Our Birds of Prey Return - January 2010

Dear Reader,

“Cederberg Accommodate” is our Red Cederberg monthly newsletter, which will from now on also appear on our website.

We cover a variety of topics ranging from Cederberg people, to conservation issues, research projects, community initiatives, Cederberg accommodation, events & happenings, and much more. This letter is written in the same way as we speak and not from a scientific base, but rather as a reflection of how we daily observe nature and events around us.

In this edition we tell you about a few bird species at Bakkrans Reserve www.bakkrans.co.za. Bakkrans is part of the greater Rooi Cederberg Karoo Park, which is located in the Cederberg Succulent Karoo, a unique part of one of three very important bio-diversity hotspots in South Africa.

Those of you who are really tuned into the intricate ways of nature, will know that birds are one of the most important indicator species, particularly since they are not constrained by manmade border fences. They are mostly free to move between habitats and can search far-and-wide across great distances for their seasonal food sources. Birds will only stay on in a particular area if they can find enough food there to sustain themselves and if it is a suitable environment for them to nest and raise their chicks when it is their breeding season.

It is with this in mind, that we were very worried when a few years ago our resident pair of (very tame) Black Eagles disappeared. Before that, they could always be seen flying over the Bakkrans area every day and even occasionally raised a chick in the cliffs of Bakkrans waterfall. The reason for their disappearance was, however, not hard to spot – our dassie (rock hyrax) populations were disappearing at an alarming rate. This was a catastrophe since dassies are an important food source, not only for Black Eagles, but also for a range of other predators such as leopard, caracal, etc. This dying out of the dassies was a widespread problem which affected the whole of the Cederberg, as well as regions far beyond. The Cape Leopard Trust initiated a research project to find out why the dassies were dying and established that a certain strain of TB, which is only prevalent in dassies, was the cause. There was nothing that could be done about it.

But, now for the good news, the few dassies that survived are slowly returning and are again building up viable populations. And now our Black Eagles have also returned, and hopefully they will return to their nesting site at the Bakkrans waterfall. There are three different black eagle nest sites in the reserve which they seem to use (I admit, we are guessing here) on a rotation basis – probably depending on the nearness of available prey, such as dassies.

While the greater part of the reserve is pristine mountain veld, the lower plain areas were very over-grazed by small stock when we acquired Bakkrans about 12 years ago. Since then great emphasis was placed on rehabilitating these areas. This meant, amongst other things, low stocking ratios with only indigenous animals, which traditionally occurred in this region. The veld could recover, plants were able to seed and eventually the insects and small animals could return. This is now happening and our last annual “Conservation Audit” described our efforts as “textbook conservation”. We are as pleased as cheese.


Now, for the past year, a new pair of black harriers which were also looking for Cederberg accommodation, have found it at Bakkrans. This is the first time that we have observed these magnificent birds in the Rooi Cederberg. They frequent the plain areas with their typical low flying over the Karoo shrub-veld. The fact that they can find sufficient food here is something very pleasing to know. This just indicates that we are successful in our endeavours to create and maintain a balanced environment wherein a great variety of insects, birds and mammals can exist. For how many years were these harriers absent from this area, we wonder?

We regularly see a variety of other birds of prey, such as kestrel, gymnogene falcon, buzzard, goshawk, etc. Owls can sometimes be heard at night.


Also, our seed-eaters are returning:

Our dry and hot summer-veld now has a permanent cover of dry grasses and other matter – the ultimate test of the sustainability of veld. Not only is this plant cover a great protection against wind and water erosion, but it traps seeds for future growth – a wonderful process, which gets better and better every year.

With this ever improving seed bank the seed eating birds are returning, some in great numbers, such as various species of canaries, siskins, mossies, wax-bills, etc. During mid-morning and late afternoon one can sit at the water troughs and observe a great variety of these birds, happily mixing to have a drink. They are quite tame since they don’t associate humans with harm. For those of you who want to join us for some Cederberg Tracking, don’t forget to bring your bird guides along.

The bigger ground birds are also now more plentiful, such as partridge, pheasant, korhaan and occasionally even Namaqua sandgrouse. What is particularly pleasing is the permanent return of the little Cape quail.


At our Red Cederberg accommodation destinations you don’t share your facilities, space or privacy with any other tourists. When you or your group visit any of our tourist destinations, it is allocated to you exclusively, at no additional cost above our normal rental rates.