Chasing the Blues in Etosha, Namibia Bird March 2015 – No 12

by Holger Kolberg

In March it was time to once again check on the status of Blue Cranes in Etosha National Park. Fortunately our Reconnaissance Team had done good ground work and we knew what to expect (which wasn’t much!). The extremely dry conditions in the country had (presumably) led to a very low reproductive effort by the cranes with only one chick being seen and another pair apparently sitting on a nest.

The main Task Force gathered in Okaukuejo on Monday and on their way to Halali managed to see just about the entire crane population of Etosha, including the pair with the chick at Charitsaub. We set up camp at Halali and since it was very hot decided to “lay low” until the next morning before attempting to catch the chick.

On Tuesday morning we went out and found the pair with the chick more or less where we had seen them the previous day. Now it was the turn of the Reactionary Force to stir into action and within minutes via a classic pincer movement the chick was apprehended—but it was too small to even fit a ring on it! So after a quick photo shoot it was released and we waited for it to be re-united with its parents before retreating ourselves.

We now translocated to the nesting pair but already suspected something was wrong when we found both birds on the wrong side of the road. Inspection of the nest confirmed our suspicions—the nest was abandoned.

Since we had some time on our hands we decided to visit some hitherto unvisited waterholes in the hope of finding a few more cranes. This journey into terra incognita yielded absolutely nothing in terms of cranes but we did have some good sightings of vultures, egrets, ducks and other waterbirds. Oh, yes, some mammals were also seen.

On Wednesday we moved camp to Namutoni, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our Air Wing. On the way we checked a few more crane hideouts, all with negative results. Our aeroplane touched down at exactly the given ETA but since it was again very hot (which makes flying rather uncomfortable) we decided to inves- tigate a few more out of the way waterholes with similar results as the day before.

Thursday morning part of the team took to the skies in the hope of finding some more birds in the far north whilst the rest hit the road to check on the last possible waterhole, Andoni. The Air Wing was spec- tacularly unsuccessful in their mission, only spotting the birds we already knew of, whilst two more birds were seen at Andoni.

This brought to an end yet another Blue Crane survey and ringing week. Unfortunately we are still looking at a population of birds that is declining and may well go completely extinct within a few more years.

Many thanks to the team that makes this operation such an enjoyable experience.

African raptor observations is an Android app for recording sightings of birds of prey across Africa. It feeds data into the African Raptor Databank, an innovative project that aims to ascertain the conservation status of raptors and their habitats throughout Africa. The project is managed by Habitat INFO, a UK based environmental consulting company, and is co-funded by The Peregrine Fund.

You can download the app from after registering as a contributor. For persons that are information-technologically challenged, there is also a spreadsheet that can be used to submit data. On the Habitat INFO website you can also read monthly and annual summaries and check out a map that shows all the observations (it is startling to see how little of Africa is covered!).

I have recently started using this app and find it really easy and intuitive to use. Entering information is simple and quick and submitting your data is also no problem (provided you have an internet connection). It takes a bit of time to get used to the way the birds are grouped—I would have preferred a simple alphabetic listing with a search function, and to work out all the different activities, but once you have cracked it then it’s a cinch.

This is really another cool and fun way for us citizen scientists to make a huge contribution to the knowledge base on our birds, so why don’t you give it a try?

PS: If you try to install the app and get a message that the app is incompatible with your device, contact me.

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