Travelogue - Uganda 2023
Species richness in Uganda’s national parks
Travelogue Uganda - Nature and Birding Safari in June 2023
Participants: Maximilian HESSE (Max) & Albert Voigts von Schütz
Tour guide: Veronicah Nakafero from Avian Safaris / Crammy Wanyama
Here you can find all the pictures of this trip:
“Mzungu this is Uganda!”
I just managed to take a step backwards, heavily armed with an 800 lens, otherwise I would have collided with a Boda-Boda driver on day one, who didn’t seem to care about my presence on the track.
Mzungu, by the way, means “white person”… a rarity in Uganda.
Above me, Eastern Plantain-eaters, the Great Blue Turaco and some Village Weaver were breeding in large numbers in a small tree next to the boats.
We are about to get on one of these large canoes to look for the Shoebill.
Max, a friend from Vienna, and I landed in Uganda yesterday, he got there a bit before me as I had to travel via Johannesburg to this so-called “Jewel of Africa” and the connections from Namibia are quite inconveniently structured.
The hotel that our good Crammy chose for us had its good points, because the tilapia, a delicacy from Lake Victoria, was deliciously prepared here. Max and I enjoyed it in the humid warmth on the verandah and drank the country’s typical coconut-flavoured gin “Waragi” with it… unfortunately a little too much of it, because the travel euphoria had made us overconfident.
Crammy Wanyama of Avian Safaris, one of Uganda’s top 10 birder, was summoned at short notice for exams and we had to settle for the guidance of his sister Veronica, sometimes called Vero. We were quickly impressed by this young woman’s knowledge, drive and, moreover, driving skills!
The shoebill, an observation dream of mine, showed up very quickly. Once with the boat into the reeds, this monument of a bird was already standing there, looking at us grimly and profoundly. I didn’t understand… pinch me… is the longed-for bird really standing in front of me and pretending that nothing is wrong? A little later, two shoebills flew into a thermal above us – you could see it in the clouds – and circled very high in the sky.
We also visited the Botanical Garden in Entebbe, the usual starting and ending point of all Uganda safaris. We photographed wild grey parrots cuddling, followed the paradise flycatcher deep into the undergrowth, photographed Pygmy Kingfisher and and and… there was no end to it and I was quite satisfied to understate it.
The next day we got back into the canoes “big enough to carry a motorbike” as Crammy paraphrased them in Ugandan-English, as we wanted to watch the Shoebill hunting for Lungfish. Unfortunately, after hours of wandering around and getting stuck, we never found the mysterious animal.
When Max and I already exchanged the promising looks “well… whether this is going to be something”, suddenly a shoebill mother with chicks in her nest was standing in front of us. It was fantastic!
There were also two other canoes there. An elderly lady asked me as we were passing if I was “British”, so what would I be doing here if I wasn’t? How do you explain that you are a German-speaking native Namibian who cultivated German culture but thought and lived African? You’d rather just say “no, I am German”! Whereby the nice lady then whispered to her neighbour “you see more and more of these nowadays, don’t you…”. Wonderful!
The shoebill went down in the history books, because no bird in the world has ever been photographed more, one hundred percent!
I kept switching between my Canon R5 with 800 and R7 with wide-angle zoom, Max shot with his 100 and kept reaching for my camera in addition… he must have felt I wasn’t pulling the trigger enough.
The poor chick was panting in the merciless heat and kept trying to crawl into the mother’s shadow area. She finally opened her wings and shaded the chick. As is well known, mothers also shower their chicks with water, which they scoop up with their big beaks, but our shoebill mother remained firm. What a pity!
We couldn’t stand the heat any longer and asked to have some air around our noses. Driving air… well, the lettuce had to be removed from the drive all the time and even our boat guide, who was typical of ungada in the blazing sun without a hat, had beads of sweat on his forehead.
Our Veronica also showed us Lesser Jacana and many already known water birds and the rare Lesser Moorhen.
