Tag Archives: wetlands

Flower Hunting in Fort Nottingham

The second Midlands CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) fieldtrip for the 2013 season took place on Saturday 9 November at Lake Lyndhurst in Fort Nottingham.  There were lots of flowers on the road verges. r Lake Lyndhurst 005 After meeting at Els Amics in the village,  we headed through New Forest where the uMngeni river spills down from uMngeni Vlei, up to Lake Lyndhurst. r Lake Lyndhurst 149 Evert joined us having ridden his bike through Ivanhoe from the Dargle side. res Lake Lyndhurst 006 Ayanda and Nkanyiso admired the wetland and the views. r Lake Lyndhurst 008 The plateau was covered with Festuca costata – a grass usually found at higher altitudes. It appears to be moving down and increasing in places not previously abundant.  The vegetation was typical of Mooi river Highland Grassland – part of the Highland Sourveld. r Lake Lyndhurst 018 Didn’t take long before the photographers were down on their knees getting up close to little floral treasures. r Lake Lyndhurst 017 Experts and amateur botanists decided to  head towards a rocky outcrop to see what they could find.  Hypoxis filiformis, Graderia scabra, Eriosema distinctum, Helichrysum aureonitis which is also used as imphepho although Helichrysum cynosum is the more classic imphepho species. r Lake Lyndhurst 068 We were amazed at all the Delopspermum (probably sutherlandii).  Eve commented that she didn’t really expect to find them here – they seemed to belong in the Karoo. r Lake Lyndhurst 021 There was lots and lots of yellow Morea flowering.  Is it alticola?  graminicola?  Most likely spathulata.  Interesting we found it was far more abundant in the areas where there were cattle and not apparent in the area cattle were excluded from. r Lake Lyndhurst 089 Senecio erubescens – very sticky, Gerbera kraussia (sometimes called ambigua) r Lake Lyndhurst 023 Eriosema kraussianum, Schizoglossum flavum, r Lake Lyndhurst 035 Buchnera simplex – gorgeous deep blue, Gladiolus parvula had most of us fooled as we thought it was a Dierama r Lake Lyndhurst 039 Nkanyiso spotted a rinkhals on a rock which quickly slithered into a hole nearby when all the cameras were focussed on him.  Amongst the rocks we found Maytenus acuminata, Myrsine Africana, Veronia hirsute, Tulbaghia leucantha, Cineraria with soft grey leaves One of the nicest things about CREW fieldtrips is that everyone helps everyone else to learn something new. r Lake Lyndhurst 043 We disturbed a common quail, saw lots of Rhodohypoxis baurii – mostly white but a patch of pink near a stream, Chlorophytum cooperii, Hebenstretia dura res Lake Lyndhurst 049 Helichrysum pilosellum, Polygala gracilenta – dark pinky purple,  Aster perfoliatus with leaves that clasp the stem res Lake Lyndhurst 060 Psammotropha myriantha, Dierama florifirum (an educated guess), Osteospermum juncundi – gorgeous bright pink, Alepidea natalensis (not flowering yet), Protea simplex – new leaves sprouting from what is essentially an underground tree. res Lake Lyndhurst 067 We found Thesium natalense, Xysmalobium parviflorum, r Lake Lyndhurst 073 Sue spotted Eulophia aculiatum – tucked next to a rock, a very unusual find and pretty exciting res Lake Lyndhurst 082 Hypoxis sp maybe argentia, Ledebouria cooperi, Ledebouria sandersonia, and  Ledebouria monophylla (which is not known in this location, so pretty exciting), Gerbera piloselloides – a wonderful yellow. We sploshed across a wetland (sensible Nkanyiso wore gumboots), r Lake Lyndhurst 145 where we found Eriocaulom dregei, Aponogetom junceus,  Anthericum sp and Ranunculus multifidus (Zulu name appropriately uxaphozi, which means wetland), r Lake Lyndhurst 112 Acalypha penduncularis, Pelagonium luridum with gorgeous spidery leaves edged in red, Eucomis  (not flowering yet), Coccinea hirtella, r Lake Lyndhurst 102 Diclis reptans, Nemesia caerulea, Watsonia – was it lepidea?  Some discussion about our altitude which would help with identifying the species – we were at 1900m above sea level. r Lake Lyndhurst 131 Aloe, Peucodanum caffrum, Senecio speciosa, Hirpircium armeroides with Peter announced had “fearsome bracts”,

Lake Lyndhurst

Drosera, Unidentified Erica – Isabel took a piece home to identify), Pentanisia prunelloides, Scilla nervosa – not flowering, Jamesbritennia breviflora, Tulbaghia natalensis. We had been puzzled by something as we crossed the wetland and hoped to find it on the way back with a few of the experts in tow. Astonishingly, Gina lead us right to it.  res Lake Lyndhurst 118 Peter guessed Veronia and Sue searched through the book until we decided on Veronia thodii. Much to our delight Isabel confirmed it and Barbara explained how it should be pronounced (a German name).

Lake Lyndhurst

As we left Lake Lyndhurst, we spotted two secretary birds on the hillside.  On the way back down we stopped to admire the fresh, clean water tumbling over the rocks, feeling sad about the state of the uMngeni river just a little further down the valley. r Lake Lyndhurst 151 Thanks to Roy and Val Tabernor for their assistance in accessing Lake Lyndhurst.  If you are keen to join CREW and help search for special plants, contact info@midlandsconservancies.org.za

Peter Warren has posted some of the plants we found onto iSpot where interesting discussions have followed.  Do have a look here: http://www.ispot.org.za/search/node/lake%20lyndhurst – make a comment or post some of your own observations. r Lake Lyndhurst 109

Water Workshop in Lidgetton

On the day before the DUCT River Walkers were due to arrive along the Lions River in Lidgetton, locals gathered at the Community Hall for a workshop on Water and Wetlands presented by Nkanyiso Ndlela.   Balgowan Conservancy sponsored the event and Yvonne Thompson (Chair) delivered fruit and snacks.

