Sunday, June 6, 2010

NW Tanzania - Bukoba via Biharamulo to Rwanda

The morning of the 31st it was time to head off again, my friends to Rubondo Island before going to Rwanda, and me off to Rwanda. Once again back into uncharted territory for me, I set off along the road along the western side of Lake Victoria which eventually splits to the Rwanda road and the road to Mwanza on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. It was a scenic exit from Bukoba town with a variety of breathtaking views.
The road soon reverted to bush road again as I approached Biharamulo Game Reserve and the thought of a potential very long driving day ahead I tried not to stop to often.

Not too dissimilar from the road I'd taken north at the start of my trip through Kamisi Game Reserve.

The few sightings were good though with a couple of Common Kestrel dive-bombing an Augur Buzzard. Other sightings to add to the trip list included Black-winged Red Bishop, White-crowned Helmet-shrikes and a Lizard Buzzard (photo below).

Around 4pm (Tz time) I crossed the Akagera River again back into Rwanda, my heart heavy about leaving such an amazing area of Tanzania, yet simultaneously excited because I knew I would be working on the planning for my next trip here in the next couple of months.

169 species of birds for my Tz trip list including 1 new one for the country and a new reptile species for the country, so hardly a trip not productive as I also got at least 16 lifers out the trip as well!

NW Tanzania - Minziro Forest (2) & Kyaka to Bukoba

The afternoon birding set off at pace with Red-faced Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia and Grey Plantain-eaters. A Black Kite (the migrant - Milvus migrans migrans) was a surprise sighting - what the heck was it still doing here?! Village Weavers added another weaver to the growing list of weavers.

We parked up at the start of the forest proper and started walking, this is also where we encountered the
Rhinoceros Viper, a new species record for Tanzania.

If we thought species came thick and fast the previous day, we were about to be challenged. In quick succession, Vanga Flycatcher, African Shrike Flycatcher, Little Greenbul, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Western Olive Sunbird, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Great Blue Turaco and Yellowbill at my 1st gps point.

The next produced
Narina Trogon (photo on left), Blue-breasted Kingfisher, White-headed Saw-wing, Rufous Flycatcher-thrush, B&W Casqued Hornbill, Little Green Sunbird and Spotted Greenbul.

Further on we had a stunning view of probably one of the most beautiful sunbirds, a
Superb Sunbird - with a female and 2 begging juveniles! Slender-billed Greenbul hung around on the periphery followed by 2 flyovers of White-thighed Hornbill, yet another new species for the country confirmed. Chased off by the barbaric hordes of mozzies at sundown, our last sighting on the way back was a pair of Wattled Lapwings.

Next morning was a relaxing morning as were setting off to Bukoba and wanted to do some more concentrated birding along the way. A lifer presented itself before we left - Splendid Starling! And splendid it was indeed!
Stopping every now and then along the road we got more Afep Pigeon, Purple-banded Sunbird and yet more flocks of the Fan-tailed Widowbird males and their entourages.

Not many new species for our trip list initially but then it got going with African Marsh Harrier females flushing in excess of 100 Red-headed Queleas, Stout, Zitting and Siffling Cisticolas and a pair of White-browed Scrub-robins calling clearly enough to get me a couple of good call recordings. The next stop was to be our highlight of the day!

Parking near a little bridge over a wetland, Grey-capped Warbler and Greater Swamp Warbler were calling like crazy. A pair of Banded Martins perched low nearby but good enough for good views. Yellow-backed Weavers were all over the shop and the a lifer in Orange Weaver - certainly a very aptly named bird with a distinctly orange plumage and not the 'normal' weaver-yellow!

As we were looking at the Orange Weaver, a Papyrus Gonolek (photo on right) popped out less than 2m from us and continued to test our cameras' fitness for awhile. Not to be outdone, Rufous-bellied Heron (photo below) appeared about 5m away! Whoaaa! Showtime! Lilac-breasted Roller, Malachite Kingfisher, Hooded Vulture, Swamp Flycatcher, Marico Sunbird, Northern Brown-throated and Slender-billed Weavers now all vied for our attention.

We spent our evening reminiscing about the last couple of days and trying to work our way through probably the worlds toughest chicken ever which we agreed must've been at least the world's oldest and scrawniest chicken till it met its fate on our plates.

NW Tanzania - Minziro Forest (1)

The next morning started early with some birds at the place we stayed with loads of Village Indigobirds, Lesser Striped Swallows and White-rumped Swifts. Next to the bridge over the Akagera River there was a Black-headed Heron breeding colony with at least 3 chicks in evidence. The trip to the forest got us yet some more Broad-billed Rollers, Bronze Sunbird, White-headed Saw-wing, Woodland Kingfisher and some Grey-back Fiscals.

