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What makes us Green?

Recently, as more people are becoming aware of the need,  there has been an increase in the number of establishments that claim to be “Green” or environmentally conscious. This is fantastic and those that are making the effort deserve our support, but many others are making false claims, an example in this area would be for a an eco-lodge that is green due to being surrounded by a National Park, having a large(non- indigenous plant) garden as well as a nice view. To my mind this does not make for a green lodge as they are not really making an effort to be more environmentally aware and conscious.

So what are We doing that I can claim that we are an eco-lodge?

wind and solar power

wind and solar power

To begin with, all our power is produced by us, we are completely off-grid and use a combined hybrid Wind Turbine-Solar combination to provide us with all our power needs. Our hot water is supplied using Solar geysers, although we do have gas geysers as a back up on days with insufficient sunlight. All our cleaning products  are completely bio-degradable and are certified to break down within 6 days of being used. We supply all our own fire wood rather than driving to fetch it and by doing this we assist with the removal of non-indigenous trees. We encourage all our guests to assist us by re-cycling as well as separating of compost materials that we use  in our tree planting and we are actively rehabilitating an old Pine plantation back into natural vegetation.

We also support a local nursery who supply us with all our trees that are planted here and all our Guests are given the choice as to whether or not they would like to plant trees to assist in reducing the amount of Carbon Dioxide produced by driving here. . The benefits to this is that we are able to ensure that all trees planted here are from this area as well as not having to have them delivered from further afield as well as creating more awareness about potential climate change.

All of this, I feel allows us to call ourselves green and, hopefully, to improve the area in the long term.

Backwater Birding

Another of the Winter highlights of the Garden is the annual migration of the Half-collared Kingfishers from the sub tropical Wild Coast to our more temperate area. These large, magnificent Kingfishers are usually found on quiet  rivers with entangled, over hanging vegetation from which they plunge dive for their prey. They are much larger than the similar Malachite Kingfisher and are separated by the black, not red, beak as well as more white on the breast. This bird was one of my “bogey’s” for many years. I would travel to sites where it was “guaranteed”, but I never found it where it was supposed to be. I did eventually track it down and since then, the drought being broken, have seen it regularly.

Malachite Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

The various back water’s along the Garden Route are ideal habitat and I set out early last Saturday morning to canoe the Wolwe River in search of the Kingfishers in order to see if they where back yet. This river is the western tributary of Swartvlei estuary, named for the Brown Hyena that used to occur here,  and large areas of mudflats are bisected by a narrow channel that threads between overhanging trees, ideal habitat.

Wolwe River Mudflats

Wolwe River Mudflats

Canoeing this backwater we did see this glorious bird, as well as Malachite, Giant and Pied Kingfishers. Other specials were African Black Duck, Glossy Ibis, African Fish Eagle and a true special of a White-backed Night Heron.This secretive bird is very difficult to see all along its range especially due to its nocturnal habits and the juvenile that we saw was tucked safely, sleeping in a collapsed tree. This is only the second time I have seen this bird  and am planning a return to the spot soon to try and get a photograph.

Wolwe River

Wolwe River

Summer Sensations

Spring has, once again, been spectacular. Mass displays of pale yellow wild Iris’s, pink Daisies, yellow Bietou and golden Ursinia. One that I always wait for with great anticipation is the flowering of the Orchid’s. We get a couple of different species such as Disa, Satyrium and Bonatea.

Satyrium ligulatum

Satyrium ligulatum

These complex flowers have developed some of natures most remarkable adaptions for pollination, including the mimicking of a female wasp’s pheromones that will cause a male wasp to attempt to mate with the flower. It then picks up pollen that is transported to another orchid.

Disa bracteata

Disa bracteata

One species even attaches its pollen to the tongue of Sun-bird’s.

New Photographs of our Houses

We have just had new pictures taken of the houses and the results are fantastic. I think they do far more justice to what we have. More photographs may be viewed on the Accommodation page.

house interior

House Interior

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.

Sex,Lies and Deception

Life is strange! In nature in order to survive a species must breed and in order to breed a species must survive! What I find fascinating, as a naturalist, is the endless designs that nature has evolved to solve this conundrum.

Southern Red Bishops are small birds that provide a great local example. They are common, nest communally and don’t appear to be remarkably agile in flight. Easy pickings for a Sparrowhawk, or maybe not .

In order to survive they are incredibly non- descript  and camouflaged.  The difficulty is, being territorial, the males need, at certain times of the year, to see each other and need to be seen by the females. The solution is a quick and timely moult of all that drabness into breeding splendour. The change is quite remarkable and has to be timed perfectly. If they change to early they risk being eaten before mating and if they change back out of the plumage to late they risk not making it to the following breeding season. Survival sits on a very thin line indeed!

Along the Garden Route we have magnificent forests and within these forests are some magnificent trees. White Ironwood (Vepris species) Cape Chestnuts (Calodendrum species) Perdepis (Clausena species) and Knobwoods (Zanthoxylum species) all belong to the Rutaceae  family known to us all from the domestic  citrus trees. This time of the year all of these are being happily munched by the arch survivalists, the insects and by one in particular.

An "Orange Dog" caterpillar

An "Orange Dog" caterpillar

The larva  of the Citrus Swallowtail butterfly has taken the art of deception to a higher level. Referred to as “Orange Dogs” these caterpillars have evolved the strategy of looking just like a bird’s dropping’s, stunning in its simplicity and very effective .

They have solved the survival balance of finding a partner in a more intricate manner , it involves the changing of the physical structure to facilitate the changing needs. Having survived being viewed as a slow moving  tasty morsel they undergo a stunning metamorphosis from a ”  bird dropping ”  to a  fast moving,  highly visible , regal Adult Citrus Swallowtail butterfly.

Swallowtail Butterfly

Isn’t nature incredible!

Beach Sunrise

Swartvlei Sunrise

Swartvlei Sunrise

We went down to Swartvlei beach for some sunrise photography, a magnificent beach dominated by a rocky penninsular. It was absolutely awesome as the night before was spring high tide and the phosphorescence was still in the sand. Every step we took the sand would light up and glow for a few seconds. My 6 year old son was with us and he just thought this was amazing!