Uganda 2012

...with Mark Finn

July 12th - 29th

Uganda once again proved to be a wonderful destination. With our itinerary slightly altered from previous tours we reduced travelling times between sites and were able to visit the seldom visited Semliki National Park on the border with Congo. We recorded over 465 speces of birds plus a dazzling array of mammals. There were many highlights with sightings of the poorly known Congo Serpent Eagle, Shoebills near Entebbe and some range-restricted species which occur along the Albertine Rift which is mainly forested and borders Rwanda and the Congo. Interesting species here included Handsome Francolin, White-naped Pigeon, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Scarce Swift, Bar-tailed Trogon, Dwarf Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater, both dwarf hornbills, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Dwarf Honeyguide, African and Rufous-sided Broadbills, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Stripe-breasted Tit, 19 species of Greenbuls, Ruwenzori, Black-faced and Black-throated Apalis, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Red-faced and Ugandan Woodland Warblers, Chapin’s Flycatcher, White-starred and Eastern Forest Robins, Equatorial Akalat, Archer’s and White-bellied Robin Chats, Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Brown and Mountain Illadopsis, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler, Purple-breasted Sunbird, Stuhlmann’s Starling, Oriole Finch, Jameson’s Antpecker and Orange-cheeked Waxbill. The lowland savannah habitats also added the scarce Dwarf Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron, Brown-chested Lapwing, African Crake and African Rail plus a wide range of Cisticolas including Foxy, starlings and summering cuckoos.

I am indebted to Harriet and her amazing birding skills, especially in the forest habitats, and for Fred who drove us around the Uganda road network which is not great in places but slowly being upgraded. The next tour to Uganda is in February 2014.

July 12th/13th: London, Entebbe, Entebbe Botanical Gardens (EBG).

Weather: Overcast with occasional showers 21 C.

We met up at Heathrow to board the flight down to Entebbe in Uganda. Despite leaving late the captain made up time and arrived at Entebbe on schedule. Harriet and Freddie were on hand to meet us and we promptly went to the hotel and checked in. After freshening up we visited the nearby botanical gardens an excellent and leisurely way to study some of the commoner birds of Uganda. Just outside the gate we were greeted by the huge Black and White Casqued Hornbills, Broad-billed Rollers, Crowned Hornbills and an African Harrier Hawk searching for food. The first fruiting tree we came across attracted Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, African Yellow White-eye, Grey-backed Camaroptera and hunting Lizard Buzzard. The grassy areas had Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, Hadada Ibis and Egyptian Geese. A large dead tree added the scarce African Hobby whilst nearby Northern Black Flycatcher, Grey Woodpecker, Northern Puffback and a family of African Grey Parrots were noted. A flowering tree lured several different sunbirds including Olive-bellied, Collared, Red-chested, Scarlet-chested and Purple-banded. Next was a vagrant Black Kite perched in a tree and a Palmnut Vulture was flushed from its daytime perch. The most remarkable sight was a Bat Hawk flying around in the open which gave prolonged and close views. On Lake Victoria the bushes were alive with Pied Kingfishers whilst islands attracted Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, Striated Heron and Yellow-billed Ducks. In another dead tree species included African Pied Hornbill, Superb Sunbird, Grey Kestrel and African Thrush. Back to base recording an African Fish Eagle with nesting material and a calling Red-chested Cuckoo. After lunch we returned to the gardens at 1530 hours. First stop was at a tree infested with caterpillars which attracted a beautiful African Emerald Cuckoo, Slender-billed Weaver and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers. Brief views of a Tambourine Dove as it flew fast and away from us. The habitat near Lake Victoria is slightly different and this attracted Yellow-throated Leaflove, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat and Lead-coloured Flycatcher. Above the lake we observed numerous Pied Kingfishers, cormorants, Angola Swallows and a flock of Madagascar Bee-eaters. The last stop in the gardens added the skulking Green Crombec, Black-necked Weaver and a very obliging Ross’s Turaco perched on a horizontal branch.

July 14th: Mbamba Swamp and Lake Victoria, Mbarara.

