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Rwanda 2018

Harriet Kemigisha
December 2018

For travelling birders, a visit to Rwanda should be on the programme! Why? To solve the problem of the most difficult Albertine Rift endemics in Africa, primates and mammals combined with excellent Trail systems in the forest, excellent roads, accommodations and food.

Nyungwe National Park was the highlight of the trip giving us excellent views of Rwenzori Turaco seen every day of our stay there, Kivu Ground Thrush, Newman’s Warbler and many other Albertine rift endemics and of course the canopy walkway.

This Rwanda trip began in the morning at Kigali International Airport, picking up Lorna and Chris and welcomed by their guide Harriet Kemigisha and driver Damascene. After meeting the clients and finding out that all was fine, everyone having their luggage, we quickly went though the day’s programme and proceeded to Akagera National Park. Driving short distance on the way to Akagera we stopped on several marshes and picked up our first birds of the trip such as Red-eyed Doves, flocks of African Open-billed Storks, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Ducks, Striated Herons, Dark capped Bulbul, Fan-tailed Widowbirds nesting in the marsh, Northern Common Fiscal perched on electric wires, colonies of Village Weavers nesting in swamps along the road. Driving through villages with farmlands near Akagera National Park, we picked up flocks of African and Common Swifts, Lesser Blue eared Starlings, Big flocks of Barn Swallows, Lesser-striped and Mosque Swallows, Sand Martins and Laughing Dove. We entered the park at around mid-morning and it was getting pretty hot and birding activity was slow but we managed to pick up flocks of European Bee-eaters, Grey backed Shrike, Miombo Wren Warbler and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. On proceeding to Akagera visitor information centre for registration and briefing about the park where Village and Lesser-masked Weavers were nesting in the gardens. We arrived at Akagera game lodge at 12:30 pm and the friendly Hotel staff welcomed us with a glass of juice, after they told us to have lunch and wait for checking in to our rooms at 2pm.

Lappet-faced Vulture

Our evening game drive to Nyamwashama track was very productive as we started birding from the lodge picking up species like Black-lored Babbler, Trilling Cisticola, African Harrier Hawk, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Firefinch, Peregrine Falcon, Copper Sunbird, Red-necked Francolin, Ruppell’s Long-tailed Starling, Bare-faced go-away Bird, Black bellied Bustard, Hamerkop and the enormous Lappet-faced Vulture. Mammals and primates included Masai Giraffe, herds of Impalas, Zebras and Olive Baboons, Topis, Cape Buffalo and Reedbuck. On the next day we had an early breakfast and went for a long game drive that took us the whole day in various habitats, which was very productive for birds and mammals. We saw our first Purple-crested Turaco, Short-tailed Pipit, Wattled Starlings, White-headed Barbet (a pair was seen very well – according to the book Birds in Rwanda it needed confirmation), Croaking and Trilling Cisticolas, Emerald Spotted Wood-dove, White-headed and Spot-flanked Barbets, Long-tailed Cisticola and Holub’s Golden Weaver. Continuing to the ranger campsite on the lake, we located Speckled and Blue-naped Mousebirds, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers and Little Bee-eaters. Later in the afternoon after our good packed lunch, we had views of two male Lions and we kept going on our drive to different locations with scattered lakes we came across Hippos and crocodiles.     

Purple Crested Turaco

On the next day we had early morning breakfast and proceed to our boat cruise on Lake Ihema where we had great birding, picking up most of the water birds. I must say this is the biggest concentration of African Daters breeding and roosting on this lake having seen more than 400+ individuals as well as a large congregation of White breasted Cormorants. We also had our first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Grosbeak Weavers, Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco heron, Black Egret, Hadada and Glossy Ibis, Common Sandpiper, nesting colonies of Village and Lesser Masked Weavers, African Fish Eagle,  Great and Reed Cormorants, Swamp Flycatcher, Goliath Heron, Great Egret, Sand Martins and Barn Swallows, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Water Thick-knees, Purple Heron, Sedge Warbler, Grey Crowned Cranes and Winding Cisticolas.This was a very productive boat cruise. After the boat cruise we decided to take another game drive as it was still good weather and took a slow drive towards the main road which gave us good views of Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Red-faced Crombec, Spotted Flycatcher, Western Citril, Lilac-breasted Roller, Red-necked Francolin and several pairs of Brown Parrots. In the afternoon, we had lunch and birded in the gardens where we had a chance to see our first White headed Black Chat, Garden and Willow Warblers, Marico, Copper and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, and African Dusky Flycatcher.

