Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus)

The Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus) is a river kingfisher which is widely distributed in Africa south of the Sahara. It is largely resident except for seasonal climate-related movements.  This little beauty is only around 5 inches or 13 cm long so they can only eat small fish or insects.

They have a large range across central and southern Africa so your odds of seeing one is good.  They may be small but their brilliant colours make them stand out.  I have personally seen them in Mabamba Swamp, Uganda; South Luangwa, Zambia and Kruger NP, South Africa.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MALACHITE KINGFISHERS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

The Guardian

VIDEOS

Malachite kingfishers perched and looking for fish.

 

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

The Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) also known as whalehead or shoe-billed stork, is a very large stork-like bird. It derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill.

They are found in East/Central Africa.  One of the best places to see them is Mabamba Swamp in Uganda where there is a whole day trip dedicated to them with a high rate of successful sightings.

LEARN MORE ABOUT SHOEBILL STORKS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Audubon

Africa Geographic

VIDEOS

OMG, the look on this guy’s face!

 

The Shoebill Safari Experience

Lunchtime!

Mabamba Shoebill Safari

One of the highlights for anyone visiting Entebbe (even before or after a gorilla safari) is the canoe ride through Mabamba Swamp to see the prehistoric looking Shoebill Stork.  I booked with Mabamba Shoebill Tours based in the Sunset Hotel in Entebbe on Church Road which was just down the road from Lake Heights Hotel.  The manager, Olive was very friendly and helpful as were all her staff.  It’s great how they involve the local community, eco-tourism in action!  The price was very reasonable at $150 for both of us.

The driver picked us up early and we drove through the town to the boat dock.

My husband Ina, the driver and Vincent the guide

Red-eyed Dove near the dock

Fishermen at work

Bird making use of floating junk as a fishing launch!

Entering the Mabamba Swamp

Vincent on the lookout for Shoebills

Beautiful Malachite Kingfisher Weaverbirds

At last we spot our target bird, the amazing Shoebill Stork!

The Shoebill flew away and we tried to follow but the water was too low and we ran aground.  I was nervous until they pushed us free and headed back to the main waterway.

US Air Force plane flying overhead as we head back to shore.  I have no idea why it was there, I didn’t even know what it was until I got the pic uploaded!

Hotel Review: Lake Heights, Entebbe

I had some special criteria when choosing the accommodation for our 2 night stay in Entebbe.  I wanted a nice birdy location and I wanted it to feel African.  Finally, it had to be bookable through the Flying Bue/Pointshound portal so I could get 10,000 miles bonus!  After doing some searches, I found the Lake Heights Hotel in Entebbe.  As an added bonus, people on eBIrd had reported seeing African Grey Parrots fly over!

I had emailed them ahead of time and their driver was waiting for us at the airport.  He led us out to the minibus and it was about 8 minutes to the hotel.

Security is tight and we felt very safe there.

The grounds are beautiful…………….

………..the staff very friendly……………………..

…………………and the room was awesome!

The decor was simple but elegant.

The bathroom was spacious and very clean.

The pool was beautiful albeit somewhat too cold to swim (April) but still a nice place to hang out.

There’s a roof top bar and you can also have them bring food up from the restaurant below.

From the rooftop, the view gets even better!

We did see a few birds but we also were out most of the day so not much time to bird the grounds.

The breakfast buffet had a lot of choices for both African and Western palates.

The last night there was a BBQ with delicious roast meats and live entertainment.

On top of all that, the wifi was very strong and they were nice about letting us use the facilities up to 11pm (after the BBQ) when we had to go to the airport in their shuttle for a 3am flight.  I really loved this place and would definitely stay there again if we returned to Entebbe!

Flight Review: Dubai-Entebbe On Kenya Airways

Kenya Airways is one of the most interesting airlines of Sky Team for its vast African network.  I used 20,000 Flying Blue miles each for our routes Dubai-Nairobi-Entebbe in economy.

Since we would have a full day of activities in Dubai, I figured we would be exhausted enough to get some sleep on the Dubai-Nairobi leg and I was right.  LOL, I’m a ghost of myself in this shot as we waited to board!