Weather: Sunny and warm 26 C

Overnight Chris had heard an African Wood Owl giving its distinctive calls. After breakfast we loaded up and headed towards the Mbamba Swamp, a bird rich area of Lake Victoria. Our driver Fred decided to take a short cut by going along gravel roads. This proved to be productive as we stopped near a village with nesting Viellot’s and Village Weavers. Other species in the area included Blue-spotted Wood Dove, White-headed Sawwing, African Green Pigeon, Grey-headed Negrofinch, Great Blue Turaco, Lesser Striped Swallow and the extraordinary sight of five Red-chested Cuckoos flying around from tree to tree. Before reaching the dock at Mbamba a Wahlberg’s Eagle was noted sitting in the top of a bare tree. At the dock we boarded a dug-out canoe to explore the extensive papyrus swamps and open channels. In the first sector we recorded Long-toed Lapwing, Blue-headed Coucal and Winding Cisticola. The open areas of water attracted White-faced Whistling Ducks, African Jacana and Fan-tailed Widowbirds in the tall stands of rushes. Chris then located a Shoebill sitting motionless in the marsh and to our surprise another one was nearby. Fantastic sightings of this prehistoric bird were obtained and made us a very happy group. Our journey continued to another area where we recorded Purple Heron, African Black Crake, African Marsh Harrier and non-breeding White-winged Terns. Off the main channel we diverted again to observe a pair of Papyrus Gonoleks a superb bird of the swamp. In nearby reeds we watched Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Swamp Flycatcher and Yellow-throated Longclaw. On our return journey we had views of Purple Gallinule and Northern Brown-throated Weaver in the reeds. Time was getting on as a visit to a small fishing area was made. Trees on the lake edge added the scarce and localised Orange Weaver plus Lesser Masked, Slender-billed, Village and Black-headed Weavers, numerous Hamerkop, African Pied and Cape Wagtails and a Shikra which went into the thickest part of a tree. In the fields we added African Pipit and Sooty Chat. Back to the main highway and towards the equator where we stopped for lunch at a cafe. The road to Mbarara has been upgraded and is in good shape at the moment. Little Swifts were noted in numbers breeding under a road bridge. The most productive spot was at a seasonal wetland which provided the group with sightings of; Comb Duck, Spur-winged Goose, uncommon species in Fulvous Whistling Duck and Red-knobbed Coots, Great and Little Egrets, Sacred Ibis, Grey-crowned Crane and Bronze Mannikin in riverside bushes. Back in the bus with a few birds along the way notably Long-crested Eagle and a Gabar Goshawk diving into cover giving its distinctive white rump and barred wings. A small area of Lake Mburo National Park was visited where we located a Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Rufous-chested Swallow, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Zitting Cisticola, Golden-breasted Bunting, Blue-naped and Speckled Mousebirds and perhaps best of all a Spot-flanked Barbet calling from a dead tree. The journey to Mbarara went quickly with the addition of a Lilac-breasted Roller.

July 15th: Mburo National Park.

Weather: Warm and sunny 26 C

Breakfast was taken at 0630 hours and then onto Mburo National Park. Outside the hotel a Wire-tailed Swallow perched on the roof edge. Before the turning to the park Chris spotted an Augur Buzzard perched in an acacia tree, an uncommon bird in this area of Uganda. In the small town we located House Sparrow and Rock Martin. Further up the road we stopped in an area of acacia forest. Birds observed included Tropical Boubou, African Grey Hornbill, Black-lored Babblers, Marico Sunbird and a pair of White-headed Barbets. At the park entrance we added Brown-headed Parrot, Trilling Cisticola and a calling Cardinal Woodpecker. The first part of the park was rather wet which resulted in us recording Saddle-billed, Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks, Black-headed Heron and several Broad-billed Rollers chasing prey form the tops of dead trees. As we approached the park headquarters Green Woodhoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Black Cuckooshrike, Red-necked Francolin, and above our heads White-backed Vultures, Bateleur and in the camp a calling Greater Honeyguide. Moving on, it was Initially rather quiet but we located Striped Kingfisher, Brown-backed Scrub Robin, Western Citril before crossing the main track. On the other side a Dideric Cuckoo showed well in a dead acacia plus Red-faced Crombec, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Emerald Spotted Wood-dove, Southern Black Flycatcher and a beautiful Orange-breasted Bushshrike sitting in a dead tree. As we dropped down towards the main swamp a Levaillant’s Cuckoo and Yellow-breasted Apalis were added to the list. The swamp was simply an amazing place for birds as we quickly located the scarce Rufous-bellied Heron, flocks of Sacred Ibis, Wattled and Long-toed Lapwings. From an elevated position Harriet found a pair of African Rails a difficult bird to locate and see at the best of times and in the same area African Jacana, African Black Crake and African Stonechat.

