Eastern Rwanda birding report

Marcell Claassen has kindly forwarded me the full report of his recent reccie around eastern Rwanda. Text is pasted in below but for the full report with photos, maps, full species list etc, check out his birding blog or contact him at marcell@elegantafrica.com:


Wednesday, 16 Sept 2009

 My drive from Kigali to Lake Muhazi in the afternoon was mostly uneventful, if a wind-driven rain storm in Rwamagana can be classified as a non-event. Up to this point I’d recorded two individual Augur Buzzards near the road, both pale/white morphs.


Turning north from Kayanza, I noted some potential good birding spots; one a wetland area the road crosses via a bridge and the other a “parking” area down at the shore of Lake Muhazi. Arriving at Seeds of Peace (SoP) Guesthouse, the rain had clearly already passed this way and everything was fresh and rain-washed.


After checking into a bungalow with a view of Lake Muhazi (FRw 20,000/night with 2 bedrooms and a lounge and bathroom) at around 2:30pm, I set off into the  

grounds to see what birds were around. Swamp Flycatchers, Village Weavers,  Speckled Mousebirds and Pied Kingfishers were a common sight. 


A group of 3 Black-lored Babblers kept me occupied with the camera for awhile as I also tried to get shots of the company they kept with 2 Arrow-marked Babblers – all moving through the garden as a group, something I’ve not come across  



The large acacia in the garden near the shore produced African Paradise Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Yellow-fronted Canaries. Other species like Green-winged Pytillia, Bronze and Green-headed Sunbirds and 2 Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage rounded off my welcoming party. The driving had left me thirsty and I set off to the nearby (about 300m) Jambo Camp for a drink and snack. It appeared I’d arrived at the same time some party was going with some fairly loud music, albeit not bad music at all. This did dampen my expectations considerably for some birds on the shore and in the gardens. The ‘resident’  

Grey Crowned Crane was in surprisingly good condition, also saw it flying over the reeds in the direction of Seeds of Peace Guesthouse the next day) gave me an opportunity to work on my manual focusing skills on birds with some good results.


I needn’t have worried too much as there were still birds active not too far from the shore in the form of ‘fly-bys’ and I had good sightings of more Pied Kingfishers, a lone Malachite Kingfisher, Great/White-breasted Cormorant, African Fish Eagle, Openbill and Yellow-billed Storks. The Village Weavers arrived late afternoon en-masse with initial counts at around 30 birds but increasing. Dusk saw c.20 Cattle Egrets flying north along the opposite shore.


Thursday, 17 Sept 2009

The first sighting of the day from the bungalow porch was a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos with two youngsters hawking for breakfast followed by Pied Wagtails and

Yellow White-eyes.  From here I set out along the shoreline at SoP Guesthouse where

they had cut a pathway leaving the reed-beds and scrub (about 5+m wide in places) mostly intact. All this in addition to the species in the gardens and acacia trees, made for some easy and productive birding. Dark-capped Yellow Warblers, African Dusky and Swamp Flycatchers were calling and visible all along this pathway. I was able to get some good recordings of the warbler song in addition to photos.   


A pair of Tambourine Doves graced me with some good views in the pathway and a lone Yellow-throated Longclaw alighted briefly on a nearby bush. Calling constantly from the scrub was a Tropical Boubou and White-browed Robin-chat with African Reed Warbler and Blake Crakes competing for sound space down in the reed-beds. The trees in the adjoining gardens came alive with 30+ Village Weavers.


I was called for breakfast (a nice touch with all breakfasts being served at the rooms) and passed Red-billed Fire-finches and a pair of shrikes/fiscals. Managing to get a photo of one of the latter I still couldn’t do a positive ID – the birds had no obvious plumage differences between them and although about the size of Mackinnon’s Fiscal, lacked the white “V”

on the back. 

