Black-headed Weaver Ploceus melanocephalus in Kigali
Lesser Honeyguide Indicator minor in Kigali
Nyungwe Forest Reserve
Purple-breasted Sunbird Cinnyris bifasciatus at Nyungwe
Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike Telophorus sulfureopectus, Akagera, Rwanda
Black-headed Gonolek Laniarius erythrogaster in Papyrus marsh, Rwanda
Many resident and visiting observers use eBird. The main birding areas have been set up as hotspots and it should be straightforward to find the specific location of all sites mentioned below. The local eBird reviewers would also encourage visitors to submit their records using this system as this helps update knowledge on Rwanda’s birds. Rarities should be submitted to the East Africa Rarities Committee.
Please refer to the files section of the Rwanda Bird Club Facebook page or use this link for an up to date list that shows occurrence for all areas (and more) mentioned below and details of rarities.
The taxonomy used below has been referenced against IOC 8.2 and Clements 2018.
Most visitors from overseas will pass through or stay for a few days in the capital, Kigali. In total 279 species have been recorded inside the City of Kigali administrative boundary, VANDE WEGHE, G. (2018). The small lake in Nyarutarama and the surrounding area has historically been quite productive. A half-day or few hours should be enough. It is a good place to observe some of the more common species in Rwanda and occasionally a surprise. Species seen in recent years have included: White-collared Oliveback Nesocharis ansorgei; African Swamphen Porphyrio madagascarensis; Grey-headed Bushshrike Malaconotus blanchoti; Bat Hawk Macheiramphus alcinus; Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina; Lesser Honeyguide Indicator minor; Brown-backed Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus; Black Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga flava; Olive-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris chloropygia; Red-chested Sunbird Cinnyris erythrocerca; Bronzy Sunbird Nectarinia kilimensis; African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro; Palm-nut Vulture Gypoheirax angolensis; Crested Barbet Trachyphonus vaillantii; Grey-backed Fiscal Lanius excubitoroides; Rüppell's Starling Lamprotornis purpuroptera and Black-headed Weaver Ploceus melanocephalus.
Two sites should be open soon that promise to offer good birding.
Umusambi Village is an area of restored habitat close to Kigali on the road to Akagera. It is planned to be open in mid-2019. The site is primarily a sanctuary for disabled Grey-crowned Cranes that have been rescued from captivity, however, the site has excellent savanna and wet grassland habitat and supports good bird life. This site will provide a very convenient birding site near Kigali. So far 100 species have been identified here.
Also the Rwanda Environment Management Authority is also developing a park at the edge of Kigali, the design will have various paths and walkways and extensive tree planting is planned. In the coming years this will be a good birding site.
There are further good sites at wetlands at the edge of the city, though these have suffered from agricultural encroachment.
The best birding in the Albertine Rift region of Rwanda is found in Nyungwe National Park. 29 Albertine Rift endemics (following splits) have been recorded here. This reserve adjoins the Kibira National Park in Burundi to protect one of the largest areas of montane forest in Africa. Access is straightforward too. There are two routes to the forest from Kigali, both on good tarmac roads and both take around 4 to 5 hours. The first route is via Huye, which feels longer but takes you through the middle of the park. The second route is a relatively newly surfaced road via Karongi and Lake Kivu. There is also an airport at Kamembe, with daily flights from Kigali. A car is very useful to get around, though local taxis are available. You don’t need a 4x4 to access the forest unless you want to take the Pindura-Bweye road that heads south through the forest towards Burundi, but be aware that this road can become impassable in wet weather.
For travellers on a budget there is regular public transport, a camp site (at Uwinka, the summit of the pass, in the centre of the forest) and an inexpensive guest house (on the western edge of the forest). Further accommodation is mostly based at Gisakura (west of the forest) where there are a range of options from budget to high-end luxury. Other options are available at Kitabi (east of the forest) and Cyangugu / Kamembe approximately 1 hour drive south west.
A recently opened RDB Tourism Office is located in the tea plantations at Gisakura, is the starting point to pay fees and secure a guide. It is worth noting that all activities in the park must be undertaken with an official park guide who are generally very knowledgeable and know the trails. However, if your primary goal is birding it is best to request a specialist bird guide, some of which are excellent. The majority of the trails either start at Gisakura (west of the forest) or at Uwinka in the centre of the forest. The trails are generally in good condition, but others may need maintenance, you can ask at the office about this. Some are steep and combined with the high altitude can feel like hard work. The park guides can probably advise you depending on your abilities. The trails cover different elevations in the forest and thus offer different species. Recommended birding trails include the Karamba Trail, Rangiro Road and Waterfall trail, yet all trails can be productive and like forest birding elsewhere it often pays to listen for calls and keep moving till you find a feeding party. The Mount Bigugu trail seems to be the best bet for Nyungwe’s main attraction, Red-collared Babbler Kupeornis rufocinctus. Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri should be relatively easy to find using the Karimanzovu Swamp trail. This species can usually be seen at the Uwanseoko Marsh in-between Kitabi and Uwinka and Black-fronted Duiker is also regularly seen here.
