The Three Cranes and their Landowner Custodians

Article from the KZN Crane Foundation‘s Summer Newsletter and written by Charlie MacGillivray, Chairman of the Karkloof Conservancy and KZNCF Committee Member.


"First world and hi-tech farming operations, with high input and high output (yields), can operate cheek by jowl with some of the endangered (red data) species of birds such as the Blue, Grey Crowned and the criticalled endangered Wattled Cranes" Charlie MacGillivray

For many Farmers, there is a very real sense of pride and more importantly “ownership” of the flocks of some, or in fact where fortunate, all three of these stately birds occur.

Grey Crowned Cranes on Loskop farm in the Karkloof

Grey Crowned Cranes on Loskop farm in the Karkloof

This privilege is often recognised by Custodian signs and ought to be regarded as a fulfilment of symbiotic co-existence and success.

Many farmers in the Karkloof are recognised as Crane Custodians.

Many farmers in the Karkloof are recognised as Crane Custodians.

Cranes are truly magnificent birds and beautiful to behold. They depict humour in their behaviour, grace in flight and delight in song.

Grey Crowned Cranes gossiping - By Patrick Cahill

Grey Crowned Cranes at the Karkloof Conservation Centre – By Patrick Cahill

Blue Cranes dancing on Colbourne farm - By John Hill

Blue Cranes dancing on Colbourne farm – By John Hill

Pair of Wattled Cranes at the Karkloof Conservation Centre - By Patrick Cahill

Pair of Wattled Cranes at the Karkloof Conservation Centre – By Patrick Cahill

The real thrill for me and I know for many landowners fortunate (thoughtful) enough to have these graceful inhabitants, is that with a little care and courtesy, there is room for ALL of us. Our yardstick being their continued proliferation, with increasing flock sizes in as many different localities as possible.

Large flock of about 50 to 60 Grey Crowned Cranes are often seen in the Karkloof.

A large flock of about 50 to 60 Grey Crowned Cranes are often seen in the Karkloof.

The real threat and the cause of the dire dearth of the flocks of yore, is because their ideal habitats have been transformed by agricultural (and lifestyle) use and in some cases misuse. Here forestry is also seriously implicated.

This delightful picture by the learners of Gartmore Primary School depicts the 3 crane species in an agricultural environment. A common sighting for most of the children.

This delightful picture by the learners of Gartmore Primary School depicts the 3 crane species in an agricultural environment.

It is not always blatantly wilful actions, but often through ignorance by failing to ask ourselves the obvious question, “What will be the consequence if I proceed with what and how I/we do things?”

Blue Crane at the Karkloof Conservation Centre - By Patrick Cahill

Blue Crane at the Karkloof Conservation Centre – By Patrick Cahill

We need to be more attuned to the dependence and interdependence of ALL components of our environment to ensure the integrity of bio-diversity. More emphasis on the primary organisms of our eco-systems, and the role played in ensuring sustainability further up the “food chain”.

Ren Stubbs, a member of the Karkloof Conservancy, showing the earthworms which is No-Till farmings greatest ally.

Earthworms are No-Till farmings greatest ally.

Landowners hold the trump card in the proliferation of our precious Cranes, and it is our role to help where there is some ignorance, encourage and assist where there is uncertainty, and to exercise influence on as many people as possible, to ensure the future of our threatened populations.

Blue Cranes on Gartmore Farm

Blue Cranes on Gartmore Farm

The respective calls of the three Cranes serve as our commentary on the success of our endeavours, and should remain the highlight of any day.

A pair of Wattled Cranes with their offspring on Gartmore Farm.

A pair of Wattled Cranes with their offspring on Gartmore Farm.

Threatened Plant Species – Aloe saundersiae

ASPHODELACEAE: Aloe saundersiae  [Critically endangered]

Smallest of all aloes in South Africa, they are found in rocky places, crevices  and open ground amongst short grass within central KwaZulu-Natal.

Aloe saundersiae

Aloe saundersiae

The plant grows up to 15 mm high. They are small plants becoming stemless with spindle shaped roots, solitary or small tufted groups. Leaves rosulate, narrowly linear 10-16 to a rosette. Upper surface slightly channelled with longitudinal groove, green without spots, lower surface green, and few white spots near base.

Aloe saundersiae

Aloe saundersiae

Margins soft white triangular teeth, distant near base, smaller and crowded upwards. Inflorescence simple 140-180 mm high. Flower pale cream-pink. Flowering in February to March.

Aloe saundersiae

Aloe saundersiae

If you have seen this plant, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za
Reference: JEPPE, B. 1969. South African Aloes. Purnell. Cape Town.

A very dedicated Suvarna Parbhoo of CREW

A very dedicated Suvarna Parbhoo of CREW

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – February 2015

Oak Tree Cottage – Barry Downard

Chameleon

Chameleon

Saw this chameleon making his way across the lawn... unusually dark colours, but looks like he's just shed his skin.

