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SHELLEY NEEDS YOUR HELP Exciting Shelley’s Expedition planned. Linked to two great Africa Ecotour Safari options

21 Oct
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Uganda. Photo. Simon Espley

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Photo Simon Espley

Searching for Africa’s most elusive bird. By Dr.Chris Lotz

When asked the question “what is Africa’s most elusive bird species”, most birders would answer that it must be any of the flufftails, which are, of course, notorious. Or, perhaps they might answer that it could be one of the two pitta species lurking on this continent. But, given a systematic approach, it is actually quite possible to find and even photograph every single flufftail species given a few weeks of travel across Africa and Madagascar. Even the Critically Endangered Slender-billed Flufftail can be reliably seen with a bit of effort – As for the pittas, they certainly aren’t in any way easy, but we usually do find both species annually – our success rate for African Pitta in Mozambique and Green-breasted Pitta in Uganda must be about four in five attempts. At the start of the breeding season, we have exact stakeouts for these jewel-like species and so we’ve kind of “mastered” them and they no longer escape us.

Fewer birders would guess that the bird that we simply can’t find is a splendidly-colored finch occurring at extremely low densities in a tiny part of central Africa.

Shelley's crimsonwing. Photo courtesy www.gorilla.org

Shelley’s crimsonwing. Photo courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

While local birding guides in Uganda report the species every couple of years, there are only three known photos of the bird in the world. ( All are held in the hands of a field researcher and all are cock birds. There are currently no known photo references of a hen bird ) And we have never found one on any of our tours yet (despite the fact that we do marvelously well on all the other rare and localized species in the region). The finch we are talking about is the Shelley’s Crimsonwing (Cryptospiza shelleyi), an Albertine Rift Valley endemic with a total world population estimated at anything between 2500 and 10000 individuals.

The Albertine Rift is a westward branch of the famous Great Rift Valley, and it boasts a large number of endemic bird species occurring only in a tiny part of Africa where four countries meet: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The forested mountains of the Great Albertine rift valley

The forested mountains of the Albertine Rift . Photo Eelco Meyjes

The beautiful and spectacularly bio-diverse, forested mountains of the Albertine Rift straddle the border regions of these four countries. Shelley’s Crimsonwing is one of these Albertine Rift endemics skulking in the undergrowth of the mountain forests here. The DRC is a dangerous place to visit, and most birders focus on either Rwanda or Uganda when they want to find this rare finch. (But find the bird they don’t…!)

Classified as Vulnerable by Birdlife International, Shelley’s Crimsonwing is so poorly-known that scientists do not even have much of an understanding why it is so rare, and why it is apparently declining (also with very fluctuating numbers from year to year). The guess is that habitat destruction by humans is the main culprit, but it has also often been said that the species might be declining due to natural causes, albeit mysterious and puzzling ones!

Where to look for it:

  • We wish we knew!
  • However, it is known (among other places) from the following legendary birding forests (all of which are also famous for mountain gorilla trekking
    • Threatened Mountain Gorilla ( Gorilla beringei.beringei ) photo taken by Cheryl Mares and kindly donated to the RFCG

      Threatened Mountain Gorilla ( Gorilla beringei.beringei ) photo taken by Cheryl Mares and kindly donated to the RFCG

      Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda

    • The Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve straddling the border between Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC – this is often considered a top site within Uganda for the crimsonwing, but the reserve is often inexplicably ignored by many birding tour operators. But, we do visit this site annually, partly because it is one of the most accessible sites for the incomparable Rwenzori Turaco (which we reliably DO find, unlike the crimsonwing!). With the spectacular Virunga Volcanos as a backdrop, Mgahinga is certainly not an unpleasant place to spend a couple of days…!
  • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda – this is where several sightings over the last few years have been, including a nesting pair that gave a good number of birders a look (practically “twitchable”) – but one also has to understand the story might have been exaggerated like a fishing tale (no photos were taken!). The long walk down to Mubwindi Swamp at the Ruhizha section of Bwindi – compulsory for seeing another of Africa’s most desirable birds, African Green Broadbill – is probably best. The good news about Bwindi is there are no less than 43 finch species that can be seen in this tropical rain forest.

