Saturday, December 15, 2012

SAFRING training marches on

In the last week I managed to squeeze a bit of spare time in to get out ringing again.  Darvill proved a fruitful morning, and a few days later up in Howick in a local birdlife members garden.  It is a lovely garden with plenty of space to put up mistnets.  The nectar feeders attract a number of sunbirds, but unfortunately the Gurneys Sugarbirds were not present that morning for my big month list.

So the numbers climb, 65 species and about 450 individuals have passed through these clumsy fingers.  there is still a fair way to go for the general ringing license.  But a recent permitting condition for the eagle research was to be SAFRING registered, and so I now have a registration number and authority card outlining permissions to use various raptor trapping methods to ring raptors, alongside this Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife issued a permit for the province of Natal, and I celebrated this with a quick drive up to Cato ridge, where we caught and ringed one Jackal Buzzard and had a missed opportunity at a Long-crested Eagle.

Yellow-throated Longclaw   Macronyx croceus

African Pygmy Kingfisher   Ispidina picta

male Dideric Cuckoo   Chrysococcyx caprius

Spectacled Weaver   Ploceus ocularis

Amethyst Sunbird   Chalcomitra amethystina

Malachite Sunbird   Nectarinia famosa

Dusky Indigobird   Vidua funerea

African Paradise Flycatcher   Terpsiphone viridis

Burchells Coucal   Centropus burchelli

The Empress' New Clothes

This sequence documents the development of the first pennate body feathers of Donna as her growth advances from 48 to 62 days of age.  Shown here with one photo around 5pm each day.

The first body feathers to develop are those of the scapulars and wing coverts.  These provide a level of waterproofing on the top surface that allows her to now sit alone on the nest through all weather.  Victoria is still doing all the feeding and regularly brings sprigs of gum leaves to keep the insects at bay, but now spends most of her time off the nest perched in nearby trees.  She is able to guard over her chick while also keeping an eye out for easy hunting opportunities.

Friday, December 7, 2012

eBirding December 2012

A huge growth in the number and variety of wildlife citizen science projects has developed in recent years.  Access to internet recording has increased the volume and ease at which one can provide data to these projects.

Southern Africa's portal is the Virtual Museum, serving as a platform to the mammalMAP, frogMAP, reptileMAP, echinoMAP, odonataMAP, and others. The bird atlasing project SABAP2 is the regions bird distribution database.  

For birding data I am an eBirder - which is largely responsible for my becoming somewhat obsessive about birding and checklists.  

eBird is well on the way to being the global repository of avian data.  I discovered this project, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, back in 2007 when it was just branching out of its USA origins.  Collaborating with OSNZ, a New Zealand portal was launched in May 2008 to modernize NZ atlasing, my accumulation of 1929 checklists since then has me amongst the most active of NZ ebirders.  These successful pilot expansions lead to the global launch in 2010.

The popularity of the project appears to be snowballing and in July 2012, eBird reached a pleasant round number of 100 million complete checklists. and over 2 million checklists received each month alone.  Over years and decades, these data can inform of abundance, population trends, migration timing, and shifts in distribution.  The variety of protocols makes it a flexible repository, and I particularly focus on Raptor Road Counts (Travelling counts) when driving long distances. Because eBird provides such varied feedback it can get a little addictive, and the Top100 rankings motivate the competitor in me.  

Here I've decided to highlight eBird on this blog, and post a 'big month'.  December is a busy field-based month for the eagle research, and while spending time in a variety of Durbans' nature reserves I anticipate a respectable list by new year.

Here is the first week of Decembers birding (sensitive locations have been blanked out): add-ons will be updated on this post throughout the month.

