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Common Stonechat (possible salax sub-species?)

28 October, 2010

A couple of days ago an ‘odd’ African (Common) Stonechat caught my attention in Ruhengeri in NW Rwanda. There was absolutely no brown on the chest but in fact a pitch black patch thus resulting in a bird completely white & black only, not even a hint of brown. The usual white neck patch was also more of a collar which went almost all the way around the head. I’ve never come across this in Rwanda before. Jason says he’s recently seen a bird with a touch of brown only similar to the bird in my photos in Kibungo in SE Rwanda.

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat photographed on 26 Oct 2010 in Ruhengeri, NW Rwanda

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat photographed in Ruhengeri, NW Rwanda on 26 Oct 2010

Based on all the notes below and comparisons from field guides and online photos and taxonomy, could this be an individual of the salax sub-species on some movement?

This is the plumage I usually see in Ruhengeri, this photo was taken March 2010 at exactly the same location as the black-chested bird;

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat photographed in Ruhengeri, NW Rwanda in March 2010

On Google Image search, not a single photo of a black chested bird for Saxicola torquata.

On a search for “Saxicola torquata albofasciatus” there are 4 photos from Ethiopia, this is one of them and as you’ll see, not like ‘my’ bird at all.

On ABID (African Bird Club Image Database), other than the albofasciatus in Ethiopia, a photo taken in Gabon of what the photographer calls the salax subspecies which has black on the chest


Stevenson & Fanshawe: Races and individuals highly variable. Black head and throat, chestnut or black on the breast (varies in size). Distinctive race albofasciatus occurs in extreme NE Uganda. (the latter is illustrated with a black chest.

Sinclair & Ryan: “A highly variable small chat.” “…black head, chestnut chest (extent varies geographically)…”. They then continue to mention S. rubicola the Palearctic migrant which may be a good species (browner above and brown fringes to back and mantle feathers). Then “Black-breasted albofasciatus (Ethiopia) may also be a good species.”

As for movement, they refer to “some local movement”. I seem to recall in South Africa the moves were altitudinal.

Zimmerman et al: in fact these guys don’t even refer to a black-breasted race and just describe the axillaris race. Once again reference to a chestnut breast patch. No mention of any movement.

Britton (1980): “Kidepo Valley NP are probably referable to to the race albofasciatus which Hall & Moreau (1970) regard as an incipient species.” Kidepo is NE Uganda. Then he goes to describe a few races; (Britton doesn’t refer to any plumage, only distribution)

stonei – mainly south west Tanzania

promiscua – the east and close to the western side where ‘stonei’ is

axillaris – the widespread race including to south and western Uganda


ibc.lynx editions (online): according to this, axillaris should be the race in Rwanda

Taxonomy: Motacilla () torquata Linnaeus,1766. Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

Has been considered conspecific with S. dacotiae, but morphological differences sufficient to warrant treatment as two separate species; has also been treated as conspecific with S. tectes and S. leucurus. Recently proposed that races form three distinct species, European S. rubicola (including race hibernans), Siberian S. maurus (including variegatusarmenicus,indicusprzewalskii and stejnegeri) and African S. torquatus (remaining races); extent to which these groups satisfy any criteria for species recognition, however, is unclear, and variation within groups is considerable. Alternatively, further splitting could be argued for, e.g. in the case of rather distinct and apparently parapatrically abutting forms indicus andprzewalskii. Variation also exists within races, and several taxa may be unworthy of recognition while others may deserve reinstatement. Birds on Sicily included in rubicola, but most closely resemble maurus (hence a challenge to the splitting of latter), and have been named archimedes. Races adamauae (N & W Cameroon) and pallidigula (Cameroon Mountain and Bioko I) are treated as synonyms of salax, and altivagus is included in promiscuus. Racial affiliation of population recently found breeding in NW Thailand unknown. Twenty-four subspecies recognised.

