Africa’s most common finch is a major pest. In Botswana a new test is being done to try and get rid of the bird

17 Dec
The Red billed quelea finch is a major crop destroyer of both commercial and rural crop farmers in Africa. Photographer

The quelea finch is a major crop destroyer for both commercial and subsistence crop farmers throughout Africa.

The quelea finch is a weaver bird and nest are built that virtually drip off trees. Photo Alastair Rae

The red-billed quelea finch ( Quelea q.lathumini ) belongs to the weaver family and every year millions of nests are built that virtually drip off trees. Photo Alistair Rae

In Botswana pilot tests are being done using falconery to try and get rid of the species from commercial wheat and sorgum crop areas. Photo FC Botha

In northern Botswana a pilot test has been done using falconry to try and get rid of the species. Photo FC Botha

Every year thousands of tons of  wheat , millet and sorghum is lost  as a result of millions of queleas, devouring crops both from commercial and subsistence farmers. It is estimated that there are 1.5 billion of these birds in southern Africa alone and flocks ranging from 1 million to 5 million have been recordered. A flock of 5 million can consume 50 tonnes of grain a day.

In northern Botswana an interesting new and novel, non-chemical way, was piloted to try and get rid of the bird. In a place called Pandamatenga ( which is 150 km south of the world famous Chobe river and Game Reserve near Kasane ) more than 100,000 hectares is currently being commercially farmed for both wheat and sorghum. Every year just before harvest time in March / April millions of quelea decend on the crops and help themselves. Normally pesticides are sprayed over roosting places and petrol bombs are ignited below them to cull the flocks.These extreme methods are naturally very controversial and costly.

Mr. Michael Matsila .Agronomy officer at Botswana Minitry of Agriculture. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Mr. Michael Matsila. Agronomy officer at Botswana Ministry of Agriculture. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Mr.Michael Matsila, an agronomy officer with the department of agriculture in Botswana recently shared an interesting story with the RFCG. In 2013 a Megan Stewart, who is a young American falconer, proposed an outline to try and get rid of queleas using an eco-friendly and cost saving approach. Quelea are known to be very predictable and will feed from sunrise to late morning and then return again from 3 pm to sunset. In 2014 using an allocated 100 hectare test area, to fly her Lanner falcon, Megan was successfully able to scare off the quelea, to search for alternative food supplies. Using the fear factor of her raptor , every day twice a day for a number of weeks, Megan’s test showed that 97% of the test area grain was saved whereas the unprotected area lost 70% of its yield.

Known as the Bird Abatement Concept it is still very much in its infancy, and again quite controversial. Needless to say Megan’s success has attracted the attention of Botswana Ministry of Agriculture. Plans to ramp up the project is currently being considered with the various government departments as well as being discussed with BirdLife Botswana.

For the project to be a success both subsistence  and large scale commercial farmers must benefit. Photo Eelco Meyjes

For the project to be classified a success both large scale commercial farmers plus the thousands of subsistence farmers must all benefit. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Orange-breasted waxbill decline in South Africa has become a major concern

27 Nov
Orange-breasted waxbill cockbird. Photo Q.P.J

Orange-breasted waxbill cockbird. Photo Q.P.J

BirdLife South Africa has informed the Rare Finch Conservation Group that recent unexpected declines in the Orange-breasted waxbill ( Amandava subflava ) has become a major concern.  The species, which is one of the smallest waxbills in the country, is a wetland and moist grassland species and it has become extremely scarce in certain parts of its natural habitat. It is suspected that the decrease in numbers may have been as a result of overgrazing and possibly incorrect burning practices in many parts of the country. But the truth is, at this stage, no one really knows and a lot more research is required.

Example of the Orange-breasted waxbill's natural habitat. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Example of the Orange-breasted waxbill’s natural habitat. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The next question you may ask is how does BirdLife South Africa know about this decline ?  It’s very simple. They have no less than 6000 members and  more than 1000 of their members partake in one of the biggest citizen science undertakings in the country, namely the  South African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP 2). In essence many birders have evolved their wonderful hobby from not only looking at birds and sometimes photographing them, but they now also actively contribute to nature conservation by partaking in atlassing work. And some have even progressed to become  qualified ringers ( or bird banders as they are sometimes called in some countries ). The concept of SABAP 1 was launched way back in 1987 and it ran until 1991. It was a way to gather mass documentation on bird distribution in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and later it also included Namibia. Now with SABAP 2, which was launched in 2007 and is ongoing, using the aid of modern technology eg. mobiles, internet, gps etc. atlassing has become a lot easier and fun to do for birders. And most importantly the data base has grown substantially and is very current and reliable.

The project is managed by the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, and forms part of a very successful partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute ( SANBI ) and BirdLife South Africa.

For more information on SABAP 2 visit sabap2.adu.org.za/

 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Modern radio-tracking helps finch conservation work in Australia

14 Oct
A black-throated finch with a radio tag. Photo Juliana Rechetelo

A black-throated finch with a radio tag. Photo Luiz Mestre

The map on the right indicates the birds range taken over a 21 day period

The map on the right indicates the birds range taken over a 21 day period.Home ranges can be estimated in different ways; the method Juliana Rechetelo used is called kernel, so the blue area is where you have 95% of points, which she assumes, is 95% of chances of ‘finding the bird’ … the yellow is the core area, 50% of data is there.

Juliana Rechetelo, who was originally from Brazil and today does research work on the Black-throated finch in Australia kindly shared the following story with the Rare Finch Conservation Group :

The black-throated finch is a grass-seed-eater endemic to eastern Australia and the range of the southern subspecies, Poephila cincta cincta, has contracted 80% since the 1970s. It is listed as endangered under Federal and States legislation. Much of its habitat has been damaged and destruction is continuing. We need to know about its biology and ecology to assist with further conservation and management actions. My PhD project focused on understanding the ecological needs of this species.

