“Mabamba is where Corey Finger and I spotted our first shoebill in company of an international delegation attending the 2019 African Bird Expo. Our group, led by world-renowned guide Herbert Byaruhanga, piled into canoes ostensibly to search for a variety of papyrus and wetland specialties, but we were looking for the shoebill,” writes Mike Bergin, publisher of 10000birds.com.
With Corey Finger, the co-owner and managing editor of the online platform, Bergin runs one of the world’s most-read birding blogs, with millions of unique visitors, since its founding in 2003.
He is one of the 10 international birders who are currently in Uganda, on a 15-day familiarisation trip, as part of efforts to inform and popularise the Pearl of Africa as a preferred birding destination.
“The objective is to offer people a birding experience in Uganda so that they can share their personal experiences with their clients as well as interest them in visiting Uganda,” Herman Olimi, a marketing officer at Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) says.
Their efforts are in turn expected to boost birding as a tourism product and earn the country substantial foreign exchange. It is estimated that every birder spends up to $7,000 (about Shs25m).
“Birders tend to be affluent and well-to-do people who spend a lot of money and also stay longer than 10 days,” observes birder and tour operator, Benedict Ntale.
African Bird Expo
The ongoing trip will culminate into the African Bird Expo, which started yesterday and ends on December 8, at Uganda Wildlife Education Conservation Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe. The theme of the three-day expo is “Celebrating birds and people to conserve Fox’s Weaver”.
The Fox’s Weaver is the celebrant bird given that it is the only endemic bird to Uganda.
The expo is expected to drum up efforts to promote the conservation of Uganda’s endangered bird species, especially the Fox’s Weaver, the Grey-Crowned Crested Crane and the Shoebill.
“The expo will sensitise Ugandans about the business potential birding activities present to them and how best they can tap into these opportunities. The communities will get involved in birding as a tourist activity,” Olimi adds.
Some of the activities at the fair include birding clinics to initiate participants, young and old, into birding. There will also be topical discussions on birding and its associated benefits, through presentations from hosted buyers.
1, 080 birds species in Uganda
Uganda is a rich country in biodiversity and birdwatching is increasingly becoming an important tourist activity. It is home to 1, 080 birds, accounting for 50 per cent of Africa’s bird species and 10 percent of the whole world species, which presents a comparative advantage for Uganda.
“Since birding in Uganda is combined with gorilla trekking and game drives, the diversity offers more value for money to the tourist. If Uganda strategically positions herself as a favourite birding destination in Africa, this will ultimately draw more tourists to Uganda,” Olimi argues.
Birding presents an opportunity for Uganda to diversity its tourism product, and as Ntale adds, it can be an opportunity to reduce the pressure on primates, for example the sought-after mountain gorilla.
“Birding is not limited to national parks and conservation areas thus opening tourism to other areas besides protected areas such as Makanaga Bay, accessible via Kamengo,” he adds.
“Uganda offers diverse tourism products but to exploit the potential of each product, we have to do niche marketing where each colour in our tourism rainbow is given a chance to be the focus and that is the focus this expo gives to birding in Uganda,” Olimi argues. For that to happen, Ntale observes that Uganda needs to fully develop birding product by establishing birding hotspots, profile birds and create quality infrastructure to accommodate birders.
He also adds that Uganda needs to aggressively market birding and the birding event at least a year ahead of time as well as be represented on other birding expos around the world in order to secure platforms to market Uganda’s tourism products.
More birders visit Uganda
He made his first trip to Botswana in 1999 and in 2001, offered to jointly lead safaris in Botswana. He has organised and jointly led nearly 20 safaris there.
He has a strong conviction that wildlife tourism is key to preserving the natural world. Tom Bird owns Willife Lodges Limited, a UK based company. “My website allows searches for bird species, the country, hotspot and map and contains a database of more than 45,000 bird species, mammals, reptiles, butterflies that people can search and find places to stay,” he explains.
His website serves wildlife travellers, birdwatchers and naturalists who have built a list of more than 1.5 million visitors to the site in 2018.
Diego Calderón-Franco is a biologist from Colombia. He has been birding for almost 20 years. He is a qualified biologist and the founder of Colombia Birding. He also guides for other companies in Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Guyana, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, among other destinations.
Jonathan Meyrav started showing interest in birds when he was 10 years old and at the age of 14, he earned his banding licence and started participating in elaborate monitoring projects in Israel.
As a young environmental studies’ student at Ben Gurion College, he fell in love with the desert and desert birding. He would spend days monitoring migrants and taking part in surveys and research. He rapidly grew to appreciate the more complicated families such as larks, wheatears and the incredible birding hotspots of southern Israel.
Most experienced birder in Israel
Today, Meyrav is the most experienced birding tour leader in Israel, with unrivalled identification skills and a keen interest in desert birds, migration and vagrancy patterns. He spends the migration seasons in Israel and serves as an ambassador for birding in Israel, all over the world.
Since 2010, Meyrav serves as the tourism director of Israeli Ornithological Center (IOC). He still spends around 90 days a year guiding foreign birdwatchers, donors and birding tour groups.
He promotes birding around the world, tutors students and works with many tour companies, magazines and various organisations in the international birding scene.
Michael Chung Lu started public guided birdwatching trips in urban parks in Metro Manila in 2003. In the same year, he also began the only database on bird sightings in Philippines.
He initiated the Philippine Bird Festival in 2005. It brings together local and international conservation organisations, scholars as well as Philippine government agencies.
Peter Waanders established Bellbird Birding, Wildlife and Photo Tours in 2013. It is the successor to Southern Birding Services, which he established in 2005. Bellbird Tours offers a range of top quality, small group birding tours throughout Australia and a range of international destinations. He has been an avid birdwatcher since the age of 10.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, he holds a degree in environmental management and has worked in national park management planning in the Czech Republic, ecological research in the Netherlands and Australia, and natural resource management planning and environmental project management in Australia.
Waanderers has travelled to more than 50 countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and the Pacific, in pursuit of his interests: birdwatching and nature photography.
His life list of bird species currently totals almost 4,000 and his collection of digital images exceeds 30,000.
Traveller and wildlife enthusiast
Helga Kieskamp became a keen birder when he moved to Australia from the Netherlands in 1997. She has a Bachelor Degree in Museum Studies and has studied eco-tourism, conservation and land management.
She is a keen traveller, wildlife photographer and has led numerous day tours and co-led many outback bird tours for Bellbird Tours, where she is in charge of marketing and advertising.
These have written articles, shared photographs about their birding and general tourism experiences about their trip to Uganda, on their respective online platforms of blogs as well social media platforms.
50 global birders visit Uganda
Out of the 15 tour leaders who were invited in 2016, more than eight articles were written and published on the social media. More than 50 birders have visited Uganda from USA, Panama, Taiwan, Australia, UK, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and DRC.
The hosted birders this year, are experienced, with rich profiles.