BIRDING IN RWANDA

Rwanda has recorded about 650 species of bird. These include many of the sought-after Albertine Rift Endemics (‘ARE’s) and some West Africa forest specials which reach their eastern most limits in Rwanda. There is also a select band of localized rarities which, currently, may be seen (safely) only in Rwanda.

Derek Schuurman describes Rwanda’s Prime Birding Sites.

NYUNGWE FOREST RESERVE

Preferably known for its 13 species of resident Primate, this beautiful and ancient tropical evergreen forest is arguably the country’s most exciting hotspot for birders. A winding tarmac road bisects Nyungwe Forest and the terrain includes many steep slopes. Birders can seek most of the resident Albertine Rift Endemics along the road including; the remarkable ‘painted’ Rwenzori Turaco, Handsome Francolin, Mountain Black Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer’s Robin-chat, the rare Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler, the near-endemic Kungwe Apalis the attractive Mountain Masked Apalis, and a cluster of colourful Sunbirds including Ruwenzori Double-collared, Purple-throated, Blue-headed and the stunning Regal Sunbird. Stripe-breasted Tit and Strange Weaver can also be seen. Nyungwe Forest is now the only site in which the sought-after Red-collared Mountain Babbler can safely be sought.

Due to the steep terrain, much of this forest remains unexplored, a well-laid out system of forest trails is to be found around the Gisakura Guesthouse and the Uwinka campsite. Along the trails, birders can seek Red-throated Alethe, Archer’s Robin-chat and the elusive Kivu Ground Thrush. In rank roadside herbage, look for the exquisite Shelley’s Crimsonwing and its better-known relative, the Dusky Crimsonwing. The enormous ‘psychedelic turkey-like’ Great blue Turaco a conspicuous forest inhabitant, and calls of Barred Long tailed cuckoo can often be heard. Keep a lookout for White-bellied Robin-chat, Banded Prinia, Collared Apalis and, high up in the canopy, Slender-billed and Waller’s Starlings. Doherty’s and Lagden’s Bush-shrikes, the delicate White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher and Dusky Tit are further attractions. Nocturnal specials include Rwenzori Nightjar, Albertine Owlet and Fraser’s Eagle Owl.

PARC NATIONAL DES VOLCANS

A celebrated residence for Mountain Gorillas, two troops of recently habituated Golden Monkeys and not forgetting some 180-bird species in this park. Well placed in the Virunga volcano chain, the terrain consists mainly of steep volcanic slopes. Below 2,500m, much of the Afro-montane forest has been cleared for agriculture. . Higher up, there is moorland, marsh and grassland with Giant Lobelias a prominent feature in places. Midst 2,500m and 3,500m, the habitat mainly consists of dense bamboo stands and Hagenia woods. Resident birds with many of the Albertine Rift Endemics, such as the Handsome Francolin, the highly sought-after and spectacular, ‘painted’ Rwenzori Turaco; Archer’s Robin-chat and both Dusky and Shelley’s Crimsonwings.

AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

In eastern Rwanda, the park is dominated by savanna, relatively open grassland and Papyrus swamps.
The acacia savanna supports many broadly distributed African birds such as Bennett’s Woodpecker, headed Black Chat, White-Black-collared Barbet, Tabora Cisticola and Miombo Wren-warbler. Akagera is probably the best site in which to look for the very rare Ring-necked Francolin. The highly localised acacia specialist Red-faced Barbet can be sought around the Akagera Game Lodge grounds, as can the rare Souza’s shrike. Also worth looking for are Barefaced Go-away Bird, Brown Parrot, White-winged Black Tit and Sooty Chat.
One of Africa’s most sought-after birds, the enormous and bizarre Shoebill, may be present in the Papyrus swamp habitat. Other Papyrus swamp specialists include; the Swamp Flycatcher, Carruther’s Cisticola, the elusive White-winged Warbler, and the stunning Papyrus Gonolek. At the water’s edge, look for the localised Brown-chested Lapwing and the attractive, widely distributed Long-toed Lapwing.