We left early for Nyungwe National Park and this day was mostly a travelling one passing through villages and capital city of Rwanda where we located Hooded Vultures in the outskirts of Kigali and a wide selection of African water birds on several marshes with fish ponds and rice farms – Hamerkop, Sacred Ibis, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Yellow-billed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, Reed Cormorant, African Jacana, Purple and Squacco Herons, Great Egret, African Openbill, Winding Cisticola, Village and Viellot’s Black Weavers, Blue-headed Coucal. We continued driving and had our lunch stop in Butare town where we had a good lunch, afterwards we slowly proceeded through the many beautiful thousand hills as there was nothing much to see during the heat of the day only a few Augur Buzzards. Later in the evening we entered a beautiful forest of Nyungwe National Park where we stopped to stretch our legs and wow; we had distinctive calls of many Albertine Rift Endemics and within a few minutes a couple of Grauer’s Warbler showed up very well in the dense tangles, Rwenzori  Double-collared and  Regal Sunbirds, Rwenzori Apalis, Black crowned Kandt’s Waxbills, Mountain Thrush, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Strange Weaver, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Stripe-breasted Tit, White-tailed Blue flycatcher, Rwenzori and Chinspot Batis, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Fine-banded Woodpecker showed up very well and Eastern Mountain Greenbul. We heard our first Rwenzori Turaco calling very close which was on Lorna’s TOP list but it started raining and could not see it then decided to drive off to our accommodation as it was getting dark and we stayed at Gisakura guest house.

The next morning was the big day in Nyungwe forest and indeed it was rewarding as we picked up a lot of good birds again, After picking up the site guide Clever, we started birding along the main tarmac road where we picked up Baglafecht Weaver and African Stonechat by the tea plantations. Then we proceeded to the Nyungwe tourism office for registration before we entered the forest. Just at the beginning of our forest walk on the roadside we picked up Bar-tailed Trogon, White- browed Crombec, Willard’s Sooty Boubou and African Broadbill was heard calling but played heard to get. We also picked Slender-billed Greenbul, Elliot’s Woodpecker, Mountain Oriole, Mountain Illadopsis and Dusky Tits. After picking up most the birds here we decided to move to the next spot on Rangiro road that connects to the village through the park, had our first Ruwenzori Turaco as well as Archer’s Robin, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Black and White Casqued Hornbill, Mountain Masked Apalis, Yellow White-eye and Dark capped Bulbul.

We later started birding towards the restaurant to have lunch and move on to the afternoon activity of the canopy walk. We went on to Igishigishi trail for an absolutely amazing experience of the canopy walk with our first Purple-headed Sunbird and at the end of the walk we heard Kivu Ground Thrush calling which we followed and got excellent views, As we walked back on the trail we encountered a big troop of Blue Monkey feeding and we had our first Black-billed Turacos. We later proceeded to Gisakura Guest house for dinner and an overnight.

Angolan Colobus Monkey

We had an early breakfast and took a trail to the water falls, which I must say was one of the best trails in Nyungwe forest, We had our first Grey Apalis, Cabanis’s Greenbul, and main target here was to look for Newman’s Warbler as we continued walking slowly on the beautiful trails, We had one calling down the stream which responded well on the call and gave us a fantastic views. On the same spot we had a big flock and picked up Dark-backed Weavers, Pink-footed Puffback, Brown-capped Weavers, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Yellow-bellied Wattle-Eye, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Red-throated Alethe and Equatorial Akalat was heard calling but did not show up.

We continued birding towards the tea plantation looking for Luhder’s Bushrike which responded very well giving great views plus Yellow-bellied Waxbill and Grey Apalis, by the forest edge Ross’s Turacos, Green-headed and Collored Sunbirds.  It was getting hot and we came back to our guest house for lunch later went back to the road side for more birds that we had not seen, We got our first Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, unfortunately a down-pour interrupted our late afternoon birding and we went back to our guest house and planned for early morning birding before transferring to Lake Kivu. We had several troops of L’Hoest monkeys on the road side, good views of Chimpanzees and Rwenzori sun squirrel and Angolan Colobus Monkeys.

The next morning’s birding started along the main road picking up African Stonechat, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Dusky Crimsonwing, Doherty’s Bushrike, Blue-headed Sunbird, Grey-capped Warbler, Northern Double-collared Sunbirds. As it rained, and bird activity was very slow, we went back to the hotel for lunch and parked up to travel to our next destination of Lake Kivu. Checked in to our accommodation at Bethany Hotel
We then drove during a quiet time of the day through small towns and farmlands arriving Lake Kivu late in the evening. It was still raining so we did not do much birding, but picked up a few common birds in the gardens – Willow Warblers, Red-chested and Variable Sunbirds, Red-eyed Doves, Pied Crow, Reed and Great Cormorant and African Paradise flycatcher.

