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Uganda: Birds (and Mammals) Aplenty

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adamt123

Hello everyone. This trip report will detail a June 2019 safari to Uganda, covering Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo Forest, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and Entebbe. We visited some months ago, so this report is somewhat belated, but better late than never. I haven't been active on this site much recently (life can be so busy!) but I hope you will nonetheless enjoy this report. The majority of our East Africa trip was spent at a much slower pace in Kenya, covering only Nairobi National Park, Samburu and the Mara Triangle. There are many fabulous trip reports covering those places in Kenya, so I have focused my time on writing up a more detailed report on the shorter Uganda side of the trip.

 

Day One – Arrive Entebbe. Entebbe Botanic Gardens (first visit) 

Day Two – Entebbe to Murchison Falls via Budongo Forest

Day Three – Full Day at Murchison Falls

Day Four – Morning at Murchison Falls, Afternoon at Ziwa

Day Five – Morning at Ziwa, Afternoon transfer to Entebbe

Day Six – Mabamba Swamp (unscheduled visit) and Entebbe Botanic Garden (second visit)

 

Naturally, most trips to Uganda include Bwindi/gorillas and some sort of chimpanzee visit. When I first finalised the itinerary, we were not intending to go to Budongo for chimps, rather we would spend more time at Murchison Falls. About a month before departure, we added Budongo, simply because it was on the way from Entebbe to Murchison Falls. I may go into more detail about this in due course, but for now suffice to say I enjoyed seeing the chimps, though it probably wasn’t a highlight.

 

Overall, I was very impressed with Uganda’s offering, and the birding was exceptional, though mammals also showed well. It was just my father and me on this trip, and we both loved Uganda and thought Kenya too was great, but the  for me at least urge to return to Uganda is definitely stronger.

 

One of Many Highlights

 

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adamt123

A quick word on camera equipment before we begin. Images were taken as jpegs and on the APS-C Nikon D7100 with Sigma’s 60-600 f4.5-6.3 lens. This was my first trip with that lens (released about a year ago) and I thought it was superb. Even with an older crop body, focus was consistently fast and the focal range was glorious – definitely my favourite wildlife lens, especially for a non-professional shooting both mammals and birds.

 

Alongside this, I took my Canon G3x which was used for video clips and photos. I enjoyed using this camera; its small size, 1-inch sensor and 25x zoom made for a good combination. I was very impressed with its ISO performance; on the Nikon my maximum ISO was always 1000 (anything higher is distractingly noisy), but on the little Canon images taken at ISO 2000 were superb. Though the camera does suffer from occasional focus lag and some softness, I thought on the whole it made for a very worthy companion to my Nikon.

 

On the return journey from Samburu to Nairobi (towards the beginning of the trip), we stopped at Trout Tree to maybe get some birds, colobus monkeys and hopefully the resident hyrax. Unfortunately, we found the place pretty disappointing; it was very busy with no birds to speak of and no hyrax, though the colobus did show. The monkeys were quite active and on more than one occasion jumped on our table to take bread (they also enjoyed chips from our neighbouring table). My Nikon fell onto the wooden planks as a colobus was coming in and sustained some damage; the screen smashed, the focus selector on the left side of the camera jammed on AF (thankfully not MF!) and the body’s rear loosened from the front. However, the camera remarkably continued to take pictures and focus well for the most part, functioning to the end of the trip, and then gracefully dying on its return home (I have since purchased a D500 as the obvious replacement). Fortunately, the lens was undamaged.

 

Mantled Guereza, Trout Tree (Nanyuki)

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adamt123

Having returned to Nairobi from Masai Mara we spent the night at the Radisson before returning to Kenyatta Airport the following morning. Unlike Wilson, I found Kenyatta to be a pleasant enough airport, though unfortunately, our Rwandair flight to Entebbe was a little delayed. The flight landed into Entebbe around one hour late, but we had no further delays at the airport and our pick up from the Protea was waiting for us outside. The journey to the hotel was about 5 minutes and all in all it was a marvellous hotel. As a category one redemption, we used only 7500 Marriott points per night (off peak is only 5000), and were kindly upgraded to a suite both for this night and when we returned to the hotel at the end of our trip. The grounds also produced some interesting wildlife, which will be discussed further at the end of this trip report.

