Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

8 February 2013

Namibia: Annual Bird Count in Walvis

If you know the difference between a Greenshank and a Whimbrel, you are a potential candidate to join other birders in Walvis Bay this weekend to conduct the annual bird count on the Walvis Bay lagoon and surrounding wetlands. This major survey is again supported by Namibia Breweries.

The count covers the entire lagoon, the evaporative pans of the salt works and the sandy peninsula stretching to and beyong Pelican Point. This is the most comprehensive bird survey in the country and is conducted on an annual basis at that point in the season before large migratory flocks from the Cape moving northward, distort the numbers.

During this project between 40 and 45 bird species are surveyed and counted. Patricia Hoeksema, Manager Corporate Social Responsibility of the Ohlthaver and List Group said that one of NBL's main areas of corporate social responsibility is the environment. "This does not mean that we only look after our environment in terms of cleanliness but also - where we can - our fauna and flora as they are an integral part of the beautiful nature of Namibia."

Peter Bridgeford of the Coastal and Environmental Trust of Namibia (CETN) advised that the yearly bird count was vitally important as the birds are a barometer of the health of the lagoon and surroundings. He added: "If polluted or changes occur, the birds are quick to react. If the lagoon silts up, the mud flats exposed at low tide decrease in size and the available food decreases and birds will move away to other places to find food. If they are disturbed continuously, they cannot feed enough and will also move away. They have to build up fat reserves in order to last the 5000 km flight to the northern hemisphere."

Bridgeford said some changes have been observed over the years during the bird counts. "The lagoon to the east (inland) of the road to Paaltjies is being flooded less and less and thus the feeding area for birds decreases. That is one challenging change. We have, however, also noticed positive changes such as the fact that the awareness of the importance of birds has increased over the past 20 years. This is due to publicity by CETN and other NGO's as well as the growing tourism market and the increase in birders visiting Walvis Bay to see the thousands of birds, especially flamingos and pelicans."

The bird count information is shared with many organisations such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism , The Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, and Wetlands International. Namibia does not count birds in isolation, but counts are done in many countries in Africa and other places in the world. The organisation called Wetlands International receives all the counts from participating countries to get the bigger picture. Wetlands International is then able to spot trends, increases and decreases, and will alert the specific countries of possible problems.

Bridgeford thanked the Breweries for their ongoing support in the form of drinks which are made available to all the volunteers participating in the count.

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