On the shore stood the Pineapple Man, an extremely serious and almost evil-looking personality. We took pictures of his moped, which was loaded with 300 pineapples (an exaggeration). It was completely impossible to sit anywhere, but there was still about 30 cm of space between the handlebars and the pineapple. When we later saw up to 5 people sitting on these mopeds, here called Boda Boda (i.e. from Border to Border), all without helmets, we just looked at each other questioningly… “how on earth is that supposed to go well?” Consider that even doors, windows, long iron bars, stacks of water canisters and even several banana plants are transported at once on these mopeds.
The pineapple man skilfully butchered his fruit and presented us with the most delicious pineapple in the world in seconds, I know this for a fact because I have eaten many! Even after generously enjoying his produce, he didn’t manage a smile. “He is not a happy man” Vero said casually unimpressed.
On the way to Rwakobo Rock Lodge at Lake Mburo National Park, i.e. towards the southern border of Uganda, the lists filled up quickly. I don’t want to mention every bird species now, that would go beyond the scope of this conversation, yet the Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, has to be mentioned. A little blue finch with red cheeks, you wonder what God was thinking, there must have been a little artist in the kingdom of heaven.
Birdingwalk – that’s what it’s called when you follow a birding guide armed with binoculars and a camera and are shown lots of birds. Veronica had no idea that she was travelling with a farmer-strich-birder-strich-naturelover who can’t get enough of the Ankole cattle. The horns of these cattle are disproportionately large and thick. It almost looks like something out of a science fiction film when such a herd is driven along the roadside, grazing, followed by a usually young, scantily clad herdsman.
Lake Mburo National Park is empty of tourists and we were finally able to observe the longed-for topi, a subspecies of the lyre antelope, undisturbed. We know the mammals of southern Africa and particularly enjoy the slightly different looking subspecies. Even the zebra, here the plains zebra subspecies boehmi, has a much stricter pattern with strong contrasts down to the hooves, whereas the antiquorum subspecies in Etosha Park has almost completely “bleached” legs and also shadow stripes; these are completely absent from the zebras in Uganda.
I also noticed that the zebras are much smaller, but whether that is really the case?
Max is particularly interested in pigs and so no warthog went unobserved.
He owns a well-known “location” near Klagenfurt where big weddings and other “functions” are held, called Thon7. Wild boars live in the area, one of them Max-tame, or no one else is allowed to approach… crazy. We are friends from the old days, as we used to go hunting together… a custom that is still commonplace for us to procure food, but has become an emotional political issue in the civilised world.
People in Uganda are strangely reluctant to eat wild animals, Veronicah even frowned a little at the thought, saying that pork, chicken and beef tasted much better!
Obviously, the soil in Uganda has no mineral deficiencies. Phosphate seems to be strongly present, because it is precisely this deficiency that prevents strong tusks from growing in Namibia. The boars in Uganda have magnificent “weapons”, as the hunter calls it, but the elephants are also armed with remarkably strong tusks, beautiful!
Poor Veronicah wanted to go through the usual birder-tourist programme with us, but we are just super – intellectual (that was fun) and interested in EVERYTHING. So the tension rose. In the evening, on all birding tours, the lists are always “checked and ticked off”, what one has seen, for control, we often do the same in Namibia. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like it and cancelled this activity from the programme. I explained to Veronicah that I have to do enough of this list ticking for my job, document everything on eBird anyway and want to tell stories with my boyfriend in the evening and go on holiday, that’s it! So I lost some prestige as a birding guide, but I didn’t let myself be bothered about that for once.
Max later mentioned that he would have liked to tick lists, but he could have done so… for example, when I was sitting by the fire with my African Friend the flute player and had a good time…
At the equator, we dutifully took part in the tourist programme and had it explained to us what the Coriolis force is and that it causes the water to flow in different directions depending on its position north or south of the equator… it was interesting and was enriched with Black-headed oriole and an amusing photo shoot with Max. We also ate at “the best restaurant around, everybody comes here”, but I am not blue-eyed enough to find the traditional food great… but I nodded when they asked me if it tasted good. Also the young tourists next to us were already all africa and very understanding and found everything great… well.
