Amabere Caves- Explore history and Crater lakes

This is a popular historical site about 10 km from Fort Portal Municipality. There is a legendary tale that has kept it lively till today. Waterfalls and Caves welcome you. The picturesque crater lakes nearby are breathtaking. This tourist site in Kabarole district.It is preserved by the Rubombora family. They have preserved it for the future generations. The guides at the site are quite knowledgeable about the historical and scientific formation of the breast like formations on the rocks.

The locals explain that these breast like features hanging below the cave are associated with a legendary tale of a daughter who disobeyed her father.She was an attractive beautiful girl.It is told that King Bukuku of the Cwezi dynasty that gave birth to the current Tooro and Bunyoro Kingdoms cut off her breasts for refusing to marry the husband chosen for her. She later fled to this place and disappeared without trace. Therefore it believed that the oozing pillars on the rocks represent her breasts and milk.

Scientists call the hanging pillars that look like breasts, stalagmites and stalactites. The site guide explains that the oozing milk is calcium that rolls over the rocks as a result of the waterfalls over the rocks. He cautions you to avoid touching them, because they take several years to grow to their current size otherwise you risk breaking them thus hindering them from further growth. Stalactites and stalagmites are considered as part of a Country’s natural heritage and are protected by law in some countries.

The largest stalagmite in the world is in the cave of Cueva San Martin Infierno, Cuba. It is 220 feet high (62.2 metres).

Guide explaining the formation of Stalagmites and Stalactites

Guide sharing information on Stalagmites and Stalactites

As you walk down the caves you will enjoy the Nyakasura Waterfalls that pours its waters to the basement of the caves. During the rainy season the paths are slippery so it is advisable to watch your steps.

An extended walk to the surrounding is quite enjoyable and requires physical fitness. You will enjoy the crater lake scenery and have the chance to view them at the top of the hill.

How to get there

Amabere caves can be accessed by private transport. Since it is a short distance you can hire a taxi or tour operator to the site from Fort portal town. If it is part of your itinerary to other destinations, most tour operators will drive you there.

Accomodation

The Rubombora family has B&B accommodation on the site.

More accommodation is available in Fort Portal town that fits your budget.

This site combines well with nature walks, culture and cave exploration.

Other destinations that can be visited alongside the caves include Semuliki National Park, Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Mabira Forest Eco-tour

Mabira forest is a perfect destination out of the City Centre. It is 60km away from Kampala. It is one of the largest forest reserves with over 315 bird species, 312 tree species. It is also home to butterflies and primates that include the Uganda Mangabey monkey, Red tailed monkey. It is a popular birding destination for the birding fraternity. It has accessible trails which can be accessed with the company of a guide who is knowledgeable about the forest.

It is a forest reserve managed by the National Forest Authority which has encouraged the promotion of forest tourism in the recent years. It was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1932 .Over the years several organizations have campaigned to restore it .Ecotourism opportunities have been advanced and developed thus supporting the communities around the forest.

Other activities include Mountain Biking, Environmental Education and Research, Camping and Picnics, Primate Watching, Butterfly Identification and general Forest Exploration.

Our birding group has continued to explore places to hone our birding skills. Mabira forest was yet another destination we explored away from Kampala city. It is an ideal place for nature lovers.

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Our main objective on this trip was birding, forest walks and tree species identification. Lesser striped swallows welcomed us at our accommodation. They stayed nearby till night fall. The weaver birds too in the neighborhood caught our attention nesting. The Male weavers are known to be family nest builders before a female weaver “fully” accepts to visit. The female will check ‘thoroughly’ the ‘comfort facilities’ in the nest before accepting ‘matrimony’. This behavior is similar to human beings(Male) who are known Bread winners. If a man does not have the required resources and facilities to support the woman, the woman will not visit.

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Lesser striped swallows

 

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Black headed Weaver

During this trip, 45 birds were seen. Among the 45 birds sighted, some the birds included the Brown eared woodpecker, Yellow crowned woodpecker, Blue shouldered Robin chat, Red capped Robin chat, Black throated Apalis, Forest wood Hoopoe, Forest Robin, Jameson’s wattle eye.

Red tailed monkeys and tree squirrels were sighted.We enjoyed the long forest walks too enabling us breathe in fresh air thus boosting our oxygen reserves.

