Introducing Sunbird Hill on the edge of Kibale Forest
Sunbird Hill Research and Monitoring Site is becoming a haven for nature enthusiasts that have ticked off the Big Five and are ready to search for the smaller – yet equally impressive – creatures of Uganda (such as the elusive Green-breasted Pitta). Sunbird Hill is ideally situated for anyone going chimp tracking in Kibale Forest. It’s also a wonderful location to relax and enjoy the pure forest air and the natural sounds emanating from the forest. I’ve been visiting this fabulous part of Uganda regularly since 2009. One definite plus about visiting Sunbird Hill is having the chance to meet Julia Lloyd, the resident primatologist (and PhD candidate in fact!) If you love chimpanzees, you’ll be amazed at her stories of her many years living and working deep in Kibale Forest.
National and international experts who visit Sunbird Hill on a regular basis include ornithologists, lepidopterists, herpetologists, botanists and primatologists. Bird ringing (or banding) occurs periodically throughout the year. Bird ringing in Kibale Forest is one of my all-time favourite blogs. Contact Malcolm Wilson of African Affinity to learn more about his next ringing trip to Sunbird Hill in January 2019.
What is Sunbird Hill?
Sunbird Hill is situated on 40 acres of private land bordering Kibale Forest. It is just off the Fort Portal-Kamwenge Road, 3 km from Kanyanchu Tourist Centre (base for chimpanzee tracking in Kibale National Park) and 3.5 km from KAFRED at Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary.
We are a British-Ugandan family passionate about wildlife and conservation. Our compound is a traditional open plan dwelling, with grass thatched houses, a treehouse, large elevated research office and a kitchen garden. Guests are welcome to stay in Butterfly Cottage, a brick and wood cottage that stands in its own small compound next door to our family compound, or sleep in the simple yet adorable Turaco Treehouse set within our family compound.
Sunbird Hill is regenerating farmland. This, and its location on the edge of the forest, means the land has numerous microhabitats that give it a high species richness: plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals and our main passion: birds. Species lists are constantly being updated, and so far we have recorded 18 of the 38 sunbird species listed for Uganda. The recent visit from ornithologist Roger Skeen has pushed our bird species list above the 210 mark. He was very excited to spot a Lemon Dove. We know there are many more birds yet to be identified at Sunbird Hill (and we challenge all visitors to add to our bird list!) We know that NatureUganda members will definitely add many more ticks to our list. We’re sure they’ll be as excited as we are about the Green-breasted Pitta habituation project!
Calls from wild chimpanzees are regularly heard, especially at night and early in the morning when chimps call out to each other from their night nests (making ‘contact calls’ as they are known in the primatological world). These primates are often seen when the fig tree at the end of our garden is laden with fruit; half of the tree’s canopy is in Kibale Forest National Park. Often elephants can be heard breaking trees during their nightly forages whilst the distinct calls of the resident Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and Black-shouldered Nightjar reveal their identity.
Activities at Sunbird Hill
The Birders’ Lounge
The Birders’ Lounge is a large thatched bird-themed shelter that houses our growing reference library and covers topics including: ornithology, mammalogy, primatology, entomology, herpetology, and botany, as well as conservation and African travel. Comfortable chairs, desks and work benches are surrounded by Ugandan natural history paraphernalia. The garden around the Birders’ Lounge is full of native and naturalised flowering plants carefully selected to nurture a diversity of birds and butterflies – perfect for the armchair nature enthusiast.
Explore our nature trails on the edge of Kibale Forest
Paths wind through the 40 acres of land that borders Kibale Forest taking you through forest edge, woodland, bushland, grassland, farmland, wetland, and riverine habitats. (Pre-booked) visitors are invited to follow the nature trails with one of our experienced site guides.
On a bird walk at Sunbird Hill, one of the trained site guides will point out and provide insightful information on birds, butterflies and plants as well as the occasional primate, reptile and amphibian sighting. What cannot be identified during the walk is photographed and identified at Sunbird Hill’s extensive reference library back at the Birders’ Lounge.
Sunbird Hill Bird Club meets 8 a.m. every Saturday at the Birders’ Lounge and includes a morning nature walk before heading back to the Birders’ Lounge for refreshments, consultation with the reference books and documentation of our findings. Guests who are staying overnight at Sunbird Hill are welcome to join club members on our Saturday morning walks.
Recommended activities within a few minutes of Sunbird Hill
We live in a truly Ugandan village environment so if you would like to see more of the rural village of Kyabakwerere, a member of our staff will be happy to escort you.
Chimpanzee Tracking (Kanyanchu Tourist Centre, Kibale National Park), Bigodi Swamp Walk (Bigodi) and Tooro Cultural Centre (Bigodi) are less than 10 minutes drive from Sunbird Hill.
Bed and breakfast accommodation at Sunbird Hill
Butterfly Cottage has breath-taking views over the forest, with the chimps’ favourite – the statuesque fig trees – clearly in view from the large veranda. A spotting scope is available for viewing the birds, monkeys and chimpanzees (although note that seeing chimps from Sunbird Hill can’t be guaranteed). The cottage has a comfortable double bed (with mosquito net), en-suite bathroom with warm shower and flush toilet, fridge, reliable lighting and charging facilities. It has a mezzanine floor where two single beds can be added.
Turaco Treehouse is a charming little room on stilts within branches of a tree set in our family compound, perfect for those who want to be at one with nature. The Treehouse has everything an avid birder or nature lover needs: a comfortable double bed (with net), sofa (for armchair birding), warm ‘bucket outdoor shower’, rechargeable bedside lights and access to charging facilities within our family kitchen.
Eat in or out at Sunbird Hill
Butterfly Cottage and Turaco Treehouse are available on a bed and breakfast basis. For all other meals, we suggest eating at The Bee Hive Bar & Bistro opposite Bigodi Swamp just 3.5 km drive from Sunbird Hill. The Bee Hive has great views over Kibale Forest and has a reasonably priced local and international-style menu and bar (cold beers guaranteed!) The Bee Hive also has satellite TV (and back-up generator) and a pool table. Read more about Diary of a Muzungu’s visits to The Bee Hive here. It’s a great little place!
Alternatively, you can eat a simple local lunch or dinner at 15,000 UGX per meal, when booked in advance at Sunbird Hill.
How much does it cost to visit Sunbird Hill?
Butterfly Cottage + access to the Birders’ Lounge and nature trails. $150 per night (bed and breakfast rate based on two people sharing).
Turaco Treehouse + access to the Birders’ Lounge and nature trails. $50 per night (bed and breakfast rate based on two people sharing).
Half day visitor, morning or afternoon. Access to the Birders’ Lounge and nature trails. $15 per person.
The above fees include tea and coffee at the Birders’ Lounge. Cold beers, sodas, local gin tots and snacks are available at extra cost.
The fee also includes one of our site guides. Please note: access to the nature trails is strictly only available to people who have paid in advance and who are accompanied by our site guides. Be aware that you are not allowed to enter the National Park from Sunbird Hill.
Discounts are available to members of NatureUganda, NatureKenya, East African Natural History Society, Explorers’ Club, Lepidoptera Club of Africa & African Bird Club. (Proof of membership required). “We want you naturalists here!” Says Julia.
Directions. How to get to Sunbird Hill and the Birders’ Lounge
Sunbird Hill is 3 km from Kanyanchu Tourist Centre, Kibale National Park and is 3.5 km from The Bee Hive Bar & Bistro in Bigodi Trading Centre off the Fort Portal-Kamwenge Road.
Keep upto date with Sunbird Hill via their Facebook page or call +256 (0)701 577784 to make an enquiry. Booking in advance is essential.