Proposed Wind Energy Facility

A development cannot kill endangered species like our Blue Cranes, compromise a sustainable land use system, negatively impact the local economy, take away the Karoo’s Sense of Place or
destroy a rare, in-tact & pristine ecosystem. The plans for the industrial WEF (Wind Energy Facility)
have no long term sustainability for our environment nor can we find any lasting and meaningful
(economic or otherwise) benefit to those of us who live in the vicinity of the proposed
development according to the information provided.  Click on the link below to read more.

2014-08-16 NKF for Arcus, EIMS, Windlab Draft Scoping Report (1)

DOMINEE T.F. BURGERS VAN HANHOVER

Ds TF Burgers van HanoverThomas Francois Burgers is op 15 April 1834 in die distrik Graaff-Reinet op die plaas Langfontein gebore.

Hy het sy skoolopleiding ook daar ontvang, waarna hy in die teologie in Utrecht, Nederland gaan studeer het.

Terwyl hy in Europa was, het hy begin om ’n “s” by sy familienaam te voeg. In 1858 is hy getroud met ’n Skotse dame, Mary Bryson, en tien kinders is uit hierdie huwelik gebore.

Kliek hier om die volledige artikel deur Dr Jan van der Merwe te lees.

Dominee TF Burgers van Hanover_vdMerwe

 

Birds of the High Karoo Park and the Seacow Valley

 

Hazards, Head Shapes and Dancing – things you (may) never have known about Blue Cranes

A dead Blue Crane victim of fence collision

Hazards

Fences and Powerlines are two of the main hazards for Blue Cranes in the Karoo. Predators are an important part of an eco-system. Fences are not.  Blue cranes evolved in an landscape free of obstructions.  When alarmed or when the light is bad, they can easily collide with fences and power lines.

Blue Cranes have a flightless period when all flight feathers are simultaneously moulted. The birds cannot fly for about two months leaving them open to predators. The birds remain near large bodies of water during the moulting period and will gather in groups, called ‘runners’ and when alarmed will tear across the landscape en masse. This makes them vulnerable to fence collision note only as they can be spooked into colliding with them, but being flightless they cannot fly over them.

The NKF is active in clearing fences and powerlines on its reserves in the High Karoo Park and encouraging landowners in the Seacow Valley to do the same where possible.

 

Clearing fences in the High Karoo Park

Clearing fences in the High Karoo Park

Heads Up

Features of the heads of Cranes are used for display, thermoregulation and foraging. An aggressive Blue Crane can puff up the feathers on the sides and back of the head in cobra-like fashion. They also flick their head when threatening other cranes. Unlike the other species the Blue Crane’s head is completely feathered, a feature that helps them endure more extreme cold, which is important when overwintering in the high Karoo.

 

A portrait of two cranes showing characteristic head shape

A portrait of two cranes showing characteristic head shape

Feeding and Crane Beaks

Blue Cranes have beaks intermediate between the short and long beaks of other crane species. Short beaks are used to catch insects, grasp grass seeds, and to graze in a goose-like manner. Longer beaks are used for digging, while the in-between Blue Crane beak is used for grasping a wide variety of food items on the surface of the ground as the bird walks quickly about.

When feeding in natural habitats long-beaked cranes such as Wattled Cranes are usually stationary while digging for food. Shorter beak birds, such as Crowned Cranes, move slowly across savannahs while grazing. Blue Cranes in drier grasslands and in semi-deserts walk quickly about grabbing food items.

In non-natural agricultural fields the three species forage in a very similar manner gleaning food .

Blue Cranes feeding among sheep and steinbok

Blue Cranes feeding among sheep and steinbok

Soul Mates

Many crane pairs remain solidly bonded for many years. There a reports of cranes remaining for many months at the site of the corpse of its mate. However, recent studies of banded birds also reveal that divorces are common, and mating sometimes happens when members of a mated pair meets a stranger while its mate incubates.

The process of pairing in cranes can be either subtle or overt. Two birds meet and simply start to stay together without overt display. When this happens their activities become synchronized. They forage together, fly together, and roost together. They gracefully bond. In other cases tension can occur between cranes that are strangers, but are interested in pairing. On meeting they will assume the stiff upright threat posture with feathers sleeked and stiff, and display an exaggerated walking. From this they will perform a variety of displays including ritualized preening of the shoulder or thigh, ruffling of wings, flapping, arching, stamping, and crouching. Such exaggerated posturing may merge into more elaborate dances that can include object tossing (sticks, grass, sod) bowing, leaping, running with wings extended, and ending close encounters with more threat postures.

