Objective of the flight:

The main objective of the flight was to undertake a complete survey of the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment in order to determine the location and status of Grey Crowned Cranes, these included nesting birds, individual or pair sightings and flock sightings.

Pilots: John Andrews, Dirk van Dort & Dean Hunter

Aircraft: 3 x Bantam B22J

Beneficiary: Ursula Franke, African Crane Conservation Programme, Endangered Wildlife Trust

Report from the beneficiary, Ursula Franke:

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Chrissiesmeer flamingos

“This was the second Grey Crowned Crane survey within the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment; the previous survey was conducted in January 2015. Preliminary results show a higher number of cranes counted compared to last year. Not many active breeding sites were found but this is most likely due to the summer being much drier than last year. It was also noted that this year nests were only found within wetlands, with no nests in pans, most likely due to the lower rainfall which meant that many of the pans had very little to no water in them. This increases our understanding of crane ecology for this unique area. Apart from pairs and nesting birds we also saw one pair with two small chicks and located the summer flock of 21 Grey Crowned Cranes.

The Bantams are ideal aircraft for this survey in that we can fly low and slow and easily maneuver for surveying. Our pilots were superb, safety conscious and an absolute pleasure to work with. A special thank you to the pilots who, apart from flying the EWT passengers for the survey, were also kind enough to take a photographer for the Go/Weg magazine up for spectacular photos of the Chrissiesmeer flamingos, as well as a videographer who got beautiful scenic footage of the area and the crane flock for a 50/50 production on endangered species.

The survey has greatly increased our knowledge of the area and our understanding of the status of Grey Crowned Cranes as well as their use of habitat for breeding within the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment. Where possible breeding sites will be monitored from the ground to determine breeding success. During monitoring of sites recorded during last year’s survey we have, however, realized that some sites within wetlands with tall vegetation can only be successfully monitored from the air. That is another reason why this survey is so important for our conservation efforts in the area. This information will be used in the implementation of the Protected Environment management plan and for continued monitoring of the cranes.”

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Report from the pilots, John Andrews, Dirk van Dort & Dean Hunter:

“Aircraft:

#1 Bantam ZU-GSS – PIC:  John Andrews (Homebase:  Lydenburg-FALL)

#2 Bantam ZU-DIG – PIC:  Dean Hunter  (Homebase:  Lydenburg-FALL)

#3 Bantam ZU-EZI – PIC:  Dirk van Dort (Homebase:  Nelspruit-FANS)

Mission base:   Private Airstrip, Florence Farm – 5nm east of Chrissiesmeer.  Alt: 5597’.

Planned departure on 23rd February was delayed by 24 hours due to poor weather.

Actual departure 07h00 24th February 2016 – arrival at Florence Farm 08h12(L).

Route:  FALL/FANS – Kwena Dam – LASS boundary @ Waterval-Boven – Florence Farm.

Flight level:  065/500’ AGL – Weather en-route:  Scattered clouds above 6000’, wind light & variable.

Day 1 – 3 Sorties were flown with a total duration of approximate 4 hours for each aircraft.

Day 2 – 1 Sortie of 1.4 hours for each aircraft.

Preparations were made and technology acquired to fly a precise grid pattern search of the protected area, with the three aircraft at a 300 meter separation. However, deviations were required to overfly small scattered pans, dams, water courses and reed beds. This resulted in a more terrain based search. Whilst a general direction was maintained by aircraft #1, #2 & #3 were dispatched to search specific water features on the general track and would then rejoin on #1.

Aircraft #1 was equipped with a PC based GPS tracking software application (run by Cobus Theron – EWT). This recorded the track over the ground and by the end of the survey showed an extensive coverage of the reserve.   Aircraft #2 & #3 were Garmin (Aera500) equipped, and could, if required, provide a data file of their respective tracks.

Two annual aerial surveys have now been completed with data acquired on areas covered and sightings recorded.   This information should be used to pre-plan further surveys, to maximize the efficiencies of aerial survey assets.

The ‘mission’ was completed by 09h30 on Thursday 25th February.   Thereafter the three Bantams departed for the return to base and reported “Down & Safe” at 11h51.

From the Pilot’s side, we would like to express our sincere thanks to Cobus, Ursula and the EWT team for their outstanding efforts and organization. We were thoroughly spoilt with refreshments, good food and excellent accommodation. It was our absolute pleasure to fly this mission and hopefully, once again, demonstrate the capabilities of the Bantam aircraft, which is extremely well suited to this kind of mission.”