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For the love of birds

Despite Uganda’s relatively small size, its unique position means a rich portfolio of habitats and thus a profusion of species. What’s more, you don’t need to be on a specialist safari to see countless feathered delights, from the great blue turaco to the famed shoebill. Words and photographs by Mike Unwin
IN FULL FLIGHT: The grey (or southern) crowned-crane, is the national bird of Uganda, yet it is now an endangered species

Silence. Suddenly. The maniacal shrieking that has ripped through Kibale Forest National Park for the last three minutes stops abruptly, as though unplugged at the wall. The chimps, wherever they are, appear to have calmed down.

The forest breathes again. We take a break, rummaging for packed lunches and finding seats among vinefestoonedbuttress roots.

But as we munch in companionable re ection, I realise that the forest is far from silent. Other subtler sounds emanate from the dark tangle. A so descending hoot signals a tambourine dove. A liquid chirrup is an eastern black-headed oriole. And an insistent four-syllable phrase right overhead is an emerald cuckoo. “Hello, Georgie!” it repeats, cheerfully.

Birds. And these are just the ones I recognise. My guide Bosco, noticing my interest, helps me with others: “scaly-breasted illadopsis”, he whispers, at a mournful rising whistle from the under-storey; “black-billed turaco”, at a harsh growling up in the canopy. The forest is alive with avian communication: not a dawn-chorus clamour but more a multi-layered conversation that ebbs and ows beyond the hum of insects and rustle of our backpacks.

Together, we pick out more voices: Narina trogon, yellow billed barbet, rufous ycatcher-thrush. I scribble down names, making a mental note to check a field guide later.

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About Travel Africa

A wildlife lover's guide to Kenya • How to plan the ideal holiday to Zimbabwe • 10 Reasons to take your kids on safari • In Mandela's footsteps • Great bush dining: how they do it • Uganda, for the love of birds • Surprising Liberia • Southern Namibia • Lake Malawi • Awesome Okavango portfolio • Ethiopia's highlights... and much more!