Makanaga Swamp – Best Shoebill Site & Birding Hotspot
Makanaga is one of the swampland extensions on the shores of Lake Victoria, situated in Mpigi District, and a 10 minutes boat ride off the Namugobo landing site in Kamengo. Kamengo is situated about 1 & half hours of drive on the Kampala – Masaka highway. From Kamengo trading center it is about 20 minutes of drive on a dirt road to Namugobo landing site.
Makanaga is incredibly rich for water birds, many of them special and rare ones yet such a hotspot is still little-known even among the indigenous avid birders.
It contains open water dotted with patches of large open marshes of Papyrus & Miscanthus and mudflats. The gap between patches is relatively big and this makes navigation and birding very easy. The mudflats provide excellent viewing platforms of many birds. Lots of lilies cover the water surface but these do not offer any challenges but rather good vantage points of several birds. Makanaga is very rich in fishes, and given there isn’t as much fishing compared to many parts of Lake Victoria, there is plentiful for the birds that feed on fish. The less activity at Makanaga has attracted lots of rare birds from other highly disturbed parts of Lake Victoria.
Birding Makanaga Swamp
Namugobo landing site offers a brilliant start to birding. Before you take to the boat for the ride to Makanaga observe the fringing dense marshes and you won’t miss the Swamp Flycatcher feasting on the dragonflies. The striking Malachite Kingfisher and Long-tailed Cormorant are usually sighted perching in the nearby reeds and making occasional dips into the water for fish. This area up to Makanaga is rich in catfish which is a known favorite food for the Cormorant. Other species to look out for around here include White-winged Warbler, Pied Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle (in flight), Olive-bellied Sunbird, and Purple-banded Sunbird.
Take to the boat, riding from the landing site, along a channel running through a dense marsh of Papyrus and Miscanthus, and immediately you emerge an array of water birds begins to unfold before you.
Long-tailed Cormorants can be seen immersing in the water to catch fish while the Yellow-billed Ducks float along the reeds. The beautiful African Jacana is commonly sighted walking fast on the floating water lilies foraging for food. Meanwhile the African Fish Eagle and Black Kite patrol the skies.
And when you finally get to Makanaga, it is birds, birds and birds! From the waters, papyrus, water lilies to the mudflats and the skies, it is all about sights and sounds of birds. It is such a spectacular sight.
The best sighting is perhaps the rare Shoebil. Makanaga swampland now offers the best chance at sighting the elusive Shoebil, and not just one but a number of them and without a lot of search. It is actually possible to count up to 10 Shoebills in one session. The early morning is ideal to catch them, but as the day grows and with the arrival of more fishermen they begin to shy away from the open and escape into the dense papyrus.
Makanaga beams with bird activity, from watching an almost motionless Shoebill, flocks of White-winged Black Terns put on an incredible show. You’ll marvel at their synchronized uniform flight into the air, decorating the atmosphere in a layer of white before uniformly landing and painting the grounds in white.
Also in plenty are Glossy Ibis, Spur-winged Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Purple Heron, Grey-headed Gull, Knob-billed Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Sandpiper, Spur-winged Lapwing, Hamerkop, Long-toed Lapwing, and African Jacana. The Papyrus Gonolek is a possible sighting too. Madagascar Bee-eaters could be sighted on dead trees in the swamp. The Blue Swallow, a migrant from South Africa is sighted here during the months of November, October, December to January.
The best time for more sightings is during the months of November, October, December & January when lots of birds are migrating here. This is the dry season and the water levels are low.
Other than the birds, watch out for the Otters, they are in plenty.
After birding at Makanaga, the surrounding forest at Nubugobo landing site is a good spot for some forest species that you should consider to explore. Take to the dirt road from the landing site and scan through the canopy before taking on a trail into the forest. Watch out for the Great Blue Turaco, African Pied Hornbill, Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Grey-rumped Swallow, Grosbeak Weaver, Weyns’s Weaver, White-throated Greenbul, and Eastern Grey Plantain Eater.
The forest has lots of Red-tailed Monkeys and Butterflies.
At the end of the day, your birding experience at Makanaga Swampland includes an impressive checklist of close to 100 bird species, as well other beautiful wildlife and sceneries.