Thursday, October 13, 2011
Russel Crossey saw a single Ross's Turaco in the same vicinity shortly after Victor (possibly the same bird), and this prompted Dave Luck to keep a sharp look out for it when he was there during August. Whether it was Dave's skill or just luck that he saw one at Boscia Lagoon not far from the previous sightings is immaterial: this is now the third reputable guide reporting the species from the same place, and a proper submission has been made to the BirdLife Botswana Records Sub-committee.
Although the official verdict is not yet out, word has spread among the birding fraternity and the information has caused quite a stir. Rumours started that this is the first record for the Southern African Sub-region, that of Tim Liversedge in 1974 having been "thrown out" because it was subsequently proved to be a joke and not a genuine record. I contacted Tim Liversedge for his comment - he just laughed and said that it was after much deliberation that he 'collected' the bird he saw, and sent it to MPS Irwin at the Bulawayo Museum, because he knew that no-one would believe him - there can be no more concrete evidence than the specimen in a museum! However, he was thrilled that the bird had been seen again, not least because now no-one could accuse him of having shot the first and last one!
At the time of the first record, it was predicted that there would be other sightings and that this was not just an isolated bird. Tim believes that Ross's Turaco, being a forest bird, is likely to move down the riparian woodland of the Kwando River during wet times. However the long intervening period between sightings shows that it is unlikely that the species is resident or even a frequent visitor to Botswana. The current high flood levels in the Kwando-Linyanti system are quite comparable with those of the 1970s, so the wetter conditions may result in other individuals coming into the region. It should be looked out for in northern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip and western Zimbabwe.
So, well done to Vic Horatius, Russel Crossey and Dave Luck for re-confirming the presence of this species in the region. Many keen birders, like myself and Dave Luck, have seen Ross's Turaco in Uganda, and it is an awesome bird. It is however very difficult to photograph, so we are still encouraging photographers to keep an eye out for these magnificent birds, and to send their images to BirdLife Botswana.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Nature's clean-up squad in action (Photo: J Bestelink)
Vultures are very clean, and bathe regularly (Photo: P Hancock)
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Highlights of their count are as follows:
Little Grebe 6
Grey Heron 12
Goliath Heron 1
Great Egret 2
Yellow-billed Egret 9
Little Egret 20
Cattle Egret 20
Squacco Heron 3
Marabou Stork 15
Glossy Ibis 163
White-faced Duck 1
Red-billed Teal 65
Southern Pochard 19
Spur-winged Goose 2
Wood Sandpiper 2
Black Crake 1
Common Moorhen 2
African Jacana 1
Kittlitz's Plover 3
Crowned Lapwing 30
Blacksmith Lapwing 76
Wattled Lapwing 1
Common Greenshank 6
Black-winged Stilt 11
Collared Pratincole 18
The lake is still filling, and it is early days yet. The lake-bed is very uneven with ridges and channels so the water is spreading out into a system of fingers of water. Migrant waders are only just now returning, so it is going to be very interesting to keep an eye on this exciting new birding destination.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011
Yes, I was on a trip in the area during April when I heard about the incident, but I didn't get an opportunity to investigate it, but why don't you try the Wildlife Office in Sepako?
Good afternoon, Pete Hancock from BirdLife Botswana here, does anybody know anything about some vultures poisoned near Sepako a few months ago?
To cut a long story short, I was fortunate to get hold of Wildlife Officer Kgongwana at Sepako who actually investigated the incident. Five White-backed Vultures were killed on 3/4/11 after feeding on a poisoned skin that had been put out for hyaenas and jackals, although none of these species was killed. Once again, vultures were the innocent victims of poison directed at so-called 'problem' animals.
The five vultures died right next to the poisoned skin, so the poison used muust have been pretty toxic. Near to the carcase was a plastic container with the label METHOMEX. This was new to me, so I read up on METHOMEX, which "is a carbamate insecticide administered as a foliar spray or as a soil treatment for a variety of crops". It is VERY TOXIC, and is even dangerous by contact or inhalation. "A small quantity may be fatal (to a person) if swallowed". It is toxic to fish, bees and wildlife including, as we now know, vultures.
W/O Kgongwana did a thorough job of the investigation and collected some samples from the dead vultures despite the overwhelming evidence from the empty METHOMEX container. A docket has been opened and this incident is under investigation . . .
