Phillipskop Reserve and a string of fantastical events 


Some may have considered this British botanist a little bit zany… when he decided to swap his Surrey house, and a stable life, for a fynbos-covered mountain in the Overberg. 

But that’s exactly what Chris Whitehouse and wife Anna did, when they bought the Phillipskop Mountain Reserve, just outside Stanford, in 2014.

Six years later, and Chris and Anna now call the Overberg their home. The Overberg is indeed lucky to have gained their talents, as the LoveGreen team found out during a visit to the reserve.

This wasn’t a hike – but rather a string of fantastical events…

Chris took us for a guided hike over the reserve. But the sightings and experiences were unusual, and unlike any we’d experienced before. Perhaps the biggest difference was the number of things to see – from flora, to fauna, to history, in the space of a 6km (more or less) hike.

A most unusual toothbrush

The trail led us through acid sand proteoid fynbos. As an avid plant lover, Tina was less interested in the usual suspects, and instead Chris pointed out a range of more secretive and strange species. Like the Toothbrush Fern (Schizaea pectinata) – what Chris calls one of the most unusual ferns possibly in the world. It’s one of only two Schizaea species found in South Africa.

The Serruria elongata and the Serruria fasciflora (both Near Threatened) are pretty sightings along the trail. And there are 10 Drosera species (flycatchers) on Phillipskop, most easily visible along the path, including the Drosera cistiflora (Least Concern). The Rock Candlewood tree, Maytenus oleoides, also caught our eye, with its bark’s interesting ability to withstand fire.

A sound spectacle

This outing is certainly a birder’s paradise too. The shy Victorin’s Warbler (a fynbos endemic) refused to show his face, but he gave us a sound spectacle all the same, responding to Chris’s calls (played from the birding app on his phone). The Verraux’s Eagle provided a magnificent spectacle, circling overhead, before finally settling on the cliffs high above. And the Black Harrier made an unexpected pass, possibly heading to the nesting site.

Tina’s sharp eye also spotted a Cape Dwarf Chameleon – a Near Threatened species which is seeing a fall in numbers, likely due to habitat loss. According to Chris, ours was only the fourth sighting on the reserve since the Whitehouse family took it over – but all four sightings have been in 2020.

“While four is not a huge number, seeing all four in the last 6 months suggests that maybe they are more common this year (maybe they have taken time to return after the fire in 2012). We’ll have to see if more sightings continue in the coming months.””

– Chris Whitehouse

A cave like no other

A short detour off the hiking trail took us to the Phillipskop Cave. By chance, rock paintings dating back thousands of years were discovered here in 2016. Since then, the cave has been declared a heritage site.

The paintings aren’t easily visible during a first sweep because they’re quite low down. Handprints and finger dots from what are believed to be Khoe herders are clearly visible and believed to be up to 500 years old.

In between the childlike and joyful handprints are very clear paintings of people and antelope. These are believed to have been painted by San people, dating back between 500 and 2000 years ago. They are the only known rock paintings in the Cape Whale Coast (and probably even further afield).

David vs Goliath

This refers to two impressive rock formations in the Table Mountain Sandstone. Resembling the Finger of God, Chris says these were likely formed many millennia ago by powerful rivers.

And we didn’t expect to see this

Klipspringers are not uncommon on the Phillipskop Reserve. But a most unusual interaction with two Redwing Starlings had Chris scratching his head for a moment. (Scroll through the pics above, to see the buck and bird interaction.)

He describes it as follows: “A couple of Redwing Starlings flew down and started to behave like Oxpeckers by clinging to the back of the Klipspringers. At first, we thought they too might be after food. But then one of the antelope gave a jump as though bitten. The Redwing flew off with a large clump of fur in its mouth. It was soon followed by its partner, that too had gathered fur from the back of the other Klipspringer.

“So we know that birds often line their nests with bits of moss, fur, feathers and other soft material, but in this case it became clear that the Redwing Starlings considered the most efficient way to gather the fur was direct from the source itself. The Klipspringers did not appear to object too much, except when the starling was a bit too enthusiastic with its plucking, but I am not sure how much benefit the antelope gains from the partnership. At least the starling chicks should be snug and warm in their nest this spring.”

Our thanks to Chris for hosting this most wonderful hike on the reserve. We look forward to returning soon, to see what other fantastical features Phillipskop will dish up for us.

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Heather is our content writer. She enjoys helping our clients formulate their message and loves to run her way across beautiful mountains, to explore new places and is always ready for an adventure.

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