Thursday, November 10, 2011

Take a virtual bird tour of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village!

Interested in nature? Great! New to birdwatching? No problem! Join us for a virtual tour of the birds of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.

Black-headed herons (Ardea melanocephala) visit ASYV- so should you!

The sun rises at about 5:45am here, and we could start our bird walk this early if you like. Birds tend to be most active in the morning (about 6am-10am), but the real draw of the early start is that the sun lights up the sky as it appears from behind the hills.

Worth the early wake-up... sunrise at ASYV

If you are staying in the guesthouses, the bird that greets you in the morning is the lesser striped swallow. Don’t let its laser-like sounds alarm you- the birds just want to rest on your laundry line!

Lesser striped swallows (Hirundo abyssinica)

We take the lower village road that circles around the houses and separates the farm from the residential area. Here we see many widespread East African garden birds, such as brimstone canaries, common bulbuls, common fiscals, and red-eyed doves. Variable sunbirds and bronzy sunbirds dart around in pursuit of nectar. We scan a tall dead tree about 50 meters away for raptors such as black-shouldered kite and common kestrels. This road is one of the easiest places at ASYV to spot the white-browed coucal. Also, the East-Africa endemic black-lored babblers can be found along this road, but rarely elsewhere in the village.

Black-lored babbler (Turdoides sharpei)

As we wind around the road up towards the dining hall, we see speckled mousebirds, arrow-marked babblers, common stonechats, pied crows and hopefully yellow-throated longclaws. At the dining hall, we pause for breakfast, but we won’t be able to ignore the grey-headed sparrows and African pied wagtails scavenging the crumbs on the floor! Red-rumped swallows can usually be seen October-March flying around this area. We fill up our water bottles if we need the amazi (water).

Yellow-throated longclaw (Macronyx croceus)

As we start up the hill toward the high school, greenhouses, and nature park, we see male pin-tailed whydahs chase females with their streamer-like tails and yellow-backed weavers dazzle along during their November-May breeding plumages. Through December-May, the male southern red bishop may be one of the highlights of your bird walk. These birds all breed in the bushes along the road! Tawny-flanked prinias and white-browed robin-chats are also easiest to see along the dirt road up the hill as they come out from the brush.

White-browed robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini)

Once we have climbed the hill, we look for some of the gems of Agahozo. Red-cheeked cordon-bleus, red-billed firefinches, and green-winged pytilias are tiny birds but they can be easily spotted if you look. As we make our way to the nature park, we scan the eucalyptus trees for cinnamon-chested bee-eaters, which is an East African endemic bird that is highly sought after in the Ngorongoro Crater highlands, Nyungwe Forest National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, but they live right here in our backyard. Sooty chats are another uncommon bird we will very likely see up close.

Cinnamon-chested bee-eater (Merops oreobates)

In the nature park, the bird show continues. White-headed saw-wings cruise overhead for insects. We will probably encounter yellow-fronted canaries, Baglafecht weavers, and yellow bishops. The park is one of the best places to watch for birds of prey like African harrier hawks, black kites, and augur buzzards. We’ll listen for the duets of tropical boubous, and we’ll wait for them to pop out and search for another perch in the undergrowth.

Tropical boubous (Laniarius aethiopicus)do not pose in the open often-
this is my only picture despite seeing them all the time!

While many of the birds you have already seen are present in the park, the mix of grasses, flowers, and trees in the park provides habitat to birds you won’t find anywhere else at Agahozo. Brown-backed scrub-robins, scarlet-chested sunbirds, and spectacled weavers breed in or near the park and can be observed fairly regularly. The park is also the place to find most of the visiting birds that do not live at Agahozo. No one day’s list is the same, but fairly common visitors include African thrush, mackinnon’s fiscal, African paradise flycatcher, long-crested eagle, blue-spotted wood-dove, brown-crowned tchagra, grosbeak weavers, fawn-breasted waxbills, and streaky seedeaters. Some lucky visitors have been treated with birds like black cuckooshrikes, ross’s turacos, and meyer’s parrots, but these are only observed once in a while.

Brown-crowned tchagra (Tchagra australis)

Before you know it, in about two hours, you will have seen about 35 species, even if you are birding for the first time! Yesterday, I birded with two visitors who observed 41 species although they were new to birdwatching. The record for the day at ASYV is 63 species, but for more experienced birders, you will probably find 40-50 species in 2-3 hours.

Southern red bishop (Euplectes orix)

The ASYV bird list continues to grow, and now surpasses 120 birds. It always amazes me that we see new birds here. Last week, I found a white-eyed slaty flycatcher on the property for the first time in the last year, and yesterday we had a booted eagle flyover and visiting African golden-breasted bunting, both new records for the property. Who would have guessed a residential/agricultural hillside with a tiny nature park could host so many types of birds?

Thanks for taking our virtual bird tour. If you can make it to Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, beautiful birds await!


  1. I just found your blog and love it. Thanks Michele

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