And so the story goes - we are currently not getting any closer to curtailing the problem, even though it is apparent that it is a much bigger threat than we ever could have envisaged. At this rate, it looks as though we may still be gathering statistics while our magnificent vultures slip into oblivion.
A live White-backed Vulture drying its wings after bathing (Photo P Hancock)
Monday, September 5, 2011
My wife, who is a long-distance cyclist, has reported the same high bird mortalities over a much wider area - she has cycled between Maun and Shakawe, Maun and Kasane, the Trans-Kalahari Highway and other routes and readily notices dead birds due to the (relatively) slow speed at which she cycles. In addition to hornbills, she has seen many Lilac-breasted Rollers, and various owls and nightjars, and a few years ago, large numbers of Barn Swallows following an early cold spell at the end of summer. She has also reported numerous snakes being killed, notably Puff Adders, and often Porcupines, Brown Hyaenas, Aardwolf and Bat-eared Foxes.
It is not known whether the effect of these mortalities on wildlife is sustainable, or whether it is depressing some populations. The latter is likely to be the case with globally threatened birds such as the Bateleur, and White-backed and Lappet-faced vultures, where numbers may already be low and/or declining due to a variety of threats. These birds sometimes scavenge along national roads and are susceptible to collisions with vehicles.
A beautiful chestnut-backed male Bateleur killed near Nata.
All sensible drivers in Botswana avoid driving at night due to the high probability of hitting a cow or donkey; we also need to take special care when driving during the day. Apart from the impact of roadkill on globally threatened birds and other animals, the impact of a 6kg vulture smashing through your windscreen will not do your vehicle much good either.It's in everybody'y interest to drive carefully . . .
Monday, August 22, 2011
Colleagues from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks are following up this and another poisoning incident which took place near Tonota in Central District earlier this month. Obert Gwapela, Park Manager for Makgadikgadi, is still trying to find the perpetrator(s) of the Makgadikgadi incident, and is working on several leads at present. Steven Sekhute, District Wildlife Co-ordinator based in Francistown, despatched one of his officers to the scene of the Tonota incident, but since then the officer has been in the field attending to several cases of human-wildlife conflict, so no information is available yet on how many vultures were killed there.
It looks unlikely that there will be any arrests following the Tonota incident, but we are optimistic that the Makgadikgadi case will soon yield results. As mentioned in the previous blog, an arrest and conviction would go a long way to deterring would-be poisoners, so we will be watching the law take its course with a keen interest.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
A pair of Marabou Storks, in nuptial finery, make a plan on their nest.
Lediba la Dinonyane (lagoon of the birds) is the largest and supports a great diversity of waterbird species. It is near Kanana Camp, run by Ker and Downey Safaris, and guides visiting the site always take care not to disturb the birds by approaching them too closely.
The same applies at the heronry at JereJere Lagoon, where there has been an influx of birds due to suitable conditions prevailing here. This heronry is near Xugana Lodge run by Desert and Delta Safaris, and this company is the custodian for this site.
The traditionally spectacular heronries in Moremi Game Reserve, at Xakanaxa and Gadikwe have been diminishing over the past few years, and most of the birds seem to have moved to Lediba la Dinonyane and JereJere. These two sites are well worth a visit as they offer the best of Botswana birding.
Friday, August 12, 2011
However, they soon noticed that something was amiss - there were three dead vultures among the throng. When they went closer to investigate, they found that the other vultures were all exceptionally lethargic and did not move away - they were sick and apparently dying too.
Fortunately the grapevine works fast, and the BirdLife office in Maun was able to notify Obert Gwapela, Park Manager for Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan, and he quickly despatched Dr Kebonang Kebonang (DWNP Vet) to the scene.
When the DWNP contingent arrived, many of the sick vultures had recovered and flew off. One of the dead vultures, on examination, was found to have the crop and throat neatly removed, as shown in the photograph below - the rest of the bird was intact.
This is most peculiar: the first reaction on hearing of vultures dying at a waterhole is that they have been poisoned with an organophosphate poison since this makes them very thirsty and they go to water where they die - in order to test for the presence of this poison, the best sample to take is the crop with the poisoned meat in it, but here the crop had been removed? This was looking increasingly like another poisoning incident, and perpetrated by someone who knew how to remove some of the evidence!