Everyone was excited to join the workshop, chatting and laughing, and although some didn’t know what the workshop about, they decided to attend and find out.

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Nkanyiso introducted himself, Balgowan Conservancy, DUCT and explained the purpose of the River Walk which took place along the uMngeni last year and was happening on the Lions right at the moment – to observe and monitor the negative impacts on our streams and wetlands. He did a presentation on the importance of protecting our water and wetlands and introduced the Catchment to Coast game.

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Participants were divided into two groups to encourage them to work together and interact with one another.   There was much excitement as cards were identified and passed along to build the picture. Everyone was encouraged to look carefully at each card and try to understand what was happening. The cards clearly show the beauty and the benefits of water and the impacts on our catchments.

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Nkanyiso reports:  After the game we spoke about the negative impact done by human beings and took the nearby stream and wetland as an example which they see every day. The wetland next to the stream is cultivated and possibly the farmer uses chemicals to grow the crops, so when it rains they are washed  into the river. The stream is full of litter. I mentioned that we might have a huge problem in future if we don’t take action now.

The participants asked questions like “What should we do if the municipality does not collect litter?” I suggested that it is best to report to the local municipal offices in Howick. We discussed the importance of addressing water and wetland issues that we may not be aware of but will have a huge negative impact in our life.

Walking home afterwards, Volunteer of Lidgetton (VOL) member, Sithembile Duma overheard some of the kids chatting. “They were talking about the small river they passed and saying how dirty it was and how they would not drink for it. So it opened their eyes a little bit.”

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The following morning the community were invited to meet the DUCT River Walk team for a  Mini SASS activity.  Thulani, Sitembile and their VOL friends are  “Working to make Lidgetton a Better Place” and were very interested in learning more.

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Penny Rees and Preven Chetty, met the group at the river where they shared their exciting journey and took a water sample. They explained clearly why they doing what they doing.  We walked along the stream through the wetland till we reached the waterfall and we picked a nice rocky place to do a Mini SASS activity just above the water fall.  The result showed that the river was very polluted.

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Read Penny’s account of the walk through Lidgetton http://umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/day-6-dont-count-your-fences-before-you-have-crossed-them/

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Sithembile requested a workshop for the Volunteers so they could help to teach others, particularly the the youth, in Lidgetton about water issues.  “These two activities were very interesting and useful” she said, “People don’t know how their pollution will kill animals and harm other people. We need to open their minds so they can be able to say ‘eish, what I am doing is wrong’.  We need water more than anything else.”

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Stembile has offered to do regular water testing on the river through Lidgetton, to monitor changes in the river health.

Frogs, Flatworms and Fun in Fort Nottingham

Lion’s Bush Conservancy (LBC) supports two Fort Nottingham schools – Silindile and Nkonka. LBC used their allocation of the funds that Midlands Conservancies Forum raised from N3TC (to support environmental learning and strenghten relationships between Conservancies and schools) for hands on wetland lessons facilitated by the Midlands Meander Association Education Project (MMAEP). “This has been hugely worthwhile, we are very pleased with the activities.” said Val Tabenor afterwards.

Penz Malinga spent time at Silindile School and complied this report:  It was a lovely sunny morning the day learners from Silindele School took a little walk to the wetland below their school to study it.

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Half of the kids had done a wetland study the previous year with me at Bill Barnes Nature Reserve with the KZN Crane Foundation. We recapped a bit on what we had done the previous year.

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The learners were divided into 5 groups, mixing up those who had done the study and those had not. Armed with prior knowledge they were given instructions to go on a self-exploration expedition on the Wetland and each group had a specific topic to report back on to others.

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The first group had to look at the plants in the wetland, the second had to find animal evidence, the next group had to look at the soil,

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another had to report back on the state of the water and the last group was to make something out of wetland resources.

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The learners dashed into the water with enthusiasm, they seemed to be enjoying being scientists studying the Wetland water. The time given for the task elapsed and they came back to report back on other groups. Their findings showed they had remembered quite a bit and it was wonderful for those with prior knowledge to teach others in their group.

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One of the questions asked was; “how can you tell if the wetland is clean or dirty?” and that is when I whipped out water quality slides that we assembled and studied step by step. The slides highlighted that the presence of bloodworms, flatworms and leeches in great numbers generally meant that the Wetland was in poor condition.

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We then put on our frog masks and learners participated in a play where a group of frogs that worked in a cabbage farm toyi toyi to protested against the use of poisonous pesticides on the cabbages Toxins get washed away into the River poisoning the hundreds of million invertebrates that are their food and poisoning also their water.

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After the noise of the toyi toyi, singing happy frog songs and sad frog songs we went back to school and the day ended with refreshments.

Nkanyiso Ndlela visited Nkonka Primary, another tiny school in the area, and sent this report: I met two friendly teachers before meeting the learners, Nsiki Nxumalo (principal) and Bongumusa Phuthing (teacher). I introduced myself, MMAEP and Lions Bush Conservancy.

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I divided them into three groups and  I gave the learners a chance to discuss  and write down what they know about wetlands, just to get their level of understanding.

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They presented their thought of wetlands. “Water is life” they said. They could separate the word ‘wetland’ but they actually didn’t know what a wetland actually is until I mentioned it in Zulu  – “Amaxhaphozi”, then they knew.

