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Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

Aliza Le Roux
University of The Free State – Qwaqwa Campus

Update 1

Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

Our lovely, overgrown campus dam

Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

The Kleinspruit wetland -- a long strip of water in the mountains of Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The Basotho Cultural Village is a nearby tourist attraction.

Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

A well-hidden Song Meter

At the end of a rather dry summer (Nov 2018-Feb 2019), we finally found the time to start playing with our new equipment – four new song meters! As we have extremely high winds in our mountains, I first wanted to test microphone gain settings before going to the wetland itself. For a few days, I therefore hid a song meter near our campus dam, and picked up a lovely array of warblers. To my surprise, I also picked up traffic noise from a fair distance away!

This try-out gave me the confidence to deploy our camera traps in the wetland itself.

A friend and I took an afternoon off and dug poles in the wetland using a soil corer and quite a bit of muscle power! Who knew how solid the clay-rich soil would be!

We put up our song meters in four likely-looking spots in the wetlands and let them roll for about 10 days, on a schedule of 20 minutes on, 40 minutes off, just to see how things might change over time. Sadly, I have not had a chance to look at these data at all, and we’ve been a bit afraid of putting up song meters in winter (fires regularly blast through the grassland).

But, the good news is that I’ve found some collaborators with expertise in Kaleidoscope, and they should be able to help me get over the learning curve when it comes to analysis. The best news is that these collaborators are in Japan. I see sushi in my near future!

Update 2

Our Water is on Fire!

Our data collection for the spring-summer transition in the wetlands in Golden Gate Highlands National Park was going extremely well. Starting in early September, we’ve been placing camera traps at distances of about 250m apart, moving them every two weeks to create a “rolling grid” of song meters that would hopefully describe all the diversity of songs we’d hear in the Kleinspruit wetland. We’d listen to some of the recordings and it’s an absolute smorgasbord of sounds. Delightful!

Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

The lovely layout of our rolling grid of song meters, catching all the sounds of our 2 km stretch of wetland

Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

Picture credit: Joao de Deus Vidal Jr

Wetland Wonders In Qwaqwa

Sturdy song meter, may you RIP

All went well until one weekend when the Park caught fire – big time! It started in the back of the mountain and swept down into the wetland, roaring across the open veld. There was no way for us to get in there and rescue our equipment. We were just hoping that they’d survive the veldfire, like my camera traps (also in the Park) usually did. But reeds, it appears, burns far hotter and longer than grass…

When the smoke cleared, we went into the Park to see if there was anything left. But yes, disaster had struck, and there was only stubble left where the reeds used to grow taller than ourselves. We rescued only charred remnants of our beautiful song meters.

Amazingly, we could retrieve the SD cards out of three of them; it was quite the unusual mission with hammers and screwdrivers. Now, we have 6-8 weeks of spring/summer data, which I’m taking to Japan (!) next week for analysis. I’ve been hunting down cash everywhere to try and source funds for at least a couple of replacements, as we kind of have a brilliant natural experiment going on here; if only we could record the recovery of our bald and burned wetland.

Cross your fingers for us, and watch this (literal) space.

Additional Info

  • Products: Song Meter SM4
  • Research Type: Survey Species Presence and Inventory
  • Species: Birds
  • Field Story Type: Grant Recipient Field Stories