My study area is close to Townsville, north-east Queensland, Australia, where an important remaining population of the southern subspecies exists. I investigated movement patterns, home range, daily movements, habitat use, habitat selection, and foraging and nesting sites. I have monitored birds and sites for almost 3 years, visiting areas known to support BTF to observe/monitor flocks and locate foraging, drinking and nesting locations and undertake vegetation surveys. I captured birds with mist nets, colour banded them and fitted radio-tracking devices to some.

Radio-tracking black throated finch was a demanding job but it has provided unique and valuable information about this group of birds. Whilst radio tracking BTFs I was able to follow an individual or whole flock and I could learn not only details about their movements and home range, but also about behaviour and daily routine. Banding and radio-tracking studies showed that BTFs moved further than previously thought and field observations showed they use different parts of the landscape for different activities (feeding, nesting, roosting or resting). Conservation management of areas should consider their movement patterns and the different parts of the landscape they are using for different activities. Conservation of BTF will require the collaboration of landholders to provide healthy habitat. This outcome depends on research and practical contributions from landholders. Research aligned with community effort is the perfect alliance to help this species.

Juliana Rechetelo

Juliana Rechetelo

Juliana Rechetelo is a PhD candidate at James Cook University and CSIRO, Townsville. Her current research focuses on the ecology of granivorous birds with particular attention to the Black-throated finch. She is researching aspects of land use affects on the distribution of granivorous birds, the way in which the birds use landscapes, movement patterns in relation to resource distribution and aspects of their feeding ecology. Juliana is the recipient of the Stuart Leslie Bird Research Award from BirdLife Australia.

The RFCG would sincerely like to thank Juliana for sharing her special learning’s with us . Originally coming from Brazil we would also like to congratulate her for tackling such a brave project in a foreign language and country.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Plum-headed finches caught mating by Peter Merritt

12 Sep
Mating Plumheads 1Photographed in the Cairns area in the far northern part of Queensland, Australia.  Peter said the mating act lasted ” about 3 to 4 seconds ” Photo: Peter Merritt.

Using a Canon Mark 1V Peter Merritt captured more tan 30 frames during the 4 seconds of photography

Using a Canon Mark IV he captured more than 30 frames during the 3 to4 seconds of photography. Photo : Peter Merritt

The above photographs could perhaps be a world first ! Plum-headed finches ( Aidemosyne modesta ) are found in Eastern Australia in open woodland and tall savanna grassland areas, often near water or swamps. They are highly sociable birds and can quite often be seen with Double-barred finches during the non-breeding season. The species is normally very nomadic over a wide area in both the breeding and non breeding seasons.  They will lay, on average, 4 to 6 small white eggs and both sexes will be involved with the incubation, which takes about 12 days. Chicks fledge at about 21 days and are normally weaned roughly at 18 days

Peter Merritt is currently on a photo safari in the Kruger National Park. South Africa. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Peter Merritt is currently on a photo safari in the Kruger National Park. South Africa. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group would publicly like to thank Peter Merritt from New South Wales, Australia for kindly donating his brilliant photographs to the RFCG. Peter has done this in the interest to help advance public awareness and the beauty of finches on an international basis. Peter is semi retired and works for 8 months of the year on a heavy road grader machine, on a cattle station in Northern Australia, to support his wonderful hobby of wildlife photography.

The road grader that Peter works on to support his hobby of wildlife photography.

The road grader that Peter works on to support his hobby of wildlife photography.

The cattle station that Peter works on has no less than 30,000 head of cattle. The station is 125 km long.The multi trailered road trains used can transport up to 120 head of cattle at a time ( see example in right hand photo ). Peter said he often works with his camera’s on standby , in his grader cab, just in case there is something very special for him to photograph. He uses Canon Mark IV cameras. Today Peter is currently spending the next 3 weeks in the Kruger National Park, South Africa doing what he enjoys most – photographing wildlife. For more info on Peter Merrit visit : http://www.merrittimages.com. We certainly look forward to seeing the results of his outstanding photographic work in the next couple of weeks.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Yellow weaver hits African birdlife front cover

6 Sep
African birdlife Sept / Oct spring issue. Now available

African birdlife Sept / Oct spring issue. Again a great read ! Photo: Eelco Meyjes. subscriptions@birdlife.org.za

The latest African birdlife magazine is now on sale.  Again it is a must read issue.It has a great pic of a Yellow Weaver taken by Charl Senekal on the front cover.

Articles include: Eggs unscrambled. A fascinating story on why birds lay eggs written by Professor Andrew McKechnie, supported with photographs of nests and eggs by South Africa’s leading  photographic expert on the topic Warwick Tarbotten .

The Animal Demography Unit has an informative feature on the citizen science participation that is growing in leaps and bounds , in SA , to help record sightings of all bird species across the country. Scientists are now far better equipped to give us the early warning signals on the conservation status of each species.

The magazine also features an exciting  new series on bird photography which will help all of us no matter how good or bad we think we are. Charl Senekal’s work is featured and it is absolutely brilliant

RFCG member Monique Mcquillan

RFCG member Monique Mcquillan

Rare Finch Conservation Group member Monique McQuillan has  written a lovely story : Home and Garden . Now with Spring in the air it’s the perfect time for all of us , southern hemisphere finch enthusiasts, to prepare our gardens to attract all the colourful weavers, whydahs and widow finches back again. Monique is a senior horticulturist at the world famous Kirstenbosch gardens in Cape Town.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is a registered non-profit organisation and is totally dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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