Tag Archives: nature

Ice & Fire (and Mud)

Despite the cold, wet forecast for our wilderness weekend at Cobham, spirits were high as we trundled through the Midlands, crossing swollen rivers and passing small towns.  Lungisani commented: “I enjoyed the journey passing new features like rivers and dams and learning their special names.”

After claiming our beds in Pholela Hut at Cobham Nature Reserve, we headed down to the Pholela River in the mizzle. Rocks glistened blue-grey beneath the clouds.

Checking out the Pholela R CGrant

Before we had even crossed the suspension bridge there were cries of “Can we swim?” and six teenagers stripped and jumped right in!

boys swimming R

It was absolutely freezing, but sliding down the rocks, wallowing in the ‘jacuzzi’ and splashing in the pools proved to be too much fun to resist! “Ey, the water was cold. It was hard to breathe and I felt I was not really alive!” laughed Sanele when he got out.

swimming R

“I love the Pholela river with adorable rocks and clean fresh water.” said a grinning Nondumiso.  Christeen huddled under the bridge in her rain-suit keeping the towels dry for when the novelty wore off. It took a while.

Christeen rain suit R

Fortunately, hot showers awaited and after getting dry, we huddled around the fire, chatting about the uKahlamba World Heritage site, san rock art and life.

Reading Wood Ash Stars R CGrant

After supper, Nondumiso read us the enchanting San story “Wood Ash Stars” and we sang songs to keep us toasty.

singing around the fire R

The next morning dawned pretty gloomy too. The party sharing the hut decided to leave, but we stayed put, feasting on ‘happy eggs’ for breakfast donated by Highveld.

happy eggs R

We found an interesting insect on a breakfast banana and after searching through the Insect Book identified it as a Stonefly. Stoneflies occur only in areas where there is no pollution so are indicators of a healthy environment.

Stonefly on banana R  CGrant

We poured over a map of Cobham, imagining where we might walk if the weather improved.  Christeen showed everyone how to use a compass and we discussed how the Drakensberg landscape was formed.  “I learnt a lot. In actual fact, it was the addition of lessons at school – applying skills to reality. We learnt how to use a map, making sure the map is facing North using a compass.  Wildlife, Geology, Ecology and Biodiversity studies took place this weekend.” Said Lungisani enthusiastically absorbing every scrap of information.

mapping R

As soon as we spotted a break in the weather, we dressed up warmly and headed along the path beside the river.  Nondumiso commented (after observing the mix of nationalities in the party sharing the hut, no doubt) “It is important to take care of this beautiful environment because it attracts tourists.”

walking past leucosidea R

We splashed through so many puddles that by the time we reached the big pools in the river, we were drenched anyway. Swimming seemed like a sensible option.  With dry clothes safely stowed in a big orange plastic bag, everyone frolicked and froze.  The river was really high after all the rain.

swimming in deep pools R

Then it was a mad dash back to get warm over lunch around the bonfire in the boma.

afternoon tea. R

Food was all local, mostly organic and meals provided plenty of opportunity to talk about food miles, healthy living and taste new things. The delicious ‘sausages’ donated by Fry’s vegetarian foods, had everyone fooled into thinking they were eating animals. “I learnt that I mustn’t always eat meat, I must also eat veggies a lot.”  said Thabo tucking in, hungrily.

cooking and eating kebabs R CGrant

Despite getting to bed really, really late, when the sun rose on Sunday morning and lit up the snow-capped peaks we were all rearing to go.

wrapped up warm and off we go R

Yay! We can see the mountains! Good morning Mr Sunshine!

Yay! sunshine and snow R

We decided to hike along the second day of the famous Giant’s Cup Trail which we had seen on the map the day before. “I was a little scared to be in the wild, because I am not used to being alone in a place like that.” said Sanele, adding “I was so interested to learn why the Drakensberg is a World Heritage Site.”

SANELE spots something R

It had stopped raining but was still pretty cool. Brisk walking kept us warm.

sun came out R

We added rocks to the cairn markers and admired the view down the valley.

group with Christeen R

There were not many flowers in the grassland, except the occasional Dicoma anomala (below)

Dicoma R

We explored rock crevices and Lungisani was thrilled to find a Watsonia which he recognised from the SANBI CREW Bioblitz held last year in Nottingham Road.

Lungisani discovers a Watsonia R

Naledi carefully noted everything she observed “The best things for me were seeing the animals tracks (jackal and water mongoose) baboons and indigenous plants like Leucosidea serica and protea.  I learnt a lot about nature.”

Naledi taking notes R

We saw eland and baboons across the river and then a troop of baboons on the rocks above us too.  “I enjoyed hiking because we saw animals and I love animals.” commented Thabo who was fortunate to take up the place of someone who fell ill at the last minute. “Thank you for letting me go with you guys even though I am new”  he said.

colourful grasshopper R

To make the most of the break in the weather, we settled down out of sight of one another for a period of quiet.  This was a highlight for all of us.

alone with nature R

Naledi said “You know, a person needs some quiet time. It felt good listening to the sound of nature and the river flowing.  I observed that there were clouds covering the mountain and they were rising. Watching them rise was the best part.”

