Visiting the African continent was always on our wish list and the moment we got 15 days off work, we decided to travel to Uganda as our holidays coincided with the peak Ugandan birding season.
We also added Rwanda into the plan due to its proximity to Uganda and the possibility to see a few more important and range restricted Albertine Rift Endemics.
Armed with this rough plan, we contacted several tour companies and professional bird guides, most of whom offered more or less a standard package that was a mix of birding and Gorilla & Chimp tracking without much focus on the Rwanda extension or our other birding specific needs.
However among all the bird guides, Tony stood out with his witty but crisp to the point itinerary, willingness to adapt based on our requirement and confidence to pull off the Rwanda extension within the timeframe we had. He also came up with a realistic pricing and we eventually settled our travel plans with him.
Birding with Tony:
It’s a joy to bird with Tony. Apart from his birding skills, what sets him apart is his infectious energy, never give up attitude, the rapport he shares with the local bird guides and the willingness to go above and beyond what is expected of him.
We challenged Tony with an extremely fast paced itinerary that was more of a wish, but Tony took the challenge and structured the itinerary in such a manner that we covered all the locations, maximized our chances to see the target birds and never felt rushed. The pace of the trip meant that we were not sleeping more than six hours a night, however Tony slept even less, organizing everything in the background, but never loosing focus on the birds.
Tony also came equipped with all the necessary birding gear like a Spotting Scope, bird check-sheets etc.
Tony Byarugaba: +250 783 874 605 (WhatsApp) and +256 702747 758
A big shout also goes out to Ibrahim, our driver for the trip who tirelessly drove us across Uganda and Rwanda safely and responsibly.
Needless to say, Tony made our trip thoroughly exciting and enjoyable and we whole heartedly recommend him to any birder planning a trip to Uganda.
Uganda is an amazingly beautiful country with a variety of habitats ranging from scrubland to dense lowland and montane forests interspersed with crater lakes all packed in a very small area.
While all the forests had something special, an early morning visit to the natural hot springs at Semuliki had us completely spellbound with its breathtaking beauty and the associated tribal folklore.
Walking in the shadow of the volcanos at Mgahinga was another unforgettable experience, apart from an extreme adrenaline rush we experienced at Lake Mburo when a couple of hippopotamus tried to overturn our small boat.
Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory to enter the country and visas can be applied online at https://visas.immigration.go.ug/
Crossing over to Rwanda was easy that entailed walking a few minutes in no man’s land and getting our passports stamped at the border crossing. While visa’s were being issued on the spot, we already had our evisa’s issued at https://www.migration.gov.rw/ and after a quick check, the immigration officials let us in.
English was widely spoken albeit with a strong French accent and even when there was some political tension brewing in the background that led to a massive military presence throughout our trip, we still felt safe and even spent some time cheering the Tour du Rwanda participants.
We spent one full day at Nyungwe that turned out to be a mixed bag as we had to share the local bird guide, Claver with a self-absorbed American birder who completely disregarded our presence and was just interested in ticking off the birds on his Apple phone rather than actually see them. Thankfully, he left in the afternoon to catch his evening flight and Claver exhibited his extreme knowledge of the forest enabling us to see several important birds by the end of the day.
Travel Dates: 27 July 2018 – 11 Aug 2018
July/August is the prime birding season and the climate was mostly comfortable except a few humid days at Semuliki. However, we did experience rain on several days and had to adjust our plan accordingly.
An ambitious and jam packed itinerary kept us on our toes till the very last day, however we still managed to see most of the Albertine Rift Endemics/range restricted birds with only a few painful misses.
Apart from a birding day at Lake Mburo, we spent the rest of the trip driving along the Albertine Rift covering key birding sites like Kibale, Semuliki, Elizabeth NP, Bwindi, Mubwindi swamp, Mgahinga and then finishing off at the Nyungwe forest in Rwanda.
