Holiday Fun in Dargle

Part of the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme is to encourage Conservancies to engage with the wider community in their area. N3TC agrees that building relationships and sharing knowledge is important so are funding the programme again this year.  Each Conservancy has the opportunity to arrange interesting hands on environmental activities with expert facilitation by the Midlands Meander Association Education Project (MMAEP) or the KZN Crane Foundation. dargle holiday club nxamalala 001 Dargle Conservancy used their portion of the funds to organise a Holiday Club at Nxamalala village on the Petrusstroom Road.  Gugu Zuma (MMAEP) ran it with enthusiasm and imagination!  She reports:

dargle holiday club nxamalala 006

The kids were so happy to be involved as it was the first time they had ever had a holiday club. Thobani Gumede said “It is the first holiday that I do something meaningful. Usually we just play soccer.” Nxalalala kids gather for holiday fun On Wednesday the focus was on Farming – comparing industrial and family farming and discussing the importance of healthy food. Everyone was surprised to learn that healthy food is that which you grow in your garden, rather than that you buy at the shop. dargle holiday club nxamalala 015 Most commercial vegetables have been sprayed with chemicals that are not good for your body. Now everyone is keen to make an organic garden to keep their families healthy and pass this message onto their friends. dargle holiday club nxamalala 014 On the second day we discussed the water cycle and water pollution before heading down the road to do a miniSASS test in the uMngeni River. Nxamalala kids head to the wetland We found some insects and worked out that the river was in Poor Condition which is not good for drinking. Mhloniswa Ncele was surprised “I always thought that moving water was clean.” 100_3055 We also explored the wetland. The kids knew a lot about wetlands from school lessons and have made a commitment to look after the wetland in Nxamalala. Sabelo Zuma found a frog “I always thought that frogs were dangerous, but now I am not afraid to touch and hold them.” Using candles and watercolours, everyone drew pictures of things they observed in the wetland. 100_3073 On Friday, we made mandalas using leaves and flowers that we picked around the houses. 100_3119 This was part of an Anger Management lesson. The basic principles being: expect the best, think before reacting, ask for a non-violent path, care for others and respect yourself. All these are transforming powers and I taught the children how to apply these in their own lives. We used these words when we created the mandala. The boys were so amazed to know that there was a way to solve a problem non-violently through good communication. 100_3090Conservancy members supplied sandwiches, juice and fruit each day. “They asked if we could please have a regular Enviro Club in Nxamalala.” concludes Gugu.

The Dargle Conservancy is seriously considering adding this to their regular environmental education programme, which this year includes wetland and forest excursions, snake presentations and permaculture workshops in Dargle, Lion’s River and Impendle schools. dargle holiday club nxamalala 037

Collecting a Collection

The motley Midlands CREW were warmly welcomed to Lion’s Bush by Gina Brown with tea and polenta cake, coffee and fresh scones.

r CREW plant pressing 003The occasion was a Plant Collecting and Pressing Workshop facilitated by Christina Potgieter of the Bews Herbarium at UKZN. CREW is the acronym of Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers – volunteers who help SANBI collect data on special plants around the country.

A diverse group including 16 year old school boys and 60 year old midlands ladies gathered to learn how to press plant specimens properly.r CREW plant pressing 014

We were fascinated to learn from Christina that there are 150 000 plant specimens in the Bews Hebarium, some over 100 years old. “Even 300 year old specimens from other Herbaria are still used. They preserve the information about the plants forever and help make decisions about our environment.”

r CREW plant pressing 039
After an introduction on how to correctly collect, press and label, we headed into the sunshine to collect plants.

r CREW plant pressing 021

Everyone had a different favourite and there was much discussion about different species.
Fisokuhle Mthiyane chose plumbago, known as umuthi wamadoda in Zulu. It is best to collect plants when they are in flower as this makes them much easier to identify.r CREW plant pressing 027

Christina demonstrated how to prepare difficult fat bulbs by cutting them into slices, how to scrape out much of the flesh of aloes, and the importance of using a solvent first when the leaves have a waxy coating. We must have looked unconvinced, as she said “You’ll be amazed at how quickly a thick stem will dry.”

r CREW plant pressing 018

We got stuck in to filling out our labels with all the necessary details: The name of the plant; the location – GPS and a description; the habitat; the growth habit of the plant, including the colour, height, growth form, bark etc; the date collected, the Collectors name and Collection number.r CREW plant pressing 007

We poured over Pooley’s ‘Wildflowers of KZN’ to identify all the different specimens, learning new names and interesting facts as we shared our knowledge.

