Category Archives: Uncategorized

Boston Wildlife Sightings – April 2016

Christeen Grant of Sitamani:

02 Cover 01 Sunrise IMG_1974

Sunrise, Sunset, the most beautiful and varied skies. Golden grass and sunlit days. Unfortunately the very late summer rain was not enough to replenish the water table, already our well is down to late winter levels.

02 Cover 02 Sunset  IMG_5327

My most exciting sighting was an unusually dark coloured, juvenile, Puff Adder. At first I thought it might be a Berg Adder, due to its colour and length.

03 Reptile Puff Adder IMG_535403 Reptile Puff Adder IMG_5363

The flower of this season is Leonotis leonurus, bright orange swaths splash the hillsides. Other autumn flowers seen were Alectra sessiliflora, Sutera floribunda and Wahlenbergia appressifolia. What I always think of as thatching grass and is used for that purpose locally, Cymbopogon validus, Giant Turpentine Grass, has responded to the dry season well, and flowering profusely. A Fungi that looks just like a stone caught my eye, Rhizopogon luteolus, Pale Brown False Truffle.

Birds are very active, amongst those seen during April were Buff-streaked Chats sunning on rocks in the early evening; Cape Crows; Dark-capped Bulbuls catching early morning sun on tree tops; the liquid call of Black-headed Orioles in flight; Cape White-eyes; Black-backed Puffbacks; Speckled Pigeons; Amethyst Sunbirds; African Stonechats and an African Harrier-Hawk.

06 Birds Buff-streaked Chats IMG_533506 Birds Cape Crow IMG_508402 Cover 03  IMG_534206 Birds Dark-capped Bulbul IMG_5065

Some interesting insects, a Shield Bug species Aspongopus nubilis; two different flies of the Tababidae Family; a Lunate Ladybird larvae, Cheilomenes lunata; and a Robber Fly, Alcimus tristrigatus eating a Blowfly of the Chrysomya genus. Just one moth, not identified.

Most evenings the Black-backed Jackal yip and call. A Duiker mum and her young one are seen regularly, one early morning the young one frolicked and feint charged his mother. The Dormouse is still around, one morning I woke up to see it watching me with very beady eyes, making chirripy noises. A lovely Serval sat at the side of the road in the early predawn light as I drove by.

Wayne Muller of The Drift:

I was surprised one morning to see a Red-necked Spurfowl surrounded by what I at first thought were Common Quail, except they were far too small. I then realised they were newly hatched spurfowl chicks.

Crystelle Wilson of Gramarye:

Due to circumstances I had limited time at Boston during April, but did manage to do one bird atlas list with 68 species. The Pin-tailed Whydah has lost its long tail feathers, and with it some attitude.


The Southern Red Bishops also looked much less assertive without their breeding colours and perching on the abundant weeds bordering the fields.


Strutting its stuff in the stubble remaining in the maize fields after harvesting was a Cape Crow


When I looked at my pictures of a Lanner Falcon, I was once again struck by the power and size of its eyes and claws in relation to the rest of the body


The atlas list for the Elandshoek pentad 2935_3000: African Darter, Red-collared Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Pied Crow, Greater Honeyguide, African Hoopoe, Red-necked Spurfowl, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Canary, Jackal Buzzard, African Spoonbill,


Cape White-eye, Black-headed Oriole, Common Waxbill, Common Moorhen, Cape Longclaw, Brown-throated Martin, Bokmakierie, Speckled Pigeon, Spectacled Weaver, African Wattled Lapwing, Barn Owl, Village Weaver, White-breasted Cormorant, Spur-winged Goose


Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-chested Flufftail, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Long-crested Eagle, African Dusky Flycatcher, Black Saw-wing, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Wagtail, Olive Thrush, Greater Striped Swallow, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Crow, Blacksmith Lapwing, Reed Cormorant, South African Shelduck, Red-knobbed Coot (with a youngster in tow)


Pied Kingfisher, Drakensberg Prinia, Purple Heron,


Black-headed Heron


Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe


African Sacred Ibis, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Egyptian Goose, Hadeda Ibis, Common Fiscal, Lanner Falcon, Red-billed Quelea, Red-winged Starling, Amethyst Sunbird, Red-eyed Dove, Black-backed Puffback, Southern Boubou, Cape Robin-Chat


Sombre Greenbul, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Cape Turtle-dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Stonechat, Dark-capped Bulbul, Grey Crowned Crane – the juvenile at Gramarye is now flying strongly with its parents when they come home to roost at night.


NEMBA Regulations: They Affect Us All!

MCF hosted a very successful workshop on NEMBA (National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act) and its regulations at Michaelhouse recently, with Chris Birkett of Enviroworx as the speaker. This forms part of the MCF’s Invasive Alien Plant (IAP) Clearing Project, which is funded by N3 Toll Concession.

A synopsis of the presentation presented by Chris is given below. For more information, contact Enviroworx directly: Chris Birkett (082 391 4402), Mike Patrick (082 418 2104) or email

NEMBA Workshop at Michaelhouse 2

Does NEMBA apply to me?

