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Uganda: Entebbe (Careful What You Wish For)

August, 2019


When travelling, we try to allow for an extra day in our destination city. It gives us time to recover from flights, and it gives us some time for our luggage to catch up to us if it takes a detour along the way. Fortunately, we did not have an luggage issues this trip. So, we could enjoy our time in Entebbe before setting out on our tour of the country.


As is typical of guided tours, you start with introductions and some general conversation around who you are and what you are interested in. Somewhere along the way of this particular conversation, I'd asked about venomous snakes, insects, etc. I'm not scared of these things, but I like to know what to expect and what my level of caution should be when in someplace new. The guide indicated that there were no dangerous insects to worry about, but that there are venomous snakes; cobras being one of them. Here is where Carmen says that she would like to see a cobra. To her credit, she did mention that she would like to see one from a safe distance.


Since we had tacked on an extra day to the trip, the guide wanted to know if we wanted to save all the Entebbe area activities for tomorrow or split them across days. We had a trip to the Entebbe botanical gardens and another to a forest in Mpigi scheduled. Eager to do something and realizing we'd most likely fall asleep (not a good thing for adjusting to a new time zone) if left at the hotel for the day, we opted to take a trip to the gardens that afternoon and Mpigi the next morning.


The botanical gardens really amount to a large park located on the shores of Lake Victoria. Birding the gardens is a great way to get totally mislead on how easy the birding in Uganda is.

Plantain-eaters, Great Blue Turaco, Lizzard Buzzards, and Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills were plentiful. We birded until the sun set but had good lighting for most of our time. I think we totaled somewhere around 50 species for the day, and most of them were lifers, for me.


While walking through the park, I noticed a Blue-spotted Wood-Dove in a grassy are. I started walking closer to take a look, but our guide said he saw a snake. This brought me to a halt. I'm looking around, but I'm not seeing a snake. The grass is cut short; so, it should not have been too difficult. Our guide said the snake was heading toward the road and would cross shortly. Abut 30' away, a long, menacing-looking snake slithered out of the grass and onto the road. It stopped and looked at us before moving on and disappearing into the trees. Carmen and I managed to snap a few shots. Our guide did not say much, but he asked to look at the back of our cameras. He took some shots with his cell phone and sent them off to a friend for ID. The reply was, "Forest Cobra - aggressive and HIGHLY venomous". So, there you have it. Be careful what you wish for.

Forest Cobra

The encounter was a bit exhilarating and the source of many jokes throughout the trip. We finished the day by going to a location where a pair of Bat Hawks were hunting in the fading light of post-sunset. Such a cool looking bird.


The next morning, we headed up to Mpigi to do a little forest birding. Mpigi was a great introduction into how hard Uganda birding can be. Dense forest surrounded a long trail that slowly sloped off downhill.

Looking back on the trail through Mpigi

We had a great local guide. Like most of the places we visited, we had our guide and a local guide for the particular area we were visiting. This is not uncommon, and it's something to keep in mind when you are planning how much money you will need on a trip. You will want to tip your local guides, too. Like all our local guides, I was impressed by her knowledge of the birds and their calls, her ability to locate birds in the dense forest, and her ability to imitate many of the bird's calls. Unlike a lot of our local guides, as you may have guessed from the pronoun, our local guide was female. Women are making great strides, in Uganda, on being accepted into traditionally male roles. It's a great thing to see.

What you'll notice is that I don't have a lot of pictures from here. I don't have a lot of pictures from most forested areas. It's tough enough to see the birds, at times. It did not help that the clouds moved in shortly after we started our hike. The lack of light made photography pretty much impossible. Blue-throated Roller, Narina Trogon, a Gray Parrot, and a Light Ginger White butterfly rounded out the acceptable photos. I thought I was close to grabbing a shot of a White-spotted Flufftail, but I was a bit too slow.


We had just emerged from the forest when there was a loud ruckus, and a large bird flew over. It perched in the back of a tree, where it was slowly mobbed by a group of Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills.

To our guides' surprise, it was a Martial Eagle. Normally a bird of the savannas, the local guide indicated they show up there on occasion to hunt monkeys. Pretty cool.


As we drove out of Mpigi, the rain started in. This would be something that would follow us throughout our trip. It is technically the dry season, but we had a lot of rain. Luckily, it usually did not last long and did not totally wreck a day.


We had the rest of the evening to relax and bird the grounds of the hotel. Never underestimate what you can find just around your hotel.

Baglafecht's and Norther Brown-throated Weavers, Red-chested Sunbird, Red-eyed Dove, White-browed Robin-Chat (our 5 AM alarm clock), Black-headed Gonolek, Common Bulbul, and even an African Wood-Owl where among some of the birds we found there. Flocks of Meyer's Parrots and Speckled Mousebirds moved through the grounds. Plaintain-eaters called from the trees. Green-headed Sunbirds darted from flower-to-flower. There was much to keep us entertained.


The next morning, we were off to look for Shoebill before starting the long drive to Masindi to start our time in Murchison National Park, where we would get to see the fabled Nile River.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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