It was starting to get hot as we went to a restaurant for lunch. At 1530 hours we set off to the campsite and boarded a boat for a tour of Lake Mburo. Along the lake edge Pied and Malachite Kingfishers were numerous and in the papyrus beds Swamp Flycatchers. Larger trees and scrub attracted Black-crowned Night Herons, Green-headed Sunbird and the commoner birds of the park. Along the water edge we eventually located a Giant Kingfisher and a family party of African Finfoots. Back to the dock and joining the loop track back to the main gate. This proved to be one of those magical birding moments as Ray caught up with an impressive Martial Eagle perched in a dead tree at a few metres distance. Chris then landed the ultimate ‘holy grail’ in the form of a Dwarf Bittern in a flooded ditch it flew off and perched in an acacia allowing excellent views. Back to base a contented group of birders

July 16th: Mbarara, Ruhija via Kabale.

Weather: Warm and sunny although much cooler at higher elevation.

Today we headed in a southwest direction to the border town of Kabale. In the hotel grounds we could hear the distinctive hooting of a White-spotted Flufftail. Our first birding spot was at an undisturbed papyrus swamp adjacent to the road. Harriet managed to persuade a White-winged Warbler to come and show itself in front of us. Also present in the swamp were Papyrus Gonolek, Greater Swamp Warbler, Grey-capped Warbler and Slender-billed Weavers. Nearby flowering trees attracted a Green-headed Sunbird. The road to Kabale is being upgraded so there was a lot of disruption with road works and traffic. At the highest point we stopped for the localised African Black Swift, Yellow-crowned Canary and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater. Lunch was taken at Kabale and then onto Ruhija which is one of the highest points within Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The road passes many dairy farms with groups of Grey-crowned Cranes. On the ascent to Ruhija we made a stop for White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Yellow Bishop, Streaky Seedeater, Bronze Sunbird and Mackinnon’s Fiscal. We stopped at the park entrance which proved to be a magnet for birds. Black Sawwings were flying around everywhere with the added bonus of Stripe-breasted Tit, Blue-headed and Purple-breasted Sunbirds the latter being a scarce Albertine Rift endemic. Loaded up again and made another stop after two kilometres. This was even more remarkable as Eastern Mountain and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls were showing well in a tree. Then a Red-faced Woodland Warbler showed at close range followed by Strange and Black-billed Weavers, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler and a calling Mountain Oriole. If this was not enough two Handsome Francolins showed on the track, another scarce species. To cap all of this an ant trail was attracting birds which included Red-throated Alethe, White-starred Robin, Ruwenzori Apalis and probably the best of all an Archer’s Robin Chat perched low in a dead vine. The group were on a high as we entered the village of Ruhija our base for the next two nights.

July 17th: Ruhija.

Weather: Sunny with overcast periods. Fairly cool in the morning 14 C/23 C.

This morning we concentrated on the track leading back to Kabale. After picking up our guard we made a stop overlooking large trees and a valley straddling into the distant forest. A large tree attracted Black-billed Turaco and White-tailed Blue Flycatcher whilst along the road we observed Grey-throated Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker and Stripe-breasted Tit. Back in the van for a short period and another stop in a habitat of bracken, scrub, bushes and trees. In the mature trees a family party of White-headed Woodhoopoes, Brown-capped and Strange Weavers, Masked Mountain and Black-throated Apalis and several African Olive Pigeons flying over the valley. Harriet then coaxed a beautiful Doherty’s Bushshrike into view a truly stunning bird. In the bracken and bushes we added Luhder’s Bushshrike, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Mountain Illadopsis and Blue-headed Sunbird. We turned down another track with a habitat of bamboo and flowering trees. This was productive for Black Cuckooshrike, Purple-breasted, Blue-headed, Collared and Regal Sunbirds, Northern Puffback and Yellow-billed Barbet. Luck was with us as a female Ruwenzori Batis and Ruwenzori Apalis showed at close range. Overhead a Long-crested Eagle and White-naped Raven were seen. At the end of the track within the bracken brief views of Cinnamon Bracken Warbler which is a real skulker and hard to see. After lunch we met up at 1530 hours to walk along the track towards a school. Birding was quiet to begin with until an African Paradise Flycatcher and a Chinspot Batis were seen flitting about in a large tree. The best spot was further along the track where trees were ordained with creepers and flowers attracting the commoner species of the Ruhija area. Careful scanning produced views of Equatorial Akalat, Dwarf Honeyguide, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Blue Malkoha and Mountain Thrush. At the end of the track Harriet located a Little Sparrowhawk on a horizontal branch. On the return walk the only birds of note were a group of Grey Cuckooshrikes.

