The Albertine Rift is the western arm of the East African Great Rift valley, straddling over Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania

Albertine Rift Endemics

February 4, 2022
News Journeys Uganda

The Albertine Rift is the western arm of the East African Great Rift valley, straddling over Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania, hosting several endemics. It is one of the Richest Zones with the most bio diversity on the African continent for highly sought after, Endemic, Threatened, Endangered And High altitude rarity species having more than half of the birds in Africa, 40% of the mammals and approximately 20% of the high altitude tropical and afro-montane plants, and when it comes to vertebrate species no other region on the continent can out number this area making it one of the anchorages of Biodiversity that any one doing a safari to Uganda should not miss featuring it.

Uganda being a meeting point of many climatic variations and eco-systems, this region is avery big blessing to it since many species in the different forest can be found in almost all the neighbouring countries like Democratic Republic of Congo or other West African jungles and when it comes to the eastern habitats, many species can even be better sighted in forested habitats like the Kakamegas of Kenya and jungles of Tanzania.

What pronounces the uniqueness of Uganda is the number of species that are endemic to the Albertine Rift which is a Panoramic and a highly diverse Bio-physical zone; compared to the neighboring countries, the ranges in this area are very exceptional and containing Afro montane environs connected within the Rift Valley area that runs from the northern parts of Lake Tanganyika to the south of Lake Albert which is approximated to be 500 km long and between 30 and 100 km wide.

Among the animals, the most projected and everyone’s dream to come across is the endangered mountain gorilla, limited to the Virungas conservation area and Bwindi Impenetrable forest. Other primate species found in this eco system include the Golden monkey and Rwenzori Lolobus, Blue Monkey, L’hoest’s Monkey, Black and White Colobus, Red Tailed Monkey and the abundant Olive Baboons which were declared vermins recently, on shinny days as you take a walk through the forest you encounter numerous species of colourful butterflies and among all, only eight are endemic to this Albertine Rift area.

For those that join Birding Journeys trips and are birding fanatical, there are 37 Albertine Rift endemics to look out for if you explore all the five countries the area covers, almost 50% of these are of global conservation concern, also note that birders, scientists and researchers who have dared the Congo have seen and recorded all the 37 species of which only 9 are endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo whose ranges seem unique in a way as the 9 are only confined to the western escarpment of the jungles.

Out of the 37 Albertine Rift endemics, 20 can be found in Uganda or Rwanda and Burundi, leaving Tanzania with the least number of 2 that extend their range southward. Bwindi forest of Uganda has a lion’s share and thus the paradise of birding in Africa and perhaps the whole world as All the 24 Albertine Rift endemics recorded in Uganda occur in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park mostly the Ruhija area, protecting the leafy green Grauer’s Broadbill that everyone on our Uganda birding safaris dreams to have sight of, this broadbill can also be found in the ltombwe Mountains and Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Birds Endemic to the Albertine Rift.

With the exception of Bwindi Forest, Uganda has other Important Birding Areas that do occur in its confines among which is the Rwenzori Mountains that was also gazetted as a national park and a UNESCO site with 17 Albertine Rift endemics, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has one of the shyest and key species, the Shelley’s Crimsonwing, among the 14 Albertine rift endemics it harbours with the adjoining Echuya Forest reserve having 12 species.

When focusing on these birds endemic to the Albertine rift, do not under look Rwanda as many of the species not seen or easily found on a Uganda birding safari, the Nyungwe’s of Rwanda are more less the best option which contain 29 endemics that occur on the eastern escarpment having the Karamoja like Kungwe Apalis easily sighted, the distinctive tri-coloured Red-collared Mountain Babbler and the plain rufous-brown backed Albertine Owlet among the specials with suspicion that there might be the Congo Bay Owl to be found with in this unique calling habitat for any one birding to Africa.