Through these mutual displays tensions between the pair is reduced and emotional ties between the performers are developed.

Another aspect of pairing is The Unison Call, a duet between cranes. In Blue Cranes the Unison Call is a brief  2-4 seconds with the calls and postures of the sexes being different. The display helps develop a pair bond between the birds and synchronizes their behaviour, and also serves as a territorial proclamation to other birds and crane pairs.

Before the Unison Call begins the two cranes will stand upright side by side. Typically the female begins the call and is instantly joined by the male. At the end of the display the males raises his wings briefly above his back. Blue Cranes Unison Call occur frequently, more so than cranes such as Wattled Cranes. This suggest that the Blue Crane is much more dependent upon vocal communication between paired birds and across groups of Blue Cranes.

Cranes have another loud call called the Guard Call. This is associated with heightened levels of fear, and cranes will walk around the source of their concern observing it while emitting a call which in Blue Cranes is not dissimilar to the honks of the Union Call. One crane will initiate the Guard Call stimulating other crane to join in. While the Unison Call and Guard Call in Blue Cranes can be confused. The birds do not walk while Unison Calling and so walking and calling in a congregation of birds indicates a state of fear not love.

Blue Cranes flying elegantly over powerlines

Blue Cranes in the Karoo flying elegantly over powerlines

For more information on cranes visit the International Crane Foundation website https://www.savingcranes.org/

Of Meerkats and Men

Meerkats (suricates) are one of the most familiar species of the Karoo region.

Tokkie the meerkat at play on his Karoo Farm home

Famous for their prowess at fighting and killing snakes (particularly cobras), meerkats, like ground squirrels and there nearer relatives, the yellow mongoose, are frequently encountered scurrying across gravel roads. During the day they can be seen standing sentinel in family groups, between foraging for beetles, scorpions and other tasty desert delicacies.

Meerkats can live up to 10 years in the wild and several years longer in captivity. This gives them plenty of time to build social groups and is a key trait in their adaptation to the desert-like conditions in which they live. Meerkats carry no body fat and so most continually forage for food. Like cats (although they are not of the cat family) they have binocular vision, essential for foraging and catching quick moving prey.

Often best known as Kalahari species the meerkat is widespread across the Nama-Karoo. In the cool of morning they warm up in the sun, emerging from their communal burrows to feed. There is always one meerkat who is on sentry-duty watching for predators, whether birds of prey, snakes, or other large mammals, and when any danger is spotted the sentry gives a call associated with the specific threat allowing time for the rest of the group to run for cover.

Meerkats depend upon their survival in the Karoo landscape on their sociability.

Tokkie was a meerkat adopted as a pup on the farm Bundu in the mid-1990s. Naturally sociable, but away from its kith and kin tokkie hooked up with the farm dogs during the day and in the evening remembered his ‘kat’ links by becoming part of the family of the farm cat.

So much a part of the cat club Tokkie even became a surrogate ( or should that be suricate?) parent, looking after the kittens, keeping them safe and warm  when mother-cat needed a break.

Tokkie more Kat than suricate

Tokkie’s devotion to the kittens was such that he would chase visitors to the farm kitchen away with vigour – meerkat teeth are needle-like sharp – and anyone new who was entertained in the living room had to endure the  presence of Tokkie under the upholstery wriggling around in the hope of catching an unguarded toe.

One visitor when returning a candle to the house the next morning was met with the fearful surprise of a sharp bite on the toes from something under the bed. Fearing a snake the visitor let out a yell and flung his leg up and out only to see at the last moment Tokkie lose his toothy grip and fly across the room where on hitting the wall he slumped to the floor before scrambling to the outside world, never to be seen again on that trip.

Two years later on returning to the farm the visitor was greeted by the farm dogs and as he said his hellos became conscious of two little delicate paws gripping his leg. On looking down he caught Tokkie mouth agape ready to reacquaint himself with  his adversaries toes.

tokkie the meerkat and his guardian dogs

tokkie the meerkat and his guardian dogs

It seems it’s not only elephants who never forget…meerkats don’t either.