One species present at Bwindi but not Nyungwe is the African Green Broadbill Pseudocalyptomena graueri. However, the following ARE species have been recorded in Nyungwe: Kungwe Apalis Apalis (rufogularis) argentea is a poorly known bird that best accessed at Nyungwe MILLS ET AL (2016); Handsome Francolin Pternistis nobilis; Rwenzori Turaco Ruwenzorornis johnstoni; Ruwenzori Nightjar Caprimulgus (poliocephalus) ruwenzorii; Dwarf Honeyguide Indicator pumilio; Mountain Sooty (Albertine) Boubou Laniarus (poensis) holomelas ; Rwenzori Batis Batis diops; Stripe-breasted Tit Melaniparus fasciiventer; Grauer's Warbler Graueria vittata; Neumann's Warbler Urosphena neumanni; Red-faced Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus laetus; Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri; Ruwenzori Apalis Oreolais ruwenzorii; Mountain Masked Apalis Apalis personata; Kivu Ground Thrush Geokichla (piaggiae) tanganjicae ; Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher Melaenornis ardesiacus; Archer’s Ground Robin Cossypha archeri; Red-throated Alethe Chamaetylas poliophrys; Blue-headed Sunbird Cyanomitra alinae; Purple-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia purpureiventris; Ruwenzori Double-collared Sunbird Cinnyris stuhlmanni; Regal Sunbird Cinnyris regius; Strange Weaver Ploceus alienus; Dusky Crimsonwing Cryptospiza jacksoni;. There is also a slim possibility of Willard’s Sooty Boubou Laniarius willardi; Congo Bay Owl Phodilus prigoginei; Albertine Owlet Glaucidium albertinum; Rockefeller's Sunbird Cinnyris rockefelleri; and Shelley’s Crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi which was historically reported more frequently than in recent years.
In addition to the AREs there are numerous desirable bird species:
Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus; Cassin’s Hawk Eagle Aquila africana; Mountain Buzzard Buteo oreophilus; Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans; Red-chested Flufftail Sarothrura rufa; Great Blue Turaco Corythaeola cristata; Black-billed Turaco Tauraco schuettii; Fraser’s Eagle Owl Bubo poensis; Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina; Bar-tailed Trogon Apaloderma vittatum; Least Honeyguide Indicator exilis; Tullberg’s Woodpecker Campethera tullbergi; Elliot’s Woodpeckers Dendropicos elliotii; Lagden’s Bushshrike Malaconotus lagdeni; Doherty’s Bushshrikes Telophorus dohertyi; Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher Trochocercus cyanomelas; White-tailed Blue Flycatcher Elminia albicauda; White-tailed Crested Flycatcher Elminia albonotata; White-Bellied Crested Flycatcher Elminia albiventris; White-browed Crombec Sylvietta leucophrys; Evergreen Forest Warbler Bradypterus lopezi; Olive-breasted Greenbul Arizelocichla kikuyuensis ; Kakamega Greenbul Arizelocichla kakamegae; Waller’s Starling Onychognathus walleri; Stuhlmann’s Starling Poeoptera stuhlmanni; Sharpe’s Starling Poeoptera sharpii; Slender-billed Starling Onychognathus tenuirostris; Black-billed Weaver Ploceus melanogaster; Dark-backed Weaver Ploceus bicolor ; Oriole Finch Linurgus olivaceus; and Kandt’s Waxbill Estrilda kandti. Violet-Backed Hyliota Hyliota violacea are also present in the forest and this species appears atypical compared to the field guides, it warrants close attention as it may be a local endemic and requires further research.
Prices in USD correct November 2018.
• Guided Birding costs $50 per person for the first day, subsequent days have a 50% discount. Other activities have different fees.
• Camping $30 per tent, per night.
• Discounts are available for Foreign residents in Rwanda, EAC nationals and EAC foreign residents.
• It may be possible to bird watch without a guide by simply walking on the main road that runs through the park, as the road per se is not part of the park. The birding is excellent from the road but some of the forest birds would not be found along the road.
• It would be a good idea to book accommodation (the guesthouse on the Western edge of the park or camping at Uwinka) in advance during dry season weekends, as these can get booked up.
