Bird monitoring projects at Sinamatella, Zambezi and Matetsi Safari Area

The main objective is to assist two strongly supported ‘citizen science’ projects by monitoring of bird population.
The projects are:
1. Southern Africa Bird Atlas Project (2) (SABAP 2), organized by the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT)
2. The African Waterfowl Census, organized by Wetlands International through Birdlife Zimbabwe

Over 400 bird species are regularly found in the Park. As the park is a protected area, no birds are exposed to danger.
However, a number of species found in the park are in danger elsewhere and the Park is an important refuge for them. The most severely endangered species found at Sinamatella are Lappet-face vulture, White-headed vulture, Grey-headed parrot, Hooded vulture, Bateleur, Ground hornbill and Martial eagle.
Vultures are particularly in danger due to an increase in poisoning. Indeed poachers want to stop vultures from revealing the presence of other poaching activity by leading rangers to carcases of poached animals.
Around 2 400 suspicious vulture deaths were reported in Southern Africa in 2013 which could be somewhere between 5 and 10% of the regional population and could lead to extinction.
In this framework, Bhejane Trust is realistic and accepts that given Zimbabwe’s terrible economic problems, there are unlikely to be any major steps taken in the near future.
If changes are certainly taking place in the Park, Bhejane Trust sees its role as documenting these changes within the bird population rather than initiating any preventive measures.

The main challenge to BT’s projects is a hugely reduced number of people with an interest in and knowledge of birds, compared to the 1980s and 1990s. They are ‘citizen science’ projects, relying on ordinary members of the public for the supply of data.
In order to protect these animals as best as possible, the creation of field cards identifying all the bird species present in the park is needed as well as a deep data collection. In 2014, Bhejane Trust partnered with the park authority to begin a specific vulture monitoring project throughout Zimbabwe. Bhejane Trust’s activities within this project include locating vulture nests in Sinamatella and Matetsi.
Data on vulture is collected by Birdlife Zimbabwe. The objective of SABAP is to have a minimum of six field cards for each ‘pentad’ (but there is no limit to this number) and for the waterfowl census, it is to have continual counts over as long a period as possible of as many water-bodies as possible.
Then, the data collected made available to anyone who may have an interest in those informations. So far BT has submitted 169 cards from 39 pentads. There is no limit to the number the association could do but it has sixteen pentads with little or no coverage at Sinamatella and all at Matetsi have poor coverage so far.
So far, a lot of atlassing is done as part of BT’s daily work, the data collected are then submitted for both projects for further analysis.

The main reason for BT for wanting support from volunteers is that with the volunteers the association can cover areas that are not often visited. In all Bhejane Trust’s monitoring projects, volunteers are a very important catalyst, breaking the normal routine and getting Bhejane Trust to do the more difficult things that otherwise get postponed.
For example, the association only has three atlas cards for an area called Elephant Pan. Two of those were collected when they had volunteers with them. The other value of volunteers is simply that of extra eyes leading to better observation – the more observers, the more we see
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Participation of the volunteers:
For the SABAP project, the volunteers will be asked to list the different bird species they will see within specified areas. SABAP works on presence or absence lists that include a measure or commonness or importance in the order in which species are listed.
For the waterfowl census, the volunteers will be asked to count the birds at large water-bodies.

This project requires accurate counting of individual of individual birds of a limited range of species.
Volunteers would have knowledge of birding to be interested in this mission but they are not expected to have any specific skills. Prior knowledge of Hwange birds isn’t vital.
Volunteers usually become familiar very quickly with common species. If they happen to see a bird they are not able to recognize, they will have to take a picture of it for later identification.

A couple of training days have been included in the scheduled. Those training days will be composed of different stages in order to provide all the tools needed to the volunteers:
Stage 1 – The training will start by explaining why SABAP is useful for bird conservation, for conservation in general in Southern Africa and for Hwange.

Stage 2 – The volunteers will learn how SABAP works: citizen science, the Animal Demography Unit at University of Cape Town, how SABAP 1 worked and how SABAP 2 differs (including an explanation of the basic protocol – data collection within a limited area and for a limited time period. The importance of the order in which species are identified.