This led the investigating team to strongly suspect foul play, and a search was initiated for a poisoned carcase in the area. The presence of about 40 Marabou Storks nearby led to a site where a few small remains of a cow carcase were found; unfortunately spoor and drag marks showed that a Brown Hyaena (another globally threatened animal) had dragged off the bulk of the carcase and it is highly likely that it, too, is now dead from the poison.
Miraculously, by late afternoon, most of the vultures had completely recovered - only three had ingested a fatal dose of the poison and died. This is a real wake-up call to the authorities and to all who are concerned about the poisoning of Botswana's wildlife: this could easily have been a major mortality of all 150 White-backed and 10 Lappet-faced vultures, as well as the 40 Marabou Storks and 15 to 20 Black-backed Jackals that were at the site. And this is the real danger of these poisoning incidents: a few cases involving large numbers of vultures, in the middle of the breeding season, could decimate these already globally threatened birds. Currently, the Makgadikgadi is the most important breeding area for Lappet-faced Vultures in Botswana (and probably in the whole of Africa) and if the 10 birds of this species present at the site had been killed, this would have seriously dented the regional population of these magnificent birds.
BirdLife Botswana would like to thank Super Sande from Jack's Camp for reporting the incident so quickly, and Nicky Bousfield and John Barclay from Uncharted Africa for relaying the information, and sending in photos of the incident. Our special thanks go to our colleagues in DWNP who treated the incident with the importance it deserves and who conducted a swift, professional investigation.
Of course, the investigation is not over; samples from the dead vultures are being analysed at the Veterinary Laboratory, and the perpetrator(s) are being tracked down. We urgently need an arrest and prosecution to send a clear message to wildlife poisoners in Botswana that this practice is not acceptable.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
These fears have been shown to be unfounded by work done by Dr Graeme Cumming and colleagues working in Botswana, Mocambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. They counted, captured and sampled birds at five sites in the four countries, one of which was Lake Ngami, and did not positively identify any highly pathogenic H5N1. They also found that the annual influx of Palaearctic migrants had no detectable influence on this situation i.e. the migrants did not bring the virus into Southern Africa as had been speculated.
Other avian influenza viruses were found at a low frequency in some waterbirds, especially dendrocygnid (whistling) ducks. The White-faced Duck (shown above) and the Fulvous Duck, both have an extensive range across Africa, and individuals from populations north of the equator may mix with Palaearctic duck species, such as the Garganey, that migrate annually to western Europe. However, these two species had no trace of the lethal H5N1 strain.
For more information, read the original paper (see reference below).
Reference: Cumming GS, Caron A, Abolnik C, Cattoli G, Bruinzeel LW, Burger CE, Cecchettin K, Chiweshe N, Mochotlhoane B, Mutumi GL and Ndlovu M. 2011. The Ecology of Influenza A Viruses in Wild Birds in Southern Africa. EcoHealth Journal.
Friday, July 29, 2011
"WildlifeDirect (an NGO in Kenya) is stepping up a campaign to have carbofuran, the active ingredient in the deadly pesticide product Furadan, banned in Kenya and East Africa.
Martin Odino, who is a scientist and an author of the WildlifeDirect blog, Stop Wildlife Poisoning, has reported that despite FMC (the manufacturer of the pesticide) claims that Furadan is no longer in Kenya, it actually continues to be used to poison tens of thousands of wetland birds in Bunyala rice irrigation scheme in Kenya. The product is coming in from Uganda.
He has documented in photographs and film how the birds are killed by lacing a meal of rice with the poison and laying it out in the rice paddies. Ducks and other waterfowl eat it and die shortly thereafter. Insects, amphibians and fish in the water are killed. Predatory birds pick up the carcases and so the pesticide is affecting a whole chain of species. African Openbills are killed by lacing snails and using decoys to attract over-flying flocks. He claims that up to 50% of each flock that lands in these fields dies, and this amounts to some 6,000 bird deaths each month in Bunyala rice irrigation scheme alone. We suspect even higher mortalities in Mwea and Ahero irrigation schemes. The consequence of poisoning to raptors and migratory birds could be catastrophic.
But it's not just birds. The human cost is enormous; the people handling the deadly toxic chemical do so with bare hands. The product is put into the water which is consumed by the community, and the ducks, storks, doves, sandpipers and other species that are killed are sold in local markets as human food. The evidence is shocking and we will be releasing a short documentary on the same shortly.