r CREW plant pressing 049

Lungelo Malinga chose an Arum – Zantedeschia sp. Zulu name intebe.

r CREW plant pressing 023The fleshy seed head had to be cut in half and the long stems folded to fit the size of the specimen sheet.

r CREW plant pressing 035

While they are certainly nice to have, we learnt that it is not necessary to have smart presses and special blotting paper. A braai grid with cut up beer boxes and sheets of newspaper will actually do fine.

r CREW plant pressing 000

Other useful tips were: Don’t get rid of all the soil on the roots or burnt and chewed leaves – these give clues about pollinators, climatic conditions and events which may be useful in future.
The most important thing is to change the newspaper every few days while the plant dries to get rid of excess moisture and prevent mould forming.

r CREW plant pressing 008

Members of the SANBI Millennium Seed Project came up from Pietermaritzburg especially. “We enjoyed ourselves, learned a lot and we are inspired to do collections. We look forward to joining more CREW fieldtrips.” said Dineo Dibakwane

r CREW plant pressing 010
The Grade 10 learners from Shea O’Connor School took the large press with all their specimens back to school. Sbongokhule Sithole was really excited. “We are going to collect and press all the plants in the wetland at our school because the wetland is our project for Eco-Schools this year.” Their Life Sciences teacher, Antonia Mkhabela, reported that they were so excited telling her about the day, all speaking at once. “The enjoyment was written on their faces. They feel like stars because they have learnt something which no one else at school knows about. Tomorrow they will be planting all the indigenous plants they were given and have reminded me to bring extra newspapers so they can do more pressing!”

Gina said afterwards “I learnt so much and feel really inspired to get going with some collecting now.” 

r CREW plant pressing 009

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – March 2014

Nigel Anderson – Lane’s End Farm

14 March – The Crowned Cranes seem to like the flooding as there is a flock of at least 20 adjacent to Lanes End Farm today.


Flooding this month on the farm:

lanes end flood

at least the ducks are happy.

happy ducks

David Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)

Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)


Leonotis leonurus, also known as lion’s tail and wild dagga, is part of the Lamiaceae family.

leonotis leonaurus

Ed’s note: Common names: Wild Dagga (E), Wildedagga, Duiwelstabak (Afr), mvovo (X), utshwala-bezinyoni (Z) Derivation of Name : Leonotis = from the Greek leon meaning lion and otis meaning ear, alluding to the resemblance of the corolla to a lion’s ear. leonurus = lion-coloured. Leonotis has become an invasive plant in Australia.

Andrew Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm

Spotted 3 Wattled Cranes (Bugeranus carunculatus – Conservation Status Vulnerable) near some pine trees on the farm. Caught a Rhombic Night Adder, which David Crookes photographed and Pat McKrill confirmed as a female (look at the short tale) Rhombic Night Adder because of the repeating rhomboid pattern that runs along the dorsal area from head to tail (see pic above).

Robin Fowler – Corrie Lynn Farm

Had a Black-backed Jackal trying to get into my sheep just outside my garden gate! It’s now been fenced out…  Captured with the Dargle Conservancy Trail Camera.

jackal 1

jackal 2

jackal 3


Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

I seem to be consistantly capturing locusts or grasshoppers every month, here’s a very large brown one that was on the garden paving stones.

brown grasshopper

Mike Weeden – Hopedale

Spotted this unusual bird on the lawn the other day. It had the shape of a Myna but was pure white. Anyone know what it is?


Thanks to Hugh Bulcock who provided this information: “This is an Olive Thrush with Leucism”. Wikipedia provides this information: “Leucism is a condition in animals characterized by reduced pigmentation. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin. A further difference between albinism and leucism is in eye colour. Due to the lack of melanin production in both the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and iris, albinos typically have red eyes due to the underlying blood vessels showing through. In contrast, most leucistic animals have normally coloured eyes.”

Rose and Barry Downard

Lots of butterfly activity this month, including African Monarch, Green-banded Swallowtails, Acara and Garden Acraeas, Gaudy Commodores, Common Diadems and masses of tiny Thorn-tree Blue butterflies. There have also been lots of caterpillars, cocoons and pupae.  Green-banded Swallowtail (Papilio nireus lyaeus),


Acraea acara acara (male),


and a female Garden Acraea (Acraea horta) newly emerged from its pupal stage.


Flocks of swallows have been busily feeding in the surrounding fields, particularly at sunset, in preparation for their migration. Also seen: Guinea fowls with their young, Step Buzzard, Herons, Gymnogene. Heard: Burchell’s Coucal.

