Category Archives: Environmental Learning

Forest, Fireflies and Camping

Written by Janine Smith, Chairlady of the Midlands Conservancies Forum and Regional Secretary for the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Honorary Officers.

kranes-logo-general

Sixteen kids aged between 3.5 years and 11 years old spent two wonderfully exciting days at Bushwillow Caravan Park in the Karkloof, accompanied by parents and grandparent.

img_3013

This is thanks to the founders John and Linnet Crow, and Twané Clarke whose dream to give kids in the area the opportunity to learn to love and enjoy the outdoors has become a reality as a result of their hard work and dedication to KRANES club. KRANES is a joint project between the Karkloof Conservancy and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Lions River Honorary Officers, and this partnership has proven to be invaluable over the 2 years that this club has been running.

kranes-logo-acronym

This weekend was the first camp out for the club. On Saturday morning, 3 December 2017, excitement filled the air at the caravan park as kids began their weekend of camping and fellowship with other similarly minded children. There were rules that were set. The first was that kids were to assist in setting up the tents.

dsc_0865

It was amazing to see all of them knocking pegs into the ground with mallets and running hither and thither taking camping gear out of vehicles, whilst all the time keeping their eyes on the dam, which promised so much fun, but they had a job to do and got on with it.

img_2841

Finally the beckoning dam was “in bounds” for these hard workers. Next rule, children had to wear life jackets and be accompanied by an adult if they were on the edge or in the dam. A rush to find the life jackets and fishing rods to catch that big one followed, with John teaching them a few basics. Bread was the preferred bait and it certainly was the right choice. Fish of all sizes were caught in abundance. The rods, with the fish on the hook, were hurriedly brought up the bank for all the parents to admire, then dash back to the dam to release the fish (only to be caught again later). The kids had great fun and the fish were well fed. Then they all jumped into the water and had an absolute ball until 14h00 when they were called to the clubhouse for orientation and forest rules were explained and discussed.

Twané sat all the kids in a circle and asked each one to choose an animal beginning with the same letter of the alphabet that their names began with and to share what they loved most about nature and the outdoors. Listening to their explanations of why they loved being in nature was an eye opener, replies ranged from enjoying seeing the flowers in the veld, to sightings and identification of birds, insects and mammals. Ethan Gillings, who is 3.5 years old, said he loved Reedbuck because when they pooed in his yard he collected the droppings to put in the garden, but he didn’t like it when Zebra came and used their garden as a toilet because that was not such nice poo.

DSC_0874.JPG

Then it was time for the family scavenger hunt, which was lead by Linnet. Each family was given a map of the park and had to find and retrieve various articles from the forest, grasslands and dams. This clever idea was for everyone to become aware of the surrounding area. The kids also learnt to read a map and keep their eyes open whilst walking. When everyone returned to the camp site, the dam called again and a great afternoon of swimming, canoeing and fishing followed.

That evening the kids each helped to make a braai fire safely. This was a highlight as they were even allowed to light the fire themselves.

dsc_0890

They were given dough which they put onto a stick (stokbrood) and cooked over the fire. Patience waiting for the dough to cook was put to the test. Then the best of all, syrup was poured into the hole made by the stick.

img_2984

After everyone had eaten, the campsite looked like a Christmas tree with all the torches dashing around as kids went searching for fireflies and frogs followed by some quiet time and stargazing.

img_2993

Tired kids and parents had an early night.

img_3008

Dawn on Sunday beckoned everyone to the dam and once again this body of water became a hive of activity, after kids were chameleons and trees during the sunrise forest yoga.

img_2855

After a relaxed breakfast, the kids were lead on a forest walk by Linnet and Twané. Twané had explained to the children the difference between a forest and a plantation, so off they went into the indigenous mistbelt forest to look and learn. At about midday the trekkers returned looking fulfilled and tired. Another quick swim in the dam before it was time to pack up camp. Each family left armed with a booklet “My Forest Experience” that the team had put together which included different types of forests, a forest code (leave nothing but footprints), why our forests need to be protected, critters that can be found in forests, signs of the forest (spoor to look out for) and so much more.

dsc_0911

Well done to the KRANES team. It was amazing to see kids playing and learning together in nature. No one missed TV or cell phones and the children were taught responsibility and self-discipline. Keep up the good work and thanks for the many hours that you put into these children’s lives. You are helping to foster a generation of conservationists.

img_2960

The kids found a Yellow-striped Reed Frog amongst the reeds in the dam.

