The Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary near Kibale 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 Rodgers, 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 Rodgers, 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 Rodgers, The Bird Whisperer of Bigodi Swamp
Most people visit Uganda to go gorilla trekking. While a gorilla safari is certainly a highlight of any trip to Uganda, I challenge you to look deeper and check out community run projects like 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 Rodgers, our tour guide for the morning. As we walked through the Bigodi Swamp, more of Rodgers' story unfolded. Rodgers 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?!" Rodgers 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. Rodgers confided that he's completely self-taught. Leading tours, taking walks everyday and cross referencing books about Uganda's wildlife 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. Rodgers 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 Uganda's Bigodi Swamp. We saw some amazing spiderwebs (but fortunately didn't have any run-ins with the spiders themselves).
Monkeying Around in Western Uganda
Rodgers was not only great at spotting birds, he also had a knack for finding monkeys. We spotted grey-cheeked mangabeys feeding in the trees. Rodgers 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 Park for surveying the landscape for Ugandan birds and other animals.
The Birds of Bigodi Swamp
The birds of Bigodi Swamp were no match for our guide Rodgers! His laser-sharp eye spotted this white-throated bee-eater on a tree branch.
We would have missed this double-toothed barbet if Rodgers had not been with us to point it out.
Rodgers 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 Kibale Forest National Park. Rodgers 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, Rodgers 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 Rodgers went far beyond just the birds and fauna of the nature reserve. Rodgers pointed out an orange wildflower that smells like stinking cheese. Rodgers 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 so he could add to his repertoire of knowledge. I love how Rodgers 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, Rodgers stopped in his tracks. A black butterfly was sitting with wings closed on a leaf. Rodgers 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, Rodgers' 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 Ugandan people. For us, Rodgers was truly an amazing guide and we'll always remember him as the bird whisperer of Uganda's Bigodi Swamp.