Stage 3 – A look at the commonest small land birds, using photos, reference books, sound clips and actual birds if they are in the vicinity. The volunteers would look at a selection of ten or fifteen species by sight and four or five by sound. The actual number of species would vary with seasons as many are migratory

Stage 4 – A look at the commonest large raptors.

Stage 5 – A look at the commonest water birds
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Number of Volunteers: between 2 and 6 people

The volunteers will work in three different places:
1. Sinamatella sector of Hwange National Park and the adjoining Deka Safari Area.
2. Zambezi National Park
3. Matetsi Safari area Sinamatella and Deka are largely Mopane woodland and scrub with sandy ridges where the vegetation is scrub Combretum and Diospyros.

There are some natural and artificial water points in the dry season, many natural pans and rivers in the rains. Both areas have good populations of large mammal species, particularly in the dry season. Zambezi and Matetsi have Zambezi Teak woodland on sandy ridges with scrub Combretum on exposed basalt rock and occasional grassy areas. Large mammals are present, especially in the dry season. Each volunteer mission will be different because of the ever-changing circumstances in the Parks but a typical two-week programme would be as follows.
Day 1 Arrive at Sinamatella.
Day 2. Training in bird recognition and the SABAP protocols.
Day 3. Birding at Mandavu dam and in and around Sinamatella to familiarise the volunteers with local birds and begin a field card for Mandavu Pentad.
Day 4. SABAP data collection in two different areas, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.
Day 5. SABAP data collection in two different areas, one in the morning, one in the afternoon
Day 6. Vulture nest monitoring
Day 7. Water bird counts.
Day 8. Water bird counts
Day 9. Computerise data and submit to SABAP or Birdlife Zimbabwe
Day 10. Move to Zambezi National Park or Matetsi Unit Seven.
Day 11. SABAP data collection along the river section, one pentad in the morning, one in the afternoon. Also locating vulture nests
Day 12. SABAP data collection, one pentad in the morning, one in the afternoon. Also locating vulture nests
Day 13. Morning SABAP data collection in Chamabonda. Afternoon; data capture The mission does not normally stop at the intermediate weekend but it can end on the last Thursday evening/Friday morning so that the volunteers reach Victoria Falls late Friday morning and visit the Falls etc.
The volunteers will be working between 6 and 7 hours per day in average. On a typical “SABAP” day, volunteers and BT would leave Sinamatella early in order to reach the intended pentad as the birds become active. Sometimes this would involve camping in a remote area so as to be ready to list birds at day-break. The volunteers would spend the morning trying to visit all habitats in the pentad by driving where roads are available or walking where they are not. For example they would try to visit any grassland patches, woodland, riverine vegetation, water-bodies and so on, spending time listing the species present in each. After lunch they would move to another pentad and repeat the process, aiming to finish in late afternoon and then either return to Sinamatella or pitch camp ready for the next day. In the rainy season a typical count would be from eighty to one hundred species per pentad and in the dry season around fifty species. For water bird counts the volunteers would be based at Sinamatella and would travel to the chosen water-body after breakfast. At each site they would attempt to identify and count all water bird species present – for example ducks, storks, herons, waders, plovers and many others. The count would be done from one or more points around the water-body (depending on its size) using binoculars and telescope. Vulture nest monitoring involves locating nests and observing them to discover if there are eggs or chicks present. At Sinamatella this might involve going to one of the known nest colonies and walking the area to locate nests. At Matetsi, most nests can be located from the vehicle. Counting of vultures at carcases can not be planned in advance but is something they would do if the opportunity arose. Vultures are not at their nests in January so could not be observed at that time.
No specific knowledge related to birds is required to take part in this mission.
For this project, volunteers must be physically fit. The volunteers shall have a good English level to fully understand instructions. The climate is similar at ZNP and Sinamatella. During the cool dry season (April to August) the weather is warm (up to 25 degrees) by day but can become very cold, sometimes even below freezing, at night. Volunteers must bring suitable clothes for this range of temperatures. In the hot and dry season (September to November), nighttime temperatures are more comfortable and can be quite high (15 to 20 degrees or more). Day time temperatures are also much higher, often reaching well over 30 degrees. As well as being suitable for the climate, the volunteer’s clothes should also be suitably coloured. Drab colours, especially green, brown and khaki are essential when camping.