“During quiet time, I felt peace, love and the presence of the Nature. I just couldn’t resist it, the love of nature grew more inside me. Now I’m in love with Nature.” added Nondumiso

Quiet time R JPG

We decided to be quiet all the way home and savour the majesty of the mountains surrounding us.

walking through grassland R

After a short detour to admire Merxmuellera, the beautiful tufted grass found along Drakensberg streams, and one last swim as the weather closed in,  we had to head home.

Merxmuellera lined stream R JPG

The road had been slippery on the way in and we were unsure how easy it would be to get back to Himeville.  We managed fine until the road was narrowed by a stuck milk truck and we slid into the slush.  Shoes off and out we got to push!

stuck in the mud R

Later someone quipped “you know you are having an adventure when you wish you were home with a cup of tea!”

mudddy feet R

On the trip home, Nokukhanya summed up her experience: “I saw snow, mountains, rocks and rivers. I enjoyed eating vegetables, swimming and staying up late at night by the fire. Being with you is full of joy and we learnt a lot, not only about the environment but also how to treat others when working as a team.   I am speechless, I don’t know what to say or what to do to show you the way I feel about this trip. God bless you until a new generation comes and has your hands and love that you have given us.”

Even her mum, Bonisiwe Zondi, was excited saying afterwards “Nokukhanya has told me about each and every thing that happened at Cobham. She says she didn’t even miss me because she was having such a good time. She is trying to make us all live a sustainable life and I am so impressed.”

“I felt like I was in a new planet, not the ordinary one because of the beauty. I really loved that time and I wish I could be there for much of my existence – in a place where nature is the priority. It is the best , peaceful place.” concluded Lungisani

Thank you N3TC for your continued contribution to enriching the lives of communities on the N3 Route. “They really help us a lot.” said one of the kids after recognising the N3TC logo on the latest edition of N3 Heroes. 

morning snow R CGrant

Dargle Wildlife Sightings February 2013

Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh farm

Spotted this chameleon Right outside our gate, after one of the storms we had. It was sitting on a wattle branch in the middle of the dirt road. I moved it to the side of the road and snapped this shot. First time I’ve seen one!

Midlands Dwarf Chameleon by Ashley Crookes

Dieter Setz – Wakecroft

Besides the heaviest rainfall since we are in the Dargle we only saw the following:

dieter flood

After the flood I found at least 1 chameleon every day.

dieter chameleon

I also saw a few wild flowers, don’t know what they are.

dieter flower

dieter yellow flower

Sue and Andre Hofman – Hazelmere

On Sunday morning we were amazed by the sight of a fully grown Pelican swimming in our home dam. At first glance I thought it was a very large Spurwing Goose, but rapidly changed my mind when it turned and I saw the beak. It spent about four hours with us, and did not, to the best of my knowledge, eat any of our trout. Whilst it was sitting on the rocks a Gymnogene circled it several times and then flew off to a tree to watch. I wonder what the raptor was thinking!

New Picture (3)

The other noteworthy occurrence was a bushpig very loudly crunching on walnuts right under my son’s bedroom window.

Brookland river flood 2013 (2)

The heavy rain caused major flooding of our river, the Brookland, causing it to break its banks and go right over the top of our bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge flooding 2013.jpg

Malvina and Evert van Breemen – Old Furth

We cannot believe the amount of rain in February, it has felt like non-stop rain. Even the garden has had its own waterfalls.

2013-02-10 17.46.24 (1)

We have coined a new word for the incessant rain – delugional.

2013-02-10 17.46.12

On the wildlife side it has been quieter, mainly because everything has been under cover; apart from a wonderful sighting of Giant Kingfishers on our bottom dam and lots of chameleons, storks and a lovely sighting of a group of crowned cranes flying overhead. We have also seen a troop of 17 baboons with some enormous males.

We also had this beautiful moth, anyone know what it belongs to?

2013-01-31 19.22.38

Kathy Herrington and Wayne Lourens – Hopedale

While topping our fields last Sunday accompanied by 14 white storks – Wayne and I both saw a Pelican fly over!!  Wayne also had a good sighting of a Serval on our top farm last week. This week we saw 3 Kestrels together, perched on the defunct telephone wires, and a pair of giant Kingfishers by our lower dam.  The raptors are still making meals of our semi-tame guinea fowl – but we salvaged some eggs off the remaining female’s nest (leaving her only some of the eggs, as her last (3) hatchlings were snapped up within a couple of days!)  She did not seem to hatch any this time – but we incubated the salvaged eggs for a week, and now have 10 hungry/rather noisy chicks.  Wayne also relocated a large puff adder from next to our stallion’s stable a few weeks ago!

