Conservation Corner No. 5 – December 2023 by Jane Doherty.

The Red-winged Starling Project at UCT.

November is a busy time for Red-winged Starlings on the UCT campus as their nestlings require a steady stream of food.
Staff and students at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology are kept equally busy by a research project that requires regular checking of starling nests and measuring of the chicks at the ages of 7 and 17 days.

Red-winged Starlings nest on cliffs in the wild so, at UCT, they like to find out-of-the-way nooks in high places. This means that the research team is often seen tramping around campus with a long ladder and hard hats, cordoning off the ladder in awkward spots with security tape.
Bird ringer, Dr Sally Hofmeyr wears a safety harness when collecting nestlings from nests

Dr Celiwe Ngcamphalala, one of the project’s principal investigators, collects blood and faecal samples from each nestling. The project has been running since 2017 and examines how this bird species adapts to urban living, making use of opportunities such as food scraps left over by people and dealing with the stress of human presence. Over 500 adults and nestlings have been ringed over the course of the project. The project also provides an opportunity for people on campus to observe ornithological research first-hand. Researchers discuss ornithology with interested passers-by and give them the opportunity to become involved in the project.
By this means the project can open people’s eyes to nature, birding and conservation.
A 17-day old chick after measurements and ringing have been completed seen here in hand. A chick from a different nest but of a similar age which has failed to thrive. The reasons may be complex, but it could be simply that the parents struggled to find enough food to sustain their chicks (this chick is one of three).

The Red-winged Starling Project has ethical approval from UCT and a permit from Cape Nature, and the researchers follow practices that minimise the stress experienced by the birds. Thanks to Assoc. Prof. Susan Cunningham, Dr Celiwe Ngcamphalala and Dr Sally Hofmeyr for fact-checking this article.

Photographs by Jane Doherty and Sally Hofmeyr.

Report by Jane Doherty.


Update on two of the habitat rehabilitation projects co-funded by the Cape Bird Club

As mentioned in previous newsletters, this year the Cape Bird Club donated funds to help rehabilitate two natural areas in the City;

  • a natural dune in Westridge Gardens in Mitchell’s Plain,
  • and a new wetland on the Lower Liesbeek, Observatory.

Here are a few photos to show you how these areas looked at the end of the rainy season (in early November). The plants have taken well at both sites, although the bulbs at Westridge are now dormant and no longer visible. Both sites now face the challenge of a hot and windy summer. Once the sites have become fully established later next year, we will report in more detail on the progress they have made.
The location of the dune rehabilitation site is in Westridge Gardens. Alien plants will be removed, and locally indigenous species re-planted, over the next three years.
There are very few remnants of Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, which makes the rehabilitation of this site important.

The new wetland on the Lower Liesbeek is now dry. Seasonal wetlands are important as they support plant and animal species that do not occur in permanent water bodies.
In November, Cliff Dorse visited the wetland to discuss how to manage weeds and potential kikuyu grass encroachment with Nick Fordyce and Jessleena Suri from the Friends of the Liesbeek.

Photographs by Jane Doherty and Cliff Dorse.

Report by Jane Doherty.



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