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I ask them what they use water and wetlands for in their communities. They mentioned that the animals and plants are dependent on water, we use water for drinking, farmers use water to water their plants and for cleaning. I did a presentation on the importance of, and how to use the wetland sustainably.

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I introduced the WOW picture building game. They had to build the Poster using the picture cards provided to them in their small groups. In this activity learners were fully involved and interacting.

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We then took a walk to a wetland which is dry with channels cut into it.  There were plantation trees surrounding a wetland but still we could see water in the channels.  Plants like incema and uxhaphozi were identified. I explained to them how to identify the possible edges of a wetland by looking at the area, which is in a basin surrounded by mountains and steep slopes.

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We went back to the classroom and spoke about sustaining water and our wetlands and  the possible actions that learners could do to help.  At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked them if they would like me to come back again – they all said “yes”, they would like more natural science lessons. “We as the Nkonka primary school would like to share our sincere gratitude for knowledge and information that was presented to learners in our school. It been a wonderful opportunity for learners to learn things that are impacting their lives in the environment they live in.”

Bongumusa Phuthing, the class teacher commented: “The facilitator  was communicating with learners in a language that allowed the learners to participate in order for a good level of understanding. He was able to draw learner’s attention and make them to be more interested and keen to learn. The lesson was linked within the school’s curriculum. There are topics covered that are also based on what is being taught in the class room such as natural science, technology and life skills.”

“Today’s experience with Nkanyiso was very well structured. His classroom programme was most impressive, detailed and logical. The children were engaged throughout the study and responded enthusiastic and intelligently. Most impressive.” said Sue Savidge of Lions Bush Conservancy afterwards.

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Celebrating Cranes, Water and Wetlands

Members of the Dargle Conservancy are custodians of an important water catchment on which millions of people rely. Dargle Conservancy believes that it is important to inspire the next generation to value the biodiversity of our valley and has for many years supported the creative environmental work of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project in Dargle schools. This year Dargle Conservancy has sponsored lessons around water issues and also lessons on Cranes to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The Crowned Crane is the Dargle Conservancy logo.

It was an exciting day at Dargle School on 14 August as Penz, Tutu, Annie and Eidin of the Midlands Meander Education Project arrived to celebrate Water.  We started off by gathering the whole school together for Water Safety with Annie, which had the kids engrossed. Many children swim in the local rivers so it was great to see them learning about simple techniques to save lives.

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We then split up. Tutu took the Grade 4 & 5’s to learn about compost heaps (they had done water and cranes the week before – see below) Penz took the Grade 6 and 7 learners off to Kimber’s Dam and the stream nearby to do a Mini-SASS test.

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The learners were divided into two groups, one to study the animal evidence and one to study the plants. Armed them with field guides, they went on a self-discovery course along the wetland.

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They had lots of fun while threading lightly on the soil to be careful not to trample anything valuable to their data collection. When they came back, the animal group was happy to report sightings of black ducks, a dead reed buck in the water, mongoose droppings and cow dung amongst others. The plants group noted incema, sedges and other aquatic plants. Using the information gathered, we constructed a food web.r dargle school in stream.

Further down the road we reached the spot where the dam drains into a stream and here we did our mini sass test. We found lots of caddis fly casing on the rocks, whirligig beetles, tapeworms and water striders. We also learned why there were bits of orange in the wetland and in the river. The score proved the stream to in a largely modified, poor condition.

r dargle school mini sass.

Eidin took the Grade 2 and 3 classes. We read ‘Tyrannosaurus Drip’ which is a very water related story about peace-loving and war-mongering dinosaurs. We then played some wild water hula hoop games and talked about cranes and other creatures that live around water.

A couple of weeks ago, with the Grade 4 and 5 classes, we explored the water cycle, drew it, danced it and rapped it! A lesson on cranes followed – the three types of cranes found in South Africa, their habitats, eating habits, how they mate for life and love to dance. Three of the children had seen cranes in the wild. We decided to make two crowned cranes using recycled cardboard tubing, old posters and bags.   Two beautiful giant crane puppets went outside to dance in the school grounds!

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It was a great morning of learning and play and the children were excited about getting a crane sign for their school.  What did the learners think about the lesson?

‘I liked making the cranes, we painted and cut up old bags, we stuffed the head with dried grass and taped on the beak.’

‘I didn’t know that cranes could dance! I thought people are the only ones dancing’

‘The flying and dancing was nice everybody was having fun’

On Wednesday 14th August Nikki Brighton from the Dargle Conservancy arrived to present the school with honorary membership of the Conservancy and talk to them about the work of the Conservancy and the importance of learning about and caring for the local environment.

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The Grade 4s raced off to get their two Crowned Crane puppets and the whole school danced with them around the playground.

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Educator, Maureen Mabizela nailed the Dargle Conservancy to the gate surrounded by excited children.

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Eidin took the Grade 5, 6 and 7 classes and introduced them to the concept of fly fishing, a popular tourism draw card to the area. We compared fly fishing to fishing with bait which quite a few of the boys have done. Then they were asked to find pictures of trout in fly fishing magazines. After this they learnt what a ‘fly’ is and talked about what fresh water fish eat from season to season. Then Eidin brought out the famous ‘Duckworth Dargle Delight’ – a fly that was created especially for the area.

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They thought this was fantastic! They have been doing lots of beading at art class so could really appreciate the finesse it takes to make a fly. They were also keen on doing some fish art as some the pictures of fish really inspired them. During my next lesson we are going to be learning to cast and also make some great big insect and fish pictures.

