Mercy Amucu Kabirye, zoologist, has loved birds since childhood. They intrigue him with their colors, their sounds and their way of life. Three years ago, Amucu decided to make birdwatching a way of life. She is currently an intern with Bird Uganda Safaris, a travel and excursion company that offers birding treats in Africa.
She is developing her bird watching skills, especially on the weekends. She goes from her life as a water engineering student at the Vocational Training Institute of Lugogo to birdwatching. “We watch as a group but sometimes I do it alone,” she says.
Luzira Wetlands, a suburb of Kampala, Lutembe Bay, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Entebbe Botanical Gardens, Mabamba Wetlands which are located on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, 12 km to western Entebbe and the Mabira Forest Reserve are all good birdwatching destinations. a short drive from the town centre.
It gets more interesting in the outback in places like Lake Mburo National Game Park, where Amucu’s first birding training with Bird Uganda Safaris began. “There are plenty of birds that you can spend hours watching,” she says.
It takes some notes and patience to become a bird watcher. Experts say birdwatching isn’t just about walking around with a pair of binoculars. This is to test his ability to spot a bird or locate it using its sound.
“The first thing you are taught is how to see a bird. Without training, you can go bird watching and end up not seeing anything when there are birds all around. It’s because they don’t know how to locate them,” says Amucu.
To locate birds, other skills are needed; the need to identify details about a particular bird. Attributes such as beak color and shape, leg color and shape, number of wing bars, tail color and existence of stripes, overall shape and size are some of the details which must be documented. Patience is also a virtue of a good birdie. Sometimes you have to wait long hours to see specific birds or species of birds.
Amucu says that with every birding adventure, the goal is to see new species. “My best experience is seeing new birds. But it doesn’t happen all the time,” she explains.
Three years into her training, she says she continues to learn more every day. The experienced ornithologists she meets in the field play an important role in growing her passion for birdwatching.
She wants to obtain a diploma as a professional ornithologist guide knowing the species of the region well. In her three years of birding, Amucu points out that the lilac-breasted roller is the bird she enjoys watching the most. “It is a beautifully colored African bird known for its acrobatic aerial displays during the breeding season. Males and females are inseparable in appearance. I love it because of the mix of colors it has,” she says .
A conversation with Uganda Bird Guides Association member Davis Rukundo reveals more about the activity. Rukundo is also a freelance tour guide whose passion for nature is unmatched. “I was part of the group of five children who started the association of young bird watchers at the time. Two of us are still going while the others are gone,” he says.
Rukundo says their parents loved nature and passed it on to them. Like any ornithologist, it was Rukundo’s love of nature that turned him into an ornithologist early in his life. He wakes up every day to learn the behavioral patterns of birds. “I love discovering and studying the details of birds. And while many people visit tourist attractions to see the big wildlife, many tend to overlook the birds because they are small,” says Rukondo, who is in his second term as head of the guide corps. .
Rukundo says birdwatching is the easiest activity to adapt to. “All you need are your eyes, there are no key skills or tools needed, just his passion and drive. Anyone can do it,” he says. The fact that birds are everywhere makes it even easier, in villages, in urban centers and residences.
The number of ornithologists on the rise
The number of bird watchers lately excites Rukundo although he thinks the activity can be explored further. “We have more bird watchers than ever before. At the time, we were organizing birding activities and few showed up. Today, many people are starting to take an interest in the activity,” says Rukundo.
He wants to attract birdwatchers from an early age, like he was with his other four childhood friends. He thinks encouraging parents to accompany their children on nature outings is one way to do this. The ornithologist fraternity has come a long way since the days when they were misunderstood.
Rukundo credits the progress to Herbert Byaruhanga, whom he calls the “godfather” of birdwatching in Uganda. “At the time, locals had no idea what birdwatching was and had problems with bird watchers. There were times when police arrested bird watchers after mistaking binoculars for spy equipment,” he recalls.
Byaruhanga is also the first president of the corps born in 1998 and remains one of the oldest indigenous guides.
Rukundo has been birwatching for over a decade and seeing all kinds of birds, by the time you are handed a second term for the top spot in the bird guide club, the resume is of steel.
He’s seen many birds and landed on a number of favorites, making it difficult for him to single out which species stand out to him. After a long silence, he gives up “the land thrush of Abyssinia”. It was a bird he had heard of but had never seen. It is a large, brown-billed, orange-breasted thrush with bold white wingbars.
It has an orange crown, plain face, and full white eyering. He is generally shy and rarely seen as he is restricted to areas of Bwindi. It rarely utters sounds, but its song is presented as a series of whistles and chattering, happy laughs.
“We were told it was nesting and we searched for it for two hours until we found it. We followed it to its nest and studied it with our clients,” he says. Rukundo is fascinated by how he stands out under the dark impenetrable forest of Bwindi.As he completes his second term, the one who comes after him has the major objective of developing the tourist product at different levels, starting with the children.
Birdwatching has become a lucrative business. It is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities in the country. According to the Uganda Tourism Centre, the country is endowed with a sum of 1,061 species of birds, making it one of the highest populations in the world.
It also constitutes half of Africa’s bird species and 11 percent of the world. Along with the bodies of water, there are countless birding spots all over the country.
Uganda’s bird species come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They all offer bird watchers something to watch out for. These include the Shoebill Stork, African Green Broadbill, Black Bee-eater, Brown-breasted Sweater, Brown-breasted Lapwing, Green-breasted Pitta, Jahan’s Francolin, Jameson, Karamoja Apalis, Purcell’s Illadopsis, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Nahans’ Francolin, Red-fronted Anti pecker and Rwenzori Turaco.
Other species that can be spotted on birding safaris include African Harrier Harrier, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater, Crowned Hornbill, Giant Kingfisher, Goliath Heron, Green Pigeon, martial eagle, mountain green bulb, secretary bird, Shelley’s purple wing, lesser-tailed warbler, African darter, gray crested crane, western green handyman and yellow-billed stork, among others.
Best Bird Watching Sites in Uganda
Uganda has about 34 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). An Important Bird and Biodiversity Area is an area identified using a set of internationally recognized criteria as being of global importance for the conservation of bird populations. The IBA has been developed and the sites are identified by BirdLife International.
There are more than 13,000 IBAs around the world, intended for bird watching and ornithological excursions. However, new bird spots continue to be discovered in the country.
Some of the most visited birding spots in Uganda include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is the premier birding spot in Africa according to the African Bird Club, the Mabamba Bay Wetland, known for the Shoebill.
Others are Entebbe Peninsula, Lutembe Bay Wetland, Kibale Forest National Park, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, Lake Mburo National Park , Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semuliki National Park, Budongo Forest, Royal Mile Trail and Busingiro and Murchison Falls. National Park.
Birdwatching has become a lucrative business. It is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities in the country. According to the Uganda Tourism Centre, the country is endowed with a sum of 1,061 species of birds, making it one of the highest populations in the world. It also constitutes half of Africa’s bird species and 11 percent of the world. Along with the bodies of water, there are countless birding spots all over the country. Uganda has about 34 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). An Important Bird and Biodiversity Area is an area identified using a set of internationally recognized criteria as being of global importance for the conservation of bird populations. The IBA has been developed and the sites are identified by BirdLife International.