A weak La Niña is currently bringing South Africa some wet weather. However, according to prof Francois Engelbrecht (Climate change specialist at the CSIR), this is not solving our water problems yet. South Africa is more vulnerable than many other countries with regard to climate change, as here, temperatures tend to soar at twice the speed as that of the rest of the world.
While South Africans are boasting that we are in the 30th position on a list of 200 countries with the least water, we are actually in a precarious 15th place as far as guaranteed water delivery is concerned. According to Fred van Zyl (Director of Strategic Planning at the Department of Water and Sanitation’s head office in Pretoria), our water run-off is inconstant and erratic. Moreover, our rainfall is less than the long-term average 60% of the time, with 70% during the recent drought. So, we were in a dorught situation 70% of the time. South Africa currently has 200 dams – but building more dams will not solve our water problems. The main reason for our concern about water security is bad risk management, a lack of expertise, and infrastructure that is not maintained or regenerated. Every year, up to 1 580 milliard litres of water is wasted as a result of leakages and theft – nearly twice as much water as that of the Vaal Dam! Although 96% of South Africans have access to a tap, only about 42% of these taps are in a working condition. Moreover, according to the Blue Drop Report, South Africa’s drinking water quality had declined sharply from 2013, especially in the country’s poorest provinces, and hundreds of millions of rands that had been budgeted for improving water quality had not been spent. The Green Drop Report that measures the quality of waste water, showed that water plants had deteriorated seriously since 2013-14.
Since water restrictions had been instituted in recent months, and made stricter recently, there had been a sharp increase in the demand for boreholes. According to Colin Rice (President of the Borehole Society of South Africa), there was a waiting list of about nine months, especially in affluent Gauteng and Cape residential areas, where people were desperate to get water for their designer gardens. In the Cape Peninsula, the water situation was a matter of great concern, as on 15 February, there was only sufficient water left 10 days. According to hydrogeologist, Andrew Johnstone, underground water levels do not decrease as quickly as dam levels, because there is no evaporation. Depending on weather conditions, groundwater is also replenished by leakages in municipal systems. About 10% of the water used to water gardens also flows back to the water table. Sales of pool tarpaulins had also increased. Depending on the quality, this will decrease water loss with anything from 70% to 95%. (Leanne George, Jan de Lange and Aldi Schoeman, Rapport, 29 January 2017).
On 11 February, one of our members, Rob Villarini, observed a beautiful feathered friend that is quite common to our area.
A Blackheaded Oriole (Oriolus larvatus; Zulu name umBhicongo) decided to come and enjoy a late afternoon snack in their garden. The photo, taken by well known bird photographer, Albert Froneman, was kindly provided by his father, Willie Froneman, birding expert and friend of our Conservancy. Currently, 87 different bird species are listed on the Conservancy’s species observation list. Hearfelt thanks to all our members and readers who send us birding information and photos regularly.
If you install a bat box near your stables and encourage bats into your environment you might have a fighting chance of preventing your horses from contracting the deadly African Horse Sickness (AHS).
The AHS virus is spread by a tiny midge named Culicoides imicola that is active in the early morning from around dawn and late afternoon towards sunset. C.imicola is only one of an estimated 1 000 varieties of midge occurring worldwide. Insect-eating bats feed from early evening to early morning, when they consume a vast number of insects. They require masses of insects daily to sustain their high-metabolism systems (about 3 000 midges per night). Being opportunistic feeders, they go after just about anything in their path. Thus, they constitute another weapon in your war against mosquitoes, flies and other flying bugs- cost-free and completely natural. C.imicola is also a transmitter of the bluetongue virus, a serious disease of sheep and goats, so keepers of sheep should also install a bat box near their animal housing. If you would like to introduce bats to your property, you should offer them decent housing. For more information on installing bat boxes, contact Eco Solutions: 011 791 7326. (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).
From the second week in January, our valley has had soft, soaking rain, which resulted in the Magalies River running again from 8 January.
We are very thankful for this, as it means that ground water levels will start rising again. A section of the Hartebeestfontein Road (near Saddle Creek) was practically impassable, and a number of vehicles got stuck there on 9 January. This road was graded on 17 January, which means that it will be very dusty until it rains again (seeing that people tend to speed on this road), and, if it rains again any time soon, one will have to drive very carefully on this stretch of road.
In other parts of the country, dam levels have been rising steadily. The effect of the drought will, however, be experienced for a while still, and water restrictions will remain in place for the time being. Depending on specific areas, the lifting of restrictions will only be considered if dam levels reach an average of 70% capacity. On 24 January, the Vaal Dam’s level was 63,2% compared to only about 30%, before it started raining in the catchment area (RSG News). Dam levels in Natal and the Cape Province are, however, alarmingly low, and at the time of compiling this newsletter, a number of serious veld fires were ravaging large parts of the Cape Province in mainly mountainous areas, amid heat wave conditions. Although all municipalities in the affected areas don’t have sufficient resources, they cooperated in fighting the fires. However, as soon as a fire was brought under control, the strong winds would cause it to flare up again. The strong winds also prevented the helicopters from helping with the fire fighting, as they could not take to the air. In the Calvinia area, where dense, bushy plants burned like wildfire, due to their ceraceous and oily nature, about 10 000 hectares of grazing were destroyed, this amid one of the worst droughts in decades.
Did you know? One out of every five South Africans (about 12 million people) get water from the Vaal Dam (DSTV News, 4 January 2017). All rain that falls to the south of the Witwatersrand Ridge flows into the Vaal River. Many visitors to Gauteng wonder why, even in times of drought when other rivers might run dry, the Vaal River near Vereeniging and Van der Bijl Park is always full of water to the same level. That’s because the river, as it flows past those two towns, is effectively a 64km long dam itself, its waters held there by the Barrage, a 10m high spillway across the river between Van der Bijl Park and Parys, completed in 1923.
A busy time in and around the hives: With good rains upon us there will be plenty of honey for well managed bee swarms. Activity around the hives now becomes very busy, when only a short while ago during the heat waves and dry air, all looked doom and gloom. The nectar secreted by flowers in the mornings no longer dries up by 09:00, as during drought times, and the bees are able to forage practically all day (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).
Increase in frog populations: As a result of the soft, soaking rain and mostly cloudy weather, frog populations have increased at some speed. So, at dawn and dusk, we’re able to see a hive of activity, and every night we’re treated to a wonderful chorus. A while ago, a tiny little frog made its home in Lourie Laatz’s cement garden frog. Unfortunately, frogs also attract snakes, and Lourie thinks that the little frog might have fallen prey to a large Snouted Cobra that they found close by, which also bit their one dog.
On New Year’s day, two dogs of one of our members, Margot Stephen, was poisoned when they went with her to the gate that morning and ate something outside the gate.
One of the dogs died instantly, but the other one fortunately pulled through. The veterinarian who treated this dog, identified the poison as Aldicarb (Temik), also known as “Two Step”. A number of such incidents have already taken place in our Conservancy. Our members are requested to be on the lookout for odd bits of meat lying around which may contain the poison. This poison is deadly and causes resparatory problems, among others.
Important: Toll free number of the Poison Information Centre: 0861 555 777
We have often reported about the fact that, as soon as one has established a sorting system for glass, plastic, tins, organic waste, paper and card board, the problem of dealing with household rubbish becomes much less of a burden.
Reducing the impact of organic waste: Fruit and vegetable peelings, unused stems and stalks, pips, eggshells, teabags, mouldy bread and just about any dry foodstuff that has gone stale, or is found to contain weevils, can be composted, or added to a worm farm. Coffee grounds and the dregs from your coffee plunger or percolator can be used as a gentle acidifying agent on loving plants such as strawberries. Meat and fish bones, fish skin, heads and entrails, and limited quantities of fat, which attract flies if not dealt with promptly, can be buried in a progressive trench which, when filled will become a nutrition-rich planting bed. Dig a trench at least two shovels-ful deep, and enclose it in a dog-proof fence. Add the day’s bones, etc., and cover them with a couple of shovels-ful of soil. Sprinkling the bones with a handful of agricultural lime before covering them with soil will speed up their disintegration. Continue to add waste atop your earlier contributions until you are about a shovel-depth from the surface, when you add soil to fill to the top.
Miscellaneous paper and cardboard is often left out of the recycling equation: If you set aside a separate box for this material, and flatten it before adding to the box, you will be surprised by how much can be diverted from your bedroom or study waste paper baskets and recycled. This includes envelopes, discarded magazines and newspapers, flyers delivered through the mail, the little boxes which contain your medication, and those that contain dry kitchen products such as herbs and spices, light bulbs and cosmetics, toilet roll and paper towel cores, and the blister packaging in which you buy a myriad small products such as batteries, razors, USB sticks, etc., not to mention the packaging attached to kitchen utensils and many other supermarket products. A separate box can be used to contain much clean plastic and cellphone packaging, including muesli and seed packets, torn bank coin bags and the like. (Gauteng Smallholder, Vol 17 (11), November 2016).
Recycle your old printers, computers and ink cartridges – visit www.ewasa.org
With reference to our article about water saving, some grey water facts: Calculate your grey water production before you spend money recycling it, because you probably generate less re-usable water than you think. A simple set of numbers will help you calculate your domestic grey water production:
Thus, a household of three people, showering, using a dishwasher and washing machine once daily, will only generate about 250 litres of grey water (just more than a drum-full) daily, not including drinking water and toilet flushing. If you use grey water for irrigation, you should keep a watch on the pH of your soil and adjust if necessary. Better still, rotate the area you use grey water on frequently, giving parts of your garden a break from receiving a constant dose of what is in effect a weak liquid chemical fetilizer. (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).
When I was driving through the Kloof on my way to Krugersdorp on 10 January, I could not help but become aware of the deafening, shrill sound of Cicadas (Afr Sonbesies or Nuwejaarsbesies) – typical of this time of year.
It reminded me of an informative article I had read in Die Haakdoring, newsletter of the Cullinan Conservancy (Summer 2016-2017), a while ago (written by P Lemmer in “Oppie Koppie”). Some of this information was used for the article below, supplemented with information from ‘n Laslappie van Mieliestronk (http://www.mieliestronk.com/sss_sonbesie.html) and an article by Paige Ezzey on Ingwelala (http://ingwelala.co.za/articles/knowledge-base/251-cicada-the-summer-screamer), 18 January 2017.
These noisy little insects belong to the Hemiptera species (suborder, Auchenorrhyncha) – a very large group of insects (including among others aphids, leafhoppers and spittlebugs) that all have one thing in common – a sturdy, sharp, tube-shaped mouth part (proboscis) that they insert into their food source to suck up their food (mainly sap from the xylem of various tree species). Like most insects in this large group, Cicadas are vegetarians. There are about 1 300 Cicada species worldwide, of which 150 occur in South Africa. Cicadas are about 25mm in length and are in fact bugs that look like a strange mix of cricket, fly and moth. (See photo from the Ingwelala website). The males die after mating and the females after laying their eggs (up to 400 at a time). According to Paige Ezzey, Cicadas are said to make good eating because they are low in fat and high in protein. They are considered a delicacy by many people around the world, and in some places, they are people’s staple diet.
The Cicada song: The females are timid and quiet, while the males make the noise. The male Cicada does not use stridulation or the rubbing together of body parts to make its loud sound. Instead, they have a unique noise making organ, called a tymbal, located on the front side of the hollow body of the male that acts as a sound box. The noise is made with the contraction of muscles acting against the tymbals, which produces clicks that are combined into continuous notes. The Cicada actually has the ability to manipulate the sound by changing its position in relation to a surface. A female responds to a male with a flick of her wings. Some male species prefer to sing alone, while others prefer to sing in chorus, congregated in one particular location. But whether these little guys sing alone or together, to sit beneath them on a bench will surely leave you with a buzzing head!
(Reference: The Field Guide to Insects in South Africa by Picker, Griffiths & Weaving).
The effect of the drought: It is common knowledge that 2015 was the year with the lowest rainfall for South Africa since 1904, and that this effect had continued through the first three quarters of 2016.
In the eastern summer rainfall regions, it had since strated raining – in many cases, severe electrical storms were experienced, causing much hail damage, flash floods and even a tornado or two. (See precautions to be taken under such conditions below). In the central and western parts of the country, however, the drought is continuing. All the provinces, except Gauteng, were therefore declared drought disaster areas. According to economist, Johan Willemse (Rapport Sakenuus, 5 December 2016), these conditions will persist for quite some time still – probably for another year or two. The after effects of the worst drought this century will leave a permanent mark on the agricultural sector, the rural areas and food production for a nation that is urbanising rapidly. In November 2016 already, dam levels were alarmingly low: Eastern Cape 62,8%; Free State 51,2%; Gauteng 78,4%; Kwazulu Natal 41,6%; Lesotho 37,1%; Limpopo 46%; Mpumalanga 47,3%; Northen Cape 54,4%; and Northwest Province 56,2%. This time last year, the average dam levels were over 60% - this year, the average is 49% (Farmer’s Weekly, 4 November 2016, DSTV News, 15 December 2016). In the news, we read that the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme is being accelerated and expanded – to ensure that Gauteng doesn’t run out of water in the next 10 years. The tough water restrictions have, however, not had the desired effect on water wastage. According to Tian Claassens (News 24, 12 October 2016), the water consumption of many Gauteng households is not measured and/or they are not billed for their water consumption. In these areas, water is wasted in huge quantities, simply because it is free. It seems that emergency measures instituted by authorities to reduce water consumption, have very little or no impact on over-consumption of water in such areas. In the news, we also read that conditions in especially the Kruger National Park are deteriorating at some speed, and that visitor numbers have declined sharply, as people don’t wish to see the animals in their weakened state. While sufficient water is still available, animals are forced to travel long distances to reach water holes under heat wave conditions, thereby making them weaker. Grazers are suffering the most, as the veld’s biomass is critically low and will take years to recover.
According to the South African Weather Buro (14 Desember 2016), indications are that South Africa’s summer rainfall areas can expect wetter conditions during the early and mid-summer periods. The likelihood of cooler conditions for the mid-summer season have further increased, which could be attributed to the expected wetter conditions. As has been predicted, weather conditions are generally increasing in intensity, and many parts of our country have already experienced severe storms. Although such conditions are not the norm and have up to now only occurred rarely, it will be wise to take the necessary precautions, in order to keep your family and property safe.
Tornados: In the event of seeing a tornado, move to a pre-designated building or else, move into the centre of your home and get under a sturdy piece of furniture, like a table. Get out of vehicles, caravans or mobile homes as these can be moved, overturned or even destoryed by the strong winds or flying debris. Stay away from windows as flying glass and debris cause most deaths. Do not attempt to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Leave it immediately and seek shelter. If caught outside in the open, lie flat in a ditch or depression but beware of flooding if there is heavy rain associated with it, as is often the case.
Lightning: Unsafe areas during an electric storm are tall structures, such as trees, telephone and power lines, hilltops, open water (like a swimming pool), unprotected gazebos or picnic shelters. If your hair stands on end, leave the area as fast as possible, as lightning will almost certainly strike that spot shortly. Avoid being near or touching metal objects such as fences, golf carts, bicycles and motorcycles. If indoors during a storm, stay away from windows. Do not hold any metal objects, use any electrical appliances or the telephone/cellphone, or take a bath or shower. If you are travelling, stay in the vehicle. Do not play sport during thunderstorms. Golfers and fishermen are at high risk.