The bananas in Uganda are interesting. There are 7 varieties, which differ greatly in taste and preparation. I asked Veronica why so many bananas are harvested green and sold by the roadside. “Because that is food, we call it matoke, it is similar to mashed potatoes and eaten for hunger. The yellow ones are “fruit” and sweet and only make you fat because they contain too much sugar! Aha!
Impenetrable Forest! Impenetrable forest! If we had known how true this description was, we would have been better prepared, that’s for sure!
Fact check footwear:
I skimmed over Crammy’s recommendations to wear sturdy waterproof walking boots and tuck your trousers into your socks. I saw a couple of Englishmen standing at the park entrance dressed like jumping jacks in such gear, typical of tourists, and in no way wanted to make a fool of myself like that… and went into the deep jungle normally with sneakers and un-tucked trousers.
Next time I’ll take rubber boots with me or good gaiters with slightly denser boots. Max walked smartly dressed and did not suffer as much from the ants and the penetrating wetness as I did. The English were also walking more comfortably, even if they looked totally silly.
I felt very comfortable at Broadbill Forest Camp. The view into the kitchen made me shudder and I wondered how they could manage a decent meal here, but we were still quite happy. By the way, this forest area is over 2000m high and it is cold… We sat by the fire with our jackets on and listened to an old man with a flute playing a deep African spirituality. As a child of Africa, I am not a fan of touristy pretentiousness, but this one was special, this old man had an aura and I enjoyed it for a short moment to become very happy and calm…
Of course Max bought the old man a beer, logically, which he drank with great pleasure, and then some!
Mubwindi Swamp, this swamp area is home to the Grey Broadbill, also known as the African Green Broadbill. Rare birds with remarkable looks are always a highlight to fight for. The descent into the forest area was quite strenuous and slippery. Our local guide, an extremely capable birding guide named Raymond walked light-footed and fast ahead of us in his rubber boots. “Sharp!” is what they call guides who can see, find and identify any bird instantly. Gordon was more than sharp, he was additionally endowed with the eyes of an eagle with joy and enthusiasm.
However, the birding was a pain as the birds were very high, very small and almost always backlit as the forest is dark at the bottom and glaringly bright all the way up there. So you can hardly make out any colours and hardly enjoy “new” species as you can’t see them properly. Raymond could immediately identify the slightest zip or chilp or zzt. He himself fell down several times on the steep slopes covered with creepers, but this bothered him much less than it bothered me. Euphorically, he located the Broadbill. When I was almost furious – you really have to fight to get ahead – Gordon found a nest and my blood pressure shot up. What a wonderful moment, what a privilege to watch a pair of this beautiful green bird right on their nest. An ornithological orgasm! For sure.
We then booted up to the swamps and were able to briefly observe Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, another highlight.
This forest is wonderful! The trees are gigantic in size and height, each trunk covered with colourful lichens, each branch fork providing a home for various ferns, orchids and other epiphytes. The diversity is breathtaking, a healthy mixed forest of thousands of species, nature breathes here.
I won’t say much about the way back, but I wondered how older nature lovers could manage it. Gordon said casually that he had already shown 80-year-olds the swamps. I wanted to know how that was possible. “We are going slow at their own pace,” he said, “and now? I wanted to know. “Now we are going at MY pace, because you are young” he said and went on… and on, until our legs were nothing but rubber.
The next day we were to go into the forest again, down again, this time to the gorillas. After the usual tourist show, warnings and explanations from the rangers, we finally booted off. It is difficult for me to describe the experience, as meeting gorillas is more of a spiritual experience. You feel like a guest in someone else’s home, with some relief at being tolerated.
