Birds of Murchison Falls

I've become a shameless bird nerd since I moved to Uganda and if any place could convert you to be a bird lover, this is it. There are 1,061 species of birds recorded in Uganda (a country the size of Oregon state), compared to 914 found in all of North America.

When I take out my camera to look for birds, I find myself entirely drawn into the present moment, all my senses alert and at the mercy of whatever decides to come into my life. Bird watching has a profoundly spiritual nature to it, forcing me to be with what is rather than clinging or resisting what I do or do not want. A beautiful and rare bird may flit on a branch for only a second without allowing me to capture it, but I must accept the moment has passed, let it go, and see what else Is Now.

The other special thing about birds is they may show up and grace your life in any unexpected moment. As I type this, a red-breasted sunbird flits around outside my window, drinking with its mate from the flowers in my yard. Birds have often been my saving-grace for living in the city. Even among the concrete chaos and the car fumes, they surprise me with their presence. I've spotted several beauties along the telephone lines in Kampala as I drive through the horrendous traffic.

Last year, I took a couple of trips to Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda. Armed with a new 400mm lens, I loved capturing the great variety of birds the park offers. One morning, Eric let me take a boat ride to the delta while he stayed at the lodge with our grumpy toddler. These hours alone with wildlife and my camera were exactly how I wished to recover from a long, sleepless night. Somehow, these birds heal me.

Lesser-known Uganda sights: Mabamba Swamp and Reptile Village

I had a visit from a special guest last week - my mother.  This was her third time in Uganda, so she said she didn't want to do a lot of sight-seeing or take any big safaris.  She told me she just wanted to relax and see my home, but during her time here, we still were able to see a few of Uganda's lesser-known sights and I was able to tick a couple of things off my Uganda bucket list.

On her first morning, Mom was a trooper.  She woke up super early and we headed out towards Mpigi with Cathy, my mother-in-law.  We were eventually directed to Mabamba swamp, supposedly one of the best places in Uganda to see the rare Shoebill stork and many other birds.

I'll admit, this trip didn't exactly live up to my expectations, but in the end, we got what we came for.  The guides we hired were certainly below average and we found ourselves stuck in the middle of the swamp, searching for the Shoebill while it rained on us.  I looked longingly over at the other boats with tourists in them, one that had its own large umbrella and was moving swiftly through the swamp with three men in each vessel to help the boat along.  We had one man in our boat and we were not making good progress.

Eventually, though, we spotted the Shoebill.  Of course, the swiftly-moving-umbrella-boat had a beautiful shot of the bird, just a few yards from it, while we were trying to peek through the reeds to get a sighting.  But soon we were able to move beyond the reeds and see the huge, rare bird quite close.  For all the rain, cold, and poor guides, it was my best sighting of the Shoebill in nature and I was quite happy we were able to see the main attraction!

My advice: go to Mabamba with a real tour guide company and be the guy in the umbrella boat!


On Mom's last day in town, we headed toward the airport early and took a quick detour to the Uganda Reptile Village in Entebbe.  The reptile village helps educate the public about reptiles while rescuing many snakes, tortoises, monitor lizards, and other reptiles.

It was definitely a great way to spend an afternoon, in awe of the many snakes that exist in Uganda and learning to respect their potentially deadly defenses.  We had a great guide who knew his facts and he even got a viper out of its cage to play with, despite our protestations!

Uganda is a country full of life, and you don't have to go to the game parks to see it!  These two short day trips showed us new forms of life that exist in this beautiful country.  They may not be the big game on the savannahs, but the birds and the reptiles are still fascinating nonetheless!