The biggest number of the rare Albertine Rift Endemics shrive in the remaining largest block of montane forest in east Africa and perhaps the whole continent are all supported by the ltombwe Mountains, which rise from the Congolese shore of northern Lake Tanganyika. The bird species here number to 565 of which 31 are Albertine Rift Endemics and 3 cannot be found anywhere else in the world except here. To mention is the mysterious ‘wok wok wok’ calling Congo Bay (Itombwe) Owl, which is more of a living fossil and was first collected in 1952, and yet to be seen again as per the wish of any birding enthusiast visiting this region of Africa which shares  stronger kinships with the extinct Asian genres than they do with any other species living in Africa, avowing the great age of these central East African Jungles thought to have flourished during prehistoric climatic fluctuations that temporarily deforested the lower-lying areas in the Congo Basin.

Albertine Rift endemic birds that occur in Uganda and where they can easily be sighted are here listed below

The Handsome Francolin Francolinus nobilis easily seen in Bwindi the Ruhija section mostly on the road between Ndego and the main gate, Mgahinga, Echuya and Rwenzori, Chapin’s Flycatcher Muscicapa lendu seen in Bwindi Buhoma and the neck area, Rwenzori Nightjar Caprimulgus Rwenzori seen in Bwindi Ruhija and the Rwenzori Mountains, the Grauer’s broadbill Pseudocalyptomena graueri, best seen in Bwindi Ruhija section and the neck, Mountain masked (Black Faced) Apalis Apalis personata – Bwindi, Mgahinga and Rwenzori mountains, Rwenzori Apalis Apalis Rwenzori seen in Bwindi, Mgahinga, Rwenzori, Echuya and with a record in Kibale, Dwarf Honeyguide Indicator pumilio seen in Bwindi Ruhija and the neck area, Rwenzori Turaco Tauraco johnstoni, seen in Mgahinga, Rwenzoris and Echuya, Archer’s Robin-chat Cossypha archeri, Seen in Mgahinga, Echuya, Bwindi and the Rwenzoris, Red-throated Alethe Alethe poliophrys,  seen in Bwindi, Echuya and the Rwenzoris, Kivu ground thrush Zoothera tanganjicae, seen in Mgahinga, Echuya, Bwindi and the Rwenzoris, Neumann’s warbler Hemitesia neumanni, always heard and seen on around the Bwindi Buhoma forest rivers, the dingy dark olive Grauer’s warbler Graueria vittata, seen in Bwindi mostly Ruhija, Red-faced Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus laetus  seen in Bwindi, Mgahinga, Echuya, the Rwenzoris and some records in Kibale forest, Grauer’s Rush Warbler Bradypterus grouri, seen in Bwindi, Mgahinga, Echuya and Rwenzori, Rwenzori Batis Batis diops, Yellow-eyed black flycatcher, Melaenornis ardesiascus, seen in Bwindi, Regal Sunbird, Cinnyris regia,  seen in Bwindi Ruhija and the neck area, Mgahinga, Echuya and Rwenzori, Purple-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia purpureiventris,  seen in Bwindi, Mgahinga, Rwenzori and Echuya, Rwenzori Blue-headed sunbird Nectarinia alinae, seen in Bwindi, Mgahinga and Rwenzoris, Strange Weaver Ploceus alienus, seen in Bwindi mostly ruhija section, Echuya, Mgahinga and Rwenzori, Shelley’s Crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi,  seen in Mgahinga and Rwenzori, Dusky Crimsonwing Cryptospiza jacksoni, seen in Bwindi, Echuya, Mgahinga and Rwenzori, Stripe-breasted Tit Parus fasciiventer, seen in Mgahinga, Bwindi the Ruhija area, to mention but these.

The best time to do a birding trip to Uganda with a focus on these Albertine Rift Endemics is from June, July and August as most of them are breeding mostly the Grauer’s Broadbill a bird hard to find and see if not nesting unless you are in company of a  keen birder to hear its siisii-sii like call in mixed flocks as it garners for insects forests are also having plenty of food from the just past rains of April making it very active and attractive.

Recommended guide books for a Uganda Birding Safari

  • Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe
  • Birds of Africa, south of the Sahara by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan.
  • The Bradt Travel Guide, Uganda, By Philip Briggs and Andrew Roberts.