 

Entebbe Protea

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Once we had settled in to the Protea and taken a quick lunch, we headed out to the Botanic Gardens. We hadn’t really intended to come out the gardens on this first day as we were going to visit them on our last day, following our return from Murchison Falls. However, going twice was absolutely the best decision as both trips yielded quite different species, but our main targets were the monkeys, Great Blue Turaco, Ross’s Turaco, African Grey Parrot and maybe a raptor or two.  

 

Getting there is simple enough – at around 4pm, we asked the hotel for a car and they sent a reliable driver who arranged to collect us as again 6.30pm, giving approx. 2h 30m at the gardens. Though the driver charged 70,000 UGX (20 USD) for the return trip – which took only 10 minutes, going to the gardens was well worth it, and I am a little surprised that this hidden gem isn’t frequented by tourists more often.

 

When we arrived at the gardens, we were greeted by the guides who offer walks, but we chose to go unguided; when almost all other activities on the trip were in the company of a guide, it was nice to go out independently for an afternoon. Immediately in front of the entrance were a large group of Tantalus monkeys. There were very approachable, and it was fun to watch them play around and groom (I guess it’s just a shame they share their name with such an unfortunate man).

 

Tantalus Monkey

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Going further into the gardens we arrived at what I will call “the main clearing”. A wedding photoshoot was going on here, but birdlife was nonetheless superb. As we arrived, an immature Gymnogene flew into one of the trees; its brown coat obscured it a little, though in the end it settled on a relatively unobstructed branch. The enormous tree across from the Gymnogene tree was home to a pair of Great Blue Turaco, but I really struggled to get a decent shot amongst the foliage. Fortunately, after about thirty minutes they came out and gave totally unobstructed views.

 

"Main Clearing"

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Gymnogene

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Great Blue Turaco

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Travelling further to the edge of the main clearing, Woodland Kingfisher were present in good number and another Gymnogene also arrived, giving superb views. This area also produced many Crowned Hornbills and the only Splendid Starling of the trip.  There were fleeting glimpses of Ross’s Turaco and Cattle Egret were abundant.

 

Gymnogene

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Woodland Kingfisher

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We spent about an hour in this area before moving closer to the shores of Lake Victoria, where we spotted a pair of migrating Madagascar Bee-eater (the only sighting of the trip) as well as an abundance of Eastern Grey Plantain Eater. Other species included both Golden Backed Weaver and Orange Weaver, together with African Yellow White-Eye, Bronze Mannikin, Broad Billed Roller, Cape Turtle Dove, Red-Eyed Dove, Hammerkop and Egyptian Goose.

 

Lake Victoria

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Orange Weaver

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Madagascar Bee-eater

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Eastern Grey Plantain Eater

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Hammerkop

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From here, we headed back to the entrance gate through “the main clearing” which produced the wonderful cackling of Eastern Grey Plantain Eaters as they came in for the night, as well as a clear sighting of Black-and-White-Casqued Hornbill, male and female. The final sightings were a troop of Mantled Guereza and a Palm-nut vulture, which was sadly chased away by the hornbills before I could get a better shot. Overall, it was a truly splendid afternoon.

 

Palm-nut Vulture

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Colobus

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Black-and-White Casqued Hornbill

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Edited by adamt123

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BRACQUENE

@adamt123

 

I am impressed by the first part of your report , especially the photos of the birds ( the shoebill ! )  and the primates ; I just bought the new already 9th edition of the Bradt guide to Uganda and read about Murchinson Falls , Queen Elizabeth and Kidepo NP in the north  ; looks very interesting indeed and there is certainly not a lack of accomodation and possibilities for walking as well !

Looking forward to hear more from you !

 

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Atravelynn

Kenya plus all this in Uganda.  Now that is a powerpacked itinerary.  Great birds in Uganda.  Was the shoebill in Mabamba Swamp? 

