Uganda is a beautiful bird watcher’s paradise. According to the birduganda website, there are over 1,061 recorded bird species in the country, which is an amazing number.
Mabamba Bay and wetland is one of the best places to enjoy viewing over 200 species of Uganda’s birdlife. It is a vast swamp located on the edge of Lake Victoria, just north (about 40 km) of Entebbe. Because of the presence of key species such as the Shoebill Stork, papyrus warbler and the Sitatunga (which is an aquatic antelope) among many others, the swamp is a designated Ramsar Wetland Site of international importance to ensure the conservation, safeguarding and sustainable use of the wetland and the flora and fauna found there.
Mabamba Bay derives its name from the heavy presence of lungfish in the wetland. “Mabamba” is Luganda for lungfish.
It is also the best place to spot the very shy Shoebill Stork. The papyrus and long spear grass are the perfect hideaway for this bird that is so hard to spot, as well as the abundant lungfish which it loves to feed on. Known as “BBulwe” locally, this fascinating bird is not the most beautiful creature in the world but it has its attractions. It has a huge bill (see image below) hence its name. It can grow to up to five feet tall, breed once every five years and it can stand and stare for very very long, which comes in handy when aiming for their prey. How’s that for patience?
The Mabamba wetland is also home to other species. We spotted yellow billed ducks, purple herons, long tailed lapwings, one palm nut vulture, blue crested bee eaters, lots of egrets and cormorants, pied kingfisher and malachite kingfishers, African marsh harriers, common wood sandpiper, swamp fly catcher, weaver birds, winding cisticola, swallows and African jacana. We were also lucky to spot an otter or two and hear a monitor lizard moving around.
Did you know the African Jacana bird is also called ” The Jesus bird” because it can walk on water?
Some of the flora found there is the long spear grass, papyrus, water cabbage, ferns, and water lilies.
Mabamba Bay is accessible from both Kampala (by road) and Entebbe by boat. We drove from Kampala and the road was not so bad, though it had rained earlier that morning. You can access the bay without a 4X4 vehicle, the road is not tarmacked all the way but is navigable. Use your Google maps as there aren’t many signposts along the way so you might miss it if you’re driving yourself.
Our outing was a perfect coincidence as my daughter is currently learning about different habitats and life systems in her science class, so it was so much more informative for her to see and experience the wetland up close.
What do you need to get there? If on a day trip, carry sandwiches or a cold lunch, snacks, lots of water and fruit. The boat ride is about two hours long and you can carry some snacks on board. You can also decide to book a night in a nearby hotel and set off to the bay in the early morning which is the best time to sight the birds as they hunt/ feed.
Carry a large brimmed hat, as the sun can get glaring, put on sunscreen and sunglasses and please do not forget your binoculars. The guides are knowledgeable and take their time to point out the flora and fauna, let you take pictures at your pace, and also answered the kids. I always like taking note of that.
They had sanitisers and wore masks, so Covid 19 safety protocols are maintained. However, the sanitation situation (the toilets) are pathetic. Really Really bad, that is something that should be worked on.
I didn’t take many photos as I was too busying enjoying spotting and watching the birds. It was amazing sitting silently watching the birds up close in all their colourful wonder. This is definitely in the top 10 of the things to do in Uganda.
I really enjoyed my day there, and the kids did too. It is always amazing to watch nature in its element; the beauty, the variety and how species adapt to their habitat.