Travel to Mabira Forest, Uganda's Hallowed Bird Watching Grounds

Travel to Mabira Forest, Uganda's Hallowed Bird Watching Grounds

It’s hard not to enjoy yourself no matter where you are in Uganda, especially if you are a traveller. See, Uganda is blessed with a myriad of natural attractions – both popular and off-the-beaten-track.

Last weekend, l and a group of birding enthusiasts were invited for one of those excursions – a birding trip in Mabira Forest.

The trip was courtesy of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Birding Uganda, under the 7th edition of the Big Birding Day — a celebration of Uganda’s wide range of birds that make up 50 per cent of Africa’s and 10 per cent of the world’s bird species.

Set off was at the Uganda Museum where Birding Uganda’s Dr Achilles Byaruhanga gave us a quick commentary on what to expect on this sojourn.

Mabira Forest Reserve

I must admit that even though my mind was fixated on the birds throughout the journey, the moment we got to Mabira I picked a keen interest in the forest its self!

Mabira Forest, which was officially reserved by the government in 1932, is one of Uganda’s oldest forests and boasts of some of the world’s most precious botanical treasures.

The forest, which is situated east, an hour’s drive from Kampala, is a living museum that catalogues the evolution of plants’ life on earth and is also home to many endangered plant and animal species.

The forest is endowed with numerous streams slinking through papyrus swamps and patches of grassland that are home to red-tailed monkeys whose main occupation is pulling faces and diving from one branch to another.

Spending my afternoon in the forest was absolutely remarkable and every single minute l spent there presented to me an extraordinary experience.

Covering 300 square kilometers, the forest contains many ancient plants, some of them as old as 300-500 years. The forest’s name is derived from the plural form of the word ‘forest’ in Luganda, the most spoken language in Uganda.

“It’s called Mabira (meaning ‘forests’) because it’s a collection of several forests,” explained our guide, Ibrahim Sefuma.

A first time birder

Mabira Forest’s thickness makes it so noticeable for anyone driving along the Kampala-Jinja highway.

Once you get there, branch off to Najjembe and you will be welcomed by a whole new world that will refresh your mind and soul: the natural beauty, fresh air, beautiful butterflies and forest flowers make Mabira a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of city life.

It was such a refreshing moment that l couldn’t help but imagine if I could stay here for the rest of my life! When we got to the reception area, we were greeted by melodies from the thousands birds we were about to see.

Like a farmer heading to the garden, l also had all the tools of my trade with me: camera, note book, pen, as well as a binoculars that l occasionally shared with some of the birders I travelled with.

“Use your ears as the most important tool… Quite often the first indication that a bird is nearby is its singing,” Sefuma said.

As we delved deep into the forest, the excitement grew and birders continued calling out birds like Papyrus Gonolek, Great Blue Turaco, Nahan’s Francolin, Black Hornbill, Yellow White Eyes, Yellow Matted Weaver, Cameroon Sumber Grave Bull, Slender Green Bull, Whitetail Bird and more.

There was a variety of birds to see but I personally saw and noted a total of 33 while some of my colleagues on the other hand saw and noted more than my number, which is understandable for a first time birder.

At the end of the trip, I realized that the only prerequisite for a fun birding adventure is curiosity and a love to learn the different types of birds. And birding seems to be one of the most relaxing hobbies.