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A new RFCG YouTube video ” Finding Shelley ” is currently in production

10 Sep

Geoff Russell, Russell Kingston and Joe Kitching just outside Ruhija, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest looking for finches. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

At 2300 metres above sea level the tiny village of Ruhija, just outside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest , has been described by some as the most beautiful place in Uganda . It is one of the few places in Africa where all four crimsonwing finch species have been seen ( Abyssinian ( Cryptospiza salvadori ), Red Faced Crimsonwing ( Cryptospiza reichenovii ), Dusky Crimsonwing ( Cryptospiza jacksoni ) and the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing ( Cryptospiza shelleyi ). Unfortunately not many visitors to Uganda have been to Ruhja  because it normally requires your own transport and it is strongly recommended that a 4×4 vehicle be used .

Locals will travel to and from Ruhija using a 4 x 2, but will often have a lot of extra hands to help push when needed. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The RFCG is currently producing a YouTube video titled ” Finding Shelley ” which will share the magnificence of the area and provide an informative insight to some of the most recent developments in and around the tiny village and its friendly people . Bwindi is home to not only 43 different finch species , but more than 350 different bird species have been sighted in this world heritage site national park . ( In total more than 1000 different bird species have been recorded in Uganda making it one of Africa’s top destination for serious birders ) The recent successful RFCG EcoTour spent a couple of days in Ruhija and a few of the guests also took the opportunity to participate in some exciting Mountain Gorilla trekking.

Following on the success of Amos Monday , who is a local bird guide working in  Ruhija , and who first saw a pair of  Shelley’s crimson wing finches back in August 2010, the Uganda Wildlife Authority  ( UWA ) informed the directors of the RFCG that they have now introduced a special 4 hour Shelley’s birding hike.

Eelco Meyjes, Godfrey Baryesimo UWA Bwindi Warden of Tourism , Russell Kingston and Benson Bamutura RFCG local bird guide and field research manager celebrating the good news with the introduction of the new Shelley’s bird hiking trail.Photo Eelco Meyjes 

The RFCG is currently planning a possible 3 additional fund-raising tours over the next 24 months . ( One tour to South Africa which will include visiting the world-famous Kruger National Park and seeing many of the  whydahs and weavers in full colour . The second trip will be from South Africa to Australia which will include attending the Queensland Finch Convention in Brisbane in 2014 as well as travelling to the Kimberley’s to see the beautiful gouldians in the wild . The third tour will be another trip to Uganda to go and see some of the magnificent 43 finch species as well as to possibly participate in some Gorilla Trekking. Most of the EcoTours will be approximately 17 days in duration.

For more information on these exciting planned tailor-made RFCG EcoTours please contact either Russell Kingston in Australia at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes in South Africa at editor@avitalk.co.za . All profits generated from these fund-raising tours will be donated to the Rare Finch Conservation Group.

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Shelley’s finch birding hikes now introduced at Bwindi. It’s history in the making

22 Aug

The very first RFCG Ecotour guests to participate on the Shelley’s finch birding hike at Bwindi . l to r. Amos Monday, Chris Leeper, Benson Bamuturu kneeling, Geoff Russell, a ranger, Joe Kitching  Photo Eelco Meyjes 

The RFCG is extremely proud to announce that the Uganda Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) has launched a Shelley’s finch birding hike at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The 4 hour hike takes birders to the place where a pair of Shelley’s Crimsonwing finches were first spotted by Amos Monday in August 2010. The hike starts from the tiny village of Ruhija which is very high up, on the misty mountains, in the south eastern part of the magnificent forest. The hikes cost 50 USD per person which includes a birdguide as well as a ranger. The RFCG suggests that for those birders wishing to participate on such a hike that they ask for Amos Monday to be their bird guide. Amos’s English is fairly good and he is a very good birder who doubles up as a porter on Mountain Gorilla hikes. Birders , if they wish, can also participate on Mountain Gorilla hikes which start from the same village. Permits to participate on a mountain gorilla hike currently cost 500 USD per person and need to be purchased well in advance from the UWA.

