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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

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: October 2018

Conservation leaders: the next generation

IUCN Photo2The 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.

IUCN Photo3Enter 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 Dale Wright


Being birder-friendly

BFEMartinTaylor2BirdLife South Africa aims to promote the enjoyment, conservation, study and understanding of wild birds and their habitats. One way to achieve this is by promoting birding, which is considered to be environmentally friendly since it has very little impact on nature. Birdwatching is a fast-growing hobby practised by people of all ages and is a popular family activity that can be enjoyed anywhere and at any time.

To promote birding in this country, BirdLife South Africa’s Avitourism Division identified the need to offer local and international birders relevant information, particularly about where to go, who to go with and where they could stay. From this initiative the Birder Friendly Establishment programme was launched.

Birder-friendly Establishments and Tour Operators register with BirdLife South Africa after they have met certain criteria. They must:

  • Cater to the specific needs of birders by recognising that they often rise before dawn and by offering flexible meal times or packed meals when requested;
  • Be a responsible tour operator by respecting the environment, offering customised birding holidays and links to birder-friendly lodges and providing information about birds in their area and local bird guides;
  • Support community bird guides involved in BirdLife South Africa’s Guide Training Programme and provide guests with information about where to contact local bird guides; and
  • Support BirdLife South Africa's strategic objective of conserving wild birds and their habitats.

Birder Friendly Establishments are encouraged to create an environment that will attract birds at their lodges, for example by planting indigenous trees that produce nectar and plants that bear fruits or seeds, by providing food for wildlife and by using alternatives to pesticides whenever possible.

Lodge owners can also cater for birders by providing bird lists, binoculars and field guides that can be used around the lodge, and even facilities such as bird hides. They could also consider putting up birdfeeders and bird baths to attract birds to their property.

For an annual subscription of R1280 (South Africa) or R1880 (SADC countries), BirdLife South Africa offers members of the Birder Friendly Programme the following benefits:

  • A listing on the BirdLife South Africa website where clients will be able to book directly with the establishment;
  • Use of the Birder Friendly logo and branding on their marketing material;
  • Information and advice on how to make their enterprise attractive to both birds and birders;
  • Inclusion in self-drive itineraries that will be marketed on the website and in the BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter;
  • Promotion of establishments to bird tour operators;
  • BirdLife South Africa membership;
  • Six issues of African Birdlife magazine.

Please visit our website: for more information about the Birder Friendly programme. You can also contact Natasja Retief at for more information and to enquire how you can register as a Birder Friendly Establishment or Tour Operator.


Solar Photo2Isdell House goes solar

The new rooftop solar installation at BirdLife South Africa’s Isdell House in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, will bring huge benefits to the organisation. The 23 panels will help to cut municipal electricity usage significantly, will pay for themselves in five years and will thereafter generate increasing cost savings each year. We pride ourselves on our indigenous, water-wise garden and this was the logical next step to improve the resource use of our retrofitted building.

Thanks go to Raydian Power Solutions for the sterling job done and for also adding 57 energy-saving lights for the offices as a bonus! Thanks also go to Centrafin for providing the competitive finance deal that made the project a reality.


Birding Big Day 2018

BBD BL Logo Med RGBOne of the highlights on the local birding calendar is BirdLife South Africa’s Birding Big Day (BBD). By doing their best to record as many species as possible within 24 hours, birders in South Africa celebrate the wonderful bird diversity we enjoy. This year, on 24 November, we are again partnering with the mobile app BirdLasser so that we can show the progress of teams live on an interactive map that can be viewed by participants and their supporters at any time during the day. In addition, a dedicated Facebook Events Page has been created to enable participants to post and interact before, during and after the event.

There are two categories in which birders can participate: either the Open Category, where a team – maximum four members – birds within an area of 50km radius; or the Community Category, which is less formal and aimed at large groups, such as bird clubs or schools. For more information, visit the BirdLife South Africa website.


Teams are invited to log their sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser and share them to the dedicated BirdLasser BBD event page. In order to do so, one member of the team must enter the data on BirdLasser while birding. Excitement levels will increase over the course of the day, as the challenge page updates automatically when teams record their sightings. For more information about BirdLasser, visit or e-mail

If you plan to participate in BBD, please register before the event by completing the online form. There is no entry fee, but a minimum donation of R300 is required to qualify for a BirdLife South Africa Birding Big Day 2018 cloth badge.


Monitoring Southern Bald Ibises

ibisThe national project will build on work done previously by Kate Henderson and Robin Colyn and aims to assess the current status of Southern Bald Ibis breeding colonies across South Africa and Lesotho; identify potential unknown or under-surveyed breeding sites; monitor changes in colony size and breeding success over time; determine what proportion of breeding colonies and available habitat fall under formal protection and within Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs); and examine the spatial movement of fledged individuals over their range through tracking.

The project’s current focus is to obtain data on breeding success from a representative number of colonies. Bird clubs in the Southern Bald Ibis’s core distribution area have been identified and contacted with regard to establishing a citizen scientist monitoring programme.

Nest monitoring started at the end of August – the peak egg-laying season is in August and September – and the feedback already received from the volunteer monitors is mostly positive. Six known nests in the vicinity of Van Reenen and Ingula Nature Reserve have also been monitored, with confirmed breeding at all sites.

Anyone willing to assist with this monitoring initiative is asked to contact Carina Coetzer at


Vultures are safe at Tswalu

VSZ Photo2Situated in the far north of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve covers 115 000ha of arid savanna, including vast stretches of the Korannaberg and red dunes blown in from the Kalahari. White-backed Vultures frequently skim over the reserve, not only in search of food, but also to indulge in daily baths at Griffon Pan, while Lappet-faced Vultures use the reserve’s numerous camel thorn trees to build large, bowl-shaped nests in which to raise their young.

VSZ Photo3Dedicated to the conservation of its wildlife, the reserve’s management has committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the vultures visiting the reserve have every opportunity to flourish and perhaps even increase in number. This includes retrofitting all power lines with mitigation measures that will prevent collisions and electrocutions; ensuring that water reservoirs are fitted with mechanisms that will allow floundering birds to escape; protecting and monitoring nest trees during the breeding season; and enforcing the use of lead-free ammunition by all rangers in the reserve.

Linda van den Heever visited Tswalu early in October to meet with management and to assess various aspects of the reserve’s infrastructure. During her time there she was also interviewed by ONEPLANET, a French production company filming a documentary series about the reversal of anthropogenic impacts on natural areas. Tswalu will feature as an example of how anthropogenic impacts can be reversed successfully, and an insert on the declaration of Tswalu as a Vulture Safe Zone will be included.

VSZ Photo4Soon to be declared South Africa’s first Vulture Safe Zone, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve serves as a prime example of how the passionate commitment of landowners can change the prospects of our vulture populations for the better.

We would like to thank Gus van Dyk and his team for their heartfelt hospitality and their dedication to the safety and conservation of vultures.

Images by Linda van den Heever


Sustainable energy needs strong networks

energySome problems are just too large for any individual, group or even country to tackle alone. When it comes to lessening the effects of global climate change, ensuring that everyone has access to clean, green energy and protecting biodiversity, BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project is playing a small part in the achievement of these goals by helping to promote communication among stakeholders in South Africa and beyond.

In October the project hosted its annual Birds and Renewable Energy Forum, which brings together representatives from the renewable energy industry, NGOs, government, academics and consultants to discuss the latest industry trends, lessons learnt and opportunities to help minimise the negative effects renewable energy can have on birds and other biodiversity. We also co-hosted a workshop with the South Africa Bat Assessment Association on the latest tool available to estimate the number of bird and bat fatalities at renewable energy facilities (GenEst).

Soon we will be convening the newly established BirdLife Africa Energy Forum, which seeks to enhance the capacity of the BirdLife Africa Partnership to engage in the energy sector and help address the negative impacts of this sector’s development on birds.

For more information, contact me at


Energy Photo2Mitigating climate change is up to everyone

In the wake of the report issued earlier this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in which scientists recommended that global warming be restricted to below 1.5°C rather than the previously proposed 2°C, BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson asked staff how we could all contribute to achieving this.

Energy Photo3Although it is often not explicit, much of our work already helps to address climate change. Healthy ecosystems, including those whose protection we secure through our Important Bird and Biodiversity Programme, are important for climate change mitigation (keeping carbon in the ground) and for climate change adaptation (protecting people and infrastructure from extreme weather events and flooding). Our Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme helps identify resilient ecological networks, providing space for species to adapt and respond to a changing climate, and our Birds and Renewable Energy Project helps ensure that the generation of renewable energy does not have negative consequences for biodiversity. But we can always do more.

To further the BirdLife South Africa contribution, we have committed to regularly updating, educating and inspiring our members to play their part in helping achieve the ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ that the IPCC states are required to keep warming below 1.5°C. By supporting BirdLife South Africa’s work, you are already making a huge difference. But if you want to do more, watch this space in our next newsletter for tips and advice.


SABAP2 data at work in the Waterberg

Atlas Photo1Collecting data for SABAP2 is a time-consuming (though fun) activity and can be costly too, so atlasers can be forgiven for wanting to know what the data are used for. Michèle and Warwick Tarboton, as the Regional Conservation Group for the Waterberg System IBA, have created a website called Waterberg BioQuest, which contains information about animals, birds and plants of the region. In the section on birds, next to each species is the relevant distribution map. These maps are based on vetted SABAP2 data – data submitted by atlasers.

The website helps to promote the Waterberg as a birding destination and highlights the importance of the area from a biodiversity point of view. We will soon use data from it to determine whether the Waterberg System IBA also qualifies as a Key Biodiversity Area, a new global, unified system for identifying the most important sites for biodiversity.

So there is no doubt that SABAP2 data are extremely important, as shown by the efforts of Michèle and Warwick – just one of many examples of how SABAP2 data are used for the benefit of birds and their conservation.


The last of the National Awareness Workshops

Malay Photo2Having held National Awareness Workshops in fishing countries such as Namibia, Mozambique, the Seychelles, Indonesia and Fiji, the BirdLife South Africa representatives knew only too well that the engagement in each country was different. And Malaysia proved to be no exception. They returned happy to report that the engagement there was very positive and they are optimistic about future collaboration with the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DOFM).

Left: Image by Melissa Whitecross

Malaysia’s tuna longline fleet consists of 19 vessels, only six of which operate in the area south of 25°S where vessels are required to employ two out of three seabird bycatch mitigation measures (according to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s (IOTC) Resolution 12/06). As Malaysia currently does not have a national observer programme, measuring compliance is a challenge. The DOFM was very receptive to an awareness workshop and the BirdLife South Africa team was encouraged to see that it really is committed to improving its practices. However, like similar departments in many other smaller fishing nations, it has limited capacity.

The team was also encouraged to see that nine of the 16 Malaysian participants at the workshop were women. This was the highest female–male ratio noted in any of the National Awareness Workshops and shows that Malaysia is open to reform and equal representation in its governmental departments.

Malay Photo1The workshop had three very positive and potentially exciting outcomes. A frank and open discussion about the need for a national observer programme enabled the BirdLife South Africa team to gain an understanding of the challenges faced by the DOFM, and together the two parties were able to consider potential solutions. One idea is for a professional observer agency to provide a service or offer training once a national programme has been established. The DOFM realises that it is not currently compliant with IOTC resolutions and in a bid to mitigate this it has installed CCTV cameras on three of its longline vessels, one of which operates on the high seas. This decision again indicates that the DOFM is serious about meeting the necessary requirements, and that if offered enough support and assistance, its fleet could soon achieve better compliance.

Right: In September, Ross and Nini travelled to Malaysia to present the final National Awareness Workshop. Image by Nini van der Merwe

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommends that all countries with fishing operations that might impact seabirds should produce and implement a National Plan of Action for Seabirds (NPOA-S). Malaysia has few seabirds in its national waters – and no albatrosses or petrels – and there are no known interactions between seabirds and tuna longline operations. Understandably, many officials considered an NPOA-S to be irrelevant – as it was until Malaysian vessels began operating in waters south of 25°S. The BirdLife South Africa team provided guidance on how to best go about drafting and implementing an NPOA-S. Malaysia Nature Society (MNS), the local BirdLife International partner, attended the workshop and agreed to support the DOFM in the drafting of a plan.

The most exciting outcome of the workshop was that a vessel owner requested that the use of line-weighting be demonstrated on his vessels. This was unexpected, as vessel owners and fishers are notoriously opposed to any mitigation measures that might interfere with their gear configurations. Although an agreement has not yet been signed, BirdLife South Africa and the DOFM are discussing how such a demonstration could be achieved.

The BirdLife South Africa team has learnt many lessons from the National Awareness Workshops, above all that informing about and implementing bycatch mitigation measures is an ongoing process that relies on multiple stakeholders showing up and showing support. All the countries engaged with were receptive to the team’s suggestions, but the practicalities of implementing mitigation measures are the point in the process where uncertainty creeps in and the process comes to a halt. Continued engagement and capacity building are therefore necessary to ensure that best practice is continuously implemented. Also a willingness to take bold steps with countries and assist their fleets to change is a critical step in bringing sustainability to tuna fishing on the high seas. The Common Oceans project has allowed us to make significant inroads and in some cases to achieve meaningful success. However, it’s clear that much work remains to be done to help other fleets to implement best-practice measures to mitigate seabird bycatch.

For more information, contact Nini van der Merwe or Ross Wanless, Seabird Conservation Programme Manager


Junior bird clubs

Ed Photo1Ed Photo2Dr Maria Montessori said, ‘Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.’ This is exactly the platform that our staff have been providing to Country College (Volksrust), The Clay Edu-Centre and the Smiley’s Group (eSizameleni). Every week Kristi Garland and David Nkosi spend valuable time with each group, introducing them to birds and birding and using birds as vehicles to explore environmental issues.

We begin by connecting the head, heart and hand, where learning about birds and their habitats will lead to appreciation and care – and ultimately to taking action to secure habitats and species for future generations. The learners build their skills and knowledge base to create a better understanding of the natural world. Our activities take into account the curriculum and what the children are learning about in class so that, although we are biased towards natural sciences, there are activities that also involve mathematics (data handling of species sightings), social sciences (creating an awareness about birds in local communities) and life skills (social responsibility).