Day 1: 27 July 2018 (Delhi – Entebbe – Mabamba Swamp – Masaka)
Day 2: 28 July 2018 (Masaka – Mburo)
Day 3: 29 July 2018 (Mburo – Kibale)
Day 4: 30 July 2018 (Kibale area)
Day 5: 31 July 2018 (Kibale – Semuliki)
Day 6: 01 Aug 2018 (Semuliki – Fort Portal)
Day 7: 02 Aug 2018 (Fort Portal – Elizabeth NP)
Day 8: 03 Aug 2018 (Elizabeth NP – Buhoma)
Day 9: 04 Aug 2018 (Buhoma)
Day 10: 05 Aug 2018 (Buhoma – Ruhija)
Day 11: 06 Aug 2018 (Ruhija)
Day 12: 07 Aug 2018 (Ruhija – Mgahinga)
Day 13: 08 Aug 2018 (Mgahinga – Ruhengeri)
Day 14: 09 Aug 2018 (Ruhengeri – Nyungwe)
Day 15: 10 Aug 2018 (Nyungwe – Huye)
Day 16: 11 Aug 2018 (Huye – Kigali – Delhi)
Albertine Rift Endemics:
We managed to see 21 (plus 02 Heard only) out of the possible 31 endemic birds during this trip with the majority seen in Bwindi, Mgahinga and Nyungwe.
Bwindi lived up to it’s reputation and we saw 14 endemics in a span of three days including the Handsome Francolin, Red-troated Alethe, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Black-faced Apalis, Ruwenzori Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Strange Weaver, Regal Sunbird, Dusky Crimsonwing, Purple-breasted Sunbird and Stripe-breasted Tit, while the Short-tailed Warbler remained heard only.
The Kivu Ground Thrush was also tantalizingly close at Mgahinga and kept calling from extremely close range for over thirty minutes but remained heard only, however Ruwenzori Turaco, Archer’s Robin Chat, Blue-headed Sunbird and Ruwenzori Double-collared Sunbird were surprisingly easy at Mgahinga.
Kungwe Apalis and the Red-collared Mountain-Babbler were the highlights at Nyungwe along with the other endemics like the Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler and the Red-troated Alethe.
Brovad Hotel, Masaka: This place was used for an overnight stay on our way to Lake Mburo. Rooms showed age and the bathroom was in need of maintenance. Our assigned room had no water in the bathroom and the staff made us wait for over an hour for the overhead water tank to fill up. When nothing happened, the staff allowed a room change that had running water in the bathroom.
Rwakobo Rock, Lake Mburo: Excellent property close to all the birding action. Clean rooms, good food.
Kibale Homestay, Kibale: Conveniently located and well-maintained property with clean rooms and bath, good food.
Isunga Lodge, Kibale: Wow!! Amazing place to stay, excellent food. Would have loved to stay a bit longer just to relax; However, it’s a pity that there’s not much birding in the vicinity of the property.
Bumaga Campsite, Semuliki: Very basic, but serves the purpose. The campsite is located right where the birds are so have to stay here for an early start the next morning. We got a room with an attached bathroom with running water (not hot). Food was good and the staff was friendly and pretty helpful.
Ruwenzori View Guest House, Fort Portal: Room showed age, cramped bathroom, and average food.
Pumba Safari Cottages, Elizabeth National Park: Nice place to stay with an extremely helpful staff.
Buhoma Community Rest Camp, Bwindi: A community managed camp with plenty of birding opportunities around. Excellent rooms, great food and friendly staff.
Gorilla Mist Camp, Ruhija, Bwindi: Great place to stay, spacious rooms and well trained staff. Can find common birds around the place, but serious birding needs a few km’s of drive.
Broadbill Forest Camp, Ruhija, Bwindi: We are not big fans of tented accommodation, but did not mind staying for a night. The attached bathroom had an excellent shower.
Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp, Mgahinga: The camp is right in front of the Mgahinga park entrance. While the rooms are simple and clean, the bathroom had no running water and came with a basic pit toilet. The other option is to stay at Kisoro but that’s a good 45 minute back-breaking drive over boulder strewn road. We took to this road in the evening and slept at the campsite to start birding early. In hindsight, we could have stayed at Kisoro with an early start the next morning.
Hotel Muhabura, Ruhengeri, Rwanda: Rooms show age, but the staff is proactive and helpful, Food was good.
Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel, Gisakura, Rwanda: Amazing property with excellent food.
Ibis Hotel, Huye: Spacious but ancient rooms. Staff was incredibly helpful and did everything possible to make our stay comfortable.
Day 1: 27 July 2018 (Delhi – Entebbe – Mabamba Swamp – Masaka)
An extremely long day for us; we started early from Delhi, reaching Entebbe by late afternoon and after a quick rest at the Lake Victoria View Guesthouse, birded the Mabamba swamps followed by a long drive halfway towards Mburo, settling in at Masaka for an overnight stay at the Brovad Hotel.