July 18th: Ruhija, The Neck, Bwindi.

Weather: Overcast with afternoon showers 23 C.

Before breakfast we made the short journey down to the junction. This proved to be productive for African Wood Owl and the near endemic Ruwenzori Nightjar. The road to Bwindi is rather poor in places but it passes several excellent areas for forest birds. In the first sector we disturbed an Olive Pigeon by the road plus Black and Grey Cuckooshrikes, Brown-capped Weaver, Stripe-breasted Tit and two new trip birds in Fine-banded Woodpecker and African Dusky Flycatcher. On one corner near a tea plantation views over the forest revealed an African Grey Parrot, Luhder’s Bushshrike and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds. The road passes through a section of land used for tea production. African Harrier Hawk, Brown-crowned Tchagra and non-breeding Pin-tailed Whydah were seen. After passing through this area we entered The Neck a portion of forest which links the Ruhija and Bwindi sections. The large trees, bushes and hanging vines make it an ideal place for forest birds and we recorded Little, Toro Olive and Slender-billed Greenbuls, Brown and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis (the latter giving its distinctive song), Red-headed Malimbe, White-breasted Negrofinch, White-chinned Prinia, Speckled Tinkerbird and overhead the uncommon Scarce Swift. We travelled down the road for a few kilometres and stopped again with a large number of birds near the road. By the road Dusky Blue Flycatcher and Blue-throated Brown Sunbird whilst the vines attracted Grey-green Bushshrike, Plain, Katemega and Red-tailed Greenbuls, Black-billed Weaver, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Mountain Oriole. Lunch was taken by the river bridge with Cassin’s Flycatchers for company just before this we had brief views of African Black Ducks on the river. After an enjoyable picnic we made another stop for a group of Black Bee-eaters, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Dusky Tit and Little Green Sunbird. In the forest canopy a party of White-headed Woodhoopoe and a calling White-spotted Flufftail. It was time to head towards Bwindi our base for the next two nights. At 1730 hours we walked towards the park entrance with sightings of African Blue Flycatcher, Black and White Shrike Flycatcher, Green-headed and Green-throated Sunbirds, Black-necked, Black-billed and Baglafecht Weavers, Narrow-tailed Starlings, Black-throated Apalis and Red-capped Robin Chat.

July 19th: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Weather: Overcast with late afternoon showers 26 C.

Today was spent wandering along the main trail which goes through the forest and eventually to the border with Congo. The usual birds were seen before the forest started with the addition of Olive Green Camaroptera and the uncommon Grey-throated Tit Flycatcher. As we entered the forest a feeding flock was encountered which included Little Grey Greenbul, Green Hylia, Buff-throated and Grey Apalis and a White-throated Greenbul. In the canopy a pair of Black and White Shrike Flycatchers was seen catching prey, Kakamega Greenbul and an Oriole Finch. Further on we heard the distinctive calls of a Thick-billed Honeyguide and an Elliot’s Woodpecker feeding in a lichen laden tree. High above the forest distant views of an Ayre’s Hawk Eagle circling on the thermals. In a tree a view of the poorly known Chapin’s Flycatcher before it dropped into cover and away from sight. Back onto the trail again with a Bar-tailed Trogon showing well before it started flitting around the forest it perched again a few minutes later to allow telescope views which pleased Ray. A Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo was calling from cover and we observed it flying through the forest which was frustrating for all. In an open area Harriet located a Golden-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Sooty Flycatcher, Green, Blue-throated Brown and Western Olive Sunbirds. In the distance a group of Stuhlman’s Starlings feeding in a fruiting tree. Lunch was taken at 1300 hours with Chris locating a Jameson’s Antpecker and a Black-billed Turaco in a nearby tree. Harriet then located a male African Broadbill sitting quietly on a branch which allowed us long telescope views. Towards the end of the trail we had a few magical moments as the group had fantastic views of White-bellied Robin Chat, Equatorial Akalat, Black-faced Rufous Warbler and a fly-by White-tailed Ant-thrush. On the return walk the best place was an open area which attracted several Black Bee-eaters, Blue-throated Roller and a nice selection of forest birds. The weather was starting to be increasingly stormy with thunder and we arrived back at base before heavy rains set in. A truly remarkable day spent in the forests of the Albertine Rift.

