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neverending quest

Nyungwe Forest is one of four national parks in Rwanda, and easily its most spectacular. In addition to 13 different primate species, Nyungwe hosts a greater number of endemic flora and fauna than any other forested area in the Albertine Rift Mountains, including all 25 of the region’s endemic bird species.


Considering the tantalizing possibilities – 275 bird species in all – D’s first foray into Nyungwe was a bit of a disappointment. There are plenty of birds flitting around the region’s tea plantations, but they mostly fall within one of about a dozen species, most of which we’ve seen and photographed before. To catch a glimpse of the Albertine Rift’s rarer denizens, one has to go deeper into the forest, which does not exactly lend itself to photography.


Serious birders will count birds they’ve seen in passing and even ones they’ve only heard and identified through their songs and calls. For example, Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis, the self-proclaimed world record holder, counts over 6,000 species observed in this, his “biggest year.” Although D also likes making lists and understands all too well the appeal of trying to “collect” as many species as possible, he is only drawn to birding by the photographic opportunities it presents. Thus, D only counts species we can photograph and positively ID in our pictures.


The long drives between Nyungwe and Kigali, heavy rainfall in the afternoons, and Munchkin’s decidedly different priorities for this trip did not help D’s quest. In all, we saw less than 1 percent of Nyungwe’s birdlife, though D was pleased to spot a Rwenzori double-collared sunbird among the 8 new species we saw on this trip – the first Albertine Rift endemic we have been able to photograph.


Munchkin was riding on D’s shoulders at the time, which made it difficult to photograph this magnificent bird. D got a decent shot of the sunbird with its wings closed, but the photo with its wings raised and yellow side feathers exposed came out blurry. The black-crowned waxbill, Chubb’s cisticola, and common stonechat also pictured above (in that order) are also new to us, even though they are fairly common in Rwanda. The same holds for the rest of our new finds in the slideshow below.

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