Day 11 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Day was spent in Semuliki national park birding the Kirumira trail for special central African bird species found only here in East Africa. We had an early breakfast for the 1,5 hours drive to Semuliki national park. Unfortunately it started raining a few minutes after leaving the lodge making the sighting of birds along the road difficult and photography impossible.

We eventually arrived at the park but had to wait to enter the forest because it was dark due to the earlier rain even though the it had now stopped raining. This caused most of the birds to stay inactive and therefore we decided to bird along the road as we waited for the sun to come out for us to enter the forest.  We had sightings of horn bills and Blue cheeked mangabeys as we birded the roadside.

Eventually the weather eased up and we entered the forest taking on the Kirumira trail in Semuliki national park. We heard birds more than we saw them on this particular day because of the dull weather. The birds we saw were by use of binoculars and yet the clients are interested in photography. Nevertheless we managed to capture a few species on camera and the rest was spent enjoying the forest and the beautiful butterflies and sounds of Debrazza monkeys which are shy, we sighted them briefly before they went into hiding.

We eventually found a good spot to have our lunch after which we continued on the bird walk which was now mainly a forest nature walk with several colorful butterflies.  We exited the forest about 4.00 pm for the wildlife reserve thereafter. We saw some birds along the way because now the skies were clear and the birds were having their evening dinners. Day 10 ended well and on to Day 11 the next day.

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Day 10 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today we took on the long drive from Buhoma in Bwindi impenetrable national park to Semliki wildlife reserve. We spent a total of 6 nights in Bwindi impenetrable national park visiting different sectors of the forest. We started with Nkuringo sector, to Ruhija sector and lastly to Buhoma sector. These offered us great opportunities of watching several Albertine rift endemics found in this forest on the various forest trails.

We checked out of the beautiful Bwindi lodge and started the journey to Semliki wildlife reserve via Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth national park. We had great stopovers of birding along the Ishasha road. We even had sighting of the tree climbing lions lazily resting near the road. They are normally said to climb up the trees especially in the morning after a night of feasting from the hunting. Some of the possible reasons why they climb trees include; for better sighting of the prey, because the ground is hot so they climb for the winds and or it is to keep away from the many flies in the tall grasslands. Whatever their reasons the tree climbing lions of Ishasha have become an attraction that you want to include on your itinerary.

We unfortunately got a Tyre puncture in Ishasha which consumed about 30 minutes of our time. After working on it we continued on our trip stopping for birding photography. We then had a brief stopover in Fort portal to repair the damaged tyre and proceeded on the journey to Semliki. We had a stopover in Katuguru where we enjoyed the packed lunch with coffee at the Irungu safari lodge. We eventually arrived in Semliki wildlife reserve later at about 6.30 pm ending our long drive.

After a nasty experience with the lodge managers at Semlike safari lodge, I prepared to rest myself for tomorrows long day on Kirumira trail in Semuliki national park for more forest birds especially the central African species.

Day 9 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today was a continuation of birding in Bwindi impenetrable national park – Buhoma sector. Yesterday after arriving in the early afternoon to the lodge, we had enough time to rest and recoup energies as we prepared for today’s birding on the waterfalls trail. The day started early at 7.30 am, we drove from the lodge to the gate where we started the birding.

Once on the main trail in the park, we were welcomed by Blue monkeys and L’hoest monkeys in the trees feeding. This was surprising because L’hoest monkeys are generally terrestrial monkeys. The clients have a high interest in the primates so we spent time to capturing pictures of these two monkey species before we officially started the birding.

The waterfall trail is rich in different Albertine rift endemics. We spent time birding this area which offered good photographic moments. The bird of the day must have been the Bar tailed Trogon which was kind enough to pose for photographs at various times, Purple breasted Sunbird was another good find but was difficult to capture on camera as it continually hoped on and off the branches. Unfortunately for me I forgot to charge my camera battery so today it blacked out a short while after the start of the birding. I know that for proper birding photography I need to purchase bigger lenses but for now I will enjoy watching more than photographing.

After a while birding, we continued the walk to the 3 water falls deep in Bwindi impenetrable forest. These provide beautiful views and rest while on this birding trail. We spent a few minutes admiring nature at each waterfalls stop as we took pictures and took in the sights and sounds of the forest. From the waterfalls, we walked back towards the lodge with brief stopovers of birding for only those species that were close by the road.

It was a good day, the terrain was generally flat except when we got deep in the forest towards the waterfalls but even this was manageable. This is what I needed after the steep terrain of Mubwindi forest. For any serious birder coming to Uganda, you must include Bwindi impenetrable forest on your itinerary because it has 23 of the 24 Albertine rift endemics especially between Buhoma sector and Ruhija Sector. Tomorrow we leave for Semuliki national park and Semliki wildlife reserve for the central African species.

Day 8 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

After the amazing time birding Mubwindi swamp in Ruhija sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park we were ready for Buhoma sector to continue our Uganda birding tour. Today the guide gave us a little more time to sleep in and we started our journey 8.30 am compared to the normal time which was usually between 6.00 am – 7.00 am. I was therefore glad to sleep in a little more before starting the packing process.

We have been staying 2 nights at each lodge we visit and usually the second night is hectic because we have to then get into packing and for some reason I prefer to pack early morning instead of the night before traveling. This packing and unpacking ritual gets tiring at some point but it is a necessary part of the journey.

Today our main stopover was the ‘neck’, a stretch of forest connecting Ruhija sector to Buhoma sector both of Bwindi impenetrable forest. We spent about 2 hours birding this rich area which is home to several Albertine rift endemics. My favorite birds in this area are the beautiful Black bee eaters but for some reason they like to patch high up in the tree tops making photographing difficult. Overly I must say the day was good because we did not have to travel for long time since the stretch is about  2 hours drive without stopping.

