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28 December 2010 - 14 January 2011



For as long as we can remember, one of our biggest dreams was to see Gorillas and Chimpanzees in the wild and, over the years, we have spoken with a number of friends about this subject. There was always some other trip or opportunity that arose which meant we couldn’t plan a trip to see these beasts, but eventually, we could not put it off any longer. After having done some initial research into an itinerary and costs, we contacted a few of our friends that we travel with often and asked whether they would be interested in joining us or not and, within days, we had a full trip with Barrie Rose, Alvin and Flick Cope and Cliff and Suretha Dorse opting to join us on this adventure of a lifetime.


Officially known as the Republic of Uganda, this landlocked country in East Africa is also known as “The Pearl of Africa”. Its neighbours include Kenya to the east, Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to the west and Tanzania to the south. At just over 240 000 km2 in size, it has a population of around 34 million people of which about 1,5 million live in the capital city, Kampala. The climate is mostly tropical which includes lots of rain whilst there are 2 “dry seasons” – December to February and June to August. Most of the country is on a plateau with just a rim of mountains – the lowest point is at Lake Albert which is at 621m above sea level whereas the highest point is Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley at 5 110m above sea level.


Given the small size of the country, it has a fairly staggering bird list at over 1 060 species. Of these, only one species, Fox Weaver, is truly endemic. However, the country does share a number of Albertine Rift Endemics with its neighbours and is probably one of the easier places to actually see a number of these species in. Some of these species include Handsome Francolin, Dwarf Honeyguide, Ruwenzori Batis, Stripe-breasted Tit, Ruwenzori Apalis and Red-throated Alethe amongst others. Uganda also plays host to some other rather iconic species and there are few more awe-inspiring species than the prehistoric looking Shoebill, a representative of a monotypic family and probably right up there on the list of birds that most world birders want to see in their lives. Although a lot of the birding in the country involves forest birding, this was typically not all that difficult and we managed to find most of our targets without too much effort.

Shoebill Stripe-breasted Tit


In typical African style, Uganda also boasts a fairly impressive mammal list which currently exceeds 330 species. Of these, only 3 are truly endemic and these are Montane Shaggy Rat, Issel’s Groove-toothed Swamp Rat and Ruwenzori Vlei Rat. Not surprisingly, these 3 endemics are very difficult to see, but there are a whole host of species easily seen in the country ranging from those that are typical of most of the African savannas to a number of more iconic and sought after species like Eastern Gorilla and Common Chimpanzee. Overall, we found the mammals fairly easy to come by and managed to accumulate a reasonable list on our trip.

Eastern Gorilla Common Chimpanzee

Our trip:

With the assistance of our friends at Rockjumper Birding Tours (www.rockjumperbirding.com), we were put in touch with Kalema Livingstone of Livingstone African Safaris (www.tours-uganda.com). Known to his clients and friends just as Livingstone, we could not have asked for a better guide to show us around the country. With a permanent smile on his face, he was always willing to put in the extra effort to show us the birds and animals, no matter what obstacle was thrown in our path or no matter how tired he was at the end of the long days.

Livingstone’s knowledge of the local birds and mammals was outstanding. Whenever he was questioned as to what something was, he always had the answer. Since our group had a very broad interest in biodiversity, he ended up being a little nervous at times when we encountered snakes and wanted to catch them and also couldn’t understand how we got so excited about all the frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, etc. that we found wanting to spend time photographing literally everything that moved.

The local currency, the Ugandan Shilling, was trading at around UGX370.00 = ZAR1.00 at the time of our visit. For the most part, we found things to be very reasonably priced and, only at a couple of places where the people realized that we were tourists, did we feel that they were perhaps attempting to rip us off a little.

Everything ran very smoothly on our trip. The vehicle, a stretch Land Cruiser, was actually quite comfortable, especially when there were days that we spent many hours in it travelling between destinations. We only had one small problem near Kibale when the engine started overheating, but Livingstone took that in his stride and, while we were out birding, he went off and had it repaired. The condition of some of the roads left a bit to be desired, but we suppose this is to be expected in a developing country. It took some time getting used to the fact that, having to travel relatively short distances, would take an inordinately long period of time due to the roads.

Accommodation and food was generally of a high standard although, at a number of places, electricity was provided by generator so was not permanently on, but was only available for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening (which, for the most part, was sufficient to be able to recharge all the necessary equipment). Medically, the only real consideration was malaria, so with the normal precautions, this was no problem at all. We found the Ugandan people to generally be some of the friendliest people we have ever encountered on any of our travels. They were forever smiling and, not once, did we feel the least bit insecure or unsafe.

Our group at the Equator in Uganda

Daily account:

28 January 2010

After our long flight from Cape Town, via Johannesburg, to Entebbe in Uganda, we transferred to Sophie’s Motel (www.traveluganda.co.ug/sophies-motel-entebbe/) late last night and, after a quick dinner, headed off to bed, excited about what lay ahead of us. Up early this morning, the first bird on the trip list was a Western Barn Owl flying around the motel grounds this morning while it was still dark.

After breakfast, we packed up everything and climbed into the stretch Landcruiser, our mode of transport for the next few weeks, to start off on our adventure. Stopping off in town to exchange some money, there were Marabou Storks everywhere sitting on the tops of buildings, walking in the streets, etc. and, before long, we were on our way again heading off to Mabira Forest. En route, we were quickly picking up new birds for the trip like Hooded Vulture, Hamerkop, Saddle-billed Stork, Palm-nut Vulture, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater and Ruppell’s Starling. Unfortunately, it was also raining, so when we eventually arrived at Mabira Forest, it was a little bit of a mud bath!

Situated in the Buikwe District, the Mabira Forest Reserve has been protected since 1932 and covers an area of some 30 000 hectares. We couldn't wait to start exploring and the weather wasn’t going to stop us, so we donned raincoats and headed off into the forest to see what we could find. New birds came thick and fast with things like White-headed Sawwing, White-breasted and Grey-headed Nigritas, Wood Warbler, Forest Wood-hoopoe, Velvet-mantled Drongo and Great Blue Turaco being initial favourites whilst the likes of Little Grey and White-throated Greenbuls had us scratching our heads for a while. Alexander’s Bush Squirrel and Red-tailed Monkey were our first mammals of the trip.

