CAR observers

Large and conspicuous birds offer the opportunity to monitor their populations by means of relatively simple techniques. One of these techniques is the "road count", in which observations are made from vehicles covering fixed routes. It is these large birds that are showing signs of threat due to loss of habitat through changes in land use, increases in crop agriculture and human population densities, poisoning as well as man-made structures like power lines. With the prospect of wind and solar farms to increase our use of renewable energy sources monitoring of these species is most important.

Roadcounts were pioneered in July 1993 in a joint Cape Bird Club/ADU project to monitor the populations of two threatened species: Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus and Denham’s/Stanley's Bustard Neotis denhami. The initial study area is known as the Overberg and consists of a mosaic of agricultural and natural landscapes on the coastal plain northeast of Cape Town in the Western Cape. The project began with 15 routes and detailed observations were recorded while driving slowly and especially during stops at regular two-kilometre intervals. During these stops, the surrounding countryside was scanned using binoculars. This pilot study was successful and the fieldwork method has not been changed significantly over the past 19 years.

CAR spread rapidly to other provinces and now monitors 36 species of large terrestrial birds (cranes, bustards, korhaans, storks, Secretarybird and Southern Bald Ibis) along 350 fixed routes covering over 19 000 km ( the flight distance between Cape Town, London and back!). Fourteen of these species appear in the Red Data Book. Twice a year, in midsummer (the last Saturday in January) and midwinter (the last Saturday in July), roadcounts are carried out using this standardised method. A standardised method allows one to make comparisons between counts. Even though we do not attempt to count the entire population of a species, the area covered is so large that CAR is statistically capable of demonstrating trends in population size. The project also reveals details of habitat use and the relationship of populations to the agricultural practices of an area. more...

Latest news

2014-09-17 Les Underhill 
ADU page in African Birdlife, September–October 2014 

ADU page in African Birdlife, September-October 2014

This topic was chosen because Citizen Science Week is from 20–28 September. We would be delighted if atlasers atlased irresponsibly.

This page is from the September-October issue of African Birdlife, the magazine of BirdLife South Africa. The pdf of this page is available here.


2013-09-28 Les Underhill 
Listen to Sally Hofmeyr's interview with Tim Neary 

Blue Cranes in the Swartland

Sally Hofmyer was interviewed by Tim Neary on the Sappi Nature Journal in 60 Minutes on Radio Today. If you missed the interview when it was broadcast, you can listen to it through this link.

Sally described some of the results of her research for her PhD at the ADU. Her analysis of trends in abundance of species such as the Blue Crane made use of the data collected by our Citizen Scientists. She also talked about her MSc project and her postdoc, and in general about her experiences of being a postgraduate student.




2013-08-21 Les Underhill 
2000 up on Facebook 

ADU 2000 on Facebook

The "page" for the Animal Demography Unit on Facebook now has 2000 "friends" who have "liked" it.

It is the best place to keep up to date with the goings on in the ADU and beyond. It is where the news breaks first!

You don't need to have a Facebook log-in to see the page, which is at


2013-08-09 Les Underhill 
Report on the winter 2013 count, done on Saturday 27 July 

CAR count; photo Duncan Cooke

The winter CAR count was completed on Saturday 27 July. Donella Young writes: "Many thanks to the 800 CAR counters who rose early in the dark to count about 350 CAR routes this last Saturday! I know it was certainly a wet, winter count for some in the Overberg and Humansdorp precincts and there were muddy roads to contend with. In the Swartland the weather was better than predicted and the rain held off most of the time, but two routes were incomplete due to flooding of a bridge and a drift.


"Throughout the rest of the country the weather was dry, but cold and in some areas like the Northeastern and Southern Free State, northeastern Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga it was windy, but fortunately visibility was good. But as Saroné van Niekerk remarked the 'strong wind shook us to make counts difficult!

"It was amazing to see that 10 counts had already been captured by the Saturday evening of the count and by Tuesday evening there were 40 and by the following Friday there are 84! There are five completed precincts and many more Free State counts than usual. From MyBirdPatch and emails or phone calls it is evident that a number of you are capturing your counts for the first time, which is fantastic ? as this makes the tasks of Precinct Organisers or volunteer data capturers so much easier. Thank you very much for all your efforts, please do not hesitate to phone or email if you are struggling – particularly with obtaining a password as this seems to be the most tricky step.

