Uganda 2014

...with Mark Finn

February 23rd - March 11th

Uganda was again a revelation for birds and mammals as we recorded 477 species of birds and almost 40 of mammals during our stay. There were many avian highlights with a Shoebill at less than 30 metres on the first morning of the tour. In addition to this the group encountered over 40 species of birds of prey, many weavers including rare species in Weyn’s and Strange, over 20 species of sunbirds including Regal. Our four days birding at Ruhija and Bwindi produced many of the Albertine Rift endemic bird species including a pair of the rarely seen Woodhouses Antpeckers building a nest of moss. A bonus at Bwindi was a male (silverback) Gorilla which walked in front of us near Buhoma. Not sure who was more shocked the group or the gorilla!! The Royal Mile at Budongo once again produced many rare forest birds including Dwarf and Chocolate-backed Kingfishers, the rarely seen Ituri Batis and White-thighed Hornbills to name three. We ended the tour in the savannah habitats of Murchison where recent fires attracted many species and the first sign of Inter African and Eurasian migrants. My thanks go out to Harriet for leading the tour and finding us some exceptional birds and for Freddie for driving us around safely in Uganda.

Our next tour to Uganda with Harriet is in July 2015

February 22nd/23rd: Heathrow, Entebbe, Mbamba, Lake Victoria, Entebbe Botanical Gardens

Weather: Hot and sunny within Uganda 32c

After the flight from Heathrow we made the short transfer to Entebbe for the first two nights in Uganda. I arranged with Freddie and Harriet to meet up at 0700 hours on the 23rd. In and around the hotel car park we recorded African Fish Eagle, African Hobby, Maribou Stork and flocks of African Palm Swifts. We made a decision to take the ferry towards Mbamba. At the quayside we waited with others among the chaos which is Africa itself. The quay proved to be good for birds with sightings of Little Egret, Rock Pratincole, Spur-winged Lapwing, Pied Kingfisher, Angola and Barn Swallows and both House and Southern Grey-headed Sparrows. Nearby, a group of boats attracted Hamerkop, African Openbill, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, African Pied, Black-headed and Yellow Wagtails. On elevated posts and trees we watched Woodland Kingfishers and Red-eyed Doves. News filtered through that the ferry would not arrive until 10am so we went by road to Mbamba. On arrival a tree by the dock had dozens of Village and Viellot’s Weavers busy with nest building and tame Hamerkops sitting on the boats. We ‘set sail’ down one of the channels with sightings of Malachite Kingfishers, Winding Cisticolas, African Jacana, Blue-cheeked and Blue-breasted Bee-eaters and several Purple Herons. The best was to come as a male Shoebill showed well down to a few metres. The group were in awe of this fantastic bird as it caught a mudfish, consumed it, and washed it down with marsh water. What was more incredible it flew towards us and walked a bit before giving us an amazing view at 10 metres. Back towards the main channel and into open waters with sightings of Yellow-billed and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Squacco Heron, African Jacana, Long-toed Lapwing and overhead Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, African and Western Marsh Harriers. On the edge of the papyrus beds a pair of Swamp Flycatchers and Northern Brown-throated Weavers. Returned to the dock followed by a walk towards the nature centre. Flowering shrubs attracted Black-headed Gonolek, Red-chested, Green-headed, Purple-banded and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. Next was a stop on the shores of Lake Victoria for nesting Village, Slender-billed and the uncommon Orange Weaver. After a break and lunch we visited Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Always a great place for birds we were not disappointed as we quickly located groups of Broad-billed Rollers, Double-toothed Barbet, Northern Black Flycatcher, Splendid Glossy Starling, Olive Woodpeckers on territory, African Pygmy Kingfisher, African Yellow White-eye and a hunting Ovampo Sparrowhawk. In the lower end of the gardens we located a pair of nesting Grey Parrots, Meyers Parrots, Crowned and Black-and-White Casqued Hornbills and White-browed Coucals. Overhead we had the incredible spectacle of hundreds of swallows and martins, White-throated Bee-eaters and flocks of Yellow Wagtails (hundreds). In turn these attracted hunting African and Eurasian Hobby, Lanner Falcon and the uncommon Bat Hawk which is active at dusk. A fantastic first day in Uganda and tomorrow we head south to Lake Mburo for more avian delights.