Saw this chameleon making his way across the lawn… unusually dark colours, but looks like he’s just shed his skin.

And an interesting shot of a mantis and his shadow.

And an interesting shot of a mantis and his shadow.

Jenny Fly

The first photo is of Collared Earth Stars growing in the leaf mould of a yellowwood

Collared Earth Stars

Collared Earth Stars

and the other two of unknown fungi.

Fungi 1

Fungi 1

Fungi 2

Fungi 2

Albury Farm – Pat and Sandra Merrick

While I was deheading flowers 3 weeks ago nearly stood on a puff adder. It did disappear into shrubbery thank goodness but have not done much gardening since. At least we had good rain afterwards. We have had 150mm rain for the month.

Rainbow over garden one morning after storm.

Rainbow over garden one morning after storm.

The Juvenile Blue Crane is doing well and now 3 months old. Still not flying.

Our young blue crane is now two and half months old

Juvenile Blue Crane

 

Dozens of chats are back. Swallows and sparrows nesting once more. The barn owls are still in chimney. Hundreds of toadstools after the rains especially around the oak trees. Pat saw spotted eagle owl on D18 and then again one evening.

Beautiful sunset evening.

Beautiful sunset evening.

He also saw a baby reedbuck under a bug tree one morning while spraying. It ran off. Five Grey Crowned Crane have visited the dam. They nest on our neighbour’s farm and rear 2 to 3 juveniles each year. They have been there for the 30 years that we have lived on the farm. The problem about rearing the young is that there are a couple of water monitors in the dam which seem to eat the young.

Levaillant's Cisticola

Levaillant’s Cisticola

Little grebe, egyptian geese and yellow bill duck have all reared youngsters. Black sunbird (male in flight) female built another nest on glass shade on verandah and she is now sitting. Male pops in and out feeding her.

♂ Amethyst Sunbird in flight

♂ Amethyst Sunbird in flight

The Jackals are still seen during the day. Two Reedbuck carcasses found at the dam. Not sure if they died of natural causes or were attacked and eaten. Still see many reed buck and duiker. Heard ground woodpecker.

Male malachite sunbird

♂ Malachite Sunbird

Female malachite sunbird on kniphofia

♀ Malachite Sunbird on Kniphofia

 

Ten days ago we saw that the aardvark had dug an enormous hole in the side of the hill opposite our house. We called Amy Wilson, who does research on these animals, and she came and set up 3 camera traps. She will be collecting them next week, so hopefully we may be able to show you some footage next month.

White Stork roosting in gum tree.

White Stork roosting in gum tree.

We have had a number of crabs running around. 2 on our verandah and…

Not sure what kind of crab this is

Unidentified Crab

 

… a Steppe Buzzard eating one in our driveway. He took about 5 minutes to devour it but only ate the innards as the shell was left. The Steppe and Jackal Buzzard visit us every few days. They are eating frogs and crabs in our small pools.

Steppe buzzard eating a crab

Steppe buzzard eating a crab

One night the dogs were barking for hours. Pat eventually went out to have a look and found that they had cornered a giant grey mongoose in the stream. A fight ensued and they killed it but not before giving my rottie a severe bite on his face. Fortunately they have had their rabies vaccinations.

Many butterflies in the garden. Took hours of patience to photograph them as they flit around so quickly.

Garden Commodore

Garden Commodore

Common Diadem

Common Diadem

Common Diadem - Hard to believe this is same butterfly with wings closed

Common Diadem – Hard to believe this is same butterfly with wings closed.

 

Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus)

Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus)

Unidentified Butterfly

Unidentified Butterfly – flits around very quickly, pale yellow with strange markings on wings with little circles here and there…

My most exciting news is that a month after the cape robins vanished from their nest (last months newsletter) I saw them in the garden one morning sitting on the water spray. They had caught an earthworm and mom was close by watching the antics. They do not look like robins yet. They are brown/grey with mottled chests and reddish tails. I have taken many pics of them swimming in the rock pool each morning.

Juvenile Cape Robin-Chat

Juvenile Cape Robin-Chat

There is also another cape robin still feeding her youngster. I never realised that birds continue to feed and nurture their young for a number of weeks after leaving the nest.

Mom Cape Robin-Chat still feeding juvenile after 6 weeks.

Mom Cape Robin-Chat still feeding juvenile after 6 weeks.

There is also a juvenile (I think) Southern Boubou making use of the rock pool.