 A very active Long-tailed/Tabora’s Cisticola was at a foot-high hedge in the garden. A pair of Bronze Sunbirds provided some colour to breakfast time. Just before 9am I arrived at the bridge over the wetland I had noted yesterday. Accompanied by 4-6 quite well-behaved kids – keen to see what I’m doing, this patch proved to have great potential. Red-faced Cisticolas obligingly allowed me to get some good recordings and photos as opposed to the brief appearance put in by two Grey- capped Warblers, African Reed Warbler and an Olive-bellied Sunbird. Black-headed Oriole and Tropical Boubou was calling in the vicinity when I saw an African Marsh Harrier at the edge of the wetlands. Other species recorded included Blue-headed Coucal, White-rumped Swifts, Black Saw-wings, Swamp Flycatcher, African Stonechat and Northern Brown-throated Weaver. An adult Augur Buzzard was in the air with a sub-adult.


Departing here, I headed north and did a few stops along the way in addition to recording some species in ‘drive-by’ sightings – the latter being mostly Augur Buzzards and Long-crested Eagles. The long-crested Eagles proved to be the most abundant of the raptors along the road but Augur Buzzards coming in a close second place. The stops produced an early morning soaring Lesser-Spotted Eagle (the first migrant for the trip), Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Rüppell’s/Long-tailed and Greater blue-eared Starlings and great views of a pair of White-headed Saw-wings. Malachite Kingfisher posed just out of good photo-range at the last shoreline stop before the road turned north away from Lake Muhazi proper.


I continued along the road for approximately another 40km in rapidly rising temperatures encountering stretches of wetlands and acacia. Both these habitats were being

encroached upon by agriculture in a lot of places, some agriculture already established and in other areas the preparation for agriculture was in progress. There was one

sighting of the “Ruaha” Chat (the species being described at the moment as a split from Arnott’s Chat) at a village.   The acacia interspersed with Euphorbia candelabrum provided

habitat for numerous Grey-backed Shrikes and what seemed an immature Gabar Goshawk. The latter was quite distant and the heat haze was making distant ID’s progressively harder.


After following a turn-off along a dirt track to Nyagatare for a couple of kilometres, I stopped to see what species I could pick up. The area was a mix of Eucalyptus trees and patches of agriculture and short grass with scattered acacia trees over a landscape of low rolling hills. A pair of Green-winged Pytillias caught my attention between the to and fro-ing of 30-40 Red-

billed Quelea. I was about to leave when I heard the characteristic calls of European Bee-eaters and saw 4 of them in the air nearby. Another distraction was a male Sooty Chat sitting nearby on a Euphorbia tirucalli hedge watching me curiously.


Later the afternoon I was back at Jambo Camp on the shore of Lake Muhazi which produced the usual species in addition to a single Pink-backed Pelican flying over. On the opposite shore, two African Wattled lapwings were mobbing a dark/black morph of Augur Buzzard. African Darter showed up just before last light, about the same time a pair of Red-chested Sunbirds came to the flowers about 1.5m behind the table where I was sitting.


Friday, 18 Sept 2009

This morning I had about an hour’s birding before breakfast and setting off north to Kagitumba where the Rwandan border with Uganda is. A pair of Fork-tailed Drongos was already out with their two youngsters hawking from the Acacia tree nearby and the Arrow-marked Babblers on the grass. Fly-bys weren’t bad either with African Openbill, Great Cormorant and Spur-winged Geese recorded. 


The surprise of the morning goes to the female Klaas’ Cuckoo flying in for a 2-minute view before disappearing again. White-rumped Swifts and Angola Swallows were about in the air. The shoreline path produced Grey-capped and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler in numbers, White-browed Robin-chat, African Dusky and Swamp Flycatchers, Speckled Mousebirds and Red-chested Sunbirds. The weavers included 30+ Village Weavers, Northern Brown-throated and Spectacled Weavers. Black Crake and African Reed Warblers were calling in the reed-beds.