February 24th: Entebbe, Mbarara Road, Kyazanga, Lake Mburo NP

Weather: Overcast and warm 29c

After breakfast the group assembled outside the main entrance and starting looking for birds. To our surprise the windows on the upper floor had attracted an African Grey Parrot and a pair of Superb Sunbirds. On the lawn outside the main entrance a pair of African Thrushes searched for food. The journey southeast started towards Kampala to try and avoid the major traffic problems which have arisen in recent years. A single Palmnut Vulture was noted plus the first Lizard Buzzards, Ruppell’s Glossy Starlings and Fork-tailed Drongo of the tour. It seemed to take an age to leave the chaos of the greater Kampala area as we headed towards the regional town of Mbarara. The first stop along this rather busy road was at a fragmented forest area. This proved to be a great place as we recorded several tricky species including the nomadic and unpredictable Weyn’s Weaver. Other birds of note included a pair of Blue-throated Rollers, Great Blue Turaco, Chinspot Batis, Grey-headed Negrofinch and Olive-bellied Sunbirds. Lon-crested Eagles started to appear on roadside telegraph poles as the equator was approached. Lunch was taken followed by a stop at the seasonal wetlands near the town of Kyazanga. This was a truly incredible African experience for birds with the flooded meadows attracting White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Red-billed Duck, Comb Duck, Spur-winged Geese, Saddle-billed Storks, Sacred and Hadada Ibis, African Black Crake, Pink-backed Pelican, Grey-crowned Cranes and Great Egret. The most notable event started with a hunting Shikra which landed on the ground only to be hounded off by Grey-backed Fiscals, Fork-tailed Drongo and a flock of Village Weavers. This sequence was further compounded by the appearance in the same spot by Black-headed Heron, African Harrier Hawk, Grey and Eurasian Kestrels, Wahlberg’s Eagle and a sub-adult African Fish Eagle – gripping stuff. Further down the road a town had the localised White-rumped Swift and a Black-breasted Snake Eagle perched on a pylon. We turned onto the entrance track to Mburo NP and immediately found Trilling Cisticola, Speckled Mousebird, Spot-breasted Barbet, Sooty Chat and the fly-catching Buff-bellied Warbler. On the track we had of sightings of Crested and Red-necked Francolins, Yellow-throated Longclaw, a perched Bateleur, Willow Warbler and a single Brown-backed Scrub Robin.

