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As we all know it´s quite a tricky time to travel - never-ending quickly-changing regulations, the fear of quarantine, the worry about having to cancel or getting infected. But as always there was something stronger than all those concerns - the urge to travel, the urge to get away. The urge to get to Africa!

 

Worth it?

 

As always - yes, yes, yes and yes! :)

 

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Shoebill was so long on the top of my list - wonderful to see this almost mythic bird in Mabamba!

 

Uganda offers a bit of everything - classic African savanna.

 

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But it´s even more famous for the Great Apes! Rightly so, there´s nothing more awe-inspiring than spending an hour with Bwindi´s magnificent Mountain Gorillas.

 

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Birding is just fantastic, the country boasts an impressive list of more than 1,000 species!

 

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We enjoyed classic landmarks like Murchison Falls.

 

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Fantastic forests:

 

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Were delighted to meet safari regulars again:

 

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Had a sit-in with our closest relatives in Kibale.

 

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Took the time to marvel about the little things any trip to Africa offers:

 

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And looked for Central-African species that only can be found in Uganda in East Africa - like this Black-Casqued Hornbill:

 

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Quite a few cuties to be seen throughout this trip:

 

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Really a lot to see in Uganda - let me show you with this report! Ready?

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Ready? Absolutely!

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Woo Hoo looks like a splendid trip can't  wait to read all about it @michael-ibk

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Love the hornbill !

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Great photography as always! Thanks for creating the report. Looking forward to this 

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great start and awesome photos. 

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A long time coming! more than ready to be envious, jealous, regretful, excited, happy, relieved to see Uganda slices through your lens and words. 

 

an awesome shot of the shoebill and hornbill and gorilla! they all seemed so close to you!

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Ready!

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Magnificent teaser @michael-ibk!

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Yes, I'm ready! I can't wait for your report. In 10 months I will also get to experience it 1st hand.

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YAY!!!  Looking forward to the TR -- Your photography is fantastic (as always)!  I am a big fan of Uganda!  I'm hooked---hurry up!  :D

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Too right...on with the show.

 

Love the shoebill photo, what a great capture.

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Thanks a lot everybody!

 

16 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

A long time coming!

 

Hey, it´s less than a month since we´ve returned! That´s quick by my standards. :)

 

16 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

an awesome shot of the shoebill and hornbill and gorilla! they all seemed so close to you!

 

Shoebill and Gorilla - they were, 10 m or something like that. Hornbill is a very heavy crop though, that one was quite high up.

 

13 hours ago, NancyS said:

In 10 months I will also get to experience it 1st hand.

 

I´m sure you will have a super trip!

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Posted (edited)

Why whirlwind tour? Because this was our itinerary - basically an "All of Uganda" in two weeks thing:

 

4/2 Fly to Entebbe via Istanbul (Turkish Airlines) from Munich

5/2 Arrive Enttebe, some local birding, o/n Airport Guest House

6/2 Mabamba Swamps (Shoebill!), onwards to Masindi, o/n Masindi Hotel

7/2 Budongo Forest (The Royal Mile), onwards to Murchison Falls NP, o/n Pakuba Safari Lodge

8/2 Murchison Falls NP (game drive, Nile boat trip), o/n Pakuba Safari Lodge

9/2 morning visit to the falls, long drive South to Kibale area, o/n Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse

10/2 daytrip to Semliki Forest, o/n Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse

11/2 Chimp trekking in Kibale, Bigodi swamp, birding in Kibale, o/n Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse

12/2 Drive to Queen Elizabeth NP, afternoon Kazinga Channel boat trip, o/n Buffalo Safari Lodge

13/2 morning game drive, drive South to Ishasha sector, o/n Enjojo Lodge

14/2 morning game drive, drive South to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP, Buhoma sector, o/n Ride 4 A Woman Guesthouse

15/2 birding in Buhoma, o/n Ride 4 A Woman Guesthouse

16/2 drive to Ruhija sector in Bwindi, Gorilla trekking, afternoon birding, o/n Bakiga Lodge

17/2 birding in Ruhija, o/n Bakiga Lodge

18/2 drive East to Lake Mburo NP with COVID test on the way in Mbabara, game drive, o/n Eagle´s Nest Lodge

19/2 boat trip on the lake, drive back to Entebbe, o/n Airport Guest House

20/2 Fly back to Munich via Istanbul

 

Here´s our route:

 

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If I´d ask on the trip planning forum if this itinerary sounds like a good idea I´m sure I´d get a lot of

 

"No, don´t be stupid, that´s far too rushed! You´re trying to do too much and will spend too much time travelling. Always better to stay more nights in fewer places."

