World Migratory Bird Day 2021 in Uganda at Lutembe Bay

World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is a day that is dedicated to migratory birds awareness and in this year 2021 it has been celebrated on 8th May. Migratory birds are faced with challenges along their migratory paths such as hunting, poisoning, and degradation of stopover points. WMBD in Africa is helping to sensitize the local population about the migration of birds and many locals are surprised to learn that many of the birds they see during certain times of the year are visitors coming from as far as Europe. The people are sensitized on the importance of the migratory birds, and the need to conserve them and their habitats.

Uganda, which hosts many Palearctic & Afrotropical migrant birds, joined the rest of the world in recognizing and celebrating the World Migratory Bird Day. The day was well attended by several groups and individuals with Nature Uganda taking the lead in coordinating and organizing the day’s activities intended to draw attention to the migratory birds.

Nature Uganda organized a birding excursion to Lutembe Wetland on Lake Victoria which is one of the 9 Ramsar sites in Uganda. There would not have been a better place than Lutembe wetland for this day because the wetland hosts many migrant birds but it is also under immense threat for destruction from encroachment and illegal activities. A lot of the habitats around the wetland have been razed for agriculture and settlements, and commercial flower growing along the lake shore has seen dangerous chemicals being released into the wetland.

We met up at Lutembe early in the morning. Among the participants included Ugandan bird guides and tour operators who benefit a lot from selling birding in Uganda tours, members from the local community near Lutembe who take the lead in destroying or protecting the wetland, Civil Aviation Authority from Entebbe International Airport which shares the same ecosystem on Lake Victoria, and importantly students from university who represent the young and custodians of the future of conservation.

Birding at Lutembe covers water and land habitats and therefore the group was divided into two, one group birding on water and another on land with the two groups to meet later and combine one list.

Personally, I wanted to see what gulls, terns and other migrant water birds were still present given that many Palearctic migrants have already left by April, so I decided to join the water group. We set off in a motorized canoe and we birded the fringes first, scanning the papyrus where we spotted many Northern Brown Throated Weavers, and Swamp Flycatchers, Village Weavers, Striated Heron, Malachite Kingfisher, a Sedge Warbler (a Paleartic migrant), Purple Heron, Yellow-billed Ducks, White-faced Whistling Ducks, and Long-tailed Cormorants. We even heard the elusive Papyrus Gonolek and played its call but it refused to come out of hiding. We proceeded to the small islands of mudflats and found small flocks of Grey-head headed and Black-headed Gulls were still present, in addition to Whiskered, White-winged Terns and Gull-billed Terns, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Greenshank, Little Egrets, Great Egret, Great Cormorant. The highlight for the group was witnessing the Osprey diving for a fish that it struggled to fly away with as it was quite sizeable.

Once we returned after two hours birding on the lake another shift from the lake group set out into the lake but a few minutes later it started pouring and interrupting the day which started off so well… The heavy downpour didn’t stop for several hours and unfortunately brought at an early end to the World Migratory Bird Day activities at Lutembe.

Should you track gorillas in Bwindi forest or Mgahinga volcanoes? Where should you track gorillas in Uganda? Bwindi or Mgahinga?

Did you know that there are two parks in Uganda where the popular gorilla trekking activity is done in Uganda? The most popular park is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which accounts for most of the gorilla tracking in Uganda. The other park that is less popular is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park which is Uganda’s part of the magnificent Virunga mountains that cut across the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Most tourists booking a gorilla trip in Uganda will request to trek in the Bwindi Impenetrable which has been more popularized but this is not surprising because Bwindi has the highest number of mountain gorillas of all the parks and also has the most habituated gorilla groups available for tourism, about 20 of them. Mgahinga gorilla national park on the other hand has just one resident habituated gorilla group called Nyakagezi, and occasionally Hirwa group will cross over from Rwanda’s volcanoes national park but will return after a couple of months. Nyakagezi group also has a tendence of visiting Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, but it has not left Mgahinga since 2012.

Why you would trek in Bwindi over Mgahinga

The many gorilla groups in Bwindi give you more options of groups to choose from. For example you may want a group with many members, or may prefer a group that offers an easier trek i.e. found closer to the trailhead so that you don’t trek for long.