July 20th: Bwindi, Ishasha, Mweya.

Weather: Sunny and hot 36 C.

Today was basically a travelling one as we headed northeast towards the Congo border and onto Mweya Lodge overlooking the Kazinga Channel. Our first birding stop was at an area used for dairy farming with a fast-flowing river running through the area. The telegraph wires attracted Mosque and Lesser Striped Swallows. In the rich vegetation a Red-faced Cisticola showed well before dropping into cover. In the same area we located Village and Holub’s Golden Weavers, Yellow-throated Greenbul and Black-lored Babblers. A bonus came when Ray located a Red-throated Wryneck sitting motionless in a dead tree. Another tree had an adult Gabar Goshawk sitting quietly in the shade. At a small town we filled up with fuel and joined a dirt road which links up with the Congo. The large trees attracted a Martial Eagle, Nubian Woodpecker, Fork-tailed Drongo, Madagascar and Little Bee-eaters and overhead a pair of Brown Snake Eagles. We turned into Ishasha Camp and took the circular track leading to the campground. This was excellent for Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks and Yellow-throated Longclaws. Our attention was brought to vultures circling around before dropping down to the ground. After a little searching we located the source a recently dead Cape Buffalo. The feeding frenzy included Lappet-faced, White-backed, Ruppell’s Griffon and Hooded Vultures and Maribou Storks. Lunch was taken by the river with Cassin’s Flycatchers building a nest in an old tree stump. Afterwards we left the park via the main track stopping for a party of Arrow-marked Babblers in a bush. The flooded grasslands attracted lots of game, egrets and herons and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on buffalo. Back to the main road which is rough and rutted in parts. A stop at a seasonal pool produced Little Grebe, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Jacana and a Malachite Kingfisher. At the main road we turned left and passed over the bridge and into the Mweya Lodge track. Black-chested Snake Eagle was observed along with an African Harrier Hawk and groups of Blue-naped Mousebirds. The best however was a male Leopard walking slowly down the track in front of us and passing literally feet away – the leopard did not look and simply walked away into cover – fantastic!! In the grounds of the lodge Black-headed Gonolek, White-browed Robin Chat, Swamp Flycatcher and hundreds of Little Swifts.

July 21st: Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Kazinga Channel.

Weather: Overcast and warm 36 C.

Breakfast was taken at 0700 hours and then a leisurely drive into QENP. Outside the lodge gates we noted a Squacco Heron flying over. The drive towards the park gate was largely uneventful although we added the nomadic Wattled Starling and breeding plumaged Southern Red Bishops to the trip list. On joining the main highway a stop was made next to a seasonal wetland holding African Black Crake, Common Moorhen and very close views of Little Swifts flying in formation. We then crossed the road to visit another sector of the park some of which had recent controlled burns of the grasslands. A large tree attracted another Martial Eagle sitting quietly looking for prey. After scanning a few burnt areas Chris located the uncommon Senegal Lapwing, Temminck’s Courser, Rufous-naped and Red-capped Larks the latter being a rather rare visitor to the area. Overhead an African Hawk Eagle was joined by White-backed Vultures, Grey Kestrel and Bateleur. Further along the track we located three Brown-chested Lapwings another scarce inter-African migrant which allowed very close views indeed. Other birds in the immediate vicinity included Flappet Lark, African Pipit, Spot-flanked Barbet, an alert Long-crested Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle and a juvenile Saddle-billed Stork. We stopped to stretch our legs and look down to a lake used for rice production, no birds present. In the distant skies a group of White Pelicans and a Wahlberg’s Eagle. Time was getting on a bit and the temperature had reached 36c. Nonetheless an African Crake flew across the track and dropped into cover. Back along the main road with brief views of Moustached Grass Warbler and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on the backs of Cape Buffalo. Lunch and a short break as we prepared for an afternoon boat trip along the Kazinga Channel. The gardens of the lodge were alive with birds which included White-browed Robin Chat, African Blue Flycatcher, Black-headed Gonolek, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Slender-billed, Black-headed and Village Weavers and Swamp Flycatchers using the restaurant chairs as hunting perches. At 1500 hours we boarded the boat and started our afternoon birding along the channel. On reaching the far bank we were watching large numbers of African Skimmer, Grey-hooded Gulls, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns resting on the muddy banks. The captain of the boat travelled very slowly adjacent to the bank allowing us to observe Great and Little Egrets, Goliath, Striated, Grey and Squacco Herons, Spur-winged Lapwings, Pied, Grey-headed and Malachite Kingfishers. Further along the shore towards the fishing village we located Water Thick-knee, African Spoonbill, Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, Yellow-billed Stork, African Black Crakes, Pink-backed Pelicans and a solitary Kittlitz’s Plover. On the return voyage we went towards the ‘lodge’ bank recording similar species plus an early Sand Martin and a few Plain Martins.