February 25th: Lake Mburo NP

Weather: Warm and sunny with afternoon cloud 29c

After breakfast we headed towards the park headquarters to pick up Jameson our local guide. En route we found an Emerald Spotted Wood-dove, Woodland Kingfisher and Yellow Wagtails. At the park office we located nesting Lesser Striped Swallows, African Pied Wagtail, Spot-flanked Barbet and Grey-headed Sparrow. Lake Mburo has an extensive acacia and steppe habitat with the added bonus of papyrus swamps and seasonal water pools. The group embarked on a walk through these habitats with the first section providing us views of African Grey Hornbill, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Buff-bellied Warblers, Lesser Masked and Black-headed Weavers, Nubian Woodpeckers, flight views of White-headed Barbet and a migrant Willow Warbler. As we approached the marsh edge White-browed Robin Chats, African Reed Warbler, Yellow-throated Leaflove and Little Bee-eater were noted. In the muddy patches with pools of water Common and Wood Sandpipers, African Black Crake and the scarce Rufous-bellied Heron. A large acacia tree attracted Common Scimitarbill, Greater Honeyguide, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Bare-faced Go-away Bird and a male Copper Sunbird. The reeds with seeds attracted flocks of Common Waxbills and Bronze Mannikins. Our walk took us through an acacia dominated habitat where we found a female Cardinal Woodpecker, the beautiful Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Wahlberg’s Honeyguide and Swamp Flycatcher. Another patch of marsh and adjacent acacia allowed us to view Papyrus Gonolek, Red-headed Lovebird and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird. It was getting hot and bird activity lessened as we headed back to base. A short diversion gave us the unexpected bonus of the rare Red-faced Barbet and Mosque Swallows collecting mud for nesting. On the return to base we added a beautiful male Collared Flycatcher sitting in a tree and a perched Red-chested Cuckoo nearby. At 1600 hours were due to set off on a boat trip around Lake Mburo but due to internal park problems we had to reschedule for the morning. This was actually a blessing in disguise as we set off down a track which is being managed by removing acacia trees by cutting and burning. The end result is grassland which has been greatly reduced to encourage more mammals. First bird was an adult Goliath Heron sitting on a bush – fantastic views. On entering the track we quickly located Striped Kingfisher and a Black Cuckoo of the race gabonensis. Careful scanning of the burnt areas added African Wattled and the uncommon Senegal Lapwing. The group then hit a purple patch of birding as African and Dideric Cuckoos, Brubru, Crested Barbet, White-winged Tit and Meyer’s Parrots were seen well. On the way back to the lodge we found Alpine and Common Swifts and a singing Brown-backed Scrub Robin. After dinner we had a night-drive for birds and mammals with the most interesting a Black-shouldered Nightjar which gave exceptional views.

February 26th: Lake Mburo, Ruhija

Weather: Rain which was heavy at times 18c

Today started with a short boat trip on Lake Mburo. This proved to be productive as within fifteen minutes we had seen our main targets; White-backed Night Heron and African Finfoot. Other species of interest included a wintering Green Sandpiper, African Fish Eagles, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Water Thick-knees and a single Striated Heron. In and around the car park numerous Lesser Striped Swallows building nests on an old toilet block. We then exited the park along one of the tracks with the highlight being a displaying Black-bellied Bustard perched on an old termite mound. The main road towards Rwanda and Congo was reached and then the rains started to fall for the rest of the day. Our journey was made worse by extensive road-works along the route. A few birds were added to the list which included Augur Buzzard, African Stonechat and Baglafecht Weavers. On joining the Ruhija road large numbers of Grey-crowned Cranes, Hadada and Sacred Ibis were noted. In a short period of time we entered the extensive Bwindi Forest sector with views of volcanoes in the distance. The best bird here was the rare Handsome Francolin which we observed on the roadside edge. The gardens of our lodge had dueting Chubb’s Cisticolas and a pair of White-browed Robin Chats.

February 27th: Ruhija including St Paul’s Track, Broadbill Forest

Weather: Warm and sunny with light westerly winds 23c

Thankfully yesterdays rain had cleared away to give a bright dawn over our camp. In the garden grounds we located the delightful Chubb’s Cisticola, Streaky Seedeater and White-browed Robin Chats. Harriet decided our best birding maybe along the track to St Paul’s. Freddie dropped us off at the junction with Black Sawwings feeding above our heads. Initially birding was slow although the songs of the secretive Mountain Illadopsis echoed around the valley. Yellow-whiskered Bulbuls showed well and a pair of Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters sallied for insects from a dead branch. A large tree attracted Mountain and Slender-billed Greenbuls and a male Collared Sunbird. The sun was starting to warm the trees and undergrowth as bird activity suddenly increased. A mixed flock of birds included Northern Double-collared, Blue-headed and Regal Sunbirds, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Collared Apalis, White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers, Northern Puffback and a pair of Brown-capped Weavers. Overhead an Ayers Hawk Eagle showed well along with a pair of White-necked Ravens. Further down the track Baz had views of a White-browed Crombec. Other species present included African Dusky Flycatcher, Mountain Masked Apalis, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler and a calling Grauer’s Warbler. The group returned to the starting point when a Mountain Buzzard flew past. On returning to the camp Variable Sunbird, Yellow-crowned Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting were added to the day list. Lunch was followed by an excursion at 1530 hours to Broadbill Forest. On the way a Common Cuckoo was seen in a large tree. We walked down the track at Broadbill which has a habitat of large trees and an understory of bracken. A tree with flowering plants attracted Grey-throated Barbet, Bronze and Blue-headed Sunbirds and in the scattered bamboo plants Mountain Yellow Warbler. The return walk was good for birds as Ruwenzori Batis, Mountain Oriole, Strange Weaver, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and Banded Prinia were all recorded. On the main track a Mountain Thrush (recently split from Olive Thrush) was feeding on the road edge. A stand of hanging vines attracted the rare Dusky Crimsonwing. On the return journey we had exceptional views of Handsome Francolin, White-starred Robin and a calling Black-billed Turaco.

