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ELIL

Uganda 2020 - Primates, Big 5 and 30 minutes with Obama

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ELIL

5 weeks ago, we returned from our trip to Uganda. Having been to the more classical safari countries like Kenya, South Africa etc before, my wife and I decided to visit a new destination. And Uganda turned out to be a beautiful country with many new and wonderful sightings for us. I am not a big writer, but I hope that this report and pictures will transmit some of the great experience we had. And by writing this report, it allows me to repeat the trip at least in my imagination.

 

The main goal for Uganda was to see the Gorillas and Chimpanzees, but hopefully some other new primates as well. In addition to that, the iconic Shoebill stork was our second main goal. And although not a classical Big 5 destination, we wanted to have time for some ordinary game drives as well.   

 

I started with the preparation for this trip last summer by contacting 5 different operators in Uganda. But already within a few days, it turned out that we will go with Experience Uganda. Their very professional but friendly and personal style in combination with their prompt responses was excellent during working out our itinerary. They cared really well about us from the first contact until the last day in Uganda. We can wholeheartedly recommend them http://experienceuganda.com

 

Eventually, we ended up with the following itinerary:

05-Feb: Flight to Entebbe - Stay at Karibu Guesthouse

06-Feb: Drive to Ziwa Sanctuary, Rhino Walk - Stay at Amuka Safari Lodge

07-Feb: Shoebill Canoe trip, drive to  Murchison Falls National Park, PM game drive  - Stay at Baker's Lodge

08-Feb: Game drive, PM Boat cruise to the falls - Stay at Baker's Lodge

09-Feb: Boat cruise to the Delta (Shoebill), PM game drive - Stay at Baker's Lodge

10-Feb: Drive to Kibale National Park with stop at the Royal Mile for a birding walk - Stay at Primate Lodge

11-Feb: AM Chimpanzee Trek, PM Bigodi wetlands Tour - Stay at Primate Lodge

12-Feb: Drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park, PM Boat cruise on Kazinga Channel - Stay at Kyambura Gorge Lodge

13-Feb: Game drives and continue to Ishasha sector -  Stay at Ishasha Wilderness Camp

14-Feb: Game drives - Stay at Ishasha Wilderness Camp

15-Feb: Game drive, continue to Bwindi - Stay at Mahogany Springs Lodge

16-Feb: Gorilla trekking - Stay at Mahogany Springs Lodge

17-Feb: Morning bird walk, PM flight to Entebbe, stay in Karibu Guesthouse until departure for our flight home at 23.59

 

Fortunately enough, I had sufficient miles for business class tickets with Brussel Airlines which was an additional treat for this trip.

 

After our return home, it turned out that we did our chimp trecking with @kittykat23uk who traveled with some other Safaritalkers during the same time in Uganda. They started their excellent trip report much earlier here. It took me more time to go through all my photos and select some good ones for this report. But before I start with the actual report, I want to share a technically really bad photo (too long exposure time). But the longer I looked onto it, the more I liked it. At least it sets some expectations.

20200211_5DII4675.jpg.dae5b6f0a9314c7010a4144d3460fcdf.jpg

 

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xelas

And indeed it sets a lot of expectations. Looking forward to see placed we have missed, and places we have been, through the eyes of your camera (to paraphrase the title of fellow ST @Dave Williams blog title).

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Galana

Wow you covered a lot of ground in a short time.

Looking forward to seeing what you found.

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Wildship

Uganda in my Top three countries for wildlife with South Africa and USA. Uganda with the most friendly people.

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ELIL
7 hours ago, Wildship said:

Uganda in my Top three countries for wildlife with South Africa and USA. Uganda with the most friendly people.

Completely agree. We experienced very friendly people in all African countries we had visited so far. But Uganda tops them. They are very friendly not only towards tourists, but I noticed this high level of openness and friendliness between the Ugandans as well.

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ELIL

We left Munich early in the morning for the short flight to Brussels and from there to our final destination. The flight from Brussels made a short stop in Kigali where half of the passengers left and we landed in Entebbe at 22.30 a little bit ahead of time. Immigration and baggage collection was very fast and after getting some cash from an ATM we arrived at our hotel around 23.15. We went directly to our room, since we had to get up early the next morning. A few weeks prior to our travel I reading this forum about a low success rate for the Shoebill sightings at Ziwa. Then I contacted Experience Uganda and although they confirmed with the lodge in Ziwa that the success rate is still high, we decided to squeeze in a visit to the Mabamba swamp in the morning before going to Ziwa. The plan was that Ghada and I go by boat to the swamp, while our guide drives the (longer) way to Mabamba and picks us up from there after our canoe tour. We met Kevin, the owner of Experience Uganda, in the morning for a short briefing and afterwards Bahati, our guide for next 12 days, joined as well. Bahati turned out to be an excellent driver and guide who always tried to make this trip as enjoyable and interesting as possible for us. There were a few drops of rain when we left the hotel, but nothing to be worried about. A short drive to the bay where our boat was already waiting and we were on the way to Mabamba at around 7.00. Unfortunately, the rain got heavier every minute and turned into a heavy tropical rain storm. Of course, there was not any roof or shelter on the boat. We put on our rain protection but after 20-30 minutes on the boat this did not help anymore. We were completely soaked when we arrived at the swamp and no chance for any sightings due to the heavy rain. Ghada made some photos with her iPhone which may give an impression.

