Wakkerstroom Secretarybird Project 

 
Contact Person
Eleen Strydom (AKA The Secretarybird)
Phone Number
072 563 2738
Email

Wakkerstroom Secretarybird Project

Tshwane University of Technology (Department Nature Conservation) and BirdLife South Africa started a Secretarybird Project in the Greater Wakkerstroom area in 2013. Eleen Strydom is conducting the research for this project as part of her B-Tech (Bachelor of Technology). The study aims to determine reasons for the decline in the bird’s distribution over its range. A decrease in reporting rates was observed and compared between SABAP1 (Southern African Bird Atlas Project) (1985-1993) and SABAP2 (2007 – present day) showing a drastic, but unconfirmed reduction in Secretarybird distribution. SABAP is a project aimed at recording birds by citizen scientists. As a result, the IUCN has recently upgraded the Secretarybird’s conservation status from near threatened to vulnerable. Studies on diet, population size and breeding activity of the Secretarybirds will be done in the Wakkerstroom area over a period of 17 months. The study has shown very interesting results and received great support from Wakkerstroom locals and farmers in the last year.

Please continue to report Secretarybird sightings and known nest sites to Eleen.

Three beautiful Secretarybird chicks

Wakkerstroom is not only famous for its birds, but is also one of the six remaining areas where one can find the Vulnerable Secretarybird. For this reason Tshwane University of Technology (Department Nature Conservation) and BirdLife South Africa came together to start this project. On the 5th of November 2013, I started the Secretarybird Project. The objectives of this study are to study the diet, productivity and nesting success.

Wakkerstroom with its four seasons in one day and sometimes inaccessible roads was not at all what I expected. To say the least, the kick-off of the project, like the roads, was rather bumpy. The first nest on my study list was on Gary Lavarack’s farm. Unfortunately this nest failed just before the eggs had been expected to hatch. A second potential nest close to Zaaihoek Dam collapsed in a storm. To top this all off, I discovered a third nest with two deceased birds underneath it. Just as I started to lose all hope, Glen Ramke and Marius van Rensburg helped me to locate my first active nest, complete with two eggs. One of these eggs has hatched. The chick is alive and healthy and on the 17th of January 2014, at seven weeks old, it has been fitted with a tracker by Ernst Retief from BirdLife South Africa. We can now determine the movements of this juvenile and receive valuable information on its distribution.

The two weeks of constant rain at the end of November kept me out of the farms. With a heavy, drenched heart I went back to Pretoria in December. On my return in 2014, I found that the sun can indeed shine in Wakkerstroom and that made my monitoring so much easier. To my delight, I discovered that one of my inactive nests became active over December 2013. This nest boasts three very healthy and beautiful chicks. To date I have thus found seven nests in total.

I am curious of what 2014 has in store for me and the Secretarybirds in beautiful Wakkerstroom. The weather may be unpredictable in this quaint little town, but the same cannot be said for its people. When those dark clouds pull in over the village, one can be sure that the characters in town will fill the sky with the most interesting colours. I can always expect a helping hand or a friendly nod wherever I go.

A warm word of thanks to the locals and the farmers for all their support, wine, advice and unconditional friendship. I have been welcomed into the community from my first day and I am looking forward to the rest of the study period.

I would also like to thank Tshwane University of Technology and BirdLife South Africa for this wonderful opportunity.

By: Eleen Strydom

(AKA The Secretarybird)

 

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