• Nyungwe NP as a whole must be the best readily accessible protected montane rainforest area in Africa.
You can download a paper by DOWSETT, R.J. editor (1990) Survey of the Fauna and Flora of Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda. Tauraco Research Report No.3 from the Rwanda references page.
Akagera National Park, a savanna-dominated area in the north-east of the country that lies in the Lake Victoria Basin. Access to Akagera is a relatively straight forward 2 to 3 hour drive eastwards from Kigali. The majority is on tarmac road, though the last (approximately) 30km is on graded dirt road. NOTE: It is only possible to enter the park using the southern entrance. A good 4x4 is needed to get the most out of the park.
Even though the original area of the park has decreased from its historical limits it still holds an interesting selection of species associated with a diversity of habitats: wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, riparian forest and bush country. For the size Akagera has one of the longest species lists for any conservation area in Africa: 490 species have been recorded VANDE WEGHE (2018), with many birds reaching their northern limit here. Specialities include the Red-faced Barbet Lybius rubrifacies (which is restricted to Savannas in-between the Albertine Rift and Lake Victoria), several Lake Victoria Basin endemic species: Northern Brown-throated Weaver Ploceus castanops; Papyrus Canary Crithagra koliensis; Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri; White-Winged Swamp Warbler Bradypterus carpalis; and Carruthers's Cisticola Cisticola carruthersi. The Shoebill Balaeniceps rex is known from the park at lake shores and Kilala plain (when flooded) but is hard to observe without some luck.
Brown-Chested Lapwing Vanellus superciliosus are seen fairly regularly and other notable species include: Ruaha Chat Myrmecocichla collaris; Bennett’s Woodpecker Campethera bennettii; Crested Barbet Trachyphonus vaillantii; Miombo Wren-Warbler Calamonastes undosus; Souza’s Shrike Lanius souzae; Long-tailed Cisticola Cisticola angusticauda; and Cabanis’s Bunting Emberiza cabanisi. The park is also vitally important for the conservation of Grey Crowned Cranes Balearica regulorum, and is part of a rehabilitation and release program for previously captive birds. The lake shores are great places to observe water birds and raptors are also well represented across the park. However, even though there is lots of papyrus swamps the Papyrus Yellow Warbler Calamonastides gracilrostris has never been observed in the park. Lastly, this is also a known site for one of Africa’s rarest francolins, Ring-necked Francolin Francolinus streptophorus, although there have not been any recent reports of this species.
Mammals; The Africa Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo) as well as hippo, Sitatunga, Roan Antelope, Oribi, Eland, Giraffe, Klipspringer, Hyena, Serval and several other small mammals.
Guides are available from the park reception. The guides are all part of a community cooperative organisation and have been trying to learn more about the park’s bird life. If you are comfortable identifying East African birds it is possible to bird without a guide, but recommended to get a tourist map from the park reception.
Camping is possible at three camp sites. By pre-booking, at the southern campsite it is possible to rent a tent from the park, though you must be self-sufficient for all other equipment. Other accommodation in the park comprises: Akagera Game Lodge; Rusizi Tented camp which is located at a lake shore in riverine forest and offers good birding; Karenge bush camp, in the north of the park. There is a recently opened community camp near the park entrance. A new luxury camp is due to be opened soon and there are also a number of other hotels less than one hour’s drive from the reserve.
Prices in USD correct November 2018. See Akagera NP for updates, (prices are for foreigners, discounts are available for EAC residents).
• Entry $40 per person
• Rwanda / EAC registered vehicle $10
• Guides $25 half-day / $40
• Night-drive in a park vehicle $40
• Boat trip $35 morning / $45 sunset
A further component of Rwanda that is of particular interest to birders is the number of wetlands, which occupy almost 10% of the country. Three of these are IBAs and the main wetlands are: Akanyaru and Nyabarongo on the southern border with Burundi, Rugezi in the north near the Ugandan border, Mugesera-Rugwero in the south-east and Kagera along the eastern border with Tanzania. Wetlands receive some protection; however fishing and agricultural encroachment take their toll on birdlife.