  • hibernans (Hartert, 1910) – Ireland, Britain, W France and W Iberian coast.
  • rubicola (Linnaeus, 1766) – W, C & S Europe, NW Africa, and Turkey E to W Caucasus area; non-breeding also N Africa E to Middle East.
  • variegatus (S. G. Gmelin, 1774) – E Caucasus area E to lower R Ural and S to NW Iran; non-breeding NE Africa.
  • armenicus Stegmann, 1935 – SE Turkey, Transcaucasia and SW Iran; non-breeding also SW Asia and NE Africa.
  • maurus (Pallas, 1773) – E Finland and N & E European Russia E to Mongolia, E Tien Shan and Pakistan; non-breeding SW & S Asia.
  • stejnegeri (Parrot, 1908) – E Siberia E to Anadyrland, S to E Mongolia, NE China, Korea and Japan; non-breeding E & SE Asia (S to Malay Peninsula).
  • indicus (Blyth, 1847) – NW & C Himalayas; non-breeding Pakistan and C India.
  • przewalskii (Pleske, 1889) – Tibetan Plateau E to C China, S to NE Myanmar and Indochina; non-breeding N & NE India E to SE China and SE Asia.
  • moptanus Bates, 1932 – Senegal Delta and S Mali (inner Niger Delta).
  • nebularum Bates, 1930 – Sierra Leone E to W Ivory Coast.
  • jebelmarrae Lynes, 1920 – E Chad and W Sudan (Darfur).
  • salax (J. Verreaux & E. Verreaux, 1851) – E Nigeria S to NW Angola, including Bioko I (Fernando Póo).
  • felix Bates, 1936 – SW Saudi Arabia and W Yemen.
  • albofasciatus Rüppell, 1845 – SE Sudan, Ethiopian Highlands and NE Uganda.
  • axillaris (Shelley, 1885) – E DRCongo E to Kenya and N & W Tanzania.
  • stonei Bowen, 1932 – SW Tanzania S to S & E Angola, NE Namibia, Botswana and N South Africa.
  • promiscuus Hartert, 1922 – S Tanzania S to E Zimbabwe and W Mozambique.
  • torquatus (Linnaeus, 1766) – South Africa (Northern Province S to SW Western Cape) and W Swaziland.
  • oreobates Clancey, 1956 – Lesotho Highlands.
  • clanceyi Latimer, 1961 – coastal Western Cape.
  • voeltzkowi Grote, 1926 – Grand Comoro (Njazidja), in Comoro Is.
  • sibilla (Linnaeus, 1766) – Madagascar (except N massif and C area).
  • tsaratananae Milon, 1951 – Tsaratanana Massif, in N Madagascar.
  • ankaratrae Salomonsen, 1934 – Ankaratra Massif and adjacent C part of W savannas, in C Madagascar



Black-crowned Waxbill – altitudinal wanderings?

22 October, 2010

Another interesting set of sightings from Dave up at Sabinyo Silverback lodge. (NW Rwanda adjacent to Volcanoes NP)

He mentioned the other day to me that he had seen Black-crowned Estrilda nonnula up at the lodge – I thought this very odd as I’ve only recorded Black-headed/Kandt’s E. kandti there and the altitude 2500+m would be theoretically too high for E. nonnula.

Black-crowned Waxbill (Estrilda nonnula)

Black-crowned Waxbill (photo by Dave Richards)

Dave got this photo of an unmistakable E. nonnula during March-June stint up at the lodge. The vent is white and the white underparts correspond with my photos of E. nonnula down in Ruhengeri (altitude 1840m). Even More interesting is that Dave saw some nonnula feeding with a loose flock of kandti! Something I’ve not come across in Rwanda at all before.

Stevenson & Fanshawe (Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa – Kenya Tanzania Uganda Rwanda Burundi) give altitudinal range for E. nonnula as 800-2200m and Zimmerman et al (Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania) as 1500-2000m – either way, these birds are minimum 300m above the range. Britton (Britton 1980) in “Birds of East Africa” does not refer to Rwanda but mentions Virunga Volcanoes, Kigezi in SW Uganda where E. nonnula occurs below 1600m. An altitudinal range of 800-2200m is also given.