For more information about KRANES and to sign your children up to the mailing list, please visit the Karkloof Conservancy website or email us: karkloofconservation.org.za / info@karkloofconservation.org.za

Grand Adventures on Beacon Hill

Grade 5 Thembelihle Outing to Beacon Hill on 19 November 2015

It was a chilly and damp start to the day and the children looked very apprehensive as they arrived at school. A small group of eco club kids rushed over to me and asked if we would still be going (our last date was postponed) and I replied “we go even if it SNOWS“, which had them laughing. We spent the first 10 minutes reorganising into the previously picked teams, distributing bandanas, clipboards and booklets to each team.

20151119_102934_resized

Eve & Dave arrived and we loaded everyone into their vehicles and Leslé, Rejoice, Beverley and I followed in our vehicles. When we arrived on the hill an adult was allocated to each team. After reminding everyone to look for anything tiny and unusual, we set out to climb the hill.

20151119_090718_resized

Immediately, the children were engrossed in finding dew laden spider webs, ants, a porcupine hole and lots of varieties of grasses and flowers. each group went at it’s own pace and each group had a different adult with different knowledge. It turned out that teacher Rejoice was a total star and had grown up near a grassland and she identified lots of flowers and plants not necessarily by name but by use, which was fascinating.

20151119_091637_resized

She also spotted a shed snakeskin wrapped around a plant which we had all missed. On reaching the top of the hill each group was amazed by the view of Howick, Midmar, Mpophomeni and beyond.

20151119_090805_resized

They really enjoyed identifying places and spotting trains moving through the landscape. They also then looked at their maps and tried to figure out the different keys. We took some time to let everyone relax and just ‘breathe’. By the time we reached the beacon everyone was watching where they were stepping, asking questions and being engaged. The weather had changed and it was sparkling sunshine with a light breeze- just perfect! We doled out apples and snacks and the group was allowed some more freedom to enjoy the view and the place.

We finally headed down the hill and back to school and the children settled down to write about what they thought of the day. They really loved the outing and found it amazing that there was such a ‘cool’ place near to their school.

Thanks N3TC (small)

“Today was a cool day, Beacon Hill is a cool place! I saw different plants and flowers and even a crab. We have not seen these before.” – Lwandiswa Shange

“Thanks for an outstanding outing. Much fun, learning, and exploration was had by all the Grade 5 Love Bugs. You guys are superstars” – Beverley Cameron (teacher)

Floater Flock of Craniacs at Crystal Springs Primary

Nkanyiso Ndlela of the KZN Crane Foundation was invited by the Balgowan Conservancy through the Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme, which is funded by N3 Toll Concession, to visit their local school, Crystal Springs Primary, to present a two part lesson from their enchanting Cranes in the Classroom series. There were 62 learners from grade 4 who participated in these lessons on the 6 and 13 July 2015.

The first lesson began with a short presentation about the three South African crane species, namely the Blue Crane; Grey Crowned Crane; and the critically endangered Wattled Crane. The learners were then handed art materials and instructions to make their own unique crane name badges and gave them instructions. These turned out beautifully. The lesson wound down with a story from Wisdom Tales about Mama noHemu and Baba noHemu. The learners were quizzed at the end to ensure that they listened carefully.

Sisanda Ntombela wearing her wattled crane name tag

Sisanda Ntombela wearing her wattled crane name tag

The second lesson introduced more facts about our three special cranes, with Nkanyiso showing them what they look like using pictures and posters. They discovered how threatened our cranes and wetlands are, and how we must treasure them by looking out for them and not poaching or killing them.

Nkanyiso is super dynamic in the classroom and uses pictures to show the learners what our African cranes look like

Nkanyiso is super dynamic in the classroom and uses pictures to show the learners what our African cranes look like

They learnt about the cultural beliefs and traditions associated with the cranes and they were allowed to ask plenty of questions. Thabani Bubele said: “I like the wattled crane more than the other cranes because it’s big”. Thabani is right, as the Wattled Crane can grow to an impressive height of 175 cm (1.75 m), making it the largest crane in Africa and second tallest in the world!

It was time for some more arts and crafts where the children made their own wattled crane masks. This made Thabani very happy, as now he could pretend to be just like his favourite crane.

Thabane Bubele wears his Wattled Crane mask with pride

Thabane Bubele wears his Wattled Crane mask with pride

Now that they all looked the part, they were ready to fill in their Crane Flower worksheets. This worksheet got the learners thinking about what they learnt over the two lessons and were asked to choose keywords represented in bold print from a list of facts below and fill them in the correct crane flower speech bubble.

