Vaughan Koopman, Wetland Ecologist with the Mondi Wetlands Programme, led an excursion to uMngeni Vlei yesterday. Everyone who participated thoroughly enjoyed this rare treat. Margie Fraser said excitedly “We have been wanting to visit the Vlei ever since we arrived in the Midlands.”
After meeting in Nottingham Road to car pool, we headed along the Loteni Road and a very dusty farm road until we arrived at the Vlei.
Soon everyone had their binoculars out to do a little bird watching. We saw some fabulous birds.
Jenny Fly compiled this list: Cape Vultures, Wattled Cranes, Martial Eagle, Bearded Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Buffstreaked Chat, Rock Ketstrel, Bokmakierie, Stone Chat, Common Fiscal, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinal Rock Thrush, Black Crow, African Marsh Harrier, Fan Tailed Widow, Anteating Chat, Numerous little brown seedeaters.
This is an important Birding Area and a small group headed off to see if they could spot the Yellow Breasted Pipit. No luck – we plan to return in November to try again.
Vaughan explained the importance of wetlands to store and regulate water flows and described all the eco-systems goods and services they provide human kind.
uMngeni Vlei is an unusual high altitude wetland and has recently been declared a Ramsar site of international importance. Drakensberg Foothill Moist Grassland dominates the areas around the Vlei.
Vaughan used the soil auger to extract samples of the soils from right in the wetland and out to the edge, showing us how the composition and colour changed. Real wetland soil was very dark from all the organic matter, whereas in the sample from the edge we could see traces of dolerite and the soil was lighter and more orange.
Jessica Barnsley learnt a lot, “I knew wetlands were wet places and that birds lived in them before I came. Now I’ve learnt about the minerals in the soil and how to tell where the wetland edge is.”
There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions about managing wetlands. Yes, cattle are a useful tool in wetlands, but must be carefully managed. Fire too is important, but timing and careful observation is important.
Farming wetlands is difficult as they are continually trying to revert to a wetland. After WW2, there was a programme of draining wetlands for agriculture, but nowadays these are being reversed as people recognise their importance.
We were intrigued by Vaughan’s story that the wetlands of Holland were responsible for our existence. “Stone age people used the peat as fuel for smelting iron, which increased their wealth and opportunity to trade. Water flooding the excavated wetlands eventually become the Rotterdam harbour (2nd largest in the world). From here explorers set sail and colonised the rest of the world, including South Africa. So we all owe our existence and wealth to those wetlands.”
Wetlands store much carbon in the form of organic matter but release methane through the anaerobic decomposition which takes place in the water. Despite this, they are still considered important carbon sinks – storage outweighing the methane released. Wetlands are shallow (about 1.5 m deep) and constantly changing as a result of the build up of organic matter.
Obviously, there was nothing in flower but we found big clumps of Euphorbia claviroides amongst the rocks.
Sheets of ice floated in the stream entering the vlei – even at midday.
We spotted a Red Rock Rabbit bounding along the rocks as we basked like lizards in the sun with our picnic lunch. Red Rock Rabbits inhabit rocky ravines, steep boulder strewn hillsides and krantzes. They require grass as cover and are strictly grazers, preferring short grass, particularly that which has been burnt. They lie up during the day in ‘forms’ in clumps of grass, or amongst boulders, and may become active around sunset, but are predominately nocturnal. Although they are probably not as fast as the hares, they are capable of moving at breakneck speed through the steep rocky terrain which they usually inhabit. These rabbits are usually seen alone when out foraging, but live together in colonies amongst the rocks. Ref: Maberly’s Mammals of Southern Africa.
Christie Exall ” We feel really blessed to have joined the group ion that magnificent setting. It still boggles my mind that our water originates from that beautiful, complex area. What a stunning day we had.”
Read more about uMngeni Vlei at https://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/umngeni-vlei-wetland-of-international-importance/