Birding in Mountain Elgon National Park

March 22, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Mountain Elgon National Park in Uganda is a birdwatcher’s paradise.  Mount Elgon straddles the border between Uganda and Kenya. The Ugandan side is home to the national park, which covers an area of approximately 1,279 square kilometres. The park encompasses the volcanic Mount Elgon, which reaches an impressive height of 4,321 metres (14,178 feet) above sea level.  Mount Elgon’s diverse ecosystems include montane forest, bamboo zones, heath, moorland, and alpine vegetation. These varied habitats create an ideal environment for a rich avian population.

Mount Elgon boasts an impressive 300 bird species, making it a paradise for birdwatchers. The park has a very rich biodiversity and hosts 43 species from this biome, including forest-loving birds. Afro-tropical Highland Biome: 56 species thrive in this highland habitat unique to Uganda. One of the most sought-after bird species in the park is the always mobbed Red-chested Owlet. Some stars of the show include the African Blue Flycatcher, which is a striking blue bird often seen flitting through the forest, the Tacazze Sunbird with Its iridescent plumage that glimmers in the sunlight, Chubb’s Cisticola: A small, secretive bird found in grassy areas, White-chinned Prinia: A warbler with a distinctive white throat, the massive Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), Mackinnon’s Shriek (Fiscal), which is a glossy black-and-white shrike; the forest teasing Doherty’s Bush-shrike; and Luhder’s Bush-shrike, which are both forest rarities in the region. Mount Elgon hosts three endemic treasures only restricted to the Afro-tropical Highlands biome, and these include the local and uncommon Elgon (Moorland) Francolin, the very large Jackson’s Spurfowl, the rapid calling Moustached Green Tinkerbird, the always excited and musical Hunter’s Cisticola, the dumpy Alpine Chat, and the elgonensis race of the White-starred Robin, and the Dark crowned Hartlaub’s Turaco not leaving out the Golden-winged Sunbird. Additionally, explore the park’s stunning landscapes, including giant lobelia and groundsel plants in the high open moorland. The Sipi River forms a series of picturesque waterfalls, adding to the park’s allure.

Red-chested Owlet

Bird species found in Mount Elgon National Park

The fascinating bird species found in Mount Elgon National Park and their behavioural characteristics include:

  • Jackson’s Spurfowl (Francolin): Behaviour: Often heard more than seen. It emits a loud, high-pitched series of cackling notes. Habitat: It inhabits montane forests and bamboo zones mostly appearing on the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon than Uganda. Distinctive Features: Brown plumage with white streaks on the throat.
  • Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon: Behaviour: Recognisable by its intricate complex advertising call. Diet: Feeds on fruits, seeds, insect larvae, and nymphs of cicadas. Distribution: Found across several African countries, including Eastwern and North-eastern Uganda.
  • Hartlaub’s Turaco: Behaviour: a very fast and hard to observe forest Turaco Moves forward and backwards through thick vegetation due to a unique joint. Appearance: a very beautiful Blue-back crest, red eye-ring, and green upper body with very attractive white oval Loral spots.
  • Tacazze Sunbird: Behaviour: Often seen in highland regions, Plumage: Iridescent colours glimmer in the sunlight and the breeding males shine brilliant purple, green and Gold always appearing in Montane Forest edges and clearings, very easy on the new trail from Budadiri towards Saasa trail.
  • African Goshawk:

A raptor with striking plumage. Often seen soaring above the forest canopy. Preys on small birds and mammals.

 

African Goshawk
  • Chubb’s Cisticola: A tiny, cryptic bird found in grassy areas. Its melodious song is a treat for birders. Look for its distinctive white throat and chestnut cap.
  • White-chinned Prinia: A warbler species with a white chin and throat. Skulks in dense vegetation. Listen for its sweet, high-pitched calls.
  • Mackinnon’s Shrike (Fiscal): A glossy black-and-white shrike. Perches prominently in open areas. Feeds on insects and small vertebrates.
  • Doherty’s Bush-shrike and Luhder’s Bush-shrike: Both are forest rarities to the region. These Bush-shrikes exhibit striking plumage. Listen to their melodious calls.
  • Cinnamon Chested Bee-eater: A colourful bee-eater with cinnamon-brown plumage. Often seen perched on branches. Feeds on flying insects.
  • Moustached Green Tinkerbird: A small, green bird with a distinctive moustache-like stripe. Taps on tree trunks to find insects. Listen for its high-pitched calls.
  • Baglafecht Weaver: Known for its intricate nest-building skills. Look for its yellow crowned plumage, the reichenowi race is the commonest here in the mountains and its foothills.
  • Other special bird species to look out for include the Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Black Sparrowhawk, Mountain Buzzard, Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle among the different raptors. African-black Headed Oriole, White-bellied Tit, on very luck days the Spotted Creeper will be keenly sighted, Cinnamon-bracken Warbler, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Oriole Finch, African Olive Pigeon the plump brown Lemon Dove and many more bird species that make Elgon a birding paradise.

When exploring Mount Elgon National Park’s avian treasures, don’t forget to pack binoculars, patience, and a feeling of amazement.

Best birding sites in Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise, offering diverse habitats and a rich avian population. Here are some of the best birding spots within the park:

  • Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre:

Located within the park, this centre provides excellent bird-watching opportunities. Keep an eye out for species like the African Blue Flycatcher, African Goshawk, Chubb’s Cisticola, and White-chinned Prinia.

  • Secondary Forest and Thick Shrubs along the Loop Trail to Cheptui Falls:

Explore this area for more bird sightings.

Look for the Tacazze Sunbird, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, and Doherty’s Bush-shrike among others

What is the best time to go birding in Mount Elgon National Park?

The best time for birdwatching in Mount Elgon National Park depends on various factors. Let’s explore the optimal seasons for birding:

Rainy Season (March to May and October to December):

Birding Advantage: During the rainy season, there is an abundance of fruit, which attracts birds. Many species are active, and you’ll have excellent opportunities for sightings.

Budget Travel: Budget travellers often visit during this time because tour packages tend to be more affordable.

Note: Be prepared for occasional rain showers.

Dry Seasons (June to August and December to February):

Accessibility: These months are ideal for exploring the park, as all parts of Mount Elgon are easily accessible.

Comfortable Weather: The dry seasons offer pleasant weather for birdwatching and hiking.

Note: Since Mount Elgon National Park is a wilderness without roads, exploration is primarily on foot.

Remember to pack your binoculars, wear comfortable hiking gear, and immerse yourself in the avian wonders of this remarkable park.