The habitat in this case for E. nonnula per se is thus fine i.e. forest edges and clearings but has gone at least 300m above the known (from the above literature) range.

Below I’ve added 2 of my photos of the both E. nonnula (Ruhengeri 1840m altitude) and E. kandti (also lodge location at c.2520m altitude)

Black-crowned Waxbill (Estrilda nonnula)

Black-crowned Waxbill photographed in Ruhengeri town (Rwanda) at 1840m altitude.


Black-headed (Kandt's) Waxbill (Estrilda atricapilla)

Black-headed (Kandt's) Waxbill photographed in 2009 at Sabinyo Silverback Lodge at c.2520m altitude


Response from Don Turner:

In Rwanda both these species occur in mixed flocks in the volcanos and in Nyungwe. Jean Pierre van de Weghe had quite good altitudinal data on them as follows:

Estrilda kandti 1800 – 2900m   (recorded to above 3000m in the Virungas).

Estrilda nonnulla max altitude recorded in Nyungwe  2400m.  However up to 2600 in the Virungas.

Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk (Accipiter rufiventris)

22 October, 2010

I went to visit Dave Richards (17 Oct 2010) up at the lodge in Kinigi after he told me about “different/strange” nesting Accipiters. This was also posted on the Rwanda_Burundi group on 17 October 2010 (Dave’s photos can also be seen on the group messages).

Female Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk which had been feeding the chicks in the nest

As background;
– the location is a mix of bamboo and dense shrubs with patches of Eucalypt trees and located about 800m-1km from the perimeter of the Volcanoes National Park, Kinigi (about 20km from Musanze) and at altitude of c2560m.
– earlier the year Dave had regularly seen a pair of Rufous-chested Sparrowhawks (A. rufiventris) hunting around the lodge area including once seeing an adult take a waxbill. 

– nest located at the edge of a stand of Eucalypt trees about 20-30m high; typical small stick nest – one composite of Dave’s photos attached shows a juvenile bird on the nest
– Dave has regularly witnessed the female adult feed the 2 chicks in the nest; the latter fledging about 2 weeks ago – no male bird accipiter was seen anywhere near this location up to this stage.
– my photos of the juvenile, a very obliging model eventually, was just after it had caught and eaten a Chubb’s Cisticola and it was very obviously rather stuffed.

Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk – juvenile
Accipiter rufiventris (juvenile)
Now the ‘strangeness’ – we both managed to get photos of the female and a juvenile; the undersides are very similar with blotchy, almost streaky rufous marks on the chest going down toward the belly with a stronger rufous wash/patch on the flanks. In the event of this being A. rufiventris, the underside plumage of the adult female is in direct contrast to all literature (Sinclair & Ryan, Zimmerman et al, Kemp, Britton and Stevenson & Fanshawe) which mention that the female is darker underside than the adult male. 

Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk – juvenile

The underside plumage of the juvenile as seen and photographed is not illustrated, mentioned or even alluded to in any of the above literature. The only ‘agreement’ is on the feint /pale eye-stripe and (as mentioned in 2-3 cases) the rufous ear area giving the bird a capped look.
Responses this far;
Callan Cohen (Birding Africa): The juvenile plumage of Rufous-chested Sparr is quite variable, but your bird is certainly consistent with what we see in South Africa (the same race, rufiventris) — normally the chest is streaked rufous (can be quite dark brownish), but then some of the feathers show some some barring which normally becomes more apparent lower down (you can see some of these barred feathers on this bird). They can end up looking quite mottled. Juvenile birds around Cape Town quite often show those white feathers on the back so it’s curious as to why that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the literature.

