Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eating lower on the food chain

The bounty of last Friday's market trip. Can you believe I got all this
for four dollars and 8 cents? (2450 RWF total, 1650 for the fruits
and vegetables and 800 RWF for the beans)

We are consumers, make no mistake about it. We have to eat. Food at its most basic is chemical energy, transformed by plants from sunlight, that our bodies transform into kinetic energy. It also supplies us with the building blocks for all of our cells and a variety of other essentials. But let us not think in such scientific terms for now. What about taste? What am I eating in Rwanda?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kings of the catch

Kingfishers use their long, sharp bills to snag their prey. As the name suggests, they can be experts at plucking fish from the water, but many kingfishers do not eat fish at all. These non-fishing kingfishers are still pros at catching invertebrates and even vertebrates (I have seen a kingfisher eat another bird in Israel!). Let's take a look at some of East Africa's spectacular kingfishers.

The malachite kingfisher (Alcedo cristata) spends its time around marshes
and swamps and catches aquatic critters. Mabamba Swamp, Uganda

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The one, the only, the legend, part 1: SHOEBILL

If there is just one bird I would tell a non-birder to see, I would tell them to see a shoebill.

Watercolor of the shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, by Michele Cole.

I remember first reading about the shoebill. It was spring 2008; Michele and I had just returned from our honeymoon in Ecuador. A short trip to the Amazon rainforest had shown us a couple things: first, that we knew nothing of the spectacular world of birds and second, that both of us were up for adventures. We started to make a list of all the places and animals we wanted to see in life. Wild gorillas and chimpanzees made that list.

Our first birdwatching experience was in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.
After seeing parrots, toucans, herons, screamers, and all sorts of others,
we were hooked on birds.

Shortly thereafter, I stumbled across a trip to Uganda from the Birding Africa company called “Gorillas, chimps, and shoebill.” This seemed to satisfy both our primate interests and our growing interest in birds. But what the heck is a shoebill? We would soon find out, and the species has captivated us ever since.

The one, the only, the legend, part 2: B REX

So did we see a shoebill in the wild?

Watercolor interpretation of Balaeniceps rex (shoebill)

Once arriving to Kampala, Uganda, from Kigali, Rwanda, on a 10-hour bus trip, we found a minibus taxi that could get us close to where we hoped to find our bird. After about an hour, we got off the bus taxi in a rural marketplace called Kasanji.  We hired boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) to take us the remaining 10 kilometers to the swamp. Helmets are not used in Uganda, and the muddy hole-filled road made for a scary ride. But it’s the shoebill we are talking about, and like I said, if there is one bird to see, this is it.

Michele is on the back motorcycle, a friend is in the middle, and I am
on the lead motorcycle, snapping this picture and hanging on.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Elephants, Ostriches, and the Mighty Baobob Tree

Thundering. Towering. Too heavy to fly. Elephants. Baobob trees. Ostriches. They are giants and there are still places where these giants rule the land. Welcome to Tarangire National Park!

African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) are the heaviest land animal on
Planet Earth and are the second tallest, only shorter than giraffes.