Hauling out the garbage early this morning a screeching drew my attention to the sky in the SE and there they were: Four pirates in jinking flight heading my way.
Luckily a Kite flying across their path drew their attention; they immediately launched an attack, buzzing him and strafing him and really getting ‘in his face.’ He dodged lazily but kept heading due east towards the rising sun. Four sorties they launched, wheeling round, gaining height, then flying straight at him again.
Then they broke off and laughingly resumed their journey NW, up the Palmiet valley. Aargh! Me hearties, I heard ’em shouting as they flocked off.
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 that 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. Ask yourself, eel: Is that single orgasm worth your life? Usually eels can spawn after seven years, but if they don’t, they can live to eighty five years of age! Child-free!
Parts of this 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 river fishes who go to sea at the end of their lives to spawn.
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:
They drift southwards, and by the time they get the mouth of the Umgeni they can also swim – they have grown quite a lot. As they approach, they lift their snouts and say Hey! Listen! and Smell! They recognise Blue Lagoon at night by the pumping music and the whiff of bluetop and dagga drifting to sea; so up the Umgeni they go, till they can taste industrial pollution in the water; then the offspring of our Palmiet clan hang a left up the Palmiet River. Others carry on up the Umgeni. All the while going through larval stages and getting more pigment as they go.
There they live their river fish lives until, one day, seven to eighty five years later, they may get an urge, just as their parents did before them (you know that feeling, right?) 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 river 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. Never eat anything if you don’t know how many there are.
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!
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:
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.
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:
Hope they stay awhile . . .
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:
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!
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
Seen three separate winter-times in 15 years
Three times in 15 years, once stayed a week
Nests in a bank in Deon’s yard next door (no. 5)
Olive Bush-shrike (ruddy form
Once – stayed about a week. Lovely song
Heard quite often, seen about three times
Raises a chick here most years
Raises a chick here most years
Flying & calling overhead
Flying & calling overhead
Resident King of the woods
Lesser Striped Swallow
Once, flying overhead, then circled and landed in the Mkombaan River!
Perched on a garage roof at top of our valley!
One winter, stayed ten days
Arrives every summer from frosty England
Rudd’s Apalis !!?
Unlikely, yet seen close-up by Trish and I on potplant on the driveway! Nov 2003; Needs verification!
A large flock of Kiwis flew in to Durban recently. Of course kiwis can’t actually fly so they came by plane.
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.
waiting for pics, so used an ancient one taken n Rio de Janeiro to hold the place