 

The Story of the Trekbokke

trekbokke A3 birnieThe Springbok is a small antelope commonly found across South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. As a species it is perhaps best known for its springy, high-stepping trot accompanied by frequent giant leaps into the air with its back arched and legs held stiffly downwards. It is from this behaviour, known as stotting or pronking, that this graceful little antelope earns its common name.

The natural range of the Springbok lies outside of the Cape Peninsula, and the first European settlers at the Cape of Good Hope did not apparently encounter it. The first European record of the Springbok comes from the journal of Olof Bergh, who travelled north on the orders of Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape, who in 1683 observed large herds of ‘wilde bocken’ near the Olifants River.

From the 18th Century onwards many other European explorers and naturalists who visited and travelled across South Africa made reference to the springbok, listing it under a range of different names. In 1771 the naturalist Daniel Solander, who accompanied Captain James Cook on his first voyage to the Cape referred to springbok as Capra migratorius. A year later, in 1772, the naturalist on Captain cook’s second voyage to the Cape assigned springbok the romantic name of Gazelle ou Chevere sautante du Cap de Bonne-Esperance: the Gazelle or Jumping Goat of the Cape of good Hope.

Early drawings of springbok and descriptions of them were made by Hendrik Swellengrebel who made two journeys into the interior in 1776 and by Robert Jacob Gordon, who in his Gordon Atlas, published in 1777/78, described springbok for the first time in his Gordon Atlas, published in 1777/78. Gordon also was the first to bring live springbok back to Europe, which he did aboard the ship Azie in 1774 when he transported twelve springbok to the Netherlands. Sadly, only one survived the journey. This sole survivor was given to Prince Willem V of the Netherlands for his menagerie at Kleine Loo, The Hague, where it lived until its death in the autumn of 1777.

Another early naturalist who observed springbok was the celebrated French ornithologist Francois Le Vaillant (1753-1828). Le Vaillant made two expeditions into the interior of the Cape in 1783, including a crossing of the Karoo in the region of Graaf-reinet. Le Vaillant was an eccentric character and was accompanied on his travels by his faithful baboon Kees, who was his food-taster, guardian and companion.  It was during his expedition into the Karoo where he first observed large flocks of Springbok along the Sundays River, which he referred to as the Le Spring ou Parade Bok, (the spring or parade buck).

The tendency for Springbok to occur in large flocks was commonly noted by early travellers, who also noted how in certain years springbok would multiply prodigiously and congregated and migrated in massive numbers. These early observations recorded a phenomenon that was later to become famous across the Karoo as the Trekbokke.

By the end of the 17th century the great size of springbok herds had become an established fact amongst European commentators. The British geographer and administrator John Barrow, who travelled extensively into the interior of the Cape in 1797-8 saw a five thousand strong herd of springbok at Middelburg, and heard accounts that ‘more than ten times that number have been seen together’ and such herds ‘collect when they are about to migrate to some distant part of the country’.

trekbokke A4 1896The 19th century was a period of colonial and settler expansion. As more farmers and travellers began to settle and cross the interior and the Karoo so contact with the trekbokke increased. During the century at least twenty individual treks were recorded and the springbok migrations began to be known as much for their destructive impact as for their natural spectacle.

In the 1820’s the Landrost (magistrate) of Graaff-Reinett, one of the oldest towns in the Karoo, Andries Stockenstrom,  investigated the trekbokke following the complaints of colonists whose crops and flocks had been disrupted by the migrating springbok.  Stockenstrom reported that ‘incredible numbers…sometimes pour in from the north during protracted droughts’  ‘until the country literally swarms with them…’ but  ‘no sooner do the rains fall than they disappear’.

