Where do our Eels go for the Holidays?

The eels in the Palmiet River down the road lead an interesting life. And there’s still lots we don’t know about them. Especially me, so know this is a story of our eels written by someone who’d like to know more.

Firstly, there are about four species. I say ‘about’ as the number is likely to change as we find out more. So this is a composite of the interesting things I have found out. OK?

The thing about being an eel is you should never have children. Never. This is good advice for other species too, like Homo sapiens, but especially for eels cos once you spawn, YOU DIE! You’ve been warned. Usually eels can spawn after seven years, but if they don’t they can live to eighty five years of age! Child-free!

Here’s the potted version of my title – know that there’s lots more to know and probably lots to amend. So parts of the story won’t actually pertain to our Palmiet eels, but to other Anguillidae eels world-wide, especially European and American eels on which most research has been done. They are fascinating fishes.

The eels we actually see in the Palmiet River are usually adults. They could leave on vacation at any time, downstream to the confluence with the Umgeni River of Duzi Canoe Marathon fame near the Papwa Sewgolum golf course; then on downstream to the famous infamous Blue Lagoon; then out into the Indian Ocean and the inshore counter-currents heading north; I would warn them they should think twice about leaving our beautiful valley, but you know how these primal urges are.

All the way up between Mocambique and Madagascar, past Beira, past the mouth of the Zambezi River, to where Africa bulges eastward around Mocambique Island, and into the open ocean where they spawn. Once. The larger females laying up to twenty million eggs, the males emitting their sperm onto the eggs. This is likely done in very deep water, as it has never been observed. And maybe they’re shy. Because it has never been seen, scientists speculate about ‘mass eel orgies.’ You know how people are when speculating.

The tiny larvae hatch and drift with the current back to Southern Africa; the southward currents which flow east and west of Madagascar and join to form the warm Agulhas current flowing away from the equator. They’re now often called ‘Glass Eels’ for obvious reasons:

– tiny and barely visible –

They drift down to the mouth of the Umgeni, recognising Blue Lagoon at night by the pumping music and the whiff of bluetop and dagga drifting to sea; up the Umgeni they go, then ours hang a left up our Palmiet River. Others carry on up the Umgeni. All the while going through larval stages and getting more pigment as they go.

Then, seven to eighty five years later they may get an urge, just as their parents did before them, and head for the ocean again. ‘Again,’ in our story, but for the first time for each of them. Each one only does the homeward journey once, as a juvenile, and the spawning one-way journey once, as an adult.

The well-known story of the salmon migration has been told and shown so often it helps to explain the eel migration; Just the opposite of the salmon, our eels are freshwater fish that spawn in the sea; Ours spend most of their lives in the Palmiet, just taking this incredible, Every-Vaalie’s-Dream vakansie by die see to spawn.

We might be thinking what a hard journey. But ours have it easy. If an eel needs to get back to where Mom and Dad lived on the Zambezi it has to bypass Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams! Is that even possible!? Indeed it seems to be. They move overland if they have to!

Of course with everything in nature the story includes Homo sapiens. What we do. We transport eels, elvers and eggs to where they shouldn’t be; We introduce parasites from one area to another; We farm them, chopping up other fish to feed to them; We catch them to sell as sushi or jellied eel by the ton – so much so that catches are down to 10 to 14% of what they used to be in Europe. When the scarcity became known we stopped catching and eating them, right? No, the price just went up, businessmen offering over R20 000 per kilogram. Don’t eat eels; Don’t buy eels! Please. They’re endangered.

Next time I see an eel in the Palmiet I’m going to tell him or her: Stay put! It’s a minefield out there! That vacation has no return ticket!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ref: wikipedia; Freshwater Fishes of Southern Africa by Paul Skelton; images at wikipedia; discovermagazine.com; advances.sciencemag.org;

~~~oo0oo~~~

bluetop – cane spirits liquor traditionally swallowed down by Blue Lagoon

dagga – cannabis, weed, zol, marijuana

Vaalie – inland person, far from the coast; only wade to ankle-depth

vakansie by die see – seaside holiday

Some Spring Sightings

Palmiet Nature Reserve is ready for Spring! We’ve had a cold winter, some early rain, wind storms and today a hot ‘Berg wind.’ Nature lovers in the Palmiet Rangers group have been spotting all sorts of interesting life in our valley.

Then some Palmetians went to Roosfontein and shot a Nightjar!

Meantime, Pigeon Valley in Glenwood has also been busy, with ‘Friends of PV’ honcho Crispin Hemson keeping us all up-to-date about his patch as always:

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Oh, and babies! I forgot about the babies. When Spring springs, babies pop out . . Warren Friedman is the host daddy to these two broods. And the videographer.

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Bufftail Hoot

It’s been a long time since I last heard the plaintive, mournful-sounding hoot of the Buff-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura elegans. But the last few nights he has been hooting gently outside my window in Westville above the Palmiet River:

– sound from xeno-canto.org – thank you –

Hope they stay awhile . . .

– crispin hemson pic from pigeon valley durban – thank you –

I heard it for years at 7 River Drive on the Mkombaan River in Westville, but although I searched and stalked and lay in wait at all hours, the only one I saw was one the bloody next door cat killed! Something like this:

– not my pic –

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And then at last I saw one of Crispin Hemson’s tame*** flufftails at Pigeon Valley in Durban. One lone male. And just for a few seconds before he ducked into the undergrowth. I was pleased to see one of Crispin’s pictures has been used in wikipedia.

*** not really tame – just on his famous patch!

