Friday, February 6, 2015

Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda: The White Nile

An evening Nile "cruise" in an open excursion boat, encountered a thunderstorm.
The mysterious Nile!  Its source a mystery for 2.000 years. Herodotus (c.484-425BC), the Ancient Greek "Father of History", was probably the first to compile theories of the river's origins. He even made an expedition to Africa to determine the origin for himself, navigating as far as the modern Aswn in Egypt. He decided that the source was unknowable, due to the land of "Wild Beasts". 
Who? Me? The famous Nile Crocodile.
The monumental trials of later explorers, with swamps, diseases, animals, natives and Arab slave traders, proved him not far from wrong. Herodotus dismissed the theory that the origin of the Nile was snowmelt, arguing that the persistent heat of the equatorial regions precluded such an explanation. However, that explanation was closest to the truth.

The Hippos knew...

A trader named Diogenes, traveling west from the African coast around 50 CE, reported his discovery of a great lake and snowy mountains in the African interior. Historians suspect that these were the present day Lake Nyassa or Victoria and the Ruwenzori Mountains. From Diogenes account, the snowy mountains feeding the lakes and hence the Nile, were entered into Ptolemy's (the great second century Alexandrian geographer and cartographer)  grand Geograpica as the fabled  "Mountains of the Moon"

I may look like I'm from the moon, but I'm not! Saddle Billed Stork.
(Ephippiorhynchus senegalis)

The elusive Shoebill Stork. I am not from the moon either!

There are only an estimated 300 left in the wild.
These are two different individuals.
(Balaniceps rex)

Thus was the scant knowledge of the source of the Nile, for another 1500 yrs, until , in the 19th century it became an obsession.

The Richard Burton and John Speke expedition, 1856, also approached the Nile from the west coast of Africa, via Zanzibar. They "discovered" Lake Tanganyka together, but on a side expedition without Burton, Speke "discovered" Lake Victoria and Ripon Falls. He surmised that the river emanating from the falls was the Nile, and thus, that Lake victoria was the source of the Nile.

Hmm, let me think..could it be?
Olive Baboon (Papio anubis).

It was only a surmise, with no proof, and Burton had other theories. This lead to an extended debate in the Royal Geographic Society, which was to be settled by a public debate between Burton ans Speke. Directly before this could occur, Speke accidently (?) shot himself while hunting.

Does the Snake  Eagle know?
(I am unsure of the species)

Was the African Fish Hawk watching? ( Halieetus vocifer)

David Livingstone failed to find the source in 1866. It was left to Henry Morton Stanley in his remarkable "Walk Across Africa" to prove Speke right. By 1877, the mystery of the White Nile was solved. Even now however, the answer is more complex, including the snows of the Ruwenzori mountains and Lake Albert.

And thus the mystery was cleared, and modern day exploitation could begin.

There is still much beauty left!

There are Pied Kingfishers everywhere (Ceryle rudis).

His elegant cousin, the Giant Kingfisher ( Megaceryle maximus).

Another flashy relative, the Woodland Kingfisher (Halycon senegalensis).

Bird break! A Defassa Waterbuck.

Red Throated Bee Eater (Merops Bulocki) 

These Bee Eaters live in cavities
 in the cliffs above the river.

Little Bee Eater  (Merops pusillus)

Black Headed Weaver on Papyrus.
Papyrus swamps were the bane of many explorers.

With its nest.Why it is called a weaver bird.
(Ploceous melanocephalus)

They were everywhere, here with Cattle Egrets (Bulbucus ibis).

African Darter, drying its wings.
Anhingas do not have waterproof feathers.

Also called a "Snake Bird" (Anhinga rufus)

Another bird break!
Colobus Monkey  (Colobus guereza) in a Sausage Tree.
They eat the "sausages".

Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath)
A Black Crake (Amauronis flavirosta),
wanders among the invasive Water Hyacinth

Fishermen on Lake Albert. The Congo in the background.

The Nile flows into Lake Albert, Sir Samuel Baker and his wife Francine "discovered" the lake on a treacherous journey, 1864.  But the source of the Nile eluded them.  Murchison Falls precluded further navigation. Sir Baker named Murchison Falls after Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographic Society at that time. 

The Great White Pelicans laughed (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

Murchison Falls, for which the Park is named.
 The falls break the Nile between Lake Victoria and Lake Albert, 

not far from Lake Albert.

The elephant remembers what it was like
before the Nile source was "discovered"

My excellent and knowlegable guide.

The sun sets over the Nile.
We need freedom to roam across land owned by no one, but protected by all, whose unchanging horizon is the same that bounded the world of our millenial ancestors~ E.O. Wilson.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda: Savannah

First glimpse of the Victoria Nile (Source, Lake Victoria)
One fine morning last September, I found myself in the Ugandan Rift Valley, on 'Safari' at Murchison Falls National Park. "Finding" myself there had not been easy, it was a crazy eight hour drive from Kampala, followed by an evening Nile River crossing, to reach the Garden of Eden. 

Nile Crosing
And so I deem it to be, as the African Rift Valley is where our deepest ancestors came down from the trees of the receding forests and emerged onto the savannah.

Murchison Falls National Park, is named after the eponymous falls, contained within its boundaries. It is the oldest of Uganda's National Parks and is located on the last leg of the Victoria Nile, joining Lake Albert. The Nile bisects the park. Wildlife in MFNP is mostly concentrated on the Northern side of the Nile River, and tracks have been developed for visitors such as myself to view wildlife.    
The red earth of Uganda, and Acacia dotted savannah.

I appreciated that this park requires drivers to stay on the track. I was uncomfotable on a previous excursion to a private reserve in South Africa, where drivers used land cruisers to bulldoze through the terrain.

Elephants are not grey, because they 'bathe' in the red earth.

Oxpeckers flock to devour tasty elephant pests, and sometimes the elephant.
There is dispute as to whether this is a mutualistic or parasitic relationship.

An Oribi, a small antelope.

A closer look. Only the males have horns.

There are many Ungulates on the savannah. The Borassaus Palms in the distance
provide food for Elephants, and rely on elephants for seed distribution.

Hartebeest and termite mound. In Uganda, Harbeests are found only in MFNP.

Ugandan Kob

The Kob is Uganda's National Antelope.

Lion in wait for an Ungulate!

African Queen.

African Eagle

Out for a stroll..Lake Albert and the Congo in the background.
These are Rothschild Giraffes, an endangered species. Only a few hundred remain.


Acacias are delicious!

I am not so pretty. African Buffalo

Borassus Palm and Cycads.

Francolins, not sure which species. I'm sure they know!

We continue towards Lake Albert Delta

Defassa Waterbuck. I hide in the water to escape predators.

Water Thick-Knee

Walk like an Egyptian Goose

African Wattled Lapwing. The largest African Plover.

The crowning achievement..the Grey Crowned Crane
Uganda's National Bird.

All this and more, thanks to my intrepid driver Noah (from Naturelink Safaris)
and charming MNFP guide Sarah.
Uganda has a great deal to offer the intrepid traveler, and saving what is left of this astounding biodiversity, depends largely upon tourist dollars. If ecological tourism can provide livings for the local population, there will be less pressure from subsistence hunting or clearing land for farming. Should you decide to travel to Uganda, check out They are a small local tour group, reliable and honest, and they made our visit to Uganda special.

The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water ~Buganda Proverb