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The kids comments:

‘I liked this lesson, I didn’t know that this fish (trout) is not from South Africa’

‘I am looking at all the insects now to see if I can make a fly’

‘Maybe I will go fishing’ said one of the girls (the girls had never fished before but got quite interested).

Along the valley in Impendle, Nkanyiso Ndlela was doing lessons focussed on Wetlands.

Nhlabamkhosi Primary School was a long 2 km walk from the taxi rank. The Grade 7 class knew that they were going to learn about wetlands, but they had no idea about the beauty and the benefits of them.  Nkanyiso introduced himself, Dargle Conservancy, Midlands Meander Association Education Project and the programme of the day, before dividing the learners into groups.

I started asking questions regarding wetlands and asked them to write anything they know about wetlands. They all said “wetlands are useless, smell terrible and they bring dangerous animals like snakes to the communities.” I was so surprised!Nka impendle class fix

Just next to school there is a big wetland with cattle grazing, beautiful white egrets following the cows and there are people making bricks from wetland soil. I did a short presentation and spoke about what they see every day happening in the wetlands – we discussed biodiversity and the food chain. I used the Windows on Wetlands poster to show negative and positive impacts on wetlands and how catchments work.

We went out to a wetland where each group had to investigate, identify and record what they found. They identified birds, bird nest, ukalumuzi which is a medicinal plant that help cure flu, uxhaposi which is very delicious imifino. During the process of investigation they asked lots of questions.

nkanyiso @nhlabamkhosi fixed.

We then went back in the class room to discuss the findings where I introduced another activity called Healthy Wetland Ecosystem which focuses on wetland biodiversity. In groups, they had to design a poster full of biodiversity by drawing things which they think makes up a healthy wetland. This activity kept them running and screaming. I assessed all three groups based on the biodiversity in the poster, the group that had lot of biodiversity won, which was the yellow team. There was happiness and disappointment so to end, I explained to them that a winner is a learner that has learnt something and will pass on the knowledge to family and friends and respect wetlands. All promised to do this and everyone was happy.

Teacher, P Mdlalose commented: “The lesson was well organized and gave the learners clear understanding and knowledge about wetlands. This lesson links to natural science, where the learners learnt about different habitats, animals and ecosystem. The presenter was very good.”

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At Novuka primary school the next day, things were a little different (and the walk to get there and back was even longer!).

Learners knew wetlands are habitats for plants and animals, provide useful plants for human beings like, incema, ithembu, ingcobosi for weaving basketry and sleeping mats. When I asked how they knew so much, they told me that they learnt about wetlands in their natural science lesson and they pass wetland on the way to school where they see birds like, ugilonki, hammerkop. The boys said they hunt umthini (water mongoose) in that wetland. I focussed on biodiversity and negative impacts people have on wetlands.

After the break we went to see a wetland not far from the school. We came across three green snakes called ivuzamanzi. Learners were excited and all wanted to see a snake, no one suggested harming or to killing the snake. The principal who was with us, reminded the learners about the importance of snakes and what they should do when they see a snake. We discussed the impact that a farm house next to a wetland (where they farm cattle, goats, pigs and chickens has on the wetland.  They dispose of waste in the wetland, part of the wetland is burnt. We were lucky enough to reach in a part of a wetland where there were lots of birds and plants. We returned to school and played a healthy wetland ecosystem game and discussed what should we do to protect our wetlands.

Mr Khambule, the educator commented “The lesson was very effective, learners actively involved and interesting. The lesson was linked to A&C, LO, NS and SS. They learnt about biodiversity and conservation.”  Last year Dargle Conservancy funded a visit from the Snake Man – Pat McKrill to this school – looks like he made a big impression.

Kids find nest Nka fix

At Corrie Lynn School, Eidin Griffin started the Crane Day off with the tiniest people in Grade R. She reports: After warming up with dancing, counting and colour games I brought out some pictures of the three types of Cranes found in the midlands and we looked at each type. One or two of the children had seen a crowned crane before, which was nice. We talked about where they lived and what they eat and how they dance.

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After this we went outside and paired up and practiced our crane dancing. We then went back to the classroom and settled down to draw crowned cranes. The kids and their teacher carried on with this and I headed to the Grade 1and 2 classroom. I did a fairly similiar lesson with these grades except we focussed more on the word ‘habitat’ and looked at what sort of food a crane prefers to eat. A crane menu!

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The kids happily pulled out their drawing books and drew cranes with their favourite food surrounding them.

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Nikki Brighton arrived at the break and set up her Dargle Conservancy banner much to the interest of all the kids.

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She gave a talk about the work of the Conservancy and presented the school with an honorary membership of the Dargle Conservancy.

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I then took on the Grade 3and4s and we looked at cranes and decided to make a big collage. I spread out some material and the children got cutting out animals, birds and insects from magazines. We grouped carnivores, herbivores and omnivores in clusters and labelled them and stuck them on the banner. We found ‘habitats’ such as grasslands, mountains, sea, forest and beaches and grouped them. We had new words such as ‘prey’ and ‘predator’ and glued appropriate animals beside them. It was a VERY busy banner but looks fantastic hanging in the classroom and helps in pictures to describe these terms easily.

After this I took a deep breath and plunged into a series of crane banners with the Grade 5,6 and 7s. They each chose a crane and in groups drew and painted it on big sheets of red material.

r Cranes Grade 5 Corrie Lynn

They look fantastic and everybody was surprised and impressed by their work. They will be displayed at the MMAEP Annual award ceremony on 28 November.

r Crane Banner Corrie Lynn

After all this I was deeply relieved that I live only 2kms up the road as a long drive would have floored me!  Everybody had fun and learnt new things about cranes, their environment and themselves.

