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Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Ruhija Community Rest Camp. Friday 7 and Saturday 8 August. Week 15, Days 116 and 117.

The evening before we had discussed our path forward. We were pleased when Wayne indicated that he would like to accompany us but we indicated that he must feel free to come and go as he pleased and should not feel under any sort of obligation. We felt we had seen enough of the Virungas and decided to forgo the opportunity of visiting the Mgahinga NP on the Ugandan side of this mountain range and rather head straight for Bwindi Impenetrable (Forest) National Park. We had enjoyed our stays in other forest parks. The choice basically lay between heading for the Buhoma area or Ruhija in the east. Others had enjoyed both but as we did not need to see the gorillas we headed for the quieter Ruhija Community Camp, recommended by a number of people and this has proven to be a wise choice. We were looking for a quieter destination and Buhoma had the potential to be busier with the gorilla trekking groups.

Because we only had a short drive of about 56km of just over 2 hr we were able to have a good breakfast courtesy of Wayne and make mid-morning start. The details of the drive are for geeks in the appropriate section. We first drove to the nearby large town of Kabale, the regional center, to stock up on supplies. It is on route and has decent enough small supermarkets and fresh produce. It was noticeable however that the general condition of the buildings and the cleanliness and tidiness could not match that in Rwanda.

This was another lovely drive especially once we reached the good dirt road into Bwindi NP. This rain forest in hilly country is impressive and the forest is just as attractive, if not better, than that at Nyungwe in Rwanda. Udzungwa in Tanzania remains our favorite thus far. Although we knew this, there are certain parks in Uganda that have no entry fees and Bwindi is one of them, a refreshing change. We motored via the entrance road from the east directly into the park and then to Ruhija village on the park border, although the park continues for some distance to the west. Apparently the 50km continuation of the road to Buhoma is not as good. At the Ndego entry gate the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) staff were very friendly and after enquiring what to expect we were on the lookout for the monkeys (black and white colobus, L’Hoests, blue and red-tailed) as well as forest duiker. We saw some red-tailed monkeys, new to us, an unidentified forest duiker, as well as L’Hoests and blue monkeys seen elsewhere previously. This 13km through Bwindi is impressive with the massive trees and great views onto the tree canopy down the hillsides below. One even reaches high enough in one section to reach the bamboo zone.

At Ruhija Community Rest Camp we were made most welcome by the camp manager Ronald. We were the only people there which was most fortunate as the facilities are quite small. There is one levelled area for a vehicle with a RTT to park and place for a further 2 or 3 ground tents. They have a few cabins of which those in the Regal (pronounced Legal as they cannot pronounce the R) were the most attractive. These 2 cabins are very nicely appointed and have balconies with a great view down onto the forest. If not camping this is what I would go for. We were able to make use of these balconies for relaxing and bird photography as they were empty. On arrival there was a group of L’Hoests monkeys in and around the camp but they had scooted off by the time we had settled in and I could get at my camera. There are numerous flowering plants around the camp attracting a variety of sunbirds and in particular the Albertine Rift endemic, the regal sunbird. This is quite the most beautiful sunbird I have seen. The photos hardly do it justice. Of course there are many other birds. The photographic opportunities from the balconies and the lovely surroundings are what persuaded us to stay for 2 nights.

With no-one else in camp we were allowed free reign in the communal areas including a lounge and dining area with a lovely fireplace employed gainfully that night against the altitudinal chill. We were also able to cook our meals here which I am sure would not be allowed should guests were present, staying in the cabins and being catered for . The property is not large and the cooking and seating areas would be a little limited should the facility be full. A cooking fire would probably have to be in the parking area. Electricity for part of the night is via a small generator and drinks (not refrigerated) are sold. Apparently hot water is available in the shower via a donkey wood burning boiler by arrangement. The camp is only on the boundary of the NP but this by no means detracts from the experience. I enjoy supporting community camps because of what they do for conservation in the community and this one is a cut above the average. This facility, despite being quiet during our stay is popular and can be full at times.

COSTS.
Camping US$10 pppn.

PHOTOS:
The main one is a view of Bwindi Forest from the balcony of one of the Regal Sunbird cabins.

Thumbs:
1. A view of the cultivated hillsides approaching Bwindi.
2. The road through Bwindi.
3.The entrance gate to Bwindi.
4,5 and 6. The Ruhija community camp.

BIRDING CORNER:

The birding is great here, as can be expected in the clearings next to a forest. There are a fair number of Albertine Rift endemics to be seen. If you go on one of the hikes with a guide from the camp you will see even more. Nearly every bird we saw was a lifer and particularly the sunbirds were stunning. There are good views down into the forest. I spent most of the day birding and taking photos from one of the cabin decks. This may not be possible if people are staying in the cabin.

New species seen and identified included (Raymond knows his local birds):

Cinnamon-chested bee-eater, African thrush, Chubb’s cisticola, grey-throated flycatcher, dusky flycatcher, green-headed sunbird, variable sunbird, olive-bellied sunbird, regal sunbird, Baglafecht weaver, yellow-bellied waxbill, white-tailed blue flycatcher and others I failed to note.

Bird Photos.
7. The magnificent regal sunbird, the most beautiful sunbird I have seen.
8. Another new species, the Baglafecht weaver.
9. An endemic, Chubb's cisticola.
9 and 10. Variable sunbird.
11. Grey-throated flycatcher.
12.Green-headed sunbird.

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