Birdwatching in Mabamba swamp
Birdwatching in Mabamba swamp : Mabamba swamp is one of the vast swamps found in Lake Victoria close to Entebbe town and Kampala city in a small village in Kasanje. It is one of the top tourist destinations in Entebbe renown for the amazing bird collection and most especially one of the one places in Uganda to find the most sought bird – the Shoebill stock. In 2006, the swamp was chosen as a Ramsar Site and wetland of international importance because of the rare and attractive bird species like the Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Shoebill Stork (Balaeniceps rex), Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea) and Sitatunga (swamp antelope) among others. The Ramsar Convention on wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that champions the conservation, wise use and safeguarding of wetlands and their treasures. The Mabamba Swamp is now an Important Bird Area (IBA) attracting different bird species and is one of the best places for birdwatching in Uganda. Because of its location close to the Entebbe international airport, it is an ideal starting point for those interested in a long a Uganda safari tour.
Apart from being a home to the Shoebill stock birds, Mabamba swamp is also a sanctuary to about 4 threatened bird species including the Papyrus Gonolek, Blue Swallow, Pallid Harrier and White-Winged Warbler. Other species found in the swamp include the Yellow-throated Greenbul, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-billed Tinkerbird, Yellow-billed Ducks, Yellow-backed Weaver, Yellow warble, Yellow Wagtail, Yellow-Billed Stork, Yellow-billed duck, Yello-billed Kite, Woodland Kingfisher, Wood Sandpiper, Winding Cistocola, White-winged Warbler, White-winged Black Terns, White-throated Bee-eater, White-shouldered Tit, White-faced Whistling-duck, White-browed Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Whiskered Terns, Whinchat, Weyn’s Weaver, Weaver birds, Water Thicknee, Violet-backed Sterling, Village Weaver, Veilots’ Black Weaver, the Blue Swallow, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Tawny Eagle, Tambourine Dove, Swamp Flycatcher, Stripped Kingfisher, Squacco heron, Spur-winged, Spur-winged Lapwing, Spur-winged Geese, Speckled Mousebird, Slender-billed Weaver, Slender-billed Gull, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Sand Martin, Sand Martin, Saddle-billed Stork, Ruppell’s Long-tailed Sterling, Rufous-napped Lark, Rufous-bellied Herons, Ross’ Turaco, Red-shouldered Cuckoo Shrike, Red-headed Love-bird, Red-eyed Dove, Red-chested Cuckoo, Red-billed Fire-finch, Pygmy Geese, Purple Heron, Pint-tailed Whyda, Pink-backed Pelican, Pied Wagtail, Pied Kingfishers, Papyrus yellow warbler, Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, Pallid Harrier, Orange Weaver, Olivaceous Warbler, Nothern Brown-throated Weather, Mosque Swallow, Marsh Harrier, Malachite Kingfisher, Long-toed Lapwings, Long-tailed Cormorant, Long-Crested Eagle, Long tod lapwig blover, Little Stilt, Little Egret, Little bee-eater, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Lesser Jacana, Intermediate Egret, Harmerkop, Hadada Ibis, Gull-billed Terns, Grosbeak Weaver, Grey-rumped, Grey-Headed Sparrow, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Grey-headed Gulls, Grey-crowned Crane, Grey Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Grey Parrot, Grey Heron, Green Cuckoo, Great White Pelican, Great White Egret, Great Cormorant, Great Blue Turaco, Grassland Pipit, Goliath Herons, Glossy Ibis, Fulvous Whistling-duck, Fork-tailed Drongo, Fork-tailed Drongo, Fly catcher, Flappet Lark, Feral Pigeon, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Eurasian Hobby, Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Double Toothed Barbet, Crowned Hornbill, Comrants, Common Waxbill, Common Stonechat, Common Sqacco Heron, Common Sandpiper, Common Moorhens, Common Greenshank, Common Bulbul, Cattle Egret, Carruther’s Cisticola, Brown Snake-Eagle, Brown Parrot, Blue-headed Cuckoo, Blue-headed Coucal, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Blue Swallow, Blue headed coucal, Blue Breasted Bee-eater, Black-winged Stilt, Black-headed Weavers, Black-headed Heron, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Black-crowned Waxbill, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black- headed weavers, Black Headed Gonolek, Black Headed Gonolek, Black Egret, Black Crake, Banded Martin, Ashy Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Angola Swallows, Afrikan Jakana, African water rail, Pallid Harrier, African Water Rail, African Pygmy Goose, African Purple Swamp-hen, African Pigmy Goose, African Pied Wagtail, African Marsh Harrier, African Jacana, African Hoopoe, African Green Pigeon, African Fish Eagle, African Firefinch and African common Moorhen.
Birding safaris in Mabamab swamp are arranged daily and takes about 4 hours depending on the availability of birds however, full day birding can also be arranged on request of the traveller. The best period for birding in Mabamba swamp is between September and March providing a lot of activities within the wetland as migratory birds arrive from Europe. It is important to book a tour of Mabamba swamp a day in advance for better planning. Arrangements can be done by your tour operator to pick you up very early in the morning from your hotel or residence.
