 


This is also my second time to Uganda but will be my first time to Kidepo so I'm very curious about your experience there.

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A few years ago, I had to go and get an unnecessary yellow fever booster jab ahead of my last Chad safari, because my certificate had just expired and while it was known that the jab lasts a lifetime, the new rules from the WHO hadn’t yet come in. My local surgery was very reluctant to give me the jab because it was medically unnecessary, I had to talk them round because I feared I might not get my visa. Then when I arrived at the airport in N’Djamena and was getting my visa on arrival, the blasted Chadians never even looked at my certificate. So, the booster jab I’d had really was unnecessary.


The new rules have now come into force pretty much everywhere, so as long you have YF certificates the date won’t matter, I don't think you'll have any problem with your online Ugandan visa application, I wouldn’t worry about it.

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@inyathi thanks so much for the very concise history lesson.


I'm looking forward to your TR as the itinerary promises some adventure in little-visited parts of Uganda.

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On our first morning, we would be flying from Entebbe over to Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve, this is not a particularly long flight, but even though the hotel is essentially right at the airport, it did necessitate an early start, too early for a proper breakfast, as we had leave around 06:00 for the flight which was at 07:45. We were provided with a packed breakfast, to either eat in the room or take with us to the airport. On the road just short of the airport entrance, you pass through a security checkpoint, sometimes they just wave your car through, sometimes they make you get out and walk, so they can have a better look at you. Uganda still has a significant number of troops in Somalia, fighting al Shabab and they have as a result had a few terrorist incidents at home, so they take security, very seriously, when you drive into the hotel car park, they check under the car with a mirror. Entebbe Airport has this slightly unfortunate arrangement, that having trolleyed you bags over from the carpark to the terminal, they then have to be unloaded and carried up a couple of flights of stairs and then put back on a trolley, to get to the entrance into the departures hall of the terminal building.



Tea plantations in western Uganda 


We flew over a few remnant patches of rainforest on the way, some of them very small, some were rather larger, sadly some of these forest patches clearly contained areas that had been converted into eucalyptus plantations.



One of the larger patches of Rainforest


Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, is located under the escarpment of the Western Rift Valley at the south end of Lake Albert, up against the border with the DRC, this makes for quite a dramatic flight, as you suddenly arrive at the edge of the Rift and drop down into the valley below. The area of the reserve did have a reasonable population of people living in it, until the end of the 19th century when there was epidemic of sleeping sickness, between 1898 and 1915 the population was substantially reduced, prompting the colonial administration, to remove the surviving people to somewhere healthier. Once almost all of the people had been moved, the population of wildlife inevitably increased, notably Uganda Kob, so it was decided that the area would be the perfect place for a game reserve and in 1929 the colonial authorities created Toro Game Reserve. Since it was established the name has been changed several times, but is now Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve. By the 1960s the reserve had become one of the most popular tourist destinations in East Africa, due to the fact that number of kob had increased to 20,000 supporting the largest population of lions in Uganda. Unfortunately, the reserves fortunes took a major turn for the worse at the end of the 70s, during the Tanzania/Uganda war, the reserve area had become a battleground. The TPDF who were not well paid, took the line they were doing Uganda a favour, by getting rid of Idi Amin and so they would make the Ugandans, pay by taking whatever they could, they looted the country. The loot that Toro-Semliki had to offer was bushmeat, they slaughtered vast numbers of kob and other animals, like hartebeest and buffaloes, the carcasses were loaded on to army trucks and then driven down to Tanzania to be sold in markets there. They also of course, killed large numbers of elephants for their ivory, this large-scale slaughter by the TPDF and then by local or Congolese poachers, from over the border after the war, when the area was still lawless, resulted in the local extinction of the Jackson’s or Lelwel Hartebeest, that had lived in the park, it’s thought they disappeared in the 1980s.


In the 1990s the reserve became a battleground once more, between the army (UPDF) and a rebel movement based in the Congo called the Allied Democratic Front, this badly effected the recovery of the wildlife and the development of tourism in Toro-Semliki. The significant reduction in the herbivore population, had a major impact on the reserve’s lions, their real downfall though was the arrival of pastoralists, who have moved to the area to graze their cattle in the reserve, it appears that they have killed off the last of Toro’s lions. In 1978 there were 28 lions in T-SWR, a report from 1993 of a survey of the kob population, put the number of lions at just 5, 2 males and 3 females. The kob population was found to be only around 100, a catastrophic decline from 20,000, so it’s no surprise there were only 5 lions left, with so few kob, hunting the local villagers’ livestock was far easier for the lions, sealing their fate. Soon after they had disappeared, some new lions then arrived in T-SWR, it’s thought that they may have come from Virunga NP over the border in DRC but they inevitably didn’t last long and were soon killed, there are no lions in T-SWR today.