Rose & Barry Downard – Oak Tree Cottage

Buffspotted Flufftails – mother with two juveniles.
A young Crowned Eagle was chased away earlier this month by two crows, three geese and four hadedas who all ganged up together to see him off. On 3 March he was again chased off, this time by no less than a dozen hadedas, plus several geese, crows, drongos and other birds who definitely don’t want him around!  It’s the first time we’ve seen a Crowned Eagle over our property so it has caused quite a stir amongst the bird population!
A Burchell’s Coucal was seen at close range perched in our Chestnut tree near the house.
Swallows, Sparrows, Kites, Crested Eagle, Egrets, Amethyst Sunbirds, Doves, Southern Boubou, Olive Thrush.
Dwarf Chameleons. Red-lipped Herald. Frogs.
Lots of butterflies – Citrus Swallowtail, Gaudy Commodore, Common Diadem (male), Thorn-tree Blue, Forest White, Acrea

swallowtail-1

Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

Plants: Wahlenbergia still flowering in profusion – they have been incredible this summer, Pavonia columella, Conostimum natalense, Plectranthus elegantus, Plectranthus dolichopodus, Kniphofia laxiflora, Kniphofia caulescens, Argylobium

tomentosum , Rumex sagittatus, Mentha aquatic, Impatiens hochstetteri, Isoglossa woodii, Nemesia sylvatica, Berkheya bergiana, Desmodium ricinocarpa (picture), Dissotis canescens.

desmodium cropped.res

Mammals:  bush buck, reed buck, scrub hare, samango monkeys.  Heard Tree dassies

Birds: Egyptian geese family down to 3 chicks (from 5) and now haven’t seen them for a while.  European storks, crowned Eagle, bulbul, white eye, orange thrush, mousebird, weavers, sunbirds, stone chat, swallows, malachite kingfisher, hadeda, cape robin chat, wagtail.  Heard Wood Owl.

Other creatures: guttural toad, common striped river frog, citrus swallowtail butterflies, dragonflies.

Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm

 Our 2 crane babies hatched out 31st January.  The 2 baby crane.  You can just see the smaller of the two on the left of the other larger one

Feb 2013 008

After 4 days, there was only one.  He is growing in leaps and bounds.  Take photos every few days.  We see them practically every day walking the hills. At 4 weeks old.

Feb 2013 054

One day, 2 other blue crane arrived.  There was lots of noise and our mom and dad flew over the dam to greet them.  Pat said he thought they had come for the christening of the baby ha ha.  There was a lot of flapping of wings and squawking and then mom and dad flew back to baby on other side of dam, and the others flew off.  Strange. The guests being greeted by mom and dad

Feb 2013 042

When I went to town a few weeks ago, I saw 3 baby bush pig on the D18 at 10am.  They looked very lost and were running up and down the road.  I tried to shush them into the bush but they wouldn’t go in.  I guess they were looking for their mother.

Last month I mentioned a samango monkey coming into the garden.  Well we got back from Pmb one day and found our rottweiler had been badly savaged by him.  He had a severed vein in his leg and huge bites on his stomach.  After a 2 hour operation (and huge expense) he is now on the mend.  Have never seen the monkey again thankfully.

I also mentioned last month that my terrier/cross had been bitten by otters.  Well we have seen them frequently in the garden again and they are Large Grey Mongeese, not otters.  We have seen them on and off on the farm for 27 years.  They used to get into our garden at Endebeni at night, and pull the heads of the chickens thru the wire and bite them off.  Next morning, a couple of headless chickens.  My alsatian also fought a couple of them and got bitten on the nose.  They are very savage creatures.   Has anyone else seen these animals?  The african people don’t even have a name for them.

Reed buck in garden. Duiker, 1 oribi running through farm as if it were being chased, Still in residence  are the swallows,  sparrows,  rock pigeons and barn owls, 1 pr shell duck, 5 baby spurwing geese, 8 baby dab chicks, 7 baby yellowbill ducks, A pair of crested crane, Black crested eagle, fish eagle, steppe buzzard, yellow billed kite, gymnogene

Feb 2013 032

Impendle Nature Reserve

The Midlands CREW headed out to Impendle Nature Reserve on 23 March to find some flowers and wander in the grasslands.  Most of us had never visited before, so we were lucky that CREW stalwarts, Christeen Grant, Barbara and David Clulow came along to show us the way. They have had success during past seasons in finding Threatened Species – Asclepias biscuspis, Disa scullyi, Asclepias concinna, Schizoglossum bidens var hirtum, Asclepias woodii, Schizoglossum bidens subsp hirtum,  Asclepias woodii, Bowiea volubilis subsp. volubilis and Sandersonia aurantiaca – in various locations in the Midlands.

Boston Crew Barbara, Christeen, David in impendle res.

The reserve centre lies 11 km due south of  Impendle town, and about 50 km west of Pietermaritzburg. It took about an hour to get there from Howick.  The terrain is undulating, steep and rocky at the highest points, and dissected with small river drainage lines that fall over a minor escarpment as they join the Umkomaas River, which forms much of the site’s southern boundary. Altitude range is 935–1 586 m.  The site is predominantly grassland (about 2 000 ha). Most of this is Highland Sourveld,  with some Southern Tall Grassveld remaining. In its pristine state, this grassland should be dominated by Red Grass Themeda triandra, but the scarcity of this grass indicates that the site has been man-modified in the past – we saw plenty of Aristida and Paspalum.

impendle mountain and berg res.

