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Biesiepoort

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Sociable Weavers nest Sociable Weavers nest - Photo: Our Wild World

Biesiepoort is located just to the south of the N10, the national road which connects Upington with the Namibian border post at Nakop. The word “biesie” translates from Afrikaans to English as “bulrush”, but it could also refer to any of the family of reeds which are used to weave indigenous household items such as sleeping mats or wicker furniture. The poort itself, although very pretty, is quite insignificant, but the area in which it is located typifies the Kalahari landscape and is an unforgettable drive.

The road is in a good condition and can be traversed in any vehicle, although there are large patches of soft sand. Watch out for small animals such as mongooses, and be particularly careful not to run over the large monitor lizards (leguaans) which are commonly found moving slowly across the road.

 

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Digging into the details:

Getting there:

To approach from the south, start off in Lutzburg at the intersection of the N14 and a gravel road, at GPS coordinates S28.751271 E20.625085. Travel in a northerly direction for 37.3 km to S28.441931 E20.564459, which is the southern start point.  

The road towards LutzvilleOn the road to Lutzburg / Photo: Mike Leicester

To approach from the north, start off near Upington at the intersection of the N10 and the R360, at GPS coordinates S28.415658 E21.206240. Travel in a westerly direction along the N10 for 55.6 km to S28.288230 E20.658598, then turn left onto a gravel road signposted as “Keimoes”. Travel in a southerly direction for 11.2 km to S28.387765 E20.661671, where you will reach a T-junction. Turn right, and travel in a westerly direction for 4.3 km to S28.378464 E20.619956, then turn left. From this intersection, travel in a southerly direction for 6.8 km to S28.430267 E20.585934, which is the northern start point. 

We have filmed the pass from north to south. This is in the descending mode, but the decline is so imperceptible that it appears to be almost flat. The pass begins with a short straight of 300 metres, then turns to the right through a shallow corner of 80 degrees. A long straight of 1 km follows as the road traverses between low koppies on either side. The vegetation consists of small scrub bushes, interspersed here and there with occasional trees.  

Sociable WeaverSociable Weaver (Philetairus Socius) / Photo: Wikimedia

At the 1.6 km mark, the road turns through a shallow curve to the left, and enters a narrow passage hemmed in between sheer rock walls on both sides. Sturdy game fencing appears on the left, and a small clearing with a windpump and a concrete dam is evident on the right. A short straight of 400 metres leads into another left-hand bend, then then road straightens up again through a very sandy section. The final corner of the pass is a shallow right-hander, followed by a straight of 350 metres which gets you to the end of the pass at the 2.8 km mark.  

All around this region of the Northern Cape, you will quickly notice that many of the telephone poles appear to be decorated with conical thatched “hats”. This is not the work of artistic locals; these are the nests of the Sociable Weaver. As there are very few trees in the area, these enterprising little birds have taken to using the poles as a base to build their nests, which sometimes get so big and heavy, especially when wet, that the poles and the cables break off. It must be a nightmare for the service provider!  

Yellow MongooseYellow Mongoose / Photo: Etosha National Park

Unlike other weavers which only build their nests in the breeding season, Sociable Weavers use and maintain their nests throughout the year. They nest in colonies as small as 10 individuals or as large as 400-500 birds. Their nests are instantly recognizable, resembling huge apartment blocks. The nest structures can reach heights of up to 4 metres, and from a distance may typically look like a haystack stuck up on a large tree or telephone pole.  

Preferred nesting sites are generally long, smooth poles or sparsely-branched trees to deter predators such as Cape Cobras, Black Mambas, Boomslangs, baboons, rats and genets. Various materials are utilized for different sections of the nest, each material choice being purposefully selected. Large twigs and stems, placed at an angle and pointing downwards, cover the roof of the nest. Grasses are shoved into the structure until it is firmly secured. It is believed that the crown of sharp grass spikes picket-fencing the tunnel entrances may be designed as protection from predators. Photographic evidence has proven that some of these nest structures are over 100 years old.  

Nests on telephone poles - KalahariTypical Weavers nest structure on a telephone pole / Pinterest

Access to the nest core is via a smattering of galleries that lead to the breeding chambers, the tunnels leading to such chambers averaging 25 cm long and 7 cm wide, and the breeding chambers themselves are about 10 to 15 cm in diameter. The nesting chambers are lined with soft materials, such as feathers, fluff, wool, or hair.  

The nest has proven itself to be an effective temperature buffer against the cold temperatures at night (especially in winter), and the high temperatures during the day, reducing temperature variability in nest chambers. The extent of this buffering effect depends significantly on the position of nest chambers within the communal structure, and on the depth to which the chambers are embedded within the nest mass. Not surprisingly, older and more veteran pairs tend to occupy chambers with the highest thermoregulatory benefits. 

[Text & video footage by Mike Leicester] 

 

 


Fact File:

GPS START

S28.430267 E20.585934

GPS SUMMIT

S28.430267 E20.585934

GPS END

S28.441931 E20.564459

AVE GRADIENT

1:88

MAX GRADIENT

1:10

ELEVATION START

799m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

799m

ELEVATION END

768m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

31m

DISTANCE

2,8 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South

TIME REQUIRED

3 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

60 kph

SURFACE

Gravel

DATE FILMED

19.01.2018

TEMPERATURE

31C

NEAREST TOWN

Kakamas (42 km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: - Biesiepoort (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software systems)

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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
 

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