It is only human of us to create a mental picture of our expectations be it of the kids we hope to bear or a final destination on a journey to a new place. I will let you take a peek into my mental picture of birding as a tourist activity preceding my Entebbe Botanical Gardens Experience. I had restrained myself from watching YouTube videos on birding to get a pure unaffected response to the activity and here I was waiting with fellow adventurers to set out on a nature walk cum birding venture. I envisaged myself standing through an open roof safari van watching birds flying past us while heading to a specific habitat like a pen of sorts being a home to various bird species. I later realized poultry keeping had taken its toll on me, taught me to expect a sort of bird zoo not a manual search for bird species while simultaneously taking in the green towering over us or growing under us. Imagination convinced me that we would have to examine how the birds lived, ate, sounded, mated; their entire lifestyle in general in a few hours. I expected to be a bird scientist by the end of the day with my binoculars for a microscope.
Whether my mental picture had any relation to reality is a story of its own. As we set foot on the freshly muddy ground with a few drizzles still spraying us, it occurred to me that this would be more than a birding experience. The term “gardens” would somewhat mislead one to think of a few acres of flowers and edible crops springing up here and there but this was 42 acres of both indigenous and exotic plant and tree species embodying a tropical rain forest, bordering Lake Victoria and the grand Imperial Botanical Garden Hotel. On the guided tour, a Godsend for an oblivious birding first timer, the jovial young man told us of the first Tarzan movie being acted in the tropical rain forest where we were walking and also told us that we were trekking through an almost 120 year old establishment having been gazetted in 1898. The Entebbe Botanical Gardens were nature and history intertwined. It was beauty springing from fertile soil and bringing forth the greenest and rarest of flora which like a mother harbored in her branches or roots, species of fauna; bird, primate and rodent alike.
The location in itself allowed us the privilege of two bird categories the lake and land birds our venture having started at the lakeside. A more experienced birder called out the birds’ names one after the other,some of which I could not tell apart; the Black-winged Stilt, the Grey Heron and the Yellow ducks. Most of these were new to the eye and ear as well, the others were only new by name. I had lived in oblivion of my surroundings for way too long not caring to know my natural neighbors by name unless I wanted stew from them. As we strode through the tropical rain forest the habitat of the land birds, the Egyptian Geese, Pied King Fisher, African Open-Billed Stork, Crown Horn Bill, Black Headed Heron, Spurwinged Lapwing, Plantain Eater, Red-eyed Dove and Reed Wobbler called out to us as we trod their sanctuary. The Great Blue Turaco got me tilting my neck back and forth sideways and everywhere to steal a glimpse of it and from time to time, my binoculars zeroed in on a White Columbus Monkey instead. Some birds flew by fleetingly and all we had left was a name and if they were kind enough to parade themselves for us to gaze upon, we could go home with a picture to the name. Our departure from the Gardens would mark the beginning of my nostalgia and future plans to go birding over and over again.
Your birding experience in Uganda and The Entebbe Botanical Gardens will involve hiking or treading through a rain forest, wet or dewy vegetation after a downpour. Do remember to wear a pair of water proof hiking shoes lest you walk through the rain forest in soggy shoes. The gardens sometimes have lake flies which makes some insect repellent handy. Carry a rain poncho; you may not have as much fun adjusting your binoculars and taking photos of birds while simultaneously holding your umbrella. About how easy it is to access the gardens, you should have no worries. Entebbe road can be very busy one with mass traffic which necessitates planning your travel for off peak hours or early morning to reach in time for an untouched feel of nature at the Gardens, a must visit while in Entebbe town.