Current Status of Uganda Kob (Kobus kob thomasi Neumann) in Toro Game Reserve, Uganda


That’s the bad news about T-SWR over with, now for the good news, you might question why you should visit Toro-Semliki, given the impact of poaching and the loss of lions, after all it is quite off the beaten track and if you don’t have too much time, why make the effort to go there. I hope that my photos will illustrate, just why you should consider going. There was a moment when it looked like, Toro-Semliki might be degazetted and lost entirely, but thankfully the decision was taken to save the reserve and the driving force for this would be the reintroduction of tourism, with the construction of a new lodge.




Tourists of course could really only start to visit, once the reserve was safe and the threat from the ADF had been dealt with. Since tourists have started to comeback and UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) has really stepped up the protection of the reserve, wildlife numbers have recovered significantly, such that there are now thousands of kob once more, although still not as many as there once were. Toro-Semliki really inspired the title of this report as it is located at the point where the rainforests of the Congo Basin, meet the savannas of East Africa, this for me is what makes it a truly fascinating place, because it has a mix of fauna, characteristic of these two habitats. Besides Uganda Kob and Defassa Waterbuck, the reserve has both Savanna and Forest Elephants and apparently hybrids, Common Warthogs on the savanna and Giant Forest Hogs in the forest areas, Olive Baboons and Tantalus Monkeys, but then also forest monkeys like Guereza Colobus and Red-tailed Monkeys, plus a number of Common Chimpanzee communities. This mixture of savanna and forest species is also true for the birds.


In addition to this variety of wildlife, the location itself is pretty special on the east side of the reserve you have the escarpment of the Western Rift Valley and then in the distance in the west the DRC and the Blue Mt’s that run up the far shore of Lake Albert and to the southwest the high Ruwenzori Mts. At the northern end of the reserve is the south end of Lake Albert, this is home to a variety of waterbirds and one of the best places to see one of Africa’s strangest and most spectacular birds the Shoebill Stork.



The Western Rift Valley Escarpment with Uganda Kob



View of the Blue Mountains in the DRC from Semliki Safari Lodge



Semliki Safari Lodge


The principal accommodation is the Semliki Safari Lodge, at the time of our visit the lodge was being expanded, with new rooms being built, it sits overlooking the forested Wasi River, this is the main river through the reserve, so you look across the forest, to the southern end of the Blue Mountains on beyond in the Congo. The view from the main building, was one thing I particularly liked about this lodge, because it’s quite a different view to that from most other safari lodges and camps and although you’re not looking at a waterhole and can’t actually see the river there’s plenty of wildlife. There are always birds of various kinds flying across and almost always black and white colobus in the trees and you might also see Red-tailed Monkeys and if you are very lucky perhaps other animals, there’s always something to see.



Guerezas, black and white colobus

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Mid-morning, we met are driver guide for the main part of our safari Martin from Wild Frontiers, who as well as being a nice guy is not a bad birder. 


We started our time at Toro-Semliki, with a bird walk just around the lodge area and down towards the staff quarters, this proved quite productive, although I wasn’t able to get decent photos of all the birds. While we were birding, we heard some chimps calling down in the forest somewhere but we didn’t expect to see any during our stay, there is a research project studying the chimps in the reserve, run by the Indiana University, the chimps here are particularly interesting, because while they are Common Chimps, they are referred to as dry country chimps, as the reserve is one of the driest locations in Africa, that still has a surviving population of chimps. It is possible to go chimp trekking in the reserve or at least to do a guided primate walk through the forest, where you might see some partially habituated chimps, but we had chosen not to do this.



African Crake



Black and White Shrike Flycatcher


When the birds wouldn't cooperate I resorted to photographing flowers.



Albizia flowers



Flamboyant tree



Double-toothed Barbet 


After a nice lunch, the heat of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the lodge, I tended to spend my time at the main building, because the view was better, my room was right on the edge of the forest looking straight at the trees, which was nice but not really what I would call a view, as some of the other rooms have and the main building was much cooler.