8 December

*correction - 161 Variable Indigobird   Vidua funerea  

That's the trouble with regional checklists - sometimes they dont match up with the global checklist that eBird uses.  So my Variable Indigobird is named Dusky Indigobird in Sasol fourth ed. to Birds of Southern Africa. It was also a complication experienced with the launch of the New Zealand checklist years back also.  Why do Kiwis persist in calling it a Spur-winged Plover, when infact there it is a lapwing from the Vanellus genus, the Spur-winged Lapwing is a African species, while the species that occurs in New Zealand is a Australian colonist, the Masked Lapwing. This rant is one I have subjected many friends to...

Therein is the explanation for the error above.  The beauty of eBird is I can quickly go back to the list, remove my mistake and add the correction.  Of course, if I hadn't there are also a number of moderators who email you if there is a out-of-range record. or other suspected error  ... I regularly get these kinds of emails to verify my sightings.

7 Jan 2013

I have just added the last update page to the eBirding big-month post.  It really tailed off there once we started ringing eagle chicks and trying to get gps transmitters on adults. But nonetheless 178 species for one month in Durban is still rubbing past my entire New Zealand life list of 170.  And in total this year, the South Africa list reached a grand total of 281 species (ranked 6th for the year and country), and 110 complete checklists (ranked 4th).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mkimbati reloaded

Watch this TED talk by Munir Virani, and begin to love vultures.

I was invited to help with a very significant event for Morgan Pfeiffers research on the Mkimbati Cape Vulture colony.  Months of preparations went into this capture - including habituating vultures to the trap and rallying all the necessary personnel to converge deep in the Transkei for three days. The University team comprised of Morgan, Meyrick, Minke, Glen and myself.  We also had Dana come from her post at Oribi Gorge, a post-doc starting research on vulture genetics, and Sonya, a volunteer helping Dana with her work.  Kerri and Walter, who operate the vulture conservation centre VulPro, provided their years of expertise to the operation.

The goal was to fit six Cape Griffons (Gyps coprotheres) with satellite telemetry and 40 with patagial wing tags. The satellite tags would be used to investigate the foraging patterns over the pastorial landscape, and wing-tags to see how birds associate at the breeding colony, colony fidelity, and more general home range re-sightings.

At dawn of day 1, the first ten vultures to enter the trap were shut in within an hour of sunrise. 0545!  The birds waited calmly in the trap, which doubled as a safe holding pen, for the morning.  Individual birds were removed from the trap and processed on top of a vulture transport crate before being released.  The ‘processing’ involved a 10 to 20 minute procedure collecting a variety of data - affixing tags and rings, taking measurements, photos and samples.

The plethora of sampling included drawing blood; a drop here for DNA sexing tests, and there for blood glucose. Larger volumes were measured for blood toxin and poison screening.  To obtain serum, 1ml sampled were spun in a centrifuge, and the plasma separated, which needed to be frozen within the hour.  And a 4x4 was continuously ferrying samples the 20 minute dive on a muddy and grassy track to the HQ freezer.

While the first morning was a great success, with five of the satellite transmitters attached, we were unable to catch more vultures on the following days. An opportunity to do another capture sometime in the next few months, and affix a further 30 wing tags, is eagerly anticipated.  In the meantime I am looking forward to return to Mkimbati again in a fortnight, and attempt to resight Morgans currently tagged birds at the colony.

gazing down the Msikaba 9sp?) river to the wild coast.  photo Minke Witteveen

old remains at the vulture restaurant.  photo: Minke Witteveen

setting up in the early morning sun, ten vultures in the holding pen behind

all hands on deck as the vulture is fitted with its satellite tag.  photo David Allan

birds can be aged by moult and colour of the eye, the vulture lies stoically supine while being tagged

a spread wing.  photo David Allan

drawing blood from the tarsal vein. photo David Allan

its not a 4x4 until its dirty

Morgan preparing to release one of the birds

set free.  photo David Allan

this is the new generation of bird-watchers = mobile cellular connection and Google Earth

Life in the clouds

The second installment of Victoria and her little Donaa (?or Donald).  Daily photos except for a few days where there are just too many superb photos to avoid uploading

Eleven days of fickle weather experienced by these birds is demonstrated by soggy eagles and misty backgrounds.