Birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park: Queen Elizabeth National Park earns itself a well-deserved reputation for a premier bird watching destination in Uganda due to its alluring list of bird species. With an extraordinary ecological diversity, Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for a peerless checklist of more than 605 species mutually existing with 95 mammal species and other wildlife. No other protected area in East Africa can match a bird species list that long. For that and other reasons, the park is listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birding International. Specialist birders in the park can routinely notch up an incredible tally of 296 species in a day. Some of the park’s variety of birds include pelicans, Kingfishers, skimmers, storks, thick-knees, weavers, swallows, martins, canaries, kites and many grassland specialties. Swamps in the south at Ishasha host the Shoebill stork, one that many rate as the most-sought-after African bird.
Birds of Queen Elizabeth National Park
Notable of the more than 605 bird species in Queen Elizabeth National Park are: Swamp Fly-catcher, Grey-capped Warbler, White-winged Terns, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, African Jacana, Collard Pranticole, Pin-tailed Whydah, Martial Eagle, Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, Gabon and Slender-tailed Nightjars, Common Squacco Heron, African Skimmer, the lovely Black-headed Gonolek, African Fish Eagle, Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, African Mourning Dove, Great White and Pink-backed Pelican, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, White-winged Warbler, Sedge Warbler, African Open-billed Stork, Black-rumped Buttonquail, numerous Gull species, Egyptian Goose, Marabou Storks and many others.
Key Birding spots in Queen Elizabeth National Park
A wide bird list of over 605 bird species corelates with a wide variety of habitats that range from savannah and wetlands to gallery and low land forests. The key birding spots in the park include the Mweya Peninsular, Kazinga Channel, open savannah areas of Kasenyi, Maramagambo Forest, Katwe area, Lake Kikorongo area, Katunguru bridge and Ishasha sector.
- Mweya Peninsular in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Mweya Peninsular is delightfully positioned overlooking the Kazinga Channel that separates Lakes George and Edward. It further commands excellent views of the Rwenzori Mountains to the north and spectacular sunsets over the lake. African skimmers can be viewed dipping in the water on the channel. It’s another good spot for professional photographers to be able to catch a few birds in flight. In the vicinity of the airstrip and the camping site, watch for resident African Mourning Dove, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Swamp Fly catcher, Grey-capped Warbler, Red-chested Sunbird, Lesser Masked Canary, the beautiful Black-headed Gonolek, among others. Gabon and slender-tailed Nightjars are fairly common along the airstrip.
Mweya Peninsular also attracts raptors and the uncommon migrants during March and April. Frequently seen Raptors Include Brown Snake Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Bateleur, African Harrier Hawk and the Martial Eagle. Temminck’s Courser, Collared Pratincole and Red-capped Lark prefer short grass towards the southern end of the airstrip, which is also a good vantage point from which to observe over-flying raptors, large water birds such as Pelicans, Swifts, Swallows and Storks. Among the migrant species that have been recorded in the area are the Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Steppe Eagle and Amur Falcon/lesser Kestrel.
- Birds on Kazinga Channel
The Kazinga Channel is a prime birding spot in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It’s not just a natural magnet for waterbirds but also the savannah and migrant species are attracted to it. A boat launch cruise on the channel is an excellent way to see a wide variety of water related species like the Great white and pink-backed Pelican, Great and long-tailed Cormorants, common Squacco Heron, African open-billed stork, African fish eagle, white-faced whistling duck, Spur-winged and African Wattled Plovers, Pied King fishers, Swamp Fly catchers, African skimmers, among others.
The migrant species record on Kazinga Channel is highest in February and March. At a such a time of the year is when hundreds of thousands of White-winged Terns are spectacularly viewed hoovering over the water. In reed beds below Mweya, along the marshy fringes, the hippo wallows along the channel and sand bars near the entrance to Lake Edward are the major spots where the highest concentration of birds on Kazinga Channel can be witnessed.
- Katwe Crater area
The scenic Katwe crater area is a good place to search for the wide spread grassland species such as the common Buttonquail, Croaking Cisticola, Broad-tailed Warbler and Marsh Tchagra. A spectacular number of migrant harriers including Pallid, Montagu’s and European Marsh habit the grasslands from November to March and may be seen in the evening at their roost in the shallow depression west of the road to the baboon cliffs. Raise your binoculars while at the baboon cliffs to scan for raptors which often pass at eye level.
- Lake Munyanyange and the Flamingos
Lake Munyanyange found north of Katwe attracts large numbers of water birds although they vary according to water levels. Greater and lesser Flamingos are usually present and are joined by a variety of Palaerctic shorebirds during the austral summer. Little stint, Curiew Sandpiper and Greenshank are the main species involved although rarities such as Dunlin, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Redshank, Whimbrel, Red-necked Phalarope and Terek Sandpiper have been recorded. The lake also hosts spectacular concentrations of lesser Black-backed Gulls and Gull-billed Terns. Northern Heat Ears and the Wintering Red-throated Pipits favor the grassy margins.