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adamt123

Thanks @BRACQUENE. Yes you are quite right - Uganda offers an excellent range of places to visit and very diverse wildlife - I would love to go to Kidepo one day!

 

Thank you @Atravelynn. The shoebill was indeed at Mabamba - we were hoping for one at Ziwa but more details will follow in due course. 

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adamt123

Our safari was booked with Grassrootz, a Dutch-Ugandan company. In sum, I would not recommend them. Things started off badly when we were getting ready in the morning for our 8am departure and the driver/guide - we'll call him "Boris" - had arrived at 7am. We quickly got ready at left at around 7.40 – there was no issue leaving at 7, if only we had been correctly informed.

 

The drive down from Entebbe to Kampala was great; the new road really has made the journey a breeze. On the way, we passed by a market of sorts, where marabou stork could be observed in great number. Though we only drove through the edge of Kampala, it was filthy, polluted and with appalling traffic (quite unlike laid-back Entebbe). Once we finally got out of there and into the country, driving was very pleasant indeed; the scenery was lush and there were few vehicles on the road.

 

Marabou Stork

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The drive to Budongo Eco Lodge took about 4 hours in all and we arrived in time for lunch, which was unfortunately not prepared due to miscommunication by Grassrootz. Still, the guys at the lodge quickly rustled up a pasta, and I must say I found Budongo Lodge very tranquil and atmospheric – an ideal base for visiting the rainforest.

 

We started walking at around 2.30pm – it was just the two of us and our guide from Budongo Eco Lodge (unfortunately I’ve forgotten his name). The jungle at Budongo was very ‘walkable’ as paths were well-defined and the terrain was mostly flat (of course, despite this it was still around 30c and very humid). We first encountered an African Pygmy Kingfisher but it darted away very quickly; this was shortly followed by a troop of Olive Baboons which passed right before us.

 

Olive Baboon

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After about twenty-minutes we found our first Chimpanzees, two males including one named “Babyface” as he as retained his pale facial skin well into old age. Following these two, sightings came quickly, though the chimps were well-dispersed; we never saw more than two of them together. Photography in the undergrowth was tough – all the images below are from the Canon G3x as it was simply too dark for the Nikon to focus. After about seven separate sightings we headed back to the lodge, arriving back at 4pm. Our guide was more than willing to trek further, but we were already well-pleased with the sightings (and sweating from head to toe) so returning after 1h 30m suited us perfectly.

 

Chimps

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My Favourite Shot

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Overall the chimp trekking was enjoyable; as Budongo Forest is directly on the way to Murchison Falls there is no reason not to do it as a little side activity to/from Entebbe. Our guide also mentioned that the success rate of seeing the chimps at Budongo is very high at that time of year, and a tracker who is very familiar with apes shadows them and radios back to the guide, making our finding them pretty simple (but of course nothing is guaranteed).

 

We jumped back into the van with "Boris" and drove the remaining 60km or so to Murchison River Lodge. On the way, we stopped for some baboons and also at a viewpoint, but what more noticeable was the construction work. Every 5-10 minutes we would pass a workforce (locals with Chinese supervisors) and their machinery hacking at the road; an unpleasant (concerning?) sight and the only atmosphere darkened further when it started to rain.

 

Murchison Falls NP

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Edited by adamt123

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adamt123

Murchison River Lodge

 

As today's post is relatively short I am adding an account of our accommodation, Murchison River Lodge. Overall, it was average, though wildlife sightings over the three days were good. From the mammals, there was a resident group of Tantalus Monkeys living around the restaurant area and Hippos could also be observed in the Nile. Birding was enjoyable with a nice Dark Chanting Goshawk specimen outside our chalet, as well as a more distance White Browed Coucal. A walk around the lodge produced abundant Speckled Mousebirds and Common Bulbul, as well as Grey-Headed Sparrow, Spotted Palm-Thrush, Bronze Mannikin, Crested Francolin, Eastern Grey Plantain-Eater, Grey-Backed Camaroptera and a gorgeous Black-Headed Gonolek.

