A green weekend in January

2009-02-27 00:00

There was a weekend back in January that in “green” terms was special: it could only have happened in one place, and during one time of year. And it was special for birders and botanists, although some people tagged along to see what it was all about (and perhaps became converts to green causes).

On the Saturday, it was about birds. For some of us it was the first time we had joined in the annual bird count of Amur falcons (and I believe it was the first time they were called that). Their summer arrival has always been a big birding event. One first becomes aware of them along fences and telephone wires: “Ah”, say the local birders, “the red-footed kestrels have arrived”. To see them en masse, in vast numbers, one goes to a small village in the Southern Drakensberg, close to Sani Pass, at dusk. There, at risk of getting a serious crick in the neck, one gazes skywards for well over an hour, agape at the sight of thousands of these small falcons at play. They gather from farms far afield, in a hugely celebratory event, every evening during their summer sojourn in these parts. Arriving in separate flocks from every direction, they mingle above a group of tall trees on the side of the main street. They swoop in awesome aeronautical formations, then bank and swoop again in perfect symmetry.

Attempts at getting a reliable count are problematic, the totals varying from 7 000 to 10 000. Serious birders have their systems of counting and feel confident of their assessments. Others of us are sceptical — my son tells me that one wag suggested they count the legs, then divide by two. That, to me, sums up the hopelessness of the task (I would have put the count in the millions).

The new name of these kestrels — Amur falcon — derives from the fact that, amazingly, their journey to Himeville took these small winged creatures around the globe from faraway Amur, in Mongolia. There is another interesting fact that might have serious environmentalists stumped: those tall trees that they have chosen to roost in are gum trees (eucalypts), which everyone agrees are as alien-as-all-hell. So, should any worthy workers for water attack these trees with axes, they do so at their peril. Rather, they should concentrate their efforts on the wattles that are encroaching up the Sani Pass road into the local world heritage site at an alarming rate.

If a crick in the neck was the price to pay for watching the falcons in festive flight, the following day must have resulted in stiff knees and strained calves for the botanists — if not for those fit few who were more interested in just a serious downhill hike. The annual floral walk has been organised through the devoted efforts of members of the Sani Wildlife Society for many years. One is driven to the top of Sani Pass early-ish, and from there let loose to tackle the descent, armed with a walking stick (recommended for all, from 18- to eighty-year-olds), a flower book, notebook, some padkos and binoculars if you have enough hands.

One goes at one’s own pace — there are “sweeper vehicles” to pick up those who can’t make it to the end — lingering on the familiar and the new with equal excitement. Familiar sightings abound, having found their way into our gardens in hybrid forms: dianthus, agapanthus, diascaea, scabious and gladiolus. There are proteas, each species favouring its own altitude, and yellowoods, nestled in southern aspects on the lower slopes. Gladiolus flanaganii cling to rock faces inaccessible except to the most intrepid and are therefore dubbed the suicide lily. There are ground orchids, some endemic to this sector, others found all up and down the Drakensberg, and geraniums. And there are river lilies (Phygelius aequalis) that have found favour with gardeners worldwide. And many more too numerous to mention here, but definitely worthy of a specialist report.

The floral walk happens on the last day of January. Numbers are restricted to 80 walkers.This year’s fee was R150. After expenses are deducted, funds are for environmental education projects.

• Phyl Palframan is a retired farmer’s wife, living on the home farm, a mother, grandmother, gardener and freelance journalist.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.