Uganda is the best place in the world to see the captivating Shoebill. Our guide paddled us past this bird in Mabamba Swamp.
Entebbe is a mid-sized town about 30 miles south of Kampala, the major urban center of Uganda. It has much less traffic and congestion than Kampala and lying on the shores of Lake Victoria with numerous large fruit-producing trees and a large botanical garden in the heart of the city, it is a birdy city. We birded Entebbe on our way in and on our way out of Uganda, and we had some of our best looks at some spectacular birds in Entebbe. Speckled Mousebirds are everywhere in town, so if this is your first visit to Africa, it is great to get a chance to see birds of this endemic African order up close before the overwhelming sights in the national parks moves mousebirds to an afterthought. Turacos, hornbills, and plantain-eaters are also abundant. Great Blue Turacos and Ross’s Turacos jumped in the trees right at our hotel. Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills and African Pied Hornbill were both common in Entebbe. Gray Parrots flew over regularly. Sunbirds of half a dozen species fed in flowering trees and shrubs everywhere in town. Most of these species sat for photographs and showed little fear of humans. Along with the birds, Vervet and Black-and-white Colobus monkeys were common in the botanical gardens in Entebbe. I think you could run up a list of 150 species of birds just birding Entebbe.
We got our best views of numerous birds including Red-headed Lovebird (top), Long-crested Eagle (middle), and Black-and-white -casqued Hornbill (bottom) in Entebbe.
On the first day after breakfast on our way out of the Entebbe region, Johnnie took us to an expansive marsh area, the Mabamba Swamp, on the north shore of Lake Victoria that is accessible by boat. With a boat guide that Johnnie knew well, we silently paddled through the marsh and right up next to one of the must-see birds of Uganda—the imposing Shoebill. These lungfish-eating herons are simply gigantic, standing about 5 feet tall with a bill that is substantially larger than my head. Uganda, and specifically the marshes of Lake Victoria, might be the best place in the world to see these declining birds, but they are still very miss-able. It was no accident that we paddled right up to one—Johnnie has his scouts keep track of the birds to ensure that his clients get a chance to see them. Also in the marsh were a host of other fantastic birds including the only Long-toed Lapwings that we saw on the trip as well as the Purple Gallinule of Africa—Allen’s Gallinule—which was a bird I really wanted to see. In the reeds around the gallinules were Fan-tailed Widowbirds, a dead ringer for Red-winged Blackbird when viewed at a distance. For a moment, with apparent Purple Gallinules foraging below apparent Red-winged Blackbirds, I could have been at Eufuala in Barbour County AL. A glance at the Shoebill and African Jacana, which Johnnie calling out Marsh Tchagra and Grosbeak Weaver, snapped me back to the reality of Africa.
Allen's Gallinule and Fan-tailed Fan-tailed Widowbirds recalled Purple Gallinules and Red-winged Blackbirds from marshes back home. Birds like the African Pied Kingfisher were an easy reminder that we were in an African Wetland.
Visits to the gardens of Entebbe and the vast marshland of Mabamba Swamp were a great way to start our Uganda adventure.