Finally the Falls!

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On Day 5 of the Catchment to Confluence Karkloof River Walk the team was thrilled to be joined by 2 fresh pairs of legs, Mbuso Khambule (new SAPPI Environmental Officer) and Mondli Goba (SAPPI Communications Officer), just in time to pass through some of the SAPPI Shafton plantation areas on the Karkloof floodplain.

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Team setting off. From Left: Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger), Mondli Goba (Sappi), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth) and the photographer behind the camera is Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Our destination for the day was the Karkloof Falls, starting at the pumphouse on Gartmore farm, which as the crow flies did not seem all that far. But we now knew by experience that following the meanders of a river over rough terrain or tall vegetation where there is no path is not likely to be a walk in the park.

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Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA) pushing through the tall vegetation in the wetland

As we pushed through the wetland, we stopped to gaze at the distant Karkloof mountains, home to the river’s source where we had come from 5 days earlier, feeling pleased with the distance we had conquered so far.

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The team felt a sense of pride as we gazed upon the distant mountain

We were excited to see 2 Grey Crowned Cranes fly over us, with their characteristic “mahem” call, en route to one of the bird hides at the Karkloof Conservation Centre. What would Karkloof be without its treasured cranes? We had been treated to sightings of a number of cranes on the previous days as well. In total 11 Grey Crowned Cranes were seen and 4 Wattled Cranes. And it was only fitting that most of these cranes were spotted on farms belonging to “Crane Custodians”.

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Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy) excited to see these custodianship signs.

Custodians are landowners who are formally recognised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for their voluntary contribution to the conservation of threatened species on their farms, such as crane, oribi or blue swallows. (Download “Guidelines for Custodianship in SA” here)

By tea time, we had traversed the Shafton wetland and reached the Karkloof River bridge which crosses over the road to Cramond.

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Karkloof River bridge along the Cramond road. From left: Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA), Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Mondli Goba (Sappi)

Mbuso reminded us of the extent of SAPPI plantations that had been removed from the Shafton wetland a number of years ago and allowed to rehabilitate back to natural vegetation – some 186 ha were not replanted due to the existence of this important wetland system.

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Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

The next section of the river was slow moving, noticeably poorer in water quality and showed signs of being at the bottom of the valley’s catchment area, which ultimately receives all the nutrient rich runoff from the various activities along the way. The water colour had changed to a more murky greenish colour, there was a type of sludge on the rocks, in some quieter corners, traces of foam was seen on the surface and the sewage weed could be seen in many places along the river’s edge.

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At the first set of large, impressive rocks above the falls, we did a Mini-SASS test, which showed the water was “critically modified”, confirming our impressions that the river’s quality was now compromised. At this site, a dead bushbuck was found between the large rocks, leaving us wondering what happened here. It looks like it lost its footing while trying to have a drink.

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Doing a miniSASS before heading off on the last section to the Karkloof Falls

The condition of riverine buffer along this last stretch was also compromised due to high levels of alien invasive vegetation (such as the big clump of bamboo shown below, poplar saplings, elderflower and all the other commonly seen invasives we had seen higher up in the catchment). Pastures were unfortunately established very close to the river, and therefore without a wide section of natural vegetation to act as buffer and filter for the runoff, the river is all the more impacted.

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A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

Having followed every twist and turn of the river now for 5 days, we felt a certain sadness at the deterioration of the river’s health. However, the sight of the picnic site for the Karkloof falls picked up our spirits. Destination at last! Hooray for being able to pull off our boots and take a break in the shade! Here we were spoilt with orange ice-lollies by our videographer, Jayne Symes, who is putting a video clip together of the river walk. What a welcome gift! Thank you Jane!

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Jane Symes (Black & White Studios) was our hero that day. These ice cold treats were welcomed after a day of scorching heat and little shade.

While catching our breath over lunch, we chatted at length about the problem of litter at a public picnic site like this, and how increasingly popular the Karkloof Falls had become. Would new signage saying “litter free zone” and removing the dustbins help to change people’s behaviour so that all rubbish is taken away by visitors?