 

I´d probably give the same advice if asked. :D

 

But I have no regrets. This was by design a "mainly birding" trip. (And yes, the report will be very birdy I´m afraid although I do promise I will not torture you with all the subpar photos of brown unidentifiable warblers and other thrilling stuff.) And as a birder it´s always cool to cover a lot of different habitats. Two weeks (well, 16 days to be exact) was the timeframe we had, and it was cool to see so many different places. A lot of impressions, the trip felt even longer because of that. It would have been nice to have a few extra days, especially in Murchison, Semliki and Ishasha. But it was impossible to add more days. The sane idea would have been to omit Murchison, but that would really have been a shame since it is such a beautiful area. As an "Introduction to Uganda" trip we were perfectly happy with this itinerary. And while there are some long drives involved (especially Murchison to Kibale) it´s impossible to get bored on the road - always something to watch, lots of people, colourful markets, shops, and even good birding on the way. Driving in Africa is much more entertaining than at home, almost like watching TV - especially if you don´t have to drive yourself.

 

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We booked the trip with Uzuri Safaris. I´m not really sure quite how that happened, had never heard about them. But I did like their homepage, their TA reviews were excellent and I shot off a not too serious e-mail last year, admittedly more with the thought of getting a general idea what a trip would cost. And then I was so impressed with Edris (who runs Uzuri) and his swift and to-the-point communication that we actually did end up doing the trip with them.

 

And I can only say - a pleasure of a company to deal with, highly recommended! Very good value (happy to share price via PM if anybody is interested), thorough, extremely flexible and helpful, a good car, nice accommodations. I have nothing but praise for them and will certainly use them again when (not if) we go to Uganda again.

 

Because of COVID we were hesitant to book. Edris was happy with us deciding just weeks before if we´d go through with this. Deciding and paying I might add. And he also assured us should a last-minute cancellation be necessary (because of a positive PCR or whatever) we could just postpone. And he said he´s only pay all the lodges in Uganda after we were out of the airport and had a negative PCR-test (which we nerve-wrecklingly had to do after arrival in Uganda). That gave us peace of mind, and we´re very happy that we did decide to go on this trip.

 

Our guide/driver was Emma Baturaine (on FB: here). Nobody more important to make or break a trip than the guy who is with you 24/7 for more than two weeks! Excellent guide and driver, super-friendly, funny and just an all-around nice guy. Emma really made this trip so much better, and we absolutely will go with him again when we return.

 

Meet Emma (short for Emanuel):

 

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Phew, enough "red tape". :D

 

Edited by michael-ibk
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Posted (edited)

We flew with Turkish Airlines - long time ago we´ve last used them. Really enjoyed the flight, good food and service. And the new Istanbul Airport is just awesome, a very cool place to hang around between connections.

 

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Immigration and COVID stuff:

 

Uganda requires e-visa, visa on arrival is no longer possible. We got the approval letter less than 24 hors after application, so no problem there. The most complicated aspect of applying is downsizing photos and required documents to the ridicolously small file size.

 

I wish I could say it all then went smoothly after arrival then but regrettably I have to say we were really ripped of at the airport by a corrupt officer. The photo has to be uploaded during the application process. In Uganda a visa stamp is then printed and added to your passport. All fine, except for Andreas that was not his photo in there but of a completely unknown man. A glitch in the software? Or deliberate? Don´t know. We insisted on getting a proper stamp with the correct photo. We did but were told Andreas would have to pay the USD 50,-- visa fee again! And then the officer straight out refused to give us a receipt. Ultimately we just gave up which we should not have done. But it was 06:00 a.m. after a long flight, we were tired and just wanted to get out. Not the ideal welcome to Uganda and certainly not representative of the country - we found Ugandans are extremely open, friendly and helpful people - extremely welcoming. Just (almost) the very first Ugandan we met was anything but.

 

COVID: Much of this is now a moot point - when we travelled Uganda did not only require a PCR before departure but had tourists do a test after arrival as well - and then one had to wait for the results. This was obviously something we were very nervous about, would just be awful for this test to be positive and then have to quarantine. Fortunately this requirement has since been lifted. I think the PCR before departure (which we also had to do) is still required however although I´m not 100 % sure.