A move to another part of the forest had us quickly ticking new birds including Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Blue Malkoha, Black-billed Turaco, Grey Longbill, Yellow-spotted Barbet, African Blue Flycatcher and Tit-hylia whilst Red-legged Sun Squirrel was added to the mammal list. A lunch stop in the forest was interrupted several times with Cassin’s Spinetail flying overhead and Fire-crested Alethe calling close to us. After gobbling down our lunch, it was back to the birding adding things like African Pied Hornbill, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Brown-chested Alethe, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo and Black-bellied Seedcracker whilst Grey-cheeked Mangabey was another great mammal added to the list.

It was now getting late and we still had some way to get to Jinja, so we reluctantly left and made our way across stopping intermittently to look at things like Piapiac, Angola Swallow, Grey Woodpecker, Grey Kestrel and Eurasian Hobby whilst we also made a stop off at a large roost of African Straw-coloured Fruit Bats as they emerged and almost darkened the sky with their numbers. Eventually arriving at our accommodation, Gately on Nile (www.gatelyonnile.com), we booked in and settled down to a great dinner. After dinner, it was not over and soon we had Cliff knocking at our door to let us know that the frogs were pumping in the grounds of the hotel, so off we went again. Although we could hear lots of frogs, we only managed to find Eastern Olive Toad, Common Reed Frog and Galam White-lipped Frog although these were hardly worth complaining about.

Mabira Forest Mabira Forest
Our stretch Landcruiser at Mabira Forest Stopping off in Mabira Forest
Birding in Mabira Forest Birding in Mabira Forest
Enjoying a lunch break in Mabira Forest Enjoying a lunch break in Mabira Forest
The grounds of Gately on Nile Our room at Gately on Nile

29 December 2010

Up early and into the gardens of the hotel, we quickly added species like White-browed Robin-chat, African Goshawk, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Woodland Kingfisher and Black-headed Gonolec and Red-chested Sunbird entertained us while having breakfast. Soon, we were back on our way to Mabira Forest to bird a different part of the forest and new species included Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Brown Illadopsis, Purple-headed Starling, Grey Parrot and, after a frustrating period of seeing nothing, finally White-spotted Flufftail, arguably one of the hardest-to-see groups of birds anywhere in the world!

We then had a fairly long drive to make across to Masindi. Fortunately, it was not all driving and we managed to make a number of stops along the way picking up things like Western Banded Snake Eagle, Broad-billed Roller, Green Sandpiper, Winding Cisticola, Yellow-throated Leaflove and, at our lunch stop, we managed to find Snoring Puddle Frog, Peter’s Writhing Skink as well as an unidentified species of White-toothed Shrew.

A late afternoon stop for some birding in an open woodland area immediately had us adding a number of new species including Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Vinaceous Dove, Northern Crombec, Spot-flanked Barbet, Heuglin’s Francolin and Lesser Blue-eared Starling whilst a number of Denham’s Bustard passed by overhead. Just before dark, a quick stop at a small wetland had us adding a few more common species as well as our first Striped Leaf-folding Frog of the trip, a cracking little animal. Eventually arriving in Masindi, we booked into the Masindi Hotel ( www.masindihotel.com/), our home for the next two nights. An old colonial type building, it is apparently the oldest hotel in Uganda, having been built in 1923.

Back to Mabira Forest Birding in Mabira Forest
Roadside attractions between Mabira and Masindi Roadside attractions between Mabira and Masindi
Roadside attractions between Mabira and Masindi Roadside attractions between Mabira and Masindi
Open woodland near Masindi Birding the open woodland areas
Masindi Hotel Masindi Hotel
The sign says it all... Our room at the Masindi Hotel

30 December 2010

Today was going to be spent in the Budongo Forest and, more specifically, along the world famous (in birding terms anyway!) Royal Mile. Budongo Forest Reserve covers an area of 793 km² of which only 53% is forest - the remaining 47% is grassland. The altitudinal range is 700-1270m and the forest type is classified as medium altitude semi deciduous moist forest. Effectively, the Royal Mile is just a long gravel track that runs through the forest and birding is effectively done from this track with the occasional short foray off into the forest itself. Arriving at the park headquarters, we collected our local guide for the day, Vincent, and then set off into this fantastic area. In the degraded habitat outside the forest itself, we were already picking up things like Whinchat, Bronze Mannikin, African Hobby, Blue-headed Coucal, Compact Weaver and Crowned Hornbill, but as soon as we entered the forest proper, birding started in earnest...

Very quickly, we were ticking off goodies like Honeyguide Greenbul, Speckled tinkerbird, Buff-throated Apalis, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, White-thighed Hornbill and African Shrike Flycatcher and, as we progressed further and further along the track, we enjoyed specials like Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Western Oriole, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Ituri Batis and Red-headed Malimbe. Mammals were also obvious and things like Geureza Colobus and Vervet and Blue Monkeys were all being enjoyed until Margaret exclaimed, “There’s a very big monkey up there!” and we all turned and found we were staring at our very first Common Chimpanzee! Suddenly, birding went right out the door and everyone was totally engrossed in these incredible animals – we spent what seemed like an eternity watching these animals cavort around in the tops of the trees and enjoying the sounds as they called to each other – just an incredible experience!

Eventually, we managed to pull ourselves away from them and began birding again adding species like Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Black-throated Apalis, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher, Olive-green Camaroptera, Uganda Woodland Warbler and Red-tailed Rufous Thrush amongst many others. A lunch time stop in the forest was a welcome chance to just sit down for a few minutes and relax, but the afternoon shift in the forest was no less rewarding adding species like Red-headed Bluebill, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Dusky Tit, Western Nicator and Lemon-bellied Crombec at a nest to our ever-growing list.

