14 February 2011

Painted Reed Frogs

I probably spend a bit too much time around my little fish pond. I ignore the Raucus Toads (too noisy) and keep an eye on the Painted Reed Frogs.

At night it is all sex and music. The adults sit on the lily pads and surrounding vegetation and make their not unpleasant “short, high pitched, explosive whipp-whipp whistles, repeated once every second.”* They do this in a massed choir and it certainly works well for them and there are many happy couples clasping each other in the water and tadpoles in the pond. So many in fact that we have a new visitor, a Fishing Spider, that is providing a bit of tadpole population control.

It is not what happens at night that has caught my attention, it is how the frogs disperse during the day that I find fascinating. The total population of Reed Frogs is about 20. During the day there are at most 4 around the pond and the rest go and hide in the garden. I find their choice of hiding places interesting.

It makes good sense for a young frog to spend the day in the rain gauge. A frog would want to know if there was rain as it would enhance the night’s activities if there was more water – although the only time they go into the water is to escape predators or mate. Completely inexplicable is one frog (I call him Herbert the Invisible) who sits in full sunlight in the middle of a brick wall in full view of all predators (who range from birds to snakes). He (or she) persisted in doing this and eventually there were 3 “invisible” wall sitting frogs. One brave frog sat in an aloe for about 3 weeks, every day on the same sharp and thorny leaf. His bright colours made him stand out against the dark leaf. Again it did not really make sense.

Stranger still are the Painted Reed Frogs who like the pink or orange buoys. We live near the sea and cannot leave a buoy lying on the beach and the garden is full of them. They ignore most colours and if you really need a frog looking in the pink buoy is almost guaranteed to be successful. They don’t like yellow or red and tend to ignore all the other buoys.

My favourites though are the frogs who spend the day waiting for the night’s action on the pond as I don’t have to spend too much time looking for them. There is always one boring one who will spend the day sitting on a lily pad but then there are the ones who sit on the lily flowers. Some spend the day on the flower stalk, probably convinced that they are invisible. The really fascinating ones sit inside the flowers or on the petals. During the peak sunlight hours the flowers are completely open and as the light starts fading the flowers close and the frog travels on the petal till he or she is completely enclosed by the flower.

I am no scientist and cannot really explain their choice of daytime resting spots. I do know that they do not like being disturbed and if you do so the frog will choose another spot to spend the next day. Maybe I should spend more time doing some real work…..

du Preez, L and Carruthers, V. A Complete Guide to the Frogs of Southern Africa. Random House; 2009.

Beware Red Roses

Well its Valentine's Day and the florists are awash with red roses. They may look beautiful but they are contributing greatly to habitat damage in countries such as Kenya where vast flower plantations raise the flowers for the western markets.

In Kenya, flowers are the third largest export and the industry employs thousands of people.  Many of these flower plantations are located around the beautiful Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley. The lake is an important wetland area rich in wildlife, but as flower production grows, so does the demand for water and this vitally important wetland is under threat.  The warning regarding the risk to the wetlands comes from ecologist  Dr David Harper at the University of Leicester who has spent 30 years researching these wetlands.

Many supermarkets sell these flowers with a fair trade label, which may mean that the workers get paid fair pay and treatment, but does not mean that the production of the flowers is environmentally friendly.

 Then these flowers are then shipped halfway across the world by air, so have a pretty hefty carbon tag too.

When you buy that bouquet of flowers check the label. Many come through Amsterdam, so a label saying the flowers are from Holland can mean they come from somewhere like Kenya. Far better is to go for something produced locally, or better still avoid buying the flowers altogether and donate the money to charity.

Photos Red roses by Peter Landon, Flower plantation and Lake Naivasha by Chinch Gryniewicz

13 February 2011

Global Food Crisis Looming

Is another global food crisis around the corner? The UN’s food and agriculture organization, FAO, has been warning that global food prices continue to rise and are a cause for concern. FAO’s cereal price index is now at its highest level since July 2008, but still 11% below the peak in April that year.

The world’s poor live mainly on cereals and rising prices have a direct effect on their livelihood.

Extreme weather has been responsible for shortfalls among many of the world’s major cereal producers: drought in Russia and Argentina, a heat wave and heavy rains in the U.S. and widespread flooding in Australia and Canada. And now China, the world’s largest wheat producer, is bracing itself for the worst drought in 200 years, at least in the province of Shandong.

Canada is the world’s third largest wheat exporter, after the U.S. and France, according to the International Grains Council. But production in 2010 was down 14% and extreme weather is by no means the only cause for the decline. A report just released by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute concludes that Canada is in need of a significant overhaul of its agricultural policy in order to compete in global markets and help feed the world.

But it’s not just wheat production that’s the problem. The increasing demand on corn or maize (see photo) and soybeans for livestock feed and bio-fuels only adds to the pressure when grain is short for human consumption.

While the world has been warned that a major food crisis could develop this year, the good news is that global cereal stocks are higher than they were in 2007-08. But in a world struggling to recover from economic recession, the haves will be less able to share with the have-nots without running their deficits higher.

7 February 2011

Penguins and Commercial Krill Fishing

These Chinstrap Penguins on Half Moon Island in the South Shetlands have stained the ground pink with their guano as their principal food is krill, a small shrimp. When humans first discovered the Antarctic they pillaged it and drove the whales and the seals to the very edge of extinction. Now with the arrival of commercial krill fishing are we about to see history repeating itself?

5 February 2011

Antarctic Damage inevitable?

Adélie penguins on Paulet Island bathe in the summer sun. With the recent grounding of the cruise ship Polar Star in the Weddell Sea you have to ask is the possibility of environmetal damage from one of these ships getting closer?
Toursim in the Antarctic is on the up and fortunately the IAATO does a superb job in making sure that vists are carried out in a resopnsible manner.

2 February 2011


Thanks to the wonder of the internet I know what they call a person who throws litter out of a car window in the UK. They are called “tossers” and I am continually amazed that people still carry on tossing beer bottles and burning cigarette ends out of cars in South Africa too. Apart from the fundamental stupidity of the action accompanied by the litter and broken glass we also have the risk of bush fires. The prolonged drought (while the rest of the country is experiencing floods) is not helping either.

Over the weekend I was reminded of another type of person we have here. I do not know what they are called in the rest of the world so I have decided to label them “jerks.” I wanted to photograph a cute “penguins crossing the road” sign outside a penguin rehabilitation centre called the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre in Port Elizabeth. Someone had fired a metal dart similar to a hypodermic syringe needle into the sign using a blow pipe.

Apart from being just a stupid thing to do I am sure that someone like that would think nothing of shooting a dart into a random passing bird or person. The bird would eventually die and the person could lose an eye.

But we have people in South Africa that are even more stupid than this! There are road signs warning of animals crossing the roads all over South Africa. Kudu are especially dangerous at night as the car lights blind them and they try to leap over the car. They tend to hit the car at windscreen height and there are several deaths resulting from this every year.

Amazingly we have gun owners who shoot at these signs and try to hit the drawing of the animal. Obviously these are low intellect people who shouldn’t own firearms and to top it off they are lousy shots as they seldom hit the animal. When they miss the sign they could hit an innocent passer by and I presume that any animal they see is fair game. Maybe something as stupid as this is done when one is drunk?

I really do not like people as stupid as this and I do not know what to say about them except perhaps to use stronger words than tossers and jerks.