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Objective of the flight:

The objective of the mission was to ascertain the status of Wattled Crane nesting sites in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands, the Southern Drakensberg and East Griqualand.

Pilot: Daryl Kimber

Aircraft: Cessna 170

Beneficiary: Cobus Theron, African Crane Conservation Programme, The Endangered Wildlife Trust

DSCF6534The team – John, Chebu, Daryl and Cobus

Report from the beneficiary, Cobus Theron:

“Flights were conducted on the 22nd and 23rd of June 2015. Our pilot, Daryl Kimber, was exceptional and ably flew at low altitudes to inspect nests. The weather conditions were optimal on both days.

In total 78 nesting sites were inspected in two days. Three new nest sites were recorded in the Southern Drakensberg. In almost all cases (bar one) where birds were found on nests, we were able to ascertain the amount of eggs that were being incubated. Also joining in with the flight were two EWT employees and a research technician from Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife, who flew in turns and assisted with capturing data.  Indemnities were duly signed.

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Day 1: Midlands surveys

Take off for the surveys was from the Howick airfield.  After the first batch of surveys the airplane refuelled  and then departed for Himeville. On route to Himeville additional nests were surveyed.  The pilot and other participants overnighted with Cobus Theron of the EWT, in Underberg.

Day 2: Southern Drakensberg and East Griqualand surveys

Take off from Himeville Airfield, lunch and refuelling at Swartberg Airfield. At Swartberg we were met by some pupils and their teacher from the local school. While the flights went very well it was interesting to see how dry some of the wetlands in the Midlands were. This may have an effect on the Wattled Crane breeding / nesting for the 2015 season. The Southern Drakensberg, where the rainy season was normal, seems to be set for a good Wattled Crane breeding / nesting season.

To conclude, the flights went off very well and as always have greatly assisted us to direct our monitoring efforts for the season.

The EWT would like to thank The Bateleurs and our pilot for their generous and irreplaceable contribution to our conservation work. 

  • We were able to observe and record activity levels (or lack of) at all of the nesting sites on our data base;
  • We have already begun to implement ground based monitoring actions based on our aerial observations;
  • We will be comparing results between this survey and a survey scheduled for later in the year (with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife). Variance in results will help us with end of season breeding results and success;
  • A video has been made and sent to The Bateleurs.”

Please click on the link below to watch the video:

Wattled Crane Aerial Survey 2015

Report from the pilot, Daryl Kimber:

“I flew from Ballito Airfield picked up the team from Howick. The aircraft was refuelled at Howick. The Midlands was surveyed first and it became apparent that the present drought conditions have had an impact of the localities of birds and their breeding.

                             DSCF6538   Bushmans
                                                                             Flying in the Midlands                                                                                                      Bushman’s Neck area -wetlands

The weather conditions were ideal. On the first sortie we flew for 5.4 hours and that included the positioning of the aircraft to Himeville after refuelling at Howick. En route from Howick to Himeville the Midlands survey was completed as the refuel necessitated a return to Howick for more fuel. Burning in the Midlands and berg area reduced visibility later in the afternoon and the comment was made that it seemed that burning was being done early this year.

A night stop at Underberg where really comfortable accommodation offered by Cobus, gave all a good night’s rest for the early start on Tuesday. It was cold as one can see the ice remaining on the windscreen after considerable ice was wiped off. A refuel for the day was done to insure sufficient fuel for the flight. To be safe we were to pick up fuel at Swartberg to ensure a safe return. We were airborne and headed for the Bushman’s Neck area to begin the days flying. We surveyed for an hour to land at Swartberg. Luckily Cobus had organised a ladder for us to refuel (high wing aircraft) and the local school mistress had heard we were landing so the school arrived to participate in the event. She had also organised the stepladder for us. After sandwiches and coffee (kindly organised kindly by Cobus) we got airborne to complete the rest of the survey.

The Southern berg has not been affected by the drought to the extent of the Midlands with the result that more birds were found. The areas surveyed were Swartberg, Franklin, Kokstad and the upper reaches of the Umzimvubu River. On the return north of Umzimkulu and Coleford were overflown.

All being equal the operation was successful. A ground team will visit the areas with the intention of ringing birds and a further count.”