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  • Bionerds PTY LTD

Bionerds Launches Grass Owl Project

Bionerds is very excited to bring you the first in a series of new projects we are embarking on across South Africa.

During our eco-explorations in the Overberg we met up with a birding colleague who mentioned to us that he knows of a breeding pair of African Grass Owls.

We investigated and were blown away that there could be such an enigmatic species flying around on the Agulhas Plain with so few people aware of them.

When one considers that they can be confused with Barn and Marsh Owl, it becomes more believable.

Most of the focussed research on this species is driven towards populations in Gauteng and further East along the Garden Route. African Grass Owl (Tyto capensis) has experienced a 30% reduction in its regional population size across South Africa, in the past 10 years – and with threats such as habitat loss, transformation, alien vegetation encroachment and incorrect fire regimes, this species is in need of protection.

After 2 years of monitoring and desktop studies into the habitat on the Agulhas Plain, Bionerds have embarked on the journey of establishing the Agulhas Plain African Grass Owl Research Project.

The project launched on the 1st of September 2019.

To date there seems to be only a small remnant population present on the Agulhas Plain for which there is very limited data and information available.

The core focus area of this project is the Agulhas Plain and in part falls within the boundary of the Agulhas Plain-Heuningnes Estuary Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) of BirdLife South Africa. The African Grass Owl (Tyto capensis) is listed as a trigger species for this IBA and many of the conservation issues listed are of concern for the species.

The value from a conservation perspective of answering short-, medium- and long-term research and conservation questions surrounding the African Grass Owl on the Agulhas Plain is self-evident.

The Project will address this lack of knowledge regarding the ecology and population size, as well as conservation threats of this Vulnerable red-listed species. This dedicated research project will collect essential baseline information on presence, preferred habitat and range of the African Grass Owl on the Agulhas Plains. This data is crucial for the development of reports for individual landowners to advise them on management actions to ensure the survival of the species in this area.

This project is partially funded by the Overberg Crane Group, and equipment has been sponsored by the Fynbos Trust.

We are grateful for the support from these two organizations. We will partner up with CapeNature, the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area and the Grootbos Foundation on data collection and survey opportunities between this and other avian projects that form part of the Threatened Species in Threatened Remnants projects of the Overberg Crane Group.

So, how do you know that you may have Grass Owls on your property? These owls are terrestrial breeders, creating extensive tunnels and feeding platforms in and on Juncus grasses, a type of sedge-like rush that grows in typical floodplain habitat. In short, if you have a patch of Juncus that you are unable to walk through comfortably you may have African Grass Owls on your property.

Look out for us wading through tall grasses around the Agulhas Plains and surrounds as we survey this special population of Owls.

Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any further questions or think that you may have African Grass Owls on your property! or (063) 461 5964.

All photos copyright of Bionerds PTY LTD

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