Thursday, 5 December 2013

How to install a nest camera!


An important part of my research has been to analyse the diet of Black eagles from the West Coast through to the Cederberg Mountains. I wanted to do this to see if there are variations in the diet which are associated with changes in anthropogenic land use. I have received generous help from experienced climbers who have used their skills and specialised gear to install the cameras.

However, since the start of my field work in 2011 it has been my goal to install and remove the nest cameras myself. My first major set back came in September 2011 when I broke my leg while hiking. This meant a long recovery and I wasn’t ready to train for the abseils in time for the 2012 breeding season. With much help we still installed five cameras in 2012 which gave the first exciting insight into what we might find.
Some top photos from one of the 2012 cameras
2013 approached fast and before long it was time to install cameras again. With the help of Douw Stein, Jessie Berndt, Brent Jennings and Andrew Jenkins six cameras were installed and I started to learn the ropes myself. With a big thanks to IdeaWild I also finally obtained my own climbing gear and was really ready to get stuck in.
My first practice was on rainy day in the barn at Driehoek. We slung gear over the beams and I had my first shot at ascending a rope. Between Douw and Jess I learnt what I needed to know and over the next five days we retrieved all of the nest cameras. There were some long hikes to reach the abseil points, which are extra tiring when you are carrying a 60m rope in your pack! But it was a rewarding experience to finally have the opportunity to remove the cameras and collect any prey remains which had been left on the now inactive nests. It also gave me the chance to really see life from the eagles point of view; gazing out over the mountains from a Black eagle nest!
Douw explains a few tricks of the trade
I get started
Last bit of advice from Douw before the real thing
And off we go: Descent, remove camera, collect prey remains & check out the view, ascent! 
These hikes were the last of my fieldwork for the season. Many thanks to everyone who has helped over the years: Douw Stein, Jessie Berndt, Chris Laidler, Brent Jennings, Andrew Jenkins, Mark Cowan, Dawie Burger, George van der Watt, Patrick Banville, Matthew Dowling, Darling Brew, Cederberg Cellars & IdeaWild.
It was with great anticipation that I took the memory cards home to download the photos, here is a sneak preview of some of what we have recorded:
Settled into incubation
Coming in for landing!
The adults discuss the imminent hatching of their single egg!
Welcome to the World!
Mmmmm guinea fowl
Tortoise for lunch!
Mole rat lunch for one...
Growing fast and stretching out the wings.
"Hey Ma, look at what I can do!"
Both of the adults arrive; the female mantles (covers) the prey to claim it and the young attempts the same technique.
Mole rat lunch for one...

And perhaps my favourite of them all: The fledgling returning to the nest!