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.”

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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!”

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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.”