The Wonders of Queen Elizabeth National Park

This day was dedicated to exploring the natural wonders of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We set off before dawn for the Kasenyi area seeking new sights and remembering yesterday’s outstanding game viewing. A hammerkop bird (Scopus umbretta) flew ahead of the vehicles as the sun began to rise over the eastern horizon and a steady drizzle began. The hammerkop has widely distributed across Africa south of the Sahara, parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar. It lives in a range of habitats, which include wetlands, savannahs, and forests and builds large distinctive nests. Its name comes from the shape of its head, which resembles a hammer.

The drizzle turned into steady, light rainfall which reminding us that our visit occurred during the long East African rainy season. During this time of the year the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a wide area of trade wind convergence and rain fall, moves northward over this part of East Africa following the sun’s zenith point. The rains were delayed this year across the region due to the lingering effects of last year’s strong El Niño event. Anticipating the rains, the park staff had controlled burns covering large parts of the savannah and with the rains new grass, flowers, and plants such as the wild eggplant were beginning to sprout. During the drive we saw plenty of drenched Ugandan kob (Kobus kob thomasi) and Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), with the occasional bleached bones from the victims of nature or carnivores. One bull buffalo had a broken horn, probably from an earlier fight over territory.

We made a stop in the late morning by Lake Bunyampaka, a crater lake located southeast of Lake George thought to have formed from volcanic activity less than 10,000 years ago. Salt miners use fractional crystallization to accumulate and collect salt from paddocks on the lake during the dry season, when the lake waters are more concentrated. The salt is used for livestock and some human consumption. It is low in iodine.

The afternoon was spent on a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, a waterway linking Lake Edward and Lake George. It is serves as the outflow channel for waters from Lake George. Both lakes are rift valley lakes lying on the valley floor, or which is known by the term graben.  We had learned that Western Rift Valley, which we were in, is part of the larger East African Rift Valley System, which is an elongated series of tears through Earth’s lithosphere where the African tectonic plate is slowly splitting apart. The game viewing along the channel was remarkable with crocodiles, elephants, hippos, Cape buffalo, Uganda kob, and warthogs lining the edges of the channel. Birdlife was spectacular with sightings of Egyptian geese, flycatchers, long-necked cormorants, skimmers, spoonbills, yellow-beaked storks, yellow-billed ox pecker, among many others. Floating by the impoverished Kazinga fishing village, one of the indigenous communities allowed to remain in the park after it was created, was a stark reminder that the benefits of tourism do not accrue to all.

The day ended too soon with a scenic drive through the dramatic Katwe Explosion Craters area. This is a volcanic field with almost 80 craters that exploded within the last 10,000 years. Some of the craters had small lakes at the bottom, while others were filled with trees or other savannah vegetation. At one point a large herd of elephants was visible taking flight into some forests in the distance. As we descended from the area towards the main road Lake George was visible in the middle distance.

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