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Uganda: Queen Elizabeth National Park

August, 2019

We'd started our day in Kibale with a swamp walk and then made the long drive down to Queen Elizabeth park. We did some birding along the way and stopped for a packed lunch along the way.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the most visited parks in Uganda. It's also home to the famous tree-climbing lions. Let's just get the suspense out of the way, now. We did not see any. Our time here was another of those mixed experiences that we'd had throughout the trip. Parts were a bit disappointing, and other parts were really great. The park is immense, and there is no access to large parts of it. That's a good thing. Sure, you'd like to go see everything, but the animals need a place of their own, too.

We arrived at the park in the late afternoon and started a game drive. We actually drove the same area that we would be driving the following morning. We just didn't cover quite as much. The area includes a lek for Kob. It appears that antelope can lek, too. Males fight for control of preferred feeding areas. As breeding season was starting, we even got to witness a bit of the action.

Birding in the area did provide quite a few new birds for the trip. All in all, it was a lot slower than other areas, though. The main species to find was the Little Button-Quail. Little was an understatement, the bird was tiny and quickly disappeared into the short grass. Lots of grassland species and better looks at a few raptors. I'd have loved to get out and photograph the lapwings and plovers from the ground, but I didn't see our guide allowing me to try. Maybe I just knew better, myself....

Between our game drive that evening and the one the following morning, we headed to our hotel and got checked in. We were supposed to stay at the same place for two nights, but there was an issue with our room, and we stayed at a sister property next door. It was a bit odd, because we were practically alone there. We saw one other couple a few buildings down. The cool part was the view. The hotel was located up on the escarpment; a set of cliffs overlooking part of the park. As we were watching, a nightjar flew by. It was just any nightjar, though. It was a breeding plumage Pennant-winged Nightjar. I snapped a picture in the low light, but it just does not do justice to the magnificence of this bird. Each wing has a set of long, trailing primaries that flutter and wave like flags.

It was pretty amazing, and it was the only night we saw the bird. The next night, we stayed in the lodge we were originally booked for, and the nightjars did not display; probably mostly due to the light rain. The hotel was pretty nice, and, again, afforded some nice birding.

The highlight of our time here was another boat trip. Following the morning game drive, we headed for lunch at the place we would take our trip. Lesser Masked and Slender-billed Weaver, a family of Swamp Flycatcher, and more Red-chested Sunbirds (is it possible to get tired of this bird?) frequented the area. The thing to watch out for was the Marabou Stork. They are known to steal food from people. Luckily, they didn't show until we were finished. The warthogs were the other threat. They were there looking for a hand out, too. But they were also protective, since they had young with them.

The boat ride would consist of a couple hour drive up and down the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake Edward and Lake George. I'm happy to say that we did not have any incidents this trip. It was a great ride along the shore up to a fishing village and then back. Our driver was great and got us in decent range of the wildlife and bird of the channel. He did a great job of spotting.

We had a lot of wildlife along the way. A large number of hippos, a few crocodiles, and even some napping buffalo. We also saw a couple large Nile Monitors. At the fishing village, a large number of cormorants and pelicans (Great White and Pink-backed) with a mix of lapwings, storks, and other birds were gathered. They were here to pick up scraps from the fisherman. My favorite of the trip were probably the skimmers, though. African Skimmer was high on my list of "wants" for the trip.

There was a large colony of these birds, and they are every bit as graceful as the Black Skimmer we have here.

We finished the boat ride and hopped back in the van to head back to the lodge. Our guide informed us we had one more stop to make, first. We headed back to the area we'd done our other game drives in. Lions had been reported in the area. As we headed back, a strong storm blew in. We'd checked the area over and found nothing. As we were leaving, we spotted some cars off-road and realized they were watching some lions feed on a buffalo carcass. Then, the storm hit. We sat in the driving rain and watched for a while. A ranger came up and sat in the car with us. We looked on realizing this was probably going to be our best view of lions this trip.

Near dark and through driving rain. It actually turned out better than I'd imagined. It's not very pretty at full size.

It turns out that you can pay a little extra for your park fee and get the "lion experience". This means that you get a ranger to accompany you. The ranger will track the lions (via a radio collar), and you are allowed off-road to approach them. We had no idea this was an option. Our van could not have handled the off-road portion anyway, but it would have been nice to know. We would have happily paid for it and worked it out with our guiding company. If you are going, it would be best to inquire about the option.

Our final morning in Queen Elizabeth, we headed to the Ishasha section. This is the section where the famous tree-climbing lions are found. As I said, we struck out. We got there midday, and no lions had been reported that day. We drove around and visited a swampy area where we added a few new birds, but, overall, it was a bit of a bust.

From there, we started our long drive to Bwindi. I've already posted about the gorilla hike. We, of course, managed a bit of birding there, too.

Thanks for reading,






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