Southern Boubou

Southern Boubou

Some wildflowers seen this month:

Impatiens hochstetteri

Impatiens hochstetteri

Crocosmia aurea

Crocosmia aurea

argyrolobium tomentosum (velvety yellow bush pea)

Argyrolobium tomentosum (velvety yellow bush pea)

Bergonia sutherlandii

Bergonia sutherlandii

 

Not sure what these orange fungus things are that grow on broken down trees are called = found in forest

Not sure what these orange fungus things are that grow on broken down trees are called – found in forest

 

Hopedale Farm – Mike & Ann Weeden

Mike and Ann rented the Dargle Conservancy trophy camera from November 2014 up until January this year and thought that they hadn’t captured anything. I managed to locate 1 video of a Reedbuck doe which is available on the “Dargle” Facebook page. I made a screen capture so you can see an image of it.

Reedbuck doe

Reedbuck doe

Copperleigh Farm – Ashley Crookes

Not a good month for the poor snakes, found a few dead ones.

Dead Puffadder killed by dog

Dead Puffadder killed by dog.

Squashed snake (Night Adder I think) and frog on road

Squashed snake (Night Adder I think) and frog on road.

 

Ethan found a dead Red-lipped Herald snake

Ethan found a dead Red-lipped Herald snake.

 

We also had a nice thunderstorm this afternoon (Saturday). Unfortunately we all got caught on top of the hill and were soaked through by the time we got home, but there was a brilliant rainbow afterwards.

Brilliant rainbow after storm

Brilliant rainbow after storm

 

I’ve also been using the DC Trophy camera for a couple of weeks now and managed to capture some of the Yellow-billed ducks and Spurwing geese we have around our little island on Mavela Dam.

Sunset after storm over Mavela Dam

Sunset after storm over Mavela Dam.

 

Egyptian Geese on lawn

Egyptian Geese

 

Will get videos onto the Dargle Facebook page soon. We also had a Barn Owl flying through our shed this past week while we were working with the sheep which was quite exciting.

Frog in shed

Frog in shed

 

Natal Green Snake on the paving.

Natal Green Snake on paving 1

Close up…

Natal Green Snake on paving 2

…and then climbing up into the roof!

Natal Green Snake climbing into roof

Other sightings:

Garden Commodore or Garden Inspector (Precis archesia)

Garden Commodore or Garden Inspector (Precis archesia)

Mushroom gills

Mushroom gills

Toadstool

Toadstool

Kniphofia caulescens - Red Hot Poker

Kniphofia caulescens – Red Hot Poker

 

Boston Wildlife Sightings – February 2015

Sitamani – Christeen Grant

As I’ve been away for most of February I have concentrated on the beautiful moths that settle outside the kitchen door most evenings.

Moth Mopane Moth Imbrasia belina

Mopane Moth Imbrasia belina

Some I haven’t been able to identify, if anyone can help I would be most grateful! Eggar Moth sp Family Lasiocampidae, Golden Plusia Trichoplusia orichalcea, Hawk Moth sp Family Sphingidae, Mopane Moth Imbrasia belina, Tri-coloured Tiger Rhodogastria amasis, Two-phase Emerald Rhadinomphax divincta,

Moth Two-phase Emerald Rhadinomphax divincta

Two-phase Emerald Rhadinomphax divincta

Moth Tri-coloured Tiger Rhodogastria amasis

Tri-coloured Tiger Rhodogastria amasis

Moth Hawk Moth sp Family Sphingidae

Hawk Moth sp Family Sphingidae

Moth Golden Plusia Trichoplusia orichalcea

Golden Plusia Trichoplusia orichalcea

Moth Eggar Moth sp family Lasiocampidae

Eggar Moth sp family Lasiocampidae

plus four with no name….

Moth P1020356 Moth P1020354 Moth P1020353 Moth P1020352

The two main flowers out this month have been Watsonia densiflora and Kniphofia augustifolia.

Watsonia densiflora

Watsonia densiflora

Kniphofia augustifolia

Kniphofia augustifolia

We have experienced strong winds in February just before thunderstorms and sadly a beautiful Amethyst Sunbird nest was blown out of a tree.

Bird Amethyst Sunbird nest P1030067

Then I spotted a Spectacled Weaver nest only partially completed, obviously the female’s exacting standards hadn’t been met.

Bird Spectacled Weaver nest P1030066

There have been some very beautiful sunrises and one evening a perfectly clear sky just after sunset with the evening star shining bright.

Cover photo Sunrise P1020687

Sunrise

Cover photo Sunset with an evening star P1020615

Sunset with an evening star

Gramarye – Crystelle Wilson

Several pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes appear to have bred successfully this summer. I saw chicks with their parents at at least four sites in the district.

CW1

Grey Crowned Cranes with chicks

The pair on The Willows and Gramarye produced three chicks, but two must have been predated as by the end of the month there was only one still with the adults.

CW2

Grey Crowned Crane with remaining chick

Talking about cranes, it has been a delight to see floater flocks of Grey Crowned Cranes numbering about 20 flying between Harmony and Netherby farms at dawn and dusk.

