Tag Archives: Hill van Schalkwyk

Nyl River floodplain sewage spill

Objective of the flight:

The objective of the flight was to observe the extent of environmental damage caused by raw sewage being pumped out in close proximity of boreholes supplying water to Mookgophong/Naboomspruit as well as the Nyl River floodplain and wetlands and to take photos as evidence to be presented to the applicable authorities.

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Vulture Nest Survey, Roedtan


Mission: Vulture Nest Survey, Roedtan
Date: 19 September 2008

Requesting organisation: Dept Economic Development & Environment, Limpopo Provincial Government
Location: Nylstroom to the South East of  Roedtan
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk

It was one of our newest and most enthusiastic pilots, Hill van Schalkwyk,  who volunteered to fly for the survey of white backed vultures requested by Joseph Heymans of the Department of Economic Development & Environment, of the Limpopo Provincial Government.  This is the report written by Hill:

“We did not exactly know what to expect from the survey as neither Mr Joseph Heymans nor myself had ever done a survey of this nature. Although it was obviously done before we had to plan it to the best of our individual experiences. The aircraft we used is a C182 , although Mr Heymans initially suggested a microlight for the survey. We logged some of the ground sightings into a GPS and set off from Nylstroom to the South East of  Roedtan.”


The Springbok Flats

“This area is not called the Springbok Flats for nothing.  The vegetation varies from developed commercial land to game and cattle farming, with a few guest lodges. The vegetation is mostly low growing with a few taller tress such as Maroela and Black Monkey Thorn. The weather was fine and we could get down to around 500 feet above the tree tops, maintaining a fairly slow speed with a 10% flaps setting.

For the first 15 minutes we both searched the area left and right of the aircraft with no success!  I was almost at the point of suggesting that we abandon the survey when Joseph almost leapt out of the aircraft!  He had spotted a nest with a female bird on the rim and a chick in the nest!

“Turn around, turn around please!” he shouted from the back. He was now moving from the left to right window at an amazing speed! But the C182 is not a wheelbarrow to turn on a penny, so I asked him to keep his eye on the nest while I turned back.

We were both very excited and happy to have spotted an active nest. As we passed over the nest again we could clearly identify the female and the chick and for the first time we had an idea of what to look for! Our eyes were now set for what was to come – we knew what to look for at last!  We then tried to photograph the nest and plot it on GPS. Joseph had to handle a camera and a GPS and take notes all while keeping his eyes on the nest.

We then flew over more areas where nests had been spotted from the ground, but I must say the proverbial “seeking a needle in a haystack” achieved new meaning for me.  We spotted more active nests as well as one that was “non-active”.  I have to report that I spotted one myself and was more than proud of this achievement!  But it became clear that Joseph’s eyes were much better adapted for spotting a 1m wide nest at 120km/hour, from 500 feet away!”


The Vulture Nest Survey Team

Joseph Heymans (left) and Bateleurs pilot, Hill van Schalkwyk.

“After approximately 100 minutes of flying and having covered a large area we had to turn back to Nylstroom. The temperature was increasing and the fuel levels were getting low. Of one thing I am very sure, Joseph does not suffer from air-sickness!! The tight turns left and right were a sure test of this finding.

Joseph will report on exactly how many nests we spotted, new and previously spotted, and on the value of the survey. I enjoyed it very much and loved the experience – what a privilege!!

The following are my remarks and suggestions for future surveys of this nature:

1. I suggest that in future we use two spotters plus the pilot, one to handle the GPS and the other to do the photography. One left and one right.
2. The C182 is an excellent platform for surveys of this kind.
3. We will have to plot an area beforehand and fly pre-designated swathes over the area in at least 500m strips.
4. Surveys should only be flown in the very early mornings and late afternoons. At this time of year the temperature starts to increase early.
5. Have a discussion with Mr Joe Holmes as suggested by Joan.

Thanks once more for the opportunity.”

