Terrestrial citizen science opportunities in Cape Town

For the sake of completeness, here are a few opportunities for ordinary citizens to contribute to science and conservation in Cape Town in the terrestrial realm. If it’s marine citizen science and conservation you’re after, read this post.

Western leopard toads

Western leopard toad attitude
Western leopard toad attitude

Western leopard toads are gorgeous, endangered palm-sized toads that are found from Rondebosch to Bergvliet to Hout Bay, Sun Valley (hello!) and Glencairn. They are threatened by urbanisation, particularly during their breeding season. On rainy evenings in August they migrate en mass from neighbourhood gardens like ours – where they live quiet lives – to communal breeding ponds. This often entails dangerous road crossings, where hundreds of toads used to become roadkill.

Enter Toad NUTS. I’ve blogged before about the Noordhoek Unpaid Toad Savers project, but in the interim exciting developments have expanded the reach and effectiveness of the program. A mobile app has revolutionised the process of collecting and reporting on toad sightings, enabling rigorous data collection. All sorts of analyses are possible once some good data is obtained.

In terms of direct interventions to reduce toadkill during the breeding season, the most effective one has been a temporary barrier on each side of Noordhoek Main Road is used to capture toads attempting to cross. The barrier is patrolled by volunteers, who then move the toads from one side of the road to the other.

If you live in a Western leopard toad area, contact your local Toad NUTS representative to get involved.

Caracals

Caracal footprints near our home
Caracal footprints near our home

The Urban Caracal Project aims to determine the size of the caracal population on the Cape Peninsula, as well as the threats facing these gorgeous red cats – of which urbanisation and its trappings may be chief. If you don’t know what a caracal (or rooikat) is, ask the google. They are incredibly charismatic creatures.

You can help by reporting caracal sightings, and calling in any caracal roadkill that you see while travelling Cape Town’s roads. You can find contact details for the project on the Urban Caracal Project website, or send them a message on facebook.

Console inspection

Cats are useful when it comes to boats. Despite using them to sleep, play and look at the world from, they can also perform useful inspection duties, making sure everything is in order. Here, showing unusual devotion to duty given that both the boat cover AND the console cover are on, Junior inspects the interior of the console to make sure that I didn’t forget to tell him there are sardines there, or something.

Junior performing a console inspection
Junior performing a console inspection

Inspection time

These photos were taken on a day when I was trying my best to work on the boat, but cats were swarming all over it as though it was the Jolly Roger pirate party boat at the Waterfront.

Blue at the back of the boat
Blue at the back of the boat

Size is not an obstacle when you have determination. Here is Junior demonstrating that the opening of the inspection hatches under the bench at the back of the boat is almost exactly the size of his upper body.

Junior inspecting an inspection hatch at the back of the boat
Junior inspecting an inspection hatch at the back of the boat

Stowaway

On a warm day when the boat is in the driveway, it’s not unusual to find a little stowaway asleep in the console. We think he’s been doing this for ages, but we’ve only discovered it in the last couple of months.

Comfy in the console
Comfy in the console

Junior’s unorthodox choice of napping spot is cool, shady and often contains a jacket or two for him to lie on.

Junior in the console
Junior in the console

When it gets too warm, he moves his head further into the shade.

Trying out different sleeping positions
Trying out different sleeping positions

Bookshelf: North to the Night

North to the Night: A Spiritual Odyssey in the Arctic – Alvah Simon

North to the Night
North to the Night

Having for some time immersed myself in literature and film about the Antarctic (Endurance, Empire AntarcticaIce Patrol), I have lately turned my attention to the Arctic. Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is inhabited by humans, but if you go too far north, you run out of land. This is not a problem experienced by Antarctic explorers.

Alvah Simon and his wife Diana set out to explore the Arctic in their sailboat, and decided (against all advice) to overwinter in a cove in Baffin Bay (which is more like a sea than a bay, and is situated between Greenland and the Canadian Arctic). North to the Night tells the story of their journey to the Arctic, and the dark, freezing winter that Alvah Simon spent there, alone save for his cat Halifax, with his boat trapped in the ice.

The subtitle of the book is apt: the intensity of Simon’s winter experience was such that he underwent a sort of spiritual transformation – perhaps an argument could be made that he started to lose touch with his sanity, or reality. The book thus serves to contrast the intensely practical preparations that the Simons had to make for the voyage, with the epiphanies they experienced as they explored and survived in one of the most challenging environments on earth.

I was frequently frustrated with Simon’s over confidence and willingness to disregard the advice of people with far more sailing and survival experience than he had, but to his credit he seems to be able to see his own stubbornness, and does not attempt to justify or defend it. He is also able to see, in retrospect and to his credit, to what extent he tested his marriage with this journey.

