Map of De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape Province. (click on map to enlarge)
De Hoop Nature Reserve is a three-hour (260km) drive east from Cape Town, enroute to the southern-most tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas (not the Cape of Good Hope as many imagine). Located along the coast, between Skipskop and the Infanta Peninsula, it is a popular destination for whale watchers, although these ecotourists may not be aware of the damage they can do in their haste to view the large marine mammals (more later).
After checking in with the rangers, Tony, Johannes and I settled into one of the chalets on the reserve and planned our short trip.
It was mighty cold, and I was glad of my thick coat in the evenings.
Mark with Tony Phelps, Director of CRI,
at De Hoop, alongside his 'bakkie'.
Mark with Johannes Els, at De Hoop..
De Hoop covers an area of 34,000 hectares and comprises habitat types ranging from freshwater lagoons to coastal sand-dunes, and an offshore marine protection area, but the most important and dominant habitat in the reserve is fynbos. Fynbos is a threatened heath-like habitat, not dissimilar in apparence to the southern heathlands of Dorset, UK. Drought and fire resistant, fynbos is confined to a few areas along the coast of Western Cape Province.
The fynbos habitat at De Hoop, with the sand dunes in the background, is reminiscent of Purbeck, Dorset.
Speeding vehicles, ironically driven by ecotourists heading for the whale-watching beaches,
kill slow-moving puff adders and tortoises on the road (see below).
Spending time herping in a heathland habitat with Tony Phelps brough memories of the late 1970s rushing back. The roads running through the reserve are graded gravel roads. Unfortunately many drivers, in a rush to get to the whale watching areas, drive too fast and the results of such driving in a protected area were made very apparent immediately, a dead Angulate tortoise (Chersina angulata) besides the road. Tony had even seen a family in a large shiny 4x4 run over an adult Puff adder (Bitis arietans) in their urgent desire to view whales. Puff adders may be cosmopolitan and common, but the other adder here is certainly not, the Southern adder (Bitis armata) is a small and highly localised species limited to a few southern coastal locations. To kill one on the road would be inexcusible.
Herping in this habitat really did feel strange, like Dorset although instead of Northern adders (Vipera berus) we were hoping to find Southern adders (B.armata) and in place of the Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) there was a chance of a Cape cobra (Naja nivea). In the event we found either of these species, but we still notched up some good herping.
Red-sided skink, Trachylepis homalocephala
Skinks were encounted in dry stone walls, especially those around the whale watching carpark at Koppie Alleen. Although Cape skinks (Trachylepis capensis) could be approached or even caught for photography, the Red-sided skink (T.homalocephala) kept a greater distance and disappeared into crevices when approached.
Cape skink, Trachylepis capensis
Southern rock agama, Agama atra atra
Southern rock agamas (Agama atra atra) were equally shy but the Cape girdled lizard (Cordylus cordylus) could be cornered and captured for close-up photography,
Cape girdled lizard, Cordylus cordylus
It was extremely cold and trips out at night did not produce any snakes, all the serpents found being located under small roof-tiles placed as part of the adder survey (the usual tin sheeting cannot be used because of the antelope).
Cross-marked sandsnakes, Psammophis crucifer both phases
We were also quite successful with arachnids, finding a Good Hope orange-banded baboon spider (Harpactira cafreriana) walking on the road, and two species of scorpions, the relatively harmless Cape burrowing scorpion (Opistophthalmus macer) and highly venomous Cape fat-tail scorpion (Parabuthus capensis), under rocks and other cover.
Good Hope orange-banded baboon spider, Harpactira cafreriana