CW3

Flock of Grey Crowned Cranes

An uncommon visitor this month at the dam on The Drift was a Purple Heron.

CW4

Purple Heron

While driving to the Geldart’s cottages on Boston View a heard a loud click coming from trees right next to the car and managed to snap a picture of an African Goshawk before it disappeared from view.

CW5

African Goshawk

Birding was good in February, with most migrants still present, like the Barn Swallows who will be leaving for Europe soon.

CW6

Barn Swallows

The SABAB2 atlas list for the Elandshoek pentad 2935_3000: Wing-snapping Cisticola, Purple Heron, African Hoopoe, Red-winged Starling, Steppe Buzzard,

CW7

Steppe Buzzard

Terrestrial Brownbul, Barratt’s Warbler, African Olive-Pigeon, Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Sombre Greenbul, Pale-crowned Cisticola, African Goshawk, Thick-billed Weaver, Pied Kingfisher, Blacksmith Lapwing, Malachite Kingfisher, Wailing Cisticola, Amur Falcon, African Firefinch, Neddicky, Drakensberg Prinia, Pied Starling, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Longclaw, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail, African Fish-Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Cape Crow, Cape Canary, White Stork, Black Saw-wing, Diderick Cuckoo, African Black Duck, Common Waxbill, Cape Grassbird, Black-headed Oriole, Little Rush-Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler,

CW8

Dark-capped Yellow Warbler

Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, Moorhen, Common, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Weaver, African Darter,

CW9

African Darter

Red-collared Widowbird, Bokmakierie, Cormorant, (you can tell the cormorants apart by the colour of their eyes) White-breasted Cormorant (green eye)

CW10

White-breasted Cormorant

Reed Cormorant (red eye)

CW11

Reed Cormorant

Greater Striped Swallow, African Pipit, Egyptian Goose,

CW12

Egyptian Geese

African Reed-Warbler, Southern Boubou, Brown-throated Martin, Black-headed Heron, Jackal Buzzard, Levaillant’s Cisticola, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Village Weaver, Pin-tailed Whydah, Olive Thrush, Giant Kingfisher, Speckled Pigeon, House Sparrow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Red-throated Wryneck

CW13

Red-throated Wryneck

Common Fiscal, Burchell’s Coucal, African Dusky Flycatcher, Amethyst Sunbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Cape Robin-Chat, Dark-capped Bulbul, Grey Crowned Crane, Cape White-eye, Red-necked Spurfowl, Yellow-fronted Canary, Barn Swallow, Cattle Egret

CW14

Cattle Egret

Zitting Cisticola, African Stonechat, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Red-eyed Dove, Cape Turtle-Dove, Hadeda Ibis, Cape Wagtail.

Stormy Hill Horse Trails – Caroline McKerrow

Two sightings of serval cat. One in the forest where I ride and one on the road near Everglades hotel. Both of them jumped into the bushes and disappeared when I got near. Mountain reedbuck in the forest and Vervet monkeys at my stables.

10991386_957217407642137_158489289152574151_n

The following is an account I put on my facebook page on 12 February. I was driving towards town in the morning and as I came through the forest near Mafagatini, I saw a jackal come out of the forest onto the grass. The poor thing had its whole head stuck in a two litre plastic bottle of maas. It couldn’t see where it was going and trotted around in circles. I pulled over and jumped out of the car and made my way quietly over to it. It had fallen down and got back up again resuming its circular path, and as it came by me I grabbed the maas bottle handle. So, now I’d got the jackal and I started to ease off the bottle. I think it realised what was happening and started pulling against me as the bottle was working its way up its neck towards its ears. The jackal had been trying to get at the maas and bitten a hole in the plastic and then got stuck in there once it had put its head through. Then the ears came through and the jackal was free. It took one look at me, it’s eyes widened in shock and fear from having a human so close. It turned tail and ran back into the forest. What a lovely animal to see up close and I came away happy that I’d saved it from a long and painful death. What a start to the morning.

Thunderstorms, Termites and Tarns

Dodging potholes brimming with muddy water and splashing through the torrents rushing along farm tracks and over the road, we wondered at the wisdom of a mid-summer break in the ‘berg. However, as we emerged from the Kamberg Valley, gaps in the clouds revealed the Giant having an afternoon snooze, oblivious of the thunder. Yes, it is always worth simply heading out whatever the weather – one never knows what is actually in store. Besides, occasional glimpses of the mountains simply make them all the more mysterious.r snowflake 182

Mtshezi

An early evening stroll along the banks of the Mtshezi (Bushman’s River) provided plenty of opportunity to chat about erosion, river valleys and smooth stones. As the rain stopped, hundreds of termites emerged from their underground haven into the calm evening, sitting on our arms and fluttering off across the river.

r snowflake 2015 082

Later we found another mound that was in the process of being repaired. The new section clearly illustrating the ‘air-conditioning tunnels’ we had described earlier.

