Stanford Outing on 4 May

John Saunders writes as follows:

“Irene and I did a recce today of the Stanford Wandelpad and glad that we did. We found that one part of the footpath is underwater due to the high water of the river which will be that way until or unless the Grotto Beach access to the sea is breached. Hence we had to divert to other roads and join the path further along.

We also met an extremely nice chap…who is also a keen member of the Stanford Bird club… Royd Frith… and he pointed out an excellent side track with superb views of the river. He also knows Peter Hochfelden and suggested we ask him to be our guide on the 4th May.

On our return home I phoned Peter Hochfelden and he has willingly agreed to be our tour guide for the visit. I have discussed this with Mike Brian and he is very happy with this idea.

Hence…for the blog…  we still meet and Fernkloof at 0800 and once we have consolidated cars we drive to Stanford to meet Peter at the Information Shop along Queen Victoria road.

For any members who wish to meet us there I suggest that they park along Longmarket (3rd turning on the left after turning off the R43 ) next to the Village Green where there is plenty of space for parking.

The walk is about 2 kilometres, so please bring liquid refreshment to keep you cool en route.

Cheers.    John”

BLSA Affiliation

 

At the Special General Meeting held on the 19th April 2017, with over 50 members in attendance, it was unanimously agreed that Hermanus Bird Club should become an affiliate member of BLSA. The details of the Affiliation agreement and the revised BLSA Constitution were circulated to all members on March 11th 2017, as was the wording for the change to the Hermanus Bird Club’s required addition to the constitution. This wording –“The HBC supports the aims and objectives of BLSA and agrees to abide by the revised BLSA Constitution adopted on 21 March 2015” will be included in the updated HBC Constitution, which will be sent to all members.

Craig

A Frustrating Day

Renee and I spent a few hours at Strandfontein yesterday morning, hoping to see a Sand Martin.  We did not, but we saw plenty of other birds, none of which added anything to my challenge list!  Then, when we arrived home in Hermanus, I opened my mail to see a notice from Trevor Hardaker advising of a Western Yellow Wagtail at Strandfontein. Then a Squacco Heron and, this morning, a Lesser Crested Tern!!  Talk about bad luck – the Tern would have been a lifer for me.  Pity Strandfontein is so far away.

Ronnie

Its Nesting Time! – Please Help

As you are probably aware, our club is mounting a stand at the annual Fernkloof Flower Festival, which is held in September.  Our theme this year will be nesting, so if you have any disused birds’ nests lying around please let either Craig Holmes or Pat Redford have (or borrow) them.  Keep you eyes open for failed or disused nests in the wild too, but please do not disturb or damage any active nests.  We need around 100 nests to build the envisaged stand, but have only received 6 to date.

Challenge News (better late than never)

The results of the Challenge at the end of March were pretty much unchanged.  Mike still led the way with 205 birds worth 468 points, followed by Ronnie on 201 birds worth 456 points.  In third place is Sheelagh on 183 birds worth 391.  Sadly for Mike, he has temporarily dropped out, as he is in Turkey, but when he returns he will no doubt make a run for the line!  It is getting hard to add birds now that all the easy ones have been seen, so let’s see how we go from here.

April Meeting – ‘Western Cape Estuaries’

Members are reminded that Giselle Murison, Project Manager for the Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project, will be addressing us on the 19th.  The meeting will start at 18h00 so as to allow extra time to discuss possible affiliation with BirdLife SA.

Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project

South Africa’s estuaries are one of the country’s most productive habitats. Known for their biodiversity and the important functions they perform, such as providing nursery areas for fish, and feeding and staging areas for significant populations of migratory birds, estuaries constitute one of the country’s most valuable, but vulnerable ecosystems. Many are at risk from multiple threats, including unsustainable land use and unsound land management practices, in part due to their lack of formal protection.Photo 1. Riviera mudflat Berg River Estuary Velddrif

BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project looks to address this gap by seeking formal protection and sustained conservation action for this under-protected ecosystem. Funded by WWF South Africa’s Elizabeth Harding Bequest, the project is focused on the expansion and proclamation of protected areas at three high priority estuaries, identified as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in the Western Cape, and on working with landowners to improve conservation action within these estuaries and their catchment areas to further enable their maintenance and management.

