Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Mabamba Bay in November 2005

Bring your wellies.



The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands held its 9th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties at the Speke Resort in Munyonyo, about five miles outside of Kampala, Uganda, on Lake Victoria. Work, work, work, from the 4th to the 16th, and then -- then, it was over. So our companions are off to do some birdwatching, and we're off to watch some birdwatchers. (Much to be learnt about obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.)

Way too early in the morning! Dwight, Tobias, and Sandra await their guide for a day of birdwatching at Mabamba Bay. (Photo by Nick)

A preliminary stop near Mpigi on the way to Mabamba Bay, ogling birds in the papyrus swamp. On the right is our exceptionally great guide, Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, director of Bird Uganda Safaris, who is not only a successful nature tour operator but a well known conservationist as well, sought after for his experience in designing programmes for exciting schoolchildren about the wonders of the wetlands. (If ever you're in Uganda and want to see birds, you cannot do better than www.birduganda.com, director@birduganda.com.)

Here Ramsar people Tobias, Sandra, and Nick mimic bird calls and gaze in rapture, with Herbert (right) and his 11-year-old son Davis, who's meant to take over the business and who saw the second Shoebill of his short life today.

Herbert hears a rustle in the papyrus and we all get busy with our binoculars. "Over there, right near the papyrus!"

Now we're here at Mabamba Bay (the red circle on the map), which is a big swamp, and also a BirdLife International "Important Bird Area (IBA)" and, according to Herbert, recently nominated to be a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. [Update: "Mabamba Bay Wetland System" was added to the Ramsar List as of 15 September 2006.]

From the carpark, a little mud in the main channel (Lake Victoria's water level is dropping ominously), so here the Ramsar birdwatching team march on artificial aids swampwards to some boats that can hold our weight. (Photo by Tobias)

Along the way, we pass some serious sound equipment being dragged in over the mud from some crazy swamp party last night.

Tobias passes still more goods coming in the hard way. He's wearing the attractive Ramsar COP9 commemorative baseball cap, probably as a sardonic joke.

The entrepot of swamp boats, waiting for occupants. Each of them has an endearing name painted on the floorboards, like "Elvira", "Magdalena", and "Mbubu".

Having finally found our boat, our guide had some very difficult poling to get free of the mud. The narrator was probably right to think that he was the cause of the problem, and offered to leap overboard if it would make a difference.

Finally free of the mud, even with the narrator still aboard, we are blasting off across the Mabamba Bay swamp in search of remarkable birds. And especially -- dare one hint at it?? -- the Shoebill. (Formerly called the "Shoebill Stork", until someone took the notion that it looks more like a pelican, so now it's just the "Shoebill".) Some people will KILL for a glimpse of a Shoebill.

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), one of the most vicious of all alien invasive species, which has gone far to choking off all of Lake Victoria and can be seen here working its way up the channels of Mabamba swamp.

Little islands of the water hyacinth stuff growing out from the shore, breaking free, drifting wherever the Benevolent God wishes to take them, and then proliferating again into vast mats, so that fish can't live in the deoxygenated water and the fishermen have to machete their way two kilometers out into Lake Victoria to reach open water.

Herbert Byaruhanga is on the lookout for a Shoebill! So far with no success. So he hauls out his cellphone, dials up, and murmurs a few words and then pockets it away again.

Traffic in the swamp. These folks don't seem to be birdwatchers. In fact, they seem to be commuters, just on their way to the other side of the swamp after a good day's work.

Herbert gets a call on his cellphone, and abruptly we're backing out of one channel and edging our way up into another, this one nearly choked off already by the water hyacinth.

Herbert, ever vigilant, has got news of the Shoebill and will get us there whatever may lie ahead.

Herbert's colleague, a local man whom long ago Herbert trained up as a birdwatcher guide, approaches silently to confirm his recent telephone call and the present location of the elusive Shoebill.

There's the elusive Shoebill. Lifelong birdwatchers groan and slap themselves, having searched for the Shoebill continuously and now viewing their second one in the past ten years. In fact, one of our party yanked out his own cellphone and text-messaged his girlfriend in England to say that he'd finally seen another one.
(Reply: "That's nice, dear.")

Definitely a moving experience. This big, horribly ugly and probably useless Shoebill. But RARE, like the 1909S VBD penny for coin collectors. Rare, cool, but still -- really really ugly.

On the way back, though, here's a cute kingfisher that's got a little more color to it. Smaller than a Shoebill, perhaps, but prettier. And maybe tastier.

The graveyard of abandoned boats.

More traffic on the swamp, and someone coming along with a parasol against the sun.

The Mabamba Regatta

Back at the trailhead, it's almost time to go to the airport in Entebbe.

Sandra and our rower/poler, who thought nothing of leaping out of the boat to push from alongside, where, from time to time, we saw snakes that were bigger than he is, and certainly bigger than Sandra.

Uganda 2005


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 14 December 2005, revised 21 June 2007, 20 July 2013.


Kampala, Uganda, in 2005