r snowflake termite

We had packed our miniSASS kit in the hope of overturning some rocks in the river and finding invertebrates that we have never come across in Mpophomeni streams. The Bushman’s River was flowing too strongly and we gave up. Bright Hesperantha coccinea was flowering on the river banks.

r snowflake mzwa sihle net

Some of us simply had to swim and soon got used to the cold water.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 32 P1020950

Others explored the river banks, rock hopped and took plenty of photos.

r snowflake nkulu river

Some sat quietly simply absorbing the splendour.

r snowflake bulelani

After looking through the ID guides and books about Giant’s Castle and watching the mountains through the binoculars, we enjoyed supper on the veranda and a cosy evening beside the fireplace in the cottage at Snowflake.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 35 P1020960

Pouring over the map of the area after breakfast the next morning revealed two tarns located on the plateau we had planned to head towards that day. So we plotted our course – up the forested ravine then along the ridge towards the ‘Berg. Two black storks flew by as we set off.

Wildflowers & Waterfalls

The grass was long and wet, water was pouring off the hillside – delicious, cold and fresh.

r snowflake 2015 drinking 150

Peak flowering season was over, but we did find many lovely specimens of Gladiolus crassifolius

r snowflake gladiolus

Other memorable flowers included Eucomis autumnalis, Dicoma anomala, Gladiolus ecklonii, Crassula vaginata, Commelina Africana, Persicaria attenuate, Satyrium macrophyllym & cristatum, Habenaria lithophila. We saw lots of lovely beetles too.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 29 P1020937

Proteas are always a favourite when found on our trips to natural areas. This one was Protea roupelliae, one of five species found in KZN.

r snowflake protea crop

We found the tracks of buck and of jackal – both fresh – with the jackal definitely following the buck.

r snowflake looking at tracks

An antlion rested on the tip of tall grass.

r snowflake antlion

We spotted a Cussonia paniculata (umsenge) in flower and on closer inspection discovered it was growing beside the stone wall of an old livestock enclosure. Clearly, previous inhabitants of the area had been pastoralists, although there were no cows anymore.

r snowflake stone wall

We came across really big specimens of Aloe maculata that everyone recognised from Mpophomeni – particularly because it is part of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group logo.

r snowflake sihle aloe

The sound of a waterfall enticed us to keep climbing. Nkulu and Bulelani could not resist standing beneath the icy water, clambering across huge boulders to get there.

r snowflake bulelani nkulu waterfall

Asanda was fascinated that the stream disappeared into the rocks before emerging as a waterfall and set about finding the route it took through the rocks – discovering it was just a small crevice that he could fit his arm into.

r snowflake 099

Tarns & Tadpoles

On top of the plateau, we all wandered off in different directions to find the tarns. Asanda particularly enjoyed the time alone, following the sound of birds that he thought might lead him to the water. “I really enjoyed this trip without lots of small children making noise.” he said quietly.

r snowflake asa tarn

Christeen followed the frog sounds and found them eventually – not really what we had expected. The pools had been invaded by grass and it was more of a wetland now with just a few pools of water. It was really beautiful and unusual.

r snowflake sihle tarn

Along with the rest of South Africa celebrating Leap Day for Frogs, we had hoped to find a few of our own. With our eyes closed we identified four different calls, but all we found were lots and lots of dead tadpoles. We wondered if the water had been struck by lightning in the storm the day before. (Jeanne Tarrant of EWT suggested it might be the amphibian fungal disease – chytrid)

r snowflake dead tadpole

We spent some quiet time absorbing the peacefulness and incredible views.

r snowflake 2015 269

Discussing ecology, religion, climate change and life, as we walked.

r snowflake nkulu christeen bulelani

We had hoped to bump into an Eland, but only found an old bone.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 25 P1020930

We flushed a Marsh Owl on our way back through the grassland, characteristically it circled around us before heading off, giving us a wonderful opportunity to have a good look at it. Pretty damp, we were jolly pleased to head for home at Snowflake to page through the bird book and learn more about this owl,

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 01 P1020857

Everyone pitched in to get lunch ready as quickly as possible – we were starving.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 28 P1020936 (1)

Later, relaxing with cups of tea, Christeen explained how the Drakensberg Mountains were formed. Reaching back in time to about 180 million years ago, just before the break up of Gonwana a super continent that was originally part of Pangea, and consisted of Africa, South America, Madagascar, India, Antartica and Australia; a mantle plume ruptured the earth’s crust, causing a vast outpouring of lava on the surface of most of what is now southern Africa. In places this basalt layer was up to 1.5km in depth and the remains still form the mountainous areas in Lesotho.

