I’d always wanted to explore the Western Cape and it’s biodiversity, and so when my friends (Nick Schaller & Darren Van Eyssen) asked if I wanted to join them on such a trip, I couldn’t resist. Joining them on the trip was the best decision I have made in a long time!
I had only been to Cape Town once before, when I was four years old, but I don’t count that really. I can’t remember much from that. So I considered this as my first trip there. I have rarely traveled outside of my home province, KwaZulu-Natal, so this was very exciting!
We spent two nights with Cliff & Suretha Dorse (http://biodiversityfocused.co.za/). We had me this inspirational couple a year ago, when they came to KZN. We showed them a few of the frogs and reptiles this province had to offer while they were here. They’d said we were always welcome at their house, so we accepted that offer. As guests, they far exceeded our expectations. Cliff & Suretha are super passionate about wildlife and conservation, and they were so enthusiastic about taking us around, showing us what their province had to offer. We weren’t left disappointed!
Our first day was arguably the best of our four days spent in the Cape. We were joined by Luke Kemp, who works for the African Snakebite Institute. Cliff took us all out to a mountain range in search of the Hawequa Flat Gecko (Afroedura hawequensis). This gecko is listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened, mostly due to their restricted distribution. They live in rock crevices in large boulders/cliff faces. Among many ‘herpers’ (herpetology is not an STD, it’s the study of reptiles- so herper is a term used for people who search for reptiles/frogs in South Africa), it is a highly sought after gecko to see.
The first ‘herp’ of the trip was a totally unexpected one. The first rock crevice that Cliff looked into, he spotted a Ghost Frog! A Cape Ghost Frog (Heleophryne purcelli). It was one of the most exquisite looking frogs I have ever seen! It came as a real surprise, as one would expect to find this species on rocks in a flowing stream. Our first frog of the trip- what a stunner!
We found a couple of lizards, all of which were ‘lifers’ (a first time seeing) for me. Bird-wise, we were treated to sightings of Cape specials, such as the Cape Rockjumper, Cape Siskin, and Orange-breasted Sunbird. This mountain was producing!
Finally, we got our target. Luke discovered a Hawequa Flat Gecko hiding in a crevice. With us all keen to photograph it and get a good look at it, Luke brilliantly managed to fish it out of there, which was no easy task. When he had it out, I was taken back by its colours. I had never seen a lizard as colourful as this, it was so unique. It was quite big for a gecko too, and this was apparently not even a large adult. It had a really large, broad tail, which was most unusual. It is an extraordinary animal, one which few people get to see.
On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at certain spots to see what else we could turn up. Cliff pointed out a small grassland that he knew was home to Cape Grass Lizards (Chamaesaura anguina), a legless lizard growing to over half-a-meter long. I had only found the Large-scaled Grass Lizard, here in KZN, so I was keen to see another species in this genus. The five of us formed a line, and walked through the grass. It didn’t take long before one popped its head out of the long grass in front of us, and Luke quickly dived on it. Got it! Another unusual lizard!
On our descent down the mountain, another cool critter we found was a Mountain Rain Frog (Breviceps montanus). All Rain Frogs are just so cool, with their round little bodies, and grumpy face.
We were already content with what the day had produced, but Cliff had other ‘goodies’ to show us. He took us to a site he knew of for the Critically Endangered Rose’s Mountain Toadlet (Capensibufo rosei).
This tiny little toad is remarkably only found at two sites around Cape Town. That’s quite scary don’t you think? It’s no wonder its listed as Critically Endangered. Interestingly, bizarrely, this species does not call- it’s voiceless. To my knowledge, it’s the only frog like that in South Africa. Strangely, it’s also only active in the day, whereas most frogs are usually most active at night.
We approached a large puddle in a grassland, and we were left stunned. Around this puddle were dozens of Toadlet’s! The ground was crawling with them! They’d congregated around a small puddle to breed. The puddle was filled with strings of eggs, which looked like like chains. This is what they do. They come to these puddles for two to three days in a year to breed, and that’s it. You might be lucky to find an adult frog by chance a week after the breeding, but other than that, they’re underground. I don’t know of a frog that is as inactive as this one!
I wish I got a pic of one on my hand or finger, to give you an idea of their size. They were minuscule, about 2cm long.
Our timing was luckily perfect to witness this spectacular event!
After a braai, we headed out to target Cape Dwarf Chameleons, Flat Caco and Cape Sand Frog. We went to what I believe is the only reserve around Cape Town, that has hippos! Only a small pod, but there was a big male who had a bad reputation of being a tad grumpy. But when we arrived, the coast seem clear. We’re from KZN, we’re used to hippos!
Before entering the reserve, in a small patch of scrub land, we found our Cape Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum). But not just one, dozens! I think we saw at least thirty. They were one of the best looking chameleons I had ever seen, with the most striking colours!
We wondered around a pan looking for the Flat Caco’s (Cacosternum platys). There were plenty calling, but these tiny frogs are tricky to find! We eventually found two or three, much to our relief. The Cape Sand Frogs (Tomopterna delalandii) were also calling in parts, and were also proving difficult to find. Thankfully, Nick Schaller stumbled across one sitting on a mole hill. Frog targets done and dusted!
On our way out, Cliff uncovered a Cape Legless Skink (Acontias meleagris) in a mole hill. Yet another for the trip. It was around 30cm long+-, and rather unusual-looking.
While we were photographing our lifer skink. We were in a clearing, but to our right, was pretty dense bush. If there was a hippo there, we couldn’t see it.
Clicking away, our photography session was ended in an instant. We suddenly heard this loud grunting sound in the bushes- HIPPO! Needless to say, we vacated the area without much hesitation. That got the adrenaline going! We never saw the hippo, but it seemed he could see us.
That brought to an end a hectic, jam-packed day! After all that we had seen on day one, we were happy with our trip. We could have gone home at this point! But there was still plenty to see.
Stay tuned for part two 🙂