Don’t Fiddle With our Water Factories

In nature, there is no magic water factory – the water on the earth now is the same water that has been here since the beginning of time. Whether in the Karoo or the forests of the Congo, the basics of the water cycle are the same: Water falls on the land as rain, snow, sleet, hail and mist, runs into our rivers, fills our dams and underground aquifers, and flows out to the oceans. The sun evaporates this water, clouds form and some of it falls again on the land. This is the water that we all use. Only 3% of the water on our planet is freshwater (as opposed to saline) and only 1% is available for our use.

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South Africa is a water scarce, semi-arid country, and unfortunately, even the little water we do have is often badly managed, used wastefully and polluted. It seems crazy then that hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which uses a lot of water AND contaminates water, should even be considered an option to boost our energy resources! A number of technical cooperation permits have been issued in the Midlands and Berg foothills, which give the holders rights to research the area as a desktop exercise with a view to fracking. In order to verify the amount of shale gas present and its viability as an energy source, prospecting or exploration as it is termed in the oil and gas sector, will need to take place. This activity has the potential to affect groundwater quality as it uses hydraulic fracturing techniques.

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The KZN Midlands is a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area. The role of the Drakensberg and foothills as the ‘water factories’ of Kwa Zulu Natal cannot be underestimated. Intact grasslands are important for storing rainwater in wetlands or as ground water which is gradually released throughout the year. It is vitally important to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 6 million people downstream. Other free ecosystem services provided by these Midlands grasslands include pollination, soil production, flood water attenuation, carbon storage, cultural and recreational amenities and support to subsistence livelihoods. The uMngeni River catchment supplies 1000 million litres per day of potable water to a vast area including Howick, Hilton, Edendale, Wartburg, Vulindlela, most of Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

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The Midlands Conservancy Forum (MCF) opposes, on ecological, social and economic grounds, the use of fracking to recover natural shale gas. Specifically, the MCF believes that the risk of contamination of groundwater in an already water-stressed environment is simply unacceptable. Despite assurances from potential extractors that the technique is safe, evidence of failed safety measures and resultant contamination is increasingly common in areas where fracking has been undertaken, even under first world conditions. We can’t drink gas! Want to be better informed about this issue?

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Learn more here: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/prpagefracking.php

Making Sense of Oribi Census

Jiba Magwaza of the Endangered Wildlife Trust discusses the results of the most recent Oribi census which many farmers and landowners participate in annually. Please contact the EWT should you have any oribi on your land and consider participating in their annual survey.

Jiba Magwaza of the Endangered Wildlife Trust

Jiba Magwaza of the Endangered Wildlife Trust


The Oribi census is an exercise used to monitor animal numbers in private and protected areas. The period September to November is chosen because this is when the grasslands that have been burnt are flushing green making the Oribi easier to see as they are attracted to this green flush. Unfortunately in 2014 this was rather difficult with delayed rain leaving landowners skeptical of burning, thus making it difficult to count animals since they hide in the standing tall grass.

Female Oribi standing in tall grass.

Female Oribi standing in tall grass.

Oribi (Ourebia ourebi) surveys have been conducted in South Africa for over fifteen years and for that the Oribi Working Group would like to thank each and every landowner who has been involved since day one of this long-term survey effort. The Oribi Working Group saw a need to monitor Oribi because of the rate at which the population was perceived to be decreasing. Oribi face a lot of threats and require ongoing conservation attention in South Africa, as a working group we are committed to working with private landowners and protected land managers to ensure the conservation of this beautiful species.

Oribi - Ourebia ourebi

Oribi – Ourebia ourebi

In 2014 a total of 3006 Oribi were counted in South Africa from 266 survey returns, these numbers include protected areas and privately owned properties. When comparing between provinces KwaZulu-Natal submitted more surveys and has the highest number of animals, 1583 from 149 returns. KwaZulu-Natal is followed by the Eastern Cape with 1103 animals from 88 returns and then Mpumalanga which submitted 29 surveys and had a total of 320 animals.

