Monday, 30 July 2012

Spring Sandveld

I got home last night, thoroughly exhausted but extremely gratified, after a week in the Sandveld. Patrick and I traveled around the area to check on 15 eagle nest sites and in the meantime be treated to some of natures best, including the first of the spring flowers, porcupine encounters, cape foxes playing in the fields and a sighting of the rare and beautiful Martial eagle.
We spent long hours observing the three sites where cameras are installed and I am very happy to let you know that they all now have chicks. At one of them we could see the chick, while they other two a young chick was indicated by the attentive parents.

Unfortunately we confirmed that one pair have failed. The reason for this is unknown but we managed to get a sad view into the empty nest…

One evening session was spent waiting for a pair to return to roost. Unfortunately the pair didn’t come, however a juvenile Verreaux’s did come in to roost. On our way home we stopped to watch an owl on an old wind mill… The story unfolds best in the photos below :) 
This nest is surrounded by at least 10 Cape weaver nests. Dieter Oschadleus has let us know that there are many records of weavers building nests in the same tree as a raptor, but this is the first record which he has come across where the raptor is a Black eagle. 
After watching the incubating eagle and the surrounding colony of Cape weavers for some time from below we decided to see if it was possible to check the eggs from above.

We found a route above the nest and slowly and quietly crept to the edge… The eagle took note of us but did not move. Incubation continued for nearly 3 hours while we watched on silently.  
And then finally the other adult flew in and we got to see what lay beneath. I feel very honored to have witnessed this.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Cederberg trials

We set out this morning with the ideal blue skies to put a nest camera up in the Cederberg. After a three hour hike to reach the base of the nest we gave our legs a short rest while we swallowed lunch and then headed up again. Lucia Rodrigues based herself in the valley to watch the behavior of the eagles and our progress while we bundu bashed and scrambled our way up a ravine to get to the top of the nest cliff for the abseil.
On our way up we were rewarded with a quick peek at our target as the incubating eagle stayed on the nest while we passed on one section of the hike. After a further two hour upwards journey we were greeted at the top by the unexpected … snow! Of all the obstacles and overhangs (and hangovers?!) which we had anticipated I did not predict that we would have to battle the elements quite so harshly.  After weighing up our concerns for the viability of the eggs and the safety of the climber we made the decision to abort todays camera mission and retreated down the mountain. Happily we put on our warm clothes and accepted the Cederberg Gods would not let us continue. Now I’m sitting by a log fire hoping for better conditions tomorrow…

Climber Mark Cowen enjoying the snow

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Nest Camera set up

On Tuesday evening we picked up Mark Cowan in Clanwilliam to drive out to the Sandveld ready for the first camera deployment on Wednesday. Mark is a freelance climber with a wealth of experience ranging from putting up the latest whale collection at the Iziko Museum to abseiling to raptor nests for chick ringing studies. We were excited to meet and to finally get on with the daunting challenge we had – to put up six nest cameras at Black eagle nests.
Picture by Tom van der haeghen
I was feeling excited and apprehensive as we reached the top of the first nest cliff on Wednesday morning. Mark and Patrick prepared the abseiling equipment while I triple checked the final programming of the camera. Once the mass of equipment and safety gadgets were fully established and Mark was ready for the first drop Patrick and I wished him good luck and we were left waiting for him to come back. The adults flew around for the duration of the process giving us some impressive flight displays and possibly even aiming their excreta in our direction!!
Programming the cam (Picture by Tom van der haeghen)
Sky drawing
Finally Mark reappeared over the cliff with a big grin on his face and giving us the thumbs up. There were two eggs on the nest which I know are due to hatch this week. It was all done in perfect timing to record the moment and Mark was very happy with the set up. We hurriedly packed the gear away and retreated from the scene. On leaving the area, the eagle was happily incubating under the watchful eye of our motion sensing camera!
We have now repeated this process on another two nests meaning we have reached our first goal of deploying three cameras in the Sandveld and now have to move on to do the same in the Cederberg. Today was meant to be the first one here in the Cederberg but the rain and cold stopped us getting out. However, this has instead given me the opportunity to update the blog! We now wait with excitement to retrieve the SD memory cards and photos at the end of the breeding season.

With my biggest thanks to Mark Cowan, Patrick Banville, Darling Brew, Donkies Kraal, Tom and Tessy!