Land Use Changes and Birds

Nov 7, 2011

MISSION  28 of  2011

Name of Mission: Land Use Changes and Birds         
Date of Mission: 7 November 2011  
Aircraft used: Cessna 182        
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk      
Beneficiary: Bernard Coetzee  

Objective of the Flight     

To compare bird life within the Kruger National Park with that outside the Park, along an identifying gradient of human land use, and to obtain aerial photos of the areas

Beneficiary’s story of the mission        By Bernard Coetzee       

My PhD research aims to compare bird assemblages inside the Kruger National Park, with areas outside the Park under intensifying land use regimes. So the objective of the flight was to document, by means of photos and visual comparisons, different land use in four distinct areas around Phalaborwa, in the areas in which the bird sampling occurs.

Hill and I departed early and flew a sortie over the Kruger National Park. This gave me a terrific view of the dominant Phalaborwa Mopanie Sandveld vegetation type, the impact of grazing around waterholes, and a few special sightings like elephant.

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Next we flew over the rural land cover of the Mashishimale district, with its typical land use, such as very heavy grazing of livestock and erosion. Note the small homestead in the top right corner and the many cattle trails. The dominant trees are Maroela trees (Sclerocarya birrea), which produce fruit and so are spared from becoming firewood.  On returning to Phalaborwa we were able to see extensive urban land use around the town, as well as the surrounding habitat matrix.

Historically these four areas had an identical vegetation type, this has now has been greatly altered by human activity, something which is eloquently shown by the photographs. Interestingly, these areas all have distinct bird assemblages and one of the objects of my PhD is to discern the patterns of human influence on bird assemblages.

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Conclusion    
The objectives of the flight were met: all regions in my study area were covered and photographed. There is simply no substitute for such a “bird’s eye view” of these areas. The flight and added information will undoubtedly help in the analysis and final write-up of my PhD thesis.

Acknowledgments
My sincere thanks go to the pilot, Hill van Schalkwyk, for his good cheer and always putting safety first. Thank you also to The Bateleurs for their sponsorship of the flight, and I hope that their fantastic initiative will meet with great success.  

 

Pilot’s story of the mission            By Hill van Schalkwyk

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This flight was postponed in February this year due to bad weather, but fortunately we could get everything together in November 2011. My passenger, Bernard Coetzee,and I had engaged in numerous telephone discussions in the period in between, so when we eventually met on the morning of the flight, we were already quite well acquainted.

As this was in the middle of one of our extreme heat waves, we planned to start our mission very early. I left  Polokwane just before 06h00 and landed at Phalaborwa well before 07h00, and the temperature was already 29 degrees Celsius! After we had cleared formalities at the airport we had a short discussion over Bernard’s topographical map, and planned our flight. I am a frequent visitor to the Kruger National Park and surrounds, so it was easy to comprehend the route he wanted me to fly.

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This was Bernard’s first flight in a small aircraft and also his first aerial view of his study area, despite all the years he had been working in the area. Bernard’s first remark once we were airborne was “WOW! This is wonderful!” He was obviously surprised and impressed by the clear and holistic view he could get from the air. I was also privileged to be able to see this “forbidden” terrain from the air, as flights over the KNP are not easily arranged. Bernard had asked to visit nine points so we flew in a clockwise pattern around the air field. Well planned Bernard!

Once over the Park we spotted elephant, giraffe, and other animals within Bernard’s study area and I gathered from his response that this was valuable information. He showed me some interesting points and it was clear that the activity around the KNP, including the copper mine and human settlements, has had a profound effect on the flora and fauna of

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the region. In several cases I was really disturbed to see the extent of the negative impact on nature. We were not allowed to fly directly over the “Big Hole” but we were able to circle it and take photos. I will never pass the mine entrance again without remembering the impressive size of the mine and all the activity going on inside the fence.

Several times during the flight Bernard commented on what wonderful work The Bateleurs is doing, and when we touched down his first words were: “When can we do this again?” It was clear that the flight had met all his objectives and more. For my part, I will always remember the privilege of sharing a small part of Bernard’s valuable work, and be grateful for the opportunity The Bateleurs gave me to fly this mission. Thank you very much indeed.

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