Total national survey results and number of records as compared to previous year’s results. EKZNW reserve counts were included in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. 1998-2003 only included KZN province, thereafter the survey had a national focus. All of these values have been revised based on the discovery of historical data records previously not included.

Total national survey results and number of records as compared to previous year’s results. EKZNW reserve counts were included in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. 1998-2003 only included KZN province, thereafter the survey had a national focus. All of these values have been revised based on the discovery of historical data records previously not included.

Oribi surveys data to date have shown a high level of fluctuation of animal numbers with an increase in recent years of years back to similar numbers as recorded at the change of the century. This fluctuation in numbers is a result of varying survey efforts resulting from changes in the survey team and shifting levels of capacity. The crux of the story is that overall numbers in the country sit at just over 3000 animals and regionally populations have declined dramatically. The KZN population has about halved since 2001.Of concern is the high number of properties who are not sure of their population trends coupled with a high reporting rate of decreasing numbers. Mpumalanga submitted only 29 returns and the Oribi Working Group would like to see more returns from this Province in order to assess the overall trend.

Dr. Ian Little, Manager of the EWT's Threatened Grassland Species Programme

Dr. Ian Little, Manager of the EWT’s Threatened Grassland Species Programme

Unfortunately Oribi are faced with many threats. These animals are an easy target for predators and humans. As grassland specialists they need good quality grasslands to survive, if it is disturbed in any way Oribi will have a hard time surviving. The 2014 Oribi survey reported that poaching with dogs is by far the most prominent threat, followed by stray dogs then snaring and illegal shooting. Another major threat to Oribi is habitat destruction, with considerable development (including widespread mining and agriculture) taking place in grassland areas. From our experience these threats are not confined to any province in particular and are significant throughout the region.

Oribi

Oribi

The issue of poaching with dogs is a serious threat and has seen a significant recent increase with the shift from hunting as a hobby to poaching and gambling in large numbers (also called taxi hunting). The EWT, EKZNW, The KZN Hunters and Conservation Association and SACAN are working closely with each other to tackle all these issues by working directly with landowners and communities at large. Environmental education and awareness is very important for all of us to achieve our conservation goals. Collectively we can do more and make a difference by tackling all the problems faced not only by Oribi but all of our natural resources.

For more information or to report poaching with dogs contact SACAN on 08-616-72226.

Boston Wildlife Sightings – April 2015

Sitamani Sightings – Christeen Grant

This April has seen cool days, more rain than last year and sprinkling of snow on the top of the Drakensberg. The colours are turning gold with a reddish tinge to the grasses.

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The loveliest sighting was early one evening just before sunset, literally meters from the house. A Common Reedbuck female lifted her drowsy head as she woke from the tall grass she’d been sleeping in for the day. We watched her for about fifteen minutes as she got up, stretched and grazed before moving off. Although the flies were bothering her she seemed to be in good health.

Female Common Reedbuck

Female Common Reedbuck

Revealed in the Sand Olive tree in the garden was the beautifully constructed nest of an Olive Thrush. Held in place by slender branches it had withstood the storm winds of summer. I had noticed the parents feeding a young fledgling a couple of months ago, but not noticed the nest.

Olive Thrush nest

Olive Thrush nest

Quite a few flowers caught my eye, Alectra sessiliflora which is a parasitic plant on grasses,

Alectra sessiliflora

Alectra sessiliflora

Chrysanthemoides monilifera with berries, Helichrysum glomeratum, Hibiscus trionum or Bladder Hibiscus,

Chrysanthemoides monilifera

Chrysanthemoides monilifera

Helichrysum glomeratum

Helichrysum glomeratum

Hibiscus trionum, also known as the bladder flower.

Hibiscus trionum, also known as the bladder flower.

Leonotis leonurus one of my favourites at this time of year and always reminds me of my friend Jayne,

The gorgeous Leonotis leonurus

The gorgeous Leonotis leonurus

Otholobuim polystictum a legume shrub,

Otholobuim polystictum

Otholobuim polystictum

Plectranthus spicatus tall inflorescences abuzz with insects,

Plectranthus spicatus

Plectranthus spicatus

Polygala hottentotta, Sutera floribunda and then several fruits and remains of seedheads; Agapanths campanulatus, Berkheya setifera, Pachycarpus sp. and Schizoglossum bidens Subsp bidens.

