Mabamba swamp in Uganda
Mabamba swamp in Uganda- 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.
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.
Birding at Mabamba swamp
Birding tours are arranged daily and take about 4 hours. Full day birding can also be arranged on request. The period between September and March are the best for birding. There is a lot of activity within the wetland as migratory birds arrive from Europe. It is important to book a tour of Mabamba swamp a day in advance for better planning. Your tour company or private driver should pick you up very early in the morning from your hotel or residence. For the best birdwatching experience, move with a backpack, packed food (in case you get hungry), binoculars, insect repellents, a hat, sunscreen, a rain jacket, trousers and long-sleeved shirts. Birding in Mabamba swamp is done from a motorized wooden boat by riding through a maze of trails cutting through the thick marshes.
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 and more.
Other things to do and look out for while visiting the Mabamba swamp.
Watching Butterflies: Whereas birdwatching is the main highlight of a tour of the Mabamba wetland; the countless butterfly species also catch the eye. The Mabamba swamp has over 200 species of butterflies. The most common species are the Bicyclus sebetus, Acraea consanquine, Acraea aganice, Achaea aurivilli and Abisaraneavei.
Spot fishing: Before tourism became more prominent, the main activity in Mabamba was fishing. Fishing is still the main economic activity in the area and the most popular species are the Tilapia, mudfish, lungfish and the large Nile Perch. There are several fishermen around the area. You can join one of them or watch them from afar. If you wish to join them, then you can go with your own equipment or make do with one of the locally made hooks and rods.
Spotting the Sitatunga antelope: The Mabamba swamp is an important sanctuary for the Sitatunga. While on a birdwatching tour in the vast swamp, it is possible to encounter these elusive antelopes. Their numbers have dwindled in the recent past because of uncontrolled poaching. The poachers expose and catch them by burning down their hiding places – the marshes. There are efforts by the government and other Wildlife conservationists to protect them through community sensitization.
Canoeing: Canoeing for longer periods of time can be arranged to spot more of the birds, go fishing and touring the nearby islands of Lake Victoria. It is important to board the canoe with life jackets. If you don’t have in, choose a boat that can provide one.
Village walks and visiting Craft Shops: The village walks provide opportunities to mingle with the locals as you learn about how they live and make ends meet. Many of the local people living close to the swamp practice subsistence farming. You can also go to one or two of the crafts shops to admire beautifully crafted bags, mats, baskets and huts. Most of these items are made with reeds got from the swamp. The swamp also provides herbs and building materials for local huts.
Visiting other spots in Entebbe: Entebbe is a small but beautiful town to tour. After birding at the Mabamba bay wetland, one can relax by the Lake Victoria or visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (zoo). Other great attractions include the virgin Ssese islands and the Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary.
How to reach Mabamba Swamp.
From Entebbe, a one-hour road trip will take you to the village of Mabamba where a local boatman will take you out in local dugout canoes.
This is a lovely half day excursion that works well when you have a few hours between flights.
It is also possible totravel to Mabamba via boat, across Lake Victoria. The scenic journey gives you more time to appreciate the beautiful birds.
From Kampala, the journey takes around an hour by road, via Nakawuka-Kasanje.