Monthly Archive for May, 2009

The Tree of Choice

Bitou

Bitou

We have had an on going land rehabilitation project for close on two years and we are starting to see so much more diversity in the plant life because of this. Almost every time we go for a walk we find something”new”. Probably our most successful plants are those that naturally pioneer new  areas. The two most populous ones at Reflections are the Keurboom(Virgilia Species) and the Bitou(Chrysanthemoides species).

The Keurboom is a member of the pea family and has the characteristic pods and flower shape as well as a beautiful delicate scent. Being a member of the pea family it has the ability to replace Nitrogen in the soil, this is an element much needed by plants and normally in short supply. Decomposition of living organism’s would normally provide Nitrogen but that wouldn’t have happened here for many years. Therefor the Keurbooms play a vital role in fixing the damage from poor land use in the past.

Keurboom in flower

Keurboom in flower

The other advantage of the Keurboom is that it is a prolific seeder,  so all round, for us, it is a wonderful tree.

The other one that has been wonderfully successful is the Bitou or Tick berry, so called because the small glossy fruits look  just like bunches of engorged Tick’s. The fruits are, however, far more pleasant and taste just like Sugar Cane. This has been appreciated for thousands of years as shown by the seeds being present in many of the stone age middens in this area. It is also thought that the decorated Bitou seeds found in this area might be the oldest jewellery known to man. These particular ones are thought to be from around 70 000 years ago.

They are most highly regarded these days for their ability to bind dune sand and thereby stabilizing loose soil.

African Fish Eagles

After last years breeding resulted in two fledged youngsters, we have been watching and waiting to see if their saga continues and indeed on the 23 of May they were seen mating again. They have 3 different nests on our property and we will watch with great interest to see which one they choose to utilize. A sure sign would be when they start carrying green leafy branches to the nest. Most Eagles do this and there are some interesting theories as to why this happens. An obvious answer is to protect and insulate the eggs but it might be more than this. It is possible that trees are used that have a natural insecticide to help keep nest lice out, an example here would be a Eucalyptus species. When we were living in arid areas we would see a few species using Wild Rosemary (Eriocephalus species) for possibly the same reason.

Raptor nests’ are fascinating to watch and because of the bird’s being long lived the nest’s can be immense. I have not measured these nests but examples from other study sites include nest’s that were taller than 6m.

Kranshoek

Kranshoek Sea View

The Garden Route is fortunately provided with areas of spectacular diversity and beauty. It includes lakes, forests, mountains and within a short drive’s distance a dry country side dominated by succulents. We try and encourage people to get off the main tourist routes and experience the area as we know it. One my favourite areas is Kranshoek.

It is within the Garden Route National Park and provides the spectacular meeting point of Forest and Ocean with the remnant of Gondwanaland’s spectacular break-up. The walk is relatively easy, although sections are steep. Immediately you are struck by the scenery which is dominated by a forested gorge that has been carved out of a cliff face by a small stream.

Except while in the dense Forest, the sound of the ocean is everywhere. It is interspersed with the trilling of the Sunbirds that are attracted to the many flowering Erica species. The plant life is prolific and includes wet forest, fynbos and succulents that grow along the ocean. Another unmissable “plant” is the spectacular orange Lichen on the rocks along the coastal section.

Kranshoek Valley View

Birding at Rondevlei

Birding at Rondevlei

Rondevlei, where I live, is an estuarine lake on the Garden Route. It is part of a series of lakes that are connected to each other and enter the sea at Wilderness.It is a beautiful area and contribute in a large way to the Garden Routes scenery. Two of the lakes are designated Ramsar sites, which identifies them as areas of international importance to migratory birds. It therefore goes without saying that there is amazing bird-life here, and I try to take advantage of this whenever I can. The Rondevlei has a fantastic hide that is very productive, it doesn’t produce rarities very often but does provide  regular, rewarding birding in a beautiful environment. Common birds seen are African Rail, African Marsh Harrier, African Fish Eagle, Hottentot Teal, Cape Teal, White Backed Duck and depending on the level of the lake, good waders attracted to the mud flats.

One bird that we see quite often has, of late, been prolific. The African(Ethiopian) Snipe. It is a beautiful bird that is not common in many areas and with the Rondevlei being low at the moment, we can see between 5 and 9 different birds feeding together. I recent highlight was for me a maximum count of 15 birds.

At one stage Snipe were popular Game birds(this is where we get words like “sniper”) and so it is wonderful to see aggregations like this, they have a very distinct breeding display that involves Drumming of the wings. There has been no sign of this as yet  so it is possible that they are en route to another breeding site.