Posted on the 8th April 2020

The Corvit-19 lockdown brought about a situation where several new alternative ways of practising birding within a bird club setup had to be investigated. One of these was to present online talks and on Tuesday evening we had our first bite at this. Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross, the Landscape Conservation Programme Manager at BirdLife South Africa presented a fascinating talk via ZOOM on the Southern Banded Snake Eagle. Unfortunately only 19 people participated, but this is probably due to the talk only having been confirmed on the Tuesday morning.

Melissa initially gave a brief background to her career and the conservation work being undertaken by her division. She then focused on the conservation status of the Southern Banded Snake Eagle, a species that is now regarded as being Critically Endangered in South Africa – it is estimated that there are only 30 to 40 birds left and all of these in north-eastern KZN. The research and conservation work being undertaken was then reviewed.

Melissa explained how various overlays are being used for modelling in order to gain a better understanding of these birds. These included climatic conditions such as rainfall and temperatures, distribution and reporting rates of the species, habitats being utilised that included natural habitats and agricultural and forestry practices, human occupation and so on. Fascinating findings included that there are indications that the birds are increasingly using commercial plantations, while it was previously believed that they preferred indigenous forest habitats. It also seems that the birds might be moving southwards as far as their distribution is concerned as a pair had been reported close to the Eastern Cape. This tendency might possibly increase as temperatures increase due to climate change.

Intensive research is also being undertaken as far as electrocutions on the power infrastructure is concerned and here it seems as if transformer boxes are the biggest problem. It was found that the jumper cables from these boxes were not insulated in the past and that this caused the majority of the electrocutions of these birds. (The birds use the poles and transformer boxes as perches when they look for prey in the open clearings associated with the power infrastructure). Fortunately representatives of ESKOM reacted positively to these findings and the jumper cables are gradually being insulated. A reduction in electrocutions of these birds has been found due to this. Melissa finally reviewed their planning regarding future interventions as far as the conservation of the species is concerned.

It is evident that a comprehensive description of the talk cannot be given. It will however be posted on You Tube and the link will be forwarded to members. This type of approach to the presentation of talks and the dissemination of results of critical conservation issues hold great promise and will certainly be considered for future applications.

We express our sincere appreciation to Melissa for taking the time out to give this fascinating, well researched and impressive talk to us. The presentation of other talks presented via ZOOM will be considered if the lockdown period continues and members will be informed of it well in advance.
8 April 2020.








Southern Banded Snake Eagle (Dubbelbandslangarend). Its tail shows two white bars (hence the Afrikaans name), which is clearly visible in flight. (Images by Hennie Storm and André Botha). (Above and right).

The Western Banded Snake Eagle (Enkelbandslangarend). Its tail shows a single white bar (hence the Afrikaans name), which is clearly visible in flight. The belly is indistinctly barred compared to the Southern Banded Snake Eagle that has clear barring on the lower chest, belly and thighs. (Images by Hennie Storm and Provided). (Below).

Note that the distribution ranges of these two species do not overlap at all.








JACK VAN ZYL (posted: 2020-09-04 09:12:20)
I saw (and photographed) what looks like a Southern Banded Snake Eagle in my backyard in Montagu in April 2018. In view of the estimate that only 30-40 are left in KZN, it seems unlikely that the bird I saw was a SBSE. Yet, although the photographs are unfortunately not of very good quality, one can see most of the typical features, such as the 2 white bands, yellow beak with dark tip, striped chest. The size also fits. I'd like to get an expert opinion and, if confirmed, it could hopefully contribute to Melissa's information. She, or anybody who is interested can e-mail me and I'll send the photos.