Other: Dwarf Chameleon, skinks, Natal green snake. A large Red-lipped Herald was discovered in our kitchen one evening and relocated.

Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm – Lidgetton

We saw a serval running down the D18 at 9 o’clock one morning. Two porcupine running up our driveway one evening – a large and  smaller one.  Not sure if mom and dad or mom and youngster. Seen Jackal and steppe buzzards, White Stork which now seem to have flown off.

white stork

We have been inundated with black snakes on our veranda which feed on moths and frogs. The dogs killed a large one (1.5 metres) in the garage one night.

black snake

Response from Pat McKrill: “The snake is a Herald snake – Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia (it sometimes has a red or orange upper lip). The body colour is anything from olive to dark grey, almost black and it sometimes has a white fleck pattern on the back. The head is always darker than the body – as you can see in the picture – and the underside of the snake is usually a creamy white colour.

It is a venomous rear-fanged snake, but the venom is of little consequence to man or beast. Heralds mainly eat frogs, and this is probably why you thought that they ate moths – maybe the frog was eating one when it got eaten by the snake! A classic food chain – the light attracts the insects which attract the frogs which attract the snakes – which attract your dog.

Heralds display lots of ‘attitude’ when first encountered, with lots of striking out from a defensive ‘S’ shape, with the head flattened like an adder (hence its Afrikaans nickname, Swart Adder). A lovely garden snake that calms down quite quickly and quietly goes about its business of keeping the frogs honest. They grow up to about 7- 800mm in length.”

grey crowned crane nguni cow

Grey Crowned Crown with Nguni Cow


On the 22nd March I saw our three and half month old Blue Crane flying for the first time.  He flew around the dam for about a minute with his parents looking on.  Since then have seen him running up and down the edge of the dam and hopping up and down.  He is such a big “boy” now.

juv blue crane flying

reedbuck and blue crane

The highlight of our month was seeing an unidentifiable white “buzzard/eagle” sitting on a rock, on the farm on 24th March.  Rushed home and grabbed the bird book but had little success with identification.  I phoned Barend Booysen as I thought it might be a juvenile Crowned Eagle but he said they did not have Crowned Eagle babies this season.  Nikki sent photos off to Shane McPherson (Crowned Eagle Research Project) who said “definitely not a Crowned Eagle but could be a Steppe Buzzard.”  I was sure it wasn’t, so sent photos to Eve Hughes who kindly forwarded them to David Allan, Curator of Birds at the Durban Natural Science Museum.  He identified the bird as a Honey Buzzard which apparently is a rare siting in this area.  We are just awaiting some other experts opinions to confirm this but David seems very sure that its a Honey Buzzard.  So we are very excited about this siting.  We saw him on 2 consecutive days and since then he has disappeared.

honey buzzard

6 Pied Starlings appeared on the lawn one morning after a big storm the night before when we had hundreds of moths hitting the windows and coming beneath the doors.  They were all over the lawn the next morning and the birds were having a feast.  The one starling was actually picking up moths and pushing them into youngsters beak.

pied starlings

Dozens of butterflies all over the place. I’m not very good at chasing them down. Some take a while to suck out the nectar while others never seem to stay still for a second.

Garden Commodore (Presis archesia archesia, summer or wet form)

Garden Commodore (Presis archesia archesia, summer or wet form)


Gaudy Commodore (Presis octavia sesamus, dry or winter form)

Gaudy Commodore (Presis octavia sesamus, dry or winter form)


vanessa cardui

Vanessa cardui (is a well-known colourful butterfly, known as the Painted Lady, or in North America as the Cosmopolitan)


Our wild hare has left us.  Strangely it was over the period while we were on holiday!

Our swallows still seem to be feeding young outside our study window.  The barn owls are still screeching each night.  The rock pigeons, chats, sparrows, wag tails and starlings still occupying our roof, gutters, chimney and verandah. The chats are making an awful mess on our verandah couches – they are very social birds. Have had a couple of sunbirds and swallows flying inside the house. Fortunately managed to save them from the cats and dogs.

malachite sunbird in eclipse

malachite sunbird in eclipse

Jean Cunniliffe - il Postino

Early one morning in late March, I noticed our little resident swallows and lots of others lining up on the power lines. I watched for ages as more and more gathered in a long stripe. They were fluttering and twittering as if to check “Is everyone here? Are you all ready?”. Then, as if there was a signal they all flew off at once in a v formation. It was absolutely wonderful to watch and I felt quite emotional saying goodbye to them.