February 28th: Ruhija, The Neck, Buhoma

Weather: Warm and sunny with late afternoon showers 29c

At 0900 hours we left Ruhija for the journey down to Buhoma which is around 650m lower in altitude. In the village a stop was made for a Lanner Falcon perched on top of a conifer tree. Our first stop was a feeding flock including White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, Variable, Blue-headed and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds and White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers. Next stop was at a tea plantation where we had views of the poorly-known Dusky Twinspot, Masked Apalis and overhead Augur and Mountain Buzzards plus the surprise of a male Eurasian Marsh Harrier. The Neck was next a narrow forest area adjoining two sections of the huge Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve. Birds cam thick and fast here with sightings of African Paradise Flycatcher, White-chinned Prinia, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Black-billed Weaver and Luhder’s Bushshrike. Further along the road we had encounters with Tambourine Dove and Red-tailed Greenbuls whilst the thicker vegetation had Little Greenbul and Toro Olive Greenbul. At the bridge a scan of the river added the localised Cassin’s Flycatcher. Lunch was taken along the road in an area dominated by large trees where we found Speckled Tinkerbird, Black Bee-eater, Green and Olive-bellied Sunbirds and Plain Greenbuls. It was getting hot as the van went through the tea plantations and the occasional sightings of Mackinnon’s Fiscals. An odd experience occurred when we found a Black Mamba trying to consume a bee-eater at its nest hole. Buhoma was reached with sightings of Hadada Ibis and Woolly-necked Storks in the fields and Barn, Mosque and Angolan Swallows on wires. Checked in at the camp next to the forest and arranged a short walk at 1700 hours. This proved to be good for Black-throated and Buff-throated Apalis, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, White-breasted Negrofinch, Pink-footed Puffback and Green-throated Sunbirds. The finale was when an old silverback Gorilla literally walked in front of us and disappeared into cover an amazing event to end the day.

March 1st: Buhoma, Bwindi

Weather: Warm and sunny with some cloudy spells 26c

Whilst having breakfast we recorded a pair of Snowy-crowned Robin Chats. Afterwards into the national park of Bwindi a short walk away. Similar birds to yesterday afternoons visit with the addition of a wintering Wood Warbler. Near the official park entrance our main interest was in the skies above with sightings of Narrow-tailed, Chestnut-winged and Purple-headed Starlings, Scarce Swift, House and Rock Martins and three African Grey Parrots. Along the track we located a Red-headed Malimbe, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird and brief views of the skulking Grey-winged Robin Chat. Just inside the park boundary we caught up with Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Green Hylia, Green-headed Sunbird, White-chinned Prinia and a pair of Black-necked Weavers. At 1000 hours a pair of Black Bee-eaters perched in a dead tree whilst nearby Hairy-breasted Barbet, Stulhmann’s Starling and Honeyguide Greenbul were seen. The highlight for us was Harriet locating a pair of the rare Woodhouses Antpeckers building a nest of moss against a tree trunk – amazing and prolonged views. In a large tree we located Fine-banded Woodpeckers and Sooty Flycatchers and good views of the shy Black-billed Turaco. We continued on the trail adding Black-faced Rufous Warblers and Olive Sunbird. Lunch was taken as bird activity had decreased considerably. After lunch we had another purple patch of birding as a mixed flock was located including Bar-tailed Trogon, African Broadbill, Ansorge’s and Kakameka Greenbuls, Grey-headed Sunbird and the distinctive calls of Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo. It was time to walk back to Buhoma with a stop for the ground-loving Scaly-breasted Illadopsis and the bonus of a Yellow-backed Duiker on the main trail. A Grey-throated Tit Flycatcher was heard and a pair of African Emerald Cuckoos singing and feeding in a large fruiting tree. On the track a pair of Crested Guineafowl came into view before promptly disappearing into cover. We said goodbye to our guards Maurice and Fred at the entrance and walked back to the first lodge. A Klaas’s Cuckoo was calling but we could not locate it.

