Sunday, 11 December 2016

Walking the lines


Oz my companion for the walk

Recently Oz and I did a patrol along some power lines in the district.  Our aim – to identify if this electricity distribution line needed further mitigation or ‘protection’ to prevent further casualties to our vulture population in the Eastern Cape.

 Recently I had been called out to catch an injured Cape Vulture in this area.


the electrocuted Cape Vulture that resulted in this walk
Unfortunately we were not successful in catching the injured bird that evening as it flew over the hill and down into a valley with the light fading.  Despite returning the next day, with extra people, we were unable to locate this bird but did however come across an electrocuted bird under the power lines. 
This led to reason why Oz and I returned to these lines to ascertain what the situation was with regard to the rest of the line and if there had been any more birds electrocuted.

My plan was then to patrol the line ‘backwards’ from the last point of distribution.  To get there I caught a lift with my husband who was going up to the neighbouring farm.   The area consists of valleys and ridges with dry river beds (at present!) and is predominantly grassland in the Upper Cathcart area.

view looking back at where we had started

a Polygala species flowering despite the dry conditions

Our patrol started at the grid gate of the farm where Oz and I were dropped off.  We then had to descend down into the valley to where the old homestead was to find the end of the line and the start of our patrol.  Oz was quite excited at the prospect of a walk, (he knew the blue backpack means walks!) and soon settled into a comfortable trot just slightly ahead of me.  Once we had passed the house and rounded the bend in the road, we met up with the power lines running from the house back up the hill.  Here we turned left off the road and headed up the hill.

By now the morning was warming up quite a lot and as we passed a ground dam with a couple of cattle lying up next to it, it did not take Oz much persuasion to go and have a quick dip in the water.  This would be his last water hole for quite some time.

Oz sitting next to the Euphorbia
The first hill was quite a steep climb and after negotiating a barbed wire fence, we were surrounded by a number of cycads as well as the euphorbia (Euphorbia clavarioides) mounds.   

Interestingly this plant was often used to trap wild birds by illegal collectors who crushed the plant and used the milky latex to catch the little birds for their aviaries and no doubt trade as well.They referred to this as ‘nap’.  

We disturbed a young mountain reedbuck hiding behind a rock which quickly moved off to our right.  We still had one more structure to inspect before reaching the top of the ridge.

a full view of the burnt out structure
the badly burnt out structure
As I approached this structure, I was horrified to see how the pole was literally ‘hanging’ on by a fine thread.   

This pole had obviously been burnt during the devastating fire of August 2013 which swept through the area in a matter of just over an hour fuelled by incredibly strong winds.  The amazing fact is that it is still standing more than 3 years later but clearly being held up by the anchor wires.  Should it break, another veld fire will most definitely be the result!

evidence of electrocution

At the top of the ridge the wind was now blowing gales and both Oz and I, were being wind swept along.  I decided then to move down a branch of this line which headed back to the Waqu region.  Sadly this is where I came across evidence of my first electrocution cases, two to be exact.   

looking down the towards the Waqu area

I duly took down my notes on the details of the structure, GPS co ordinates and photographed the site.  We continued down along this ridge for a short distance but had to turn back as we still had a long way to go on the main line.

heading across the plateau

The wind continued to blow as we crossed the plateau-like section while I inspected each structure as we went along.  In this section, I fortunately only found evidence of a very early electrocution many years ago.  We soon reached the end of the plateau and descended (out of the wind) down into a valley filled with alien Black Wattle.

After a short break for a banana and ‘eat some more’ biscuit for Oz we crossed the dry river bed and climbed through another barbed wire fence.  We then crossed the road and negotiated the next barbed wire fence to head up over a small hill.

horses in a camp we walked through

The heat was picking up as we were much lower down and more in a valley-like section.  We then climbed into a camp with horses and then descended down to another dry and dusty river bed where we found some cows with calves eating the last of the green shoots they could find.  Oz carefully avoided the cows as they can be quite aggressive towards dogs when they have calves.

We then headed up a steep hill to where I had found the initial bird which had prompted this walk.

By now Oz was really hoping to be able to find water but there was nothing around.  Once we had reached the top of this fairly steep hill it seemed to flatten out a bit.  I had found evidence of 2 more electrocutions and every time Oz would patiently wait while I documented and photographed what I needed to do.

Oz patiently waiting for me to take my notes

The following section of line had a number of poles that had been replaced with newer type (more bird friendly structures) and I did not think I would find any more casualties, however we continued along the line. 

Oz cooling off in the water trough

We then climbed into a camp with ewes and lambs and Oz immediately spotted the water trough.  He climbed in and I allowed him to spend a good couple of minutes cooling his body down as well as drinking as much as he could.  The ewes and lambs did not move off too far and once we had left returned to lie up near their water.

ewes with lambs

By this time it was midday, and I had covered at least 10kms of line with sufficient information and evidence to be able to complete a detailed report.  I made contact with Joy as to where she could collect us and then headed down to the road to walk back towards the main road.


Oz must have realized that it was not long before we would be picked up and decided that it was time to play ‘sticks’.  What this means is he will find a stick on the ground pick it up and then drop it in front of you for you to either throw it for him or hold it while he jumps to catch it.  We continued walking and playing until Joy met us.

one of the many views of the day

Despite the very dry and dusty conditions, I realize how lucky I am to be able to walk through our remarkable Eastern Cape countryside.

*please note my report is sent through to the Eskom/EWT partnership where recommendations are then sent through for mitigation to take place on the said structures

*I NEVER walk over any property without letting the landowner know before hand - this is decent courtesy


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