Click here to read the March 2015 Raptor Rescue Newsletter.
With Mike Roseblade and Jane Morris
Sunday 12 April 2015
Beautiful sunny weather brought out the birds in Palmiet Nature Reserve when a group from Westville Conservancy were joined by some BLPN members to spend 3 hours of good birding along the river.
The group split into 2 led by Mike and Jane and recorded a total of 48 species. Click here to see the bird list.
Good birds seen included Black Sparrowhawk, Grey Waxbill, Lemon Dove and Mountain Wagtail.
This is about the average count we also encounter on the Westville Trail. However no Magpie Mannikins until we retired to Jane and Mike’s garden where all 3 Manniken species were active.
We had a good turnout of members and visitors about 20 in all.
Unfortunately the weather was not too good, rather dull and overcast. Paradise Valley is mainly forest birding plus a rather nice walk alongside the river.
At least two or three pairs of Mountain Wagtails were seen, a couple of bird parties were encountered but a lot of birding was done on call!
Our total bird count was 41.
Some members were a little restless at times and mention was made of reaching the sea via the Umbilo Ponds and hopefully there would be a shebeen or two along the way (how the shebeen got into the mix I am not too sure) but the walk was very pleasant and the waterfall too beautiful.
By the time we returned to the picnic area for tea the weather had improved and “The Saturday Chat Show” was in fine form over tea. Mark was toasting Hot Cross Buns (superb) and the bird list was completed with only a few alphabetical faux pas!!
Moths, Butterflies, Spiders and Crabs were also seen and photgraphed for ID. As well as a few other birds we were lucky enough to snap.
Thanks to Paul and John for the pics.
Teachers, click here to obtain Lesson Plans related to birds, their habitats and conservation.
Led by Mike Roseblade
Five of us met at the Westville Civic Centre at 07h00. We started off on the trail in the Civic Centre grounds and came across several bird parties before we had progresses far.
Once we had crossed the road we were into the forest which was quiet at first – except for the mozzies.
We headed for an area where the Magpie Mannikins have been regularly sighted. And of course we were not disappointed. There they were, among Bronze Mannikins. We later came across some more amongst both Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins.
It was pleasing to note that there were several juveniles amongst them so they are obviously breeding in the area.
We managed a bird list of about 50 birds. To see the list click here.
Some of the other birds photographed:
Sunday 22 March 2015
Without a scope, we struggled long and hard over this wader. The very dark patch on its left shoulder was quite confusing. It crossed our minds that it could have been a Green Sandpiper.
It was not till it flew into the water and turned around that we were able to properly identify it.
The next sighting was right beside our car – spotted luckily by Sally. There were three of them.
Greater Painted Snipes
A few other sightings in the same general area: The first three photos and last two submitted by Hennie Jordaan.
One bird that has us wondering is this Crossbilled LBJ.
Paul and Sally Bartho
Click here to read the BirdLife South Africa Annual Report 2014.
Click here to read the Dolphin Coast Bird Club Newsletter March 2015.
Report by Rex Aspeling.
A wonderful sunrise greeted us on the way to SAPPI- Stanger.
As there were only 12 of us we all headed to the hide where this great birding spot lived up to its reputation. Due to the reduced numbers everyone had plenty of time to enjoy this lovely spot.
We saw and heard a total of 82 birds on the day. Click here to view the list.
The highlights were Black-crowned Night Herons circling overhead, first two then another four.
Cape Teal were seen which are new to the hide list.
Here are some photos of birds seen at the hide:
Some lively discussion took place regarding the Identity some of the waders. Particularly the Kittlitz’s Plover as which some identified it as a White-Fronted Plover. (The white-Fronted Plover picture was taken in Ponta d’ Oura)
The scopes of Paul Bartho and Ismail Vahed made a big difference and settled most differences.
We then did a circuit up to the pump station and ended up at the picnic area for Breakfast.
Some birds seen wandering around the ponds include:
Most of us returned to the Hide to end a lovely day at SAPPI.
The morning started off with about 20 people but ended up with +27 and our bird count was +51.
As I had been to the bay on Friday and was aware that low tide was very very low and high tide not much better we decided to do the Boardwalk first and check out the Black Sparrowhawks nest. It was in amongst the mangroves that some of us were lucky enough to see the Black-throated Wattle-eye. We also went along to the grasslands – which seem to be fast disappearing under the ever encroaching Chrysanthemoides and Brachylaena. It was here that we saw a lot of Amethyst Sunbirds, mainly females and and juveniles. Little Bee-eaters and lots and lots of Bronze Mannikins and Cape White-eyes.
