Friday, September 25, 2009

Community workshop at Nata Sanctuary

Nata Sanctuary was a hive of activity during the latter part of August as 35 community members from Trusts throughout the country gathered for a week’s training in bird identification and monitoring. The workshop was organized and conducted by staff from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and BirdLife Botswana, and was the first of its kind involving community members in Common Bird Monitoring and Important Bird Area (IBA) Monitoring. An introduction to the Management Oriented Monitoring System (MOMS), promoted by DWNP for use in community concession areas, also formed part of the training. Some participants were from new Trusts and were able to interact with, and benefit from, other long-standing Trusts from the northern part of the country which had full-time Community Escort Guides involved in natural resources monitoring.Basic skills in bird identification are needed before anyone can participate meaningfully in bird monitoring, so logically this formed the starting point for the course. The focus for this part was on common birds (needed for Common Bird Monitoring) and ‘trigger species’ for each IBA (needed for IBA monitoring). This led on to sessions on Common Bird Monitoring, presented by Pete Hancock, and IBA monitoring, facilitated by Virat Kootsositse – these included both theory and field practicals so that participants would feel comfortable about initiating these activities back in their areas. The MOMS session, conducted by Malebogo Sentsho, linked very closely with the IBA monitoring, and some of the community members who have already been implementing MOMS contributed meaningfully to the discussions on integrating MOMS and IBA monitoring.

The final day of the workshop was devoted to sharing experiences and lessons learnt in managing Trusts and their activities, for the benefit of the newer Trusts that BirdLife Botswana is engaging with. Boitumelo Sekhute-Batungamile introduced BirdLife Botswana’s PSPA project - centred on promoting community involvement in birding tourism in the Makgadikgadi area – and this provided the necessary background to show where the new community organizations fitted in. Resource persons from Government, primarily DWNP, assisted to facilitate and guide discussions to ensure that the framework provided by the CBNRM Policy was clear, so that all Trusts operate within the parameters set by the Policy.

The highlight of the workshop was the evident willingness of community members to engage in bird monitoring in their areas. Without exception, communities were enthusiastic to become active partners with DWNP and BirdLife Botswana in collecting data which could contribute to the management of their areas, and help meet the Botswana Government’s obligation to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The workshop was made possible firstly by the Nata Sanctuary Trust, which provided the venue, but also by funding from three donor agencies which are supporting BirdLife Botswana projects viz. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Common Bird Monitoring), European Union (IBA/PA monitoring) and GEF-UNDP (the PSPA project) – they are all thanked for their contribution towards making the workshop a success.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Will Lake Xau fill?

The flow of the Okavango’s waters down the Boteti River this year have been nothing short of spectacular, with the front of the flood approaching Rakops (over 200km from Maun) at present.

While predicting the future is fraught with all sorts of risks, it seems likely that it is a question of when, not if, the water will once again reach Lake Xau, which is the terminus for the Boteti. This assumes of course that Debswana will remove the structures they built previously to channel water into the Mopipi Dam, but given their recent track record (where they removed the bund blocking the Nhabe Channel leading to Lake Ngami), this looks likely. During wetter decades, Lake Xau was a substantial waterbody, and supported spectacular birdlife; the front cover of Smither’s 1964 Checklist of Birds of the Bechuanaland Protectorate depicts a Gull-billed Tern flighting over Lake Xau, and this is the type of rarity that may well turn up at the Lake again when it floods.

Since the Lake has been dry for several decades now, the lakebed has grassed over, and it is currently not unlike Lake Ngami was before the recent floods. Lake Xau is also similar to Lake Ngami in being a nutrient sink with rich soils that, when flooded, will result in nutrient-rich, eutrophic waters in an otherwise dry area. Lake Xau will almost certainly attract and support a diverse suite of waterbirds – in large numbers – when it finally floods. However, it will not be a destination for ‘armchair’ birders – the location is quite remote, there are no facilities in the area, and access will be difficult. For serious birdwatchers, though, it will be worth watching this Blog for updates on the status of the area.
View of the dry bed of Lake Xau (in distance) from Kedia Hill