- Wildlife

Monitoring Vultures within the Southern Drakensberg

The Heights of Vulture Conservation

Are you curious about studying extra about volunteering at our Southern Drakensberg challenge, which highlights Vulture conservation? Learn on! The under weblog, written by Mark Henson after visiting Wildlife ACT’s Southern Drakensberg challenge, delves deeper into this distinctive challenge. This weblog initially appeared on SafariKZN.com.

I typically describe myself, utilizing a part of the title of a Simon Barnes e book, as a nasty birdwatcher. My interior birder was launched by Godfrey Symons, my spouse’s’ grandfather, on his farm highway when he noticed an enormous chicken sitting in a thorn tree. That chicken turned out to be a marabou stork, the primary he had ever seen on the farm in his seventy plus years. That afternoon we sat in his cosy and I listened to all issues birds. I learnt of his travels and expeditions and his ardour for wildlife and wild locations. On my bookshelf I nonetheless have ‘Barrier of Spears’ by R O Pearce, a present from my spouse, that options Godfrey. There’s a chapter that tells the story of a workforce expedition into the Drakensberg Mountains in 1958. The workforce have been there on the lookout for proof that the Bearded Vulture, a then uncommon and endangered chicken, nested within the KwaZulu-Natal sections of the mountains.

Picture by Patrick Rüegg

Studying that Wildlife ACT have been launching the Southern Drakensberg Conservation Mission I dropped them an e mail. I’ve frolicked with them through the years on a number of of their initiatives in Zululand. I’ve been privileged to be on monitoring initiatives involving African Wild Canine, Leopards, Lions and Cheetahs. However now right here was a challenge devoted to the monitoring of endangered and critically endangered Vultures, most notably the bearded vulture. I’ve frolicked in Drakensberg Mountains and had seen Bearded Vultures at Giants Fort and at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. However now right here was the possibility to become involved with priceless analysis and knowledge assortment and naturally stroll within the footsteps of Godfrey.

Mountain climate is unpredictable, and this meant we needed to await a window of alternative earlier than we might make any try to ascend into the heights of the Southern Drakensberg. When that chance got here, we have been up at 4am and at our begin level earlier than 5am. The forecast was for low cloud, clearing into the morning, with an opportunity of rain and storms rolling in early afternoon. Being a boy from sea degree I typically wrestle at altitude. And this uphill hike was no completely different. Lower than an hour in I used to be having to cease each jiffy and catch my breath. Phillip, the challenge coordinator and my information, was very affected person and understanding. He regularly waited and smiled and provided me encouragement. You do want a sure degree of health right here and mine was simply sufficient. It’s fairly robust going, steep, and no path to comply with. I used to be impressed with Phillip as he took us additional and additional up utilizing his information of the mountain and his expertise to get us the place we would have liked to be. He started to level out our vacation spot which for a while appeared to by no means get any nearer. However when there my reduction got here within the type of beetroot-coloured cheeks and sweat.

Precedence Species Monitor, Phillip Swart

We sat on a rock plateau, practically two thousand meters above sea degree, and Phillip assembled the optical scope full with cellphone, digital camera, attachment. I made tea and took the burden off my toes. Phillip then identified the situation of a Bearded Vulture nest the place a pair had lately and efficiently raised a chick. The nest was in a crevice on a sheer cliff face roughly a thousand meters away from us. It was clearly marked by a thick line of white guano (chicken poop). Our job was to look at, so I sat and watched the sky over the mountain peaks, above, and both aspect of the nest web site. After an hour we rewarded as a vulture appeared straight over the nesting web site. Even at a distance you’ll be able to recognize the sheer measurement of this previous world vulture with a wing span of practically three meters. Phillip shortly recognized and confirmed that this was a (Gypaetus barbatus) Bearded Vulture. After hovering and circling the chicken landed on a ledge a number of hundred meters to the left of the nest. Right here via my binoculars and Phillip’s scope we might clearly see the chicken’s distinctive white face and brow and golden-brown chest. This was a very magnificent sight, and I couldn’t assist of consider Godfrey and the workforce he was a part of. I used to be in some methods right here in his footsteps.

Picture: Chris van Rooyen

Phillip has many obligations throughout the challenge together with the maintenance of a Vulture feeding web site. Right here he not solely observes from a disguise, however he additionally maintains the cameras that provide a stay feed, and retains the location stocked with meals. The meals right here is mostly donated by native farmers. It was from the stay feed that we have been alerted to vultures being there and feeding. On arrival we have been greeted by roughly ninety Cape Vultures. This turned out to be the tip of the primary sitting, feeding session, and we sat and noticed their last feeding earlier than one after the other they took to the sky. From throughout the disguise I used to be amazed by the sounds of the woosh and beating of wings. I had by no means been this shut to those large and majestic vultures and the extent of noise clearly mirrored the facility of their wings. I watched all of them take the identical flight path, away low to our proper, they picked up a thermal and started to circle and climb. They shaped essentially the most superb flock and regarded spectacular set among the many gathering storm clouds and distant mountain peaks. (Phillip and I chatted and got here to the conclusion that flock was an underwhelming time period for such magnificent birds. Google now tells me that when resting as a bunch they’re known as a committee, when feeding they’re a wake and when flying in formation, they’re a kettle. I just like the time period a Vesuvius of vultures)

The second sitting didn’t actually occur as one other fifty to sixty Cape vultures walked into view. They got here nearer and nearer to the meals on provide. Nevertheless, after practically an hour they adopted the identical flight path as the primary flock. This created our second spectacular kettle, or to me Vesuvius.

Picture by Patrick Rüegg

We frolicked strolling within the mountains on land being monitored by digital camera traps. One other key function of the challenge is to function, preserve, and test digital camera traps and report what they seize. Being on foot within the mountains implies that when checking the traps you additionally get an actual really feel for the setting. The encircling views and large and daring. There’s open grassland, scree slopes, boulders and rocks of all sizes and shapes and naturally distant peaks. The plants varies vastly, many types of Protea, Eternal daisies, Erica’s and delicate lilies. When again on the Wildlife ACT base all of the reminiscence playing cards from the traps are gone via and all wildlife is recorded. We received to see Eland antelope, Mountain Reedbuck, Jackals, Baboons, Porcupines, Serval cats and a big number of birdlife. I don’t usually, in my articles provide thanks, however thanks Wildlife ACT for establishing this challenge and for letting me go to. Phillip, thanks for getting up and down the mountain slopes safely and being so affected person with an chubby, not as match as he thinks, man. Lastly, thanks to that Marabou Stork that created a lot pleasure with Godfrey which led to a nasty birdwatcher being created, me.

Picture by Patrick Rüegg

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