Other eyewitnesses of the day observed herds ’as far as the eye could reach’, including one made up of 100 000 springbok that stretched over 50 miles recorded by the hunter and adventurer G. Thompson in 1821. Gordon Cumming, a notorious hunter in South Africa in the 1840’s once found himself in the middle of a trekbokke between Cradock and Colesberg. Cumming stood atop his wagon, watching the springbok pass by ‘like a flood of some great river’ then rode in amongst them shooting endlessly until he cried ‘Enough!’.  While another Karoo sportsman W.C. Harris encountered springbok pouring ‘like locusts from the endless plains of the interior’. In addition to bountiful spectacle of the bewildering large springbok herds, many authors also noted the fear of farmers and settlers whose homes and livelihoods lay in the path of the trekbokke. Thompson writing of the 1820’s treks recording the consternation of local residents on hearing that the trekbokke ‘were advancing upon them’.

The concern of the settlers was certainly justified. In 1849 a trekbokke herd invaded the town of Beaufort West, an evet captured in the memoirs of Sir John Fraser. Fraser describes how one day a travelling smous (hawker) arrived in Beaufort West, bringing the news that ‘thousands of trekbokken were coming in from the north, devouring everything before them’. Obviously familiar with the trekbokke the smous left as quickly as he had arrived. The town unused to such events carried on as normal only to woken one morning ‘by a sound as of a strong wind before a thunderstorm, followed by the trampling of thousands of all kinds of game – wildebeest, blesboks, springboks, quaggas, elands, antelopes of all sorts and kinds, which filled the streets and gardens…grazing off everything eatable before them, drinking up the waters in the furrows, fountains and dams’. It took three days for the trek to pass through Beaufort, during which time the local residents were able to simply step into their garden to bag themselves a meal. By the end Fraser reports the town and country around was left ‘looking as if a fire had passed over it. It was indeed a wonderful sight’.

Another resident of the Karoo who recorded was T. B. Davie. Davie lived much of his life in the Karoo, settling in Prieska. Writing in 1916 he recalled how in the 1880’s the country in the region of Upington at that time was home to countless millions of springbok and was renowned as the ‘the land of the great treks’. Davie described how the local Trek Boers upon hearing of the gathering of the springbok would themselves do the same after having stocked up with supplies, coffee, sugar, salt, tobacco and most important of all, powder and lead.  Once provisioned ten to twenty families would embark together to a pan or known water-hole to await the springbok, which they would then hunt for days at a time.

Davie recorded four really great treks between the years 1887-1896, when springbok could be seen ‘for miles upon miles at a stretch’. On one occasion Davie described how ‘the whole country seemed to move’ as the springbok moved in ‘a steady plodding walk…on both of sides of the road, to the sky-line, from the town of Prieska to Draghoender, a distance of 47 miles’. The trek moved on ‘right through the town of Prieska’ allowing the magistrate to shoot those he wanted while seated on the steps in front of the Courthouse. The springbok pressed on to the Orange River where many drowned: pushed into the water by the mass throng behind them. After which the trek melted away, with nobody able to say where they vanished to.

On another occasion in 1888 Davie was travelling from Prieska to Bitter Puts when en route he and his companion, a naturalist by the name of Dr Gibbons, were informed that the trek was approaching. Dr Gibbons suggested trying to count the springbok as they passed, which raised a laugh from the local farmer. The trek was heard in the night and the next morning revealed a ‘sea of antelopes’. The Doctor set to counting, but by the time he had reached an estimate of 100,000,000 and the springbok still stretched ‘miles upon miles around on all sides’ he admitted defeat and gave up. The total of 100 million springbok may be some exaggeration, but as Davie also recorded it took them 4 ?2 hours to ride through the remainder of the herd as they journeyed on to Bitter Puts.

Two of the most dramatic descriptions of the trekbokke come from the records of William Charles Scully and Samuel Cronwright-Schreiner. William Scully was an Irish émigré who became magistrate in Springfontein and Namaqualand and wrote extensively about his pioneering experiences in novels and memoirs including ‘Between Sun and Sand’ and ‘Lodges in the Wilderness’. S. C. Cronwright-Schreiner, a politician and the husband of the author Olive Schreiner, was the first person to fully research the trekbokke phenomenon, which he published in 1925 in a book entitled The Migratory Springbucks of South Africa’. Both Scully and Cronwright-Schreiner were witnesses to the last great springbok treks that took place in 1892 and 1896.

Scully referred to the springbok as ‘Beautiful as anything that breathes, destructive as locusts.’ noting how in the country through which their migrations passed ‘every vestige of vegetation is beaten out by the small, sharp, strong hoofs.’ Unlike many earlier writers Scully saw a great sadness in the trekbokke lamenting the ‘hapless creatures…preyed upon by man and brute’ and how the ‘unbounded desert spaces…hold for them no sanctuary’.

