05 August, 2016

Winter day at Rocher Pan

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

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.

Greater Flamingo at Rocher Pan

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.

Birds at Rocher Pan

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.

Pair of Red-knobbed Coot

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.

Eco-cottages at Rocher Pan

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.

Path to the sea from Rocher Pan

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.

Tracks across the sand

Who left their tracks between the wind carved ridges on the dry sand above the waves?

Zaluzianskya, Pelargonium and friends on a Rocher Pan sand dune

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.

Winter beach at Rocher Pan

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.

Winter sea off Rocher Pan

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.

Mermaid's purse
Mussel shell, plastic flotsam
on the beach at Rocher Pan

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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  1. Wow - the Zaluzianskya is amazing. I've never seen it before.

    I wonder if Rocher Pan is dependent on rain water - and if so, if the recent drought affected the birdlife population negatively? Hopefully not.

    1. (The flowers are small, but so elaborately shaped. Common name is drumsticks)

      The pan is seasonal - but I hope for flowers ... and birds, in September.

  2. What a wonderful place to visit! It's almost impossible to find a beach with more birds than people here (not to speak of birds as colorful as flamingos). Sadly, the debris left by people seems to be everywhere. I enjoyed the story of your Spirulino too.

    1. Days ago we were walking in Swiss mountains - shocked by hordes of people! Glad to be back to enjoying our quiet places at home.

  3. It's heartening and sometimes disappointing what one finds on the beach. Wildflowers on the dunes--now that's lovely! It sounds like September will be a perfect time for your return visit. :)

  4. Beautiful atmospheric post. I love the subtle colours of the sand and sky and even the flowers on the dunes.
    It's such a shame that plastic gets everywhere. I much prefer to find a mermaid's purse!
    Best wishes :)

  5. The Path to the sea from Rocher Pan, looks so like the area which takes you towards Balmedie beach just North of Aberdeen. Must be amazing to see a Flamingo, well I have seen one, but only on the television. Have I told you, it looks like we are returning to Bonnie Scotland, new house will be ready to move into mid January.

    1. Wow - lots of upheaval, but happier once you have settled again!

  6. So sad to read that Spirulino died. Was it old age?

    1. It was a sad story - but he had a few good years.

  7. It's easy to see why you are returning to Rocher Pan. "A whole long lost lonely desolate sweep of glorious beach." Wow! P. x

  8. It looks like a wonderfully calming place. Just looking at your photos slowed my heart rate :-)! -Jean