Successful field trip with Hannes Marais

A great day out in the open learning about wetlands—and more.

This shot clearly shows how the wetlands feeding the Lunsklip resolve into shifting channels, ultimately joining together at the key point where the river officially starts (Photograph: Cora Hoexter)

A group of 14 had the privilege of spending most of Saturday 5th November 2022 in the company of wetland ecologist Hannes Marais. Although the forecast was dire, the Dullstroom weather found it easy to confound the weatherman: instead of rain, we had a somewhat windy but sunny day and fairly dry conditions.

After a brief orientation at the office, we set off along the Lunsklip, stopping at the ford which turns out to be a “key point”—the nominal source of the river, where the various channels of the wetland come together to create a stream.

The veld in that area is bright yellow at this time of year, as many parts of the reserve are thanks to the flowering bulbinella. What was interesting was that it’s only recently been discovered that this is a new species of the plant, again proof that one must never take the obvious for granted, especially at Verloren Valei.

Bulbinella is a genus of plants in the family Asphodelaceae, subfamily Asphodeloideae – the name derived from the asphodel supposed to bloom in the Elysian Fields, the paradise of Greek mythology.

The mysterious new bulbinella species, yet to be named (Photograph: Cora Hoexter)
The unnamed species could not be more obvious – so much so that nobody thought to check what its precise botanical name is (Photograph: Cora Hoexter)

Progressing further along the road, we stopped to look at a seep area but were surprised to spot four dead blesbok on the opposite ridge. When one of our party began to walk towards the site, three enormous dogs emerged from a nearby thicket of tree ferns and made their escape. It seems as though the carcasses were the result of poaching. The dogs did not resemble typical poacher’s dogs, and were perhaps intruders from a nearby farm who got lucky.

The reserve management is investigating, but it was a reminder of how our wildlife preserves need constant protection—and how important it is for Friends organisations like our own to support the reserve management in this constant battle.

Hannes Marais (with his trusty auger) about to demonstrate the water-retention properties of peat. The white belly of one of the poached blesbok is visible on the far slope – the dogs were resting up in the shelter of the tree ferns (Photograph: Cora Hoexter)

Retracing our steps, we set off on a long drive towards the reserve’s southern boundary to observe the headwaters of the Crocodile River, giving us all the chance to visit a part of the reserve that is seldom seen by the public.

A particularly interesting sight was the “blowhole”, where a subterranean channel of runoff from the nearby mountain had burst out of the earth, scattering gravel and pebbles from the mountain.

Headwaters of the Crocodile River at the foot of this high, rocky ridge. The “blowhole” is situated a little further along, at the foot of this ridge (Photograph: Cora Hoexter)

Thanks to Hannes’s knowledge, we all felt we understood a little more about how the complex wetland systems work, and how they make Verloren Valei such an important player in the local water system. It’s thanks to them that this small reserve is the source of four rivers.

Many thanks to Hannes for sharing his expertise with us.

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