Saturday, July 15, 2017

Cape Parrot Project: Round 2

Name: Delaney Galbraith
Class: 2018
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Internship: Cape Parrot Project
Location: Hogsback, South Africa

Always ready for a photo opp
in our zoo shirts!
To begin, I figure that I should start with the general idea of what we are doing here. The Cape Parrot Project is a nonprofit organization that is working everyday to save South Africa’s only endemic parrot. In doing so they have a forestry section that works on community cohesion, planting of parrots’ natural food and nesting trees, and maintaining the forests the parrots call home. They also have a research aspect as well. Currently the project is focused on the movements of the parrots and publishing literature on observations they have made of the parrots while in the field. So how exactly do Dr. Young, Eileen, and I fit into that? Well, Dr. Young and I are conducting collaborative research on the parrot’s vocalizations (hopefully Eileen will join in with her own next year!). Dr. Young is looking at the dialect differences between the believed separate populations of the Cape parrot throughout South Africa. This has implications to possibly show subpopulations of the Cape parrot, which would call for more intensified conservation requirements than are currently in place. My own research is focused on pairing the vocalizations of the Cape parrot with the displayed behaviors; such as when they are in flight they give a particular call or when a juvenile is hungry they give a particular call (juvenile begging call). Identifying these can further elaborate on the separation in communication between populations and more.
Goofy parrot just doing his goofy thing
with eating some pecans

Cassie at Swallowtail waterfall
for afternoon observations.
We have thus far assisted in movement data, recording, catching of parrots, and some added in adventures;). In order to record the parrot’s movements we wake up at about five or six am and head to a number of locations. We record where the parrots are coming from and where they are going, so to one-day figure out what the heck their movement patterns are! That part of our work is for Cassie and his research project of movements but while recording we also help Kate in her newest paper. We record what birds of prey we see and if they pursue the parrots. She is writing a short article on the bird that prey on the parrots so that we can better assess their threats from all ends. In addition to our regular intern duties Eileen and I have decided to make an informational video for the Cape Parrot Project. The video will have basic information for the public on the structure and function of the Cape Parrot Project. We plan to interview the research and forestry teams about what their jobs entail and how they help the Cape parrots. So much work to be done and so much yet to learn from the Cape Parrot Project!
Cassie, Eileen, and Kate counting
and spotting parrots for morning

Now that you have an image of the project and our work with the Cape parrot on to our trip to South Africa’s Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Dr. Young joined for these first couple of weeks; we stayed with Kate and Cassie Carstens of the Cape Parrot project at the Project’s research house in Hogsback, Eastern Cape. In beginning recording, we started off by visiting the pecan orchard in Alice, a frequent spot for the parrots to feed. On May 6th we saw over 300 parrots in the orchard, which is most of the population estimated for our whole province! In one day we saw almost a fourth of the estimated population left in the wild, it was truly an amazing experience! Afterwards, we took part in the “Big Birding Day” organized through UKZN; The Big Birding Day is the annual count of the Cape Parrots present throughout South Africa. Unfortunately, we went from seeing 300 that morning to my group only seeing six due to heavy mist on the mountainL. The rest of our stay in Hogsback was very good though! We visited Stutterheim and King William’s Town, two relatively close cities, and recorded tons of vocals and behaviors! The last day of our recordings in these areas we recorded a vocalization, which is by far my favorite! I like to call it the robot song, but in technicality it is part of a courtship type vocalization that is shared between male and female. We observed a juvenile attempting and practicing this vocalization. A vocalization string that has not been noted in the Cape Parrot, at least yet! (J)

Dr. Young and I rocking
the field work in King
William's Town
On the 12th Dr. Young and I headed to KZN to record vocals of separate population located in the forests there. After an adventurous drive ;) and some wonderful curry we made it to our destination. We stayed at a birding guesthouse with a wonderful birder named Malcolm, whom we would have been lost without. He led us to numerous forests. On one day he took us to Hoha forest, there we saw over 150 parrots flocking, sunning and mobbing. We were able to see mobbing of an African Goshawk, a bird of prey that is thought to be a predator to the parrots. After recording a number of groups and areas we had enough to assess the KZN population of parrots' vocals so it was time to head home. Dr. Young headed back to the states L and I headed back to Hogsback to meet Eileen J. Since coming back to Hogsback we have had tons of adventures!

