Tag Archives: karkloof

Sociable Sundowners with the N3TC Birds

On Tuesday 11th August, MCF was privileged to host a visit from N3 Toll Concession in the form of Andrea (Andy) Visser and Thandiwe (Thandi) Rakale. The aim of their visit was to give MCF support and encouragement, so all MCF’s member Conservancies were invited to attend.

Representatives from Balgowan, Beacon Hill, Curry’s Post, Karkloof and Lion’s Bush Conservancies flocked to the Karkloof Conservation Centre where they enjoyed sundowners, snacks, and fruitful discussions with Andy and Thandi in the Crowned Crane Hide.

Front: Andy Visser (N3TC) and Roy Tabernor (Lion's Bush). Back: Karen McGregor (Curry’s Post), Thandiwe Rakale (N3TC), Yvonne Thompson (Balgowan), Eve Hughes (Beacon Hill) and Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof)

Front: Andy Visser (N3TC) and Roy Tabernor (Lion’s Bush).
Back: Karen McGregor (Curry’s Post), Thandiwe Rakale (N3TC), Yvonne Thompson (Balgowan), Eve Hughes (Beacon Hill) and Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof)

The N3TC funded projects discussed were:

  • The schools’ projects, in particular the new schools that have been included this year;
  • River walks in 2015: the Indezi River Walk completed in April, as well as the planning for the two river walks in the Karkloof. The latter have a new dimension as landowners and partner organisations will be taking part in the walks;
  • Capacity building for clearing Invasive Alien Plants: This new project was the subject of considerable discussion, particularly in the light of our scarce water resources. N3TC is excited about the MCF strategy of capacity building prior to the implementation of a clearing programme.

There was general discussion on the need to achieve a sustainable balance between human activities (such as development) in Conservancies, and ensuring the preservation of wildlife habitats. The need for partnering between different conservation organisations to maximise efforts was also mentioned.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes flew by during our casual discussions.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes flew by during our casual discussions, reminding us of what we’re working towards.

MCF is indebted to N3TC not only for funding, but also for their ongoing support and encouragement. The intention is to give all Conservancies the opportunity to host future meetings so that N3TC can meet all our members, and get a feel for the entire MCF area.

Siyabonga N3TC

“Siyabonga” from the bottom of all our hearts N3TC!

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – March 2015

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

March saw some interesting sightings and the Karkloof Conservation Centre’s list is growing! The White-throated Swallows which have a nest under the eaves of the Loskop Hide were seen tutoring their offspring in the art of aviation. No doubt one of these days their GPS’s will kick in and they will head north to a warmer climate. Twané managed to shoot one (with her camera) peering inquisitively into the hide.

White-throated Swallow chick

White-throated Swallow chick

A new addition to our list is the Knob-billed Duck (formerly the Comb Duck before taxonomists decided everyone’s names should change).

Knob-billed Duck (previously known as the Comb Duck)

Knob-billed Duck (previously known as the Comb Duck)

Some absentees have started reappearing after a sojourn elsewhere, with Pied and Malachite Kingfishers taking up observation posts. Fortunately the water’s edge has expanded, so Loskop is no longer a spoonful of water in the distance.

Malachite Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

Malachite Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

I recently saw a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes very close to the Loskop hide. One was busy stockpiling twigs whilst the other was performing a high stepping ante nuptial quickstep. Hopefully his intentions are honourable and we may sometime hear the patter of tiny claws in the grass.

Pair of Grey Crowned Cranes

Pair of Grey Crowned Cranes by Patrick Cahill

An old faithful who we haven’t seen for some time is a Hamerkop who was spotted recently. Some years ago I was told by a Zulu, whose father had been a herbalist, that there was a belief amongst his people that if you killed an uThekwane, lightning would strike you DEAD! (VEERY!!) He didn’t believe it himself, but felt that it was probably propagated by the elders who wanted to preserve the birds which did the community a favour, by eating the frogs which polluted the wells from which they obtained their drinking water. Perhaps we should adapt this to protect other endangered species too.

Hamerkop by Patrick Cahill

Hamerkop by Patrick Cahill

There have also been sightings of Southern Bald Ibis, an African Marsh Harrier a Cardinal Woodpecker and Groundscraper Thrush.

Cardinal Woodpecker

Cardinal Woodpecker

Now that the maize has been cropped, African Wattled Lapwings and Black-winged Lapwings have been seen in the stubble. Although the pans attract most birds, don’t ignore the fields surrounding them.

Groundscraper Thrush

Groundscraper Thrush

Other sightings included: Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Yellow-fronted Canary, Village Weaver, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape Crow, Cape Robin-Chat, Cape White-eye, African Reed-Warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape Turtle-Dove, Southern Red Bishop, Red-billed Quelea, Barn Swallow, Red-eyed Dove, White Stork, Yellow-billed Kite, Fan-tailed Widowbird, White-throated Swallow, Little Rush Warbler, African Stonechat, Blacksmith Lapwing, Spur-winged Goose,

Spur-winged Geese

Spur-winged Geese

Egyptian Goose, Black-headed Heron, Steppe Buzzard, Common Waxbill, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Zitting Cisticola, Little Grebe, Red-billed Teal, White-faced Duck, Diderick Cuckoo, South African Shelduck, Jackal Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Natal Spurfowl, Wattled Crane, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Sacred Ibis, Hadeda Ibis, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape Wagtail, Speckled Pigeon, Southern Black Flycatcher, Common Moorhen, African Spoonbill, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Pied Crow, Drakensberg Prinia and Black Crake.

Little Mbona Residents – Richard Booth

These cooler autumn mornings with dew are good for photographing the little things that need to warm up before becoming active and once it does warm up the bees get moving.

Kniphophia and bee

Kniphophia and bee

The dragonfly is a Common Thorntail.

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Common Thorntail dragonfly

Many thanks to John Roff who has helped us identify this beautiful spider as a Silver Vlei Spider.

Silver Vlei Spider

Silver Vlei Spider

Denleigh Farm – Britt Stubbs

Britt sent us a very exciting report in the late afternoon, on the 24 March, about a spectacular sighting of 37 Grey Crowned Cranes. She was standing a mere 30m from them. Perhaps Crownies also have AGM’s, as we always see them congregate here during the year end period?

Part of a large group of Grey Crowned Cranes

Part of a large group of Grey Crowned Cranes

Remember to keep your eyes peeled for nesting Wattled Cranes and report it to the blonde craniac, Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. They should start breeding very soon!

Bird Ringing @ Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

In March, 80 birds were caught in the mist-nets for ringing and data collection. Of these there were 13 different species and 4 re-captures.

Adult Malachite Kingfisher

Adult Malachite Kingfisher

All of the birds are special, but the adult and juvenile Malachite Kingfishers were just so cute. Note the juvenile is much darker and still has some black on the bill.

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher

The Diderick Cuckoo is always a nice catch!

Diderick Cuckoo

Diderick Cuckoo

Other birds ringed in order of numbers were:

  • 24 x Red-billed Quelea
  • 13 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 11 x Village Weaver
  • 11 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 10 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 2 x Cape White-eye
  • 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbird
  • 1 x Yellow-fronted Canary
  • 1 x Common Waxbill
  • 1 x Cape Weaver
  • 1 x Drakensberg Prinia

Top “fisherman” in Karkloof – Karon McCann

Let’s face it, the Pied Kingfisher is an ace at fishing. These photographs captured by Karon on her recent visit show the skills required to provide some scrumptious sushi for the family.

Karon McCann 1

Pied Kingfisher

Karon McCann 2

Pied Kingfisher

Gartmore Farm Walk – Pat Street

Pat Street, a regular visitor to our bird hides, joined Robyn on her monthly Gartmore Farm walk which supports the Karkloof Conservancy through donation fees.

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Pat took some amazing photographs showcasing the life and biodiversity in a conservation savvy farmland.

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The pleasures of bird watching – Mo McCann

Mo McCann spent a lovely morning in the bird hides. She photographed this Pied Kingfisher selecting breakfast from the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Mo McCann1

Pied Kingfisher

She also enjoyed listening to this little Waggie (Cape Wagtail) who was singing his little heart out! ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫

Mo McCann2

Cape Wagtail

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – February 2015

Besides being a short month, February was also a busy one in the Karkloof – the maize which stood “as high as an elephant’s eye” was harvested, so Gartmore hide is now surrounded by bare fields (filled with lots of Spur-winged Geese, Egyptian Geese, Blacksmith Lapwings, Speckled Pigeons, Red-eyed Doves, Cape Turtle-Doves, Grey Crowned Cranes and Wattled Cranes), Karin Nelson had a bird ringing morning, and the Three Cranes Challenge saw a host of volunteers assembling to cater for the ‘maniacal‘ marathon runners.

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

We had a new visitor to the Gartmore pan who is now included on our bird list – a Hottentot Teal.

Hottentot Teal

Hottentot Teal

It was much easier photographing their relatives, the Red-billed Teals, as their bills don’t get camouflaged against the reflection of the blue sky in the water!

Red-billed Teal

Red-billed Teal

The local rodent, frog and reptile populations must have experience a rapid decrease in February with all the raptors that were out and perched on the centre-pivots.

Amur Falcon

Amur Falcon

These included the Amur Falcon, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kites, Steppe Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, African Marsh-Harrier and the African Fish-Eagles.

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard

Please remember to avoid using poisons to control your rat populations and seek “raptor-friendly” options!

Other sightings included: White Stork, Cape Crow, Hadeda Ibis, African Sacred Ibis, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Red Bishop, Barn Swallow, Pin-tailed Whydah, Red-collared Widowbird, Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Cape Weaver, Woolly-necked Stork, Diderick Cuckoo, Black-headed Heron, Hamerkop, Wattled Lapwing, African Stonechat, African Black Swift, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Black Saw-wing, Dark-capped Bulbul, Village Weaver, Zitting Cisticola, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Common Fiscal, South African Shelduck, White-throated Swallow, Whiskered Tern, Common Moorhen,

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

White-breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Bronze Mannikin, Cape Wagtail, African Jacana, Common House-Martin, Common Waxbill, Red-billed Quelea, Black Crake, Blue Crane, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cape Shoveler, Little Grebe, Lesser Striped Swallow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Levaillant’s Cisticola, White-faced Duck, Amethyst Sunbird, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-winged Lapwing, Little Rush-Warbler and Burchell’s Coucal.

African Jacana

African Jacana

It’s all about the little things – Hugh Watson

Hugh Watson, a regular visitor to the Karkloof Conservation Centre bird hides took these breathtaking photographs during his recent visit. Can you spot Wally, the yellow spider?

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Spitzkop Farm – Tim Hancock

My sighting is very vague – it looked like an Eurasian Hobby – from the falcon like head and very curved back wings and thin tail (just like a big swallow) repeatedly dive bombing what appeared to be a Steppe Buzzard – too far to actually be definite.

Cricket vs.Twitching – Johnny Bouwer

On Saturday morning the 28 February, I was faced with the choice of lying in bed and watching the Kiwi’s thrash the Auzzies in the WC or head out to the rainy & wet Midlands to the Karkloof Conservation Centre.

KK Feb 14

I was rewarded with a some awesome sightings, so I believe I made the right call. At first I thought the birds were probably all snuggled up in bed watching the cricket.

KK Feb 13

White-throated Swallow

KK Feb 11

Pied Kingfisher

These photographs are of a White-throated Swallow, Pied Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Ducks and a pair of intimate Brown-throated Martins.

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Yellow-billed Ducks

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Brown-throated Martins

The 3 Cranes Challenge – John and Linnet Crow

Friday was a day in Fairyland, after a beautiful sunrise and being situated in the forest at Karkloof Canopy Tours.

KK Feb 19

The sunlight reflecting off the wings of the butterflies and dragonflies could have been glimpses of fairies.

KK Feb 20

The Samango monkeys and Loeries (now known as a Turaco) watched the show as the competitors enjoyed the canopy tour. The floor moved as the bright yellow crabs and finches carried on with their activities.

KK Feb 21

The troll that I heard turned out not to be a troll, but Kai from the canopy tours coming to check how everything was going.

Saturday was a day of watching runners appear from and disappear back into the mist

KK Feb 22

and looking for some of the little things.

KK Feb 24

A juvenile fiscal shrike kept us company for a while.

KK Feb 25

Sunday did not show us the same spectacular sunrise as last year, but the surface of the dam displayed an incredible reflection.

KK Feb 28

The signs were there that the caracal had departed not long before we arrived.

KK Feb 29

The dam at Bushwillow Park was a welcome sight at the end of the 3 days.

KK Feb 30

Bird Ringing @ Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

On the 11 February, Karin Nelson hosted a bird ringing day at our Conservation Centre. The day was well attended and we were pleased to see all the homeschoolers that made use of the activity as part of their studies.

Village Weaver waiting to be collected. The netting gently captures the bird. Qualified bird-ringers know all the tricks so that they may safely remove the bird without any injury. Photograph by Richard Booth.

There were also some visitors who were curious about how ringing impacts the birds, but were very pleased to see how gentle and competent Karin is and that the birds were so calm during the process. Karin caught a total of 75 birds with 5 of these being re-traps.

Red-billed Quelea being measured by qualified bird-ringer, Karin Nelson. Photograph by Richard Booth.

These included: 47 x Red-billed Quelea; 7 x African Reed-Warbler; 6 x Village Weavers; 4 x Southern Red Bishop; 2 x Drakensberg Prinia; 2 x Yellow-fronted Canaries; 2 x Levaillant’s Cisticola; 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds; 1 x Pin-tailed Whydah; 1 x Dark-capped Bulbul; and 1 x African Stonechat.

Pluviophiles in the Karkloof – Twané Clarke

“Pluviophile: (n) A lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days.”

One afternoon when I noticed a build up of dark clouds, I decided to hightail it to the Gartmore hide and see what’s out and about during the rain.

KK Feb 33

Firstly, I noticed a Yellow-billed Duck wandered the pan alone,

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Yellow-billed Duck

then I saw a flock of Barn Swallows flying in the distance with two breaking away to rest on a branch,

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Barn Swallows

and the last bird I saw was a lonely little White-throated Swallow.

KK Feb 36

White-throated Swallow

These birds all weathered the storm and remained there the entire time. I arrived back at the office a drowned rat, but a happy one indeed!

The Three Cranes and their Landowner Custodians

Article from the KZN Crane Foundation‘s Summer Newsletter and written by Charlie MacGillivray, Chairman of the Karkloof Conservancy and KZNCF Committee Member.


"First world and hi-tech farming operations, with high input and high output (yields), can operate cheek by jowl with some of the endangered (red data) species of birds such as the Blue, Grey Crowned and the criticalled endangered Wattled Cranes" Charlie MacGillivray

For many Farmers, there is a very real sense of pride and more importantly “ownership” of the flocks of some, or in fact where fortunate, all three of these stately birds occur.

Grey Crowned Cranes on Loskop farm in the Karkloof

Grey Crowned Cranes on Loskop farm in the Karkloof

This privilege is often recognised by Custodian signs and ought to be regarded as a fulfilment of symbiotic co-existence and success.

Many farmers in the Karkloof are recognised as Crane Custodians.

Many farmers in the Karkloof are recognised as Crane Custodians.

Cranes are truly magnificent birds and beautiful to behold. They depict humour in their behaviour, grace in flight and delight in song.

Grey Crowned Cranes gossiping - By Patrick Cahill

Grey Crowned Cranes at the Karkloof Conservation Centre – By Patrick Cahill

Blue Cranes dancing on Colbourne farm - By John Hill

Blue Cranes dancing on Colbourne farm – By John Hill

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

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

The real thrill for me and I know for many landowners fortunate (thoughtful) enough to have these graceful inhabitants, is that with a little care and courtesy, there is room for ALL of us. Our yardstick being their continued proliferation, with increasing flock sizes in as many different localities as possible.

Large flock of about 50 to 60 Grey Crowned Cranes are often seen in the Karkloof.

A large flock of about 50 to 60 Grey Crowned Cranes are often seen in the Karkloof.

The real threat and the cause of the dire dearth of the flocks of yore, is because their ideal habitats have been transformed by agricultural (and lifestyle) use and in some cases misuse. Here forestry is also seriously implicated.

This delightful picture by the learners of Gartmore Primary School depicts the 3 crane species in an agricultural environment. A common sighting for most of the children.

This delightful picture by the learners of Gartmore Primary School depicts the 3 crane species in an agricultural environment.

It is not always blatantly wilful actions, but often through ignorance by failing to ask ourselves the obvious question, “What will be the consequence if I proceed with what and how I/we do things?”

Blue Crane at the Karkloof Conservation Centre - By Patrick Cahill

Blue Crane at the Karkloof Conservation Centre – By Patrick Cahill

We need to be more attuned to the dependence and interdependence of ALL components of our environment to ensure the integrity of bio-diversity. More emphasis on the primary organisms of our eco-systems, and the role played in ensuring sustainability further up the “food chain”.

Ren Stubbs, a member of the Karkloof Conservancy, showing the earthworms which is No-Till farmings greatest ally.

Earthworms are No-Till farmings greatest ally.

Landowners hold the trump card in the proliferation of our precious Cranes, and it is our role to help where there is some ignorance, encourage and assist where there is uncertainty, and to exercise influence on as many people as possible, to ensure the future of our threatened populations.

Blue Cranes on Gartmore Farm

Blue Cranes on Gartmore Farm

The respective calls of the three Cranes serve as our commentary on the success of our endeavours, and should remain the highlight of any day.

A pair of Wattled Cranes with their offspring on Gartmore Farm.

A pair of Wattled Cranes with their offspring on Gartmore Farm.

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – January 2015

I apologise for the delay in issuing this edition, I had a short break down the South Coast.  We have a real pot pourri (or should I say an Irish Stew!) this month, with flowers, birds and a toad. 

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

For several years after the Karkloof Conservation Centre opened I had the mutters because I had only once seen a Giant Kingfisher and when I did it was so camera shy I couldn’t get a good picture.  Last month a much braver bird put in an appearance and gave me the chance to take too many shots – that’s the problem with digital photography!

Giant Kingfisher

Giant Kingfisher

Twané had some great sightings in January. She managed to get a photograph of a Common Sandpiper that was a regular visitor to the distant muddy shore of the Gartmore pan.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Twané was lucky to get this shot of a male Diderick Cuckoo feeding a female – the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. The male fed her 3 juicy caterpillars and offered them to her with a gentle bobbing motion. They flew off into the sunset after the third one.

Diderick Cuckoo

Diderick Cuckoo

The butterfly that is photographed looks like it could be a male Window Acrea (Acrea oncaea). We would appreciate the correct ID from any Lepidopterists that might have a better idea of what it is.

Window Acrea

Window Acrea

On a recent frogging expedition by the EKZNW Kids Club, the kids found plenty of these little Painted Reed Frogs in the wetlands and mealies.

Painted Reed Frog

Painted Reed Frog

We have often had queries from visitors about the effect of the centre pivots used by local farmers for irrigating crops on the wildlife in the area and particularly on the cranes. The pictures of the Wattled Cranes and the Grey Crowned Cranes taken this month show that they do not impact the local fauna negatively.  They act as excellent perches for  raptors while they keep the rodent population under control. Centre pivots are also an extremely water efficient method of irrigation.

Grey Crowned Crane

Grey Crowned Crane

Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane

Denleigh – Ren and Britt Stubbs

We received some exciting news from Britt about a pair of African Grass-Owls that are nesting in their  grassland. They have seen a pair hang around before, but have finally confirmed that they have decided to breed on their farm. They have reported this sighting to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who keep an active record of nest sites of various species.

According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the African Grass-Owl (Tyto capensis) is a habitat specialist and is mainly restricted to the open, grassy  habitats of marshes, wetlands and floodplains. It is estimated that there are less than 5000 of these birds left in southern Africa.

 The need for farmer co-operation centred on grazing densities and burning regimes, as well as alien plant control and no longer ploughing up native grassland areas no matter how small is extremely important. 

Well done Ren and Britt on a fantastic sighting and for taking on the role as custodians of your land.

Gartmore Farm – Charlie and Robyn MacGillivray

Charlie and Robyn were very excited about this pair of Lesser Striped Swallows that decided to build a nest outside their kitchen window.

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow Nest

Lesser Striped Swallow Nest

During Robyn’s monthly walk, we found a few of these beautiful Asclepias albens (Cartwheel) flowers which seemed to be a favourite amongst the group.

Asclepias albens

Asclepias albens

Karkloof Roadside – Sears from Hillcrest

Geoff and Iris Sear from Hillcrest recently drove through the Karkloof Valley and sent us the following interesting sightings.

We passed by on our way to Rietvlei a few weeks ago when we were in search of the Forest Buzzard, which we saw just past the New Hanover turn off. We couldn’t get a good photo sadly. We also saw 9 pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes in the farmlands before we passed by your centre. There were also plenty of White Storks.

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth

Richard Booth from Mbona is a regular contributor and avid photographer. He sent us a picture of a Red-winged Francolin which had read about Chicken Licken’s phobia about the sky falling on her head and was keeping a weather eye on the stratosphere just in case.

Red-winged Francolin

Red-winged Francolin

Having gone through medical school, Richard doesn’t believe the ridiculous myth about frogs giving you warts, and he bravely photographed this Guttural Toad!

Guttural Toad

Guttural Toad

The Brunsvigia undulata, a rare threatened species, was found on Mbona and is a cousin to the more widely spread Brunsvigia radulosa or Candelabra flower.

Brunsvigia undulata 2

Brunsvigia undulata

Brunsvigia undulata 1

Brunsvigia undulata

Ringing at Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

Error correction: In the December 2014 Karkloof Sightings newsletter, we had incorrectly labelled this gorgeous Red-headed Quelea (photographed) as a “Red-headed Weaver”. Many thanks to Pam Nicol for pointing this out for us. We, Karin, Pat and Twané, will all need to go for an eye test!

Red-headed Quelea

Red-headed Quelea

Karin Nelson’s January ringing session produced 33 birds, with 8 re-trapped birds all ringed within the past 2 years, mostly African Reed-Warblers (7).  Karin read up on the Reed-Warblers and found that they spend their non-breeding time in drier vegetation, away from water. Some birds further north than KZN do move south.

At first glance, we had assumed one of the birds to be a Bronze Mannikin, however, it was too big and Karin had noticed a prominent gape. It turned out to be a ‘baby’ Pin-tailed Whydah. It was very interesting to see how similar it looked to the Mannikin.

Other birds ringed included:

  • 14 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 6 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 3 x Pin-tailed Whydah
  • 3 x Cape Weaver
  • 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds
  • 2 x Amethyst Sunbird.
  • 1 x Barn Swallow
  • 1 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 1 x Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – December 2014

Tempus fugit! The older I get, the faster it seems to “fugit”! I presume everyone has made (and already broken) their New Year revolutions (sic). You got lucky this month, as several Karkloofers have sent in some interesting reports, thereby relieving the strain on my typing finger, to say nothing of the brain strain involved in producing readable matter!

Karkloof Conservation Centre

There were plenty of Common Reedbuck seen at both hides, as well as 2 Oribi on one occasion. We saw a pair of Blue Cranes and various pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes daily. There were limited sightings of the beautiful Wattled Cranes. Remember to vote for the Blue Crane as South Africa’s favourite bird on the Birdlife South Africa’s pole: http://www.birdlife.org.za/vote.

We were delighted to see 5 South African Shelduck on the Gartmore pan. They’re usually on Loskop pan, but due to the dry season the water level is drastically low. Although visitors don’t like the temporary lack of water, from a conservation aspect it has created a unique environment which may offer a home to a different variety of bird and animal species. We can only begin to imagine who the potential residents can be. It may even offer a prime nesting site for a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes who have been frequently scouting that area and dancing like their future love life depends on it!

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We have had lovely sightings of the African Paradise-Flycatchers in the avenue of trees. The Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Long-tailed Widowbirds and Red-collared Widowbirds were easily identified, as many of the males are in their attractive breeding plumage. Pin-tailed Whydahs are out in full force and we’re sure that they wake up on the wrong side of the nest each day.

Just when we spoke about not seeing the Common Moorhen for a long time, they decided to populate the Gartmore pan. We have had fewer sightings of the African Rail since then, however we still see many Black Crake.

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One guest made a note that they saw a Wood Sandpiper. Our overseas visitors included healthy flocks of Barn Swallows

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and White Storks. They enjoy the farming activity with the tractors offering them a free “all-you-can-eat” buffet of insects. A little fact about White Storks is that their red legs often appear white because they excrete on them to cool down and is termed urohydrosis – a useful trick in this hot weather that we’ve been having.

We have also had good sightings of White-breasted Cormorants, Red-billed Teal, White-faced Ducks,

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Yellow-billed Ducks, the African Fish-Eagle, the   African Marsh-Harrier, Jackal Buzzards, Steppe Buzzards, Yellow-billed Kites, Giant Kingfishers, Pied Kingfishers, Diderick Cuckoos, Little Rush-Warblers, a Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Amethyst Sunbirds.

People tend to associate the Conservation Centre with birds, and whilst our emphasis is on birds, the whole concept of conservation relates to all species, whether they are tiny insects, flowers or mammoth mammals, we have a duty to ensure a species’ survival for future generations.

Glasswoks/Old Pine Cabin – Peta and Shaun Crookes

A lady from Durban North asked permission to hunt in the bush for these elusive Velvet worms. Her first trip was unsuccessful, but on her next try she got lucky, finding this chap on the edge of the forest inside a soft rotten log. She carefully removed him and took him back to Durban where he was filmed for a National Geographic documentary.

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A week later she transported him back here in his big box of mulch and bark and placed him safely back in his home. So there you go, a little known fact in the Karkloof is that we have a movie star living right here!

Pat: My copy of The Wild Life of Southern Africa ed. Vincent Carruthers says of velvet worms ”…represents evolutionary link between earthworms and arthropods.” Did you know we also have a missing link in the Karkloof?!

Mbona Private Reserve – Richard Booth

The first picture is that of a Rain frog’s nest which I found in our forest – a bag of jelly with eggs inside it. The tadpoles apparently feed on this jelly after hatching.

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The second photograph is of a Ground Orchid, Disperis lindleyana, and is flowering in the forest.

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On the 29 December, we had a sighting of a single Cape Teal which was in the company of Yellow-billed Ducks on Lake Crystal on Mbona. This bird is not previously on our bird list, so it’s an exciting find.

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Gareth (our assistant manager) found a Steppe Buzzard with damaged wing feathers which was unable to fly. He managed to catch it and kept it in our holding pen where healthy feathers grew back enabling us to release it after 2 weeks.

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Bird ringing at Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson  Pat: This article is from Karin Nelson who once a month arrives at “sparrow’s” and spends a considerable amount of time erecting her mist nets and then ringing, weighing and measuring the birds she catches before releasing them back into the wild. I have often been asked why birds are ringed, and I think her account of the Red-headed Quelea should answer any questions.

On the 22 December, we had a great morning ringing in cool,   heavily overcast weather. I was accompanied by Shane McPhearson (PhD candidate working on Crowned Eagles), Tim van der Meer, and Kate Beer, students from Holland and New Zealand respectively.

We managed to ring 42 birds, which included 15 different species and 8 recaptures. New ringing species for Gartmore were the Spectacled Weaver and the Long-crested Eagle.

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The Red-headed Quelea is a recapture and was initially ringed at Cedara by the late James Wakelin on 3 January 2006! Awesome.

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Shane is a registered raptor ringer, so we decided to add to our capture diversity by trying for a bird of prey. Thus, the Long-crested Eagle was added to our ringing list. Handsome young fellow he was (the bird I mean!). Probably a sub-adult male as can be seen by his older dull-brown plumage on his back beginning to moult into dark brown adult plumage. After being measured and weighed he was safely released back into the green pastures where he had been captured.

Pat: I drove back to Howick soon after his release, and, sitting on a telephone pole near the release site was a Long-crested Eagle examining his leg.

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Other birds ringed included:

  • 8 x Common Waxbill
  • 6 x Red-billed Quelea
  • 5 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 5 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 4 x African Stonechat
  • 3 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds
  • 2 x Village Weavers
  • 2 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 1 x Yellow-fronted Canary
  • 1 x Cape White-eye
  • 1 x Cape Wagtail
  • 1 x Amethyst Sunbird.

The forest (UCL) – Twane Clarke

In December, Carolyn invited me to join Dave and Sally Johnson and a couple of others on an expedition through a patch of forest on UCL property in order to identify various trees. Dave and Sally are passionate botanists and shared a wealth of knowledge on how to identify the myriad of trees. What fascinated me the most is that they don’t need any reference books, so their backpacks were much lighter than mine!

We started off with an incredible sighting of a Cicada shedding its exoskeleton and emerging as an adult. This Cicada would have just surfaced as a nymph from underground where it would have spent most of its lifespan feeding on xylem sap from roots. The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada which means “tree cricket”. Most cicadas go through a life-cycle that lasts from two to five years and some have a much longer life cycle of 13 to sometimes 17 years!

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We were shown the difference between the 3 different Yellowwoods, namely the Henkel’s, Outeniqua and and Real. We experienced the pungent smell of Clausena anisata (Horsewood), suitably named by the     Afrikaaners as “perdepis”, compared to the lovely citrus fragrance of the Zanthoxylum capense (Knobwood). We became fluent in Latin by the end of the outing, as Dave and Sally have the strict belief of learning the scientific names, which often give away the characteristics of the trees and therefore assisting the identification process.

We also used our binoculars to view leaves on trees (something new to me and my traumatised binoculars, as we’re both used to spotting animals and birds). To ease the shock of the incident, we, together with Peter and Anita Divall who had a similar experience, managed to sneak in some forest birding and spotted some great feathered friends: African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black Cuckoo, Black-backed Puffback, Black-headed Oriole, Cape Batis, Chorister Robin-Chat, Collared Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weaver, Drakensberg Prinia, Dusky Flycatcher, Forest Canaries, Knysna Turaco, Red-chested Cuckoo and the Southern Double-collared Sunbirds.

Gartmore Farm – Charlie McGillivray

On the 18th December there was great excitement at the MacGillivray homestead. A Boomslang found out that Charlie was fond of protecting birds and decided that there must be some juicy eggs available for an omelette!  They discovered this long, robust and magnificent reptile when they heard a commotion by birds (similar to that of a dispute in parliament) outside and decided to see what the fuss is about. Surprise, surprise!

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Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – November 2014

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Pat Cahill

Usually one visits a bird hide to watch birds, but on a visit to the Gartmore Hide last month, I found this dead fish on the boardwalk about twenty metres from the water. An authority on birds (Roberts non-field guide)  suggests that this is the result of the Kingfishers practice of beating their prey on a branch to stun it and to orient it so that it goes down the birds throat headfirst. The practice was started by Kingfishers in South America to avoid swallowing an active piranha!

1 - Nov 2014My theory though is that it was cast up by a mini tsunami caused by tectonic activity under the Karkloof. I read  recently that the Great Rift Valley is expanding, and eventually the land   between the valley and the East Coast of Africa will eventually become an island. If you extrapolate a line down from the Great Rift Valley, you will find that it passes through Gartmore, so we may perhaps one day be able to divorce ourselves from the Government’s corruption and declare the Island Republic of KZN!

I often see Pied Kingfishers at both hides with three being the maximum I have seen together. This group of females (Could this be a “Hen’s Party”) surprised me as they flew off in unison and hovered over the pan in fairly close formation returning to this perch several times before flying off .

2 - Nov 2014Canoodling Cranes on Loskop Pan! This pair of Grey Crowned Cranes was seen getting friendly on Loskop recently obeying the urges of Spring!

3 - Nov 2014When I parked my car at the path to the Gartmore Hide I saw an African Fish-Eagle perched in the tree closest to the hide. Thinking I had a chance to get really close to it, I moved slowly along the path, taking a picture every 3 metres. They really do have “eagle eyes” and this was as close as I could get!

4 - Nov 2014Anyone who has raised children knows how demanding they can be. Pity the poor avian mothers though who don’t have the convenience of bottles or dummies to pop into babies’ mouths to shut them up. This White-throated Swallow was seen at the Crowned Crane Hide on Gartmore Pan. One can imagine the chick on the left screeching “Feed ME, Feed ME”, whilst mother sticks her beak halfway down the throat of the sibling! Both of the bird hides have several swallow nests under the eaves, and there is much activity around them with parents busy feeding their offspring.

5 - Nov 2014Chick Chat – Pat Cahill

Twané feels that as Karkloof residents are an extended family, everyone should have a vicarious share in the joys of being guardians to two Robin-Chatchiks! Providing accommodation in a public bathroom for a family of Cape Robin-Chats is quite a responsibility.

When the eggs first appeared in the nest, I was worried that loo users would disturb the nest.  My fears were groundless though – whilst incubating the eggs, the parents always made a beeline for the open window as soon as anyone walked in the door.  I don’t think that many people who saw it actually realised that it was a nest, thinking that it was part of a dried arrangement from the vase with which it shares the shelf.

6 - Nov 2014Eventually balls of skin and bone and fluff emerged with eyes closed and beak permanently gaping!

7 - Nov 2014After a multitude of flights by the parents between the loo and the worm garden, their eyes eventually opened and they started looking more like chicks.  8 - Nov 2014A diet of insects seems to contain some secret growth hormone, as it seemed to be a few weeks and their feathers started forming from fluff.

9 - Nov 2014We weren’t there to witness their first flying lessons, but Twané went in one morning for their daily check-up and found the nest empty.  She heard a faint chirping coming from the rubbish bin and found a chick inside it.  Obviously the chick had decided that “litter” wasn’t the collective term just for baby pigs, but also applied to birds! It must have landed on the swing lid of the bin, which swung down, precipitating junior into the bag.

10 - Nov 2014Thank you Twané for your daring rescue.  Since then the chicks have been seen regularly around (and inside) the office, each with a parent, learning to forage for themselves.

The nest is now standing empty and management has decided  to put it on the market to be let.  It has been put into the care of Wakefields Estate Agency.  The rent is egg-otiable and includes lights and water with an en suite toilet.

11 - Nov 2014Glassworks/Old Pine Cabin – Shaun and Peta Crookes

If you have a Goldfish Pond, beware of uninvited guests who may take it as being an open buffet, like this Black-headed Heron seen fishing at the Crookes’ goldfish pond. The picture solved the mystery of where their goldfish were disappearing to. They have subsequently covered their pond with some netting to protect the remaining few.

12 - Nov 2014A highlight is this sighting the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon – it’s not always easy spotting these quirky       reptiles. Living along the edge of the indigenous Mistbelt forest certainly has its benefits. “Many chameleon species are endangered due to loss of habitat and the international pet trade. By conserving forests and woodlands, and protecting the grasslands that they need to survive in nature, we contribute to the health of entire ecosystems“(http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/madaboutc.php). Thanks Peta and Shaun for sharing this great sighting with us!

14 - Nov 2014Baboon in the Karkloof – UCL and Sappi Foresters

This male Baboon was seen on the Sappi camera trap earlier this year, after presumably being kicked out by the members of its troop and taking refuge in the tranquil forests and plantations of the Karkloof hills. Outcast baboons can be quite aggressive, and unfortunately it was killed by homestead dogs after a possible territorial dispute (not poaching). A big thank you to Edward Naidoo of UCL and Dave Everard of Sappi for supplying the photos and information.

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Waterfalls and Wilderness

Standing under a waterfall is always a wonderful experience. When the waterfall suddenly shifts 10metres along the cliff to include those who thought they would avoid the experience, you know it is extra special.

This is the magic of Grey Mare’s Tail Falls in Karkloof. From the grasslands above, the stream plunges 101 m over the dolerite cliffs into the mist belt forest. It gets its name from the swishing action – the falls move constantly from one side to the other – just like the tail of a horse.

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For the 40 learners who spent a few days at Shawswood education centre last week, the 3 hour climb to Grey Mare’s Tail Falls was worth the effort. “I’m dying” puffed Nomfundo Mlotshwa when the falls were just visible through a gap in the canopy. She trudged on along the path through the forest, climbing a wooden ladder, crossing streams and rock hopping. Soaking wet after splashing in the pool, all tiredness forgotten, she beamed “This is wonderful!”.

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This excursion was part of the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership (EL&L) project that organises wilderness experiences for young people, believing that in order to value and protect something you need to have experienced it. Time spent in natural environments is often life changing and certainly instils an appreciation of nature. MCF EL&L is funded by N3TC.

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In collaboration with the MMAEP, the Zenzane Enviro Club from Balgowan and the Mpophomeni Enviro Club were invited to make new friends, learn new things and taste clean, cold, fresh water straight from the stream.

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The morning began with introductions beneath the cliffs. MCF has found that bringing different groups together stimulates learning and sharing. Knowing that there are people in other parts of the Midlands as passionate about environmental issues as you are creates bonds that last for a long time.

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Then water bottles and lunch bags in hand, we set off on a hike. Through the surrounding homesteads, greeting cows with new born claves and crossing a stream into the plantations.

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Michael Keefer, education officer for Shawswood, pointed out the impoverished habitat, the low diversity of plants and animals and explained the differences between forest and plantations. The difference was clear to Sihle Ngcobo: “There are fewer types of trees in the plantation and bigger spaces between the trees. In the forest there are more worms and insects, there is not much sunlight and it is cooler.” he said.

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Shawswood is a great place to learn about ecology, biodiversity and human impact on the natural environment. They support the IUCN’s environmental education definition ‘The process of recognising values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture and his bio-physical surroundings. Environmental education also entails practice in self-formulation of a code of behaviour about issues concerning environmental quality.’

