|Avian Demography Unit
Department of Statistical Sciences
University of Cape Town
ADU CELEBRATES 10+ YEARS OF BIRD MONITORING!
When the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) was near completion, the ADU was determined that birders’ enthusiasm for collecting data, so brilliantly demonstrated during SABAP, should continue to be harnessed in the cause of science and conservation. To that end, four bird monitoring projects were launched, namely CWAC (Coordinated Waterbird Counts), CAR (Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts), BIRP (Birds in Reserves Project) and NERCS (Nest Record Card Scheme). These projects have now all reached or surpassed the 10-year mark. This they have done despite a chronic shortage of funds and understaffing.
The ADU is proud of the achievements of these projects and we highlight some of these in the paragraphs below. We are tremendously grateful to the many hundreds of volunteers who have contributed data to CWAC, CAR, BIRP and NERCS, and we invite all birders to assist us in taking these projects forward to their 20th anniversary. Let your birding skills continue to make contributions to bird conservation!
CWAC started in January 1992. Its aims are to monitor populations of waterbirds at wetlands throughout South Africa and to identify and document threats facing wetlands and waterbird populations. Forty-eight sites were first covered in 1992 and currently 486 wetlands are registered with the project of which 338 are counted on a regular basis, including all viable Ramsar sites. More than 2500 people have participated in CWAC over the past 10+ years and currently about 870 people count waterbirds each summer and winter.
A report on the results of the first six years of CWAC was published in 1999, Coordinated Water bird Counts, 1992-1997: Total CWAC Report. It highlighted the importance of particular sites for waterbirds in South Africa, but also emphasized the enormous value that volunteers add to bird conservation on a national scale. Now into its 13th year, CWAC has the longest-running time series of wetland bird data in South Africa – an achievement that would not have been possible without the ongoing support and commitment of our volunteers.Although coverage is quite substantial, there are still potential growth areas, and together with a planned second CWAC report, we hope to maintain, but also improve, current levels of participation and thus further increase the value of CWAC as a monitoring tool for waterbird conservation in South Africa.
CAR was initiated in July 1993 to monitor trends in two threatened species, namely the Blue Crane and Denham’s Bustard. The project soon gained momentum and CAR participants now monitor the populations of over 20 species of large terrestrial birds in agricultural lands, as well as their use of habitats. Fourteen of these are Red Data species.
Currently, about 340 fixed CAR routes in seven provinces are covered by about 780 enthusiastic observers. That is about 19 000 km of road, equivalent to the distance between Cape Town and London! About half of the observers are farmers, many are bird club members, and others are nature conservationists, school learners and other interested members of the public.
CAR observers have covered about 244 400 km in the past 11 years! The information gathered provides an early warning of changes in populations and assists in making scientific recommendations on land management practices, as well as supplying information for specialist studies. CAR recognizes that effective conservation has to involve the private landowner.
The results from the first eight years of data collection have been summarised in a report, Big birds on farms: Mazda CAR Report 1993-2001, which is available from the ADU. The report provides landowners with advice on how to promote the conservation of these magnificent birds on their lands.
BIRP was launched in 1992. Its aim is to document the occurrence of birds in protected areas throughout the country. This information is used to assess the conservation status of species. The method of collecting data for protected areas is very similar to that used by SABAP for grid cells. To date, 737 observers have accumulated in excess of 23 000 checklists for 857 protected areas. BIRP is approaching comprehensive coverage of protected areas in some provinces, but much remains to be done. Ongoing monitoring of species occurrence in protected areas will also help to show change over time – very relevant in a time of climate change.
BIRP has marked its 10th anniversary with a comprehensive assessment of the conservation of birds in the protected areas of Gauteng. Data collected by birders, and analyses thereof, are now available to conservation authorities in Gauteng to assist them in planning the conservation of birds in that province.
NERCS had its beginnings in the 1950s under the Southern African Ornithological Society. The nest record cards have long been housed in the bird ringing unit (SAFRING) which now forms part of the ADU. NERCS was revamped in 1995 with a new set of aims, instructions and reporting forms, including a separate method for recording colonially nesting birds. Since that time, 2749 nest record cards for 274 species have been submitted by 128 observers. In addition, about 10 cards for heronries have been received.
We hope that the modest levels of participation in NERCS will gradually grow to a point where the annual breeding success of some common species can be measured. This will allow us to monitor productivity – one of the key indicators of population trends and environmental change.
The first priority for the ADU is to keep CWAC, CAR, BIRP and NERCS going. Every additional year of data enormously increases the value of the project databases.
But the ADU has also long been aware of the need for projects that monitor raptor populations and the sizes of important colonial roosts. The latter is presently being promoted as an extension of CWAC, and the former has been tested as a road-count project. We hope that sources of funds will be found to build these into fully fledged monitoring projects.
In collaboration with South Africa’s birders, the ADU will continue to serve the cause of bird conservation!