July 22nd: QENP, Fort Portal, Bundibugyo.

Weather: Sunny with overcast periods 34 C.

Today was a travelling one as we headed north towards Fort Portal and then southwest to Bundibugyo a remote town on the border with Congo. Before leaving the lodge Chris located a White-rumped Swift among the hundreds of Little Swifts. Just beyond the lodge gate a White-browed Scrub Robin was observed singing from the top of a prickly pear. In another bush a Brimstone Canary was noted. We departed from QENP from the nearest gate and joined a dirt road running towards the main highway. This proved to be good for birds with sightings of African Crake, Red-rumped Swallow, Black and White-browed Coucals plus the rather uncommon Compact Weaver. A stand of grasses attracted Fawn-breasted Waxbills. The journey to Fort Portal went smoothly and we stopped at the Mountains of the Moon Hotel to consume our packed lunch and to purchase cold drinks. In the gardens an African Blue and Northern Black Flycatcher plus the ever present African Pied Wagtails and doves. The road towards Bundibugyo is being upgraded with the help of the Chinese which will make the journey much faster than at present. Due to the heat few birds were noted apart from two Little Bee-eaters and near the park entrance an unidentified hawk-eagle, Palmnut and White-backed Vultures, Bateleur and a Black-bellied Firefinch. Along the roadside towards Bundibugyo we noted several Piping Hornbills, Blue-headed Coucal, Viellot’s Weaver and a flock of Black-crowned Waxbills. Later we entered the town of Bundibugyo one of the remotest in Uganda our base for the next two nights.

July 23rd: Semliki National Park.

Weather: Overnight rains giving way to cloud and sunny spells 34 C.

The overnight rains made driving tricky as we headed towards Semliki National Park. On arrival the forest was very dark so we decided to concentrate on the forest edge. This proved to be a shrewd move as we recorded African Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-casqued and Piping Hornbills, Black Sparrowhawk, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-headed Bluebill, Viellot’s, Maxwell’s and Black-necked Weavers. The light improved as we set off on the trail network within the forest. In the first section sightings of Rufous Flycatcher Thrush, Red-tailed Ant-thrush, Yellow-billed Barbet, Golden-crowned Woodpecker, Western Nicator and best of all a family party of Congo Serpent Eagles flitting from tree to tree in search of prey. We continued on the trail which was muddy in places and stopped to observe a Western Bronze-naped Pigeon feeding on a fruiting tree. Nearby we could hear the songs of Eastern Forest Robins and White-spotted Flufftail. A stand of dead trees attracted a Hairy-breasted Barbet. Continuing on our walk a mixed feeding flock was encountered comprising of Grey-headed Sunbird, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Western Black-headed Oriole and Xavier’s Greenbul. Luck was with us as Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills showed well in the canopy and a single Black Dwarf Hornbill of the race granti perched on a horizontal branch (the latter is a potential split) to Grant’s Hornbill. Lunch taken along the trail with sightings of the skulking Jameson’s Wattle-eye and a perched Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch. The afternoon was quieter for birds with sightings of Brown-eared Woodpecker. In an area of dense vegetation we located Chestnut Wattle-eye, Crested Malimbe and Blue Malkoha. At the end of the loop trail Ray found a Rufous-sided Broadbill feeding a fully fledged chick, a real bonus sighting of an uncommon bird. We left the forest with a Cassin’s Honeyguide perched on a horizontal branch. On the way back to base a single Grosbeak Weaver perched in a stand of reeds.

