Saturday, 24 September 2011

School camp

Elizabeth Martins of the Cape Leopard Trust runs educational camps for school. She has been working with children from the local Eselbank school for the past few years, taking them out some afternoons. They are now on a three day camp that gives them the chance to get out in the field and see what is happening on this side of the mountains!
Today I joined them to look for Black eagles and check up on one of the nests I am monitoring. I explained a little of the breeding process and the shape of the nest – like a bowl so if the chick is in the center we won’t see it. Ek praat nie so goed Afrikaana nie which I think they found funny, if not slightly daunting. Nevertheless, we set off down the trail to look for the eagles. As I set up the telescope we were so lucky that the adult flew onto the nest and stood with the eaglet; which is now only around 2 weeks away from fledging.
I was a real reward for me to share my work with the kids and see their excitement at these magnificent birds. It’s days like today when I feel like the Black Eagle Project is more than just the research and is coming closer to fulfilling the aim of engaging and inspiring people.

Thanks Elizabeth and Eselbank children!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Sandveld

The Sandveld is rated as the second most threatened ecosystem in South Africa. Of the 12 vegetation types that occur there, nine are threatened by habitat loss (C.A.P.E. 2011). Fragmentation due to agriculture is widespread and potato fields now dominate the landscape.
A view from a Sandveld nest
Considering this, I was pleasantly surprised by the findings of my latest visit to the area. I went to 12 nests and can confirm 6 chicks, I suspect a further 3 nests also have chicks but due to bad weather it was very difficult to tell. Two nests have failed – one at chick stage and one did not complete incubation. One pair is not breeding this year but is building a new nest above the previous nest.

Nest spacing in the Sandveld is much wider apart than the Cederberg where spacing is ±3km. In some cases this is due to the lower availability of nesting habitat – i.e. less cliffs. However, this is not always the case and I have been looking for nests in suitable habitat 3km away from the nearest known and not found any.

The first GPS has just arrived and I will start testing it for suitability this week. This will be a really exciting step and will allow us to explore questions such as ‘do Black eagles in the Sandveld need to travel further to find prey than those in the Cederberg?’

Many thanks to Pierre at Wagenpad farm for providing accommodation for this trip and thanks to all the friendly and helpful landowners – your support makes this research possible.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Nest cam no.1

Today was the long awaited nest camera deployment day - The camera base station consists of two large batteries charged by a solar panel and an antenna with a transmitter that can hook up to the internet connection down in the valley. The antenna needs to be within line of sight to a particular point and the base station needs to be close enough to the nest for the camera wire to reach. So it was a weigh off in the end with the line of sight being necessary and the camera not being as close to the nest as hoped. Dr Andrew Jenkins came up for the abseil and patiently fixed the camera up to the best point possible. In terms of a diet analysis the camera is not yet in a good position but it was a learning curve and a step in the right direction to hike a mountain with a solar panel and get all the equipment in place. 
A massive thank you to David and Cisca Nieuwoudt of Cederberg Cellars for sponsoring the camera equipment and to Dawie Burger for his help, organisation, enthusiasm and man-power on the project! Will keep the updates coming as this part of the project progresses.
Dawie and volunteer Michele with the base station!