How do we make birds and birding exciting for these children? Do you remember the first time you picked up a pair of binoculars, the thrill as you focused on a small speck in the distance? And then more excitement when, with the help of your field guide, you identified the bird? This is the adventure that 200 learners embark on each week, exploring their school grounds, learning to handle field guides and binoculars, identifying birds and keeping records of all their sightings. Add a touch of competition and you have no problem keeping their interest and increasing their enthusiasm!

Ed Photo3At the end of each term we hold a quiz on what has been covered during the previous three months. Not only do the learners thoroughly enjoy it, but it also enables us, as facilitators, to gauge how much knowledge the youngsters have retained and where we need to focus attention in the term ahead. The Wakkerstroom Bird Club and the Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association have helped us with this work and we are grateful for the support they have given the learners.

The ultimate challenge that the junior bird clubs build up to each year is Birding Big Day. With this event just around the corner, the team is keen to start and has already scouted out the best areas to visit on the day. We aim to improve on the 64 species that we recorded in 2017 during a 15km walk around Wakkerstroom. Watch this space for our results!

Images by Kristi Garland and David Mbuza


BirdLife in Belgium

Belgium Photo3Belgium Photo2Representing BirdLife South Africa, Mark Anderson and Roger Wanless took part in the BirdLife Council for Africa Partnership and the Global Partnership meetings held in Belgium from 24 to 28 September. Of the 120 organisations that make up the BirdLife Partnership, most were also represented. The meetings dealt with a number of important matters, including the development of strategies, the election of Global Council members and the launch of the State of the World’s Birds Report. Ultimately, the goal of the meetings was to ensure that the partnership is better equipped to conserve birds around the globe.

Left: There was a valuable discussion on Key Biodiversity Areas, the new global standard for important biodiversity sites.

Right: The BirdLife Partners in Africa, as well as other invitees, attended the two-day BirdLife Council for Africa Partnership meeting.


The Hawk Conservancy Trust

Hawk Photo1On 11 October BirdLife South Africa welcomed to its headquarters the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s CEO Penny Smout, its chairman Scott Jones and Campbell Murn, who heads up Conservation and Research. The morning’s programme of events gave both organisations a platform to showcase what they do and the current research projects and conservation initiatives they are involved with.

After Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, had welcomed everyone and given an overview of the organisation, Penny gave a synopsis of the history, structure and activities of the Hawk Conservancy Trust. Based near Andover in Hampshire, the trust is a registered charity dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey. Visitors to its premises can enjoy close encounters with various different raptor species and watch breathtaking flight displays, while the knowledgeable staff talk them through the biology and conservation of the individual species. The trust is also home to the UK’s only raptor hospital and its rehabilitation centre has a release rate of patients of about 50%.

Campbell Murn gave a presentation about some the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s research programmes, which include a large number of projects on vultures in southern Africa and Pakistan. He was followed by Hanneline Smit-Robinson, manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme and Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation, who presented an outline of the programme and the wide scope of species it is currently working on. Linda van den Heever, who manages the threatened species project on vultures, was next on the agenda with two presentations: one on her investigations into the impacts of lead on vultures and the second on introducing vulture-safe zones in South Africa, which will provide landscape-level protection for these far-ranging birds.

Hanneline returned to the stage to showcase the Taita Falcon project, explaining how difficult it is to survey these seldom-seen cliff nesters. Melissa Whitecross, threatened species project manager for raptors and large terrestrial birds, delivered three talks: on the movement ecology of juvenile Secretarybirds in southern Africa; on assessing the distribution and demographics of the Southern Banded Snake Eagle within the forestry matrix of northern KwaZulu-Natal; and a synopsis of the Black Harrier Collaboration and the work being done to investigate the potential pathways that are enabling harmful chemicals such as PCB and DDT to reach these apex predators.

Samantha Ralston-Paton, manager of the Birds & Renewable Energy Programme, presented some of the highlights from her world-leading research and implementation of bird-friendly practices within the wind energy industry. To finish off the day, Ernst Retief, data and spatial manager for the Important Birds and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme, illustrated how the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) network will cater for large birds of prey that have a tendency to disperse out of protected areas.

The day was a huge success and opened a dialogue between our two organisations that is sure to continue. Thank you to Penny, Scott and Campbell for taking the time to meet with us and we look forward to future discussions and conservation actions that benefit the world’s birds of prey.

Image by Janine Goosen


BBD at Mopane Bush Lodge

big bird day 2018 FINAL 01Mopane Bush Lodge is a luxury 4-star safari lodge in northern Limpopo Province that offers a relaxing stay with great food and wonderful amenities. It is located in Mapesu Private Game Reserve, a 7200ha property surrounded by unusual sandstone formations, mopane bushveld and abundant wildlife, where the focus is on conserving biodiversity and the reintroduction of endangered species.

The reserve recently launched an unfenced camping area comprising 24 individual sites and three ablution blocks. Tent rentals are optional. For guests who prefer a more pampered experience, the reserve also offers four air-conditioned self-catering units close to the lodge. All the accommodation options offer complimentary Wi-Fi and allow guests to use the pool, bar and restaurant facilities at the lodge.

Situated less than 10km from Mapungubwe National Park, Mopane Bush Lodge makes an ideal base for exploring the park and visiting the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site and Museum, San rock art and the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Big 5 game viewing is excellent, as is birding in the two reserves – with about 430 species in the area, your BBD tally won’t be low!

The lodge is in a low-risk malaria area, so ideal for any age group.

For more information, visit and To book, e-mail or call 015 534 7906/083 633 0795.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: September 2018

IBA team meeting

IBA Photo2As 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.

IBA Photo3The 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.

Above: The IBA and Policy and Advocacy teams birding in the Wolkberg Forest Belt IBA.

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.

Right: The teams talked about the various challenges they face and discussed potential solutions.


Make your mark on Instagram

Insta Photo2Insta Photo3Tag us when you post your photographs of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) or birds on Instagram and they could be chosen to feature on BirdLife South Africa’s Instagram account, giving you additional exposure.

All photographs must be of southern African bird species or one of the 112 IBAs within South Africa. Featured photos will be selected on quality, showing unique bird behaviour or the rarity of the bird.

To submit a photograph, simply tag BirdLife South Africa on Instagram using the hashtag #birdlife_sa. If you are not on Instagram or find it easier, you may also submit your photo via e-mail to

Left: Red-knobbed Coot with chicks. Photo credit: Tom Davies

Right: African Pitta. Photo credit: Anton Kruger

Some photos may even be selected to be used for BirdLife South Africa’s marketing campaigns (photographers will be credited).

We look forward to your contributions!


BBD 2018 – celebrating South Africa’s birds

BBD BL Logo Med RGBBIRDLASSER LOGOThis year Birding Big Day (BBD) will be held on Saturday, 24 November. We are again partnering with the mobile app BirdLasser and will be able to show the progress of teams live on an interactive map that can be viewed by participants and supporters at any time during the day. A dedicated Facebook events page has been created on which participants will be able to post and interact before, during and after the event

Birders can take part in one of two categories: the Open Category, which allows teams of maximum four members to bird within an area of 50km radius; the less formal Community Category, which is for large groups such as a bird clubs or schools. For more information about the categories and rules, visit

Teams are invited to log their sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser and share them to the dedicated BirdLasser Birding Big Day events page. In order to do so, one member of the team must enter the data on the app while birding. During the day the challenge page will update automatically as the teams record their sightings, thus adding to the excitement. For more information about BirdLasser, go to or e-mail

If you would like to take part in BBD 2018, please register before the event by completing the online form. There is no entry fee, but a minimum donation of R300 is required to qualify for a BirdLife South Africa Birding Big Day 2018 cloth badge.


A happy return

The UCT Birding Club is a home for the community of bird lovers at the University of Cape Town, staff and students alike. The club organises day excursions, multi-day trips, talks and lectures, film screenings, volunteer and research opportunities, citizen science involvement and other events such as the ever-popular pub quiz. It has strong ties to the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, considered to be one of the finest institutions of its ilk in the world. As part of its annual celebrations, the club invited me, in my current capacity as a Conservation Project Officer at BirdLife South Africa, to be the keynote speaker at its AGM in the hallowed Niven Library.

UCT Photo2Luckily for my nerves, the ‘Niven’ is familiar territory, as I spent long hours there while studying for my MSc through the ‘Fitz’. In fact, it was during a period of writer’s block in the library that I came up with the idea of founding a university bird club. The pull of being outside and looking for birds was much stronger than my inclination to delve into statistics! I began to wonder who might be up for a jaunt to Strandfontein … Jess, Billi, Dom? The list went cold. I knew there were other students out there who were keen birders, but there was no connection between us. Then it struck me: we need a bird club!

I arranged a meeting with the university’s societies coordinators, who suggested I get a committee together to run the club for a year. If we could show that we were satisfying a need for at least 50 people on campus and were capable of organising successful events, they would accept us onto the official roster. I roped in a few birdy friends, who pulled in a couple more and, just like that, the UCT Birding Club was born.

Left: The UCT Birding Club committee for 2018–2019.

Returning a few years later in a professional capacity was, therefore, a real privilege. I gave a talk about the plight of the African Penguin and what BirdLife South Africa is doing to prevent this iconic species from going extinct. The talk was followed by some lively discussions over popcorn and wine (it is a university society after all) about eating seafood sustainably, the exciting prospect of a new penguin colony at De Hoop (the club had visited the reserve during the year) and the general poor status of seabirds worldwide. Voting for the new committee followed and I was delighted that my good friend Jessleena Suri, the last remaining member of the founding committee, was re-elected as chairperson.

It was very heartening to see that the club has grown in scope and enthusiasm. It even offers merchandise such as bumper stickers, is taking longer trips to places like Agulhas National Park, the Garden Route and Tankwa Karoo, and is keeping a steady membership, which is difficult in a university environment where people come and go.

As far as I can tell from Internet searches and asking around the Youth Africa Birding (YAB) community, the club is currently the only university-based birding club in Africa – quite a feather in its cap! The successes of YAB and the UCT Birding Club show that birding is not a hobby exclusively for older people as is so often perceived; young people also enjoy the marvels of the avian world. As more and more of the global population becomes disconnected from nature, fostering appreciation for the natural environment is crucial for the sake of conservation going forward.

If you know any birding UCT students or staff, encourage them to join the club!


2019 calendars now available

Calen Photo1

Purchase BirdLife South Africa’s stunning new Birds of Southern Africa calendar and each month you’ll enjoy a beautiful full-page bird photograph. The calendar makes a lovely gift for the festive season and we can post it on your behalf locally and internationally.

The cost of each calendar is R145 (excluding postage). As stocks are limited, we recommend you send us your order soon to avoid disappointment. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order or for more information.

Sept 2018 coverAfrican 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.

BirdLife South Africa at the IOC

IOC Photo2IOC Photo3In August, Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Robin Colyn travelled to Vancouver, Canada, where they represented BirdLife South Africa at the 27th International Ornithological Congress (IOC) (#IOCongress2018). Arguably the largest ornithological congress in the world, the IOC was attended this year by more than 2000 delegates, who were given the chance to increase their knowledge and learn the latest about innovations in ornithology and conservation science. Conferences such as this also provide networking opportunities and the prospect of catching up with peers. The South African delegation included colleagues from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, and academic staff and students from the universities of Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal and Stellenbosch. 

Left: Robin Colyn presenting about White-winged Flufftails.

Right: Hanneline and Robin enjoying the sights in Vancouver.

This year the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Waterbird Society (#Waterbirds2018) coincided with the IOC. At both conferences Hanneline presented BirdLife South Africa’s collaborative work on unravelling the genetics of the two populations of White-winged Flufftails (in South Africa and Ethiopia), while Robin demonstrated how he is using remote sensing and ecological niche modelling to guide efforts to protect the White-winged Flufftail in Africa. Recent advances in our knowledge about this species were well received. These meetings presented an opportunity to showcase the results of research, to contribute to global conservation science and ultimately to develop our efforts to save the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail from extinction. 


Are Black Storks still nesting in the KNP?

Stork Photo2Did you know that the Black Storks of southern Africa are a resident subpopulation of the larger migratory European/Asian population that moves into East and Central Africa from November to March? The breeding behaviour of the two populations differs in that the storks in the European population nest in trees in April and May, whereas the resident southern African birds breed on cliffs from late July to September. A small population of Black Storks on the Iberian Peninsula are also cliff nesters and do not migrate south.

Left: Surveying Lanner Gorge was made infinitely easier using our sponsored Zeiss scope.

Right below: The Black Stork survey team 2018 in Makuya Nature Reserve: Cox Maradwa, Fanie du Plessis, Melissa Whitecross, Thetshelesani Ndwmato and Ernst Retief, with Linda van den Heever and Shelly Tshilani Munyai in front.

Stork Photo3Declines in the number and distribution of southern Africa’s Black Storks observed in the past two decades, as shown by the Southern African Bird Atlas projects SABAP1 and SABAP2, are cause for concern. Surveys of historical nest sites in the Waterberg region of Limpopo have yielded no active sites for the past two seasons. It is still unclear what may be driving these declines, but BirdLife South Africa is working to find out and implement conservation actions that will help these secretive storks. After Warwick Tarboton had given BirdLife South Africa the historical location of nest sites in the Luvuvhu Gorge, an area regarded as a stronghold for the species in the 1980s, it was decided that the gorge would be the focus of the Black Stork Project’s attention.

Over the past two years, South African National Parks (SANParks) has granted BirdLife South Africa permission to survey the Luvuvhu River gorge in the northern Kruger National Park. The Luvuvhu forms the park’s western boundary for about 52km in the north between the Punda Maria and Pafuri gates. As it flows eastward out of the Soutpansberg range, the river has cut through sandstone and quartzite to form a steep-sided gorge. In August 2017 the survey team did observe four Black Storks in the area, but could locate no active nests on the gorge’s cliffs. This year it hoped to have better luck when it set off up the N1 highway in early August. The team comprised BirdLife South Africa staff Linda van den Heever, Melissa Whitecross, Fanie du Plessis and Ernst Retief.

