As the country’s only dedicated bird conservation NGO, it is important for BirdLife South Africa to keep in touch with the public and inform them about important bird conservation matters.

BirdLife South Africa therefore distributes a free, monthly electronic newsletter to its members and other interested people. The newsletter contains interesting articles about birds, BirdLife South Africa’s work, and other relevant information.

If you would like to receive this attractive and informative e-newsletter, all you need to do is it provide us with your contact details by completing the subscription form.

If you wish to submit an article or if you would like copies of previous issues of the e-newsletter, please contact BirdLife South Africa on email


Birding Big Day 2018 – Registrations Open!


Registration for Birding Big Day 2018 is now open. BBD 2018 will be held on Saturday 24 November 2018. BBD is all about enjoying the wonderful bird diversity we have in South Africa and to raise funds for conservation.


For more information about BBD please visit


The link to the BirdLasser online map: 


We will post regular updates on the Facebook events page: (


For more information about BirdLasser please see or email them at


IBA team meeting


As members of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) team are scattered around South Africa, the annual team meeting is a great platform for getting to know each other better and exchanging and discussing ideas. Last month the IBA team, together with the Advocacy Programme team, held the meeting and breakaway at Kurisa Moya ( in Magoebaskloof.


Team members made presentations on the status of their projects and as a group they talked about various challenges they face and workshopped potential solutions. Such challenges included trying to get better political buy-in for the IBA’s work and influencing policies to help provide incentives for landowners to engage in conservation activities on their properties.


The team is striving to work more effectively across programmes and with conservation NGOs, including in our new partnership with Conservation Outcomes. Its successes since the last meeting were also celebrated: 21 000ha within IBA project sites have been secured as private protected areas and another 31 000ha have been designated conservation areas in the past year.


Team-building was an element of the meeting and there’s no better way to achieve it than by birding, on this occasion in the beautiful indigenous forests of the Wolkberg Forest Belt IBA where forest specials such as Knysna Turaco, Black-fronted Bush-shrike and Olive Woodpecker were seen. The team returned home energised, inspired and ready for another year of working to protect South Africa’s important bird habitats.



African Birdlife magazine


Readers of the September/October issue of African Birdlife will find a sober – and sobering – account by Peter Ryan of the effects of plastic pollution, especially on birds. It’s a subject that Peter has studied for much of his adult life and one that is now firmly in the world conservation spotlight.


Also in this issue are articles on drongo and white-eye identification, the African Fish Eagles of Lake Naivasha and, closer to home, the Swift Terns of the V&A Waterfront, and the kingfisher–mangrove connection – as well as the usual crop of competitions, news, sightings, SABAP2 and more.

Conservation leaders: the next generation


The development of human capital has increasingly become a concern for the conservation community in South Africa. How do we ensure that there are enough well-qualified, suitably experienced and passionate people to continue to carry the flame for biodiversity conservation in this country? This is the question the current leaders of conservation organisations have begun to ask themselves.


Enter the new IUCN Tomorrow’s Leaders Today initiative, which forms part of the response to this question and aims to develop young conservationists and teach them new skills so that they are ready for the rigours of leadership. The IUCN partner organisations were asked to nominate potential candidates and from these a core group of 22 participants was selected. The first and perhaps most important consideration was that this group represented the demographics of South Africa, embodying the transformation which all are hoping for, both in our country and within the environmental sector.


The four-day workshop included sessions where participants were pulled out of their comfort zone and expressed their visions for the future of the environment through acting or dance. Another session focused on the biggest drivers of change for humanity and how these may impact conservation. One particularly interesting session involved the participants asking the workshop leaders what they felt were the toughest challenges facing biodiversity conservation. Transformation of the sector, overcoming conflict and improving collaboration, and how to rise above politics were some of the issues discussed.


The workshop’s loosely structured programme created a ‘safe space’ that allowed us to delve into these hard questions without prejudice or emotion, which a good leader will no doubt be required to do. The cherry on the top was that the young leaders were asked to imagine how this programme should be developed, thereby charting the course for our own development.


It was a privilege to have been given a few days to step away from the duties in which we are all ensconced and to consider the bigger picture for conservation in South Africa. Strangers left the workshop as friends, confident in a bright future for the conservation of our nation’s natural heritage.












