19 January, 2015

Tankwa Karoo – birds and bees at the cottages

- gardening for biodiversity

On the Gannaga Pass in the Tankwa Karoo National Park, while my camera took me for a walk, I could hear a bird singing its heart out – All This Is Mine! Cape Bunting. (I’d call it a stripe-headed sparrow).

Cape Bunting on Gannaga Pass

We stayed in the new Elandsberg cottages in September 2011, looking across the late spring flowers to the Gannaga Pass.

View from Elandsberg cottages
to Gannaga Pass in the Tankwa Karoo

Old farmhouses or the new purpose built tourist accommodation? Two farmhouses come with a ‘donkey’ – light the wood fire to heat water. There is no electricity, this is WAY off grid. The new houses use traditional mud bricks (= adobe) and eucalyptus beams. There are five cottages spread out, the neighbours far enough away to be undisturbed. Or, you can have a farmhouse all on its own.

Elandsberg cottages
Bottom left 'donkey' at Varschfontein

Gas-fired fridge, geyser and stove. Ceilings covered with Spaanse riet (which grew near our garage where the weavers nest). Candles and a row of paraffin lamps. Felt quite Victorian. For a few days I reset my internal clock to sleep and rise WITH the birds.

Inside Elandsberg cottage

The open plan kitchen has a traditional peach pip floor. Enjoyed walking on that, felt like gentle cobbles.

Traditional peach pip floor

Returning from the Leeuberg 4x4 trail, crossing the plain, we saw a group of springbok. One anxious soul remained behind, gazing back past us. We switched off, and waited with him. In their own good time, the second half of the herd came slowly along the ridge, paused to snack. Then pronked across the road. I have never seen this before, was just a word. Imagine the springbok, like a kangaroo on a pogo-stick, jumping straight up in the air, and high! ‘Is that a lion in the grass?’ His herd reunited, the sentry galloped off.

Springbok in the Tankwa Karoo

Tortoise in the Tankwa Karoo

On the Elandsberg a crab-spider lurked on an Albuca flower. Striped toktokkie (so called because he knocks like a death watch beetle) – the ones I know have smooth backs; in the Karoo they are armour plated. At Varschfontein, once was a farm, I saw this – white lentil running like hell, tiny beetle with his sunscreened overcoat. He is called – a frantic tortoise beetle!

Back in the mud walls of the cottage, solitary bees were nesting. Gathering pollen as it was flower season, then sealing the nest with mud. For which they needed water. To be found in the plunge pool! 

Striped toktokkie, crab spider on Albuca
solitary bees nesting in mud wall, frantic tortoise beetle 

Our first afternoon there was a stiff breeze. Imagine the hot dry Karoo. You are a sparrow sized bird with short legs. There is water. In a pool, with a smooth concrete rim. The filter runs on a solar panel. Couldn’t bear to watch the birds battling to reach the water, so the Ungardener carefully chose and placed two rocks. Those little birds were delighted to be able to bathe. The solitary bees and the mud wasps were also desperate to get water, and hundreds of them lost their grip, to drift drowning on the water. We spent some time fishing them out.

Yellow Canary
Cape Bunting 

While we were staying there, they installed tarpaulin covers over the pools.

Plunge pool at Elandsberg cottages in the Tankwa Karoo

From Letsie Coetzee, Section Ranger Tankwa Karoo National Park in the SANPark Forums on 19th October 2011. 'There are 2 waterholes 2-3 km from the cottages. To protect the vegetation waterholes are 5 km apart. Please keep the pool covered. A floating "island" will be added as an escape route.'

PS We did see bees climbing under the cover...

Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

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