Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Wild Side Walkabout...Take II ?

There's three distinct layers of natural world here (like a parfait), each enhancing and supporting the other to make the perfect whole.This means, a heap of wildlife to see while the day lasts...

The Outeniqua Mountains
Hidden away in this mountain wilderness are other realms of nature. First off, the terrain is very different to the fairly flat savannah we're used to. Looking out over the lovely blue-green mountains at the start of the journey couldn't begin to prepare us for the reality. These deep valleys and open hillsides are as different as it gets but, technically they're one and the same place. In this landscape, unfamiliar is part of the lure and part of the problem; to really *see* the main attractions means lacing up the hiking boots and saddling up *shanks pony*. 

Bush Pig
Down in the forested valleys; patches of indigenous bush and trees are home to Cape leopard, Chacma Baboons, Bushbuck, Blue duiker, Cape Grysbuck and Bush pig, along with reptiles, small mammals and hundreds of bird species. 
These natural woodlands with their peaty, earthy odor, also provide shelter for the famous, elusive, mythical elephants of the Knysna Forests.

There’s not much light and heat getting through into these valleys and they stay damp, moist, and fertile. The water and mud we had come through, will take several days to dry out, whereas, up here on the hillsides, the tracks are already dusty after a few short hours of sun.  
Cape Grysbok
As the altitude increases, the natural woods give way to forestry and the forestry areas are surrounded by remnants of the natural forest undergrowth and patches of fynbos (literal translation – fine bush). Fynbos, natural heathland vegetation, occurs in small parts of the Western Cape, mainly in winter rainfall coastal and mountain areas with a Mediterranean climate.

Orange-Breasted Sunbird on Pincushion Protea
Ericas and Protea fynbos take over up on the mountain ridges and peaks with elevations above three-hundred meters and more. Hiking in the midst of all these fragrant plants stirs up the aromas of warm, wild honey.  Every so often, I was beguiled by the sharp spicy scent of some small plant, I'd brushed against. Drawn by this sensual richness, the wildlife in these mountain habitats include bees, beetles, horseflies, ants and butterflies and birds such as Cape Sugar-birds and the Orange-breasted Sunbird.
Many of these birds and insects are important and specific pollinators for the fynbos, such as the Mountain Pride butterfly which only visits red flowers and pollinates 15 different species.  
Mountain Pride Butterfly
Astonishing! Does *red*have a specific smell? How does the butterfly know if a flower’s red – they can’t be colour blind…Did you know butterflies are supposed to have the broadest visual range of any form of wildlife? I didn’t…
Here at the higher altitudes, Cape Genet and Cape Eagle Owl join the Baboons, Cape Leopard, Common Duiker, Imbabala (Xhosa name for Bushbuck), Cape Grysbok and Blue Duiker. The Elephants and Bush pig stay in the forests as they prefer cover.  So no big five, (only leopard) to get in the way of a good ramble and after breakfast, we started out with the river our goal; a few hundred meters down a steep path, off the edge of the garden.

The Fountain Flows in Here
Hiking down the steep incline, slipping and sliding over the gravel, was quicker than I realized.  What appeared from the top as a rock-decorated, silver-ribbon of water surrounded by puffy, green cushions revealed unseen details. First impressions were wet. Water, clean pure water, filtered through layers of mountain rock. A mountain spring augments the flow from the river destined for the house; useful to have when unusually heavy rainfall (with snow) causes flooding and debris in the river itself. The banks of this tributary widen out at this point, providing a spot for a small patch of indigenous forest (puffy green cushions) and the homestead vegetable garden. This is completely caged in – top, bottom and sides, but still the thieves are all around; the baboons raid the fertile spot constantly and always take the yummiest fruit and vegetables... 

You may have noticed I had some trouble with Blogger yesterday (or maybe it's me?), that's why this is late...sorry about that!

Next...More of the trek and out at night!


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