About 150 million years ago Gondwana began to separate, and continues to move apart in what is known as continental drift. In an imaginary ‘fast-forward’ India flew north west into what is now Asia, causing the formation of the Himalayas. Madagascar and Australia moved east, Antartica moved south and South America moved west of Africa. Huge cliffs dropped down to the emerging Indian Ocean on our east coast of southern Africa, further raised by another mantle plume centered beneath southern Mozambique. These cliffs were gradually eroded back from our coastline, mainly by water drainage, eventually becoming the Drakensberg.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 07 P1020879

The Drakensberg is therefore a cliff or escarpment, forming the backbone or continental divide of southern Africa, stretching from Mozambique all the way down to the Eastern Cape. It is also the southern African watershed, east of the Drakensberg, rivers all drain into the Indian Ocean and to the west the main drainage system is via the Senqu River in Lesotho, becoming the Gariep (Orange) River and eventually draining into the Atlantic Ocean on South Africa’s west coast.

r snowflake bushmans river drakensbergJPG

In KwaZulu-Natal the Drakensberg is also the international border between South Africa and Lesotho. The escarpment is known by the Basotho as ‘The Cliffs of Natal’ – we imagined herdsmen peering down on us from the top of the cliffs. Bulelani commented “You have made our dreams of seeing the Drakensberg come true.”

Moonlight & Main Caves

Late at night, the moon lit up the landscape. The star filled skies were absolutely astonishing.

r snowflake moon

“Waking up to the flow of the river, with birds singing and mountains staring at you is amazing. This is a stunning and peaceful environment.” said Asanda the next morning. After breakfast we prepared a picnic lunch in anticipation of our visit to Giant’s Castle Reserve, as the autumn sun streamed in through the kitchen window.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 38 P1020967

As we drove to the Reserve, waterfalls pouring down the hillsides around us provided the perfect opportunity to talk about the role of the Drakensberg and foothills as the ‘water factories’ of KZN. Intact grasslands are important for storing rainwater in wetlands or as ground water which is gradually released throughout the year. We discussed how important it is to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of 5 million people downstream. Other ecosystem services provided by these grasslands include pollination, soil production, flood amelioration, carbon storage, cultural and recreational amenities and support to subsistence livelihoods.

r snowflake water

We were in plenty of time for the next scheduled tour of the Rock Art at Main Caves, so savoured the views of the cliffs and the river, watched raptors swirling and kept our eyes peeled for eland and baboons.

r snowflake bench view

Here we really got the feeling of being close to the mountains.

r snowflake walking

A bridge over a stream provided a perfect photo opportunity,

r snowflake on the bridge

a chance to have another dip amongst the rocks beneath the forest trees,

r snowflake mzwa swimming

and to spend time with a spectacular grasshopper.

r snowflake 2015 540

On the path to the Main Caves, there were overhangs to explore, huge rocks to scramble up, and flowers to admire like this daintly Stenoglottis fimbriata.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 46b P1030007 (1)

Right up at the cliff edge, large chunks of sandstone had fallen creating an interesting landscape.

r snowflake cliff

In the caves, Mncedisi was our guide as thunder rolled above us – it felt as if the whole hillside vibrated with the sound.

r snowflake 2015 604

The display depicted life as it had been in the 19th Century. He explained how the Bushman had lived in small groups of about 15 individuals with two shamans (one to go hunting and another to stay with the home group). He described their trance dances and spiritual beliefs and had us all practicing clicks saying icici (ear ring) and ixoxo (frog).

r snowflake bushman cave

A simple display of the various artefacts found in the cave by archeological excavations showed that hunter gatherers lived here 5000 years ago. We gasped in horror to hear that British soldiers had shot at some of the paintings – the bullet holes were clearly visible.

r snowflake bulelani camera

The earlier paintings depicted Eland, other antelope and a puffadder, later cows and horses featured as other tribes and groups arrived in the area. Implements like digging sticks and fire making stones offered us a glimpse of their lifestyle. They traded honey, game and ostrich eggshells and for metal and ceramic items, livestock, maize and tobacco with the early colonists and Black farmers. Nkulu was intrigued by the display and paintings – it was a highlight of the weekend for him. “I can’t wait to show my grandfather the pictures,” he said.

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The heavens opened and it poured with rain as we were about to leave the caves. So we asked plenty of questions and read all the information boards in the hope that it would stop. It didn’t. Bravely we set off back to the camp sloshing through torrents on the pathways and getting thoroughly drenched in the process. “I loved walking in the rain, splashing in the puddles, even though it was freezing!” laughed Philani.

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Baboons and Goodbye to the Bushman’s River

Back at the car park we were thrilled to come across a troop of baboons picking acorns from the oak trees and calmly crunching them very near to us. We watched them for ages.

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Chilled to the bone, we built a fire while we ate the picnic we had carried up the mountain and back. Bulelani thoroughly enjoyed all the meals, but this one right in the fireplace was most likely his favourite!

