The Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary near Kibale National Forest in Western Uganda, for us, was like The Little Engine That Could. When you just say "I think I can!", there is no limit to what you can accomplish. Set-up and run by the local community, we couldn't help but be inspired by both the natural surroundings and how local residents used the resources all around them and have worked so hard to improve their lives. In particular, our guide Rogers, a 24 year old self-taught naturalist was incredibly knowledgeable and a force of nature. Read on for more about our uplifting 3 hour nature walk in Uganda's Bigodi Wetlands with Rogers, who I like to think of as the Bird Whisperer of Bigodi Swamp.
The Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) is a community based organization started in 1992 to conserve biodiversity beyond Uganda's nationally protected areas while benefiting communities through sustainable tourism-focused businesses. Just one third of a kilometer wide, KAFRED's Bigodi Wetlands is a treasure-trove of Ugandan birds, primates, and other wildlife.
Meet Rogers, The Bird Whisperer of Bigodi Swamp
We arrived at the Bigodi Wetlands Visitor's Center, a small one-story structure with a few exhibits and crafts for sale. It was here that we were introduced to Rogers, our guide for the morning. As we walked through the Bigodi Swamp more of Rogers' story unfolded. Rogers spotted a colorful bird in the bush but unfortunately it was spooked and flew away before we could see it. The next thing I knew, Roger let out a perfectly pitched call that mimicked that of this very bird. Before we knew it, the bird was perched on a branch of a tree almost posing for our photographs!
Thoroughly impressed, I couldn't help but ask "where did you learn how to do that?!" Rogers is just 24 years old but we soon learned that he has a wealth of knowledge about local flora and fauna greater than many people could amass in a lifetime. Rogers confided that he's completely self-taught. Leading tours, taking walks everyday and cross referencing books in his down time have given him a practical education and the ability to create a better life for himself.
Where Nature and Community Meet in Uganda
We walked the path around the circumference of the Bigodi Wetlands literally at the physical boundary of where nature and community meet. KAFRED uses the proceeds from visits to the swamp to fund local community projects including building primary and secondary schools. Rogers told us that before the project opened, there was no secondary school in the local area and community members that wished to pursue advanced education needed to travel to Fort Portal (an hour away by car) rendering the dream of education out of reach for many local residents. Now, there is a secondary school close-by and more children can get an education and improve their situation.
Bigodi Wetlands Finely Woven Spiderwebs
Signs of life were everywhere on our walk through the Bigodi Swamp. We saw some amazing spiderwebs (but fortunately didn't have any run-ins with the spiders themselves).
Monkeying Around in Western Uganda
Rogers was not only great at spotting birds, he also had a knack for finding monkeys. We spotted grey-cheeked mangabeys feeding in the trees. Rogers and his eagle-eye also spotted black and white colobus monkeys in the distance.
A Treehouse with a View Over Bigodi Swamp
The Bigodi Wetlands also features a viewing platform. If you sufer from vertigo, I don't recommend making the climb. The ladder is steep and the platform tends to sway a bit. It definitely is a great vantage point though over the wetlands and Kibale National Forest for surveying the landscape for birds and other animals.
The Birds of Bigodi Swamp
The birds of Bigodi Swamp were no match for our guide Rogers! His laser-sharp eye spotted this white-throated bee-eater on a tree branch.
We would have missed this double-toothed barbet if Rogers had not been with us to point it out.
Rogers also noted how the yellow-billed barbet is sometimes mistaken for a woodpecker.
Starring Uganda's Blue Turacos
Uganda boasts over 1000 species of birds but the blue turaco is the star of the show. Rogers led us right up a tree with three blue turacos hanging out near the top. He even helped us get into the right position for best viewing and photographs by climbing a small hill nearby just above the Bigodi Swamp trail. The blue turacos seemed just as curious about us as we were of them.
Western Uganda's Colorful Lizards
Once again, Rogers and his amazing eye for nature ensured that we saw a wonderful Ugandan creature that we would have missed otherwise. We spotted a gorgeous turquoise blue lizard hugging a tree!
Scents of the Bigodi Swamp
Our nature walk in Uganda's Bigodi Wetlands with self-taught naturalist Rogers went far beyond just the birds and fauna of the nature reserve. Rogers pointed out an orange wildflower that smells like stinking cheese. Rogers told us that he noticed a weird smell one day and went to investigate. When he realized that the orange flowers were the source of the smell, he researched it in a book he had bought with some of his tip money to add his repertoire of knowledge. I love how Rogers is using empirical techniques like the naturalists of days gone by to learn about the world around him.
Uganda's Rare Butterflies
As we were nearing the end of our circuit of Bigodi Swamp, Rogers stopped in his tracks. A black butterfly was sitting with wings closed on a leaf. Rogers urged us to wait a moment until the butterfly opened its wings and we saw a startling bright blue color on its back. Once again, Rogers knowledge of the local flora and fauna near Uganda's Kibale National Forest ensured that we saw another of Western Uganda's natural wonders.
An Inspiring Tour of Uganda's Bigodi Wetlands
We could have easily passed through Kibale National Forest, checking out the major attractions like tracking chimpanzees and entirely missed this hidden gem. Thanks to our tour operator Matoke Tours for suggesting a stop at Uganda's community-run Bigodi Swamp. Don't miss community sponsored attractions like this one on your trip to Uganda, especially since they put you in touch with inspiring local people. For us, Rogers was truly an amazing guide and we'll always remember him as the bird whisperer of Uganda's Bigodi Swamp.