The Black Spars were flying overhead, Goliath Heron perched in a tree; Little Egrets, Sacred Ibis, Grey Herons, Grey-headed Gulls, Kelp Gulls, a pair of Caspian Terns plus Common and Swift Terns. A number of Greenshanks, Common Ringed Plovers but only one Common Sandpiper. Blacksmith Lapwings in abundance! A pair of Fish Eagles and at the end of our walk at last an Osprey!
The tide was really too low for us to catch the waders coming in with the tide – maybe we will get lucky next time. We seem to have a lack of bird pics but as the crabs were everywhere we have some nice pics of crabs!!
Part of the reason we go to Bayhead is for the waders but questionably the main reason is Bud’s. There is a new guy running Bud’s and I think he was a little overwhelmed to start with but he managed very well in the end. There were 20 of us so firstly we had to rearrange the tables, secondly we explained that individual bills were required and thirdly and most importantly we needed drinks, very cold drinks and as fast as possible!
Doing the bird list was a ‘hoot’ – I don’t think birders know the alphabet including me. Maybe the birding was not too great but lunch lived up to our expectations – the food was good, the drinks were cold and the company was great.
Pics are courtesy of Penny.
Dragon Peaks 27 February to 1 March
Report by Paul and Sally Bartho
Sally and I set out several days early to scout the area around Dragon Peaks to see where we could lead the group birding for the weekend.
We set off in trepidation as the weather forecast was very unfavourable – rain every day all day and heavy at times. We arrived at lunchtime on Tuesday 24 February. Our campsite was quickly organised.
As we were undecided about the birding program for the weekend, we set off to check out the birding around Bell Park Dam with Maureen Geall – another early arrival.
We had been given an offer to take a motorised pontoon around the dam by one of our members who was joining the outing – Rex Aspeling. Birding around the area of Bell Park Dam seemed to have potential and we thought that this might be a relaxing way to enjoy Saturday afternoon.
That night the rains arrived during dinner – pouring heavily until past two o’clock the next morning. We awoke to a gloomy morning and went off to see what birding at Monk’s Cowl could offer us.
We took the walk through the forest and into the grassland down to the waterfall.
A long way down and it seemed a longer way back uphill. Birding through the forest was quiet, however the grassland area was more interesting. There were numerous Cisticolas, the odd Pipit, Widowbirds, Bishops, Stonechats and the like. We were not convinced that this would be an appropriate place to bring the group.
Norman did find a Swee Waxbill at Monk’s Cowl at the end of the weekend.
That afternoon the trails around Dragon Peaks including the forest walk were negotiated and proved relatively quiet as well.
The next day – Thursday – we took a recce of the Blue Grotto forest walk at the Drakensberg Sun. Lovely bright sunny day and the forest was alive with numerous interesting bird species. That settled where we would go on Saturday morning.
We then went to see if the White-fronted Bee-eater roost still existed at the Little Tugela (one km. off the Winterton road along the D57). Their roost was overgrown. However, Brown-throated Martins had established a roost in the sandbanks along both sides of the road as we approached the bridge. On the other side of the bridge we chased an Orange-breasted Waxbill and White-winged Widowbirds to get photos – no great success.
After another kilometre we came to a large cattle ranch – birds every which way – all 4 species of Ibis, Pied Starlings, Queleas, Black Crows, White-necked Ravens, Steppe and Jackal Buzzards, Amur Falcons, hundreds of White-faced Ducks in the dam, Red-billed Teals, Yellow-billed Ducks, Common Sandpiper, Three-banded Plovers, Blacksmith Lapwings, Rufous-naped and Red-capped Larks, Cape Longclaw, Black-headed heron, Cattle Egret, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, South African Cliff-Swallows, Barn and White-throated Swallows, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows, Cape and African Pied Wagtails. Wow.
That sealed another must visit place for the weekend.
A few more people arrived on Thursday with most coming at lunchtime on Friday. In all the group consisted of 20 persons at Dragon Peaks – 8 of us (Peter and Frankie, Maureen, Paddy and Helen, Sabrina, Sally and I) camping. Barry, Merle, Heather and Stanley, Jackie and Roland, Ismail, Hennie and Decklan, Mike and Jane, Norman in Dragon Peaks accommodation. Then there was Dave and Penny Rimmer at the Drakensberg Sun and Rex Aspeling at Bell Park Dam. We were 23 in all. A large group.
