The Gurney’s Sugarbird is alive and well and living in Lydenburg’s surrounding hills. This was confirmed recently by members of Birdlife Northern Gauteng Bird Ringers Club who came to Paardeplaats Nature Retreat on an annual ringing weekend. In spite of rainy conditions, they caught no less than six Gurney Sugarbirds in their ringing nets – one juvenile and one re-trap from last year’s expedition.
The group of avid ringers were joined by Dr Michael Cunningham, a geneticist from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology. With his student, Evan Howarth, they took blood samples of Gurneys for research into the relationship of different populations of this scarce species.
The Gurney has been identified as one of four grassland birds in decline and could be added to the list of threatened species, Cunningham explained. This is probably due to the decline in Protea Roupelliae in which the birds build their nests.
Their strongholds are the KZN and Mpumalanga Drakensberg, the Soutpansberg and Waterberg areas. There are isolated populations in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands and they have been spotted as far south as Grahamstown – the only place known where they overlap with the Cape Sugarbird.
Cunningham confirmed that the Gurney’s Sugarbird research done by ornithologist Dawie de Swardt, originally from Lydenburg and for many years now at the National Museum in Bloemfontein, provides a valuable base for students. “But there is still a lot we do not know about this special bird and its movements,” he said.
The bird ringers’ efforts add tremendously to the on-going research in the field. Other than the 6 Gurneys, the expedition caught and recorded the following species at Paardeplaats Nature Retreat:
Olive Bush shrike, Malachite and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Wailing and Lazy Cisticola, Cape Canary, Long-billed Pipit, Drakensberg Prinia, Mountain Wagtail, Cape White-Eye, Speckled Mousebird, White-throated Robin Chat, Cape Robin Chat, Streaky Headed Seedeater, Neddicky, Bar-throated Apalis, Willow Warbler, Cape Batis, Cape Rock Thrush, Redwing Starling and House Martin.
Julian (17) started his ringing career at the age of two, accompanying dad Chris on birding trips. He has handled well over 1200 birds in the qualifying process and has released more than 430 birds marked with his own rings.