Birding in Rwanda

Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in the centre of the African continent. Despite its size (which is about 250km east-west by 150km north-south); it has a bird list of over 650 species, and supports a higher number of Albertine Rift endemics than any other country outside the DR Congo. the horrors of the mid-90's, Rwanda is rebuilding, has excellent roads, clean and good-value accommodation, and is peaceful and calm. The aftermath of the 90s has meant that several birding sites have reduced in size, due to resettlement of refugees (Akagera National Park is now a third of its former size, and there is doubt over whether any significant amount of Gishwati Forest remains); but that which remains still has good birds, and despite the ease of access to sites, one can still feel a pioneer spirit.

The Akagera National Park is still home to Shoebill, and it may still be one of the easiest sites at which to find it. In addition, it supports a mixture of acacia and papyrus species, including Red-faced Barbet, Bennett's Woodpecker, Papyrus Gonolek, White-headed Black and Familiar Chats, Carruther's and Tabora Cisticolas, White-winged and Broad-tailed Warblers and Miombo Wren-warbler. Whilst lack of accommodation (except for camping) makes it difficult to explore the park extensively, it is certainly rewarding for visiting birders, who will find a supporting cast of large mammals, including Hippo, Elephant and Giraffe.

Nyungwe Forest is a vast tract of forest in the southwest. Much of the forest is unexplored, with access to large parts being extremely difficult, due to being in an area of very steep hills. However, an excellent winding tarmac road bisects the forest, and along this roadside one can find most of the Albertine Rift endemics, including Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer's Robin-chat, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Red-faced Woodland, Grauer's Rush, Neumann's and Grauer's Warblers, Masked Mountain Apalis, Rwenzori Double-collared, Purple-throated, Blue-headed and Regal Sunbirds, Stripe-breasted Tit and Strange Weaver.

A speciality is Red-collared Mountain Babbler, which has its only easily accessible site here, as does Kungwe Apalis. Recent possible sightings of Rockefeller's Sunbird show that much is left to be discovered, and perhaps even such gems as Congo Peacock (which has sites only 70km distant in the DR Congo) could exist in the remote dense forest!

There are also good (and steep) forest tracks for birding based around the ORTPN Guesthouse at Gisakura, and the ORTPN Campsite at Uwinka, which can produce some of the more skulking species, such as Red-throated Alethe, Archer's Robin-chat, Kivu Ground Thrush and Collared Apalis, and Shelley's and Dusky Crimsonwing occur.

Other special birds here include White-bellied Robin-chat, Doherty's and Lagden's Bush-shrikes, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Great Blue Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo and White-bellied Crested Flycatcher. At night, Rwenzori Nightjar is not uncommon, Albertine Owlet may be found, and rumours persist about the possibility of Congo Bay-owl. Add to this the presence of 13 primates, including Chimpanzee, and this should be a site on anyone's to-visit list.

The Volcans National Park must also be excellent for birding, but it is currently only open for Gorilla trekking (an unforgettable experience); so has a very low site list compared to Mgahinga in Uganda, with which it is contiguous. Other sites such as Gishwati, Cyamudongo and Mukura Forests may still have some excellent forest birding, and the country is worthy of further exploration.

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