March 2nd: Buhoma, Butogota, Ishasha, Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Mweya

Weather: Warm and sunny with afternoon thunderstorms 30c

The usual birds were around the camp in Buhoma and on the outskirts the first Village Indigobird of the tour. The first birding stop was at Butogota a small river valley and farmland. Before arriving at Butogota we found Common Fiscal and the uncommon Western Citril. A short walk along the road at Butogota was excellent for birds as we located Double-toothed Barbet, Blue-spotted Wood-dove, Baglafecht and Black-headed Weavers, Red-faced Cisticola, Tawny-flanked and White-chinned Prinias. Overhead a hunting Little Sparrowhawk and in the hedgerows nest building Holub’s Golden Weavers and a party of noisy Black-lored Babblers. Before leaving the area an old rotten tree attracted Grey and Cardinal Woodpeckers. The habitat started to change into wooded savannah around the border town of Kihihi. Interesting birds around the town included Black-breasted Snake Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Broad-billed Roller, Crowned Hornbill and Ruppell’s Glossy Starling. The Congo road was reached where we turned to Ishasha a sector of QENP. The road is an interesting one historically and even better for mammals and birds. Roadside trees attracted Blue-cheeked and Little Bee-eaters, Brown Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Grey Kestrel and Trilling Cisticola. We turned into the park and headed towards the campsite by the river. The grasslands had Zitting and Stout Cisticolas, Rufous-naped Lark, African Pipit and wintering Whinchats. A seasonal wetland was reached which attracted over 250 Grey-crowned Cranes, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, Long-toed, Senegal and Wattled Lapwings, African Snipe, African Black Crake and African Jacana. In the muddy patches a range of waders including Little Stint, Wood and Common Sandpipers. On arrival at the campsite which borders Congo we located a Cassin’s Flycatcher. Woodland Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers and a Yellowbill feeding in dead vines. Interesting birds on the road and adjacent trees were a pair of Lappet-faced Vultures, a flock of Abdim’s Storks, a dark phase European Honey Buzzard, Steppe Buzzard, Blue-naped Mousebirds and two Red-breasted Swallows. The road in long and appears to be never-ending with the last section attracting Black-shouldered Kite, Marsh Tchagra, African Moustached Warbler and Common Waxbills. A short stop near the Kazinga Channel proved to be amazing for hundreds of White-winged Terns, Barn Swallows and Sand Martins plus Pied Kingfishers sitting on the iron bridge. We turned off to Mweya Lodge adding a Banded Snake Eagle to the list.