NEMBA applies to all landowners. Protected areas and state owned land have to have management plans in place, while sellers of property have to provide a declaration of listed species present before transfer occurs. (See downloads below for “NEMBA 1 August 2014 – Regulations“)

What are listed species?

There are 379 plant species listed, but not all of these have to be removed. Four categories of species are defined, but one species may fall into several of these categories depending on location.

  • Category 1a: must be removed. These are generally species which have proved problematic elsewhere in the world, and the intention is to eradicate them before they become a problem in South Africa.
  • Category 1b: must be controlled to prevent spread. This is the biggest category, and includes most well-known invasive species such as Bugweed and Lantana.
  • Category 2: This category covers plantations with invasive potential. Permits are issued for plants to be grown in a particular area. If they spread, they are moved into category 1b.
  • Category 3: This is a list of new species that could become a problem. The presence of species on this list is recorded so that spread can be monitored. One example is the Mulberry.

(See downloads below for “NEMBA Lists – 1 August 2014“)

Ayanda with alien specimens herbarium res.

What is the difference between a Declaration and a Notice?

Declaration: This is required when property is being sold. It is a list of the species present on that property, and their abundance. The seller must provide a copy to both the buyer, and to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). DEA use declarations to map the area, so that they can monitor the problem potential and decide when to require removal of a particular species. If a category 1a species is present, this must be removed before the property is sold.

Notice: These are issued by DEA inspectors after visiting a property and deciding that certain species need to be controlled. (If a seller doesn’t issue a declaration to a buyer, and a DEA inspector subsequently visits the property and serves a notice, the buyer can hold the seller liable for clearing costs.) Notices give a timeframe for replying, creating a control plan, and effecting removal.

What is the difference between Management Plans and Control Plans?

Management Plans list the species present, and how these will be controlled over a period of time. Management plans are not required for property of <5 hectares.

Control Plans are required in terms of a Notice issued by a DEA inspector. They list the process and the herbicides that will be used to remove and destroy the IAPs present. Category 1a species cannot be removed from the property, but must be destroyed in situ. (See downloads below for “NEMBA Guidelines for Control Plans“)

How does this affect the Property market?

Estate agents and conveyancers have an obligation to make sellers aware of the legislation. If a Declaration shows a major problem with IAPs on the property, the buyer could ask for a reduction in price for the amount that it will cost to do the necessary clearing. The seller therefore needs to be aware of the liability of having IAPs on their property.

Can this legislation be enforced?

NEMBA is a national Act, and therefore overrides both provincial acts and municipal bylaws. The Deeds Office is not responsible for enforcing the legislation. However, attorneys need to ensure that the necessary Declarations are completed to comply with the law.

How does this affect complexes (sectional title schemes)?

Declarations for property that is part of a sectional title scheme must also cover both common property, and exclusive use areas.

NEMBA Workshop at Michaelhouse 1

Can I do my own declaration?

As the legislation stands, you can do your own declaration. However, both DEA and attorneys prefer to employ a specialist to reduce the possibility of landing up in trouble.

When should a declaration be done?

It is preferable to do a declaration just prior to transfer, because IAPs grow so fast. It is important to record the date on which the declaration was compiled, for the same reason.

Do the municipalities have management plans?

Currently, neither Umngeni nor Umgungundlovu Municipalities have management plans in place. However, they are working on these.

What services are provided by Enviroworx?

Enviroworx specialise in declarations, but can also provide management/control plans if required. Declarations identify the IAP species present, the abundance of each, and the category they fall into.

A covering letter is also provided, listing any other information that could be of relevance to the purchaser, eg. the presence of a state-owned servitude crossing the land. On small properties, the data provided will be more comprehensive than for large farms, as data for the latter is extrapolated from transepts of representative samples.

Useful downloads:

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – February 2016

Barry & Rose Downard – Oak Tree Cottage

Spiders…we see spiders. Any ID would be great, thanks.

A beautiful Caterpillar

Caterpillar 2

Jenny Fly – Kildaragh Farm

Derek and I are quite astounded by the Mauritian Thorn creeper that has made very intense inroads to the Dargle Forest. We have noticed different plants and trees thriving during this hot dry season we are experiencing, and from our property below the bush, we can see how this invader has run riot. How one eradicates it must be a huge task, as I should imagine spraying is out, and it probably would have to be attacked manually. It could be a touchy subject, however, and I’m certainly not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s just awful to see the weed engulfing the bush in a certain area. It’s bad enough having to cope with our common weeds that love our climate. No sooner does one have them cut or pulled, we have some heat and rain, and they are off again.

A happy corner of the garden. Hesperantha coccinea, Scarlet River Lily, growing near a down pipe.

Hesperantha coccinea, Scarlet River Lily

Hesperantha coccinea – Scarlet River Lily

This little dove arrived out of the blue and decided that life would be great living with us. I think it’s a juvenile Red Eye and she shyly took food from us and would settle near by if we were on the veranda. She even alighted on Derek’s shoulder, looking for seed.