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As part of the Dargle Decade Celebrations this month, Tanya Smith of EWTs African Crane Conservation Programme gave an inspiring presentation on Cranes in the Dargle and Beyond to Conservancy members. Lesley and Ian Thompson said “We thoroughly enjoyed last night and were impressed with Tanya’s passion and knowledge.”  Ann and Mike Weedon commented “We really enjoyed Tanya’s talk.”

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Dargle is definitely Crane Country.

Protecting Wattled Cranes and Wetlands

On a winter’s afternoon in late July, potato farmer John Campbell and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Tanya Smith surveyed the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve from a hilltop on Ivanhoe Farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Separated from Smith’s binoculars by a swathe of golden brown grass, the water pooled in the wetland basin that sources the Umgeni River glistens in the mild sunshine as it winds its way for 265 km to meet the ocean at Durban’s coastline.

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“We’ve got two pairs [of wattled cranes] nesting in here at the moment,” Smith, a senior field officer with the African Crane Conservation Programme told IPS. A week earlier she had flown over the wetland for an annual aerial survey of the critically endangered birds. The birds can grow taller than five feet and are characterised by a bumpy red patch of skin between their beaks and eyes.

There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa. The total South African population is less than 260.

wattled crane photo by Ian White

To maintain Umgeni Vlei’s biodiversity and protect the regal cranes’ habitat, the South African government declared the reserve a Ramsar Site in April this year, giving it special protection as a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty on the protection of wetlands.

“On the Ramsar-designated wetland we’ve had up to seven breeding pairs of wattled cranes, but the number fluctuates every year,” said Smith. “If you include [the surrounding] wetlands we’ve had up to 13 breeding pairs – it’s a huge proportion of the country’s breeding population.”

Wetlands on the land owned by Ivanhoe Farming Company, of which Campbell is a director, serve as home to up to six breeding pairs of wattled cranes. To help conserve them, Campbell has designated 800 hectares of farmland which buttress the reserve.

This is a protected area with nature reserve status through the KwaZulu-Natal Biodiversity Stewardship Programme run by provincial government body Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.

“I think cranes and agriculture can co-exist,” Campbell told IPS. “Most farmers, I find, are conservation-minded.” Wetland preservation is key for wattled crane survival.

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South Africa’s population of wattled cranes dwindled through the 1980s, largely due to deaths related to flying into power lines, as well as intentional and unintentional poisoning, Smith said. Population numbers bottomed out in the early 2000s and have gradually increased since, thanks to conservation efforts and increased tagging of power lines, she said.

The cranes are the most wetland-dependent species of crane in South Africa and use their spear-like beaks to forage on bulbs in wetland regions, Smith said. The birds are highly territorial and rely on the permanent wetlands at the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve and surrounding private land for food, mating and nesting.

The KwaZulu-Natal province is at the heart of wattled crane activity and is home to about 90 percent of the country’s population. Many of these cranes reside in the Umgeni River’s upper catchment area. “If we lose the birds in these territories then we won’t have a viable population in the country,” said Smith.

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Since wetlands are the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, according to South Africa’s 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment, the cranes’ survival is closely tied to wetland conservation. At the same time, the birds serve as an “indicator species” – their presence signals good wetland health.

“If you have wattled cranes [on wetlands], you know you have good water quality and the biodiversity is in good stead,” Ann Burke, conservation projects manager at the KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation told IPS. Stewardship protects wetlands and birds.

While the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve’s designation as a Ramsar site offers protection to wattled cranes, it is only a small sliver of land of 958 hectares. Campbell is helping protect the birds, and ensure they have areas where they can breed unhindered. He has designated an 800-hectare segment of his farmland as reserve, and has agreed to manage it as such.

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The reserve status granted to the designated land at Ivanhoe will be written into the title deeds of the farm. The protected land remains privately owned, and does not become government land, but the reserve status is binding if it is sold to new owners.

Such stewardship agreements offer longstanding protection against development and farming practices that could put fertiliser run-off into the wetland system, the World-Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Susan Viljoen, who is facilitating negotiations between landowners and the government for the biodiversity stewardship agreements told IPS.

“It’s a far stronger guarantee that your land, and those farms, will be managed in a way that is compatible for the birds and for their breeding,” said Viljoen. “The main thing is that you’ve got this permanently open relationship and communication between conservation groupings and the landowner.”

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Another landowner in the region has signed a similar stewardship agreement for 635 hectares of land, while the WWF is negotiating with six other landowners to protect portions of their lands, which total 7,569 hectares, said Viljoen.

“To someone who doesn’t really understand the detail of this process it almost might sound like that’s not very many,” she said. “But what I’ve learned through facilitating this process myself is stewardship is long and it’s slow, but the thing is – once it’s in place it’s forever.”

happy valley

Two wetland areas on the Ivanhoe Farm that were drained and converted to pastures for cattle grazing decades ago will also be rehabilitated through the government’s Working for Wetlands programme. Although it could take up to 10 years for the wetlands to return to a state where they can support wattled cranes, Campbell hopes to see birds inhabiting them in future.

“We can see what we’ve done wrong in the past,” said Campbell. “And this is a chance to correct it.”  Ivanhoe Farm  is a member of the Dargle Conservancy.

Article by Brendon Bosworth, first published Aug 5 2013 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/steps-to-protect-south-africas-wattled-cranes/

A Bird’s Eye View

 Tanya Smith – Coordinator Drakensberg Crane Conservation Project EWT – reports on the recent Crane Survey:

At this time of the year when winter reaches its peak (or trough in terms of temperature), Wattled Crane breeding activity commences and this year it seems to be ‘full steam ahead’.  It would seem that the good rainfall in summer has laid the foundation for what appears to be an early start to a breeding season rife with activity and movement.