Stork Photo4Stork Photo5After collecting SANParks game guard Herman Ntimane at Punda Maria, the team headed for the Pafuri research camp on the South Africa–Mozambique border. For the next few days we surveyed long tracts of the Luvuvhu River, including Lanner Gorge and Mamba Valley near Punda Maria. Once again four birds were seen, but no active nests were found. 

Left: A Black Stork adult stands guard near its nest. The single chick was estimated to be 30–40 days old.

Right: The changes in reporting rates for Black Stork in South Africa between the SABAP1 and SABAP2. The red and orange areas indicate quarter degree squares where, respectively, no or fewer Black Storks were reported.

We bade farewell to Herman and journeyed north to Makuya Nature Reserve, which lies adjacent to Kruger National Park on the other side of the Luvuvhu. With the assistance of local game guard Cox Maradwa and two interns who were staying in the reserve, Thetshelesani Ndwmato and Shelly Tshilani Munyai, we surveyed Luvuvhupoort and the Makanja area. On the final day we went back to check a section of cliff where we’d seen substantial whitewash the day before. As the sun rose over the rocky cliffs, we looked down into the valley and saw a lone Black Stork perched on the white-washed cliff. Then, after repositioning ourselves along the cliff line, we located a second adult in a half-hidden hole. Could this be the nest we had been searching for? We moved further along the cliff line to get a better view. As I zoomed into the image on the back of my camera, I exclaimed in excitement, ‘There’s a chick in that nest!’

After more than 50km of difficult hiking, scrambling and bouldering down the Luvuvhu River, we had at last managed to find an active Black Stork nest. Unfortunately it was the only one.

It is an indescribable privilege to walk in the hidden valleys of the Luvuvhu River gorge in search of breeding Black Storks. Given that the survey team were able to locate only one active nest with a single chick, the overall prospects for this species are of major concern. However, each new survey brings more knowledge and improves BirdLife South Africa’s ability to model which areas in the country are still suitable for these regionally Vulnerable birds.

Thanks go to our sponsors Airports Company South Africa, the Ingula Partnership and Zeiss, as well as the Ford Wildlife Foundation, which provided a hard-working but always reliable bakkie.


Vetting atlas records

SABAP Photo1The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2) is what is called a citizen science project – in other words, it’s a scientific project whose data are submitted by citizens, in this case birders. Any scientist will tell you that if data are to be accepted for scientific analysis, he or she has to be sure that those data used are accurate. The same is true for SABAP2. 

The vetting system linked to SABAP2 is therefore essential, as it filters out inaccurate records and ensures that the data used by scientists and decision makers are accurate. Thus it is important that atlasers diligently complete Out of Range forms and submit them as required. Doing so is just as crucial as the data collection part of the project. 

The work done by Regional Atlasing Committees is of great importance and all the volunteers who sit on these committees are to be thanked for dedicating so much time to the project.

Left: A distribution map for Secretarybird comparing SABAP1 and SABAP2.


Rangers Photo1

Great birding opportunities!

SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region is hosting Kruger National Park Birding Weekends! Bookings are open now for dates between 24 January and 24 February 2019. All proceeds go to conservation projects. For more information, visit or e-mail 

A Tree for the Birds

A Tree For The Birds INVITE 1



BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: August 2018


Mouse Free Marion website launched


Marion Photo2Regular followers of the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page and weekly updates will have noticed mention of the Mouse Free Marion Project over the past few months. The project aims to raise R30-million to help the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to eradicate house mice from Marion Island. Raising such a large amount will be no small feat, but to achieve it we are approaching the task from multiple angles. We are also harbouring no illusions that this will be a quick process. Luckily for us, time is on our side – we have until 2020 to make it happen. Over the coming months, we will be featuring the Mouse Free Marion fundraising campaign on a number of BirdLife South Africa media outlets until we have reached our goal.


Now we are excited to introduce the website as the main channel for fundraising. Donors can ‘sponsor’ a hectare of Marion Island for R1000, or US$90. This amount is roughly what it costs to purchase the toxic bait required to eradicate mice from 1ha of the island. The website has a built-in secure payment system, with options for credit card or EFT payments (within South Africa). Sponsors can receive a section 18A tax certificate for their donation. We are also able to process payments from the United States and Canada and provide tax certificates for these countries. 


All sponsors’ names will be listed on the website and a real-time map of the island will be updated to reflect the total number of hectares sponsored. Each sponsor will be e-mailed a certificate with the GPS coordinates of his or her hectare.


Marion Photo3You can even sponsor a hectare on behalf of a friend. If you like to plan ahead, a ‘hectare of Marion Island’ will make a perfect Christmas gift for the person who has everything!

Help us to help the birds by sponsoring one hectare (or more) at


The website is an information portal for Marion Island and the importance of the restoration project. To keep donors updated on the progress of the campaign, video interviews with key partners will be uploaded as the project grows. A section containing Frequently Asked Questions will also inform visitors to the site about the project and the process.


The blocks on Marion Island available to sponsors.


All funds received through the website will be used for the Marion Island Restoration Project, except for a 2% administration fee. The proceeds will be independently audited and these records will be made available upon request.


For more information about this project, please contact Nini van der Merwe at




Look out for Kate!


Eagle Photo4Eagle Photo3Last year the members of the Country Club Johannesburg enjoyed the privilege of witnessing a pair of Long-crested Eagles nesting on the Woodmead Estate. Then, late in October and a few days before the juvenile was due to fledge, tragedy struck. The female was hunting on the estate when her wing was shattered by an errant golf ball.


After the club had contacted Friends of Free Wildlife, senior animal manager Claudius Sibanda carefully caught the injured bird and took her to the Bryanston Avian, Exotic and Small Animal Clinic (BAESAC). After assessing the injury, a team of four specialist veterinary surgeons led by Dr Jean Davidson of the BAESAC performed a two-and-a-half-hour operation to reconstruct the wing. Eight months of rehabilitation followed, initially under the guidance of Daria Spence at the BAESAC and subsequently at Ben Hoffman’s Raptor Rescue Centre near Pietermaritzburg.


Daria Spence works on the reconstructed wing.

Given the name Kate by club members, the eagle made a full recovery and on 24 June was released back into the wild at the Country Club. We would like to monitor her progress, so news of any sightings of her will be appreciated; she wears a red ‘HO’ tag on her left leg. Please report sightings to Margi Brocklehurst of Friends of Free Wildlife on 082 561 3681, indicating the date, time and location of the sighting.


Right: Kate is almost at the end of her stay at Ben Hoffman’s Raptor Rescue Centre.




Wagtail Conservation Festival 2018


Wagtail Photo2Come and join us in Amanzimtoti on 9 and 10 November for the Wagtail Conservation Festival 2018, a weekend of fun and learning about the local natural environment and its inhabitants. The inaugural Wagtail Conservation Festival was held last year thanks to the efforts of a group of passionate people who came together to create awareness among the communities of Amanzimtoti and Illovo of environmental issues in their region. There were talks on topics that ranged from birds, snakes, insects and plants to the work being done by conservation organisations in KwaZulu-Natal and the nation as a whole. The event was hailed as a major success and in 2018 we intend to build on that achievement.


Amanzimtoti and Illovo lie on the Sapphire Coast, an ecotourism treasure chest, and we want to ensure that visitors and residents alike spend time exploring this wonderful gem that teems with birdlife. This year we have assembled some of South Africa’s leading speakers about nature, including Faansie Peacock, the well-known author and ornithologist; David Allan, another ornithologist, from the Durban Museum; Nick Evans the snake guy; and butterfly expert Steve Woodhall.


The festival will start on the evening of Friday, 9 November with a dinner. The following day the action will begin early and continue until 17h00, with talks and guided walks taking place throughout the day. There will also be various conservation and nature stands, some with products and books; a nature-friendly garden section; and an interactive children’s area with activities and talks.


As well as giving exposure to conservation organisations, the Wagtail Festival is an excellent platform for introducing birding- and nature-focused businesses to the KwaZulu-Natal market. Its advertising has a broad reach and we encourage optics and camera and lens companies, bird guides, tour companies, birding and nature destinations and nature apparel brands to book a stand. The stands are available at a rate that allows cost-effective marketing to be done.


There will also be a limited number of stalls available for food vendors. In keeping with the natural theme, we encourage them to be ‘nature friendly’; single-use plastic straws will not be permitted.


The Wagtail Conservation Festival 2018 is a weekend when we all come together for the greater good of our environment, to educate about the importance of conservation and to partner with people from all walks of life, cultures and backgrounds. All the funds raised over the course of the weekend will be used for the upkeep and improvement of the nature trails at Amanzimtoti Sports Club and Ilanda Wilds.



Friday, 9 November

19h00–21h00 : Wagtail Conservation Dinner with Faansie Peacock. Tickets available from 3 September 2018. Ticket price TBC.

Saturday 10 November

08h00–17h00 : Wagtail Conservation Festival, with a bird walk starting at 06h30 and talks starting at 09h00.


If you would like to book a table or partner in any way, please e-mail or contact Adam on 061 485 3625 or Cathy on 083 767 9471.



Gill Memorial Medal Award 2019


Gill Photo1The Gill Memorial Medal Award is conferred for an outstanding lifetime contribution to ornithology in southern Africa. The inaugural presentation was made to Jack Winterbottom in 1960 and the most recent to Les Underhill in 2017. Between these two august recipients there has been a procession of others no less distinguished: Phillip Clancey, Roy Siegfried, Richard Brooke, Warwick Tarboton, Richard Dean, John Cooper and Adrian Craig, among others. The award is presented at BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meetings.


BirdLife South Africa is inviting nominations for consideration for the 2019 award. Nominations can only be made by members of BirdLife South Africa and should include an appropriate motivation, a short CV for the candidate and a list of the candidate’s relevant achievements (especially his/her publication list). For more information about the procedure and criteria, please go to


Please send your nomination to by Friday, 23 November 2018.


Austin Roberts Memorial Award 2019


Roberts Photo1

BirdLife South Africa’s Austin Roberts Memorial Award has been established to honour people who have made a significant contribution to bird conservation in South Africa. The inaugural award was presented to John Ledger in 2014, followed by David Chamberlain in 2015. The award is presented at BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meetings. 


BirdLife South Africa is calling for nominations for consideration for the 2019 award. Nominations can only be made by members of BirdLife South Africa and should include a detailed motivation and the nominee’s CV. You can find out more about the criteria and procedure for making a nomination at

Please send your nomination to by Friday, 23 November 2018.


AS@S heads into the Indian Ocean


Ocean Photo2The Second Indian Ocean Cruise was undertaken by the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) research vessel SA Agulhas II, which visited Tanzania and the Comoros between 10 June and 8 July 2018. As a volunteer with the Atlas of Seabirds at Sea (AS@S) project, Kate du Toit went along to record data about the seabirds observed en route.


Ocean Photo3

A collaborative project between BirdLife South Africa and the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON), the AS@S is also supported by the DEA’s Oceans and Coasts branch, which makes valuable sea time available to bird observers on its research cruises. Using a standardised protocol, the project collects data about the distributions of seabirds at sea and addresses the gap in our knowledge of where seabirds go when they are not breeding. The birds reliably return to specific islands every year or every second year to breed, but disperse into the open ocean between breeding attempts. GPS or satellite tracking devices have revealed some astounding movements, but such technology can be prohibitively expensive, while the data collected relates only to a single individual.

A flock of Masked Boobies. A soaring Great Frigatebird.


At-sea observations can not only contribute to our knowledge of the distributions of many species, but also help to identify biodiversity hotspots and the optimal locations for Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (Marine IBAs) and marine protected areas (MPAs). All the data collected by the project are open-access and the protocol is robust and globally applicable, so the AS@S database is readily available for any researcher or conservationist wanting to work with it.


Ocean Photo4Kate collected data over 606 transects, each of which lasted 10 minutes. Overall, she counted 1118 birds representing 22 species, the most common of which were Common, Sooty and Swift terns, Brown Noddy, White-chinned Petrel and Masked Booby. Understandably, she enjoyed the trip immensely! In her own words: ‘It is always a privilege to be aboard the SA Agulhas II as a birder. The trip was a fantastic opportunity to put my sea-birding skills to good use and just enjoy the highs of seeing such wonderful species that are found only in the tropics – I even added a few lifers to my list! Travelling among relatively untouched tropical islands that rise from the sea like something from Jurassic Park, watching dozens of Great and Lesser frigatebirds soaring above our heads, and networking with like-minded scientists… Such great memories! All this comes with a great sense of fulfilment in knowing that this data will contribute to seabird conservation. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to go on this research cruise and for being able to follow my passion for seabirds!’


We thank Kate for volunteering her time to the AS@S project, the crew of the SA Agulhas II, and the Oceans and Coasts division of the DEA for making this opportunity available for the project. To learn more about the project, please visit




Tracking African Penguins on Robben Island


Penguin Photo1One of the icons of Cape Town, along with Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront, is the African Penguin. Unfortunately, this species is undergoing a rapid decline and since 2010 has been classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Not many people realise that this species is faring much, much worse than the more renowned rhinos; without urgent intervention, it faces a real threat of extinction. Currently, just fewer than 18 000 pairs remain in South Africa, down from 50 000 in the year 2000 and about one million pairs in the early 1900s.


Penguin Phot03Andrew de Blocq and Reason Nyengera, both of the BirdLife South Africa Seabird Conservation Programme, and Jenni Roberts, whose MSc thesis was co-supervised by members of the programme, recently ventured out to Robben Island to collect data for a project that is examining whether seabirds breeding on islands benefit from fishing exclusion zones around their islands. The work of Dr Lorien Pichegru and Dr Richard Sherley and their colleagues has already revealed that closures can impact penguins positively by decreasing the amount of energy the birds expend while foraging and improving their breeding success and the condition of the chicks. However, data are still being collected so that these impacts can be assessed over multiple years and under different environmental conditions.


Left: Andrew de Blocq tagging an African Penguin; Right: Table Mountain seen from Robben Island.