 

Anyway, theoretically one was supposed to pay for the COVID test in advance. That did not work for us because our credit cards were not accepted. Or probably the other way around, our credit card companies did not accept that pre-pay side. I´ve read on TripAdvisor that others were having that issue as well. Not a big deal, we could pay on the spot (USD 30,--). The whole procedure was slightly chaotic. Fortunately Uzuri had arranged somebody to walk us through all those hoops which we appreciated  - we had not asked for it. In all fairness it would all have been fine in daylight I suppose. But we landed when it was still pitch-dark, and in the middle of a thunderstorm. For a while it was even unclear if we could land in Entebbe at all, the captain announced he might have to reroute to a different airport!), it was dark, raining, and the COVID waiting lines and testings were done in badly lit tents. It all went fine though, did not took much longer than 20 minutes, and the results came in after about six hours. Obviously you need WiFi for that. We were both negative, a huge relief! And we did not mind the waiting time much, could do with a rest.

 

Our first activity was a bit of a let-down. It rained most of the time, and even when it stopped in the afternoon it was very dark and gloomy. We went to Entebbe´s beautiful botanical garden and some other places. A lot of birdlife there, but in the dull light photography was quite a challenge.

 

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Yellow-Fronted Tinkerbird

 

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Woodland Kingfisher. I love their laughing "song", and it was omnipresent throughout the whole trip.

 

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Olive-Bellied Sunbird

 

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Vervet Monkey - I guess, apparently there´s quite some interbreeding going on between Vervets and Tantalus monkeys in the Lake Victoria area.

 

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Broad-Billed Roller. I´m more used to this bird from Southern Africa where they are migrants. In Uganda they are breeding, and much more approachable it seems.

 

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Black-Headed Heron

 

We stayed at the Airport Guest House. Conveniently close to the airport (15 minutes), a very nice garden, pretty good food and decent rooms. A good option at the start and end of a Uganda trip.

 

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Eastern Plaintain-Eater, actually a lifer for me. Which amused Emma - it´s such a common and conspicous bird in Uganda.

 

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Meyer´s Parrot

 

 

Edited by michael-ibk
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Posted (edited)

Next morning we anxiously looked at the sky - if it was raining again our first supposed highlight would be properly spoilt. We hoped to find Shoebill today after all! :ph34r:

 

Well, not worth building up any suspense if we found it though given the first photo of this report. ;)

 

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And yes, the weather was looking (a bit) more friendly today.

 

The Mabamba Swamps just West of Entebbe are probably the easiest place to find this iconic bird.  Located on the Northern shore of Lake Victoria, covering 2424 ha with thick marshes of papyrus, water lilies and other wetland grasses. This is a Ramsar site hosting more than 300 bird species - or so they say. We had very comfortable means of getting there - instead of driving around the lake to the starting point (about a 60-90 minutes drive depending on traffic as I understand) or using the regular ferry Uzuri had organised a private ferry boat for us. Just a 15 minutes drive from the Airport Guest House to get going.

 

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Our "ferry". Nothing fancy but did the job.

 

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A bit of sun battling through - hooray!

 

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After about 20 minutes we reached the swamps. Here we changed to a different boat joining up with our "Shoebill guys" - it´s very shallow in these wetlands.

 

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I was nervous. Finding a Shoebill was kinda the raison d'être for this trip, the whole idea for going to Uganda had started there. But really no need to worry - after less than 10 minutes, just as we bend around a corner it was there:

 

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Such a prehistoric-looking, slightly uncanny, Dinosaur-like bird - certainly one of the coolest animals I´ve ever seen.

 

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Shoebill population is estimated at between 5,000 and 8,000 individuals, the majority of which live in swamps in South Sudan, Uganda, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. The local fishermen here at Mabamba used to see them as rivals, problem animals - and killed lots of them, or destroyed their eggs we were told. But after tourists became aware of the easy option of finding Shoebill here that changed - the locals found out that the birds are of value to them which fortunately changed the way they are seeing them. Not fish thieves anylonger but cash cows.

 

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Yeah, happy about that!

 

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We were told there are about 15 to 20 Shoebills in the swamps. Can one count on finding one? Apparently yes - Emma told me he has only missed seeing them once, and that was in the afternoon. They are apparently easier in the morning when they are hungry and hunting. When full they prefer to retreat into the papyrus which obviously makes it trickier to find them. But pretty much guaranteed in the morning.

