Rwanda Birding Destination and Gorilla Trekking

Lakes Burera and Ruhondo, close to the gorilla-tracking center of Musanze, are often neglected gems.

People living around Rwanda’s many lakes try to make a living out of what these lakes have to offer. Rwanda Tours co-operates with a group of local people who use traditional fishing methods at the twin lakes Burera and Ruhondo. The work is carried out either from the lake shore or from se lf-made traditional canoes that consist of a single piece of wood.

Visit an island, where you will get a boat or dugout canoe ride to the respective island in lakes Ruhondo and Burera. Enjoy the nice scenery and excellent birding opportunities. Bring a packed lunch and have a picnic on the island . Discover nature in traditional canoes, enjoy

Lake Karago:

A beautiful lake located between Rubavu and Musanze districts.

Lake Nyarakigugu : A magnificent lake with good fishing and birding opportunities.

The Rugezi Swamp is a drowned valley composed of old metamorphic rocks and forms a part of the Buberuka Highlands.
This rounded hill Swamp has been recognized as one of Rwanda’s IBA’s (Important Birding Area). The other IBA in the area is the Volcanoes National Park.
The swamp is home to a number of sought after birds, one of these being Grauer’s Swamp-warbler who has taken nest here.

Buhanga Eco-Park is a small patch of forest 8km outside Musanze offering nature walks, picnics and camping facilities. The forest is dominated by magnificent dragon trees and is home to a number of exquisite birds.

Geography

The Kagera and Ruvubu rivers, part of the upper Nile

At 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 sq mi), Rwanda is the world’s 149th-largest country. It is comparable in size to Haiti or the state of Maryland in the United States. The entire country is at a high altitude: the lowest point is the Rusizi River at 950 metres (3,117 ft) above sea level. Rwanda is located in Central/Eastern Africa, and is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, and Burundi to the south. It lies a few degrees south of the equator and is landlocked. The capital, Kigali, is located near the centre of Rwanda.

The watershed between the major Congo and Nile drainage basins runs from north to south through Rwanda, with around 80% of the country’s area draining into the Nile and 20% into the Congo via the Rusizi River and Lake Tanganyika. The country’s longest river is the Nyabarongo, which rises in the south-west, flows north, east, and southeast before merging with the Ruvubu to form the Kagera; the Kagera then flows due north along the eastern border with Tanzania. The Nyabarongo-Kagera eventually drains into Lake Victoria, and its source in Nyungwe Forest is a contender for the as-yet undetermined overall source of the Nile. Rwanda has many lakes, the largest being Lake Kivu. This lake occupies the floor of the Albertine Rift along most of the length of Rwanda’s western border, and with a maximum depth of 480 metres (1,575 ft), it is one of the twenty deepest lakes in the world. Other sizeable lakes include Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi, Rweru, and Ihema, the last being the largest of a string of lakes in the eastern plains of Akagera National Park.

Lake and volcano in the Virunga Mountains

Mountains dominate central and western Rwanda; these mountains are part of the Albertine Rift Mountains that flank the Albertine branch of the East African Rift; this branch runs from north to south along Rwanda’s western border. The highest peaks are found in the Virunga volcano chain in the northwest; this includes Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda’s highest point, at 4,507 metres (14,787 ft). This western section of the country, which lies within the Albertine Rift montane forests eco-region, has an elevation of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) to 2,500 metres (8,202 ft). The centre of the country is predominantly rolling hills, while the eastern border region consists of savanna, plains and swamps.

Rwanda has a temperate tropical highland climate, with lower temperatures than are typical for equatorial countries because of its high elevation. Kigali, in the centre of the country, has a typical daily temperature range between 12 °C (54 °F) and 27 °C (81 °F), with little variation through the year. There are some temperature variations across the country; the mountainous west and north are generally cooler than the lower-lying east. There are two rainy seasons in the year; the first runs from February to June and the second from September to December. These are separated by two dry seasons: the major one from June to September, during which there is often no rain at all, and a shorter and less severe one from December to February. Rainfall varies geographically, with the west and northwest of the country receiving more precipitation annually than the east and southeast.Global warming has caused a change in the pattern of the rainy seasons. According to a report by the Strategic foresight Group, “at times, the total number of annual rainy days is reduced with short periods of more intense rainfall. Other times, frequent torrential rainfall on a daily basis exceeds the total monthly quantity. Also, there are times when there is a late onset of rainfall or an early cessation of the same.”

