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They Call me Birdman

Hey everyone,

My name is Andre and here in Tofo people call me the “birdman”. If you are wondering why, please let me explain:

Besides my terrestrial research as a tropical ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of Hamburg in Germany, marine life has always been one of my major private interests. Whenever I can I spend my time diving and snorkeling to study tropical reef ecology in various places around the world. For a long time I have been looking for a research objective which allows me to combine my profession with my passion. In that context my idea was to study selected terrestrial fauna in different coastal habitats and combine the results with marine data. The aim of this idea would be to obtain an integrated understanding of species occurrence and interaction, an holistic approach which is crucial to defining conservation priorities.

As taxa of interest I chose birds. This group of animals is recognized as highly valuable bio-indicator to evaluate the condition of natural habitats. Additionally they are also the top predator for many marine species (i.e. fish, crustaceans, Polychaeta). By using the information of the species specific food selection, it will be possible to draw conclusions about the marine species composition and its abundance. This approach can help in identifying areas of high value for biodiversity conservation.

Recently, Underwater Africa invited me to conduct my research in the Tofo region. The area is highly suitable for this kind of research as it inhabits a variety of different coastal habitats in close vicinity. It also offered a change to spend grand time with fellow researchers other conservation enthusiasts. 

It has been great to discuss different research and conservation perspectives and support each other with data collection. It has been great fun to go out into the field with volunteers and experience all the remarkable wonders nature has to offer together.

In Tofo I have been conducting a pilot study during the past weeks. I have been surveying the area for suitable study sites while simultaneously conducting an initial bird species inventory. The study so far covers five different habitat types incl. tidal mudflats, mangrove forest, pelagic open ocean, sand dunes, and nearby freshwater lakes. But since comprehensive ornithological data of this region is scarce my species inventory will include all species identified in the complete region.

Within a few weeks I identified 123 bird species and the number is still steadily increasing.

Among the birds are 10 species of Herons, 17 species of Waders, 4 species of Kingfishers, 4 species of the very colorful Bee Eaters, and two endemic species whose distributional range is restricted to southern Africa. 

One of my most favorite encounters have been with the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus). Just imagine that you are standing on the mudflats of an estuary, watching a beautiful sunset, while a floc of Flamingos lands near you and starts searching for food. 

Another fantastic encounter happened when our group sat at the nearby freshwater lake and an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) suddenly passed by, turned around, hovered above the water, and before we even realize what was happening it darts, claws first, into the water. After a few seconds of being completely under water, the bird emerges from the dive trying to get back into the air with a big fish in its claws. As the fish is fighting for its life, the Osprey manages to rise into the air and takes off with its prey. I loved it. 

So to conclude. You might have figured by now that I am a passionate biologist who loves birds and what I am doing. Therefore I am simply known as the birdman grin

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