The African Grass-Owl is one of the more uncommon residents of wetland habitats, together with its cousin the Marsh Owl. The African Grass-Owl is facing a number of threats to its continued survival such as habitat loss, especially due to mining activities, as well as predation of their nests by predators. Over eight years ago, the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Birds of Prey programme initiated the Anglo African Grass-Owl Project to address these and other threats in order to further understand the species and to ultimately ensure its long term survival in the wild.
In the 2014/2015 season the Anglo African Grass-Owl project was briefly put on hold. As of late 2015 however, the project is once again up and running with some exciting new prospects on the horizon. This season (2015/2016) there are many new aims on table for the project. Our current projects are: to monitor the all known nests through the use of a camera trap study to determine the success rates of the various nest sites and to determine the level of habitat recovery (from fires, grazing or rehabilitation). Finally we are also looking at conducting a survey in order to determine the most suitable sites in the Mpumalanga province for the African Grass-Owl. Overall, our aim is to establish the species population for the Mpumalanga province, and then to aim at securing the population for the whole of South Africa.
In February 2016 month the field work for the new phase of the project began in earnest. Fellow EWT staff member, Matt Pretorius, and I drove to one of the known nesting sites of the African Grass-Owl in Elandsfontein, Gauteng. As part of the survey we spent many hours walking transects through the veld searching for the Owls, hoping to flush them from the grass.
A breeding pair of Owls was found at the site, fleeing together from same nest site, suggesting the possibility that these were actively breeding individuals. This time, the nest was without eggs; however, the site is previously known to be nesting spot in previous seasons.
Our next field trip was to the Kriel area, in Mpumalanga. On the 20th of February we found a new nest for this breeding season, with 5 fresh eggs. This is very early in the year for eggs to be found and was also on the site which, during last season, had experienced a veld fire. This is very exciting news for us as this new nest is one among only a handful of new nests we have found since the beginning of the project. The discovery that the Grass-owl nests in February which is earlier than expected, may give us an idea that there could be more interesting facts to discovery about this species…
EWT’s Birds of Prey Programme
Field Officer Intern: African Grass Owl Project