Friday night we braaied in the resort’s covered braai area. The program was set – quite a convivial evening despite the drizzle.
The next morning at 07h00 we all set off for Drakensberg Sun. It was overcast but not raining. We split into 2 groups – the tortoises and the hares. The hares set off first up the Blue Grotto trail and the tortoises followed 10 minutes behind.
Before we even set off a Forest Canary sat very obligingly out in the open and we all had good views of it.
Both groups had good views of most of the forest specials – Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Bush Blackcap, African Olive Pigeon and Lemon Dove to name a few. The Barratt’s Warbler was heard but not seen. On the way back drizzle set in but fortunately the rain got no heavier.
On the way back to Dragon Peaks, Norman spotted this Secretarybird among other bewildering birds.
Saturday afternoon we set off at 14h00 from Dragon Peaks to Bell Park Dam. There we met with Rex and James (the captain of the pontoon).
Off we set for a couple of hours circling the dam. Some birds seen along the Bell Park Dam:
African Black Duck were seen as well as a number of other ducks. However the highlight of the tour was definitely good sightings of a Half-collared Kingfisher. This was a lifer for a number of people on board. Even the persistent drizzle did not dampen our spirits.
On the way home we came accross an alate erruption and the raptors were buzzing low over the road – Lanner Falcon, African Harrier-Hawk, Yellow-billed Kites.
That evening we gathered at the Dragon Peaks braai boma – did our bird list – some 150 different species. Then as asked, each person presented an interesting or unusual fact about birds. The effort everyone went into to research something different was amazing. In the end a bottle of red wine went to Paddy for his info on the behaviour of Sooty Terns which scoop up a mouthful of sea water on their return to the roost. This they deposit on grass eventually killing it. The dried grass is then used in nest building.
Sunday morning was an early start – 06h30. We took a walk around Dragon Peaks checking out the bird life in and around the dams. Possibly the best sighting was that of an African Reed Warbler – identified by its call.
The idea was then to visit the Little Tugela and cattle ranch which most people did on their way home.
You can view the bird list by clicking here. Note a few additional birds were seen during the morning including Bronze Mannikin and Lesser Grey Shrike
The bird of the weekend was the Half-collared Kingfisher.
Climate Change and War.
For years, scientists and security analysts have warned that global warming looms as a potential source of war and unrest.
These factors are predicted to become more severe as carbon emissions interfere with the earth’s climate system.
“In a number ‘of African countries, the increase in violent conflict is the most striking feature of the cumulative effects of climate change,” South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies warned in 2012.
The idea leapt to prominence in 2007, when UN chief Ban Ki-moon said violence in Sudan’s Darfur region was sparked in part by a two-decade decline in rainfall that devastated cattle herds.
Arab nomads were pitched against settled farmers in a rivalry for grazing and water. The tension bloomed into full scale confrontation between rival militias.
Others have drawn a link between the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and climate change-induced heatwaves in cereal-exporting countries.
This may have lit the fuse in powder-keg Arab countries, according to this view.
Former US vice-president Al Gore, now a Nobel-honoured climate campaigner, believes climate change was a factor in the Syrian conflict.
“From 2006 to 2010 there was a climate related historic drought that destroyed 60% of the farms in Syria, 80% of the livestock and drove a million refugees into the cities, where they collided with another million refugees from the Iraq war,” he said in Davos last month.
Not all experts agree and climate scientists are cautious about drawing a causal link between global warming and current conflicts – as opposed to future ones.”The example of Darfur is often put forward,” French climatologist Jean Jouzel writes in a new book. “But the reality is more complex, and most researchers acknowledge that the political and economic context was the prime factor.”
In the military though, it is different. Armed forces cannot wait until the proof is all there, which is why in many countries, military analysts already included climate change in risk management, said Neil Morisetti, a former British admiral and climate adviser to the British government.
“Some will say the risk is here already, “he said. “If you look at where climate change is going to have its greatest effect and is already having an effect, it’s that belt north and south of the equator … this is where a lot of raw materials are, where the world’s supply chains and trade routes run, and where ultimately a lot of the markets and emerging powers are.”