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Karkloof Falls picnic site along the river could be the perfect setting for a litter free zone

There was just 1 section left to walk down to the actual Karkloof falls viewing point and lower picnic site, our end point for the day. We said “bye for now” to the river, with the very last leg of the river’s journey to be continued the following Thursday, 6th April. A team photo in front of the falls was a fitting way to exclaim “WE MADE IT!”.

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We made it! The Karkloof River Walk team have reached the Karkloof falls

A Winding Watercourse

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After difficult and long days, Day 4 promised to be less strenuous as the team were now truly in the Karkloof floodplain, where the terrain was more open and the river starts its characteristic meanders.

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With Sue Viljoen (WWF) unable to join us for day 4, Simon Bruton of GroundTruth stepped in as a substitute for the day.

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Day 4’s river walk team. From left: Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Simon Bruton (GroundTruth), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), and Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger)

Given the open terrain, by tea time we could see in the far distance the start of a line of trees, the end of which marked our finish point for the day. However, we knew there was still much walking ahead, given the many meanders, oxbow lakes and fences we would still need to navigate.

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On the floodplain cattle became a common sight, along with some of the impacts and risks they can introduce in proximity to watercourses. Eroded cattle crossings, drinking and feeding points (with associated cattle dung and trampling) contributed to water which showed gradual but increasing visual signs of change such as cloudiness, froth and abundant growth of nuisance vegetation, possibly thriving on an increased nutrient load. It will be interesting to see if the laboratory water quality analysis sponsored by Talbot & Talbot confirm the visual observations.

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Sewerage plant along with other signs of deteriorating water quality

Days 3 and 4 were the days of fence crossings. Given the fatigue setting in, humour was found in the different ways each of us may tackle a fence in the least strenuous manner, given our different loads and skills. Some would prefer to vault over and leave pack and kit intact, while others would disrobe all kit, squeeze through and kit up again.

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Ayanda negotiating yet another fence

Given the many meanders and fences, a tree trunk footbridge was a welcome but tricky crossing to negotiate.

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Negotiating the log bridge

Twané showing the muscle required of a river walker.

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After lunch we made a poor call on which side of the river to take, ultimately resulting in the need for a detour around a large mosaic of impenetrable wetland vegetation, which separated us from the river for some distance. Once re-united, water quality samples were again collected.

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At the tar road bridge over the Karkloof River, illegal and irresponsible dumping of waste tar material into the river was noted, posing a significant constriction to flow, and perhaps even affecting flood risk to the bridge, with one of the two culverts effectively barricaded.

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Waste tar material dumped off the Karkloof tar road bridge, introducing river impacts and potential flood risk

In the early afternoon Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea, was again found for the first time since the headwater sections. Numerous alien plants still made their presence felt (particularly bramble and bugweed), but not in the same densities that had been experienced on day 3. Having said that, some large isolated patches of bramble required some cautious retreat and detour.

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Nduduzo taking a water clarity reading at one of the last water quality sites of the day.

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As dusk approached and each camp fence was crossed, the team were joined by relays of inquisitive river walkers who call this beautiful area home.

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Bushwillows, Bushbuck and Bushwhacking

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on Tuesday 28 March, as we reached our drop off point for day 3, courtesy of C. MacGillivray’s Karkloof Taxi Services, Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA) remarked that she was in need of a double espresso and a red bull. Yip, the typical day 3 stiffness had set in, and our bodies were yelling for more sleep and wondering why on earth we had volunteered to walk from dawn to dusk through some rather difficult terrain. Once we were on our way, with the morning mist rising and the river looking really beautiful, we soon forgot our morning blues.

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The Karkloof river, our source of inspiration

A hidden gem was waiting for us a few river bends later. Grassy river banks suddenly gave way to a small pocket of riverine forest and invited us in to explore. If we did not have at least another 10km to conquer that day, we would have loved to linger under that quiet, shady tree canopy created by some impressively tall forest trees, including Sue’s new favourite – The Forest Bushwillow (Combretum kraussii).

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Close-up of the Forest Bushwillow

We wondered how old this particular bushwillow was – maybe a good 50 to 90 years?

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Standing under the impressive Bushwillow

However the fantastical forest patches were soon forgotten when we saw the sad sight of green algae in a slow moving section of the river, a sure sign of nutrient enrichment.

