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30 May, 2024
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Purely Purply Moments- Article by Gareth Jones

Purely Purply Moments With The Purple Gallinule- Article by Gareth Jones

I sat for some time at the Hyena dam and patiently watched and waited. Everything looked so much greener and the dam was very full and overflowing due to recent heavy rains. There were so many birds around the area all looking very busy as they actively searched the murky waters for their version of delicious aquatic meals for them to feast on.

Then suddenly as I was about to leave there was some movement in the thick aquatic vegetation along the fringes of the dam. I waited a few minutes and watched as a beautiful purple bluish bird emerged. Wow! It was a purple gallinule (purple swamphen). As I sat very quietly it began to behave naturally seemingly oblivious to my presence.

Purple gallinules are uniquely created, apart from having beautiful feathers, they have powerful red coloured beaks suited for easily cutting through thick reed stalks, and long red legs with elongated semi webbed feet to allow them to move with relative ease over floating aquatic vegetation. Their diet is predominantly vegetarian, and they consume large quantities of fibrous young reed shoots. The shy and almost secretive nature of the purple gallinule actually helps them to increase their possibility of survival.

Over a period of many years, I have spent many hours on many different days observing the purple gallinules at the hyena dam. At one stage they were thriving when there was plenty of vegetation towards the dam wall. I had the privilege of witnessing a number of chicks being reared and watching various interactions with the purple gallinules.

In recent years, the vegetation at the hyena dam wall has reduced dramatically. This reduction of vegetation therefore seriously reduces the natural habitat of the purple gallinules, and therefore I have not had a sighting at the hyena dam for some time. However, I have noted that the vegetation at the inflow to the dam is increasing, hopefully, this will result in a habitat that will encourage them to settle at the hyena dam or other dams.

The African purple swamphen (aka purple gallinule)  (Porphyrio madagascariensis) is a species of swamphen occurring in  Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. They are mainly sedentary species that can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, including Eastern and Southern Africa. The African swamphen has a preference for freshwater or brackish ponds, slow-flowing rivers, especially those flanked by reeds (Phragmites) and sedges, marshes, swamps, it also occurs on seasonally flooded wetlands. The diet of the Purple Swamphen includes the soft shoots of reeds and rushes and small animals, such as frogs and snails. However, it is a reputed egg stealer and will also eat ducklings when it can catch them. The Purple Swamphen uses its long toes to grasp food while eating. The population is believed to be decreasing due to local disturbance and loss of habitat and is rarely seen in some locations.

Just sitting peacefully in a serene aquatic setting has a very calming effect on me. There are places and creatures on earth that God has put there so that our very souls can be restored. Next time you are feeling a bit stressed or just need the time out, it is a very good idea to spend some quality time in a national park, and slow down to the pace of nature. So why not find a dam, wetland or stream, and watch the birds enjoying their aquatic feasts? Then perhaps if you sit very quietly, you might be privileged to have a purely purple moment as a purple gallinule emerges!


Purely Purply Moments or purply moments are written by Gareth Jones
purply momentsGareth Jones – Nairobi Park Dairy – A passionate writer & photographer