Nkanyiso finished off with a quick fact about the Strelitzia flower, which comes from South Africa and is the flower emblem of KwaZulu Natal. It is also known as a crane flower because it looks just like the crowned crane.

Great fun was had while filling in their crane flower worksheets

Great fun was had while filling in their crane flower worksheets

Mr Makhathini, an enthusiastic teacher at Crystal Springs Primary, said: “These lessons suit the learners very well. They’re hands on and supplements the CAPS well”.

Balgowan are now home to these lovely craniacs who will love and nurture our country’s stately birds in the future.

 

Exploring Forest Habitats

Thanks to the Dargle Conservancy, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and N3TC, grade 5 and 6 learners from Corrie Lynn Primary School were afforded the opportunity to go on a wonderful school outing on the 24 June 2015. The children were excited to embark on an adventure in the nearby Kilgobbin forest.

Corrie 3 2015

We gathered in the school library and went through the rules of the day. The children laughed initially when I said we were going to be visiting a home, but then I introduced the concept of visiting a habitat and not disturbing the inhabitants just as we would never barge into someone’s home uninvited and behave badly. Some of the children knew exactly what a habitat was and then when I asked them if they knew what biodiversity meant they were quick to respond with ‘lots of different living things’. What bright sparks! I taught them my biodiversity song because it was a fun way to get moving in the chilly morning air.

The group of 19 children split into four groups and each group received a different coloured bandana and came up with a team name. We had The Strawberries, The Superstrikers, The Monsters and The Bananas. Team leaders were appointed with Sibu, Gugu, Gill and Abi taking charge. They received a booklet on the forest and an information sheet on animal tracks to use for reference.

Corrie 2 2015

We gathered in Barend and Helen Booysen’s garden and did some deep breathing exercises in a circle to get relaxed and become more aware of our surroundings. We were ready to enter the magic gate into the whimsical forest! The children were very respectful and soon found seeds, feathers, shells, interesting fungi and lichens. When we reached the stream the groups split up and went habitat hunting to find places where spiders were nesting, interesting burrows in the stream banks and places where civet and mongoose had come to drink. Others found bushpig tracks and porcupine quills, as well as a tiny nest. When this exercise was well and truly done we headed further along the path, gazing up at the huge trees and chatting softly.

Corrie 1 2015

At the next big clearing we settled down and sat with our eyes closed, listening to the unique sounds of the forest. Now that the kids were relaxed we had a storytelling session. Stories included ‘The Memory Tree’, which is about loss and how to heal a sore heart, as well as a funny story called ‘Please Frog, just one sip’. Everyone was starting to feel a little hungry after all the stories, so we headed up to the wonderful campsite for sandwiches, fruit and delicious crisp spring water straight from the hose-pipe. Some children were lucky and spotted a lone samango monkey while we were there.

Corrie 4 2015

We laid out the treasures that had been picked up along the way and on our way back returned them to the forest (apart from a few cape chestnut seeds which the children want to grow and bring back to plant in the forest). We stopped at the bottom of the hill and discussed how protected areas such as this forest are needed for the wild animals to live and hide, breed and roam. The children all agreed that it is very important and that only having domesticated animals in our environment could be very boring.

Corrie 5 2015

We chose to walk back to the gate in complete silence. This was a challenge, but everybody managed it and the group felt very calm and reverent as we bid the forest goodbye. We stopped to admire the huge arum lilies by the stream and then clambered back into our vehicles to head back to school.

Upon our return, the groups gathered once again to write down their experiences: 

  • “It is my first time to go into a forest, it is so peaceful and beautiful and I would like to bring my own children back here some time”. Ms. Chalufa (Grade 1 & 2 teacher who volunteered to accompany us)

  • “Our group saw a mushroom, a monkey and shells of snails. We liked seeing the birds and the big yellowwood trees”. Siyanda Mkhulisi & Nhlonipho Nkomo

  • “We saw lots of things in the forest! Some examples are: a yellow frog, spiders, tree seeds and a loerie bird. Some people think that trees should be cut down or removed- this is not good and we think they should not be allowed”. Samekelisiwe , Wandiswa , Lungelo and Anele

  • “We enjoy(ed) looking for the animal footprints in mud. It was so exciting to be in the forest. We saw birds, a bee and a white butterfly”. Siyabonga, Mxolisi, Samkelo and Bongeka

  • “In the forest we were excited to see a lot of different feathers and kinds of trees, the long, short and big ones. We saw an ant with black spots, a big fungi and bees. We like to walk in the forest”. Thembeka, Fezeka, Kwanele, and Siphesihle

The day ended with big hugs and thanks to Gill & Abi Nelson, who were thrilled to be part of the excitement: “Today was an absolute pleasure! Wish we could do it more often. Thanks for inviting us to join in. Mwah!”