Polygala hottentotta

Polygala hottentotta

Sutera floribunda

Sutera floribunda

Agapanths campanulatus seedhead

Agapanthus campanulatus seedhead

Berkheya setifera seedheads

Berkheya setifera seedheads

Pachycarpus sp fruit

Pachycarpus sp fruit

Schizoglossum bidens Subsp bidens fruit

Schizoglossum bidens Subsp bidens fruit

As the colours become more subdued several ferns, Cheilanthes capensis, Mohria rigida, Pellaea calomelanos var calomelanos and what are known as a fern allies Club Moss Lycopodium clavatum caught my eye.

Cheilanthes capensis - Fern

Cheilanthes capensis – Fern

Mohria rigida - Fern

Mohria rigida – Fern

Pellaea calomelanos var calomelanos

Pellaea calomelanos var calomelanos

Club Moss - Lycopodium clavatum - Fern allies

Club Moss – Lycopodium clavatum – Fern allies

I saw a Mottled Veld Antlion out in the tall grass, fluttering in erratic fight.

Mottled Veld Antlion - Palpares caffer

Mottled Veld Antlion – Palpares caffer

Moths are still about and I loved a dainty, rather crumpled one with splashes of colour on whitish wings.

Moth

Moth

Gaudy Commodores and what I think are either Blues or Hairtail butterflies flit around.

Gaudy Commodore butterfly

Gaudy Commodore butterfly

Butterfly is possibly a a Blue or Hairtail

Butterfly is possibly a a Blue or Hairtail

The caterpillars of the Common or Cabbage Tree Emperor Bunaea alcinoe are munching the leaves of the Tree Fuchsias Halleria lucida.

Common or Cabbage Tree Emperor caterpillar -  Bunaea alcinoe

Common or Cabbage Tree Emperor caterpillar – Bunaea alcinoe

Tiny Museum beetles Anthrenus verbasci no larger than 2mm and Common Dotted Fruit Chafer Cyrtothyrea marginalis were spotted in the flowers.

Museum beetles - Anthrenus verbasci

Museum beetles – Anthrenus verbasci

Common Dotted Fruit Chafer - Cyrtothyrea marginalis

Common Dotted Fruit Chafer – Cyrtothyrea marginalis

Two new Mushrooms appeared after wet weather, an Amanita sp. and a group growing closely together which might be Sulfur Tuft Hypholoma sp..

Fungi Amanita

Fungi Amanita

Fungi Sulfur Tuft Hypholoma sp.

Fungi Sulfur Tuft Hypholoma sp.

Snakes are on the move, getting ready for winter hibernation. I spotted this Olive House Snake Lycodonmorphus inorantus, which had a skink shaped bulge in the middle of it’s body, moving across the lawn to longer grass.

Olive House Snake - Lycodonmorphus inorantus

Olive House Snake – Lycodonmorphus inorantus

Then while wandering over the rocky hillside found a discarded snakeskin, possibly from a Rhinkhals.

Snake skin - possibly Rinkhals

Snake skin – possibly Rinkhals

David Clulow

“Our highlight was the Cape Parrot Count occasion………..not because of our tally of Parrots because we saw NONE – for the first time ever – a sad record of diminishing numbers. But our Pinetown visitors, Hennie Jordaan and his young son, Declan, who has a superb ear for bird calls, joined us for the occasion, and they saw what were for them several lifers. Including the Rufous-chested SparrowHawk, being possibly the most unexpected – that on the same weekend as a Black Sparrow-hawk. Both Hennie and Declan are quick on the draw when it comes to their cameras and they obtained some superb shots.

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They staked out the former favourite Parrot yellowwoods, while Barbara Clulow, Crystelle Wilson and I climbed the challenging pathway to the vast spread of indigenous forests, below the southern iNhlosane, where the views are spectacular, despite the rising mist of early morning. Warming tea and rusks in these high hills is something we’ll miss if the Parrot count fades.

