Mabamba Bay Swamp in Uganda is a prime wetland birding site famous for the Shoebill which is Uganda’s most sought after bird by Uganda birding tourists as well as by nature lovers. Mabamba Swamp is located west of Entebbe on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, covering 2424 ha with thick marshes of papyrus, water lilies and other wetland grasses.
Mabamba swamp is a Ramsar site and Important Bird Area (IBA). The wetland hosts over 300 bird species that include many globally threatened species, 7 of Uganda’s 12 Lake Victoria biome restricted species (notable is the Papyrys Gonolek) and plenty of wetland specialties. The wetland also hosts huge flocks of Paleartic migrants every year from October to March.
Mabamba Swamp can be reached by a number of routes. From Kampala or Entebbe the easiest route is via the Nakiwogo landing site in Entebbe where you take a 10 minutes ferry crossing to Kasanje landing and from there drive for about 20 minutes to Mabamba passing through cultivations and open fields that will provide plenty of garden birds.
Birding in Mabamba swamp is done from a motorized wooden boat by riding through a maze of trails cutting through the thick marshes.
Mabamba wetland is popular for the Shoebill which is the most sought after bird by birdwatchers in Uganda. The Shoebill is also on the wildlife list of non bird watching tourists that are intrigued by its peculiar looks and massive size. The rare bird is found in few places in Uganda and Mabamba Swamp is the most accessible and reliable with the best chances of seeing the Shoebill in Uganda and arguably in Africa.
Mabamba Swamp is rich with lung fish which is the favorite food for the Shoebill. However the lung fish is also one of the most sought after fish by the local fishermen. The fishermen had long held a superstition that seeing a Shoebill (locally called ‘Bulwe’) resulted in a poor catch that day. For the fishermen it was a bad omen to see a Shoebill when one set out to fish in the wetland. They hunted the Shoebills and killed them, leading to a decline in the numbers and almost rendered them extinct in the wetland. Designating the wetland a Ramsar site in 2006 provided some protection to the Shoebill. However bird watching on the wetland brought about enlightenment to the fishermen and community. The fishermen rent out their boats to birdwatchers and make a lot of money, and even some fishermen have been trained in birding and guiding. The fishermen protect the Shoebill and that even when they set out to fish and see a Shoebill they do not move too close not to disturb it and will gladly inform the tourists of where to see it. There is about 12 Shoebills said to be resident in Mabamba wetland.
The best time to see the Shoebill in Mabamba swamp is early morning, say 7am, before there is more fishing activity.
Other Mabamba Swamp birds
African Firefinch, African Fish Eagle, African Green Pigeon, African Hoopoe, African Jacana, African Marsh Harrier, African Pigmy Goose, Black Crake, Black Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-crowned Waxbill, Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Blue Swallow, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Brown Parrot, Cattle Egret, Common Bulbul, Common Moorhen, Common Sandpiper, Common Sqacco Heron, Crowned Hornbill, Double Toothed Barbet, Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Glossy Ibis, Goliath Heron, Great Blue Turaco, Great Cormorant, Great White Egret, Great White Pelican, Green Cuckoo, Grey Heron, Grey Parrot, Grey Woodpecker, Grey-crowned Crane, Gull-billed Tern, Hadada Ibis, Harmerkop, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Little Egret, Little Stilt, Long-tailed Cormorant, Long-toed Lapwing, Malachite Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier, Nothern Brown-throated Weather, Orange Weaver, Papyrus Gonolek, Pied Kingfisher, Pied Wagtail, Pink-backed Pelican, Pint-tailed Whyda, Purple Heron, Red-chested Cuckoo, Red-eyed Dove, Red-headed Love-bird, Red-shouldered Cuckoo Shrike, Ross’ Turaco, Saddle-billed Stork, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, Spur-winged Goose, Spur-winged Lapwing, Swamp Flycatcher, Tambourine Dove, Veilots’ Black Weaver, Village Weaver, Water Thicknee, White-browed Cuckoo, White-faced Whistling Duck, White-throated Bee-eater, White-winged Tern, Winding Cistocola, Wood Sandpiper, Woodland Kingfisher, Yello-billed Kite, Yellow-backed Weaver, Yellow-billed Duck, Yellow-billed Tinkerbird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird.