Friday, January 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Wetlands

Over the years we have sent you many pictures of the beach at Milnerton. It is my favorite because it is on the ocean across Table Bay and you get a great view of Cape Town and Table Mountain behind it from there. It is also my favorite because all the huge ocean liners park in the bay waiting to get into port to load or unload. They look huge when they are at eye level and I love sitting a Maestro’s restaurant counting and recounting them as they come and go.

Last week we were finishing lunch after a beach walk when Floyd asked, “What do you want to do now?” “I want to see if we can find the entrance to the huge wet lands that is just down the road.” And, off we went. It took us an hour but we finally found it.

The Rietvlei Wetland Reserve is a freshwater wetland located on the floodplain of the Diep River before it drains into Milnerton lagoon, and then into the ocean at Table Bay. It is sandwiched between the residential areas of Milnerton and Table View. The extensive 560 hector wetland area includes a wide diversity of habitats including a freshwater lake that provides a permanent fresh water source, reedbeds, and a tidal lagoon. This true riverine habitat is seasonally home to 102 species of waterbirds, 70 of which are regularly present.

Since this is a favorite place for bird watchers censuses are taken regularly. A recent official census recorded a total species count of 184. Birders also counted over 10,000 birds during the water bird census. Regular visitors include pelicans, flamingos, coots, ducks, herons, cormorants, darters, grebes and ibis. In the summer, huge flocks of migrant waders arrive including sandpipers, plovers, swallows and swifts.

We got out of the car to walk the long winding path into the wetlands – there are two hides far apart so we choose one of them, the one closest to a large flock of birds. I only had my small camera since we hadn’t expected to go looking for wildlife.

A pamphlet said that one could find small mammals such as Steenbok, the Cape Clawless Otter, Mongoose, mice and moles in the area. We didn’t see any on our hike. We did see waterbirds; great flocks of pelicans, flamingos, ibis and heron, only a few of which we could capture with my small camera.

I did particularly like watching the pelicans as they rode the currents overhead.

When leaving the area we spoke to Wally, the nature reserve ranger on duty at the gate. He said there was another spectacular wetland, tucked into the middle of Century City, an area of dense residential housing and the huge Canal Walk mall and casino complex. The developers had built this immense retail complex on top of a wetland, and an impact study was done forced them to rehabilitate part of the area as the original island was a nesting site. They call the wetland Intaka Island.

Intaka Island is a small, 16 hectare multipurpose nature area, home to 120 species of birds, many of them nesting there. It is surrounded by a canal that acts as a barrier between the residents and the wetlands and as a water transport canal for the local residents. It is also part of a water recycling system and treatment facility. That said, it is very well done.

There were several special areas. From atop “Bird Mountain” you could see cormorants drying in the sun. They are sitting on the log structure in the middle of the picture. One very large chick had its entire head in its mother’s mouth, trying to get her to regurgitate dinner.

Across the lake are two hides. From there you can watch the ibis and heron nesting.

The man-made heron nesting site has won numerous human awards since it was installed in 2007, and the birds like it too. Interestingly, the site is built on large, open drums sunk into the wetlands. These drums collect guano which is then pumped out and used for fertilizer.

The structure is filled with branches and sunk. Eventually all the leaves fall off and the result is a rookery.

It looks like this.

The heron and ibis love it!

From a hide somewhere in the Cape Town wetlands,

Love to all,

Betsy and Floyd

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