Kruger bird project a chirping success

‘The key to the success of the project was the extensive use of citizen scientists.’

Thanks to dedicated citizen scientists, the atlas of the birds in the Kruger National Park (KNP) is complete and up-to-date, reports the Lowvelder.

More than 500 bird species were listed in the KNP over a three-year period during the Turning Kruger Green project (TKG).

The project forms part of the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2), in which SA National Parks (SANParks) aims to count all the birds in all its parks.

The research will open the door for taking conservation measures and conducting further research. The Lowveld’s registered citizen scientists were the first to come to the party.

The invitation to Peter Lawson of Birdlife Lowveld and his team of citizen scientists three years ago was a tall order: research the distribution of birds in the 446 pentads in the Greater KNP, covering each four times by December 31, 2016, and then map them (a pentad is a twitcher’s term for a nine-by-nine kilometre square area).

“We managed to cover all areas in the allotted time,” Lawson recently told fellow bird lovers during a celebratory meeting of the local Birdlife club. Four select citizen scientists, led by Lawson, began surveying areas of the KNP that were not accessible to the public three years ago.

European Bee-Eater. Picture: Lee Ouzmann
European Bee-Eater. Picture: Lee Ouzmann

The invitation of SANParks’ avian research manager, Sharon Thompson, was initially issued to target poorly charted areas in the Kruger. The original idea was to target these areas, but developed further to become the TKG. The name is derived from the use of colouring the pentad green on a map once it had been thoroughly researched.

Lists were compiled following a protocol set out by the Animal Demographics Unit at the University of Cape Town. The information contained in the checklist includes bird names in sequence of observation, total number of species recorded each hour and the total number of species recorded after the full observation period.

Pearl-spotted owlet. Picture: Warwick Tarboton and Peter Ryan
Pearl-spotted owlet. Picture: Warwick Tarboton and Peter Ryan

“The key to the success of the project was the extensive use of citizen scientists,” he said. It is estimated that the value of their input was 20 times what the formal programme funding would otherwise have allowed. Thousands of lists were collected over the three years.

In 2016, 2 000 were produced and submitted. At least four atlas cards were submitted per pentad, ensuring that the data and lists were reliable to allow for more meaningful conservation conclusions to be drawn.

The team had some setbacks. “Now and again we had bad weather or some areas were not accessible due to anti-poaching activities taking place,” Lawson pointed out.

As the project was an officially registered project with KNP’s scientific services, the remote areas could only be accessed after authorisation from section rangers. Hence, the team managed to reach all areas, despite the occasional tyre puncture from thorns and challenging muddy conditions.

“It was always necessary to drive very slowly with frequent stops so that we could hear the birds calling. Our windows were always wide open for best viewing and hearing. Our doors were kept unlocked to enable us to get out quickly in order to locate a disappearing bird,” explained Lawson.

The TKG and SABAP2 opened many doors to bird lovers. “It has given great pleasure to numerous people and resulted in more birding skills. It is the best birding project worldwide, and it has opened new doors for research. We in the Lowveld can be truly proud to be part of this great project,” Lawson concluded.

– Caxton News Service

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