UNLESS… Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 12 ~ Pollinator Portraits

Jane has chosen a fascinating subject this week:  Pollinators   She writes:  “Beyond the crucial ecosystem services they provide, pollinators are a diverse and fascinating group of animals in their own right. They include bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, some bats, some beetles, flies and wasps.”

Jane calls for portraits, so to my delight that suggests up-close macro shots.   I discovered a whole new world after i purchased a set of Vello extension tubes to fit on my 105mm fixed lens and starting delving into the ‘private world’ of flowering plants……

Topical too – as here in South Africa we learn that our R20-billion agriculture industry faces ruin as foulbrood rips through the country’s bee populations.  Bees are a critical part of our food cycle, with one in three mouthfuls of food reliant on insect pollination.   It’s a wake-up call when too little attention has been given to the health of this humble but crucial insect.  40% of the bees in the Western Cape have been killed off and that’s a big worry for the farmers of the area.

But besides the roll of bees the Cape Floristic Region has a fabulous array of pollinators.  The competition between flowering plants to attract pollinators has been one of the driving forces for the evolution of an amazing diversity found in the Fynbos biome.  Bell shaped flowers provide the ideal shape for bees to collect nectar with their two sets of wings, while flies with one set can sneak into smaller spaces. In the Ericas, the tubular flowers of some species have strongly curved flowers that match the specific bill shape of the Orange-Breasted Sunbirds.  Butterflies are also specialist feeders uncurling their long tongues to reach down like straws into long-tubed plants.  To add to Jane’s list – rodents also have a specialised role in pollinating some of the low growing Proteaceae species.

I did a bit of research and found that 430 plant species are pollinated by birds, with the Cape Sugarbird and several of the sunbird species visiting as many as 300 protea flower heads every day during autumn and winter.  Insects play a major role, with beetles coming in with an astonishing diversity.  Currently, over 1 040 described species and 51 genera of monkey beetle are known from South Africa.

UNLESS… Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 11 ~ “Healthy Oceans – Healthy Planet”

World Ocean Day

“…. the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in it’s net of wonder forever.”  Jacques Cousteau

Cormorants perching on the cliffs above the Cape of Good Hope.
Cormorants perch on the cliffs above the stormy Cape of Good Hope.

While I write the sea growls along the coastal edge after a week of stormy weather.  It reminds me of it’s power here at the south western end of Africa.  The Atlantic sweeps in unhindered, a fetch of a few thousand miles from the Antarctic and crashes into the headlands with a strong booming heartbeat.   For ten years I lived at sea, sailing through the Pacific and into the Caribbean, and I learned of natural rhythms and the lore of elemental forces.  The sea can grip one in it’s moods and become intoxicating in command of both fear and fascination.

We’re marking World Oceans Day today and Jane at http://www.justanothernatureenthusiast.org has a challenge for us:

” Whether we like it or not, we’re all impacted by the troubles our oceans are facing.

For this challenge:

  • Keep in mind what we want to preserve: Share a positive experience,  feeling, or impression of the ocean;( photos are good).
  • Then, choose or describe  a commitment you are ready to make that will work toward reducing ocean stressors to keep the oceans the way we want them to be.
    • The UNESCO and Ocean Project information provide points for reflection… they are very BIG ideas.
    • I hope we will learn of other ocean-related calls-to-action that you have heard about- Please add on to recommend other resources.”

Our oceans are choking with plastic trash and I’d like to add to Jane’s and Maggie C’s suggestions in the reduction of plastic by eliminating the use of bottled water and instead using filtered stored in glass or Tritan BPA-free reusable bottles.

Use filtered water stored in glass bottles or reusable Tritan BPA-free bottles.

Upworthy runs the following article  “See what reserachers found when they tested a bottle of Fiji Water against a glass of tap water”.








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 🙂

UNLESS…Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 9 ~ Invasive Plants

Caring for our environment is a great concern for many and Jane at www.justanothernatureenthusiast.org is hosting a blog challenge every Friday on topics of an ecological or environmental nature.  It’s a good way to raise awareness and ‘check the pulse’ on what’s happening in different parts of the world on common issues which affect us globally.  This week’s subject is Invasive Plants.

Alien vegetation clearing is a hot subject here in the Cape Peninsula. Recognition of invasive species and their negative impact on the indigenous, and endemic fynbos was recognised as far back as 1938 when three Australian Hakea species were declared noxious weeds.  Alien clearing in the Cape Point reserve started in the 1960’s as well as Table Mountain and the Silvermine nature reserves.  Finally in the 1990’s sufficient funds were allocated to do the job properly and rid the entire Peninsula’s natural areas of the scourge of invasive plants.

Working for Water since it’s inception in 1995 and now run by the Department of Environment has created jobs and poverty alleviation through their programme of environmental conservation initiatives, such as the clearing of invasive alien vegetation.  In Cape Town a further, unique public/private partnership was created: The Ukuvuka (meaning “Wake-up” in Xhosa) Operation Firestop campaign which aimed to rid the Peninsula of alien invasive plants after the devastating wildfires in 2000.

Complete eradication is easier said than done!  It’s a process that has to be assiduously followed, as we can see here in our neck of the woods where clearing was undertaken near Miller’s Point in 2012 but where there was no follow up and some species have rebounded with renewed vigour.  The City used a private contractor but their work was disappointing in that they took out historic old trees (gums) which are not deemed an invasive species, as well as many of the indigenous shrubs Soon after the clearing the fynbos plants appeared, but now three years later and the invasive exotics like Port Jackson (Rooikrans) Black Wattle, and pines are all flourishing.

*Abstract from “Impacts of inasive alien plants on water quality with particular emphasis on South Africa”

“We review the current state of knowledge of quantified impacts of invasive alien plants on water quality, with a focus on South Africa. In South Africa, over 200 introduced plant species are regarded as invasive. Many of these species are particularly prominent in riparian ecosystems and their spread results in native species loss, increased biomass and fire intensity
and consequent erosion, as well as decreased river flows. Research on the impact of invasive alien plants on water resources has historically focused on water quantity. However, although invasive alien plants also affect the quality of water, this aspect has not been well documented. Alien invasive plants increase evaporation rates, and reduce stream flow and dilution
capacity. The biomass inputs of alien invasive plants, especially nitrogen fixers such as Acacia spp., alter nutrient cycles and can elevate nutrient concentrations in groundwater. Alien plant invasions alter the fire regimes in invaded areas by changing the size, distribution and plant chemistry of the biomass. More intense fires increase soil erosion and thereby decrease
water quality. In contrast to riparian invasions, aquatic invasive plants have been more extensively studied in South Africa and their impacts on water quality have been relatively well monitored. Water quality in South Africa is rapidly deteriorating, and all factors that influence this deterioration need to be taken into account when formulating actions to address the problem. The changes in water quality brought about by alien plant invasions can exacerbate the already serious water quality problems.”

*J Chamier, K Schachtschneider, DC le Maitre, PJ Ashton, BW van Wilgen