Heading out of the forest, there were still a few daylight minutes left, so we stopped off at a patch of farmland-type habitat and spent a short while working the area. Vincent, our local guide, and Livingstone managed to pull out even more goodies for us here and we added things like Brown Babbler, Marsh Tchagra, Bar-bellied Firefinch, Black-crowned Waxbill and incredible Brown Twinspot to our lists. Finally, it was time to make our way back to Masindi and head off to a delicious dinner at the hotel after a great day out.

The Royal Mile The Royal Mile
Birding along the Royal Mile Birding along the Royal Mile
Livingstone patrols the Royal Mile... ...while Victor listens intently for new birds.
This is as far as we can go along the Royal Mile... Cliff scratching around for some reptiles...
Suretha on the prowl... ...while Flick celebrates another lifer!
Alvin taking it all in... ...and Barrie can't wipe that smile off his face after the Chimps!
Birding in the farmlands Birding in the farmlands

31 December 2010

Up early on the last day of the year and, after breakfast, we began making our way towards Murchisan Falls National Park. Intermittent stops along the way had us bumping into Northern Black Flycatcher, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Blue-spotted Wood Dove and Violet Turaco and it wasn’t long before we were standing outside the gates of this well-known park.

Murchisan Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest national park measuring about 3 840 km2. The park lies in north western Uganda, spreading inland from the shore of Lake Albert around the Victoria Nile and takes its name from the Murchison Falls waterfall which, in turn, was named after Sir Roderick Murchison who was president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1851-1853.

After getting all the red tape of permits, etc. sorted out, we were soon heading into the park itself, first along a plateau with woodland and then down into a valley to get back into another part of the Budongo Forest which is actually inside the park. With all the recent rains, the dirt road down the valley had become more of a mudslide than anything else and it became a bit of an obstacle course to get down it and avoid the other vehicles that were stuck there. In fact, a large overland truck which was in front of us was so out of control in this mud that it literally slid sideways down the hill while everyone else just looked on in amazement...!

Eventually arriving at the offices from where we would set off on our walk, we met our local guide, Joyce, and then began our slow walk through the forest. Birding was a little tough, but after some hard work, we managed to collect a reasonable number of species in the forest including Pale-breasted and Puvel’s Illadopsis, Narina Trogon, White-throated Bee-eater, Slender-billed Greenbul, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Least Honeyguide, Little Green, Blue-throated Brown and Olive Sunbirds, Blue-throated Roller and Scarce Swift and Sabine’s Spinetails overhead. We also got brief looks at another Common Chimpanzee whilst Olive Baboon were regular and we were also quite excited to see a pair of Peter’s Duiker scrambling through the undergrowth.

After having lunch and some drinks back at the offices, we headed off to explore the rest of the park for the afternoon. Habitats changed to those typical of the African savannas and new trip species came thick and fast including Northern Black Tit, Short-winged Cisticola, Western Black-headed Batis, Sooty and White-fronted Black Chats and Yellow-billed Shrike. Mammals were also not in short supply with Common Warthog, African Buffalo and Ugandan Kob all quickly added to the list.

Next stop was at the falls themselves which were pretty impressive with large volumes of water bucketing through a narrow ravine. At the top of Murchison Falls, the Nile forces its way through a gap in the rocks, only 7 metres wide, and tumbles 43 metres before flowing westward into Lake Albert. Whilst enjoying the falls, distractions included African Fish Eagle and Osprey overhead whilst several small groups of Rock Pratincoles roosted on the rocks in the river. Nile Crocodiles were also on view (the first time we have ever seen a Nile Crocodile on the Nile River actually!) while gaudy Finch’s Agamas scuttled around at our feet. A short walk into the bush close to the parking area at the falls yielded Red-winged Grey Warbler, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Green Crombec, Beautiful Sunbird and Snowy-crowned Robin-chat amongst others.

Finally, it was time to head off and find our accommodation at the Red Chilli Restcamp (www.redchillihideaway.com/paraa.htm). This was undoubtedly the worst accommodation on the entire trip. Our chalets (if you can call them that) were extremely basic and, after a hot day in the sun with their steel roofs, were absolutely baking inside! Of course, leaving the doors open to try and get them to cool down invited half the world’s mosquitoes into them which didn’t make for a terribly peaceful night’s sleep. The dining area was a lovely large boma which was probably the nicest attraction of the whole place and, together with the tasty food, was actually a rather pleasant place to spend some time. However, the ablution facilities which were in a separate building and shared by the entire camp left a lot to be desired. A number of toilets didn’t work anymore (not that it stopped people actually using them!) and the showers didn’t look like they had ever been cleaned since they were first built. But, hey, we were in the famous Murchisan Falls National Park, so it was really only a minor irritation to contend with...!

Packing to leave for Murchisan Falls Entrance office at Murchisan Falls National Park
The sign says it all... ...as does this one.
Birding along the road... How not to drive down a muddy road...
Our local guide, Joyce Enjoying lunch after our forest walk
Murchisan Falls Murchisan Falls
Sign at Murchisan Falls Our group at Murchisan Falls
Trevor and Margaret at Murchisan Falls Alvin and Flick at Murchisan Falls
The sign says it all... Our chalet at Red Chilli Rest Camp
The luscious interiors... ...and the place of cleanliness

01 January 2011

The first day of the new year and, after breakfast, we headed off for a boat trip along the Nile River. After being introduced to our skipper, Nelson, we boarded and were soon on our way. New trip birds started coming thick and fast and we were soon ticking African Skimmer, Spur-winged Lapwing, Senegal Thick-knee, Collared Pratincole and several species of Kingfisher. Anticipation was already starting to building when suddenly Livingstone, who was standing at the front of the boat bellowed our “SHOEBILL!”. Our hearts stopped and, for a few frantic seconds when none of us could actually see the bird due to the tall reeds, there was complete pandemonium on board. We pulled up to the bank and all got out and into a viewing position to suddenly find ourselves face to face with one of the ultimate birds in the world, the King Whalehead. There was complete silence as we took it all in, most of us having dreamt of seeing this bird since childhood! From a birding perspective, the trip was now made and what a fantastic bird to get as the first lifer of 2011...

