Tag Archives: karkloof

Catchment to Confluence Complete

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The excitement was brewing as the team were heading to the start of the final leg of the journey along the Karkloof river. This would involve walking the section from below the Karkloof Falls to the confluence where the Karkloof meets the uMngeni River.

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Aerial view of the Karkloof Falls

This entire stretch traverses through the Karkloof Safari Spa property, which is an upmarket private game reserve, lodge and spa with restricted access. This day was set to be a little different from the rest, as we were missing half our team (Ndu and Ayanda), however, we were fortunate to be joined by Jenna Taylor of GroundTruth and Dr. Hans Grobler who is the specialist environmental and wildlife conservation advisor to Mr Worner (the landowner).

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From left: Jenna Taylor, Dr Hans Grobler and Sue Viljoen.

The highlight of the day was reaching the base of the Karkloof falls (normally only seen from above) via a winding wooden boardwalk built by the Karkloof Spa.


The boardwalk that leads to the base of the Karkloof falls

The team enjoyed the lush mistbelt forest with the many flora treasures within, expansive cliffs that tell an incredible geological story, and the damp spray of the waterfall with misty clouds rising above the falls.

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The magnificent Karkloof Falls

In this sacred place where time stands still, and one gets to just soak up the majesty and beauty of one of nature’s natural wonders, no one would guess that we were just 30 minutes from civilisation and the town of Howick.


A team selfie at the base of the Karkloof Falls, which is the starting point for the final leg of our journey.  From left: Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Jenna Taylor (GroundTruth) and Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Although the team could have stayed at these magnificent falls all day, they knew they had a journey to complete. Once back out of the forested boardwalk section, the valley opened up into savannah with thorn trees and grassland, with a wealth of indigenous species tracking the river’s course through the reserve.


Dierama sp.

A Buffalo stood watching us quietly from behind a large rock at the river. For at least 8km, the Karkloof’s last stretch before the confluence enjoys natural habitats all along its path, which gives the river an opportunity to heal itself of any impacts experienced higher up in the catchment. Water clarity noticeably improved as well as the levels of dissolved oxygen due to the regular riffles, rapids, and general fast flow of this section.

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Fast flowing river through a natural area.

It is interesting to note that Lantana camara was absent along the entire stretch of river from the source to the falls, but was prolific throughout the last day’s journey. We could see that work was being done to combat this invasive alien plant, as well as many others.


Dr Grobler taking the water clarity reading at the weir for us. The clarity test tube is a brilliant citizen science tool which can be purchased through GroundTruth.

While taking water sample readings near the confluence, a young Spotted-necked Otter peeked its head out of the water with curiosity to see what we were doing. Spotted-necked Otters require clean, good quality water with clear visibility in order to catch fish. It was an encouraging sign to have this sighting at the end of our journey and certainly a highlight for the team.

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Spotted-necked Otter just above the confluence at the end of our 64km journey,

The team were amused to see that hippo also rely on the Karkloof River as home. Have you ever seen a hippo in a natural flowing river in the KZN midlands? A rare sight indeed. We were also treated to sightings of Eland, Giraffe, Zebra, Bushbuck, Warthog and many more game species.

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Hippo enjoying the tranquility of the Karkloof Safari Spa

The river walkers were indeed extremely privileged to have experienced the wildlife and scenery at the Karkloof Safari Spa and are very grateful for being afforded access in order to complete the journey and collect the necessary data along the full stretch of the river.


Identifying water invertebrates to obtain a miniSASS score

Very soon after the confluence where the Karkloof river joins onto the uMngeni, we could see the quick deterioration of water quality and the first signs of invasive water weeds on the uMngeni river at Morton’s Drift. Fortunately the Karkloof River is free of aquatic invasive weeds, and will hopefully remain that way.


Mortons Drift. Just below the confluence on the uMngeni River.

The team celebrated the end of the 6 day Karkloof River walk from Catchment to Confluence with sundowners at the top of the Karkloof Falls at the Sappi picnic site, joined by members of the Karkloof Conservancy and WWF staff. A toast was made to the river walk accomplishment and conquering the 64km journey through hill and vale, rain and shine.


Cheers! To a successful journey.

There is keen interest to see the official results of the river health sampling and the video that is being made of the C2C Karkloof River Walk journey, sponsored by Woolworths. Both of these will be shared at an upcoming Karkloof Conservancy event to be announced.

