Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Friday, January 10, 2014

Table Mountain

Table Mountain rises to an elevation of over 3,500 feet right at the edge of urban Cape Town.  Protected as a national park, it is a popular hiking destination.  The flat summit is accessed either through one of a variety of trails or via a cable car.  Leon and I planned to hike up and then return by cable car.  We chose one of the more popular routes and ascended via Platteklip Gorge.

The Trailhead

We were most fortunate with the weather throughout our South Africa trip, and this day was no exception- though the weather was on the warm side.  Our hike took us through some stunningly beautiful coastal fynbos.  I was becoming accustomed to seeing geraniums grow wild in their native habitat.  On this day we would also see gladioli and proteas- and a host of other plants that I could not recognize at all.  I continued to marvel at the incredible beauty of fynbos, and quickly found it becoming one of my all-time favorite ecosystems.

Fynbos on Table Mountain

Geranium (Pelargonium)



Plattenklip Gorge is visible from the trailhead as a narrow notch in the steep escarpment near the summit.  The trail switchbacks up the mountainside, narrowing sharply as it passes through the gorge.  We welcomed several pauses in the cool shade provided by the cliffs that line the gorge.  Butterflies were plentiful but frustrating on this trip.  On the hike up I saw at least a dozen different species.  None were landing, as the very warm air was keeping them all extremely active.

Plattenklip Gorge as seen from the trailhead

View from the gorge

As its name implies Table Mountain is flat at the summit.  The vegetation is surprisingly different from the slopes below.  Gone are the lush shrublands of proteas and other beautiful flowering plants.  The ground is rocky, the vegetation short and sparse.  Bright blue lizards scampered over the rocks.

Summit of Table Mountain

Greetings from the Welcoming Committee

The views out over Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean are inspiring, and the challenge of the steep climb up allows one to arrive with a sense of having earned the views.

It was at the summit that I was able to- with difficulty- snap a few butterfly photos.  I saw only one Protea Orange, a beautiful member of the lycaenid family whose caterpillars feed on the eponymous plants.

Protea Orange (Capys alphaeus)

After spending a couple of hours at the summit, it was time to return.  At this point we discovered the downside of visiting this popular spot on a gorgeous weekend day.  We had to wait nearly two hours to catch the cable car back down.  Still, the trip was most worthwhile.  I'd gladly make the hike again, though I would probably do so during the week.

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Journey to Cape Town

I've neglected my blog for a long time- but I really want to do a few posts about my recent trip to Cape Town.  I was originally scheduled for a conference.  The conference was cancelled, but Leon and I have long wanted to see South Africa, so off we went.

The flight is reaaaaallly long.  We went via London with a travel time of 23 hours.  We arrived in Cape Town at 7 in the morning on a gorgeous sunny day. We checked into our hotel, and rather than napping to releive jet lag, we jumped right into our rented powder blue Fiat and headed east along the coast of False Bay.

There are spots to pull of of the road for whale viewing.  We didn't see any whales, but we did get a great introduction to fynbos (FEN-bows), the predominant native ecosystem in this part of South Africa.

A coupl1e of cool things about fynbos:  it's one of the most botanically diverse ecosystems on the planet and many of the plants are very familiar house and garden plants.  We saw tons of varieties of geraniums (actually pelargoniums) growing in their native habitats.

Of course there were also butterflies.  We didn't see many on this day. but I did get photos of the Burnished Opal, a South African specialty.

We spet the afternoon driving along the coast, strolling on the rocky shore and enjoying the sunshine, flora, and fauna.  It was an auspicious start to the trip.  Leon was even reasonably patient with me as I learned to drive on the left.

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