Egonne Roth



End of a special stay

Posted by Egonne Roth on August 19, 2015 at 4:25 AM

I was in the Cape for four nearly five months and did not write anything. It was as though I was totally blocked from writing about my stay while still enjoying it. As though I was not able to translate all that was happening into words that made sense and I still do not know where to start. So much happened during my time south of the equator and giving shape in the form of language seems nearly impossible. I have considered putting together a power point presentation using some of my thousands of photos and maybe I still will. In the interim, I have discovered that the easiest subject to discuss are the birds on the vlei in front of my daughter’s house.

For some time now a friend has teased me about my love of photographing birds – “Another birdie and another,” she says flipping through my photos trying to stifle her boredom. I think she is right – it is an obsession. Maybe it comes from the fact that the flight and freedom that birds symbolise holds such universal fascination; maybe it is simply that they are such elusive creatures to capture especially in the air. There is always a challenge given the changes of light and wind and air that all affect a photograph.

From the moment I first arrived there and fell in love with Tamar and Dishen’s home on the water’s edge, I was not able miss a day of attempting to catch an image that would be satisfy me. And maybe it is not possible – we always attempt to improve on what we have already done. I spent hours simply staring across the water at the changing images and trying to find patterns in the way the bird population changes depending on the time of day and the water conditions.

At the end of April the authorities opened the sluices so that within days the water level withdrew from the grass verges and reeds exposing the shallow vlei floor with its accumulated debris deposited by the little streams feeding it. This is of course a serious environmental issue that various groups are attempting to address but not very successfully. Where the kids live in Bottom Road Sanctuary considerable progress has been made and all the gardens now end in a nature reservation area that covers Zeekoevlei and its banks. The problem lies further afield: as long as the authorities do not provide adequate bins and facilities for waste collection, the problem of the polluting the vlei will not be resolved. Tamar believes if the residents of this area can work together to find sponsorship with dirt bins to be installed along the streets and on the edges of the rivers and in the many green area that do exist here and if the City Council agrees to service these, a substantial part of the problem will naturally resolve itself. If there is nowhere to throw dirt the streams become the obvious recipients of the garbage.

A brief look at the Bottom Road Sanctuary’s website shows the number of endangered species that live exclusively on this chain of wetlands of which Zeekoevlei is a part: the Cape Flats Erica, the Cape conebush, the Nationally Endangered Western Leopard Toad and others. I am afraid that I have not seen the toads yet nor identified the ericas. I have also not had the privilege of seeing some of the rare birds that frequent these waters but I have had much pleasure getting to know the flamingos and pelicans, the different water birds and watched who gets on with whom and who you seldom see together.

When I left the vlei levels were still very low. Yet, on the last three days of my visit different groups of birds came as though to say good bye.

On the Monday morning, after not seeing them for weeks a large group of pelicans were suddenly gathered right outside the house and I took many photographs. Within an hour they had all left.

Tuesday morning there were at least thirty or forty flamingos walking up and down scratching in the muddy ground to see what they could find amid the dirt. I went out onto the balcony to talk to them and photograph them. Within an hour they left.

Wednesday morning the sacred ibises came in a large crowd, walked up and down and allowed the grey heron to join them. I could not believe my eyes and photographed them. Within an hour I left.

During my stay I took nearly eight thousand photographs, a dozen or more videos, mostly of the birds. “What will you do with all your birdie photos?” asks my sceptical friend. “I will look at them wherever I am and dream of Africa,” I tell her. “Of its southern tip where there is still a place that my grandchildren can watch wild birds and animals and marvel at the beauty of creation.”


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