Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:52 -- abc_admin

Teza tea plantation from Kibira Forest, Burundi

Image Credit: 
Bram Piot

Rusizi Reserve, Burundi

Image Credit: 
Bram Piot

There are few recent records. With a bird list of nearly 600 species in a small country, one would assume that birding could be done anywhere. The Important Bird Areas mentioned in Section 3 would probably make good areas to explore were it not for concerns about safety. The following information has been received from correspondents and cover some interesting sites near the capital Bujumbura.

Last Sunday (Februrary 2011) I had the chance to visit Kibira Forest in northern Burundi, a huge afro-montane forest that extends further north into Rwanda (Nyungwe) along the Congo-Nile divide. With a colleague who knows the area well, we set off from Bujumbura at sunrise and entered the forest through the Teza tea plantation, about an hour’s drive from Bujumbura and on the Nile side of the ridge. Access to the forest is pretty easy here. We slowly made our way to the forest, from an altitude of 2,000m up to around 2,500m, then back down the same way. We spent nearly 5 hours in mostly dense forest and managed to see a fair number of Albertine Rift endemics (marked with a * below) as well as a few other specials.

A massive Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus flying over, as always a pretty impressive sight; several Black-billed Turacos Tauraco schuetti were heard, but not seen; Yellow-streaked Greenbul Phyllastrephus flavostriatus (a single and two feeding flocks); a fine Red-faced Woodland-Warbler* Phylloscopus laetus feeding in mid-stratum right above us; a few single White-browed Crombecs Sylvietta leucophrys; at least one Banded Prinia Prinia bairdii; no less than 5 Apalis species: Grey Apalis cinerea; Chestnut-throated A. porphyrolaema; Black-throated A. jacksoni; Mountain Masked* A. personata and Rwenzori* (= Collared) A. ruwenzorii. Chestnut-throated, Mountain Masked and Rwenzori all appear to be quite numerous in this part of the forest; A singing Rwenzori Hill-Babbler* Pseudoalcippe abyssinica atriceps; a small group of busy Stripe-breasted Tits* Parus fasciiventer (near the top, at about 2,500m); several Rwenzori Batis* Batis diops; Blue-headed* Cyanomitra alinae; Regal* Cinnyris regius; Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird* C. stuhlmanni (and probably Northern Double-collared C. reichnowi); Mountain Sooty Boubou* Laniarius poensis heard on a few occasions;  a probable Lagden’s Bush-Shrike Malacanotus lagdeni (only heard, call similar to Grey-headed but this species is unlikely to be found at this altitude in dense forest); probable Doherty’s Bush-Shrike Telophorus dohertyi; a single Strange Weaver* Ploceus alienus feeding low above the ground in the tangles and a pair of superb Dusky Crimsonwings* Cryptospiza jacksoni feeding among the ferns at very close range.

As well as the species listed above for the Kibira forest, most of the “Nyungwe specials” such as Red-collared Mountain-Babbler Kupeornis rufocinctus, Shelley’s Crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi and Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri are present.

The tea plantations held Mackinnon’s Fiscal Lanius mackinnoni; Chubb’s Cisticola Cisticola chubbi; Black-and-white Mannikin Lonchura bicolor; Black-headed Waxbill Estrilda atricapilla; Streaky Seed-eater Serinus striolatus and White-chinned Prinia Schistolais leucopogon among others.

We also visited the Rusizi delta which is an easily accessible site for visitors staying in Bujumbura: it takes just 15-20 minutes to get there and one can spend just a couple of hours or even a full day there. While in the past I was told by my local colleagues that the area was off-limits because of “rebel activity”, the “delta sector” of the Rusizi is now safe to visit, but the northern part (a vast natural palm forest) is still considered a rebel area. There’s even been some investments in local infrastructure at the park HQ and staff have been given binoculars and a bird guide (the only problem with Stevenson & Fanshawe is that it’s in English, as far as I know there’s no French version); the main challenge now is to keep residents (and cattle) from nearby Catumba village out of the reserve, and the surrounding areas are under pressure as more and more villas and hotels are being built along the shores of lake Tanganyika.

I twice visited the Rusizi delta (on Sunday January 30th and briefly on Saturday February 5th 2011) which is only a few kilometers from Bujumbura and very good for various waterbirds – hundreds of White-faced Dendrocygna viduata and Fulvous Whistling Ducks D. bicolor, Knob-billed Ducks Sakidiornis melanotos, Spur-winged Goose Plectopterus gambensis, 30+ African Skimmers Rhynchops flavirostris, loads of African Openbill Storks Anastomus lamelligerus and a few waders including several Collared Pratincoles Glareola pratincola near the river mouth. The acacia woodland had a Brown-backed Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas hartlaubi, White-fronted Bee-eater Merops bullockoides and Olive-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris chloropygia. We also flushed one or two Square-tailed Nightjars Caprimilgus fossii. A Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber that flew in to the sandbanks on my 2nd visit was quite a surprise as this is listed as a vagrant to Burundi.

Bujumbura, the capital, is likely to be the first port of call for visitors. One correspondent has sent a list of species seen in and around Bujumbura in 2002 and a sample of these are shown by location. Garden Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis, African Harrier Hawk Polyboroides typus, African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus, White-fronted Bee-eater Merops bullockoides, Brown-backed Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus, White-browed Robin-Chat Cossypha heuglini, Green-headed Sunbird Cyanomitra verticalis and Tropical Boubou Laniarius aethiopicus. Cercle Nautique Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia, Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo cristata, Hartlaub's Babbler Turdoides hartlaubii and Holub's Golden Weaver Ploceus xanthops. Circle Hippique Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash, Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis and Red-faced Cisticola Cisticola erythrops.Small Game Park bordering cattle feedlot at outskirts of the city Copper Sunbird Cinnyris cupreus, Grey-backed Fiscal Lanius excubitoroides and Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba.

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