Setting off just after 8am I decided I wouldn’t spend too much time stopping along the way up north, wanting to get there fairly early morning if possible. Road-side sightings didn’t disappoint though with European Bee-eaters, African Harrier-hawk and nesting Pied Crow just north of the lake. The morning belonged to the raptors with sightings of Common Kestrel, Augur Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Pallid Harrier and Lizard Buzzard. Lilac-breasted Roller, soaring Marabou, Brown-backed Scrub-robin and Black-headed Heron were some of the other species seen till I reached Kagitumba border at 10:30am.


Just before reaching the border there were incredible views of the papyrus lined Akagera River which forms the western border with Tanzania. I also noted a dirt track turning off from the main road leading in the direction of the river and then going along it that also

had some good Acacia areas too – in the past this road would’ve been inside the

Akagera NP before northern sections were de-gazetted. Another road to explore in future.


I decided to sit and have a cold drink at the local shop in Kagitumba which resulted in some more relaxing birding. Grey Crowned Crane flew over the border with an adult dark morph Augur Buzzard soaring with a juvenile pale/white morph. About 5+ Marabous were plying a nearby pile of rubbish with some Pied Crows dropping in. Red-billed Fire-finches, Village Weaver and Pied Wagtail made up the smaller town-species. From here I went a bit south again towards Nyagatare where I intended to stay for at least one night. The road went past some great habitat although some had been damaged quite a bit due to the concentration of cattle in this area. One swamp/pond area where the cattle were arriving to drink had a Pink-backed Pelican and Grey Heron. Once in town, I settled in at the Sky Blue Hotel (rooms

ranging from FRw 15-30,000/night). Later the afternoon I did a short exploratory trip across the river (which has some large and in places dense Acacia). I noted some dirt roads turning off west that I would follow the next day. This little drive produced Black-lored Babblers, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Bare-faced Go-away-bird.


Dusk at the hotel I recorded an immature Marabou plus around another 11 flying overhead with Black-headed Heron and Sacred Ibis. Two Rock Martins perched nearby watching me closely


Saturday, 19 Sept 2009 

Pre-breakfast I was out in the parking area of the hotel to see what birds were around. Most were in the air with Black Saw-wings, Angola and Wire-tailed Swallows plying the early morning breeze. The Village Weavers, Grey-headed Sparrows and Common Bulbuls were around in large numbers with the weavers numbering in excess of 50. Also around were Fork-tailed Drongos, Speckled Mousebirds and Black-lored Babblers. The surprise of the morning came in the form of a pair of House Sparrows which had only been reported in Rwanda before from Kigali and Gitarama by Claudien Nsabagasani of DFGFI (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International). 


7am I set off along one of the wide dirt roads west of town which very quickly promised a productive morning. The first stop kicked off the list with a Black-headed Gonolek next to the road with White-browed Robin-chat, Speckled Mousebird, Green-winged Pytillia and Marico Sunbird nearby.


Continuing west and stopping every now and then produced a good variety of species once more. Arrow-marked and Black-lored Babblers seemed to be making turns at sightings with Grey-backed Fiscals all along the road. Black-headed Oriole gave me an opportunity to record a call and get some record shots of what seemed to be a larger than usual black ‘bib’. Rüppell’s Starlings were nesting at one location.


Other species seen included Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Spot-flanked Barbet, Mosque Swallow, Blue-naped and Speckled Mousebirds, African Thrush, Meyer’s Parrot, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Yellow-breasted Apalis. Red-chested Cuckoo was calling at one site. Reluctantly I turned the vehicle around and headed back to town (GPS points show I turned around approximately 3-4km from the western border with Uganda) to fill up with fuel and head south toward Kibungo and Rusumo Falls.


The road south, although sounding like a long distance, is actually a pleasant drive on good quality roads. Nothing major bird-wise popped up but I had good sightings of Fawn-breasted Waxbills and the, by now almost obligatory, Long-crested Eagles and Augur Buzzards. Two African Openbills were flying over where I stopped for a sighting of a Rock Kestrel. Down in Kibungo I met up with Jason Anderson where we enjoyed a very tasty local buffet lunch

near the junction to the town. I installed myself in a little comfortable local guesthouse, Sunset Guesthouse (FRw8,000/night – the most comfortable I slept in all week). The plan was to spend the afternoon heading down further south to Rusumo Falls and recce some potential birding locations. Vegetation became progressively more lush as we headed south with most papyrus swamp valleys unfortunately already/in the process of being reclaimed for agriculture. The birds were not absent though and stops along the way produces Black & White Mannikin, Black-crowned and Common Waxbills, Red-billed Quelea, Baglafecht’s and Holub’s Golden Weaver. Raptors were few with only African Harrier-hawk and Augur Buzzard.