Gorillas look at you!!!
They look deep into your eyes and then calmly away. I thought I was experiencing everything calmly and peacefully, as the little one was gyrating and suckling, but suddenly the Silverback drummed, a roar broke out and he made his way “up”, where at a good 60m another Silverback was “walking smoothly” in the treetops. An insanely intimate experience, certainly not without reason on many a nature lover’s bucket list.
However, I had to laugh when Max later told me that one could also condition the shorter route to the gorillas, it wouldn’t be so strenuous. “Max, we did the shortest one! Veronicah wanted to see us back early as we had to get on”. This is just a brief mention, as gorilla tracking is very strenuous. We were accompanied by a sporty-looking 60-year-old who almost had a “heart attack” on the way back, according to Max. We also didn’t quite follow the instructions to put on waterproof hiking boots with longer socks, into which you then tuck your trousers. Oh my! The damned forest ants like to crawl up the trouser legs and bite terribly painful… if only I had been a little more obedient.
Gordon wanted to come with us to Ruhija and we stopped for short walks, sometimes on steep slopes in almost frustrating conditions, chasing birds like Dusky Twinspot, Baglafecht Weaver and Dusky Crimsonwing. However, how beautiful these species are absolutely makes up for all the effort.
Fact check optics and photography:
A friend already warned me about the difficult conditions for bird photography in Uganda and that due to the shady conditions, constant cloud cover and very high backlight, you have to use extremely high ISO settings and the noise then has to be extremely post-processed. So if you don’t arrive here super-equipped, you’d better just observe… otherwise the adventure will end in frustration, my word discovery by the way.
The light conditions also require very good optics in terms of binoculars, so dig deep into your pockets here and arrive with good equipment!
If you would like to do some homework here, you can read Dr. Ziegers article on this topic HERE.
Accommodation fact check:
We stayed in mid-range lodges, but the comfort is in no way comparable to the accommodation of e.g. southern Africa. The showers are often just good enough for washing and some lodges are very proud of the fact that you can even “charge” in the room… Please bring an adapter beforehand, the world plug fits. The beds are usually good and clean, but other furnishings are often missing.
There are also “luxury lodges”, which I would certainly recommend. As the days are very exhausting and the impressions overwhelming, you need a good hostel in the evening, otherwise you will fall asleep in the car the next day… which would be a pity!
Health fact check:
The water is not drinkable anywhere, but Crammy had very gently made provisions and we constantly went to our quarters armed with water. We also consistently took a whisky before and after meals, which was certainly not always necessary, but better safe than sorry and good humour is something you can use anyway. We took our malaria prophylaxis, Max took Malarone and I the local cheaper product Malatec, every evening catholically, but on the whole trip there was only one mosquito to be seen, and that was not an Anopheles mosquito… so I stop taking it early.
Again and again we met local guides, who I could only classify as real experts of their area and without whose help many an observation would not have been possible. Unfortunately, we had to incur unforeseen expenses, as in addition to the U$ 10 per person per day tip for our national guide, we also had to provide the local guides with a similar tip. It doesn’t matter if you are less well-off like Max and me and are doing a “once in a lifetime” trip, you have to have the money.
Max had a big suitcase with old clothes and shoes, many of them almost like new. The local guides were literally scrambling for them, so we could save a little on tips here and there.
I should also mention the different squirrels, as we saw the carruthersi mountain chipmunk in the Bwindi jungle in the far southwest, the Alexander bush squirrel in Budongo, and the red-legged sun squirrel in Bigodi, and later also the striped ground squirrel of Central and North Africa. Unfortunately, these little critters are very difficult to photograph, but you can see them very well with binoculars, even if the forest offers less than optimal lighting.