After saturating views, it was back on to the boat to continue our trip down the river, but we were all on such a high now that we could have quite happily gone back to the camp to celebrate! Nevertheless, the birds continued with African Snipe, Whiskered Tern, Swamp Flycatcher, Beadouin’s Snake Eagle, Grey-crowned Crane, Black-winged Bishop, Blue-breasted and Red-throated Bee-eaters and Red-necked Falcon being added to the growing list whilst the mammal numbers were boosted with the likes of Common Hippopotamus, Defassa Waterbuck and African Elephant and reptilian distractions included Water Monitor and an unidentified species of Philothamnus snake.

A short stop at the end of our route had us disembarking for a brief look around where we could see Blue-naped Mousebird, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Rattling Cisticola and, as we were leaving to make our way back again, Cliff managed to submerse himself in some seriously thick mud! Fortunately, he was wearing those pants where the bottom halves zip off, so he was able to remove these and wash them in the river as we moved along and, by the time we got back to the starting point, they were dry again!

Our afternoon activities involved crossing the river on a ferry and working the open savannas on the southern side of the river. Birding was fantastic and we connected with Black-billed Wood Dove, Silverbird, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Grey-backed Fiscal, Shelley’s Sparrow, Grasshopper Buzzard, Spotted Palm Thrush, Northern Red Bishop, Black-billed Barbet, Black-headed Lapwing and Eurasian Hoopoe while a Marsh Terrapin was the only new reptile we found. Mammal sightings were also incredible and, besides those species already mentioned, we also added Oribi, Banded and White-tailed Mongoose, Side-striped Jackal and Western Tree Hyrax.

We almost landed in a bit of trouble having to rush back and being a few minutes late for the return ferry, but Livingstone was able to charm the people and managed to get us back across. Back at the camp, we added another new mammal Yellow-winged Bat, right outside our chalet, which was a great end of a fantastic day.  

Nelson and the boat Livingstone and Nelson on the boat trip
The rest of us on the boat trip Photographing wildlife along the river
Habitat along the river Habitat along the river
Cliff finds the mud! Margaret, Cliff and Alvin after a successful boat trip
Margaret, Trevor, Flick and Alvin on the afternoon game drive Cliff and Barrie finding things on the game drive
Habitat along the game drive Habitat along the game drive
Habitat along the game drive Habitat along the game drive

02 January 2011

After an early breakfast, we spent a bit of time working the campsite and added species like Black-headed and Little Weavers, Grey-capped and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Northern Puffback and Silverbird whilst we were also lucky to see Bunyoro Rabbit. After packing the vehicle, we were soon on our way heading slowly out of the park and birding along the way. We managed to pick up a number of birds along the road and were happy to add Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Black-crowned Tchagra, Brown-rumped Bunting to the growing list. Other additions included African Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Nubian Woodpecker, Green-winged Pytilia, Black Scimitarbill and White-rumped Seedeater whilst a Striped Ground Squirrel was a welcome addition to the mammal list.

We continued along our route with the plan to eventually reach another part of Budongo Forest for some afternoon birding. Driving through some other degraded habitats, we continued to pick up new species with Yellow-throated Longclaw, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Northern Wheatear, Vitelline Masked Weaver and Black-faced Waxbill all being added to the list.

Arriving at Budongo Forest, we met up with Vincent again (who had been with us there a few days prior) and headed off along the track into the forest. Collared Sunbird, Plain Greenbul, Sooty Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker and Crested Guineafowl were seen along with a number of other species previously encountered in the forest and we also had some great looks at a troop of Red-tailed Monkeys. From here, we headed back to the Masindi Hotel where we spent the night.

Habitat between Murchisan Falls and Budongo Forest Budongo Forest
Margaret on the look out... Barrie's spotted something...
Suretha's also spotted something... It's all too much for Cliff...

03 January 2011

Today was going to be a long day of driving as we had to get all the way across to Kibale. Leaving our hotel fairly early, we started the commute and early roadside birding along the way produced great Blue Turaco, Meyer’s parrot, Crowned Hornbill, Splendid Starling, Brown-backed Scrub Robin, Tambourine Dove and Orange-breasted Bush-shrike whilst another stop had us enjoying Heuglin’s Francolin, Common Nightingale, Red-headed Lovebird, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Veiellot’s Black and Compact Weavers and Variable Sunbird.

A stop at a roadside Papyrus swamp got us great looks at the secretive Papyrus Gonolek whilst White-winged Warbler and Northern Brown-throated Weavers were also welcome additions and we were all surprised by a single Spotted-necked Otter which just appeared out of nowhere. A stop near Fort Paulsen late in the day gave us Dusky Tit, Dark-backed Weaver, Petit’s Cuckooshrike and Cassin’s Grey Flycatcher while a small troop of Ugandan Red Colobus were yet another primate to be added to the growing mammal list.

Turning off the main tar road near Fort Paulsen on to a gravel road for the last stretch to Kibale, we were quite happy to hear that we only had about another hour to get to our accommodation. Little did we know that about 20 minutes down the road, we would come across a truck that had slid across the road and was stuck and, obviously, blocking any possible route through as there was thick forest on either side of the road. Much digging and pushing and pulling and all sorts of other things from the gathered crowd had the truck moved into a position on the road where one could actually pass it within a hour and a half. Great, we were on our way again! Not 5 minutes down the road and even closer to our accommodation, the traffic suddenly stopped again. A huge tree (and I do mean huge!) and fallen across the road and was, once again, blocking all traffic! Many phone calls to locals to try and find someone with a chainsaw ensued and, after what seemed like an eternity, one of the forest rangers arrived with a chain saw to begin cutting up the tree. This took forever and, after a wait of some 3,5 hours after we reached the fallen tree, we were eventually on our way again. We arrived at our accommodation at Kibale Forest Camp (www.naturelodges.biz/index.php/kibale-forest-camp1/about/) close to 1am and were then dished a huge 4 course meal! And, finally, at about 2am, we finally saw our beds after what was an incredibly eventful and long day!