Images by Kristi Garland and David Mbuza

Searching for snake eagles


From 23 October to 4 November, Dr Melissa Whitecross, Threatened Species Project Manager for the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme, led a survey team comprising BirdLife South Africa-trained community guide Sphamandla Junior Gabela and volunteer Caroline Howes to the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal in search of Southern Banded Snake Eagles. The survey forms part of BirdLife South Africa’s work to conserve this species, which was uplisted to Critically Endangered in South Africa during the production of The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.


Since the original type specimen was collected near Durban and first described to science by Johan Jakob Kaup in 1850, the Southern Banded Snake Eagle has experienced a large range contraction. Today, the most southerly limit at which the species is regularly seen is the Tugela River mouth, although individuals are occasionally observed south of this location.


Southern Banded Snake Eagles forage in the ecotone between indigenous coastal forest and lowland grasslands. An individual will perch overlooking a patch of coastal grassland and swoop down to catch prey, which may be a snake, lizard or frog, or occasionally a rodent. Once the prey has been caught, the bird retreats into the cover of the dense forest canopy. Since much of the coastal and sand forest along the northern coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal has been transformed into sugar cane fields, plantations and human settlements, ecotones between coastal forest and grasslands have been lost, leading to a decline in the species.


Dr Shane McPherson led the previous Southern Banded Snake Eagle survey for BirdLife South Africa and identified a nest site within one of the natural forest patches that snake their way through the Mtunzini plantation owned by Mondi. This discovery has guided the BirdLife South Africa team to investigate whether plantations can be utilised as a conservation space for raptors, especially the Southern Banded Snake Eagle.


BirdLife South Africa is working to understand whether Southern Banded Snake Eagles are persisting across this landscape of transformed habitats. By partnering with Forestry South Africa, the team is surveying several plantations owned mainly by Sappi, Mondi and SiyaQhubeka to assess the presence and diversity of raptors within the composite of plantation and natural forest along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline. In addition to searching for Southern Banded Snake Eagles, the survey team managed to atlas 22 full protocol cards for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) in several pentads that had received little coverage. A full summary of its atlasing efforts can be read at The team successfully located several Southern Banded Snake Eagles and has learnt a lot about the ecology and history of the area. The survey is planned for a total of three years and Melissa is currently analysing the data collected in order to develop ecological niche models for the Southern Banded Snake Eagle in southern Africa.

BirdLife South Africa has also partnered with Eskom through the Ingula Partnership to understand how to mitigate the threat of electrocution to perching Southern Banded Snake Eagles. Owing to the loss of the ecotone of coastal forest and grassland, many raptors have taken to perching on power-line infrastructure and are at risk of electrocution if the line is not sufficiently insulated. BirdLife South Africa and Eskom are coming up with cost-effective strategies to reduce this electrocution risk within the protected area network of northern KwaZulu-Natal.


A big thank you must go to Sphamandla Junior Gabela, whom we dubbed ‘Mr Eagle-eyes’, for his enthusiasm and dedication during the survey. Junior was trained by BirdLife South Africa through our community guides programme and has a wealth of knowledge about the birds of Zululand. We highly recommend getting in touch with him if you are visiting the Zululand region; his ability to find the special birds of the region is unparalleled.


For more information about Junior, go to



Selçuk Aslan, the Seabird Project Officer (Doğa, BirdLife Turkey), gives the opening address of the observer workshop in Foça, Turkey. Credit: Bronwyn Maree

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter January 2019


Last few 2019 calendars left!


There is still a limited number of Birds of Southern Africa 2019 calendars available at a cost of R145 each, excluding postage. For each month there’s a beautiful, full-page bird image and a block for each day in which you can record family and friends’ birthdays, your appointments and more. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order or for more information (including Postnet to Postnet rates).





Top-flight breakfast


SANParks Honorary Rangers, Pretoria Region, invites you to join us for a birding breakfast with Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa. Come and hear Mark’s observations about our country’s birds and his thoughts on their conservation. All proceeds go to projects identified by SANParks in our national parks. The breakfast will be held at 08h30 on 9 February at the Pretoria Country Club. The cost is R300 per person and includes the talk and breakfast. For more information, contact Almarie van Zyl at



Secretarybirds striding into 2019


Each year, BirdLife South Africa selects one of the more than 850 bird species that occur in this country to bear the title of Bird of the Year. In 2019 the title goes to the Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, one of Africa’s most charismatic birds. Characterised by long and powerful pink legs and a plume of black quill-feathers that flutter behind the grey head, Secretarybirds stride through the grasslands and open savannas of Africa in search of rodents, lizards, birds, amphibians and insects – and the creatures they are best known for hunting, snakes.