She wasn’t too excited about Scruffy Parrot’s food and he wasn’t too excited about her. I presume that someone had hand reared her in our vicinity. She was around for a week then disappeared.

This snake was investigating the passage window. I passed right next to it on my way outside , without noticing . Once outside I noticed the dogs looking at something and thought the Grandchildren had put a plastic snake there to give me a fright. However , the snake took fright, dropped to the ground and took off in a flash.


A lovely male Boomslang

Comment from Pat McKrill: “Yes, you’re quite correct, it’s a male boomslang, the scalation – the way in which the scales are aligned – is very diagnostic, as is the relatively small, two-toned head. Although they’re not aggressive, they’re obviously not what one would want in the house. Presumably it went outside after the photo op? Have fun.”

This Hilaria bush next to the veranda is a feeding station for the birds. This chap took up residence for a few days . He had a ready supply of flies that were attracted by the apple. I then saw him climbing higher one morning and he hasn’t been seen since.


Midlands Dwarf Chameleon

Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

A very tame skink posed for me on one of the farm gate posts

Skink on pole

I moved a rock off of a trail, and found an entire colony of black ants underneath. Within a couple of minutes they had moved all the eggs underground into the tunnels.

Black ant colony

Cousins came to visit, and we found a whole bunch of little mushrooms under an old log in the sheep camp.

A pink Watsonia flowering in the veld

Pink Watsonia

Sunset shot of Inhlosane, taken from just above Lions River one evening.

Sunset with Inhlosane taken from above Lions River

Éidín Griffin

Éidín as been renting one of the Dargle Conservancy Trail camera’s over the
past month and managed to capture a Duiker.


David & Helen Mann – Knowhere Farm

We’ve seen 8-10 baboons on a couple of occasions over the past month over on the Rathmore farm. We have lived in the Dargle for about 12 years now and have never seen them there before.

Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

The early morning chill and long, still evenings are a delight that (almost) make up for the scorching days. Flowers are behaving differently this season, and there seem very few around. I did spot these treasures when I was brave enough to venture out in the sun.

Not sure what species this Asclepias is, but it was an exciting find.

r Asclepias sp

With the drought seriously affecting the amount of wild food available, I am certain the berries did not last long on this Searsia (Rhus). Didn’t spot the crab spider and beetle on the bright pink Watsonia densiflora until I loaded it onto my computer! Kniphofia laxiflora have flowered profusely this summer. Delicate Polygala hottentotta has also been more visible than usual.

Sleek and shiny Drongo on the lookout for insects. Weaver’s nest between prickly Berkheya in the wetland.


I saw five Reedbuck, one Oribi, one Common Duiker and one male Bushbuck.

r reedbuck doe

In shady areas there have been heaps of mushrooms – obviously the combination of wet/dry/hot has been ideal for fungi this year.

r mushroom

Gorgeous Golden Orb Web Spider just outside my window within easy watching distance. Lucky me.

r golden orb web spider

An Antlion with beautiful lacy wings sensibly sought refuge in my cool cottage.

r antlion 0

Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm, Lidgetton

The Blue Crane have been visiting the dam about once a week. We saw the juvenile flying over the house about 10 days ago for first time. It must be about 3 months old now?

Our blue crane juvenile still with parents and growing rapidly

One hot morning about 20 white stork flew in and had a bath in the dam. Lots of grooming afterwards with wings outstretched. Pat saw 7 amur falcons flying over the farm. At the beginning of feb one of the juvenile swallows whose nest was on the lampshade was still sitting on the glass shade even though the nest had fallen off. How he balanced there all night I do not know. Looked very uncomfortable.

Pat saw a Black duck with ten ducklings – whenever I went down to the dam to look for them they were nowhere in sight. The giant kingfisher has been visiting every few days as has the hammerkop, jackal and steppe buzzards sitting on the dead tree.

Giant kingfisher

A pair of crested crane in the dam one evening with a number of reedbuck grazing round about.

A pair of crowned crane and female reedbuck

We have about 4 or 5 reedbuck at the dam each evening. Pat climbed the hill behind the house late one afternoon and counted 13 reedbuck which is encouraging. I have only seen 2 duiker this month.

Reedbuck at dam

On 22nd feb I photographed one of our juvenile Amethyst Sunbirds – so exciting to see his “amethyst throat”, so another male. 9 weeks since leaving the nest.

On the same day Pat came racing up to the house and told me to grab my camera. He had been driving along the D18 bordering our farm when he saw something white in the land. His first thought was a dead calf, so he went to check it out. It turned out to be a dead White Stork that had been killed, plucked and eaten. Just the flesh. The organs were exposed.

The kill –white stork –he seemed to only eat the flesh – the organs were left

Pat then started looking for the raptor and saw a beautiful Martial Eagle sitting on a dead gum tree about half kilometre away, being harassed by black crows.