We arrived at the beautiful Bwindi lodge overlooking Bwindi forest in the afternoon. I quickly took a short nap to recoup the energies spent in Mubwindi swamp. After the nap I sat by the lodge terrace and enjoyed the lodge in its fullness. The chef in his open kitchen served us the famous Uganda rolex as a mini starter before the dinner which was later. Dinner was served later in the dining area where we joined other clients from different areas – it is the custom of the lodge to arrange one table for all the clients so that clients get to talk and share their experience. There was  a young Italian couple who chose to celebrate their honeymoon in Uganda and included gorilla trekking on their itinerary, the lodge prepared a cake and sang celebratory song for them. It was really beautiful and thoughtful of them.

That marked the end of Day 8, I looked forward to day 9 where would be birding the waterfall trail. My feet are still aching from all the walking but I will persist and keep on until I end the 25 days. Looking forward to enjoy this my beautiful country Uganda.

Day 7 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today was spent in Mubwindi swamp deep in Bwindi impenetrable national park – Ruhija sector. I was really torn between taking on this hike through the forest as we continue our birding tour because I was aware of how steep the hiking to this swamp is. The Mubwindi swamp also gives a name to the entire park and has an interesting folktale about how the swamp got its name. Eventually the urge to go superseded the need to stay in bed but the main motivation was the fact the lodge we were staying at did not have power throughout the day so there was no way I could stay behind at the lodge and work.

The site bird guide asked us to leave very early in the morning for the Mubwindi swamp so that we arrive before the other birding groups who we had seen the previous evening birding. We left early morning and entered the forest before any other group. We had an amazing time sight several bird species but the high light of them was the African Green broad bill which is currently known as the Grauer’s broad bill. This bird is an Albertine rift endemic and is only found in Bwindi impenetrable forest, Ruhija sector near the Mubwindi swamp.

We chose to take the steep route down hill to the Mubwindi swamp because it was shorter hence leading us to the prized bird in this area faster. I am thankful that I chose to go because the experience in the forest is like no other other, being surrounded by pure nature and enjoying the fresh air. We then hiked up from the Mubwindi swamp arriving at the starting point a few minutes after 4 pm where we left for the lodge immediately for the much needed rest.

After this rest we left for an evening birding in search of the handsome francoline and Rwenzori night jar. We instead found a large family of L’hoest monkeys having their evening feeding but no Mr. Handsome. We were also lucky to see the Rwenzori night jars on the way back to the lodge – we therefore called this a worthy day which was extremely fruitful.

Day 6 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today we transferred to Ruhija sector from Nkuringo sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park. The main interest of clients on this tour is birding which is spiced up with primate trekking and beautiful landscape. It was a more relaxed journey with a focus on transfer and birding along the way. The entire trip would normally take 2 hours from Nkuringo to Ruhija but because of several stops and birding it took us about 5 hours in total including the stops.

We left Nkuringo about 8.30 am for Ruhija, our first major stops was birding right after entering the park where the clients saw the rare Dohertys Bushrike, it was the highlight of the day. There were lots of Black&White Colobus monkeys and the terrrestrial L’hoest monkeys. Ruhija is well known for birding in addition to it being home to four habituated gorilla families available for trekking. Just like all the other locations, a gorilla permit needs to be obtained in advance from Uganda wildlife authority before embarking on this activity. The earlier you purchase the permit the higher the chances of choosing the location you prefer between – Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, Nkuringo and Mgahinga.

The plan was to bird all the way and arrive at the lodge in the afternoon because after all we had carried packed lunch. We arrived at our lodge in time for lunch and after enjoying our meal we checked into the lodge for a some rest. I remember when I prepared the itinerary the clients made it clear that they did not need any free time as they intended to use every moment birding and photographing but the tiredness started setting in and so the rest was needed after all.

In the afternoon, we took on birding the community trails before the gorilla briefing areas. Ruhija is one of the best places to bird especially for Albertine rift endemics in the Bwindi impenetrable forest. We were joined by a local site guide who knows the location of most of the birds and is excellent in bird calls. The day ended towards 7.00 pm back to the lodge – Ruhija can be cold but the fire places and hot water bottles make it bearable.

Day 5 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today was the long awaited gorilla trekking for the clients in Nkuringo sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park. We stayed at the beautiful Nkuringo Bwindi gorilla lodge which is a few minutes’ walk to the briefing area, however one needs to drive about 20 minutes to the trail head where the trekking starts. It was an early start for the eagerly waiting clients, I joined in to the briefing point and the trail head before releasing them to start their experience in the jungles of Bwindi forest.

I have done gorilla trekking twice so I was not eager to join and instead preferred to sit by the terrace of the lodge sighting the Virunga where I worked. I managed to get some amount of work done on my computer for which I am truly thankful, this way I get to travel but also get some work done instead of having it pile up on my return. The gorilla trekking took them in total about 6 hours with 1,5 hours to where the gorillas were which was downhill, an hour spent with the gorillas and almost 3 hours on way back because it was mainly uphill.

Bwindi impenetrable forest is mainly known for gorilla trekking and birding even though it is home to over 300 tree species, 12 primate species, 300 butterfly species etc. On this tour we shall visit 3 sections of Bwindi i.e. Nkuringo sector – this is now home to 2 habituated gorilla families, Ruhija sector – home to 4 habituated gorilla families and Buhoma – home to 3 habituated gorilla families. In the other two sectors we are mainly there for birding following the various trails into the forest.

This then was a good break for  me on the trip because I got to spend time alone working and planning several other trips for others. I think that for anyone interested in gorilla trekking, you want to consider booking any of the locations in Bwindi impenetrable national park or Mgahinga gorilla national park – which in total has 16 gorilla families.