 

Chalet

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Tantalus Monkey

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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White Browed Coucal

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Black-Headed Gonolek

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Speckled Mousebird

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Treepol

@adamt123 what an amazing array of magiificent birds - the Shoebill, Great Blue Turaco and the Black-headed Gonolek are my favourites. Thansk for posting the details of your visit to the Botanical Gardens in Entebbe, such a bird-rich pre-safari treat. 

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Atravelynn

Through #7.  Nice going with the chimps.  I missed them in Budongo Forest (despite being there about the same time as you) but found the environment to be rather enchanting and easy walking, which you mention.

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kittykat23uk

Great report, really whetting my appetite for our upcoming trip in Feb! :)

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TonyQ

Excellent start. I am glad your camera just survived.

The Botanical Garden looks a great place to visit and the Turaco are stunning.

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adamt123

Thanks @Treepol and @TonyQ. Yes the botanical gardens were amazing; that such a small area of forest supports such a diverse range of wildlife is remarkable. 

 

Sorry to hear you didn't see the Chimpanzees at Budongo @Atravelynn. We did the afternoon trek - I think the apes had been located in the morning and our trek wasn't about finding them, just (leisurely) walking to them. I guess we were pretty lucky and it goes to show how variable any wild animal experience can be. 

 

@kittykat23uk thanks and I hope you have an excellent trip!

 

 

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adamt123

It rained well through the night and into the early hours; the thunder and lightning were pretty spectacular and really added to the ambience. We had originally intended to do the Nile Delta cruise this morning looking for Shoebill, but a few weeks before travel I had this changed to a morning cruise of the Falls; as were already going to take a specialist boat trip for Shoebill at Ziwa, I thought it would be nice to take a more generalist trip here. I also knew that the vast majority of people take their Fall trips in the afternoon, so I requested Grassrootz book us one for the morning. This turned out to be an excellent choice – it was just the two of us on a little vessel with our guide, provided by Wild Frontiers. Fortunately, the rain subsided just as we arrived at the dock – excellent luck all round.

 

New bridge under construction over Nile

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Nile

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We spent about 2h 15m on the water and sightings were good. Though it was rather overcast, at least there was no other boat on the river. As mentioned, this is more of a generalist activity, so we weren’t expecting any especially rare animals, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip nonetheless with some interesting photo opportunities. Pied Kingfisher were abundant and we also had good views of Malachite Kingfisher. Squacco Heron, Intermediate Egret and Little Egret were present, as were Yellow-Billed Stork, Hadada Ibis and Egyptian Goose. We also had fine views of Saddle-Billed Stork, Goliath Heron and Purple Heron. 

 

Pied Kingfisher

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Malachite Kingfisher

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Little Egret

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Goliath Heron

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Yellow-Billed Stork

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Saddle-Billed Stork

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From non-avifauna, Hippos were aplenty and we saw a small troop of Mantled Guereza too. A good number of Nile Crocodiles were present, including one exceptional specimen with a rather nasty looking injury. Close to the falls, we also found Lesser Striped Swallow, Rüppell’s Starling, Reed Cormorants, White Breasted Cormorants and African Darters. The stunningly colourful Red Throated Bee-Eater also showed and it was fun to take some time to photograph Village Weavers. The rocks surrounding the Falls are famously home to Rock Pratincole and our guide really helped manoeuvre the boat so I could get the best shots, not only for that bird, but throughout the boat trip.

 

Colobus

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African Darter

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Nile Croc

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Hippos

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Red Throated Bee eater

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Village Weaver

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Rock Pratincole

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Two other very common species, that for me are always an absolute joy to meet, were African Jacana and African Fish Eagle. Seeing these two birds again, it was like meeting up with an old friend; for me, they really are a metaphor of the wonders sub-Saharan Africa and the constant urge to return. Some Defassa Waterbuck, including a male with remarkable horns concluded the wonderful trip.