A huge note of thanks to all the sponsors and partners that have contributed in both cash and kind towards this project, and to the landowners who so willingly allowed access to their properties.

So which river is next? And who else is going to raise their hand to get to know the river in their own catchment?


Great to see the Goble family at the end of our journey. The support from landowners has been fantastic. We look forward to sharing the results with them. From left: Ros Lindley, Fuzz Goble and his mum, Carolyn Goble.

Finally the Falls!

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

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

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

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

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

We started up there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

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

River Rockery Pano

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

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

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

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A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

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

Jane Symes

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

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

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

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

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

A Winding Watercourse

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


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


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

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


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


Sewerage plant along with other signs of deteriorating water quality

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


Ayanda negotiating yet another fence

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


Negotiating the log bridge

Twané showing the muscle required of a river walker.


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


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


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

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


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


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


Bushwillows, Bushbuck and Bushwhacking

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


The Karkloof river, our source of inspiration

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


Close-up of the Forest Bushwillow

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


Standing under the impressive Bushwillow

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


Green algae – a sign of nutrient enrichment

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


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

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


Wall of Bramble separating us from the river

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


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

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

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


The Good – Beloved Bushwillows


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


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

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


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

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


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


SAPPI Saunter

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


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

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


Testing water clarity

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


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

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


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

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


A portion of the Bramble infestation.

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


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

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



Appreciating the healthy looking riparian zone between the two plantations.

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


The team enjoying a bramble-free walk

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Source Seeking and Catchment Clambering

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

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

Source team

The river walk team at the source of the Karkloof river

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

River walk team

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

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


MiniSASS – identifying the invertebrates to determine river health

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


Testing the clarity of the water

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

stone fly

Yes folks, that little insect made our day!

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

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

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


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

bush whacking

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

Panoramic view

unique flowers,

purple flower

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

Hyaena spoor

and lots of frogs.

Ndu Kisses a frog

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

sunset flying ant photo

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

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

Forest, Fireflies and Camping

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Tired kids and parents had an early night.


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.


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.


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.


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

Threatened Plant Species – Nerine pancratioides

AMARYLLIDACEAE: Nerine pancratioides [Near Threatened]

Nerine pancratioides, commonly referred to as the White Nerine, is a plant that grows up to 600 mm long. It was previously observed in parts of the Midlands, south-western KZN as well as in north-eastern Lesotho. This gorgeous flower is also featured in the Midlands Conservancies Forum 2016 Wildflowers Calendar.


Nerine pancratioides photographed in the Karkloof by Richard Booth

Habitat loss and destruction has caused a significant decline in the species population size in several of its localities, and in some instances even resulting in extinction. Deterioration of wetlands in the form of overgrazing, invasive alien plant infestation and damming are major concerns for the population’s survival.

Nerine pancratioides

Nerine pancratioides photographed by CREW

The plant grows in moist areas with acidic soils, on banks of streams, in grassy depressions and in seepage areas on steep hillsides. The flowers appear between March and April and are known to respond well after fires have occurred.

Nerine pollinator

Nerine pancratioides photographed in the Karkloof by Richard Booth

The leaves grow to 300 mm long, are narrow, round at base and almost flattened towards the top. The stalk is robust growing to 600 mm long. The sheathing bracts are narrowly egg-shaped with sharp tips. The pedicels are densely covered with hairs, 300−450 mm long. The inflorescence is umbel, 10−20. Tepals are ± 25 mm and white.

Nerine pancratioides seed

Nerine pancratioides photographed by CREW

If you have seen this plant, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager S.Parbhoo@sanbi.org.za


  • Baker, J.G. 1896. Amaryllideae. In: W.T. Thiselton-Dyer (ed). Flora Capensis VI (Haemodoraceae to Liliaceae):171-246. L. Reeve & Co., London.
  • Craib, C. 2004. Nerine pancratioides. Degradation of grassland habitats by exotic plantations are threatening the beautiful white Nerine with extinction. Veld & Flora 90:105-107
  • Mtshali, H. & von Staden, L. 2015. Nerine pancratioides Baker. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2016/03/16
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – July, August and September 2015

Jul, Aug, Sep 2015 header

Karkloof Conservation Centre

We had regular sightings of up to 86 different bird species at the Karkloof Conservation Centre and nearby farmlands visible from the road. The winter months had surprisingly better lists than spring!