March 3rd: QENP including Kasenyi Track 2, Kazinga Channel

Weather: Warm and sunny 30c

The grounds of the lodge are jam-packed with birds as we located Bat Hawk, Hamerkop, Maribou Stork, Spur-winged Lapwing, Little Swift, White-browed Robin Chats, Yellow Wagtail, Brimstone Canary and African Fish Eagles on the way to breakfast. Afterwards we set off on the main track to explore the northern sector of the park. The commoner savannah woodland birds were seen with the addition of Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey-headed Kingfisher, White-browed Scrub Robin, Black and Brown-crowned Tchagras, Northern Crombec and Spectacled Weaver. The group then started an exploration of the Kasenyi Track in the northern sector. Bare ground attracted Kittlitz’s Plovers, Crowned Lapwings, Flappet and Rufous-naped Larks and African Pipits. In the grasses we found Southern Red Bishop, Red-billed Quelea and flocks of Pin-tailed Whydahs. Raptors were abundant and included Eurasian Marsh Harriers, Banded, Black-breasted and Brown Snake Eagles, Yellow-billed Kite and Bateleur. The weather was getting rather hot and bird activity lower as we returned to Mweya where the skies had hundreds of swallows and martins, African Harrier Hawk and Wahlberg’s Eagle. Lunch was taken on the veranda where we could study weavers which resulted in sightings (close) of; Village, Black-headed, Spectacled, Lesser Masked and Slender-billed. The only other addition to the list was a male Purple-banded Sunbird perched on a dead twig. At 1430 hours Freddie picked us up and transported us to the jetty for a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel. This proved to be an amazing experience for those interested in birdlife. The first muddy area with grasses just behind the area attracted African Skimmers, Water Thick-knees, Caspian, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Sanderling, Common Greenshank, Little Stint, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and a single African Spoonbill. Abundant species were Hamerkop, Pied Kingfisher, Egyptian Geese and Hadada Ibis. Uncommon birds here included the impressive Yellow-billed Stork. Our boat journey continued towards Kazinga village where a large roost included Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Pink-backed and White Pelicans, Gull-billed and White-winged Terns, Grey and Black-headed Herons and a few waders including Marsh Sandpiper and Ruff. On the return boat trip lots of Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Squacco Heron and the common wetland species of the area.

March 4th: QENP, Katwe Track, Fort Portal including the Botanical Gardens

Weather: Sunny and warm 30c

We left Mweya at 0800 hours and set off to the nearest gate which is around 10km away. From here we joined the rarely used Katwe Track which meanders through some spectacular scenery of crater lakes, grassland and savannah woodland. In the first sector a female Pallid Harrier was noted along with displaying Flappet Larks and a Plain-backed Pipit feeding on the track. Further along the group caught up with migrant Montagu’s Harrier and European Bee-eater. Eventually the main road to Fort Portal was reached with sightings of White-winged Widowbirds and Klaas's Cuckoo in the long grasses. The road goes through several towns and villages and ends in Fort Portal the most important town in Western Uganda. On arrival we found a male Black and White Shrike Flycatcher. Checked in and made arrangements to meet up at 1630 to visit the new botanical gardens a short drive away. This proved to be a good place for birdlife with Chubb’s Cisticola in the car park. A short walk down to the nursery area with a patch of open woodland attracted African Paradise, African Blue and African Dusky Flycatchers. In the nursery we found a group of Black-crowned Waxbills, Western Citril, African Thrush and Yellow-fronted Canary. A Levaillant’s Cuckoo appeared and a Palmnut Vulture landed in a large eucalyptus tree. In the scrubby patch Snowy-crowned and White-browed Robin Chats, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Tambourine Dove and Grey Woodpeckers.

March 5th: Semliki Forest, Fort Portal road west to east, Lake Albert

Weather: Early rains in the forest followed by warm weather 30c

We left Fort Portal in order to arrive at the forest station at Semliki near the Congo border. At the office grounds we found a Red-tailed Ant-thrush and a flock of African Green Pigeons. The weather was starting to worsen with leaden skies and a good chance of heavy rain. Before the rain arrived we managed to find African Goshawk, Piping Hornbill, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Grosbeak Weaver, Orange-cheeked and Black-crowned Waxbills and Bronze Mannikins. The rains arrived and we decided our best move was to visit the savannah sector of the park. The first stop overlooking marshes and farmland with a backdrop of rocky cliffs produced Spotted Morning Thrushes, Rattling Cisticola and Black-billed Barbets among the commoner bird species. A bend with vegetation and trees proved to be good as we located Northern Wheatear, Red-headed Weaver, Black Cuckooshrike, Green-backed Eremomela, Violet-backed Starling and Honeyguide Greenbuls. The remainder of the day was spent on the road running down to Lake Albert through the national park. At lunch time a family of Brown Babblers were added to the list foraging in an acacia. The best stop was at the end of the road in a campsite offering us Red-throated, Blue-cheeked and Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Sacred Ibis, African Openbill, wintering Common and Wood Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilt, cormorants, Willow Warbler, various weavers, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau and Beautiful Sunbird. On the return journey highlights included Brown Snake and Martial Eagles, Little Sparrowhawk, Piapiac and Pale Flycatchers.