As the Coastal Seabird Conservation Project Officer, Andrew focuses heavily on the conservation of African Penguins. While Reason is now an Albatross Task Force instructor at BirdLife South Africa and Jenni is doing consulting work, both have extensive experience working with African Penguins, as they did their Masters’ research on the species. And, as anyone who has worked with penguins knows, handling them is not a one-man job! Although African Penguins may appear endearing, cute and cuddly, they are anything but when they feel threatened. A razor-sharp bill paired with two bruising flippers is a tricky arsenal to deal with when you’re trying to fit a tracking device onto the bird! Luckily, all three of us are well trained in methods that protect both the researcher and the penguin, and the latter’s welfare is prioritised throughout the procedure. The penguins at Robben Island were fitted with GPS devices and accelerometers that track their movements and energy expenditure during one trip while fishing for their chicks. Some were also fitted with underwater cameras, which will give us a better understanding of their behaviour at sea, especially while hunting.

Andrew, Reason and Jenni successfully deployed and retrieved devices on four penguins over a short period (and returned with all fingers intact!), boosting the season’s sample size to a larger and more representative total.


It is always a privilege to spend time on Robben Island, which is well known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its long history as a political prison. It also offers some of the best views of Table Mountain! The work that BirdLife South Africa is contributing to will, hopefully, ensure that the African Penguin is around for many generations to come.




Kedar Heritage Lodge

Kedar Photo1


Kedar Heritage Lodge, outside Rustenburg in North West, will host a birding weekend from 14 to 16 September. Join BirdLife South Africa CEO, Mark Anderson, for a weekend of talks and birding walks in the bushveld. To book your place for this exciting weekend, e-mail


Fair Photo1

Save the date!


The African Bird Fair will take place on 8–9 September at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. Come join us for:

  • More than 35 exhibitors on the lawn – bird books, binoculars, cameras, bird feeders and more…
  • Photography workshops – visit to sign up
  • Beginner bird ID course
  • Guided bird and nature walks
  • Owl pellet dissection table
  • Waxi the Hero puppet shows
  • BirdLife South Africa activity area for kids


For more information, please contact Nikki McCartney on 083 636 1060 or


BBD 2018 and raising funds



During Birding Big Day (BBD) 2017 more than R70 000 was raised for BirdLife South Africa’s conservation work through the sale of BBD badges, from donations and by dedicated fund-raising efforts. We hope that BBD 2018 will be able to generate even more funds in support of terrestrial bird conservation.


We are pleased to announce that Chamberlains ( and Ocean Breeze ( have already agreed to sponsor BBD 2018 with a combined total of R65 per species recorded on the day. So if 650 species are seen on 24 November, the donation will amount to about R42 000. We would like to thank Chamberlains and Ocean Breeze for this generous support.


We are, however, looking for more companies and individuals to sponsor BBD 2018. If you own a company or know somebody who owns a company that might like to support BBD 2018, please e-mail We hope to see about 650 bird species, so a sponsorship of R10 per bird equals a donation of R6500 – or even more if we see more species on the day. We will list the company’s name on the BBD website and also on social media posts.


Please consider supporting this exciting initiative – you will be making a valuable contribution to bird conservation. For more information, contact Ernst Retief at


On the road with Ross


Ross Photo2Regular readers of this newsletter will have noticed that this column did a disappearing act for a while. This wasn’t because I haven’t been travelling. On the contrary, it’s because travel, combined with a crazy workload, got the better of me and something – the column – had to give.


There are a few Africa-endemic seabirds that I have not seen. However, I’m fortunate to be overseeing a project that includes significant work in Cape Verde, where the only endemic seabirds in the African Atlantic islands are found. And no, I’m not referring to the recently elevated Cape Verde Storm Petrel Oceanodroma jabe-jabe; that’s an armchair tick from last year. I’m talking about Fea’s/Cape Verde Petrel Pterodroma feae.


Left: Fea’s Petrel breeds in valleys incising the caldera rim of the active volcano on Fogo Island. Homes in the town of Cha das Caldeira within the crater were buried under lava in 2014, but the people have since rebuilt their lives.

Together with Miguel Lecoq, the BirdLife International project manager for our Cape Verde Seabirds project, I attended a Project Steering Committee meeting in the island nation. Afterwards, Miguel wanted to do a site visit to gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities encountered by the teams implementing the project. Our trip started with a visit to Cha das Caldeira, a tiny town in the caldera of the active volcano on the island of Fogo. It’s here, in the steep valleys at the rim of the crater, that Fea’s Petrel (known locally as Gongon) breeds.


Ross Photo3In 2014 almost the entire town was destroyed by a massive lava flow that also decimated its famed vineyards. But islanders are resilient and the people of Cha das Caldeira rebuilt their town and continue to produce wine. They seem phlegmatic about living on the edge, even though in some houses the floors are too hot to walk on barefoot – great in winter, but less so in summer!


Below: BirdLife International’s Miguel Lecoq on his way to the seabird study colony on the islet of Cima.

Ross Photo4We were hosted by Projeto Vito, a small team of highly dedicated conservationists who monitor a number of threatened species, including the Gongon. The timing of the visit, right at the end of the breeding season, was poor, but Herculano (who has a presence and stature that befit a man of that name!) was confident we would still fnd a chick in the nest. So, shortly after arriving at the project’s base, we set off for the ‘valley’. It took an hour of winding our way along a gully of broken scree before we stopped at a very large boulder with tell-tale guano streaks and some grey fluff in evidence – the nest! Having a fluffy petrel chick in the hand perhaps isn’t every birder’s ideal for ticking a species, but for me, as an island biologist, it was close to a spiritual experience. Fortunately I was able to round off ticking the species the following day. Riding in a very small inflatable boat to the tiny, uninhabited island of Cima, we were being battered and soaked by the incessant Cape Verde trade winds when, looking up, we got a brief view of a towering Pterodroma!


Right: A Bulwer’s Petrel in the hand.

Because it’s devoid of predators, Cima is heaving with birds – and consequently a sensational place for seabird biologists. But you’d never guess so from a quick view: a desert island with hardly a scrap of vegetation and no birds to be seen anywhere. They are there though – in burrows. In fact, we couldn’t walk alone on the island, but had to be accompanied by the Projeto Vito team because the burrows are everywhere and will collapse if stepped on. That evening Miguel and I joined the team at the study colony, did the nest checks and waited to see if some of the adult Cape Verde Shearwaters with tracking devices would return. That, of course, meant we also got White-faced and Cape Verde storm petrels, Cape Verde Shearwaters and Bulwer’s Petrels in the hand. It really doesn’t get better than that…



Birding Ecotours


Ecotours Photo1With small groups and superior accommodation, yet at competitive prices, Birding Ecotours offers the best birding tours worldwide. See for example our Uganda birds and primates tours at  – and don’t forget to keep checking the 'on sale' section on the website. Best of all, BirdLife South Africa members qualify for a 5% discount on any tour! Peruse our website or e-mail

Crab Apple

Apple Photo2


Apple Photo1


The perfect spot to relax and watch birds, Crab Apple offers cosy, AA Superior-rated self-catering cottages located at the edge of the Dargle Conservancy. With more than 200 bird species plus the Oatley bird-hide, it’s a birder’s haven! Book now at or

Tswalu Kalahari winner


BIG congratulations go to Jan Boshoff, who is the winner of our Conservation League donor competition. Jan has won a two-night stay for two people at the luxurious Tswalu Kalahari, with flights and meals included. Congratulations Jan; we are sure you will have a wonderful time in the Kalahari!

What’s the difference?


Martial Eagle RR 201303141So you’re going to do some atlasing, but aren’t sure whether to submit a full SABAP2 protocol card or an ad hoc card. Does it matter?


Yes, it certainly does. A full protocol atlas card is one that complies with all the requirements of the SABAP2 protocol. For example, a full protocol card requires that the atlaser birds intensively for two hours in an atlas block and tries to visit as many habitats as possible. An ad hoc card might only contain a few species, as the atlaser has only birded for 30 minutes.


Statisticians tell us that full protocol atlas cards are much more valuable than ad hoc cards. The two-hour period is an indication of the amount of effort spent to compile the list – valuable information that statisticians need. A species list obtained from two hours of birding in a pentad is also more representative of the various species within the pentad than a list submitted after just 30 minutes of birding.


So when atlasing, please try to complete full protocol atlas cards if possible; they are highly valuable and make the biggest contribution to our knowledge of birds and their distributions.


For more information, please visit or e-mail



Learning a new language called R


Stats Photo1Nndwandiyawe Muhali is an intern with the Birds and Renewable Energy programme (which is sponsored by Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking). Through internships, BirdLife South Africa provides graduates with work experience and skills development relevant to their chosen career, giving young professionals a competitive advantage when seeking full-time employment. We believe that this will help to address transformation challenges in the environmental sector.

Nndwandiyawe recently participated in a statistics course hosted by the Centre for Statistics in Ecology, the Environment and Conservation (SEEC) at the University of Cape Town. The course introduced her to statistical modelling and data analysis using R, a computer language for data analysis. Although apprehensive about learning a new programme and not confident in maths, Nndwandiyawe reported that the course was useful and enjoyable. She hopes to study further and mastering R will help her manage and make sense of the data she will generate in her research.


The use of statistical modelling in conservation leads to a far deeper understanding of natural systems, which is the foundation for the sustainable use and management of pressures on biodiversity. The knowledge and skills that Nndwandiyawe acquired from this course benefit not only the Birds and Renewable Energy programme, but BirdLife South Africa as a whole. The new skills will increase her contribution to BirdLife South Africa and also develop sound working practices aligned to the organisation’s goals. Opportunities such as this will also help Nndwandiyawe take her career to the next level.


BirdLife South Africa would like to acknowledge the SEEC for running the course at a highly discounted rate. To find out more about similar courses, visit and

Rangers Photo1International Honorary Rangers Day


At the invitation of SANParks Honorary Rangers, BirdLife South Africa hosted a stall in the Pretoria Botanical Gardens to help celebrate International Honorary Rangers Day on 28 July 2018. It turned out to be a worthwhile event on a beautiful sunny day in late winter, with various interesting activities and talks as well as many exhibitors selling their wares. Our stall drew many people wanting to know more about who we are and what we do. A few new members were signed up and sales of African Black Oystercatcher merchandise were good. Rocky, our very own African Black Oystercatcher, enjoyed the festivities and helped to raise awareness of South Africa’s coastal birds.



Welcome to Wendy


Wendy Photo1The Membership Programme is very pleased to welcome Wendy Dittrich to the team as the Membership Administrator. Originally from KwaZulu-Natal, Wendy has been in Johannesburg for the past few years. She trained as a chef at the International Hotel School and continued her training in hotels in Durban, including the Oyster Box Hotel, Royal Palm Hotel and Tsogo Sun Elangeni. She also spent five years gaining administration experience in various industries, including banking and sector training.

Wendy has always been interested in nature and now, at BirdLife South Africa, has the opportunity to learn more about birds and their habitats. We wish her well in her new position and hope she will be happy at BirdLife South Africa.



Roberts Voëlgids (Tweede Uitgawe)



Book Photo3Book Photo2When Roberts Bird Guide was published in 2016, it became an immediate favourite of many birders. It contains 570 pages, covering almost 1000 species as well as 20 vagrant species that the authors thought may be seen in southern Africa, the area covered by the guide. This guide was six years in the making and five different bird artists were used to upgrade the existing art work and to show a greater range of juvenile and female images.


Nou, twee jaar later, is die Afrikaanse weergawe van die publikasie gepubliseer. Die translasiewerk is gedoen deur Joey Kok, ’n massiewe taak op sy eie. Die sketse, fotos ens is dieselfde as in die Engelse weergawe. Die gids is nou beskikbaar in boekwinkels en aanlyn.


According to one of the authors, Hugh Chittenden, work has already begun on improving the art and upgrading the guide to ensure that it maintains its high standard and remains one of the finest field guides in the world.



BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: July 2018

A holiday addition to the P&A team

Elelwani Photo1Elelwani Makhuvha recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and is now conducting her Honours research in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. She was born and raised in Gunda Village in Limpopo, surrounded by nature and wildlife, and accredits her passion for the environment and her interest in the environmental sciences and geology to her exposure to the natural world during her childhood. She enjoys adventures, reading and spending time outdoors.


Elelwani will be joining the Policy & Advocacy team as its very first vacation work candidate. The programme will run from 2 to 13 July and aims to expose the candidate to the day-to-day workings of a leading conservation NGO. She will also be job shadowing the Policy & Advocacy programme manager, Candice Stevens, and contributing to the team’s research and administration needs. Elelwani looks forward to gaining different skill sets in policy and tax legislation for conservation and being part of an innovative conservation team.



Sowetan schools at the 2018 Flufftail Festival

Soweto Photo2The first day of June saw 449 learners from four schools in Soweto – Lakeview Primary, Sekwati Primary, Molalatladi Primary and Khomanani Primary – arrive at Johannesburg Zoo for the Flufftail Festival. Buses sponsored by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo delivered the children to the festival, where the youngsters were welcomed by Manzi, Rand Water’s Water Wise mascot. With a vibrant mix of song and dance that had all the children (and adults) on their feet, Manzi taught them the five ways to be a ‘Water Wise Warrior’.


The learners were then split into three colour groups and assigned to a team of facilitators from the host organisations (BirdLife South Africa, Water Wise and Johannesburg City Parks). The facilitators guided their groups around the festival, assisting with the different activities and lessons at each station. Each colour group started at one of the three stations and after 45 minutes rotated to the next station.


Soweto Photo3The first station was the Wetlands Station, where eight interactive activities showed learners the services and benefits that wetlands provide for us. In one of the activities, cut-outs of wetland birds were placed on a picture of a wetland, which taught learners about the different birds that live in wetlands and why BirdLife South Africa is working to save the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. The Hippo Station was next, and here learners had to ‘fish’ for objects out of buckets that would teach them about the many threats facing South Africa’s wetlands. If, for example, a fire-lighter was retrieved, the facilitators would teach the group about the dangers of burning wetlands too often because frequent fires reduce vegetation biomass and suitable habitat for wetland animals.