SHELLEY NEEDS YOUR HELP. Why not join us in August 2016 to help look for it ? 

Day 1: Aug 22. Arrival at Kigali in Rwanda and drive to Kisoro in Uganda stay at Travelers Rest X4 nights.

Day 2: Aug 23 Birding Mgahinga.

Mgahinga Gorge. Photo John Groom

Mgahinga Gorge. Photo John Groom

Birding Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve. This is one of the classic sites for Shelley’s Crimsonwing but even though we’re spending three full days here and two full days at its other classic site, we guess that the chances of actually finding Shelley’s is perhaps one in four. Hopefully the spectacular Rwenzori Turaco and the great scenery (ancient volcanos) will entertain us regardless. And, with lots of luck, who knows we might even encounter gorillas which freely cross the nearby borders into the DRC and Rwanda as this reserve straddles three countries! Please note that the main aim of this expedition is to try and find and photograph Shelley’s Crimsonwing so we’ll very much spend the bulk of our time looking for this mega-elusive species – this means driving to the reserve each morning and walking a lot, sometimes uphill quite a lot (at both sites, Mgahinga and also Bwindi).

Day 3: Aug 24 Birding Mgahinga

Day 4: Aug 25 Birding Mgahinga

Day 5: Aug 26 Birding to Ruhija.

Ruhija area. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Ruhija area. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Ruhija in the famed Bwindi Impenetrable Forest boasts over 20 Albertine Rift endemics including African Green Broadbill – and of course good old Shelley’s. If we don’t find Shelley’s, there are three other crimsonwings in this forest. It’s also one of the world’s best-known sites for Mountain Gorilla, but if you want to see that then we suggest you join the Aug 1-19 birding and primate trip – as the current trip is a “hardcore” Shelley’s trip.

Overnight at Trekkers Tavern. Ruhija. Bwindi

Day 6: Aug 27 Birding in Ruhija. Overnight at Trekkers Tavern

Day 7: Aug 28 Birding in Ruhija.Overnight at Trekkers Tavern

Day 8: Aug 29 Transfer to Kigali and departure.

The cost is based on basic clean accommodation and meals, land cruiser vehicle with driver and fuel, guide fees, park entrance fees and drinking water in the car.

The land cruiser upon which the prices are based is the typical East African one with a popup roof, but not the newest one – and without air conditioning. This is the norm in Uganda. A surcharge would be payable for a truly good vehicle.

US$3738 per person sharing for a group of 4-5 paying participants, or $3230 for 6. There will be a small single supplement for those preferring a single room or if we can’t find someone to share a room with you. A separate price can be quoted if a Gorilla trek needs to be included.

This price includes a 10 % conservation donation to the Rare Finch Conservation Group which is a registered non-profit organisation.

We would like to try and get photos and sound recordings of the Shelley’s finch, one of Africa’s rarest finches. We plan to be as close as possible to the sites we feel are best for the species. We’d like to try and get publicity for this rare species (which will hopefully help its conservation). The trip will naturally also look at other bird and finch species in the area, but our main focus will be to try and find and see the threatened and elusive Shelley’s.

More about the two great Africa EcoTour options linked to the exciting Shelley’s Expedition experience

Join a birding and primate tour of Uganda from 1 -19 August before the Shelley’s Expedition starts, and / or  join a Namibia, Botswana, Vic Falls tour after it. ( Maximum 8 per group ) Details of both trips are at ihttp://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-uganda-gorillas-and-chimpanzees-in-12-days-2015-2?type=country&where=Uganda  and / or http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-namibia-okavango-and-victoria-falls-18-day-2016please note that while the latter trip is usually run later in the year, if we get at least four participants, we will add another departure of this trip from Sep 1-18, 2016.