The sites, the Berg River Estuary IBA at Velddrif on the West Coast, and the Klein River and Bot-Kleinmond River Estuaries near Hermanus, which form part of the Cape Whale Coast IBA, are some of the most important estuaries in South Africa for conserving birds and biodiversity. Havens for several internationally and nationally important bird species populations, including African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini, Cape Cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, Caspian Tern Sterna caspia and Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, as well as significant populations of congregatory waterbirds, such as Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata, these estuaries are some of the most valuable in the country for nature conservation, particularly with respect to their bird and fish fauna.

All three estuaries are IBAs; places of international significance for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity. The estuaries’ rich birdlife offers substantial tourism and recreational potential, as do their natural settings, if managed appropriately. They are vital as a nursery for juvenile fish, many species of which form the basis of employment for the local communities, as well as being fundamental to supplying the wider commercial fishing industry.

Under threat from encroaching development, and increasing human disturbance and exploitation, as well as the reduction and pollution of their freshwater inflows, amongst other pressures, these estuaries are highly vulnerable to further degradation and an accompanying loss of biodiversity.

The key objectives of the project are:

• To facilitate formal protected area expansion at these unprotected estuaries through biodiversity stewardship agreements, or similar management models focused on the environment.
• To improve conservation action within the estuaries and their catchment areas, to help landowners tackle the environmental issues they’re facing. By working closely with all relevant stakeholders, including conservation agencies such as Cape Nature, local, provincial and national government bodies, as well as existing forums, such as the Estuary Management Forums, any and all actions aimed at furthering or securing the conservation and protective status of these sites will be identified and progressed with the full cooperation of all parties.

Photo 2. Klein River Estuary Hermanus

It is hoped that future designations will provide benefits for the private landowners involved, while helping to safeguard the areas’ biodiversity and ecosystem services for a more productive and sustainable landscape in the future.

The project will run for three years, from July 2015 until July 2018.

For more information on the project, please contact Giselle Murison at giselle.murison@birdlife.org.za

Saving Africa’s only native penguin species

Africa’s only native penguin species is inching towards extinction due to local food shortages. Conservationists are now trying to reconnect penguin and prey

African Penguins © Shutterstock
African Penguins © Shutterstock
By Christina Hagen

Penguin: the word elicits images of snowy landscapes, icebergs and tightly huddled groups of penguins bracing the harshest of elements. One penguin species that bucks this cold climate trend is the hardy African Penguin Spheniscus demersus, found only on the south-western tip of Africa, in South Africa and Namibia. This species is adapted to warmer subtropical environments, often having to survive temperatures of over 30° C, likely never to see snow or ice.

The African Penguin population, once numbering in the millions, has been reduced to just 1% of its size in the 1900s. Historical egg collecting between 1900 and 1930 resulted in the removal of a staggering 13 million eggs from southern African islands. At the same time, the “white gold rush” for guano, harvested for fertiliser resulted in widespread habitat alteration.

In the space of just a few decades, the guano that had accumulated over thousands of years was removed. Instead of making well-insulated burrows in the guano, penguins are now forced to nest on the surface at most colonies, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to the elements and predation. By the time these two devastating practices were halted in the 1960s, the penguin population had been reduced to just 300,000 breeding birds.

Shortly thereafter a new threat appeared in the form of industrialised fishing for sardine – the African Penguins preferred prey. With the advent of new technologies, fish catches increased to never-before-seen levels. Just 20 years later, the sardine fishery had collapsed. Despite expectations that fishing would be forced to slow down, attentions instead shifted to the smaller, less profitable anchovy, the alternate prey available to the penguins.

Growing penguin chicks need a diet very high in lipids – something that sardine and anchovy provide. Not dissimilar to humans, research suggests that when seabird chicks are fed on lower quality “junk food”, they are slower to develop and can experience decreased cognitive ability, making it harder for the young birds to find food once they have fledged.

