HUGE BIRD-WATCHING POTENTIAL AT THE AGULHAS NATIONAL PARKPosted on the 11th February 2015
(We have just received the latest edition of the Agulhas National Park e-bulletin. Earlier this month they celebrated World Wetlands Day and here they describe some of the wonderful water birds on offer. - Ed.)
World Wetlands Day February 2, 2015
The future of humanity depends on wetlands. They purify and replenish our water, and provide the fish and rice that feed billions. Wetlands act as a natural sponge against flooding and drought, and protect our coastlines. They abound with biodiversity, and are a vital means of storing carbon. Unfortunately, these benefits are not widely known. Often viewed as wasteland, 64% of our wetlands have disappeared since 1900. To turn the tide on the loss and degradation of wetlands, join up for World Wetlands Day 2015 – and beyond! February 2 each year is World Wetlands Day. It marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. World Wetlands Day was celebrated for the first time in 1997. By 2012, about 115 000 wetlands, covering over four million hectares and comprising close to four percent of the country's surface area, had been mapped in South Africa. The Department of Environmental Affairs is responsible for the South African Wetlands Conservation Programme, which ensures that South Africa's obligations in terms of the Ramsar Convention are met. (SOURCE: www.gov.za/world-wetlands-day-2015)
Agulhas Working for Wetlands 2015/2016
Six new gabions are to be built in the Waterford Section of the Agulhas National Park in the 2015/16 financial year, as part of the activities of the Agulhas Working for Wetlands project. The project will focus on the Waterford Section, while there are some “soft” options like earthworks and earth structures being planned in the Springfield area. The Working for Wetlands project had a delayed start last year while waiting for funding and only began its activities in mid-August 2014, instead of the planned April 2014 start. This meant that from the outset the project was in “catch-up” mode. With the planned 48 beneficiaries and four contractors on the APO it was possible to employ two additional teams, thus creating jobs for 22 more people and two contractors.
Agulhas National Park a Wetland Heritage
The reason for the establishment of the ANP was to preserve the unique wetland system on the Agulhas Plains. The ANP was promulgated on September 23, 1999 and since then much progress has been made to preserve the wide variety of wetlands that include springs, rivers, estuaries, floodplains, lakes, vleis and pans. The ecological functioning of the wetlands and other fresh water systems on the Agulhas Plains is critically dependent on water quality and quantity of these interlinked pans, wetlands, seasonal streams, flow and interchanges that occur under natural conditions.
Pans and vleis on the western plains
Between Rietfontein and Ratelrivier in the ANP are a series of natural pans and vleis with interesting names. Vispan (Fish Pan), Drievleitjies (Three Vleis), Melkbospan (Milkwood Pan) - and of course Wasvlei (Washing Vlei), which derived its name from the practice by farmers to wash their sheep in the vlei during the shearing season, normally around September. This practice lasted until the mid 1900s. The flocks of sheep grazed Rietfontein’s veld and were then transported by donkey or horse carts and wagons to the farm Nachtwacht, where the shearing took place. Nachtwacht is owned by the Albertyn family to whom Rietfontein, now part of the ANP, also belonged at the time. The flocks consisted of between 200 to 300 sheep. A special enclosure at the saltpans was called the rams paddock (ramkamp). A big furrow was dug from Dirk Uyskraal River, which passed Wasvlei and was diverted when Wasvlei ran dry. Salt was harvested on Vispan, which was called the saltpans in the olden days. Oom Piet Lourens, who lived at Rietfontein for 52 years, harvested 20 bags of salt at times. Drievleitjies is the furthest south on the plains and forms one pan during very wet seasons. Melkbospan is the most northern of these pans on the plains and is situated near a Milkwood stand, from which it gets its name. It is the most permanent of the pans on the plains. Melkbospan is a very good seasonal birding spot. The water that feeds the pans flow down from Geelrug during the rainy season and fill the plains. It was channeled into a furrow at some stage to control and to lead the water to the saltpans. The entrance road to Rietfontein crosses the furrow at the lowest point on the plains, passes Melkbospan and then runs down to the pans and vleis. The vleis and pans were also filled from the sea at the spot called Waaiplek, at high tide which also brought in Springers, a type of fish. This happened in the winter months from June. The plains were flooded regularly in the 1950s, but from the 1960s, when there was less rain, this was not always the case. (Piet Lourens Interview)
Birding along the Nuwejaars River – Dr Wim De Klerk
Birding along the wetlands on the Nuwejaarsrivier always proves to be very exciting as was experienced on December 18, 2014. We could hear the Black Crake (Swartriethaan) Amaurornis flavirostra in the reeds but did not see it. The impressive African Purple Swamphen (Grootkoningriethaan) Porphyrio madagascariensis appeared among the reeds, as well as some Common Greenshank (Groenpootruiter) Tringa nebularia and African Snipe (Afrikaanse snip) Gallinago media. Yellow-billed Duck (Geelbekeend) Anas undulata and Red-knobbed Coot (Bleshoender) Fulica cristata completed the picture. A Black Harrier (Witkruisvleivalk) Circus maurus hovered towards Soutbosch and disappeared. We moved further down river and found Kittlitz’s Plover (Geelborsstrandkiewiet) Charadrius pecuarius and Common Ringed Plover (Ringnekstrandkiewiet) Charadrius hiaticula. A single Ruff (Kemphaan) Philomachus pugnax stitched away in the mud. African Spoonbill (Lepelaar) Platalea alba, African Darter (Slanghalsvoël) Anhinga rufa and some Reed Cormorant (Rietduiker) Phalacrocorax africanus occupied a distant island in the river. In the nearby grass the LeVaillant’s Cisticola (Vleitinktinkie) Cisticola tinniens calls “chip-thjirolup”! From the reeds on the opposite side of the river the Lesser Swamp-Warbler (Kaapse rietsanger) Acrocephalus gracilirostris was similarly warbling contently. And then one of the highlights of the day was spotting a single Cape Teal (Teeleend) Anas capensis and a few Red-billed Teal (Rooibekeend) Anas erythrorhyncha. Then, in an secluded inlet, we suddenly spotted about eight ducks – Hottentot Teal (Gevlekte eend) Anas hottentota, the first record of Hottentot Teal in the ANP. As we enjoyed the scene, a juvenile African Marsh-Harrier (Afrikaanse vleivalk) Circus ranivorus graciously hovered over the reed bed in front of us. Could it get any better!