Etienne Marais (Indicator Birding): Little Sparrowhawk is known to breed while still showing juvenile plumage, in the case of the pair I was monitoring in Pretoria, South Africa the female died of unknown causes and was replaced within ten days by a “young” female still showing immature plumage. I’ve heard other reports of this from Hugh Chittenden in Zululand.

Update (22 Oct)

Michel Louette (Head of Department African Zoology, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium) I have checked the specimens in our collection. These birds are A. rufiventris. The parent bird must be a “second calendar year”. A. rufiventris is very close to A. nisus, based on the COI molecular study (see Van Houdt, J., Sonet, G., Breman, F. and Louette, M. DNA barcoding of European Accipiter and their African relatives. Abstract 2009 EOU Zurich).
Bill ClarkI was shown a nest of a pair near Stellenbosch in Cape Province years ago in which the female was not fully adult. The pair looked just like yours. 

Dave Richards managed to get photos of another individual yesterday (21 Oct) that was continuously calling throughout the morning until c.2:30pm. Below is the photo – this appears to be a 5th individual as it’s clearly not one of the 1st three we photographed and is also not the male bird we saw fly past us the other that had the dark rufous underside – a textbook version of A. rufiventris male.
(photo by Dave Richards)

Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk

Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk

Migrants and "wind-blowns" in Ruhengeri (Musanze)

11 October, 2010

I arrived back in Ruhengeri (Musanze) Saturday (9 Oct) to some interesting birds. The last few days before my arrival there had been fairly severe storms and northerly winds which may have played a role in the following records.

First “oddity” in the garden was a pair of Ring-necked Doves, not a bird really seen in this neck of the woods with only 5 records on the Atlas database from the lodge site at the edge of Ruhengeri town.

This was followed by a Ross’ Turaco moving between the various avocado and fig trees in my and the adjoining properties. After about 15 minutes we heard a ruckus in one of the trees next door and saw the Augur Buzzard trying to get to the now madly scrambling Turaco. This is the 1st record I have for this species north of Kigali – all other records are from East and SW Rwanda and Kigali.

Meanwhile I’d texted Jason about the sightings and while reading his response about Common Buzzards in Kibungo, we had 4 flying over in southerly direction, very high but a certain ID. The only sightings before I’ve had of Common Buzzards here was with Jason at Lake Ruhondo when they were on passage back north during April/May.

Jason’s note to me about “heaps” of migrants out Kibungo side on Saturday might also indicate a huge movement due to the strong northerly winds.

Forbes’s Plover in Kageyo, Eastern Rwanda

1 September, 2010

Posted by Jason on the Rwanda_BurundiBirds group on 27 August 2010

On Sunday I headed out to Kageyo (1°50’37.40″S+30°39’36.30″E), a village on the edge of Akagera National Park, where there are 2 good dams and lots of habitat (albeit being degraded, deforested and burnt with alarming rapidity). I wanted to see if there was any sign of the Madagascar Squacco Herons I had seen back in June. There hasn’t been a drop of rain in E. Rwanda since mid-June, and birds may be flocking to the wetlands.

On arrival I was delighted to see 5 Greater Painted-Snipe on the first dam, 3 females and 2 males: (photo above) This was my first record for this species in Rwanda. Huge numbers of finches and doves were flocking for early morning drinks, including Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Bronze Mannikin, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-billed Firefinch, Pin-tailed Whydah, Red-billed Quelea and Green-winged Pytilia, all in very good numbers. Among the Red-eyed and Ring-necked Doves I spotted a much rarer species, an African Mourning Dove – my first record for Rwanda. I wonder if the dry season is pulling some species westwards? Several firsts for my Akagera list in the vicinity included Purple-crested Turaco and Pink-backed Pelican (strange I hadn’t seen this species before in Akagera). Migrants were beginning to arrive. A total of 6 Wood Sandpipers on both dams (some could have been repeats), 1 Green Sandpiper on the 1st dam (uncommon in E. Rwanda), and `several’ Barn Swallows refuelling above the 1st dam. (I say several; I definitely identified 3 thanks to tail streamers or good views of throat. Others may have been Angola.)

