Dream globally; bird locally. That’s what I came away with on my first-ever visit to Africa. For 11 days in western Uganda I was treated to birds, mammals, reptiles, and even a few insects that I had thought I would only ever dream about.
After almost two weeks on the ground, our group locked onto more than 440 species—still well shy of Uganda’s total list of more than 1,000, or half the bird species in all of Africa. This country sits on the equator, gives rise to the Nile, and marries the plains of East Africa to the jungles of West Africa. It’s dripping with birds.
As I struggled to tell apalis from akalat, boubou from Brubru, I marveled at the skills of local birders who were totally at home in patches they’d birded for years. And after I made the long flight home, that’s what stuck with me from Uganda. Traveling as a birder is like being a kid and playing at your friend’s house, with a whole new set of toys. The time I spent with Uganda’s birds (and incredibly skilled birders) reminded me of how much there is to love about birding back home:
1. Love Your Locale
Red-throated Bee-eaters along the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Photo by Brian Zweibel/Sabrewing Nature Tours.
Travel is glamorous and new places are thrilling, right? But no one ever found the heart of a place on their first afternoon, or even their first week. Local birding will always have the power to satisfy deeply, because the biggest surprises come after you’ve built your expectations.
It’s also why you should tap into the wisdom of locals whenever you’re on the road, even in your own continent, by hiring guides or finding locals. When you’re still in the planning stages, use eBird Hotspots to get your bearings. And it goes both ways: around your hometown, maybe you’re the local wizard who can find the hero birds for visitors. The rewards of intensively birding your home turf has even acquired a name in the last several years: patch birding.