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Uganda Shoebill, Finfoot, chimpanzees, gorillas… report from the field!

February 5, 2012

The Shoebill, Gorilla and Chimps tour to Uganda in January lived again up to its name! On the first morning of the tour, we took small fisherman boats into a vast swamp and glided silently up to a Shoebill. It didn’t seem the least bit concerned as it hunted patiently among the purple waterlilies. Here too we had superb views of Lesser Jacana, one of those species that seems to be on the checklist for so many countries but which takes many a visit to Africa to actually see.

Shoebill success! © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

Shoebill success! © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

A bizarre juvenile Shoebill © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

A bizarre juvenile Shoebill © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

We followed up this theme of tricky birds in Lake Mburo National Park with Rufous-bellied and White-backed Night Herons, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Papyrus Gonolek, Painted Snipe and African Finfoot. The latter two species showed very well indeed! During our two night stay, the savanna and wetlands here offered a superb selection of birds (Bare-faced Goawaybird, Papyrus Gonolek, Black-bellied Bustard, etc) and mammals (hippos, Dwarf Mongoose, Plains Zebra, etc).

A pair of Painted Snipe was spotted by Jayne! © Callan Cohen www.birdingafrica.com

A pair of Painted Snipe was spotted by Jayne! © Callan Cohen http://www.birdingafrica.com

Lake Mburo produced my best-ever views of the shy African Finfoot after 25 years of birding in Africa! © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

Lake Mburo produced my best-ever views of the shy African Finfoot after 25 years of birding in Africa! © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

We headed into the dramatic Albertine Rift Valley for two nights to explore Queen Elizabeth National Park. Its Maramagambo forest did not disappoint: Black Bee-eater, Blue-breasted and Shining-blue Kingfishers, African Hobby, African Crowned Eagle and others led the birds, while chimpanzee and elephant led the mammals!

A contemplative chimpanzee at Kyambura Gorge © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen www.birdingafrica.com

A contemplative chimpanzee at Kyambura Gorge © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen http://www.birdingafrica.com

Black Bee-eater in the bag! © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen www.birdingafrica.com

Black Bee-eater in the bag! © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen http://www.birdingafrica.com

Roger and the famous Mweya elephant © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

Roger and the famous Mweya elephant © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

Three nights in the legendary Bwindi-Impenetrable National Park saw an excellent selection of forest birds (Cassin’s and Ayres’s Eagles, Emerald Cuckoo, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, to name just a few of the dozens of species we added), monkeys, and butterflies – and the incomparable Mountain Gorilla for those who did the trek.

Mountain Gorilla youngster by tour participant Jonathan Hemp

Mountain Gorilla youngster at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest by tour participant Jonathan Hemp

Birding in Bwindi among the ancient tree ferns © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen www.birdingafrica.com

Birding in Bwindi among the ancient tree ferns © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen http://www.birdingafrica.com

The beautiful Bar-tailed Trogon, a great prize in the mossy forests of Bwindi NP © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

The beautiful Bar-tailed Trogon, a great prize in the mossy forests of Bwindi NP © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

Jayne and Callan, just having seen the beautiful Bar-tailed Trogon © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen www.birdingafrica.com

Jayne and Callan, just having seen the beautiful Bar-tailed Trogon © Deirdre Vrancken & Callan Cohen http://www.birdingafrica.com

African Hobby perched obligingly at Maramagambo Forest © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com.

African Hobby perched obligingly at Maramagambo Forest © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

The seldom-seen Cassin's Hawk Eagle was a great spot by Bob! © Callan Cohen www.birdingafrica.com

The seldom-seen Cassin Hawk Eagle was a great spot by Bob! © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

We then headed back to the savannas of the Queen Elizabeth National Park for a final two nights, exploring the Kazinga Channel and crater fields. The incredible boat trip would take too long to describe, but we saw over 60 bird species on it alone (hundreds of African Skimmers, Goliath Heron, Lanner Falcon), as well as close hippos, elephants and buffalo. Senegal Lapwing was a much desired species and we eventually got excellent views. Another major highlight here included encountering Giant Forest Hog – twice!! Watching a family of Olive Baboons in a flat-topped acacia on the lip of a crater, with Long-crested Eagle circling below us, and all swathed in a gentle haze of distant bush fires, is a memory that will stay with us for a long time.

African Skimmers at close quarters in Queen Elizabeth NP © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

African Skimmers at close quarters in Queen Elizabeth NP © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

Boat trip in style with Nadine and Bob © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.com

Boat trip in style with Nadine and Bob © Callan Cohen & Deirdre Vrancken http://www.birdingafrica.com

Join our next Uganda tour from 28 July until 7 August (in search of Green-breasted Pitta and African Green Broadbill) and/or the ‘Rwanda Albertine Rift endemics extension’ from 7 to 11 August 2012. For a shorter trip, join our ‘Uganda Shoebill, Chimps and Gorillas’ tour in January 2013. Please contact us: email info@birdingafrica.com or call +27 21 531 9148.

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