At lunchtime we always had “packed lunch” as Vero called it. We always ordered “with lots and lots of fruit” because the mango, pineapple and watermelon in Uganda taste just fabulous. Apples rather less so. Unfortunately, the English colonial period did not conjure up a proper food culture in this country – the English, as we know, can hardly conquer the world in the kitchen. The bread is a disaster, there’s no other way to put it. We were looked at in amazement when we tried to explain that in this world, even in Africa… we know it from Namibia, there may also be a good rye wholemeal bread.
Max rediscovered the avocado, which by the way grows by the wayside here, by “splitting” it, gallantly hitting the core with the knife, pulling it out, and whirling it through the air. We spooned out these huge wonderful super avocados with a little lemon… deliciously delicious delicious. You may salt a little more here, as the salt tastes a little milder than the Namibian sea salt.
At the Masindi Hotel, I scolded the manager because hundreds of mangoes were rotting under the trees, unharvested. “But sir, this is the season, there is so much, we can’t eat them all”. What else can I say in a country where there is poverty but never famine. In my home country Namibia, we plan at least 6 hectares of pasture per small livestock unit and still suffer from drought. In Uganda, the goats are simply staked and the green grass is then grazed within a radius of 5 m… without any traces of grazing ever being found.
Queen Elisabeth Park, a dream, that’s all I’m saying. Hundreds of buffaloes, but much more attractive were the many small corvids, called PiaPiac, which pick all the parasites off the animals’ backs. The black young birds have a red beak, which always looks good on a photo. Here I was also delighted to see the Yellow-throated Longclaw, a species of peeper with yellow dress and, if you force everyone to listen and let the car switch off, wonderful song.
So this “don’t switch off the car” by some guides really got on my nerves.
I didn’t shut up later either, because there is a superstition that it would be better for the engine if it idled for a good 15 minutes before and after a journey. It would be better for the engine if it idled for a good 15 minutes before and after a trip. I also noticed that all the tourists had to watch the Ugandan wildlife with a pop-up roof, but idling.
The sentence “have you never heard of global warming?” or “would you like a crash-course in mechanics?” Only one guide of mine had to listen to it, but it was constantly on the tip of my tongue. At my age you’re allowed to do that, to rant, “we weren’t born yesterday, for God’s sake,” I said to Max.
Admittedly, I was extremely grateful that our Vero was not “one of them” and always kept things quiet quickly… and also left us plenty of time to enjoy the wildlife.
To find lions in big candelabra euphorbias, no it is not a cactus, is not so easy. The famous tree-climbing lions could not hide from Vero and we found two lionesses resting high in the branches, it was great!
There are reasons to travel to distant countries, everyone has his or her own. Most of the time it is quite banal things that one is curious about. Almost every day I see the so-called “Reichsvogel”, or Crimson-breasted shrike, in front of my office on the farm… in the Prosopis tree. When I discovered the Papyrus Gonolek in the bird book and saw only two small differences to the Crimson-breasted shrike, namely the yellow crown and slightly smaller white spot on the shoulder, I absolutely had to see it. This was a very big and difficult task for our Veronicah, as this shrike lives deep in the papyrus reeds and is extremely shy. Eventually we heard it, after what felt like hours… and I had it in my binoculars for about 10 seconds and it was just sitting still for an express photo shoot, then it was gone forever. Thank you!
The Kob, a type of grass antelope, presented itself as we had hoped, namely in their mating grounds, also called leks. The bucks with bared upper lips and tight gait behind the females, something new again, great!
Veronicah booked us on a boat trip in the Kasinga Channel. Great for tourists seeing something like this for the first time, I’m sure, but I can hardly be impressed with monster crocodiles, lazy hippos and frontal elephants, especially when the boatman didn’t shower yesterday; Vero smelled it too and had to laugh heartily at my expression.
What was really great was a Pink-backed pelican observation and the view of Lake Eduard. The spur-winged plovers on the shore were also new and the large breeding colony of Pied kingfishers was really impressive.
“Hey Albert, there are running bats stuck on the wall back there, and check out this lizard”. Max also spotted, while I was watching a slender-billed weaver, building a nest, a young Nile monitor, still yellow-black, in a treetop.