Flash floods: Although flash floods are rare, when they occur, they can wreak havoc, especially where the existing infrastructure cannot handle such water masses. Following the latest flash floods in Johannesburg, it’s easy to see how quickly a torrent can occur and the extreme dangers it holds. Flash floods are distinguished from regular floods by a timescale of less than six hours. You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), have provided important tips and information that may just save your life:
In your home: Keep emergency numbers and important information handy. You should also keep emergency supplies like water, canned food, a can opener, battery operated radio, flashlight and protective clothing ready. Ensure that your first-aid kit is fully stocked. When there are signs of lightning and thunder, turn off and unplug all your household electrical devices. Lock all doors and windows. Leave the area before the flooding rises too high. Get to higher ground.
If you find yourself outdoors or in your vehicle: Climb to higher ground and stay there. Avoid walking through floodwaters – even 15cm deep can sweep you off your feet. If flood waters rise around your vehicle, but the water is not moving, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground. Never drive on a flooded road. If you get swept away in the flood waters, try to grab onto anything, so you can to pull yourself to safety. If your vehicle is swept into the water and submerged, don’t panic! Stay calm and try to get out through a window. Otherwise, preferably wait for the vehicle to fill with water. Once the vehicle is full, the doors will be able to open and you can swim up to the surface.
In spring, two sunbirds picked a chain on two of our members, Mike and Cilla Crewe-Brown’s verandah, about a metre from their front door, to start building a nest.
They watched as the parents took turns sitting on the egg and became excited when they eventually heard the chick squawking for food. Then the big day arrived. Early in the morning, the chick climbed to the top of the nest, plucked up the courage and tumbled to the floor. Undaunted, it gathered all its strength, and with a perfect second attempt, flew to the safety of the nearby bushes. They watched it for the remainder of the day, as both parents took turns to catch insects on the wing, as many as 15 at a time, all still alive, to feed to the chick. It still lives in the Crewe-Browns’ garden, and most mornings, it comes and sits by the office window to say “hi”.
Cilla was also fortunate enough to discover a huge bullfrog under some bushes in their garden. One morning, she heard the dogs bark and discovered a tortoise. They also have a number of mongooses on their property.
(All the photos were kindly provided by Mike and Cilla).
More bird stories:
On 25 November 2016, many people took part in a bird census, by making a note of all the bird species they could observe in their immediate vicinity. According to Ernst Retief of BirdLife SA, 847 different bird species call SA their home (RSG, 25 November 2016).
Swifts spend months in the air: A small, dark-feathered bird known as the common swift flies for 10 months on end without ever landing, the longest time spent aloft of any known bird, scientists said recently. The findings in the US journal Current Biology, were from a study by a team of researchers from Sweden who fitted tiny backpacks on 13 of the birds. “When the common swifts leave their breeding site in August for a migration to the Central African rainforests via West Africa, they never touch ground until they return for the next breeding season 10 months later,” said researcher Anders Hedenstrom of Lund University (The Citizen, 28 October 2016).
Violin spiders in SA homes:
In a press release of 19 September 2016, researchers of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) warn against violin spiders which are multiplying at some rate as a result of the sudden hot weather conditions, and that more and more violin spiders are found in SA homes. There is also a sudden outbreak of other poisonous spider species. The public is warned to always rinse kettles before boiling water again. Upon asking one of our readers and spider expert, Nicholas Mclean, to comment on the above, he said (email, 7 October 2016) that there was no danger of being poisoned by any venomous spiders if they had been killed. So, if the hot water has killed a violin spider, don't panic when the dead spider brushes your lips or enters your mouth, even if it gets as far as your stomach, then consider it good protein!
In Newsletter 86 of June 2016 we reported on widespread cases of rabies in the Muldersdrift area, as well as the Boons area near Magaliesburg and in the Cradle of Humankind. At the beginning of October, a case of rabies in our Conservancy was confirmed by a veterinary surgeon, and a family of Zwartkrans was attacked by a rabid badger in their farm house. Two cases of rabies were also reported in Krugersdorp recently.