Posted on the 29th July 2019

BirdLife Overberg member Jessie Walton is certainly a worthy recipient  of BirdLife South Africa's prestigious OWL AWARD 2019. Many congratulations from all of us Jess and well done: You really deserve this!

We include Carin Malan's nomination citation herewith:

Jessie Walton runs a small specialist nursery on their farm in Elgin, in her free time she rehabilitates injured birds, does photography and is involved in conservation projects. She is a true example of an ordinary citizen getting involved in citizen science and academic research.

Mystery Buzzard
This is an ongoing project, with the help from the late Prof Phil Hockey, attempting to unravel the mystery of the breeding Buzzards of the Cape. She has been collecting data and samples for more than 10 years. Lisle Gwynn, BSc (Hons), Percy FritzPatrick Institute used this data to do his thesis “The identity, origin and impact of a 'new' Buzzard species breeding in South Africa”. Supervisors: Phil Hockey and Dr. Arjun Amar

Windfarm EIA’s
For six years she and Rob Martin worked as field monitors on EIA projects, mostly proposed wind farm sites. It is during this time that she discovered the first Black Harrier Circus Maurus communal roost, which is still being monitored.

Brown-backed Honeybirds
In 2012 she started the fascinating Brown-backed Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus/Karoo Prinia Prinia maculosa project with Rob Martin. This is a long-term research project and the first 3 years was used to collect data. Well into the project, Prof Claire Spottiswood and Prof Peter Ryan, showed interest in the project. Jessie is now researching co-evolution in brood parasites and their hosts. She is also looking into how nestling honeybirds recognise and kill the host chicks but not honeybird siblings. Some of her data, on structural effects and eggshell colour, contributed to a PhD for a Cambridge student.

BLSA WC Wetland Rehabilitation Project
The project was born out of discussions with conservation and agricultural specialists (BirdLife South Africa and NCC Environmental Services). The aims are to create habitat for indigenous water birds and other aquatic biodiversity as well as improve water quality in agricultural landscapes, by motivating farmers to transform their farm dams into healthy ecosystems that will have a positive effect on the water quality. A satellite plant nursery has now been set up at Keurbos Farm, Elgin, to grow indigenous plants for the project. Farm workers are trained to grow the plants and build the islands themselves.

Jessie is also well known for her ad hoc bird or mammal rehabilitation in the Elgin/Grabouw Valley. She is an avid wildlife photographer and often talks to bird clubs.

Jessie at the official opening of the new hide at Keurbos
The hide on the rehabilitated wetland











Brown-backed Honeybird. Images by Carin Malan
Jessie & the late Rob Martin during their honeybird research in the Van der Stell Pass















We visit Jessie's rehab cages














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