Why you would trek in Mgahinga over Bwindi

Mgahinga offers an epic backdrop of the Virunga mountains, a big bonus to your gorilla trek for you to experience the famous Virunga mountains as well. The vegetation is also not as dense as the aptly named Bwindi impenetrable and therefore great for photography due to good light.

Trekking in Mgahinga is similar to gorilla trekking in Rwanda since the mountains are shared on the border. If therefore your dream was to have the gorilla trip Rwanda but can’t afford the hefty permit cost ($1500) then you can just cross over border at Cyanika and do the gorilla trekking on the other side of the mountains in Mgahinga National Park where the permit costs $700

Are the gorillas of Bwindi forest the same as those of the Virunga mountains?

Yes of course!

There is a myth, call it a rumor, that claims mountain gorillas in Bwindi are different species from those in the Virungas but this has not been declared by the scientists and should be treated as lazy propaganda

What to pack for your gorilla trekking? Here is the gorilla trip packing list

What do I need to pack for my gorilla trekking trip? This is one of the most asked question by tourists booking gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda and gorilla trekking tours in Uganda. Below I shall discuss the items to include in your gorilla tour packing list. I categorize them into 3; the most essential items that you need to pack first, to those you may need but are not essential and can leave behind if you do not have enough space left in the bag or can’t spend any more, and the least essential but worth thinking about…

Most essential/must have essentials

  • Hiking shoes

Because you will be trekking on uneven rugged terrain where there is no defined trail (a trail will be created by a machete person) you need shoes with good traction that will give you stability on ground to prevent you from frequent slips, and shoes that will protect you from straining your feet and ankles. Mid-cut to high-cut hiking shoes would be the ideal because they provide more stability and protect the ankles.

Yes, your old pair of sneakers could do but if you will be trekking during the wet season (March – May, & Oct – Nov) you will be in for quite a challenge. Read more about best time for the gorilla trekking to learn about the seasons.

  • Long pants

Long outdoor/hiking pants will give you much needed comfort and freedom of movement in the thick of the jungles and across highlands, something your jeans may deny you. The ‘long’ protect your legs from prickly plants such as the stinging nettles which can be a menace during the trek. A slight rub off on a stinging nettle gives a burning irritation on the skin. The hiking pants which are made of light material are fast drying and some are water proof which is an important aspect as the rainforests can experience rain at any time.

  • Long-Sleeve shirt

Long sleeved shirt (preferably the outdoor/hiking type) also offer the advantages of the hiking pants mentioned above, especially protecting your arms from the stinging nettles and other prickly plants.

  • Rain jacket/poncho

A rain jacket or poncho is simply a must have irrespective of which season you are trekking! As much as there is a known wet season which receives frequent rains (March – May & Oct – Dec), and the other months being the dry season with little rains expected, the gorilla homes are mountain rainforests were the weather is unpredictable and rains can fall when you least expect. If you are trekking in the wet season such as during the months of April & May a rain poncho is highly recommended.

  • Sunscreen

The gorilla highlands are located near the equator and sun is overhead during your trek. Sunscreen will protect you from sunburn.

  • Insect repellent

The jungles have lots tiny insects flying around especially in the morning and can be quite irritating whizzing around your ears and eyes and some giving you a bite. Mosquitoes are the biggest menace. Applying an insect repellent will wad them off and keep your trek more focused and comfortable.

  • Day pack

A daypack is very essential to keep your items such as water bottle, camera, toiletries, and snack in one place in a daypack strapped on your back so that your hands are free as you maneuver through jungle. The daypack also keeps your items in place to avoid losing them in the jungle where they will be had to find.

  • Mask (post covid19 pandemic)

A mask in this covid19 era is an essential item. As humans we share 98% DNA with the gorillas and can therefore pass on the covid19 to them.

You need these but are not really essentials

  • Garden gloves

Garden gloves keep you warm and also protect your hands from pricky plants as you move through the jungle. They also give you good grip on the hiking stick and protect your delicate hands from blisters due to friction.