View from the Crowned Crane Hide in Winter

View from the Crowned Crane Hide in Winter

On the 21st August, Karin Nelson reported a sighting of the first Steppe Buzzard of the season in the Karkloof as she was travelling back from her visit to Benvie Gardens. On the 2nd September, we had our first sighting of the Yellow-billed Kite here at the Centre. It’s always exciting to see the migrants return, understanding that many of them have endured a tough journey.

The Wattled Crane Hide was full of life as the sun rose to greet the day. By the time the light was good enough for a photo, the Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes had already flown off. These three Wattled Cranes stayed around for a little while though.

The Wattled Crane Hide was full of life as the sun rose to greet the day. By the time the light was good enough for a photo, the Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes had already flown off. These three Wattled Cranes stayed around for a little while though.

We have had great sightings of all three crane species (a perk of having them breed in the area), which is something members of the Karkloof Conservancy can be proud of, as this indicates suitable wetland and grassland habitat allowing a healthy environment.

The Wattled Cranes were extremely active and even gave us a rendition of the "Can-Can" dance.

The Wattled Cranes were extremely active and even gave us a rendition of the “Can-Can” dance.

We must not be complacent though, as there are a number of threats we face, which can be of detriment to these stately birds, as well as other fauna and flora. Threats include but are not limited to drainage of wetlands (no matter how big or small), fracking, developments that put pressure on an already sensitive environment, and not to forget the dreaded N3 Bypass.

A typical winter scene with Wattled Cranes amongst the White-faced Ducks in the foreground and a Common Reedbuck grazing in the background.

A typical winter scene with Wattled Cranes amongst the White-faced Ducks in the foreground and a Common Reedbuck grazing in the background.

Adam Riley, of Rockjumper Birding Tours, brought visitors to the hides on the 15 December, who were thrilled to see 4 Wattled Cranes at the Loskop pan. Two of the birds had rings and stayed there for the remainder of the day looking a lot like a couple. The one on the far left is Mbeche’s sibling (Mbeche is our adopted Wattled Crane that was collected in the Karkloof as a second egg after being abandoned) and the one next to our charmer is its assumed partner that was colour ringed as a chick by Brent Coverdale and Tanya Smith in October 2013 at Impendle Nature Reserve. This is the first re-sighting of the Impendle bird since it fledged.

Wattled Cranes by Adam Riley

Wattled Cranes by Adam Riley

Other sightings included: African Black Duck; African Black Swift; African Darter; African Fish-Eagle; African Hoopoe; African Jacana; African Marsh-Harrier; African Olive-Pigeon; African Pipit; African Sacred Ibis; African Snipe; African Spoonbill;

African Spoonbill

African Spoonbill

African Stonechat; African Wattled Lapwing; Amethyst Sunbird; Black Crake; Black-headed Heron; Black-shouldered Kite; Blacksmith Lapwing; Black-winged Lapwing; Blue Crane; Brown-throated Martin; Buff-streaked Chat; Burchell’s Coucal; Cape Canary; Cape Crow; Cape Robin-chat; Cape Shoveler; Cape Turtle-dove; Cape Wagtail; Cardinal Woodpecker; Common Fiscal; Crowned Lapwing; Crowned Lapwing; Dark-capped Bulbul; Drakensberg Prinia; Egyptian Goose; Fan-tailed Widowbird; Forest Buzzard; Fork-tailed Drongo; Giant Kingfisher; Green Wood-Hoopoe; Grey Crowned Crane; Grey Heron; Hadeda Ibis; Hamerkop; Helmeted Guineafowl; Hottentot Teal; Jackal Buzzard;

A Jackal Buzzard caught some rodent salad.

A Jackal Buzzard caught some rodent salad.

Lanner Falcon; Levaillant’s Cisticola; Little Grebe; Little Swift; Long-crested Eagle;

Long-crested Eagle

Long-crested Eagle

Long-tailed Widowbird; Malachite Kingfisher; Natal Spurfowl; Olive Thrush; Olive Woodpecker; Osprey;

This Osprey was seen daily. This sighting was out of season for inland distribution.

This Osprey was seen daily. This sighting was out of season for inland distribution.

