Mabamba Swamp: February 24, 2016

The area around Lake Victoria is characterized by rolling hills interspersed with swamps. Bordered by the humid forests of West Africa and the arid grasslands of East Africa, this region forms a unique biome in Africa. The swamps are dominated by huge swaths of papyrus that support robust populations of warblers, weavers, and widowbirds. There are also a few bird species that are endemic to these papyrus swamps, including one of Uganda's most brilliantly colored birds, the Papyrus Gonolek. While there are many thousands of hectares of papyrus swamps in Uganda, I have found that access is less than ideal. Only in a few reserves can birders access papyrus swamps on foot and in peace (the boardwalk through Bigodi Swamp, which is adjacent to Kibale National Park, comes to mind). Birders either have to pay for a private boat ride or suffer the dangers and indignities of birding from a public road.

On a recent Ugandan public holiday, I finally decided to bite the bullet and bird a papyrus swamp just an hour outside Kampala. The swamp is a well-known birding site along the road from Mpigi to Mabamba, described in Where to Watch Birds in Uganda. An elevated dirt road provides excellent access to 500 meters of papyrus on either side, and although there is plenty of pedestrian and motorcycle traffic, there are relatively few vehicles. I arrived shortly after dawn when the swamp was filled with birdsong, including the resounding calls of several pairs of Papyrus Gonolek. Normally, the gonolek skulks deep inside the swamps and rarely emerges; however, a few seconds of playback brought several pairs to the edge within meters of the road. Other papyrus specialties seen here included the White-Winged Swamp-Warbler, another skulker, and the Swamp Flycatcher. To close out the morning, I moved on to the nearby Mpanga Reserve for a few hours of forest birding.

Notable birds seen: Great Blue Turaco, Ross’s Turaco, Malachite Kingfisher, White-Winged Warbler, Winding Cisticola, Grey-Capped Warbler, Swamp Flycatcher, Papyrus Gonolek, Northern Brown-Throated Weaver, Slender-Billed Weaver, Common Waxbill.

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