MISSION 18 of 2011
Name of Mission: Student Flight for Percy Fitzpatrick Students 02 of 2011
Date of Mission: 23 July 2011
Aircraft used: PA28-236 Piper Dakota
Pilots: Mark Rule and Gerhard Mew
Beneficiary: Group of MSc students at the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute
Objective of the Flight
To provide students at the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute, UCT, with an understanding of the advantages of aerial surveys, and to engage them in an aerial count of large birds
Pilot’s report of the mission By Mark Rule
On 23 July I met Gerhard Mew (pilot of the other aircraft involved) and four students from the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, with the objective of introducing the students to aerial survey and bird counting. This was at the request of Prof. Graeme Cumming of the Institute. Gerhard and I flew similar routes with two passengers each.
We agreed on a suitable route, which entailed flying under the TMA from Stellenbosch to the coastline north of Koeberg power station, after which we flew at 500ft AGL along the coast and for the rest of the route. The coastal leg gave the students an opportunity to spot seagulls in flight and on the beach, enabling them to see and understand the scale of these larger birds from this height above ground.
We proceeded around the west side of Langebaan lagoon and spotted flamingos along the coastline. The flight continued around the north end of the lagoon and headed back to Stellenbosch from there.
On the last leg the students were able to see more flamingos in dams along the way as well as egrets, geese and other species.
The flight (and the whole experience of low level flight) was enjoyed by the students who expressed their thanks to The Bateleurs for making the experience possible. My thanks go to the students and Prof. Cumming for their dedication to preservation of the environment. Once again, from my perspective, it was a very worthwhile addition to my flying experience.
Beneficiary’s report of the mission By Students
As part of our module on landscape ecology, four students from the MSc conservation biology course at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, UCT, participated in an aerial survey with The Bateleurs on 23 July 2011. The intent of the trip was to give the students a firsthand experience in remote sensing by offering and opportunity to fly in small aircraft with Bateleurs pilots Mark Rule and Gerhard Mew. We were focused on trying to identify bird species, though no abundance or location data was being collected during this exercise. The more important goal was to see landscape patterns from the air and get a better idea of how they can impact ecologically important processes, a focus of the landscape ecology module.We started our day early on Saturday morning at Stellenbosch Airfield. The weather was exceptionally clear, but a touch windy. While at the airfield, Mark and Gerhard walked us through the prerequisite paperwork and gave us an option of routes to take from Stellenbosch up to Langebaan, either along the coast or inland. We choose to take a coastal route up to the lagoon and then fly the inland route on the way home to get a nice contrast of landscapes and to see if there was a significant difference in the variety or abundance of bird species we were able to spot.
Flying along the coast proved to be a spectacular experience. We stayed roughly a half a kilometre off the shore and followed the contour of the coast from just north of Cape Town up to Langebaan. The pilots were very accommodating in keeping the planes low to the ground (200 to 300 ft) and at a slow airspeed (average of 100 nautical miles) to aid in spotting birds. Along the coast we were able to spot numerous gulls and oyster eaters. The highlight however, was the lagoon itself. Getting to see flamingos from the air was exhilarating. It was also a good demonstration on how effective aerial surveillance can be in identifying species. Flamingos are easily identified from the air, even for inexperienced surveyors.After circling the lagoon, we took an inland route home, flying over the farmland that dominates the landscape along the western coast. It was useful to see firsthand the patterns created by human development and the extent to which the landscape had been altered from its natural state. We flew over a number of farm dams which gave us an opportunity to view geese and cranes, but we were unable to spot any pelicans during the flight. Flying over land gave a contrasting view to spotting flamingos over the lagoon and the importance of using appropriate sampling techniques. Since this flight was designed to be an introductory experience, we did not fly along transects, or assign zones for each spotter to survey. It was easy to see however, that given how distracting the amount of pattern over land can be, the importance of using techniques to focus your attention when trying to collect data. The experience as a whole was beneficial and enjoyable in the eyes of all four students. Half had never been in a small aircraft before or flown so close to the ground. Even the pilots seemed to enjoy the challenge of flying at low altitudes. Both commented that our survey flight was much more interesting for them than a typical flight where you simply climb to altitude, maintain a heading and descend upon arrival. Most importantly it was an excellent opportunity to experience remote sensing and begin to see the strengths and challenges of the approach. We appreciated this opportunity from The Bateleurs and offer a special thanks to Mark and Gerhard for lending us their services.