An excursion into nearby acacia woodland unearthed a smashing feeding party, with the following: Red-faced Crombec, Sulphur-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes (the latter practising his eerie call for reasonable photos: ), Yellow-breasted Apalis, Greater Blue-eared and Ruppell’s Starlings, Black-lored and Arrow-marked Babblers, Black-faced Waxbill (in very good numbers today everywhere I went – usually uncommon) among several of the previously mentioned finch species, White-browed and Red-capped Robin-Chats, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-headed Gonolek and Slate-coloured Boubou, Yellow-throated Greenbul, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Southern Black Flycatcher, Trilling Cisticola, Pale Wren-warbler, Brown-throated Wattle-eye (incl. juvenile). Eventually this party seemed to disperse in 3 different directions, leaving the Grey-headed Bush-Shrike still calling in bare branches above. I came back into the open to spot a Black-shouldered Kite on a distant treetop.

Grey-headed Bush-shrike

I headed for the 2nd dam to find water levels low, but still populated by a good range of species. 5 Yellow-billed Stork (1 juvenile), 2 Spur-winged Lapwing, 3 African Wattled Lapwing, 25 (min.) Red-billed Teal, 2 Grey Heron (both juvenile), 1 Intermediate Egret among many Cattle and 2 Little Egret, singles of Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck (fem.) and Black-headed Heron. Something that might have been Rufous-bellied Heron bounced across my bins and disappeared into reeds – not sure. Then 2 small plovers: 3-banded and… well, it’s bigger than 3-banded, and darker throat. No white on forehead… Could it be? Quickly I got my scope out and confirmed it: Forbes’s Plover. It was fairly close, and for a while even hung out with the 3-banded, so I could compare them directly. As well as the dark forehead, I noticed dark cheeks and throat. The upper black band on the chest blending more with the grey throat than on 3-banded, giving a different jizz altogether, even at distance. I checked S&F: Only one `x’ for Rwanda! Tried to get a few photos using the innovative `put-your-camera-to-your-scope-and-fanny-around-for-10-minutes-till-the-bird-has-gone’ digiscoping technique. Luckily, the bird was very patient, and allowed a few rotten shots to come out, which I think confirm ID: , , , .

By now about 30 kids from the village had congregated for a spot of muzungu watching. I tried explaining that the Forbes’s Plover was more interesting, but they didn’t seem to agree. I looked for more birds, but found only Little Grebe (my first record for Akagera), and 2 White-rumped Swifts. White-browed Coucal flapping across the dead yellow reeds. Notable in their absence on this trip: Sacred Ibis, Great White Egret and Hadada Ibis (4 birds only seen today). I walked up to the village, had a Fanta and continued towards the Akagera fringes, where I managed to shake off the train of kids that was still following. After a spot of lunch I wandered listlessly in the afternoon heat. After an hour of nothing but Common Bulbuls and hunters’ snares (2 of which I tripped, and then destroyed), I hit upon a very loose feeding party, which produced some of the acacia specialists: Green-capped Eremomela, Brubru, Pale Flycatcher, Pale Wren-warbler and Buff-bellied Warbler. On the ground nearby Plain-backed Pipit and Golden-breasted Bunting. A pair of Yellow-throated Greenbuls were the only birds making any noise apart from the Ruppell’s Starlings until a male Black-backed Puffback started kicking up a fuss. I approached to find him serenading a female. He allowed me to get some nice shots: I was surprised to see him courting at this time of year, or was he defending territory? Anyway, he’d led me in the right direction, because on the bush behind was a party of White-crested Helmet-Shrikes, at least 5. I’d recorded this species yesterday, which was only my second record for Rwanda, today was the 3rd. They led me towards a patient Tabora Cisticola (photo below) feeding on the ground, who eventually allowed me to get some nice photos after he flew up into a tree:

