Mpanga Forest Reserve: November 1, 2015

I noted previously that Mpanga Forest Reserve is destined to become my birding patch. It’s the most accessible, and cheapest, forest reserve near Kampala, and the bird list is pushing 200 species. I wanted to follow up relatively quickly on my last visit to Mpanga Forest Reserve, when I started making sense of the forest understory birds. This time I brought my iPod with the Birds of East Africa application and would be able to follow up better on birds calls. I also hoped to spend more time birding the canopy of the “cathedral-like” forest, whether from the trails or the forest edge.

While the rainy season continues in earnest, the weather on Sunday morning was excellent. As in my last visit, I arrived at the reserve an hour after sunrise and spent the first hour birding the cultivated areas that border the forest. In the hedge rows between fields, I noted a number of familiar species, including Yellow-Throated Longclaw, Weyn’s Weaver, and Tawny-Flanked Prinia. I also spotted an African Green Pigeon and a female Black Cuckoo-Shrike, both new birds on my country list. A White-Browed Scrub-Robin sang cheerily from the top of a shrub, as I tracked a male Compact Weaver through the grass of a fallow field.

Returning to the reception area near the trailhead, I sifted through the birds congregating high in the canopy. A single White-Breasted Negrofinch was among the many Weyn’s Weavers, but at just four and a half inches in length it was difficult to admire from so far below. Meanwhile, a Lead-Coloured Flycatcher was busy feeding in in the shorter trees at the forest edge, steadily fanning and flicking its tail. The broken canopy at Mpanga is impressively high, and I quickly grew impatient with the strain of looking overhead. Although it was still early, I decided to plunge into the forest and bird the trails.

Taking a right along the main trail, I birded just inside the forest edge. Except for hornbills and turacos, it was quiet, much as I had expected. Reaching a dense and dank section of undergrowth, I made a half-hearted effort to lure in a White-Spotted Flufftail. Although the bird responded vigorously to my iPod, it stayed far back from the trail. Meanwhile, I heard load wing snapping overhead. At first I thought it could be an African Broadbill making its characteristic circular display flight, but it turned out to be several male Chestnut Wattle-Eyes. The birds were behaving much like neotropical manakins, the males of which engage in display contests at forest leks.

Near the trailhead, there is a cleared area for camping, and a few narrow strips of understory that sometimes harbors interesting birds. I worked this area over for an hour, finding Western Nicator, Red-Bellied Paradise-Flycatcher, and Grey-Headed Negrofinch. I was particularly pleased to find the latter species, which is truly an exquisite bird. Again, in this area I found Red-Tailed and White-Throated Greenbuls and Chestnut Wattle-Eye, which are all proving to be common birds at Mpanga. A final highlight here was seeing Buff-Spotted and Brown-Eared Woodpeckers, ending what had been a two-month woodpecker drought since I arrived in Uganda.

On my last visit, I had walked the entire length of the main trail, which ends at a papyrus swamp. This time, I only made it a kilometer or so before deciding to turn back. After birding on a Sunday, I’ve found it’s nice to get back home in the late afternoon to relax for a few hours. I stopped several times along trail on the way back, once to watch an African Harrier-Hawk reaching deep into a tree cavity for something to eat, and another time to work over a mixed flock high in the canopy overhead. My perseverance yielded two lifers, Buff-Throated Apalis and Hairy-Breasted Barbet, as well as a sore neck the following day.

Notable birds seen: Hamerkop, Sacred Ibis, African Harrier-Hawk, White-Spotted Flufftail (h), African Green Pigeon, Tambourine Dove, Grey Parrot, Great Blue Turaco, Yellowbill, African Palm Swift, Speckled Mousebird, African Pied Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Black-and-White-Casqued Hornbill, Yellow-Throated Tinkerbird, Hairy-Breasted Barbet, Buff-Spotted Woodpecker, Brown-Eared Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail, Yellow-Throated Longclaw, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Western Nicator, Red-Tailed Greenbul, White-Throated Greenbul, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Buff-Throated Apalis, Northern Black Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Lead-Coloured Flycatcher, Chestnut Wattle-Eye, Red-Bellied Paradise-Flycatcher, Pale-Breasted Illadopsis, Yellow White-Eye, Olive Sunbird, Scarlet-Chested Sunbird, Grosbeak Weaver, Compact Weaver, Weyn's Weaver, Red-Headed Malimbe, Grey-Headed Negrofinch, White-Breasted Negrofinch, African Firefinch, Bronze Mannikin.

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