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We bid farewell to the mountains, the river and the charming cottage. Mzwandile said hopefully “I think  there will be another weekend just like this coming up soon.” Nkulu added “This is the trip that will NEVER be forgotten.” Sihle echoed everyone’s thoughts saying “We had a supercalifragolisticexpialidocious weekend!”

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Thank you to Gina and Chris Brown for the use of Snowflake and Christeen Grant for contributing her mountain knowledge, enthusiasm and love. These generous contributions enable us to stretch the N3TC funding for our Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme a whole lot further.

Photos in this compilation were taken by ALL participants in the excursion.

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Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – January 2015

I apologise for the delay in issuing this edition, I had a short break down the South Coast.  We have a real pot pourri (or should I say an Irish Stew!) this month, with flowers, birds and a toad. 

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

For several years after the Karkloof Conservation Centre opened I had the mutters because I had only once seen a Giant Kingfisher and when I did it was so camera shy I couldn’t get a good picture.  Last month a much braver bird put in an appearance and gave me the chance to take too many shots – that’s the problem with digital photography!

Giant Kingfisher

Giant Kingfisher

Twané had some great sightings in January. She managed to get a photograph of a Common Sandpiper that was a regular visitor to the distant muddy shore of the Gartmore pan.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Twané was lucky to get this shot of a male Diderick Cuckoo feeding a female – the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. The male fed her 3 juicy caterpillars and offered them to her with a gentle bobbing motion. They flew off into the sunset after the third one.

Diderick Cuckoo

Diderick Cuckoo

The butterfly that is photographed looks like it could be a male Window Acrea (Acrea oncaea). We would appreciate the correct ID from any Lepidopterists that might have a better idea of what it is.

Window Acrea

Window Acrea

On a recent frogging expedition by the EKZNW Kids Club, the kids found plenty of these little Painted Reed Frogs in the wetlands and mealies.

Painted Reed Frog

Painted Reed Frog

We have often had queries from visitors about the effect of the centre pivots used by local farmers for irrigating crops on the wildlife in the area and particularly on the cranes. The pictures of the Wattled Cranes and the Grey Crowned Cranes taken this month show that they do not impact the local fauna negatively.  They act as excellent perches for  raptors while they keep the rodent population under control. Centre pivots are also an extremely water efficient method of irrigation.

Grey Crowned Crane

Grey Crowned Crane

Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane

Denleigh – Ren and Britt Stubbs

We received some exciting news from Britt about a pair of African Grass-Owls that are nesting in their  grassland. They have seen a pair hang around before, but have finally confirmed that they have decided to breed on their farm. They have reported this sighting to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who keep an active record of nest sites of various species.

According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the African Grass-Owl (Tyto capensis) is a habitat specialist and is mainly restricted to the open, grassy  habitats of marshes, wetlands and floodplains. It is estimated that there are less than 5000 of these birds left in southern Africa.

 The need for farmer co-operation centred on grazing densities and burning regimes, as well as alien plant control and no longer ploughing up native grassland areas no matter how small is extremely important. 

Well done Ren and Britt on a fantastic sighting and for taking on the role as custodians of your land.

Gartmore Farm – Charlie and Robyn MacGillivray

Charlie and Robyn were very excited about this pair of Lesser Striped Swallows that decided to build a nest outside their kitchen window.

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow Nest

Lesser Striped Swallow Nest

During Robyn’s monthly walk, we found a few of these beautiful Asclepias albens (Cartwheel) flowers which seemed to be a favourite amongst the group.

Asclepias albens

Asclepias albens

Karkloof Roadside – Sears from Hillcrest

Geoff and Iris Sear from Hillcrest recently drove through the Karkloof Valley and sent us the following interesting sightings.

We passed by on our way to Rietvlei a few weeks ago when we were in search of the Forest Buzzard, which we saw just past the New Hanover turn off. We couldn’t get a good photo sadly. We also saw 9 pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes in the farmlands before we passed by your centre. There were also plenty of White Storks.

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth

Richard Booth from Mbona is a regular contributor and avid photographer. He sent us a picture of a Red-winged Francolin which had read about Chicken Licken’s phobia about the sky falling on her head and was keeping a weather eye on the stratosphere just in case.

Red-winged Francolin

Red-winged Francolin

Having gone through medical school, Richard doesn’t believe the ridiculous myth about frogs giving you warts, and he bravely photographed this Guttural Toad!

Guttural Toad

Guttural Toad

The Brunsvigia undulata, a rare threatened species, was found on Mbona and is a cousin to the more widely spread Brunsvigia radulosa or Candelabra flower.

Brunsvigia undulata 2

Brunsvigia undulata

Brunsvigia undulata 1

Brunsvigia undulata

Ringing at Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

Error correction: In the December 2014 Karkloof Sightings newsletter, we had incorrectly labelled this gorgeous Red-headed Quelea (photographed) as a “Red-headed Weaver”. Many thanks to Pam Nicol for pointing this out for us. We, Karin, Pat and Twané, will all need to go for an eye test!