Accommodation: Self catering accommodation and camping facilities are available at the eco-tourism site for budget travellers. Mabira Rain forest lodge is also another eco –friendly within the forest with 12 independent timber cabins, Swimming pool, Sauna and massage and Conference and seminar facilities ideal for the mid –range/luxury  traveler.

Location & Accessibility: Mabira can be accessed by both public and private transport off the main road to Jinja at Najjembe trading Centre at 60km from Kampala City or 24km from Jinja another tourism Haven, home to the Source of the River Nile..

 

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Our safari van

Other ecotourism sites near Mabira that can be visited include the Griffins falls Camp also known as the the Mabira forest camp  located near breath taking falls. This camp was founded by the Mabira Forest Intergrated Community Organisation (MAFICO) to improve the livelihoods and welfare of the community by conserving the environment. The “Star” activity at the site is the Canopy “zip line” that sends you soaring high in between the rainforest trees.

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Group Smiles at the end of our trip

Birding with BBC World at Mabamba

Behind every successful man there is a woman and in my opinion the reverse is true. Women empowerment movements today may think otherwise. Well, I believe that the ladies just want to express their natural power and intelligence that existed behind the scenes for a longtime. True on this day January 15 2017, the birding ladies’ prowess was finally recognized by BBC World in Uganda. BBC World on this maiden trip chose the Uganda Women Birders Club a ladies birding division of Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA).

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Mabamba is a Ramsar Site since 2006 due to its importance as a habitat for the globally endangered species like the Shoebill and a stopover for migratory birds. It supports over 300 species of birds, community livelihoods through eco-tourism, fishing, agriculture and other activities.It is an ideal place for a one day trip or an add-on to other safaris in Uganda.

Meeting point was at Uganda House on Kampala road the tradition meeting point for USAGA FAM trips. That morning the ladies managed to keep time to make the trip. The team leader was Judith Mirembe the Chairperson. For the gentlemen like me and others we also managed to join the ladies because…behind every successful woman there is a man too. I know the readers of this blog post will agree or disagree with what makes a man or woman successful but that can be a story for another day.

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This is Catherine Byaruhanga reporting for the BBC

Mabamba marsh land is an Important Bird Area for the Shoe bill and other bird species .It is a popular destination for birding. Birding is done by boat with the guidance of the community site guides.When we arrived at the site, we did not waste time on pleasantries. Boats were organized and each of us was allocated a boat in groups of 5-7 individuals with the assistance of Herbert Byaruhanga  a renown birding enthusiast and also the Chairman of Uganda Safari Guides Association.

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At Mabamba, we glided through the water channels bordered by papyrus plants. The bird search started immediately. Although our mission was to spot the Shoebill, normal birding activity involves the identification other water birds. The search continued to trace the Shoe Bill. I was lucky to be on the leading boat with the site guide Ismail who was very knowledgeable about the birds. He managed to identify several birds along the way before he sighted one Shoe bill in flight after  about 1 hour and twenty minutes of searching. We thought it will land on the marshes but it just continued farther up in the sky. We thought our chances for seeing it had run out. Our eagle eyed guide,asked his colleague to move the boat ahead for another chance in the marshes. To him it was good signal for another one nearby. Indeed he applied the “Never give up” expression. The search continued and a few minutes later he spotted one in the marshland.

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Our guide Ismail seems to ask “Where are you Shoebill?”

Some birds seen on that day included the Purple Heron, Black Crake, Hammerkop, African Jacana, Lesser Jacana, Long toed lapwing, Blue-breasted Bee eater, Malachite Kingfisher, African pygmy Goose, Angola swallows, Pied Kingfisher, Winding Cisticola, Fan tailed widow bird and Yellow billed duck.

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“Fake Mounting” by the Hammerkop bird

There were quiet celebrations on our boat since we were the first to see it. We were joined by other boats,tourists and BBC crew  who were making their first excursion to the site. We positioned ourselves to have a clear glimpse of this iconic bird with our binoculars. We did not want to get close for fear of scaring it away except for the BBC team that moved a little closer to have a clear view for their story that was aired on Focus  on Africa on the 23rd January 2017.. Uganda: The rise in bird watching tourists http://bbc.in/2kGXjDj

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Shoebill

This bird is known to stay in one place for long hours as it waits for its prey which may be fish or frogs. Indeed on that day it stayed in one place until we started our journey back to the landing site. Even if you are not a birder or birding enthusiast, the tour of this renowned Shoebill habitat is always an exhilarating experience not to be missed on your itinerary.