I got out of the truck to take photos and he was very unconcerned about my presence. What a beautiful specimen.

Martial eagle

We have not seen one in the 33 years of living here. He returned 2 days later sitting in same tree. It was a very hot day but could not see if he had made a kill. (I will post these pics next month) We were thrilled to see this eagle in this area as it seems to be very vulnerable. After this the white stork disappeared for a week – probably traumatised at seeing this incredible kill. We thought the jackal would eat the rest of the stork that night, but they didn’t. We haven’t heard the jackal in quite awhile.

Martial eagle sitting in dead gum tree after killing a white stork

On the 24th there was a huge gathering of White-throated Swallows sitting on the electric line at sunset. There were simply hundreds. Quite a number also sitting on the gutters and roof of the house. A Grassbird visited us for the first time. I was drawn to the window by its beautiful singing.

Just after that the male Malachite Sunbird joined the chorus. Our 3 Buff-streaked Chat juveniles are changing colour. One morning a juvenile Cape Robin-Chat flew into the verandah door. I picked him up as he was stunned and put him in a box for a while to settle down. I let him out and he flew off and sat on my hanging basket for about 5mins before flying off. Thankfully okay.

We have had 2 swallow nests outside our study. Pat put up a perch. There seemed to be 5 juveniles and lots of noise for about a week while they were still learning to fly. Some would sit on the perch and the others on the gutters and chimney. Black eyed bulbul eating peaches. Reed cormorant, and Garden Commodore butterfly.


Sharon Barnsley – Carlisle Farm

Saw 2 pairs of Oribi, of which 1 pair had a baby with them. I spotted them when riding on the top fields of Carlisle farm. Also saw many pink Watsonia, and the orange Red Hot Poker.

Andrew Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm

Locusts in the garden.

Locusts in the Garden 1Locusts in the Garden 2

Carl Bronner – Old Kilgobbin Farm

I saw 30 White Storks in the hayfield one afternoon.

Storks in fields 1Storks in fields 2

Malvina & Evert van Breemen – Old Furth Estate

Although we had some heavy rains in the beginning of February and our dams filled up ever so slightly, it has not been enough to get the little streams flowing and they are just tiny trickles, so the dams are still very low.

Dam caught some water

Tyrone found some huge land snails one rainy day.

Tyrone found some huge land snails

I had a lovely viewing of one of the little ‘ball’ millipedes, which took forever to open up and scuttle off again.

The 50/50 film crew were back here this month to finish the filming for the upcoming programme on the Anti-fracking Angels. This time they brought their drone along as well and flew it over the lovely waterfalls on the the Furth River gorge. Some photos of the ‘Angels’ and the chaps with the drone, thanks to Pandora Long.

Evert with 50-50 team member

David Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

A family of Grey crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum) came to visit the very low Mavela Dam early one morning…

Amazing MPAH Meet Up

Sarah Allan represented MCF at the Second MPAH Forum gathering in the Eastern Cape recently. This is her report on the proceedings and some of the photos she took at Mpekweni Resort near Port Alfred.

She comments “What a privilege!  Three days of discussions centred on the investment made in the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Hotspot (MPAH) Centre of Endemism by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund rejuvenated everyone and reinforced the sense of purpose.It was inspirational! “

The programme worked through themes of conserve, manage/reduce loss, restore and innovation with the Midlands Conservancies Forum presentation in the “conserve” theme.

r south lagoon

Arguably the greatest triumph of the MPAH Forum was having such a diverse range of project implementers from the extent of the MPAH in one venue sharing their experiences and views. Possibly one of the biggest drawbacks was not having any of the conservation authorities present as the recurring comment was that “government” should be stepping up to the plate and work to consolidate the gains made in the MPAH through the CEPF funding.

Each day had an intense schedule of presentations and discussions between 8.30am and 5pm, however, there was time to relax, enjoy the wide wind-swept beaches and/or boat rides up the river in the early mornings and late afternoons. And plenty networking and debates over sundowners and supper!

up river north

Many of the presentations emphasised the need to “interrupt the circles of poverty as a fundamental pre-requisite to environmental conservation”, turning what are perceived to be liabilities into assets, and the recognition of realising potential through providing meaningful incentives, against the backdrop of “government’s” failure to perform.

A key ingredient to success of many of the projects revolves around collaboration and co-operation, some examples being the Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership Programme in the Eastern Cape and the consortium formed in the Matutuine/Futi Corridor between organisations in Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique. Commonality of vision and passion are drivers of success.

r beach duckhead

Of particular interest and relevance to MCF was the session focussed on the future of MPAH in light of the imminent closure of the CEPF support. Aimee Ginsberg, an independent consultant, gave insights into the process of sustainability planning followed as the Grassland Programme of SANBI approached the end of their catalytic funding. Essentially a number of discussions were held with various role-players around four questions:

  • What had been achieved and what could be built on
  • How were the achievements made
  • What were the gaps, challenges and risks
  • What can be done to sustain gains, address risks, develop recommendations while distinguishing between what needs to be done and how it needs to be done.

