Winter day at Rocher Pan
by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
He prefers to choose his days out in brilliant sparkling sunshine, his Swiss roots showing. August 2013 I revelled in a grey winter day, low cloud, heavy sea fog – a world of our own enclosed in grey and damp. We went to CapeNature’s RocherPan Nature Reserve, counting on birds as the pan had filled with winter rain.
We returned in November 2013 to sun and Cape fur seals.
We stopped first at the new office, in a fine eco-building. With solar panels and composting toilets (not much water, and no waterborne sewage lines available!) Got our permit with our WildCard, looked with interest at the shiny new eco-cottages. We drove along the road to the main gate for the reserve.
From the bird hide we looked across the water. Flamingoes, gulls, coots. Then suddenly we noticed a Greater Flamingo patrolling slowly past the bird hide. Those electric pink legs are shocking, especially on a bleak grey day.
In the reeds below the hide was a pair of Red-knobbed Coot. ‘When breeding, they are inclined to become very pugnacious. They will chase other birds, almost running along the surface of the water’ – from Joy Frandsen’s Birds of the South Western Cape. After he’d seen off the intruder, these two settled quietly back to their lunch.
From across the pan we looked back to the office and the eco-cottages (click Accommodation). Closed combustion fire place. Waterless toilet. Each cottage has a private deck looking over the pan and the birds. We stayed here in the spring wildflower season September 2016. All 4 were then occupied, so we couldn’t peek in. Four more cottages were added.
From the pan, where we parked the car, we hiked up over the dune. Then down to the sea. A whole long lost lonely desolate sweep of glorious beach. We saw no life beyond the birds.
Who left their tracks between the wind carved ridges on the dry sand above the waves?
If I were trying to garden on a salty windswept dune, even on this winter’s day there was promise. The little purple flowers have the common name of drumsticks – for the strangely shaped petals. Zaluzianskya villosa is in the Schrophulariaceae with northern Antirrhinum, Digitalis and Penstemon, and South Africa’s Diascia, Nemesia and Halleria. The Pelargonium grows happily tucked close to the sand beneath the wind, velvety leaves gratefully slurping up the sea fog. There’s texture and colour in foliage. Side by side in nature are two unknowns. Dune celery? with a random yellow flower, near grey-bloomed succulent leaves.
He collected cuttlefish for Spirulino, our flightless sparrow. We tucked the cuttlefish between the bars of his cage, and he graciously shared with our garden birds.
I was fascinated by the long line, as the breaker slowly built and rose, then curled and fell. The next town is Eland’s Bay famous among surfers.
And sadly, always our contempt for nature, expressed in discarded plastic garbage. We saw a cormorant trailing a piece of rope, entangled on his leg. Walking the tide line, there are treasures to be seen. A perfect pair of mussel shells, midnight blue with some tiny barnacles crusted on. Mermaid’s purse is the egg case of a shark.
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Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer
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