East African Birding Destinations to Visit this June

The East African region stands out in the many birding destinations world wide. The region has over 1500 recorded bird species including endemics that can not be found In any other places. East Africa’s diverse wildlife also Makes birding journeys in the region more memorable as you get to see a number of wildlife species including the big five mammals. As we kick start the peak tourist season, lets look at some of the birding destinations you should not miss visiting this June.

Shoebill Stork at Mabamba Swamp. Birding destinations
Shoebill Stork at Mabamba Swamp Uganda. Photo by Newman Dixon

Mabamba Swamp Uganda

Covering an area of 2424 hectares, Mabamba swamp is among Uganda’s best birding destinations. Its situated on the Northern shores of lake Victoria and comprises of marshes of papyrus, water Lillies among other swamp vegetation species. The swamp is home to over 300 bird species including the rare shoebill stork. Other notable birds here include the grey crowned cranes, Hammerkops, Egrets, African Jacana, Palm-nut Vulture, swamp flycatcher among others.

The beauty about birding in Mabamba is its done by motorized canoe riding through a maze of the thick swamp vegetation an adventurous activity in itself. Birders here are often interested in finding the shoebill stork as the wetland is the best place to see the shoebill stork in Uganda. The best time of birding is very early morning as the shoebill prefer hunting its favorite meal (Lung fish) around that time. Evenings are also great times for birding as you get to also enjoy the African sunset.

While in Uganda ensure to visit Mabamba for your ultimate birding excursion. Birding here is doable all year round. Incase you want general birding safaris in Uganda the best time to Visit is from November to April when migratory birds set in giving one a wide range of opportunities to watch.

Akagera national park is Rwanda’s only Savanna national park and an important birding Area in the country after Nyungwe forest. There are over 480 recorded bird species here with 100 endemics and can therefore not be found in any other national park. The parks diverse ecosystems of wetland, grasslands and woodlands gives it an advantage making it an excellent area for a birding safari.

Notable birds to see in Akagera include the African fish eagle, Africa Jacana, shoebill stork, booted eagle, crested barbet, grey crowned cranes, western reef heron among others. Birding journeys here are very much complemented by safari game drives featuring the big five mammals. The park now has both the White and black rhinos that were reintroduced in the park after they had gone extinct.

Birding safaris in Akagera can be done throughout the year with the dry season offering opportunities to see wetland birds among others. The wet season especially in November Is a great time to see migratory birds with these spanning upto April.

This wanderlust ecosystem is not only famous for its wildebeest migrations, big cats but also a birders haven. The park is located in northern Tanzania and together with Kenya’s Masai Mara form the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Here the renown annual mass wildebeest migration takes place as wildebeest, Thompson gazelles, zebras, and many others move over the endless plains of the Serengeti.

There are over 500 bird species recorded in Serengeti alone with about 5 Endemic bird species found in no other place. Notable birds here include Fischer’s Lovebird, Kori Bustard, Secretary bird, silver bird, grey backed fiscal, among others. The best time for a birding safari adventure in Serengeti is from November to April when resident birds are nesting and in full plumage. The migratory birds also set in coming from as far as Europe and north Africa.

You can still enjoy a birding safari in the dry season when savanna game drives are very much enjoyable with less disturbances from the rains. Birding safari journeys in Serengeti are very enjoyable as you get to see more the park has to offer including East Africa’s most sought for wildlife species.

Lake Nakuru is strategically located on the floor of the great Rift Valley and is surrounded by wooded and bushy grasslands. The park covers a land area of 188 square kilometers and is among Kenya‘s Best wildlife and birding destinations. Its a soda lake previously famous for its thousands of flamingos that were driven away to other lakes by harsh climate conditions. They however still occur though in few numbers if compared to the past.

Pelicans however occur in large numbers as well other birds. Other Notable birds here include the greater blue-eared starling, Batuleur, crab-plover, grey crowned Cranes, Maccoa duck, great snipe among others. The best time for birding adventures around lake Nakuru is during the breeding season from November to April when birds are in full plumage. This is the time when migratory birds also set in giving one a variety of species to see.

The park is also home to other wildlife species including Rhinos, waterbucks, giraffes, buffaloes, zebras among others. While on a visit east Africa expedition you can check out the above featured birding destinations for your memorable wildlife expedition.

Other notable must visit birding ares include Nyungwe forest, Bwindi impenetrable national park, the Ngorongoro crater among others.