On the wall of the ranger building at Queen Elisabeth National Park, while Victoria was getting the permit, we saw the Mauritian tomb bat which literally ran along the wall when you came closer. I had never seen anything like it before. The creatures had a mad speed to scurry sideways along the wall… until it became too dicey and a short flight should protect them from the enemies with a telephoto lens.
We had two nights in Kibale, because we didn’t want to “learn to understand” the chimpanzees like all Otto normal consumers, but because deep in the forest lives the famous Green-breasted Pitta.
His call sounded loud! Again and again we were right next to this paradisiacal looking creature, but I saw the bird only once briefly, very briefly, sitting and flying 5 times, always dark, always covered, ants on its leg all the time… impossible to photograph! The chimpanzees suddenly called primordially loud apparently very close to us. We followed the calls, but did not get to see the animals.
In Kibale Forest camp it was quite nice, especially the showers were very good, pure luxury when pressure and temperature work. There were also other tourists there, Germany says hello. We explained to Veronicah that German tourists may be reluctant to bump into other German tourists on holiday… she found it amusing.
We also had to walk the Royal Mile as birder, that’s how it should be, again with local guide, this time called Raymond, who was really good again. In the fields in front of the impressive woodland, the birthing was fantastic and we were able to admire a number of colourful finch species, especially the Zebra Waxbill.
Within the real Royal Mile, typical forest birthing with poor light was again the order of the day. Nevertheless, it was great to see the smallest fisher, African Dwarf Kingfisher, even if only extremely high up in the trees. Loudly calling from the treetops were the White-thighed Hornbills and we were again treated to Ross’s Turaco. The magnificence of these birds cannot be put into words, you just have to go and see for yourself.
Masindi Hotel is the oldest hotel in Uganda. Vero wanted to impress us with this statement, but unfortunately dear Veronicah didn’t know my cynical sense of humour and when I asked if they had renovated in the meantime, she switched to defence mode… so it will take a while to get to know them, I thought quietly.
I liked the crew of this hotel, all very nice people, even if they can’t make coffee, but “personality goes a long way”. Unfortunately, no one in the car understood this statement and I desperately started talking about the movie dialogue in the master film Pulp Fiction… but I could have saved that and the birdening continued.
Since I had laundry washed at the last lodge in Kibale, by the way a fantastically beautiful forested crater landscape on the way, I had to hang it up again in the Masindi-Hotel-backyard-laundry-room-a-disorder-you-had-not-seen, as it was still soaking wet. Yep, exactly! That’s what happened: I waited especially for a two-night lodge so that there would be enough time to wash my forest-dirty laundry.
On the day of departure, I was handed them over in a plastic bag, as everything was still dripping. “Sorry, it was raining and the dry-line is outside”. I was at a loss for words!
The nice, very powerful and very dark concierge of the Masindi Hotel, Fred, who by the way reminded me a lot of BA-Barracus from the American series “A-Team”, soon became my friend, we saw eye to eye, right from the start.
His words: “Ah, they are useless, they know nothing, give me your washing for me to do some work on them, I hope you don’t mind, trust me”.
I was soon handed my laundry neatly ironed and dry by a black giant and rejoiced in this encounter. Fred my friend!
Murchison Falls National Park. The white Nile narrows to a few metres and impresses with a relatively impressive roar down the “Falls”. You have to see it, but that’s enough. After we were proudly presented with the Rock Pratincoles on the rocks of the Murchison Falls, we also took a boat from below up to the falls. Unfortunately, Max and I couldn’t muster the expected enthusiasm, especially as it rained so hard on the way back that our boat waited on the opposite shore for better times and could only cross the Nile after the storm… we were completely wet and cramped in the meantime.
However, the park is well worth seeing and definitely a flagship of Uganda.