A cracking sighting was a
Moustached and a Broad-tailed Warbler displaying almost alongside each other. Scarlet-chested Sunbird was our next sunbird for the list. We were trying to push on to meet the forest guide for our walk but we were being distracted so much, especially by FIVE Great Blue Turacos having a bath next to the road - they scampered off too quick though for the amazing photo it would've made.

Eventually setting off on foot to the forest from a hill, we were descending about 150m through tall grass and past some Ankole cattle

The clouds were looking rather threatening so we hurried on past the Pin-tailed Whydah,
Black-crowned Waxbill, Black & white and Bronze Mannikins. Blue-spotted Wood Dove was calling and Baglafecht Weaver, Tambourine Dove and Yellow-fronted Canary made brief appearances.

The first rain-drops were felt as we entered the forest and it started to rain and while trying to shelter (unsuccessfully) a
Red-tailed Ant-thrush showed itself obligingly. The forest was dense and very wet and muddy and sadly rather quiet due to the rain.

A brief respite in the weather got us walking further and a very young, fluffy
Wood Owl made its appearance, staring at us in what seemed to be irritated shock.
Crowned and B&W Casqued Hornbills were around as was an African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Little Greenbuls and Red-chested Cuckoo. At the forest edge we found a little shelter from the now pouring rain but very soon left it due to its other steroid mozzie inhabitants which would cover one's clothes and/or bare arm in seconds! This also gives a bit of perspective of the forest canopy height.
We set off uphill out of the forest and as we progressed, the rain stopped - naturally! More rain was settling in over the forest further away but we had some great vistas to enjoy.

Akagera River winding its way through the forest on its way to Lake Victoria

The drive back (it was past midday already) wasn't uneventful with a lovely close sighting of a Blue-spotted Wood Dove and a lifer with White-headed Barbet - the latter gave me a chance for a record shot at least.

In town the market was in full swing as well - photo taken as we drove past

Lunch and a couple of Kilimanjaro beers got us in relax mode for a couple of hours before we set off back to the forest, determined to walk the stretch we had driven through about 3 times now.

NW Tanzania - Road to Kyaka & Mutukula PLUS Minziro Forest

The birds weren't being very obliging for photos but managed to get this one of a Bare-faced Go-away Bird. We did have quite a few sightings though with Fan-tailed Widowbirds doing their displays everywhere along with their cousins the Red-collared Widowbirds and one sighting again of Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, a new record for the area. Sooty Chats were everywhere once again and we saw White-browed and Blue-headed Coucals, heard Ross' Turaco and Black & White Casqued Hornbills. Flappet Larks displayed very audibly and we got some views of them. Red-headed Queleas abounded. Black-shouldered Kites were seen every few kilometres and Little Bee-eaters weren't too uncommon.

We added another Palm-nut Vulture to the list, 7x Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, Thick-billed Weaver, Malachite Kingfisher, Long-crested Eagle, White-headed Saw-wing, Yellow-throated Longclaw (rather common), Singing Cisticola, Grey Kestrel and Broad-billed Rollers.

Kyaka was where we would stay for 2 nights. This building above, well the ruins of it anyway, was on a hill in the town. One of the buildings Idi Amin bombed during the 70's.

At and near the border we had a couple of Meyer's Parrot, 30+ Open-billed Storks soaring, Hooded Vulture again, Yellow-billed Stork, Rock Martin, some more Fork-tailed Drongo, Black-headed Gonolek heard, Black-lored Babblers (who gave me a great call recording and interestingly sound a little higher pitched than those in Rwanda), Marico & Variable Sunbirds and yet another Flappet Lark.

After meeting up with my friends and the birding guide Emmanuel (brilliant guide) from Uganda we set off back to Kyaka to check in to our basic local motel and have a bite before going to Minziro Forest.

Marsh Tchagra opened our trek followed by Great Blue & Ross' Turaco, Red-chested Cuckoo and Crowned Hornbill. Afep Pigeon was a cool lifer for me. On way into and through the forest the sightings and calls came thick and fast with only an opportunity for a photo of the Black & white Casqued Hornbill.

A Yellowbill (Green Coucal/Malkoha) was trying its best to stay hidden as were the Toro Olive Greenbuls. The LBoldittle Greenbuls were only slightly more obliging with a few seconds longer view. The Nigritas came in pairs as well with great views of White-breasted and Grey-crowned Negrofinches. Yellow-spotted Barbet (a stunning steroid version of a Tinkerbird), Black-throated Apalis, Olive-bellied & Little Green Sunbirds, Green Crombec and Black-necked Weavers. The Black-billed Turaco was calling but refused to show itself.

Later some Red-headed Lovebirds gave me another lifer and we had some more weavers like Baglafecht and Holub's Golden Weaver. Driving back in the dark we flushed some nightjars which the driver had frustratingly no experience of dealing with, so some records lost there. A pair of Water Thick-knees was our last species for the day.

