Saturday, February 23, 2013

A holiday - littorally

In recognizing that I had not had an opportunity to take a break as most do during Christmas and new year - such are the demands of a field biologist - I allowed myself to justify an 11 day respite. A holiday, even.

My co-supervisor Mark Brown, lured me to South Africa and to UKZN with an opportunity for Crowned Eagle research. I arrived in April last year, and it took all of about a month after my arrival to tell me he was to move down to Plettenberg, to start a new appointment managing the newly formed Natures Valley Trust.  Later in the year, having made great friends, I learned he would be taking with him a dear friend, Minke, starting an MSc research project on the Plettenberg Bay Kelp Gulls.

What better place to take a break. An opportunity to reconnect with Mark, to discuss my project, the progress made, and plans for the second year.  And spend quality time with Minke, to get to know her field site and to get a feel for the littoral life.

How to relax on a holiday?
Within six hours of arriving at Plett, I was to present my Crowned Eagle research to a group of 50 from the local Birdlife Club.  This was the first presentation with which to show the first results to come out of the year of research, and it was well received.
Of course, a raptor ringing trip was essential.  A 300km circuit inland and round the Garden Route National Park.  Despite over a dozen opportunities at roadside raptors, mostly of steppe, forest, and jackal buzzards, and a couple of black-shouldered kites, just one Jackal Buzzard was caught and ringed for the day. Another dawn was spent with Mark at his Natures Valley possie, ringing a few birds of the coastal fynbos.  Hello swee waxbill, a new species for me.
To know more of the demands of gull research, it was great to visit both colonies.  Robberg is the rocky headland on the south end of Plettenberg Bay, home to a sizeable seal colony, and the smaller gull colony.  And to the north of Plettenberg Bay is the Keurbooms colony, of some hundred pairs and spread across two sandspits on either side of the estuary mouth. The breeding season had all but come to an end, so no gulls were to be found that we could ring.
And most fortunately, there was an opportunity to go with the Centre for Dolphin Studies vessel, which will become some autumn work for Minke as the whale migration begins.  While no whales were spotted today, a large group of seals were found way out, feeding on sardines, and on the return trip along the surf zone a small family pod of bottlenose dolphins were spotted, surfing the waves on a remote stretch of beach.

Plettenberg Bay from Robberg

Robberg from Plettenberg Bay

Information sign at the Keurbooms gull colony

Kelp Gull at Robberg

Swee waxbill ringed at Natures Valley

the one jackal buzzard caught during our raptor ringing day

Ocean Safaris vessel

cape fur seal heading towards the sardines

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