Student Flight for Percy Fitzpatrick Students 01 of 2011

Jul 9, 2011

MISSION  14 of  2011

Name of Mission: Student Flight for Percy Fitzpatrick Students 01 of 2011       
Date of Mission: 9 July 2011
Pilots:  Harold Bloch and Craig Strang


Objective of the Flight

To provide students at the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute, at UCT, with the advantages of aerial surveys, specifically, and aerial count of large birds

Pilot’s report                 By Harold Bloch

On Saturday 9th July 2011 Harold Bloch and Craig Strang of the Stellenbosch Flying Club were fortunate enough to be able to take seven students from the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute on an initiation flight. Prof. Graeme Cumming of the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute had previously submitted a request to The Bateleurs to allow 12 students to be flown by Bateleurs pilots so that they could be shown the advantages of aerial survey.

Bateleurs pilots Craig Strang, Mark Rule, Anthony Allen and Harold Bloch volunteered for the mission. The plan was to take the students in groups and simulate an aerial count of pelicans. These large birds are easily spotted and counting from the air is fairly easy. Photographing the birds on the ground was recommended as this would assist in counting. It also helps to distinguish pelicans from other large white birds such as domestic geese.

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As planned, we flew towards Langebaan Lagoon looking for pelicans on the numerous farm dams over which we passed. Upon reaching Langebaan we flew over the southern end of the lagoon looking for pelicans and other large birds, especially flamingoes.

The objective was achieved and the students were easily able to see and photograph their birds. Craig and Harold were able to fly 7 students on the 9th July [Harold in two missions; taking 2 students per trip of 1.6 and 1.5 hours respectively] and Craig in a single trip of 2 hours [3 students together].

The students were a great bunch of very enthusiastic students, who really enjoyed the experience.  I have no doubt that they will make a valuable contribution to the environment in the future. Hopefully they will remember the value of aerial survey and continue to make use of the advantages it has to offer. They were all very grateful to The Bateleurs for making this experience possible.
Mark and Anthony will fly the remaining five students on the 23rd July, from Stellenbosch airfield.

Beneficiary’s report             By Jeremy Goss

UCT MSc Conservation Biology student flying with the Bateleurs

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On Saturday the 9th of July, 7 students from the MSc conservation biology course at UCT had the privilege of flying with Harold Blocher and Craig Strang in association with the Bateleurs. The flying experience was a component of a taught module on landscape ecology, which focuses on the spatial patterns and landscape scale processes that are of interest in conservation biology. Much of the spatial data and imagery that we have been exposed to in the course has been a result of aerial flying, and the trip was intended to give us a first-­‐first hand impression about how this information is gathered.

We arrived at Stellenbosch early on what was an incredible day for flying, calm and clear. We were given an introductory ground briefing about the route that we were going to be flying and what we could expect to see. The aim of the exercise was to do some pelican counting and so we were also briefed on how to identify pelicans from the air and where we could potentially go wrong. We then embarked on flights on groups of two and three, flying in a north-­‐westerly direction from farm dam to farm dam looking for pelicans. As the aim was to get an experience of counting rather than scientific data we did not fly straight transects and so were able to observe more birds from the air. Many of the birds in the dams were farm geese and so we were able to get an idea about how easy it might be to get species confused from the air, and the importance of taking this into account. We did come across a number of pelicans as we flew but the highlight of the flight was undoubtedly passing over Langebaan lagoon. We observed a number of pelicans in the marshland area to the south of the lagoon as well as flocks of flamingos in the lagoon itself. Seeing this sort of landscape from the air was a very special experience for all of us.

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Not only did the flying give us an idea about how aerial counts might be done but we were also able to gain unique insight of how the landscape of the south western cape appears from the air. The areas that we flew over comprise many varied land-­‐uses and the natural vegetation has been extensively altered and fragmented. These patterns are the result of processes that we have spent time learning about and so it was useful to be able to observe them the air. We all got a new a new and important perspective on how unusual features such as a wind farm, large dune field, racehorse training facility and nuclear power plant appear from above.

Although not without challenges, aerial survey techniques are invaluable to the natural sciences in estimating population numbers where it may be impractical from the ground. An approximate figure for population numbers and densities are incredibly important for conservation biology, as conservation and management decisions often hinge on these parameters. Conducted routinely, aerial surveys can also detect trends and temporal changes in landscapes or species patterns that may not be observable from the ground. This may be particularly important for monitoring changes in land-­‐use and loss of natural areas.

Our experience of flying with Harold and Craig gave us direct experience of the value of flying and aerial perspectives for landscape ecology and conservation in general. For most of us it was our first exposure to conducting areal surveys, and for some the first flight in a small aeroplane, and each of us expressed how useful the experience was. This is a tool most of us are likely to use in our future careers and we really appreciated this unique opportunity.

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