The most easily accessible wetlands are found in Bugesera District. Some 415 species VANDE WEGHE (2018) have been observed in this region. Several sites are very easy to access in 1 to 2 hours from Kigali, mostly on tarmac, with relatively short sections of graded dirt road once you leave the main road. The main habitats are extensive wetlands, degraded savanna and the odd patch of degraded riverine type vegetation. It is possible to visit several sites in a day. Several locations are Hotspots on eBird and it should be straightforward to use Google Maps to plot the access route. Note that these areas change due to water level, encroachment and the papyrus sometimes moves as a large raft, causing areas of open water to appear and disappear. Try the Akagera Bridge (although degraded), Kamatana Valley Dam, Murago Wetland and Lake Cyohoha North (explore along the wetland edge near the bridge and take a rough track heading east from the south end of the causeway) and try swamps around Gashora where there is a good causeway and road along the riverbanks. Bugesera is good for for: Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri (locally common); Papyrus Canary Crithagra koliensis; White-winged Swamp Warbler Bradypterus carpalis; White-collared Oliveback Nesocharis ansorgei; Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis; and White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus the latter two species were rediscovered in Rwanda in 2014 at Kamatana Valley Dam after a long period with no confirmed sightings. In addition, Red-chested Sunbird Cinnyris erythrocercus; Palm-nut Vulture Gypoheirax angolensis; Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus; African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer; Buff-bellied Warbler Phyllolais pulchella; numerous waterbirds and savannah species can be seen. Lake Gaharwa is an interesting location, with papyrus and phragmite swamps, grazing land and degraded savannah, it has historically been a very reliable spot for Papyrus Gonolek. Explore the edge of the wetland and bush, there is also some relict riverine vegetation around the Karama Agriculture Station, this area is being developed as the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture which is due to open in Autumn 2019, they are aiming to protect the habitat and it should be possible to gain access for birding.
Close to Volcanoes NP, Rugezi Marsh (194 species) is a globally important site for Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri and also supports Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum. Carruthers's Cisticola Cisticola carruthersi are abundant, Papyrus Canary Crithagra koliensis and Papyrus Yellow Warbler Chloropeta gracilirostris have also been recorded here. The twin lakes Burera and Ruhondo are not well known for their birding, but the country’s first Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator was observed here very recently - surprises are always possible. The area can be accessed from either Ruhengeri near the volcanoes, or by taking a side-road to Byumba from the main Uganda Road.
The volcanoes national park (200 species) is mostly known for its gorilla trekking. It is also possible to visit the golden monkeys, which are quite charming. If you are primarily visiting Rwanda for the gorillas, but want to also see some Albertine Rift Endemics then a walk in the VNP should be rewarding. All the same species can be seen in Nyungwe and there have been recent confirmed sightings of Kivu Ground Thrush Geokichla (piaggiae) tanganjicae and unconfirmed reports of Shelley’s Crimsonwing 5.7.2013 and 13.8.2014. Scarlet-tufted Sunbird Nectarina johnstoni is only found in Rwanda at the volcanoes and a trek to the summit of Mt Bisoke is your best bet for this bird. There are also a series of small lakes surrounding VNP that can be worth a quick detour. Buhanga eco-park is also nearby and there have historically been sightings of African Pitta here during its migration. At VNP, birders wanting to access Bisoke with a birding guide need to be at visitor reception at 6.00am. Permit $ 40 for internationals, $25 for EAC residents.
Giswati-Mukura National Park
Gishwati (232 species) and Mukura (163 species) Forests were gazetted as a national park in 2015 and are currently the focus of extensive conservation efforts to restore the landscape between these two parks. Although historically degraded, both forests offer good birding including several AREs. However, no tourism options seem to be currently available (November 2018), this is reportedly set to change.
Mazhoza Parike and Ibanda Makera are small but significant remnants of riverine forest that were once extensive in Rwanda. Although small these are important forests for birds and still support interesting species including: Purple-crested Turaco Tauraco porphyreolophus; Mountain Illadopsis Illadopsis pyrrhoptera; Grey-winged Robin-Chat Cossypha polioptera; Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha niveicapilla; Red-Headed Bluebill Spermophaga ruficapilla; and Red-throated (Peter’s) Twinspot Hypargos niveoguttatus.
Lake Kivu offers a very relaxing stop over during a birding tour and is not without its highlights. The lake supports huge numbers of White-breasted Cormorants, Pied Kingfishers and Osprey can be seen fishing during its migration. The lake shores are home to some of Rwanda’s more common terrestrial species and hotel gardens in Karongi, Rubavu and Rusizi can offer interesting birding. Double-tooth Barbet is regularly seen in this region along with species such as Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Familiar Chat, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Spot-flanked Barbet. Grey Parrots have been seen in Rusizi and one of Rwanda’s only reports of Spotted Creeper came from here too. Rubavu would also serve as a good base to access Gishwati NP. The area around Kinunu also offers good birdwatching for the more common species.
Further information about the key species which can be found at these sites is contained in checklists available from the Rwanda Bird Club Facebook page or use this link information about most of them can be found at BirdLife International.