Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is a good place to watch birds. Several visitors from the United States and Israel and about 20 of the Rwandan students have participated in bird walks so far. There are many birds to see, and part of my job is to keep track of them.
|Students at ASYV are using binoculars and |
thinking critically about how to find and identify birds.
I have surveyed birds here from about 6am-8am on average about four days a week since early December, totaling just over 149 hours on 69 days. Although I love bird watching, it is not all fun and games. Surveying involves getting up regularly at 5:30 am before sunrise, getting bitten by ants at least once a week, soaking my shoes/sandals each day while walking through the thick morning dew, meticulously taking notes, and lugging a camera or computer around for documentation. I also have to transform my notes into electronic form. Data entry is absolutely necessary for keeping an inventory, but it is the most boring part of the job.
So far, I have identified 115 species of birds that live on or have visited the 144 acres of ASYV property, with another 6 birds narrowed down but not to the species level. To put this in perspective, around 17% of the birds found in Rwanda or about 1% of the world’s birds can be seen right here in this small space.
|The African yellow white-eye, Zosterops senegalensis, is a|
delightful little bird.
About 87% of the 115 birds have been spotted at least twice; only 15 birds have only a single record. For example, I have found the violet-backed starling only once (although there were four individuals present that day, 1 male and 3 females). In contrast, I have seen the very-easy-to-see pin-tailed whydah on all 69 days.
|A male violet-backed starling, Cinnyricinclus leucogaster, |
was quite an exciting find!
Birds from 36 families have visited or live at ASYV (add to that families of two birds as-of-yet unidentified, woodpeckers and nightjars). Remember, a family is a grouping of organisms in the Domain-Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species taxonomic system. Among the families (which are in parentheses), there have been six species of sunbirds (Nectariniidae), 7 species of dove/pigeon (Columbidae), 9 species of martins/swallow (Hirundinidae), 10 species of waxbill (Estrildidae), 11 species of Accipitridae birds of prey (not including the two birds of prey from Falconidae), and 11 species of weavers (Ploceidae).
Six species remain elusive: a woodpecker has been spotted twice, a swift that defies my dichotomous key, a female cuckoo that has only been around once, an Aquila species of eagle, a black-faced bird of prey, and a nightjar. Most of these birds have been visible for just a short glimpse, or I have yet to see the details I need to make an identification. I have also heard of an owl that people have seen, but it has not been reported in months and I have yet to see any trace of it.
|The spot-flanked barbet, Tricholaema lacrymosa, is one |
of two species of barbets I have found at ASYV.
Neither species is common on the property; I have only
three records for this species.
Is all this information for the birds? Of course not. It is important for several reasons. First, it serves as a pool of data for student use. The sciences and mathematics are major fields in Rwanda; the analysis and the process of gathering the data provides students with hands-on experiences. It also allows students to learn the techniques and methods of finding and identifying birds. For future park rangers, tour guides, and biologists, they can gain skills they need to be competitive for good jobs. Second, it gives ASYV an important tool for attracting tourists. Rwanda has a lot of potential as a birding destination and having an established bird list (plus a lodge and proximity to Akagera National Park) will capture the attention of birders and tour operators. Third, it allows the students, staff, and visitors to appreciate the natural capital present at ASYV. Although many rural people here have a recognition of some of the birds, they have yet to see many of the wonders up close or understand their full ecological roles (this is based on my conversations and observations). Furthermore, people from cities who now live at ASYV have little recognition of the birds at all or their importance (much like America and probably everywhere else).
Cinnamon-chested bee-eaters, Merops oreobates,
live at ASYV and are a pretty regular bird
in the undeveloped area behind the school.
Yes, they do eat bees, and they catch them
spectacularly while in flight.
In the coming months, I will devote posts to the most common birds, most unusual birds, the breeding birds, and peoples’ interaction with our feathered friends. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed pictures of some of my favorite birds at Agahozo.