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Green algae – a sign of nutrient enrichment

When we stopped at the next suitable place to take water quality samples, the mini-SASS result reflected a decline in river health.

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A sample to test for E. coli, nitrates and phosphates was definitely in order.

From this point on, the condition of the river bank vegetation also declined considerably with a proliferation of alien invasive vegetation, particularly bramble, which required frequent bushwhacking and made walking close to the river very difficult. We had to take a number of detours around or through plantations and lost sight of the river for a fair distance, often due to a hedge-like wall of bramble that separated us from the river.

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Wall of Bramble separating us from the river

We also came across 2 large areas of erosion on exposed, steep river banks.

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Riverbank erosion causes increased sediment deposit in rivers during rainy and stormy weather which leads to the silting up of rivers and dams.

While gazing at the extent of the erosion, a bushbuck suddenly bolted out and made a quick disappearance again. What a treat to see one of these shy antelope! Another boost to our spirits was coming across a few more forest patches with giant-size Bushwillows, Cape Chestnuts and Cabbage Trees.

Three noteworthy sightings from today can adequately be summed up as – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

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The Good – Beloved Bushwillows

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The Bad – Formosa Lilies (Lilium formosanum) an emerging weed, which despite its aesthetic appeal is spreading rampantly.

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The Ugly – Bulldozer activity, altering the river banks and clearing vegetation. Such disturbance is likely to attract more invasive weeds.

When we finally got back to the river’s edge and put some of the more difficult terrain behind us, we came to one of the five fixed sampling points where water quality and river flow is sampled weekly by GroundTruth. This is part of a river monitoring project for the Karkloof Irrigation Board, funded by WWF-SA, along the Karkloof and Kusane Rivers. We were encouraged to find a stonefly at this site, doing a fine display of “push-ups” for us, whereby it pushes its body up and down with its legs which is one of the distinguishing features of stoneflies compared to other aquatic invertebrates.

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Our “bodybuilder”, the Stonefly which was doing push-ups for us.

Seeing time fly by, we had to press on to try reach the pick up point before dusk. A new landscape lay before us of beef grazing peacefully on rolling hillsides, maize lands and lush dairy pastures. The change in land use was also coupled with a change in river characteristics, as the river flow slowed down over flatter floodplain terrain, and began to meander more and more.

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After a long day, seeing our trusty steed comes into view (a certain white Prado) was truly a welcome sight – and one which deserved a silly photo to celebrate!

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SAPPI Saunter

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On Monday, 27 March the eager walkers were greeted with a clear sky for Day 2 of the Karkloof Catchment to Confluence River Walk. We were thrilled to have Hlengiwe Ndlovu, an environmentalist for Sappi, join us for the day and share her expertise and knowledge with our team for this vitally important project.

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Day 2 River Walkers. From Left: Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA), Hlengiwe Ndlovu (SAPPI), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Nduduzo Khoza (EWT) and Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth)

The team were dropped off at the same point that we ended at on the previous day and started a new Riparian Health Audit (RHA) to measure the quality of the upcoming river stretch. A miniSASS study along with water chemistry tests were also conducted.

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Testing water clarity

The journey along this first RHA section yielded a “Fair” result, which had been the lowest score we’d gotten since the source of the Karkloof river. We anticipated that the results would show a decrease in river health, as we had come across the first sign of humans since starting on our walk.

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Signs of human life (a rare sight since Day 1’s walk)

Hlengiwe was enthusiastic about the River walk: “I think the project will provide valuable “point information” of where/what impacts occur along the river for the landowners to enable targeted action. It will also be worthy in providing positive feedback to landowners who’ve completed good rehabilitation interventions.

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Hlengiwe Ndlovu (SAPPI) was thrilled to walk along the Karkloof River with us.

This RHA area was badly infested with Wattle and Bramble; there were signs of litter and small scale dumping; and Ayanda Lipheyana of GroundTruth pointed out the “Sewerage plant” which grows along river banks where there is a high nutrient load in the water. This warranted a sample to be taken for E. coli, Nitrate and Phosphate tests to be done. These samples are sent daily to Talbot and Talbot who have kindly donated their time, equipment and expertise for this project.

