By Mike Ssegawa
Three things in the wild are so unbelievably beautiful; flowers, butterflies and birds. You don’t even have to visit a birds’ sanctuary like Mabamba, on the outskirts of Kampala, to realize that birds not only look beautiful on the outside, but, also their sounds are mellow.
When you are born and live in Uganda, you see birds every day. Several species by the way – something you can’t find just anywhere in the world. Uganda therefore is one of those few places on the planet where you may find more bird species in such a small area but unfortunately, Ugandans take them for granted.
Monday found me at Mabamba. Luganda language speakers would recognize the place’s name is synonymous with the local name for Lung Fish. You are right. There are lots of lung fish around here. And on this particular day, a 10-inch lung fish was one of the attractions that wowed visitors at this landing site between papyrus plants.
Mabamba is a landing site. It is a wetland part of Lake Victoria, and the gateway to Bussi Island, just three and half kilometers away. It is also here that you find about 10 locally made boats that take passengers to the island and tourists for the birding excursion through the thick papyrus and other water plants.
The wetland stretches over 25km deep into Lake Victoria, and it’s home to birds such as the lesser jakanas and the world famous Shoe bill. The locals call the shoe bill, bbuulwe. The other birds that you may relish here are: Malachite kingfisher, Common Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Common Greenshank, Long-toed Lapwing, Village Weaver
African Jacana, Cattle Egret, Pied Kingfisher, Black-headed Heron, Saddle-billed Storm, Yellow throated Tinkerbird, Ross’s Turraco, Hamerkop, African pied Wagtail. This is indeed a birds’ paradise.
Until recently, people here didn’t know they were sitting on a gold mine. And birds that populate this part of the fishing village were considered competitors for food, especially fish.
Home for lung fish, the shoe bill’s favourite delicacy
It is understandable that the place more popular for Lung Fish (Mmamba) which earns fishermen some good money, had rivals in the shoe-bill whose main food is the same fish.
That was until Mr Achiles Byaruhanga of Nature Uganda and Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, a fanatic Ugandan birder and tour guide, sat down with the community and explained to them what they were sitting on.
Now Mabamba is slowly turning into a tourism attraction as it is one of the few places on the planet earth you can see the legendary shoe bill on a single excursion.
It is a phenomenon.
On Monday, November 7, birders,both local and international, gathered at Mabamba to launch the upcoming Big Bird day, falling on November 12.
The day is commemorated as a reminder to people living in birds habitats to help protect birds and their natural places.
On the day, which is an annual event, birders celebrate the joy of watching birds. People are encouraged to photograph or share videos of birds they come across that day.
And next week, at Entebbe Botanical gardens in Entebbe, the birders and tourism fraternity in Uganda will once again congregate to partake in this year’s Birding Expo on November 18 to 20.
“Birding in Uganda has become such a phenomenon,” Mr Herbert Byaruhanga says, explaining the wonders of Mabamba.
“The wetland endemics here can’t be found anywhere,” he adds.
Mabamba wetland, surprisingly in located in the reach of Kampala. It is located behind Entebbe, or rather, after Nakawuka, a fast developing neighbourhood for Uganda’s growing middle-class families.
The local council Chairman of the area, Mr Juma Kyeyune told visitors that the event that brings birders in their locality was dear to the community.
“For us this is a big,” he said in his welcome speech to Mabamba, located in Zziba Parish, Kasanje Sub County, in Mpigi district. This is one of the places in Kampala’s metropolitan development plan, so, Mabamba is a tourism destination that should be dear to the city.
In the past, according to Mr Kyeyune, the locals used to burn the wetland as they hunted the sitatunga antelope which is a delicious bush meat.
“We are now into conservation,” the LC chairman said to excited visitors. He also said now they have a local organization that is helping on controlling the shoe bill poachers and their eggs called Mabamba wetlands and eco tourism association (Mweeta). Lead by a one Namubiru Irene.
Shoebills pre-historic, so precious
Mr Robbie Greig Smith, a travel journalist from England told Watchdog that Uganda was lucky to have nature that makes it easy to sell tourism.
He said when foreign income comes into the country, the economy does well for all Ugandans.
“Tourism also improves relationship with other countries,” Smith said.
The world of birders is now focusing on Uganda. The tourists on this day, spent less than six hours on the water, but, they came across several shoe bills in their natural habitats.
The shoe bill is a prized bird as it takes about 5 years to reproduce but its eggs to become actual birds, face threats from the wild and from human beings.
Mr Greg Homel, said the shoe bill is a prized bird because it is a relic of a bird.
“It existed at the time of the dinosaurs. It has survived the evolution that led to the extinction of other living beings. It has been here for about 30 million years compared to most birds that have been around for 3 million years, 10 times longer,” said Homel of the pre-historic bird.
He said the look of the shoe bill is also an attraction with its ugly head, yet the bird is very patient and has a high survivor rate that it can eat only once a week.
However, the bird expert says the shoe bill is under threat largely because it needs a lot of territory.
Mr Achilles Byaruhanga, Nature Uganda said Uganda has the richest bird population per square kilometers, with potential to see 100 birds per hour.
He said the country is also home to 11% of the world’s species, and 50% of the African species.
And yes, birds live where it is almost a paradise. And Uganda as a birds paradise, is indeed magical.