By Lee Burman
The latest Crane Count near Hermanus seems to indicate an increase in the number of Steppe Buzzards and Spur-winged Geese. That is the good news. But the number of Blue Cranes seems to be in decline. That is the bad news.
The twice-yearly Crane Count, a project of the Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town, must be one of the longest ongoing birding projects in the country. It was started in 1993.
At first only counted Blue Cranes and Denham’s Bustards were counted, but gradually other birds have been added and we now count 13 species found in this area plus a number of buck species.
My route, OV17, starts on the Swartrivier Road at Gabriëlskloof, continues along the Karwyderskraal Road and then up the Hemel en Aarde valley to just outside Caledon.
What has been very noticable over the years is the change in farming practices along large parts of this route. Even the Swartrivier Road, which used to wind through mainly wheatlands, so ideal for Blue Cranes, has largely changed to vineyards and Canola. Hemel en Aarde has become almost devoid of cranes until one gets close to Caledon. Even there, on farms where one could count on seeing fair numbers, there seems to be fewer every year.
For example in January 2012 we counted 166 Blue Cranes against 68 counted in January 2016 by Margie Ogston and Barbara Swart, who stood in for me. On the other hand, they counted 32 Steppe Buzzards, which is a record, and 26 Spur-winged Geese, also higher than usual.
I was delighted to see that they only spotted one Pied Crow. So far these scavengers seem not to have invaded the Overberg as much as they have further west.
The list for the Count in January 2016:
Blue Crane 68
Black-shouldered Kite 3
Steppe Buzzard 32
Cape Crow 4
Denham’s Bustard 6
Spur-winged Goose 26
Pied Crow 1
White Stork 1
Black-headed Heron 1
Jackal Buzzard 6
Grey Rhebuck 10