Rhebokskloof Wine Estate is a multiple use business. When I say business, the core function of the estate is to produce award-winning wines that reflect the unique microclimate of this hidden valley. But the farm also boasts a spectacular swathe of montane fynbos above the vineyards, where one can find the iconic flowers and animals unique to the smallest but most biodiverse vegetation type on earth.
Around the old homestead and restaurant we find a lovely sculpted garden, somewhere between formal and wild, gently sloping down to a large dam with natural wetlands around the edges. Because of the lack of disturbance and good management, this water feature is remarkably rich in natural wildlife. Birds are the most conspicuous wildlife here, and even from the restaurant deck you can see and hear the comings and goings of coot, moorhen, reed warblers, Egyptian geese, hadedas, swallows and swifts, weavers and cormorants. In a future article we will look at these birds.
Only when you get close to the water, and sit quietly in the shade, you will notice brightly colored insects darting over the surface of the water. Dragonflies!
Often overlooked and missed by the casual stroller, it is worth taking a closer look at these truly spectacular jewels of the water. Dragonflies are true insects belonging to the Order Odonata, and thus have six legs and two pairs of gossamer wings. What distinguish this group from many insects are the highly developed composite eyes, and this becomes patently obvious if you try to catch one or move nest one – immediately it will dart away on golden wings.
The entire life cycle of dragonflies depend on water, and only the adult phase, that of the flying insect, is not dependent on water. Eggs are laid on the surface when the female dips the tip of her abdomen through the surface and deposits an egg. The egg hatches a ferocious larva, which will attack practically any animal it encounters, even tadpoles. The larva develops rapidly, and sheds its skin a number if times as it grows, finally metamorphosing into the adult dragonfly.
It may come as a surprise to learn that dragonflies are entirely predatory, and they are highly efficient aerial hunters. Prey in the form of smaller flying insects are rapidly pursued and caught in the basket like cage formed by the dragonflies’ legs. The strong jaws quickly immobilize and dispatch the prey, which is usually consumed on the wing.
When next you visit Rhebokskloof, take some time to wander down to the dam, take a seat in the shade, and wait. Soon your eyes will pick up the darting shapes over the water, and, if you are lucky, one will come and perch on a stick or leaf near your hiding place. Marvel at the golden sheen on their wings, the large mobile eyes, and the colours on their slender bodies. For these are the crown jewels of the water.