SpringbokAtlasGordon

Springbok drawing by the explorer Robert Gordon

In 1892 Scully witnessed one of the last great treks which moved from east to west across Bushmanland. Scully described the trek as a living wave of antelopes that ‘broke like foam against the western granite range’. Standing above the plains Scully watched the ‘rising columns of dust’ that marked out the area of the trekbokke ‘as far as the eye could reach’. Government rifles and cartridges were issued to local farmers to help them protect their crops form the advancing springbok and as Scully recorded after the trek had passed by ‘ the western margin of Bushmanland was like a ploughed field; all the grass roots, all the shrubs, were lying loose on the surface, beaten out by the hoofs.’ Despite the defences the trekbokke did manage to break through into cultivated fields and settlements: one springbok was even shot in the graveyard at Okiep. But then as with other such events ‘The trek ended more suddenly than it began.’ And ‘In a single night the springbucks totally disappeared’.

The last recorded great trek took place in 1896: an event recorded in some detail by Samuel Cronwright-Schreiner. The 1896 trek was first noticed in the Kaaien Bult, near Prieska where large numbers of springbok had congregated and kidded in the previous year. In July 1896 the trekbokke approached Karree Kloof, a farm in the district of Hopetown belonging to one of Cronwright-Schreiner’s relatives who on believing it to be a particularly big trek wrote to him in Kimberley to invite him to come and see it.

On receiving the news Cronwright-Schreiner left Kimberley by train and alighted at Kran Kuil railway station on the Orange River. Following a ten hour cart-ride via Strydenburg Cronwright-Schreiner arrived at Karree Kloof by night-fall.  The next day he set out by cape-cart to view the migration.  By the time of Cronwright-Schreiner’s arrival the hunting of the trekbokke was in full flight and many hundreds of springbok had been culled for biltong and even a leopard and wild dogs had been shot, as they too followed the mass herd in search of a meal. For several days Cronwright-Schreiner followed the trail of the springbok across the veld ‘ where ‘it was hardly possible to put one’s foot down in the vast extent of country without treading on the spoor of the springbuck’, in the hope of finding a dense part of the trek.

Passing the many hundred s of farmers and hunters camps festooned with drying biltong and with wagons laden high with springbok Cronwright-Schreiner arrived at ‘a vast, undisturbed, glittering plain’ upon which ‘throughout its whole extent the exquisite antelopes grazed peacefully in the warm afternoon winter sunshine’ a sight to Cronwright-Schreiner ‘as beautiful as it was wondrous’.  Cronwright-Schreiner and his two companions ‘we alighted from the cart, put our rifles aside and sat down to watch the bucks and take in a sight we most certainly should never see again… we sat in silence and feasted our eyes on this wonderful spectacle’.

Used to estimating domestic stock they also attempted to calculate the number of springbok before them arriving at a count of ‘not less than five hundred thousand-half a million in sight at one moment.’ The trekbokke witnessed by Cronwright-Schreiner ‘extended twenty-three hours in one direction and from two to three in the other’ and ‘occupied a space of country one hundred and thirty-eight by fifteen…when one says they were in millions, it is the literal truth.’

The 1896 trekbokke witnessed by Cronwright-Schreiner is considered to mark the last of the great treks and as Schreiner himself stated ‘it is probable that the days of the very large treks are passed’. Smaller treks and the apparent inherent desire of springboks to migrate continue to be recorded; including a trek of some 15 000 animals from the Nossob River toward Upington in 1946 while the famous writer and adventurer Laurens van der Post encountered many thousands of springbok while venturing in Botswana between Tsabong and Lehututu.

trekbokke

Blue Cranes

 

Blue Cranes in the High Karoo Park

Blue Cranes in the High Karoo Park

The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradises) South African’s national bird is also one of the nation’s most endangered bird species.

Uniformly silvery bluish gray with long dangling secondary feathers reaching to the ground, the Blue Crane has an unmistakable profile in the veld matched by its characteristic raspy low-pitched call.

