Raptor research occurs on nearly every continent, from summer breeding grounds, major migration routes and onward into the wintering grounds. Researchers, biologists and raptor enthusiasts all collect data and information to further understand the complexities and dynamics of the apex predator of the avian world. As with all groups of animals, it is the predators or animals at the top of the food chain that are the indicators of the health of a species or environment. It is on this premise the expedition is based.
Limpopo province in South Africa is a unique and environmentally diverse region that supports not only a large resident and inter-continental population of raptors, but also a massive influx of European and Asian raptors that winter here. It has an amazing diversity of habitats, from the Waterberg Mountains, a world biosphere site, to the bushveld and savannah habitats. It is South Africa's northernmost province, bordering onto Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is named after the great Limpopo River which flows along its northern border.
The expedition is aimed at documenting this specific area, and the research being done, why it attracts and supports such a diverse variety and huge numbers of raptors, both common and scarce, and how it can support the huge numbers of European and Asian populations of raptors in the winter months. My team will consist of myself, Malcolm Wilson - licensed bird bander and ornithologist, and field staff from the EWT, the conservation group that has endorsed the trip.
The expedition will cover a large array of the habitats, with a licensed raptor bander. I will be participating in capturing and banding raptors in each habitat, documenting the research. Having a valid raptor banding permit for Ontario will allow me hands-on with the raptors, something only a licensed bander can do. We will compare species and the niche they fill between the two countries. Having the bird in the hand, compared to looking through binoculars a few hundred feet away, will allow for detailed sketches, noting features and close-up photos for future painting reference. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is a philosophy I have lived by for my style of paintings!
The expeditions' objective is to portray through paintings and sketches, the research being done on raptors in Limpopo province in South Africa - a unique and environmentally diverse region that supports not only a large resident and inter-continental population of raptors, but also a massive influx of European and Asian raptors that overwinter in the region. It will also highlight some of the successful strategies and positive effects the land use has had on the dispersal and reproduction of resident species.
The expedition will take us through a variety of habitats. The Waterberg Mountains are designated as a World Biosphere Site, home of the magnificent Black eagle and Jackal buzzard. We will be visiting a few National Reserves, the Nylsvley floodplain, and D'Nyala Nature Reserve and Blouberg Nature Reserve, highlighting the impact these areas have for species such as Black-chested and Brown Snake eagles.
I will not be following other conventional expeditions focusing on one endangered species or one threatened region, but encompassing a variety of both threatened and commoner species, how they interact with changing population numbers and also the positive factors farming and other agricultural land uses have had on certain species, while other land uses have harmed other populations.
As a raptor researcher myself, I have found most research papers quite complex and are data and charts. As this is the intent, and is the professional and serious approach, I do not discredit the enormous amount of work that has gone into the work. I do find, even with my own work, that I lose most people's interest. It is with this in mind that I approach this expedition. Technical field work, combined with sketches, paintings and photographs and explanations in terms that will keep the general public interested and intrigued. I feel this approach will increase public awareness, as it has a great visual impact. I will highlight the great amount of work these researchers are doing in a whole different genre, incorporating detailed field sketches and full paintings of these birds with montages of data and photos to go into greater detail the findings of their work. This trip will focus on all the raptor species in the area, from the rare and threatened Cape Griffon vulture and Ayre's Eagle. The winter visitors, the Lesser kestrel, Western red-footed falcon, are on the red list as vunerable soon to be threatened if their numbers keep dropping, and the Eastern red-footed falcon soon to be added. I will go into detail on the positive effects the land use is having on certain species while others are having a harder time coping. I will be participating in an ongoing colour banding study on Pale and Dark chanting goshawks, focusing on their dispersal and population density. Having these birds in the hand weights and molts will be recorded, giving a good picture of the overall health of these raptors, both resident and migrants alike.