My wife Wendy and I had a wonderful 11-day trip to Uganda enjoying a fantastic array birds and mammals. Here we are at Rwakobo Rock Lodge with Queen Elizabeth National Park below us.
The name of the tour company that offered a birding/Gorilla/Chimp package in Uganda is “Birding in Paradise”. I had to admit I rolled my eyes a bit at the name. I’ve birded in a lot of beautiful places packed with interesting species, so “paradise” was going to be a high bar to reach. After 11 days of fantastic wildlife viewing, wonderful meals, first class accommodations, and really great company, I have to agree that we were in birding paradise in Uganda.
Johnnie Kamugisha, who owns Birding in Paradise Safaris as well as Johnnie Uganda Safaris, was our guide for our 11 day trip. Johnnie drove Wendy and me around SW Uganda in a very comfortable Range Rover. He is the best guide I've every worked with and I highly recommend arranging your trip through Johnnie if you visit Uganda.
A huge reason for the success of the trip was having the best bird guide I’ve ever been associated with: Johnnie Kamugisha. I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive that we would have decent accommodations and experiences as we flew into Uganda. I grew up in the era of Idi Amin, and, in my mind, Uganda was not synonymous with stable governments or safe vacation destinations. But the minute we stepped off the plane in Entebbe, we were under the protective wing of Johnnie, and I’ve never felt safer in any country in the world. Johnnie had arranged for an airport person to meet us as we got off the plane and help us get through customs. The airline lost our one bag (Wendy and I each had a carry-on with binoculars and camera but all of our cloths etc was in the suitcase). The suitcase with all of our stuff would not arrive in Entebbe until the next afternoon, which could have subtracted 10% of our entire safari and made us miss our gorilla experience if we waited around. Not to worry, Johnnie had one of his people get the bag the next day (while Wendy and I enjoyed that start of our safari) and drive all night to bring it to us by the start of day 2 of our trip. When I say we were taken care of, I mean Johnnie made sure that nothing disrupted our Uganda wildlife experiences.
A highlight of the trip and one of the great wildlife encounters of my life was sitting with wild Mountain Gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Your guide/tour company can set this up if you visit Uganda.
Johnnie would have made the trip a success even if he had had minimal knowledge of birds and mammals, just by driving us everywhere and knowing all the places to find the birds and mammals. But Johnnie was as knowledgeable about the birds of Uganda as any guide to any region I’ve every birded with. Johnnie knew ever call of every bird and he took great joy in trying to get us clear views of every bird species in Uganda. I learned to never be more than 3 feet from Johnnie’s side as we birded across the country because he could get you on a tough to see bird in a matter of seconds if you were close.
Speckled Mousebird (top) and Great Blue Turaco (bottom) were 2 of numerous African endemic orders/families of birds and mammals that we enjoyed in Uganda. Mousebirds, Turacos, Hornbills, Finfoot, Sunbirds, and many more were easy to see during our Uganda trip.
Wendy and I ended up seeing 352 species of birds in 11 days of birding, along with a tremendous list of mammals including Mountain Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Lion, Hyaena, Elephant, Giraffe, and on and on. We would have had 20 to 30 more species, but I ran into some intestinal distress on the day we went to sit with gorillas, and so I took the afternoon of that day to recover in my bungalow. This was our main day in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which holds a large number of endemic species. Even with that chance for new birds lost, it was an overwhelming number of new birds and mammals, most of which were completely exotic for someone coming from North American.
I’m not going to do a bird by bird account of the trip. Rather, I’ll write a brief overview of the five main areas that we were able to visit during our 11-day tour. Johnnie prefers to run 3 week tours that get to other fantastic areas of the country and birders who do that tour almost always see over 500 species. Uganda holds a huge density and diversity of birds.