The Bateleurs once again assisted with an early season aerial survey over two days to locate approximately 50 breeding pairs of Wattled Cranes in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and Drakensberg.  To say conditions were ideal over the two days of flying on the 10th and 11th June, would be an understatement, because for two days we experienced crystal clear conditions, light breezes and spectacular scenes of snow on the high berg.  However the real successes of the survey lie in two great stories that I will share with you a bit later.

Firstly though, I have to provide you with a sneak preview of the great data collected over the two days.  We were able to locate 41 of the 50 breeding pairs we were searching for and in addition to the pairs, we managed to locate 29 Wattled Cranes in 3 separate flocks, therefore bringing the tally to 111 adult Wattled Cranes located.  Of the 41 pairs found, 21 of these were found on nests and a further 8 pairs were found with a small chick each. Therefore more than 70% of the pairs located, were found in a state of breeding making this a noticeably early season as usually the majority of pairs will start nesting towards the end of June to early July.

Now for  the two great stories…

In the nick of time!

The first day of flying was focused on the Southern Drakensberg breeding sites and we checked approximately 25 sites.  The day started off great with several nests being found from the start and then we came overhead a large beautiful flood plain wetland, very characteristic of the Southern berg wetland systems, in search of two pairs of Wattled Cranes.   We quickly located a pair on the edge of the wetland and between the two adults was a tiny chick, possibly no more than 2 to 3 days old.

wattled cranes and chick

Photo 1: Wattled Crane pair in a grassland on edge of wetland with a 2-3 day old chick between them (Photo courtesy of Cobus Theron)

After we completed the survey for that day (about 2.5 hours after we saw this pair and chick), Cobus phoned the farmers to let them know the status of their Wattled Crane pairs.  When he chatted to the farmer with the pair and small chick, the farmer had said he was about to burn the wetland as part of his fire management.  Fortunately he was very concerned and willingly abandoned his plans to burn the wetland until the chick is a bit older.

When sacrifice is worth it!

In 2011 we partnered with Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation, a Section 21 company, to rehabilitate a wetland in the Nottingham Road area.  The wetland in question is home to a very productive pair of Wattled Cranes, and the nest site (and wetland as a whole) was threatened by a significant and very active head-cut that formed from an artificial drain within the wetland.

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Photo 2:  The depth of the head-cut, a highly erosive feature within this wetland that threatened the functioning of the wetland as well as the open pool of water within the wetland that is used by the Wattled Cranes for their nest site.

A head-cut is a backwards moving channel within a wetland that, if very active, can have a major impact on the functioning of a wetland by effectively draining it and removing water from the wetland at a faster rate than normal.  Head-cuts form usually as a result of a disturbance feature introduced to the wetland i.e. a road crossing or drain.  The unfortunate situation we found ourselves in was the head-cut in this wetland was very close to the active nest site (approximately 50m) and we faced a difficult decision:  Do we risk the nest site by causing major disturbance close to the nest site during the construction of concrete weirs that were needed in order to try and neutralise the head cut and fix the drains.  Also the main large structure at the headcut would be within 50m of the nest site for next 50 to 100 years (who knows) and this may cause enough of a deterrent to prevent the birds returning to nest.  Or do we risk the nest site by doing nothing?  Our research has shown that historic Wattled Crane nest sites/wetlands tend to be significantly drier than wetlands actively or currently used by Wattled Cranes for breeding.  Therefore the risk of the head-cut drying the wetland and possibly the open water area of the wetland, thereby making the wetland unsuitable for Wattled Crane breeding, was very real and significant.  Through many discussions with conservation officials and other experienced wetland scientists we decided to neutralise the head-cut in addition to the other weirs that were to be built along the drains.

Construction of the main head-cut structure commenced late 2011

wetland rehab process

Photo 3:  The full extent of the preparation required before concrete is thrown. The rehabilitation process (especially hard options like concrete) is quite daunting and hard to believe this is for the best.

Construction was completed in early 2012.

completed wetland headcut structure

Photo 4:  The completed structure at the start of the head-cut, therefore neutralising any further movement of the head-cut upstream within the wetland.

All the activity around the wetland continued into the usual courtship period for Wattled Cranes (April) and therefore we knew there was little to no chance of the Wattled Cranes breeding here in the 2012 season. We sacrificed one season, and hoped that the birds would return to breed in 2013.

As we approached this site during this aerial survey on the second day, I held my breath, hoping and praying we would see Wattled Cranes in or near the wetland!  Well, the birds did one better – they were nesting!  They were nesting in their usual site, within 50m of the structure that was completed nearly 18 months earlier!  I cannot describe the importance of this sighting and the feeling of… ‘It was worth it’!

With the support of the National Lottery Fund, the Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation team, wetland scientists and more, we were able to prevent a significant threat to a breeding pair of Wattled Cranes, one pair of only 80 left in the country!  And thanks to the Bateleurs for allowing us the opportunity to document this achievement from the air. Deep thanks and gratitude to our pilot, Barry de Groot, it was a pleasure and I’d say, hands down, the best survey yet!

wetland - wattled crane nest and headcut

Photo 5:  An over head view of the concrete structure that has neutralised an active head-cut and the location of the open water and nest platform of a pair of Wattled Cranes

Excursion to uMngeni Vlei

Vaughan Koopman, Wetland Ecologist with the Mondi Wetlands Programme, led an excursion to uMngeni Vlei yesterday. Everyone who participated thoroughly enjoyed this rare treat.  Margie Fraser said excitedly “We have been wanting to visit the Vlei ever since we arrived in the Midlands.”

