With a face only a mother can love, the shoebill does not have the best of looks. But you wouldn’t tell that to a birder. On a chilly morning, everyone was in high spirit. Into the boats we went, anticipating to see the solitary bird, one whose look could be mistaken to be a condemnatory as its stare is long and seems hard.
Uganda is host to some of the world’s renowned birders and we are on a familiarisation trip that will take us to some of the country’s popular tourism destinations, majorly for birding excursions and wildlife findings too, courtesy of the tourism board.
Our first excursion was on Mabamba Swamp, over peaceful waters and through some thickets. Wide-feathered bill was elusive. But not for long.
Meet the bills
Under half an hour, he popped from the boggy grasslands and flew about, perhaps for the benefit of the awaiting audience of birders who were equipped and ready to capture his anticipated appearance.
Soon came the sound of clicking cameras, with lenses as long as pricey bunch of matooke. Mabamba Swamp and Lake Mburo have so far proven fruitful. We have managed to see a number of birds.
Mabamba’s highlight was the shoebill that was in every aspect an exciting sight.
To Colombian bird guide, Diego Calderon Franco, seeing the shoebill was priceless as he had anticipated.
“It has been so amazing that even on the first day, we have seen 50 or 60 birds already. Everything is new for me (here) and it is a great experience that is promising to be one of the most memorable trips that I have taken. It is my first time in Africa and this is the perfect place to start,” he explains.
In addition to the cruise through the thickets on the swamp, Roula Trigou, of Birdlife Greece, is also amazed by the entire wildlife and the beautiful landscapes.
“The shoebill is an iconic specie for me to see. It was great joy seeing it in a natural environment in the company of birders from all around the world. That is the most important thing because birds bring us together. Everyone needs to come to Uganda,” she says.
Jonathan Meyrav from Israel is amazed that it didn’t take long to see Uganda’s most popular birds. “We were fortunate to see a shoebill. It is such an impressive bird and undoubtedly the highlight. It is one bird that Ugandans need to be proud to have. Every birder in the world would like to see the shoebill. It is nice to see the community around the swamp very engaged,” he narrates.
Mike Bergin, publisher of 10000birds.com shares similar sentiments. “I am absolutely thrilled because I have come to Uganda and witnessed the birds that everyone who comes to Central Africa to see.”
He adds “It is less than two hours from Entebe and you get to see the shoebill and the experience works because the community has put together a special place to see what would otherwise be impossible to see. Some come to Uganda to see the shoebill but I have two weeks to see a lot more.”
The shoebill is one of hundreds of the birds to see in Uganda. There are 1,080 species to see and we are currently ticking the rich list, almost in competition.
Other places to see birds
Some of the other places we have been to and are planning to visit include Lake Mburo National Park, Ruhiija in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for both birding and mountain gorilla tracking.
Also on the itinerary is Queen Elizabeth National Park, a game drive and boat cruise along the Kazinga Channel that connects lakes Edward and George, birding and chimpanzee tracking in Kibaale Forest and national park, birding in Masindi, in Murchison Falls National Park and a cruise to the bottom of the falls. It is painful to imagine there are hoovering with ideas of weakening such ‘explosive beauty’.
Anyhow, the familiarisation trip will lead us to Entebe for the African Birding Expo at Uganda Wildlife Education Conservation Centre as well as the Entebe Botanical Gardens and Lutembe bay for more birding expeditions that should be equally amazing owing to their closeness to the wide fresh water Lake Victoria.
Facts about the shoebill
It gets its name from the way its beak is shaped, just like a shoe. You could mistake them for a statue because shoebills stand for long hours without moving their bodies or even blinking. They are solitary birds with a lifespan of up 50 years. One of their favourite delicacies is the lungfish. One of the places to see this ugly but levered bird is Mabamba Swamp.
About Mabamba Swamp Wetlands
The swamp is located in Mabamba village, off Entebe road. It is one ideal spot to see the sought-after shoebill in its natural habitat. According to travel platform TripAdvisor, Mabamba Shoebill Tours, the bird is easiest seen in the morning when they stalk their main prey, fish or frogs, but may be spotted all day. Tours leave daily at 07:30 or at your preferred time. The tour is by boat across the lake to Mabamba Swamps where we proceed by jumping into smaller canoes with guides to the get a view of the Shoebill, and many other birds. The boat tour across Lake Victory is magnificent with a great view of Entebbe, the Airport and more.
Go birding in the Pearl
Uganda has been ranked highly as at the top as a preferred World travel destination by online travel websites such as; Lonely Planet, CNN, Rough Guides, SafariBookings.com and many others. The country is regarded as Africa’s best birding destination for birders and other nature enthusiasts making bird watching / Avian tourism the biggest niche within eco-tourism. With over 1,000 species of birds mainly in large well protected wilderness areas, a birding trip to Uganda is the most leisurely preferred destination in the East and Central tropical Africa. Bird watching focuses on hig.