UGANDA: SHOEBILL, ALBERTINE RIFT ENDEMICS, GREEN-BREASTED PITTA, CHIMPANZEES, AND GORILLAS IN 19 OR 14 DAYS (optional 5-day extension to Murchison Falls National Park and Budongo Forest)
1 – 19 August 2018 (14-day tour 1 – 14 August 2018)

Birding Tour Uganda Itinerary – The 19-day version is detailed here, but the first 14 days can be done as an independent tour. The 19-day version (including the 5-day extension to Murchison Falls National Park and Budongo Forest) is on sale.

This trip allows one to find the most important birds and primates that Uganda has to offer. Shoebill is almost guaranteed. Over 20 Albertine (Western) Rift endemics are also sought, including one of Africa’s most fabulous turacos, Ruwenzori Turaco, and of course the “must-see” African Broadbill. We have not yet missed Green-breasted Pitta on any of our trips – Uganda has become the classic country for finding this otherwise very difficult bird. We also look for other range-restricted birds, such as Red-faced Barbet that is also found in a remote part of Tanzania excluded from most birding tours to that country. Ross’s Turaco, Great Blue Turaco (almost twice the size of other turacos), and various other birds are virtually garden birds here in Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa”. Other highlights of our Uganda birding tour are a great many primates such as Uganda red colobus, eastern black-and-white colobus, eastern gorilla, and chimpanzee, not to mention the spectacular scenery, including such famous places as Lake Victoria (the continent’s largest lake), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and last but not least the Virunga volcanoes. The 5-day extension is good for a host of more widespread African birds, lion, with some luck leopard, and fabulous sites such as Murchison Falls, where the Nile is forced through a narrow gap.

Please note that this trip is moderate in terms of fitness required, except for some days that are considered quite strenuous, such as the day of gorilla trekking and the day hike into Mubwindi Swamp and back. Chimpanzee trekking and looking for Green-breasted Pitta can also involve quite a lot of walking. You are welcome to opt out of any activities if you don’t feel you’ll manage them.

Please also note that the itinerary might change due to various factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information, road or weather conditions. The itinerary below is therefore only a guide and cannot be guaranteed.

 

Itinerary (19 days/18 nights)

ITINERARY AT A GLANCE                                                                                OVERNIGHT

 

01 August – Birding Entebbe and the shore of Lake Victoria                                      Lake Victoria view guest house, Entebbe

02 August – Shoebill! And onwards to Lake Mburo National Park                              Rwakobo Rock, Lake Mburo National Park

03 August – Full day in Lake Mburo National Park                                                     Rwakobo Rock, Lake Mburo National Park

04 August – Lake Mburo National Park to Kisoro                                                       Mucha Hotel, Kisoro

05 August – Birding the Virunga Volcanoes region: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park  Mucha Hotel, Kisoro

06 August – Kisoro to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Ruhija                                         Trekker’s Tavern Cottages, Ruhija

07 August – Birding Ruhija, Mubwindi Swamp Walk                                                  Trekker’s Tavern Cottages, Ruhija

08 August – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest: Ruhija to Buhoma                                      Haven Lodge, Buhoma

09 August – Birding Buhoma or (Gorilla Trekking)                                                     Haven Lodge, Buhoma

10 August – Birding Buhoma or (Gorilla Trekking)                                                     Haven Lodge, Buhoma

11 August – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Buhoma to Queen Elizabeth NP                 Mweya Safari Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park

12 August – Queen Elizabeth NP to Kibale Forest NP                                                 Kibale Homestay, Kibale NP

13 August – Kibale Forest NP: GB Pitta or Chimp Trekking                                        Kibale Homestay, Kibale NP

14 August – Kibale Forest NP: GB Pitta or Chimp Trekking, transfer Entebbe/Masindi        Masindi Hotel, Masindi (for participants of the extension)

Murchison Falls and Budongo Forest (Royal Mile) Extension

15 August – Birding Budongo Forest                                                                           Masindi Hotel, Masindi

16 August – Masindi to Murchison Falls National Park                                              Kabalega Wilderness Lodge, Murchison Falls National Park

17 August – Birding Murchison Falls National Park                                                   Kabalega Wilderness Lodge, Murchison Falls National Park

18 August – Murchison Falls National Park                                                                Lake Victoria View Guest House, Entebbe

19 August – Departure

 

ITINERARY (19 days/18 nights)

Day 1. Arrival at Entebbe Airport and birding the shore of Lake Victoria

We’ll fetch you from Entebbe Airport and check in at our guest house before starting the birding. The dazzling Black-headed Gonolek as well as the striking Double-toothed Barbet are both common around Entebbe. Bat Hawk and African Hobby are sometimes seen around town. Broad-billed Roller, Palm-nut Vulture, numerous weavers, and perhaps our first Great Blue Turaco might be seen as we bird Entebbe Botanical Garden on the edge of Africa’s largest lake.