The kids headed home grubby, tired and happy.

Angifun’ iFracking

“I have never heard of the possibility of fracking happening in KZN.” The refrain was often the same in schools across the Midlands that participated in the Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) Fracking Awareness Campaign, funded by Global Green Grants Fund.

Dabulamanzi pupils were keen to learn more about the issues associated with fracking.

Dabulamanzi pupils were keen to learn more about the issues associated with fracking.

A number of technical cooperation permits have been issued in the Midlands and Drakensberg foothills, which give the holders rights to research the area with a view to fracking. The role of this area as the ‘water factory’ of KwaZulu-Natal cannot be underestimated. It is vitally important to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 6 million people downstream.

Crystal Springs

Crystal Springs

Younger learners listened to the ‘The Great Fracking Indaba’ to introduce the concept and illustrate some of the problems associated with the fracking process – before arranging picture cards, which illustrated the story, in the correct sequence. This enchanting tale reinforces the fact that healthy rivers mean healthy people, plants and animals, helping the learners understand the importance of our precious water resources.

Corrie Lynn Primary enthusiastically taking part in our campaign to oppose fracking.

Corrie Lynn Primary enthusiastically taking part in our campaign to oppose fracking.

Older learners watched a presentation about energy and how it is generated in South Africa. Many were aware of our current energy crisis and dependence of fossil fuels. The fracking process was explained before posing the question ‘Could fracking be the answer to our energy crisis?’ At first it looked like a good idea before the facilitator pointed out how much water could potentially be used in each well (6 and 25 million litres), how much sand would be needed (150,000 kg) and the array of chemicals that would be pumped into the wells to release the gas during the fracking process.

Dargle Primary

Dargle Primary

Soon it was clear to everyone that contaminated water, soil erosion, potential threats to human health and destruction of sensitive environments were not a reasonable price to pay for this energy. Alternates that do less harm like solar and wind were explored. “All along, I have been made to believe the only solution to our energy crisis is fracking. I was not made aware of the environmental implications. A better solution, I think, will be solar energy.” Gregory Radebe, a teacher Bruntville Primary School, said with conviction.

Bruntville Primary understands that fracking is not the answer to our energy crisis and explored other options such as solar and wind power.

Bruntville Primary understands that fracking is not the answer to our energy crisis and explored other options such as solar and wind power.

Discussion turned to ways citizens could make their voices heard – by lobbying politicians, signing petitions and demanding that our constitutional right to an environment not harmful to our health is upheld. Khumbulani Khuzwayo in Grade 7 decided he would post the fracking awareness pamphlets (in English and isiZulu) at the bus stop so that more people would be informed about fracking. After the lively debate, everyone was encouraged sign a petition to voice their opinion against Fracking.

Signing the petition to make her voice heard.

Signing the petition

Although this was entirely voluntary most learners were keen to take a stand in support of their environment. “Stop fracking and destroying the trees. Please don’t do that – it is our future” wrote Zothani Njokwe (age 11) Thenjiwe Ncgobo, Principal of Corrie Lynn School commented “A lot of people and creatures will suffer and a small group will benefit. Learners are ready to stop fracking if it comes to their area.” Val Ellens of Howick Prep School added: “The children loved being involved in the discussion and a highlight was being able to voice their own sentiments on the petition.”

No Fracking Petition Nottingham Road Primary

No Fracking Petition Nottingham Road Primary

Finally, learners and teachers were introduced to the WESSA Water Explorers programme, a fun, inspiring web-based initiative that challenges them to look at how water affects our lives and to take practical actions to save water. As it supports the national curriculum and compliments the Eco-schools programme, teachers were very interested in participating. “Our Enviro Club is excited about the challenges and they use every chance they get to complete another one.” Antonia Mkhabela, Life Science teacher at Shea O’Connor School.