We headed up the hill from the carpark. There are no paths, so we simply waded through the grass, finding treasures as we went.

heading up the hill.res

The first discovery was Satyrium macrophyllum – shown off beautifully against the dry gold grass

IMG_8812 Satyrium macrophyllum CGrant

then Alectra sessiliflora, which is flowering profusely in the Midlands this year.

IMG_8821 Alectra sessiliflora CGrant

We stopped to photograph everything! Christeen took all the fabulous flower photos in this post.

Peter and Christeen phtographing res.

We saw Disa fragrans, Helichtrysum adenocarpum, Monocymbium ceresiliforme, Habernaria lithophila, Helichrysum glomeratum, Becium obovatum subsp. obovatum var. obovatum.

IMG_8820 Becium obovatum CGrant

Eucomis autumnalis, Veronia natalensis, Searsia (Rhus) discolour, Vigna vexillata, Pachycarpus sp (not in flower), Lobelia erinus, Schistostephium crataegifolium,

IMG_8839 Schistosephium crataegifolium CGrant

Satyrium longicauda (not in flower), Wahlenbergia cuspidata, Haberneria dregeana,

IMG_8843 Habenaria dregeana CGrant

Barleria monticola, Sebaea sedoides (isivumelwane esikhulu), Hermannia gerradii – two plants spreading across the earth below the rocky area which was a first for David and Christeen and cause for much delight. Lobelia erinus

IMG_8838 Lobelia erinus CGrant

Leonotis intermedia,  Striga elegans, Gladiolus sericeovillosus  – this was Lindiwe’s favourite flower of the day.

IMG_8858 Gladiolus sericeovillosus CGrant

Some things we really puzzled over, but half the fun is looking up, discussing and finding the answer.

what is that impendle crew res.

This Senecio had us stumped. Peter thought it might be Senecio dreageana which is listed in the red Data book as vulnerable. He has posted it on iSpot – for assistance from other amateur Botanists – have a look: iSpot record  If it is,  it is pretty special – “It probably occurs at less than 10 locations, based on herbarium records and habitat maps. At least 67% of its grassland habitat has been transformed, and all remaining subpopulations are on small habitat fragments that are subject to ongoing degradation as a result of frequent fires, overgrazing, subsistence agriculture and the effects of fragmentation. Habitat loss has taken place over a period longer than three generations. Data on population size and trends are urgently needed.”  We are uncertain and await specialist identification – it is so easy for us to be over enthusiastic and misidentify things, so we want to make sure.

IMG_8824 Secencio sp CGrant

Crassula pellucida, Kniphofia laxiflora (not flowering), Diospyrus lycoides (not flowering), Scolopia, Berkheya multijuga, Calpurnia sericia (not flowering), Kalenchoe persiflora, Hibiscus trionum,

IMG_8855 Hibiscus trionum CGrant

Merwilla plumbea (not flowering), Cussonia paniculata (not flowering), Argylobium magenta (not flowering), Rhabdiosella calycina, Canthium mundianum (not flowering – stunted amongst rocks),  Buchnera simplex,

IMG_8881 Buchnera simplex CGrant

Ziziphus (not flowering – stunted amongst rocks), Pelargonium luridum (not flowering), Ortholobium polystictum, Asparagus cooperi, Watsonia socium (a few still in flower), Aloe maculata (not flowering), Pimpinella caffra,

IMG_8861 Pimpinella caffra CGrant

Dicoma anomala

IMG_8886 Dicoma anomala CGrant

Ayanda simply loved the wide opens spaces, the quiet and the views.

Ayanda and Christeen impendle crew res.

We couldn’t identify: Small yellow tubular flower with 5 fused petals. Fine 10cm long stem from ground.  Tiny bracts. Anyone have any ideas?

IMG_8836

Helichrysum cephaloideum, Zaluzianskia microsiphon, Gladiolus ecklonii,

IMG_8875 Gladioulus eckonii CGrant

We saw a couple of reed buck, lots of butterflies, found a porcupine quill and fell into a few aardvark holes.  This tiny weevil was interesting

IMG_8869 Weevil sp CGrant

Greyia sutherlandii, Grewia occidentalis, Halleria lucida, Scolopia mundii, Schizoglossum bidens (with fruit), Dicomis autumnalis, Eulophia sp (seed pods and caterpillar)

IMG_8889 Eulophia sp with caterpillar

We were very excited to find Bowiea volubilis amongst the Dolerite rocks on the ridge as it is on out Target Species list of Threatened species to look out for.  The Red Data list tell us that it is under severe threat from harvesting for the medicinal plant trade.

IMG_8883 Boweia volubilis CGrant

We also thought we spotted Anenome fanninii (another from our list) in the valley.  Impendle holds one of the largest populations of Blue Swallow remaining in South Africa, however we only visited the Northern slopes, not the area where they nest.

The reserve consists of a series of farms that were first settled by colonists over 100 years ago. Most of the land was devoted to cattle grazing, but small areas have been used for crops.  The farms were purchased in the late 1970s by the government for the purpose of consolidating the old KwaZulu homeland. They have been uninhabited since 1980. The value of this Trust Land to conservation was recognised in 1983 with the proposal to formally convert the area into Impendle Nature Reserve. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has been the management authority for the reserve since 1994.