I loved the tens of thousands of Borassus palms, which made for a fantastic landscape. Abyssinian Ground Hornbills were perched in the palm trees, oh so much I had been looking forward to seeing these birds and now they were finally in front of me, and in such a beautiful landscape, wonderful!
I was particularly pleased to see a Bell’s Hinged Tortoise, which was making its way across the tarmac road, the only one in the park, quite quickly to the other side.
The colouring of the Nubian Giraffe is absolutely fabulously kitschy and the photos all looked completely saturated and unrealistically colourful because of the extreme contrasts, absolute picture book Africa, without a doubt. I was amazed and delighted by the regular encounters with Grey kestrel, Palm-nut vulture and Long-Crested Eagles, both rather rare sightings in other parts of Africa.
There are probably tourists who travel to Uganda because of the various monkeys, I can well understand that, because there are quite a few of the entertaining creatures here. In Murchison Park, we were entertained by hussar monkeys in addition to identifying larks – the tree-rattling lark does indeed chatter incessantly here.
These flute acacias all along the way are also awesome, because ants live here in the blister-like chambers at the base of the thorns. The ants are unpleasant for grazing animals, which protect the tree. As a reward, the ants have a small flat with an entrance and an exit, a symbiosis. When the wind whistles through the branches, the holes in the chambers make a distinct fluting sound, hence the name fluting acacia or whistling thorn.
In Namibia there are supposed to be Oribi antelopes near the Kwando… I have always looked for them there in vain and was very happy to be able to observe these animals in Uganda. I didn’t think there would be so many of them. Veronicah was already sighing patiently when she was allowed to stop for a photo stop after the so-and-so-many oribi.
The road to the far north to the Kidepo Valley is long, very long, you drive all day. When Veronicah whispered that the way back would be even longer, it dawned on us why we should stay here for three nights. Kidepo Valley is far from the usual tourist route and we had a real piece of Africa undisturbed to ourselves… almost, there were three other small groups at Kidepo Savannah Lodge, but we hardly noticed them.
Zacharias, a local guide / warden / ranger was constantly by our side, with his AK-47. He belonged to the northern tribe of the Karamojong, a distinctly longer, blacker and very serious version of man, if one may say so. Zacharias and I got on well, he wasn’t born yesterday either as they say and had no time for skirmishes. I had to curb his efforts to show us various rarities, otherwise we would still be on the road.
The White-bellied bustard triggered great feelings in me. Although it also exists in Namibia, up there in Ovamboland, I had never been able to see it. At first the animal remained far hidden, but then it reacted to our “tape” (one likes to play the calls so that birds come closer – not quite ethical, but there is no need to be so petty as long as you handle it sensibly) and came for the photo opportunity… even if a little late.
Extremely impressive was the display on Granite Hill where Mocking Cliff Chat were busily announcing their territory… the girl had a small berry in her beak during the display of the male fanning his bump and singing, very cute.
Early in the morning a savannah rail was easy to spot and we saw an extremely large number of “good” birds alongside hundreds of buffalo, grass antelope, zebra and oribi. The English call rare and noteworthy bird species “good birds”, that’s where it comes from, good expressions are readily adopted.
Right at the camp I was able to take wonderful photos of the green Bruce’s Green-Pigeon and it was good to have a beautiful version, the White-bellied go-away-bird, in the binoculars instead of Grey go-away-bird, I love this place.
The bird list kept filling up and we had 400+ species recorded as Zacharias kept coming up with specials and even did a, he had taken us to his heart by now, little walking safari with us. “Bending the rules a bit” he said, but he was the master here anyway. At first I was a bit hesitant to get out of the car, because a group of buffaloes was standing right next to the car and two bulls were very clearly expressing their frustration at our presence with short spurts of attack. Zacharias simply got out and walked towards them… suddenly they all galloped away and I also liked to get brave.
The reason for the “walking safari” was to observe a group of vultures at a buffalo carcass. Apart from the smell, that was also an impressive thing, always a pleasure.
