The first time I went bird watching—I didn’t even know then that it was actually a game–was when I was on a trip to our village during the burial of my grandpa.
The memory of my discovery that morning is still vivid. I unearthed a cloud of weaver birds boisterously going about their early morning activities for the first time in my life. Grandpa had a very huge oak tree in the middle of his compound and it was a sanctuary to over 300 yellow weaver birds with black beaks.
I was fascinated by the sight! For an eight year old, this was the best thing to happen to me in the village. I had just woken up, barely clothed-like any other typical African village child-with a piece of my mandazi from the previous night’s journey. I stared into the heavens of this tree full of birds in disbelief at what my eyes saw.
The sight of a pool of colourful birds within the tree branches was incredible. The staring must have gone on for more than 30minutes. And I was busied by their domestic activities within the tree branches.
One was feeding its young ones by regurgitating food into their mouths as another group ate what looked like corn from their nest. The best sight was that of one that was building a nest. It made back and forth movements over twenty times and each time it did this, it brought a strand of grass in its beak to one collection point from which it built a nest-like shape. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
It was all a social kind of community in which every bird cheerfully and noisily screeched through their different errands. This became my early morning errand for the rest of the days I stayed in the village that holiday. At some point, I attempted to get some eggs from the nests and hatch them but I failed. But the love for these weaver birds died out when I heard that the oak tree was cut down.
I only read about them among other bird species in Uganda through the media. When I finally got a chance to go bird watching, I fell in love with birds instantly, again! However, my first official birding watching experience was full of surprises. First of all, my dress code was not appropriate for the event.
I was dressed in a tight dress top and jeans with high heels! I was in the company of my friend, an ardent birder…like Owen Wilson and Jack Black in The Big Year. We got to Mabira at 9:30am and were led by a team from NatureUganda who divided us into two groups headed by Ibrahim Ssenfuma and Robert Kunguje, both birding tour guides.
The morning was quite chilly but nonetheless, very fascinating for the likes of me who were birding for the first time. I wanted to know what it means to bird, how does the whole game start and yes, every basic detail about it so I decided to engage myself in the activity as much as possible.
Led by Ibrahim Ssenfuma, it seemed funny for us to make sudden stop over’s, listening to bird sounds and identifying what species each of them was. My friend was equipped with a pair of binoculars, a birding guidebook and a camera. Every time he would hear a sound, he screamed out loud in jubilation! He would quickly bring out his binoculars and look in the tree branches-that’s if he fails to identify the sound of the bird-and then look it up in the book which contained all birding details, bird species inclusive. I admired his energy about the game.
He aroused my enthusiasm when he gave me a pair of binoculars as he tried to take some pictures. Every time we identified a bird, I closely observed through the binoculars and looked up its name in the book. The time I felt victorious was when I was able to identify the distinctive dee dee diedrik song of a weaver bird in the forest that day! The moment reminded me of the village days of the oak tree. I totally loved the whole experience.
By the time we finished, our team had come up with a total of 65 bird species at 1:00pm.
Some of the few features I learnt about my childhood favourite bird were that: the weaver birds have magical weaving talents and live social lives in a colony. They’re around 113 described weaver species in the world and 40 of them are represented in Uganda making it one of the best destinations for bird watching in the world.
I now don’t miss out on bird watching activities during annual celebrations.
Bird watching in Uganda
Uganda is ranked among the best bird watching destinations in the world, and just recently, media reports have placed Uganda among the most preferred bird watching destination for 2013/2014. With this in mind, every bird watching enthusiast should make it a point to visit the pearl of Africa. With rare species like the papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Warbler, White-collared Oliveback, Papyrus Canary, Rwenzori Turaco and Long-eared Owl, everyone ought to give bird watching in Uganda a try. They might just fall in love with it, the way I did.
According to NatureUganda, Uganda has 34 sites that have been identified as Important Bird watching Areas (IBAs). Of these, twenty two (22) are within the national protected areas system i.e. a Forest Reserve, National Park or Wildlife Reserve. Although eleven (11) sites are unprotected, nine are designated as Ramsar sites. Uganda is immensely endowed with over 1,000 bird species; some of which are endemic to the country; mainly in the Albertine region. These constitute 67% of Africa’s and 11.1% of the world’s total population, making the country a must visit for bird lovers.
These special birds, such as the Shoebill and the numerous spectacular endemics of the Albertine rift Valley are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere. The huge bird list is so remarkable given the small size of the country of over 235,000 sqkm; approximately the size of Great Britain making it arguably, the richest African birding destination.
What to carry for birding
- Recorders to get the sound of birds,
- A camera
- Dress code should be appropriate depending on the venue and weather.
The best birding places in Uganda
- Entebbe Botanical Garden
- Ngamba Island
- Musambwa Islands
- All national parks and Wildlife reserves in the country. For details about these areas, visit www.ugandawildlife.org
- Mabira forest