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We also had a good sighting of a Spotted Eagle-Owl on the way home in the semi-dark the previous evening.

Birding in Boston was as always superb, and Crystelle’s sightings below for the month gives an idea. The Cranes remain a great pleasure, and the known nesting sites are great fun to observe. The parents must be pleased, as are we, that at least one chick has resulted from each nest, which is quite an achievement with the proximity of all the Mongoose, Jackals and other scavengers, which do not have the same wish to see the chicks fly as we do.
The ringed juvenile on ‘The Willows’, in the wetland alongside the Elands river, is flying and spends the day with its parents, feeding, but at night they all return to the nesting site near a pan, tuck it up for the night , then the parents fly to ‘Highland Glen’ nearby to roost for the night, above the chilling temperatures that have been experienced recently – down to minus 2 a few mornings. Each morning the parents fetch the youngster, calling as they do so, and set off again to ‘The Drift’ for breakfast. The floater flock, down to about twenty now, is overnighting on ‘Harmony’ farm, is seen often as they seek out new areas to feed.

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The Melrose dam is as rewarding as ever, lots of waterbirds, and other groups on the banks. The Spurwinged Geese are particularly numerous, but Yellow-billed Ducks, Common Moorhen, Red-billed Teal, Little Grebe, Egyptian Geese, Red-knobbed Coot, African Shelduck, both Darters, Cormorant are common; and Blacksmith Plover, Pied Kingfisher, Bokmakierie, Sacred Ibis and oodles of others, plus Vervet Monkeys in numbers that are far too numerous to allow for a balanced breeding programme for birds. Also the usual Buzzards and Long-Crested Eagle, the latter with a youngster on ‘Gramarye’ which they are trying to teach to feed itself – it never stops plaintively pleading for food. The Wattled Cranes, resident on ‘Boston View’ farm , which breed at the Glandrishok pan, are regularly reported by Rob Geldart and the Jordaans saw them flying over with this last season’s juvenile still in tow.

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A wonderful visit to the Norwood forest followed to show Hennie and Declan our other forest birds and it was most rewarding – Woodpeckers, Sunbirds, Canaries, Apalis, Batis, Bulbuls, Greenbuls, Orioles, Robin-Chats – endless opportunities to test your hearing skills.”

An adjusted version, altering the Spotted Eagle-Owl to a Spotted one ———- too many Speckled pigeons in the Ambers.

Gramarye – Crystelle Wilson

The annual Cape Parrot count took place on the weekend of 18-19 April. We were stationed on Nhlosane Ridge and enjoyed looking at the forest and views over the valley.

View during the Cape Parrot count

View during the Cape Parrot count

Sadly no parrots were seen in the Boston area and all the outing did was to confirm that autumn has arrived with its colder temperatures. As did the Leonotus leonorus blazing in full colour across the hillsides.

Leonotus leonorus

Leonotus leonorus

Autumn means that migrants have left and while looking through my pictures for the month I was struck by the colour scheme of the birds: very autumnal as well with browns, oranges and black and white dominating. None better to illustrate this than the African Stonechat.

African Stonechat

African Stonechat

The lists of birds are also becoming shorter. These were the birds seen in the Boston area: Cape White-eye,

Cape White-eye

Cape White-eye

Amur Falcon, Bokmakierie, White-breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Banded Martin, Cape Longclaw, Barn Owl, African Darter, African Firefinch, Sombre Greenbul, Red-winged Starling, Pied Starling, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, White-throated Swallow, Malachite Sunbird, Jackal Buzzard, Little Grebe, Three-banded Plover, Speckled Pigeon, Pied Crow, African Quailfinch, Cape Canary, Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Sacred Ibis,

African Sacred Ibis

African Sacred Ibis

Cape Glossy Starling, Barn Swallow, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Yellow-billed Duck, Common Waxbill, Village Weaver, Cape Weaver, Red-collared Widowbird, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola,

Levaillant's Cisticola

Levaillant’s Cisticola

Little Rush-Warbler, Red-billed Quelea, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Grassbird, Red-necked Spurfowl, Southern Red Bishop, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-throated Wryneck, Black-headed Oriole, African Hoopoe,