Our tent at Kibale Forest Camp The name of our tent...
Inside our tent... Inside our tent...
The lounge / dining area at Kibale Forest Camp The lounge / dining area at Kibale Forest Camp

04 January 2011

Today was an exciting day for us as we were scheduled for Chimpanzee tracking this morning. After breakfast, we travelled the short distance to where our tracking would start from (picking up a stunning Shining Blue Kingfisher along the way) and were introduced to our guides, Jarred and Bosco, who would be taking us into the forest and then also given a briefing. Early birds in the forest included Purple-headed Starling, Green Hylia and Narina Trogon, but our concentration was actually on finding the Common Chimpanzees. It didn’t take too long to track down a group and we spent the next incredible hour or so with these animals as they cavorted up in the trees and called to each other. We even had one male come down to the ground and sit out in the open carrying on with his various daily activities totally unperturbed by us as we stood a mere couple of metres away from him. It was simply incredible and one of the highlights of the trip!

We then moved into another part of the forest where we spent time in the territory of a Green-breasted Pitta. This was one of our most wanted birds, but the time of year was about as wrong as one could possibly get, so despite a lot of time searching for this bird, we came away empty-handed. Other distractions included Yellow-spotted Barbet, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Elliot’s Woodpecker and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher. It was then back to Kibale Forest Camp for lunch and a bit of a break during which we managed to find Southern Tree Agama and Multi-scaled Forest Lizard…

The afternoon was spent birding along the road back to where the fallen tree had cut us off the evening before. Long-crested Eagle, African Pied Hornbill, Petit’s Cuckooshrike and Black-billed Turaco were all enjoyed along the road as were good sightings of Guereza Colobus, Olive Baboon, Ugandan Red Colobus and Red-tailed and L’Hoest’s Monkeys. New reptiles for the trip included Speckle-lipped Skink and Four-lined Forest Gecko. We waited out in the forest until dark and then slowly made our way back to camp with African Wood Owl and Black-shouldered Nightjar both heard calling (despite trying very hard to see them!) and great views of cracking little Demidoff’s Galagos.

Our Chimp tracking guides, Jarred and Bosco Livingstone is happy that we got the Chimps
Suretha attempts to move the fallen tree... ...as Livingstone manouvres around it.
Habitat along the road Trevor, Barrie, Alvin and Cliff in deep discussion
Alvin hasn't spotted the Olive Baboons yet... Barrie, Trevor and Cliff looking for reptiles

05 January 2011

Up early this morning and, after breakfast, we headed off for some more birding around Kibale. We met up with our local guide for the morning, Alex, and then entered Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary where we worked our way along a track which passed through some forest, open woodland and wetland areas. Mackinnon’s Fiscal, African Green Pigeon, Bronzy Sunbird, Black-and-white Flycatcher, African Thrush and Little Greenbul were all added early on and, as we moved further along the walk, additional species included African Shrike Flycatcher, Copper Sunbird, Green Crombec, Joyful Greenbul, Hairy-breasted Barbet and Black-and-white Mannikin. Some time was spent working on getting views of White-spotted Flufftail again and, eventually, everyone had cracking views of the bird although photos were impossible! The remainder of the walk added Marsh Tchagra, Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Great Blue and Ross’s Turacos and Grey Parrot as well as a small troop of Grey-cheeked Mangabeys before the heavens opened and we had to make a dash for the car.

It was finally time to leave Kibale and we began on our journey towards Queen Elizabeth National Park. The drive across to the park didn’t really yield anything terribly exciting although the odd distraction included Crested Guineafowl, Yellow-billed Kite, Yellow-billed Stork, Mosque Swallow and Western Citril. The biggest distraction of the trip was crossing the equator along the way and naturally, we took the time to stop off and do the "tourist thing" having plenty of photos taken just to prove that we were there!

Arriving at the park in the afternoon, our trip through to our accommodation immediately produced some new species for the trip which included Montagu’s Harrier, Croaking and Stout Cisticolas, Moustached Grass Warbler, Black-lored Babbler and Grey-backed Fiscal while there were also quite a few mammals around again including African Elephant, Common Warthog, Defassa Waterbuck and Ugandan Kob. We booked ourselves into the Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge (www.naturelodges.biz/index.php/queen-elizabeth-bush-lodge1/about/) looking forward to tomorrow where we would start to explore the park in earnest.

The sign says it all... Our local guide, Alex
Habitat at Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary Habitat at Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary
Heading out en route to Queen Elizabeth National Park... Typical scenery along the way
Typical scenery along the way Typical scenery along the way
Friendly locals along the way... ...and some not so friendly ones.
The equator in all its splendour... Cliff and Suretha setting up for a group photo
Margaret and Trevor at the equator Barrie at the equator
Flick and Alvin at the equator Cliff and Suretha at the equator
Our tent at the QENP Bush Lodge The view from our tent
Inside our tent... ...and yet another longdrop and bucket of sand.

06 January 2011

Named after Queen Elizabeth ll, the Queen Elizabeth National Park was established in 1954 and is about 1 978km2 in extent. It is regarded as Uganda's most visited reserve and extends from Lake George in the north-east down to Lake Edward in the south-west.

We started the day out in the open savannas of the park and were soon seeing a number of common species associated with this habitat. Black-headed Gonolek, White-browed Robin-chat, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Red-necked Spurfowl and Red-chested Sunbird were all seen early on whilst we also enjoyed Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks, Blue-naped Mousebird, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Winding Cisticola. This type of habitat always delivers higher numbers of species so we continued to add things like Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Pallid Harrier, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Lesser Masked Weaver and Red-billed Firefinch whilst overhead, White-backed, White-headed, Hooded and Palm-nut Vultures soared lazily by.

Naturally, there were many mammals around as well with Lion and African Buffalo being the highlights of the morning. Black-chinned Quailfinch, Northern Black Flycatcher, Bateleur and Black-breasted Snake Eagle were also added before we headed back for lunch at the camp and then prepared for our afternoon boat trip on the Kazinga Channel.