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A portion of the Bramble infestation.

We soon entered Plantation territory, where the team were treated to interesting stories from Hlengiwe about the challenges they face when planning Invasive Alien Plant control within the plantation areas.

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This walk has inspired some valuable discussions while sharing thoughts and ideas.

The team were impressed with the progress that has been made by SAPPI in the stretch we were walking for the day.

 

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Appreciating the healthy looking riparian zone between the two plantations.

The riparian zones were looking healthy and we had an easy walk through the grasslands, appreciating the lack of bramble hooking onto our clothes and skin.

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The team enjoying a bramble-free walk

Hlengiwe pointed out the Bracken in a few areas, telling us about the nightmare in trying to control this pioneer species. This plant is a common sight in the KZN Midlands, turning a beautiful golden brown colour in the autumn. There was a consensus in the discussions between the team that the most effective way in controlling the spread of this plant is to keep it short and cut the regrowth at its early stages.

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Hlengiwe Ndlovu (SAPPI) pointing out the Bracken that proves difficult to remove.

As the team saw their homestretch to the end of day 2, Ayanda’s foot managed to find an animal’s home on the grassland slope, unfortunately twisting his ankle in the process. One of the dangers of walking through unpathed areas.

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Ayanda getting his ankle strapped by Nduduzo to help him reach our end point at the bridge in the background.

Hlengiwe commented: “I enjoyed being up close and personal to the river, which is a rare opportunity as one often sees the river in bits and pieces. I also enjoyed the anecdotal stories from the team of the different “river experiences” we’d all had and how we’ve all experienced the Karkloof thus far.

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A happy team at the end of Day 2. From left: Nduduzo Khoza (EWT), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), Hlengiwe Ndlovu (SAPPI), Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof Conservancy and our amazing backup, support and driver), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Our sincere thanks to all sponsors and landowners who have made this walk and study possible. So far it has proven to be an extremely valuable exercise and we look forward to the rest of the journey.

Source Seeking and Catchment Clambering

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Clamber (verb): to climb or move in an awkward and laborious manner, typically using both hands and feet.

This sums Day 1 up quite adequately, especially whilst we were trying to find the source of the Karkloof River! The source proved to be well hidden within a thicket of Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea, mixed with some other indigenous shrubs and trees such as the Nana-berry, Searsia dentata, and a few ferns and creepers.

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The river walk team at the source of the Karkloof river

The river walkers were ready to start their intrepid journey of the first 10.6km of the Karkloof River at 7am, with a light misty drizzle – typical of the Midlands mistbelt. Our team comprised of Twané Clarke of the Karkloof Conservancy, Ayanda Lipheyana from GroundTruth who do routine water quality monitoring for the Karkloof Irrigation Board, Sue Viljoen of WWF-SA who have been working on a number of Water Stewardship initiatives in the Umngeni catchment, and Nduduzo Khoza an Eco-Ranger for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

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Off we go… From left: Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA); Nduduzo Khoza (EWT); Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth); and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy)

The team followed the stream until they reached a sight with sufficient water to begin the first set of water quality sampling techniques. These methods will be repeated down the length of the Karkloof river to build up a better picture of the river’s current status quo.

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MiniSASS – identifying the invertebrates to determine river health

Tests included a miniSASS (using aquatic invertebrates to determine river condition), a Riparian Health Audit (RHA) and taking water quality readings such as pH, clarity, dissolved oxygen and temperature. All results have been captured on smart devices using a new app called GeoODK, which GroundTruth have customised for river monitoring purposes.

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Testing the clarity of the water

Most miniSASS tests indicated good condition, with one site boasting near natural conditions. The highlight of the day was finding an elusive Stonefly at this site which is known to be the most sensitive invertebrate to river impacts.

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Yes folks, that little insect made our day!

The site that only had a fair condition was possibly indicating the impact of erosion, invasive alien vegetation and log jamming.

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An example of log jamming. Removing these obstacles in the river will make a world of difference.

