UNLESS…Earth-friendly Chroniclers:Challenge 10 ~ “Biodiversity… I Spy”

Today was one of those days where autumn’s alchemy brews up a mellow mood – and not a breath of wind.  That’s a bonus for those of us living on a peninsula where the maritime winds racks up the knots.  Following Jane’s advice for this challenge to slow down and plan a stress free outing,  I set off with a neighbour and her son to visit one of the nature reserves in the False Bay ecology park: Rondevlei.   It’s forms part of a vital wetlands system, besides it has a trio of star-studded resident hippos.  I was in good company for Humphrey is 11 years old and into “I spy challenges” so we set off in high spirits to test the waters of this biodiversity “Hotspot”.

The impact of urbanisation across the Cape Flats wiped out much of the fragile ecosystem and little of the unique natural environment remains. It also has a dubious reputation as a notorious gangland riddled with drug peddling and high crime, but on the peripherary is this tranquil haven. Orignally set up as a bird sanctuary in 1952, it now plays a crucial role in conserving many of the critically endangered plant species and acts as a repository for endemics.  Presently it supports about 320 different plant species (10% of some 2600 species found on the Cape’s Peninsula).  The indigenous bush consist of two veld types – strandveld and coastal fynbos supports a complex ecosystem from ants to hippos.

Taking a closer look at the vegetation the area is dominated by the reed beds along the shore while the Strandveld occurs on the higher dunes.

On arrival we were welcomed by the Hadedah (Glossy Ibis) argh!! Locally they are known as “The mad women who laugh” because of their raucous cackling.  We so wanted to hear a Fish Eagle instead.  The Hadedah are relative newcomers having found their way over the western Cape mountains in the 1980’s.  They thrive too well in the urban scene.  The reserve records sightings of some 230 bird species.

The glossy ibis, or Hadedah.


We concentrated our observations on looking for diverse clues….  from spoor to scat; both those subjects hold an interest for Humphrey and we quickly picked up the trail of water mongoose, genet, grysbok, and a huge pile of fresh grass scat had our eyes out on stalks.   Generally hippo wallow in water during the day and forage at night; but here there were distinct signs that they were close. The trail went off into the bush and we wisely carried on by.

Genet spoor (large or small?) Cape grysbok spoor

Huge as they may be hippos can be elusive creatures, as was discovered when the younger male went ‘walkabout’ and was lost for weeks, spurring on a manhunt, which the clever creature eluded.  Months on he was finally found in the pools at the Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works.

Humphrey spots a nest –

Cocktail ants scurry on the edge of the nest. Cocktail ant's nest

What an opportunity to look more closely and identify that the species is the Cocktail ant, which build large communal fibre nests from chewing plant material and fixing it with saliva.  They are known to associate by mutualism with sucking insects such as soft scale, mealy bugs, aphids.  The ants offer shelter in exchange for the sticky sweet honeydew which the bugs secrete.

Although we didn’t spot many bird species, we were happy that sightings of a Jackal Buzzard had been recorded for the day as there is much evidence of rampant Cape Dune molerat activity.   Raptors would play a useful role in keeping down the population, as would the local snakes such as the Mole snake (of course!).

Although we were unlucky not to see the star of the show, the hippos – this last creature really made us smile.  An Angulate tortoise hot-footed it across our path at an impressive speed; so the hare could have been following close behind!

The visit today further impressed us with the work The City of Cape Town undertakes to conserve and enhance biodiversity in vulnerable areas.  It’s also a tribute to their endeavours in providing opportunity to the locals in nearby disadvantaged areas.  Part of their role is encouraging the school children, (some 7000 odd each year) who use the reserve for environmental studies in an otherwise urban landscape.

Thanks to Jane at www.justanothernatureenthusiast.org for inspiring another UNLESS topic … Biodiversity “I Spy”;  it was a most enjoyable outing 🙂

18 thoughts on “UNLESS…Earth-friendly Chroniclers:Challenge 10 ~ “Biodiversity… I Spy”

  1. I love it when we can get kids interested in nature. I think it is one of the best things we can do to ensure conservation in the future. Great post, Liz!

  2. An interesting article about a place I knew nothing about, until I looked it up on a map and saw that it is in Zeekoei Vlei, a place I do know. I lived in Marina da Gama on the other side of the road for a couple of years, before it was so heavily populated and loved seeing the diversity of wildlife there. No hippos, thank goodness!

    1. Nice to know you’re familiar with the territory :). Surprisingly the wetlands still attract a number of different species. The City is working hard at upgrading the area as an integrated False Bay ecology park ….

      1. Living in Marina da Gama kick-started my love of birds. Seeing a heron every morning on the opposite bank, a kingfisher perched on the mast of a yacht, pelicans arriving in winter swimming past my lounge. It was magic!

      2. Wonderful memories, Jude. Makes the heart sing 🙂 Amazingly there has been an influx of flamingoes too, even at the edge of the ever expanding informal settlements.

  3. Thank you for taking us along on your outing – what a great time. I do think the tortoise was my favorite they really are quite determined. We saw a tortoise one day trekking across a frozen river.

  4. I loved tagging along with you, your neighbor, and Humphrey on your nature walk. What a joy to have an 11 year old I Spy partner. I think ten/eleven year olds are some of the most remarkable people on earth! Their points of view about the world are often very insightful. It looks like there was much to talk about and observe. I imagine you were an inspiring trail guide, Liz. The Cocktail ant information caught my attention. During my I Spy time in our wetland, I watched ants who are “farming” aphids for their honeydew. We are continents apart, and yet, nature behaves in similar ways.

    Too bad the hippo remained elusive… That would have been an amazing experience to top off your outing.

    1. Thanks, Jane. I’m quite hooked on that aspect you raise in discovering the similarities in patterns and behaviour of nature; distribution of species too across different zones. Our blogging world is as much a delight in ways it reveals and inspires :). Having Humphrey along added a whole new dimension! His observations were very detailed. Nice to encourage the interest. It was also a good opportunity to discuss ‘trophic cascades’ and the healthy impact bringing back hippo have on the wetland environment. All in all it was a great outing. Thanks for inspiring the challenge 🙂 I look forward to the next!

  5. Enjoyed the post — and learned something new as well — Liz :).

    How wonderful to have your neighbor and her young son as companions for this “I Spy” type challenge…

  6. And oh, I wanted to add that loved the tortoise hot footing away. Maybe the hare was close behind, or we underestimate how fast they actually are!

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