Kazinga Channel, Uganda: a birding paradise!

Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is home to over 90 mammal species and has a bird list of 612 species, a must-visit destination on any visiting birder's list.

It felt as though we were seeing most of the park's birds in one place as we took a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel. The channel is a natural formation around 20 miles long connecting two freshwater lakes, Lake George to the east and Lake Edward to the west. The shores of the channel offer a variety of habitats, each appealing to different species of bird (and mammal, this area apparently hosting the largest populations of hippo in the world!). There are steep exposed cliffs providing nesting sites for kingfishers, reedy edges and grasses where jacanas and egrets lurk, and muddy shallows providing the perfect habitat for hundreds of waders.

We jumped aboard our private boat and headed across the channel, first stop by a handsome elephant drinking in the shallows. We soaked up the views as he soaked up the water in his trunk before drinking some and showering with the rest.

We headed to an area of sandy beach and shallow water, the bank churned up by a herd of African buffalo taking a cooling mudbath. This area was wader heaven. We had wonderful views of so many waders, different species feeding side by side providing a perfect opportunity for comparison, and all seen in fantastic light.

Some species were a familar sight from home: Greenshank, Common Ringed Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, and Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, a good bird to catch up with here. Others, such as Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, are regular UK visitors but we don't normally get the chance to see them quite so well or in such good light. In the mix were also species such as Kittlitz's Plover and Marsh Sandpiper.

It was hard to tear ourselves away but there was plenty more to see. Further along the channel, the shore was black-white-and-orange as it was covered with African Skimmers, with a few Gull-billed Terns mixed in amongst them. A wave of these elegant skimmers lifted off and flew all around us, and we all tried to get the ultimate skimmer photo, an action shot of a bird flying low with its extended lower mandible scything through the water before snapping its bill shut on contact with prey in the water.

African Skimmer sandbank[br

African Skimmer

Plenty of blurry photos later we motored to a different section of the lake, close to where a small community lived within the park and made a living from fishing. Clearly this was the fishing section of the lake, as here we found an impressive collection of storks and pelicans gathered together here too. Pink-backed Pelicans stood next to Marabou Storks, while Saddle-billed Storks strutted in the shallows alongside Great and Little Egrets, and White-bellied Cormorants gululated in the afternoon sun.

Yellow-billed Stork

Nearby, flocks of gulls gathered, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Grey-hooded Gulls, providing plenty of material for discussion about potential sub-species amongst the gull-lovers in the group.

The sun started to lower, casting a golden glow over the water. All too soon it was time to turn around and head back to the hotel for a quick supper and then a night drive to look for nightjars.

With a stunning jewel of a Malachite Kingfisher one of the last birds we saw from the boat, we ended our wonderful Channel ride having seen a staggering 73 species in just two hours!

What a fantastic afternoon, and it was really hard to say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth National Park, but more exciting birds and mammals in Uganda await.

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