A few quick snaps of business class as we walked to our seats which were in the 3rd row of economy.

I wasn’t hungry but my husband ate the meal.  I was asleep pretty quickly.

I woke as we made final approach to Nairobi.

We had a few hours to kill so I walked around the shops but didn’t buy anything as I knew I would get better deals in the markets. 

My husband snagged an amenity kit as we disembarked and was now showing it off.  These are more his colours than mine so I let him keep it.  The socks are cute, maybe I’ll confiscate those!

Time to board the next flight to Entebbe.  This was a short flight, around an hour or so and the economy seat was fine.  I wouldn’t use miles on business unless it was long haul and a lie-flat seat.

Arriving in Entebbe, we had our visas printed out and $50 each ready to go, everything went smoothly.  I was pleased to see they take conservation seriously in Uganda!

Proudly displaying the national bird of Uganda, the Crested Crane in the arrival hall.

A little Weaverbird was the first bird to welcome us to Uganda. And now let the Godmother of All African Adventures begin!

50 Percent Discount On KrisFlyer Miles For Silk Air Flights

From 12 June to 11 July 2017, enjoy a 50% discount when you redeem your KrisFlyer miles online for a SilkAir flight* on singaporeair.com. Choose from a list of 53 destinations across the SilkAir network, including popular destinations in Southeast Asia like Bali, Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur and Phuket, and travel from 1 July to 31 October 2017.

MI PROMO

To redeem, please complete the following:
1) Log in to your KrisFlyer account with your KrisFlyer membership number and PIN at the top right corner of this page.
2) Select ‘Book a Flight’ on your dashboard
3) Click ‘Redeem flights’ and select your travel details

 

 

* Please refer to detailed Terms and Conditions

EXAMPLES OF SILK AIR FLIGHTS – AUSTRALIA

Economy Class – Southwest Pacific

 

FROM FLIGHT NO. MILES REQUIRED FOR ECONOMY CLASS
SINGAPORE TO CAIRNS
CAIRNS TO SINGAPORE
MI813
MI814
14000
14000
SINGAPORE TO DARWIN
DARWIN TO SINGAPORE
MI801/MI803/MI822
MI802/MI804/MI822
10000
10000

EXAMPLES OF SILK AIR FLIGHTS – SOUTH-EAST ASIA

(For full list of routes, please see their website)

SINGAPORE TO MAKASSAR
MAKASSAR TO SINGAPORE
MI142/MI144
MI141/MI143
3750
3750
SINGAPORE TO MANADO
MANADO TO SINGAPORE
MI274
MI273
3750
3750

This is a great opportunity if you are able to travel within July-October!

Planning A Birding Safari In Uganda

First of all, everything I write here works for a normal “Big 5” type safari or even the mountain gorillas (though there are more specific blogs on gorillas) so if you are not particularly into birding you will still find value in this post.  Of course if you ARE into birding, you will find even more value!

Uganda has so much to offer and is easily accessed by airline miles.  If you have limited time and finances you will really have to make some tough decisions on how many parks to visit.  It really helps if you know what species are your priority.  For some people this may be raptors or trying to check off all the endemics.  For me it’s always parrots first, then songbirds, then other birds and mammals.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to bypass lions or cheetahs though!

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

With so much on offer, you have to do lots of research online to find out your best chances of seeing the species you really want to see.  I always check trip reports on Surfbirds and more recently added Cloudbirders to that.  Xeno-canto has mapped locations where birders took sound clips of many species so that can pinpoint them even more.

I always check bird sightings on eBird, you can see my full guide on locating bird species .

I also look through trip reports by major birding companies such as Birdquest, VENT, Naturetrek, Rockjumper and more.  The trip reports will show you which parks you need to concentrate on.  Once you have this, you can start contacting birding tour operators or safari companies that are well-recommended for quotes.