For latest updates, check out www.stopwildlifepoisoning.wildlifedirect.org/
Farm workers handle a poisoned vulture without wearing protective clothing
Although FMC claims that Furadan is not available in Kenya, it is permitted for use in the production of flowers in Kenya. Our largest flower farms are at Lake Naivasha, a Ramsar site and an extremely Important Bird Area.
We have submitted reports, attended meetings with the pest control products board and government officials and we are part of the government task force, which is under the Ministry of Agriculture and is chaired by the CEO of the Pesticide Products Control Board. However, this Board has not met since September 2010, and few of the actions agree on have been implemented. We believe that the PPCB is not in a position to attend to the problem due to resource constraints and conflict of interest.
We would like you to share this through your networks, put it on your websites, blogs, facebook and e-mail it to everyone.
Our campaign has two targets:
1. The immediate and total ban on use of carbofuran and other carbamate pesticides in any pesticide control product;
2. We are demanding that the government move the Pesticide Products Control Board out of the Ministry of Agriculture where the organisation faces a conflict of interest, and into the Ministry of Environment where it can effectively achieve its mission"To provide professional, efficient and effective regulatory service for manufacture, trade, safe use and disposal of pest control products while ensuring safety to humans, animals and the environment".
We ask that you support our initiative by circulating information, advise us on funding opportunities to continue the research, monitoring, reporting and education, as well as the advocacy to change the Kenyan laws."
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Ross's Turaco is a strikingly beautiful bird found primarily in riverine and other forests in south-central Africa, with the southernmost tip of its range just touching the northern extremity of Botswana. When naturalist/film-maker Tim Liversedge saw the first one in Botswana near Ikoga on the Okavango Panhandle in 1974, he knew that no-one would believe him, so he 'collected' the bird - it is now a museum specimen so there can be no doubt about the authenticity of this record!
Since 1974, informed birders have been keeping an eye out for this brilliant blue turaco along the Okavango Panhandle and the riverine forests along the Linyanti River, as it is likely to occur sporadically in these areas. There have been some claimed sightings, but none has been accepted by BirdLife Botswana's Records sub-committee, which adjudicates these reports. Recently, one of the top guides in northern Botswana, Victor Horatius, sent in an excited and exciting e-mail saying that he'd seen one in the Linyanti Concession near King's Pool Camp, but unfortunately he could not get a photograph of it . . .
Thus Ross's Turaco remains elusive in Botswana. This bird is undoubtedly seen more than once in 40 years, and in this day and age of high resolution digital cameras, it will only take one clear photo to confirm that the species is alive and well in northern Botswana. This is our challenge to birders - keep your cameras at the ready when visiting the northern part of the country!
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
If you can identify the bird above, chances are you don't need a bird identification course! However, if you are struggling, consider enrolling for the part-time bird identification course being organised by the Ngamiland Branch of BirdLife Botswana. This course, to be presented by Richard Randall and Johan van Jaarsveld, will take place on one Saturday every month, starting on Saturday 9th July. The course will be held at the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute in one of the classrooms, and will commence at 8 o' clock in the morning and run for the whole day. There will be a nominal charge of P110.00 per person for the course, to cover course materials, teas and lunches; members of BirdLife Botswana will however pay only P50.00 per person.
The number of participants is limited to 30, so it's first come, first served. Contact Pete Hancock at 74654464 to reserve your space. And by the way, if you thought the raptor at the top is an immature African Fish-Eagle, you were quite right!
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Workshop participants (Photo: E Moloko)
The workshop was organised by Stephanie Tyler and facilitated by Serge Dereliev, and used the ‘problem tree approach’ to identify potential and real causes of declines which could then be ranked to form the basis for remedial action. From the expert inputs from the participants, the final action plan will be compiled by Stephanie, and funding secured to address the major issues.
During the workshop, participants managed to spend some time in Moremi where about 14 Slaty Egrets in total were seen! An unexpected plus from the field outing was information from a local guide working for Letaka Safaris of a previously unknown Slaty Egret breeding site! If any readers of this blog – especially professional guides - have other similar information on Slaty Egrets, please contact Pete Hancock.
Participants in the field looking for Slaty Egrets (Photo: E Moloko)
Thanks are due to Stephanie for all the work she put into organising the workshop, to Serge for ably facilitating the process, and to all participants for contributing generously their knowledge of the species. Dr Lucas Rutina from DWNP travelled from Serowe to participate in the workshop, and we especially appreciate the Wildlife Department’s support as they are our major partner in conserving the species in Botswana.