Rocher Pan, birds by the sea

By Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

From Porterville when we yearned for sea air, our nearest beach was Eland’s Bay, a small town, good for surfing. We prefer walking at RocherPan. Cape Nature Conservation reserve is a wetland which sweeps down to the sea, beyond the dunes. 930 hectares, the reserve, established in 1966, is a seasonal vlei, dry between March and June. The Atlantic Ocean stretch of marine reserve was declared in 1988. The hours we spent there in March 2011, we had the whole place to ourselves. Just had to share with three ostriches, who disappeared in affronted horror, at Intruders, on Our Patch!! Who, why Rocher? Perde-kaf-en-koffers-a-story-from-the-West-Coast.

Illusion of 'Mountain with stormy clouds?' Right the bigger picture Rocher Pan
Illusion of 'Mountain with stormy clouds?' Right the bigger picture
Rocher Pan

There was still some water in the pan, near the thru road, the ranger’s house and the first bird hide. At the second hide the pan was dry.

A group of avocets in the distance, their upturned bills make them unmistakable. A few blacksmith lap-wings. Couple of little stints. Vivid contrast to a photo of proud Victorian hunters with a mountain of dead ducks We Just Shot.

Blacksmith lap-wing Avocets To the right, little stint
Blacksmith lap-wing
To the right, little stint

He sees birds, I see flowers. Almost Euphorbia green daisy was highlighting the vegetation on the shore of the pan.

Pteronia uncinata Asteraceae March 2011
Pteronia uncinata Asteraceae March 2011

We drove the track up the sand dune. While we had a quick picnic lunch, I discovered a mistletoe. Red berries just like a Christmas card, tho there is another species with Northern style white berries.

Maurocenia with Viscum rotundifolium, red mistletoe and an Asparagus fern March 2011
with Viscum rotundifolium, red mistletoe
and an Asparagus fern
March 2011

We wandered quietly along a sweep of beach. To the South in the far distance a haze of white houses at Laaiplek. To the North a deeper band of sky blue, the mountain ridge of Eland’s Bay at the sea end of Verlorenvlei.

Sea at Rocher Pan
Sea at Rocher Pan

There must have been a recent, fairly gentle high tide. The beach was strewn with jellyfish.


That retreating tide left riffles of sand, and pavements of meticulously level and carefully spaced shell mosaic. (Sea and sand colours that inspired me for the False Bay blog, then our house)

Sea textures at Rocher Pan
Sea textures at Rocher Pan

One of our most endangered birds is the African black oystercatchers. (They have played a vital role in reducing and controlling the population of the alien invasive Mediterranean mussel). Endangered because they nest on the shore, where the brain damaged roar up and down on quad bikes and bakkies to go fishing, just because they can. In 2000 recreational vehicles were banned from South Africa's beaches. This pair of birds flew up and circled round, settling again as we walked on.

African black oystercatchers at Rocher Pan
African black oystercatchers at Rocher Pan

The Ungardener found a sleeping seal. As he tried to get closer for a better picture, the seal woke up, yelled at him, and returned to the sea. There were dolphins, and flocks of birds gathered above a shoal of fish.

Seal - I was asleep!
Seal - I was asleep!

Sitting alone, gazing out to sea. I see nothing but the sea. I hear nothing but the waves. Looking back at that image, I see False Bay calling us!

The sea and I
The sea and I

We returned on a grey winter day inAugust 2013 with low cloud and heavy sea fog.

I must down go to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
                                                                                --John Masefield
Poetry left as a comment on the original post by Adrian Ayres Fisher - whose current thoughtful post is  On Pretending That What’s Happening Isn’t Actually Happening

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  1. the jelly fish, amazing, the seal,, such an awkward way to sleep lol,,
    you sitting by the see, so beautiful,,
    the stone strewn shore washed flat by the tide is gorgeous!!

  2. I only live 25 miles from the ocean, but I haven't walked on the beach in an embarrassingly long time. These beautiful scenes have motivated; as soon as it warms up a bit, I'm going to head for a good walking beach! -Jean

    1. as we are embarassed that it is a deliberate achievement to walk on our local beach once a week

  3. Oh, isn't it wonderful to have the beach to yourselves? The Euphorbias are beautiful! And that pensive photo of you looking out at the ocean is special. :)

  4. Heavenly place, how I wish I was there with wee Maggie right now!

  5. Lovely post, as I remember..... some of the beaches in South Africa have the whitest sand...hard to beat. I like the Euphoria and the black oyster catchers. I must check to see if the Oyster Catchers in Australia are doing a similar job in helping control the invasive Mediterranean mussel

  6. There is nothing quite like a stroll on a deserted beach, especially with sights like a sleeping seal and black oystercatchers! And ostriches! What marvelous types of wildlife share your part of the world. The John Masefield poem is very appropriate.

  7. What an utterly glorious place. Love the snippet about waking up the grumpy seal. Nothing beats sitting watching the sea without hords of other people, I find it gives me a deep sense of peace.

  8. Oh my what a wonderful conservation area to explore Diana.....I love the water and views not to mention the wildlife....and that Pteronia uncinata is gorgeous.