 

African Jacana

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African Fish Eagle

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Waterbuck

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Murchison Falls

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Edited by adamt123

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MMMim

Wonderful report and pictures!  My husband and I were in Uganda in September/October.  Wishing we had included chimp trekking.  We are what is affectionately known as 'twitchers' (especially me).  My husband really likes the birding and is improving his skills, but me, I'm just along for the ride.  I do enjoy the birds, and Uganda was amazing.  I think we saw and identified (my husband and our guide did) 106 different species in 2 just 2 days in Central Uganda.  Unfortunately, because I'm not set up for it, I did not get pictures of many of them.  Hoping to finalize my trip report and post over Christmas.  I think I will include our Ugandan adventures too.  Looking forward to more!

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adamt123

That's awesome @MMMim. I look forward to hearing more!

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Atravelynn

Red Throated Bee-Eater is a "best in show" for the birds.  I did not realize that Ziwa was a good spot for shoebills.  I thought it was mostly a rhino sanctuary.   Good plan on your boat trip timings.  The results speak for themselves.

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BRACQUENE

@adamt123

 

Your report makes me doubt about my next destination after Zambia in 2020 ; for a moment those  Nile photos could have been taken on   a boat safari on the Kafue and Lufupa river with the Kingfishers , Egret , Darter and Goliath Heron surrounded by Hippos and Crocodiles but then came that Red Throated Bee-Eater and  Village Weaver with the Colobus monkey and we were definitely in a different world : amazing!

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dlo
14 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Red Throated Bee-Eater is a "best in show" for the birds.  I did not realize that Ziwa was a good spot for shoebills.  I thought it was mostly a rhino sanctuary.   Good plan on your boat trip timings.  The results speak for themselves.

 

You need to stay overnight at Ziwa and then you have an early morning start to see the shoebills. I ran into someone who saw multiple shoebills there. 

Excellent report @adamt123 as someone who is not a birder I was very impressed with Budongo. Such a worthwhile stopover in or out of Murchison. 

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adamt123

Thanks @Atravelynn and @BRACQUENE.

 

@dlo Do you know when this person saw shoebills at Ziwa?

 

Its just that a member of the staff at Amuka lodge (on site at Ziwa) mentioned to us that shoebill used to be common there but increasingly locals are damaging the swamp and so the birds are only rarely seen nowadays. Of course I can't verify this. We attempted to find shoebill at Ziwa because its referenced as a good site on other parts of the internet/guide books and staying the night there would break the journey nicely from Murchison falls to Entebbe. 

 

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adamt123

At around 2 that afternoon we headed out for an afternoon game drive which was very productive indeed. This was our first time using the Paraa ferry – it was okay, but the construction of the new bridge over the Nile will make these ferry crossings redundant soon (or maybe it’s already operational?). We stopped on the north bank of the Nile where “Boris” picked up our guide who was from the Uganda Wildlife Service. He was exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable and made the game drive truly special. Olive Baboon and Spur-Winged Lapwing kept us entertained whilst we waited.

 

Paraa Ferry

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Olive Baboon

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Now, the title of this report is "(and Mammals)" and one of the primary appeals to pick Murchison Falls (other than the birds) were the relatively unusual mammals; this park is a very easily accessible spot for lelwel hartebeest, Nubian giraffe and patas monkey, and the primary small and medium antelopes are oribi, reedbuck and kob. Predators are present including side striped jackal (we didn't see one here but fortunately had a good sighting of one in Masai Mara some days prior). This is a superb selection of somewhat uncommon/unusual mammals outside the usual impala, zebra and wildebeest and (IMO) justify describing Murchison Falls as a top tier park for mammals as well as birds. 

 

The initial 10km from Paraa were very good for ungulates and elephants. Lelwel hartebeest, Uganda Kob and Oribi were abundant, though the Elephants kept their distance. Prior to our arrival, I was hoping we would see Patas Monkey, but it turns out these goblin-like fluffballs were regularly seen, and we a great time with a large male. Birding was splendid; African Wattled Lapwing, White-Backed Vulture, Rüppell’s Griffon, Grey Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl and Shelley’s Sparrow were all quickly observed at close range.