Red-headed Quelea

Red-headed Quelea

Karin Nelson’s January ringing session produced 33 birds, with 8 re-trapped birds all ringed within the past 2 years, mostly African Reed-Warblers (7).  Karin read up on the Reed-Warblers and found that they spend their non-breeding time in drier vegetation, away from water. Some birds further north than KZN do move south.

At first glance, we had assumed one of the birds to be a Bronze Mannikin, however, it was too big and Karin had noticed a prominent gape. It turned out to be a ‘baby’ Pin-tailed Whydah. It was very interesting to see how similar it looked to the Mannikin.

Other birds ringed included:

  • 14 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 6 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 3 x Pin-tailed Whydah
  • 3 x Cape Weaver
  • 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds
  • 2 x Amethyst Sunbird.
  • 1 x Barn Swallow
  • 1 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 1 x Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

Our River, Our Responsibility

A small river which is entirely ours

…and therefore entirely our responsibility

- By Adrian Flett of Rosetta/Nottingham Road Conservancy

A small but significant tributary of the Mooi River rises in the hills to the west of Nottingham Road, flows eastwards and under the R103 at the edge of the village. It feeds an extensive wetland and flows north towards Rosetta, where it again passes under the R103 and is the source of Rosetta Dam before it joins the Mooi River. This makes it a contributor to water in Midmar Dam through the Mearns Transfer pipeline and therefore a source of water for Durban and Pietermaritzburg as well as several other smaller centres.

RNR 0

We have been told that years ago the local children caught fish in this small river, which we have heard referred to as Springvale Stream and for want of another name right now, we will use that name here.

Springvale Stream faces so many challenges and impacts in its relatively short journey to the Mooi, that it is difficult to imagine a worse situation for a rural river. And although many of us pass the stream at least once a week, we are so used to what has been happening over the years that we simply accept what has and is being done. The whole catchment of the river is within the boundaries of the RNR Conservancy and offers a great opportunity – and a great challenge.

RNR1

The less disturbed riparian areas along the river have so many flowers that it makes us wonder what the original little river with its wetlands must have been like: a real wild garden! There is not much we can do about some of the impacts but we can certainly take care of what we have left and it would be gross negligence not to do so. We hope to survey sections of the stream little by little to build up a picture of the biological diversity and we will be asking for specialist help for some of this work. But in the meantime we appeal to all the community to be aware of “Our River” and the activities along its course.

The wetland contains multiple flower species and deserves a formal survey.

The wetland contains multiple flower species and deserves a formal survey.

The main stream rises in hills partially covered in plantation forestry. When it reaches Nottingham Road and the R103 it has to contend with various industrial developments and we see that “platforms” are still being made for further development out into the wetland which has colonies of kniphofia and gladiolus (probably dalenii both bright orange and brown) . Have these developments all had the go-ahead from an Environmental Impact Assessment? Surely not! Has the stream reached the stage of being written off environmentally?

RNR3

The R103 itself has had an impact on the water flow into the river but the good news is that Shea O’Connor School is a WESSA Eco School and have taken the small tributary on their school grounds seriously. The railway line of course has had a huge impact on Springvale Stream and its wetlands. We cannot change the road or the railway line but we can monitor pollution along these and remove alien invasive plants like bramble.

The stream flows immediately below the rocks which form the bank on the R103 where a truck recently broke through the Armco barrier and had to be winched back to the road. The rock hyrax colony lives in these tumbled rocks.

The stream flows immediately below the rocks which form the bank on the R103. A truck recently broke through the Armco barrier and had to be winched back to the road. The rock hyrax colony lives in these tumbled rocks.

A new and very large impact on the Springvale Stream is the building of the Springrove Dam transfer pipeline. Again, this cannot be altered but some of the activities related to the pipeline require mitigation. An immediate example is the gravel platform at the entrance to Springvale Farm just off the R103 where this gravel is eroding into a wetland area filled with wild flowers and at least one “muti” plant, Gunnera perpensa.

springrove dam

Springrove dam

Along the middle section of the stream, conservation-based farming attitudes have ensured that reedbuck may frequently be seen from the R103 in the early mornings and evenings, especially towards sundown on cool evenings. This is very satisfying and is an example of how wildlife can be encouraged even when there are adverse conditions, such as a busy road and a noisy railway line in close proximity. The little colony of rock hyrax mentioned in Newsletter One is also on an edge of this farm and is further referred to in this newsletter, where Jan was able to save the life of a member of the colony.

RNR5

The presence of wildlife, birds and flowers are such positive factors that we are sure that great results can be won from the conservation of this stream system. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to boast of a botanical beauty spot on the Midlands Meander? We look forward to bringing you more news of and reports on Springvale Stream.