Monday, 15 February 2016

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Part 2; across the plains

This is the second installment of my tribute to this magnificent east-central African park. The first part can be read here. With 198,000 hectares, there's a lot of exploring to do by vehicle and pretty much anywhere you go is likely to be of interest. Like all Uganda's parks, Queen Elizabeth suffered badly during the Amin years, with most large mammals being shot by the military for food and fun, but they are all repopulating well now. While this park is not Kruger, it's very well worth while visiting, and worth leaving time for driving, as well as the mandatory launch trip on the Kazinga Channel - which will be the subject of the third episode in this series. There are apparently nearly 100 mammal species living in the park and over 600 birds - that's not a lot short of the Australian total!
Uganda Kob in savannah landscape, Queen Elizabeth NP; hazy Rwenzori Mountains in background.
The park is in the Albertine Rift, the western arm of the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, which is gradually tearing open and will one day see north-eastern Africa floating off as a separate land mass. More information, especially including a map, can be found here.

While obviously a park of that size will not be uniform, the overwhelming impression is of vast grassy savannah lands supporting stands of trees, especially Candelabra Trees Euphorbia candelabrum and Paperbark Acacias Vachellia (formerly Acacia) sieberiana.
Candelabra Trees; this Euphorbia woodland is very typical of much of the park.

Thorntree 'acacia' woodland; also very characteristic.
In the far south of the park, the Ishasha section is famed for a population of lions which regularly climb into the big figs - not to be seen on the day we were there however. Here the Ishasha River is the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Hippos in the Ishasha River, with the Congo just behind them.
And birders really can be nerds; as we watched, a Hamerkop flew from our bank to the other side,
and a spontaneous cheer arose - we all now had a Congo bird list!!
Another feature of the park is the group of Katwe Crater Lakes, just to the north of the Mweya Peninsula (see map in previous post). They are relatively recent - no more than 10,000 years old - and are volcanic explosion craters, reminders of the volatile nature of lying on a rifting zone.

One of more than 70 crater lakes in the park; salt has traditionally been mined from some of them.
Lesser Flamingoes Phoeniconaias minor, Lake Munyanyange, above and below.
(This species has recently been moved from genus Phoenicopterus to being a single-species genus.)
Lake Munyanyange
Lake Munyanyange

And while we're on birds, this is an appropriate time to introduce some more - as mentioned previously, there are a lot to choose from!
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis in thorny acacia.
At the risk of being anthropomorphic, there seems something incongruous about that wispy crest blowing
in the breeze, behind that ferocious stare and wickedly hooked bill!
Also the only member of its genus, it is found widely in sub-Saharan Africa.
Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus, also utilising a thornbush.
This mousebird (see previous post for another species) is found in east Africa
and then in a narrow strip westward across the continent to the Atlantic in Senegal.

Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala, a truly beautiful dry country kingfisher,
here perched on a Euphorbia while scanning for lizards and insects.
African Pygmy Kingfisher Ispidina picta, a tiny and exquisite woodland insect-eater.
White-browed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas leucophrys, another inhabitant of the dry savannahs.
Neither a robin, nor a relative of the Australian scrubrobins, but an Old World Flycatcher.
Lovely warm colours.
Temminck's Courser Cursorius temminckii, perched on a termite mound in recently burnt grassland.
This is typical incidentally, as they seek out burnt ground, often arriving within hours of a fire.
They lay their eggs on the burnt ground, or if unburnt, often hidden among antelope droppings.
Coursers (and pratincoles, in the same family) are waders which have adapted to dryland living,
chasing insects along the ground.
I have fewer mammals photos from this park than I'd thought - perhaps I'd taken most of them elsewhere previously, though I'll make up for it in the final posting of this series.
This elephant (and I'm afraid I'm not sure from this angle if it's a female or young male) was not
happy at our presence, as indicated by the direct gaze, spread ears (above) and lowered head (below).
Being in a vehicle gives you less confidence than you might imagine in such a situation!

Uganda Kob Kobus kob thomasi, a lovely antelope which appears on the Ugandan coat of arms.

Female Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus, in recently burnt grassland.
One of the most exciting animals for me however was encountered crossing the road at night while we were returning from a drive.
The African Rock Python Python sebae is Africa's largest snake, and one of the world's largest.
Lengths of over six metres and weights of 50kg are accepted - and of course bigger ones are claimed!
This was nothing like that size, but was impressive enough.
Next time, in my last posting on this beautiful park, we take to the water.

Euphorbia candelabrum, Acacia seberiana


Flabmeister said...

I would take a guess from my experiences with such behaviour in Tanzania that your elephant is a female. Definitely time for pedal to the metal!

What are the African Acacias called now? I thought it had been agreed that the Australian ones were Acacia and the African ones were something else?


Ian Fraser said...

Thanks for that Martin, I'd temporarily forgotten! This one is now Vachellia - corrected above.