White-fronted Bee-eater – range expander extraordinary since SABAP1
In the species account for the White-fronted Bee-eater in SABAP1, Keith Barnes wrote: "Its range may be expanding into the Free State and Northern Cape, where it was historically absent." Well, Keith certainly detected the start of range expansion that has become a major reality. The White-fronted Bee-eater has now been recorded in 153 quarter degree grid cells that it was not recorded in during SABAP1 – these are the BLUE cells on this map (and in another 155 cells the reporting rate is higher in SABAP2 than it was in SABAP1 – these are the GREEN cells). The BLUE grid cells are mainly in the Free State, Northern Cape, North West and KwaZulu-Natal, but also extend to the Eastern Cape (where there is a small, but established, breeding population close to Port Elizabeth), and even into the Western Cape. That is a lot of provinces for a species to expand its range into!
We asked atlaser Etienne Marais to comment on this range-change map: "That is radical!! – I always thought this species had benefited from human activities in the sense that small quarries, sand-mining and even roadside dongas have been providing nest sites in areas where there would otherwise be none! Around Gauteng they are often associated with sand-mines or even rubbish pits that have been dug."
Much of the range expansion is probably fuelled by human activities that have created the large sandbanks which are essential nesting habitat. Where it breeds in erosion gullies (dongas), its range expansion is probably a measure of habitat degradation.
SABAP2 is the most important bird conservation project in southern Africa, because it alone is capable of undertaking the "broad brush" monitoring of all bird species, and detecting both the range expanders and the range contractors. The prerequisite knowledge for effective conservation is an understanding of distribution, and how this is changing.
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