Experts are united in heralding worse to come. “Human security will be progressively threatened as the climate changes,” the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in its overview report.
The Pentagon agreed. “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict,” it said last year. – AFP
BREACHING THE BOUNDARIES OF SURVIVAL
Human activity has pushed the planet across four of nine environmental boundaries, sending the world towards a danger zone, according to a study published recently in the journal Science.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, changes in land use and altered biogeochemical cycles, due in part to fertiliser use, have changed fundamentally how the planet functions, the study said.
These changes destabilise complex interactions between people, oceans, land and the atmosphere, said the paper titled “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet”, by 18 leading international researchers.
Passing the boundaries makes the planet less hospitable, damaging efforts to reduce poverty or improve quality of life.
“For the first time in human history, we need to relate to the risk of destabilising the entire planet” said Johan Rockstrom, one of the study’s authors and an environmental science professor at Stockholm University.
Scientists in 2009 identified the nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can develop and thrive. The five other boundaries, which are ozone depletion, ocean acidification, freshwater use, microscopic particles in the atmosphere and chemical pollution, have not been crossed.
Passing the boundaries does not cause immediate chaos, but pushes the planet into a period of uncertainty.
Scientists consider climate change the most serious.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a gas causing the planet to warm, has exceeded 350 parts per million to the present 395 parts per million, crossing the boundary of what scientists think to be acceptable.
“We are at a point where we may see abrupt and irreversible changes due to climate change, said Rockstrom, as warming could cause Arctic ice sheets to melt, releasing more greenhouse gases and creating a vicious feedback loop.
The study results are to be incorporated into the new global development goals that will be finalised in September at the United Nations in New York to replace the Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation which expiring this year.
Scientists hope the new study will help balance competing demands for economic growth and environmental sustainability, which are likely to arise during the conference.
The debate over the reality of climate change rages on, with conflicting data confusing decisions and widening the gap between supporters and doubters.
In fact, despite the dire warnings, food prices have declined in the past four years, indicating that wild weather linked to climate change is not destroying harvests worldwide. Commodity prices, a measure of scarcity for energy and other basic goods, are also falling, leading some economists to question warnings from climate scientists.
However, “Just because we are not seeing a collapse today doesn’t mean we are not subjecting humanity to a process that could lead to catastrophic outcomes over the next century,” said Rockstrom. – Reuters.
Environmental indicators are simple measures that tell us what is happening in the environment. Since the environment is very complex, indicators provide a more practical and economical way to track the state of the environment than if we attempted to record every possible variable in the environment.
Indicator species are plants and animals that, by their presence, abundance, lack of abundance, or chemical composition, demonstrate some distinctive aspect of the character or quality of an environment.
An indicator species can be any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment. For example, a species may delineate an eco-region or indicate an environmental condition such as a disease outbreak, pollution, species competition or climate change. Indicator species can be among the most sensitive species in a region and sometimes act as an early warning to monitoring biologists.
In places where metal-rich minerals occur at the soil surface, indicator species of plants can be examined to understand the patterns of naturally occurring pollution, and they can even be a tool used in prospecting for potential ore bodies.
Often, the indicator plants accumulate large concentrations of metals in their tissues. Nickel concentrations as large as 10% have been found in the tissues of indicator plants in the mustard family (Alyssum bertolanii and A. murale) in Russia, and a concentration as large as 25% occurs in the blue-coloured latex of Sebertia acuminata from the Pacific island of New Caledonia. Similarly, Becium homblei, related to mint, has been important in the discovery of copper deposits in parts of Africa, where it is confined to soils containing more than 1,000 mg/kg of copper, because it can tolerate more than 7% copper in soil. So-called copper mosses have been used by prospectors as botanical indicators of surface mineralization of this metal in Scandinavia, Alaska, Russia, and elsewhere.
Plants are also used as indicators of serpentine minerals, a naturally occurring soil constituent that in large concentrations can render the substrate toxic to the growth of most plants. The toxicity of serpentine influenced soils is mostly caused by an imbalance of the availability of calcium and magnesium, along with the occurrence of large concentrations of toxic nickel, chromium and cobalt and small concentrations of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Serpentine soils are common in parts of California, where they have developed a distinctive flora with a number of indicator species, many of which are endemic to this habitat type.
