Walk Report – Dec ’18 – Feb ’19

December 2018

An advantage of birding over botanising is that, if you choose the right spot, the birds come to you. So it was that our December walk found us getting comfortable in the spacious bird hide in the Rooisand Nature Reserve. Binoculars? Check. Bird guide book? Check. Flask of tea or coffee and a snack? Check. Good company? Check. Then we waited.

The decision to go birding rather than botanising was motivated by the desire to do something a little different – and make the walking a little easier. A trip to the Rooisand Bird Hide offers a delightfully easy walk along a well constructed board walk and a short stretch along the sandy shore of the Bot River Estuary. Naturally we were drawn to the December flowerings of Orphium frutescens (Sea Rose) and the underappreciated Senecio halimifolius (Tabakbos).

The Bird Hide in the Rooisand Nature Reserve

Meanwhile, we noticed an advantage of botanising over birding: plants stay in one place, birds don’t. It took a while for our unpractised eyes to actually see what was going on in bird world.

We didn’t come close to the 233 bird species reputed to frequent the area, nor did we see the Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, or Fish Eagle. But our ‘tick list’ gradually expanded to include Blacksmith Lapwing, Yellow Billed Duck, Red Knobbed Coot, White Breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Grey Heron, Black Winged Stilt, Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gull, Egyptian Goose (of course), Curlew Sandpiper (with its curiously decurved bill) and Little Egret (with its bright yellow feet). The Plovers, Kittlitz’s and Common Ringed, busying themselves on the muddy shore close to the hide, sparked special interest and delighted conversation.

It was wonderful to see the wild horses safely and peacefully grazing nearby – and a herd of springbok in the neighbouring, newly created Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary. Also great to see is the astonishing job of clearing alien invasive vegetation in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

Having achieved zen-like tranquillity, it was time to amble back to the cars and home.


The plan had been to make our annual pilgrimage into Leopard’s and Disa Kloofs in the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden to visit the annual flowering of Disa uniflora. Reconnaissance a few weeks before promised that the display would be excellent. However, the January fire put paid to that plan.

So regular Botsoc walker and resident of the Arabella Estate, Cherry Ronbeck, kindly invited us to visit the Estate – renowned for its golf course, cultivated gardens and the ongoing clearing of alien invasive vegetation on the wider estate. We gladly accepted.

Arabella’s renown for its cultivated gardens is well deserved. With the emphasis squarely on indigenous vegetation, not only of fynbos but showcasing species from elsewhere in South Africa, the gardens are immaculate and a joy. While not intended to be a botanical garden in the strict sense, Arabella comes close.

The clearing of alien invasive vegetation within the established estate has meanwhile enabled some Renosterveld to re-establish itself where cultivation has not taken place. Mucina and Rutherford’s authoritative Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland identifies this particular type of Renosterveld as ‘Rûens Silcrete Renosterveld FRc2’ which occurs mostly on coastal forelands between Riviersonderend and Riversdale, with the Bot River occurrence at Arabella an isolated western outlier. That makes the Arabella estate’s Renosterveld especially interesting and, according to Mucina and Rutherford, ‘Critically Endangered’ due to its transformation for intensive agricultural land. Where conservation status is concerned, that’s as bad as it gets before extinction of the whole vegetation type. More strength to the managers of the Arabella Estate in their efforts to clear the alien invasive vegetation and allow for the re-establishment of this fast disappearing vegetation type.

A restful viewsite overlooking the Bot River Estuary

A restful viewsite overlooking the Bot River Estuary, itself a conservation icon as an ‘IBA’, or ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Area’ identified by Birdlife South Africa and South Africa’s most recently designated Ramsar ‘Wetland of International Importance’,  made an excellent place to stop for tea and reflection.

Thank you Cherry for your invitation to visit and your guidance through a fascinating, beautiful and, in conservation terms, very important place.


In December and in the best parts of the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens, up the zig-zag path on Bobbejaanskop and into the mountains, copious buds promised spectacular flowering of brilliant blue Nivenia stokoei in February. But, due to the January fire, it was not to be. So what else is in flower at this time of year? Amaryllidaceae, of course.

The destination had to be the Silversands and Sea Farm Trail to find paint brush flowers, Haemanthus coccinea and Haemanthus sanguineus and the wierd and wonderful candelabra flower, Brunsvigia orientalis.

Haemanthus coccinea
, on the Sea Farm Trail

Brunsvigia Orientalis
, on the Sea Farm Trail

Meanwhile, creative and helpful Cornelia de Villiers had ‘leveraged’ the power of social media and advertised the walk on Facebook. Lo and behold, our usual tally of eight to twelve regular Botsoc walkers swelled to thirty-nine. Wonderful! The more fynbos junkies we can recruit, the better.

The trail started with a walk along Silversands Beach which revealed plenty to talk about. Far more Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) spoor than usual, extending for long stretches, indicated that something was up. The carcass of a large South African (= Cape) Fur Seal, Arctocephalus pusillus, washed up on the high tide, suggested what had attracted the attention of the Otters. Happily our large company included world traveller and legendary field guide Pete Oxford who showed us some distinctive features of the physiology of the South African Fur Seal and how it differs from ‘true’ seals. A few details: Our Fur Seal has narrow pointed earflaps called pinnae, true seals do not. Fur Seals’ hind limbs are projected forwards; true seals hind limbs project backwards – resulting in significantly different methods of locomotion. Getting more technical, SA Fur Seals belong to the Family Otariidae and the genus Arctocephalus, which means ‘bear-head’. It turns out, in evolutionary terms, that SA Fur Seals are descended from a common ancestor closely related to bears! The jury is still out as to whether true seals, of the family Phocidae, share a common ancestor closely related to otters or bears. There you have your PhD research: Is an Elephant Seal a kind of otter or a kind of bear?

By the time we reached the interesting tillite rocks at the western end of Silversands beach (glacially formed hundreds of millions of years ago, when Silversands beach was buried under kilometres of ice over the South Pole) the party was beginning to wonder when we would reach the flowers. It didn’t take long.

There it is! Haemanthus coccinea duly found. Jubilation.

No sooner had we left the beach and rocky outcrops and reached the seashore vegetation and Haemanthus coccinea poked its bright orange-red paintbrush like inflorescences above the surrounding wind pruned bushes. A few paces further on Brunsvigia orientalis in abundance greeted us. Jubilation all round. Mission accomplished.

Finding Brunsvigia orientalis 

Many noticed that Haemanthus and Brunsvigia species flower before they produce leaves. This peculiar feature of many Amaryllidaceae is known as ‘hysteranthy’ – meaning ‘without leaves’, so they are said to be ‘hysteranthous’. These wily geophytes (bulb or tuber forming plants) put all their energy into flowering, getting pollinated and setting seed first. Only then do they feed their tubers with carbohydrates by producing leaves. Very organised. Other plants do it differently. ‘Synanthous’ plants produce flowers and leaves at the same time while ‘proteranthous’ plants produce leaves first, then flowers. Now you know, if you ever wanted to.

Refreshments on the rocks with a magnificent sea view followed – then the long, happy trek back to the cars.

– Tim Attwell