Nikki Brighton Old Kilgobbin Farm

I adore autumn. Especially watching the grasslands change and forest canopy start to open up. Amongst the late flowers there are so many interesting seed heads

farm late summer seed head

This Brunsvigia has probably ‘tumbled’ away by now

farm brunsvigia seed pod

Berkheya multijuga is still flowering but this species (possibly speciosa) just has fluffy pompoms waving in the breeze

autumn seedhead

This month there have been masses of mushrooms popping up everywhere. Bright yellow cow boletus, tiny orange clusters and many more. This copper coloured one looked delicious, but I couldn’t identify it, so didn’t have it for breakfast. Anyone have an idea?

mushroom country life 003

I was sad to find this cuckoo dead on my veranda one afternoon. I could see the ‘feather print’ where it had flown into the window.

cuckoo 003



Ukubaluleka kwamaxhaphozi

Nkanyiso Ndlela is passionate about wetlands. He is the environmental education officer for the KZN Crane Foundation in Nottingham Road. In an effort to inspire others to care for this precious resource, he wrote this article.

Noma-ke amaxhaphozi edlala indima enkulu ezimpilweni zabantu, njengokuhlanza amanzi, ukusiza ekuvikeleni ukuguguleka kwenhlabathi, ukugcina amanzi, futhi aphinde abe ikhaya lezitshalo kanye nezilwane ezinhlobonhlobo ezithembele kuwo amaxhaphozi ukuphila, njenge nyoni ethathwa njenge nyoni yesizwe sase Ningizimu Africa, Indwa (blue crane) umdwebo wayo obonakala emalini yalapha eNingizimu Africa uzukwa (5cent), Izimpaphe zayo ezise sisileni ebezifakwa inkosi uShaka ekhanda njengophawu lokukhombisa ubukhosi. kodwa ukungawanakekeli nokuwasebenzisa ngendlela engafanelekile kusaqhubeka.

Blue Crane by Pat Cahill

Blue Crane by Pat Cahill

Amaxhaphozi angumthamo wempilo yokulawulwa kolwazi. Abesetshenziswa izigidi zeminyaka edlule, kudla kuwo imfuyo, njenge ndawo ekutholakala kuyo izitshalo ezinjengo uMhlanga (Phragmites australis), iNcema (Juncus kraussii), iMisi (Cyperus textillis), iKhwane (Cyperus latifolius), njalo njalo ukufulela izindlu, ukuluka kanye nokuthunga amacansi, obhasikidi.

r wetland - Nikki Brighton

Incema and other wetland plant species by Nikki Brighton

Aphinde abe indayo lapho kunga dotshwa khona kanye nendawo yokwenza ucwaningo lwemfundo. Ngaphandle kwamanzi impilo ngabe ayikho emhlabeni. Izitshalo, izilwane kanye nabantu badinga amanzi ukuze baphile futhi nokukhula. Iningizimu Africa ayisenawo amanzi ahlanzekile amaningi kanti amanzi amaningi asemihosheni kanye nasemifuleni angcolile.

r satyrium in wetland impendle 403

Satyrium halackii flower in Impendle wetland by Nikki Brighton

Imiphakathi iyanxuswa ukuba ibambisane nezinkampani ezilungisa ziphinde zinakekele amaxhaphozi ngokuwasebenzisa ngendlela efanele okanye ngendlela enenqubekela phambili. Izindlela-ke abantu abalimaza okanye abaphazamisa ngazo ukusebenza kwamaxhaphozi njenge ndawo eyimvelo ziningi kakhulu, njengokulahlwa kwa doti kuwo, ukutshala kuwo ngaphandle kokulandela imigomo nemi bandela, ukwakhiwa kwemigwaqo nama damu ngendlela engafanele, ukudlisa imfuyo nokushisa imililo ngendlela engafanele, ukwakhiwa kwenxanxathela yezitolo ezindaweni eziseduze kwamaxhaphozi ngaphandle kokulandela imigomo nemibandela, ukusetshenziswa kwezitshalo zasemaxhaphozini ngendlela edlulele okanye eyeqile.