Free Bird of the Year materials

As part of the Bird of the Year 2019 initiative, and in collaboration with talented illustrator and environmental educator Chrissie Cloete, BirdLife South Africa will once again produce a collection of exciting and freely downloadable materials designed to be used in the classroom and to raise awareness about Secretarybirds, the challenges they face and the conservation efforts being made to protect them. The materials will take the form of lesson plans, infographics, cartoons and colouring pages and will feature a main character, Strider, who will lead learners on this journey. All materials produced will be freely available via the BirdLife South Africa website at and will be promoted via our social media and online platforms.


Look out for this year’s poster

In conjunction with the educational materials, BirdLife South Africa is producing once again its Bird of the Year poster, which will be distributed in the March/April issue of African Birdlife, our bi-monthly magazine. Also watch out for the Bird of the Year articles, which have been compiled by David Allan and will appear in each of the year’s issues of the magazine. There is much to learn about the Secretarybird and David presents this information clearly and concisely for our readers.



This year’s Bird of the Year pin badges will be on sale at Shop for the Birds! and various BirdLife South Africa events during the year, including the annual African Bird Fair. We will also be selling soft toy replicas of Strider the Secretarybird.


Tracking Secretarybirds in 2019

BirdLife South Africa has partnered with BirdLasser, a user-friendly app that enables birders to capture easily the location, date and time of a Secretarybird sighting. All this information helps our conservation team to understand where South Africa’s Secretarybirds are surviving and where we should focus our efforts to protect them. Breeding information is extremely useful too and can also be submitted via the app. To assist with locating Secretarybirds, please send an e-mail to and he will add you to the challenge. You can follow the progress of this challenge at





Birding Big Day 2018


On Birding Big Day (BBD) 2018 more than 1200 people recorded 646 species and logged nearly 42 000 sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser. And this was achieved despite the very dry and hot conditions that prevailed at the time, although they probably accounted for slightly fewer species being reported than during BBD 2017, when 650 species were logged. Many teams also indicated that they had missed some common species, especially migrants, which turned up late in the season. There was a slight increase in the number of teams and people taking part, and after the event there were numerous postings on social media about the wonderful time everyone had.

This year many teams registered for the first time with SABAP2 in their name, indicating that they would be focusing on collecting data for SABAP2. Some teams even concentrated on only one pentad, with the aim of seeing as many species as possible within it – one team logged more than 200 species! It’s amazing to think that such a small area (roughly 60km2) can host so many species. We hope that this practice will grow in future BBDs.


The 2018 winning team was Zonke iNyoni, comprising Selwyn Rautenbach, Joe Grosel and Henk Nel, who saw 323 species. Team Hamerkop (Ehren and Johan Eksteen, Duncan McKenzie and Lourens Grobler) came in a close second with 320 species – well done to both. Wat-Kyk-Jy and Soaring ISUZUs also passed the 300 mark, while six teams saw more than 250 species.


Two corporate sponsors this year donated R65 000 in total to BirdLife South Africa; we are grateful to Chamberlains and Ocean Breeze for their generous contributions. In addition, numerous donations from individual teams have been received and are still coming in. Thank you for these donations; each one is much appreciated.


BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank BirdLasser ( for its fantastic support. BirdLasser adds a great deal of value to the event and creates a sense of community – BBD would simply not be the same without BirdLasser! It receives some of the funding raised during BBD.


The next Birding Big Day will be held on 30 November 2019 and preliminary details about the event will be sent out early this year.





BirdLife South Africa’s American visitors


Hana Weaver, an employee of the Peregrine Fund who is currently involved in a Sharp-shinned Hawk reintroduction project in Puerto Rico, has been in contact with BirdLife South Africa over the past year in connection with her interest in the Taita Falcon project. The Peregrine Fund is a non-profit organisation specialising in the conservation of birds of prey worldwide, with headquarters in Boise, Idaho, USA. With the prospect of pursuing a PhD degree on South Africa’s Taita Falcon population, Hana invested resources to join our 2018 survey of the species. A long-term study is needed to increase our understanding of its biology and, depending on funding, we hope to welcome Hana back to South Africa in the future.