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Excitement at take off

Mpanga Forest Eco-tourism site

Mpanga Forest Eco-tourism site is situated 37km away from Kampala city, enroute to Masaka. Previously the Forest reserve was only reserved for scientific research. However today it is also a perfect destination for bird watching and a day or weekend escape from the city. It has over 550 tree species with some trees over 100 years old and over 220 bird species.

Our 1 day excursion to this site was so exciting especially when it was time to see the White spotted fluff tail. This shy bird is not easily seen until you imitate its calls. On our trip we were lucky to have Arshely Brian an avid birdwatcher on our Destination birding team who can imitate the calls naturally. He managed to call it up several times for us to see. You should have to see the anxious faces and smiles of the team before and after it was spotted. If you missed it, Brian was always ready to imitate its call so that you have a glimpse of this shy bird. It is always amazing to see him imitate the bird calls. It is recommended to stand still or even take cover to avoid disturbing its presence until it comes out of its hideout. It does not stay long since it will has missed ‘meeting’ its imitator (bird) but for birders in the midst, the mission is accomplished.

Arshely Brian our expert bird imitator with a friend.

 

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Our main mission of the day was bird watching so that we can polish our bird identification skills and also relax away from home. Our walk through the forest trail about 3km stretch to the swamp was worth it. It gave us a chance to enjoy the fresh air and also exercise your legs.

During our forest walk to the swamp,we went off track,thus getting lost.We were lucky to meet young firewood harvesters who volunteered to lead us to the swamp. In this porous forest, firewood harvests are only allowed for fallen tree branches (i.e Old trees that fall naturally. Cutting of trees is illegal). This young team (Justine,Brian,Joel and Joram) with their dog in pursuit did well to show us some areas we had missed. We gave them a tip as a token of appreciation.

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Birding is usually a rewarding adventure if you are patient. The birds seen on our day trip include: White spotted Flufftail ,Blue throated Roller ,Grosbeak Weaver ,Great spotted cuckoo ,Little Greenbul, Lizzad Buzzard, Marico Sunbird ,Green Hylia ,Western Nectar, Chestnut Wattle-eye ,White throated Greenbul, White throated Bee-eater ,Rufous Flycatcher Thrush ,Spotted Morning Thrush
Red headed Malimbe ,Splendid glossy Starling ,Green Backed Camaroptera, Red cheeked Cordon Bleu, Black and white Shrike Flycatcher ,African pied Wagtail , Vieillot’s black weaver ,Copper Sunbird, Scarlet Chested Sunbird ,Green Sunbird ,Pintailed Whydah, Yellow throated Longclaw ,Eastern Plantain-eater, Brown backed Scrub Robin ,Dark capped Bulbul, Green throated Sunbird ,Northern grey headed Sparrow ,Black and white casqued Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Great blue Turaco, Blue throated roller, African Harrier Hawk, Ayres’ Hawk eagle, African Harrier Hawk.
We also sighted a Lesser bush baby and Red tailed monkeys.

Therefore a visit to the eco-tourism site is so rewarding that you have a full plate of activities like Forest walks, Bird watching, Butterfly identification and Primate watching. You will also have a place to relax after a day’s adventure in the forest. Accommodation is available too for those who who like to spend more days away from home. It has double and twin rooms,space for camping and self catering facilities.For a day’s excursion,I recommend that you carry your own snacks.

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Birding can be done twice in a day that is early morning when birds are still in their nests, leaving or hovering around their nests in search for the day’s meal and in the evening when they return to their nests for a night’s rest.

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The Eco-tourism site can be accessed by both public and private transport. The site is approximately 1km off the Kampala to Masaka Highway after Mpigi town.

Also shopping for crafts can be done on your way back at Mpambire trading centre along the main highway. Items available for sale include Baskets, Mats, Drums, Stools and a variety of household tools.