A mysterious cave and a froggy pond at Silvermine East

At the start of December last year, we felt like exploring Silvermine East a little more. To our delight, the weather was far more inviting than on the previous occasion we had visited the Southern Peninsula (see the story of our exceedingly wet hike to the Amphitheatre in November last year).

We trudged along the broad gravel road, in a roughly south-easterly direction, past Maiden Peak on our right. As we walked along, we almost stepped on two hard-working dung beetles, rolling and pushing a ball of dung across the gravel. I hadn’t often seen a dung beetle in action, so I knelt down right in the middle of the road for a closer look. One would expect them to rear up on their hindlegs to push it forward with their front legs, but no – isn’t it strange how they almost do a headstand, with their rear legs pushing the ball backwards? The second beetle (on the left) kept finding itself underneath the ball that was being pushed along quite vigorously by the beetle on the right!

Oh! Look! Two dung beetles hard at work!

As an aside: Do you remember the opening ceremony of the 2010 Soccer World Cup at the brand-new Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg? It starred a giant dung beetle, which marched onto the arena to the accompaniment of “Qongqothwane”, a Xhosa song that is traditionally sung when a young girl gets married. The song is commonly known as ‘the Click Song’, and it was made famous by South African singer Miriam Makeba. You can find various versions on YouTube.

The lyrics, in case you are curious, are:

Igqira lendlela nguqongqothwane.
Igqira lendlela kuthwa nguqongqothwane
.
Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane
.
Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane.

Translation:

The diviner of the roadways is the knock-knock beetle.
The diviner of the roadways is said to be the knock-knock beetle.
It has passed up the steep hill, the knock-knock beetle.
It has passed up the steep hill, the knock-knock beetle.

An alternative translation is ‘The doctor of the road is the dung beetle’, because it ‘cleans’ the road of dung balls (info from here).

We left these two beetles to their mammoth task, and marched on. Just after a junction with another gravel road that seemed to be heading further south, a little footpath beckoned us uphill across a narrow, prettily splish-splashing rivulet, complete with a pale-blue dragon-fly. Look!

An ethereal looking dragonfly balances on a leaf

At the top of the hill, there was a bewildering network of paths leading hither and thither among huge boulders and seemingly into high bushes. We’d forgotten to bring a map, and there weren’t any route markers, so we clambered onto a rocky outcrop to get our bearings. And suddenly, we came across a cave! Two starlings were flying in and out of the mouth of the cave, whistling a warning to us as we approached. Ah! They were building a nest under the roof!

We apologised for intruding into their home, but just had to investigate the cave a little. The Kalk Bay Mountains are well known for their profusion of caves. Geologically, the mountains consist of layers of Table Mountain sandstone, Malmesbury shale and Cape granite. The sandstone layers tend to erode quite slowly, creating a coarse soil that tends to dry out during the hot summer months (the Western Cape gets almost all its rain during winter, unlike the rest of the country). Although this soil is not particularly rich in nutrients, this area is blessed with a spectacular range of plants, some of which grow nowhere else. Along lines of weakness or fractures in the rocks and between the different layers, the slightly acidic water seeping down from the surface has eroded the sandstone over many, many (millions of?) years, creating subterranean caverns or caves. As the rocks ontop have been eroded, many of these caves are now closer to the surface, and easily accessible.

Looking out from within a mysterious cave, the nesting place of a pair of starlings

This particular cave wasn’t very deep, and there didn’t appear to be any tunnels branching off it, but it had obviously been used as a shelter many times, judging from the blackened roof. Oh, and the graffiti. Why do people feel the need to spraypaint or scratch their names into rocks, possibly obscuring prehistoric and archeologically significant evidence? Is it a territorial marker – “My cave, back off”? Or a triumphant claim – “I wuz here before you”? Or a wish for immortality?

As I’m not really a friend of cold, dark, enclosed spaces, we instead found ourselves a pile of rocks with a view higher up! Muuuuch better. We poured ourselves a restorative cuppa from our trusty thermos, and munched a couple of no-longer-quite-so-crisp bread rolls. Walking in the fresh air always makes me ravenous – and you?

Cheers! Sláinte!

Reinvigorated, we re-packed our rucksack, and continued downhill along the little stony path until it joined a gravel road. Towards the left, it seemed to lead in the general direction of Kalk Bay, so we hung a right, back towards our car, instead. Almost immediately, a curious path on our right dove straight into some bushes – and we emerged on the edge of the most adorable pond! Complete with frogs and dragonflies. Totally idyllic. On our map this was identified as Nellie’s Pool.

Nellie's Pool is a paradise for frogs and dragonflies

After soaking up the peace and tranquility of this delightful tucked-away pond, we returned to the gravel road for our long trudge back to the starting point of our hike. This had been a fairly relaxing and easy amble that introduced us to a number of new options for future explorations!

6 thoughts on “A mysterious cave and a froggy pond at Silvermine East

  1. I have run off the “cheers” picture1 That is the most wonderful site I have ever seen of you and the ecology around RSA! A masterful writer and liver of life you are indeed!

    • Giggle… you really are sweet. Thank you for the kind encouragement. South Africa – and Namibia – are just some of the most extraordinary countries on earth, and I think we’re really lucky to be living here. I plan to see much more of it than I have so far.

  2. Reggie, what a beautiful collection of images!

    Yes that does look like old man’s beard. I added an image of a cluster to the bottom of my post today on Showing Patience. It can cover branches just as in your photo.

    I wonder what would happen if the dung beetle was removed from your ecosystem. Yikes. Best not to think about such things.

    The papery white flowers look like what we call pearly everlastings. They are crunchy but not crumbly when dried and were once used to stuff pillows.

    • That is most interesting. Dung beetles, earth worms and bees are such an essential part of the ecosystem, aren’t they?

      I still have so much to learn about plants and animals… sometimes I wonder why we didn’t learn this in school when it was easier to REMEMBER stuff! I feel like I have all these gaps in *practical* knowledge – it takes me ages to identify a plant or flower that I photographed, going through books and Googling… and then I’m not always sure if it’s the right name… Was I not paying attention in class? Hm… pondering…

    • Thank you for identifying him, Robyn. It’s a beautiful chap – when he saw me with the camera, he posed just long enough for a piccie, and then did a surprisingly rapid u-turn, disappearing into the bushes. Tortoises are such interesting creatures, aren’t they? Almost prehistoric.

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