1446696688_IMG_4745Kopie.jpg.fc73348a9d3a82b33468df77235d3636.jpg1905984966_IMG_4746Kopie.jpg.682dd3b1829bce2f212ba5a8f261b3e3.jpg

 

When we arrived at the place where the canoes were waiting, it became clear that this visit will not go as expected. The canoes were filled with water, it was still raining heavily and we were already wet to the bones. A few other visitors were there, but none of them got into a canoe. Meanwhile we were at least under a roof that protected us from the rain. When Bahati arrived with the car and the situation did not change, we decided to cancel the visit. What a start to our tour! It almost looked like that somebody did not want us to change our initial travel plans. So, we got into the car, put on some dry clothes and started our drive to Ziwa. We left Mabampa at around 8.30 and it went on raining until midday. Ironically, this was the only time that we had rain during this trip.

 

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Kitsafari

oh no - sorry to hear you got rained out on the first day for shoebill. 

 

but looking forward to your 30mins with Obama - very intriguing.

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ELIL

We arrived at our lodge at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary at around 2 PM. And it was dry and sunny when we arrived at Amuka lodge.

1410019355_IMG_4783Kopie.jpg.f57c0f3e59dae138dc2acebc489bdcde.jpg

 

The lodge was quite empty. There were only another couple from Germany during our stay at the lodge. Rooms were spacious and well maintained, food was good and plenty. 

 

After lunch and a short rest, we drove to the headquarter for the Rhino walk. When we arrived we had to register first. We also received our rubber boots and life vest for the activities of the next day. Then we met our ranger/guide and started our walk. It would have been possible to drive some distance towards the location of the Rhinos, but we were happy to walk after the hours in the car in the morning.

 

The last wild Rhino in Uganda was killed during the civil war. Some years ago, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and some private NGOs started a project to re-introduce White Rhinos to Uganda. The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a fenced in area of about 80 Km2.  There are currently about 30 Southern White Rhinos in the sanctuary and once the number exceeds 50 they will start to transfer Rhinos to other parks in Uganda. Every Rhino is guarded 24hrs  by rangers. The rangers try to keep enough distance to the animals to avoid habituation to humans, but shall protect them from poachers and also support the researchers with their observations. This means once you see a ranger in the sanctuary one ore more Rhinos have to be close. We found our first Rhino after a slow 30  unites walk, it was a mother with her calf. 

20200206_5DII2521.jpg.548076e8a9978e5470e1d667c97b9372.jpg20200206_5DII2524.jpg.7a45df4d2f7b740dfdf90195f6439524.jpg20200206_5DII2527.jpg.10436f0dc68e97205d3a98d912c18f83.jpg

 

The gestation period for Southern White Rhinos is 16-18 months and it takes another 6 months for the female to mate again. Since a mother takes only care about one calf at a moment, young Rhinos will be on their own when they turn 2 years old. They usually form groups with same sexes until they will be old enough for mating. After we left the mother and the calf, we found such a group of 4 male teenagers (2 3-years old and 2 5-years old). 

20200206_5DII2539.jpg.927274848237c99fe927981c2ed4d200.jpg20200206_5DII2543.jpg.f1486134f23b1db3a77cf879c16603cd.jpg20200206_5DII2547.jpg.67d1bd266f7fcb421395a7c8fc52f06b.jpg20200206_5DII2548.jpg.78dfa9886ed1d1a7400f90d48d68d106.jpg20200206_5DII2563.jpg.88ba5ebd340966ccc3bd78921534b904.jpg20200206_5DII2566.jpg.f774f82ad68744c989f6cb5673acb2d0.jpg20200206_5DII2570.jpg.d52b8401876e6db8d564dfffcbc762b6.jpg20200206_5DII2581.jpg.6a5704d01dadaaa37c122b160d0f486c.jpg

 

It was impressive to watch these giants so close and from eye level. The ranger always paid attention that we don't go to close, several times he asked us to hide behind some bushes or trees in order not to disturb the Rhinos. But it was a great experience. During the planing phase of this trip, I was asking myself if the visit will be worth it (fence-in sanctuary, will it be more a zoo?). But it is definitely worth it.