Soweto Photo5The final station was the Puppet Show Station, where groups were treated to a viewing of the ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet show created by Alastair Findlay and Eelco Meyjes of the Rare Finch Conservation Group. Using cute, interactive bird puppets, this fun and captivating show teaches its audiences about the importance of wetland conservation and not to pollute wetlands with plastic or litter. At the end of the morning each learner received a lunch pack and enjoyed a picnic on the Centenary Lawn before boarding the bus home.


A big thank you goes to all the staff involved from each of the partner organisations for making the 2018 edition of the Flufftail Festival full of fun, energy and learning. Let’s hope that a new generation of conservation-minded individuals has been unleashed into the world.


Images courtesy of Grant Pearson



It’s Bird Fair time again!

Fair Photo1The African Bird Fair is an ideal opportunity to add to your knowledge of birds and learn about some of the measures being taken to conserve the continent’s birdlife. The two days are packed with fun-filled activities that range from guided walks and demonstrations to shows and talks. There will be a photography workshop and interactive activities for children. A range of exhibitors will be displaying their wares, including binoculars, camera equipment, bird books, bird feeders and birding destinations. Food and drink stalls will keep up your strength!


Whether you are a seasoned birder or a beginner, there are at least five reasons to visit The African Bird Fair.


Fair Photo2Conservation success

The African Black Oystercatcher, the 2018 Bird of the Year, is a modern-day conservation success story because its population has increased dramatically over the past few decades. In fact, its regional Red List status has been downgraded from Near Threatened in 2000 to Least Concern in 2015. BirdLife South Africa has produced African Black Oystercatcher-themed posters, buffs, T-shirts, pin badges and soft toys, which will be on sale at The African Bird Fair. The children’s activity area will make use of oystercatcher resources, including educational games and pictures to colour in.



The many different habitats of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, from cliff faces and grassland to water, woodland and bushveld, attract a diverse range of birds. A total of 240 bird species has been recorded in the garden – and there is even a resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles nesting on the cliffs of the Witpoortjie Waterfall (and you can purchase a Verreaux’s Eagle pin badge as a memento at the Bird Fair).


Fair Photo3Learn

EcoSolutions will have a ‘pellet dissection table’ with a supply of owl pellets, tweezers, face masks and Petri dishes for visitors to dissect owl pellets, using a skeleton key to identify the bones they find.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group will present ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet shows at the amphitheatre. These performances are all about bird conservation and the importance of preserving wetlands and are fun and informative for kids and adults alike. Guided bird walks to the wetland area of the botanical garden will take place after each show.


Fair Photo4Camaraderie

There are many benefits to be gained from joining a bird club. Beginners are able to learn from expert birders during outings to local birding sites, while clubs provide birding courses from beginner to advanced level. Visit the local bird club stands at The African Bird Fair for information about a bird club in your area.


Birding resources

It would not be nearly as exciting to discover a new bird species for your life-list if you weren’t able to learn more about it. Thankfully, birders will find many superb resources offered by exhibitors, including a wide range of field guides and reference books and birding tours and destinations. There will also be products on display and for sale that make birding at home rewarding, such as specialised bird feeders, nectar feeders, owl and barbet boxes and birdbaths.


For more information about the African Bird Fair, contact Nikki McCartney at 083 636 1060 or



New membership fees

Member Photo1As of 1 July 2018, the annual membership fees are


Ordinary members                          R530

Senior citizens/Students                 R372


Please remember that you are able to renew your membership online at


Should you need assistance, please e-mail Shireen Gould at

blsa135x93banner 2018Christmas in July

Don’t forget that we will be celebrating the southern hemisphere’s festive season at Isdell House (17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Gauteng) on Saturday, 28 July from 10h00 until 14h00 – and we’d love to see you here! Shop For the Birds! will be open and selling second-hand books, and there will be soup and rolls, wors rolls and tea and coffee to keep the chill at bay. 

Your own garden theatre...

Birds can animate your garden and all you have to do is entice them there. Shop For the Birds! has an extensive range of locally produced bird feeders that have been especially designed to make attracting birds easy. And the food in the feeders can make the temptation even sweeter – Suet Bits, Orange- and Strawberry-flavoured Nectar Mix and the wildly popular Nutty Putty are all available at competitive prices.

For more information about availability, prices and other bird-related items, e-mail Deborah Hele at

SABAP2 and BirdLife South Africa

SABAP Photo1There are a number of ways in which BirdLife South Africa makes use of SABAP2 data to improve its conservation efforts. For example, SABAP2 data made a huge contribution when the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas network in South Africa was re-evaluated and a revised directory was published in 2015. In order to conserve birds we need to know where they occur and where best to focus our efforts – and SABAP2 tells us exactly that!


The SABAP2 data were also used extensively to evaluate the threat status of birds for the Red List assessment published in 2015. Each of the maps in the Red Data Book are based on SABAP2 data. Without this information, the assessments in this publication would have been much more difficult to compile.


So, please consider submitting data to SABAP2 when you go birding – we need them to help us conserve our birds!



Avian flu in seabirds

avianfluWe’ve all had ‘the flu’. The disease is synonymous with the sniffles, winter, warm layers, blankets and soup. A simple vaccination helps us humans to beat the virus, but there is currently no cure for avian influenza. In early 2018 an outbreak of the disease in wild seabirds was cause for concern, and a report by the state veterinarian on the progression of the flu until May 2018 was recently released. It is summarised here, with the addition of some pertinent information.


The second half of 2017 was a difficult time for the South African poultry industry. H5N8, a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI; commonly referred to as bird flu or avian flu), was diagnosed in commercial chickens in June. In testament to the strain’s volatility, the poultry industry reported a loss of 70% of commercial layer chickens by October, and two-thirds of all ostrich farms were under quarantine. The outbreak slowed, but by then the disease had spread to other species, with a Helmeted Guineafowl being the first wild bird to test positive. In late December, the first reports of abnormally high rates of tern mortality began to come in, heralding a new wave of birds affected by this virus.


Avian influenza is a viral respiratory disease spread through direct contact with infected birds or contaminated materials. The virus can persist in bird guano and mucous discharges. This strain is harmless to humans, although humans can spread the disease through contact with infected birds. The disease causes birds to become very weak and have flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nasal discharges and headaches. Visual signs of the disease include cloudy eyes, bright green guano and neurotic behaviour such as rocking back and forth, turning in circles and nodding the head.


If you find a live bird showing these symptoms, please report it to SANCCOB in Cape Town or your nearest seabird rehabilitation centre. The disease is transferred through contact, so avoid touching the bird unnecessarily and use disposable gloves or newspaper to transfer the bird to a box for safekeeping. Be sure to call ahead for instructions, as some species such as Swift Terns are not being admitted due to poor rehabilitation success. Dead birds are best removed and incinerated or buried.


Seabird species most affected by this latest outbreak include Swift Terns and Cape Gannets (both with more than 1000 suspected cases as of May 2018), Common Terns, African Penguins and Cape Cormorants (all with more than 100 suspected cases). Other species of gulls, terns, cormorants and even a handful of African Black Oystercatchers have also tested positive, though the numbers of suspected cases are still very low.


The state veterinarian report has stressed that the data presented are limited. It is prohibitively expensive to test every single suspected case and it is likely that there are undiscovered or unreported cases that have not been factored in. The Department of Environmental Affairs is concerned about the outbreak and has instigated measures to try limit its spread and effect. However, as these are wild birds that move many hundreds of kilometres on a regular basis, this is not an easy task. We ask that members of the public are responsible in the way that they share information about avian flu. Unnecessary panic is counterproductive and the outbreak as it stands is not threatening the survival of any species. It is important to remember that disease is also a natural and normal part of life and occasional outbreaks are to be expected.



BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: June 2018

How to trick a penguin

Penguin Photo1Decoys have been used for many years by hunters to lure their prey into range. Now conservationists are turning to these life-like models of birds and other animals to attract seabirds to suitable breeding areas. BirdLife South Africa will be using decoy penguins as a tool to re-establish a penguin colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve on the southern Cape coast.


Most seabirds breed in colonies and don’t feel safe if there are no other birds around. Decoys fool them into thinking that other individuals are already breeding there; some even trick the birds into attempting to feed or form pair bonds with them!


One of the most successful decoy projects was implemented in Maine, USA, when numbers of Common and Arctic terns were decreasing. Wooden decoys and call playback speakers were placed at Eastern Egg Rock in 1978 and within a year tern sightings in the area had doubled. Within four years, Eastern Egg Rock hosted the largest Common Tern colony in Maine. There are also several successful projects involving albatrosses. In combination with the translocation of chicks, decoys have been used to encourage both Short-tailed and Laysan albatrosses to breed at more suitable sites.


Penguin Photo2We have learnt from these projects in our attempt to re-establish a previously short-lived colony of African Penguins at De Hoop Nature Reserve. We will construct a predator-proof fence to protect the penguins from mainland predators and initially use social attraction techniques – decoys and call playback – to entice the penguins to the site. CapeNature is our partner in these efforts and as soon as a management plan for the colony has been completed, work on the ground can start properly.


We have also teamed up with Cape Town artist Roelf Daling to create a number of life-like penguin decoys for the project. ‘I studied photos and live penguins to create a 3D computer model of a penguin. The 3D model is then “sliced” into layers and built out of cardboard, which I cover in clay,’ says Roelf. ‘I use the clay model to make a polyurethane mould, which can be used up to 400 times. I then apply layers of cement that has been reinforced with glass fibre to the mould.’ Once the cement has cured, Roelf paints the ‘penguins’ with an acid etch, which stains the white cement black, ensuring that the colour won’t fade or chip as paint would.


Roelf has completed the first mould of a penguin lying down and is working on one that is standing. He will produce 20 decoys in total, which will be scattered around the site. We look forward to seeing them out at De Hoop, showing their live counterparts where it is safe to breed.

Right: Christina Hagen and Roelf Daling with the clay model used to make the penguin mould. Credit: Ross Wanless


Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation

Ingula Photo1Ingula Nature Reserve proclaimed

BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with Eskom and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust, has been running the Ingula Project since 2003, when Eskom proposed the development of a pumped storage scheme in the high-altitude wetlands at Ingula. As well as being at risk, these wetlands are home to a number of threatened bird species, including the Wattled Crane and, more importantly, the White-winged Flufftail – and that is why BirdLife South Africa got involved. Since 2003 more than 330 species have been seen on site, of which 21 are threatened. Learn more about the Ingula Nature Reserve in a forthcoming issue of African Birdlife magazine!


Carina Coetzer, Ingula Project Manager


Left: A Grey Crowned Crane at sunrise in Ingula Nature Reserve.

Enhancing biodiversity stewardship

Bio Photo1Habitat loss and degradation are among the most pressing threats facing global biodiversity. Increasing the network of protected sites and conservation areas is considered one of the most important mechanisms for conserving biodiversity and improving land management, while at the same time offering a range of potential socio-economic benefits. The declaration of Privately Protected Areas, implemented in South Africa through the biodiversity stewardship initiative, has emerged as a cost-effective tool for expanding this network. It helps state conservation agencies to meet their mandate regarding protected area expansion, while reducing the capacity burden placed on national governments. However, the financial and human capacity required to undertake this work has become increasingly limited in both public and private institutions, making it difficult to maintain the gains already achieved.


The review of the biodiversity stewardship sector was driven by the need to document the challenges currently facing it and determine the opportunities that may help to overcome these challenges. We were fortunate to receive a good spread of responses from across the sector.


A number of common ideas regarding the improvement of collaboration between government and NGOs came out of the review. These were grouped and developed into a logical work flow that can be used by provincial agencies and NGOs that would like to improve their interactions. Establishing provincial biodiversity stewardship reference groups is the first step to improving communication and structuring roles and responsibilities among different partners. A number of recommendations for enhancing the political support for the sector were discussed, as were tools to assist the extension officers and project managers who are at the core of implementing biodiversity stewardship.


Bio Photo2There are a number of opportunities to improve the financial sustainability of biodiversity stewardship. These include establishing large-scale endowment funds and leveraging opportunities with other sectors, such as game ranching or hunting, corporate social investment schemes or mandatory government programmes such as B-BBEE.


Individual landowners and communities remain the most important partners in biodiversity stewardship. Projects to upskill landowners so that they can take the lead in maintaining the environmental integrity of their properties will help to ease the burden for government and NGO conservation agencies. A synopsis of the support mechanisms and benefits available to communities engaging in biodiversity stewardship is included in the report.


Certain recommendations contained in the report are already being explored, or actively implemented by organisations in the sector. There is thus an appetite and capacity to take these recommendations forward to the benefit of the biodiversity stewardship sector. The South African biodiversity stewardship community of practice is rising to the challenge of protecting critical resources, and delivering tangible benefits to society, under increasing environmental pressures and declining biodiversity. It is hoped that this report will further strengthen the conservation outcomes being achieved by this sector.


Dale Wright, Regional Conservation Manager

Our annual staff meeting

BirdLife South Africa conserves birds at not only a national, but also a regional scale, and we are fast becoming leaders in conservation across Africa. Though our head office is in Johannesburg, our staff are spread throughout the country, working on conservation projects in different areas. Despite the wonders of modern communication technology, there is still a need for us to connect face to face in order to continue working together as a team.


Staff Photo3Left: Yvette Noelle kept the staff entertained and engaged with her out-of-the-box skills development programme. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

It is with this in mind that the organisation holds an annual meeting when all the staff gather in one place for a week of intensive discussions and presentations and to recap what was achieved in the past year and strategise for the future. This year the meeting was held in Johannesburg, making use of the beautiful facilities at Isdell House and the hall of St Martin’s in-the-Veld Church, with two days at the Roodevallei conference centre.


Soft skills training was identified at the previous staff meeting as a priority and the brilliant Yvette Nowell from Rand Merchant Bank stepped up to fulfil this role. She is not only a good friend of BirdLife South Africa and a major funder, but also an accomplished facilitator and a genuine comedienne. Along with her colleagues, personal brand guru Helen Nicholson and musical maestro Ralf Schmitt, Yvette taught us valuable lessons in communication, personality management and teamwork – in between having us all in stitches.


