Objective of the flight:
The Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust approached The Bateleurs to assist with aerial surveys of known tree-nesting breeding areas of vultures and other large tree-nesting birds in northern Zululand during August 2015. These surveys form part of the Zululand Vulture Project which is a partnership between Wildlife ACT, the Endangered Wildlife Trust Birds of Prey Programme and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
Pilot: Eugene Couzyn
Aircraft: Gazelle Helicopter
Beneficiary: André Botha, Birds of Prey Programme, The Endangered Wildlife Trust
Report from the beneficiary, André Botha:
“After approval was received from The Bateleurs, pilot Eugene Couzyn volunteered his chopper and services as pilot for the survey and the dates for the survey were determined as the 14th– 18th of August 2015. Chris Kelly from Wildlife ACT was responsible for all logistical arrangements and ensured that a sufficient supply of fuel was available to complete the survey as planned. The team was based at Zululand Rhino Reserve (14th – 15th)) and at the Nqumeni Ranger outpost in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve (16th-17th) during the survey. Brent Coverdale from EKZNW drafted the proposed flight plans which initially covered all of the Phongolo-, Mkhuze and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park as well as adjacent areas, but was reduced substantially due to budgetary constraints.
Apart from Eugene as pilot, the crew consisted of various staff from EKZNW (Brent Coverdale, Geoff Clinning, Dennis Kelly, Dave Druce, Jed Bird) who assisted with navigation and observation. Chris Kelly also assisted with navigation and observation during the Mkhuze part of the survey. André Botha was responsible for observation, data capture and photography while Rowen van Eeden from the UCT functioned as the second observer on board. Data was captured using Cybertracker software on a PDA-device while some written records were also kept of each nest sighted. The survey was conducted by flying along the pre-planned flight path looking for vulture nests at a height of between 50-75m above the ground. When a nest was seen, the aircraft would deviate and circle the nest site to enable data with regard to its location, activity status and relevant tree species could be recorded. If necessary, pictures were taken of particular nests before returning to the planned flight transect path. The survey was conducted over a total of 19.5 flying hours.
A colour-ringed Lappet-faced Vulture with nestling located during the survey
We would like to thank The Bateleurs and Eugene Couzyn in particular for his assistance with regard to the survey. We value your support. The entire target area was surveyed and a total of 449 data points were collected of existing or historical nesting sites.”
Report from the pilot, Eugene Couzyn:
Consultation between André Botha, Chris Kelly and Brent Coverdale produced flight paths over the Reserves to be surveyed. These were tailored to suit priorities and budget. The flights were to be conducted in restricted airspace and permission from CAMU for FUA was applied for and secured. This necessitated daily flight plan submissions as well as daily telephonic communication with Johannesburg ATC and Richards Bay ATC during the execution of the mission.
SATURDAY 15 August 2015:
I departed FAGC at 0630 Z, together with André Botha, Manager of the EWT Birds of Prey Programme. We made a short stop-over at the Birdlife Centre in Wakkerstroom for André to advise on a proposed Vulture Restaurant under consideration on a nearby farm.
This done, we continued to Mkhuze town where we landed at the local cricket club to refuel and take on the other passengers for the first survey of known nests on the farms of Senekal and Magudu. The Pongola dam area had previously been identified as a desirable survey site, but was withdrawn from the plan for budgetary reasons.
This first day was used for all parties to familiarize themselves with the procedure, and this was duly accomplished. We parked the helicopter in the Senekal farm compound near Mkhuze and drove to Wildlife ACT CEO, Chris Kelly’s house in the Zululand Rhino Reserve, where we spent a comfortable night as his guests.
SUNDAY 16 August 2015:
After refueling, we departed the Senekal compound for Mkhuze Game Reserve, where the first formal structured survey was scheduled. En route to the Reserve, we were forced to land in the Mkhuze Gorge because of early morning fog, and we spent an uncomfortable hour under scrutiny from the local populace, whilst we waited for the weather to clear.
Once under way, the survey proved extremely useful, as we found 13 active nests as opposed to the 3 found by a comparative fixed wing survey of the same area. Sadly we also found a dead vulture, evidence of the poisoning which is prevalent in our vulture populations around the country. Second night again as Chris’ guests.
MONDAY 17 August 2015:
We flew to the Outpost home of Section Ranger Dennis Kelly in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve where we were to spend the next 2 days. The Reserve is set in beautiful surrounds and we flew 5 hours of very productive observation of the vulture breeding activity in this Reserve. We were also fortunate to see a lot of other game, including Black and White Rhino, which are sadly under huge pressure from poaching. The terrain and wind conditions made the flying challenging, but with its abundant power, the Gazelle is ideally suited to this type of work.
TUESDAY 18 August 2015:
A further 5 hours of flying in blustery conditions and which was largely in the Imfolozi Game Reserve in even more beautiful countryside, completed the survey which in all had taken 14 hours of flying plus 5 hours of ferry.
WEDNESDAY 19 August 2015:
After a restful night with Dennis and Bronwyn Kelly, we set sail for home, encountering some early morning fog and low cloud as we moved from the low lying coastal parks to the Highveld. We negotiated our way through and landed safely at Grand Central Airport.
Mkhuze / Imfolozi had in all yielded in excess of 500 breeding sites which was extremely gratifying and confirmed the effectiveness of a helicopter for this type of survey.”