Tag Archives: Mpumalanga

Aerial perspective of the proposed Atha mine – Mabola Protected Environment

Objective of the flight: 

The objective of the mission was to gain an aerial perspective of the proposed Atha mine site northeast of Wakkerstroom and of the following day’s ‘Visual Petition’ site at Birdlife facility adjacent to the Wakkerstroom Sanctuary vlei.

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Aerial survey of coal fields in Mpumalanga

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Objective of the flight: 

An aerial survey of the coal fields in Mpumalanga as well as the water systems and human settlements affected by coal.

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Grey Crowned Cranes-Belfast

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Mission: Grey Crowned Cranes-Belfast
Date: 24 March 2009
Requesting organisation: South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)
Location: Belfast, Mpumalanga
Pilot: Kevin Phillips

Introduction
Report from pilot Kevin Phillips
A fantastic flight experience, by Ursula Francke of EWT
Aerial view over farms in the Tonteldoos area

Introduction

Late last year we were contacted by Ursula Francke of the South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).  Ursula needed assistance to search for cranes and their nests in two identified sites in Mpumalanga.  The flight in and around Chrissiesmeer took place in mid-December, while the flight near Belfast was deferred until the 24th of March 2009.  Here is a report from our volunteer pilot Kevin Phillips, also flying his first mission for The Bateleurs, followed by a report from Ursula.

 


Report from pilot Kevin Phillips

Bateleurs pilot Kevin Phillips with his 2-seater Jora, now classifed as a Light Sport Aircraft (formerly known as a microlight), at the Middleburg airfield.

“This was my first mission for The Bateleurs and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely.  With the interesting weather conditions over the previous couple of weeks, and Ursula’s need to do the survey of the Grey Crowned Cranes before the end of March, we were on short notice as to when exactly we were going to fly.  The initial request was to fly from Ermelo to Belfast and then on to a list of GPS co-ordinates in the area as far away as Dullstroom, and then back to Ermelo.  After a few discussions and changes of plan, we decided to meet at the Middelburg airfield and fly from there, as we could be in the area much earlier and have a better chance of calm air in the morning, so the flight was scheduled for Tuesday 24th March.

The early morning proved to be calm and beautiful and a phone call to Ursula in Ermelo, at 06h00, confirmed that weather was good there too.  I took off from Ingwe for Middelburg at around 07h00 and landed at a calm, fog-free Middelburg, where Ursula was waiting, just after 08h00.  After discussing the plan and route, Ursula and I took off in the general direction of north of Belfast.  The cosmos was in full flower and the landscape was dotted with huge patches of pink and white in amongst the green fields of agriculture and grass – with, of course, the completely black areas where coal is being mined.  Beauty and the unfortunately necessary beast.

Within about 25 minutes we were at the first of 27 waypoints.  This was a fairly large wetland in the Tonteldoos area, where we had our first and only view of (four) Grey Crowned Cranes.  From here we moved on towards Dullstroom and Belfast and 2 hours 22 minutes after taking off, we touched down back at Middelburg.  After a much needed leg stretch and some lunch I took off back to Ingwe at 12h00, landing soon after 13h00.

What a perfect day for flying it was – there was hardly a bump until my flight back from Middelburg to Ingwe.  The visibility was perfect without any fog or mist at any time. The only clouds of any significance were covering the escarpment quite far to the east.  Total flying time for me was 4 hours 48 minutes and I used 67 litres of unleaded 95 octane petrol.

It makes a huge difference flying with someone like Ursula with her knowledge of the area, and the habitats of the cranes, and how the birds are affected by the activities and changes to their environment.  In the Dullstroom area, for example, many dams have been created out of the wetlands for trout fishing.  As beautiful as these dams may look to us humans, the cranes think differently.  The Wattled Cranes are especially fussy about where they nest and don’t appreciate the efforts by farmers who dam the wetlands.  If they don’t like this, I can only imagine what they will think of open cast coal mines destroying the area.  What a pity we don’t have access to a good viable alternative to coal for our energy needs – or do we?”


A fantastic flight experience, by Ursula Francke of EWT

Grey_crowned_cranes2_24032009A view over Lakenvlei and forests in the area.

“The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Crane Conservation aims to ensure the survival of South Africa’s three crane species, the Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus, Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus, and the Grey-Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum, and their natural habitats.  This is achieved by improving our understanding of crane biology, identifying and mitigating human induced threats, and encouraging participation and cooperation of communities and institutions, to the benefit of cranes and people.

Towards this goal EWT Crane Conservation field workers are based in all key crane regions in South Africa, including Mpumalanga.  One of the important crane locations within Mpumalanga is Dullstroom and the surrounding areas.  Since cranes prefer as little disturbance as possible when they are breeding, almost all the nesting sites are far from public roads and areas frequented by people, so locating them by vehicle or on foot can be quite a challenge.  Fortunately, Grey Crowned Cranes can easily be seen from the air.  They are large birds with conspicuous white markings on their wings, making aerial observation quite easy.

The 27 points covered during the flight consisted of 24 historic Grey Crowned Crane nest sites plus three more recent sightings.  Although some of the older nest sites have been encroached upon by human activities, several of the sites seemed relatively undisturbed.  While no cranes were seen at any of the fixed points, four Grey Crowned Cranes were spotted near one of the points in the Tonteldoos area, probably a pair with two fledged chicks.  Of concern were two prospecting rigs seen nearby.  This sighting will also be followed up by a physical visit to the land owner to enquire about the situation.