Should you wish to visit, you need to make arrangements before you go or you may find the gate locked.  Call Michael Ngubo, 072 542 3049 or Nicholas Mndaweni, 082 518 8219.  The Officer in Charge is Mbuyiselo Gxashi – his email address is gxashim@kznwildlife.com

Concert in Curry’s Post

It didn’t take the quietly enthralled learners at Curry’s Post Primary School long to start grinning, wiggling their shoulders and tapping their feet once the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra started playing this week.

Tawanamyasha Kademaunga enjoys the concert at curry's post res.

Louis Armstrong’s classic ‘What a Wonderful World” set the tone for an enchanting hour of music set in the rolling hills of the truly wonderful Midlands.

trumpet at concert at curry's post res.

With funding from the NLDTF, the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra is able to include concerts at rural schools when it goes on tour.  “Our outreach programme is vital to keep classical music alive” said manager Paul Rodgers, “These kids are our future audience.  I came from an under privileged background, and am certain that if the orchestra had never come to my school when I was little, I would have been a labourer just like my dad, rather than a musician.”

Double Bass at concert at curry's post res.

After introducing each family of instruments in the orchestra to enthusiastic applause, the trombone, in particular, had everyone bouncing in their seats!  Nondumiso Ndlovu, who loves singing and dancing, could not contain her delight, swirling her arms through the air in time to the music. The conductor, Richard Cock, reminded everyone that they could make music with their bodies and soon everyone was clicking their fingers, swishing their hands and tapping their knees to create the sounds of a rain storm.

Joining in concert at curry's post res.

Afterwards, Grade 7 learner, Nigel Kalibongwe said happily “That was the best music I have heard in years.”  Principal Patrick Ndlovu, thanked the Orchestra for visiting their school, adding “While we were enjoying ourselves, we were learning too.”

feet at concert at curry's post res

Other educators echoed these sentiments.  Arts and Culture teacher Simphiwe Dube, was pleased that learners would now know what she was talking about when she mentioned a violin (an instrument she would love to learn to play herself).  Ntobeko Msondo, leader of the newly formed Eco-School Committee was also thrilled. “Our theme for the year is Healthy Living and music is definitely part of that.”

Waiting for concert at curry's post res.

Sarah Allen, Chair of Curry’s Post Conservancy and member of the Curry’s Post Education Trust, was really pleased, commenting:  “To see the way the kids got involved in the different pieces music, jiving in their seats and joining percussion was marvellous! Music is a fabulous way to get the kids united in appreciation for their environment, providing food for the soul and inspiration for their futures.  We are delighted at the links between the Orchestra’s visit and the School’s recent enrolment in the WESSA Eco-School programme with the enthusiastic support of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project.”

Patrick Ndlovu Sarah Allen concert at curry's post res.

Hawu we ma!

There were so many astonishing moments during our Cobham weekend that “Wow” simply couldn’t do them justice. “Hawu we ma!”  became the exclamation of choice.  Stars, streams, mountains, waterfalls, caves, flowers, food and friendship ensured the experience was utterly magical. Four students about to start Matric at Shea O’Connor School in Nottingham Road had been looking forward to the adventure for weeks. The weekend was organised by MCF with funding from N3Toll Concession.

cobham 122.res

The journey began on a cold, wet Midlands morning. There was little point rushing to the mountains where it was likely to even colder and mistier, so we explored along the way. First stop, the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial in Mpophomeni, where we chatted about the violence which lead to her death, the origins of the township and the Mpophomeni Conservation Group initiative.

cobham 003 RES.

We popped in to tell the friends we had made on the Hlatikulu trip recently, Zamambo and Bulelani, about our planned adventure – back to the mountains.  They were green with envy.

cobham 009.res

We visited the Yellowwood Church in Bulwer, it was too wet to walk in the forest to see the real live Yellowwood trees. The headstones with dates from the early 1900s had everyone astonished. “Unbelievable” quipped Nkulu, shaking his head.

cobham 030.RES

After crossing the uMkomazi river, we stopped at Pucketty Farm Stall to stock up on fresh bread, local cheese and chocolate brownies, and stroke the cat. As the mizzle was really thick, we spent a few hours exploring the Himeville Museum crammed full of fascinating artefacts before heading through the mud to Cobham.

cobham 057.RES

On arrival at Pholela hiking hut, we were thrilled to find a big wood pile (invasive wattle) and set about building a fire to snuggle around. Wendy made some new friends and headed out in the rain for a swim!  “What a wonderful weekend – a fabulous thing that I have never done in my life.”  She said.

cobham 068.res

After a good night’s sleep in absolute darkness the really astonishing moments began… Breakfast on the verandah included happy eggs donated by Aloe Ridge Farm and discussions about the day’s possibilities. Christeen Grant, an experienced Berg Guide, had joined us and made some suggestions about where to walk.

cobham 071 res.