Pied Crow; Pied Kingfisher; Pied Starling; Pin-tailed Whydah; Purple Heron; Red-billed Quelea; Red-billed Teal; Red-eyed Dove; Reed Cormorant; South African Shelduck; Southern Black Flycatcher; Southern Boubou; Southern Grey-headed Sparrow; Southern Red Bishop; Speckled Mousebird; Speckled Pigeon; Spur-winged Goose; Village Weaver; White-breasted Cormorant; White-throated Swallow; Wood Sandpiper; Yellow-billed Duck; and Yellow-fronted Canary.

Orange Ground-Thrush Project @ Benvie – Karin Nelson

Under the guidance and supervision of Prof. Colleen Downs of UKZN, I have started an exciting project on the Orange Ground-Thrush. These birds are uncommon residents of the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Forests. These forests are classified as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, IBA’s, as they have important bird, tree and flowering plant species.

Orange Ground-Thrush by Karin Nelson

Orange Ground-Thrush by Karin Nelson

Benvie lies within these Mistbelt Forests, hosting a healthy population of Orange Ground-Thrush. With the support and enthusiasm of John and Jenny Robinson of Benvie, I have started catching and colour-ringing some thrushes.

The engraved colour ring used to identify the birds from a distance using binoculars or photographs

The engraved colour ring used to identify the birds from a distance using binoculars or photographs

I have also taken blood samples which will be analysed by UKZN staff for genetics, relatedness, population and sex. In the future, we will also be assessing breeding biology to determine factors such as nest success, fidelity, sites used, and threats.

Bird Ringing @ Gartmore – Karin Nelson

Winter proves to be a difficult time to do bird ringing at the Gartmore hide, as the mealies have been turned into silage, causing the mist nets to be fairly exposed. Karin was, however, grateful that a large flock of Red-billed Quelea did not fly into her nets. Despite the slow morning, she managed to catch 10 birds, with 3 of these being re-traps:

  • 4 Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 2 Southern Red Bishop
  • 2 African Stonechat
  • 1 Cape Robin Chat
  • 1 Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

Karin also managed to list 43 different species during the morning, which includes this Giant Kingfisher which was a highlight to the day.

Giant Kingfisher by Karin Nelson

Giant Kingfisher by Karin Nelson

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth

An Orange-breasted Bush Shrike which we have had in our garden at Mbona. They are not on our bird list and have never heard them calling here. SABAP2 does show this is the edge of their range, but probably more down towards Albert Falls dam. I saw this little one outside our bedroom window and then again one week later when he flew into a window stunning himself. Fortunately not too bad, but we were able to pick him up for a photo shoot before he/she flew away. Beautiful colours!

Orange-breasted Bush Shrike by Richard Booth

Orange-breasted Bush Shrike by Richard Booth

I’ve included a picture of one of the lovely orchids that grow in our COOL forest: Polystachya pubescens.

Polystachya pubescens, an orchids that grow in the cool forest at Mbona

Polystachya pubescens, an orchids that grow in the cool forest at Mbona

“Twitching bug” bites the Campbell’s – Lisa Campbell

The Campbell family are becoming real bird watchers of late, and they were very excited about a “lifer” for them and for their garden.

Groundscraper Thrush photographed by Lisa Campbell

Groundscraper Thrush photographed by Lisa Campbell

This Groundscraper Thrush had the Campbell paparazzi snap its good side for the rest of the community to enjoy. Well done and we look forward to future contributions!

Crane Custodian – Tony Matchett (Agric. Manager of Benson Farming)

There is no better reward for a crane custodian than stumbling upon a Wattled Crane chick that has been smartly hidden by its parents.

Wattled Crane chick playing "hide-and-go-seek" in the veld.

Wattled Crane chick playing “hide-and-go-seek” in the veld.

Tony luckily had his camera on hand and took a few photos before he left promptly, limiting the stress levels of the birds, and allowing the chick and parents to reunite. This was attempt number two for the pair of Wattled cranes this last breeding season, as they unfortunately lost their first chick. Let’s hope we see this one flying amongst the 311 others.

The Wattled Crane parents feeding in the burnt veld.

The Wattled Crane parents feeding in the burnt veld.

Tony took this photograph which represents part of the floater flock of about 50 Grey Crowned Cranes (they couldn’t all fit in the frame!) that were enjoying the safe lands that are provided by the Benson family.

Part of a flock of 50 Grey Crowned Cranes with a Common Reedbuck in the background.

Part of a flock of 50 Grey Crowned Cranes with a Common Reedbuck in the background.