  • Cap/hat

This is almost a must have essential. The jungle has particles such as falling from the trees and you don’t want to keep some in your hair. The cap/hat also gives you shade over your face when hiking on a hot sunny day.

  • Gaiters

Gaiters will protect your pants from mud and also keep insects from crawling under your pants. If a single red ant succeeds in getting access to your bare underneath you may dance strokes you never though were capable of 😊

An alternative to gaiters is simply tucking your pants into stockings.

  • Hiking/trekking poles or sticks

You can bring own trekking poles that you have tested on hikes to be giving you the best stability and comfort. Otherwise, free trekking sticks are provided that are locally made from wood, they are technically small tree branches or stems.

  • Quality camera or just a good smartphone

The gorilla trek is a once in a lifetime experience and you would want to keep a memorable of this unique encounter. The gorillas can also deliver a special moment at time and you want to be able to capture it. However some people want enjoy these wonderful creatures and want to take in as much as possible this incredible encounter without being bothered by photos

  • Sunglasses

The sunglasses will definitely protect you from intense light especially if you are coming from a place that doesn’t receive a lot of it.

Least essentials, you don’t really need these but…

  • Camelback Hydration pack

You can have this if you don’t want to be inconvenienced by handling a water bottle

  • GPS

You may want to know how much you have trekked and where you have trekked

  • Binoculars

If want to observe other forest dwellers that may be seen far from you a distance such as monkeys, birds, etc…

  • Flare 😊

If you you just wrong turn and you got a phobia of being lost you can carry a flare to give you a bit of comfort, otherwise chance of getting lost are next to none. Unless if you are planning to stray away from the group unnoticed

Best 6 weekend trips from Kampala

You have had a busy week and want get to out of Kampala City to explore Uganda on the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and wondering where you can go? Below are some of the great destinations to think about that you can visit in 2 days without it being a hectic trip.

1 – Safari in Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park is the number one safari destination in Uganda where you will see the best of Uganda’s wildlife and get close to the spectacular Murchison Falls – the world’s strongest waterfall. The Murchison is Uganda’s biggest national park and hosts lots of animals including; lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes, giraffes, chimps, antelopes, crocodiles, hippos, etc… The park is found about 4 – 5 hours drive from Kampala, so departing as early as 6am will give you ample time to do the boat trip on the Nile, hike to the top of the Murchison falls, and do game drive drives in the park in 2 days.

Here is our 2 day Murchison Falls safari trip package you can take a look

2 – Sipi falls hiking

The Sipi Falls are one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Uganda and are the iconic attraction of eastern Uganda. The falls are located in the foothills of Mt. Elgon and offer a wonderful hiking experience and thus a lovely adventure getaway from Kampala. If you are a hiking enthusiast and want an adventure on the weekend, the Sipi falls are a great option. The drive from Kampala to Sipi Falls is a little long, about 6 hours, and therefore you need to depart a little earlier, say 6am. In addition to the hiking, you can do the thrilling abseiling along the 100m waterfall, and also do a coffee tour in the Sipi community which does coffee growing as one of the commercial activities and going through the process of coffee growing to harvesting and processing it the local way, is a lovely experience.

Look at our 2 day Sipi Falls tour

3 – Safari in Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park is a small savanna park that is not thought about a lot for safaris compared to the bigger game parks such Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park & Kidepo Valley National Park. However, having one of the best scenery in Uganda and well endowed with a wide diversity of wildlife Lake Mburo National Park is simply a gem that is wrongly overlooked, and it being the closest park to Kampala with a 3 – 4 hours drive, is one of the places that will give you a beautiful weekend safari getaway. The park is mostly known for grazing & browsing animals (plant eating) with not many predator species such as lions. Common animals include zebras, giraffes, eland, impala, bushbuck, buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, etc… Lake Mburo National Park also offers more safari activities than other safari parks including; game drives, boat trip on the lake, walking safari, horseback riding safari in the savannah, mountain biking, Ankole cow farm experience. If you are wildlife photography enthusiast Lake Mburo is perfect as wildlife is easy to encounter at close range and the beautiful scenery offers great setting.