Much of the way forward depends on a willingness to take risks coupled with the preparedness to be involved and remain involved.

Significant quotes noted during presentations and discussions include:

  • catalyse change (making the case),
  • establishing or working with communities of practice,
  • turning liabilities into assets,
  • that social capital could be lost or devalued if not built on,
  • bridging the suspicion gap,
  • transformative learning,
  • slowing down time and creating space for dialogue.

Useful resources highlighted throughout the deliberations include:

South African reports on wetland mitigation banking centre on ;


Kevin McCann facilitated the majority of the sessions and provided a synopsis of the key points outlining civil society’s role in the MPAH at the conclusion of the Forum. He emphasised the value of face to face engagements sharing ideas, the challenges pitfalls and benefits of ecological infrastructure, the development of common vision and passion, that biodiversity stewardship is not the only silver bullet but is a mechanism for custodianship on private and communal land, a strong community focus and sustainable conservation economy, the need to make relevant linkages with the different organs of government (government is not an amorphous mass), the value of innovation and thinking differently about solutions to problems.

r kirsten kevin am cruise

A similar forum will be held towards the end of the CEPF investment in the MPAH, with the possibility of smaller area-based conversations about sustainability planning for the hotspot.

The 2014 Symposium on Contemporary Conservation Practice to be held at Fernhill Hotel near Midmar Dam from 3-7 November 2014 will have a special session on biodiversity stewardship on Tuesday 4 November which promises to be a lively and valuable debate, especially as MCF finalises agreements and ponders future engagement with stewardship landowners. It will be well worth attending.

SPECIAL SESSION: STEWARDSHIP (Tuesday 4 November) Biodiversity Stewardship is recognised as a key mechanism for expanding protected areas, securing biodiversity priority areas, and implementing an integrated landscape approach to biodiversity management. The first provincial biodiversity stewardship programme was initiated in 2004 in the Western Cape. Ten years on, all nine provinces have biodiversity stewardship programmes, with five provinces having reached the point of declaring protected areas through the programme. Despite substantial growth and uptake of the programmes, biodiversity stewardship remains a new and innovating space. A technical working group exists, convened by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), to support the development and implementation of the programmes. However, there is no broader Forum for programme partners to share experiences, learn and create wider collaborations. This session aims to bring together interesting and innovative talks from provincial representatives, as well as NGO’s working in with stewardship in the landscape. Topics range from game certification schemes, to securing threatened plant species and working with communal landowners. The final session will focus on the national case for biodiversity stewardship, as well as an overview of new tax incentives.​

I do think it is important that MCF is represented in the special session on biodiversity stewardship in light of the role that MCF has played in securing a number of stewardship sites through the CEPF funding and the need to sustain these sites going forward.

r 012

The Thursday 6 November programme could be interesting as consideration is given to the state of KZN rivers from source to sea, however it would seem the emphasis may be on fish rather than systems:

SPECIAL SESSION: KWAZULU-NATAL RIVERS – SOURCE TO SEA (Thursday 6 November)​ Riverine ecosystems are some of the most threatened of all ecosystems globally, upon which all terrestrial life depends. These ecosystems not only provide us with water for basic human needs, they provide a range of natural products and other ecosystem services such as the transportation and assimilation of waste and importantly, they maintain an incredible diversity of aquatic animals. This special session includes eight presentations and two discussion sessions, both experienced and up-and-coming inland aquatic scientists representing local and national government, non-profit institutions, universities and private organisations. The scope of the presentations includes aspects of river ecosystems across KZN from the Drakensburg to Umtata to river dominated estuaries along the north coast of KZN. The presentations will highlight management and conservation issues, use and protection requirements, new innovative technologies and the importance of revisiting forgotten plans and past recommendations. In particular the threats of a range of anthropogenic and natural stressors to river ecosystems and the animals that live in them will be presented and discussed. These stressors include altered environmental variable states, such as water quality, quantity and habitat states to river and estuarine ecosystems in KZN and the otters, fish and aquatic insects within these ecosystems. In addition, this session will includes presentations on ecological risk, radio telemetry tracking methods and nitrogen isotope research techniques and case studies. The role of the routine biomonitoring to informing sound river management in KZN will also be presented and discussed in an attempt to revitalise stakeholder buy-in to the programme, citizen science and strategies to mitigate threats to river ecosystems and conserve critical processes.

Sarah concludes: “Thank you to Wildlands Conservation Trust and SANBI for organising the MPAH Forum, thank you to CEPF for the funding that enabled the delegates to attend. Thank you to Midlands Conservancies Forum for the opportunity to participate in the MPAH Forum, the insights are invaluable.”

Contact if you would like to receive a copy of the MCF presentation to the MPAH Conference. The pdf file is 8MB.

Could You be a Crane Mama?

