The Frowl in the Grass: Strange Creatures in Nature 2

We were back at Ganora Farm last week updating our research in the Karoo and came across this strange creature.  We had taken a short walk above the cottages to get some cellphone signal and stretch our legs after a morning of desk top work and came across a pair of oddly matched eyes peering up out of the grass.  I thought ‘he is an owl’ but Kate took one look at the photo and said ‘looks more like a frog’.  So let’s settle on a frowl.


Tsitsa Falls and the Transkei Drakensberg: Landscapes

Last week I was fortunate to be out working with students in the mountains of the Eastern Cape. With misty dawns and late afternoon summer storms wrapping around you there was plenty of incentive to be out taking photos as the light was superb.  I hope these landscapes transmit what it feels like to be in these wonderful places.

MyCOE/SERVIR programme: ground truthing in the Drakensberg, South Africa

It is three months since Natalie and I returned from the MyCOE/SERVIR programme in Nairobi.  Since then Natalie has started the new academic year – her Honours year – and I have started six months sabbatical leave.  But we have been busy with the research programme: acquiring and analysing Landsat, SPOT and Ikonos data for her study area which is high in the foothills of the Transkei Drakensberg.  Last week was our first opportunity to visit the area.  Bennie van der Waal was already there doing river and sediment surveys for his PhD assisted by his friend (and ex Rhodes Geography student) Dylan Weyr.  We travelled up with Kate direct from the Honours weekend at Ford Fordyce and spending a night at Tsitsa Falls before arriving at Zamuxolo where we shared a (waterless) house behind the police station.  There was plenty of power, however, thanks to the banks of solar panels.

We spent the next three days driving and hiking around the Vuvu and Phiri catchments examining how, and whether, our remote sensed imagery matched the situation on the ground.  So we needed to visit each of the eight land cover categories we had defined – this was quite tiring work as we were often at the road head and had to walk up the deep valleys to around 2000 metres.  But the scenery was spectacular, the light was superb for photographs and we were well prepared for the task with maps, GPS and clinometer.  It was sometimes hot (one day our cheese sandwiches melted in our back packs!) with big thunder storms every afternoon.

Back home at Rhodes we have been busy interpreting the mapping so as to get on with the next step which is setting up the time series to see how land cover has changed in time.

Night Abseil at Ford Fordyce

Team building with this year’s Honours Class involved a happy weekend up in the mountains at Fort Fordyce.  It is a great place to climb and one of the highlights of our stay must have been the night abseil at the Forgotten Dream Sector.  The climbers guide says ‘this really is climbing in a jungle environment’ and I wanted to try and get some night pictures of headlamps descending into the forest. So I headed off with the advance party who were setting up the ropes – Gillian, Ian, Rosie and Kate – and went hunting for a place further along the cliffs to set up my camera on its gorilla stand.

It  was gloomy, the forest was scratchy and full of spiders webs and a good view point wasn’t easy to find.  I ended up about 500 metres away on an exposed cliff top.  It was getting dark, I was on one large boulder and my camera perched on the next – all rather exposed – so I tied myself on to a length of fencing wire that was trailing from the nearest fence post.  There was just time for a few quick pictures with camera on maximum zoom to make sure I was set up okay.  The exposures were about two or three seconds. Then I just lay back with my back against the boulder and the buzzards whizzing past to wait for the sounds of the party coming.

About 20 minutes later it was pitch dark and I could see their headlights twinkling through the trees half a kilometre away. Time to lean forwards from one boulder and half straddle the one with the camera, click the remote and count to 10, 20, 30, 100 or whatever exposure I wanted.  About 20 minutes went by before I decided I had enough of this.  I was cold and uncomfortable, time to hike back through the forest and down to the others, glad to see Kate’s head torch bobbing below me.  I declined the offer of the abseil, I reckon I already had plenty of excitement.