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6 November 2018
Faunal Survey 2018: What’s In UWC Nature Reserve - And How Do We Know?

(Published - 6 November 2018)

The UWC Cape Flats Nature Reserve Faunal Survey 2018: Over 60 staff, students and other volunteers bundu-bashing the Reserve for everything that moves, taking names and not kicking ass, equipped with torches, cameras, know-how - and loads of energy and enthusiasm.

“The faunal survey takes place every year in the third week of October,” explains Reserve Director Hestelle Melville. “It’s a biodiversity survey to collect information that can provide data to assist with the management of the 34-hectare privately-owned nature reserve. Over the years, the baseline data collected has helped to assess the general health or state of the area, and can relatively quickly indicate any change in the environment.”

The Cape Flats Nature Reserve  is a private reserve that falls under the administration of the University of the Western Cape. First created as a refuge for Strandveld and Coastal Fynbos, the 30ha reserve now functions as a base for ecological teaching, environmental education, research and a natural space for the public to enjoy.  There are hundreds of indigenous plant species in the reserve, along with a variety of animals, including tortoise, mongoose, a variety of reptiles and insects, and dozens of species of birds.

But how many? That’s what the participants set out to find.

“It was a great adventure with familiar faces and new friends, equipped with torches, cameras and loads of energy” says Laurenda van Breda, Education & Research Officer at the Reserve. “And we were not left disappointed by the results - the lists and photographs were exactly what we needed to update our species lists.”

The Survey actually consisted of a number of different activities in addition to the main two-day adventure. Here’s how they went down...

Mammal Survey: Finding mammals can be a daunting task - most of them are pretty small, and they tend to hide a lot during the day. Mammal expert Adriaan Engelbrecht and his Honours students led the two-week survey, involving daily checks of 115 Sherman traps, catching 14 small mammals from 3 species. There were also motion sensor traps throughout the reserve catching both the elusive genet (Genetta genetta) and our lone resident caracal (Caracal caracal).

Bird Watching & Bird Ringing: Twitchers (bird watchers) got up very early in the morning (because that’s the kind of bird that catches the worm), binoculars in hand, and found 52 winged wonders, out of the 112 species on the Reserve’s lists - and even managed to catch a glimpse of a few birds of prey on the hunt. Meanwhile 13 different species (from 43 birds) were bagged and tagged by experts - including a Cape bulbul first caught in 2014.

Reptile Survey & Tortoise Count: The search for scaly creatures wasn’t helped too much by the scorching heat - but surveying a section of Cape Flats Dune Strandveld did turn up two Angulate tortoises in the end, and the night search revealed some chameleons and geckos, as well as the Cape legless skink.

Insect Survey: Insects are interesting - and there’s way, way more of them than there is of pretty much anything else, animal-wise. While the weekly photowalks have been useful for adding to the insect lists (especially where butterflies are concerned) this was the first time so much attention was paid to our six-legged friends.

Flora Survey: The animals may get all the attention...but there’s plenty of plant life in the Reserve as well, you know. All flowering plants were surveyed on the Wednesday before the fauna count, and continued throughout. Despite the heat and minimum participants, it still managed to accomplish a lot - with several new species added to the list.

“The Survey offers an opportunity to update species lists and affords students from various tertiary institutions an opportunity to practise or participate in a variety of scientific sampling methods,” Melville says. “This information is always available and very useful, especially with any change in management styles or methods applied.”

So what’s new this time around?

“Just when we thought 2018 was close to an end with no new species list additions, the survey surprised us with not one, not two, but six new additions!” Van Breda notes.

The birdwatchers caught all sorts of LBJs (Lil Brown Jobbies, for the non-twitchers among us) - and luckily birders Martin Hendricks, Denver Hendricks, Richard Naidoo and UWC’s resident birder Mark Gibbons were on hand to identify them.

  • The brown-backed honeybird (Prodotiscus regulus), which has continually expanded its range and reached the Western Cape in 1986 - has finally made itself at home (as much as can be for a bird that nests in others’ nests) in the Reserve as well.
  • The neddicky, or piping cisticola (Cisticola fulvicapilla) is (in)famous for its call, a monotonous, penetrating, repetitive weep weep weep, and loud clicking alarm call, like a fingernail running across the teeth of a comb.

The flora survey, led by the knowledgeable Lincoln and Rosemary Raitt, also managed to add four new additions to the list.

  • Bract Disa (Disa bracteata): a small native of the Cape Province with leaves up the stem and flowering in a dense spike, and incredible adaptability to defy threats - probably one of the few orchid species to have successfully invaded Australia.
  • Geel spinnekopblom (Ferarria divaricata): A South African flowering plant endemic to sandy flats areas (which is, after all, where this one was found), its crinkly-edged star-shaped flowers last only one day.
  • Sea parsley (Dasispermum suffruticosum): An edible South African endemic occurring in coastal sands and dune habitat. Also known as dune celery. It has intricately divided, firm and slightly succulent or fleshy leaves.
  • Drosanthemum: Okay, this one hasn’t been identified to species level yet (give us time - we first thought it was Lampranthus explanatus, from a whole different genus). It’s a succulent wildflower with colourful flowers, anyway…

Several individuals of the endangered Strandertjiebos (Lessertjia argentea) were also found throughout the Reserve - a location not previously listed for the rare species.

All in all, a successful weekend, and some encouraging results.

“A big thank you to all who participated - and to our experts who helped make the research effort both an educational and an entertaining experience.”

Wondering what else you can find while wandering in the Cape Flats Nature Reserve? Find out here. And you can always find out for yourself - and contribute to the Reserve’s lists - by joining one of the weekly Photowalks.  Just grab a camera (or phone) and meet up at the Reserve building on a Thursday at lunchtime, and get the guided tour!