The Blue Crane has a historical habitat range confined almost exclusively to open grassy habitats in the upland interior. The Karoo is its heartland and where it is more commonly observed. The High Karoo Park and the Seacow valley provide the perfect Blue Crane habitat and it is here where conservation efforts are helping safeguard populations for the future.

Compared to the white rhino populations which thanks to active conservation have swelled since the dark days of the 1970s, blue crane populations have conversely plummeted.

Both the Blue Crane and the Springbok are signature species of the Karoo. Both national animals of South Africa and both the focus of the NKF’s conservation efforts. Research on this two species indicates that this dual interest is as important to the species as it is to people.

The Blue Crane is a sociable bird gathering in groups of 50 to 300 birds and can often be seen during the day feeding among herds of springbok. Likewise springbok are social antelope gathering in herds, at times many hundreds in size, and grazing on the open grasslands preferred by cranes. It appears that cranes and springbok form an integrated society each warning the other of danger and benefiting from the grazing behaviour of the other.

Conservation efforts in the Seacow valley and High Karoo Park have monitored the impact of powerlines on crane mortality. By building a body of data the NKF has been able to persuade Eskom that powerlines really do present a hazard to cranes in flight. Following a campaign to remove the powerlines the NKF’s research has led to the successful agreement from Eskom to remove and replace powerlines in the Seacow Valley. Thanks to the work of NKF Blue Cranes will be able to fly in greater safety to the breeding and feeding sites at the headwaters of the Seacow River and beyond.cranes

 

 

Birdlife of the High Karoo Park

The High Life – Conserving the bird species of the High Karoo Park

zoetvlei birds

Wildfowl in the wetlands of the High Karoo Park

The High Karoo Park and the wetlands of Seacow are wonderfully rich in birdlife. Recent surveys of birds in the Park has revealed that alongside more common species of weaver and dove, the landscape managed by the Nama-Karoo Foundation is providing a refuge for more than 200 Blue Cranes; at least six species of eagle, including Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Martial Eagle and Tawny Eagle.

fish eagle

Fish Eagle

The presence of these top bird predators found together within the Park is evidence not only of the diverse habitats to be found here, but also the richness of prey species that the Seacow and its surroundings support. The African Hawk Eagle , also known as Bonelli’s Eagle, is a species normally associated with habitats to the north of South Africa, so its presence in the High Karoo is of particular interest.

Alongside the eagles our found Secretary birds, including breeding pairs with their magnificent massive unruly nest, reminiscent of the mythical Roc, with innumerable twigs taking swamping the trees in which they are made. Other raptors can also be found: African Harrier-hawk, Jackal Buzzard, Goshawks, Kestrels and Owls.

In the veldt several species of bustards are known, including occasional large numbers, up to 44 in one sitting, of Kori bustard, in addition to Stanley and Ludwig’s Bustard with their hollow barking call.

kestrel 3

European kestrel – a migrant to the Karoo

The more familiar kerrak of  Northern Black and Karoo Korhaan can also be heard in the Park, as well as less familiar frog-like crrek of the Blue Korhaan, a rarer more delicate species.

Away from the drier grassland a wealth of wildfowl is found at the dams and along the vlei system of the Seekoei River headwaters. Here over 700 flamingos can be witnessed on the dam, along with the honking of Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, egrets, ibises, coots, moorhens, crakes, storks, hamerkop, and herons. At dawn and dusk as the wildfowl awake before the morning sun or roost in the fading light the croaking, trumpeting and grunts and whistles of the birds is like a feathered orchestra. A symphony of nature in homage to the Karoo.

zoetvlei birds 2

Birds swooping over the High Karoo Park

The Nama-Karoo Foundation is actively conserving these birds through habitat restoration and management, habitat conservation, the protection of breeding areas and the banning of hunting. The Foundation has also worked tirelessly to monitor and report to Eskom the collision of large birds with powerlines. The result of this research and lobbying has seen the agreement by Eskom to remove powerlines in the High Karoo Park, acknowledging the detrimental impact powerlines have had on species such as the Blue Crane.

swallows2

Swallows at rest in the Lyall Watson Centre

The removal of powerlines in the upper Seacow valley represents a major success by the Nama-Karoo Foundation in our conservation and protection efforts, not only for the Blue Crane, but for the myriad of other bird species that call the High Karoo Park home.