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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Rwanda

Mountain Gorillas and Endemics of the Albertine Rift

2013 Narrative

Arriving in a new country is always exciting, although for a couple of us that was tainted by the lack of luggage!  However after a good night’s sleep (and the first of our Albertine Rift endemics in the form of Regal Sunbird in the hotel car park) we were off to the first of three main destinations on the tour, AkageraNational Park. Although most of the Rwanda countryside is given over to farming, stops at some marshy and neglected areas along the gave us our first birds and we got to grips with Little Sparrowhawk, Long-crested Eagle, Grey-backed Fiscal, African Stonechat, Carruther’s Cisticola, and Village and Black-headed Weavers. As we neared the park, a small lake held our attention with a single Rufous-bellied Heron, smart Vieillott’s Black Weavers busy building nests, and Red-chested Sunbird among lots of other species. Further on we saw Grey Kestrel, White-headed Black Chats, and Green-winged Pytilia before reaching our lodge.

Our accommodation held a commanding view of some of the park’s many lakes and wetlands, and our first real excursion was to take a boat ride on one of the lakes. This gave us a different view of the place, and allowed us to get really close to the papyrus giving us good views of a variety of birds including Striated and Squacco Herons, African Fish Eagle, Black Crake, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, hordes of egrets and cormorants, and an obliging Giant Kingfisher. Back at the lodge, the grounds held a variety of birds from the localised Red-faced Barbet, to Lesser Honeyguide and the bright yellow-throated race of Green-capped Eremomela, as well as lots ofAngolaand Lesser Striped Swallows, White-winged Black Tit, and Copper Sunbird.

The long thin shape of the park meant some lengthy drives up to the northern wetlands in our search for Shoebill. Although that eluded us, we did encounter a nice selection of birds typical of the wetlands and savannah habitats. The list is a long one but some that stand out are Openbill Storks, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, Black-chested, Brown, and Western Banded Snake Eagles, Martial Eagle, migrant European Honey Buzzards, African Hawk Eagle, African Green Pigeon, Brown Parrot, and Ross’s Turaco. Add a selection of cuckoos (including great views of Levaillant’s Cuckoo), Blue-headed Coucal, Broad-billed Roller, Crested and Black-collared Barbets, Bearded and Grey Woodpeckers, Flappet Lark performing its distinctive display flight, Sooty Chats, Icterine Warbler, duetting Black-headed Gonoleks, Splendid Starling, a good selection of weavers, all in breeding plumage, and White-winged Widowbirds. There were also a few tetse flies around.

Moving back to Kigali for one night, we then headed to the south west and the extensive forests of Nyungwe National Park. However we had not gone too far when we stopped at the Nyabarongo river where we treated to outstanding views of Papyrus Gonolek, a species that can be hard to see well. On reaching Nyungwe, our first stop produced Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, another regional speciality and one which gave us the first taste of the remarkable skills of our local guide. Those of us who were able to walk properly spent the next two and half days exploring the rich forest using just a small part of the extensive trail network. There is no denying that the birds were hard work in the forest, (especially when we encountered a mixed bird flock with everything all happening at once), but the rewards were great and we left Nyungwe having seen a good number of Albertine Rift endemics.

We broke the long journey north to Volcanoes with a night in Kibuye. Leaving there we followed the ‘coast’ road along the scenic shoreline of Lake Kivuwhich took us to the very comfortable lodge set amidst towering volcanoes. On the way a picnic lunch stop at a small patch of forest produced some superb views of Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and White-tailed Blue-flycatcher. This was to be our base for perhaps the undoubted highlight of the tour – our encounter with Mountain Gorillas. Trying to describe that is not easy, as I imagine each person took away their own special memories of the experience, but I know it rates as one of the best wildlife encounters I have ever had. And then we took the ‘scenic’ route back to Kigali, stopping for a few new birds such as Red-throated Wryneck and Black-and-White Mannikin, and our flights home.   – Steve Rooke

Created: 23 April 2014