NW Tanzania - Bukoba & the Lake Victoria beach

The campsite in Bukoba was on the beach and had 3 traditional huts as bandas - going inside was a pleasant surprise as there was a huge double bed with mosquito net, the works. This reminded me that I was in mozzie heaven again and needed to take some precautions i.e. tons of repellant.
Bukoba Harbour
Musila Island just east of Bukoba beach

The birds were numerous beyond my wildest expectations and although my island trip was off due to very strong winds, I could hardly be bored. Pied Kingfishers were in excess of 100 birds, well I stopped counting then, as were the Little Egrets. A few Open-billed Storks were around, couple of Fish Eagles and many Sacred Ibis.

Little Egret
Open-billed Stork
Pied Kingfisher

Other birds around the afternoon included
Spur-winged Lapwing, Woodland Kingfisher, Lesser Striped Swallow, Yellow White-eye, Marabou Stork, Cattle Egret in breeding plumage (stacks of them as well), cracking sighting of Shikra in the campsite, Hamerkop, MORE Rueppell's Long-tailed Starling and a few Long-tailed Cormorants.

The evening was relaxing next to a fire on the beach and a full moon

The next morning early produced a huge surprise, 2x Abdim's Storks arriving at the beach! Due to the light I only managed a record shot unfortunately.

After my sighting of the Abdim's Storks I sat around watching waking and arriving birds while I waited for our Tanzanian guide to arrive who'd be with us for the next days. The plan was to set off early to the Uganda border (80km) slowly and do some birding along the way. I was craving some coffee first and the campsite cook was off duty hence I had to wait for the guide and then find something in town.

Meanwhile a group of 16 Great Cormorants flew over and all the above species started arriving in great numbers again, with Pied Kingfishers taking the lead again. Eventually the guide arrived and we went to town where we joined the traditional morning coffee stops where one gets a double tot measure of some strong Bukoba coffee - after 5 of these and 300 Tz Shillings (1,400 = $1), 15+ Hooded Vultures including a juvenile, 3x Grey Plantain-eaters and 2x Palm-nut Vultures, we set off for Mutukula (Uganda border post) via Kyaka.

NW Tanzania - Rusumo Falls to Bukoba

I arrived at Rusumo Falls, the Tanzania/Rwanda border at 7am Rwanda time on the 27th and after a not too lengthy process of passport, vehicle documents and changing money, I was on my into uncharted territory - for me anyway. Before I crossed the bridge over the Akagera River I walked halfway first to get a photo of the falls in full tilt after all the rains in the north and had to try and get a good angle without getting the lens wet from the spray. Across the border I entered I entered East Africa time-zone and it became 8am - hour lost grrr!

A stretch of road for 15miles with Copper Sunbird and Yellow-throated Longclaw when I reached a little village where I suspected the turn-off north should be but got no sign saying so. Stopped and chatted to a local, getting my Swahili back into swing and he explained about the road, the alternative route further east and the need for a cop escort on the road I intended to take. He pointed out where the cops were although all I saw was guerilla-like figures with AK47's slung over the shoulder. Apparently they don't wear uniform for this as it attracts more attention than is necessary. Anyway, I set off with my escort into amazing bush country with 2m+ high grass along the road-side and stacks of birds flitting up and dropping down into the realms of invisibility.

After dropping the escort off, north of Kamisi Game Reserve we'd just driven through, there were some more patches and amazing scenery. This is a "good" section of road by the way!
Stopping occasionally, the Tz list got underway with Sooty Chat (extremely common I would eventually realise), Green-winged Pytilia and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. The Lilac-breasted Rollers were everywhere with a few female Bateleurs along the way.

Many species were in breeding plumage and displaying including Pin-tailed Whydah and Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah although I was gutted I couldn't get shots of the latter.

Trilling Cisticola kept me busy for awhile with one of its lesser known calls and Plain-backed Pipits abounded along the way, many of them showing a light tawny-orange wash on the flanks. Further species to Kyaka included Common Buttonquail (flushed from the side of the road), Common Scimitarbill, pair of Black-chested Snake-eagles, Arrow-marked & Black-lored Babblers. Rueppell's Long-tailed Starling was all over the shop and competing with Speckled Mousebird for abundancy awards.

At Kyaka I drove a section of road along the Akagera River again, and saw the bridge along the road heading north to the Uganda border - the road I would be taking the next day to meet up with friends coming from the Uganda side.

The road further to Bukoba and Lake Victoria was good tar seal and it was getting late in the afternoon (I had planned an island trip but was already 2hrs late), So not much stopping but did get a pair of Palm-nut Vultures along the way. Massive wetlands along the road and some rocky outcrops promised some good birding for the next few days.