Eileen working hard while we wait
 for parrots to fall for our mist net
(yes, those are parrots behind her)
While out in the field we have also had the opportunity to make bunches and bunches of recordings of their vocalizations and behaviors. Basically our job is to watch adorable dorky parrots all summer and I could not be happier! We watch as they flip upside down and poke at one another and overall goof around. The other day we observed a very interesting behavior that I did not get to see last summer, a juvenile begging call! One of my favorite calls so far, except for the “robot song” of course.

After a time of recording and watching the goofy parrots it was time to handle some! Another aspect of the project is collecting blood and feather samples from wild parrots to test for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. This disease has caused detriment to many parrot species in the world and has been documented in the Cape parrot; therefore recording its presence is imperative to the parrots’ survival. They are also hoping to catch and put a tracking device on a parrot so to better describe their movement. Starting a few weeks ago we set up a mist net and waited for the parrots to fall for our trap. It took almost a week, hours on hours of sitting and waiting but eventually we caught one! A female, showing signs of the early stages of beak and feather disease but still with a healthy weight- and a strong bite! After sampling and checking various body scores we released her and she flew off ready to get back to her buddies. The next day we set up the net again and even though we crossed out fingers for a parrot, we caught no parrots. We did catch a crown hornbill though, still pretty exciting! We got him out quickly and he was not very happy with us. We set him back to his group and he flew off just as the female parrot did, aka ready to get the heck away from us (lol).

Eileen, carefully, holding the
receiver for parrot tracking
Cassie and the first parrot
in the mist net

Handling my first Cape
Eileen and the Big Tree!
Cassie and Eileen relaxing by the
39 step water fall after our Circle
trail hike
Don’t get me wrong though, it is not all work, there is some play! On our first weekend Eileen and I set out for a hike called Madonna and Child. The description said it should be a couple of hours, which wasn’t too bad in our book. However, we got a little lost and ended up making it about a 6 hour trip. More than likely because we stopped at the Big Tree and we took an off trail excursion down the creek to a small pool-ops! The Big Tree is an over 800 year old Outeniqua Yellowwood, which is one of the largest in South Africa. The trail was good training, because one day Cassie goes “I’d like to hike a little hill today.” I have since learned to fear those types of statements by Cassie. He said “little” -this hill was huge! It took us nearly an hour to the top with all our gear walking through mist at the bottom to clear skies at the top. I have no regrets though we got wonderful l vocal recordings and convinced Cassie to do his interview for our video project overlooking the view.
A small part of the pool
Eileen and I hiked to
Eileen and Cassie on our way up
the Circle Trail

The mist over the forest in

The bowl of mist from the out look
in Sompondo

The view once the mist had cleared
in Sompondo

One of our other excursions was the circle trail in Hogsback. Our original thought was to hike to the top of the small mountain, Tor doone; but after about 20 minutes of huffing and puffing we decided on an easier trail. Regardless of changing our course we enjoyed the trek through the beautiful Afromontane forest, and got to see some parrot nest boxes along the way. We ended it off with a little walk to a nearby waterfall and a snack, a wonderful end to the trip that made for a relaxing weekend. The following weekend, we headed for Tor doone, another "small hill" in Cassie's eyes. It us took five hours and a little bit of huffing and puffing; okay, maybe a lot of huffing and puffing but we made it! It was gorgeous as it always it at the top of the mountain along with being super windy. We made it about half way down and got Kate to do her interview for the video. 
Kate and I hiking Tor doone
Almost to the top of
Tor doone!

My backpack and I reenacting
the Lion King because what else
do you do after you climb a mountain
in Africa?
Eileen and I at the top of Tor doone
(We found porcupine quills on the way up:))

Nearly finished and we have already done and see so much! We are learning everyday both about the parrots and the South African culture. It's been such a wonderful and beautiful experience thus far. I’m excited to see our next huffing and puffing excursion and I can’t wait to see what else the summer has in store! 

The Three Hog Mountains
of Hogsback
Sunrise on our drive to morning

The Mist clearing over Hogsback

The view from the property we are stay
at in Hogsback
The sun just beginning to rise
as we drive out to start the day
(yes, that early)

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