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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Novembers creatures

Orange Ground-thrush   Zoothera gurneyi


a beautifully onomatopoeic name   Upupa  epops (africana)

Hottentot golden mole   Amblysomus hottentotus

In the last month the spring season has been a wet and unpredictable one.  Many of the long-time residents here have remarked that it wetter than usual.  We have been hit by the occasional spectacular thunderstorm, but more generally rain fronts have come in frequently and randomly. The Thousand Hills area has been shrouded in low cloud and soppy mist often and for days on end.

When he sun comes out and all that moisture becomes airbourne the 33 degrees of humid heat is an entomological paradise.  This year, the 10 November marked the first mass emergence of termite alates in the Scottburgh neighbourhood.  They gathered in a swarm of hundreds on our back yard wall against the security light. And while the geckos gorged, I enjoyed snacking on this nutritious and neglected food.  Down the street, countless swarms gathered at street lights, and soon the roads became snowed in shedded wings.

another great name, this time in Zulu:  Shongololo  =  millipede



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Victorias secrets exposed

A camera has been a recent intrusion on the life of this little family.  Victoria is a fantastic, observant mother, and has protected this eaglet (is it a Donna or a Donald), during a terrible windy, raining October. I'm not sure what we are calling the father yet.  But he is a great provider.  I think he has a penchant for birds, and appears to know a few hadeda nests in the area!

This eaglet was three weeks old at the time the camera was installed  The following sequence shows the important events that mark the initial adaptation to this rude intrusion on their life. Take notice of the times in the bottom right of each image.

very first photo during installation of the camera

first photo of Victoria returning to the nest

and immediately into a forced feeding, the little chick maybe swallowed a golf ball?

she settles in to brood the chick, only 16 degrees out

as the rain sets in, she looks at the camera, peeved

looking less peeved but much more damp

the last photo of the evening - the camera sleeps when the eagles do

our camera wakes up before the eagles though, and this is the first photo of a new day

the morning rain stops, and Victoria leaves the nest now

just over one hour later she returns with foliage - and the daily routine continues