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Darkest Africa inspired epic sagas of discovery in the Victorian Age. Livingstone and Stanley’s quest for the source of the Nile filled newspapers. Reports of fearsome beasts meant that only the most intrepid explorers ventured into the bush.
Much has changed since those times. Uganda has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth. An excellent national park infrastructure gives economic benefits back to the local people. The country is now reaping great rewards as the true value of Churchill's ‘Pearl of Africa’ is recognised.
Few African countries can match Uganda's diversity of habitats, which are home to at least 23 Albertine Rift endemics among over 1000 bird species in an area of similar size to the UK! We have completed several wonderful tours, with almost 500 bird species being the supporting cast to intimate sessions with Gorillas and big game. The awesome Shoebill, one of the continent's almost mythical species has played a starring role. We will visit the dancing grounds of Grey Crowned Cranes and see acrobatic Black Bee-eaters.
Despite Hollywood's attempt to portray the great apes as monsters, Dian Fossey’s work followed by Sir David Attenborough's TV encounter have shown a gentler side to the endangered Mountain Gorilla. To sit just feet from them and to see, hear and smell them is something that words cannot convey.
On arriving in Entebbe we will check into our hotel for one night. In the morning we will drive to Lake Victoria and take a boat trip on her still waters. This provides a relaxed way to look for African Pygmy Goose and Long-toed Lapwing while Lesser and African Jacanas trot over lily pads. Malachite Kingfishers dart by and Carruthers’ Cisticola, the first of several papyrus endemics, sing from the tallest stems. The star, however, is the enormous Shoebill that breeds here. Later in the day we will drive to Lake Mburu for one night.
At Lake Mburu we should log Broad-billed Rollers, Marabou Storks and Hooded Vultures, while Pied Hornbill and Ross's Turaco are roadside birds. Wattled Plover and Red-chested Swallow feed among Defassa Waterbuck, Tsessebe and Boehm’s Zebra. Bare-faced Go-away-birds, Nubian Woodpeckers and Black-headed Bush Shrikes are found in the giant Euphorbia. Pedigree Ankole cattle belonging to the royal family are also found here.
The next day we will take an early morning boat ride in search of African Finfoot. This is possibly the most reliable site on the continent to find one. Hammerkop and Papyrus Gonolek are possible before we drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park for a three night stay.
We will visit this high elevation forest, one of the world's great natural treasures providing home to various endemic birds. Ten species of primate occur here including the beautiful L'Hoest's and Blue Monkeys and, of course, the magnificent Mountain Gorilla. With a world population of just 880, Bwindi is one of just two places where they still survive. Our success rate of finding them is one hundred percent! Tourist revenue is vital to the Gorillas’ survival, as it provides education and medical facilities for the locals who are proud of the park and welcome tourists. Villagers are even giving farmland back to nature, to increase Gorilla and bird habitats. Uganda is one of those countries where you feel that conservation is working for both people and wildlife.
After a long hike we should, hopefully, find a party of Gorillas. Intimate views just a few feet away are the norm. There is also a birding option for those not wanting to do the trek. In addition to tracking Gorillas, we can spend time searching for birds along the trails that lead to a waterfall. We hope to see Rwenzori Sunbird, Long-tailed Barred Cuckoo, White-starred Robin, African Blue Flycatcher, Lhuder's Bush Shrike, and Green and African Broadbills.
QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Leaving the forest on day six, we transfer to Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth NP, for two nights. Overlooking the Kazinga Channel, we can watch Elephant, Buffalo and Hippo.
Uganda Kob Antelope rut among scenic volcanic craters and in turn provide food for the famous tree-climbing Lions. Grey Crowned Cranes have a dancing ground here, whilst Black-bellied Bustards rasp from termite mounds and Kurrichane Buttonquail creep through the grass.
Our second boat trip allows us to see waterbirds at close proximity, which will delight photographers. African Skimmers flock here and waders along the shore can include Caspian, Spur-winged and Wattled Plovers. Water Dikkops roost by tree roots and Pied Kingfishers perch on the backs of Hippos. Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks are seen along the shore, while African Fish Eagles are abundant!
Transferring to Fort Portal for two nights, we will visit Kibale Forest, an area rich in butterflies and primates. Chimpanzees are numerous here. Over 350 species of birds have been recorded, and we hope to find the elusive Green-breasted Pitta.
A walk along the Royal Mile allows easy access to the many forest birds that may include rarities such as Scaly-breasted Illadopses, Fire-crested Alethe, Yellow-browed Cameroptera, Ituri Batis and Black Sparrowhawk. The next day we will head to Murchison Falls National Park, for a stay of three nights.
MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
This beautiful area beside the River Nile has plenty of big game and is the best site to find the amazing Shoebill. On Phil's first visit in 2004, he became spellbound by this enormous grey bird with dark human-like eyes set in a massive head dominated by a boat shaped bill! It remains his favourite bird.
On our fourth boat ride of the tour, we will explore the upper reaches of the White Nile, below Murchison Falls. We should see Nile Crocodile, Rock Pratincole and African Wagtail. Chin-spot Batis, Black Crake, Northern Carmine and Red-throated Bee-eaters feed by our lodge overlooking the river. Blue-headed Coucal, Buff-bellied Warbler, Giant Kingfisher, Grey-crowned Negrofinch and Beautiful Sunbird are also here. A Bat Hawk regularly hunts golden Egyptian Bats in the evening.
On day 14 we will drive back to Entebbe, where we will take our return flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
Our visit is at the end of the dry season, although rain is still a possibility. Hot days are the norm, but mornings in the uplands are cool and may be damp. Daytime temperatures can be high, so early morning excursions are made to maximise wildlife viewing opportunities. In parts of Queen Elizabeth and Murchison, viewing is only allowed from a vehicle, due to the presence of large mammals. Basic fitness is all that is required. Walking will be at a sensible pace with frequent stops to look at birds. There is some uphill walking in hot humid conditions in the forest and it may rain and be muddy.
Gorilla trekking involves a strenuous uphill walk in hot humid conditions, rewarded by a full one hour with the Gorillas (the park has a better than 99% success rate). The length of the walk is dependent on where the animals are that day but the whole excursion usually lasts from 08.00hrs to 13.00hrs. There is the opportunity to change your mind before trekking begins and get part of your permit fee refunded. If you are unsure about trekking conditions, please discuss it with us.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided with one night at Boma Lodge, Entebbe, one night at Rwakobo Rock, Lake Mburu, one night at Trackers Tavern, Rhija, two nights at Engagi Lodge, Bwindi, two nights at Mweya Lodge, Queen Elizabeth NP, two nights at Chimp Guest House, Kibale, one night at Masindi Lodge, Budongo and the last three nights at Pakuba Lodge, Murchison Falls. Hotels and lodges are clean and pleasant with comfortable rooms. Accommodation at Murchison is a luxury permanent tented camp. All rooms and tents have en suite facilities.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with Bird Holidays leader and expert local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with breakfast on 20th, ending with lunch on 1st), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, boat trips, transport, park entrance fees and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Visa (US$50 on arrival). Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry, tips. The optional Gorilla permit (currently US$600) should be requested at the time of booking.
Return flight from most UK airports to Entebbe (via Amsterdam), using the scheduled services of KLM. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives back midday.
Gorilla permits sell quickly so, to secure one, we strongly recommend you book as soon as possible.
Great Blue Turaco
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