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Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy update: Spring 2022

Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy update: Spring 2022
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An update from the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy on all of the beauty and magic that is springtime in the Walker Bay region.

Spring into fynbos

With the temperatures increasing, and the sun welcoming us a little earlier each morning, spring is upon us. Pincushions are in full bloom on the lower slopes of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy (WBFC), and the sugarbirds are shouting their territorial tunes as they prance from flower to flower sipping sweet nectar. Nearly two thirds of the fynbos blooms during the spring months, making adventures during these months incredibly rewarding.

Spring is a glorious time in the Cape, the winter rainfalls breath life into the landscape. Streams are flowing, humming with cacophony of frogs. Chicks are getting ready to fledge before the summer fire season sets in, an adaption that has co-adapted over time to mitigate the risk of losing young to fires.

The first of the orchids, Disperis capensis and Liparis capensis, have already made their appearance and are only a taste of the shear geophytic diversity which comes during early spring, with the peak of the orchid season arriving in October. Some of the unique bulbs such as Gladiolus overbergensis only make an appearance for the first-year post fire and remain dormant in the soil until the next event.

Keep your eyes peeled for the red and yellow Gladioli in sandstone areas that have recently burnt. Other Gladioli that have started to make their appearance include Gladiolus debilis (little painted lady), Gladiolus variegatus and Gladiolus bullatus (the Caledon bluebell).

Mountain tops are scattered with bursts of orange from the mountain dahlia (Liparia splendens) and are favoured by the endemic orange breasted sunbird searching for nectar, before ripened seeds are transported away by ants who safely store them underground away from predation.

The famous African daisies put on a colourful display along the firebreaks, luring monkey beetles to come and visit. A sight one would only expect to see on the West Coast. The flowers are blooming, and it’s time to get moving.

A welcomed snore

The winter rains have resulted in some beautiful choruses heard throughout the fynbos, from the eternally unimpressed rain frogs to the southern dainty frogs.

A very welcome return this year was the western leopard toad (Sclerophrys pantherina). A large, beautiful frog found breeding in the deep dams in and around the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy. Unlike our clicking stream frogs, these toads return to their breeding sites for a very small window between August and September each year. If the explosion of flowering in the fynbos is not the only queue to go by, these loud, snoring western leopard toads will definitely let you know that spring is on its way.

The western leopard toad occurs from the Cape Peninsula to our area here in the Walker Bay region. They are mostly found in coastal, lowland areas in the winter rainfall zone.

But why is this toad so special, when we have 15 different species in the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy?

The western leopard toad is a threatened amphibian, classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List criteria. Their main threats include a reduction in the areas where they occur, for instance, they have gone extinct at certain localities, most notably areas between the Cape Peninsula and the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy with only 11 localities left. In addition, their populations have become fragmented resulting in small, isolated populations that are too far apart for toads to disperse to or from, causing a genetic cul-de-sac. A further threat is a decline in habitat quality in their remaining environments, predominantly due to urban and commercial development and alien invasive species.

Fortunately, a lot of frog-loving conservationists have shed a big light on this toad, especially during its breeding season, when they have to cross busy roads to get to their breeding dams – which they return to every year. Road mortalities are a major concern, with many flattened western leopard toads found at busy intersections during August and September. Unfortunately, not all these breeding sites are in pristine fynbos far from traffic. So, always, but most importantly during the August and September months, be on the lookout for these precious hoppers and remember that we will always want to hear their snore this time of the year, us and all the generations to come. So, brake for toads!

Camera trapping in the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy

Wildlife monitoring across the WBFC has taken place in many shapes and forms.

With our most recent collaborative project being part of the Tale of Two Leopards Survey in collaboration with the Cape Leopard Trust. Of 86 camera trap stations strategically set up in the Southern Overberg, we assisted with 24 stations within the WBFC and surrounding areas ranging from Crystal Kloof, Raka Wines, Baardskeerdersbos, to Pearly Beach.

Within the survey period of almost 4 months, we determined the presence of at least 10 different leopards within the WBFC. Some of these are resident individuals with established home ranges, while other younger individuals were dispersing through the landscape. A minimum of three breeding females occur within our survey area, and have all three been recorded with cubs in 2022.

While this project is focused on leopard home ranges and their corridor utilisation, there is plenty of additional information we can gather about their prey species availability and threats in the landscape. The project has allowed us to expand our reach within the region through networking with landowners and other conservation partners.

In collaboration with the Cape Leopard Trust, Endangered Wildlife Trust and Grootbos Foundation, we are building on what has been called the Agulhas Green Corridor. This conservation initiative is focused on linking formally protected areas within the Agulhas Plain with a network of ecologically functioning corridors for movement of wildlife, pollinators and seed dispersers in order to maintain genetic diversity within populations of our plants and animals of the area. If animals are not able to disperse between areas, they become isolated within conservation areas. This leads to inbreeding depression and ultimately extinction. Our aim is to engage with private landowners within these vital linkages, using
Leopards and Leopard toads as flagship species in order to secure a connected environment for a thriving and healthy ecosystem to persist.

For more information on the Tale of Two Leopards initiative, click HERE.




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