Despite the damp, grey weather we wandered through the Ouhout scrub – following jackal prints along the path – to make the most of our few precious days.

cobham 095.res

Undeterred by the weather, the deep pools in the river enticed us to swim, taking our breath away at first.

cobham 109.res

Soon we were used to the cold,  and no one wanted to get out.

cobham 120.res

The exclamations and laughter faded as we spent time in quiet contemplation of our surroundings.

cobham 130.res

Finding a spot to be entirely alone.

cobham 133.res

Listening to the water and the birds, feeling the breeze on our skins and just being still.

cobham 129.res

With both Nikki and Christeen passionate about plants, there were many stops to admire the floral treasures in the grassland.  Everyone taking a turn with the camera to capture their beauty.  Polygala hottentotta.

cobham 157.res

The cliffs beckoned and we climbed up to a waterfall

cobham 211.res

We explored a hidden cave, filled with animal prints, that looked out across the river valley. “We had a whimsical experience with you. Thank you for showing us the beauty of nature.  I loved learning about the many wonders the mountains keep dear to their hearts. Wonders that we will now keep dear to OUR hearts.” said Vusi.

cobham 228.res. JPG

We stopped often to chat about rocks, admire insects, discuss scats. Christeen’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the area, adding depth and a special dimension. “Christeen, thank you for being with us this weekend. We wouldn’t have done it without you. You gave up your time, family and everything for us and we love you for that.” said Nkulu.

cobham 251.res

After the invigorating exercise, lunch on the verandah went down well.  “Hawu we ma – izingane zidla kakhulu!”  said Nikki.  Everyone competed to make the most interesting sandwiches – startling combinations of ingredients which elicited lots of exclamations! Banana and beetroot anyone?

cobham 271.res

A herd of horses joined us for afternoon tea.

cobham 277.res

On Sunday, we walked part of day two of the Giant’s Cup trail.  We packed plenty of snacks and our water bottles and headed for the hills.

cobham 282.res

How exciting when the clouds lifted and Hodgson’s Peaks and the Drakensberg emerged.

cobham 330.res

Every possible moment was spent quietly, watching Cape Vultures circle, the shadows on the mountains move and relishing being almost alone in nature.

cobham 318.res

We drank fresh, cold water from the streams.

cobham 350.res

As the sky got bluer, we climbed higher and higher,

cobham 353.res

We crept through the forest to discover a beautiful, cool cave where Qiniso magically pulled nougat from his backpack.

cobham 363.res

This was Bath Plug falls – water rushing in from above, but no sign of it leaving the deep pool.  “I loved the waterfalls” said Qiniso, “we visited six this weekend.”

cobham 376.res

We walked back to camp in silence. Vusi particularly enjoyed the quiet moments. “Thank you, you have made this experience a Moment for Life.

cobham 193.res

After lunch, we packed a watermelon and headed to the river to swim and wallow and bask in the sunshine. Nkulu said “What a wonderful afternoon. I enjoyed the swimming and diving with you and I really enjoyed the floating lesson you gave me.”

cobham 498.res

Early evening was spent chatting and playing cards in the outdoor boma before building a fire to cook our colourful kebabs. After tucking in, Wendy said “We must be happy for the food we eat because it is given to us with an opened heart.”  Ever mindful of our carbon footprint, all our food was local and organic and we took all the peelings home for the compost.  We collected all other packaging materials to recycle  – this filled only half of a plastic Woollies bag. We left no trace of our adventure at all.

cobham 418.res

Then as the darkness grew and the stars sparkled in the moonless sky, we lay on the swing bridge across the Pholela River, the water rushing below us. No one had ever seen a sky quite like it – absolutely crammed with twinkling lights, and shooting stars galore.  Qiniso “I had so much fun watching the stars at night. It was wonderful.”

cobham 441.res We crossed the bridge again the next morning on our way to yet another lovely waterfall, tucked between steep cliffs with a deep dark pool at the bottom.

cobham 454.res

We met the Reserve Field Rangers and joined them on their patrol. This provided a good opportunity to chat to them about the animals in the area, their jobs and the training they had received, and to take advantage of their experienced eyes pointing out baboons and buck and birds.

cobham 459.res

After another dip in the Pholela, we said our goodbyes “What a fabulous trip we had. The things I learnt from each of us is that we must share our knowledge and we must not leave our group members behind when we are walking in the mountains.”  Wendy said.

cobham 204.res

On the way home we stopped at Marutswa to walk in the forest and picnic on leftovers, enjoying the protection of the cool canopy after the heat of the grasslands.

cobham 540res.

The journey home to Mooi River, Rosetta and Nottingham Road provided opportunities to compose text messages:

“Thank you for each and every support that you’ve been giving to us and it was such a wonderful experience.”  Qiniso Zuma

“The walk to the cave and the stars were so amazing. I have never had a great weekend like this ever, but I didn’t like washing dishes.   Thank you for everything. Lots of love” Nkululeko Mdladla

“It was a great weekend. You have given me hope and strength and washed my worries away. Ngiyabonga. Love” Wendy Mkwanazi

“I remember our trips to the river and enjoyed learning to float, but the really amazing part of this trip was the time we spent on the suspension bridge looking at stars.  I even got to see a shooting star (I made a wish, but I can’t tell). I can’t explain how much fun I had, this was truly a time to remember and in the words of my favortite artist ‘I wish that I have this moment for life’.” Vusimusi Mvelase

Christeen Grant “Thank you for the privilege of spending an inspiring time with you, Wendy, Vusi, Nkulu and Qiniso over the past few days at Cobham! Your commitment and dedication to inspiring, caring and nurturing these young lives is awesome, a very real motivation as you guide, not impose ideas and experiences in their lives. For me it was a real and heart-warming pleasure to share the mountains with all of you!” 