African Hoopoe

African Hoopoe

Green Wood-Hoopoe, Southern Boubou,

Southern Boubou

Southern Boubou

Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Speckled Mousebird, Dark-capped Bulbul, Greater Striped Swallow,

Greater Striped Swallow

Greater Striped Swallow

Spur-winged Goose, African Dusky Flycatcher, Amethyst Sunbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Robin-Chat, South African Shelduck,

South African Shelduck

South African Shelduck

Black-winged Lapwing (their distinctive calls reveal the presence of the flock while flying high overhead)

Black-winged Lapwing

Black-winged Lapwing

Egyptian Goose, Black-headed Heron, Cape Crow, Cape Wagtail, Pin-tailed Whydah, Hadeda Ibis, Cape Turtle-Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Olive Thrush, Grey Crowned Crane, African Paradise-Flycatcher.

African Black Duck is notoriously shy and it was great to at least get a lens on a pair swimming near the bridge across the Elands River

African Black Duck on the Elands River

African Black Duck on the Elands River

I was very pleased to find another Grey Crowned Crane chick at the dam on The Drift, seen in the early morning mist with its parents.

Grey Crowned Crane chick with parents

Grey Crowned Crane chick with parents

But the sad news is that by early May there was no further sightings of this chick and we assume it must have been predated. But the one at The Willows and Gramarye ringed earlier this year is doing well and beginning to fly strongly with the parents.

Grey Crowned Crane chick learnt to fly

Grey Crowned Crane chick learnt to fly

It was also good to see a number of young Helmeted Guineafowls amongst adult birds.

Helmeted Guineafowl

Helmeted Guineafowl

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – March 2015

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

March saw some interesting sightings and the Karkloof Conservation Centre’s list is growing! The White-throated Swallows which have a nest under the eaves of the Loskop Hide were seen tutoring their offspring in the art of aviation. No doubt one of these days their GPS’s will kick in and they will head north to a warmer climate. Twané managed to shoot one (with her camera) peering inquisitively into the hide.

White-throated Swallow chick

White-throated Swallow chick

A new addition to our list is the Knob-billed Duck (formerly the Comb Duck before taxonomists decided everyone’s names should change).

Knob-billed Duck (previously known as the Comb Duck)

Knob-billed Duck (previously known as the Comb Duck)

Some absentees have started reappearing after a sojourn elsewhere, with Pied and Malachite Kingfishers taking up observation posts. Fortunately the water’s edge has expanded, so Loskop is no longer a spoonful of water in the distance.

Malachite Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

Malachite Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

I recently saw a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes very close to the Loskop hide. One was busy stockpiling twigs whilst the other was performing a high stepping ante nuptial quickstep. Hopefully his intentions are honourable and we may sometime hear the patter of tiny claws in the grass.

Pair of Grey Crowned Cranes

Pair of Grey Crowned Cranes by Patrick Cahill

An old faithful who we haven’t seen for some time is a Hamerkop who was spotted recently. Some years ago I was told by a Zulu, whose father had been a herbalist, that there was a belief amongst his people that if you killed an uThekwane, lightning would strike you DEAD! (VEERY!!) He didn’t believe it himself, but felt that it was probably propagated by the elders who wanted to preserve the birds which did the community a favour, by eating the frogs which polluted the wells from which they obtained their drinking water. Perhaps we should adapt this to protect other endangered species too.

Hamerkop by Patrick Cahill

Hamerkop by Patrick Cahill

There have also been sightings of Southern Bald Ibis, an African Marsh Harrier a Cardinal Woodpecker and Groundscraper Thrush.

Cardinal Woodpecker

Cardinal Woodpecker

Now that the maize has been cropped, African Wattled Lapwings and Black-winged Lapwings have been seen in the stubble. Although the pans attract most birds, don’t ignore the fields surrounding them.