It was mid afternoon by now, the ground was hotter than the sunshine and the birds had gone into hiding. I concluded that my species meter must be empty, so I started heading back to the 1st dam for my rendezvous with my moto driver. On the way, Marico Sunbird, Chinspot Batis, another bloody snare, Crested Barbet, African Marsh Harrier and Malachite Kingfisher… Finally a Lilac-breasted Roller parading over his territory, and then my moto driver appeared. Up on the hillside, smoke was rising from at least 3 copses; another bit of Rwanda’s nature razed. Above, the Lilac-breasted Roller roded, called a few times, and gave up. So sad to think this place is disappearing as the plantain and sorghum blanket is pulled further east to engulf the last bits of unprotected habitat.

Birdwise, another fantastic afternoon; 93 species within 5 square kilometres. As well as the Forbes’s Plover (I’ll send the record on to ABC), it was interesting to see what species are becoming more common as the weather dries up: Noticeably high numbers of Black-faced Waxbill, small flocks of non-breeding Pin-tailed Whydah and Red-billed Quelea, and possible movement of White-crested Helmet-Shrikes.

Wish I lived there. Wish I could buy it and protect it.


Presumed first record of Amethyst Sunbird for Rwanda

1 September, 2010

Posted by Jason on the Rwanda_BurundiBirds group on 26 August 2010

On Saturday afternoon, I went to investigate a small area of open mixed eucalypt / pine plantation just east of Kibungo, SE Rwanda (GPS 2° 9’6.40″S+ 30°34’49.40″E). I wasn’t expecting much, perhaps a few FT Drongos, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters, perhaps? Was I in for a surprise… several delightful surprises in fact. Although I didn’t see much, I got some real gems!

On arrival I was quickly alerted to the call of a juvenile bird, which turned out to be a young Black-backed Puffback eagerly in pursuit of its much dishevelled father, who was so busy trying to keep his offspring fed, that he allowed me to get some nice pics:

This was quickly followed by Black-crowned Tchagra. Only my second confirmed record in Rwanda – Brown-crowned tends to be the more common species here. One bird showed well early afternoon, probably one of a pair seen later in the same area closer to dusk.

I continued into the plantation, where I disturbed a roosting nightjar from the ground. It flew only 5 metres and resettled, so I was easily able to relocate and stalk it to within a few metres, where it afforded wonderful photos:

(Note by Marcell: Subsequently has been identified by Adam Kennedy & Nigel Cleere as Fiery-necked Nightjar)

My nightjar IDing skills are very poor, due to little experience, but the square white tail spots, and white wing patches across 2-4 of primaries indicate (given habitat and range) Black-shouldered, although I’m far from sure. Any opinions would be greatly appreciated. This would be my second record for Rwanda if confirmed.

Several records of Familiar Chat today (a fairly uncommon species outside of Akagera), made this a key location for the species. Open woodland with ungrazed grassland beneath and a few rocks seem to be perfect habitat for it. A little further on I was alerted to a weird churring contact call, which turned out to be only my second Rwandan record of White-crested Helmet-Shrike. A party of at least 7 birds was moving quickly through the trees, including one juvenile; wing shivering and begging from parents. Smashing.

Then a few minutes later I spotted a large black Chalcomitra sunbird picking its way across the dry Leonotis flowers. When it turned to face me, I nearly dropped my bins: A small pinky-purply throat patch, similar tiny shoulder patches and the green crown of Amethyst Sunbird. I was pretty sure that this species hadn’t been recorded in Rwanda, so I kept watching, slowly moving closer. The female was nearby, but I kept my bins on the male to ensure I got plenty of good views to be 100% sure of what I was seeing. Despite the fact that they moved pretty quick through the woodland – sometimes on undergrowth, sometimes up in the eucalypts – I managed to keep up, and as soon as I was sure of the ID, I endeavoured to get photos of what proved to be a rather flighty male. He led me up and down the escarpment for about 20 minutes (much to the amusement of a curious local farmer) before he finally relaxed and allowed a few distant ID shots.