Nikki concludes: “Sidlalile, sifundile kahle ePholela. Sobuya futhi.”  Thank you to Penny Rees for the inspiration.

cobham 508 res.

May the sun bring you new energy by day

May the moon softly restore you at night

May the rain wash away your worries

May the breeze blow new strength into your being

May you walk gently through the world and

Know it’s beauty all the days of your life.

cobham 088.res

Mpophomeni kids visit Umgeni Valley

As we (MCF) were able to stretch the sponsorship we had received from N3 Toll Concession for environmental activities to end 2012, members of the Midlands Meander Mpophomeni Enviro-club kids were treated to an adventure at Umgeni Valley during the holidays. Charlene Russell, facilitator of the Club. compiled this report.

Some of the newer members hadn’t been on an excursion before, so there was great excitement as we all loaded into the mini-bus, with our back packs and picnic food! The group listened attentively to the safety talk before we set off, and asked many questions as we slowly made our way down into the valley, stopping to talk about aloes, the umlathlankhozi (buffalo thorn tree), paper-bark trees, grazers and bowsers, and the different types of dung and footprints we saw on the trail.

DSC04745.RES

Once down at Shelter Falls camp, we divided into two groups and competed against each other in the obstacle course, the boys team just beat the girls and celebrated with a war cry to suit the occasion.

DSC04704.RES

We then changed into our swimming costumes and headed for the ‘Bum-slide’ which was flowing very fast because of all the rain.

This was definitely the highlight of the whole day, as the kids took turns to slide down the smooth rock in the river and land with a splash in the pool, or (which was generally the case) have me catch them at the bottom. Eventually, when we were wrinkly and shivering from spending so much time in the water, we said good bye to the Bum-slide, and headed back to camp for lunch.

DSC04746.RES

After we had feasted on boiled eggs, peanut butter sarmies, little cheese pies, plums and healthy crunchies we packed up our stuff and slowly trekked up the valley, taking a different route back and stopping to do a Mini-SASS assessment of the river (we were happy to discover that the score was 6.5 and the water was not polluted).

DSC04788.RES

We finished at the Pines. Here we wrapped up the day, by drawing a picture of our favourite thing we had done using natural materials like sand, mud, sticks and leaves to do it. Our timing was perfect, and the mini-bus arrived to take us home just as we were saying our goodbyes to the valley, and leaving a stone behind with our good thoughts in it.

DSC04782.RES

Thank you to all who made the day happen! Next year the Kids have all asked if we may “please please” stay over for one or two nights and camp-out all together!

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – November

Jill Hunter 

Jill has written the most delightful story about the wildlife she lives with. It is a bit long to include here, but a highly reccommended read on the Dargle Local Living blog.  Click on the link for the full story.

http://darglelocalliving.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/living-with-nature/

A snippet to whet your appetite: “Since both my old dogs died, I decided to live with all these creatures who actually do not need feeding at all. No vets bills, no hair in the house, no pet food to buy at vast expense, no poo on the lawn! Just a few bird droppings on the deck.” 

window frog 3.res CROP.

Lucinda and Tom Bate – Inversanda

Saw a mummy bushpig and four babies in a terrible hurry on our drive a week ago.  The first sighting of littlies for 16 years!

Jethro Bronner – Old Kilgobbin

Came across a troop of Baboons while climbing iNhlosane. Decided best to retreat.

inhlosane 3.resCROP.

Mike Crawford – Shanton

Found this amazing mushroom near the pine plantation. A Stinkhorn I believe.

Star Stinkhorn mushroom

Rose and Barry Downard – Oak Tree Cottage 

Our orchard is full of Helichrysum and dandelions and looks like a lovely golden meadow. The bees have made their hive in the middle of the orchard so don’t need to fly too far away. The bees have been very active during the few sunny days we’ve had, but I wonder how they are coping with the rain and what effect this will have on pollination.helichrysum setosa.jCROP

The African Hoopoes have been very busy all month feeding their babies under the eaves our roof, and it seems that the young Hoopoes have now left the nest.

We saw two male Buffspotted Flufftails in the garden near the house just a few metres from each other. Both were calling loudly and probably competing for territory.

Also seen: Paradise Flycatcher, swallows, Olive Thrush, Kite, Longcrested Eagle, Egyptian Geese, Egrets, doves etc. Heard: Burchell’s Coucal, Cape Parrots.

Karin and Justin Herd – Bee Tree farm

This is the first of our new chameleon birthings in the grassland below the house.  Only counted 7 on 12 November, normally we have 10-12 babies in the first round.

Chameleon baby 121112 CROP

Malvina and Evert van Bremem – Old Furth Estate

November continues very wet and muddy up here, with dams overflowing walls and creating huge excitement in getting in and out of our driveway! Sunshine has been at a premium so far and washing has taken over the clothes dryer which has almost permanently taken up residence next to the Esse stove in the kitchen, following the dictum of trying to tap the electricity grid as little as possible!

