The Mabamba Swamp is located in west of Entebbe and one of the convenient places to see the elusive Shoebill. On your canoe, sail through the papyrus reeds opens up into a flat grassy wetlands where a number of Shoebill can be seen.
It is a large marsh stretching through a long narrow bay, fringed with papyrus towards the Western main body of Lake Victoria in Mpigi District. It has the status of an unprotected area with bird categories, globally threatened species and Lake Victoria Basin biome species. This Important Bird Area (IBA) is one of the best marshy areas along the Northern shores of Lake Victoria for bird watching, it is the closest place to Kampala.
The climate is similar to other areas of the Northern shorelines of the lake. The area receive 1200 – 1500mm of rain with average minimum temperature of 17°C and average maximum temperature of 26°C).
Birds are easily seen in the morning when spotting their main prey, the mudfish or frogs, but can also be seen all day. They can stand for long period of time awaiting for the movements of their prey and then suddenly strike with a marvellous speed.
The bay has become one of the spectacular sites for birding in Uganda and under wetlands of International Importance following Murchison Falls National Park. Mabamba bay is where the elusive Shoebill can be spotted at any one time of the day. Mabamba has of recent become one of the strong holds for the migrant Blue Swallow with over 100 individuals recorded every year. Mabamba has been surveyed in recent years and now boosts of over 260 species with one day’s record of 157 species.
Mabamba can be reached by road but boat tour across Lake Victoria is highly recommended. Reaching Mabamba by boat gives you an opportunity to see many of the birds that you may otherwise miss compare to road/car to transport.
There are four threatened species and of regional significance like: the Pallid Harrier, Papyrus Gonolek, White-Winged Warbler and the Blue Swallow.
The Shoebill feeds primarily on Lungfish which is also cherished by the local community. Shoebills are regularly recorded in pairs or in threes in the marsh at Nakowogo, about 2 km North East of Mabamba Bay.
This birding experience in Mabamba is not only at the Swamp, but also along the route to the destination. There are other birds spotted in their habitats. After your birding experience, choose to follow a woodland and savannah trail up to the sand mining quarry to maximize on your luck of seeing other species apart from the wetland birds.
visits have also confirmed presence of flocks of other species especially migrants such as Gull-Billed Terns, White-Winged Black Terns and Whiskered Terns, and residents such as Grey-Headed Gulls. Other interesting species found in the marsh include: a numbers of Goliath Herons, Spur-Winged and Pygmy Geese, Malachite Kingfisher, Papyrus Canary, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, and Carruther’s Cisticola.
The wetland is popular for the Shoebill which is the most sought after bird by birdwatchers in Uganda. The Shoebill is also on the wildlife list of non-bird watching tourists that are intrigued by its special looks and huge size. The rare bird is found in few places in Uganda and Mabamba Swamp is the most accessible and reliable with the best chances of seeing the Shoebill in Uganda and arguably in Africa.
Mabamba Swamp is rich with lung fish which is the favourite food for the Shoebill. Meanwhile the lung fish is also one of the most sought after fish by the local fishermen. The fishermen had long held a superstition that seeing a Shoebill (locally called ‘Bulwe’) resulted in a poor catching day. For the fishermen it was bad omen to see a Shoebill when one set out to fish in the wetland.
They hunted the Shoebills and killed them, leading to a decline in the numbers and almost rendered them extinct in the wetland. Designating the wetland a Ramsar site in 2006 provided some protection to the Shoebill. Whereas bird watching on the wetland became an advantage to the fishermen and community, since fishermen rent out their boats to birdwatchers and make huge sums of money, and even some fishermen have been trained in birding and guiding.
The fishermen protect the Shoebill and that even when they set out to fish and see a Shoebill they do not move too close not to disturb it and will gladly inform the tourists of where to see it. There are 12 Shoebills said by resident of Mabamba wetland.