EVER seen an African finfoot?
If you’re a serious birdwatcher, this is one of those species, so I’m told, that has to be ticked off.
It has a distinctive red beak and legs and occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa but it sticks to quiet overgrown waterways. And in keeping with this difficult birding habitat, it is also famously shy. and reclusive. It’s not threatened globally but in South Africa it’s classified vulnerable because of clearing of that riverine vegetation it depends on.
The good news for Eastern Cape residents is that we have a very good spot for African finfoot here in the Baviaanskloof wilderness, our jewel in the crown of the Cape Floral Kingdom World Heritage Site. And building is due to start soon at the eastern end of the kloof, at Komdomo, on new infrastructure to enhance enjoyment and opportunity as we look out for the finfoot and other interesting birds and animals.
The organisation behind this move is Friends of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area (Fobwa), a group of volunteers and enthusiasts which works to promote, protect and restore the kloof in partnership with the state custodians, the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA).
Komdomo is generally speaking a gem for birding, Fobwa chairman Mervyn Brouard tells me. He went there recently with Birdlife Eastern Cape veteran Dave Brown during the planning of the project and – using his eyes and ears – Brown identified over 40 species in an hour.
The project was initiated in line with the ECPTA’s major new development plan and strategic environmental assessment. Two hides will be built, one at the confluence of the Groot and Kouga rivers where it becomes the Gamtoos and one overlooking the Groot itself.
Then a viewing deck will be constructed above the Groot River swimming hole with a good view as well of those wonderful Komdomo cliffs. This deck will be an excellent place for evening twitching with sundowners, Brouard reckons.
Lastly, a water feature will be constructed consisting of a pond with fresh water coming from the park’s mains’ supply. It might seem like an odd thing to build with the rivers right there but the birds and the bushbuck will relish having an option to the brackish Groot River, Fobwa secretary Mike Wood says.
The Groot became brackish, so the story goes, when the Beervlei Dam was built in 1957, some 20kms north of Willowmore. The construction exacerbated the natural flow of salts from the Karoo through the Sout River and the Groot River downstream has never been the same since.
Writing in WaterWheel magazine, engineer Paul Roberts says the authorities realised after construction that if the Beervlei inflow is allowed to accumulate too long it becomes too salty. For this reason water is released quickly after floods, and that is why the dam, the second biggest in the country, is mostly empty.
But this does not seem to have helped the Groot and the many farmers who relied on it and who apparently were forced to move out in the 60s. In the Goedehoop area one can see the remains of piping which these farmers laid to try, in vain, to draw enough water out of the Groot’s tributary kloofs.
Fobwa is involved in a number of other projects including community bee farming. Started in the western Baviaanskloof with R350000 from the Global Environmental Facility administered by the UN Development Programme, this project is creating jobs and money through the supply of organic honey, wax, pollinating services, mead, medicinal propolis and many other subsidiary products.
Now with a further R200000 from Gef, the project team are set to take the same model to Fort Beaufort area to link up with the ECPTA’s Blinkwater outreach community and to Van Staden’s to link up with the folk living adjacent to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municiplity’s wildflower reserve.
Fobwa also organises regular "alien hacks” where they work to get rid of black wattle, sesbania, jointed cactus and other nasties invading the integrity of the natural wilderness.
The organisation is also a pressure group, representing the public conservation interest at important meetings and on important issues. A hot potato at the moment, for instance, is the Department of Water Affairs’s proposed intention to raise the Kouga Dam wall which could lead to the flooding of large parts of the Baviaanskloof.
And it also organises regular talks and walks led by Brouard or Wood or one of the other qualified guides. The next one is on the weekend of September 7-8. To get involved in it or to join Fobwa, contact Wood at email@example.com