Rwanda Birding and Mammal Trip
Guide: Nick Buys
The main focus of our Rwanda Birding and Mammal tour was to see the key primates and as many birds and mammals as possible. With limited birding time we still managed to see most of the targets and some great mammals as well.
The trip started with a pre-trip birding extension to Nyungwe National Park in the south-western corner of Rwanda close to the Burundi and DRC border.
The first day was mostly a driving day but we did a quick stop at a wetland just outside Kigali where we found our two main targets, White-winged Swamp Warbler and Papyrus Canary. Other interesting birds seen here were Swamp Flycatcher, Slender-billed, Holub’s Golden and Spectacled Weaver, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Brimstone and Yellow-fronted Canary, Bronze and Red-chested Sunbird, African Harrier-hawk, White-headed Sawwing, Woodland, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, African Jacana and Spur-winged Goose. We did visit the Genocide Memorial and you cannot help to get a little bit emotional when learning more about the terrible events of that time in Rwanda. From here we had a long drive to get to Nyungwe. Actually nothing is very long in distance in Rwanda but it takes a long time to get anywhere because of the winding roads. It is not called the land of a thousand hills for nothing!!
The most important bird seen of the drive was Ruaha Chat, which is surprisingly common and easily seen perching on the rooftops.
Other notable birds seen on the drive include Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Stork, Purple Heron, African Sacred and Hadeda Ibis, Black-winged Kite, Eurasian Kestrel, African Thrush and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. The last section of the road was through the park and we did see White-necked Raven, Thick-billed Seedeater, Dusky Crimsonwing, Angola Swallow, Golden-breasted Bunting and Black Sawwing. Black-fronted Duiker and L’houst Monkeys were the first new mammals.
We had two full days of birding before the main tour started and with a very small and specific target list we started off on the first trails. Equatorial Akalat, Red-throated Alethe, Strange Weaver, Black-billed Turaco, Black-crowned Waxbill, Abyssinian Thrush, Eastern Mountain and Slender-billed Greenbul, Green White-eye, Banded Prinia, Grey-headed Nigrita, Gray Apalis, Dusky Tit, White-bellied Crested-Flycatcher, Northern Puffback, Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher and African Dusky Flycatcher were all seen early in the morning.
The trails were very well maintained a pleasure to explore and we successful with other key targets seen including Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Apalis, Kungwe Apalis, Mountain Illadopsis, Luhder’s Bushshrike, Black-tailed Oriole, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Grauer’s Warbler, Chestnut-throated Apalis and Purple-chested Sunbird. Rwenzori Sun Squirrel, Blue Monkey and Boehm’s Bush Squirrel were new mammals. Other notable birds seen in the forest today include Regal, Collared, Olive, Blue-headed and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Red-faced Woodland-Warbler, Black-faced Apalis, Grey and Black Cuckooshrike and Tullberg’s Woodpecker.
On our second full day we started off with the Ndambarare Trail and the birding were brilliant.
Some of the main targets seen were Neumann’s Warbler, Willard’s Sooty Boubou, Grey-chested Babbler, Blue-headed Sunbird, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Waller’s and Stuhlmann’s Starlings. Other great birds seen on the trail include Great Blue Turaco, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Red-throated Alethe, Equatorial Akalat, Brown-capped Weaver, Rwenzori Apalis, Dusky Tit, White-chinned Prinia and Scarce Swift. On the way out we did see Blue Malkoha, Yellow-romper Tinkerbird, Grey Apalis, Chubb’s Cisticola, Plain and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Siffling Cisticola, Mountain Wagtail and Black-crowned Waxbill. From here we made our way back up the mountain and spend the afternoon on a trail with two big target birds – Handsome Spurfowl and Red-collared Mountain-Babbler and got both. We also managed to see White-browed Crombec, Rameron Pigeon, Chinspot Batis and Rwenzori Turaco. To end a fantastic day we heard and managed to see Montane or Rwenzori Nightjar and enjoyed a great evening at our lovely hilltop hotel.
The rest of the group joined us and we started our main tour where the shift would be on mammals and general tourism.
Our first big mammal target were the Chimpanzees and we did spend a wonderful hour with them as they enjoyed the fruit from one of the few fruiting trees this time of the year. We did manage to do a bit of birding and new birds seen on the tour include Long-crested and Crowned Eagle, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Grey-throated Barbet and Ross’s Turaco. After the long but successful tracking we enjoyed a good shower and a cold beer and relived our time in the forest and in the presence of one of the great primates in Africa. The following morning we did a very short birding trail where we found Elliot’s Woodpecker, Rwenzori Batis, Eastern Mountain Greenbul, Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher, Purple-breasted Sunbird, Forest Weaver and Equatorial Akalat to mention a few. The group joined and we set off tracking Angola Black and White Colobus Monkeys and were fortunate to find them pretty close and had excellent views of this very attractive monkey. Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat were seen close to the monkeys.