This flock were seen daily for almost 2 months and spent the whole day there, only splitting up to find a place to roost for the night. A Common Reedbuck seemed to enjoyed their company, while grazing on the lush cover crop planted as part of the no-till farming technique which plays a significant role in preventing soil erosion.

Grey Crowned Cranes are the only cranes that can perch in trees.

Grey Crowned Cranes are the only cranes that can perch in trees.

Capturing the Moments – Chris and Ingy Larkin

Chris and Ingy managed to capture these gorgeous photographs during their visit to the bird hides.

Purple Heron well camouflaged. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Purple Heron well camouflaged. Photographed by Chris Larkin

African Snipe on the cold and frosty vegetation. Photographed by Chris Larkin

African Snipe on the cold and frosty vegetation. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Levaillant’s Cisticola in flight. Photographed by Ingy Larkin

Levaillant’s Cisticola in flight. Photographed by Ingy Larkin

Grey Crowned Crane in flight. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Grey Crowned Crane in flight. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Ingy Larkin photographed this White-breasted Cormorant with a fairly large fish in its beak.

Ingy Larkin photographed this White-breasted Cormorant with a fairly large fish in its beak.

Chris Larkin photographed this special sighting of the Osprey emerging out of the water with a meal fit for a king.

Chris Larkin photographed this special sighting of the Osprey emerging out of the water with a meal fit for a king.

White-breasted Cormorant and an African Darter having a squabble. Chris Larkin captured this typical book club scene.

White-breasted Cormorant and an African Darter having a squabble. Chris Larkin captured this typical book club scene.

Grey Crowned Crane puffed out after a bath. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Grey Crowned Crane puffed out after a bath. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Munching breakfast together. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Munching breakfast together. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – April, May and June 2015

White Faced Duck

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill:

When Twané gave me her personal list of sightings, she said that she had seen 14 Wattled Cranes on April the first. I thought this was her idea of an April Fool’s, but she was being serious!

Wattled Cranes

Wattled Cranes at the Loskop Pan by Twané Clarke

Pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes have been hanging around the Loskop Hide, but their nest building appears to have come to an end.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes by Patrick Cahill

I recently saw a Natal Spurfowl (aka Natal Francolin before the taxonomists started messing with our glossaries) and several visitors have reported them during the month.

Natal Spurfowl

Natal Spurfowl by Patrick Cahill

A big thanks to the Karkloof residents who assisted with the NguniTV team to produce the excellent documentary for 50/50 on our Cranes. Congratulations to Charlie and Twané for their performance on the box. They are prepared (for a small fee) to autograph your TV sets. It will be a great loss to the Karkloof if they are tempted to forsake us for a career on the screen! Watch it here: https://youtu.be/9Cb_Tddm0ng

Many visitors have reported regular sightings of Black-winged Lapwings and Malachite Kingfishers, whilst a pair of African Jacana appear to have taken up squatters rights on the Loskop Pan. A Pied Kingfisher was spotted recently saying grace before taking the plunge to get lunch.

Let us prey. Pied Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

Let us prey. Pied Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

Other sightings included:

Southern Red Bishop, Dark-capped Bulbul, Forest Buzzard, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow-fronted Canary, Familiar Chat, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Red-knobbed Coot, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Black Crake, Blue Crane, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, African Darter, Cape Turtle-Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-faced Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, African Fish-Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Great Egret, Yellow-billed Egret, Common Fiscal, Southern Black Flycatcher, Egyptian Goose, Spur-winged Goose, Little Grebe, Helmeted Guineafowl, Hamerkop, African Marsh-Harrier, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Hededa Ibis, Southern Bald Ibis, Giant Kingfisher, Black-shouldered Kite, African Wattled Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Brown-throated Martin, Common Moorhen, Barn Owl, African Olive Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Three-banded Plover, Drakensberg Prinia, Red-billed Quelea, African Rail, Cape Robin-Chat, Secretarybird, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, African Snipe, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Spoonbill, African Stonechat, White Stork, Amethyst Sunbird, Barn Swallow, White-throated Swallow, Hottentot Teal, Red-billed Teal, Cape Wagtail, Common Waxbill, Village Weaver, Pin-tailed Whydah, Fan-tailed Widowbird, and Cardinal Woodpecker.

Bird Ringing @ Mbona – Karin Nelson:

I was recently privileged to do some bird ringing in Mbona Private Nature Reserve upon invitation by Richard Booth. Forest edge birding is always very special, as you never know what you may catch. This day being no exception!