The white-headed Buffalo Weaver is called Starweber in German. I think this bird deserves special mention here. These weavers live almost right on the border of Sudan and are extremely pretty and also quite active theatrical players. Wings open, tail fanned, loud noise, an eternal back and forth, all for the ladies… say no more.
On the long way back we encountered a gigantic colony of palm flying foxes. I always wanted to go to Zambia for the “Bat-migration”, but this wish is overdue, because the thousands of palm flying foxes in Uganda were quite enough for me. This noise, these facial expressions, this hustle and bustle and clinging to each other. Again and again, small groups formed that wanted to hang on top of each other instead of next to each other. If there was a bit of wind – a relief in the heat, by the way – they all flew a short arc as if on command, only to sit down again and cling to each other, hang, flutter, chatter. Flying fox is a cool expression, because if you look closely in binoculars, you are looked at directly as if by a dog, the heads are amazingly similar. They are sweet, really sweet!
The way back to Entebbe was a day of driving, that’s all there is to it. Near Kampala, the capital of Uganda, the population density became a tiring traffic problem. Calmly and relaxed, Veronicah manoeuvred his way through vast numbers of different vehicles and motorbikes. It struck me that traffic lights should only be used as a guide and should not be taken too seriously. It would be no problem to simply drive through a red light, as there is obviously still some space left on the intersection. Zebra crossings are purely ornamental; people drive here, they don’t stop. Helmets at least on the motorway? Only for the old and frightened, the remaining 90% have no sense for such nonsense and besides, the things are uncomfortable. You only overtake if there is definitely traffic on the opposite lane, because they can see you and then take evasive action… it is dangerous to overtake on a clear opposite lane where someone might be coming “too fast” from the front.
Grateful that the good Veronicah was at the wheel, I sat back and amused myself with roadside cinema.
My mind was not on ornithological rarities, as many would think, but on the Wood Doves. Quite out of their usual distribution, we discovered a Bronze-spotted Wood-Dove / Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove on our farm Nomtsas in Namibia before I left for Uganda. I saw this again in Uganda and also enjoyed hearing it. However, I also saw the Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, the Black-billed Wood-Dove and to top it off, the Tambourine Dove. I like these, very much!
The return flight involves a lot of stress, but this can be judged subjectively, as I have a personal aversion to crowds with little room to move and long lines. One must not forget to have a large portion of patience and tolerance in one’s suitcase when travelling in deep Africa. I enjoyed an upbringing where consideration is shown for others. Washing oneself before going between other people, especially when boarding a plane, is part of this consideration. So I find it hard to remain tolerant when others don’t. So I’m not in a particularly good mood because of it in these arrivals and departures! Poor Max still tried to pull me out of my mood with sentences like “That was a great holiday”, but after a short hug I didn’t want to punish him with my mug and left.
I would like to emphasise here that there are few people with whom you can travel for weeks on end without getting on each other’s nerves…such a person is Max! so where to next? Madagascar?
The high volume of people, the poor and lengthy security checks, the long waits in lines where every second person hasn’t washed, that’s often the case in Frankfurt too, but in Uganda it’s another test of patience. But as the English say: “You can’t have you cake and eat it”!
Fact check flight bookings:
Once again, I would like to thank Natalie Hirt from Passage Reisen for the perfect organisation of the flights and accommodation bookings during the stopovers. It is definitely advisable to book such flight logistics rather a competent travel agency.
Last but not least, I would like to mention that we had a wonderful time sighting and photographing the Yellow-throated Leaflove in Entebbe. I made it very clear how important this observation was to me, because this bird was the namesake of the smallest but best safari company in Africa! Victoria nodded with a serious smile… that’s how it has to be!
What a great holiday, Uganda is a real gem and a good destination for anyone who wants to experience something. There will be another trip in July 2024….Fancy it? Then click HERE 🙂
Here you can find all the pictures of this trip: