Working for birds in Africa

Where to watch birds in Uganda

Fri, 12/28/2012 - 11:21 -- abc_admin
Johnathan Rossouw and Marco Sacchi. 1998. 110 pp, many colour photographs and maps. Uganda Tourist Board.
page 149

I first saw this publication when Sean Mann of the Uganda Tourist Bureau handed me the 110 photocopied pages to read at Murchison Falls National Park. I perused the sheets, and was so impressed with what I was reading that I thought that this could set new standards in bird-finding guides, it being so packed with useful up-to-the moment information. When the book was published, garnished generously throughout with high standard colour photographs, I knew that I was looking at one of the world's top site guides, if not the best.

Uganda is one of the best kept birding secrets, not deliberately, but the shadows of the former horrendous regimes still hang like a cloud only now starting to lift from memory. Uganda is a country full of contrasts, beauty and birds, the people are more than just friendly and their warmth is genuine. All this is conveyed in the book, and the design to promote Uganda as a mecca for ornithology deserves to come to fruition, for it truly is.

To turn to the book, I will come straight to the one oversight, that will become apparent to the reader, and which is the omission of the chapter on Mabira Forest near Jinja. While the very informative map is present the text has not made it to publication. This is a sad piece of confusion, although the chapter was written. (The Mabira chapter has now been printed and is being inserted as an errata sheet in the book.) Hereafter the publication will receive only the praise it rightly deserves.

The authors are visitors to the East African region, but have shown that they have come to grips with one of the planet's most extensive avifaunas, given the relatively small land area, in an astoundingly short time. The back of the book (perhaps a contrary place to start) shows the richness of the area. The 1,017 species on the Ugandan list at the time of writing, are detailed as far as distribution and frequency in the systematic check-list (which also includes Mabira Forest). This has been well researched, and while knowledge of distribution is an on-going process, and Uganda continues to produce surprises, it would be impossible to find a more useful chart to assist the visitor. Any species seen in any of the 15 locations, not listed as occurring in the relevant locality, should be reported in the interests of completeness as the authors request. There are omissions, not through any fault of the authors, but from private observations over a far greater time frame than available to them, and I shall go through the list and furnish any additions, as I hope that other visitors will do. These charts provide a fine base on which to build. The very few species unrecorded from the 15 sites, have their records detailed: one error that I noticed was that the record of Dybowski's Twinspot Euschistopiza dybowskii should be read as north-western Uganda, not south-western.

Before entering into the site-by-site guide, we are treated to a wealth of very useful information, covering such varied subjects as: recommended itineraries, park entrance, code of conduct, literature and accessibility, health recommendations, and a most useful list of addresses. Thorough absorption of this material will ensure a more comfortable and rewarding visit to Uganda.

The chapters covering the sites to be visited are so well presented, clear and concise, where to see what and when, (and even how!), the maps are detailed to the extreme and easy to follow, setting standards it will be difficult for others to follow. As well as the birds, mammals where also of interest are additionally listed; in fact the more one looks into these chapters the more gems are found.

To my mind this surpasses any other site guide produced for Africa, the authors cannot be congratulated enough for their presentation standards, nor can the Uganda Tourist Board (UTB) be praised sufficiently for their generous participation in the production. It is so good to see one tropical African country, at least, recognising the importance of its wealth of avifauna, and as such UTB must also share congratulations in the recognition of the importance of ecotourism.

Come to Uganda with Johnathan and Marco's birding bible, and experience the birdwatching experience of a lifetime.

Brian Finch

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