Probably a requirement to embark on this kind of trip is a certain steeliness of will and ironclad self confidence that manifests itself as arrogance, or even foolhardiness. It is also my suspicion that many with similar aspirations don’t return from their adventures, or don’t even set out in the first place. For this reason Alvah Simon’s beautifully written account is particularly precious and rare.

You can get the book here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.

Captain Cat

Junior the Ginger Killer‘s favourite lookout point is on top of the boat cover, under the carport (when the boat is there, of course). The boat cover is a bit bouncy, and I imagine it’s a bit like resting on a giant hammock.

Captain Junior keeping a watch
Captain Junior keeping a watch

And sometimes he has to give commands, as all captains do. He expects you to listen.

WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!
WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!

Engine cover inspection

The best place for a little cat on a sunny day is sometimes the least obvious one. Here’s Blue, hiding under one of the engine covers while I worked on the boat.

Is the coast clear?
Is the coast clear?

After a while she wants to come out…

Starting to emerge
Starting to emerge

Which, if you have a round little tummy, may be easier said than done.

Squeeeeze!
Squeeeeze!

Ponta do Ouro (Mozambique) 2015 trip report

Sunrise at Planet Scuba
Sunrise at Planet Scuba

Earlier this month we returned from our second ever dive trip to Ponta do Ouro. (It was my third time there – on my first trip, in 2009, I wasn’t qualified to dive yet, and met my future husband, where he was diving and skippering five times a day and living in a reed hut. I still sometimes feel guilty for having a part in him leaving this little piece of paradise.) We flew to Durban. A shuttle transported us to the Kosi Bay border post, where we were met by Mike of Blowing Bubbles Diving. Mike drove us and our luggage over the dunes into town, and dropped us at Planet Scuba, where we would stay for the week.

The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro
The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro

Planet Scuba is situated on top of the hill that overlooks Ponta’s central square. Since my last visit (I think), a pharmacy has opened on the corner (pictured above), and later in the trip we purchased a much needed decongestant there (for a fairly princely sum, but beggars can’t be choosers).

Every morning we would walk down the steps to the road that leads to the beach, and head towards the point to meet up with the boat for diving. After diving, we would either walk back or get a ride on the back of the Blowing Bubbles bakkie. We breakfasted between dives, and then returned to the beach. The dives in Ponta do Ouro are boat dives, and the skippers launch the boat off the beach through the waves. There was almost no swell while we were there, so the surf launches were quite tame!

Laurine and Esther descending
Laurine and Esther descending

We dived for five days, most of us doing ten dives in total. We contemplated a dolphin trip with Dolphin Encountours, but reports were that boats were only seeing one or two dolphins, if any, and the trips cost more than a dive so we carried on diving instead. We were so, so lucky to see a huge pod of dolphins at the end of our last dive, near Ponta Malongane. On our first dive that day we had seen big schools of baitfish near the surface, and the dolphins had probably come to the area for feeding. We weren’t allowed to get into the water with them, but they swam past the boat for ages, and we heard them breathing as they passed by. Tony and I stuck our cameras over the side of the boat, and it turned out there were many more dolphins underwater than we could see on the surface.

Batman takes the reel
Batman takes the reel

The pace of life was very mellow. We dived, ate, slept, and repeated various iterations of that sequence. We admired the community of friendly dogs down at the beach. We enjoyed hungry cats and condensed milk milkshakes at Neptune’s, with a view over the Motel do Mar (where we stayed on our last trip) to the beach. We had a healthy and delicious lunch at Mango above the Dolphin Centre, and got thoroughly soaked by a tropical rainstorm on the way back to Planet Scuba. Christo, Esther and Laurine sampled the “chemical s***storm in a glass” (I quote Esther) that is Ponta do Ouro’s famous R&R (rum and raspberry). Strangely, none of them wanted any more…

The diving was excellent. The water temperature was 23 degrees, and we had (apparently mediocre for Ponta) visibility of about 10 metres, sometimes more. This was very acceptable to us as Capetonians. The reefs are teeming with life, and all of us saw something new. Laurine was enchanted by a turtle, Tony spent most of his dives upside down with his head in crevices in the reef, Christo directed all of us to exciting discoveries with his torch and pigsticker (a metal kebab stick slash pointer that must have a different name but I don’t know it), and Esther maintained her sense of wonder and calm as she brought up the rear of our little group on most dives. On one of the dives a very strong current gave us opportunities to use our SMBs, which was an excellent learning experience and a reminder of how important a safety sausage is, no matter where you are diving.

The air temperature was warm, the wind hardly blew, and for a while we could forget that at home in Cape Town it was cold, frequently dark, and overflowing with commitments and obligations. We returned the way we had come, but feeling a little more ready to cope with the rest of the Cape winter. We’ll be back in a couple of years, Ponta!

(I’ll share some little videos and more photos from the trip over the next couple of weeks.)