 

Lelwel Hartebeest

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Kob

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Oribi

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Patas Monkey

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Ruppell's Griffon

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The main avian highlights were all observed close to the Paraa airstrip. First came a pair of Denham’s bustards; this was a top target of mine (bustards and korhaans are my favourite birds) and though they were a little far and in the grass, the 600mm with 1.5x crop handled them well. This was followed by a pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills in good range and then an eagle trio – two Tawnies and a rather shy Bateluer juv scavenging on something. I think (for me) the side-by side comparison really brings out the Bateleur’s beauty – the young bird especially lacks the ‘mean’ appearance of its Tawny cousins. What a fabulous start!

 

Denham's Bustard

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Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

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Eagles

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Edited by adamt123

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dlo

So we were there late January early February so around that time. My guide who I have traveled with before knew I wanted to see a shoebill and after no luck at Murchison thought we should try Ziwa. He had clients who had success there as well. 

Unfortunately we had to change our itinerary again due to a problem with a birding guide at Budongo at the last minute and we missed out going for ourselves at Ziwa 

Funnily enough our guide had occasionally seen shoebill driving from Mburro to Entebbe so we stopped the vehicle on the the side of the road there and searched there. I'm sure we were quite the sight.

Its disappointing to here the sightings are less frequent now at Ziwa especially since the guidebooks were so positive about it. 

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adamt123

Moving further, we were met with large numbers of migrant Northern Carmine Bee-eaters. Looking back at the images, one of these birds is a Southern Carmine Bee-eater. The Helm guide (Steven and Fanshawe) doesn’t list NE Uganda as part of their range, and this is consistent with Birdlife. But, on ebird.org they are very occasionally seen here in June-July, and an online July 2017 trip report by Oriole Birding states “mega find - these have only just started appearing in Uganda.” Not sure if they are becoming more common, but a cool find nonetheless – has anyone else seen them here?

 

Northern Carmines

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Southern Carmine

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Other bird species included Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater, African Grey Hornbill, Vinaceous Dove, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Silverbird, Red-Checked Corden-bleu, White-faced Whistling Duck and Grey Crowned Cranes. We also observed a slightly obscured Palm-nut Vulture (a favourite species of mine) and a young Crocodile out the water, as well as Cape Bushbuck and more Olive Baboons.

 

Swallow-Tailed Bee-eater

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African Pygmy Kingfisher

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Corden-bleu + Silverbird

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Palm-nut Vulture

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Cape Bushbuck

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The superb Northern Red Bishop was present in good numbers and we also had clear observations of Black-Winged Kite, Long-Crested Eagle and Green Wood-hoopoe. The mammalian highlight were the Nubian Giraffes. The population here has recently been reclassified from Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi to now being considered conspecific with G. c. camelopardalis (Nubian Giraffe). There were about 10 giraffes very close to the road, together with Yellow-Billed Oxpecker and no other vehicle. In fact, during our whole game drive we very rarely came across another car.

 

Bishop

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Green Wood-hoopoe

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Giraffes

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Heading back towards the ferry crossing, we had good views of Spotted Thick-knee, a Black-Bellied bustard in-flight as well as two magnificent Martial Eagles, the second one being a younger bird. Cape Buffalo and Warthog + Piapiac were the final showing from the mammals as we finished off for the evening. Overall, though there no big cats or hyena, I really enjoyed this game drive; there was a continuous stream of sightings both mammalian and avian, the park had few human visitors and spectacular landscape of vibrant green dotted with doum palms. For me, a perfect game drive.

 

Spotted Thick-Knee

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Black-bellied Bustard

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Martial Eagles

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Cape Buffalo +1

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Warthog +2

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Doums (+ guineafowl) 

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xelas

Your trip report might be late for you but it is just in time for me! Great photos, I have heard good things about 60-600, and with D500 it will rock.

Note to myself: bring extra cards, and take daily notes. And start the TR soon after coming home..

Edited by xelas

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adamt123

thanks for the info @dlo. I think mabamba is really the place with a firm chance of seeing one - as I will detail, I really loved it , not only for the shoebill, but we had excellent luck with other birds there too. 

 

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