HOW I CHOSE MY ITINERARY

Firstly I should mention that I had unusual circumstances regarding travel insurance coverage and pre-existing conditions so I could only make a short dash into Uganda.  Normally I would have spent at least a week here although I have already seen the Mountain Gorillas back in 1998.  I was prioritizing parrots knowing that plenty of other bird species would be in the same habitats.  There are 3 parrot species in Uganda.    The African Grey Parrot is one which I only caught a fleeting glimpse of in Ghana so I wanted a better look.  Same with the Red-headed Lovebird.  The third parrot is the Meyers (Brown) Parrot.  I didn’t want to stray too far from Entebbe so I found 3 good prospects:

ENTEBBE BOTANICAL GARDENS

African Grey Parrot — Psittacus erithacus

Red-headed Lovebirds — Agapornis pullinarus

Meyer’s (Brown) Parrots – Poicephalus meyeri

MABAMBA SWAMP

Best known for Shoebills though African Grey Parrots have been seen flying overhead.

MPANGA FOREST

Same as Botanical Gardens.

Here is a map showing the locations.

HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR OWN BIRDING SAFARI

In Uganda, it’s very rare for tourists to self-drive cars and you will have to use some kind of transport with a driver included.  These drivers probably won’t know anything about birds so you will also need a guide at each park/reserve you visit.  There are usually guides hanging around national parks waiting for customers so this won’t be a problem.  You may decide that it’s more convenient to just join an organized tour such as those whom I mentioned above if you can afford it.

I booked a Shoebill Safari with Mabamba Shoebill Safaris which was well-recommended on Trip Advisor.  The first time we went to the Botanic Gardens we used a taxi-minibus from our hotel.  This didn’t work out well as the windows were shaded cutting visibility.  After the Shoebill safari, I struck a deal with their driver to take us back to the Botanic Gardens after the shoebills, then the next day to Mpanga Forest.  They had a more comfortable vehicle (SUV) and made a good price.  If you are a less-experienced traveler and not comfortable with “Winging it”, then you can contact safari companies in advance to book a driver.

VISA FOR UGANDA

Uganda has an e-visa system where you fill out the application, upload scanned copies of your documents and pay online.  The paying thing is new, when I did it, we paid on arrival, $50 cash per person.  The details and application is HERE.

You will need scanned copies of your passport, a recent passport photo, your Yellow Fever certificate (valid for lifetime) and details of your flights and accommodation.  It’s pretty easy and our were approved by email the nest day.

BEST SEASON TO TRAVEL

There’s a couple things to consider, the weather and potential crowds (especially if you are going to other parts of Uganda).  I always check the weather on Weather2Travel.  In my case, since we were going to other places in Africa we went in the rainy season (April 2017) but it wasn’t too bad, only a few showers in the evening.

If you have “must-see” bird species, always check eBird to make sure the birds are being seen that time of year by other birders.

BOTTOM LINE

Obviously a lot of thought and preparation needs to go into a birding safari to Uganda and even more so if you will be visiting Chimps & Gorillas.  The lower your budget, the more you have to do yourself.  For most people, this will be a once in a lifetime experience so take your time and get it right!

 

Getting To Uganda With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs place Uganda into the Africa zone.  You can find some generic recommendations on how to get to East Africa here.  I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The major gateway city for Uganda is Entebbe.     Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out Wikipedia will show you all the airlines that fly into Entebbe.

ONE WORLD OPTIONS

The only One World member serving Entebbe is Qatar Airways via Doha.  You can reach Doha from anywhere in the world where Qatar flies to.

STAR ALLIANCE OPTIONS

From North America you can use Egypt Air via Cairo, Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, South African Airways via Johannesburg or Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

From Europe you can use Egypt Air via Cairo, Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, South African Airways via Johannesburg (a bit out of the way but UA might allow it) or Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

From Australia and New Zealand there are no direct flights, you need to get to Singapore or Bangkok, then you can pick up Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines or Turkish Airlines.

SKYTEAM OPTIONS

From North America you can use KLM or Kenya Airways via Europe.

From Europe KLM flies direct from Amsterdam with connection to most European cities or Kenya Airways.

From Australia Skyteam isn’t the best option unless you travel via Dubai and pick up Kenya Airways from there.

NON-ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Etihad and Emirates serve Entebbe from all over the world via their hubs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively..

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program.  Examples are in my East Africa post.