Even in all the wet,we have still had a spectacular showing from the aliens from outer space which have proliferated in the lawn this year. (Stag stinkhorns).

Red Stinkhorn.crop

The Spurwing geese have completely invaded the wetland and we now have about 7 in residence. They are enjoying the wet! A pair of Blue Cranes are resident on the hills surrounding the house and we hear them calling every day. We are richly blessed to be able to report the “same old” fish eagles, buzzards, kites and owls are all still seen and heard regularly. The flufftails are still calling, as are the cuckoos.

The frogs and toads are also very happy with the weather and little green river frogs have taken up residence in all the puddles on the driveway, so now we have to try to avoid puddles so that we don’t squash frogs. This makes the trip along the driveway even more hazardous than usual.

The Cape Chestnuts have burst into bloom in our indigenous forests, creating pink islands in the verdant greenery. The monkeys and baboons are back in full force and we have heard the Knysna Loeries (or whatever they are called now) calling up and down the indigenous forest below the house. The streams and waterfalls are all in full spate and the sound of rushing water surrounds us.

The dreaded porcupine is back and preying upon any arum lily it can find, especially the Zantedeschia aethiopica, not so much the little Z. albomaculata and valida. We have been overjoyed to see an increase in the Dierama and Gladioli on the farm. We hope the wonderful rain continues throughout the rest of the Summer, but could tentatively wish for the odd sunny day in between.

Sandra and Pat  Merrick  – Albury Farm

10 wattle crane flew over the house one morning making their strange rusty door hinge sounds.

My saddest of stories which broke our hearts was a pair of blue crane that had been visting all winter.  She decided to lay her 2 eggs in our vlei about 30metres from our dam.  It was wonderful.  We could watch her from our verandah thru the binocs at any time.

MOZAM 2012 Crane on nest

A few days later I walked to the dam at about 4pm – she was grazing on the hill – and there, next to her eggs was a jackal.  I chased it away but came home with a heavy heart as knew that it would return that night, which of course, it did.  Eggs gone.

Blue Crane eggs

Next day, Mom and dad stood next to the empty nest for a few hours and eventually flew off.  I was so sad to see them go and thought they would not return.  For a few days we saw them on our neighbours farm and I thought perhaps she would lay near their dam.  But lo and behold.  They were back and she was now preparing a nest on a small island a few metres inside the dam.  The day she laid her one egg, we had had a heavy rain the night before and the dam started to fill up rapidly from the streams. She frantically stuck her head in the water picking up stones and sand and placing them around her egg  trying to raise  the nest higher.  This went on all day.  We had to leave for Mozambique the next day and asked our house sitter to check on the pair of crane.  Needless to say, the nest got flooded and they flew off once more.

MOZAM 2012 Crane 005

Seen the secretary bird about 3 times.  For the first time we saw about 10 egrets arriving amongst our nguni herd.  They are always down in Lidgetton but never here.  Unfortunately they left and have not returned.  The shell duck have moved off.  7 blue crane arrived at the dam on the 28th Nov. Pat saw a blackbellied korhaan swimming in a puddle of water on our road after a storm. One sunday a stanleys bustard walked across the hill in front of our house. 3 canaries nesting in my standard roses.  2 babies fell out and died.  One left her nest and the other is sitting on 3 eggs. The wagtail hatched out one baby in my jasmine creeper., Jackal buzzard on top of cross in the mist., Red collared widow bird, 3 or 4 spoonbill permanent residents at the moment.

The jackal have been a real nuisance.  When walking one afternoon about 5pm we saw our ngunis chasing something down the hill – yes, the jackal.  It was like a game. He would run and stop and look back at them, and then the chase would start again.  What was funny was watching one of the calves chasing it, tail flying in the air.

nguni jackal CROP

I saw one male oribi and Pat saw 2 oribi at different times of the month down in front of the house.  Still lots of reed buck. Found a dead baby rabbit on my front porch and a few days later another one sleeping in my formal garden.  Have no idea how they got there.  I put him on other side of our fence and prayed he would not get taken by the jackal or the martial eagle. Male duiker

Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin

oxalis crop.

Plants:  Hypoxis sp (yellow), Hypoxis parvula (white), Helichrysum setosa, Nemesia, Aristea ecklonii, Dias cotonifolia, Veronia, Rhodohypoxis, Caledendron capense, Dias cotonifolia, Celtis africana, Hypericum aethipicum, Gunnera, Oxalis (above), Pentanisia prunelloides, Hesperantha (below) Zantedeschia aethiopica – aren’t the Arum filled vleis just magnificent?

Mammals: Plenty of Samangos about. A couple of tiny duiker, a big Reedbuck ram, 2 bush buck does.

Other critters: Giant snails along the forest paths.  Snake skin. White butterflies.

Birds:  Crowned Eagles, Jackal Buzzards, stone chats, weavers, Egyptian geese, orange throated long claws, francolins, Knysna loeries and all the usuals. Nothing out of the ordinary.

hesperantha crop.