Who wouldn’t want to spend hours sploshing about a wetland in all weather, mashing up mealworms, wearing a peculiar grey and white overall and at the same time making an important contribution to the survival of Wattled Cranes on our planet? Actually, you have to be a bit special to do this, and maybe you are.R IMG_9811

The KZN Crane Foundation is launching the new Wattled Crane Rearing Facility in Nottingham Road in July 2014 and need assistance for the rearing of Wattled Crane chicks this winter for four months. This is a really unique opportunity for someone who wants to make a significant contribution to conservation. Preference will be given to those who have experience in hand rearing birds, a good knowledge and interest in birds or have proven experience of arduous work with animals in challenging conditions. There is no stipend but basic accommodation is available. Local Crane enthusiasts are also able to support the foundation by committing to assist two days a week.
chick mama 3

“Costume-rearing” is a proven and effective technique which requires human caretakers to dress in crane costumes and mimic the behaviours of adult cranes in order to teach the youngsters the skills they need to survive in the wild. As chicks mature, the costumed caretakers take them for walks and teach them to forage for natural foods. The nursery is placed in the Wattled Cranes natural habitat, with wetland for walking, feeding and training.
nursery dam winter

The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (partners are: Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), KZN Wildlife and African association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZAB)) aims to prevent the local extinction of Wattled Cranes in South Africa by creating a breeding flock of Wattled Cranes from abandoned eggs from the wild, and then releasing off-spring of the breeding flock back into the wild to help increase the wild population.
R IMG_9703

Lara Jordan is the person to contact to find out how you can spend the winter nights sleeping near precious Wattled Crane infants and sunny days taking long-legged chicks for walks. or cell: 0719035880

Wattled Cranes (Bugeranus carunculatus) are one of the five Critically Endangered birds in South Africa. In July 2000 concern over the species decline and its potential genetic uniqueness in South Africa prompted a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment Workshop. Out of this workshop it was determined that a captive program should be initiated to ensure its survival. After 13 years we have secured a captive population with specialists working towards sustainability of the population through breeding and artificial insemination techniques. The captive population was brought into captivity through rescuing second eggs from the wild (eggs that are only laid as a biological insurance and then are abandoned on hatch of the first chick).
R IMG_9823

Plight of the Wattled Crane: Wattled Cranes are the rarest crane on the African continent and are currently listed as Critically Endangered in South Africa. Wattled Cranes formerly occurred throughout much of the country, extending from the northern borders to the western parts of the Cape Province. Today a scarce 260 or so individuals currently remain in South Africa, the vast majority of which occur in isolated pockets of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. Wattled Cranes have already become locally extinct in Lesotho and Swaziland. The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme aims to prevent the local extinction of Wattled Cranes in South Africa by creating a breeding flock of Wattled Cranes from abandoned eggs from the wild, and then releasing off-spring of the breeding flock back into the wild to help increase the wild population. The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme is a member of the IUCN Re-introduction Specialist Group and is branded by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Costume Rearing Wattled Cranes for Release into the Wild For the past thirty-three years, conservationists in North America have been successful in saving endangered crane populations from extinction by releasing human-reared cranes into the wild using a technique called “costume-rearing” or “puppet-rearing”. Feasibility trials were conducted in 2000 to assess the potential for using this technique to increase South Africa’s Wattled Crane population. Three (3) isolation-reared Wattled Crane chicks were released and successfully integrated into wild Wattled Crane flock in KwaZulu-Natal. “Costume-rearing” consists of human caretakers who dress in crane costumes and mimic the behaviours of adult cranes thereby teaching them the skills they need to survive in the wild. Once the chicks are old enough to fly, they are released into existing wild Wattled Crane flocks. Crane chicks must be reared in strict isolation to ensure that they believe they are cranes so they can fully integrate into the wild flocks.
R IMG_9758

The Wattled Crane Nursery will be used for rearing of Wattled Crane chicks destined for release into existing floater flocks and is based on the proven Wattled Crane Nursery at the Johannesburg Zoo. As chicks mature, the costumed caretakers will begin taking them for walks in the wetland surrounding the Wattled Crane Nursery to teach them to forage for natural foods. Chicks will remain in the Wattled Crane Nursery until they are old enough to withstand the cold mid-lands winters at which time, they will be moved to a roosting pen where they will be taught to roost in standing water to avoid predation. The nursery is beautifully placed in the Wattled Cranes natural habitat, with wetland for walking, feeding and training. The nursery consists of underfloor heating to ensure the building do not chill if there is a power cut. The indoor areas will also have heat lamps in each enclosure. The door systems are on a roller system so they can be stopped at any height. There is sleeping quarters for two volunteers with bathroom and small kitchen facilities. The volunteers will cook and relax at the main Usher Conservation Center and will just sleep at night by the chicks so that they can hear any alarms that may be triggered. Indoor night rooms along main corridor The small dome by the rearing facility will be used for exercising young chicks are used for when chicks that need to hunker down whilst a chick mum walks another chick.