Overnight: Lake Victoria View Guest House

Days 2 – 3. Shoebill! And onwards to Lake Mburo National Park

Bypassing the bustling city of Kampala (adjacent to the more pleasant small town of Entebbe) we head for Mabamba Swamp, one of Africa’s most accessible sites for the monstrous Shoebill. The papyrus-swamp-loving Red-chested Sunbird, numerous weaver species that build their impressively neat nests in the wetlands, coucals, and many tropical waterbirds such as Lesser Jacana abound as we do a dugout canoe trip into the huge swamp. Swamp Flycatcher is also common here. After seeing Shoebill we then continue to our site for Orange Weaver, often seeing Eastern Plantain-eater, Ross’s Turaco, large flocks of noisy Great Blue Turaco (the far-carrying calls of which are one of the characteristic sounds of Uganda), Grey Kestrel, and a very big, beautiful barbet, Double-toothed Barbet.

We eventually arrive at Lake Mburo National Park (where we’ll spend two nights), which breaks the journey between Entebbe and the southwestern border region of Uganda, which is where we look for over 20 Albertine Rift endemics (this, also known as the Western Rift, is a branch of the Great Rift Valley).

The following morning we take a boat trip on the lake, and this is one of the easiest places to find African Finfoot. We sometimes see overwintering Malagasy Pond Heron and Papyrus Gonolek in addition to an array of kingfishers including the likes of Malachite, Giant, Pied, and the rare Shining-blue Kingfisher. In general this park gives us an excellent opportunity to see a lot of arid-country birds, which can include Blue-naped Mousebird, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Golden-breasted Bunting, and the incredibly localized, rather “thin on the ground” Red-faced Barbet, along with a more widespread East African species, Spot-flanked Barbet. Nubian Woodpecker is often heard before it is seen. Like in most arid-habitat parks in East Africa a large bird list can be accumulated very fast, and the above species are just a few of the many goodies we expect to find. This is the only place where we’re likely to see plains zebra during our Uganda birding tour, and there are a lot of other mammals as well, such as hippo, buffalo, defassa waterbuck, bohor reedbuck, topi, common eland, and many more.

Overnight: Rwakobo Rock, Lake Mburo National Park

Days 4 – 5. Birding the Virunga Volcanoes region: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

The mountain gorillas here freely roam into neighboring Rwanda and the DRC, but with extreme luck we might stumble across them (usually we have to wait until we get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, though). One of the main reasons we include this park on our Uganda birding tour is to look for the gorgeous Ruwenzori Turaco. This park has a lot of bamboo forest, in which we search for Abyssinian Ground Thrush. The nearly extinct Shelley’s Crimsonwing is always possible – this Vulnerable species seems to be declining, and for once not because of humans. We may get a head start with some other Albertine Rift endemics, but most of these will have to wait for Bwindi.

Overnight: Mucha Hotel, Kisoro

Days 6 – 7. Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

We travel to one of Africa’s richest forests for primates and birds, starting in the high altitude Ruhija part of the national park. We’ll start birding the forest-covered hills as soon as we arrive, looking for the beautiful Black Bee-eater and also trying to find Grauer’s Swamp Warbler at a roadside site, so that we can reduce the length of the long walk on Day 6, this warbler occurring right in the lower reaches of Mubwindi Swamp. Mountain Yellow Warbler might also be seen, nice to compare with Papyrus Yellow Warbler, for which we try another day.

