The birding in Kidepo was rich. Bird photography snatched on the run could never do it justice but here are a few of the more cooperative species.
To describe the Stone Partridge as a cooperative species is quite a stretch but I was particularly lucky with this group. It would be nice to improve on this shot but it would require the investment of quite a lot of time.
We arrived at the Kidepo River at about noon. Wandered around a bit, ate our lunch. At one-o-clock we encountered a pair of monkeys jumping about in the riverside trees.
Dr Mark Antos, our primate specialist, was most excited. It was imperative that we get good notes and if possible good photographs. These objectives did not align with the monkeys. One fled. The other one, a male, presented itself in harsh light and always partially obscured. I selected this photo from 27 equally bad alternatives because it is possible to see the tail tip, the back of the left hand and the scrotum.
The tail tip is light grey as is the back of the hand. The scrotum is an adorable shade of blue. This distinguishes this Tantalus Monkey from the more common and widespread Vervet. It also narrows the field to the Sudanese subspecies Chlorocebus tantalus marrensis.
One-o-clock Jump was created by Count Basie and other members of his band in 1937 and they used it to close their performances for the next fifty years. Its first performance was on radio. The name was conferred in a hurry because the radio announcer though the original title unsuitable for the delicate ears of the American public. Legend has it that Basie looked up at the studio clock and said the first thing that came to mind. Until then the band had called it Blue Balls.
From the camp in the Kidepo National Park it’s a full day out to explore the Kidepo Valley and not a great day for large mammals because of the lack of water. It is, however, a great place for birds.
We reached the river itself at about midday. Not a drop of water to be seen.
When the river does run it is fast and furious but it subsides and becomes safe to cross in just a couple of hours.
Along the way we’d seen some very nice birds including Jackson’s Hornbill which has a very restricted range. Females have a black bill. This is the male …
We also came across a fine chameleon
and some wild Desert Rose in flower. You can buy these as garden plants in Australia.
Beyond the river the road leads into South Sudan. We saw the odd truck coming from across the border. Just to remind us of the recent troubles one was sporting bullet holes in the windscreen.
Prossy was a keen birder and became a guide. Tony is a former school teacher and keen birder and became a driver. They are first and foremost birders. I think this makes an important difference to their enthusiasm in the field. We’d now been together for some days and it really was a case of birding with good friends. My prior impression of Prossy as a bit severe had completely melted, I suspect that’s just her ploy to get new clients under control! Zachariah on the right is a local ranger from the park, a man brimming with self confidence.
The road to the springs runs along the border, indeed according to my GPS this next photograph was taken about 150 metres inside South Sudan.
The hot springs is a small and permanent source of water just a few metres from the border post. In such an arid part of the world it seemed odd to be hearing frogs and seeing dragonflies.
And let me tantalise you with one more photograph which I will have more to say about in due course …
East Africa has seven species of vulture. They are members of the Accipitridae the family that includes eagles, buzzards, hawks and some of the kites. They are united by the fact that they live mainly on carrion but they are not necessarily each others closest relatives within the family. They are unrelated to the New World Vultures and Condors that evolved separately in the Americas to look quite similar.
Like a lot of heavy birds in warm climates they prefer to wait until the sun has cooked up a few thermals before they take to the wing. Then it’s time to hunt for the day’s meal which they find by sight.
It’s not difficult for a human to find dead animals in the savanna – just watch the vultures. Initially they all seem to be going the same way. As you get closer they’re converging from all points of the compass.
There were more than fifty vultures of five different species in this assembly in Kidepo National Park.
Defassa Waterbuck are large and handsome antelopes that are quite common along the Narus River in Kidepo National Park. They require fairly open grassland and they don’t stray far from water.
Any number of subspecies have been described but they fall into two groups. The more easterly group, Common Waterbuck, was the first described and given the scientific name Kobus ellipsiprymnus. Kobus is an African name given a faux Latin ending. Ellipsiprymnus is from Greek – ellipsi meaning ring and primnos meaning hind part. It was so named because of the white target on the animal’s rump.
The more westerly group was described as a separate species, Defassa Waterbuck, but where the ranges meet they hybridise readily and the two groups are now lumped in the one species. There is no white ring on the rear end of a Defassa Waterbuck. So it now has a scientific name celebrating a feature that it doesn’t have.
Only the males have horns and these are used in competition for access to females.
They are said to taste terrible which is quite an advantage when it comes to living with lions and human beings.
The camp at Kidepo National Park is remarkably relaxed. There is an armed guard at the gate on the road. He or she checks your ID then raises the boom gate … but there’s no fence. You are advised to take your torch out with you at night and to look around for wildlife before stepping away from your door.
Warthogs and jackals wander around the bandas. There are Waterbucks on the soccer pitch. One morning I was obliged to take an alternative route to breakfast because there was a buffalo between me and the restaurant. The following morning a lion could be heard roaring just outside the camp.
The warthogs and jackals are quite habituated to human presence, the jackal is the more cautious as well as the more handsome of the two species.
The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals offers three jackals to choose from – Black-backed, Side-striped and Common. On this basis this guy is a Common Jackal because of the coloration and the black tip to the tail …
but other authorities treat the group a little differently. The name Golden Jackal is preferred to Common and the subspecies that occurs in Africa has recently be proposed as a full species with the name African Golden Wolf.
It can be seen from this phylogenetic tree (other researchers have published different trees} that the Golden Jackal is not closely related to the other two jackals nor is it an immediate neighbour to the African Golden Wolf. The physical similarity between the (Eurasian) Golden Jackal and African Golden Wolf may be explained by parallel evolution.
Just to complicate matters all the wolf-like canids have similar morphology and 78 chromosomes. They can and do hybridise with other canid species in the contact zones.
Specifically, we find gene flow between the ancestors of the dhole and African hunting dog and admixture between the gray wolf, coyote (Canis latrans), golden jackal, and African golden wolf. Additionally, we report gene flow from gray and Ethiopian wolves to the African golden wolf, suggesting that the African golden wolf originated through hybridization between these species. Gopalakrishnan et al.
You’ll notice that I haven’t put a final diagnosis in the Jackal captions.
Kidepo National Park is located in the far north-east of Uganda. The border with South Sudan forms the northern border of the park, the border with Kenya is to the east. The park covers 1,442km2 and includes the valleys of the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The Kidepo is seasonal, the Narus shrinks to a chain of pools in the dry times but always holds some water to sustain wildlife.
Palms are common along the Kidepo river banks elsewhere it is savanna. The African Sausage tree is well represented and Whistling Thorn is also common,
It is a magnificent place to watch large mammals …
and heaven for the bird watcher …
We have three days here but one of the first things I must do is attend to my arm.