 


grey_crowned_cranes3_24032009Aerial view over farms in the Tonteldoos area

Two of the historic Wattled Crane nest sites were located within Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve, outside Dullstroom.  Although Wattled Cranes have not been seen there for a while, from the air the habitat seemed ideal for cranes.  The third historic site was located on the western side of Lakenvlei, which has been enclosed by plantations.  No breeding pairs or nest sites were found, although a family group of two adults and two juveniles was seen close to one of the historic breeding sites.  We could find no evidence of recent nesting activity in the nearby wetlands but this may be due to breeding pairs having already fledged their young and moved further away from their breeding areas.

The flight was very helpful in terms of habit monitoring of the fixed points.  Several of the historic nest sites are now affected by damming, afforestation, or other human activities.  Those sites where the habitat looked suitable for Grey Crowned Cranes were noted and will be followed up by physical visits to the landowners for further information regarding possible crane activity.  No Grey Crowned Crane floater flocks were located during the flight.  Also, the findings at the three historic Wattled Crane nest sites confirmed reports received during the past couple of years in terms of habitat and crane presence (or the lack thereof).    

A special thank you goes to Kevin Phillips who volunteered for the mission at short notice.  It was a pleasure working with him throughout, from planning to completion of the flight.  And a special thank you to The Bateleurs – your service is great and it is a pleasure to work with your pilots!”

Grey Crowned Cranes

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Mission: Locating Grey Crowned Crane nest sites
Date: 17 December 2008
Requesting organisation: South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

Location: Chrissiesmeer, Mpumalanga

Pilot: Michael Beukman

Report by Michael Beukman
Report by Ursula Francke

Late last year we were contacted by Ursula Francke of the South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).  Ursula needed assistance to search for cranes and their nests in two identified sites in Mpumalanga.  Michael Beukmann was our volunteer pilot for the flight which took place in and around Chrissiesmeer, in mid-December.  Here are the report and photographs from Ursula:

“The South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) aims to ensure the survival of South Africa’s three crane species (the Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus, the Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus, and the Grey-Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum), and their natural habitats.  This is achieved by improving our understanding of crane biology, identifying and mitigating human-induced threats, and encouraging the participation and co-operation of communities and institutions, to the benefit of cranes and people.

Towards this goal SACWG field workers are based in all key crane regions in South Africa, including Mpumalanga.  One of the important crane locations within Mpumalanga is Chrissiesmeer and the surrounding areas.  Both Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes breed here during the summer months.  Since cranes prefer as little disturbance as possible when they are breeding, almost all the nesting sites are far from public roads and areas frequented by people.  Grey Crowned Cranes often nest in wetlands characterised by tall reeds which makes sighting a nest or a breeding pair even more difficult.

However, Grey Crowned Cranes and their nests can easily be seen from the air.  They are large birds with conspicuous white markings on their wings, making aerial observation quite easy.  Exact data was not available for the optimal breeding time around Chrissiesmeer but it was agreed that December should be the peak breeding month for these cranes.

Regions to be covered
The flight focused on the lakes and pans surrounding Chrissiesmeer, passing the western side of Warburton and stretching to the western and south-western parts of Lothair.  We tried to cover as many wetlands and pans as possible where we expected to find Grey Crowned Cranes.  The route, as measured in ArcGIS 9.2, was just over 200 km in length.

Objectives of the flight
The primary objective of the flight was to locate as many Grey Crowned Crane nest sites as possible.   Secondly, we wanted to check whether we could find any Grey Crowned Crane summer flocks, also known as floater flocks.  Finally, there were also two historic Wattled Crane breeding sites on the planned flight route in the Lothair/Warburton area, for which we hoped to determine current habitat use.

 


grey_crowned_cranes2I met Michael Beukman at 07h00 on 17th December 2008 at the Ermelo airfield, and it took us three hours to complete the route in his microlight.

During the flight we located two Grey Crowned Crane pairs at previously unknown locations and one active Grey Crowned Crane nest site.  These sites were not in tall reed pans as we had expected, but rather in short sedge wetlands.  At the first two sites we saw both cranes foraging, and at the third site we saw only the incubating bird sitting on the nest.  The partner could not be seen in the vicinity.  As we flew over, the crane got up and we could clearly see two eggs in the nest.

A nest had been reported at the Tevredepan reed pan during the last breeding season but unfortunately we found no cranes there in December.  Another short sedge wetland (Slanghalsvlei) where a breeding pair is usually seen was also without any cranes on the day.

On inspection we found that both historic Wattled Crane nest sites had been abandoned.  At the first site the wetland in which they had bred was now dammed up with farm buildings and plantations, and at the second site plantations covered the wetland completely.

Conclusion
Only one active Grey Crowned Crane nest with two eggs was found, while another two Grey Crowned Crane pairs were seen at previously unknown locations.  No floater flocks were found in the area.  We don’t know if the low number of observed cranes was due to a late start to the breeding season, or because the route focussed on less important areas, or was simply bad luck on a particular day.  Continued field work around the Chrissiesmeer area will be able to shed some light on this.  The flight also indicated which habitat types should be searched during future nest searches in the area.

A special thank you goes to Michael Beukman who spent many hours in the air flying to Ermelo, doing the route around Chrissiesmeer, and then flying home, not all in ideal weather conditions but all with great skill.  Flying in a microlight for the first time gave me some insight into “flying like a bird”  –  it was a fantastic experience!”

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