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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'.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Magnificent Murchison (the Ugandan one). Part 1.

The bracketed clarification in the title refers to the lovely and dramatic Murchison Gorge area of Western Australia, which I introduced in these pages last year. Now it's the turn of the wonderful Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, a place I'd been greatly looking forward to visiting, not least because it would be my first experience of the mighty Nile River. I travelled with the excellent Rockjumper Birding Tours of South Africa. The park (including a couple of adjoining reserves) protects some 5000 square kilometres of country, including rainforest, vast stretches of woodland, the northern section of Lake Albert (across which is the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and some of the Nile.

It exists because of the Tsetse Fly Glossina spp., vicious little grey-and-black-striped, bullet-shaped flies with a wicked bite which is not at all deflected by clothing. More significantly it also carries trypanosome protozoans which make the area uninhabitable to European stock. (Another trypanosome also causes Sleeping Sickness.)
Murchison Falls National Park - location indicated by end of red arrow. The Nile flows in from the east,
enters the northern end of Lake Albert and flows north again without spending much time in the lake.
The falls themselves are on the river east of the lake.
The eponymous falls are the most famous part of the park, and understandably so, but there is no doubt the park would be worth visiting even without them. However, there's good reason to start with them. The river is squeezed through gorges that are not especially high or long, but with a force purported to be the greatest of any such natural system in the world.
The Nile above the falls.

The falls themselves; the pressure and roar are extraordinary.

Gorge below the falls.

The Nile opens out again below the falls.
The handsome Rock Pratincoles Glareola nuchalis spend much of their time on the rock platforms,
among the spray, from where they forage for insects on the wing. When the river rises and the platforms
become submerged, they move somewhere with lower water levels.
North - downstream - of Lake Albert, the Nile opens out to well over 100 metres wide, though narrows to about half that fairly soon. Hippos, crocodiles, antelope, buffalo and numerous birds adorn the banks. Papyrus banks fringe the river.
The Nile downstream of Lake Albert; the foam on the surface is probably still
courtesy of the enormous churning in the falls.

Papyrus beds along the banks of the Nile. Papyrus is a sedge, Cyperus papyrus, which grows to five metres tall and
forms dense riverside herbaceous 'forests' throughout much of Africa. From papyrus (a Greek word of
unknown origin) comes our word 'paper' because of the use of the pith of the plant to make a parchment,
starting with the ancient Egyptians.
Another Greek word for it, bublos, gives us book-referring words such as bibliography and bibliophile.

Hippopotamus on the banks of the Nile.
The extraordinary Shoebill Balaeniceps rex, also seen on the banks of the Nile, a highlight of the visit.
For more on this wonderful and elusive bird, see here.
Vehicles cross the river at Paraa on a ferry which, though effective enough, can best be described as basic. It comprises a floating mesh platform powered by a robust but very smoky motor. Unusually for Africa it runs strictly to schedule; it only runs four times a day and even arriving five minutes late can lead you to be stranded. (However if you are on time and the ferry is full, it will come back for you!)
Paraa vehicle ferry across the Nile, Murchison Falls NP.
This African Pied Wagtail Motacilla aguimp lives by the ferry, even riding on it, to take advantage
insect life disturbed by all the activity.
Warthogs are more robust and less fastidious exploiters of the accumulation of visitors
at the ferry crossing, shamelessly going through the garbage.
There is a range of accommodation in the park; we stayed at Sambiya River Lodge (which is not actually on the river...), in very pleasant self-contained round thatched cabins.
Sambiya River Lodge cabins, above and below.

Lovely wooden beams and spider web motif, Sambiya River Lodge dining room.

Very leafy and grassy grounds, Sambiya River Lodge.
(Though one is cautioned to be on the lookout for buffaloes...)
The entry to the park from Masindi (and ultimately Kampala) is inauspicious and tucked away in an unsignposted maze of rough tracks - I suspect that many visitors fly in.
Entrance to Murchison Falls NP; I would fear that the elephant tusks were real,
except that I don't imagine they'd still be there if so!
This entrance takes us into the Kainyo Pabidi rainforest - part of the extensive Budongo Forest - where there is a basic lodge.
Kainyo Pabidi rainforest, Murchison Falls NP.
We spend a lot of time here looking for the surprisingly drab and skulking Pavel's Illadopsis Illadopsis puveli;
I say surprising because of the assiduousness with which it is sought, but the reason is that in Budongo
is its only occurrence in East Africa.
Most of the park however is dominated by vast open expanses of woodland; big areas of rolling hills are almost treeless.
Acacia-dominated savanna woodland.

Grassland with Oribi Ourebia ourebi.

Elephants and palm trees in the Murchison Falls NP landscape.
And of course we've hardly looked at the rich animal life yet, but I think that had best be left until next time - there's a lot of it!



Flabmeister said...

Wildlife in Africa has much for which to thank Tsetse flies. Most of the National Parks and/or Game Reserves in Tanzania are areas where one or the other trypanosomes prevented cattle raising.


Ian Fraser said...

Well done that fly! I can think of other places that would have benefited from its protection too.