By Sam 09 May 2019

What to Expect from a Birding Safari in Uganda and Rwanda

YZ expert Sam travelled to Uganda in search of the fascinating shoebill stork and to Rwanda to witness some of the area’s impressive birdlife. Here, he gives his account of going on a birding safari:

So as an avid guide, wildlife photographer, and all-round wildlife enthusiast, it was only a matter of time before I became interested in birding. The great thing about this interest is that, no matter where you are or what you are doing, there is always something to see as birds are everywhere! Once you realise this, see some species, and identify them, you will want to progress and see more. This often leads to travelling to new places in search of new experiences… and potentially new birds!

WHERE TO GO FOR A BIRDING SAFARI

I sit here, writing this, in the middle of the Albertine Rift, a volcanic extension of the Great Rift Valley that shoots up into the heart of Africa at the confluence of three very interesting countries – Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From a wildlife perspective, this range of mountains (volcanoes!) is interesting because they form a habitat that is not found anywhere else in the world. Various animals have adapted to this habitat, resulting in a very high percentage of species that are only found in the Albertine Rift area. These are endemic species, completely unique to this area on Planet Earth! Most notable among them is the iconic mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), which can be trekked in any of the three countries mentioned above. Gorilla trekking is a truly awe-inspiring experience; I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

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Within Uganda and Rwanda specifically, the ultimate goal for safarists is to see the mountain gorillas, but both countries offer so much more to anyone with even a passing interest in nature, which, if you are reading this, I’m sure you have! I’d encourage everyone, wherever you go on safari, to take time to look at the birds. Africa is full of colourful and fascinating birdlife. Any guide who has spent much time in ‘the bush’ will tell you they have an interest in birds. This is because they are so interesting! And the appeal of birds to many people who are regularly spoilt with actual and potential mammal sightings says a lot about just how thrilling birds are.

SPOTTING SOME OF THE ENDEMIC BIRD SPECIES

There are over forty endemic species in the mid-Albertine Rift region… and while I’ve been here, I’ve been doing my best to see as many of them as possible. Think of it like going on safari and wanting to see all the different species of big cats. I’ve spent as much time as possible in the high-altitude ‘Afro-montane’ (high forests of Africa) habitat to maximise my chances of seeing these special birds, and also some other sought-after species that can be found elsewhere too. 

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Bronze sunbird

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White-tailed blue flycatcher

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Rwenzori double-collared sunbird

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Bar-tailed trogon

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Baglafecht weaver

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Bronze sunbird (left) and Juvenile Klaas's cuckoo (right)

So far the best of the endemics I have seen are: red-faced woodland warbler, yellow-eyed black flycatcher, purple-breasted sunbird, regal sunbird, and Rwenzori double-collared sunbird. Some of the other great, interesting, and beautiful bird species I have seen on this trip are: bar-tailed trogon, Ross’s turaco, African broadbill, white-tailed blue flycatcher, and black bee-eater.

IN SEARCH OF THE SHOEBILL

Immediately on arrival into Uganda, I headed across Lake Victoria to the Mabamba Swamps to try to see the prehistoric-looking African shoebill. Unfortunately, in nature, nothing is guaranteed, and I made it across there too late in the day to have a real chance of spotting the bird. It was still a great trip across the lake to a fantastic protected swamp.

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MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE

My advice for anyone looking to go on a birding safari is to get a decent pair of binoculars for both general safari use and for specifically looking at birds. They are invaluable! 

If you are interested in travelling to Uganda or Rwanda to see the extraordinary birdlife, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts here, or why not look below for more inspiration: