Tag Archives: mist belt grassland

The Last Stand for our Birds


One-third of the 112 most important sites for nature in South Africa are facing imminent danger of irreversible damage, according to a new South African IBA Status Report published today by BirdLife South Africa.

These sites – known as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – are threatened by invasive species, changes in habitats through incorrect burning practices, and agricultural expansion or mismanagement. Unprotected IBAs in particular are deteriorating at a concerning rate, most especially in grasslands, wetlands and fynbos, but habitats in protected IBAs are also showing signs of deterioration. Over 85% of all IBAs face high to very high levels of threats, and there is little distinction between protected and unprotected IBAs in this regard. The IBAs with the highest and most imminent threats will be included in BirdLife International’s list of IBAs in Danger, the global list of priority sites identified for urgent action.


This South African IBA Status Report is accompanied by a revised National IBA Directory, building on and up-dating the first such inventory published in 1998. It provides updated information of the most important aspect of each of these 112 IBAs, including the geography and climate of the area, the list of the bird species found at the IBA, the biggest threats to the site, and what conservation action is taking place to secure the IBA. This publication can be used by conservation practitioners and planners to prioritise their work, by developers who need to understand the sensitivity of an area, and can even be used by bird enthusiasts to plan a birding trip.

The 112 IBAs in South Africa are the last stand for bird conservation on a landscape level. Protecting these sites has benefits not only for South Africa’s birds, but also for other animals, plants and the vital ecological services these sites provide to people. These services include providing us with fresh water, managing floods, controlling disease, and providing grazing lands for livestock farming. Conserving IBAs is also important for attaining our government’s environmental commitments like the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11 that calls for the expansion of terrestrial Protected Areas by at least 17%, and the Convention on Migratory Species. Therefore, their deteriorating status is a very high concern which requires immediate attention from government agencies and other stakeholders.


The main recommendations from the IBA Status Report to remedy this situation include that government needs to allocate more resources towards managing protected areas and expanding the protected areas network through biodiversity stewardship. That IBAs should be used as a first cut when identifying priority areas for conservation, including for protected area expansion. By following the published management guidelines, the agricultural sector is able to manage their lands for the parallel purposes of producing livestock, improving veld condition and conserving biodiversity. IBAs should be considered as red flags and often exclusion areas when other development options are being considered, such as mining.

While both these publications are milestones for bird conservation, they need to be seen as the spearhead which will now be used to lobby, plan and implement effective conservation for birds, their habitats and other biodiversity.

Front cover1

Both the revised IBA Directory and IBA Status Report can be bought in hard copy from BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme (011 789 1122, daniel.marnewick@birdlife.org.za), or the electronic versions can be downloaded for free from: http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/documents-and-downloads.

For further information please contact Daniel Marnewick at daniel.marnewick@birdlife.org.za (011 789 1122).

Elusive Orchids of Mahaqwa

Midlands CREW arranged a field trip to Mahaqwa, also known as Bulwer Mountain, in the hope of finding flowering orchids with enchanting names like Disperis cardiophora, Satyrium neglectum, Disa versicolor, Disperis renibractea. We didn’t find them.

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 01 P1020287

Many species are flowering later than usual this year and obviously, we were a little early. We did however find plenty of other delights to satisfy our passion for plant hunting. Including: Protea caffra and Protea roupellia, Morea inclinata,


Aristea woodii,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Aristea woodii P1020308

Schizoglossum elingue (a first for most of us),

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Schizoglossum elingue IMG_2500

usually with white flowers, but a few pink flowered ones too.


Wahlenbergia sp,


2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Wahlenbergia sp with pollinator P1020248

Senecio macrocephallus, really tall specimens of Geranium pulchrum beside a stream,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Geranium pulchrum P1020260

Gunnera – used medicinally during childbirth and in Lesotho the raw stems are eaten as sweets,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Geranium pulchrum and Gunnera perpensa P1020258

Helichrysum spiralepsis,


Lotononis lotonoides, Helichrysum splendidum, Ranuculus baurii with big leaves

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Ranunculus baurii P1020261

and the dainty little Ranunculus multifidus,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Ranunculus multifidus P1020255

Silene belladoides, Epilobium capense 

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Epilobium capense P1020269

Ornithogalum graminifolium, Urginea macrocentra  

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Urginea macrocentra IMG_2508

Stachys kuntzei,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Stachys kuntzei P1020259

Agapanthus campanualata, Mysotis semiplexicaulis

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Mysotis semiplexicaulis P1020264

A curious fern like leaf that must have be part of the parsley family, perhaps Anthriscus sylvestris?

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Anthriscus sylvestris Cow Parsley pos ID P1020265

We spent ages trying to decide if the slender Kniphofia parviflora was in fact that,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Kniphofia parvifolia _ IMG_2507 Alchemilla woodii

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Alchemilla woodii P1020262

Commelina africana, Drosera natalensis 

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Drosera natalensis P1020279

Sebea sedoide,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Sebea sedoide IMG_2509

Of course, we don’t just look at the plants, we spotted a African Harrier Hawk swirling below us and heard Barrett’s Warbler.  Saw these beautiful butterflies too.  Might this one be a Marsh Blue?

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 03 Butterfly Marsh Blue pos ID IMG_2510

and this possibly a False Silver-bottom Brown?

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 03 Butterfly Flase Silver-bottom Brown pos ID IMG_2522

Gaudy Commodore on Erica caffrarum,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 03 Butterfly Gaudy Commodore IMG_2519

Rubus ludwigii,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Rubus ludwigii IMG_2515

Morea trifida,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Moraea trifida P1020270

Hypericum lalandii,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Hypericum lalandii P1020272

Plenty of Brunsvegia undulata (not in flower yet), Dierama,


Ajuga ophrydis,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Ajuga ophrydis P1020274

Berkheya macrocephala (also not flowering yet), Scabiosa columbaria, Indigofera hedyantha,

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Indigofera hedyantha P1020284

Alepidea natalensis , Streptocarpus pussilus,  Cycnium racemosa

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Cycnium racemosum IMG_2506

Eriosema distinctum, Craterocapsa tarsodes, Heliophila rigidiuscula, Aspidonepsis diploglossa,


Delosperma hirtum

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Delosperma hirtum Fruits IMG_2527

Rhodohypoxis baurii with this tiny crab spider.

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 03 Crab spider on Rhodohypoxis baurii P1020304
Aspidonepsis flava

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Aspidonepsis flava P1020299

Zaluzianskya microsiphon

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Zaluzianskya microsiphon P1020276

Lotononis pulchella

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Lotononis pulchella P1020252

Lotononis corymbosa

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Lotononis corymbosa P1020309

We puzzled over a very tall Helichrysum with red stems and clasping leaves. Anyone know what species it is? Thanks Alison Young for providing an id – Helichrysum mutabile .

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Helichrysum sp P1020254

and this – possibly Muralita sp

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Muralita sp pos ID P1020278

We climbed to 2013m above sea level – the views of the surrounding valleys were spectacular.

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 01 P1020298

On the way back down, we did come across a few orchids, yay! – Satyrium longicauda and Disa stachyoides.

2015 01 04 CREW Mahaqwa 02 Disa stachyoides IMG_2528

As we enjoyed a picnic (Eve’s Lebkuchen were particularly memorable), hang gliders launched themselves from the edge of the mountain and floated past like giant dragon flies. A special day with unexpected surprises – you never know how adventures will turn out.

Thank you Eve Hughes and Christeen Grant for the photographs.



Threatened Plant Species – Brunsvigia undulata

AMARYLLIDACEAE Brunsvigia undulata [Rare]

Bulbous plant up to 800 mm, found in grassland near exposed rocks at Mahaqwa Mountain, Nottingham Road and south of Estcourt. Leaves are upright, about 15, in a fan, shiny blue-grey-green, margins wavy to tightly wavy, produced with flowers.

Photo by Peter Warren

Photo by Peter Warren

It has 35-80 flowers in the inflorescence during January to February. The stem is rigid and strong, bracts are leathery; flowers deep red, tepal lobes recurved, stalks upright – about 300 mm.

Photo by Peter Warren

Photo by Peter Warren

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


POOLEY, E. (2005) a field guide to wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust. Durban. p.38

Snijman, D.A. & Victor, J.E. 2004. Brunsvigia undulata F.M.Leight. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2014.1. Accessed on 2014/11/28

Photo by Boston CREW

Photo by Boston CREW

This information is complied by CREW KZN Node.  To view other Threatened plants in this series, go to the Midlands Conservancies Forum website: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/threatenedplants/tplants.php


iNtaba iFihlekile

This iconic midlands peak is visible from the hills surrounding Mpophomeni – it has long been a dream of some of the boys who enjoy hiking, to climb it. “Intaba ifihlekile” was the comment as we drove out through the Dargle valley – the hill was indeed hidden, shrouded in cloud.r inhlosane dec 2014 057

Undeterred, we set off up towards the peak anyway, with a chorus of Cidacas echoing through the plantation, hoping that the cloud would lift for a little while at least so we could see the views. The first indigenous plant we came across on emerging from the plantation was protea. Everyone reminisced about seeing them on the trip to Hlatikulu in 2013.

r inhlosane dec 2014 073

The mist got thicker the higher we climbed. At least it wasn’t baking hot on the slopes as it could have been – even at 8 in the morning.

r inhlosane dec 2014 094

Plenty of summer plants were in bloom, so opportunities to stop and discuss them, the animal tracks, and the insects allowed us to catch our breath.

r inhlosane dec 2014 212

The last part of the 2,2km ascent to the ridge is very steep through large dolerite boulders. “My best moment was reaching the top and the gentle blow of the mist and cold wind. I needed that after the steep, sweaty hike.” said Asanda. The mist swirled, offering occasional glimpses of the valley below.

r inhlosane dec 2014 148

On reaching the beacon, we sent photos and messages to those who were unable to join us due to family commitments “Sesisenhlosana, we are 1947m above sea level.”

r inhlosane dec 2014 beacon1

A discussion about the name Inhlosane followed. Hlosa means to ‘develop’ – the shape of the hill from a distance looks like a young girl’s developing breast.

Everyone took turns to take photographs and videos (thanks Sue Hopkins!), capturing the colours on the rocks, the tiny flowers, the skinks, the graffiti on the beacon and of course, one another.r inhlosane dec 2014 197

We explored a little and settled down for a picnic amongst the rocks.

r asa sihle phila inhlosane dec 2014 281

A group of hikers emerged through the mist to join us. Rose Dix, one of the group, was delighted to meet the boys saying “Oh I know all about you, I follow the blogs and Facebook and see pictures of all your adventures and everything that is happening in Mpophomeni!”

r inhlosane dec 2014 144

While we finished off our brunch, the intrepid hikers set off down the other side of Inhlosane for a distant waterfall where they planned to stop for lunch and then walk about 6kms along the road, back to the carpark. I enjoyed meeting people who were old enough to be my grandparents on top of the mountain.”   commented Asanda.

r inhlosane dec 2014 200

The cloud lifted and the views were wonderful. We could see the Drakensberg and had fun pointing out Howick, uMngeni Vlei, kwaHaza, Lion’s River, Midmar and Albert Falls dam. “Where is Zenzane in Balgowan?” Philani wanted to know, having made new friends who live there, on the MCF excursion to Shawswood recently.

r inhlosane dec 2014 267

Taking the opportunity to sit quietly listening to the sounds that floated up from the valley,

r asanda inhlosane dec 2014 169

and imagining we could fly! r sihle inhlosane dec 2014 crop

When it was time to leave, the boys skipped like mountain goats down the slope. Philani and Sihle were intrigued by the cairn of rocks that marked the path. “Well done to the people who came up with that idea to show the way, it is great.”

r inhlosane cairn dec 2014 108

Not wanting the adventure to end, halfway down we sat a while in the grassland, enjoying the views and using the binoculars (thanks N3TC) as magnifying glasses to look at the details on the flowers surrounding us.

r inhlosane dec 2014 320

On the way home we stopped at the Mandela Capture Site, to visit the sculpture that they had only seen on television before and wander through the displays. “Awesome, Perfect, Mnandi” were the comments in the visitors book from Mpophomeni. These words described an entire day of interesting revelations, actually.

r inhlosane dec 2014 350

Midlands Conservancies Forum believes that giving young people opportunities to be in nature stimulates creativity, curiosity and imagination, interest in local flora and fauna and respect for, and connectedness to, nature. These experiences are essential to produce tomorrow’s creative thinkers and change agents.


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:




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.


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

streptocarpus fainia

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.


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.

DSC_0258 (Medium)