As if conditions for the penguins weren’t bad enough, in the 1990s the remaining sardine and anchovy fish shocks started shifting away from their areas of historical abundance. “Because breeding penguins are limited to a 40 km radius from attention-needing nests and chicks, the bulk of the fish have now shifted out of reach of the penguins”, explains Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager at BirdLife South Africa.

Scientists aren’t sure what has caused this shift in distribution but it is likely that both climate change and high levels of fishing on the west coast have played a part. To counter this change in distribution, a novel and innovative project was started to investigate whether new penguin colonies can be established in the areas of high fish abundance.

“Extinct colonies of seabirds have been re-established for flying seabirds, such as the Atlantic Puffin in Maine and several species of petrel from New Zealand, but it has only been attempted once for a penguin species, and never for African Penguins”, says Wanless.

“This project has the potential to increase the penguin population and provide “insurance” by increasing the number of colonies, reducing vulnerability to catastrophic events.” BirdLife South Africa, with the support of several other local and international organisations, has identified two sites at which to attempt the establishment of penguin colonies.

“We’ve decided first to re-establish a colony which started naturally in 2003 but was prevented from taking hold due to predation by terrestrial predators”, says Wanless. “By setting up an effective predator-proof fence we plan to avoid that happening again.” Decoys and the playing of penguin calls will be used to attract birds in from sea and just-fledged chicks will be moved to the new areas to encourage them to return there to breed.

Once penguins start breeding in a colony they return there year after year – a trait which helps them find the same mate again – which is why young chicks need to be encouraged to breed at the new sites, before they chose somewhere else. The aim of the new colonies is to assist penguins to move to these relatively new regions of high food availability.

“While this process could occur naturally over several hundreds of years, we need to help it happen faster”, says Wanless. African Penguins also face a number of other threats, from predation to oil spills to the lack of nesting habitat, and there are conservation interventions in place to address these. Artificial nest boxes are provided to improve breeding success and rehabilitation centres have been set up to care for oiled and injured birds.

“But a lack of food remains the biggest challenge”, says Dr Taryn Morris, Coastal Seabirds Conservation Manager at BirdLife South Africa. “Our focus is on driving protection of their feeding grounds and working with fisheries and government to ensure the ecosystem needs are taken into account.”

The African Penguin is facing an uncertain future but there is a group of dedicated organisations and passionate individuals who are working to ensure the survival of the species. But by moving penguins closer to their food and trying to ensure there are more fish in the sea, we hope tip the balance in their favour.

—-

Christina Hagen is a Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation, BirdLife South Africa

Cape Vultures killed at wind farms

IMG_2151

Cape Vulture near De Hoop Reserve – R Hazell

 Johannesburg, 6 April 2017: African’s vultures are in trouble. Most old-world vultures (vultures found in Africa, Europe, and Asia) have faced severe population declines and are on the edge of extinction. The Cape Vulture is found only in southern Africa, which means that South Africa has a special responsibility to protect this species. This vulture was recently up-listed from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered”, and the species faces numerous threats including poisoning and collisions with and electrocution on powerlines. Scientists predict that increased temperatures associated with global climate change may also negatively impact Cape Vultures. Ironically, a major part of our strategy to minimize climate change – wind energy – may pose a new threat to these endangered birds.

“It is with great sadness that we share news of the first Cape Vultures fatalities as a result of collisions with wind turbines” said Samantha Ralston-Paton, Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager at BirdLife South Africa. “As far as we know, these are the first incidents of this kind for the species” she said. To date four Cape Vulture fatalities as a result of turbine collisions have been reported to BirdLife South Africa.

The collisions were expected and have confirmed conservationists’ concerns that Cape Vultures and wind farms are not compatible. Other vulture species (e.g. the Eurasian Griffon Vulture) have experienced high fatality rates at wind farms in Spain, and the Cape Vulture is ranked as the top priority in BirdLife South Africa’s list of bird species likely to be vulnerable to the impacts of wind energy.