What You Need To Know About Bwindi, The Best Gorilla Trekking Destination

Mountain Gorilla tourism has over the years gained popularity as people seek exclusive gorilla trekking experiences. People travel from different parts of the world to the forested mountains of East and Central Africa for mountain gorilla trekking. One may wonder what are mountain gorillas and why are they special?

Mountain gorillas are endangered primate species with over 95% DNA similar to humans. They live in the forested mountains at elevations ranging from about 8000 to 13,000 feet above sea level. They are covered with fur that helps them survive the cold temperatures of the forested mountains.

Gorillas live in families headed by a dominant male called Silverback and are pure vegetarian with their diet consisting of plant vegetation and bamboo shoots. They are endemic to the Virunga massif along the Rwanda, Uganda & DRC Border and Bwindi impenetrable Forest in Uganda. 

The total mountain gorilla population is now estimated at over 1000 and Bwindi Impenetrable forest has almost half of the total population. Bwindi is currently the best gorilla trekking destination and here is more information you might need to know.

1. Various Gorilla Trekking Sectors

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an extensive park covering about 321 square kilometers. The park has different gorilla trekking sectors evenly distributed each sector with various gorilla families.

The northern and busiest sector is called Buhoma with 6 mountain gorilla families. Closer to Buhoma is Ruhija the eastern sector with 4 mountain gorilla families. It takes about an hours drive from Buhoma to Ruhija and you can therefore have a gorilla trek there incase you had accommodation in Buhoma.

Rushaga and Nkuringo are situated in southern Bwindi. Rushaga has 8 gorilla families while Nkuringo has 4 gorilla families. The Nkuringo region is however steep and one having a gorilla trek there will require some level of fitness. Ensure to know the exact sector where your gorilla trekking experience will be and book your accommodation accordingly.

Mountain Gorilla in Bwindi. Gorilla Trekking
Mountain Gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable NP. Courtesy Photo

2. Varying Gorilla Trekking Elevation

Bwindi has many hills with a gorilla trekking elevation from 1190 to 2607 meters above sea level. With this, the gorilla trekking experience comes in handy. You must therefore know if the gorilla family you are tracking will require a lot of hiking.

Much as gorilla trekking doesn’t require any levels of fitness, there are some gorilla families that live at high elevations. Those with altitude sickness, the elderly and some health restrictions need to ensure they track families that don’t require a lot of hiking.

Luckily Bwindi has over 22 gorilla families and one has a range of options to choose from. An average hike takes 2 to 4 hours though others take longer and a full day. Talk to your local safari guide or park ranger to ensure you are allocated an easier family to track.

3. Accessibility

Bwindi impenetrable can be accessed by both road and air transport. If you are coming from Entebbe international airport or Kampala by road, it takes a 9 to 10 hours drive. Its a long one but impressive going through the Ugandan countryside. You would have en route stop overs for photography at the Equator and for a lunch break and proceed to Bwindi.

Incase you don’t want the long drive you can fly to an airstrip near the park. There are two airstrips serving the park, one in the north and the other in the south. Kihihi airstrip serves the northern and Eastern sectors. Its 30 to 40 minutes drive to Buhoma sector and about an hour and a half drive to Ruhija

Kisoro airstrip serves the southern sector and its an hour drive to the park. Flying saves a lot of time and its the best option for those who don’t want the long drives. It also offers great aerial views of the countryside and other open savanna parks.

4. Best time for Trekking

Gorilla trekking in Bwindi can be enjoyed anytime of the year. The best time though is in the dry season from June to September and December to March. During this time there is minimal rainfall disturbances and the tracking trails are therefore dry. With this, there is easy movement and great chances for better wildlife photography.

In the wet season from April to May and October to November gorilla trekking is possible but rainfall can occur anytime of the day. Its an adventurous experience having a downpour while in the jungle but some people don’t like it.

5. Gorilla Permits

Mountain gorilla trekking permits for Bwindi cost $700 per person for international tourists, $600 per person for East African foreign residents and Uganda shillings 250,000 for East African citizens.

Gorilla permits are on a very high demand and only 8 tourists are allowed to track one gorilla family a day.  Ensure to book your permits in advance to avoid missing out. You can book and buy permits from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices. Incase you are using a tour operator ensure to pay for the permits in advance.

If you are interested in the gorilla habituation experience, permits are limited to only 4 people. Habituation permits cost $1500 per person for international guests, $1000 per person for East African residents and shillings 750,000 for East African Citizens.