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Once inside the forest, the air cooled and the biodiversity increased. The temperature in a forest is pretty much the same whatever the season. We observed the layers of plants, some with big leaves to absorb more light, others climbing through the canopy to get some sunshine, saplings simply waiting for a big tree to fall over and create a gap to let in light for them to grow. Philani Ngcobo was fascinated by the tall stems of uMsenge, the Cabbage tree reaching for the sunlight. “It was interesting that when the trees fall down, the insects go into them and help the tree to decompose.” he commented. We heard Samango monkeys but could not spot them.

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A gurgling stream provided a refreshing stop to drink from the river, fill our water bottles and have a snack. This stream is a tributary of the Karkloof River which flows into the uMngeni River. The group from Mpophomeni commented that the uMthinzima Stream through the township was also a tributary of the uMngeni.

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The trail mostly follows the old logging path created by early settlers to harvest the big trees – especially Yellowwoods. We came across many hollow Lemonwoods, an Ironwood that had its bark all nibbled at the base (porcupine perhaps?) and many giant Strangler Figs. Everyone was fascinated to learn how these trees can squeeze the life out of other trees.

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We learnt that the cure for the forest stinging nettle that created a bumpy rash on our skins when touched, grew right beside it – a member of the Plectranthus family. Forest Magic.

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We caught a glimpse of the Grey Mare’s Tail Falls through the trees. “How far?” became a constant refrain. Before the final ascent to the bottom of the falls, we sat on the rocks a while to catch our breath. Surrounded by fragrant Clausena anisata, large clumps of Scadoxus clinging to the rocks and Streptocarpus tucked in the shadows.

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The final stretch involved clamouring over huge rocks, the mist from the falls increasing with every step. The vegetation changed considerably in the constantly damp environment.

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Laughter ran around the cliffs as the youngsters slid on the rocks and splashed in the pools. “It’s so cold! It stings! I feel so good!”

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On the way back down for afternoon tea, we spent a while completely quiet. Listening to the sounds of the birds, the water, the horseflies buzzing; feeling the cool breeze on our skin and the damp leaves on the ground; surrounded by the sweet air and earthy fragrances so far removed from our usual lives. Asanda Ngubane loved the quiet time in the forest “It calmed me down and I felt so relaxed.” he commented.

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Free time to make new friends, play soccer and shower was a rowdy affair! The cosy dormitories are converted stables, a donkey boiler provides hot water and the views of the surrounding hills are stupendous. Sitting around the fire in the evening is ideal for imaginative storytelling. Altogether, this is a fabulous spot for a weekend in nature.

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The next morning, woken by birdsong, it was time to complete an obstacle course. Sisanda Hadebe really enjoyed this “It was fun and we learnt to work as a team. I made some new friends too.” An inspiring creative activity using waste materials, and games, brought the weekend to a close. “That was amazing. I imagine I can still feel the drops of water from the waterfall on my face.” Nomfundo said afterwards.

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Many of the photographs included in this story were taken by the learners.

hiking is a conversationres.crop.

Mist on Mount Gilboa

Yes, Yes!” a voice floated through the swirling mist on Mt Gilboa last week.  It was John Roff, delighted at finding Disa nervosa in bloom.

r disa nervosa gilboaThis plant mimics Watsonia and in the flower filled grassland certainly looked just like all the other Watsonias from a distance.  Apparently, the similar colour and size of the inflorescences on different plants in the same location increases chances of being pollinated.  “This is a pollination guild” John explained, pointing out the bright pink Cycnium racemosum near by too – all three plants the same colour and height, “Fooling the insects into thinking they are all the same plant.”  Fascinating.

gilboa 084The occasion was a Midlands CREW fieldtrip.  15 flower enthusiasts turned up to explore the Mount Gilboa Nature Reserve owned and managed by Mondi. Mount Gilboa is almost 1800m above sea level and on clear days, the views of the Midlands are magnificent.

gilboa 052Mt Gilboa is located at the headwaters of three of KZN’s important river systems, namely the Umvoti River, the Myamvubu River that flows into the Mooi River, and the Mholweni River that flows into the uMngeni River. It includes extensive functional peat wetlands, which provide significant ecosystem services such as water purification and flood attenuation, and has 283 hectares of ‘critically endangered’ midlands mistbelt grasslands that were the focus of our attention.

gilboa 177Driving up from our gathering spot at Mbona, we had stopped on the roadside to admire large clumps of Dierama luteoalbidium, lots of Silene sp,

gilboa 018Ledebouria, Wahlenbergia, Senecio, Helichrysum, Papaver aculeatum and delightful Littonia modesta.

gilboa 005We found our first orchid on the roadside too – Disa stachyoides

gilboa 022In the gorgeous grasslands on top of the hill we found the following (and more) in flower:  Psammotropha mucronata, Graderia scabra, Gladiolus longicollis,

gilboa 042Morea inclinata had just finished flowering, this little yellow Morea had us puzzled – Morea trifida perhaps?

gilboa 115Eriosema distinctum, Lobelia erinusGerbera ambigua, Albuca setosa, Crassula vaginata, Tulbaghia leucantha,  lots and lots of Rhodohypoxis baurii, Delospermum (the vibrant flowers of these succulents always seem incongruous in the mist!)

gilboa 081Diclis retans, Kouhoutia amatymbica, Vernonia hirsutea, Hebenstretia dura, Senecio oxyriifolius, Geranium wakkerstroomium, tiny dark blue Agapanthus (probably minima)

gilboa 168Lots of indigenous bramble, Rubus ludwigii and Hypericum lalandii

gilboa 173The rocks which many plants grow close to are all Dolerite. Keith Cooper told us that there are lenses or fissures of bauxite running through these rock formations. Fortunately not in quantities large enough to attract the mining companies!

gilboa 148Indigofera foliosa were stunning and the large clumps of Aloe boylei were obviously the site of a research experiment – probably on pollinators.

gilboa 158Jamebritennia breviflora, Lotononis sp, Dimorphotheca,

gilboa 190Aspidonepsis flava , Scabiosa, bright pink Senecio (probably macrocephalus), Nemesia, Dipcadi viride

gilboa 224Felix Middleton was very excited at the many different Proteas we saw and photographed the following:

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DSCN2674After enjoying our picnics and paging through our guides trying to id some of our finds,

gilboa 205we drove down to the vlei near Mark’s dam to search for Disa scullyi.

