Tag Archives: stonefly

Bushwillows, Bushbuck and Bushwhacking

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

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The Karkloof river, our source of inspiration

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

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Close-up of the Forest Bushwillow

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

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Standing under the impressive Bushwillow

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

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Green algae – a sign of nutrient enrichment

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

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

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

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Wall of Bramble separating us from the river

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

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

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

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

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The Good – Beloved Bushwillows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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uMthunzima miniSASS Surprise

Last month, the Mpophomeni Conservation Group invited youngsters to learn about the indigenous forest patches in the area and compare them to man made plantations. Discussions amongst the students around the issues of Alien vs Indigenous were vigorous. Nomfundo Mlotshwa was curious to know why people still planted invasive species which use so much water.  “To make all the furniture – like our school desks.  iHlahla zesizulu zikhula zibe nestem esincane. Indigenous trees grow too slow.” Asanda Ngubane replied.

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They wandered up the valley along the stream in search of interesting trees, and to their horror, observed five overflowing manholes polluting the river and six dumping sites close to the bank. “I am worried that the rubbish will wash into the river when it rains” said Lineth Mbambo.

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Much of the river that they walked beside appeared to be in a very poor condition.

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Once they got beyond the mass of houses, they were pleased to discover the river in a much better state. They explored a little and determined right away to return and do miniSASS tests along the length of the uMthunzima which flows directly into Midmar.

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Then a couple of weeks ago, ten enthusiastic learners turned up on a cold and rainy day to explore more. Ayanda Lipheyana (MCG facilitator) helped them make raincoats out of refuse bags to ward of the worst of the wet. They did four miniSASS tests in four different sites. Ayanda reports:

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We named our sites 1, 2, 3 and 4. Before we started Sihle Ngcobo asked “What is miniSASS? I saw the word in your invitation SMS and went to the dictionary but unfortunately I didn’t get the definition.”  I explained  what it is and why it is important to monitor streams in order to understand changes to the stream.

At Sites 2 and 3 we did miniSASS together. Kids were separated into 2 groups to do miniSASS at site 1 and 4.  Site 1 is lower down the stream and site 4 is up the uMthunzima stream closest to the source. As we go up the stream kids noticed that the clarity of water improved and miniSASS score changed from bad to good.

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At site 1 the water clarity was good but the miniSASS score was 3.5 which is very bad. We thought it because there was not too much life. We only 4 invertebrates and there was no oxygen because water was moving slowly and there is raw sewage from the manhole entering the stream above.

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At site 2 the water clarity was good and the miniSASS score was better – 5.6. There was more life and no sewage coming into the stream but there was some human activities – like washing and an illegal dumping site.

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At site 3 the water clarity was very good. There was more life we found 5 invertebrates and score was 7.8 which means the river is in good condition.The water was bubbling over the stones, which meant there was oxygen in the water.  Here Asanda Ngubane found a stonefly!

Kids were so excited to see a stonefly for the first time. Philani Ngcobo said “I did not know about the stonefly.  I was so happy that I learnt something new, and that part of our river is clean and good for the animals that live there.”

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At site 4 the water clarity was the same as at the site 3 but the miniSASS score was only 5.6. We found 7 invertebrates. Water moving slowly, means low oxygen.  We are confused why we got so much difference between site 3 and site 4 because site 3 and 4 they are 15 meters away from each other and site 4 is further upstream than site 3.  We will return to these sites again.

We had fun and the kids plan to go back on a sunny day, do more test and compare results. Londeka said “It is a new information for us about aquatic invertebrates adaptations and it will help us in Life Science.”  I made it clear that we can only drink water from the stream where we found a stonefly and that if there are human activities upstream we can not drink that water.

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Earlier in October, MCG collected 46 bags of litter from the uMlanga Stream near where it flows under Mandela Drive. Ayanda phoned the Municipality to collect the rubbish and was pleased when they arrived a few hours later. Ayanda concludes: We chose this spot because it is visible. to encourage others who love their environment to volunteer to help.  People passing by appreciated the work we were doing.  One said “We must make you guys counsellors because it seems you love your area”.

46 bags collected clean up