A walk most of the way down to this swamp can’t be avoided, though, as African Broadbill, one of Africa’s most desirable birds, also occurs there. The good-looking, highly localized Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher also lurks pretty close to the bottom reaches. The walk down to the site for this broadbill (and back) takes a large part of the day, but this is one of the best birding days of the entire tour. Trip participants usually end up getting a constant stream of life-birds throughout the day, mainly Albertine Rift endemics. Banded Prinia, Mountain Masked Apalis, Ruwenzori Apalis, Chestnut-throated Apalis, the strange-looking (and dull for a barbet) Grey-throated Barbet, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, and up to four species of quiet, brightly-colored forest finches known as crimsonwings (all of them very difficult, though!) are often encountered. There are too many high quality species to list here, but we hope to find Olive-breasted Greenbul (one of the more attractively colored greenbuls – we’ll see a great many of the duller ones, as Uganda is absolutely full of them, presenting quite an identification challenge). We do need to mention a couple of the other range-restricted species as well, though – the very long-tailed Blue-headed Sunbird, the dazzling Regal Sunbird, Stripe-breasted Tit, Ruwenzori Batis, and also slightly more widespread species like the fabulous Bar-tailed Trogon and Ruwenzori Hill Babbler.

Overnight: Trekker’s Tavern Cottages, Ruhija

Days 8 – 10. Buhoma, Bwindi National Park: birds and gorilla trekking

En route between the higher-altitude Ruhija and the lower-elevation Buhoma sections of the park we stop to bird “The Neck”, which allows us to see quite a number of species we won’t find elsewhere. Black Bee-eater and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater are both quite easy to see here. Chubb’s Cisticola duets from the thickets. Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher (also known as Vanga Flycatcher) might be seen – this charismatic bird usually moves around (a lot, it’s an extremely lively species) and makes lots of noise as it flies around from one perch to the next. It has a fabulous crest, but the female is chestnut and white, whereas the male is black and white with striking yellow eyes. We might also see Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Bronzy Sunbird and several other sunbirds, African Grey Woodpecker, Augur Buzzard, etc.

At Buhoma itself we spend one day trekking for gorillas (this is a strenuous, optional activity; if you decide not to join in you’ll be taken birding instead, or you can relax or look at and photograph birds around the lodge). Deep-forest birds we’ll seek include many more localized endemics that barely get into neighboring countries – Grauer’s Warbler (not to be confused with Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, which we should have already seen), Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Lühder’s Bushshrike, Brown-capped Weaver and other weavers of the forest canopy, Red-throated Alethe, and lots of others. We’ll be sure to spend time looking for slightly more widespread birds as well, including the skulking White-spotted Flufftail, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Olive-bellied Sunbird, some beautiful forest barbets such as the large Yellow-billed Barbet, the dazzlingly bright and shiny, bright green-and-yellow African Emerald Cuckoo, and, last but not least, Black-billed Turaco.

Overnight: Haven Lodge Buhoma

Days 11. Birds and mammals of Queen Elizabeth National Park

We stop over in Queen Elizabeth National Park (often staying on the Mweya peninsula itself, along the Kazinga Channel) en route to Kibale Forest. England’s queen officially opened this national park (well-known for its tree-climbing lions and boasting 100 mammal species and 600 bird species!) in 1954. One of the highlights of our stay here is getting out onto the Kazinga Channel by boat and seeing crocodiles, hippos, and a great many waterbirds. Naturally, we also see warthog, buffalo, Uganda kob, and a plethora of other mammals. Giant forest hog usually steals the show, however.

Overnight: Mweya Safari Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park

Days 12 – 13. Kibale Forest – the chimpanzee/Green-breasted Pitta combo!

The drive from Queen Elizabeth to another fantastic national park, Kibale, is amazing: we traverse the foothills of the “Mountains of the Moon” (the Ruwenzori Range) and cross the equator, eventually arriving at the richest forest for primates on the African continent. Our main avian target is Green-breasted Pitta, which is best found at dawn when its display call allows us to narrow down its whereabouts (otherwise, despite the jewel-like colors of this bird, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack on the forest floor). While we search for this bird, the atmospheric, quite scary noises of large troops of chimpanzees resonate through the forest. We should also find some other primates such as L’Hoest’s monkey, Uganda red colobus, one of the most striking of all African primates, eastern black-and-white colobus, red-tailed monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, and other monkeys (not to mention the well-built olive baboon, which wanders around in massive groups, usually on the ground). We also have a lot of good birds to see, which might include White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Narrow-tailed Starling, Black-billed Turaco, and Chestnut Wattle-eye.