 

Besides the rhinos, there is also something else to see in Sanctuary:

The ubiquitous warthog:

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Bushbock

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Piapac on Rhino

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Rüppel's Starling

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 A distant White-crested Helmetshrike

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We even found some bats in the trees

20200206_5DII2622.jpg.ec26abd700ba122c428e7d6532db04bd.jpg

 

 

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Galana

An excellent start to the report. So very sorry your Mabamba trip was rained off and hope you got to see a Shoebill elsewhere. (If not you have a terrific excuse to return!)

As you know 'we' were just two days behind you at one stage so we probably got your share of the rest of the rain as you may read from @xelas  's Report.

Love those Bats.

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Biko

@ELIL It was impressive to watch these giants so close and from eye level.

 

this looks like a great walk indeed. And I love to see the picture of the bats,I have never seen them in this way. Looking forward to the rest of your trip.

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ELIL
1 hour ago, Galana said:

An excellent start to the report. So very sorry your Mabamba trip was rained off and hope you got to see a Shoebill elsewhere. (If not you have a terrific excuse to return!)

As you know 'we' were just two days behind you at one stage so we probably got your share of the rest of the rain as you may read from @xelas  's Report.

Love those Bats.

Even without a missed Shoebill, I could think of many reasons to return :D

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ELIL
Posted (edited)

On the next morning we went to the Lugogo swamp which is in the community land next to the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary. This activity was actually split into two parts. First we went for a walk in the swamp where the rubber boots that were handed out the day before proved their usefulness. The water level was well above the ankles at some places. Afterwards we drove to another place in the swamps where canoes were waiting for the search for the shoebill.

 

The highlight in the swamp was the sighting of a White Crested Turaco. The local guide was quite excited about it. Seems to be a rare sighting, at least at this location.

20200207_5DII2849.jpg.12e5fdff697bafdb1ac1dadaff69a032.jpg

 

Blue-headed Coucal

20200207_5DII2778.jpg.1cf311fb44046f383430e81dbe703e00.jpg20200207_5DII2792.jpg.8c07bc78e61085c02404ec562c25387b.jpg

 

Grey-crowned Crane (Uganda's National Bird)

 

20200207_5DII2865.jpg.49e25dd520e4c87e2c5c17c2748f563d.jpg

 

Eastern Grey Plantain-eater with a photobombing Great egret

20200207_5DII2797.jpg.e09c5b4b6f0ec7dcaaea8d48d20f5716.jpg

 

Goliath Heron

20200207_5DII2724.jpg.8a3f3a07143e99fb63d68196197248d8.jpg

 

Holub's Golden Weaver

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Saddle-Billed Stork

20200207_5DII2749.jpg.8b626d4de67a8f6d692454f00d750653.jpg

 

After about an hour swamp walk, it was time to jump into the canoe and try our luck for something different.

 

Long-toed Lapwing

20200207_5DII2904.jpg.457a83c97c8292c1fd36c3b4d772f092.jpg

 

Lesser Jacana

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African Jacana

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Reed Cormorants

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Suddenly our guide said "We are lucky today" and we got the first view of a Shoebill.

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YESSS! The disaster with the visit to Mabamba was already forgotten and we tried to get closer.

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At some point, we apparently went too close and the Shoebill took off. But he landed in close distance and we had some more time together.

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At the end it paid off that we decided to stay overnight at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to look for the Shoebill in the Lugogo swamp. But it will be interesting to see how this site develops in the future. Since the swamp is outside the fenced-in Rhino sanctuary and open to the public, the negative impact is quite obvious. This is another picture of an African Jacana, this time with the left-overs from human beings.

20200207_5DII2901.jpg.397526ee1cbb9497dbca718623f66ee4.jpg

 

And if you look to the starting point of the canoes where the locals are washing their motorbikes in the swamp, I would hope that they will include the Lugogo swamp into the Rhino sanctuary in the future or make it its own protected area. Otherwise, the number of Shoebill sightings may further decrease at this location.

