Living Coasts’ senior keeper Lois Rowell has gone to spend 6 weeks in South Africa with SANCCOB – the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds – to help with our joint bank cormorant project. Here’s her first blog entry.

Sunday 15th March
I took off from Bristol at 6.05am. It was drizzling. Stopped over at Amsterdam Schiphol at 10.30am, also drizzling. I boarded another flight to Cape Town and arrived in the dark at 10.30pm. Met by Romy Klusner from SANCCOB. We will be working together to rear the bank cormorant chicks which hatch from this project. Woke up Monday morning to guess what, drizzle!

Monday 16th March
Monday was spent settling in to my accommodation, buying supplies and sorting Wi-Fi.

Tuesday 17th March
Tuesday I went in to SANCCOB, was shown around. SANCCOB saves African penguins and other threatened seabirds, covering Africa, the Indian Ocean region, Antarctica and Sub-Antarctic. It also trains environmentalists, runs education programmes and is a leader in seabird disease research.

Met with Nicky and Romy to talk about cormorants, diet options, rearing techniques and equipment. They have purchased a Grumbach incubator which Living Coasts is financing and have human incubators we can use to hatch and brood the chicks. These incubators, which they also use for their penguin chicks, are donated, they are bigger and have very good visibility and excellent temperature and humidity controls, so are well suited for the purpose.

The egg collecting trip is scheduled for Thursday or Friday morning to coincide with the low tides.

I helped out on one of the sections to get to know the place and to keep busy. I was helping by catching up African penguins to give to seated feeders, who fed and medicated them, and also put different ones in a pool for timed swims. These are rescue birds which are being re-habilitated before release so mostly not tame. Some will eat willingly and some need force feeding. They use small sardines. The swims are timed because they need to ensure the birds are waterproof before release. The swims get longer and longer each day and at the end of the process they are sufficiently waterproof to be released. There were birds being boxed for release when I arrived in the morning. The rest of my day was spent with hosing down pens and mats washing dishes.

SANCCOB works with a skeleton staff and many volunteers and interns. The volunteers usually work for three-month periods, starting with cleaning and food prep then animal handling and learning the procedures and paperwork and then supervising other volunteers in a continuous cycle. There are also long-term local volunteers who also train the three-monthers. I finished at about 5.30.

Wednesday 18th March
I worked on another section, catching, checking tags and boxing rescued Hartlaub gulls and swift terns. These were nestlings that had been abandoned all on the same day. The heat had reached 42C that day about a week before I had arrived. The parents had been forced by the heat to abandon the chicks in their rooftop nests and the chicks had started jumping off the roofs to escape the heat. I also did food prep for them, filleting and chopping sardines and feeding them and also cleaning pens.

Thursday 19th March
The egg collection trip has been postponed ‘til Tuesday. We will travel to Robben Island in the morning and wait for the tide to be low enough to collect eggs, then return in the evening.

I had another long meeting with Romy and we got down on paper two diets that we were both happy with (hopefully the cormorants will be, too). She will type them up and we will OK them with everyone concerned.

Friday 20th March
Office work, another chat about diets, still doing a bit of tweaking and Romy is trying to source some smelt. Smelt is a small fish which can be chopped or blended whole, so we can include it in the diet – it’s good for the calcium content.

The weather is very changeable here. There has been no rain since Monday but sometimes it is hot and sunny, then it is very windy. Today it is sunny but cool and windy. It’s autumn here; there is a wind called the Cape Doctor which can be very strong. It has blown a couple of times at night and everything rattles loudly. It’s called the Cape Doctor because people used to say it would blow the disease away. But at least it isn’t drizzling…

Lois Rowell, senior keeper, Living Coasts.

Read Lois’s other diary posts around this trip:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Quotes All the animals are lovely with plenty of space to move about and play. Quotes