WHAT TO BRING:
Clothing and Personal Kit -
- Victoria Falls:
In Victoria Falls, T-Shirts and shorts are fine most of the time but you may like to bring a set of light casual clothes for going to a restaurant at night.
- Fieldwork: We will be doing lots of outdoor activities including walking. While volunteers will be walking, they will be accompanied by armed rangers.
Suggestion: a minimum of 3 sets of loose green/khaki-type shirts and trousers plus a hat/cap and comfortable socks and boots.
If you want to wear shorts in the field you will need a pair of short gaiters to stop your socks being filled with spiky grass seeds.
Long trousers that tightly cover the top of your boots will work just as well but some people like to use gaiters even with long trousers as the seeds can be very irritating.
- Day pack: It is useful but not essential, to have a pack to stow your camera, water bottle, sunscreen and other personal stuff when we are working or walking - but the aim is to carry as little as possible. - Personal Water bottle: You should bring your own water bottle with approx 500ml to 1L capacity.
-Torch or flashlight: This is essential. Volunteer should bring a head torch with rechargeable batteries or a suitable supply of batteries as you won’t be able to buy any in the Parks.
- Camera and Video: Highly recommended. Bring rechargeable batteries or a suitable supply of batteries plus an adequate supply of photo memory cards as you cannot purchase these things in the Parks.
Binoculars: A good pair of binoculars is essential.
- Sunscreen: Even though it is winter you will need 35+ sunscreen. Insect repellent may be useful in the evening in the early part of the dry season (April through to June)
- Personal toiletries and medicines: Bring normal personal stuff like toothpaste, shampoo etc. Also, bring personal medicines like headache tablets and antiseptic cream. Something to relieve insect bites and stings may be useful but there are very few insects to be seen from June through to the first rains in October or November. You will need a personal towel, especially when we are camping.
- Sleeping bag. You will need a sleeping bag when we are camping. Winter nights, especially June and July can be very cold. From September onwards a thinner sleeping bag will be fine.
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At arrival at Victoria Falls volunteers are met by a driver from a specialist tourist-transfer company (which works for many years with Trevor) and driven to Victoria Falls by seven-seater minibus. The journey takes approx 30 minutes. From the airport to Hwange town takes approximately one and a half hours. From Hwange Town to Sinamatella the transport is by open 4 x 4 Land Cruiser and takes approximately one hour. From Victoria Falls, transport into the Zambezi National Park is by 4 x 4 open safari vehicle. Depending on the part of the Park the volunteers are going to, the journey takes between thirty minutes and one hour. Throughout the time spent in the park, transport is in 4x4 open-topped safari vehicles. The volunteers will be met by Trevor Lane, Stephen Long or Harrison at the airport, depending on circumstances. Victoria Falls airport has a cell-phone network and it is easy for the driver to communicate with Stephen Long or Trevor Lane in case of difficulty. If Harrison collects the volunteers at the airport, Trevor or Stephen will certainly meet and greet them in Victoria Falls which is only 15km from the airport.
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Victoria Falls
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At Sinamatella, the volunteers will sleep in National Parks lodges in Sinamatella Camp. At Matetsi or ZNP, accommodation will vary but may be in tents or built accommodation at Matetsi Water Lodge. At Sinamatella Bhejane Trust has permanent access to a two-bedroomed house with two beds in each room, attached bathroom, toilet, kitchen, and lounge. Where there are more than four volunteers, BT leases similar accommodation from National Parks. Electricity is available but subject to occasional cuts, especially in the rainy season. The internet access is via satellite and extremely expensive so it is requested to be used for important email only. At Sinamatella, breakfast and dinner are eaten at the lodge where volunteers are accommodated. Lunch is usually eaten in the field. If the volunteers are camping, breaksfast and dinner will be taken at the camping site. Lunch might be taken on the field. At Matetsi and ZNP, the same arrangement will apply
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Few materials are needed. Bhejane Trust supplies recording sheets and a spotting scope. Reference books are also available. All volunteers will need a pair of binoculars suitable for birding and a notebook, a sleeping bag and personal kit (clothes, toiletries, towel etc) In November and January, birding is excellent but mammal populations are low. The weather is often hot and dry but rainy periods of three or four days at a time are possible. Sometimes longer rainy periods occur. When it rains it can be cold. Good rainwear is essential as the vehicles are open with minimal cover.
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