The annual Kruger National Park (KNP) Birding Weekends are part of a conservation programme, mostly based on volunteerism. The annual event is organised by the South African National Parks (SANParks) Honorary Rangers (HR) of the West Rand Region and sponsored by Sasol. This highlight on the birding calendar takes place over three consecutive weekends and attracts over 700 birding enthusiasts and experts from across the country and internationally.
In January 2014, the Kruger National Park hosted the 16th annual birding weekend with participants spread across 19 camps in the world-famous wildlife sanctuary. The purpose of these weekends is to collect data on the bird species residing in the park as well as educate and involve people in the world of birding while raises funds that are donated to conservation efforts. Those who are keen birders are exposed to expert birders who can guide and advise them in the process of spotting birds.
The HR of the West Rand Region has also contributed to ornithology research and assisted Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa with GPS co-ordinates of sightings of birds on the Red Data List.
Bird lists are collated yearly during the KNP Birding Weekends and birding experts chaperone each group to assist guests with the identification of cryptic species, such as the brown eagles and little brown birds. The birding experts share interesting information about bird biology, ecology and migration patterns.
At the same time GPS co-ordinates of vulnerable species on the Red Data List, such as the Southern Ground Hornbill and Secretary Bird are recorded. This information is important to research scientists from the EWT and the Avian Demography Units of the University of Cape Town. Future plans include the counts of water birds on the various pans and dams visited by guests.
"The purpose of the weekends is to provide birders with the opportunity to identify as many birds as possible within a 50km radius of their chosen camp. Guests have a selection of 21 flagship venues where the area is home to over 200 bird species. Typically each camp has a few unique species, not found throughout the KNP. For example, the African Barred Owl is more likely to be seen at Talamati, the collared praticole at Letaba, and the crested guineafowl at Pafuri," says Peter Zietsman, chairman of the HR West Rand Region.
Birding Conservation Projects:
A bird hide was built in Punda Maria, which enhanced bird watching for visitors. Another project is camera traps for vulture monitoring, which were deployed to nesting sites to monitor the success of breeding, and the purchasing of cyber trackers, which record the GPS co-ordinates of birds, animals, trees and bush.
South African National Parks