From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/southafrica)

The fynbos is famed for its wildflowers in all their diversity and beauty. There is no doubting we are working in a Floral Kingdom – the Cape Floral Kingdom to be precise.

It is easy to obsess about charismatic species at the expense of others and whilst we may not exactly be tripping over leopards, caracals, kudus or klipspringers, we are surrounded by a wildflower wonderland. And once you start looking at them, I mean really looking in detail, they reveal all manner of shapes, sizes and colours.

In many respects, flowers power the fynbos. Several small mammals (the subject of our trapping studies) are reliant on protea flowers for food. Many species of butterfly, moth and horseflies are specialised for extracting nectar from tubular flowers and at the same time perform a pollination role. While orange-breasted sunbirds and Cape sugarbirds, which are endemic to the fynbos, not only act as pollinators, but the latter relies on proteas and pincushions for food and shelter. All of this is vital as it underpins the charismatic species that we seek.

Once you stop to look at the flowers and your immediate environment, you begin to discover a variety of other species, whether they are birds, insects or amphibians, and interactions between them. An eye for such detail is a great asset for field work.

Such an approach, lead one of our volunteers (Marty), to discover an active nest of the Cape rockjumper – another bird species endemic to the fynbos. This species also forms part of Dr. Alan Lee’s (our project scientist) ongoing studies. The nest had three eggs, which hatched the next day – the first time both have been recorded. And this is only the fourth active nest to be recorded at Blue Hill. All important data.

Camera traps have now been set around the nest to record the chick development, resource provisioning by the parent birds and any nest predation. Time and imagery will advance our knowledge.

It is amazing what you can learn by just looking at the immediate world around you. For all the technology that could be deployed, to record a host of environmental parameters and species movements, there is still no substitute to spending time in the ‘field’, simply observing.

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa.

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