The 14th annual Taita Falcon breeding survey was conducted in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve area in Mpumalanga from 3 to 9 December 2018 by the BirdLife South Africa Species Guardians, the South African Taita Falcon Survey team under the leadership of Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl. South Africa is currently the only country in the species’ distribution that undertakes annual surveys. The resulting long-term dataset provides a snapshot of the population status of the species in this country. The latest data are currently being analysed and a draft scientific article will be submitted for peer review later this year.


Jackie Dougherty arrived in South Africa early in December 2018, having been selected as the MSc candidate to undertake research on the avian scavenger guild as part of a larger carcass decomposition project led by Dr Haemish Melville at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Entitled ‘Death in the long grass: the ecological implications of carcass decomposition in a southern African grassland’, the project is a multi-faceted approach to discovering what resources a carcass provides in a grassland ecosystem. Studying a typical ungulate carcass and the species that compete for the resources it provides would also help to understand a landscape without vultures present.


Jackie will be registered at the UNISA Florida campus and will be based at Telperion Nature Reserve for the duration of her field research. She completed dual undergraduate degrees in wildlife and fisheries science and physical geography at Penn State University and has extensive research experience, with strong field skills in avian ecology and camera trapping. Her research has focused on corvids, raptors, grouse and songbirds throughout the western United States. We wish Jackie many successful hours in the field during the carcass decomposition project and a happy stay in South Africa.





AEWA meeting in Durban

The African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) is an international conservation treaty between European and African governments that protects migratory waterbird species and their habitats along the important Africa–Eurasia flyway. AEWA was developed under the framework of the UN’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and is administered by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP). The Agreement aims to provide a cohesive and collaborative framework for the 254 listed species and their habitats, which are primarily wetlands and coasts. A Meeting of the Parties (MOP) is held every four years, during which the Contracting Parties discuss progress, set new goals and develop resolutions that will further advance conservation action for waterbirds along the flyway. The seventh such meeting (referred to as MOP7) was hosted by the South African government in Durban in December 2018. The theme for the event was ‘Beyond 2020: shaping flyway conservation for the future’. Four BirdLife South Africa staff members, Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Linda van den Heever, Samantha Ralston-Paton and Andrew de Blocq, attended.


The team was very busy throughout the four-day meeting, hosting or co-hosting no fewer than three side events. The first focused on the White-winged Flufftail and African Penguin conservation collaborations between BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs, with Hanneline and Andrew presenting well-received talks. The announcement of the discovery of the White-winged Flufftail’s call was a particular highlight. Andrew then hosted a side event dedicated to highlighting the importance of AEWA to seabird conservation, notably through the flagship Multi-species Action Plan for Benguela Current Coastal Seabirds, which includes nine species in South Africa, Namibia and Angola. Lastly, Samantha co-hosted and spoke at a side event highlighting various energy issues, including the impacts of renewable resources and mortalities related to energy infrastructure.


Various discussions held on the fringes of the MOP were as productive as the side events. Hanneline and Linda met with local hunting lobby groups about lead pollution, Andrew worked with the South African government and the AEWA Secretariat to influence resolutions relating to seabird conservation, and each member of the BirdLife delegation had the opportunity to speak to national and international journalists about the MOP and the issues facing our waterbirds and seabirds. The theme for the 2019 World Migratory Bird Day was announced as ‘Waterbirds and plastic pollution’ which promises to raise further awareness of this pressing and growing issue. Andrew gave a short interview on this topic, which can be viewed here. The destination for MOP8 in 2022 was announced as Budapest, Hungary.


BirdLife South Africa would like to congratulate the South African government for hosting such a successful MOP7 and for its productive discussions and interventions from the floor during the plenary and working groups. In particular, the announcement that the South African government will be championing the newly adopted Action Plan for Africa as well as the Single-species Action Plan for the White-winged Flufftail and the Multi-species Action Plan for Benguela seabirds was a good sign of its commitment to conservation action. BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank our two volunteers from the Port Natal Bird Club, Lesley Frescura and Arnia van Vuuren, who gave of their time to manage our stand selling merchandise and taking member and newsletter subscriptions. Lastly, the AEWA Secretariat worked tirelessly to make MOP7 a success and we appreciate the ongoing excellent working relationship between it and BirdLife South Africa.





