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.
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!"