Wattled Crane Roosting Pen In the wild, Wattled Cranes roost (sleep) in water to avoid being attacked by predators at night. Costume-reared Wattled Crane chicks are taught to roost in water by placing them in a roosting pen in the evenings so they will learn to seek the safety of water once they are released into the wild. A small damlet has been constructed off the main dam on the reserve. A roosting pen will be built inside this damlet. The roosting pen is predator proofed using wire of two layers shade cloth and then outer perimeter fence to prevent predators such as Jackal coming close to the roosting birds.

R IMG_9857

During 2013 the crane rearing facility was funded and built by the KZN Crane Foundation. This facility will start rearing chicks in June 2014 initially for captivity and then for release in the season of 2015. The overall aim of the project in 2014 is to:

  • Furnish the interior of the crane facility by the 2nd week of June.
  • To rear birds for captivity in the new facility.
  • To train volunteers and staff on rearing techniques.
  • To track wild young birds moving into the floater flocks for understanding what normal behavior looks like.
  • To analyse diets of wild birds and captive
  • To test tracking equipment for implementation this season August/September.

Looking ahead, the project is aiming toward releasing hand-reared second-hatched chicks in 2016 and beyond in order to move forward with the supplementation side of the project. If you are interested in supporting our efforts please contact us on Lara Jordan on: Cell: 0719035880 E-mail: IMG_9742

To Burn or Not to Burn?

There are lots of different opinions and even different laws governing various activities around fires and veld burning. In an attempt to share as many ideas as possible, Dargle Conservancy hosted a morning of discussion this week in the lovely grassland covered hills above the mist-belt forest.

fire morning 002

Farmers who have been in the area for years and brand new landowners were amongst those who attended. Bobby Hoole of the Lion’s River Fire Protection Agency led the discussions. “I think days like this are important for all landowners to start understanding the use of fire as a management tool. Both big and small landowners need to co-exist within the broader fire management planning for the area.”

fire morning 006

If you are going to burn a firebreak, you need to notify the local Fire Protection Agency (FPA), failure to do so could result in a charge of negligence. Many insurers are insisting that landowners join the local FPA before they will consider coverage. Have you?

fire morning 016

The group agreed that the most basic ADVICE when planning to burn anything is:

  • If you are not 100% sure of what is best, ask a couple of ‘old-timers’ for their opinion BEFORE you strike the match.
  • DON’T just ask one person, you may have chosen the local pyromaniac!
  • ALWAYS consult with your neighbours so that when they see a puff of smoke they already know what your intentions are.
  • ALWAYS be 150% prepared with equipment. Overkill on prevention is far better that trying to stop a fire when it is already running.
  • Most people are happy to assist with advice rather than running around trying to mop up a mess later.

fire morning 020

The Midlands Conservancies Forum website has a page dealing with specifically with fire:

A selection of downloadable documents around the issue make interesting reading. Have a look:

Another interesting document designed to encourage grassland managers to think about and observe the dynamics of their particular management scenario, and to apply biodiversity-friendly principles is: Grazing and Burning Guidelines: Managing Grasslands for Biodiversity and Livestock Production – which you can download here:

“Fire has been around for many years as a grass management tool – however with increased population densities and smaller properties, more control and better guidelines need to be put in place to ensure that correct management of our grassland resource is achieved.” concludes Bobby.

fire morning 012

Photos by Nicole Schafer

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:




People vs Biodiversity

This article first appeared in the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Rhino Club Newsletter.

Most, if not all, of the environmental progress we’ve made in the past 40 years could be undone in the next 40 by the sheer size and resource demands of our ever-growing, all-consuming population. The threat is very real.

zebra city

This year a national park was de-registered(lost its legal status) in Mexico to provide food and water to a growing local population; the U.S. government announced it will cease reintroducing wolves to new areas because there are too many people; and record numbers of endangered manatees, red wolves, gray wolves and panthers were killed in the U.S. by cars, boats, snow mobiles and guns. The historic recovery of these and many more imperilled species is being reversed by too many people consuming too much and crowding out wildlife habitat.

r scilla cows

Last week the Cabot Institute hosted a debate for BBC Radio 4’s Shared Planet programme, asking whether we can better manage resources to live within our planet’s means, or whether there are simply too many of us to co-exist with wildlife. Fred Pearce, science and environment writer, was one of the panellists. He argued that nature is dynamic and with better management of the resources we already have, we can reduce our consumption and live within the planet’s ability to recover.