Staff Photo7Much of the week was filled with presentations by staff on their work and BirdLife South Africa’s strategy going forward. The talks were all of an impressively high standard and each was followed by a robust, honest and thought-provoking discussion. These discussions provided a valuable opportunity for staff to contribute constructively to each others’ projects, and multiple openings for cross-cutting collaboration were recognised. Every presenter came away with ideas to strengthen their work and make an even greater, positive impact for birds.


A number of staff undertook to lead discussions on broader subjects relating to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation strategy, branding and fundraising. These also proved to be constructive exercises in which all the staff had a say. Key recommendations and actions have been noted and will be taken forward in the near future wherever possible.


Guest presentations were delivered by Stephen Koseff, CEO of Investec; Mark Read, former CEO of WWF; and Jacques du Bruyn, MD of Flume digital marketing agency, which is partnering with BirdLife South Africa on an upcoming ad campaign. The staff also had the opportunity to interact with members of the board at a social evening at Isdell House. Other social activities included the annual staff meeting pub quiz and a birding walk at Roodevallei.


Staff Photo9For me, as one of the newer members of the BirdLife South Africa team, it was incredible to hear how our staff are pioneering conservation action in South Africa and beyond. Among us are some of the global leaders on innovative tools such as Key Biodiversity Areas and biodiversity tax incentives. We are leading the expansion of red-listing through Africa and are integral partners in projects to prevent bird bycatch on the world’s high seas – all in addition to the sterling work undertaken here at home in South Africa to conserve our beloved birds. I left the meeting feeling rejuvenated and eager to continue contributing to the amazing achievements of this relatively small but mightily impactful organisation.


Right: BirdLife South Africa staff enjoyed some fantastic birding at Roodevallei Resort. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

Left: Lucky Ngwenya led a group of keen birders around the Roodevallei Resort. Left to right: Makhudu Masotla, Giselle Murison, Lucky Ngwenya, Nndwa Muhali, Kathleen April-Okoye. Credit: Melissa Whitecross


Andrew de Blocq, Coastal Seabird Conservation Project Officer

Marion Island Take-over

Marion Photo3

Marion Island base. Credit Mario Mairal

My first love as a conservation scientist was remote islands. It was on them that I first came across what to me are the most spectacular birds on the planet, the albatrosses. Joining efforts to conserve them has been one of the most rewarding career moves I have ever made. I cut my teeth on Mexican Pacific islands and then at Gough Island in 2003–2004. Nowadays I seldom get to see an albatross, let alone touch one, so the opportunity of a voyage to Marion Island was a dream come true.


The Prince Edward Islands, of which Marion is the larger, support 28 breeding species of seabirds, including 40% of the global population of the largest flying bird on earth, the Wandering Albatross. Four smaller, but no less spectacular albatross species also breed on the islands, as do a host of petrel and penguin species, including the stunning King Penguin. The islands are also home to three seal species, among them the impressive southern elephant seal. A resident population of orcas is unique in that these killer whales often come to within a few metres of shore, enabling scientists to conduct from Marion Island the only shore-based killer whale research programme on earth.


Marion Photo2

Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Keith Springer, a New Zealand mammal eradication expert, and I departed in early April on Agulhas II as part of the 2018 Marion Relief Voyage – or Take-over as it is more commonly referred to. The mouser team (to distinguish ourselves from the birders and sealers) would be conducting research into the biology of the house mouse and other operational aspects relating to the planned eradication of mice on Marion Island. On board with us were close on 100 people from research teams covering ecology, biology, geology and oceanography. There was also a team conducting cosmology research with a view to capturing radio waves emitted during the first hundred million years of our cosmic history, a phenomenon known as the Cosmic Dawn. We also carried all the supplies, primarily food and fuel, that the overwintering Marion 75 team would require for their 15-month stay. We were completely dependent on what we had with us – anything forgotten meant doing without or, in true South African style, ‘making a plan’.


It takes four to five days to reach Marion Island and we were lucky to have good weather all the way, although a taste of ‘Roaring 40s’ weather would have been fun too. We arrived on one of the most glorious days we were to experience during our stay, with the island showcasing itself in full sunlight. But as the crisp air hit and our breath turned white, we were reminded that we were in deep south latitudes.


Above: Courting Wandering Albatross on Marion Island. Photo by Andrea Angel

On Marion the weather rules all and working with it – or rather, in it – is the only way to get anything done. When 40-knot winds gusting to over 70 knots combine with everything else the elements can throw at you, your only choice is to press on and make the most of it. During the voyage, painstaking planning had gone into coordinating the ‘round island’ schedules and the allocation of the field huts. With eight teams scrambling for the use of the nine huts scattered around the island, it ended up looking like a game of musical chairs, so we couldn’t allow the weather conditions on the day to affect our plans.

Marion Photo4

When we headed out on our allotted round island slot in wonderful weather, we thought we’d hit the jackpot – until we crested Black Hagglet Ridge. Daniela was almost swept off her feet by gale-force winds that soon brought pummelling rain followed by stinging hail. By hour five into our walk we were shouldering step by step into the wind, our gumboots feeling clumsy and my backpack – containing only the bare essentials – getting more waterlogged and weighty with every step. The sight of our hut came as a heavenly relief. After I had replaced my wet clothes with the only change of dry inners I had for the next few days and wrapped my numb hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate, laughter and happiness set in. By candlelight, we shared stories of personal endurance. Later in the evening a radio check-in with base confirmed that all the teams were accounted for. Then silence set in, broken only by the wailing cries emanating from petrel burrows.


Marion Island is a truly amazing place of unique and extraordinary barren beauty lit up in shades of green, with iron-red koppies, black scoria lava flows and impressive rock formations capped by snow-clad mountains. To have witnessed the graceful courtship dance of Wandering Albatrosses or a Grey-headed Albatross gently grooming its chick is a privilege I share with very few.


Right: The team setting off for the field huts. Photo by Andrea Angel

I return only more convinced that the work being spearheaded by BirdLife South Africa, the University of Cape Town and the Department of Environmental Affairs is one of the most important projects yet to be carried out on Marion. Ridding the island of invasive house mice and thereby making a huge stride towards restoring its unique ecology is the only hope the millions of seabirds have for survival on this speck of South African soil in the middle of the Southern Ocean.


If you want to know more about the work we are doing, follow us on Instagram @marionisland or Facebook MouseFreeMarion


Andrea Angel, Albatross Task Force Leader

A ride on the wild side for birds

Bike Photo2BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with ZEISS and Maseke Mountain Biking, invites you to join us for a once-in-a-lifetime bushveld experience with renowned cycle race commentator Phil Liggett.


A mountain bike wilderness trail is a one-of-a-kind safari experience for adventurers and nature lovers who are looking for an experience like no other. Spend three days cycling through the Big 5 country of beautiful Maseke Game Reserve in the company of Phil Liggett, who will recount anecdotes from the Tour de France. Rides will be led by professional armed guides, who will share their knowledge of the spectacular area, wildlife and birds as you ride each day. All proceeds raised through this event will go to protecting important bird habitat.


Date: Friday 9 to Monday 12 November 2018 (3 nights)

Place: Ndzuti Safari Camp, Maseke Game Reserve (Hoedspruit)

Cost: R15 000 per person sharing: includes of accommodation, food, drinks & guided activities; excludes travel to the Maseke Game Reserve


For more information about the event or to book, e-mail


Be sure to reference the BirdLife South Africa event.


Romy Antrobus-Wuth, Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme

Register now for BBD 2018!

BBD Photo1Birding Big Day is all about enjoying the wonderful bird diversity we have in South Africa while raising funds for conservation. Whether you’re an old hand or a first-timer, don’t delay in registering your team for the 2018 event – registration is now open! And don’t forget to diarise the Big Day: Saturday, 24 November.


For more information, go to

To access the BirdLasser online map, go to 

For more information about BirdLasser, go to or email

We will post regular updates on the Facebook events page at


Ernst Retief, Regional Conservation Manager

Biodiversity Stewardship in Eastern Free State

Wilge Photo1The Eastern Free State is a magical place of rolling hills, never-ending grassland, beautiful wetlands and high rainfall. This makes it highly desirable real estate and the grasslands are under severe threat of development. With about 23 threatened grassland bird species and only one national park, it may appear futile to try to protect these species, as well as all the other threatened wildlife here. But there are ways to achieve this goal and one of the most promising is biodiversity stewardship, whereby farmers agree to manage their land sustainably with the aim of getting it proclaimed a Protected Environment. Thus not only will optimal habitat for threatened biodiversity be assured, but grazing potential for livestock will be increased.


The Wilge biodiversity stewardship area is situated between Harrismith, Van Reenen and Verkykerskop, with the escarpment forming one border. Conversations with the relevant landowners have been ongoing for more than a year and those who are interested will be involved in Phase 1 of the project, starting in July. As the area is not far from the Sneeuberge Protected Environment, once the project is completed it will contribute immeasurably to the formal protection of the valuable grasslands of the Eastern Free State.


Left: Nelsonskop, one of the prominent features of the Wilge Stewardship area, as seen from Ingula Nature Reserve.


Carina Coetzer, Ingula Project Manager

xmas photoChristmas in July

Next month we’ll be celebrating the southern hemisphere festive season at Isdell House (17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Gauteng) on Saturday, 28 July from 10h00 until 14h00, so come and join us for our annual Christmas in July. Shop For the Birds! will be open and selling second-hand books, and there will be soup and rolls, wors rolls and tea and coffee to keep the chill at bay.


BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: May 2018

Mouse-free Marion Island

Marion Photo1The SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region’s committee developed, promoted, secured prizes for and ran a raffle to raise money for our Marion Island mouse eradication work, which the Department of Environmental Affairs is implementing with the support of BirdLife South Africa. The amount raised was R32 250.

Entries for the raffle were sold during the Honorary Rangers’ 2018 birding event and on 6 April the draw was made at Isdell House by Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson. Hanneline demonstrated the Terrestrial Conservation Programme’s support for the Marion project by offering the third prize for the raffle. The winning numbers were generated using RANDOM.ORG, an Internet true random number generator. Congratulations to all concerned!

FIRST PRIZE: An EcoTraining ‘EcoQuest’ Course for one guest, valued at R9150. Winner: Alan and Merial Fridberg, Punda Maria 3, WRHR camp leader Geoff Lautenbach.

SECOND PRIZE: A 2019 West Rand KNP birding weekend for two guests, valued at about R6000. Winner: Terri Brooks, Crocodile Bridge 1, WRHR camp leader Snowy Botha.

THIRD PRIZE: A weekend of grassland birding for two at Wakkerstroom with a BirdLife South Africa-accredited guide, valued at about R1900. Winner: Julia Blain, Satara 1, WRHR camp leader Dave Ashby.


Great birding events

The SANParks Honorary Rangers have planned some great events for birders in the coming months. Taking place around the country, the events will raise money for important conservation projects. They all include walks or drives with fantastic birding experts.

Mapungubwe National Park, 19–22 July

Hosted by the Limpopo Region Honorary Rangers. Mapungubwe is famous for its diversity of tropical birds, such as Meves’s Starling, Senegal Coucal, Three-banded Courser and Tropical Boubou, all of which extend only marginally into South Africa.

View Flyer

Letaba Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, 27–30 September

Hosted by the Limpopo Region Honorary Rangers. A raptor weekend with raptorphile and birding expert, Joe Grosel.

View Flyer

Karoo National Park, 19–21 October

Hosted by the Karoo Region Honorary Rangers. Participants in the Big Birding Bash will be on the lookout for the many Karoo endemics that occur in the park, such as Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Long-billed Lark and Namaqua Warbler, as well as a good diversity of raptors.

View Flyer

Ndumo Game Reserve, 26–29 October

Hosted by the Johannesburg Region Honorary Rangers. Ndumo is home to nearly 500 species, including many of the sand forest endemics such as Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis and Pink-throated Twinspot, as well as other specials like Rosy-throated Longclaw and Pel’s Fishing Owl.

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For prices and contact details, see the relevant flyer.

Bird of the Year 2018

This year’s Bird of the Year is the African Black Oystercatcher, a species that breeds only on the shores of South Africa and Namibia. This striking, jet-black bird with a neon-orange bill and reddish legs is a great iconic species to highlight not only the plight of coastal birds in general, but also the incredible conservation action being taken to ensure its survival.

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The first in the Oyksy Daisy series, our Bird of the Year 2018 comic strip.

The African Black Oystercatcher is found along the coasts of Angola, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. Belying its name, it does not in fact eat oysters, but subsists on mussels, limpets, polychaete worms, whelks and crustaceans that cling to rocks at low tide. When it comes to breeding, oystercatchers are dedicated mates and parents. They are monogamous, remaining in pairs for up to 20 years, and cement their pair bonds with butterfly-like flights – slow, with deep wing-beats. During breeding they incubate their one or two eggs for four to five weeks and care for their chicks for another five to six weeks before the youngsters fledge.

African Black Oystercatchers live a perilous existence. They are long-lived and slow breeders, which puts them at greater risk of extinction. In the 1980s, the IUCN uplisted the African Black Oystercatcher to Near Threatened because it had declined rapidly as a result of uncontrolled coastal development, introduced alien predators in island breeding colonies and high levels of human disturbance on breeding beaches. Luckily, many conservation efforts, such as increased community education, bans on recreational vehicles on beaches and more marine protected areas, along with the spread of the alien Mediterranean mussel (an important food source), led to an increase in African Black Oystercatcher numbers. So successful has been the rebound that the species was recently downlisted to Least Concern.

BOY Photo3The African Black Oystercatcher is a great ambassador for many other coastal bird species, such as Sanderling, White-fronted Plover, Damara Tern and Kelp Gull. The #ShareTheShores initiative, led by Nature’s Valley Trust with support from BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife Plettenberg Bay, has adopted the African Black Oystercatcher and the White-fronted Plover as mascots. This important programme has focused on increased monitoring of the oystercatchers on local beaches, the rezoning of beaches to avoid disturbance by dogs and humans during the breeding season, and public education and engagement.