The boat trip was pretty incredible providing huge numbers of African Skimmers and Gull-billed Terns along with close ups of Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks. Waders were also well represented and we collected Spur-winged Lapwing, Kittlitz’s and Common Ringed Plovers, Little Stint, Common Greenshank and Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers along the way. The absolute highlight of the trip though was a huge Giant Forest Hog stood on the banks watching us pass by, an animal that we all really wanted to see.

A slow drive back to the camp after dark added Square-tailed and Long-tailed Nightjars, Water Thick-knee, Scrub Hare and Bunyoro Rabbit again to our list – yet another successful day!

Habitat in the park/span> Habitat in the park
Barrie and Cliff have spotted something... ...and Alvin gets on to it too
Livingstone and Trevor taking a time out Lunchtime
View of the Kazinga Channel Waiting for the boat
Alvin watches as Cliff, Trevor and Barrie take photos The boat
Taking it all in... So many things to look at and photograph
Locals along the Kazinga Channel Locals along the Kazinga Channel
Friendly locals along the Kazinga Channel Friendly locals along the Kazinga Channel

07 January 2011

We started the day out in the park again working our way through the Ishasha section of the park most famous for its tree climbing Lions. Early sightings included Tambourine Dove, African Yellow White-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crowned and African Grey Hornbills, Pink-backed Pelican, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. Most of the usual mammals were also encountered whilst other good birds included Madagascar Cuckoo, White-crowned Helmet-shrike, Spot-flanked Barbet, Sooty chat and Yellow-throated Longclaw.

As we moved through the open savanna of the Ishasha section, we started encountering more and more Topi and eventually, we also managed to find a Lioness up in a tree although she didn’t stay there for too long after she had spotted us. Birding continued in earnest with new species like Temminck’s Courser, Kurrichance Button-quail, White-winged Widowbird, Red-breasted Swallow and several species of Bee-eater being added to the list before we settled down for lunch along the banks of a river bordering the DRC.

After lunch, we began the long drive through to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, not picking up anything terribly exciting along the way and arrived after dark at our accommodation, the Buhoma Community Rest Camp (www.buhomacommunity.com/acc.php).

Habitat in the park/span> Habitat in the park
The sign says it all... Habitat in Ishasha
Travelling through Ishasha Margaret photographing Topis
Lunch stop Lunch stop
The sign says it all... View from our tent at Buhoma
Barrie and Trevor in front of our tent at Buhoma Inside our tent

08 January 2011

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in south-western Uganda. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and is situated along the Democratic Republic of Congo border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the western Great Rift Valley. It comprises 331 km2 of both montane and lowland forest and is considered to be one of the richest ecosystems in Africa.

Today was one of the days that the entire trip had been planned around – our day spent tracking Gorillas! Unfortunately, our whole group had not been able to get into a single tracking group, so we had to be split up into 2 groups, one of 3 and the other of 4. The group of 3 would track in the Buhoma area and the other group would track in the Ruhija area. In theory, the Buhoma tracking would be slightly easier, so the younger ones in the group (Cliff, Suretha, Margaret and Trevor) opted to go to Ruhija and left Barrie, Alvin and Flick to track at Buhoma (As it turns out, the Ruhija tracking ended up being a lot shorter, so perhaps it was the wrong choice to do it this way around, but we were just working on what we were told).

So, after a very early breakfast, Trevor, Margaret, Cliff, Suretha and Livingstone left for the 2,5 hour drive to Ruhija (only 42km away on some seriously bad roads!) and, after eventually arriving there, we were introduced to our guide for the day, Benson. We also hired porters for the day (and, only later, realized how happy we were for actually doing this!) who would carry all of our equipment on the walk. After an initial briefing where we were told what would be happening and how close we could get, etc., we set about starting to walk.

Now, we knew we were unfit, but this walk certainly proved that without a shadow of a doubt! Up and down incredibly steep mountainsides and through thick forest tangles (It's not called the Impenetrable Forest for nothing!!) and quite a hefty pace made it incredibly hard work and, at times, one wondered if it was actually all worth it. Heavy breathing, streams of perspiration, aching legs, should we stop and just give up…and then suddenly a message to Benson, our guide, over his radio – the trackers had located the Gorillas not far from where we currently were. Within no time at all, we were standing next to the trackers and they pointed down an incredibly steep mountain slope to where the Gorillas were. But we couldn’t see them at all! So, slipping and sliding, we made our way down the mountain slope (in the back of our minds wondering how we were ever going to make it back up again!!) until suddenly, right in front of us, a huge male Silverback was sitting up in a tree breaking off and chewing on shoots. Suddenly, all the pain and lethargy was gone! Here we were about 4m away from one of the most incredible animals on earth – a dream come true!

We spent the next hour moving around with this family of Gorillas and even being mock charged by a young Blackback which caused the adrenaline levels to rise just a bit! They were quite happy for us to be there going about their everyday business of feeding and farting as if no-one was around. One cannot really put into words the experience of being so close to these gentle giants and to have a huge Silverback standing up and looking you straight in the eye not 3 metres away was an experience that will stay with us forever!

Unfortunately, we eventually had to leave them and start making our way back. This was sad in two parts, one because we were leaving the Gorillas and, two, because it meant we had to suffer again for a couple of hours of hard walking! We took a different route back which was incredibly tough and, at points, I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it all the way! Benson took it in his stride and kept egging us all on as we climbed up these 60 deg slopes, legs aching beyond belief! But, by some miracle, we eventually made it back to the road…

After just sitting there for a little while trying to catch our breath and take the pressure of our tired legs, we eventually managed to stand up again and did a little bit of birding along the road. Birding had taken a bit of a back seat today, but we hadn’t actually encountered that much anyway. Highlights of the day included Tullberg’s Woodpecker, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Regal, Northern Double-collared and Variable Sunbirds, Mountain Masked and Chestnut-throated Apalises, Dwarf Honeyguide, Red-faced Woodland Warbler and Stuhlmann’s and Narrow-tailed Starlings whilst Jackson’s Forest Lizard was a great new reptile for us as well.

