Monday, October 31, 2011

If truffula trees were real...

I am not sure Dr. Seuss visited Africa before writing and illustrating The Lorax, but if he had, he would have seen his fictional truffula trees. The umuko, as it is called in Kinyarwanda, or Erythrina abyssinica, lights up the hillsides of Rwanda.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beauty Pageant

Some birds just show it off. A group of seedeaters called Estrildids are small but especially attractive. Even the duller species have their flair. Let's take a look.

Male green-winged pytilia (Pytilia melba) at Agahozo-Shalom Youth
Village, Rwanda

Be sure to vote for your favorite estrildid in the comments section.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Saturday Service and the spirit of umuganda

You won't find a business open or a bus running from 7 am to noon on the last Saturday of the month in Rwanda. Instead, you will find nearly every citizen over 18 engaged in the community service program called "umuganda."

Agahozo students pose with the litter they cleaned up at a Saturday
Service event.

At Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, we practice umuganda in a slightly different way. Every Saturday (and on Sunday for 7th Day Adventists), students participate in village-wide community service projects. One of my roles here this past year has been to coordinate these "Saturday Service" events.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Zebras, rhinos, and giraffes oh my! A mammal extravaganza

Common zebra (Equus quagga) in Ngorongoro Conservation Area,

There are roughly 5,000 mammal species on Planet Earth. Some extraordinary species inhabit East Africa. Enjoy them!

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Ngorongoro Conservation Area,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bringing the sausage tree to Agahozo

The sausage tree is found in a variety of habitats, including the open
plains of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

The sausage tree is a prominent tree of the African landscape. It is native to sub-Saharan Africa and can be found in nearly every country in that range. But you hardly see them in Rwanda.

The tree gets its English name because its fruits resemble giant sausages.
This picture is from one of the only Kigelia trees I have seen in Rwanda.

Kigelia pinnata is found in the surrounding countries Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi in savannahs and woodlands from 1100-3000 above sea level (I have seen it in both Uganda and Tanzania). Despite having the elevation and (at least formerly having the) habitat, I have only seen a few individuals of this species in Rwanda, all near the shore of Lake Muhazi, but I would guess it can also be found in Akagera National Park.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The gecko in my bathroom and other lizards of East Africa

I love this little lizard. It eats bugs and poses no harm to anything else.

I like all types of wildlife. I see lizards from time to time as I am birding or as they wander into our house. I don't plan to provide much text... just enjoy the lizards!

Tropical house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) at Agahozo-Shalom
Youth Village, Rwanda

Usambara two-horned chameleon (Chamaeleo fischeri) in the West
Usambara Mountains, Tanzania

A young Usambara two-horned chameleon that I picked up from the
middle of the road and put into the vegetation.

A species of chameleon in dry country outside of Tarangire National Park,

Water monitor (Varanus niloticus) in Murchison Falls National Park,

Striped skink (Trachylepis striata) at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village,
Rwanda. It is funny that this picture is actually out in the nature park at
ASYV because I see these skinks everywhere. They live just off the
pathway that leads away from my house and they are everywhere,
even venturing inside to eat bugs.

Mwanza rock agama (Agama mwanzae) in Serengeti National Park,
Tanzania. The female is actually duller brown, again a form of sexual

Red-headed agama (Agama agama) in Murchison Falls National Park,

I think this is a Tree agama (Acanthocercus atricollis), but I do not have
a more definitive field guide nor did I get a look at whether it has a
dimpled occipital scale on the crown of its head or not. Call me a bad
lizard-watcher, but I have no idea what that is or how I would know
if I saw it. Herpetologists, help!

Basking is a behavior of reptiles to warm themselves up in the sun.

How can you not love lizards? For sharp, scaly little critters, they sure
are cute.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Boy, you're lookin' fine! Sexual dimorphism in birds

Ostriches (Struthio camelus) are sexually dimorphic. The male (right)
has a pinkish neck and legs, and black and white feathers. The female
(left) is mostly brown. 

When males and females of the same species have different physical forms, it is called sexual dimorphism. These differences can be in body parts, color patterns, and size.  If you are trying to identify a species, recognition that the sexes may appear different is key. I once met a woman who swore she had two species of cardinals in her yard, but after a bird walk she discovered the Northern Cardinal males are bright red whereas the females are greyish red. Same species, but different looking. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Kinyarwanda-English Bird Dictionary

Kids that followed us on a birdwatching hike imitate our use of binoculars.
South of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.

Bird = inyoni. Whenever someone eyes us suspiciously or gawks at us as we are out staring at a bird, all we have to say is “inyoni.” Hahaha, uproar and laughter! Inyoni, imagine that!

Kinyarwanda: Sarufuna, English: hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) at Lake
Kivu, Rwanda

Many of the bird names in Kinyarwanda are not specific to the species of bird, but represent a group of similar birds. For example, although there are seven types of turacos in Rwanda, some as strikingly different as Ross’s Turaco and the Great Blue Turaco, the name is the same for them all (inganji). 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chatting with Robins

White-browed Robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini). Vegetation by Lake Kivu,
Rwanda. This is also a common bird at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

One of the tricky aspects of bird lingo is that some common names do not carry over from location to location. In addition, some birds have names because of similar looking birds, but are not even classified in the same family. For example, one might assume that the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and the European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) are closely related. Not so! They are actually classified in different families, with the American Robin in Turdidae (which contains Thrushes and other similar birds) and the European Robin in Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers). 

East Africa contains examples from both families, and they are delights!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Little Game Hunters: Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons

Bateleur eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus) at rest in Murchison Falls
National Park, Uganda

Everyone can enjoy eagles, hawks, and falcons, otherwise known as birds of prey. Everyone, that is, except the prey. Sorry rodents, snakes, lizards, and smaller birds, this post celebrates your air-borne stalkers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A birthday with gorillas

The dominant male silverback gorilla is singing HAPPY BIRTHDAY
to me in his loudest voice. Ok, he's actually just yawning.

It is nearly 11 am, and we have been hiking up the side of an ancient volcano for nearly two hours. As Michele, myself, a group of six others, and a guide clamber through stinging nettles, bamboo, and mud, my eyes light up and I grab Michele's hand.

There they are…