"This was the first count that a few representative raptor species and the three crow species were included in CAR counts nationally, due to concern about raptors declining and crows increasing. I was surprised to see that Peter and Jenny Swift, George Branford and Ian Field who counted EB03 in the Eastern Cape Border area recorded 153 Cape Crows, Saroné van Niekerk and her family counted 130 on EE08 in the northeastern Eastern Cape and Gayle and John Ellison, Aldo and Sharon Berruti saw 123 on KU01 in the Underberg area. Altogether 14 species were recorded on KU01, the highest species total so far. Game birds are counted in KZN which helps increase the totals there! Keith and Michele Moodie, who count OV08 in the Overberg had the most records or lines of data so far, they counted 943 Blue Cranes on their route! Their route regularly has close to or just over a thousand Blue Cranes for the winter count, there are many small dams or wetlands in this area. The highlight for Irmgard Kaiser and Leoné du Preez on FN39 was 5 Wattled Cranes with two Grey Crowned Cranes at a dam. I have just checked the database and this is not only the first time this species has been seen on this route, but it is the biggest group of Wattled Cranes in the Free State since counts began in 1997! Yvonne Bosman has sent a comprehensive report in which she writes about EH06: 'On our last winter count, before wind farm construction and wheat fields appearing, there were 86 bustards and this time only 24 so it just goes to show how the changing landscape has affected this species. Let’s hope that once construction is over that the birds will again make their appearance in this area or at least find another place of refuge.'

"Thank you so much for driving and stopping safely every 2 km! I am most grateful that there have been no accidents on a CAR route while people have been counting in the last sixteen years that I have been coordinating CAR. All the best for all the capturing and checking and huge thanks to all the Precinct Organisers for all their help with ensuring a successful count. You all form a wonderful team, I will let you know when the interim website report is up."

Sadly, this is the last count for which Donella will be coordinator of CAR. I know that you will all join me in wishing her well into the future. Donella has made the most amazing contribution to this project over many years. We all need to do our bit to keep the project running as smoothly as we can into the future.


2013-06-27 Doug Harebottle 
Twenty years of CWACing the Bot River Estuary 

The 25th of July1993 marked the first Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC) for the Bot River Estuary, one of the largest estuarine systems in the Western Cape. It was one of the first wetland sites to be counted soon after the CWAC programme was launched in 1992. The 6th of July 2013 will mark the 20th anniversary of these counts which have been coordinated by Mariana Delport of the Tygerberg Bird Club.  Counts and observers have undergone various changes through the years. Says Mariana, "The first count was originally scheduled for 17 July 1993, but due to bad weather conditions it was postponed to 25 July 1993.  Initially we only counted the Bot River Estuary (known locally as the Botriviervlei), but from 1995 we included the nearby Kleinmond Estuary as the two systems are closely linked."

The CWAC pioneers, made up of four teams, included Mariana Delport, Willie D’Hondt, Colin Jones, Jurie and Adele Fourie, Anton Nel, Mossie Smit, John and Debbie Philogene, Margaret McCall, Talitha le Seur, Brian Vanderwalt, Ann Rickets, Libby Kerr, Brenda Anderson and Beverley Patterson. From this group Mariana and Beverly remain as active counters! Additional counters from Kleinmond, Hermanus, Somerset West and Cape Town have given of their time to assist with the counts over the last 20 years. 

Most counts have taken place twice a year (February and July), but from January 2003 until December 2006, all sections were counted to monitor the changes within a full breaching cycle of the estuary. The results were included as a chapter in Doug Harebottle's PhD thesis and which had important conservation outcomes for the estuary's waterbirds. Quarterly counts were then done for another three years. Mariana comments, "This called for some dedication, especially for us driving all the way from Cape Town, sometimes in adverse weather conditions!"

This is an incredible data set and probably one of the longest running series of waterbird counts for a South African estuary. Mariana says, "Looking at the results of the past 20 years, not much has changed since 1993. Numbers of Red-knobbed Coot, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, grebes, flamingos, terns, shorebirds, have varied seasonally as well as based on the breaching regime of the sand bar at Meerensee". But she adds, "...some species, such as Red-knobbed Coot and Great Crested Grebe have seen gradual declines in  numbers and in more recent years we have seen an increase in the number of Blue Crane along the upper reaches of the lagoon, which is great.  Occasionally some rarities make their appearance, like Osprey, Black Harrier, Common Black-headed Gull and African Openbill."


The ADU salutes Mariana, her team and the Tygerberg Bird Club for taking ownership of this important wetland as a CWAC site over the past twenty years. It takes dedication and commitment to sustain monitoring at these levels. Like Stan Madden and the Blesbokspruit wetlands, Mariana has been the stalwart and champion for the Bot estuary CWACs.

We are also extremely grateful to all the citizen scientists who have given up their time, petrol and effort to help with these counts. Ensuring continuity for these counts is vital to understand the long-term dynamics of waterbird populations and everyone's contributions makes a difference; in Mariana's words "Let’s continue for another 20 years!"