Lake Kivu

An early start this morning, we did some birding in the gardens before driving to Volcanoes National Park in the gardens we found Blue-headed Coucal, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and African Pied Wagtail. We stopped by the beautiful Gishwati forest where we found our first Narina Trogon on the trip, Yellow White-eye, White-browed Crombec. A big thunderstorm disturbed our morning birding in this forest where we sat in the car hoping that it would stop, but all in vain. We therefore decided to continue driving in the rain and do afternoon birding in the swamp near the lake. We had lunch in Musanze town and proceed to our Hotel in Kinigi Guest house. Cape Robin Chat made a brief appearance in the garden as well as a pair of Mountain Thrushes. We later drove to the swamp where we picked up more birds – Black-headed Weaver, Common Waxbill, Cinnamon-bracken Warblers, Dusky Turtle Dove, Streaky Seed-eater, Hadada Ibis, Yellow-billed Ducks, Sacred Ibis – then we drove back to our hotel for dinner and overnight at Kinigi Guest house.

We started our morning at Volcanoes Park headquarters for briefing prior to our birding activity. We later proceeded to a trail which we drove about 30 minutes to reach. Our first birds were Yellow crowned Canary in tree tops of the forest edge, Cape Robin Chat, Speckled Mousebird, Streaky seed-eaters and Yellow Bishop. As we entered the interior of the forest we had Rwenzori Sunbird, Mountain Yellow Warbler,  Eastern Mountain Greenbul, White Starred Robin and an Augur Buzzard soaring by. Later mid-morning we had Little Sparrowhawk. The birding here was excellent with sightings of Mountain Masked Apalis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Rwenzori Hill-Babbler, Rwenzori, Batis and Regal  Sunbird  as well as  Chubb’s Cisticola, African Hobby perched up high in the tree and that was our goodbye bird.

We had our early breakfast and checked out of our Hotel in Kinigi Guest house and went on our usual procedure of registration before entering the forest. For birding in Buhanga Eco Park the office told us to pick a guide from Musanze town. We came late because we entered the forest at 9.30am and he insisted that were only going to be in the park for 1-2 hours because that is how they do it. I tried to explain to him that this is a birding trip and we take it slow as we listen and look for birds but he said no. As we discussed about time to be spent in the forest, I tried to ignore him and we looked around. There was a fruiting fig tree and we picked up Spot-flanked Barbet and the nearby shrubby bush produced a small flock of White-chinned Prinia which was new for the trip. We continued walking on the volcanic rocks trail and found Black and White Mannkin nesting, as well as Bronze Sunbird feeding on flowers, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters perched up high in the canopy. As we walked on the trail we had our first Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Common and Black-crowned Waxbills, Speckled Mousebirds and Yellow-whiskered Greenbul. Grey-backed Camaroptera kept calling  from the bush and eventually showed up very well. Ross’s Turaco was perched well in the tree and gave us very good views. Several Tropical Boubou kept calling and one flew from the bush and we had good views, plus a Cardinal Woodpecker that Lorna pointed out from the tall grass. We then drove back to Musanze for lunch and proceeded to Kigali. We picked up several Hooded Vultures just a few kilometres outside Musanze town as well as Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Stork, Cattle Egrets, Hadada Ibis and Yellow-billed Kites. It rained all the way on our drive up to Kigali where we checked in to our hotel at Sinai Suits for an overnight stay.

Today we woke up early for breakfast and drove to Gahanga Swamp on Kigali-Burundi road where we stopped at a sugar cane plantation and were welcomed by Sacred ibis, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Red-faced Cisticola, which was new for the trip. We continued birding on the busy road side to the papyrus swamp close by the same sugar cane plantation and got to see so many species – Blue-headed Coucal, Papyrus Canary, Fawn-breasted and Black-crowned Waxbills, Red-chested and Bronze Sunbirds, Lesser-striped and Wire-tailed Swallows, Brimstone and Yellow-fronted Canaries, Western Citril. One of our main targets was to look for Papyrus Gonolek which we only heard calling deep in the thick swamp but did not come out. White-winged Warblers were heard displaying but did not show up. The same swamp produced many other species in Swamp Flycatcher, hundreds of Red-billed Queleas, African Marsh Harrier, European Bee-eaters, Steppe Buzzards, Red-eyed Doves and Northern Brown-throated, Black headed and Slender-billed Weavers. We continued our drive to Gashora Swamp which is a very important birding area in Rwanda and indeed it was very rewarding for Long-toed Lapwing, Wood Sandpipers, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Winding Cisticola, Black Crake, Allen’s Gallinule, Red-knobbed Coot, African Jacana, Isabelline Shrike perched well on the roadside besides the Papyrus swamp, Cape and African Pied Wagtails, Grey Heron, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Snipe, Grey-backed Shrike perched up by the electric wires and Red-Chested Cuckoo, Lilac-breasted Roller, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows, Greater Swamp Warbler, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Western Cattle and Great Egrets, Carruthers’s Cisticola and Ruppell’s Long-tailed Starling.

We had a long and productive day which ended with many birds and later we visited Nyamata Genocide memorial which was a very moving time, we had our last and special Dinner organised by David Mugisha the CEO of Rwanda Wildlife Tours.

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