Fred Hodgson writes:
Lots of birders will no doubt have driven through parts of Echuya Forest Reserve as it lies on the main Kabale to Kisoro road. Fewer have found the time to stop and sample what it has to offer? I myself am guilty as time has always been pressing and the earlier roadworks did not exactly encourage loitering. But the road is now finished and I had the time to put right the ommisssion.
Sadly there is little information about accessing the interior of this 340 sq km reserve but even the busy road and one or two short access tracks leading off are worth the effort and certainly repay the time.
The well-known bird guide Emmy Gongo and myself decided to invest some time and effort in a visit. We based ourselves in Muko Camp, where they have three nice Chalets set in woodland on the western tip of Lake Bunyoni, which in itself proved worthwhile with both birds and Spot-necked Otters regularly sighted fishing close by.
The Reserve itself was 16km up the hills in the direction of Kisoro, so access was relatively easy. We made three visits in all and each one was very rewarding. We eventually covered the full width in stages from an enticing ‘lake/swamp/reedbed’ where the stream crosses under the road in the east to the summit area at Kanaba Gap. The lake produced African Black Duck and Cinnamon Bracken-warbler as well as normal Mountain Buzzards and White-naped Ravens.
But it was the forested area that produced the specials that will excite the dedicated birder. A simple list would no doubt be boring but we quickly had excellent views of a loudly calling Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, the many coloured Regal Sunbird and enigmatic Strange Weaver actually nesting in clear sight of the main road. These three were seen on all three visits.
In addition, Shelley’s and Mountain Greenbuls, Grey Cuckoo Shrikes and White-starred Robins were relatively easy to find as were White-browed Crombecs, Mountain Masked Apalis and its cousin the Chestnut-throated Apalis. We also got fleeting glimpses of a pair of Red-headed Bluebills which we kept flushing out of bracken but never getting close enough for ‘good’ views let alone a coveted photograph.
Also seen were Montane Black-headed Oriole, Rwenzori Batis and many others. But the star performance for us was a very obliging Red-throated Alethe that posed nicely in clear view for a while. So clear that it nearly paid the price as an African Goshawk dashed in and almost, but not quite, made a catch before our eyes. We like to think that our presence spoilt its concentration.
Whilst all this was going on inside, up above we witnessed lots of raptors thermalling and presumably on migration. We identified Augur, Common and Red-necked Buzzards as well as Long-crested Eagles and several large Goshawks.
Whilst the prospect of birding on a main road may sound off-putting the reality is that this is hilly terrain so speeding trucks are not possible on the steep inclines and twisting hairpins and during our visits the volume was quite modest. Verges are quite wide and there are always side tracks to explore although sadly full access into the main forest is still limited by the terrain.
This site is still under birded and given its proximity to Bwindi and both Ruhuma and Kigeyo Swamplands I do think more bird groups should try it.