Monday, November 5, 2012

Key sites for birds in the Okavango

The Okavango Delta is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area following BirdLife criteria. Yet within this site, there are some areas which are more important than others – VIBAs (Very Important Bird Areas)! Red Cliffs in the Okavango Panhandle is one such site.
The Southern Carmine Bee-eater is an intra-African migrant which flies all the way from Central Africa to the Okavango panhandle to breed at a few riverbank sites. By early summer, the Okavango River is at a low ebb, exposing steep banks where the bee-eaters excavate their nest tunnels. The breeding site behind the Brigades in Shakawe is well-known, but in recent years has become disturbed, and so the Carmine Bee-eaters moved to a borrow-pit near Mohembo – this turned out to be an even worse site with untenable disturbance from people in the area, and the birds have had a low breeding success here over the past few years. The largest and best site available to the bee-eaters is Red Cliffs, a considerable distance downstream from Shakawe, where hundreds of pairs nest annually. BirdLife Botswana has identified this site as warranting special protection, and has been working with the Tawana Land Board to make recommendations to this end. It is important that no incompatible land use is permitted in close proximity to the site, otherwise it too would no longer provide the birds with a safe haven for breeding.
It is a bit difficult to be specific when defining a core protected area and buffer zone around the breeding site. What size should these areas be, and is there any empirical research on which recommendations could be based? Any readers who know of any research done on disturbance at bee-eater colonies should please get in contact with Pete Hancock at at their earliest convenience.