We were all fascinated by the abundance of Ouhout growing  along drainage lines, gullies and riverine areas. We’re particularly interested to find out from the locals about the history of this area and whether these trees have always been here or if it has gotten denser through the years – ideas welcome.

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Overall, we were quite surprised by the extent of the impacts so soon in the river’s journey. Wattle, Bramble and Blackjack are prevalent and will require large scale and carefully planned clearing, with assistance of other organisations, if the vision of an alien free Karkloof river is ever to be realised.

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We were also treated to some of the most beautiful scenery,

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unique flowers,

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spoor of what we suspect to be a Brown Hyaena that we followed for a while,

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and lots of frogs.

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As the sun began to set over the picturesque hills, we realised we were chasing the clock to reach our final point before dark. The flying ants glistened in the dusky light and the temperatures began to drop.

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The team finally reached the end at 6:30 pm where we were warmly greeted by Charlie MacGillivray who is both a landowner and the Chairman of the Karkloof Conservancy. Let’s hope Day 2’s stretch of the Karkloof river is kinder to us.

Our sincere thanks to all landowners who gave us permission to walk on their properties today. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring your part of the Karkloof which set the tone for the rest of the journey.

Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Article supplied by the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

World Wetlands Day, celebrated annually on 2 February, provides an opportunity to celebrate a natural resource that is critical for people, the environment, and biodiversity. Wetlands come in all shapes and forms, from estuaries along our beautiful coastlines and high altitude inland wetlands within the grasslands of Mpumalanga, to the hard working wetlands within our urban landscapes. Much of our conservation effort within the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is centred around the protection, restoration, and management of wetlands and the catchments that feed them, and we encourage you to celebrate World Wetlands Day with us.

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Two of South Africa’s three crane species, the Grey Crowned and Wattled Crane, are completely dependent on wetlands for their survival – yet both are threatened with extinction. Their threatened status mirrors the loss of wetlands in our country, with an estimated 50% of wetlands completely transformed in South Africa. The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP), a partnership between the EWT and the International Crane Foundation, has used these charismatic, long-lived birds as flagships for wetland protection, restoration and management.

The ACCP’s South Africa Regional Manager, Tanya Smith, confirms that the efforts of the ACCP team and its partners have ensured the protection of nearly 100,000 ha of grasslands, wetlands and associated rivers in important catchments for people and cranes in South Africa over the past five years. The protection of the key water resources contributes to the long-term security of our water supply for millions of people in South Africa.

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

From large charismatic cranes to the small and slippery, wetlands are home to many. Globally, amphibians are the most threatened class of vertebrate with 32.5% of species currently listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Approximately 800 species of amphibians make exclusive use of wetland habitats. Here in South Africa, a tiny frog the size of your thumbnail is found only in 25 wetlands along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. Therefore, a key focal species of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP), is the Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog. These coastal wetlands are unique in their structure and are themselves classified as Critically Endangered. “The presence of flagship species that depend on wetlands for their survival really helps leverage support for the protection and restoration of wetlands,” says Dr Jeanne Tarrant, TAP Programme Manager. The EWT embarked on an ambitious journey to restore four of these wetlands in the Durban area through alien plant control, re-establishment of indigenous plants and assessing wetland rehabilitation needs and this year will be working towards formal protection of two of these wetlands through community stewardship models.

This year’s World Wetland Day theme is “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” and this theme truly celebrates the services wetlands provide for us free of charge. Wetlands greatly reduce the impacts of flooding by slowing down the flow of water, and reduce the impacts of droughts by slowly releasing water to our streams and rivers. In the current drought gripping much of South Africa, the role and protection of healthy wetlands has never been more important.

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Slindile students learning about the importance of wetlands

The EWT is involved with several World Wetlands Day celebratory events around the country. In KwaZulu-Natal, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated at the Greater Edendale Mall wetland in Pietermaritzburg on 2 February from 10am. This is a collaboration of all partners of the KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Forum and will see over 300 children learning about and experiencing the value of wetlands. In the Eastern Cape, the EWT and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa have partnered to get our future generation’s hands dirty experiencing the wetlands of the Amathole area, where the EWT has been implementing catchment restoration work for the past three years. Lastly, in Gauteng, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated on 17 February at Tembisa Esselen Park Pan. A fun day of activities is planned, so be on the lookout for the EWT stand.