Cattle and Blue Cranes by Sandra Merrick

Cattle and Blue Cranes by Sandra Merrick

Ucwaningo olusanda kuvezwa ngamaxhaphozi, adlala indima enkulu ekunciphiseni umoya ongcolile emhlabeni okanye emkhathini eyaziwa nge(carbon dioxide- CO2) kanye ne (methane-CH4) Ebangwa izimboni ezikhiqiza ugesi, ukusikwa kwezihlahla, ukushisa udoti, njalo njalo. Lokungcoliswa komhlaba okubangela ukufudumala komhlaba ngokungafanelekile okugcina kubangele ukushintshashitsha kwesimo sezulu ngokuthusayo nokunga jwayelekile okunomthelela omkhulu omubi ezimpilweni zabantu kanye nasezitshalweni. Amaxhaphozi-ke kuyavezwa ukuthi ayasiza kakhulu ekuvimbeni lemimoya engcolile iwugcine ngaphansi kuwo ngokwenvelo, uma engahlukumezekile okanye uma engaphazamisekile ukusebenza kwawo ngokwemvelo.

Ukuthola imininigwane enzulu ungaxhumana nalezi nkampani ezilandelayo:




Boston Wildlife Sightings – March 2014

Caroline McKerrow Stoney Hill one Bushbuck; one Duiker; two Common Reedbuck; one Vlei Rat; a Snake – presumed Boomslang?  This is a picture of snake inspecting the plumbing on outside of house.



Christeen Grant Sitamani I love this time of year when the heat of summer has abated; the weather settled to stunning days in golden sunshine and the mellowness of Autumn is creeping in. Many insects, including butterflies and moths, have been around. If anyone had been watching me stalk this tiny butterfly, about 25mm, over the lawn, they would have rolled around laughing! It did help though to post the photos on the Facebook group: Southern Africa Butterflies, Bugs, Bees and other small things, where Steve Woodhall gave me a possible ID: a female Common Zebra Blue, of the Leptotes genus; most likely to be Leptotes pirithous.

2014 03 Butterfly 01 Zebra Blue female

Zebra Blue female

Sharing, seeing and learning from a Facebook group is an unexpected pleasure. Excellent photos from all over Southern Africa are posted and friendly expert advice and ID’s offered, really quickly.

2014 03 Butterfly 02 Zebra Blue female Blue

Zebra Blue female Blue

Some of the other insect-life seen were: Grasshoppers;

2014 03 Insect 01



2014 03 Insect 02 Locust Heteracris

Locust Heteracris

a myriad of Beetles including some with amusing common names:

2014 03 Insect 03 Museum beetle

Museum beetle


2014 03 Insect 04 Stink bug

Stink bug


2014 03 Insect 05 Pleasing fungus beetle

Pleasing fungus beetle

and a fantastic diversity of fast moving Flies, one in particular of the Philoliche genus intrigued me!

2014 03 Insect 08 Fly Philoliche sp

Fly Philoliche sp

Three main flowers caught my eye, as they shone in numbers in the grassland: brilliant yellow swathes of Helichrysum cooperi;

2014 03 Plant 01 Helichrysum cooperi

Helichrysum cooperi

tall, graceful, Plectranthus calycinus;

2014 03 Plant 02 Plectranthus calycinus

Plectranthus calycinus

and the stunning, regal, Leonotis leonurus.

2014 03 Plant 03 Leonotis leonurus (1)

Leonotis leonurus

A variety of fungi appeared after rain, Boletus edulis growing under the Pin Oak avenue attracted Bush Pig, who literally ploughed up the earth in their eagerness to eat them!

2014 03 Fungi 01 Boletus edulis (1)

Boletus edulis

One early morning in half light I saw ‘big daddy’ Bush Pig sauntering off into the pine trees on Mount Shannon across from our gate, and on another morning driving out, really lovely sighting of the Caracal. Common Reed buck are round the house at night, resting on the hillside during the day. The Common Duiker love the Sweet Chestnuts that have fallen and can often be seen munching! Most evenings Black-backed Jackal call from the valley. An occasional visitor, the African Harrier-Hawk, swooped into the trees looking for fledglings. Dark-capped Bulbuls, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos, Hadeda Ibises, Grey-headed Canaries, Cape Sparrows, Cape Robin-Chats, Southern Black Tits, Amethyst Sunbirds, Lesser Striped Swallows, Black and Red-chested Cuckoos calling, Cape White-eyes, Red-winged Starlings, Black-shouldered Kites, Jackal Buzzards, Long-crested Eagles, Rock Kestrels, Steppe Buzzards and Grey Herons, Wailing Cisticolas, Speckled Mousebirds, and Spotted Eagle Owls hooting to each other in the early morning and evenings.


