Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary
This 4.5km circular trail through this small Bigodi wetland sanctuary is also known as the Magombe Swamp Walk. It is an example of conservation with a direct impact at the grassroots level.
Run by the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED). All money from the trial is for the community projects in Bigodi.
From the money, they have a small local library as well as the construction of a new secondary school in the village.
The trail starts at the KAFRED office, which lies just outside the Bigodi centre on the fort portal side of town. Here you must pay the trial fee before the excursion starts.
Anybody with a special interest in birds should mention this before so that a bird specialist guide will take you. Who is better at birds? In case you don’t have binoculars, then make sure your field guide does.
Afternoon walks at Bigodi wetland sanctuary technically start at 15:30 pm and generally take around three hours.
There are enough guides that you can start whenever you like. For morning walks, it is worth getting to the office as early as you can or possibly even arranging a dawn start a day in advance.
The trail is very muddy in parts, and if you don’t have good walking shoes, then you’d do well to hire a pair of gumboots from the KAFRED office.
For general monkey viewing, it doesn’t matter greatly whether you go in the morning or afternoon, but birders should definitely aim to do the morning walk.
THE TRAIL BIGODI WETLAND SANCTUARY
Above all, the walkthrough Magombe Swamp is not only an admirable venture; it is also one of the best-guided bird trails in East Africa, in my experience, second only to Kenya’s Kakamega Forest.
Most attraction is not so much the number of birds you see. But the quality – you’d be very lucky to identify more than 40 species in one walk.
Most of these will be forest fringe and swamp specials, and a good number will be West African species at the eastern limit of their range.
There are other places in Uganda where these birds can be seen, but the advantage at Magombe is that a guide will let you who knows the terrain and can identify all but the most troublesome greenbuls by sight or call.
One of the birds most associated with the swamp is the great blue touraco, which will be seen by most visitors. Another real speciality is the papyrus gonolek, likely to be heard before it is seen and most frequently encountered along the main road. It crosses the swamp or from the wooden walkway about halfway along the trail.
Among the other birds that you will see, based on the two times I’ve walked this trail, are grey-throated, yellow-billed, yellow-spotted, and double-toothed barbets; speckled. Also, yellow-rumped and yellow-throated tinker-barbets, yellowbill, and brown-eared woodpeckers occur. Other noticeable birds include blue-throated roller; grey parrot; bronze sunbird; black-crowned waxbill; grey-backed black finch.
Including swamp flycatchers, robin chats, grosbeak, northern weavers, and a black-and-white hornbill, Needless to say, birders who have the time will undoubtedly find it worthwhile to walk the trail.
Wetland and other species
But the Magombe trail of Bigodi wetland sanctuary is not only about birds. Butterflies are abundant in the swamp, and it is also home to the sitatunga and serval, a variety of mongoose, and most of the primate species recorded in the forest.
The red colobus is the most common monkey, often seen at close quarters, but you are also likely to spot red-tailed monkeys, black-and-white colobus, and grey-cheeked mangabey-and this is the only place where I’ve encountered l’Hoest’s monkey. If you are extremely fortunate, you might even see chimpanzees since they occasionally visit the swamp to forage for fruit.
Unguided walks in Bigodi sanctuary
Tourists will not walk along forest paths or in Magombe Swamp without a guide, but they are free to walk elsewhere. Kanyanchu itself is worth a couple of hours of exploration. A colony of Viellot’s black weaver nests in the camp, while flowering trees attract a variety of forest sunbirds.
You can also expect to see or hear several types of robin and greenbul, often difficult to tell apart unless you get a good look at them (little greenbul and red-capped robin appear to be the most common around the camp). The red-chested paradise monarch is a bird that’s very easy to find once you know its call.
The Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary has other interesting birds I’ve seen regularly at Kanyanchu, which are the great blur touraco, hairy-breasted barbet, black-necked weaver, and black-and-white casqued hornbill. The short self-guided grassland trail which circles the camp is good for monkeys.
You can walk along the main road through the forest. You are almost certain to see monkeys from this road, and butterflies gather there in numbers.