Later on in the month, you can get involved in raising awareness for our special wetland dwellers, the frogs, by joining in on a number of Leap Day for Frogs activities, including the EWT’s attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest game of leapfrog on Friday, 24 February. This exciting event gets underway at 10am on the Durban beachfront promenade near uShaka Marine World. Find out more by visiting www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za or emailing JeanneT@ewt.org.za

Yellow-striped Reed Frog 1 - Nick Evans

Yellow-striped Reed Frog by Nick Evans

You can make a difference to our wetlands all year round in a number of different ways, including:

  1. Planning a wetland clean up in your community with local schools and parents.
  2. Reducing your waste, reusing bottles and containers you would normally throw away, use reusable shopping bags and recycle! Our water resources like rivers and wetlands are heavily impacted on by litter and waste, so these small actions can make a huge difference.
  3. Reporting any illegal dumping in wetlands and rivers to your local municipality or police station.
  4. Supporting the efforts of organisations like the EWT in protecting wetlands on your behalf.

Useful resources to learn more about World Wetlands Day 2017:

Boston Wildlife Sightings – Summer 2016

November 2016 Sitamani Sightings – Christeen Grant

November has had the first typically summer rainfall pattern in three years. Hot humid haze days, interspersed with misty cool ones, regular thunderstorm activity and glorious rain. Finally our well has some water in it, the first time since May. Wildflowers particularly have responded and the hillside is covered in a neon orange wash of Watsonia socium.

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Watsonia socium

Some of the spectacular array of flowers are: Adjuga ophrydis; Albuca pachychlamys; Asclepias albens, these amazing flower heads droop downwards, hiding the vivid lime green and pink flowers;

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Adjuga ophrydis

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Albuca pachychlamys

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Asclepias albens

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Asclepias albens

Aspidonepsis flava with Crab spider; Berkheya macrocephala;

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Aspidonepsis flava with a well camouflaged crab spider

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Berkheya macrocephala

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Berkheya macrocephala

Chlorophytum cooperi; Cyanotis speciosa; Cyphia elata; Dierama latifolium; Helichrysum pallidum; Hermannia woodii; Indigofera hilaris, bright pink clumps in the grass;

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Chlorophytum cooperi

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Cyanotis speciosa

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Cyphia elata

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Dierama latifolium

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Helichrysum pallidum

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Hermannia woodii

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Indigofera hilaris

another different Ledebouria sp; delicate Lobelia erinus; hundreds of Merwilla nervosa; Pachycarpus natalensis; Scabiosa columbaria; Searsia discolor;

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Ledebouria sp.

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Lobelia erinus

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Merwilla nervosa

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Merwilla nervosa

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Pachycarpus natalensis

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Scabiosa columbaria

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Searsia discolor

two species of Silene, Silene bellidoides and Silene burchellii;

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Silene bellidoides

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Silene bellidoides

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Silene burchellii

Sisyranthus trichostomus; Trachyandra asperata; Wahlenbergia cuspidata;

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Sisyranthus trichostomus

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Trachyandra asperata

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Wahlenbergia cuspidata

I finally have a name for this beautiful Watsonia via a Facebook group: Flora of southern Africa, Watsonia meriana

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Watsonia meriana

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Watsonia meriana

and Xysmalobium parviflorum.

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Xysmalobium parviflorum

I managed to get a photo of a Spectacled Weaver on a nest in the Plane Tree. The Spectacled Weavers don’t seem to strip off the leaves in the vicinity of their nests as the Village Weavers do; perhaps they seek camouflage rather than being able to see their predators approach. The Striped Swallows have returned over a month later than usual. Red-collared Widows are now in full courting plumage and a large flock roams over the seeding grass. A Long-crested Eagle perches regularly on the Eskom post. The Southern Boubou’s are a delight with their varying call and quiet movements on the lawn and in shrubbery. A Bokmakierie pair are frequently heard and seen in the Leucosidea sericea and Buddleja thicket that has grown up behind the house.

