Monday, September 25, 2017

Winter 2017 July to September: Changes

Large female Striped Skaapsteker in process of ecdysis (Psammophylax tritaeniatus). Photo Melissa Petford.

Colour variation among Black-headed Centipede Eaters (Aparallactus capensis). Western Soutpansberg, Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
The second half of winter has been very busy at the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. A lot of positive changes in our programme have taken place. The major change to the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation which has taken place is that we are moving our operations from Medike in the Sand River Gorge 15km west to Lajuma Research Centre which is situated in the heart of the newly proclaimed Luvhondo Private Nature Reserve.

Soutpansberg Flat Lizard (Platysaurus relictus). Delightful lizards endemic to the Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.

One of our favourite lizards, the Soutpansberg Rock Lizard (Vhembelacerta rupicola). Another Soutpansberg endemic. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Transvaal Girdled Lizard (Cordylus vittifer) in freshly burned grassland. Photo Melissa Petford.
Very dark Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus) near its crack. Photo Melissa Petford.
Yellow Throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis) from the Sand River. Photo Melissa Petford.

Medike Mountain Sanctuary has been the SCBC’s home base since our humble beginnings in 2014. We have done a lot of hard work and mapped the biodiversity of the gorge thoroughly and identified the Sand River Valley as a biodiversity hotspot. Many thanks to Hannes and Maritjie Underhay for making our stay one we will never forget. You gave us more than I can ever express: Thank you!

Sunset over Medike one of the most important biodiversity areas in the Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
Small view of terrain near Mount Lajuma, the SCBCs new home. Photo Melissa Petford.
Medike large property has finally been purchased by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and will now be protected while they run a Leopard conservation programme. Congratulations to EWT and specifically Yolan Friedman and Oldrich van Schalkwyk for your efforts in acquiring this important conservation area. The unique habitats especially the sandy woodlands still hold many secrets and we are sure it will continue to be an important study site for us. We look forward to seeing the developments and positive changes.
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) found in garden at SCBCs new base at Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Our new home Lajuma Research Centre is situated high up in the Soutpansberg. The base is ideal for studying high altitude habitats and the moist cool forests, high altitude woodlands and grasslands characteristic of the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg. The move to Lajuma will allow the SCBC to grow and become more closely associated with on going research in the area, conservation planning and other researchers.  

To commemorate our new trajectory, the SCBC commissioned long time supporter and benefactor, Francis Burger to design us a new logo. The logo represents two Lygodactylus geckos. We are extremely pleased with the results and grateful for your help.

Psammophis crucifer from Hanglip. Photo Melissa Petford.
The SCBC programme has now been split into two streams: we now have the resources to accommodate long term independent researchers and we are still running our volunteer research project. . Big thank you to Ian Gaigher, Bibi Linden and Jabu Linden for making this possible: looking forward to this new direction in our programme and all the new possibilities.

Common Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) a new species for our Lajuma lists. Photo Melissa Petford.
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Besides the changes to the SCBC, we have continued working hard this winter collecting data. This winter has seen a lot of data collection for Melissa Petford’s Masters Thesis on the endemic Lygodactylus geckos. Some very interesting behaviour has been observed and along the way we saw quite a lot of interesting reptiles, including a few new species for Lajuma and some difficult to see species. 

An winter morning scene. A large amount of water entering the system in the Soutpansberg comes in the form of mist. Photo Melissa Petford.
Lygodactylus incognitus (Cryptic Dwarf Gecko) a species seemingly reliant on the cool moist weather and associated  with mist. Photo Melissa Petford.
One of the SCBCs study subjects, the endemic Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis (Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko). Photo Melissa Petford.
Cryptic Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus incognitus) in situ. Photo Melissa Petford.
Van Son's Gecko (Pachydactylus vansoni) common gecko in rocky high altitude habitats. Photo Melissa Petford.
Large Male Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis. Photo Melissa Petford.

Highlights for the winter included finding some new species for Lajuma’s records, including; Striped Skaapsteker, Brown House Snake, Common Egg-eater, Striped Skink (stowaways!) and Turners Tubercled Geckos.

A large and relaxed Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) from Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
Large female Striped Skaapsteker (Psammophylax tritaeniatus). Photo Melissa Petford.
The Soutpansberg Purple-glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas microphthalma nigra). A fossorial hunter of reptiles. Photo Melissa Petford.
The Montane Grass Snake (Psammophis crucifer), found at high altitudes. Well camoflauged and difficult to capture. Photo Melissa Petford.
Brown House Snake (Boedon capensis) a new species for our Lajuma list. Photo Melissa Petford.
East African Shovel Snout (Prosymna stuhlmanni). So far we have only located these high yellow individuals at high altitude in the western Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
As the summer season begins we look forward to many new and exciting encounters. We are sure that this season will be as productive as always. Watch this space!

White-necked Raven patrolling it's mountain kingdom. Photo Melissa Petford.
Lichen covered rock. Hoping to learn more about lichens and their role in water capture. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Lichen showing reproductive bodies. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Very young Eastern Rock Sengi.  Photo Melissa Petford.

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