In Rwanda we wake up early. The sheer diversity and density of birds that can be found across the country is amplified by the awesome dawn chorus of bird song that greets us every day. Whilst wildlife photography has been a passion of mine for more than a decade, it is only since my family and I arrived in Rwanda last year and were surrounded by such feathered splendour even in the midst of lockdown that I have focused on birds and how to photograph them. I served more than 22 years in the British Army and the field craft tactics and marksmanship I was taught then, I now employ in my photography - how I once located enemy forces I now utilise to find wildlife and birds and how I was taught to shoot a rifle I employ when I shoot my camera! With more than 30 species in my Kigali garden alone, I was keen to better understand the reasons for their diversity. I started reading about the different species and where to find them, what they ate, their breeding seasons, which species migrated, when and to where. I have also reached out extensively to the Rwandan birding community, the local bird guides, scientists and other photographers – their knowledge and expertise has been priceless. On this journey of discovery I have been pleased to learn not just about Rwanda’s birds, but also the work being done to protect them. One such conservation success story is Dr. Olivier Nsengimana’s project which in five years abolished the illegal trade of Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda. Moreover, the project led to the creation of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association and Umusambi Village - a crane sanctuary and nature reserve with over 135 different species of birds. More recently the restoration of Kigali wetlands by the Rwandan government has been highlighted by the opening of the first wetland to the public, Nyandungu Eco-Park. The restored wetland plays a critical role in managing the rain that flows off the surrounding hills. It also sustains complex ecosystems and is home to numerous plant and animal species as well as moderating the effects of climate change through carbon capture. I have seen more than 90 different species of birds myself, and expect the actual count to be well over 130. As of January 2022, Rwanda is also home to approximately 710 different species of birds. Some 520 species are residents and can be found throughout the year in their different habitats across Rwanda. Of those residents 29 are endemic – meaning they can only be found in the Albertine Rift, which runs through the west of Rwanda - and are best seen in Nyungwe National Park. A further 6 species are Victoria Lake endemics, in Rwanda these birds can be seen in Bugesera District and Akagera National Park. The other 190 species are visitors or migrants and only call Rwanda home for part of the year, usually between October and April. Whilst some are intra-African migrants and migrate from countries across the continent, others are trans-continental migrants and travel to Rwanda from as far as South Asia and Europe. Our understanding of how and why birds migrate has come a long way from the 4th Century BC when the Greek philosopher Aristotle hypothesised that some birds hibernate during the winter months and others changed plumage with the seasons. The need to migrate for birds that spend the summer months in the northern hemisphere is shaped by changes in weather conditions and the lower temperatures of an approaching winter. These changes lead to less available food sources and reduced nesting locations for the birds, which in turn would lead to increased competition amongst them. Some birds inherit knowledge of their migration routes from their parents whilst others learn it during their first migration from other birds. A really interesting question is how these birds are able to navigate such vast distances when they migrate? And whilst there isn’t a single answer to this question, many species such as raptors, migrate by sight. They recall reference points and landmarks as well as use compass points from the sun – its location in relation to where it rises and sets. Songbirds migrate primarily at night and use the different constellations of stars and the earth’s magnetic field to follow their migration routes. Whilst others, including cranes, ducks and geese link their stopover locations to preferred pathways. These stopover locations are where the birds rest and take on critical food supplies and water. During these long journeys, the birds will face substantial hazards and threats – both natural and man-made. Bad weather can play havoc with their ability to navigate and exhaustion leads them to be less aware of predators. Floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters can destroy stopover locations and critical food resources. Tall glass buildings, electrical wires and pylon lines and wind turbines are dangerous obstacles that become even worse for those travelling at night. Light pollution from large urban areas at night reduces their ability to navigate by the constellations further still. Many hunting seasons in the northern hemisphere coincide with migration periods – making a hazardous journey harder still. Migration is a natural part of life for many birds – about forty percent of the global bird population migrate each year. By understanding these threats we can find ways to help Rwanda’s seasonal visitors complete their journey safely. One example could be the use of non-reflective glass on large infrastructure projects. In Kenya, research highlighted the leading cause of their declining birds of prey population was due to electrocution – they are also dangerous obstacles for migratory birds. Kenya Power is going to reconfigure power lines and install perching deterrents to try and curb the crisis and protect migration routes. In Rwanda, the restoration and protection of wetland habitats – like Nyandungu Eco-Park in Kigali - is just one way the Rwandan government is helping migratory birds on their journey. These habitats are important stopover locations to rest and refuel as well as homes for others. Wetland ecosystems contain critical food resources for both migrating birds and the resident bird population here in Rwanda and they’re also enjoyable, accessible locations for anyone to watch some of the birds that visit the heart of Africa. With Nyandungu now open to the public, I am sure many more residents and visitors will soon share my passion for Rwanda’s birds! The Writer is a wildlife photographer. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.