A more convenient and easy way to reach the swamp from Entebbe town is by taking a speed boat through Lake Victoria. Using the lake route is more adventurous and allows one to marvel at the beautiful Lake Victoria while bypassing Entebbe town and the airport. Using a speed boat to the starting point in Mabamba takes between 45 to 50 minutes. The speedboats can be hired from some hotels in Entebbe town or at the Entebbe sailing club. The boats are in great condition, comfortable and with life jackets. However, these large speed boats are not suitable for navigating through the papyrus swamps. Once you get near the Mabamba wetland, you need to prepare to board smaller canoes that are used to navigate through the papayrus swamps.
On arrival at the starting point, expect to find many birding Guides and fishermen waiting to escort you deep into the wetland to spot the birds. The boatmen and bird guides are well organized. They have a leader who speaks on their behalf. It is this spokesperson who assigns a boatman and guide to visitors. The canoes can only take three birders (excluding the guide and boat driver). You need to first pay a community charge of about $7 at their small office. The boat and Guide together cost about $35. You need to move with a life Jacket or request for one because many of the boats do not have them. The owners of these boats and birding guides are locals from the nearby communities. By paying for their services, you are giving back to the community and helping save the birds and other creatures in the wetland. People are less inclined to destroy something that is of a benefit to them.
As soon as the boat starts moving into the reeds, pay attention on both sides of the narrow pathways and in the air. Your guide and boatman will help you get close to the birds by navigating through the papyrus and lily pads. After rowing for a few minutes, the narrow papyrus reeds open up to reveal flat grassy swamps. Have your binoculars and camera ready. The number of birds here will surprise you if you are not prepared. Watch out for the bee-eaters, kingfishers and other species. Don’t miss the beautiful butterflies and lotus flowers. The best time to find the Shoebills is during the morning hours when they go out to feed. Talking photos of the Storks is easier compared to many of the other bird species. This is because they stay still for long periods as they observe the movement of fish, frogs and other prey before making a lightning strike. They support themselves by standing on floating reeds.
The chances of seeing the Shoebills in Mabamba are very high. One of the reasons for the high success rate is the great corporation and teamwork among the Birding guides. When there are several visitors at the bay, the guides spread out and head to different sections of the swamp. They are in constant communication and any who spots the Shoebills first alerts the others about their presence. Within no time all the boats gather at the same place stealthily to allow birders spot the birds. After locating the Shoebill and spotting enough of the birds, you should head back to the lake and find the larger boat waiting to take you back to your hotel. As you leave the Mabamba wetland, you might get lucky to spot more shoebills along the swampy shores of the lake or nearby lagoons.
Other things to do while visiting the Mabamba swamp
Whereas birdwatching is the main highlight of a visit to the Mabamba swamp, the countless butterfly species also catch the eye. The Mabamba swamp has over 200 species of butterflies. The most common species are the Bicyclus sebetus, Acraea consanquine, Acraea aganice, Achaea aurivilli and Abisaraneavei.
Before tourism became more prominent, the main activity in Mabamba was fishing. Fishing is still the main economic activity in the area and the most popular species are the Tilapia, mudfish, lungfish and the large Nile Perch. There are several fishermen around the area. You can join one of them or watch them from afar. If you wish to join them, then you can go with your own equipment or make do with one of the locally made hooks and rods.
Spotting the Sitatunga antelope
The Mabamba swamp is an important sanctuary for the Sitatunga. While on a birdwatching tour in the vast swamp, it is possible to encounter these elusive antelopes. Their numbers have dwindled in the recent past because of uncontrolled poaching. The poachers expose and catch them by burning down their hiding places – the marshes. There are efforts by the government and other Wildlife conservationists to protect them through community sensitization.
Canoeing for longer periods of time can be arranged to spot more of the birds, go fishing and touring the nearby islands of Lake Victoria. It is important to board the canoe with life jackets. If you don’t have in, choose a boat that can provide one.
Village walks and visiting Craft Shops
The village walks provide opportunities to mingle with the locals as you learn about how they live and make ends meet. Many of the local people living close to the swamp practice subsistence farming. You can also go to one or two of the crafts shops to admire beautifully crafted bags, mats, baskets and huts. Most of these items are made with reeds got from the swamp. The swamp also provides herbs and building materials for local huts.
Conservation activities and the future of the Mabamba wetland
Hundreds of tourists visit Uganda each year with the sole purpose of spotting the Shoebill Stork. This has helped bring greater attention to their dwindling numbers and the need for their overall protection not only in Mabamba swamp but also in other locations within Uganda where they are found. The Mabamba swamp is not only home to the Shoebill stork but to over 200 other bird species. The swamp is also home to rare creatures like the Sitatunga antelope. Whereas these swamp antelopes are threatened by uncontrolled poaching, the greatest threat to the Shoebill Stork is habitat loss. The wetland continues to be drained by humans who are encroaching on it to put up houses and other infrastructure.
It is also worth pointing out that many Shoebills in Mabamba swamp were lost to fishermen in the past. Fishermen believed that encountering a Shoebill stork as they went to fish was a bad omen that would result in a poor catch. Some individuals used to steal Shoebill eggs and sell them in the black market. The designation of the place as a Ramsar site has resulted in greater protection of the birds. The government and other Wildlife Conservation Agencies continue to sensitize the fishermen and communities living near the swamp about the importance of the wetland and wildlife to the overall eco-system. Through this sensitization, the community and fishermen have realized the great benefit of the swamp and creatures therein. The fishermen benefit greatly by renting out their boats to tourists. Because of their experience in the area, some of the fishermen have been trained as birding Guides. The economic benefits resulting from tourism has a turned the Shoebills into highly respected birds worth protecting.