My room






My view

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Around 16:30 we reassembled at the main building for tea. intending to set out for our first game drive at around 17:00, we stood chatting to the nice South African couple Tony and Noleen. who had just taken over the management of the lodge. They had so newly taken over. that they had only arrived in Uganda. for the first time a week before, as we were talking. looking out at the forest. we suddenly spotted to our complete amazement. that an adult male chimp. had climbed up out of the canopy. into the top of a tall tree. directly in front of the lodge. This was quite an introduction to Semliki, especially for the new managers. who’d never seen a wild chimp before, not too many chimps down in Botswana. where they had been working before they came. I had had the good fortune, to see chimps before in Uganda, in Tanzania and rather distantly in Gabon and was confident, that I would see more later on this safari, but this was still a great sighting for being so unexpected. It just goes to show, how much luck is involved in wildlife watching.




Common Chimp




While out on our game drive, we had the good fortune to come across a Forest Elephant bull, that had emerged out of the forest into the edge of the savanna, he was missing a tusk but his one remaining tusk which was a good length, was quite narrow and very downward pointing as is typical of Forest Elephants, Savanna Elephant’s tusks point forwards. They are also quite a lot smaller, their skin is less visibly wrinkled and their ears are a little smaller and rounder making them noticeably different, so there was no mistaking that this was the forest species. I’d seen forest elephants before in Gabon, but it was very nice to see one again. If you’ve never seen the forest species and are not planning on visiting Gabon, Congo or CAR any time soon then I would think that T-SWR would be the best place to see them, there are Forest Elephants in Kibale Forest, but I don’t know how often they are seen by tourists.



Forest Elephant


Otherwise we saw a lot of kob, a couple of very distant Defassa Waterbucks, Common Warthogs, Olive Baboons, Tantalus Monkeys, a Red-tailed Monkey and Banded Mongooses, alongside plenty of birds. Having seen some buffalos from the air on our flight in, I expected we would see some on our game drive, we did eventually, but only in the dark on our way back after our sundowners, we also saw a White-tailed Mongoose and, on our way back in to the lodge a Gambian or Giant Pouched Rat.



Red-tailed monkey



Flappet Lark



Martial Eagle

Edited by inyathi
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The following day started with 06:30 coffee and biscuits followed by morning game drive, then back to the lodge for lunch, siesta until 17:00 and then an afternoon game drive finishing with a rather windy sundowner, that heralded the arrival of a brief storm. Back at the lodge it rained very briefly.


We only saw this one solitary bull buffalo, interestingly he had the colouration of a Cape Buffalo, but was rather small and his horns are much more like those of a Forest Buffalo, they’re small and curve more backwards than sideways. The African Buffaloes in T-SWR, are clearly a hybrid population of Cape x Forest, although interestingly, I didn’t see any noticeably brown ones, forest buffaloes are typically red brown, but they seemed to be in between the two in size.  We did get a brief glimpse of more Forest Elephants, but no photos, we didn’t see any Savanna Elephants in T-SWR, this was slightly surprising, but maybe the population is still quite low as a result of poaching. When it comes to elephants mating, size is all important and savanna bulls, are always much bigger than forest bulls, so savanna bulls will mate with forest cows, but never the other way around, it’s likely that hybrid genes are fairly quickly bred out. 




African Buffalo, Cape x Forest hybrid







One thing I particularly liked about T-SWR, was seeing Red-tailed Monkeys and more commonly Guerezas, while out on game drives, both species are very common in Uganda and you’ll see them in most forest areas, but not usually when you are game driving.








The bridge on the main road through the park, with a large fruiting fig tree on one side and flowering Albizia on the other side, proved to be a very productive birding spot. The flowers had attracted 4 different sunbirds, but try as I might I couldn’t get any photos of them, I was particularly keen to get a shot of the superb sunbird, a gorgeous bird I’d not seen before, but it wouldn’t stay still. I did at least get one shot of an African Green Pigeon, the fig tree was full of them, but bright green birds amongst bright green leaves, are not that easy to see.



African Green Pigeon



Steppe Eagle



Tantalus Monkey and baby in a fig tree



Eastern Grey Plantain-eater a very common bird in Uganda



Female Uganda Kobs and calf











Nile Special a refreshing drink after a morning drive



Uganda Kobs




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The wild chip was such an incredible sighting! That's one of the things I love about going on safaris. Every safari is different and you just never what to expect. Thanks for the tip about forest elephants in T-SWR. We were thinking about including T-SWR in our trip but left it out in the end due to time constraint. I am glad it's part of yours and also excited to hear about the rest of your trip, especially Kidepo.