Groundscraper Thrush

Groundscraper Thrush

Other sightings included: Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Yellow-fronted Canary, Village Weaver, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape Crow, Cape Robin-Chat, Cape White-eye, African Reed-Warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape Turtle-Dove, Southern Red Bishop, Red-billed Quelea, Barn Swallow, Red-eyed Dove, White Stork, Yellow-billed Kite, Fan-tailed Widowbird, White-throated Swallow, Little Rush Warbler, African Stonechat, Blacksmith Lapwing, Spur-winged Goose,

Spur-winged Geese

Spur-winged Geese

Egyptian Goose, Black-headed Heron, Steppe Buzzard, Common Waxbill, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Zitting Cisticola, Little Grebe, Red-billed Teal, White-faced Duck, Diderick Cuckoo, South African Shelduck, Jackal Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Natal Spurfowl, Wattled Crane, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Sacred Ibis, Hadeda Ibis, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape Wagtail, Speckled Pigeon, Southern Black Flycatcher, Common Moorhen, African Spoonbill, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Pied Crow, Drakensberg Prinia and Black Crake.

Little Mbona Residents – Richard Booth

These cooler autumn mornings with dew are good for photographing the little things that need to warm up before becoming active and once it does warm up the bees get moving.

Kniphophia and bee

Kniphophia and bee

The dragonfly is a Common Thorntail.

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Many thanks to John Roff who has helped us identify this beautiful spider as a Silver Vlei Spider.

Silver Vlei Spider

Silver Vlei Spider

Denleigh Farm – Britt Stubbs

Britt sent us a very exciting report in the late afternoon, on the 24 March, about a spectacular sighting of 37 Grey Crowned Cranes. She was standing a mere 30m from them. Perhaps Crownies also have AGM’s, as we always see them congregate here during the year end period?

Part of a large group of Grey Crowned Cranes

Part of a large group of Grey Crowned Cranes

Remember to keep your eyes peeled for nesting Wattled Cranes and report it to the blonde craniac, Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. They should start breeding very soon!

Bird Ringing @ Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

In March, 80 birds were caught in the mist-nets for ringing and data collection. Of these there were 13 different species and 4 re-captures.

Adult Malachite Kingfisher

Adult Malachite Kingfisher

All of the birds are special, but the adult and juvenile Malachite Kingfishers were just so cute. Note the juvenile is much darker and still has some black on the bill.

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher

The Diderick Cuckoo is always a nice catch!

Diderick Cuckoo

Diderick Cuckoo

Other birds ringed in order of numbers were:

  • 24 x Red-billed Quelea
  • 13 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 11 x Village Weaver
  • 11 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 10 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 2 x Cape White-eye
  • 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbird
  • 1 x Yellow-fronted Canary
  • 1 x Common Waxbill
  • 1 x Cape Weaver
  • 1 x Drakensberg Prinia

Top “fisherman” in Karkloof – Karon McCann

Let’s face it, the Pied Kingfisher is an ace at fishing. These photographs captured by Karon on her recent visit show the skills required to provide some scrumptious sushi for the family.

Karon McCann 1

Pied Kingfisher

Karon McCann 2

Pied Kingfisher

Gartmore Farm Walk – Pat Street

Pat Street, a regular visitor to our bird hides, joined Robyn on her monthly Gartmore Farm walk which supports the Karkloof Conservancy through donation fees.

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Pat took some amazing photographs showcasing the life and biodiversity in a conservation savvy farmland.

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The pleasures of bird watching – Mo McCann

Mo McCann spent a lovely morning in the bird hides. She photographed this Pied Kingfisher selecting breakfast from the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Mo McCann1

Pied Kingfisher

She also enjoyed listening to this little Waggie (Cape Wagtail) who was singing his little heart out! ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫

Mo McCann2

Cape Wagtail

Threatened Plant Species – Clivia gardenii

AMARYLLIDACEAE: Major Garden’s Clivia – Clivia gardenii [Vulnerable]

The Major Garden’s Clivia was named after Major Robert Garden who was a soldier and naturalist stationed in KZN from 1848 to 1853.

These plants are usually between 800 and 1300 mm in height and are known from Ngome Forest to KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. It is harvested for traditional medicine use, which poses a major threat to this magnificent species.