Amos Monday, Benson Bamutura and Eelco Meyjes at the actual spot where a pair of Shelley’s finches were seen by Amos. Amos and Benson are amongst the very few people in the world who have actually seen the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing finch, which is one of Africa’s rarest finches. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

It has always been part of the RFCG’s vision to not only do conservation work with some of the rarest finches in the world ,but to also try and socially uplift local communities , by providing employment, where a rare finch species maybe seen . The small community in Ruhija is extremely poor and the birdguides, in the event of them seeing the bird, are unable to purchase sophisticated cameras to actually photograph the elusive finch . The RFCG would hereby like to appeal to all birders visiting the area, and participating on this newly introduced hike, to try and capture the bird on camera and share the visuals with the rest of of the international birding community. To this day, eventhough BirdLife International estimates that there are between 2,500 to 10,000 of these little finches, there still is only one known recent photograph of the bird in the world. Whilst the going may have been tough on certain parts of the tour the RFCG is pleased to report that its first pioneering fundraising EcoTour to South Africa and Uganda was a great success. More about the trip will be shared with our followers in future blogs as well as on YouTube.
Watch this space for more about our exciting planned fund raising trips over the next 24 months or contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za if you wish to find out more and make a provisional booking

Bwindi warden of Tourism Godfrey Baryesima is congratulated by Russell Kingston for opening the new Shelley’s finch bird hiking trail up at Ruhija. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

A ranger protects Eelco Meyjes whilst doing film work on the first RFCG Ecotour Shelley’s birding hike in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

The spectacular Great Blue Turaco was seen in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest by participants on the first RFCG EcoTour . Photo taken by Russell Kingston

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

Deadly Ebola virus hits western Uganda. First RFCG Ecotour goes ahead

4 Aug

A Black headed waxbill seen at Bwindi. Photo taken by Professor Ernst Kruger

Ebola virus claims more than 14 lives in Ugandan rural community

Over the past 3 weeks the dreaded African Ebola virus has claimed the lives of 14 people in the western region of Uganda. The Kibale region , which is approximately 50 km from the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( DRC ) border and 200km west of Kampala experienced the outbreak amongst one particular rural family.The virus causes internal and external bleeding and spreads by direct contact with the blood or other body fluids of infected people. The rare disease of the blood, named after a small river in the DRC, killed 37 people in western Uganda in 2007 and at least 170 in the north of the country in 2000

Needless to say, after months of planning the first RFCG EcoTour to South Africa and Uganda, this news was the last thing that we needed to hear. Fortunately according to the World Health Organisation and Uganda’s Ministry of Health the situation is apparently under control. Given the fact that the RFCG EcoTour will not be travelling to the western part of Uganda, but to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest which is in the very southern part of the country it was decided to proceed with the birding safari

This pioneering fund-raising tour was sold out within two weeks of it being announced and it is hoped, that should the tour be a success, that more will be organised in the years ahead. Starting on Monday 6 August the first group of 9 finch enthusiasts will be travelling to a number of top avicultural facilities in South Africa before heading up to Uganda. Not only do we hope to see some of the 43 finch species that have been sighted at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest , but we also hope to see some of the spectacular hornbills, parrots as well as the fabled Great Blue Turaco

All the guests will be coming from Australia and the tour coordinators are RFCG directors Russell Kingston and Eelco Meyjes. Over the past three years RFCG directors have visited the selected areas both in South Africa as well as in Uganda on a number of occasions and the tour, hopefully, should prove to be an exciting and rewarding experience for these pioneering finch enthusiasts, of which some have never been to Africa before. Who knows with a bit of luck we may even see the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing finch

The fabled Great Blue Turaco can be seen in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest . Photo taken by Russell Kingston

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

In Africa there is always room for a little bit more….our 2 cyclist finally reach Bwindi.

4 Jul

An ” overloaded truck ” drives past Murray Baumont in Uganda….In Africa any load is possible !

After leaving Johannesburg on 2 February Alex Antrobus and Murray Baumont , who have now cycled more than 6000 km , finally arrived at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, home to the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing finch.

This is what Alex and Murray had to say about their final stretch to the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation ( ITFC ) in Ruhija, the ITFC are the valued ground partners to the RFCG. Ruhija is a very small village based on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest .

” It was a great relief to arrive in Uganda, where people once again drive on the right (meaning left) side of the road. Well, at least they’re supposed to. We also noticed that police and traffic officers were dressed in a combination of blue/grey/white camouflage and crisp white uniforms respectively. For a place where the only snow seen in the last several million years is on top of the Ruwenzori or Mount Elgon (where we assume crime rates are fairly low) we thought these uniforms a little queer.