We're also staying at Protea Marriott in Entebbe. I think they provide complimentary transfers to and from the airport. I wonder if you  used that service and how it worked out for you. Thanks.

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@inyathi Really interesting report so far! I've long wanted to visit Semliki GR, to see the Albertine Rift forest-savanna mosaic and the interesting array of species that can be observed in close proximity. Did you see the Pousargues' Mongoose there?

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Thanks again for this  voluminous  trip report @inyathi - I am taking notes!  And you've  added Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve to my bucket list for sure when I visit Uganda.


Of course the male Chimp and Forest Elephant are super-cool sightings but I was also agog at your seeing an African Crake parading in the open like that!    I presume it was near a marsh or wet grassland?


Your TR is proof once again that being a birder helps add rich layers of appreciation to one's safari, and can liven things around camp and during travel.


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What a splendid report-looking forward to the next installment @inyathi

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@anocn4 We were transferred to and from the airport by Wild Frontiers rather than the hotel.


@Anomalure Thanks, I must have been a bit switched off at the time and hadn’t done my research as I must have seen the Pousargues’s or savanna mongoose, because on my list I’d checked dwarf for 2 days in T-SWR and once in MFNP and having now checked the books and online I see that there are no dwarfs in western Uganda so they can only have been Pousargues’s as they are evidently pretty similar. I must have just assumed they were dwarfs and then didn’t check the book whatever the case they didn’t pose for photos because had I realised they were a new species I wouldn’t have been keen to get some shots.


@offshorebirder Yes, there is a little marshy pool in a grassy area just behind the lodge, I was very surprised to see that crake out in the open, it’s not a bird I’ve seen very often. The trouble with voluminous reports is remembering to put in everything that you’ve decided you want to put in and in the right place, I missed out a map which will now go in my next post but that doesn’t really matter. For the more off the beaten track places I wanted to provide as much information as possible so that my report will I hope be useful for anyone interested in going to these places.

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The following morning our final full day in T-SWR it was back out for an early morning game drive, we weren’t intending to stay out too long as we didn’t want to be too late back to the lodge for breakfast, since we had booked a late morning boat trip on Lake Albert.




Back at the bridge we found more beautiful birds like Ross’s turaco



Ross's Turaco



Crowned Hornbill



 Uganda Kob 





Besides the ubiquitous kobs we managed to find some small herds of buffalo



African buffalo



Kob calf


Arriving back at the bridge we decided to stop so I could try to photograph some drinking kob and were slightly amazed to see some Giant Forest Hog piglets but without mum or any adults, I'm sure they must have been in the bush somewhere nearby, I didn’t get a photo. 



Kob calves at the bridge


we also found down on the edge of the river a Marsh Mongoose. A nice animal to see as Marsh Mongooses aren’t seen as often as some of the other mongoose species, I’ve seen them a couple of times before including one in Zakouma, but I’ve never got a decent photograph, I had to settle for a shot of it running away.



Marsh Mongoose


Breakfast back at the lodge, is the usual choice of cereal and fresh fruit, followed by toast and a choice of eggs. For lunch and dinner, they offer a choice of starters, then a choice between 2 non-veg and 1 veg option for main course and then a choice of desert, sensibly to save time they give you the menu for each meal, after the preceding meal, so that you can not only chose what you want, but also what time you want to have it. This is a good system, even if after you've finished a good breakfast, you’re not exactly hungry, when they hand you the lunch menu. I always prefer on safari to just have coffee and cookies first thing, so you can get out as quickly as possible and then again at some point midway through the drive, before returning to base for a late breakfast. One of the complications in Uganda, is that you are in the same time zone as Kenya, but obviously a lot further west, so it does get light much later in the morning, if you are out for a decent game drive, then you’ll have a pretty late breakfast, which means you don’t want lunch too early. On this occasion that certainly wouldn’t be a problem, as we knew we would be having a late lunch likely mid-afternoon.


