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Flight for Birders at the Agulhas National Park

27 January 2009

The Flight for Birders Bird Identification and Conservation Course by Dr. Anton Odendal of BirdLife Overberg was presented at the Bosheuwel Educational Centre in the Agulhas National Park on 22 and 23 January. This despite the fact that the first three hours of the course had to be undertaken without electricity after the floods of the previous evening.

The course was well attended and participants included representatives of the Agulhas and Bontebok National Parks, the honorary rangers and the Mizpah youth camp at Elgin. The general public included individuals from all six towns in the Agulhas region, including Elim and even people from as far afield as Hermanus and Cape Town.

The course focused on the identification of the various groups and families of birds, but also heavily emphasised the birding tourism potential and several critical bird conservation issues in the region. It is evident that the De Hoop and De Mond nature reserves, the Agulhas National Park, the Overberg wheatfields and the Heuningnesberg River and estuary system are in most cases highly underrated as top birdwatching destinations. It is ironic that most of these birding hotspots are not even mentioned or discussed in prominent avitourism publications such as the “Southern African Birdfinder”. It was also noted that no infrastructure for the development of “Site Support Groups” for Important Bird Areas (IBA's) according to the criteria of BirdLife International exist in the region. In essence this implies that birding tourism to the area is not being marketed meaningfully and that several critical conservation issues are not being addressed.

Four basic decisions were taken at the meeting:

  • The first was that the Agulhas region will become a formal sub-route of the Overberg Birding Route and that representatives from the region will serve on the project's steering committee. The region will therefore be able to use for marketing purposes and benefit from the various activities and actions undertaken by BirdLife South Africa's Avitourism division on regional, provincial and national levels.

  • Secondly, the representatives of the two national parks and from the village of Elim were given free membership of BirdLife Overberg so that they can receive newsletters and the like and receive ongoing training and mentoring. It is hoped that this would lead to at least some of them eventually being trained as bird guides by BLSA.

  • In the third instance it was decided that site support groups need to be established to assist with the protection of the integritry of the various registered IBAs and other sites of significance in the Agulhas region. The best way of achieving this would be to revive a BLSA branch in the region under the protection of the Overberg branch. Coordinators from the six towns were appointed to assist with organising a public meeting where such a branch will be formed. It is estimated that this meeting will be held in the next few weeks. Watch the press for details.

  • Lastly it was decided that similar actions should be undertaken for the towns of Riviersonderend, Swellendam and Suurbraak, together with the Marloth and Grootvadersbosch nature reserves and the Bontebok National Park. This process will be launched with the presentation of a Flight for Birders course that is being organised by the management of the Bontebok National Park and BirdLife Overberg.

The Agulhas region in general and the Agulhas National Park in particular has limitless birding potential. It is believed that the development of a functional and sustainable birding tourism and bird conservation infrastructure under the auspices of BirdLife South Africa will assist to realise this potential. All enquiries about future activities and meetings and volunteers wanting to assist with the process are invited to contact Emmerentia de Kock at 072 601 6168 or Eddie Cassani at 084 3705 255.