Posted by: atowhee | November 29, 2010


Our first full day in Uganda, we took a rickety ferry across a small arm of Lake Victoria.

Then we drove down a rugged road to the edge of the Mabamba Swamp, a papyrus wetland on the lakeshore.  Papyrus stood taller than a man upright in the canoe.  Your visibility was limited until we got into lower vegetation.  Our canoe sat low in the water.

Then, we rounded an elbow in the narrow channel…and there he (0r she) stood.  All four feet in height, stolid, solid and gray.  But oh so intriguing.  The only member of an obscure taxonomic family.  Once considered stork-like, now perhaps being allied with pelicans.  Found only in some African papyrus swamps, often sought but not always found: The Shoebill.

The Shoebill never leaves the swamp.  It feeds on fish it pulls from the narrow channel.  To hunt it stands quietly along the channel edge, waiting.  The birds nests deep within the swamp.  During our birding visit to Uganda we went to an area named “Impenetrable Forest,” but this was truly an impenetrable swamp.  Outside the narrow, open channels there was no way a human move about on foot, swimming or on any boat less powerful than an icebreaker, or papyrus breaker.  Even the local guide had never seen a Shoebill, or even a nestling.  The birds move out of the deepest reeds to feed as full-grown birds along the lower growth along edge of the open water.




















In this same swamp we encountered another African bird with its own family and no closely related species: the Hamerkop.





















This was all very exciting for the bipeds in the boat: two new bird families–let alone species–for our life lists.  Storks, ducks, raptors, shorebirds, two species of kingfisher.  P_ounding pulses.  But what was it like standing around in the payrus all day for Mr. Shoebill?  Yawn inducing:


  1. It’s great to see the shoebill and what a great shot of the hammerkop. Did you see the hammerkop’s nest? Giant collections of sticks up in the trees?

  2. I loved the Shoebill – When we Lived in So. Africa I knew this bird by the Africaans name of HammerKop. Have you seen a Lilac Brested Roller ? My most beloved bird of all.
    Keep the emails coming…..

  3. […] his distant cousin, the Shoebill, Mr. Hamerkop is unique with a taxonomic family all to himself.   The Hamerkop is widespread […]

  4. Hi Harry and Kate: What a treat to see a Shoebill. On all our trips to Africa over 20 years we have never seen one – unfortunately not on my bird list. The Hamerkop was a special sighting for us as well. They are monotypic – one species to a genus. They are special architects with a gigantic nest of wooden sticks like a beaver’s nest with a side entrance door – not to be missed or mistaken. Looking forward to getting together with you and Kate when you return.
    Milt and Pix

  5. […] Here’s my earlier Shoebill of goods, with some taxonomic info. […]

  6. […] Here’s my earlier Shoebill of goods, with some taxonomic info. […]

  7. […] If you click here you can see some of my Shoebill shots (including yawn) from that memorable birding… […]

  8. […] Click here for that first blog more than a decade ago when the showbill fit. […]

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