CREW Marks dam

We didn’t have any luck, but were thrilled to see a pair of Blue Cranes with a tiny chick and this gorgeous little frog.

gilboa 258Masses of Dierama, Hesperantha and Gladiolus papillio in full bloom in the ‘Hydropholus Grassland’ (more Keith Cooper expertise.)

gilboa 277Standing tall in the wetland grasses, Kniphofia –  fluviatilis perhaps?

gilboa 268This plant had us all flummoxed – the flower was familiar, but none of us had seen the flat round leaves edged with red hairs before.  Thanks Isabel Johnson for identifying it as Berkheya speciosa subsp ovate.

gilboa 196After a spot of birdwatching , part of the group headed into the mist belt forest in search of Emplectranthus gerradii.  The Mvoti CREW had joined us with the specific  intention of  looking for this rare climber in the Karkloof forest.

Kathy Milford reports: We walked down a bright grassy bank into the soft light of the forest. In no time, John spotted the creeper with heart shaped leaves, but it wasn’t flowering. We walked down to the crystal clear stream flowing over rocks. A shout from Felix, who is like the proverbial sniffer dog, told us he had found flowering Emplectanthus, which had some teeny flowers for us to see.

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We also spotted – Knowltonia, Begonia sutherlandii, Impatiens hochstetteri, Scadoxis sp not flowering and Streptocarpus fanniniae,

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We then retraced our steps out of the forest and up the grassy slope  and saw Anthericum cooperi and  lots more Watsonia as we walked along the road towards Benvie.  The road winds between indigenous forest and a plantation where the forest plants are happily growing up the bank until they meet the plantation. On the banks we saw Heliophila rigidluscula, Geranium schlechteri, Polygala virgate and this Wahlenbergia that we think might be pallidiflora.

r wahlbergia (possible pallidiflora)

A real treat was finding the creeper Dioscorea sylvatica which is much collected as a muthi plant. It has a large flattened tuber (elephants foot) with divided heart shaped leaves.

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We found Diaphananthe caffra low on the trunk of a tree. There are three little plants full of buds which are still not open.  A magnificent end to a really great day of flower hunting. Thank you Richard Booth for organising the field trip and everyone for participating so enthusiastically.

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Standing Stones of Karkloof

The Midlands is full of surprises, secrets lurk in unexpected places and hidden treasures are uncovered by those with a keen eye for the unusual. The Standing Stones of Karkloof are a perfect example.

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As part of their NEBRAC campaign to ensure that the proposed N3 bypass of the notorious Townhill, does not come through their valley, Karkloof residents have begun mapping areas of important natural and cultural heritage. One of these is the intriguing Standing Stones site, discovered by Max Ramseier, a retired engineer.

Traipsing along the cycle tracks in the plantation, one does not expect to find anything exceptional. American bramble covers the ground, Plane trees are popping up everywhere and cannas invade the wetland areas – uninspiring to say the least. Anita Turvey of the Karkloof Country Club spices things up by mentioning that there is a grumpy old Buffalo on the roam and if we spot him we ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT RUN!

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An area of natural grassland used as a fire break between the trees, reveals a selection of spring flowers to lift the spirits.

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Then, at the crest of the hill, scattered across the fire break are enormous boulders. One might think random at first, but closer inspection reveals many interesting things. Our curiosity is palpable.

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“I can’t believe I have ridden my bicycle past these so many times and not paid them any attention” says Valerie Grzeskowiak. A number of determined cyclists whizz by enjoying the extensive network of MTB trails laid out in the SAPPI plantations.

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Here Max comes to life – his passion for stones is evident. Penny Rees comments “Max seems to be a magnet for special stones, he has been discovering them for years. Exploring the old fashioned way, with a compass.”

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He tells us of his excitement the first time he came across this site. “According to a book I had read on Adam’s Calendar in the Eastern Transvaal, I could tell that this was not normal. Nobody can say they just popped out of the ground. You can see these stones are standing upright, crafted into different shapes and sizes. Some have deep signs on them.”

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The general consensus is that the stones are Dolerite. A geologist will be visiting soon to give an expert opinion. We are fascinated by the shards of rock that have broken off the bigger ones – caused by fires perhaps? Amateur speculation abounds!

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There are a couple of formations that are particularly interesting. Two stones placed as a ‘gateway’, with a marker stone in the distance – one of these points directly at Loskop. Max believes that the stones are ancient road maps, directing one to other sites of sacred significance.

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Anita mentions that different stones make different sounds when you hit them. There seem to be three distinct shapes – tall, narrow pointed ones, small square shaped ones and big blocks. Everyone has a favourite – Twane Clarke, of the Karkloof Conservation Centre, likes the one with Asparagus growing beside it.

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Someone else notices that the northern sides are pockmarked while the southern sides are smooth. “How deep do you think they are buried underground” Lorraine Stone askes. Naturally there are more questions than answers.

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Max has found standing stones scattered across the Midlands, usually on the tops of hills. In Impendle, Dargle, Blinkwater, Nottingham Road and even in Howick he has noted and photographed this phenomenon. Astrid Bell shows us a photo of a fascinating head shaped stone seen recently in Lesotho. It is likely that if we are observant, we will be amazed at what is around us.

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A plantation of gums has grown around the stones. Sarah Allan of the Curry’s Post Conservancy comments, “The standing stones are a fascinating part of our landscape.  An enigma, a portal to our past and possibly, our future. Would that we could know more about them!”

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We are fascinated to hear about the Golden Meridian that dissects Africa – the 31degree East meridian that connects the Pyramids, the Great Zimbabwean Ruins and Adam’s Calendar. “All the sites across the globe are connected with straight lines.” Max tells us. We wonder if these stones depict a map of the night sky as others across the planet do? Or are they a calendar to mark the seasons? Max has observed the Winter Solstice sunset falling directly between two stones situated nearby.

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Rose Downard concludes “It would be very interesting to know more about the history of the Karkloof Stones and how they were originally placed, as it appears that they may once have been used for sacred purposes. Standing amongst the stones I felt a sense of peacefulness, and when I placed my hands on some of the stones I could feel a subtle energy vibration radiating from them.”

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A fascinating walk in an unexpected spot, illustrating that getting out of your car, lacing up your boots and heading across the hillsides you will discover many things that you never expected. Small adventures rock!

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