- Lake Kikorongo area
Lake Kikorongo’s vast marshes, the papyrus beds and the Shoebill swamp meet the southern extension of Lake George. These support a plethora of waterbirds including even the sought-after shoebill. With a stunning scenery of the Rwenzori Mountains in the back drop and the presence of the rare Shoebill plus a long list of water birds, a visit to this area is likely to be a highlight of any birder’s time in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The muddy margins attract common Squacco Heron while the adjacent areas hold migrants such as the Yellow Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit Whinchat and the northern Wheatear. A finger of papyrus at the Shoebill swamp is home to the skulking Greater and lesser swamp warbler plus the elusive white-winged Warblers. Carruthers’ Cisticola, Papyrus Gonolek, Red-chested Sunbird and Papyrus Canary are more conspicuous.
- Kasenyi Track
The Kasenyi track doesn’t stop at providing avenues for the best game viewing experience in Queen Elizabeth National Park but also has much to offer the birders. The open grassy plains at the north support large flocks of white and Abdim’s Stork in season as well as lesser numbers of wooly-necked and the spectacular saddle-billed storks. Six species of vultures are also attracted here including the Egyptian Ruppell’s Griffon and the immense Lappet-faced. Senegal, Crowned and African Wattled Plovers are numerous in short grassland and are joined from September to November by the scarce Brown-chested Plover. Harlequin Quail, common Buttonquail and African Crake favour areas of taller grass whilst marshy pools at the roadside support painted Snipe, Green Sandpiper and the smart feldegg race of Yellow Wagtail. In the shallow and seasonally inundated grassland, the scarce Streaky-breasted Flufftail may be heard hooting from February to April. This is also the favored habitat for the rare and enigmatic striped Crake. Larks too are plentiful and they include the Rufous-napped, Flappet and the localized White-tailed.
- Ishasha sector in the south
There is more to Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park than the Tree Climbing Lions. The swamps here (at Ishasha) are a good place to look for the elusive Shoebill Stork and other birds that include the Grey Kestrel, African Green Pigeon, Cisticola, African Crowned Eagle, Marshal Eagle, African Wattled Plover, among others.
- Kyambura Gorge
Kyambura Gorge is located in Kyambura Game Reserve and is part of the larger Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kyambaura Gorge forest is more popular for Chimpanzee trekking and magnificent views than bird watching. Nonetheless, a walk down the Kyambura Gorge may produce widespread forest species such as the black and African Emerals Cuckoos, Speckled Tinker bird, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Grey Woodpecker, Green Hylia and purple-headed Starling. The attractive White-spotted Fluff tail is numerous in thickets along the river while in the moist grassland adjacent to the gorge, you can hear the far-carrying metallic twink call of the Broad-tailed Warbler. Using the road down the southwestern rim of Kyambura Gorge, you are in for good views over the forest along the Kyambura River. This is also an excellent place to see the spectacular Black Bee-eater hawking insects from exposed perches high in the canopy. Another special sight-seeing indeed!
- Maramagambo Forest
Maramagambo forest is home to many forest birds that can be spotted during a guided walk in the forest. It’s important to note that most of the forest birds mentioned above (for Kyambura Gorge forest), can readily be seen in Maramagambo forest. However, a nature walk here can further be for the bats and python caves, hunters cave, Blue Lake and identifying the different tree species including the medicinal ones.
- Kalinzu Forest
Kalinzu Forest is not part of Queen Elizabeth National Park but can be considered for the birding hotspots near the park. It has many forest species which can be viewed during guided walks in the forest.
Best months for bird watching
Birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park is all year round. Considering the birder’s particular interest however, specific times/seasons of the year could be followed when planning a birding trip to the park. The period from June to September is known for the good weather conditions with fewer rain and plenty of food for the birds. November to April is recommended for birders targeting the migratory bird species.
The cost of bird watching at Queen Elizabeth National Park
All visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park are required $45 per day as entrance fees. On top of the entrance fees of $45 per person, bird leaning visitors have to pay an extra $50 for an experienced bird guide at the park and $20 for places where nature walks are done. Birding trips booked through Jungle Escape Africa are guided by professional experienced bird guides and it won’t require you again to hire a bird guide for the park. Contact us for a full birding package to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park can be combined with Lion tracking in the same park, Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Chimpanzee trekking in Kyambura Gorge, Kalinzu forest and at the nearby Kibale National Park. Besides, all these places are key birding locations and strongholds for some unique birds.