July 24th: Bundibugyo, Semliki National Park, Fort Portal.

Weather: Overcast with occasional showers 33 C.

After breakfast we travelled back to Fort Portal. Our first birding stop was along the road by a village. Adjacent to the road were stands of grass attracting Black and White and Bronze Manikins and Orange-cheeked Waxbills which are colonising this area of Uganda from the west. On the other side of the road a Black Bishop in full breeding plumage. At the park offices we embarked on a walk around the trails towards the hot sulphur springs. By the springs we located Cassin’s, Ayre’s and Crowned Hawk Eagles, Palmnut Vulture and a pair of Spur-winged Lapwings. On the return walk a White-naped Pigeon landed very close to us allowing excellent views of this uncommon and little known species. Further along the trail views of Fire-crested Alethe, Eastern Forest Robin, Red-headed Bluebill and a single White-crested Hornbill the latter a rare species within Uganda. We walked back towards the road with sightings of a Black-bellied Firefinch, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Little Green Sunbird and a Thick-billed Honeyguide calling from high in a tree. Lunch was taken in a village restaurant and afterwards along the new road towards Fort Portal. Another stop next to a small farm proved to be productive for sunbirds with sightings of Copper, Purple-banded, Scarlet-chested and Red-breasted. In the grasses a single Crimson-rumped Waxbill and in a nearby fruiting tree White-headed Barbet and Tropical Boubou. Birds were few due to the heat and humidity although a dead tree attracted several Red-throated Bee-eaters. Telegraph wires attracted Woodland, Striped and Grey-headed Kingfishers. Fort Portal was reached just before five o’clock where we stayed for the night.

July 25th: Fort Portal, Masindi.

Weather: Sunny and warm 30 C

Today was basically a travelling one as we headed north towards Masindi. We set off at 0715 hours and made our first birding stop around forty minutes later along the main Kampala road. A large section of forest with several dead trees was the focus of our attention. Scanning produced sightings of, Grey-throated Barbet, Black and White Casqued Hornbill, Narrow-tailed and Purple-headed Starlings, Red-headed Malimbe, Grosbeak Weaver and the highly localised Joyful Greenbul. We joined the road to Hoima with a birding stop at a papyrus bed. This was productive for African Marsh Harrier, African Stonechat, Northern Brown-throated and Slender-billed Weavers, Winding and the uncommon Carruther’s Cisticolas, Papyrus Gonolek, Little Bee-eater and singing White-winged Warblers. The road to Hoima passes through many poor villages and land used for cattle grazing and vegetable production. Lunch was taken at a hotel in Hoima. The road to Masindi is rough in parts and passes through large areas used for sugar cane production. The grasses here added Whistling Cisticola, Red-collared and Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Black-headed Weaver and as we approached Masindi several Piapiacs.

July 26th: Masindi, Budongo, Murchison National Park.

Weather: Early mist giving way to a hot and sunny day 16 C/38 C.

