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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Magnificent Murchison (the Ugandan one). Part 2.

This is to conclude an introduction to the wonders of Murchison Falls National Park in western Uganda, began here in my last posting. While we met some animals in the context of specific places last time, they were just a tiny sample of what the park offers. (As indeed are those introduced here, but hopefully this will give you a stronger taste.)

I'll start with one of the little and too-often overlooked animals.
Dragonfly, Family Libellulidae, by the Nile.
(Thanks for the i.d. Susan - see Comments below.)
From that extreme to the other, the park is rich in mammals, including very big ones!
African Savanna (or Bush) Elephants Loxodonta africana are one very good reason to stay in your vehicle!
(I specify the full name because we now recognise the African Forest Elephant as a separate species L. cyclotis.)Family above, and bull returning from mud bath below.

Elephants aren't the only ones to enjoy the mud, presumably both for its cooling properties and as protection against biting insects - including Tsetse Flies.
This huge Cape Buffalo bull Syncerus caffer was one of three grumpy old bachelors sharing the wallow.
Herds of buffalo are found throughout the park - another very good reason not to go wandering around!

Somewhat less nervousness-inducing but none the less impressive are Giraffes - could anyone ever tire of seeing these magnificently unlikely products of evolution?
He was more interested in her than vice versa. The Murchison Giraffes are Rothschild's,
sub-species Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi. They have long white socks and the males are very dark,
at times the patches are almost black. This is a highly endangered sub-species and Murchison Falls NP
is a key reserve for them.
Cattle and antelopes all belong to the same big family of grazers, and there are plenty of 'other' antelopes wherever you drive in Murchison. Indeed near to the river the open grasslands are grazed down to a short lawn. Perhaps the honour of first mention should go to a Ugandan national emblem.
Actually the lovely Uganda Kob Kobus kob thomasi isn't officially the national emblem -
that honour belongs to a bird, which we'll meet soon - but it does appear on the national coat of arms.
Oribi Ourebia ourebi are delicate-looking little antelope, widespread south of the Sahara.
Uganda Topi Damaliscus ugandae. A very handsome stocky antelope, in a group
which has undergone a lot of taxonomic scrutiny recently. I'm almost certain I've
identified this correctly, but would be grateful to hear if you think otherwise.
And after drawing attention to the garbage sorting activities of some Warthogs last time, I feel that I should acknowledge that most of the Muchison Falls warties do live wild and independent lives!
Warthog family Phacochoerus africanus on the move.
Olive Baboons Papio anubis are another species which has recognised the benefits of human haunts, in terms of what we might leave for them to scrounge. They tend to be rather more proactive than the Warthogs however, and if you leave a car open at a picnic area, baboon retribution is likely to be dramatic!
Olive Baboon mother and baby watching events at the Paraa ferry crossing.
And there are even some small but conspicuous mammals - and coming from a place without any, I reckon that squirrels are a delight.
Striped Ground Squirrel Xerus erythropus are bold and cheeky.
The Murchison birds are slightly less obvious if you're not attuned, but they are a rich part of the landscape. And as we gave top billing among mammals to one part of the Ugandan coat of arms, so we must accord similar respect to the kob's bird counterpart. The Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum is also the official national faunal emblem.
Cranes are always superb in my opinion, and the crowned cranes have something a bit extra with the wonderful
crest and the unexpectedly short bills. Grey Crowned Crane on the plains of Murchison Falls NP above and on the Ugandan coat of arms - with the Uganda Kob - below.

Unlike mammalian predators which are most active at night, bird hunters are easier to see.
Dark Chanting Goshawks Melierax metabates, are effective hunters of quite large ground birds,
plus small mammals, reptiles and insects. I'd have said it whistled rather than chanted, but that's just me.

The Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus is a much smaller hunter, but scarey enough if you're in its size range!
Among the known prey of the goshawk are francolins, ground-dwelling relatives of chooks, partridges and pheasants.
Crested Francolins Dendroperdix sephaena
The open areas support many other ground-dwelling birds too.
I'm a big fan of bustards too and Africa has a pretty rich trove of these large birds, compared with
just one in Australia. This is Denham's Bustard Neotis denhami which is found across much of sub-Saharan
African, but everywhere declining.
Black-headed Lapwings Vanellus tectus doing their best to avoid a decline in their species.
African Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus. This really is a very neat - and in-your-face - group of birds,
found over most of the world. The bony spur, in the angle of the wing, is kept hidden normally, but is used
to wicked effect when protecting the nest or chicks on the ground.
African Wattled Lapwing Vanellus senegallus, yet another member of the genus.
(It was in Uganda that I saw the last of the African species that I hadn't yet come across - at least
of those living in areas I've been to.)

Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis, one of an intriguing group of waders found throughout the world.
Mostly they are known as stone-curlews, which may not be accurate but is at least more euphonius. The African
species however are mostly called thick-knees (based on an old species name for the European representative).
Even Australia, which toyed with this awful name for a while, reverted to 'stone-curlew' by popular protest.
'Dikkop' is an alternative in Africa too, and to my ear is pleasanter, but is mostly South African.
Abyssinian (or Northern) Ground Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus. These very large (a metre high) birds
stalk the grasslands in small groups, hunting small animals.
And just to show that there are some small birds there that don't spend their time on the ground!
Northern Red Bishop Euplectes franciscanus, one of the weavers, constructing
a delightful woven enclosed nest hung among grass stems.
I can't imagine that you'd go to Uganda without visiting Murchison Falls, but this is just to make sure! It's a great reserve.



Susan said...

The dragonfly is Libellulidae, but that's as far as I can go.

Our stone curlews in France are called stone curlews in English as far as I know. We get them nesting in the ploughed fields quite commonly, and they fly over the house at night making their eery call. The French name is Œdicnème criard (crying thick-knee).

I saw a couple of bustards here earlier in the year too. I was astounded, having no idea that the farmland to the north of us is managed very carefully for them, with 50% of the farmers providing set aside habitat for them.

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Susan, your input is always appreciated - I've now incorporated the dragonfly info above. I love the call of the stone curlews - lucky you and well done those farmers!