Working for Wetands – Bushbuckridge


Mission: Identify Wetland Habitats Suitable for Rehabilitation
Date: 28 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetlands
Location: Bushbuckridge, Limpopo
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk

One of our newest pilot members, Hill van Schalkwyk, volunteered to fly Craig Cowden and Anton Bothma to survey wetland habitat associated with the Sand River near Bushbuckridge in Limpopo.  The photograph above shows the survey team, comprising (from the left):  Hill van Schalkwyk – Bateleurs pilot, Craig Cowden – Area Manager for LRI, and Anton Bothma – the Project Implementor of the Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation project. The flight took place from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport at the end of June, and this is the enthusiastic report from Hill:

“Flying my first mission for The Bateleurs was one of my flying highlights!  It is possible that I over-planned the whole mission as Craig Cowden, the Area Manager, was calm and collected and knew exactly what needed to be done. He was familiar with the terrain and knew the area well from the air.  We were accompanied by Anton Bothma who is responsible for the implementation of wetland rehabilitation in that area. He too knew the area well, and all their knowledge made my task of flying so much easier. We met at Kruger Mpumalanga airport which is an hour’s flight from my home base in Polokwane/Pietersburg. The day started slightly later than expected due to the poor visibility in the early morning and the heavy smog all the way to Nelspruit. When I was planning the operation I realised that the weather would have the final say, but in the end it turned out to be a brilliant flying day.

We departed Kruger Mpumalanga at 099h15 and arrived at our “site” – the Save the Sand project – 20 minutes later. All the points that I had carefully marked on my GPS were spotted in a flash by the two professionals.  They discussed issues that did not make much sense to me, but obviously knew exactly what they were looking for. The stable weather made it possible to fly low and slow – very safely!

The area near Bushbuckridge is clearly seriously damaged as a result of erosion and it was heartwarming for an outsider to learn about the interventions being planned to save the wetlands.  Unfortunately, as per anecdotes related by my passengers, some of the structures put in place to save the wetlands occasionally end up as walls in houses, or even as chicken pens!”

wetlands_bushbuckridge2_28062008The escarpment near Mariepskop

“For me one of the highlights of the day came when we had to fly to the top of Mariepskop where the old radar station was built in the 1950s. It was launched to establish a chain of radar stations along the border of the then Transvaal in order to protect the Witwatersrand area from possible aerial attack.  On the eastern side of the Drakensberg escarpment, facing away from the Blyde River Canyon, is the Mariepskop complex, a mountain enclave and centre of endemism of unsurpassed beauty. Mariepskop is the highest peak in the northern Drakensberg and from 1,945m above sea level, on a clear day, you can see the Indian Ocean and Maputo.

We returned by flying down a ravine back to the Lowveld and then straight on to Kruger Mpumalanga International.

Thanks a lot for the opportunity!”


Save the Sand surveyed by Craig Cowden

wetlands_bushbuckridge3_28062008This photo illustrates several large erosion gullies in the centre of the picture.

And here are extracts from the report of this same flight, from Craig Cowden:

“The flight was carried out from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport by Hill van Schalkwyk.  This was Hill’s first flight for The Bateleurs, but he was more than capable of adjusting to the demanding requirements of the Working for Wetlands project team’s requests to “turn right – NOW”.

Nine wetland sites were identified with the project area, of which seven were prioritised as having ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ potential for rehabilitation.  The majority of the problems associated with the wetlands related to headcut and gully erosion.  Unfortunately, the wetelands within the project area have been severely impacted upon by over-grazing and erosion, with the majority of the valleys being seen as ‘lost causes’.  Due to the small size of the catchment the team was able also to fly over the Mariepskop Nature Reserve, identified as an area with potential for rehabilitation, in addition to the X32A quaternary catchment.

As a whole the flight was highly effective in reducing the otherwise difficult and lengthy process of identifying problems by vehicle or on foot, as well as eliminating the need t identify and contact landowners (to request permission to enter onto their land) within the project areas.”

The sixth and final flight for Working for Wetlands in 2008 will be presented in our next Newsletter.