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Spectacled Weaver

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Spectacled Weaver nest

With the rainfall, fungi pop up regularly. A Horse Mushroom and Star Stinkhorn with a millipede are two of them.

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Horse mushroom, Agaricus arvensis

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Star Stinkhorn, Aseroe ruba, with a millipede

Butterflies are starting to be seen more frequently. I watched an African Common White butterfly feeding in Vernonia natalensis.

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African Common White butterfly on Vernonia natalensis

Bagworm larvae, of the Psyshidae Family of moths, on Vernonia hirsuta.

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Bagworm on Vernonia hirsuta

Insects, like these Dotted Fruit Chafer beetles on Albuca pachychlamys, are nibbling many flowers and buds.

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Dotted Fruit Chafer beetles on Albuca pachychlamys

Finally a delight on the lawn one morning, a Common cannibal snail, Natalina cafra!

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Common cannibal snail, Natalina cafra

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Common cannibal snail, Natalina cafra

November 2016 on Stormy Hill – Caroline McKerrow

I’ve seen the pair of Reedbuck a few times this month. I also had some Woodland Dormice in the ceiling until the cats dispatched them. Check the fluffy tail. The other one got eaten.

dormouse

All the birds are busy in their nests. The Hadedas and Weavers have been building nests in the bird tree. The Speckled Pigeons are all over the place and the Red-winged Starlings are making messy nests on top of the lights in the shed. Swallows are also back making muddy nests. The Speckled Mousebirds got cold one lunchtime and formed a ball.

mousebirds

December 2016 on Gramarye – Crystelle Wilson

On a trip to a Zululand game reserve in November we were lucky enough to see cheetahs. Back at Boston I was just as excited seeing a Serval on an early morning walk down to the river.

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Serval

The breeding season was in full swing and juvenile birds were everywhere to be seen. At the river two Levaillant’s Cisticola fledglings tried to balance on the same stalk

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Levaillant’s Cisticola

And in the garden African Paradise Flycatcher parents were industriously feeding their newly fledged chicks

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African Paradise Flycatcher

On the kitchen verandah there was a near tragedy when part of the nest of the Greater Striped Swallows collapsed on Christmas Day, leaving the three chicks exposed inside. Fortunately they were about to fledge and within a few days were flying strongly with the parents.

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Greater Striped Swallows

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Greater Striped Swallows

The atlas list for the Elandshoek pentad 2935_3000 included: Dark-capped Yellow Warbler,

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Dark-capped Yellow Warbler

Klaas’s Cuckoo, Black-headed Heron, Amethyst Sunbird, Common Moorhen, Hamerkop, Three-banded Plover, Wailing Cisticola, Blacksmith Lapwing, Speckled Mousebird,

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Speckled Mousebirds

African Spoonbill, Black-headed Oriole, Bar-throated Apalis, Sombre Greenbul, Lazy Cisticola, Neddicky, Red-chested Cuckoo, Yellow-fronted Canary

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Yellow-fronted Canary

Red-billed Quelea, House Sparrow, Speckled Pigeon, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Barn Swallow,

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Barn Swallow

Yellow-billed Kite, Little Grebe, White-backed Duck,

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White-backed Duck

Cape Wagtail, Black Crake, Cape Weaver, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Red-knobbed Coot, African Sacred Ibis, Spur-winged Goose, Cape Crow, African Pipit, Zitting Cisticola,

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Zitting Cisticola

Fork-tailed Drongo, African Paradise-flycatcher, Cape Sparrow, Burchell’s Coucal, White-throated Swallow, Pied Kingfisher, Cape Glossy Starling,

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Cape Glossy Starling

African Hoopoe, African Dusky Flycatcher, Black Saw-wing, Egyptian Goose, Cape Canary (well camouflaged in the summer grass)

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Cape Canary

Red-chested Flufftail, Grey Crowned Crane,

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Grey Crowned Crane

Cape Longclaw, Common Waxbill, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cattle Egret, Cape Grassbird, Yellow-billed Duck, Bokmakierie, Village Weaver,

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Village Weaver

Southern Fiscal, Brown-throated Martin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Common Quail, Southern Red Bishop,