Look at our 2 day Lake Mburo safari trip

4 – Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale National Park and sightseeing in fort portal

Kibale National Park is the home of Uganda’s biggest population of chimps, and it is therefore the main destination for chimpanzee trekking trips in Uganda. If you want to experience a true African rainforest and have a once in lifetime opportunity to see our closest relatives, Kibale forest park will give you the best weekend trip option. Kibale is also located in one of the most scenic regions of Uganda, and on arrival in the region you would go on a sighting seeing tour through the beautiful lush landscape dotted with many of crater lakes and other interesting geographical formations. The Rwenzori mountains on a clear day tops up this incredible scenery with a lovely backdrop.

Here is our 2 day Kibale chimpanzee tracking tour

5 – Lake Victoria/Ssesse Islands getaway

Looking for a relaxation vacation on the weekend, the Ssesse Islands are by the best destination to think of. The Ssesse are an archipelago of more than 80 islands and some of them have been have been developed for tourism with beautiful resorts and lovely beaches.

6 – Jinja and river Nile adventure tour

Jinja is often referred to as the adventure capital of Uganda because of the many adventures one can do there. The Nile which starts from Lake Victoria in Jinja provides lots opportunities for adventure. Some of the many adventures you can indulge in include; taking a boat trip to the source of the Nile, rafting, tubing, and kayaking on the nile, quad biking and horse riding along the banks of the Nile, retreat at Samuka Island etc… A weekend trip to Jinja is one of the least hectic trips because Jinja is only 1 hour from Kampala. Before arriving in Jinja you can enjoy stops at Sezibwa Falls for a short walk and Mabira forest which is great for nature walks to see monkeys and also offers a thrilling zip line adventure.

How does the chimpanzee trekking compare with the gorilla trekking

The gorilla trekking/tracking is obviously the number one tour activity that majority tourists book to see primates in the African jungle. The chimpanzee trekking/tracking on the other hand is normally just an add-on and many tourists wonder whether it is any different from the gorilla trek and whether it is a worthwhile addition to the already expensive gorilla trekking. Afterall, they are all primates!! In fact, some tourists cannot properly differentiate a chimpanzee from the gorilla.

 
Which one is the gorilla & which one is the chimp? 🙂

Below I try to throw a bit of perspective to help you see how these two great apes with interesting wildlife experiences compare and help you decide whether you should do one over the other, or do both of them.

Meeting up with the gorillas and chimps – character & organization

The Mountain Gorillas are big and have an intimidating look, but they are so gentle and shy, nothing like the aggressive “King Kong” gorilla portrayed in the movies. You will find the gorillas who live in relatively small tight families of about 8 – 15 individuals going about their business silently on the ground which is mostly feeding on vegetation, grooming each other and resting. It is the big silverback, the head of the family, that normally imposes himself in space to show who is boss and ensure no creature is getting too close to his members, while other members are mostly shy and retreating, always trying to get away from onlookers.

Chimpanzees are the opposite of the gorillas. Chimps are extremely active…and wild. Unlike gorillas that live in small family units keeping tightly together in a small area, the chimps live as a community of 100s of individuals occupying a large territory. They engage in loud vocalizations & the traditional thunderous hitting of tree barks to communicate with other members across the wide territory. Being in the midst of those vocalizations is quite hair-raising experience. They move swiftly, be it on ground or swinging from tree to tree and therefore need you to be on your toes almost all the time. Every member or group of members in the chimp community can engage in different activities giving you a diversity of views and experiences. You can decide to follow one member or group in the big community.

In a nutshell:

Meeting the gorillas can be likened to bumping into your favorite celebrity for the first time that leaves you astounded/starstruck, while meeting the chimp is like bumping into a long-lost crazy buddy who will treat to you to hearty laughter…

Comparing the trekking experience and the level of difficulty

The gorilla trekking level of difficulty is normally a concern because the mountain gorillas live in mountains covered in dense vegetation. It can be a difficult or easy hike to find the gorillas depending on their location, however after finding them the experience is much slower as the gorillas do not move very often and can stay in same area till you leave. On the other hand, the chimps are quite swift and can be quite a task following them up and down.

Verdict

I highly recommend combining these the gorilla trek and the chimpanzee tracking. Both of these tours can be done on trips in Uganda and trips in Rwanda.