After breakfast our destination was the Royal Mile which is a part of the Budongo Forest network. Overnight rains had made the clay roads treacherous to traffic and this affected our time of arrival. Eventually the road dried out and we started to see large areas used for sugar cane production and patches of grasses the latter attracting Yellow-mantled Widowbird and Red-faced Cisticolas. At the entrance of Budongo we located several hornbills including Black and White Casqued and Crowned. The weather conditions had an effect on the birdlife and things were initially very slow. We could hear the distinctive calls of Red-chested Cuckoo and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis. About halfway along the track a party of Crested Guineafowl showed and a few White-thighed Hornbills were seen in the older trees. We had a short diversion off the track as we could hear the rarely seen Nahan’s Francolin and the elusive but vocal Chocolate-backed Kingfisher. On returning to the main track we had sightings of Yellow-spotted Barbet, Black Cuckoo, African Shrike Flycatchers, Ugandan Woodland Warbler and a male Narina Trogon. At the end of the main track the forest opens up and it was here we located a party of the attractive Spotted Greenbuls and a Dwarf Kingfisher hiding in the cover of a leafy bush. Lunch was taken by the bridge with a calling Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo for company, Sooty Flycatcher and parties of Black Sawwings. It was starting to get hot as we made the journey towards Lake Albert and the Rift Valley. In a grassy area Marsh Widowbird, Vitteline Masked Weaver, Brown-backed Scrub Robin and a Western Black-headed Batis (recently split from Black-headed Batis). In the background a Long-crested Eagle was being hassled by a Black-shouldered Kite. Another patch of grassland with bushes added Rattling Cisticola, Black-winged Bishop and a Cardinal Quelea the latter being a scarce bird generally. We started to go down the rift valley and into a different habitat of bushes, grass, scrub and rocky ground. Despite the heat this proved to be extremely productive as we soon located the uncommon Foxy Cisticola, Croaking Cisticola, Black-billed Wood-dove, Black-billed Barbet, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Northern Crombec, Common Waxbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and displaying Flappet Larks. At the bottom of the slope we joined the rough track leading to the Paraa Ferry crossing. This was a great place for birds as the group observed Banded Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Spotted Mourning Thrush, Beautiful Sunbird, Black-faced and Common Waxbills and Brown-crowned Tchagra in the open. In a village we turned towards the ferry departure point when an extraordinary event happened in the world of nature. In front of us on the road were several Wahlberg’s Eagles (15 in total) feeding on recently flying termites. The eagles were literally picking them up from the road – amazing. Also involved in the feeding frenzy were; Broad-billed Roller, Grey Kestrel and African Grey Hornbill. On reaching the park gate we then went down to the Nile to catch the ferry to Paraa. Here we had flight views of Little Bittern, Purple and Goliath Herons, African Darter, Pied Kingfisher, Cattle and Great Egrets, Grey-hooded Gull and around 100 African Skimmers.

July 27th: Murchison National Park.

Weather: Overcast with sunny spells 36 C.

Breakfast was taken early so we could embark on a game and birding drive in the park before the temperature increased. Before entering the park we located a pair of Brown Babblers searching for food in a thick bush. The first section of the track before the airport turning produced Speckle-fronted Weaver, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver, Silverbird and the spectacular Violet-backed Starling. On joining the airport track groups of Piapiacs were located feeding on the backs of animals. In the distance a male Black-bellied Bustard was in display whilst a female was seen in the long grasses. Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow was observed in an acacia before flying into cover. Past the airstrip and a few more new birds for the tour were recorded including Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Red-headed Quelea, Vinaceous and African Mourning Doves and the highly localised Heuglin’s Francolin perched in a tree. As the delta area was approached Red-throated Bee-eater, Black-billed Barbet, Striped Kingfisher and White-browed Sparrow Weavers were all observed. In the delta area; Denham’s Bustard, Spur-winged, Wattled and Black-headed Lapwings (the latter in unusually high numbers), Saddle-billed Storks, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and several pairs of Grey-crowned Cranes. We returned to Paraa where Harriet found a pair of feeding Abyssinian Ground Hornbills. Lunch taken, followed by a return visit into the park at 1630 hours. Freddie our driver took the northern track from the lodge. Due to the heat bird activity was rather low although the game showed well at times. We had to wait until 1830 hours for the next new trip bird which was a Red-necked Falcon perched in a dead acacia tree at close range. Dusk fell as we made our way back to the lodge. On the track we had sightings of Slender-tailed and Plain Nightjars and up to three Greyish Eagle Owls hunting termites on the ground. In the grasslands we could hear a Swamp Nightjar and flying views of Pennant-winged Nightjar.

July 28th: Murchison National Park, Murchison Falls, Kampala, Entebbe.

Final species total: 467.

Weather: Warm and sunny with occasional showers.

Our last full day in Uganda and basically a travelling one back to Entebbe where our birding adventure had started over two weeks earlier. After checking out of the Paraa Lodge we caught the 9am ferry across the Nile. On the way to Murchison Falls we added a Yellow-billed Shrike to the list. On turning towards the falls birds were few but our main aim was to observe Rock Pratincoles which reside on islets within the river system. Several were seen resting and preening, and beyond panoramic views of the river meandering to Lake Albert. The remainder of the day was spent on the road to Kampala the capital of Uganda. Traffic congestion was again a problem as we exited and went to Entebbe for the night.

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