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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'.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Part 3; the Kazinga Channel

This is the third of a series on this magnificent national park in far western Uganda; the series began here. The Kazinga Channel is a broad natural channel which joins the much smaller Lake George to the east, with enormous Lake Edward (230,000 hectares) to the west. Lake George is technically one of the Rift Valley Great Lakes, but at a mere 25,000 hectares does not qualify for the title! Lake Edward does, but only as the smallest of them. George is higher than Edward and water flows via it from the Rwenzori Mountains to Lake Edward. The bigger lake was for a short and less glorious time of its history known as Lake Idi Amin - it is sometimes referred to as Lake Rutanzige, which I suspect is a much more appropriate local name, but there seems little enthusiasm for its general usage. Lake Edward is divided between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the Congo controlling the majority of it; its shoreline is entirely within national parks. It is believed that the channel results from volcanic activity which filled in much of a formerly vast lake, forming two smaller lakes joined by the current channel, though this may not be all of the story. 

View across the Kazinga Channel; there are some fishing settlements within the park, with people living
in apparent harmony with the wildlife.

Yes, that's a feared African Buffalo Syncerus caffer dozing just behind them! We also saw people swimming
in waters which, as we will see, are heavily populated by hippos and crocodiles...
Sadly, we shall also get to a story which indicates that the coexistence has its limits.
There is a small launch which runs regular trips into the channel from its mouth at the Lake Edward end, below Mweya Lodge - you won't get anywhere near Lake George however, there is far too much to see! (Not to mention the rapids that block the way.) Indeed it was one of the most memorably wildlife-rich boat trips of my life. The concentrations of hippos and buffaloes alone are simply astonishing.

Part of a buffalo herd on a sand spit.
Wallowing is very popular.

Big buffalo bull - an excellent reason to do your wildlife watching from a boat.

Mother and calf.
Hippos and buffaloes happily coexist - there's enough mud to go around, and they're not competing for food.

Mother with apparent twins.
The Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus story in the channel is a fascinating one. Until the 1950s they weren't found at the western end of the channel - it is suggested that this was related to the volcanic event which formed the channel. Then however, people began to cut paths through the forest alongside the channel, and the crocodiles were able to use them to bypass the rapids which had hitherto thwarted them.

Not all mammals seen were associated with the water though - and I'm sure that at the right time of day many others could be seen coming to drink too.
Guereza Colobus Colobus guereza, a truly beautiful monkey, and certainly a favourite of mine.
While they are not directly associated with water, they are generally found in forests near waterways.
They are primarily leaf-eaters.

 This Lioness appeared a couple of hundred metres away and stalked (unsuccessfully) a Warthog.
We were told that there had until recently been a pride of six, but that the villagers had killed four of them,
despite being in a national park.
Warthog Phacochoerus africanus - this one lived to raise its tail another day.
The bird diversity was quite overwhelming, with waterbirds of course predominating. The populations of fish and other aquatic animals in the channel are obviously immense, based on the numbers of fish-eating birds present. 
White-breasted Comorants Phalacrocorax lucidus were particularly abundant; these are sometimes
still regarded as a sub-species of Great Cormorant P. carbo.Above with Pink-backed Pelicans Pelecanus rufescens - another demander of lots of fish -
and below with a young Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumenifer. This bird was in serious need of some anti-bullying counselling.
There is also a Little Egret Egretta garzetta in the right foreground of the above photo.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea; this is the same species found throughout Europe and much
of Asia, as well as sub-Saharan Africa where it is a breeding resident.
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides.This attractive heron has two sub-species which do quite different things. One breeds in south-eastern Europe and the Middle East, from where it flies south to tropical Africa for winter. The other lives year-round throughout most of
Africa and Madagascar. This bird is in non-breeding plumage.

African Skimmers Rynchops flavirostris, and a couple of Gull-billed Terns Gelochelidon nilotica.The remarkable bill of the skimmer is used open, the extended bottom mandible slicing the water
to snap up fish. The terns probably bred in southern Europe.

The African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer is another voracious piscivore.
Its species name is appropriate - its ringing yelps, often in chorus, form one of the sounds of Africa for me.
The Fish Eagle isn't the only bird of course which is named for its fish-eating habits, and two kingfishers were common along the channel - the Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis is in fact abundant, as it can be throughout much of Africa and southern Asia.
This fish clearly needed a lot of tenderising!
This is the only member of the genus Ceryle.

The exquisite little Malachite Kingfisher Corythornis cristatus is another common and widespread
African kingfisher. Like the Pied Kingfisher, but unlike the majority of other species,
the Malachite really does eat mostly fish. For more on this apparent contradiction, see here.
The handsome Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis wades for its fish, like the herons.
Like the Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus accompanying the stork above, other waterbirds present do not rely on fish.
The Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash - the common and scientific names are intended to reflect its remarkable
and familiar call across sub-Saharan Africa - favours earthworms and snails.
Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus, despite the name are found throughout most of Africa
(though in Egypt only along the Nile). The Ancient Egyptians domesticated them, but after the
Persians inadvertently 'liberated' them 2,500 years ago, the knowledge was somehow lost.
The African Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra is common and widespread, and unlike many other crakes
is not particularly secretive. Nonetheless I've never had better views than at Kazinga.
Water Thick-knees (or Water Dikkop, perhaps slightly more euphonious, though in Afrikaans it means 'thick head'!)  Burhinus vermiculatus are less readily seen, with nocturnal habits and beautiful camouflage.
The thick-knee name comes straight from the species name of the European species; in Australia we've
reverted officially to the folk-name of stone-curlew (though of course they aren't curlews!).
African Jacanas Actophilornis africanus aren't really waders either, but walk on the vegetation,
including on lily pads on hugely extended toes, not visible here.
There'll be a posting here on jacanas one day.
And finally, a bird not directly associated with the water at all.
Yellow-billed Oxpeckers Buphagus africanus taking engorged ticks from a buffalo - though
these have taken time out to squabble, as they do. It seems they're really after the blood from the engorged
ticks and are equally happy keeping wounds open and taking the blood directly.
The two species of oxpeckers, both African, have traditionally been placed with the starlings,
but are now regarded as forming their own family, Buphagidae.

If you go to Queen Elizabeth National Park, you'll of course do this boat trip, but I'd suggest that if you're wavering as to whether to include it in your Uganda trip, Kazinga Channel should just about swing it for you.



Flabmeister said...

All of your African posts cause me to recall our time in Tanzania. Well done. This post brings to mind a trip to Selous Game Reserve which included a trip to a small shallow lake on a cloudy day, This meant the hippos were out of the water and charged the boat across the shallows. We stayed in the deep bits.

Your readers might be interested in Stone Curlew etymology.

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Martin, glad they give you some pleasure. Thanks too for the stone curlew link - I'd like to be able to link to my own book, but sadly can't...