Please e-mail info@birdingecotours.co.za for more details on the Shelley’s Expedition and the exciting two Birding Ecotour options to experience and enjoy Africa at its very bestBE logo artwork

Founded in 2005 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation. It is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches. All donations will be publicly acknowledged , unless otherwise requested, on the RFCG website. Donations can be made to the following account. Rare Finch Conservation Group, Nedbank. Account number 1933 198885 Branch : Sandown 193 305 South Africa ( For international donors please add ) SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.
For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za


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The classroom in honour of Benson is completed

31 May
The classroom in honour of Benson. Bigodi Uganda

Sarah Scott and Kirk Mason , two Michigan State University alumini, in front of the completed classroom in memory of Benson Bamutura. Uganda

Last year 31 January we posted a blog with the very sad news that Benson Bamutura, who was the field manager in Uganda for the Rare Finch Conservation Group’s first field study in 2009 /10, and was one of the very few people in the world to see the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing finch,  sadly passed away on 26 January 2014. Benson left behind a young wife and three young children plus two foster children from his late sister.

The late Benson Bamutura

The late Benson Bamutura

On 25 June we posted a blog requesting that a fundraising initiative, started by Michigan State University to build a classroom in memory of this great bird man, be supported by our worldwide followers and supporters. An amount of 10,000 USD was needed for the project to go ahead. Well it wasn’t long before an amount of 10,630 USD was raised and construction could commence.

Last week the RFCG received the fantastic news, plus above supporting photograph, that the classroom had been completed and that his children will receive the benefit of a free education . The RFCG would like to SALUTE and congratulate the alumini from Michigan State University for spear heading the project. And thank all our followers and supporters who made a financial contribution to help this most incredible initiative become a reality.

Without Benson we would not have been able to complete our first field study in Uganda nor would we have been able to conduct our very first RFCG fund raising EcoTour

See a video clip on Benson and the Shelley’s crimsonwing finch : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ_Z5LWmyok

 

 

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AFRICA CALLS ! See stunning wildlife and spectacular finches

22 Jul
Cheetah in the Kruger National Park. Photo Kevin Solomon. RFCG 2013 EcoTour guest

Cheetah in the Kruger National Park. Photo Kev Solomon. RFCG EcoTour guest

Join the 2014 RFCG EcoTour to Africa. Following last year’s highly acclaimed tour it’s been decided to organise another tour this year following the same itinerary. The 23 day EcoTour to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe  will depart from Sydney 21 November and return 14 December*. The tour has been designed to not only see a lot of Africa’s  impressive wildlife, but to take maximum advantage to see many of Africa’s wonderful weavers, whydahs and widow finches in their summer nuptial plumage ( Some of the magnificent finches that our guests can expect to see are: Long-tailed Widowbirds, Red-collared Widowbirds, White-winged Widowbirds, Golden Bishops, Red Bishops, Pin-tailed Whydahs, Paradise Whydahs, Shaft-tailed whydahs, Steel-blue widow finches, Black widow finches, Village indigo birds, Dusky indigo birds, Masked Weavers, Thick-billed weavers, Red-headed weavers, Red-billed buffalo weavers, White-browed sparrow weavers and with a bit of luck the spectacular Broad-tailed Paradise whydah plus many of their host species such as Melbas, Violet-Eared waxbills,  Scaly feathered finches, Common waxbills, Black-faced waxbills plus many, many more )

We will be looking for Red Billed fire finches and Blue waxbills next to the mighty Victora falls in Zimbabwe. Phote Eelco Meyjes

We will be looking for Red Billed fire finches and Blue waxbills next to the mighty Victoria falls in Zimbabwe. Phote Eelco Meyjes

The trip will include a 6 day stay in the world famous Kruger National Park at different camp sites. From there the tour will move onto Botswana to experience the majestic and silent beauty of the Okavango Delta. A 3 day stop over near the Chobe river game reserve, in Northern Botswana, has also been included not to mention a visit to the mighty and thunderous Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where we should see red billed fire finches and blue waxbills in the Victoria Falls rain forest nature reserve. All along the route, between these three countries, the group will stop at various key locations to see many of Africa’s most beautiful finches.

