Friday, July 8, 2011

Welcome to the jungle! Let's explore Nyungwe rainforest

Rainforests present a conundrum for visitors. They harbor as much biodiversity as any habitat on the planet, and yet you are unlikely to see most of their wonders.

The sun rises over the forested mountains... what lives in these
blankets of green? The pictures below show just a fraction of forest life.

Michele and I camped for three nights in Nyungwe Forest National Park here in Rwanda. As some of these pictures show less-than-clear views, you can imagine that birding in a rainforest can be a challenge. Sometimes the best view is hardly a view at all.

Nyungwe covers over 1,000 square kilometers. Before
massive deforestation in recent human history, the whole forest
stretched from Uganda through Burundi. The main patch left in Rwanda
is protected as Nyungwe Forest National Park. 

Mostly you see plants. Bugs are pretty common too, but at above 2000 meters, most of the nasty bugs are excluded from Nyungwe.

Angola pied colobus monkeys (Colobus angolensis) live in large groups
and spend most of their lives in trees.

Still, there is much to be seen in a rainforest; you might just have to be patient to see what you want to see. 

The great blue turaco (Corythaeola cristata) is large and blue with a
bright yellow bill and a black mohawk. It is a spectacular blue turaco
if you ask me! 

Out of 278 possible bird species, Michele and I saw 68 species in our three days there. For comparison, at Agahozo, a mostly agricultural spot in Eastern Rwanda, I have seen 65 species in one day. In Nyungwe, however, quality reigns over quantity. We saw 14 species of birds that are endemic to montane forests of the Albertine Rift (restricted in range and found no where else). One of them, the red-collared mountain babbler (Kupeornis rufocinctus) is apparently extremely hard to see anywhere else in the Albertine Rift. 

L'Hoest's mountain monkeys (Cercopithecus l'hoesti l'hoesti) prowl the
ground for fruits.

The best part about visiting is that the fees support conservation in Rwanda. Trail permits and camping at Nyungwe are not cheap, but paying for them provides a market for preserving the rainforest. Even if you do not see it all in Nyungwe, your entrance fee helps make sure the forest and its inhabitants are still there blanketing the hills.

A lizard hides in the brush. Most of Nyungwe's animal residents
are not seen easily, and this is generally characteristic of most
rainforest organisms, whichever forest you might be in.

Carruther's mountain squirrel (Funisciurus carruthersi) is one of five
squirrel species that patrols the trees of Nyungwe.

The strange weaver, Ploceus alienus, is another bird found
only in the mountains of the Albertine Rift. The Albertine Rift refers to
the divergent tectonic plate boundaries that shape this part
of Africa, giving rise to mountains, deep lakes, and volcanoes.

This black-and-white casqued hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus) is
one of the largest birds of the forest. Its name comes from the
bicolored keratin growth above its bill.

As bright as it is, the bar-tailed trogon (Apaloderma vittatum)
blends in quite well in the forest.

One of the nine species of snakes known to inhabit Nyungwe slithers
on a trail. I spotted it as our group walked right past it... don't worry,
this is not a venomous snake. In fact, there is only one venomous
snake species known to live in all of Nyungwe.

The olive-breasted mountain greenbul (Andropadus kikuyuensis) lives
only in highland forests of East Africa, mainly along the Alberitne Rift.

Can you find the Ruwenzori turaco (Gallirex johnstoni)? It is found only
in the mountains of the Albertine Rift, in Uganda,
Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although
it features blue, purple, red, and green feathers, its overall dark
appearance helps it blend into the shadows.

Crowned hornbills (Tockus alboterminatus) live in Nyungwe and
in many other African forests as well.

See anything besides leaves and branches?

A closer look: Sharpe's starling (Pholia sharpii) is an uncommon resident
of montane forests and is found only in East Africa.

The watersheds of two mighty rivers are divided
upon the ridge we stand in Nyungwe. One rain cloud
can empty into this area; some of its contents will
rush into the Atlantic Ocean out of Western Africa
and some will pour into the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt.

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