Report and photographs by Sarel van Wyk and the Wetlands Team
This was a first visit to Borakalalo National Park for some of our team, and the less said about potholes on the tarred road to Bora the better.
However, on arrival at the National Park, and Fish Eagle Camp, we were quick to realise it was well worth the trouble and the navigation skills required. Hearing and seeing so many Fish Eagles, both mature and immature, over the weekend at the camp and elsewhere, was in itself an experience to remember.
Settling in at the freshly cleared camp on the riverbank was enjoyable, and, coupled with the stress about the upcoming Grasses test, enough to make all of us forget about the city and national issues.
The Grasses test done, the results of the Ecology test were distributed, and most seemed to be satisfied with their results. Regardless of the results, we realise that we now know substantially more than we did before we started.
Disaster struck when we returned to camp in the dark, with Lampies being the victim. His almost new bakkie being the target for a charging hippo. We were thankful that Lampies and Luke were not injured, even though the right-hand side of the poor bakkie was seriously damaged.
All looked forward to learning more about trees, seeing as these are some of the most spectacular examples of the wonders of nature. Peter had to make urgent arrangements to find a ‘replacement’ lecturer, and I am sure all will agree that Johna Turner, who stepped in at the last minute, to present and facilitate the subject, did an excellent job – with the able support of the coordinating team, consisting of Jeremy, Matt and Peter.
The lecture on Saturday morning covered salient aspects of the what and the how of trees in some detail. The material was developed and presented in such a way that it significantly increased our understanding of the evolution, the nature and the role of trees in the environment. Attention was also given to different approaches and methodologies used to enable the identification of trees based on their typical characteristics.
After lunch (when Michele had to write the grasses test, having only been able to join early Saturday), Matt presented and explained the practicalities of using the Identification Key being used for the course work. This key went a long way to clarifying what had initially looked as if it had been written in Greek.
As the old saying goes, The proof of the pudding lies in the eating, and this was proven to be true, when the teams started (trying to) identify the tree samples collected on the way from the lecture hall to Fish Eagle camp. The results were very encouraging, although it might well have been a different story without the guidance and assistance of Johna, Peter and the HO team.
A tour along the dam after ‘work’ showed clearly how large and beautiful the dam is. Game seen excluded buffalo and (luckily?) hippos, but included giraffe, impala and waterbuck. The evening was all that we have come to expect it to be, relaxing around a fire, and doing what we all like to do – braai, kuier, and having a couple of cold ones. I must say this is where we missed Rebecca and especially Zamlele, the keenest braai-champions of all time.
On Sunday morning we continued to identify trees and collected more samples on a long walk through the flood plain area, up to the base of the sloping rantjies. The objective was to find up to 5 trees of each of the different tree groups requested on the worksheet; something which not all achieved.
Johna pointed out how the trees found in one area change with the soil type and position in the landscape, some of the effect of fires, and how to read visible results or ‘signs’ to indicate and evaluate such impact.
Amongst many others, some large Camel thorn (Vachellia eriolobia) trees were found (that seemed to have somewhat smaller thorns than usual), as well as nice examples of a Leadwood (Combretum imberbe) and a Teak tree.
After a final identification exercise, Peter wrapped up the proceedings with an overview and pointers on what needs to be done next – especially completing Question 1 of the first assignment in time to be available for discussion during the Wetlands weekend, and submission to Sue there-after.
After one last ‘test’ – which provided characteristic features of some tree species to help recognise several of the more commonly found and easily recognised trees – it was time to pack up and return home, well satisfied with another round of learning, recharging in nature and good company.