20200207_5DII3000.jpg.91b49110465df59bc8ebaf244232022a.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by ELIL

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ELIL

On our way back from the swamp to Amuka lodge in the sanctuary we experienced what it means to give the highest priority to the Rhinos and let them live their life as undisturbed as possible. On the road back, we saw a Rhino coming into our direction and the local ranger immediately asked us to stop. It is the common policy in the sanctuary to not approach them by car or passing by close to the animal. Everybody has to wait until the Rhino leaves the road and returns into the bush. It was a male named Obama. Obama did not really care about us and that we wanted to pass and had all the time to look for the best grass on the ground. So we just sat in our vehicles and watched him enjoying the morning. So we had our unplanned 30 minutes encounter with Obama, the male Southern White Rhino until he finally disappeared into the bush and we could return to the lodge.

 

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Biko

@ELIL Who would complain about such an unexpected encounter? Or were you late for the next appointment?

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xelas
Posted (edited)

I would also gladly spent that time with a rhino, specially without 10 other vehicles around. Looks like that a Shoebill is one curious bird. Excellent photos. As were those extra birds that we have missed, like White-crested Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Saddle-billed Stork and Lesser Jacana. Crane is the national bird of Uganda, so it must be named correctly: Grey Crowned Crane :).

Edited by xelas

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ELIL
15 minutes ago, xelas said:

I would also gladly spent that time with a rhino, specially without 10 other vehicles around. Looks like that a Shoebill is one curious bird. Excellent photos. As were those extra birds that we have missed, like White-crested Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Saddle-billed Stork and Lesser Jacana. Crane is the national bird of Uganda, so it must be named correctly: Grey Crowned Crane :).

Oops. Thanks for paying attention, already corrected. I am surprised that you missed the Blue-headed Coucal, we saw it at several places. But you did see so many birds, one more or less should be acceptable. :)

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xelas
1 minute ago, ELIL said:

one more or less should be acceptable. :)

Not if one is serious on Big Year :ph34r:!

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ELIL
1 hour ago, Biko said:

@ELIL Who would complain about such an unexpected encounter? Or were you late for the next appointment?

No complaints at all. And it is vacation time, our schedules were quite flexible :D

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ELIL
1 minute ago, xelas said:

Not if one is serious on Big Year :ph34r:!

Oops. What an ignorant I am ;-)

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adamt123

@ELIL So pleased that Ziwa performed well for you and that you found the Shoebill there (and great shots!) :). A shame about the rain at Mabamba, but I look forward to reading about your experiences at Murchison Falls 

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Galana
On 3/22/2020 at 5:59 PM, ELIL said:

But you did see so many birds, one more or less should be acceptable. 

Of course. I was surprised that we never saw Goliath Heron or Saddle-billed Stork on our trip but you can't get em all. I have only ever seen White-crested Turaco once in many trips and that was even further north than Ziwa.

Good that you finally got to see Shoebill and you certainly are to be congratulated on your 'score'. Looking forward to more.

 

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Atravelynn
On 3/22/2020 at 6:51 AM, Galana said:

An excellent start to the report. So very sorry your Mabamba trip was rained off and hope you got to see a Shoebill elsewhere.  Spoiler alert--Shoebill appears!! (If not you have a terrific excuse to return!)

As you know 'we' were just two days behind you at one stage so we probably got your share of the rest of the rain as you may read from @xelas  's Report.

Love those Bats.

 

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Atravelynn

Great start.  Power packed itinerary.  Love the intro photo.  As soon as I reached the rhinos, I realized which Obama you met.  Glad you came to this conclusion RE: Ziwa.  "But it is definitely worth it."  I came to that conclusion as well.  You hit a rhino parade in Ziwa!

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elefromoz

@ELIL, terrific Rhinos, Obama is impressive, hope they do well. Glad you got the Shoebill, yes that area looks like it's worth saving, lots of nice Birds in there.

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ELIL

Next stop Baker's lodge in the Murchison Falls National Park. The lodge sits on the southern banks of the river Nile. Game drives are done on the northern side and you have to use a ferry to cross the river. There is a lot of construction ongoing in the park, the Chinese are re-building the main north-south road and we did see the early stage of a bridge supposed to replace the ferry in the future. We spent 3 nights at Baker's lodge, did 2 game drives, 1 cruise to the falls and another cruise to the delta (for a possible Shoebill sighting). And we spent one afternoon in lodge, sitting at the banks of of the Nile and enjoying our vacation time.

IMG_4800.jpg.0b14227cd8fc8520d2fa075f014be766.jpgIMG_4802.jpg.cc8dda35a821c537cbe2a15540816825.jpg

 

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Our favorite place in the lodge was the "Crocodile Deck" directly at the river. There is only place for one table, they usually let the new arrivals sit for lunch there. There were not many guests during our stay there and we extensively used it during our time there.

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View from the deck:

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Special mammals in Murchison Falls National Park are the Rothshild Giraffe, Jackson's Hartebeest and the Oribi. 

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And of course, you have the Uganda Kob

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