Monday, 27 February 2012

Rwanda: Akagera National Park.

Several decades ago, John Gooders wrote a book, on birding around the world. By today's standards, it wasn't a very good book, but I owned a copy and kept dipping into it, at every opportunity. Oh, to visit those magical, far flung places, just dripping in new birds. All of them waiting, just for me! There are certain birds with an iconic status, one of them being the Shoebill. This species is bizarre! It is five feet tall, slate blue, quite fat, with a bill that looks well, just like a shoe! I wanted, no needed, to see this species very badly! But it is rare, found in isolated and vast swamps, scattered over the remotest parts of Africa. A little bit tricky then! But, one of the places to see this bird, was here in Rwanda, not too far from the capital city of Kilgali - the Akagera National Park!

This park was established in 1934 and covers an area of swamp, bush and savanna habitats, that are found alongside the Akagera river. The place is huge, around 1,200 square kilometers - it is the largest area of swampland in central Africa. But it has been badly neglected. Poaching through the years, has taken its toll and the various armed groups that have rampaged through the country, in past decades, haven't helped either. I didn't know what to expect!

The rather modest entrance, to this national park.
We entered the park and slowly its delights unfolded around us. Vast lakes, surrounded by papyrus swamps, magnificent mountains, clothed in bush, isolated patches of woodland and beautiful grasslands. Best of all though, was the almost complete lack of other tourists - it was all ours to explore at will. And explore we did, on little winding, muddy trails, that criss-crossed the mosaic of habitats to be found here. This was wilderness Africa at its very best. I was in my element.

The southern sector of the park -looking east.

As you travel northwards,
the habitat gets more & more open.
As we proceeded, every so slowly northwards, the scenery got even better and the game sightings increased. It was a great day, with abundant birds and some nice mammals, including a loan Roan Antelope,  on a distant hillside. The bird log that evening as a long one and we all slept well, not knowing what the morning would bring.
Getting around in Akagera.
Remote, wonderful, savannas.

Topi's are common in the grasslands.
A fine male, Topi.
Defassa Waterbuck
Massai Giraffe -
a bit different from what I am used to!

 African Hawk Eagle.

Striped Kingfisher

Grey-backed Fiscal Shrike
The next day, was our last day birding. It was a shortened day, from dawn until around 2pm, as we had to drive back to the capital. This day we entered from the north and explored a tiny portion of the park. And what an inspired choice it turned out to be! Birds competed for our attention with the abundant mammals. Shutters on our cameras clicked rapidly. As we bounced around, on the back of our vehicle, every corner revealed new sightings. For me, it was the best day of the trip - it was just awesome!

Red-necked Francolin
Black-headed Gonalek.

Red-faced Barbet
Photo courtesy of Oscar Campbell.
Lesser Striped Swallow
African Moustached Warbler -
normally, secretive & difficult to see.
Photo courtesy of Oscar Campbell.

Spotted-backed Weaver - nest building.
A distant Shoebill - has to be bird of the trip!
Photo courtesy of Oscar Campbell.

Oscar then decided that the show needed a new star, and he found a distant Shoebill stood atop a raised mound, at the edge of the swamp! Both Oscar and I had seen Shoebill before in Uganda (on different trips) but we needed no extra invitation to enjoy this one as well! Graham and Mark, just beamed!

Our short trip, netted us over 300 species of birds and over 20 species of mammal. But, my abiding memory, will be of the two fabulous places that we visited: the wonderful montane forests of the east and the splendid scenery and wildlife of Akagera. I will be back - there is unfinished business here, a small matter of a few Gorillas to see!

Graham & I shared a room throughout this trip (as did Oscar & Mark). We stayed at one particular hotel for two nights. On the second night, I went into the bathroom & discovered a huge carton of vaseline, that hadn't been there the day before! Thoughtful or what? Maybe just a little too thoughtful?

Thanks guys for been such good fun and great company. Till the next time!

Mammal List:

Olive Baboon (Papio cynocephalus anubis)

Several troops seen in and around Nyungwe Forest & in Akagera National Park.

Grey-cheeked Mangabey (Cercocebus albigenia)

At least 8 seen along the roadside in Nyungwe National Park.

Black-faced Vervet (Green) Monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops)

A troop was always present in the Forest Lodge guest House at Nyungwe. Also small numbers seen in Akergera National Park.

Samango Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis)

Small gropus seen every day in Nyungwe Forest.

Please note, this species is known by a variety of names, including Blue & Syke’s Monkey.

L’Hoest’s Guenon (Cercopithecus l’hoesti)

Seen every day in Nyungwe Forest, sometimes in large groups. The commonest primate at this location.

Guereza (Abyssinian ) Black & White Colobus Monkey (Colobus guereza)

A large troop of between 20-25 individuals, seen by the side of the road in Nyungwe Forest.

Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Groups were heard on two different days in Nyungwe Forest. Nests were also seen.

Plains (Burchell’s) Zebra (Equus burchelli)

Up to 70 animals a day seen in the northern part of Akagera National Park.

Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

Seen in good numbers (up to 30 animals each day) in Akagera National Park.

Bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus)

Signs of this species, were noted every day, on the trails in Nyungwe National Park. No animals were actually seen.

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibus)

A group of six, seen in Akagera National Park.

Maasai Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi)

Up to 25 seen in a day, in the norther section of Akagera National Park.

Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

A large herd of over 100 animals and several smaller groups, seen in the northern section of Akagera National Park.

Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)

At least five noted, in the northern section of Akagera National Park.

Roan Antelope (Hippotragus equinus)

A lone animal, seen in the northern section of Akagera National Park.

Defassa Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa)

Up to 30 seen each day, in Akagera National Park.

Bohor Reedbuck (Reduncta redunca)

Seven seen, in the northern section of Akagera National Park.

Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela)

Over 200 a day, seen in the northern section of Akagera National Park. This is a significant population of this rare and scattered subspecies.

Impala (Aepyceros melampus)

Rather surprisingly, only small herds seen of this common and widespread species, in Akagera National Park.

Oribi (Ourebia ourebi)

One seen in Akagera National Park.

Golden (Common) Jackal (Canis aureus)

One seen at dawn, crossing the road, outside of Akagera National Park.

Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula)

One seen in Akagera National Park. This species lives communaly and makes its home in termite mounds.

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)

Aardvark holes were commonly seen in Akagera National Park.

Carruther’s Mountain Squirrel (Funisciurus carruthersi)

Up to ten animals a day, seen in Nyungwe National Park.

Boehm’s Squirrel (Paraxerus alexandri)

Common in Nyungwe National Park.

Ruwenzori Sun Squirrel (Heliosciurus ruwenzori)

Up to eight animals a day, seen in Nyungwe National Park.

Photos courtesy of Oscar Campbell.

As we were leaving to go to the airport, this minibus was in front of us. It is always nice to give the last word to the locals!

No comments:

Post a Comment