Overnight: Kibale Homestay, Kibale National Park

Day 14. Half-day drive to Entebbe for extension or departure

It’s best to either take an evening flight home or spend another night in Entebbe if you are not joining the extension, which adds a further five days to this birding tour.

Murchison Falls and Budongo Forest (Royal Mile) extension:

Days 14 – 15. Masindi and Budongo Forest (including the beautiful Royal Mile)

White-crested Turaco is one of the most amazing birds we hope to encounter on the way to Masindi. There are a lot of other great birds too, such as Foxy Cisticola, the almost tailless Northern Crombec, the beautiful Spotted Palm Thrush, good raptors such as Western Banded Snake Eagle and quite a number of others, the stunningly unique Red-winged Grey Warbler, the extravagant Marsh Widowbird, and hopefully Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, to name but a few.

Budongo Forest itself is excellent for many special birds we won’t have seen during the main tour.  Chestnut-capped Flycatcher is a star bird – along with two other species; there is a trio of small warbler-like flycatchers that are taxonomically enigmatic, and this is one of them (we usually find the other two on our Tanzania and Mozambique birding tours). Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher is another prized bird here. But it’s the kingfishers (most of them not associated with water!) that make the Royal Mile famous. Chocolate-backed Kingfisher is probably the most popular of them all, but then Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Dwarf Kingfisher, and others are also completely dazzling. Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Fire-crested Alethe, and Nahan’s Partridge usually stay close to the forest floor. The pretty Rufous-crowned Eremomela, White-thighed Hornbill, and a lot of others inhabit the canopy. Some fantastic forest barbets, tinkerbirds, and woodpeckers abound. There are a great many greenbuls, different species inhabiting different levels of the forest from the undergrowth to the canopy, and these are fun (or, in some people’s opinions, not!) to learn to identify. The Royal Mile is a breathtakingly beautiful forest to spend time in and certainly boasts an extremely rich birdlife.

Overnight: Masindi Hotel, Masindi

Days 16 – 17. Murchison Falls National Park

We do boat trips and birding/game drives in this area, where we always add a great many new birds to our list. This is also a brilliant place for big and small mammals that might include lion, leopard, Rothschild’s giraffe, oribi, Lelwel hartebeest, warthog, the scarce patas monkey, and many others. Black-headed Lapwing, Silverbird, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-throated Bee-eater, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Rock Pratincole, White-headed Barbet, Black-billed Barbet, Meyer’s Parrot, and Bateleur are just a few of the species on our rather large menu.

We should of course mention the fact that the massive volume of the Nile River is forced through a narrow gap here at Murchison Falls – while looking at this site there is a small chance we might also manage to find Pel’s Fishing Owl or Bat Hawk. Where possible we can arrange night drives for some nightjar and owl species in the area; these may include Long-tailed, Plain and Pennant-winged Nightjars and possibly Greyish Eagle Owl.

Overnight: Kabalega Wilderness Lodge (or similar), Murchison Falls National Park

Day 18. Birding on the way back to Entebbe

We’ll look for any species we might still be missing as we make our way back to Entebbe.

Overnight: Lake Victoria View Guest House, Entebbe

Day 19. Flights leave Entebbe

Your flight can leave any time today.

 

Duration: 19 days (including 5 day optional extension)

Limit:  4 – 8

Date: 1 – 19 August 2018, 14-day tour 1 – 14 August 2018

Start: Entebbe

End: Entebbe

 

Price: US$8300 per person sharing for the full 19-day tour (including the extension), based on an amazingly small group size of 4-8. The 14-day tour is poorer value for money and costs US$6400.

Single Supplement: US$755 for 19 days, US$545 for 14 days

Optional gorilla permit (subject to availability) US$600

Optional chimpanzee permit (subject to availability) US$150

 

Price includes:
Bed and breakfast in Entebbe
All accommodation while on tour
All meals while on tour
Bottled water
Private transportation in a 4×4 vehicle
Park entrance fees
Guiding fees
Boat rides on the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth (and the Nile on the extension)
Nature walk fees
Canoe fees at Mabamba Swamp
Price excludes:
International flights
Insurance
Visa
Drinks

Items of a personal nature (such as gifts and laundry)
Gratuities