Our quest for our target species has continued over the past couple of days, but seemingly, only with partial success.
Mist-netting has again been combined with flush surveys on consecutive mornings, but the Hottentot buttonquail are proving elusive. We have sighted at least two other individuals, but are yet to catch any more. It is becoming clear why no-one had done this prior to this Biosphere expedition! The work has confirmed locations of this species and enabled us to locate nest sites of Cape rockjumper – another bird species restricted to the fynbos biome.
Another part of our daily routine each morning and evening is to check the leopard trap – a large cage trap, which will hopefully tell us which of the cat species are moving through the local area. Any Cape leopard caught will be fitted with a telemetry collar so we can better understand their movements and habitat use. We’ll also get some interesting by-catch, and over the last few mornings we have trapped a grysbok – a small antelope almost entirely restricted to the fynbos vegetation; and a porcupine – the largest rodent in Africa. All are released to continue on their way.
A regular feature in our workload is camera trap servicing and deployment. This provides a great excuse to explore Blue Hill Nature Reserve to its geographic limits; ensuring cameras are deployed in all directions. Hopefully they will give up a few more secrets on our other target species (i.e. Cape leopard, Caracal and African wildcat).
Camera traps can also give you a few surprises. Our team retrieved one remote camera; that has been in the field since it was deployed by last year’s expedition group. Not only was the camera still taking pictures 12 months later (on its original set of batteries), it had also recorded black-backed jackal (another predator not frequently recorded in the area), been attacked by baboons and survived a wildfire! Well done both teams.
And our work is not just limited to the daytime. We have also been deploying bat detectors and using them on transect walks, to better understand what species are present in the area. The detectors are a bit like camera traps, but are triggered by ultrasonic sound, recording a sonogram, which can then be used to identify bat species. This also provides opportunities for face-to-face encounters with other larger wildlife which tends to be more active at night!