Drought Affects Return Of The Blue Cranes

17 Dec 2019

Dirk Heinrich 

The only green seen in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia is that of the mopane trees at present (end of November 2019). Not a single blade of grass is left, not even a dry one. Most bushes and shrubs look bare and almost dead. The condition of the herbivores is anything but good. The animals have to cover long distances to find food and then have to make the long way back to the waterholes. Due to a lack of seeds, plant material and insects the park’s birdlife also suffers under the drought. 

Only 13 Blue Cranes were sighted during a count at the end of November. Blue Cranes are rare and endangered in Namibia. In the same period last year there were 27 adult birds. This time all of them were spotted north of Namutoni at the Andoni waterhole and on the adjacent grassy Andoni Plain. Last year, 23 Blue Cranes were counted at the Andoni waterhole, one pair was seen at the Koinachab waterhole near Namutoni and another one at the Charitsaub waterhole in the Halali area. At the beginning of summer, or the start of the rainy season, the birds return from their hitherto unknown winter quarters. 

For now it still seems to be much too dry in the park and around the various waterholes. It is not known where the other birds of the limited Namibian Blue Crane population settle down, and experts are still wondering where the Blue Cranes move to from Etosha. They mainly come to the park to breed, but last year hardly any pair started to breed and not a single chick was raised. 

There are just a little over 30 Blue Cranes left in Namibia, and they are mainly seen in the eastern part of Etosha National Park. In recent years alphanumeric metal rings as well as green plastic rings with white letters were attached to several chicks in that area. Seven of the 13 birds observed in November this year had an alphanumeric metal ring on the leg just above the foot and five of those also wore a plastic ring. 

Blue Crane NEF had been ringed as a chick at the Twee Palms waterhole in 2017, NCN at the sewage treatment plant near Halali in 2016, NBN at the Salvadora waterhole in the Halali area in April 2008, NHH at the same waterhole in 2007 and NHD on the vast plains near Halali in April 2006. Unfortunately it was impossible to identify the numbers on the metal rings of the other two birds. They probably also wore a plastic ring at some stage, which must have been lost. 

In November last year the Blue Crane with the plastic ring NHH was seen at Charitsaub with its mate NHF. The time when the Blue Cranes will move to their usual waterholes in the park – if at all – will depend on the rain, which is urgently needed not only in Etosha but throughout Namibia. 

Blue Cranes feed on seeds, bulbs, roots, caterpillars, grasshoppers, harvester termites, worms, crabs, small fish, frogs, reptiles and small mammals – they are omnivores but seem to favour a vegetarian diet. Grassy plains with plenty of water are their preferred habitat.  

Anyone who sees Blue Cranes in Etosha National Park or elsewhere in Namibia, and takes photos of them, can send their observations to holgerk@afol.com.na at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

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