After lunch we made our way to Lake Give where we were going to spend one night. We did see Grey-crowned Carne, African Sacred Ibis, Hamerkop and Northern Grey-headed Sparrows on the way. Our lodge were situated on the lake and had a really nice birder friendly garden where we managed to see Yellow-throated Greenbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, African Palm Swift, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Red-chested Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting. Freckled Nightjar was a nice surprise that evening. The following morning we did a boat cruise on Lake Kivu and added a few nice birds to our growing list and included White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, African Fish-Eagle, Palm-nut Vulture, Yellow-billed Duck, African Openbill, Black Crake, Water Thick-knee, Striated Heron, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher. A short walk on Napoleon Island produced a hug colony of roosting Straw-coloured Fruit Bats as well as Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Red-billed Firefinch, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Grey-capped Warbler, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow Bishop, Green-backed Camaroptera and Tropical Boubou.
Our drive from here to Volcanoes National Park were pretty uneventful with good views of an active volcano in the DRC.
We had two nights at Volcanoes National Park and since we have seen most of the Albertine Rift endemics our main focus were on the seeing Golden Monkey and Mountain Gorilla. That said our lodge did have a nice birding garden where we found Scarlet-chested, Variable, Red-chested, Bronze and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Robin-Chat, Baglafecht Weaver, Common Waxbill, Speckled Pigeon, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Canary and Augur Buzzard were seen overhead. The Golden Monkeys did cooperate and we had a wonderful hour being entertained with all their antics. These very localised primates are only found in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Ruhahinga National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the DRC. The Gorilla trekking was incredible and we had an amazing hour with a very relaxed family including two very young babies that were going to be named in the yearly naming ceremony. And we were lucky to find a group pretty low down which meant that it was not that difficult to get to which is a big advantage in doing the Gorilla trekking in Rwanda compared to Uganda. We did have one night in Kigali where had time to visit a small wetland in the city and had surprisingly good birds including Gray-crowned Crane, Spur-winged Goose, Palm-nut Vulture, Black-headed Gonolek, African Yellow Warbler, Blue-headed Coucal, African Openbill, Grey-capped Warbler, Swamp Flycatcher, Red-headed Weaver, Slender-billed Weaver, Grosbeak Weaver and Western Citril to mention a few.
It was time to move to our final destination in Rwanda, Akagera National Park on the eastern border with Tanzania.
This great park is now managed by African Parks and you can clearly see the positive impact since they took over. Akagera is now a big 5 reserve which good number of Elephant, Black and White Rhino, Spotted Hyena, Lion and Leopard as well as a good diversity of general wildlife. Our first night were in the southern section where our two drives produced sightings of White Rhino, Oribi, Vervet Monkey, Bohor Reedbuck, Northern Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Olive Baboon, Hippo, Nile Crocodile, Maasai Giraffe, Roan Antelope, Greater Kudu, Impala, Topi and Burchell’s Zebra. The northern section turned out to be very productive with 3 different lion sightings, many White Rhino, Elephant, Spotted Hyena, Cape Buffalo, Bushpig, Warthog and Common Dwarf Mongoose.
The birding in this savannah habitat was very good with some of the highlights including Klaas’s Cuckoo, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Ruaha Chat, Sooty Chat, Long-billed Pipit, Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Spur-winged and Senegal Lapwing, Goliath Heron, Speckled and Blue-naped Mousebird, Tropical Boubou, Chinspot Batis, Red-faced Crombec, Long-tailed and Croaking Cisticola, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Tamborine Dove, Square-tailed Nightjar, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Ross’s Turaco, Mottled Swift, Spot-flanked Barbet, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Meyer’s Parrot, Slate-colored Boubou, Grey-backed Fiscal, White-winged Black Tit, Moustached Grass Warbler, Black-lored Babbler and Yellow-throated Longclaw. And this just while on a general game drive.
All in all we had a fantastic time in Rwanda and we still believe that is a great destination for people with both a birding and wildlife interest or for birders travelling with the family or a non birding partner and there are so many interesting things to see besides the great birding offered in Rwanda. Definitely a country that should be on your bucket list.