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

The 10 to 12 bright green leaves are in a compact clump at the base. The leaves are long and than, 25–60 mm wide and 350–900 mm long, narrowing to a sharp point.

Individual flowers are often organised into a larger group or cluster, termed an inflorescence.The inflorescence stalk is 300–450 mm long and the flower stalk 25–40 mm long. The hanging flowers are tubular, with 10–25 flowers per umbel (a common point from where the stalks arise similar to an umbrella). The colour of the flowers vary from yellow to brownish red, usually orange-red with green tips, curved and not drooping.

These Clivia flower from May–July each year. Their fruits are berries, longer than broad, one or two-seeded, ripening the following winter after about 12–15 months.

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

If you have seen this plant, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za

Reference: SCHEEPERS, G. 2011. Clivia gardenii adopted from Hooker, W.J. (1856) The Clivia Society. Accessed on 2014-08-02.

We Adore Pink Dyke Swarms

The Karoo basin was once the site of an inland sea at a time in the earth’s history when all landmasses were joined in a single supercontinent known as Pangea. The Permian period (200 – 300 million years ago) ended with the most extensive extinction event recorded in paleontology – 90% of marine species and 70% of land organisms became extinct. These organisms would have sunk to the bottom of the sea, been covered in silt and mud, and then decayed anaerobically, eventually forming the fossil fuels we extract today.

FRACK 02

It is important to understand that the Karoo basin is far more extensive than the area we refer to now as the Karoo and includes all of Lesotho, almost the whole of Free State, and large parts of the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

The Karoo basin’s sea was deepest (and therefore has the thickest deposits of fossils) between Graaff Reinet and Somerset East, thinning out completely in KwaZulu Natal at the Mvoti River. Over time these deposits formed what is now referred to as the Ecca geological group, comprising shale and sandstone formations. There are three main types of Ecca shale – Vryheid, Volksrust and Pietermaritzburg shale – in the KZN Midlands.

Map large - Dyke Swarms

In the KZN Midlands there is also a lot of dolerite. Dolerite flowed from volcanoes forcing its way through cracks in other types of rock. It appears as sills (horizontal), and dykes (vertical) intrusions. Dykes are present in such numbers in the Berg and around Nottingham Road that they are referred to as Dyke Swarms (shown on geological maps as bright pink or red lines). Dolerite is a known preferential pathway for liquids.

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In the KZN Midlands and Berg foothills, technical cooperation permits have been issued to companies interested in extracting the natural gas that may be trapped in the shale, using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or more commonly, fracking. Sand, water and chemicals are pumped into a well under pressure, which creates cracks in the rock, releasing the gas. The presence of Dolerite, however, makes drilling more difficult and less profitable, as well as increasing the risk of groundwater pollution and the movement of water from the fracking area.

FRACK 01

In order to verify the amount of shale gas present in the Midlands and its viability as an energy source, further exploration will need to take place in the form of test wells. Test wells are drilled through rock layers containing sub-surface and deep aquifers of groundwater as the companies search for the shale rock that may hold shale gas. Although the wells are encased in sophisticated layers of concrete, there is concern about the concrete failing and the fracking chemicals escaping into groundwater.

FRACK 05 rs

In the Karoo situation, accounts of the South African state owned company Soekor’s drilling efforts in the 1960’s, indicate that drilling fluid travelled for many kilometres from one well – probably along a dolerite fault.

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This surely means that in order to protect our ground- and surface- water that the KZN Midlands shale should not be mined or prospected? Remember that groundwater is recharged from the surface water and eventually flows to the surface naturally, ‘daylighting’ into springs and seeps. If our groundwater is contaminated, then not only will it affect those using groundwater from boreholes, but also the rest of us who use water from the streams, rivers and dams into which it ultimately flows. The Midlands Conservancies Forum believes the precautionary principle should be invoked, as the risk is too high.

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The shale in KZN is located in a relatively narrow layer, which means that yields will be low and thus not profitable. The presence of these Dolerite dykes should also deter prospectors, but we need to remain alert.