As I wiped the sweat off my brow, I looked up to see sitting about 10 metres away from me a female Souza’s Shrike (!!!). After a year in E. Rwanda, this is only my second record, and boy was I surprised to find it in this habitat. My camera was still in my hand (I wasn’t sure if I’d got adequate shots of the sunbird, which I was still following), so I took a few quick pics and moved on. Little time to enjoy a connoisseur species at it’s most northerly within its African range:

I continued after the Amethyst Sunbirds, but didn’t get any closer, allowing them eventually to get away for some peace as they flew down the hill.

More Familiar Chats on the way back. But what an afternoon – a (presumed) new species for Rwanda and 3 second records (for me in Rwanda). It just goes to show; whilst eucalypt plantations can be dead zones, add in a little sunshine, and some ground cover and they turn up real surprises (as Marcell and Andy know only too well!).

This combined with Narcisse’s sighting of Spotted Creeper on Lake Kivu (a very good Nyungwe guide – report hopefully soon to follow), and a report of a White-headed Barbet from Akagera (if all accepted) pushes the country total up by another 3 species in as many weeks!


World Migratory Bird Day: Migrant Birds in Rwanda

9 May, 2010

8-9 May is World Migratory Bird Day and Rwanda hosts quite a few of these migrants either on passage or as ‘summer’ visitors. Summer is a relative term in Rwanda as seasons mainly consist of the dry seasons and 2 rainy seasons – granted changes in the weather are blurring these lines as well. On the Rwanda Bird Atlas we have c.55 migrant species including the intra-African migrants.

World Migratory Bird Day

Given that the Atlas is still ‘young’, patterns have already started emerging for some species showing the Palearctic visitors’ seasons from September to April. As the number of records and the time frame covered increases, movement patterns of migrants will become clearer. In some cases there are records from June and or July either indicating 1st year birds remaining till the next season and/or in some we think, are/have become resident birds.

Looking at some examples from the Rwanda Bird Atlas, the European Bee-eaters and Common Sandpipers have the most records and show clear seasons from September to April. There are isolated records for Common Sandpiper during July.

European Bee-eater: The latter part of September appears to be when the 1st birds start arriving or passing through with 50% recording percentage per visit. This peaks to 75% at the start of October and oddly no records for the latter part of the month. November to December shows an average of 37% recording precentage with a peak to 75% early January and dropping off to the last sightings end of April.

Common Sandpiper: The early part of September shows sightings at 75% of visits to existing sites on the database followed by a slight drop and then peaking to 75% again in the latter part of October and beginning of November. Early January again shows the same peak again with the last records in the latter part of April.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Spotted Flycatcher appears to arrive later but also leave later with the first records in November and the last at the end of May. In the case of Barn Swallows we have quite a few records from July although all are from Akagera NP – are these birds resident? But the general September to April pattern is clear.

Willow Warbler also arrives only in October, according to Atlas records to date, but last records are also April. Early November shows a small peak in sightings. Sedge Warbler sightings are at 50% of visits during November and December peaking to 75% early January. March & April only have isolated records.

A notable intra-African migrant is the African Pitta arriving from the south and thought to be thelongipennis race. 1st sghting commence mid-May from central Rwanda and culminate in the last week of May in Buhanga Forest in the north-west. There may of course be other individuals around the country during this time but we have no records of that to date.

In Akagera NP the resident Violet-backed Starling numbers are boosted substantially by the intra-Africa migrants from Southern Africa during June and July when literally hundreds of these birds can be seen and outnumber their cousins, the Greater Blue-eared and Rueppell’s Starlings by far.

2011 should be showing even better patterns with more records, so please submit your sightings of the migrants (and other species) to Atlas project. Remember you can also visit us on our Facebook page