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Searching for Shoebills

How do you go about finding one of the rarest birds on Earth?

Well, Mbamba swamp is probably your best bet!

My first glimpse of these prehistoric birds was on David Attenborough’s Africa back in 2013 when I was still at school. They fascinated me in every way and when I later learned I could combine both gorilla trekking and looking for shoebills all in one trip, there was no chance I was going to miss the opportunity.

After making our way through the local Saturday market, it was hard to imagine a swamp that these birds call home in such close proximity to civilisation. But that is exactly where Mbamba Swamp is located – a mere fifteen minutes from Entebbe’s centre, on the edges of Lake Victoria.

Boating on Lake Victoria
Cruising on Lake Victoria

Through the hustle and bustle we made our way onto a motor-powered boat that took us across Lake Victoria and into the swamp. A quick change of ‘vehicle’ at the swamp’s edges enabled us to head deeper into the swamp.

With the motor off, our guide steered our boat through the waterways that became thicker with reeds and lily pads.

We had been warned that of course finding the birds was no guarantee and with binoculars in hand, I expected them to be deep in the reeds and barely photographable.

It seems however the fortune favours the bold. Travelling during a pandemic may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there was no stopping us this time. Luck was to hand and we had only been in the swamp for a mere fifteen minutes when we came across not just one, but two of these highly endangered birds.

We spent over an hour with both individuals, a female and her ‘youngster’ who were apparently not concerned with my clicking shutter nor our gentle whispers. Their bills reminded me of a clog (much to my Dutch girlfriend's delight) and as the sun rose higher in the sky and the light became harsher, we left the two beautiful birds in peace. We meandered on through the waterways where Jacanas hop-scotched over the lily pads and the kingfishers flitted through the reeds.

Shoebills in Mabamba are slowly becoming a successful conservation story as their numbers are starting to increase again. Persecuted due to the local fishermen’s beliefs, education has shown the benefit of having these birds in the swamp and thankfully their numbers have stabilised and are increasing slowly, which is great news indeed!

Keep an eye out for my Into the Wild videos, as there will be one dedicated to the shoebills released later in the year.

The Shoebill, The Dinosaur and Amongst the Reeds are all available at the online store as Fine Art Prints.

Thank you for looking.


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