 

Our bird was not exactly an expert hunter. We waited with baited breath for it to catch a lung fish, their favourite diet - but he or she missed!

 

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He looked slightly embarrassed after that botched job. Or she - it seems to be very difficult to sex them. On average males are slightly larger than females. But extremely difficult to assess that without seeing a few of them together. And given their solitary nature that does not often happen.

 

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Don´t know why but to me it still was a "Mr. Shoebill". :)

 

We were (extremely!) happy to see him, and he seemed to enjoy our company just as much. At least he was looking more and more friendly:

 

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Or laughing at us - not quite sure! B)

 

After a while a second boat arrived. Our friend did not mind at all - after all they must be very used to these visits. But one of the new arrivals had forgotten to mute their mobile - and, ding*dang*dong, some awful hip-hop song ringtone destroyed the peace of the swamp. That was too much, the bird did not know what to make of this downright scary noise, and decided to take off. Can hardly blame him, it really was an awful ringtone. :D

 

Unfortunately I had my lens "full out" at that moment, and so was actually too close to get the whole bird when it was taking off:

 

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Actually we did not mind so much that the bird had gone - we had spent almost 45 minutes in his presence, and were grins all over. Such an important target - and successfully "ticked off" on Day 2. Fantastic! :D

 

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TR_0047_Uganda_155_Shoebill (Schuhschnabel).jpg

Edited by michael-ibk
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Great sighting, and beautiful pictures. It is an amazing bird indeed (even to a not-so-much-into-birder). And it must have been a relief that you saw it on your second day.

Looking forward to rest of your TR.

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Off to a great start! What a great Shoebill encounter, and what a happy looking bird...if a bird can look happy! :D

 

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soooo coool. it looked like a statue in that first photo but you had such brilliant shots of it. it has lifted my desire to go to Uganda like tenfold. darn quarantine. 

 

The shots were very sharp - either you managed to cope with a rocking boat (which I know you definitely do from kafue river), or were the waters very calm?  

 

Forgot to add - love that tinkerbird!

Edited by Kitsafari
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18 hours ago, Biko said:

And it must have been a relief that you saw it on your second day.

 

It absolutely was! This was the most important target for this trip. We did have some back-up plans, it´s possible to try in Murchison Falls (going West from Paraa bridge by boat), and if that would have failed we would have returned to Mabamba on our very last day. But we were happy not needing to falling back to those emergency scenarios. :)

 

9 hours ago, janzin said:

What a great Shoebill encounter, and what a happy looking bird...if a bird can look happy!

 

Yeah, he was looking decidedly less sinister than I had imagined. :D

 

5 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

either you managed to cope with a rocking boat (which I know you definitely do from kafue river), or were the waters very calm? 

 

Very calm Kit, if nobody was moving too much the boat was very steady.

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Posted (edited)

Mabamba is not just about Shoebill - it´s a lovely area full of (bird) life, and after we left the "star" we spent a very pleasant hour looking for other stuff.

 

1836602241_TR_0034_Uganda_81_LittleEgret(Seidenreiher).jpg.38d045558149d0b878777b6045c387c9.jpg

 

Little Egret

 

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African Jacana, always abundant in habitats like these

 

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African Fish Eagle (juvenile)

 

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Black Crake

 

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Reed Cormorant

 

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Pied Kingfisher, plentiful everywhere in Uganda where there´s water

 

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His more colourful cousins

 

1863992833_TR_0066_Uganda_211_WoodSandpiper(Bruchwasserlufer).jpg.cb9b6eb1091523ba893d9a90a5db3b69.jpg

 

Wood Sandpiper

 

1476902119_TR_0070_Uganda_236_Osprey(Fischadler).jpg.5be3f9c8a070fdc66bee61c14b56d6d6.jpg

 

Osprey

 

TR_0035_0051_Mabamba Swamp.jpg

 

1644980173_Uganda_88_PurpleHeron(Purpurreiher).jpg.350d0f40a3ad723c41f4885694f58f42.jpg

 

Purple Heron

 

1433816485_Uganda_90_Gull-BilledTern(Lachseeschwalbe)-Bearbeitet.jpg.687e440a5e1bc1cb61fed8af573fe929.jpg

 

Gull-Billed Tern

 

The highlight was another of Uganda´s most-sought birding prizes:

 

64676145_TR_0067_Uganda_215_PapyrusGonolek(Papyruswrger)-Bearbeitet.jpg.319fb16474081976ae226f5e2a8690ce.jpg