March 6th: Semliki

Weather: Early thunderstorms followed by a warm and humid day 30c

Due to the weather from yesterday we had to make another early departure from Fort Portal. On arrival we met Justice our local guide for the day. Our first birding stop was an area of grasses where we caught up with Orange-cheeked Waxbills. We started to walk the forest trail with the first few metres revealing African Pygmy Kingfisher, Olive Sunbird, the scarce and localised Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch and brief views of Xavier’s Greenbul. The heavens opened and a return to the van was made for around 30 minutes. With the rain passing we walked down the road recording a Green Sandpiper in the river. Back to the forest trails and another area where the low vegetation had a Fire-crested Alethe and Green-tailed Bristlebill two skulking species of the forest floor. A Brown-eared Woodpecker showed well on a dead branch. Our walk through the forest continued with several areas devoid of birds until a patch of undergrowth was reached surrounded by large, vine-laden trees. It was here Crested Malimbe, Rufous Flycatcher Thrush, Yellow-billed Barbet and Yellowbill were seen. Further on the trail the group encountered several species in a compact area including Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Icterine and Little Grey Greenbuls, Green Crombec, Western Nicator and at least four Yellow-crested Woodpeckers in a dead tree. The trail split and we joined the loop back towards the village with brief sightings of Red-headed Bluebill. Other interesting species included Chestnut Wattle-eye, Sooty Boubou, Grey-throated Tit Flycatcher and flight views of the shy Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo. Before leaving the forest we heard the uncommon White-crested Hornbill, two of us managed to see the rare Yellow-throated Nicator and a Velvet-mantled Drongo near the road. Lunch was taken at the park headquarters followed by a walk towards the hot springs. The springs had a few migrant shorebirds from Europe. It was time to head back to Fort Portal with a stop adding Short-toed Snake Eagle, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike and Alpine Swift.

March 7th: Fort Portal, Kibale Forest, Hoima, Masindi

Weather: Largely sunny with later afternoon rains

Today was predominately a travel one northwards from Fort Portal to the northern town of Masindi in the heart of Uganda’s sugar cane industry. About 30km out of Fort Portal the road goes through a part of the Kibale Forest. A stop of about an hour added a few new forest species including Grey-green Bushshrike, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Yellow-mantled Weaver and a wintering Garden Warbler. Other birds present were Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Grey-throated Barbet, Speckled Tinkerbird, Sooty Flycatcher, Green Hylia, Buff-throated Apalis, Olive-bellied, Green-headed and Collared Sunbirds, Viellot’s and Black-necked Weavers. Further along the main highway we turned towards Hoima on a dirt road which had thankfully been recently graded. A short stop at a river bridge had a singing White-winged Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Common and Wood Sandpipers and a Crowned Hornbill. Lunch taken in the company of Litte Bee-eaters and shortly afterwards a drinks stop in Hoima. The remainder of the day was spent travelling to Masindi with the commoner birds along the way.