Kierán Suckling, Executive Director of the Centre for Biological Diversity in Arizona, had a more pessimistic view. He believes that the human population is going to rise to a level far greater than the planet can sustain, and if we do not control our population level we will not be able to prevent ecological destruction on a global scale.

r kwampumuza

We are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. The 2012 Living Planet Report by the WWF estimated that we lost 28% of global biodiversity between 1970 and 2008. Fred took a more holistic view, that while of course we have a huge effect on the natural environment and should try and minimise damage, nature is resilient and will fight back. Foxes invading urban environments, weeds in a garden and rainforests’ ability to regrow in 15 years show that nature isn’t as fragile as we think. Animals and plants that depend on very specific environments are likely to be more at risk than more generalist species however and Kieran argued that we have an “ethical responsibility” to keep all remaining species alive.

r vine snake
Every day around 870 million people do not get enough food. How can we hope to feed a predicted 9.6 billion people by 2050 whilst growing food more sustainably? Suckling described how industrial agricultural practices are highly damaging to the environment, for example pesticides which probably have a severe impact on bees. He argued that organic farms are unlikely to provide enough food for the growing population. Globally, 19% of forests are protected, but rising demand for fuel and agricultural land means we are losing 80,000 acres of rainforest each day and probably 50,000 species of animals and plants every year. The good news, Pearce said, is that that we already produce enough food to feed the predicted 9 billion people, although we waste enough for 3 billion. Recent reports showed that 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK each year. He argued that we should be encouraged by the notion that “we can reduce our footprint just by being more economical”. The real challenge is how to make people understand that food waste is both socially and environmentally unethical.
Fred mentioned that overall women are having half the number of children that their mothers had. This is in part thanks to medical advances, meaning that most children will survive to adulthood so fewer births are needed to build a family. It is also an education success story. Both the panellists agreed that “when education and freedom levels rise, the population starts to grow more slowly”. Opportunities for women to educate themselves will be critical in changing gender stereotypes and reducing the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. This is good news for human rights as well as managing our growing population’s impact on the environment.

r van reenen women with picks
The debate ventured into the ethical question of whether animals and the environment should have same right to live as humans. Does sustainable living have to be an “us versus them” question? Fred took a humanist view, but argued that we as a species need the services that nature provides. Kieran argued that we must not simply steal the most resources we can get away with, but live sustainably with other species.

Where do you stand on this issue? Are you prepared to structure your life around sustainable living or do you believe that it’s a problem for future generations. Must your children and their descendants inherit a world where the loss of resources threatens humanity’s very existence?

Milestone Magic

It was at Milestone in Balgowan that the Conservancy movement in South Africa began. Peter and Priscilla Francis, Tony Carr and Nick Steele got the ball rolling in the late 1970’s and now there are many Conservancies in the KZN Midlands and around the country.

milestone 005

In 2007, after the Milestone forest had received Natural Heritage Site Status, David Johnson and Iain Guthrie led a walk along the paths and Peter and Priscilla planted a Black Stinkwood (Ocotea bullata) to celebrate.  Iain recalled many happy hours in his youth scrabbling through the undergrowth learning about the trees and watching birds.  In particular, he pointed out the three species of Yellowwood trees found in Milestone – Podocarpus falcatus, Podocarpus latifolious and Podocarpus henkelli. “Sadly yellowwoods were exploited heavily for their timber in the 1800’s and now have to be protected by law.  It is wonderful that this piece of forest on Milestone has been well looked after by the Francises.”

milestone 254

David Johnson told the group that Podocarpus had an ancient lineage. “Milestone is a living monument to our tumultuous climatic history.  Afro-Montane forest has its ancestral home in the highlands of East Africa – from their is colonised southwards during the wetter periods of the Peistocene.  Yellowwoods are also found in South America and Australia, but not on any Northern continent, this is best explained by continental drift.  Milestone is our own piece of the Gondwana super-continent, along with Selaginella kruassiana which covers the forest floor.”

milestone 071

On a recent wander through the forest, I discovered that the magic of Milestone is alive and well.  These are a few enchanting discoveries.

milestone 023

Towering trees create dappled glades

milestone 042

where ferns and orchids thrive.

milestone 040

A tiny butterfly catches the light

milestone 120

Hollow Lemonwoods provide hiding places for little creatures

milestone 207

A Spotted Eagle Owl feather, dropped in flight

milestone 142

Fungi everywhere – doing their colourful job of recycling nutrients

milestone 148

milestone 221

Tiny mauve Streptocarpus flowers, fallen on the forest floor

milestone 140

A colourful Midlands Dwarf Chameleon

milestone 167

Trees twined with creepers, including Dumasia villosa

milestone 241

Such interesting textures in the bark of the trees – some rough,

milestone 214

others papery and peeling.

milestone 038

Silky spider webs

milestone 106

Bright yellow splotches of Argylobium tomentosum in flower

milestone 237

The fruit of Eugenia natalensis provide a feast for the birds

milestone 129

Along the trail is a green cathedral made up of Podocarpus henkelii which are endemic to the region and found no where else besides the moist inland forest of the Eastern Cape and KZN. A magnificent and peaceful spot.

milestone 098

Splashes of orange Crocosmia in the understory.

milestone 248

Milestone Forest hosts a regular walk on the first Friday of every month – next one 4 April09h00 until about 11h00.  Donation R20 to the Balgowan Conservancy.  Phone Marilyn 082 427 3365 to book.

“I just love being in the forest and spend a lot of time exploring and listening to the birds,” says Marilyn Revesz. “I will be so pleased to share this with other people.”

milestone 121