Wattled Crane Nests – 01 of 2010

Jun 4, 2010

MISSION  19  of  2010

Name of Mission: Wattled Crane Nests – 01 of 2010
Date of Mission: 4th June 2010
Aircraft used: PA22 Piper Tri-Pacer      
Beneficiary: Tanya Smith of the African Crane Conservation Programme at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)    
Pilot: Johan Meiring

Report from the beneficiary: By  TANYA  SMITH

Objective of the Flight

The objective of this flight was to locate the known Wattled Crane breeding pairs in the Southern Drakensberg to determine where pairs were nesting;  and to record the number of eggs on the nest.  This would enable field staff to find the nests containing two eggs on the ground, in order to facilitate collection of the abandoned second eggs.

“With only 235 individuals left in South Africa, the Wattled Crane is in imminent danger of local extinction. The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme is a conservation initiative involving the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Johannesburg Zoo and the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria.  The initiative aims to collect abandoned eggs from the wild and rear the chicks in captivity.  The eventual aim is to re-introduce these cranes into suitable habitats in the wild.

WCRA_01_Wetland_used_as_a_breeding_site_by_a_pair_of_Wattled_Cranes_-_Photo_taken_by_Tanya_Smith
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Wattled Cranes breed in large wetlands with areas of open water.  From the ground these nests can be difficult to locate, but from the air the nests and adults are highly visible, thereby making aerial surveys the best and most efficient method of locating Wattled Crane nests.  It is for this reason that The Bateleurs were approached to assist with a Wattled Crane aerial survey in the Southern Drakensberg area of KwaZulu-Natal.

On a very cold Friday morning on June the 4th I met up with Bateleurs pilot, Johan Meiring, at the Himeville aerodrome.  This was Johan’s inaugural flight as a Bateleurs pilot and I was really hoping it would be a memorable one.  Richard Shutte of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife joined us on the flight and he brought with him extensive knowledge of the area including the location of most of the known Wattled Crane breeding pairs.

WCRA_02_Encroachment_of_settlements_onto_Franklin_Vlei
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After discussing our plan of action we took off at approximately 08h00 on a beautiful clear winter’s day in the Southern Drakensberg.  Things could not get better!  We started checking the known sites near Himeville and at our first three sites were unable to locate any Wattled Cranes.  However, at the fourth site, we found not only the known pair but found them nesting.  Johan very skilfully circled the nest in order for us to get GPS co-ordinates and to count the number of eggs on the nest.  To make things even better, this nest contained two eggs, making it a vitally important find for the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme.  We made our way south checking all 20 sites and were very happy to find and record 11 of the known Wattled Crane pairs.  Of these 11 pairs, five were nesting and of these five nests, four had two-egg clutches.  GPS co-ordinates taken of each nest site allowed me later to visit the sites on the ground, in order to measure the eggs to determine an estimated hatch date for each egg.  These nests will be re-visited on the estimated hatch date and if the first egg has hatched, the second egg which will have been abandoned by the adults, will be collected and hatched in captivity for future release into the wild.

WCRA_03_Ntsikeni_Vlei.__This_is_a_newly-proclaimed_RAMSAR_site
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In addition to the five Wattled Crane nests that were located and recorded, a total of 310 Grey Crowned Cranes were seen and counted, with the largest flocks numbering 104 and 91 Grey Crowned Cranes.  Unfortunately no Blue Cranes were seen, but other interesting sightings included Denham’s Bustard, Bald Ibis, Cape Vulture and Reed buck.

The survey allowed us to monitor 20 of the 70 known Wattled Crane breeding sites and even though we didn’t locate all 20 pairs we came away with valuable information that will ultimately be used to the benefit of a critically endangered species.  This flight was ideally timed to find Wattled Cranes that breed slightly earlier in the season and these nests would be missed in the main Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Crane aerial survey that is carried out towards the end of July.

A huge thank you must go to The Bateleurs for approving the flight and to our pilot Johan Meiring, who was very professional and very enthusiastic.”

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Report from the pilot:    By  JOHAN  MEIRING

“After receiving confirmation of the Wattled Crane Mission from The Bateleurs, I got in contact with Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).  She explained to me what was required and mailed me the GPS co-ordinates of 25 known positions of Wattled Crane nesting and breeding locations.

On the morning of the 3rd June I programmed the GPS in ZU-BIH accordingly and left Fly Inn at approximately 11h00 local time.  After a pleasant 2.61 hours of flying I landed at the very picturesque Himeville.  This airfield is very well kept and the grass runway is in excellent condition.  A local resident of Himeville, Mr Byron Woods offered me hangarage for ZU-BIH at no cost!

WCRA_05_Wattled_Crane_pair_and_nest_-_Photo_taken_by_Tanya_Smith
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We had arranged to meet at the airfield at 07h00 local time on the 4th June.  Tanya brought an empty
200 litre drum and we filled it at the local filling station.   After filling the aircraft Mr Richard Schutte joined us and we covered the area south of Himeville down to the Swartberg/Franklin area.  We covered 24 of the 25 locations and counted several cranes, nests and eggs of breeding pairs.  Please see Tanya’s report for more details.

The mission lasted for 2.83 hours and was uneventful.

After refuelling I left Himeville at ± 14h00 local time for Fly Inn.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with two very professional and dedicated members of Nature Conservation.  Thanks to both of them.

In my opinion this was a successful and very enjoyable mission.

With my thanks to The Bateleurs and everybody involved.”

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