Black-shouldered-Kite by Crystelle Wilson

Rob and Celia Spiers – The Rockeries  2 young Berg Adders and a young Green House Snake run over in the driveway. Cape Parrots in the Pecan Nut trees David and Barbara Clulow during a visit to Boston on 30 March; Spur-winged Geese; Red-eyed Dove; Common Fiscal; Barn Swallows, feeding and perching.  During a visit to Boston for four days from 13 March to 16 March: Grey Crowned Cranes with chicks at “The Willows; “Elandsvlei”; “Melrose” Crystelle Wilson Gramarye There are three Grey Crowned Crane families raising chicks that I came across this month. Apart from the one surviving chick (out of three hatchlings) at The Willows

Grey-Crowned-Crane_5140_The Willows

Grey-Crowned-Crane The Willows

there are two juveniles at Melrose Dam

Boston_4884_Grey-Crowned-Crane_Melrose Dam

Grey-Crowned-Crane_Melrose Dam

and next door at the dam at Boston Tea Party there is a youngster of a few weeks old.

Boston_4905__Grey-Crowned-Crane_Boston T-Party dam

Grey-Crowned-Crane_Boston T-Party dam

On the way to Howick one day I was very pleased to see a Martial Eagle near the Base Camp (Four Trees) site. This month we also said goodbye to migrants such as Barn Swallows, Amur Falcons,


Amur-Falcon female

White Storks and Steppe Buzzards.


Steppe-Buzzard imm

Fork-tailed Drongo, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape Sparrow, Southern Greyheaded Sparrow, Cape White-eye, Cape Turtle Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Common Fiscal, African Stonechat, Black Saw-wing, Southern Red Bishop, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Crow, Zitting Cisticola, House Sparrow, Le Vaillant’s Cisticola, Hadeda Ibis, Cape Wagtail, Cape Longclaw, White-throated Swallow, Barn Swallow, White Stork, Black-headed Heron, Cape Grassbird, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Yellow-billed Duck,



Little Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Blacksmith Lapwing,



Sombre Greenbul,



Bokmakierie, Cape Weaver, Malachite Sunbird, Speckled Mousebird, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Steppe Buzzard, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Common Waxbill, Red-collared Widowbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Greater Striped-Swallow, Cape Robin-Chat, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Little Rush-Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Barn Owl, Giant Kingfisher, Pin-tailed Whydah, African Reed-Warbler, Grey Crowned Crane, Red-necked Spurfowl, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Dideric Cuckoo, African Rail, Pied Starling, Pied Crow, Brown-throated Martin, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Yellow-fronted Canary, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Amur Falcon, Long-crested Eagle, Hamerkop, Spur-winged Goose, Pied Kingfisher, African Hoopoe, Long-tailed Widowbird, South African Shelduck, African Dusky Flycatcher, African Sacred Ibis, Southern Boubou, Thick-billed Weaver, Yellow-billed Kite, Cape Glossy Starling,



African Olive-Pigeon,

Boston_5292_African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

Jackal Buzzard, Yellow Bishop, Forest Canary, Southern Double-collared Sunbird,



Speckled Pigeon, Terrestrial Brownbul. Flight of 32 Grey Crowned Cranes on 21 March.

2014 March Grey Crowned Crane (2)

Grey Crowned Cranes in flight

Duzi at its Dirtiest

This article written by NIYANTA SINGH appeared in The Witness recently:

The current water quality in the Duzi River is at its worst ever.  Environmentalists have raised alarm bells saying “it has been one of the worst summers for water quality”, with a peak in poor quality over the past six months, and are laying the blame squarely at the door of the Msunduzi Municipality, accusing them of neglecting the sewer maintenance section in terms of resources and management time.

camp's drift on Duzi

Previous newspaper reports indicated that the municipality had recorded four burst pipes per day, 520 mainline blockages and an ageing asbestos cement pipeline.

The last test done by the Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) on March 18 shows alarming figures of E. coli contamination, which is indicative of faecal content in the water and results in severe illness including diarrhoea, kidney failure, abdominal cramping and death. In the Baynespruit River near Greytown Road and Sobantu, the contamination rate of E.coli was a shocking 241 920 per 100 millilitres of water on March 18. Last month, during the Dusi canoe race, the figures for those areas ranged from 6 500/100ml to 14 210/100ml. According to DUCT’s guide, any E. coli contamination greater than 50 000/100ml is a severe contamination and one in three people or canoeists may get sick. The current contamination levels exceed this level more than four times.

Duzi Walk 1 6-10-2012 (45)

DUCT’s Dave Still said any E. coli contamination of 10 000/100ml is considered indicative of fairly significant pollution.  The only acceptable value for drinking water quality, he said, was zero E. coli contamination per 100mls.   No naturally occurring surface water, however, could be expected to have this low level of E Coli contamination. If it does, he said, disinfectants would have been added to the water.