~~~oo0oo~~~

List of Birds of 7 River Drive – my patch

Mkombaan River valley, Westville – Jan 1989 – Dec 2003

Breeds – Y means we have seen a nest or young being fed here

Spotted ThrushSeen three separate winter-times in 15 years
Kurrichane Thrush
Y
Olive Thrush

Narina TrogonThree times in 15 years, once stayed a week
Pigmy KingfisherThree times
Brown-hooded KingfisherNests in a bank in Deon’s yard next door (no. 5)Y
Malachite KingfisherOnce
Olive Bush-shrike (ruddy formOnce – stayed about a week. Lovely song
Orange-breasted Bush-shrikeHeard quite often, seen about three times
Black SparrowhawkRaises a chick here most yearsY
GymnogeneRaises a chick here most yearsY
Crowned EagleFlying & calling overhead
Fish EagleFlying & calling overhead
African GoshawkResident King of the woodsY
Black-headed HeronFlying overhead
Pied CrowFlying overhead
Barn Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow

Rock Martin

White-rumped Swift

Little Swift

Palm Swift

Reed CormorantOnce, flying overhead, then circled and landed in the Mkombaan River!
Woolly-necked StorkPerched on a garage roof at top of our valley!
Bush BlackcapOne winter, stayed ten days
Willow WarblerArrives every summer from frosty England
Red-backed Mannikin

Bronze Mannikin
Y
Bar-throated Apalis

Yellow-breasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis !!?Unlikely, yet seen close-up by Trish and I on potplant on the driveway! Nov 2003; Needs verification!
Natal FrancolinHeard often, seen once
Buff-spotted FlufftailHeard very often, never seen
Red-chested CuckooJuvenile seen once in fig tree over pool
Emerald CuckooIncluding a juv being fed by Olive sunbirdy
Klaas’ Cuckoo

Black Cuckoo

Diederik Cuckoo

Longbilled Crombec

Tambourine DoveOften
Emerald-spotted DoveSeldom
Red-eyed DoveMost common dovey
Laughing Dove
y
Ring-necked parakeetOnce, flying past into no. 14
Fiery-necked nightjarHeard often, seen twice
Paradise flycatcherNests every yeary
Dusky FlycatcherNests every yeary
Blue-grey FlycatcherNests most yearsy
Spotted FlycatcherA few visits
Black Flycatcher
y
Purple-crested LourieNested in Umdoni tree on River Drivey
African HoopoeOnce at top of River Drive
Red-billed Wood HoopoeHave nested in our nestboxes about 3 timesy
Lesser HoneyguideOften
Greater HoneyguideSeldom
Scaly-throated HoneyguideSeldom
Sharp-billed HoneyguideTwice
Blackbellied Glossy StarlingsNest most yearsy
Green TwinspotSeen four times, heard more times
Long-tailed WagtailUp & down the river, occasionally next to pooly
Cape WagtailNests in Dracaena outside front door
Pied WagtailNext to pooly
Southern BoubouHeard all the time, seldom seeny
Golden-tailed WoodpeckerNests most yearsy
Cardinal Woodpecker

Olive SunbirdThe Boss; Once raised an Emerald Cuckoo chicky
White-bellied SunbirdUsually behind house, seldom in front garden!
Collared SunbirdNests most yearsy
Black SunbirdOccasional
Grey SunbirdOften
Black-collared BarbetAlwaysy
Crested BarbetOnce
Golden-rumped TinkerAlways
HamerkopOften – heard more than seen
Yellow-billed Kite

Burchell’s Coucal

Grey-headed SparrowSeen twice
Streaky-headed Canary

Yellow-eyed Canary

Bully Canary

Tawny-flanked PriniaNests every year in long grass above washliney
Natal RobinTrish’s friend – also spotted chicks most yearsy
White-browed Scrub-robin

Southern Black Tit

Terrestrial BulbulOutside bedroom window
Black-eyed Bulbul
y
Sombre Bulbul

Black-headed Oriole

Black Cuckoo-shrikeIn fig tree most years
Fork-tailed Drongo
y
Puffback

White-faced Whistling DuckWhistling high overhead at night
Cape White-eye
y
Bleating Bush Warbler

Neddicky

Indian Mynah

Cape Glossy Starling

Plum-coloured Starling

Thick-billed Weaver

Spotted-backed Weaver
y
Spectacled WeaverNests every yeary
Forest WeaverSeldom
Blue-billed Firefinch

Common Waxbill

Grey WaxbillRegular in early years, scarce lately
Swee WaxbillTwice
Redwing Starling

Chin-spot Batis

Cape Batis

Hadeda Ibis
y
Sacred IbisFlying overhead
Speckled Mousebird
y

~~~oo0oo~~~

Stoute Invasion

A large flock of Kiwis flew in to Durban recently. Of course kiwis can’t actually fly so they came by plane.

MurrayMo, Alex and Maxine

I met them at the Lellos. I thought it was going to just be Fiona and Pete but pleasant surprise! Alex, MurrayMo and Maxine were all there – about 10m of Stoutes in all, if you laid them end-to-end.

Yvonne presented a delicious meal – chicken and rice, but there was a better way to describe it. Sauteed Vietnamese jungle fowl? – and we reminisced about the olden daze. Mike religiously kept my glass full of good wine the whole night and I tried my best to drain it but it just kept getting topped up. Luckily I live just upstream along the Palmiet River from their place and if I closed my one eye, no diplopia.

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waiting for pics, so used an ancient one taken n Rio de Janeiro to hold the place