An occasional bulletin from the eco-village.
After a lifetime of rambling and bird mapping, and most recently a five year stint wandering about in the Kalahari (www.birdsurveysbyvincentparker.wordpress.com), I have purchased an erf (actually half of an erf) on a farm, or rather an eco-village and nature reserve, called Honeyville (www.ecohoneyville.wordpress.com), in the eastern Cape, where I will have a cottage built, an settle down.
The farm is well watered, and densely wooded, grows vegetables for subsistence and is selling off plots to prospective home-builders who are interested in an off-the-grid, minimum ecological impact life-style in the bush. I came here seeking to rest from my travels, be part of a community and yet be in the wilderness.
I will look back with nostalgia to my northern Cape days (in the Kalahari, Namaqualand and Bushmanland), the vast spaces and starry nights, but I had completed most of my objectives there, and lately the seemingly endless drought had become depressing. Moreover I will be shedding some anxiety by no longer being completely dependent on my aging motor vehicle.
I ended my Kalahari and far northern Cape adventure at Kleinsee on the west coast a month ago, and since then have been travelling slowly southward in my 20-year old pick-up, with a stopover for a couple of weeks in Pretoria to take care of some of the admin involved in buying a property. My next stop was at a campground near Bloemfontein to spend a freezing night, and from where I made a late start the next morning, to allow the frost covering my roof-tent to begin to thaw before stowing it. My next stopover was in Graaff-Reinet, which was warmer.
It rained steadily all day as I drove from Graaff-Reinet to my new home, the most rain I have seen for years. I got lost near the end of my journey. I did not take the off-ramp of the highway that I needed to take, thinking that there would be another one closer to my destination. There was not. I went on for another 20 km, not daring to attempt a U-turn under the conditions of poor visibility in the rain, then turned off and headed back towards Humansdorp on the alternative road. That was another mistake. In the township of Kraaifontien, the road forked and twisted endlessly. I asked for directions, and was told to ‘go left and then turn straight’. Attempting the ‘straight turn’ got me back to the landfill site that I had already passed a couple of times. I eventually found the road to Honeyville and reached my new home before nightfall.
It is stating the obvious to say that this place contrasts strongly with me previous home range in the Kalahari. It is green, mostly covered with dense bush which merges into forest here and there, but also with open spaces with long grass, and hill-slopes covered by fynbos and proteas. The neighbouring dairy farm has large irrigated lucern meadows, in the giant circles created by the center-pivot irrigation system.
I was thrilled to hear the loud croaking calls of Blue Cranes in the early morning. They overfly in the morning and evening, commuting between the lucern fields where they feed and a dam away to the east where they roost at night.
The long-term vision of the nature reserve and eco-village is to incorporate neighbouring farms and allow them to revert to a more natural state. The possibility of allowing the irrigated pastures on the dairy farm to revert to bush raises something of a conservation quandary. It would displace the Blue Cranes, which are officially a ‘Globally Threatened’ species. These Cranes have largely disappeared from their former stronghold in the central grasslands of South Africa, but have been increasing in the southern Cape by exploiting cultivated lands. Conserve the natural habitat and thereby displace a threatened species?
The quandary highlights a flaw in current global conservation strategies which are based on a species-by-species approach, dictated by ‘Red Data’ lists.
Walking about in my new surroundings, I have to come to terms with a myriad of bird calls of the dense bush and forest that I last heard 15 or 20 years ago. Among others I soon had to differentiate between the ‘clink clink clink..’ (like two pebbles being struck together) of a Bleating Warbler (Camaroptera) and the more aspirated ‘piLLY piLLY piLLY…’ of a Bar-throated Apalis (not to mention the simpler ‘tsik tsik tsik…’ of a Neddicky).
On Sunday morning, I set out to drive to Humansdorp for supplies, and to investigate for future reference what goods and services were available there. I was hardly out of the gate when I came across a truck, a 30-tonner, with half-trailer and trailer fully loaded, that had slipped back and jack-knifed on a steep ascent, and was wedged into the bush on either side of the road (this had happened during the afternoon of the day before). The road, a narrow, twisting dirt road with steep gradients, is certainly not suitable for such heavy vehicles. The driver had been under instructions to avoid toll-gates on the main road.
By midday, the truck had been recovered and sent on its way by means of tractors and winches from the dairy farm. By then I had made other plans for the day.