Hawkstone Primary

Hawkstone Primary

The Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) opposes, on ecological, economic and social grounds, the use of fracking to recover natural shale gas. Fracking regulations state that a well site may not be located within: 1km of a wetland and 5km from the surface location of an existing municipal water well field and identified future well fields. Clearly, the risk of contamination of groundwater in an already water-stressed environment is simply unacceptable. As the learners at Dabulamanzi Combined wrote on their petition poster “We can’t drink gas! Angifun’ iFracking!”

Dabulamanzi School

Dabulamanzi School

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.

r snowflake 3rock art

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.

r snowflake rain

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.

2015 02 27 - 03 01 MCG Snowflake 49 P1030050

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!

r snowflake bulelani fireplace

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!”

r snowflake jumping

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.

r snowflake nikki boys

CREW Fieldtrip to Stormy Hill

Article written by Kathy Milford

Six dogs of all shapes and sizes rushed out from their home at Stormy Hill, Boston to meet the wild flower enthusiasts who had arrived in search of Brunsvigia undulata. Caroline McKerrow and her dogs welcomed the nine ladies and they were soon all on their way up to Mt. Shannon driving through a maze of roads in the Mondi plantations.

Brunsvigia undulata

Brunsvigia undulata

The first stop was at a strip of grassland between the plantation and the road. There they were! Five Brunsvigia undulata, four with rich deep red flowers and the fifth going to seed.

Eulophia tenella

Eulophia tenella

The stream running through the grassland was bordered with bright orange Crocosmia potsii, dark blue Agapanthus sp and the pale Pycnostachys reticulata.

Crocosmia

Crocosmia potsii

Three enormous Eucomis comosa and a single Nerina appendiculata also bloomed on the banks. Sutera floribunda, Pentanisia angustifolia, Oxalis sp, Geranium sp and Vernonia sp were all blooming in the grassland.

Eucomis comosa

Eucomis comosa

Kniphofia angustifolia, and the strangely beautiful Habenaria dives the Death orchid, were blooming.

Habenaria dives

Habenaria dives

From there it was another drive past banks covered in hundreds of blooming Agapanthus sp and Papaver aculeatum to the next stop. There were two more Brunsvigia undulata!

Brunsvigia undulata students

Brunsvigia undulata

This area was being invaded by the ever present bramble. A beetle was busy on a Berkheya speciosa while Suvarna was happily Botanising with her students!

Berkeya speciosa

Berkeya speciosa

The excursion continued in the 4x4s through the maze of roads back to the top of Stormy Hill. Caroline’s magnificent horses were grazing between the orchids and a thousand other flowers.

Caroline and horses

Pelargonium luridum, Vernonia capensis, a Habenaria laevigata and a Kniphofia gracilis were the first flowers encountered.

Habenaria laevigata

Habenaria laevigata

A white Crassula alba was blooming next to a rock. Eulophia ovalis both the white and the yellow varieties were scattered about the entire area in their dozens.

Suvarna and Eulophia ovalis

Suvarna photographing an Eulophia ovalis

The strange looking, data deficient Schizoglossum bidens was excitedly spotted next to a rock.

Shizoglossum bidens

Shizoglossum bidens

An initial count amounted to 8 plants but as the morning progressed several more were found. A Zuluzianskya sp had its drumstick buds tightly closed in the midday sun. The graceful Alepidia amatymbica and Heliophila sp were growing together, nearby was the unusual Moraea brevistyla.

Alepidida amatymbica and Heliophila

Alepidida amatymbica and Heliophila sp.

Leonotis intermedia, Stachys kuntzei, Lotononus corymbosa, Kniphofia angustifolia, Striga sp and Berkheya speciosa and many more were all blooming.

Kniphofia angustifolia

Kniphofia angustifolia

Being completely saturated with the profusion of flowers and the view over Boston it was time to turn back.

Kniphofia on Stormy Hill ridge

Kniphofia on Stormy Hill ridge

The return walk yielded Satyrium longicauda, and a startling single specimen of possible Pterygodium magnum. The magnificent plant was over a meter tall had a spike with dozens of beautiful little delicately fringed flowers.

Pterogdium magnum

Pterogdium magnum

On the last stretch of the homeward walk, everyone had become quite blaze and simply stepped right past Scabiosa columbaria, a lonely bright Gazania krebsiana and the little carpet flower Craterocapsa tarsodes!

Rhus berries

Rhus berries

Thanks go to Caroline for being a wild flower spotter extraordinaire and for patiently sharing her excellent observations with Midlands CREW. Thanks to Alison Young for the orchid identifications.

Asparagus on Stormy hill ridge

Asparagus on Stormy Hill ridge