 

A Papyrus Gonolek! While they are probably not that rare in the right habitats they are dang skulkers and exceedingly difficult to see. This here would actually already be a terrific sighting. Imagine our delight when the Gonolek did this:

 

615411240_TR_0068_Uganda_227_PapyrusGonolek(Papyruswrger).jpg.bbc68daed17ff688cc0e68862fd7c60b.jpg

 

:D

 

Edited by michael-ibk
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wow what a  wonderful shoebill sighting! and the other photos are splendid @michael-ibk

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Posted (edited)

At about 10:45 a.m. we returned to the Guesthouse to get our luggage - Emma did not feel comfortable leaving them in the car in Entebbe while we were in Mabamba, and it was a short drive anyway. The drive to Masindi was much longer - about 250 km. The roads were quite good, often excellent actually, but of course there was quite heavy traffic especially closer to Kampala.

 

TR_0071_0046_Entebbe.jpg.86ee65eef75ca391d4fb5a8a7b2e2081.jpg

 

TR_0072_0047_Entebbe.jpg.5a7abe2596921113b13fb1e6989a4767.jpg

 

TR_0080_0146_Masindi.jpg.109a1b529ac54d496563c097dd33b64a.jpg

 

TR_0081_0147_Masindi.jpg.33b142dc9ff1c5babcdb318bffccd532.jpg

 

We enjoyed a relaxed lunch on the way at Kabalega Diner - I guess most people going from Entebbe to Murchison stop there. Decent food, a nice cool garden - and some birds for me.

 

1456891158_TR_0074_Uganda_251_AfricanParadise-Flycatcher(Graubrust-Paradiesschnpper)-Bearbeitet-Bearbeitet.jpg.e875f6bf016ec95d5d2d15302705e85a.jpg

 

African Paradise-Flycatcher - a white morph

 

955779239_TR_0075_Uganda_261_Grey-HeadedKingfisher(Graukopfliest).jpg.70323a684dadde2b521e79615c81a6c2.jpg

 

Grey-Headed Kingfisher

 

1830589715_TR_0076_Uganda_268_GreaterBlue-EaredStarling(Grnschwanz-Glanzstar)-Bearbeitet.jpg.12ff2604505114cc227692e78e51700e.jpg

 

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

 

The Masindi Hotel where we arrived around 05:30 p.m. is nothing special, not a wildlife destination - but it´s the only decent place to stay reasonably close to Budongo Forest apparently. And it´s perfectly fine for what it is - a city hotel with a nice garden. We had a really good Curry there for dinner.

 

TR_0077_IMG_20220206_174027.jpg.85bfd1b82dae373d55cb4613158dc3ce.jpg

 

TR_0082_0149_Hotel Masindi.jpg

 

And my short stroll through the garden was also productive enough:

 

2145607635_TR_0079_Uganda_292_Black-and-White-CasquedHornbill(Grauwangenhornvogel)-Bearbeitet.jpg.4788444cdb181c0204ba5a603b1549a4.jpg

 

Black-and-White Casqued Hornbill - very common in Uganda

 

1709555059_TR_0078_Uganda_281_AfricanGreyWoodpecker(Graubrustspecht)-Bearbeitet.jpg.89607a527820eadf2dae1a8ad2594895.jpg

 

African Grey Woodpecker

Edited by michael-ibk
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Aaaah the memories! I've almost forgotten the sights and smells of Africa but you've gloriously transported me back in time this morning. 

 

Great start as usual and od course you got the Shoebill I never did and now I'm left to wonder If you got my "chocolate kingfisher"😁.

 

Nice one staying at the ride 4 a woman guesthouse, I'm very happy to see them get all the support they can get. With no trip in sight I haven't been able to finish a trip report in some time bit I will definitely continue following this one. Nice start Michael 

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4 hours ago, dlo said:

Great start as usual and od course you got the Shoebill I never did and now I'm left to wonder If you got my "chocolate kingfisher"

 

Thanks! Where did you try for Shoebill? Chocolate KF was definitely high up on the target list - we´ll see. :)

 

4 hours ago, dlo said:

Nice one staying at the ride 4 a woman guesthouse, I'm very happy to see them get all the support they can get.

 

A very nice place indeed, we really enjoyed it there.

 

Just to prove the Shoebill is not a statue - here´s a short video I took:

 

 

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