Still said while E. coli data could be hard to interpret as it was extremely variable in time and space, the readings were always higher after rain.  This is partly due to spilling sewers and partly due to wash-off of surface faecal contamination. The last month has been pretty horrible, quality wise, but then it has been quite wet,” added Still. The worrying factor, for him, however, was the long term trend from 1998 to 2013.   This graph shows a score, a single number, for each year, and that score is the number of sites above 10 000 E. coli/100ml each week on average. You want this to be low, not high. As you can see from the graph, the trend is not good,” said Still.

Duzi Walk 1 6-10-2012 (36)

Judy Bell, also an environmentalist, said in addition to changes in the natural infrastructure, which was under huge strain because of growing property developments, the sewer maintenance section was badly neglected in terms of resources and management time.

Another environmentalist who did not want to be named said he did not think it was only failing infrastructure that contributed to the poor water quality.  “I don’t think it’s a question of failing infrastructure. Yes, some of the infrastructure does need upgrading, but that cannot explain a move in the index from 3,3 to 6,4 from 2010 to 2012. It might be a malaise that dates from the time the city went bankrupt, as the team was about to get some much needed equipment but then never got it,” said the source.

Still said in addition to the poor water quality threatening major water sports events, sewage pollution in the Duzi was causing a phosphate build-up in Inanda Dam, which in turn was causing algal blooms.

Mayday 23 582

Dr Mark Graham, also a DUCT Director and one of South Africa’s most highly respected river health scientists said the blue green algae, already seen covering the Inanda Dam this year during the Dusi canoe race, was more insidious and difficult to treat than water hyacinth. “Some of the paddlers would have noticed a unique smell coming up the valley … This was geosmin — a by product of the microcystis algal blooms and a potent taste and odour forming compound which costs huge amounts to treat in potable water. With more nutrient enrichment it will become more prevalent within the dam main basin and could eventually affect water treatment plants in Durban,” said Dr Graham. This algae, he said, had another by-product which was even worse than the taste and odour issue — a group of compounds known as E. coli. “It is highly toxic, particularly if ingested and in sufficiently large quantities. This is a great concern for most water supply companies in the world today as nutrient enrichment increases in most water supply dams,” said Graham.

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A DUCT team explored parts of the uMsunduzi river last year. Read about it here:



Winterskloof Gets Wet

Autumn is in the air.  We gathered on a beautiful, sunny, ‘freshly washed’ Sunday morning recently to enjoy the first of the Winterskloof Conservancy Water Workshop series.


Judy Bell writes:

Penny Rees of DUCT (Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust) and Mngeni River Source to Sea Walk fame began the workshop at Cowan House with a discussion about the need to look after our catchments in KwaZulu-Natal.

Our Valley is the watershed for the Dorpspruit, which feeds into the Msunduzi and then into the uMngeni River.  As you can see in the diagram below, the sources of about 12 streams are located right here in our Valley (shaded area) and our properties.  Hence the importance of us all becoming river custodians.

dorpsruit tributaries

Conservancies and communities along the uMgeni River and various catchments are forming partnerships with DUCT to assist in monitoring and protecting the rivers and their catchments in an effort to release more water of good quality into the system.  These workshops held in the Midlands Conservancies are educating communities to monitor rivers in a practical and easy way, so that we can all take action to improve the situation.  A grant from the N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) to the Midlands Conservancies Forum has enabled Penny Rees to run these workshops for the 14 Conservancies that make up the Forum.

The more people who learn to do these easy river health assessments, the more monitoring results will be available for the streams flowing through our properties and neighbourhood.  If we continue to record the results, we will be able to trend the quality with time.


Penny explained some fast-flowing facts about our water:

