Bird of prey rescued at Vergelegen Estate

Staff at Vergelegen, the 316-year-old wine estate in Somerset West, were involved in an unexpected rescue operation recently when a concussed Jackal Buzzard was discovered in the pastures.

The large bird of prey, estimated to be five to seven years old, was spotted by Vergelegen staff, who alerted the environmental project manager, Jacques van Rensburg.

Hank Chalmers, a director of Eagle Encounters, a wildlife rehabilitation and education organisation in Stellenbosch, then collected the Jackal Buzzard for treatment.

“The bird was slightly thin, but nothing was broken,” said Mr Chalmers. “We fed it, checked it could fly, and released it after about two weeks in the vicinity of the farm.

“It’s probably sitting in a tree there now.”

The buzzard is just one of numerous feathered friends of the world-renowned estate, which has won awards not only for its superb wines, but also its pioneering conservation projects.

Vergelegen was the first local wine farm to receive championship status in the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, in recognition of its commitment to conserving the Cape’s biodiversity for future generations.

It is also the site of probably the largest private conservation project in South Africa.

Some 2 000 hectares of land, previously covered in dense alien vegetation, have been restored to their natural habitat.

As alien vegetation uses up to 60% more water than fynbos, its clearing has boosted water flow.

The farm’s environmental treasures now include 80 hectares of rehabilitated wetlands, a popular habitat for numerous bird species such as ducks and herons.

Mr Van Rensburg says the estate has recorded 145 bird species in total, with new discoveries still being added.

Bird lovers have also noted more regular sightings of fynbos-loving species such as Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds.

A team of volunteers has been conducting a monthly count of the birds since 2000, when the estate’s former conservationist, Gerald Wright, introduced bird ringer, Gordon Scholtz to the beautiful property.

Mr Scholtz’s widow, Marilyn, continues to coordinate recording activities on the farm. “We use an App to identify the GPS point where we see a bird, so we can record where they are spotted,” she said.

“Vergelegen has diverse habitats so it is a very rewarding place for us to visit – we see a wide variety of birds,” she said.