coordinated avifaunal roadcount
Monitoring field next to road
The large and more conspicuous birds offer birders the opportunity to monitor their populations by means of relatively simple techniques. One of these is the “Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcount” (CAR),  where observations are made from vehicles that traverse fixed routes.   These large birds are showing signs of threat due to loss of their preferred habitat through changes in land use.   Increases in crop agriculture and human population densities and poisoning are some of the well-known threats.  Now with the prospect of wind and solar farms to increase our use of renewable energy sources,  monitoring of these species will be increasingly important due to the additional threats of displacement and collision with associated man-made structures.

CAR counts were pioneered in 1993 in the Western Cape and since then have spread rapidly to other provinces.  Volunteeers now monitor 36 species of large terrestrial birds (cranes, bustards, korhaans, storks, Secretarybird and Southern Bald Ibis) along 350 fixed routes across South Africa covering over 19,000km (the flight distance between Cape Town, London and back!). Fourteen of these species appear in the Red Data Book. Twice a year, in midsummer (the last Saturday in January) and midwinter (the last Saturday in July), roadcounts are carried out using the standardised method.

Wits Bird Club supports these conservation initiatives and was instrumental in setting up the routes in Wakkerstroom and in Chrissiesmeer.

CAR attempts to establish a link between privately owned land and nature conservation and results are made available to the Department of Environmental Affairs. Farmers are encouraged to adopt responsible farming methods and local communities are also encouraged to get involved.

The Wits Bird Club’s History with CAR

The Wits Bird Club first became involved in CAR counts in July 1999 when Alison Richardson set up seven routes in the Wakkerstroom precinct in Mpumalanga. During 2004 the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) from the University of Cape Town (UCT) enquired as to whether the Club would be prepared to set up a new precinct in the Chrissiesmeer area.  However, the available resources of the Club could not undertake to manage both the Wakkerstroom and Chrissiesmeer precincts concurrently and with this in mind Alison introduced the concept of CAR to the farmers and residents in Wakkerstroom, until they were comfortable to run the Wakkerstroom CAR surveys themselves.

With Alan Forsyth’s help the Club then focused resources toward the Chrissiesmeer precinct setting up seven differing routes. The first official count in Chrissiesmeer by the WITS Bird Club was in January 2005, an area which is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA – SA019).

What it Entails

A team of  birders conducts the counts on the last Saturdays in January (Summer count) and again in July (Winter count)  of each year.  The large terrestrial bird (cranes, storks, bustards, korhaans and Helmeted Guineafowl) numbers encountered along the specific routes are counted.  Volunteers are assigned a specific route which is always driven in the same direction from start to finish. The routes generally cover quiet farm roads and are driven very slowly, stopping every few kilometres to scan the adjacent fields and grasslands for the birds being surveyed. These surveys are also great bird outings – with a difference – to some of the best birding destinations in the country.

The Wits Bird Club’s Aims/Goals

The chief goal of the Club in undertaking these CAR surveys is to monitor the populations of our large terrestrial birds that  are showing indications population decline primarily due to habitat loss.  This habitat loss is a function of increased changes in land use, increasing human population density, poisoning, collisons with power lines and  solar and wind farm infrastructures. The results of each survey are submitted to the ADU at UCT (http://adu.org.za) who are the dedicated curators of all CAR data.