Indicator plants also occur in many semi-arid areas on soils containing selenium. Some of these plants can accumulate this element to large concentrations, and they can be poisonous to livestock, causing a syndrome known as “blind staggers” or “alkali disease.” The most important selenium-accumulating plants in North America are in the genus Astragalus, of the legume family. There are about 500 species of Astragalus in North America, 25 of which can accumulate up to 15 thousand ppm (parts per million) of selenium in foliage. These species of Astragalus can emit selenium-containing chemicals to the atmosphere, which gives the plants a distinctive and unpleasant odour. In South Africa, the Karoo is a area of high soil selenium.
Indicator species can also be used as measures of environmental quality. For example, many species of lichens are very sensitive to toxic gases, such as sulphur dioxide and ozone. These “species” (actually, lichens are a symbiosis between a fungus and an alga) have been monitored in many places to study air pollution. Severe damage to lichens is especially common in cities with chronic air pollution, and near large point sources of toxic gases, such as metal smelters.
Similarly, aquatic invertebrates and fish have commonly been surveyed as indicators of water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems. If a site has populations of so-called “sewage worms” or tubificids (Tubificidae), for example, this almost always suggests that water quality has been degraded by inputs of sewage or other oxygen-consuming organic matter. Tubificid worms can tolerate virtually anoxic water, in contrast with most of the animals of unpolluted environments, such as mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera), which require well-oxygenated conditions.
Another current example involves frogs and salamanders as indicator species. Populations of amphibians are declining on a global scale. Their decline is thought to be an indicator of tainted environments. Therefore, the numbers of amphibians worldwide are being closely monitored.
FROGS, A CLASSIC INDICATOR SPECIES, ARE IN PERIL
GREY FOAM NEST TREE FROG
Many years ago in the wet season in Ndumo Game Reserve, a drive around the reserve revealed large white foam balls hanging from branches over the deeper and more permanent puddles. As a young ranger responsible for the twice daily tours around Nyamiti and through the Fig Forest, I had to quickly read up on this phenomenon so I could interpret it to the visitors, (no internet in those days!). This is the fascinating story I discovered.
The grey foam-nest tree frog or southern foam-nest tree frog (Chiromantis xerampelina) is a species of frog in the Rhacophoridae family. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, dry savannah, moist savannah, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, subtropical or tropical moist shrubland, subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland, subtropical or tropical seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland, intermittent freshwater marshes, arable land, pastureland, rural gardens, urban areas, heavily degraded former forests, ponds, and canals and ditches.
The grey foam-nest tree frog mates in what is described as the most extreme example of polyandry of all vertebrates. The simultaneous polyandry begins when a female begins releasing eggs onto a tree branch. Up to 12 males then cluster around her and fertilise the eggs by producing sperm which they whip into a foamy ‘nest’ with their hind legs. The female will leave temporarily to rehydrate before returning to the nest, as the entire ordeal can last several hours. Offspring of these polyandrous encounters are more likely to survive than the eggs fertilised by a single male.
Prey includes grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and beetles. These frogs are preyed upon by the boomslang Dispholidus typus, the vine snake Thelotornis capensis, and the large slit-faced bat Nycteris grandis. The foam nests are preyed upon by the African bullfrog, Fornasini’s spiny reed frog Afrixalus fornasini, and the Blue monkey Cercopithecus mitis.
Since I have not provided any report for a long time, let me update readers on events in Pigeon Valley, Durban, since December.
We have had a persistent pair of Booted Eagles around, and one marvellous sighting, the first on record, of a European Honey-Buzzard. Little Sparrowhawk, YBK, African Goshawk and of course Black Sparrowhawk have all been frequently encountered.
The Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher that arrived last year is still present – I heard it calling this morning.
A totally new species for us has been Redbilled Firefinch, and to my delight the other day I encountered the parents with two chicks.
What this points to is the success of making some minor changes to the habitat – management have trimmed bush back in one area to allow for a slightly bigger area for grasses, and Durban Water finally agreed not to mow the whole reservoir area.
We have thus had Green Twinspot, African Firefinch, Grey Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Bronze and Redbacked Mannikin as well as the Redbilled.
A very rare sighting at the end of February was a Black-throated Wattle-Eye, a bird I have seen here just once before. And, hardly uncommon, but very unusual for us, a juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo.
Friends of Pigeon Vallley
Just after sending my report I was told of a sighting today of a Eurasian Hobby, hawking at the top end of Pigeon Valley. I have heard previously of a sighting some years back, but this is a huge surprise….Crispin Hemson
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