Left: An African Black Oystercatcher surveys its surroundings on Malgas Island. Photo: Melissa Whitecross

BOY Photo4To learn more about the African Black Oystercatcher, visit BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year page for fact sheets, lesson plans, colouring pages and games. And if you’re looking for some great oystercatcher gear, including T-shirts, pin badges and Rocky the Oystercatcher soft toys, visit Shop For the Birds! at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, or e-mail Bianca at for more information.


Right: Rocky the Oystercatcher visiting Bloubergstrand this summer. Photo: Melissa Whitecross


Angola’s specials

Book Photo1Hot off the press! The Special Birds of Angola by Michael Mills is now in stock at Shop For the Birds! At a price of R200, this brand-new book can be purchased at BirdLife South Africa’s shop at 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. Alternatively, you can arrange to have it posted to you by e-mailing Bianca at Don’t miss out on this great addition to your bird book collection.

BirdLife Overberg’s CleanMarine Project

Marine Photo2Members of BirdLife Overberg decided to prioritise the club’s future fund-raising and conservation efforts and in September 2017 presented a workshop in collaboration with the Nature’s Valley Trust. Many of the region’s role-players discussed the work they were doing and Dr Mark Brown conducted a brainstorming session. It was decided to focus conservation efforts on the Overstrand region’s coastline and estuaries with a campaign called CleanMarine. It consists of six distinct projects, which are to be conducted as case studies and reported on to the Western Cape Birding Forum with a view to other clubs possibly implementing similar actions.

Right: An African Black Oystercatcher attempts to feed a mussel to a chick. Photo: Jenny Parsens

The first project seeks to support the breeding success of African Black Oystercatchers and White-fronted Plovers along the Cape Whale Coast. Key breeding sites had been identified during the previous summer and educational campaigns will be launched at these sites and others to be identified next summer. These campaigns will largely be based on posters, brochures and media releases developed by the Nature’s Valley Trust. From a pool of club members and volunteers, ‘oystercatcher champions’ will be identified to monitor progress at specific spots so that nest sites and the chick-rearing efforts of the adults can be protected. A zoning system for dogs on beaches is being negotiated with the Overstrand municipality, but will only be implemented during the summer of 2019–2020.

Marine Photo3The second project intends to conduct more regular coordinated waterbird counts, known as CWACs, along the Klein, Uilenkraal and Bot River estuaries and the Vermont salt pan. Discussions are under way with members of several organisations to participate in the counts. These counts will support the work of Dr Giselle Murison of BirdLife South Africa and Pierre de Villiers of CapeNature, which aims to develop sustainable management guidelines for these estuaries.

Right: Fishing line bins provided by Plastics SA. Photo: Anton Odendal

Three projects form the basis of what has been dubbed the ‘CleanMarine war on coastal pollution’. In one, efforts are being made to rid beaches and inshore waters of discarded fishing line, and bins are being set up at key sites along the coastline for the collection of this litter. Important partners in this endeavour include the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT), the Coastal Clean-up Conservation Trust, the Overstrand municipality and CapeNature. The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) division of BirdLife South Africa and Plastics SA are thanked for their financial support. A separate campaign to address the problem of cigarette butt pollution is also being negotiated with regional agencies.

Marine Photo4Seven monthly coastal clean-ups, managed by Elaine Odendal and Helé Oosthuizen, have already been undertaken. The content of the litter is analysed and the results are forwarded to Plastics SA and the Oceans Conservancy. The bags collected are deposited at the local recycling plant. A monthly ‘Oystercatcher Hero Award’ honours individuals or agencies that contribute to our war against marine pollution. Previous recipients include the Recycle Swop Shop and the Onrus Litter Ladies. Young children from the Recycle Swop Shop participate in these clean-ups regularly, giving the project a distinct educational slant.

Left: Refreshments for young Recycle Swop Shop clean-up participants were provided by BirdLife Overberg members. Photo: Anton Odendal

Several educational campaigns are being undertaken, with BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year resources on the African Black Oystercatcher forming the central theme of our efforts during 2018. The resources, together with the club’s brochures identifying common coastal birds, are being supplied to most schools in the region. This is done with our partners at Whale Coast Conservation and the DICT.

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Fundraising efforts to support and sustain these projects are ongoing and any ideas and suggestions for future efforts will be appreciated.

Regular progress reports can be viewed at Like the project’s Facebook page at to receive ongoing feedback on developments.


Left: Death of a cormorant: the result of entanglement in discarded fishing line. Photo: Anton Odendal

Bramleigh Manor

Bramleigh Photo2Tucked away on a secluded hillside, Bramleigh Manor provides a quiet country getaway where there is no cell phone signal or television (although guests have access to high-speed Wi-Fi). More than 50 hectares of pristine indigenous forest are home to over 200 bird species.

Birdsong is the soundtrack to life at Bramleigh Manor, from the territorial call of the Knysna Turaco by day to the night-time laughter of the African Wood Owl. Narina Trogons, African Emerald Cuckoos, hornbills, cranes and many more species all contribute to the soundscape in this idyllic setting. Enjoy a soul-restoring walk below giant yellowwood trees in the forest, with abundant birdlife, calming streams and shy samango monkeys swinging above. Alternatively, follow a hot, dry grassland trail to get panoramic views of the Drakensberg. Or simply curl up with a book next to the fire or relax on the patio and allow yourself to be soothed by nature as you soak up the fresh country air.

Bramleigh Photo7Our accommodation supports sustainable tourism without minimising comfort. Appliances, including electric blankets, and energy-efficient lighting are powered by the sun, while wood-burning stoves, fed on sustainably harvested alien logs, efficiently heat the rooms. Water is supplied from a forest stream, filtered and ready to drink straight from the tap. Natural cleaning products provide a fresh fragrance. Picnic breakfasts and light dinners are available on request, enabling you to sample farm-fresh organic produce and eggs.

Visit for more information and the bird list.


Fun at the Flufftail Festival

Fluff Photo2This year the annual Flufftail Festival took place on 21 April. BirdLife South Africa partnered with Rand Water’s Water Wise Team, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Rare Finch Conservation Group and HDI Youth Marketeers to put together an exciting day aimed at engaging young and old about the importance of wetland and waterbird conservation.

Families arriving at Johannesburg Zoo were welcomed by HDI activators and the very talented ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppeteers. They were each given a flier with a guide to the three Flufftail Festival stations and sent on their journey around the zoo. The Wetlands Station was positioned on the Centenary Lawns and manned by the Water Wise team. Families learned about what wetlands do for us and how they assist in cleaning water, preventing floods and providing a space for animals and specialised water-adapted vegetation.

Fluff Photo3The Hippo Station, manned by the Johannesburg City Parks team, taught visitors about the threats to wetlands, such as mining, pollutants from rubbish and overgrazing by cattle. The final station was the Flamingo Station, which was manned by the BirdLife South Africa team. Here participants found out about the different kinds of birds that live in the wetlands of South Africa, with particular focus on the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail, the bird the festival takes its name from. Other activities at the Flamingo Station included a word search for wetland birds and a ‘can you place where in the wetland this bird belongs?’ game.

Right: BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson engages visitors about the different types of wetland birds found in South Africa. Photo: Toni Geddes

Once participants had visited all three stations and received their stamps for engaging with the teams, they could return to the main entrance and draw to see if their entry had won a prize. The prizes ranged from BirdLife South Africa buffs to Water Wise water bottles and free entry vouchers to Johannesburg Zoo. The grand prize was a trip for four to Soweto with Bay of Grace Tours and BirdLife South Africa-trained guide Raymond Rampholokeng.

The Flufftail Festival Team will be hosting 600 learners from Soweto at the zoo for another fun-filled day of learning about wetlands and waterbirds. Well done to the team and thank you to all the partners involved.


Fish in mind, bird in heart

Fish Photo2The threats behind the dire conservation status of albatrosses and petrels need no introduction to readers of this newsletter. At the forefront of these perils is the fishing industry, through the unintentional bycatch of seabirds. Birds become entangled in the fishing gear (nets, hooks or cables) while foraging behind fishing vessels and this usually ends badly for them. The Albatross Task Force (ATF) has been focusing on implementing solutions to reduce bycatch by building relationships with fishermen, talking to them during port visits and working with them on board while they are fishing.

Left: Fishermen at work, setting the lines in the early hours of the morning.

In mid-April, my colleague Reason Nyengera dropped me off at Hout Bay harbour to board Boloko-1, the vessel I was to call home for the week ahead. She was still being loaded with supplies when we arrived. We made the formal introductions and I was shown to the spot where I would be sleeping while at sea. This was no five-star accommodation; the cabins are small and cluttered with bunk beds, designed to give you rest, not comfort.

Fish Photo3After dropping my bag in the cabin, Reason and I helped with the loading of the vessel. I was itching to get out to sea and was prepared to do all I could to speed up our departure! We finally set sail at 14h00 and the crew began to prepare the fishing gear. My first job was to find a suitable attachment point for the bird-scaring line (BSL). The purpose of the BSL is simple: to scare the birds away from the hooks, like a scarecrow in a vegetable garden. The attachment pole should allow for greatest aerial coverage without interfering with fishing operations.

Right: Wilson’s Storm Petrels released after recovery. Two birds in the hand are worth one in the bush – or ocean?

I made small talk with the crew as we steamed to the fishing grounds on the Agulhas Bank. Every man aboard was briefed on the necessary safety-at-sea protocols and precautions. After the safety briefing and fire drill, I was given a chance to address the crew to inform them of my presence on the vessel, the importance of our seabirds and the mission to save them, and how they as fishermen can contribute to the cause.

Fish Photo4The next day we woke up at 02h00 to set the fishing lines. This was to become a ritual for the remainder of the trip. We set two lines a night, each line taking no less than 50 minutes to set, and once deployed they stretched for about seven nautical miles (roughly 12 kilometres). The line was set at night with a BSL streaming behind the vessel to deter birds from the fishing line until we finished setting, which was usually by about 05h00. Then we had time for a quick meal before going to sleep again.

Bird activity peaks at dawn and dusk, with occasional foraging throughout the day. Most birds, including all albatrosses, don’t forage much in darkness, so by setting at night we can greatly reduce bycatch. These two mitigation methods (night setting and the use of BSLs) applied together have proven successful in reducing seabird bycatch, except during the full moon, when the nights are brighter and the birds can see well.

Left: A silhouette of a White-chinned Petrel foraging at dawn.

My next morning shift began at 07h00 to do an AS@S (Atlas of Seabirds at Sea) survey before the first line was hauled. Hauling usually started at about 09h00. During this time I observed the line and bird activity around the hauling area and at the side of the vessel where bait, offal and non-target fish were discarded and the birds tended to congregate, hoping for a quick meal. This was a good opportunity to observe species’ interactions while foraging, as well as the seabirds’ interaction with the vessel. It was also a great chance to take close-up photographs of birds that are usually seen only on the wing.

Fish Photo5By 13h00 the first line had been hauled aboard. We would break for lunch and I would conduct another bird survey. The second line was hauled from 14h00 until 19h00. After that the crew finished packing the fish, usually completing this task by about 21h00. Then they started preparing the lines for the next shoot at 02h00. Clearly, there are not many who can match the fishermen’s work ethic!

Right: A mother and calf were among a pod of six orcas that hung around the vessel for two days.

Being at sea is always one of my most challenging weeks in terms of working hours and the constant battle to keep my balance. If you like extreme sports, try taking a shower on a rocking boat! But these are also the weeks I enjoy most. The pleasure of field work and being in direct contact with nature is always fulfilling. We had a pod of killer whales hanging around the vessel for two days and then, towards the end of our trip, a series of storms. The weather was so rough that at one point a few Wilson’s Storm Petrels were blown onto the vessel (I was able to release them safely). With everything flying everywhere and people falling out of their bunks, it was difficult to continue fishing, so the skipper decided to halt fishing operations and sail back to port.

I am now back in the office trying to pull off the same hours of work at my desk, punching data, writing up reports and reminiscing about my time at sea. While there are always challenges to be faced, it is gratifying to know that the work we do is of great importance for conservation. The future of 0% bycatch for albatrosses and petrels is not far off – just minor glitches to be addressed and we will be on our way.



African Birdlife

The contents of the latest issue of African Birdlife are as diverse as South Africa’s birds: a thrilling account of the discovery of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers in Mozambique; a brief history of the Cape Bird Club; a trip to Madagascar to view its endemics; a lesson on seeing miombo birds that are doing their best not to be seen; a survey of the latest technology that enables us to track birds better than ever before – and that’s just for starters…


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BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: April 2018

Flock on the West Coast

Flock Photo2As we watched the sun set over the smooth waters of the Atlantic Ocean at the final dinner of Flock 2018, we could reflect on another successful year under the BirdLife South Africa belt. ‘Flockees’ had arrived at the Greek-inspired Club Mykonos in Langebaan on 6 March and had been treated to a host of excursions that ranged from boat trips out into Saldanha Bay to visits to the West Coast National Park and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area. The local celebrities (a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Broad-billed Sandpiper, both rarities in the subregion) kept delegates on their toes at the Geelbek hide throughout the week.

An ice-breaker quiz night was hosted on 7 March with in-house quiz masters Dr Taryn Morris and Andrew de Blocq (both members of the Seabird Team at BirdLife South Africa) doing a stellar job to test even the smartest of bird nerds!

Left: Delegates of the 4th biennial LAB Conference. Credit: Albert Froneman

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The fourth biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference was held in the Athene Conference Centre at Club Mykonos on 8 and 9 March and co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. It was divided into a Science LAB session, during which the country’s top ornithologists presented their latest research, and a parallel Layman’s LAB session that included popular talks on bird conservation, research and identification tools. Plenary talks were presented by Dr Mark Brown and Dr Alan Lee.

Right: Dr Mark Brown explains the importance of staying relevant as a conservation scientist during his plenary at LAB. Credit: Albert Froneman

The Science LAB session covered themes that included bird breeding biology, morphology and ecology. Presentations highlighting currently known threats and conservation measures offered insights into the challenges facing South Africa’s birds and some of the solutions that are being implemented to protect them. The African Seabird Group held a special session that featured talks on the tracking of Grey-headed Albatrosses off Marion Island, lessons learnt from 20 years of seabird rehabilitation, and rodent eradication plans for islands where seabirds breed.