In prehistoric times montane forest occupied one-third of the territory of present-day Rwanda. Naturally occurring vegetation is now mostly restricted to the three National Parks, with terraced agriculture dominating the rest of the country. Nyungwe, the largest remaining tract of forest, contains 200 species of tree as well as orchids and begonias. Vegetation in the Volcanoes National Park is mostly bamboo and moorland, with small areas of forest. By contrast, Akagera has a savanna ecosystem in which acacia dominates the flora. There are several rare or endangered plant species in Akagera, including Markhamia lutea and Eulophia guineensis.

The greatest diversity of large mammals is found in the three National Parks, which are designated conservation areas. Akagera contains typical savanna animals such as giraffes and elephants, while Volcanoes is home to an estimated one-third of the worldwide mountain gorilla population. Nyungwe Forest boasts thirteen primate species including chimpanzees and Ruwenzori Columbus arboreal monkeys; the Ruwenzori Columbus move in groups of up to 400 individuals, the largest troop size of any primate in Africa.

There are 670 bird species in Rwanda, with variation between the east and the west. Nyungwe Forest, in the west, has 280 recorded species, of which 26 are endemic to the Albertine Rift; endemic species include the Ruwenzori Turaco and Handsome Francolin. Eastern Rwanda, by contrast, features savanna birds such as the Black-headed Gonolek and those associated with swamps and lakes, including storks and cranes.

Mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park

Rwanda’s service sector suffered during the late-2000s recession as banks reduced lending and foreign aid projects and investment were reduced. The sector rebounded in 2010, becoming the country’s largest sector by economic output and contributing 43.6% of the country’s GDP. Key tertiary contributors include banking and finance, wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, transport, storage, communication, insurance, real estate, business services and public administration including education and health. Tourism is one of the fastest-growing economic resources and became the country’s leading foreign exchange earner in 2011. In spite of the genocide’s legacy, the country is increasingly perceived internationally as a safe destination; The Directorate of Immigration and Emigration recorded 405,801 people visiting the country between January and June 2011; 16% of these arrived from outside Africa. Revenue from tourism was US$115.6 million between January and June 2011; holidaymakers contributed 43% of this revenue, despite being only 9% of the numbers. Rwanda is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely; Rwanda Gorilla Tracking, in the Volcanoes National Park, attracts thousands of visitors per year, who are prepared to pay high prices for permits. Other attractions include Nyungwe Forest, home to chimpanzees, Ruwenzori Columbus and other primates, the resorts of Lake Kivu, and Akagera, a small savanna reserve in the east of the country.

The Mountain Gorillas are the number one tourist attraction in Uganda and Rwanda. Specific locations are Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Volcanoes/Virunga National Park  There is much to see in both countries but the gorillas are the prime attraction.  Mountain Gorillas can only be found in three countries — Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. The former two are safe for visitors whereas the latter is not.

The Mountain Gorilla population in these three countries is approximately 880 individuals and steadily growing.  There are gorilla doctors who make house calls to monitor their health. A one hour gorilla visitation permit is $500.00 in Uganda and $750.00 in Rwanda. This was not a cheap trip.  The money goes to take care of and protect the animals.  That includes guides and armed guards.

Unlike Chimps which will eat most anything, Mountain Gorillas are vegetarians. They can eat as much as 40 pounds a day.

There are many gorilla pictures in the next three pages.  Some are quite similar. I threw away over 300 but still ended keeping a bunch.  Gorillas are very much like us.  Their facial expressions are constantly changing.  They scratch, yawn, show a range of emotions and sometime just look totally bored.

Gorillas make 25 distinct vocalizations to show their emotion. While there I learned to make a fairly respectable happy grunt. They also like to intimidate without becoming physical. In Uganda the guide noted when pointing to one young male that “he likes to charge” and if as on cue, that is exactly what he did.  Made a loud shrieking sound, stood up, and charged a few feet and then immediately backed off.  If was obviously all show.   We also saw examples of chest beating — even by a toddler.