Beach Breeding Birds

 

A request from Anton Odendal:

Dear all,

Hope this finds you all well.

We have just launched our first project resulting from the BirdLife Overberg workshop presented earlier this month. It will be appreciated if all of you who find African Black Oystercatchers and White-fronted Plovers that are breeding or raising chicks along the Overstrand beaches report it with an email to birding@overberg.co.za Kindly also provide the GPS coordinates of the nest sites and ensure that the birds are not disturbed – do not go within 30 yards from the nests and keep dogs on leashes.

Also consider forwarding this to all like-minded people or organisations that might be in a position to assist with this.

We have posted an article with illustrations on what we are trying to achieve with this project at the link below. Kindly read this and assist us as far as you can.

http://www.westerncapebirding.co.za/overberg/news/2370/kindly_assist_by_locating_beach_breeding_birds

Kind regards.

Anton

Today is International Vulture Day

IVAD - 2 September 2017 (002)

“These endangered birds are to thank for our clean natural environment and preventing the spread of diseases. Nature’s clean-up crew has also played a hand in the anti-poaching movement by alerting rangers to poaching activity; pretty cool right? So think twice before calling someone a vulture; this compliment should be kept for the environmentally-conscious and nature loving among us.”

Mark Anderson  BLSA

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

Repairs to the Heronry at Vermont

 

Some guys just can’t resist a day in the mud, especially when it is accompanied by the fine aroma of well weathered Guano!!

Guy and John, with assistance from Vuyo, have fixed up the heronry by adding new branches for future nests.  This has resulted in a much upgraded platform and members are encouraged to get down to the Vermont pan to do some birding and see the benefits of their hard work. Well done!!  A smelly and dirty job done with absolute dedication to the cause and the HBC.

An Appeal to Club Members

Those of you who attended the Flower Festival last spring will recall the very successful stand mounted by the Hermanus Bird Club.  Pat Redford put it together and she has once again volunteered her services to design and build our 2017 stand.  This year’s theme will be nests and members are asked to assist in this regard

Pat asks that you should look out for abandoned or fallen nests (please do not touch active ones!)  Her advice is:

  • Shake them off a bit,
  • Spray with a little bit of insect spray to rid nest of mites etc,
  • Store in a ventilated cardboard box in their garage until September.
  • If you know for sure which bird species the nest belonged to, can you label the box accordingly.
  • If you are not sure, perhaps you can do research themselves to establish the most likely species, a good learning experience?
  • Alternatively we will get the nests all lined up and ask our experts to ID them, so we can label and display.

She would love to have about 100 nests, even if there are several the same, it would make an awesome display! We have at least 100 active members, so she am sure 1 per member or per couple could be achieved? Specially in the windy stormy winter ahead. She would also like to have photographs of nests or birds nesting.  These should be emailed to her at patred@iafrica.com so that she can start compiling the information and plan the display.

Glenda Furst recently took the photograph below.  Mike Ford has identified it as a Little Swift, and it is the sort of image that is needed, so lets get cracking!

Swallows

Little Swift and nest

Superwoman Odette’s mission to save Overberg’s Renosterveld

Dr Odette Curtis, speaker at the Club monthly meeting on Wednesday 19 October, has dedicated her life to preserving one of the most diverse and threatened ecosystems in the world.

The title of her presentation will be “Saving The Overberg’s Renosterveld: Can we stop the extinction spiral?”

odette-1-polhillia

Dr Odette Curtis

Renosterveld – literally translated from Afrikaans as “rhinoceros field” – is a term used to describe one of the major and most diverse plant communities and vegetation types of the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Human activities such as farming have decimated these fertile fynbos havens, and Odette is hard at work trying to preserve the critically endangered survivors.

“It’s estimated that there’s less than between 4 and 6% of the Renosterveld left,” says Curtis. Even this is an optimistic estimate; the true figure could be significantly lower, she says.

The remaining Renosterveld is highly fragmented, with fewer than 50 fragments larger than 100 ha. Almost all Renosterveld remnants occur on privately owned land, creating an additional challenge for conservation.

All these factors, coupled with the large range of endemic and threatened plants and animals inhabiting this bio-hotspot, make the unique Renosterveld one of the most threatened habitats on earth. This puts it in urgent need of conservation attention.