Birding Highlights: Weyns’s Weaver, Shoebill, African Jacana, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, African Marsh Harrier, Long-toed Lapwing, Marsh Widowbird, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Squacco Heron, Swamp Flycatcher, White-winged Tern, Yellow-billed Duck, Reed and White-breasted Cormorant
Day 2: 28 July 2018 (Masaka – Mburo)
We started early from Masaka and after a bit of roadside birding, reached the Mburo National Park by 0900 Hrs where we birded the scrubland along with an afternoon boat ride on Lake Mburo. Overnight at Rwakobo Rock
Speckled Pigeon, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Southern Red-headed Weaver, Buff-bellied Warbler, Red-billed Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia
Brimstone Canary, Chinspot Batis, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Spot-flanked Barbet, Blue-naped Mousebird
Striped Kingfisher, White-headed Saw-wing, Red-billed Quelea, Red-faced Crombec Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Woodland Kingfisher
Brown-chested Lapwing, African Thrush, Malachite Kingfisher, Grey Kestrel, Grey Crowned-crane, Black Crake, Brown-faced Go-away-bird
Wattled Lapwing, African Harrier-hawk, Little Bee-eater, Goliath Heron,African Finfoot, African Fish-eagle, White-backed Night-heron
Senegal Lapwing, White-backed Vulture, Crested Francolin, Brown Parrot, Crested Barbet, Red-necked Francolin, Lappet-faced Vulture
African Grey Hornbill, Bearded Woodpecker, Black-and-white Mannikin, Black-faced Waxbill, Brown Snake-eagle, Dark-eyed Black Tit, Eastern Black-headed Oriole, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, Green-backed Heron, Grey Woodpecker, Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, Laughing Dove, Little Grebe, Mosque Swallow, Ring-necked Dove, Water Thick-knee, Yellow-billed Oxpecker
Mammals and Reptiles: Cape Hare, Giraffe, Crocodile
Day 3: 29 July 2018 (Lake Mburo – Kibale)
Birded the scrubland all morning and eventually Tony’s persistence paid off when we found several interesting range restricted birds like the Red-faced Barbet, Black-collared Barbet, Tabora Cisticola along with a Striped Pipit at Rwakobo Rock during lunch.
Post lunch, we commenced our drive to the Albertine Rift, reaching Kibale by late evening settling in at the Kibale Homestay.
African Paradise-flycatcher, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Black-headed Gonolek, Black Cuckooshrike, Common Scimitarbill, White-browed Scrub Robin, Nubian Woodpecker, Rüppell’s Starling, Black-collared Barbet, Broad-billed Roller
Grey-headed Kingfisher, Tabora Cisticola, Brubru, Black-headed Heron, Lilac-breasted Roller, Arrow-marked Babbler, Black-lored Babbler, Striped Pipit, White-browed Robin-chat, Red-faced Barbet, Red-headed Lovebird, Green Woodhoopoe, Grey-backed Fiscal, Least Honeyguide, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Plain-backed Pipit, Slate-coloured Boubou
Mammals: Common (Burchell’s) Zebra, Common Eland, Defassa Waterbuck, Dwarf Mongoose, Impala
Day 4: 30 July 2018 (Kibale area)
Today was the day to search for the Green-breasted Pitta in the moist evergreen Kibale forest and we, along with several more birders started our search for this bird well before dawn and after a coordinated effort, all of us managed to get spectacular views of this amazing bird.
Other birds seen in the forest area were Narina Trogon, Purple-headed Starling, Collared Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Green-headed Sunbird, Blue-spotted Wood-dove, White-throated Greenbul, African Yellow White-eye, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat and African Blue-flycatcher.
More birding followed at the regenerating forest behind the Kibale Homestay with Andrew, the local birding expert and we ended up seeing quite a few new birds including up-close views of a cute little White-spotted Flufftail apart from other birds like Afep Pigeon, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Black-necked Weaver, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, Brown-backed Scrub-robin, Double-toothed Barbet, Green Crombec, Grey-headed Nigrita, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Spectacled Weaver, Tambourine Dove, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Thick-billed Weaver, Toro Olive Greenbul, Tropical Boubou, Vieillot’s Black Weaver and White-chinned Prinia. Overnight at Isunga Lodge