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deep in the woods

Flanking the busy road to Jinja, Mabira is a swath of dense rainforest that is not to be missed if one is a nature enthusiast. Hundreds of different bird species call this pristine corner of Uganda home, and Mabira is also one of the only places on Earth to see Old World mangabey monkeys.

Unlike Mpanga, where D could wander around unescorted for a nominal fee, entrance to Mabira is both considerably more costly and requires the accompaniment of a guide at all times. D opted to do a full-day birding excursion and was glad for the guide’s company once he had worked out a good working relationship with him. At the outset, the guide kept crowding D as he tried to focus his camera, ruining D’s concentration with oft-repeated questions of, “Did you get him?” Once D made it clear several times that this was not helpful and, in fact, quite irritating, they got along much better. It was useful to have an extra pair of well-trained eyes to look for birds, and in retrospect D is unsure he would have managed to navigate the confusing network of narrow trails on his own.

D spent the bulk of his stay deep in the woods before ending the visit with a short walk along a community road that flanks the forest edge. There were troops of grey-cheeked and Ugandan mangabeys feasting on the ripe fruit of wild fig trees, and D also saw plenty of red-tailed monkeys. Although he preferred the cool of the rainforest, spotting birds in the dense foliage was far from easy – and photographing them proved an even greater challenge.

D counts 15 new species that he managed to photograph, though the pictures are far from the inspiring shots one can get in open country. There were at least another dozen “new” birds that flitted through D’s viewfinder or which he glimpsed just out of the corner of his eye before they flashed in a burst of color and speed deep into the undergrowth. And the guide called out several dozen more by their songs. These last did not impress D nearly as much, as he finds bird calls indelible in the most literal of senses: they leave no trace on his memory.

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The main down side to Mabira is that returning along the Jinja road to Kampala almost certainly entails heavy traffic. D’s visits to Mabamba, Mpanga, and Mabira were all made possible by a work conference in Uganda. Mabira was the last hurrah of the pre-conference weekend, and D mentally steeled himself during the long ride back to Kampala for the work that lay ahead.

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