Swarming Dykes

Please make sure you are well informed: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/prpagefracking.php

Making Sense of Roadkill

Roadkill is a widespread issue. Wendy Collinson of the Endangered Wildlife Trust shares some interesting information discovered by the EWT’s roadkill research team in the Pilanesberg National Park. Well done to all involved.


 

STRONG DATA FROM LATEST ROADKILL SURVEY

Surveys of wild animals killed by passing traffic (roadkill) have produced strong data and several recommendations. This is according to Bridgestone, which sponsored the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) recent investigations into the issue of roadkill in the Pilanesberg National Park.

The surveys, conducted by the EWT between 21 October and 23 November 2014, consisted of on-site investigation of roadkill as well as questionnaires completed by 302 visitors to the park. Of the 120 roadkill observed by the roadkill research team, 62 were amphibians, 27 were reptiles, 20 were birds, ten were mammals and one was not identifiable.

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Vehicle numbers were monitored by the use of traffic counting devices. However, the roadkill research team soon discovered that elephants had taken a liking to the devices and damaged them. Drawing on previous research which has shown that elephants dislike the smell of chilli pepper, the team then applied a daily coating of chilli pepper and oil onto the counters. The traffic counting devices were then protected from further damage.

One of the most interesting aspects of the project was the role of speed in contributing to roadkill. “More than 95% of respondents to the questionnaire survey believe that speed is the sole cause of roadkill. Our aim was to investigate this issue in more detail,” said the EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project Executant, Wendy Collinson.

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Compliance with park speed limits was found to be reasonably high, with 72% of the 6,981 vehicles monitored driving at or below the speed limits. “We postulated that roadkills were likely to occur because drivers were either unaware of their surroundings or travelling too fast to be able to avoid collisions. To investigate these factors we monitored a sample of 201 vehicles and nearly 70% of the drivers were observed to not be looking at the road, but rather scanning the bush for wildlife”, said Collinson. “This suggests that many roadkills in national parks happen because of the expectation that animals are to be found in the habitat alongside the road, rather than on the road itself”, she added.

The same sample of vehicles was used to investigate the role of speed in determining rates of roadkill. The research team placed three fake animals on the road, and recorded how many times each roadkill was hit (for a total possible hit count of 603 roadkill). We also recorded how fast each vehicle was driving, assigning them to three speed categories of <20km/hr, 21-40km/hr and >40km/hr. We found no significant difference between hit rates of drivers in each of the speed categories, with approximately 50% of drivers hitting the fake roadkill across the board.

“From our survey, it seems that observation levels of the driver, rather than the speed of the vehicle, is the key factor in preventing roadkills,” Collinson commented. “One of our recommendations from the latest roadkill survey is that a driver awareness campaign be launched in parks to make drivers more aware of animals on the roads themselves,” Collinson commented.

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Collinson also said she was concerned about the low awareness levels of roadkills among park visitors. “Of the 284 respondents who had visited a park previously, only 2.8% had noticed roadkill, with 6.3% noticing a roadkill on their current visit,” she explained.

Steven Dell, Pilanesberg National Park’s Field Ecologist remarked, “despite the use of road signs both at the park gates and within the park as well as efforts to raise public awareness of roadkill, roadkill still occurs. This project was extremely beneficial to the park as it has assisted in identifying the cause for roadkill and will enable us to focus our future public awareness efforts.”

Bridgestone PR Manager, Desirée van Niekerk, said the results of the latest roadkill survey had proved as fascinating as ever. “Bridgestone has been involved with the roadkill project for three years now, and we applaud Wendy and her team’s contribution to both road safety and wildlife protection,” she said. “We hope these latest findings will soon be used to improve the quality of the experience of park visitors and safeguard the animals in these protected areas,” she concluded.

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The next stage of the project will shortly commence in Addo Elephant National Park.

The EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project in Pilanesberg was supported by Bridgestone SA, Arrow Bulk Logistics, Pilanesberg National Park, Copenhagen Zoo, Mikros Traffic Monitoring and Africa:Live.

For further information please contact Wendy Collinson on wendyc@ewt.org.za