Back in the Landcruiser, we drove the 2,5 hours back to Buhoma (what a relief to be able to sit for so long and just relax!) arriving back there at about 5pm to see the other group only arriving back from their walk then! They had had to walk much further than anticipated to get to their Gorilla family and were pretty shattered as well. But, after a great shower, dinner was a celebratory affair where we all shared stories of our experiences and enjoyed one of the biggest mammal ticks in the world now under our belts.

Habitat to search for Gorillas in Habitat to search for Gorillas in
Excitement along the way... We're getting close now...
Margaret photographing Gorillas Cliff, Trevor and Margaret photographing Gorillas
The long hike back through impenetrable tangles... ...but Margaret still manages to raise a smile!

09 January 2011

Today would be spent walking along a track at Buhoma the whole day birding along the way. Distractions started at breakfast already when a Forest Vine Snake was in the tree right in front of the dining area and had a whole lot of birds pretty upset by its presence – Petit’s Cuckooshrikes, Brown-throated Wattle-eyes, Black-necked Weavers, White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds were all going crazy around it.

Slow walking along the track turned up a number of new species and we enjoyed the likes of Pink-footed Puffback, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Baglafecht Weaver, Thick-billed Seedeater and Sooty Flycatcher whilst a small troop of L’Hoest’s Monkeys were also a welcome distraction early on. Further investigation revealed Grey-throated Barbet, Blue Malkoha, Grey Apalis, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler and African Broadbill whilst a whole host of Greenbuls were encountered as well – Yellow-whiskered, Plain, Red-tailed and Shelley’s to mention a few.

A lunch stop about halfway and then we slowly worked our way back along the track. Interesting birds kept being found and the afternoon’s highlights included Black Bee-eater, Least Honeyguide, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Mountain Illadopsis, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo and Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher. More Greenbuls followed with Ansorge’s, Slender-billed and Cabanis’s all being added. A Common Chimpanzee crossing the track in front of us a couple of times certainly lifted the spirits whilst birds like Bar-tailed Trogon, Mountain Oriole, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher and Red-throated Alethe were all enjoyed with much enthusiasm.

Finally, back at our accommodation, it was time to sit back, relax and enjoy our last evening there.

Dining area at Buhoma Community Rest Camp View from the dining area
Alvin spots another goodie... ...while Livingstone helps Flick get on to it as well

10 January 2011

Breakfast with Black and African Emerald Cuckoos calling all around us and then it was time to pack up and head out on our way to Ruhija. Naturally, we also had to spend a bit of time shopping for curios and we ended up giving up quite a bit of time wandering through all the local shops trying to find things to memorialise our gorilla experience. Eventually, we were able to pull everybody out of the shops and into the vehicle so that we could start our trip to Ruhija.

We made a number of stops en route in various habitats. In areas of slightly degraded habitat, we found things like Golden-breasted Bunting, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Mackinnon’s and Common Fiscals, Brimstone Canary, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Snowy-crowned Robin-chat. Driving between patches of forest, raptors were never far away either and we collected Augur Buzzard, African Goshawk and Long-crested Eagle along the way.

Forest stops had us picking up Brown-capped Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, Dusky Tit and Yellow-crowned Woodpecker whilst a break at a small river crossing gave us Cassin’s Flycatcher, Green-headed and Blue-throated Brown Sunbirds and Grey Cuckooshrike. Lunch in the forest was a short-lived affair with distractions like Lühder's Bushshrike and Dusky Crimsonwing really throwing spanners in the works. We continued to climb in altitude with raptors like Eurasian Honey Buzzard and African Hobby being seen whilst things like Streaky Seedeater, Western Citril and Chubb’s Cisticola were also all added to our growing list.

We arrived mid afternoon at our accommodation, Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge (www.gorillasafari.travel/), where we noticed that the accommodation we had been booked into was a little on the rustic side… Sensing a cold night ahead and having the urge for a little more luxury for a change, Trevor and Margaret as well as Alvin and Flick upgraded to the more expensive accommodation which was great. Nice and warm with its own en-suite (as opposed to shared and very limited ablution facilities in the other accommodation), it cost a lot extra, but was certainly worth it…

With a bit of daylight still left, we headed out and spent just over an hour birding where we added Mountain Masked Apalis, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler, Blue-headed Sunbird, Stripe-breasted Tit and Ruwenzori and Chinspot Batises before heading back to a dinner and a good sleep.

Shopping for curios Lunch stop in the forest
Habitat along the way Habitat along the way
Birding along the road Flick and Alvin discussing their latest lifer
Barrie on the prowl... Margaret with a camera over each shoulder...
Degraded habitat along the way Degraded habitat along the way
Degraded habitat along the way Friendly locals along the way
View from Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge Dining area at the lodge
Our original room... Our upgraded room...

11 January 2011

Today we would spend on a long walk down to Mubwindi Swamp – as it turned out, it would be a very similar walk to what we had done a few days prior for the Gorillas. In fact, we even got the same local guide, Benson, to go with us. Fortunately, this walk was done at a MUCH slower pace as we were birding all along the way, so it was not as much of a killer…

The earlier part of the walk produced some interesting species including Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, African Olive Pigeon, Ruwenzori Apalis, Mountain Yellow Warbler, White-starred Robin, Grauer’s Warbler and Strange Weaver whilst mammal distractions included Blue Monkey and Alexander’s Bush and Carruther’s Mountain Squirrels. We were also fortunate to find a Kisolo Toad crossing the pathway quite early on in the walk and the guide and porters that were with us were quite taken aback in our interest in anything that wasn’t a bird or a Gorilla…!!

As we made our way lower and lower into the valley, we found ourselves in the prime area for African Green Broadbill, but unfortunately, we were here at possibly the worst time of year for this species and despite some intensive searching, we were not able to find one. We had to be satisfied with the likes of Black-faced Prinia, Olive-breasted Greenbul, African Dusky Flycatcher and Chubb’s Cisticola.

