Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trip to Nyungwe Rainforest, SW Rwanda 20-21 Oct 2010

View over Nyungwe forest from the Bigugu Trail (Photo by Marcell Claassen)
Posted by Jason on the Rwanda_BurundiBirds group on 30 October 2010

Last week I took a few days off work to show a visiting cousin around Rwanda. As well as a smashing trip to see the gorillas, I persuaded him to come down to Nyungwe to see the chimps and other primates too. Sure enough we were successful on all these fronts, and it turned out that there was time to do a spot of birding too.

The first day we went to see the chimps in Cyamudongo (a small tract of forest between Nyungwe and the DRC border, at about 1800m), with the excellent guide Narcisse Ndayambaje, whose mastery of forest birdcalls still amazes me. We arrived at dawn, and although we couldn't see them, Narcisse pointed out the distinctive call of Cabanis's Greenbul, a first for me. We also heard Grey Apalis, Narina's Trogon, Red-capped Robin-Chat and White-headed Wood-hoopoe. We had no time to stop and bird, as we wanted to get to the chimps before they `de-nested' (as they say in the chimp world – the English equivalent is `get up'). We succeeded in this and were rewarded with good views of chimps all around us, some getting up, others already feeding, and one or two of the larger males moseying along the forest trails nearby. A curious youngster came very close to see what we were, and every 5 minutes or so, their call rang out all around us. Nearby, mona monkeys were feeding (apparently they actively seek out the company of chimps, unlike other monkeys). Fantastic! But no birds.

Luckily, on the way back, we spotted several feeding parties. The first was a silent, stealthy party, moving through the mid-canopy, and allowed me to get good views of Cabanis's Greenbul. The pale throat and belly showed well, as did the rufous upper tail, but the pale eye ring was not as exaggerated as shown in Stevenson & Fanshawe. As well as Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, I spotted a couple of small birds feeding in a strombosia tree, which turned out to be Green Twinspot, male and female. On the way back to the car park we came across another feeding party in open woodland that included Ludher's Bush-Shrike, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Collared Sunbird, Grey-backed Camaroptera, and my first record of Yellowbill for Rwanda, skulking inconspicuously in a tree overgrown with creepers. This feeding party blended with another working its way through the canopy. We spotted Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Northern Puffback, Black-billed Weaver and a lone White-browed Crombec among others previously mentioned.

Back at Gisakura that afternoon, I went out on my own, and found another nice feeding party in the gardens of the ORTPN Guesthouse. It included White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher (incl. juvenile), Northern DC Sunbird, Paradise-Flycatcher, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Western Citril, Black-billed Weaver, Collared Sunbird and Brown-throated Wattle-eye. However the two highlights of this party were a Grey-headed Nigrita (my first record for Rwanda) and a Mountain Masked Apalis foraging in a pile of discarded Eucalypt branches on the ground – surprisingly for a species that I've only ever seen in the canopy or mid-storey. I got some nice photos which reveal a very different looking bird to that illustrated in Stevenson & Fanshawe – less black on the nape and throat, with larger white areas on the sides of the neck. The colour on the wings and mantle was very yellow, rather than a dull olive tone. I wondered if it could be an immature?: Later that afternoon I also found a female African Goshawk perching inconspicuously in the lower branches of a tree nearby.

The next day, as we only had a free morning and no car, we decided to do the waterfall walk with Narcisse. As soon as we started off, just behind the guesthouse, Narcisse heard Mountain Illadopsis (identifying the calls of both parent and young), which after a little patience all showed well foraging near the ground. Chinspot Batis and Mountain Masked Apalis were also around. The next bird was a real surprise – Purple-breasted Sunbird… in eucalypt. Narcisse remarked that he had seen very good numbers of these birds over the last few months, but that this was the first time he'd seen it in eucalypt. The male and presumed female were at the top of a tree and appeared to be feeding on the eucalypt flowers.

The tea plantations produced the usual poverty of species, but as well as the Streaky Seedeaters, Stonechats and Common Waxbills on the paths, there were Barn Swallows mixing with the Angola Swallows hawking overhead. A Siffling Cisticola was my third record of this species on tea plantations here, and Fawn-breasted Waxbills were a surprise, seen twice today in this area.

As we got closer to the forest, the calls of Rwenzori and Great Blue Turaco were both heard. Then on the top of a tree in a small isolated tract of native woodland I spotted two bright orioles that turned out to be Eurasian Golden Orioles, male and female with the former showing the distinctive black wing and lores and yellow wing spot. This was a first for both me and Narcisse, and I think for the atlas – Is it Marcell? (Marcell: this is indeed our 1st record for the Atlas)

African Green Pigeon, Grey Apalis, European Bee-eater and Mountain Buzzard (a pair) were all recorded before we made it to the forest proper. Despite the fact that it was already 9am, there was quite a lot of noise and activity in the forest. Red-faced Woodland-Warbler was the first we saw well among the many Northern Double-Collared Sunbirds. A little further on a Great Blue Turaco showed well for my cousin, who was completely amazed by this, his first turaco. A pair of Eastern Mountain Greenbuls were next and Black Saw-wing were seen overhead as we dropped down into the valley. As the undergrowth got thicker we came across several Equatorial Akalats, one of which posed patiently for photos ( ), followed by a similar bird with a distinctive light grey stripe above the eye. This turned out to be my first ever record of White-bellied Robin-Chat, which, as the book says, looks very much more like an akalat. The pale stripe is much stronger than in S&F (shown better in Sinclair and Ryan), but the tail is clear – orange outer feathers and a dark centre. Smashing bird.

As we needed to get back for a 12 o'clock bus, Narcisse and Kev (my cousin) decided to pick up the pace and make it to the waterfall. I decided to lag behind and enjoy the birds, which were still showing well in the cool valley. Now, last time I decided to part with Narcisse in the forest (Bigugu Trail in January), he managed to find pretty much every montane endemic going (including my bogey species - Red-collared Mountain Babbler), while I spent an hour watching a pair of Regal Sunbirds nestbuilding, so I was a little apprehensive. However, this time I definitely made the right decision. The first stream valley there produced smashing views of Mountain Wagtail. Two male Black-faced Rufous Warblers were calling, and I was lucky enough to see a female briefly as she foraged in dense undergrowth, producing a constant `zik, zik' contact call. Both of these were new for me in Rwanda. The same valley also produced Blue-headed Sunbird, Regal Sunbird (without doubt my favourite bird in Nyungwe – this male was just incredible in his fresh breeding plumage – a little rainbow ball flying through the forest), Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher (a noisy pair with a juvenile - here's one of the adults: ), Rwenzori Batis (also with a juvenile showing the brown-flecked crown), and also Black-billed Turaco (although I could only hear him – no views alas). Narcisse and Kev. showed up about an hour later, looking very tired, and having seen only the waterfall. So we pegged it back up to Gisakura and just made our bus.

Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher

What a magical forest Nyungwe is. As the bus sped through the forest I felt sad that I was perhaps leaving it for the last time… In November I'm off back to the UK.



  1. Wonderful shots!
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