For some reason we hadn’t booked the Lake Albert trip ahead of time, we’d seen Shoebills a couple of times before in Uganda in MFNP and also once in Akagera in Rwanda, so we weren’t certain if doing this boat trip was a priority, as we would have other options to see them on the safari. Until that is we had arrived in Uganda, after giving it some thought we realised that if we saw Shoebills on Lake Albert, this would then mean, that we wouldn’t have to devote time to searching for them in MFNP and could then use that time to do other things, but if we missed them here, we'd still have another chance up there. In fact our guide Martin informed us, that trying to see the shoebills in MFNP would be complicated, because they were holding a fishing competition in the park during our stay and for this reason, on some days there would be no boat trips down to the delta. Trying to see one here would be the sensible option, if we failed we would still have one more chance at the end of the trip, back on Lake Victoria. The management had initially assumed that we didn’t want to do the boat trip, when we said that we did, they suggested doing a late morning trip, as they don’t recommend going in the afternoon and we couldn’t do the early morning trip, as some other guests were going out, I was a little sceptical about this, as I knew that it would be very hot and feared we might perhaps not see much, but I was keen to go all the same.

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African Buffalo


The boat trips leave from the fishing village of Ntoroko, this is inside the reserve on a peninsular that juts out into the lake.  By the time we boarded the boat, it was almost midday, so unsurprisingly as I expected it was pretty hot, you have to cross quite a bit of open water, to get over to the papyrus, where you hope to find the Shoebills. This is all good fun, as you cross pretty fast, the lake is beautiful and there lots of fishing boats and birds like Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns flying around and then as you get closer to where to the papyrus starts, more birds appear.



Fisherman at Ntoroko





African Fish Eagle with fish



White-faced Whistling Ducks





And more fishermen appear, they are used to having visiting tourists arrive, looking for the Shoebills, so if they’ve seen one, they will happily point you in the right direction. Any concerns I had about not seeing a Shoebill, were soon dispelled, I guess it never really gets too hot to see water birds. As we approached closer to the tall reeds, I could make out not one, but two distinctive grey shapes, having worried we might see nothing, we had in fact found a breeding pair of Shoebills. In front and in between the two Shoebills was an African Openbill. To find two like this was a rare site and certainly proved that doing this boat trip, had been the right decision.




Shoebills and African Openbill Stork













Shoebill fishing














On the way back across the lake we saw a variety of other water birds, including quite a few Lesser Jacanas, this is a nice bird to see as they are very small and not that easy to find, although I have seen them previously in the Okavango.



Purple Heron



White-faced whistling ducks



Lesser Jacana


Having had our fill of birds, our guide and boatman decided, we should buy some fish for the lodge, they always try to pick up some fish, if they can on these trips, the fishermen are then benefiting from the tourists and the lodge and you get to have some delicious fresh fish for dinner.














This helps to ensure that that the fishermen are happy to see tourists and to show them where the Shoebills are and to help look after these birds and not disturb them. After visiting boat after boat and finding that they had no fish left, we thought we might return empty handed, but eventually we found a boat that did have fish.



Catch of the day


We then headed back at speed for Ntoroko, I soon discovered why they don’t recommend going out in the afternoon, it was approaching 14:00 by the time we were nearing the shore, the wind had got up and the water was getting pretty choppy. I suffer from bad seasickness and hadn’t taken any precautions, as I didn’t think the lake would give me any trouble, fortunately it wasn’t rough enough to cause me any problems, but I was slightly concerned, had it been a bit rougher or had it taken longer to get back, then I might have been in trouble or certainly felt unwell. So, if anyone is visiting T-SWR if you opt to do the boat trip late morning, I would recommend taking precautions against seasickness, if you suffer badly from this problem, it’s presumably much worse later in the afternoon, which is why they don’t go out in the afternoon.



Blue-breasted Bee-eater at Ntoroko


It was sufficiently late by the time we got back to the lodge, that we didn’t have lunch until almost 15:30, having been out for a game drive and a boat trip, we agreed that we would be happy to stay at the lodge for the rest of the afternoon. In a way I was a little sad, not to have gone out for a last drive and I could have asked to go out with the other guests, but besides the chance of a new bird, I thought it was fairly unlikely, that I would see anything I hadn’t seen before. Really, I was quite happy just to sit in the main building and enjoy the view, look at any birds or monkeys that might be around and then enjoy what would turn out to be the best sunset of the trip, with a cold bottle of Nile Special.



Semliki Safari Lodge main buildings















One thing that was slightly concerning about the view, was that there were several large fires burning up on the Blue Mountains, over in the DRC, I assume this may have been farmers clearing land.


Edited by inyathi
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@inyathi many thanks again. You had very big luck with your shoebills. Beautiful pics. We weren't this lucky on our boat trip in Semliki but could see tree of this amazing bird every morning and evening in Murchison Falls very close to our campsite.  

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