Safari tent accommodation example at Nata Lodge. Botswana. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Safari tent accommodation example at Nata Lodge. Botswana. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Accommodation will be comfortable and every effort will be made to ensure that this tailor made finch safari is a truly once in a lifetime experience for all our guests. The tour will once again be hosted by Russell Kingston and Eelco Meyjes. Space is limited to a maximum of 8 guests only. This is to ensure best viewing opportunities. All guests will be required to sign an indemnity prior to the tour commencing

For more information on this exciting 2014 summer RFCG EcoTour to Africa contact RussellKingston indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes editor@avitalk.co.za.

* Guests can come from any country, but everyone will need to be in Johannesburg on Saturday 22 November at the commence of the tour.

All profits are donated to the Rare Finch Conservation Group which is a registered non-profit organisation.This specialist conservation group is totally dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild.

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RFCG Receives an exciting new photo of the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing

7 Jul
The world's second known photograph of a  Shelley's crimsonwing cockbird. Photo Colin Jackson

The world’s second known photograph of a Shelley’s crimsonwing. Photo Colin Jackson

Last week Colin Jackson made contact with the Rare Finch Conservation Group and informed us that he had photographed the Shelley’s crimsonwing, whilst on an expedition in the Mt Tsiaberimu area, in the DRC, in 1997. We informed him that the only other known photograph of the species in the world, taken in 2008 and sourced from the website http://www.gorilla.org, was also photographed in the Mt Tsiaberimu area in the Virunga National Park, DRC.

Colin Jackson who photographed the Shelley's crimsonwing in 1997 whilst on an expedition in the DRC

Colin Jackson who photographed the Shelley’s crimsonwing in 1997 whilst on an expedition in the DRC

This is what Colin Jackson shared with us ” Very interesting to hear of the story behind the other image of the crimsonwing – that it also came from Tsiaberimu…. We caught ours in the heart of the forest not far from where we first camped in nets going through the edge of bamboo and bordering an open area that included some swampy vegetation. The expedition was one of National Museums of Kenya staff, funded by the Berggorilla and Regenwald Direkthilfte and the Atlanta Zoo. A key objective of the expedition was to survey the surviving gorillas and Titus Imboma (whose hand is holding the bird in the image) and myself were taken along to do bird surveys.”

Ever since 2008 this has been the only known photograph of a Shelley's crimsonwing. Photo courtesy www.gorilla.org

Ever since 2008 this was the only known photograph of a Shelley’s crimsonwing in the world. Photo courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

The RFCG would like to sincerely thank Colin Jackson for sharing this exciting new photograph of the species, with the rest of the world.

This is what the authoritative Birds of Africa Volumn 7 by C Hillary Fry et al tells us about the species. General Habits : Inhabits closed moist understory in montane forest, low secondary growth at forest edge, clearngs with Sericostachys, mixed bamboo thickets; Sometimes in more open areas by streams. Singly or in pairs : forages on ground for seeds; associates with other crimsonwings ( Unconfirmed reports given to the RFCG is that they are normally Dusky crimsonwings : Senegali de Jackson ). Shy elusive, seldom seen ; when flushed flies rapidly for short distance and dives for cover, and does not reappear.

These exact same observations have also been shared with the RFCG by bird guides working in the Ruhija area in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. The breeding habits of the species are unknown. The IUCN Red data list classifies the species as Vulnerable ( A high risk of extinction )

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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A classroom for Benson’s community

25 Jun
The late Benson Bamutura. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The late Benson Bamutura. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Benson Bamutura, who was one of the very few people in the world to see the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing finch,  sadly passed away 26 January 2014.

In memory of this great bird man it is planned to build a classroom in his home village in Uganda. Please read the link below. We would like to ask all our Rare Finch Conservation Group friends and supporters to consider making a donation, no matter how big or small, to this very worthwhile initiative by the Michigan State university in the US.

Without Benson we would not have been able to complete our first field study in Uganda on the threatened Shelley’s crimson-wing finch, nor would we have been able to conduct our very first RFCG fund raising EcoTour

 

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