16 April 2009

Ecotourism in South Africa is Helping to Conserve Birds in South Africa

Ecotourism and education on the value of wild birds is helping to ensure conservation of species and their habitats in South Africa.

"Ecotourism ensures the conservation of birds and their ecosystems because this 'product' is of importance to the owners and visitors to the lodge," said David Letsoalo, based at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, and recognized as the top local bird guide in South Africa and an expert on nature in the the Magoebaskloof area. He has been taking birders on outings since 2002 when he was accredited by Birdlife South Africa.

"A large percentage of the visitors to Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge and the Magoebaskloof area are coming specifically because of David's expertise in forest birding," said Lisa Martus, the owner and manager of the lodge. "David recently guided Stephen Moss, of the British Broadcasting Company, who is an experienced birder familiar with birds all over the world. They spent the whole day out birding in the area covering the Woodbush Forest, the Mamabolo Grasslands, Greatheads Mountains and Protea Belt, as well as Kurisa Moya's forst. By the end of the day, Stephen had seen 26 new species. The Guerney's Sugarbird was a big challenge because there were many males calling from inside the Protea bush, but they would not show themselves. Eventually, one came out and displayed itself beautifully. Stephen was thrilled.

"Another highlight recently has been a client who saw the first Flufftail in their life by seeing the Buff-spotted Flufftail on Woodbush Forest Drive. David heard the Flufftail calling, and followed the call for 20 minutes, eventually crawling on their knees in the undergrowth. When they finally saw it, it was a wonderful moment.

"The local people are very interested in David's bird tours and have got used to seeing him in strange places with South African or international guests. He has a Short-clawed Lark site near a village in a cattle-grazing field and young guys have actually stopped poaching the Queleas since he has been coming around more often (they used to use birdlime to catch them on a bush and then would roast them on a stick like small kebabs). David goes to the Turfloop Dam where local cattle herders know him and will update him on what they have seen lately. At Woodbush, Debengeni, Haenertsburg Grasslands etc, he is well known and residents will phone him if they have seen an interesting or unusual bird. David is also a Node Co-ordinator for the Grasslands Node of Eco-schools so he has influenced a lot of those kids to have a more positive attitude towards conservation. One of the kids wrote an essay about how David is his hero and when he grows up he wants to be a bird guide. David gave him a bird book and an old pair of binoculars to encourage him.

"The local black (village) community are mostly bemused but interested in David's profession (can't believe it makes him enough money to be a real job) and the local white community are extremely supportive of David and all want him on their committees (Friends of the Haenertsburg Grassland, Haenertsburg Rotary, Woodbush to Wolkberg, etc.) because he bridges the gap between the various communities as well as the needs of people vs environmental needs."

In their particular region, the "Cape Parrots are growing in numbers, and we also monitor raptors whose numbers have been picking up," Letsoalo said. "Education is an important aspect to improve conditions for birds and educating people about these values. "This is an ongoing process but it has shown results with some of our local learners who do not hunt birds like they used to," Letsoalo said.

The Magoebaskloof region and Limpopo Province areas have some stellar examples of places and habitats of essential importance to native species of birds. Examples, from the Limpopo Province website, include:

Woodbush Forest Drive: "This 14km dirt road is the best forest birding area in the Limpopo Province, if not the country. The Woodbush Forest Drive winds through pristine afro-montane forests, down into semi-deciduous mixed forest along the lower sections of the drive. Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Orange Ground-Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are a few of the specials.
Kudu´s Valley: "This spectacular 30 km dirt road between Houtbosdorp and Mooketsi drops down over the escarpment through bushveld and riverine habitats. On this road, you will descend about 1000 metres and be treated to fantastic views and an interesting mix of habitats. Verreaux´s, Crowned and Long-crested Eagle, Lanner Falcon as well as Horus, Alpine and African Black Swift are often sighted soaring over the valley. The exposed granite boulders along the slopes near the top of the route are home to Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Olive Bush-Shrike, Shelley´s Francolin and Lazy Cisticola. The lower end of the pass has more riverine and tropical bushveld areas in which African Green-Pigeon, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Green-capped Eremomela and White-throated Robin-Chat can be seen. Look out for African Fish Eagle, Great Egret, Purple Heron and various Indigobird and Firefinch species around the farm dams near the bottom of the route."
Debengeni Falls: "This spectacular waterfall is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors to the area. Grey Wagtail has been sighted here for three years running. … it is worth visiting to see Mountain Wagtail and other forest birds. After turning off onto the dirt road from the R71, keep a lookout for Red-backed Mannikin, African Firefinch and Swee Waxbill on the road verges. After about 100m you will cross a small stream; when the water levels are high this is a good spot for Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. On the 3km drive up to the falls look out for Tambourine and Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Yellow-streaked Greenbul in the forests. Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk breed in the vacinity of the falls and Buff-spotted Flufftail and Scaly-throated Honeyguide."
Louis Changuion Trail and Haenertsburg Grasslands: "The whole trail is 10 km but various parts of the trail can be done separately depending on your fitness level and enthusiasm. It is one of the most easily-accessible pieces of this rare habitat left in the area. Blue Swallows have been encountered here in the past. On the grasslands, you may find Wailing-, Lazy-, Croaking-, Cloud- and Wing-snapping Cisticola. Grass Owl, White-necked Raven, Red-winged Francolin, Yellow Bishop, Dark-capped Yellow and Broad-tailed Warbler and Drakensberg Prinia are present as well as Cape Grassbird. Jackal Buzzard, and Long-crested Eagle often hunt over the grassland. The patches of forest have Olive Bush-Shrike, African Olive-Pigeon, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Forest Canary."
Polokwane Bird Sanctuary: "This small bird sanctuary, which consists of three large settling dams, dense reed beds and tall riverine thickets, is always likely to produce an interesting birding surprise or two. Apart from a good variety of waterfowl, waders and rallids, the Acacia thickets are very productive and accommodate Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis and many warbler species in the summer months, including Common Whitethroat and Olive-tree, Icterine, Garden, Great Reed Warblers and Eurasian Marsh Warblers. The shallow ponds on the eastern side of the sanctuary attract a host of waders during middle to late summer with Wood, Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank, Ruff and Little Stint. Look out for skulking African Snipe and Greater Painted-Snipe. There is a resident pair of African Fish Eagle along with other interesting raptors, including Ovambo Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk and African Harrier-Hawk."
Turfloop Dam: "It has now also become a protected breeding site for the northernmost population of the Southern Bald Ibis. It falls within the Mamabolo vegetation-type and has many granite outcrops, which are typical of this habitat. The dam itself has fluctuating water levels depending on local rainfall, so conditions change seasonally. The dam has an open shoreline with some exposed mudflats in the summer, a feature which has probably led to this site having provided the odd vagrant wader, with species such as Ruddy Turnstone, Pectoral, Green, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpiper having been seen here over the past few years. The more common wetland species to be found here include Great-crested Grebe, Southern Pochard, Fulvous Duck, Hottentot Teal, Cape Shoveler, and Maccoa Duck. The rocky island in the dam is an important breeding site for White-breasted Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Egret and African Spoonbill."

With the recognition of unique places, there has been further understanding of distinct birds which occur, and a recognition of where to visit to see the more unusual species.

This increased attention to local birdlife, has also brought about an increasing awareness of challenges.

"We still have problems due to lack of resources in policing these vast areas in order to prevent bird poaching and bird trade in valuable species but there are some very active conservationists in the area," Letsoalo said. "The plantations, building developments and mines threaten indigenous forests and grasslands. The Haenertsburg Grassland is threatened and it used to host Blue Swallows, Broad-tailed Warblers and other species."

"I hope that more of our Important Bird Areas can get listed as national heritage sites because they are still under threat of being destroyed," Letsoalo said. "I also hope to spend more time with the youth to explain the value of our environment and how people can make a living out of it without harming it."

"Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge http://www.krm.co.za/ provides several options to enjoy the endemic bird species of the region, as well as other natural wonders, in a setting of comfort and appreciation for the local communities," said Martus.

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