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After meeting in Nottingham Road to car pool, we headed along the Loteni Road and a very dusty farm road until we arrived at the Vlei.r umngeni vlei 022

Soon everyone had their binoculars out to do a little bird watching. We saw some fabulous birds.

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Jenny Fly compiled this list: Cape Vultures, Wattled Cranes, Martial Eagle, Bearded Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Buffstreaked Chat, Rock Ketstrel, Bokmakierie, Stone Chat, Common Fiscal, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinal Rock Thrush, Black Crow, African Marsh Harrier, Fan Tailed Widow, Anteating Chat,  Numerous little brown seedeaters.

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This is an important Birding Area and a small group headed off to see if they could spot the Yellow Breasted Pipit. No luck – we plan to return in November to try again.

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Vaughan explained the importance of wetlands to store and regulate water flows and described all the eco-systems goods and services they provide human kind.

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uMngeni Vlei is an unusual high altitude wetland and has recently been declared a Ramsar site of international importance.  Drakensberg Foothill Moist Grassland dominates the areas around the Vlei.

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Vaughan used the soil auger to extract samples of the soils from right in the wetland and out to the edge, showing us how the composition and colour changed.  Real wetland soil was very dark from all the organic matter, whereas in the sample from the edge we could see traces of dolerite and the soil was lighter and more orange.

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Jessica Barnsley learnt a lot, “I knew wetlands were wet places and that birds lived in them before I came. Now I’ve learnt about the minerals in the soil and how to tell where the wetland edge is.”

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There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions about managing wetlands. Yes, cattle are a useful tool in wetlands, but must be carefully managed. Fire too is important, but timing and careful observation is important.r umngeni vlei 085

Farming wetlands is difficult as they are continually trying to revert to a wetland. After WW2, there was a programme of draining wetlands for agriculture, but nowadays these are being reversed as people recognise their importance.

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We were intrigued by Vaughan’s story that the wetlands of Holland were responsible for our existence.  “Stone age people used the peat as fuel for smelting iron, which increased their wealth and opportunity to trade. Water flooding the excavated wetlands eventually become the Rotterdam harbour (2nd largest in the world). From here explorers set sail and colonised the rest of the world, including South Africa. So we all owe our existence and wealth to those wetlands.”

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Wetlands store much carbon in the form of organic matter but release methane through the anaerobic decomposition which takes place in the water. Despite this, they are still considered important carbon sinks – storage outweighing the methane released. Wetlands are shallow (about 1.5 m deep) and constantly changing as a result of the build up of organic matter.

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Obviously, there was nothing in flower but we found big clumps of Euphorbia claviroides amongst the rocks.

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Sheets of ice floated in the stream entering the vlei – even at midday.

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We spotted a Red Rock Rabbit bounding along the rocks as we basked like lizards in the sun with our picnic lunch.   Red Rock Rabbits inhabit rocky ravines, steep boulder strewn hillsides and krantzes. They require grass as cover and are strictly grazers, preferring short grass, particularly that which has been burnt. They lie up during the day in ‘forms’ in clumps of grass, or amongst boulders, and may become active around sunset, but are predominately nocturnal. Although they are probably not as fast as the hares, they are capable of moving at breakneck speed through the steep rocky terrain which they usually inhabit. These rabbits are usually seen alone when out foraging, but live together in colonies amongst the rocks.  Ref: Maberly’s Mammals of Southern Africa.

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Christie Exall ” We feel really blessed to have joined the group ion that magnificent setting. It still boggles my mind that our water originates from that beautiful, complex area. What a stunning day we had.”

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Read more about uMngeni Vlei at https://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/umngeni-vlei-wetland-of-international-importance/

uMngeni Vlei – Wetland of International Importance

uMngeni Vlei Nature Reserve, where the uMngeni river rises, is a 600ha wetland situated in the Impendle Municipal district between Dargle and Fort Nottingham. Wetlands are areas where water plays the dominant role in determining plant, bird and animal life within that environment.

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The RAMSAR Secretariat announced this month that the government of South Africa has designated the uMngeni Vlei Nature Reserve located at about 1,840m asl in the Drakensberg Alpine Centre biodiversity hotspot, as its 21st Wetland of International Importance. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. aerial of umgeni vlei

“We are excited by the news that our special place in the Midlands has achieved Ramsar Status.  This will help to protect the source of the uMngeni River, which provides a continuous supply of clean water to people living here and all the way down to the coast.” says Judy Bell, Chair of the Midlands Conservancies Forum, “We cherish this site and hope this international recognition will inspire everyone to protect our essential ecosystems with more vigour, so that we never have to choose between conserving these life-support systems and development.”

umgeni vlei in winter

uMngeni Nature Reserve (958ha) which surrounds the Vlei protects important ecosystems including Drakensberg Foothill Moist Grassland, Eastern Temperate Wetlands and Drakensberg Wetland vegetation and Highland Sourveld grasslands.  These contain endemic and threatened fauna and flora including Merwilla natalensis, Kniphofia brachystachya, Kniphofia breviflora, Oribi antelope, all three crane species, ground hornbill and ground woodpecker, yellow breasted pipit and blue swallow.

