Saturday, 11 November 2017

Exploring around Mngazi River mouth (6 to 9th November 2017)

When some old friends from the Netherlands visited, we decided to spend a little time with them on the Wild Coast and arranged to stay at Mngazi River Bungalows for a few days. After turning towards Umtata when we crossed the Mzimvubu River at Port St. Johns, it was not long before we found the turnoff to the resort and followed the road along the Mngazi River floodplain to the coast. The area is densely infested with Lantana camara and Cestrum laevigatum but there are signs of efforts to clear them. We were cheered up by the sight of Podranea ricasoliana (VU), the Port St John's creeper, and flowering Millettia grandis

Once we had settled in at the resort, we decided there was time for a late afternoon walk on the beach and took the ferry across the estuary. The wind was blowing strongly from the south making it difficult for us to get photos of a flock of Swift Terns on the beach. We walked a distance southwards and then decided to look at the edge of the dune forest. Here we found Cynanchum natalitium and Passerina filiformis growing at the forest margin. A little further in we could see a Gymnosporia in flower but it was not possible to reach the tree to determine which species.

Having endured enough battering by the wind, we returned to the ferry and crossed the river back to the resort.

Swift Terns on the beach

Cynanchum natalitium

Passerina filiformis

The next morning after breakfast we decided to walk up the coast towards Port St Johns. The steepness of the coastline here does not permit one to walk at sea-level so we set off up a grassy slope following a well-worn path. This took us through a shallow valley where we saw the first of many Millettia grandis trees in flower, Gymnosporia nemorosa and and Dovyalis in fruit.

We soon emerged from the trees and back into open grassland with a steep drop off to the right where we could see the flow from the Mngazi River following the coast eastwards, despite the "mouth" being some few hundred metres behind us. The grassland is badly degraded but there were scattered flowers and we enjoyed seeing Asclepias navicularis, Lantana rugosa, and Cyphostemma natalitium. With a strong wind behind us it was fairly easy to walk up the hills and as we got higher the views around us became even more impressive. There were frequent signs of dolphins working to bring bait balls together and then they would rush through them, leaping out of the water at times.

View north-eastwards up the Wild Coast

Asclepias navicularis

Cyphostemma natalitium

Lantana rugosa

Millettia grandis

We reached the "Sugarloaf", a rocky structure at the toe of the steep slopes reaching into the sea and sat enjoying the views and watching the dolphins. Here we found a Pachycarpus macrochilus - the first of many similar looking plants that had a flower to allow the species to be identified. Along the route back we found Tecomaria capensis, Vigna vexillata and a patch of as-yet unidentified Eriosema

Mngazi estuary looking southwards

Pachycarpus macrochilus

Tecomaria capensis

Vigna vexillata

Bracing against the wind, with wind waves in the grass behind us

That afternoon the wind built up to gale force and the weather turned cold, keeping us indoors. However, the conditions the following morning were much more pleasant and we set off across the river and followed a path behind the dune line which took us to what they call "Flat Rock".

Along this route we found Vachellia robustaAsclepias crispa and a robust clump of Eulophia speciosa. Growing in the path we found Pharnaceum thunbergii and Helichrysum asperum. It was interesting to see Mitriostigma axillare growing in open, sunny grassland along the path, whereas we know it as a forest understorey species. Reaching "Flat Rock" we could get good views towards the Mngazana River mouth and the mangrove swamps behind a dune line. These are apparently the southernmost mangroves in the country. In the marshy area there was a small colony of Falkia repens and climbing up some of the ubiquitous invasive Lantana camara we found Dipogon lignosis.

Vachellia robusta

Asclepias crispa

Eulophia speciosa

Pharnaceum thunbergii

Helichrysum asperum

Falkia repens

Dipogon lignosus

Looking southwards towards Mngazana River mouth with the mangrove swamps to the right

Returning via the beach we found some traces of fossils in the sandstone rocks. Just before we reached the ferry we found a few Gladiolus guenzii growing in the most inhospitable conditions imaginable, right in the middle of the loose beach sand. The cluster of detachable bulbs can be seen at the base of this specimen - this is a strategy the species uses to disperse by allowing these bulbs to float along the coast to new habitats.

Gladiolus guenzii

In the afternoon we took another walk into some of the nearby forest and here we found Agelanthus krassianus and Diospyros simii with a small fruit.

Agelanthus kraussianus

Diospyros simii
It was interesting to visit this area - slightly south of the southern border of the Pondoland Centre of Endemism -- and it provided us with some challenges to get species-level identities of some of the plants we saw.

Sunrise at Mngazi River mouth

Participants: Graham G, Kate G.

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