Thursday, November 12, 2015

Broadening Horizons – September 2015

Arnold’s Velvet Gecko (Homopholis arnoldi), Blouberg Nature Reserve

The SCBC has been working on biodiversity data collection in the Soutpansberg for over a year now. Our activities have been centred on the Medike property on the banks of the Sand River. Due to the vastness of the mountain range and peripheral areas; to broaden the habitats in this biodiversity rich area, the SCBC has now begun to work in different areas. The purpose of this is to increase the SCBC project’s scope and create more accurate data representations of biodiversity assemblage for the region.

Delande’s Beaked Blind Snake (Rhinotyphlops lalandei)
September was set aside as a month for travelling and we began the tour at Blouberg Nature Reserve to the west of the Soutpansberg range. Generally Blouberg is treated as a separate entity, but the mountain is geologically related to the Soutpansberg and under sampled. For the purposes of the SCBCs mandate (to spend time walking searching of biodiversity) Blouberg Nature Reserve was not well suited to the task. Because of the presence of buffalo in the area walking is discouraged. However the little time spent there did turn up some interesting new reptiles for our lists not yet found on the Soutpansberg; Delande’s Beaked Blind Snake (Rhinotyphlops lalandei) and the newly described Arnold’s Velvet Gecko (Homopholis arnoldi). There are a few protected areas around the mountain that are buffalo free and this is an area that has been identified as having a lot of future potential for SCBC work.

Sunduvall's Writhing Skink (Mochlus sundevalli), Mashovella, Soutpansberg.
After Blouberg it was our intention to explore the Northern slopes of the Western Soutpansberg, unfortunately the few sites that offer accommodation were fully booked. We spent a night at Mashovella, which is situated in a beautiful valley. Unfortunately Mashovella is not conducive to research, the accommodation is expensive and there are many rules governing activity on the property. So we moved on to a small farm called Zvakanaka. The property is small but gives access to quite a large chunk of the moister and higher Southern slopes of the Soutpansberg. The property is wedged between agricultural land and is very conducive to research. Unfortunately the weather was cold and we could not work, so decided to head east for warmer and dryer weather.

Mopane Veld, Nwanedi Nature Reserve, Limpopo.

Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis), Nwanedi Nature Reserve, Limpopo.

One of the habitats that we needed to sample was the Mopane Veld which grows on the northern edges of the Soutpansberg.  We decided to spend a few days at Nwanedi Nature Reserve. Nwanedi is a large reserve, comprised of riverine vegetation patches, Mopane veld and arid mountain savannah. The region is extremely hot and dry. Nwanedi proved to be very productive and conducive to research. Permission to walk anywhere was easily granted and there is also a good road network. We spent six nights at Nwanedi and made a list of 16 reptiles (four of which were new for the SCBC lists) and we also found six species of scorpion. The SCBC will certainly do more forays to Nwanedi in the coming months.

Pachydactylus punctatus, Nwanedi Nature Reserve.

Limpopo girdled lizard (Cordylus jonesii), Nwanedi Nature Reserve.

Holub's Sandveld Lizard (Nucras holubi), Nwanedi

Being in Venda we decided to spend a few nights in a rural site near the village of Segole at the Big Tree Lodge. The lodge is next to a property where there is a massive Baobab tree. The is claimed to be the biggest in the world and is estimated to be over 3000 years old. The tree is one of the most remarkable organisms that I have ever seen. Segole was good for reptiles – in the few days there we created a list of 15 species, including three new species for our lists. We used the big tree lodge as our base and I can recommend the place to anyone travelling in the area.

The Big Tree, Adansonia digitata at Segole.
East African Shovel-Snout (Prosymna stuhlmanni), Segole.
Common Barking Gecko (Ptenopus garrulus garrulus), Segole.
Parabuthus mossambicensis, Segole.
Still very much in the Venda area we travelled to the forested slopes of the far eastern Soutpansberg and stayed at Golwe-Vhurivhuri campsite. The community runs the campsite and the facilities are excellent. They have ample space for camping and two safari tents for those who want a bit of luxury. The campsite is situated on a river in a forest and is an excellent area for birding, otherwise difficult to see species like African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator, Narina Trogon and even Pink-throated Twinspot are very easily observed in and around the campsite. Our time at Golwe-Vhurivhuri turned up two new lizards for our lists as well as a new scorpion.

Zygaspis quadrifrons, Golwe-Vhurvhuri, Eastern Soutpansberg.

Spotted Sandveld Lizard (Nucras intertexta), Golwe-Vhurvhuri, Eastern Soutpansberg.
Forest at Golwe-Vhurvhuri, Eastern Soutpansberg.
The forest that Golwe-Vhurivhuri connects to is full of secrets and recently turned up the second record of a Forest Cobra, Naja melanoleuca. Looking at the habitat in the forest as Golwe-Vhurivhuri and comparing it to suitable habitat in the KZN coastal forests, future work in the area is bound to reveal the presence of this shy snake. During 2016 the SCBC will make regular forays into the area.

Still following our west east trajectory we decided to end the Limpopo part of the tour at Pafuri on the eastern limits of our catchment area. We stayed at Pafuri River Camp on the banks of the Mutale River just south of the Limpopo. The property boasts some nice riverine bush with Mopane veld scattered with Baobabs. The Mopane veld in the area was crawling with Pachydactylus punctisima and in some patches the density of this species was remarkable. For scorpions the area is very good and a reliable place to find Uroplectes chubbi, Lychas burdoi and many Hottentota trilineata.
Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), Pafuri, Kruger National Park.

Spotted Hyaena (Crocuta crocuta), Makuleke, Kruger National Park.
The final destination on the tour was to the coastal forests of Kwazulu-Natal to study the habits and habitat of the Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca). We camped at Mtunzini and walked for cobras every day. Finding the cobras was easy enough, one day we saw four individuals. Getting a picture was a bit tricky as the snake is very shy. But from what we saw at Mtunzini, the forest cobra likes thick areas in closed canopy forest and also seemed more abundant in areas close to the river there. The way to find them is to walk slowly and silently looking deep into piles of rotting wood and tangles of vegetation. All the ones we saw were on the ground (some moved off into the bushes) and most were basking. At Mtunzini we only saw the Forest Cobras in the day. Looking for cobras we also encountered a few other reptiles in the forest, including the Common Purple-glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas polylepis polylepis), A big Vine Snake (Thelotornis capensis capensis) and the bizarre Giant Legless Skink (Acontias plumbeus).

Common Purple-glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas polylepis polylepis), Mtunzini, KwaZulu Natal.

Giant Legless Skink (Acontias plumbeus), Mtunzini, KwaZulu Natal.


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