From Lake Bunyoni to Ruhija, near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, all we did was climb. climb, climb and climb again. And maybe cry, a little. Who would’ve thought that, when cycling into an “Impenetrable Forest” it’s not the forest that’s the problem. It’s the mountain the forest is sitting on! The road to Ruhija passes through a short section of the forest. It is an absolutely incredible experience moving through this ancient ecosystem. We felt like T-rex or at least a pterodactyl would pop out from behind a tree at any moment, but all we saw were monkeys, a black-faced duiker and LOTS and LOTS of birds.

Our reason for visiting Ruhija was an invitation from another South African based organisation which is trying to do something special for our continent. The Rare Finch Conservation Group (RFCG) was founded by a group of South Africans, and an Australian, with the intention of identifying and conserving  one of the world’s most endangered and rare finch species. They’re currently focusing on the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimson-wing finch, a pretty little bird about which we know almost nothing. The Shelley’s is endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley, a very narrow stretch of the continent from northern Rwanda through southern Uganda. Furthermore, it is an Afro-montane specialist, depending on these fairly high and cold altitudes (and now extremely fragmented) forests for its survival. Luckily the threatened long-haired mountain gorillas ( made famous by Diane Fossey and later popularised in the classic movie ” Gorillas in the Mist” ) share this specialised habitat dependence and so their fame has helped conserve the last few pockets of forest. Still, hardly anyone has seen a Shelley’s crimson-wing finch! In the past 10-odd years, only three or four sightings have been reported and only one photograph is currently available on the Shelley’s ! This is despite the numerous bird enthusiasts who visit these areas and the gorilla trekking that happens alongside.

Murray and Alex at the gate to the Impenetrable Forest in south-west Uganda

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

So the RFCG have been working with the Ruhija based Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) to try to find some Shelley’s and establish how many there are, why they’re so rare and if they’re getting rarer! The ITFC consists of a great group of people who facilitate all sorts of research in Bwindi. Their deputy director, Miriam van Heist, welcomed us warmly and showed us around the institute, explaining the wide range of work they do on everything from gorilla conservation work to weather and carbon monitoring, to developing sustainable models for harvesting rights within the forest and support for local communities. One example is the Batwa, an ethnic group of pygmy people who inhabited these forests for hundreds of years. Having been displaced by the declaration of the National Parks, the ITFC is helping them conserve their cultural heritage, historic knowledge of medicinal plants and their ties with places of spiritual importance located within the forest. For more info on the Bwindi forest conservation, the projects that they do and volunteering, visit the ITFC blog at http://www.bwindiresearchers.wildlifedirect.org.”

The RFCG would publicly like to thank Alex and Murray for helping to raise the awareness of the RFCG and the work that we do . For more info on their exciting trip visit their website at www.amanziawethu.org.

Maybe the Shelley’s can also help change things for the good

20 Mar

By now most of our supporters know that the threatened and elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing is found in Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and Uganda. Back in 1979 when Sir David Attenburough returned to England from a trip to Rwanda he and a group of pioneering conservationists set up the Mountain Gorilla Project and as they say the rest is history.

The natural habitat where both the threatened mountain gorillas and the elusive shelley’s crimsonwing reside is extremely lush and virtually anything that the locals may wish to plant will grow. Given this temptation , as seen in the informative above YouTube video clip, it is extremely important for the Rare Finch Conservation Group ( RFCG ) to help educate the locals, on the value of EcoTourism to protect their environment for future generations.

Part of the vision of the  RFCG  is to promote the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda , with its 43 finch species which includes the threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing finch, as the world’s top destination for finch enthusiasts.

The RFCG strongly believes in upskilling the local community wherever it is possible and creating a new EcoTour industry for finch enthusiasts is part of that vision. In August the RFCG will be taking its first group of seven guests from Australia to Bwindi. All profits generated from the trip will be donated to the Rare Finch Conservation Group to further the research work needed on the threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing finch that desperately needs attention.

For more information on the pioneering conservation work that the RFCG is doing please contact editor@avitalk.co.za  or visit our website at http://www.rarefinch.co.za

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