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Southern Red Bishop

Drakensberg Prinia,

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Drakensberg Prinia

Red-collared Widowbird, Fan-tailed Widowbird,

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Fan-tailed Widowbird

Levaillant’s Cisticola, Little Rush-warbler, African Reed-warbler, African Stonechat, Long-crested Eagle, Hadeda Ibis, Cardinal Woodpecker

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Cardinal Woodpecker

Cape Robin-chat, Olive Thrush, Pin-tailed Whydah

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Pin-tailed Whydah

Red-eyed Dove,

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Red-eyed Dove

Cape Turtle-dove, Southern Boubou, Greater Striped Swallow, Cape White-eye, Diderick Cuckoo

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Diderick Cuckoo

December 2016 Sitamani Sightings – Christeen Grant

Sultry hot days with thunderstorms have produced a vivid green landscape, however there has not been enough rain to raise the water table significantly; although there is water in the well it is a fraction of what is usually there in December.

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Summer solstice

Clouds obscured the full moon rise; however early the next morning it was visible through scudding clouds.

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Summer solstice was a glorious day, ending in a beautiful sunset. Already many grasses are seeded, the red tinge of Themeda triandra softening the green.

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Themeda triandra

There are still many wildflowers in bloom, some that I saw were: Agapanthus campanulatus; Aristea woodii; Berkheya setifera; Clutia monticola fruit;

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Agapanthus campanulatus

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Aristea woodii

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Berkheya setifera

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Clutia monticola

Craterocapsa tarsodes, which I usually associate with the mountains grows here too on rocky clay patches;

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Craterocapsa tarsodes

Dipcadi viride; Epilobium capense seeds; Gladiolus ecklonii; Haemanthus humilis; Lobelia erinus;

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Dipcadi viride

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Epilobium capense

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Gladiolus ecklonii

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Haemanthus humilis

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Lobelia erinus

four orchids, Eulophia hians var. nutans; Eulophia ovalis var. bainesii; Eulophia zeyheriana and Satyrium longicauda;

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Eulophia hians ver. nutans

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Eulophia ovalis var. bainesii

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Eulophia zeyheriana

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Satyrium longicauda

Papaver aculeatum; Pelargonium luridum; Rubus ludwigii; Senecio subrubriflorus; Strigia bilabiata and Zantedeschia albomaculata.

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Papaver aculeatum

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Pelargonium luridum

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Rubus ludwigii

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Senecia subrubriflorus

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Strigia bilabiata

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Zantedeschia albomaculata

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Zantedeschia albomaculata

 

An unusual fungi was growing in stone gravel.

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In the lush foliage I found some delightful insects: two Bee Fly species, a Foam Grasshopper and a lucky sighting of a Giant Forest Cicada!

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Bee Fly

 

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Bee Fly

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Foam Grasshopper

 

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Giant Forest Cicada

Most mornings the birds find the night flying moths before I do, but I did see a few, including the wings of a Wounded Emperor, Neobunaeopsis arabella; then a rather spectacular first for me, a day flying moth, a Superb False Tiger, Heraclia sp. which at first I thought must be a butterfly!

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Superb False Tiger, Heraclia sp.

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Superb False Tiger, Heraclia sp.

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Wings of an Emperor moth, Neobunaeopsis arabella

After a misty night I saw a water-beaded spider web.

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Long-crested Eagles catch thermals between waiting and watching patiently from perches.

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Two discarded eggshells, one from a Spectacled Weaver and the second from a Village Weaver prove that some of the nests were acceptable.

The Striped Swallows have selected a new site to build a nest, I hope this one works out. A pair of Cape Wagtails have recently taken up residence in the garden. Occasionally I hear Spotted Eagle-Owls calling at dusk and dawn.

One morning I discovered a newly excavated Antbear hole, as it was in the middle of the driveway we had to fill it in.

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Sadly I will have to live-trap and relocate the Lesser Savanna Dormice that have taken up residence in the house; a hole in a carpet, wooly slippers and clothing where they have selected bedding material, and they devour any food left out… Drawers are their favoured places to make nests. I love their chirrups as they move through the house and occasional sightings as they scurry across the floor and furniture.

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