Odette holds an MSc in  Zoology (2005) and a PhD in Botany (2013) from the University of Cape Town (UCT). She has authored or co-authored eight scientific papers and fourteen popular articles. She was invited as a Leadership Intern to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Pennsylvania, USA, for two months in 2005.

Odette managed the Black Harrier (Witkruis-vleivalk) and Black Sparrowhawk (Swartsperwer) Projects from 2000-2006 at UCT; undertook a pilot study on gamebirds in Renosterveld (2007), and was contracted by Cape Nature’s Stewardship Programme from 2007-2011. She also initiated research on Renosterveld management since 2007 (funded by the World Wildlife Fund from 2007-2011).

Since being appointed Director of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust, she has made her home in Napier in the Overberg.

The meeting, in the Fernkloof Reserve Hall, begins at 19:00. We are back in summer time.

Feeding garden birds – good or bad?

 

Most people derive immense pleasure from watching birds devour food they have supplied. Feeding birds also has the undeniably positive spin-off that it may start many people on a life-long interest in birds.

But, in reality, is feeding birds doing them a favour or does it merely serve to gratify our own human pleasure?

This question is asked and dealt with in an article by Charles and Julia Botha which was first published in Africa Birds and Birding seven years ago, but recently re-published in adapted form in a number of South African magazines.

There are many overseas studies regarding the consequences of feeding birds, the authors state.

One concern raised by a research study is that regular bird feeding may create a population level that cannot be sustained by the natural food supply in the area. Thus birds are encouraged to settle where they cannot support themselves once feeding stops.

Supplementary feeding often improves breeding results and causes earlier egg laying, which is of benefit to some species. However, in others, breeding too early brings negative results, because chicks are in the nest before the period when the maximum natural food becomes available. As a result, extra food supplements on offer during times less favourable for raising chicks can lead to a decrease, rather than an increase, in the survival rate of offspring.

With some surveys estimating that as many as 75% of UK households provide food for birds, this human influence on the ecology of birds is undeniable and is more than likely causing considerable disruption of the natural selection process.

To read the full article, including the authors’ suggested solution, click on this link: Feeding garden birds

Game birds having a good season

 

Story and images: Ed Meyer

The upland game birds in the mountain fynbos above Voëlklip have had a very successful breeding season in 2015-’16.

20160226_161315

Cape Spurfowl with youngsters.

Four or five pairs of Cape Spurfowl regularly visit our garden on the edge of the Fernkloof Reserve and have all produced at least two clutches of chicks from August through to January.

Initial clutch size has been on average five, however, the chicks seem to be most vulnerable to predators in the first few weeks before they can “flutter fly”. Clutch numbers raised to maturity average between two and three.

We recently witnessed, sadly, a mature young spurfowl being spectacularly caught by an African Goshawk, taken up into our red gum tree and devoured in our full view – a special sighting.

20160226_085016

Pair of Helmeted Guineafowl with second clutch of chicks.

Helmeted Guineafowl have also bred successfully this past season. A very relaxed pair arrived in January with six juveniles, who were around with one parent bird for a few weeks.

Next thing was the mother arriving proudly with sixteen day-old chicks, her second clutch for the season. The juveniles disappeared and both parents then took care of the large brood of chicks.

We have had fun watching the development of the youngsters, but again sadly, predators have taken their toll and after two weeks their numbers are down to ten. They can now scurry for cover and dart away when there is any risk, so we watch with interest to see how many will survive.

So long, sugarbirds

 

By Mike Ford

Those of you who have nectar feeders in your gardens will probably be noticing a drop-off in sugarbird numbers over the past few days.

Suikervoël, Kaapse (Sugarbird, Cape), 130921 Hermanus 0316

A Cape Sugarbird (Kaapse Suikervoël) in a Hermanus garden. Image: Charles Naudé.

This is almost the end of the “scavenging” season for these birds and it is time for them to start returning to their proper habitat in the protea fynbos.

Before the advent of feeders these birds would leave their beloved proteas around September or October and go hunting for any other species of trees and bushes for alternative supplies of nectar, returning in late February or March to resume their more normal feeding patterns and also to moult in preparation for their winter breeding period.

If there are considerably fewer sugarbirds in your garden, you can either reduce the nectar you feed them to just enough for the smaller sunbirds and white-eyes, or take the feeder down and store it for the winter. Either way, make sure you give it a good clean, and disinfect it with something like Dettol before storing.