March 8th: Masindi, Royal Mile at Budongo Forest, Murchison National Park, Paraa

Weather: Hot and sunny 32c

This morning we made the short journey to Budongo and the world-famous Royal Mile. To reach this area we had to travel through the vast cane-fields where we recorded Senegal Coucal and African Firefinches. Before arriving at Budongo we picked up Raymond the local bird guide. On reaching the car park a fruiting fig tree was a magnet for Black-and-White Casqued and the uncommon White-thighed Hornbills. Other birds using the figs were African Forest Flycatcher, Superb and Collared Sunbirds and migrant Willow Warblers. We started walking down the Royal Mile with the first sector holding a male Jameson’s Wattle-eye and best of all a pair of African Dwarf Kingfishers a much sought after species. In the larger trees we came across Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Ituri Batis, Chestnut-capped and Ashy Flycatchers, Uganda Woodland Warbler, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, African Shrike Flycatcher, Yellow-crested and Brown-eared Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers mobbing a Black Cuckoo, Red-chested Cuckoo, displaying Blue-throated Rollers, a family of Chestnut Wattle-eyes. Near the end of the walk we found a pair of Narina Trogons in the open and to our surprise an adult Crowned Hawk Eagle showing well in the top of a large tree. Lunch was taken plus the news that we had to divert to reach Paraa due to the ferry being broken down. This meant going back to Masindi and joining the north bound road towards the Congo and South Sudan. No new birds until turning off to Paraa when I found the first Woodchat Shrikes, an uncommon migrant in Uganda. The journey was remarkable for birds and mammals as we found Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustards, Red-necked Falcon, Steppe and Tawny Eagles, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grasshopper and Steppe Buzzards, Abyssinian Roller, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, Piapiacs and two Northern Ground Hornbills. On reaching Paraa we checked in for the last two nights in Uganda.

March 9th: Murchison National Park, Albert Nile

Weather: Hot and sunny 32c

Today we started with a game drive from Paraa to the Delta of the Albert Nile an area rich in bird and mammal life. Outside the park gates the first stops produced sightings of Fawn-breasted Waxbills and in an acacia bush the localised Foxy Cisticola and Black-headed Batis. In the top of an palm we located a pair of Red-necked Falcons, Dark Chanting Goshawk and on the ground Shelley’s Sparrows plus Silverbird and a pair of Pale Flycatchers. The airport landed strip is now closed without access so we followed the sandy track down towards the delta which is reached through a mix of habitats including large trees. This was most productive for African Mourning and Vinaceous Doves, Black-billed Wood Dove, Spotted Morning Thrush, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and at least two Pied Cuckoos. An immature male Montagu’s Harrier hunted the area and a large acacia held the uncommon Eastern Chanting Goshawk. In the open areas we encountered flocks of migrant Abdim’s Storks whilst the waterside area held Grey-crowned Cranes, egrets, herons and a pair of Saddle-billed Storks. More new birds came in the acacia trees with sightings of White-browned and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weavers, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Rufous-crowned Roller and a surprise find in an adult Isabelline Shrike (well south of its known wintering range). Back to Paraa for lunch and a boat trip towards Murchison Falls at 1430 hours. At the dockside Wire-tailed Swallows flying about. The boat followed the shoreline which was a mixed habitat of acacia, cliffs, exposed mud, reeds and river. The first sector was excellent for herons, egrets and waders and the first African Darters of the tour. On the cliffs a large colony of Red-throated Bee-eaters and Pied Kingfishers were present. On the opposite bank a female Giant Kingfisher. As we approached the falls White-headed Sawwings and the range-restricted Rock Pratincole were observed. On the return journey Goliath, Purple and Grey Herons, Long-toed and Spur-winged Lapwings, Purple Swamphen, Black Crake, African Skimmer, White-winged Tern, African Snipe and a male Eurasian Marsh Harrier.

March 10th: Paraa, Kampala, Entebbe

Weather: Warm and sunny with occasional rain showers

Thankfully the ferry was operational and we left Paraa at 0900 hours for the long journey back to Entebbe via Kampala. The usual species were around the river and savannah areas with the addition of a party of White-crested Helmetshrikes south of the river. The most notable sightings along the route were thousands of Abdim’s Storks forced down into wetland fields by an impending thunderstorm an extraordinary site of visual migration. Kampala was reached with its increasing traffic problems and then onto the hotel at Entebbe where our journey started over two weeks ago. After an evening meal we transferred to the airport for the journey back to London.

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