Giving young graduates wings

An internship can be an important step in a graduate student’s career. It is designed to offer a learning experience to someone who has not been exposed to a working environment and a good internship has been proven to help a graduate gain skills, knowledge, experience and exposure to a particular field of work. It gives a young professional an opportunity to figure out the right career for themselves and can help make a candidate more competitive in the job market. For BirdLife South Africa, internships are necessary for additional support and diversity, as well as the new perspectives that young graduates can bring to the workplace.


I joined BirdLife South Africa in March 2018 as an intern in the Birds and Renewable Energy Programme, a position sponsored by Investec Corporate and Institutional Bank, and I report to the programme’s manager, Samantha Ralston-Paton. I am fortunate to have Samantha as my mentor. She has worked hard to improve my knowledge, skills and work ethic through one-on-one training, and I am grateful for her efforts. Managing someone who is not experienced in a field of work is not an easy task, but I think it comes naturally to her.


I have enjoyed working at BirdLife South Africa. During my internship, I had a chance to get a peek into the conservation of birds, both terrestrial and seabirds, and learnt about renewable energy in South Africa. Through that, I’ve become interested in renewable energy and environmental impact assessments (EIAs).


Like every journey, my time at BirdLife South Africa has had its highs and lows. The highs include my first trip to the Sere wind farm on the West Coast and delivering presentations at the Learn About Birds and the Birds and Renewable Energy Forum. The statistics course I attended at UCT, training at SANCCOB to handle seabirds and the one-on-one training I had with Samantha also helped expand my knowledge. In the office, the most interesting times were when I was reviewing EIAs, a process that taught me the importance of the Birds and Renewable Energy Project. The lows of my experience at BirdLife South Africa were the Cape Town traffic in the morning and the long meetings.


The months I spent at BirdLife South Africa were worthwhile. My presence made things easier for Samantha, as we worked as a team. It is sad to leave, but I hope that the internship programme continues to empower more unemployed graduates in South Africa. BirdLife South Africa doesn’t just give wings to conservation; it helps young graduates to flourish too. If I were rich, I’d share my wealth with BirdLife South Africa because I know it’s for a good cause! The thing I will miss most is the amazing people who work for the organisation.





African Birdlife magazine


The first issue of African Birdlife of 2019 makes a whole lot of introductions: to the new Bird of the Year (Secretarybird), to the Korsman Bird Sanctuary, to slackpacking with Cape Vultures and to The Gambia. We hope you enjoy ‘meeting’ these new birds, activities and places, while still getting pleasure from the old favourites, like the rare bird, SABAP2 and Fitzpatrick reports and the regular photo features and competitions.



Speaking to strangers for sustainable energy

Social science and engineering students may not seem like an obvious target audience for BirdLife South Africa, but these bright young minds might just come up with solutions to one of our planet’s more vexing challenges: how to provide everyone with access to electricity, with no cost to the environment.


I recently attended the WindAc-Africa conference, advertised as the ‘academic hour for wind power’. The conference was attended by a mix of national and international participants and there was a strong emphasis on South African students. One of the aims of the event was to broaden knowledge, strengthen networks and inspire students to pursue an academic career in the energy sector. It is quite possible I was the only biologist in the room.


It can be daunting to speak to a room full of people who might not share your love for nature. As I delved into the results of our study, relating details of how wind energy facilities are affecting birds in South Africa, I had to wonder if I was hitting the right note. To be perfectly honest, my fear stemmed partly from the fact that the technical details of many of the presentations before mine went way over my head. I suspect that presenters and audience spoke a different language from mine and that the gap between our respective career interests was cavernous.


But who knows, I might just have sparked an idea, possibly even a light-bulb moment, in one of those enquiring young minds. Perhaps they are already working on a truly green solution to meet our global energy needs. I do know that, more so than ever before, we conservationists need to step out of our comfort zones and explore new realms. It’s a good thing we are normally up for an adventure.





Strider the Secretarybird, illustrated by Chrissie Cloete.

Dave will be running whatever the weather and has experienced several wet days so far. Photo: Madaleen Bierman