Bush Blackcap by Karin Nelson

Bush Blackcap by Karin Nelson

We caught, ringed and released 27 birds, representing 19 different species which included:
Bush Blackcap, Orange Ground-Thrush, Barratt’s Warbler, Lemon Dove, Cape Batis, Forest Canary, White-starred Robin, Swee Waxbill, Sombre Greenbul and Dark-backed Weaver.

Orange Ground Thrush by Richard Booth

Orange Ground-Thrush by Richard Booth

A great ringing morning for me with 2 species that I’d never ringed before. It was also good to meet some of the Mbona residents who came to see what bird ringing is about. We plan to have further ringing sessions, possibly once a season at Mbona.

Barats Warbler by Karin Nelson

Barratt’s Warbler by Karin Nelson

Thanks to Richard for the invite and a great morning.

Cape Batis by Richard Booth

Cape Batis by Richard Booth

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth:

The Greater Double-collared Sunbirds are in our garden where they spend much of the day feeding in the Pink Plumes (Syncolostemon densiflorus) which are in bloom, a real favourite of theirs.

by Richard Booth

Male Greater Double-collared Sunbird by Richard Booth

by Richard Booth

Female Greater Double-collared Sunbird by Richard Booth

Some happy news from Mbona is that we have a pair of Cape Parrots nesting high up in a dead eucalyptus tree on our Reserve. We first discovered them in April and were then seen regularly at the site during May.

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Mt. Gilboa Nature Reserve – Richard Booth:

During the walk at the Mount Gilboa Nature Reserve in April, which was organised by the Karkloof Conservancy and lead by Kevin McCann of the Wildlands Conservation Trust, as well as Donna Lay who is the manager of this reserve.

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

What stood out most in this grassland and wetland habitat, was a gorgeous display of these special White Nerine, Nerine pancratioides. One picture is enlarged to show a fly with a long proboscis coming in to feed and pollinate. Spoiler alert: This is the flower chosen for April in the Midlands Conservancies Forum calendar which will be on sale from September!

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

Loskop Dairy Farm – AJ Liebenberg (bestuurder):

On the 16 April, AJ was fortunate enough to see a Serval catching mice or rats in the maize lands near the Polo grounds in the early hours – 00h30! He watched it jump around as it tried to pounce on the little rodents.

Common Duiker by AJ Liebenberg

Common Duiker by AJ Liebenberg

He has also been seeing a variety of buck around Loskop, which includes Common (Grey) Duiker, Common Reedbuck and a female Bushbuck that came into the garden.

Reedbuck ram by AJ Liebenberg

Reedbuck ram by AJ Liebenberg

Bushbuck doe by AJ Liebenberg

Bushbuck doe by AJ Liebenberg

Something he has been noticing more often are about 4 Warthogs in the cut maize lands near the club.

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Another interesting offering were photographs of the Black-winged Lapwings which he noticed around the farmlands, especially under the irrigation systems. There are easily over a hundred of them that gather in an area. Shortly after his sighting, Graham and Trish McGill, from Umtentweni KZN, popped into the Conservation Centre and was desperately looking to photograph some of these birds for his website.

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

AJ was quite happy for us to point out their location and allow him to get a little closer. Much to our amusement, he set up a portable bird hide under the Centre Pivot and waited patiently for them to get closer. This got all the locals driving by quite excited, as they all thought that someone was illegally hunting and immediately got on the phone to warn AJ. A good exercise to check if your neighbours are vigilant! Graham popped back to the Centre to excitedly show us his superb photographs. You can see his photos here:
SA Birding Photography

This is a great website to use when confirming the identification of a bird species.

Taking a Closer Look – Vicki Street:

Vikki, a regular visitor to our Conservation Centre, took these magnificent photographs in April of Damselflies, Ladybugs, Spiders, Flies and Butterflies. These creatures are often the food source for many of the birds that you see from our hides. At a recent talk at the KZN Midlands Bird Club meeting, David Johnson spoke about “50 ways to eat an insect”, which was not only humorous, but a wonderful insight into the many adaptations of insectivorous birds. Next time you’re birding, keep your eyes open for the little wonders.

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Wattled Crane – Andrew Cairncross:

Spent a very pleasant morning at Karkloof and was lucky enough to capture a Wattled Crane. It really is a superb place to visit.

Wattled Crane by Andrew Cairncross

Wattled Crane by Andrew Cairncross