Spring 2017 survey of gamebird populations

SAFTC continues building up our database of game-bird numbers.

Another day at the office - SAFTC expert and human friend on the lookout for francolin
Another day at the office – SAFTC expert and human friend on the lookout for francolin

Early on Saturday the 28th of August two groups of South African Field Trial Club (SAFTC) handlers set out with their pointers in drizzly mist to survey francolin populations on Patrysberg, one of the farms making up the Verloren Valei Nature Reserve. Also braving the cold and wet were Jannie Coetzee the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency ecologist responsible for Verloren Valei and two of his interns from Sarsveld, the George campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The weather cleared and rewarded the survey teams with a crisp spring morning with ideal scenting conditions. The survey revealed stable populations of Red-winged and Grey-winged francolin based on four years of surveying experience on the survey area.

Surveys are currently being recorded as they go using a CyberTracker computer app specially programmed by Jannie for the Verloren Valei Nature Reserve. As the CyberTracker data increases, interpretation will become increasingly objective. Objectivity is important as population trends are the basis for decisions on sustainable hunting of these species on the reserve.  Verloren Valei Nature Reserve relies on hunting and other sustainable consumptive use of wildlife for some of its income. 

While Red-Winged and Grey-Winged francolin are features of the reserve and add to its uniqueness, francolin feed on bulbs and corms of orchids and other monocotyledons. Therefore it is important for overall conservation to manage francolin numbers.

Each survey contributes to the understanding of the reserve, the seasons, veld conditions and gamebirds in context. The August 28th survey showed that coveys were breaking up earlier than usual as birds go their own ways and start pairing off for the breeding season. Recorded distances are those covered by the person in each group who is handling the GIS instrument on to which the CyberTracker app is loaded.

The map gives an idea of the distances covered by the SAFTC teams

The pointers typically cover five to 10 times the surveyor’s distances. Furthermore pointers rely on the wind when ranging so that the areas that they investigate are much more extensive than the CyberTracker might suggest.

While areas covered by these surveys are small relative to the size of the reserve, they are representative of the reserve as a whole. We know this as SAFTC field trials that have been run for many years cover the full extent of the reserve. Field trials depend on fair availability of birds for each contestant. That has indeed been a feature of SAFTC events on Verloren Valei.

The SAFTC are Friends of Verloren Valei as are several of its members in their personal capacities. Conducting surveys is one of the ways in which SAFTC assists with management of the reserve.

For more information or to join SAFTC, contact Mike Zingel on 083 252 1834 or mike@zingel.co.za.

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