“It is a challenge to find a balance between wind energy and bird conservation,” notes Samantha. “Climate change is a significant threat to our environment and to our well-being, and healthy ecosystems are our main line of defense. We need renewable energy, but it must be developed with respect for nature,” she said.

The most widely accepted strategy to minimize wind energy’s negative effects is to place wind turbines outside of areas regularly used by collision-prone birds. Vultures travel many kilometers from their colonies and roosts, and according to BirdLife South Africa, this implies that large areas may be unsuitable for the development of wind farms. One of the wind farms that reported Cape Vulture fatalities is located approximated 20 km from the nearest known vulture roost, and the other is approximately 12 km from a temporary roost.

“We have come a long way since the first wind farms received environmental approval. The impact assessments for the two wind farms where the mortalities were recorded were completed before BirdLife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Best Practice Guidelines for monitoring and impact assessment were adopted, and we also now recommend, and are seeing, much more rigorous impact assessments where wind farms are proposed within the range of Cape Vulture” notes Samantha.

“We are grateful that post-construction monitoring data are being gathered and shared with us. This is not the norm in many countries elsewhere in the world. So far only a small number of vultures have been affected, but it is important that we learn from and respond to these experiences as quickly as possible to make sure the number of mortalities stays low. Sharing this information also gives us an opportunity to engage with decision-makers, wind farms, bird specialists and researchers to try find solutions”.

Both wind farms have committed to implement further mitigation measures, including actively searching for and removing any animal carcasses in the area. This will reduce the likelihood of vultures visiting the wind farms in search of food. The risk of collisions can also be minimized by stopping turbines turning when vultures are observed in the vicinity of the wind farm. This strategy has been implemented at one of the wind farms, and is being considered at the other.

BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and VulPro have recently issued a statement highlighting their concern around ambitions to develop wind farms in the Eastern Cape. Two Renewable Energy Development Zones proposed by the Department of Environmental Affairs’ draft Strategic Environmental Assessment for Wind and Solar Energy overlap with areas regularly used by Cape Vultures. “A recent study by the CSIR has confirmed that the wind resource in South Africa is excellent in most areas, and we believe there is no need to develop in high risk areas” notes Samantha.

Now that there is evidence the Cape Vultures are at risk at wind farms, the challenge for conservationists and environmentalists is to make sure that the number of vultures affected remains low. “One of BirdLife South Africa’s roles is to make sure that birds do not get overlooked as we scramble to find solutions to the climate change crisis” Samantha concluded.

Birdlife South Africa

2017  Mini Birding Big Day (MBBD) – 2nd April

 

This year’s MBBD was a bit later in the year, so the start time was a bit later; 12hrs from 06:30 to 18:30, with a 40km radius in which to do the searching.

5 teams of 4 birders entered, plus an extra pair too busy to spend the full day!

We had good weather to start and not too hot through the day, but the wind came up a bit in the afternoon, which kept the birds under cover.  Most teams reported many more sightings in the morning than the afternoon.

These are the teams with results.

The Twitching Darters:  Bowmans & Daggs; 121 birds – winners

The Rocky Jumpers: Hazells & Palmers: 117

The Lazy Birds: Saunders, Ann Philip and Lee Burman; 93

 The Bird Brains: Francks & Southworths; 93

The Stoopers: Sterns & Hoopers;  75

The Pair:  Margie Ogston and Barbara Swart. 91

 

The wining total is the lowest since 2006 ( 121 three times since then) and 15 less than 2016 which was the highest since 2006.  The 10 year average is 131 birds.

Total species seen was 158 (2016 – 179, 10yr avg  – 168)

Species seen by all were 48 and single sightings 32. The drought conditions, windy afternoon and later time of year were probably the reason for the low numbers – it could not have been poor birders!

We met at the Fernkloof hall for a braai after sunset and many stories of the day were exchanged.  The incident of the day was seen by the Stoopers who watched two Secretary birds fighting a long shiny snake. At the end of fight one bird swallowed the snake whole “going down like a cold beer on a hot afternoon”.

All in all a good birding day and looking forward to next year!  Hope to see many more club members involved.

Graham Palmer