Rice paddies in one location had 3x Grey Crowned Cranes, c.6 Spur-winged Geese, 5x Sacred Ibis and a Grey Heron. Another had 5x African Spoonbills, 3x Sacred Ibis and a Grey Heron. At the latter location I walked down to the papyrus and had sightings of Fan-tailed Widowbird, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-billed Fire-finch,

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Rüppell’s Starlings. Turning around to leave the call of Papyrus Gonolek sealed the deal on marking this as a location to return to.


Just north of Rusumo Falls we had another interesting stop with Bee-eaters showing undersides the colour of Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters but which we questioned due to be at c.1400m altitude. Too large to be Little Bee-eaters, the only other option was Blue-chested Bee-eaters. This area will be visited again to see if we can get some photos and

maybe recordings of the calls. Here we also recorded Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Familiar Chat. A quick visit to the Rusumo Falls border area for photos and we headed back to Kibungo as it was getting dark quickly.


Sunday, 20 Sept 2009 

This morning Jason and I decided to head along the road to Akagera NP and stop for lunch at the lodge. Green-winged Pytillia, African Dusky Flycatcher Bronze and Collared Sunbirds were some of the pre-departure birds at the guesthouse and Jason’s house.


Turning east off the main road at Kabarondo onto the dirt road, we picked up Eric one of the Akagera guides on his way to the NP. By 8:15am the birding had picked up and our first stop had 10+ White-rumped Swifts, 20+ Little Swifts, Augur Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle and Red-rumped Swallows. The “Ruaha” Chat (White-headed Black Chat being named at the moment as a new species) was common along this road near villages and scattered habitation.


The bridge at Rwinkavu once again came up trumps with the goods. The chick of the Long-crested Eagle was screeching away as a Ross’ Turaco gave us great views. This was to be a big stop for raptor with 4x Wahlberg’s Eagles, pair of African Fish Eagles, Red-necked Falcon, pair of Bateleur, African Harrier-hawk and Augur Buzzard. The reeds and water on one side had Yellow-backed and Northern Brown-throated Weavers, Yellow-billed Duck, Common Moorhen and Black Crake; whilst the scrub on the other side produced a stunning view of an African Pygmy Kingfisher, Common and Black-crowned Waxbills and a bird we only had a glimpse of but which might have been a Honeyguide.


Driving slowly on, the road to the Akagera NP gate was worth a few more stops with Marico and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Arrow-marked and Black-lored Babblers, Wire-tailed, Red-rumped and Angola Swallows, Red-faced Crombec, Little Bee-eater, Sooty Chat and Red-billed Quelea. It appeared our raptor sightings were still on a roll with a brilliant sighting of Grey Kestrel near the NP gate. 


Lilac-breasted Roller and Meyer’s Parrot heralded our entry into the NP with us stopping almost immediately. Jason found a Pearl-spotted Owlet while I was trying to entice a Scrub-robin out from some acacia scrub. With our stomachs reminding us of the time we soon arrived at the lodge where we were in for more great birding.


Top of the pops probably goes to the Red-faced Barbet at the top of a tree nearby followed by finding White-rumped Swifts nesting and getting some good photos of the nests. The Swift had entered a mud nest, one of quite a few, where there was also a feathered covered nest. Further enquiries lead us to think that these nests have likely been taken over from

Swallows (Lesser-striped or Red-rumped Swallows) by the White-rumped Swifts. Cinnamon-breasted Rock-Buntings were plentiful with only Bronze Mannikins and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu more numerous.


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