Eventually reaching the swamp, we immediately set about trying to find our prime target here, Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, which didn’t take too long to locate. The swamp also had calling Red-chested Flufftails whilst Carruther’s Cisticola showed well and, right in the middle of the swamp, a lone Bushbuck stood sentinel. Around the edge of the swamp, we also stumbled across a Kivu Tree Frog, a fantastic looking thing.

After lunch in the forest, we started the long hike back up the mountain which was very slow. Distractions along the way included Augur Buzzard, Waller’s Starling, Narina Trogon, Black-billed Turaco and Chestnut-throated Apalis whilst, near the end of our hike, we spent quite a bit of time before eventually getting half decent views of a Archer’s Robin-chat. A Handsome Francolin along the road on the way back was another welcome addition and, a short stint of driving and spotlighting after dark turned up some reasonable views of Spectacled Galagos.

The sign says it all... Our local guide, Benson

12 January 2011

After a fairly relaxed breakfast, we packed up and started heading out on our way. Along the road, we were very lucky to encounter a Black-fronted Duiker crossing the road, a rather shy and not often encountered species. After this excitement, we also had a small covey of Handsome Francolins providing much better views than yesterday. So, the day had started off well…

A couple of stops along the road in the forest produced some more great birding and we enjoyed Yellow-crowned Canary, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Black-headed and Yellow-bellied Waxbills, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, White-browed Crombec, Mountain Buzzard, Mountain Thrush and Northern Puffback whilst a Tree Pipit walking along the road in the forest also had us a bit confused at first. A quick coffee stop a bit further on had us enjoying a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk which had just caught a Bee-eater and was sitting on a branch not far from the road enjoying its meal.

It was then time to hit the road and make the drive down to Lake Mburo National Park. A couple of stops en route added African Stonechat, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Slender-billed Weaver and Grey Crowned Crane to our lists and, before too long, we were entering the park.

Immediately, we were encountering lots of mammals again with Burchell’s Zebra, Common Impala, Common Warthog and Common Eland all being enjoyed. As we drove slowly towards our accommodation and waited for it to get totally dark, we were still able to pick up Red-necked Spurfowl, Grey-backed Fiscal and Bare-faced Go-away-bird and, after dark, we added Verreaux’s Eagle and African Scops Owls as well as Swamp and Freckled Nightjars.

We eventually arrived at our accommodation in the park, the Mantana Tented Camp (www.kimbla-mantanauganda.com/index_Page344.htm), and settled in for a great dinner and a good sleep. As it turned out, this was our favourite accommodation on the entire trip and it was great that it had been left for last...

Our accommodation at Mantana Tented Camp Inside our tent
The shower in our tent We even had a flushing toilet!
The lounge area The dining area

13 January 2011

Today was spent exploring Lake Mburo National Park. At only 260km2 in size, it is one of Uganda's smallest parks, but still has a lot of interest to offer. After an early breakfast, we made our way down to the lake where we would be going on a boat trip first. Even on the short drive down to the lake, we were already picking up things like White-browed Coucal, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Striped and Woodland Kingfishers, Long-tailed Cisticola, Western Black-headed Batis and Meyer’s Parrot.

Our boat trip produced some great birding with close up views of White-backed Night, Black-crowned Night, Squacco and Green-backed Herons, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, African Jacana, African Finfoot, Long-toed Lapwing and even a Thick-billed Cuckoo, one that caused some excitement with Livingstone as apparently, it is a very unusual bird in this part of the world. Common Hippopotamus was everywhere and there were also good numbers of Nile Crocodiles to watch out for as well.

After a good lunch, we headed back out to investigate the savanna areas of the park with the main target being Red-faced Barbet which we eventually managed to find. Other interesting species encountered in the afternoon included Violet-backed Starling, White-winged Tit, Red-headed Lovebird, Flappet Lark, Common Scimitarbill and Crested Francolin whilst we also enjoyed views of Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Broad-billed Roller, Brubru, Blue-naped Mousebird, Ruppell’s Starling and Green-capped Eremomela. We also had great views of Dwarf Mongoose whilst most of the other usual mammals were also present in good numbers too.

Back at the camp, we were regularly disturbed during dinner with the likes of Bushpig and Yellow-winged Bat all showing very well.

Preparing for another day out in the field Breakfast time...
Boat trip on Lake Mburo Boat trip on Lake Mburo
Habitat at Lake Mburo Habitat at Lake Mburo

14 January 2011

Our last full day in Uganda – after breakfast, we packed up and started heading out of the park. Most of the same species as before were encountered including Lilac-breasted Roller, Red-breasted Swallow, White-headed Sawwing, African Wattled and Senegal Lapwings, Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks and Greater Honeyguide. Topi and Bohor Reedbuck were the best mammals of the morning whilst other bird species included Black-headed Gonolek, Little Bee-eater, Lesser Blue-eared Starling and Red-cheeked Cordonbleu.

Then it was time to start the long drive back to Entebbe. Most of the rest of the day was spent in the car travelling with a Western Banded Snake Eagle that had caught a snake becoming a nice distraction and a short stop near Entebbe to pick up our last lifer of the trip, Weyns’s Weaver being the most notable.

Apart from the colourful food markets with their netaly stacked piles of fruit and vegetables along the way and the large herds of Ankoni Long-horned Cattle, there wasn't too much else of interest to highlight.

We eventually arrived in Entebbe late in the afternoon and booked into our accommodation at the Boma Hotel (www.boma.co.ug) and then said our good-byes to Livingstone and settled down for our last dinner and evening in Uganda.

Up early the next morning, we were taken across to the airport to start the long process of flying back to Cape Town.

Food markets Ankoni Long-horned Cattle


One could possibly be disappointed if you looked at the things that we missed along the way, but you always miss things on trips, so this was not really an issue for us. This trip really surpassed all our expectations and coming back with a bird list of over 550 species as well as more than 50 species of mammals, we had absolutely no reason to complain about anything. It was simply an incredible trip and we cannot wait to start planning a return visit! Please click on the link below to see our full trip list as well as links to photos of many of them.

Link to full list of species recorded on the trip