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About 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have already been destroyed or converted through draining, the building of dams, incorrect burning and overgrazing, invasive alien species, waste disposal, water abstraction, agriculture, urban development and inappropriate land management.  Nowadays, the value of the eco-system goods and services they provide humanity is being increasingly understood.  A healthy wetland has richer species diversity than other eco-systems and plays an important role in traditional Africa culture. They store water and release it at a steady rate through the year and they also have the ability to clean polluted water, are havens for wildlife, provide useful materials and offer fishing, recreation and tourism opportunities too. Very often, wetlands are the birth place of rivers and streams, as in the case of uMngeni Vlei. They also help protect people and homes from floods by slowing down the flow of water through the landscape.   Small wonder then, that there are many efforts in process to protect and restore them.

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Vaughan Koopman, wetland ecologist with Mondi Wetland Programe attended a ‘High Level Inception Workshop’ during February hosted by SANBI and eThekwini Municipality to explore partnerships and synergies for water security and service delivery through investment in natural infrastructure in the greater uMngeni catchment.   He commented “I was interested to learn that at least 4.5 million people live in the catchment of the uMngeni system and that 80% of the KwaZulu Natal GDP is produced in in catchment.”

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Fortunately, uMngeni Vlei has not been transformed and is still able to fulfil the role of a well-functioning wetland supplying water to the uMngeni River and, in turn, to everyone who lives and works in the catchment.  The formal protection of this vlei is a big step forward in conserving water resources for all the species which rely on it.

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RAMSAR designation will ensure long-term commitment from the landowners to maintaining the wetland’s health and help Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to manage the protected area. We all need to reflect on the benefits that wetlands provide and do all we can to ensure our water resources are healthy and well cared for.

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Midlands Wildflower for February – Ranunculus multifidus

Common name: common buttercup; Sotho name: hlapi; Zulu name: isijojokazane, uxhaphozi; Afrikaans name: Botterblom

Ranunculus with beetle and bee

One of the Zulu names of this pretty little plant gives us a clue about where it likes to grow. Xhaphozi is the word for wetland.  Found on stream banks and marshy areas across South Africa and right up through the continent into Asia. The compound, bright-green leaves grow from a basal rosette and are covered in hairs. The cheerful yellow flowers, about 2cm in diameter, are borne on branched inflorescences throughout the summer. There are many traditional medicinal uses for this plant, often in combination with other species, such as cures for headaches, urinary complaints, throat ulcers and coughs.

Over half of the wetlands in South Africa have been destroyed or transformed.  Wetlands are critical in storing and cleaning water, controlling floods, preventing erosion, are rich in biodiversity, are important stop-overs for many migratory species, and have important cultural uses too.  World Wetlands Day is celebrated on 2 February every year to reflect on the benefits that wetlands provide and highlight the need for society to appreciate the value and functions of wetlands. During this month, why not visit a wetland nearby and observe the abundant life they support?

wetland at Hlatikulu.res

They Are All Frogs

Last night, a barefoot and gumbooted group of frog fans gathered at the Karkloof Conservation Centre for an evening of sploshing about in mud and finding frogs. “African Bullfrogs are my favourites” said John Robbins. “In Grade R a friend brought one to school and I have liked frogs ever since.”  One of the first questions asked was what the difference between frogs and toads is. “They are all frogs” said Charlene Russell who was leading the excursion.  She explained that the confusion had arisen long ago in Britain where only two frog genera occur naturally – Rana (frogs) and Bufo (toads).  Toads are types of frogs.frogging 162 res.

Zoe Goble had been reading a book about frogs and asked about poisonous ones. All frogs secrete a toxic substance from glands on the back of their neck, but in most cases the concentration is small and they are not very poisonous. It is the brightly coloured ones found in the rainforests which are dangerous.

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Everyone was interested to hear about the Platanas (African Clawed Toads) which were used to test pregnancy until the 1960s.  Unfortunately, Platanas have a fungus on their skin which other South African frogs are immune to, but because they have been transported around the world, the fungus has spread to other frogs and is thought to have caused the decline of many populations.

We began by listening to recordings of frog calls so we’d be able to identify them more easily once in the wetland.  Frogs are more often heard than seen. None of the frogs we heard were calling “Ribbet”, because very few do. Apparently, there is a species of frog which does make that sound in the wetlands around Hollywood, so because we always hear that call in movies, we now say frogs go “Ribbet”!

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Margaret and Barry Neuborn admitted to listening to frog calls in the car, rather than music!  “We hear lots of frogs at might in Mbona because a small stream runs next to our house,” said Margaret. “Often tiny frogs sit on the outside of the window and we can see their hearts beating. ”  Charlie McGillivray lead the way around the vlei so we could hear the real frogs.   We identified six by their calls:  Bronze Caco, Painted Reed Frog, Tinker Reed Frog, Guttural Toad, Platana and Yellow Striped River Frog.

Much splashing about and shining of torches followed.

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The first frog we caught was a Guttural Toad.

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We also found a number of pretty little Painted Reed Frogs.  Their markings are completely different in different areas of the coutry which causes confusion.  They also fade in sunlight, probably as a defence against the sun. We popped what we caught into plastic bags to observe them for a while. As their skins are porous, they will absorb any substances we had on our hands and we didn’t want to harm them.

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John held this one gently by it’s pelvis so we could all have a look before it leapt away. Zoe tried to photograph hers in the plastic bag.  The children were definitely the best at finding and catching the frogs!

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We also caught a Tinker Reedfrog and a Yellow Striped River frog.  frogging 189 res.

Great fun was had by all. We headed back  for coffee in frog themed cups which Twane Clarke had created especially for the occasion, and a braai at the Nick Steele picnic site.

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A thoroughly interesting and enjoyable evening, celebrating wetlands and the special creatures which inhabit them. Thanks to Karkloof Conservancy for arranging it.  see: http://www.wwf.org.za/what_we_do/species/sa_frogs/