  • The uMngeni River arises in the uMngeni Vlei (Nottingham Road area) and flows to Midmar Dam (our drinking water supply) through intensively farmed areas – mainly dairy and pigs, with pollution from fertilizers, effluents and manure slurries, discharging into it.  It is also affected by raw sewage from blocked sewers, especially from the Mthinzima Stream, a tributary arising from the hills above Mpophomeni and flowing into Midmar.  Below the Dam, the river becomes heavily polluted in places as it flows through Howick, affected by contaminated stormwater, litter, raw and treated sewage.  The effluent from the Howick Wastewater Treatment Works flows over the edge of the krantz before the Howick Falls, into the Umgeni Nature Reserve.
  • The river is infested in many places with invasive alien plants such as bramble, bugweed, black wattle (Acacia mearnisii).  This is an invasive native to Australia, which grows unchecked in thickets, with no undergrowth to protect the bare soil, which then erodes easily.  The river previously meandered through grasslands, but with shading by the invasive wattle trees has changed the temperature and pH of the water, which encourages the growth of unhealthy micro-organisms and other plant life, affecting the river’s health.
  • Soil erosion, litter from illegal dumping and storm water drains, treated and untreated effluent all contribute to the deterioration in the health of the river as it makes its way to the sea.
  • Over one thousand million litres of water are abstracted from the uMngeni daily for domestic, agricultural and industrial consumption.  This is not sufficient to meet the increasing demand, which has led to the development of the Spring Grove Dam and Mearns Weir projects in the Midlands, transferring water from the Mooi to the uMngeni River.
  • Water is pumped at great cost from one catchment to another (e.g. Thukela-Vaal) to augment supplies.
  • Only appropriate developments should be allowed near sensitive wetlands and grasslands, which are often viewed as ‘idle land’, when in fact they are performing a life-saving role as water factories and cleaning agents.
  • eThekwini Municipality is currently spending around R1 million each month to clean uMngeni Water to drinking water quality standards and is now working with Msunduzi and uMgungungdlovu Municipalities to invest in the ecological or natural infrastructure that will help increase flows of good quality water into our dams – the wetlands, grasslands, forests in the upper catchments.  This is why the Midlands, with its ‘water factories’, is so important.
  • The River Walks that DUCT undertakes has shown that rivers can ‘heal’ themselves if there is sufficient space between the damaged areas (pollution and invasive alien plant infestations).   In the Cumberland Nature Reserve, this was shown to be a 10 km stretch without pollution, development or alien plant infestations.
  • Monitoring and knowledge of the health of rivers has become a priority, which is why the miniSASS river health assessments (Stream Assessment Scoring System) were introduced, to help citizens join the programme and learn about the water quality in their communities.

Water Quality Monitoring – No High-Tech Equipment needed!

The beauty of this testing system lies in its simplicity.  Anyone can learn how to collect a miniSASS sample on a river or stream, and determine the water quality and health of water resource.  It involves catching and identifying the number and types of macro-invertebrates (small animals) or “nunus” which live in the water.  These are barometers (indicators) of the general river health and water quality. Equipment consists of enthusiastic samplers of all ages using various plastic containers (yoghurt or margarine tubs) with mosquito gauze on top, children’s beach fishing nets and pot plant drip trays for the catch, as well as the miniSASS score card and invertebrate identification booklet.

Sampling the stream 16Mar2014

The group moved down to the Doreen Clark Nature Reserve, just below St Michael’s Road to do a miniSASS on the stream flowing through the reserve.  This stream flows throughout the year through the mist-belt forest, but picks up the run-off from the road and houses upstream, so is not expected to be in “pristine” state.  Under Penny’s guidance, the group quickly collected specimens from the stream amidst lots of ‘oohs, ahhs’ and muddied feet.


The “catch” was compared with the photographs and placed into groups.  The scores allocated to the different types of organisms was tallied and then divided by the number of groups to which they belonged.  Some organisms carried a higher score, as they are only present in “clean” water.  The stream scored 6.8 which is a rating of fair to good on the miniSASS scale (see Scoring Box below).

winterskloof mini sass score

We hope to involve the schools in the area to develop custodianship of the rivers and streams, to help with regular monitoring of the Valley’s streams’ health and water quality.  The website has further details on testing, identification of the nunus, scoring and registration of the stream as well as a map, geographic coordinates and locations of the river or stream and how to submit test results which should be carried out with a minimum of 6 week intervals to allow the sample site to recover.


Penny said she thoroughly enjoyed herself and that it was great to see how the younger members got so involved!

SASS – Ecological Category (Condition) Interpretation Score

  • Unmodified (NATURAL)                                                >7.9
  • Largely natural / few modifications (GOOD)       6.8 – 7.9
  • Moderately modified (FAIR condition)                  6.1- 6.8
  • Largely modified (POOR condition)                            5.1 – 6.1
  • Seriously / critically modified (VERY POOR condition)    <5.1

Thanks to all those who joined us for the Workshop, to Cowan House for hosting us, Penny Rees for enlightening us, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and N3TC for funding the Workshop and for those who joined us.  Winterskloof will have another water workshop later in the year in Spring, so watch out for this.  Balgowan Conservancy will host one on 27 April in the Mpofana River.

For more information, check out the DUCT uMngeni River Walk miniSASS and miniSASS websites.