Flock Photo4The Layman’s LAB session hosted talks by several BirdLife South Africa staff members about their current research and conservation efforts to protect South Africa’s diverse avifauna and their habitats. CapeNature staff members Rupert Koopman and Kevin Shaw offered insights into the ecology of the West Coast and the birds of Dassen Island; Faansie Peacock gave an in-depth lecture on strandveld birding; and Etienne Marais discussed how to find and identify the tricky specials of the Western Cape and Northern Cape. Dr Dieter Hoffmann, the head of International Strategy and Capacity Building at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK, presented on the international work of the RSPB and its collaboration with BirdLife South Africa.

Right: Dr Alan Lee highlights the importance of citizen science in monitoring what is happening to South Africa’s birds. Credit: Albert Froneman

Although integral to Flock on the West Coast 2018, the LAB Conference formed just one part of the broader event. ‘Flocks’ to amazing destinations around the country have become synonymous with BirdLife South Africa’s Annual Gathering of Members and this year’s Flock delivered another fantastic occasion for all ‘flockees’ in attendance. All delegates were encouraged to share their experiences via social media channels using the #Flock2018 and #LAB2018 handles. BirdLife South Africa also posted highlights from the event on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Flock Photo5The 89th AGM of BirdLife South Africa took place on 10 March and it was wonderful to see the conference hall packed to the brim with members. Chairman Roger Wanless did a sterling job of keeping the meeting interesting, relevant and on time. Professor Colleen Downs, the president of BirdLife South Africa, gave a fantastic talk on how birds are adapting to urban environments, and Dr Dieter Hoffmann of the RSPB gave a guest address on the collaborative efforts between BirdLife South Africa and his organisation. Flock 2018 was rounded off with a delicious dinner at Marc’s Beach Bar and provided guests with an opportunity to enjoy the best seafood the ‘Weskus’ has to offer.

Left: Science LAB delegates listen intently. Credit: Albert Froneman

Thank you to the organising committee for all their hard work building up to and during this mammoth event and thank you to the delegates who made this year’s Flock another memorable and enjoyable one!


Albatross Task Force in Argentina

On his first overseas trip, Zimbabwe-born Reason Nyengera joined Andrea Angel and Ross Wanless in attending the Fifth Albatross Task Force Instructors’ Workshop held in Resort City at Mar del Plata on Argentina’s coast. The Albatross Task Force (ATF) is an international team dedicated to saving albatrosses and related seabirds by working with the fishing industry, both aboard fishing vessels and in ports. This event brought together seven ATF teams from southern Africa and South America to review project developments, consider advances in research, plan future work programmes and continue the development of international conservation to ensure that we are making the best possible efforts to reduce seabird mortality in fisheries. The teams came from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Namibia and South Africa, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), from the UK, was also represented.

ATF teams presented a demonstration of seabird bycatch reductions in their target fleets. We are happy to announce that all the teams managed an 80% seabird bycatch reduction in most of the targeted fisheries. ATF South Africa demonstrated an amazing 99% and 85% seabird bycatch reduction in the demersal trawl and Japanese Joint Venture pelagic longline fleets respectively. We had a rigorous discussion on strategic planning to sustain seabird bycatch reductions in our fisheries as well as maintain low seabird bycatch in fisheries that are already compliant.

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From the left, standing: Samantha Matjila, Augusto Silva-Costa, Dimas Gianuca, Nahuel Chavez, Leo Tamini, Esteban Frere, Clemens Naomab, Ross Wanless, Cristian Suazo, Gabriel Sampaio, Nina Da Rocha and Patricio Ortiz. In front: Andrea Angel, Ana Bertoldi, Reason Nyengera, Rory Crawford and Ruben Dellacasa.

The workshop was used as a platform to identify new priority fisheries that have a high impact on seabird populations. ATF South Africa introduced tuna pole and hake longline as our new priority fishery, an industry that needs immediate attention. With the help of all teams present, we strategised on how to tackle seabird bycatch in these new fisheries and created a timeline by which to manage actions.

We also discussed our engagement with the Regional Fishery Management Organisation (RFMO) in our respective regions to determine how the ATF can support the wider RFMO engagement process. The BirdLife Advocacy team works with RFMOs, national associations and fishery companies to provide high-level support and to drive the adoption of seabird conservation measures on a global scale. Recent updates to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) advice were reviewed and aligned with national regulations. ACAP best-practice guidelines are multilateral agreements that seek to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

A BirdLife International programme to identify marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (mIBAs) was presented to the ATF teams, since the ATF has the local knowledge, influence and contacts to provide an important supporting role in delineating and validating mIBAs. We explored the implementations that the mIBA process would require, taking into consideration regional priorities, and determined a strategy for each country.

Although the workshop was intense, we managed to spend some time enjoying cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, whose streets are lined with splendid 19th-century buildings, and viewing its balconied presidential palace. We also had the treat of watching some tango dancing and listening to local Spanish music. For me, it was so amazing to see Andrea Angel blend in with her origins and speak in the melodious Spanish language. We also enjoyed the delicious beef-dominated cuisine, which supports the country’s extensive cattle-ranching industry.

We returned home with renewed energy to continue our work of saving our precious seabirds and, with the support of the BirdLife South Africa Seabird Programme and the RSPB, we are sure to achieve our goals.


A great example of an IBA

Magalies Photo2The Magaliesberg area is a great example of how well a multi-use landscape can work to conserve large, biodiverse areas while providing important social services. The Magaliesberg is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2015. Biosphere reserves are divided into three zones: the core area(s) of strictly protected land, a buffer zone where limited human activity is permitted, and a transition area where greater activity is allowed. In the case of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve there are two core areas: the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and the protected environment of the Magaliesberg mountain range. Go to to identify where the zones are located.

Left: Every weekend the Magaliesberg is used by hundreds of cyclists as a training ground for big cycling events such as the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge. Credit: Daniel Marnewick

Magalies Map1Because of this multi-use landscape there is an amazing range of activities to participate in and at the same time appreciate the scenic beauty and natural diversity of the area – and all within a short distance of Johannesburg and Pretoria. The activities include road cycling and mountain biking in the Cradle of Humankind; mountain biking and hiking in the mountains; hot air ballooning; and water sports on Hartebeespoort Dam. There are also canopy tours, a variety of scenic restaurants and accommodation options and a cable way. Of course, the birding is exceptional too: the area is home to two breeding colonies of the globally threatened Cape Vulture, at Nooitgedacht and Skeerpoort, and the 363 890-hectare IBA is known for raptor species such as Verreauxs’ Eagle, Lanner Falcon and Secretarybird.

Right: The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve and IBA. Credit: Google Maps

For more information about the area, go to ; to find out more about the IBA, visit


The Flufftail Festival at Joburg Zoo

Fluff Photo2As the drought continues unabated in many parts of our country, BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with Rand Water (Water Wise), Joburg City Parks and Zoo, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Rare Finch Conservation Group, is continuing its efforts to raise awareness of the importance of saving water, wetlands and waterbirds.

Now in its fourth year, the Flufftail Festival underwent a facelift, taking place at an exciting new venue at the Johannesburg Zoo. Part of the festival this year saw approximately 600 Grade 6 learners and teachers from eight schools treated to ‘Manzi’s Water Wise Roadshow’, ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet shows and a range of fun educational activities at the zoo on 20 April. The following day, the Flufftail Festival was open to the public, giving them opportunities to participate in the activities and win a prize, all while learning about the importance of wetlands, waterbirds and water.

Find out more at


Josh supports Taita Falcons

Josh Crickmay dropped out of school at the age of 15, feeling broken and suicidal. With stories and exquisite photography, his 300-page, self-published book documents his teenage travels with his parents to every corner of southern Africa and to the Amazon and the Andes in what is known in birding circles as a ‘big year’, inspired by the movie of the same name.

Through the publication of his book, which describes not only his birding and photography experiences, but also his triumph over struggles, Josh raises awareness for conservation and has chosen the Taita Falcon project as the beneficiary of his donation. The SA Taita Falcon Survey Team, a BirdLife Species Guardian, undertakes annual breeding surveys of the known South African population of these small falcons in the Blyde River Canyon area, with the support of BirdLife South Africa.

Read more and support Josh at


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From a broken teenager who dropped out of school at 15 comes Josh’s Big Year, a remarkable book that tells a story of courage and the triumph of the human spirit.

Joining forces for conservation

JoiningForces Photo1BirdLife South Africa and Conservation Outcomes have initiated an exciting partnership to promote and support the conservation of KwaZulu-Natal’s natural heritage. The partnership will support the management of areas essential for bird conservation, in particular sites that support the Critically Endangered Blue Swallow and its threatened mistbelt grassland habitat.

There are fewer than 30 pairs of Blue Swallow left in South Africa, while only 2% of the Grassland Biome is conserved in formal protected areas. The mistbelt grasslands and forests in southern KwaZulu-Natal have been systematically destroyed over the past 100 years and it is therefore essential that the remaining fragments are protected and managed to ensure the survival of the threatened Blue Swallow, Cape Parrot and other threatened species, and to secure the natural production of water in the region.

For more information about this partnership, download the official media release at

Left: A site in the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Grassland. Credit: Greg Martindale (Conservation Outcomes)


Fundamentals of Bird Photography Course

by Albert & Marietjie Froneman – 19 May 2018 Johannesburg (Limited spaces still available)

This course is aimed at the digital photographer who wants to learn the fundamentals of how to take photos of birds and other wildlife, as well as master the art of post processing their images. Both beginner and experienced photographers will benefit from the course content. The course will cover aspects of equipment, settings and field techniques and will provide training in an easy-to-follow post-processing work flow aimed specifically at bird photographers. For more information and to book online, click here or visit


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Increase in membership fees

As announced by the previous Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba, VAT was increased by 1% from 1 April. Going forward, and until the annual price increase on 1 July 2018, Ordinary Membership will be R504.39, while Senior Citizen and Student Membership will be R353.07. We appreciate your understanding and continued support.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: March 2018

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter March 2018

Dom Rollinson for On the Road with Ross

On the road with Ross

In January, in the company of Nini van der Merwe, who coordinates our fleet-based Common Oceans work, I left a sweltering Cape Town and landed in an unbelievably cold Seoul – on the evening we arrived the temperature dropped to an insane -17 °C! The workshop we were there to attend wrapped up our four-year collaboration with South Korea’s National Institute for Fisheries, during which we assisted with at-sea trials of mitigation measures to protect seabirds. For both the workshop and the collaboration we can thank RSPB-led fisheries work and the Common Oceans project jointly.

Seabird expert Dr Dom Rollinson, who conducted some of his doctoral studies aboard one of the Korean vessels that was participating in our collaborative research, joined us, as did Dr Joel Rice, a stock assessment scientist who is contracted to assist our Common Oceans work in supporting countries with their analyses of seabird bycatch data. It was immensely gratifying not only to co-host this workshop and meet up with colleagues who have supported our work in Korea, but also to have such fruitful discussions.

We came away with some clear leads for where Korea’s tuna fleet may require further collaboration and everyone agreed that our trials were highly successful. The Korean fleet that fishes where albatrosses and petrels are at risk can do so safely and efficiently by using weights on their branch-lines – a key measure to minimise seabird bycatch. In addition, Korea indicated strong support for another stream of our Common Oceans agenda and promised to be in Peru in February for a data preparation workshop on assessing the global impacts of tuna bycatch on seabirds.

Above: Dom Rollinson birding in Namsan Park.

Our travel to Korea was combined with a meeting in Japan, but sadly that was all business and left no time for anything but incidental birding. Due to Joel’s prior commitments, we had to schedule the Japan meeting for a Monday, which meant that Dom and I had to spend a Saturday in Seoul. It was, beyond a shadow of doubt, the coldest birding I have ever done.

Winter birding can be a little desolate, but our target area, Namsan Park, proved to be quite productive. A massive highlight was a very loud drumming sound, clearly made by a large woodpecker doing a territorial drum on a dead branch some distance away. Not being able to get it to respond, we gave up, but were very aware that we might have been hearing a Black Woodpecker – a massive bird in many respects! About an hour later, lower down in pine woodland, we heard a penetrating call being made repeatedly. Thinking it was a raptor, we set off towards it. Suddenly Dom yelled and pointed – and we had a brief flyby of not a raptor, but a very large, all-black woodpecker!

Ringing a Wattled Crane chick


10OctoberAlthough Wattled Cranes usually breed during the winter months in South Africa, the recently declared Ingula Nature Reserve was fortunate enough to have two breeding pairs successfully incubating during December. Both these pairs and their chicks were monitored very closely, since the parents will hide their offspring at the first sight of intruders.

Wattled Crane 3Being a few weeks older and at the perfect age for ringing, the first chick on the property Strathmorn, adjacent to Ingula, was ringed in February with the help of members of EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme. Approximately 10 weeks old, it was fitted with SAFRING and colour rings for identification. A provincial colour ring indicates where the chick hatched and was ringed, while the other three colour rings used in a specific combination help to identify it from a distance. Tracking the chick as it grows will provide information about its local movements, including which floater flock it joins and the distance it travels from its home. In a broader sense, the ringing and tracking of Wattled Crane chicks helps researchers to understand, for example, the mortality rate and age of birds within a population.

Samples were taken from the chick’s cloaca to screen for disease, which will lead to a better understanding of the health of the population around Ingula, and a blood sample was taken to determine the chick’s gender.


Above left: Colour rings are for identification purposes while the individual is still alive, while the metal ring (at the base of the left leg) will be used if the bird’s corpse is collected.
Above right: Samples are taken from the chick’s eye and cloaca to determine whether disease was present. Image by Meyrick Bowker

Seabird teambuilderTeam-building for the seabird team

On Friday, 9 February 2018, BirdLife South Africa’s seabird team congregated at a member’s house in Cape Town for a team-building event. The objectives were to help integrate the newly appointed staff members, reconnect with colleagues, learn more about each other’s personalities and ultimately to integrate our personal goals into a team effort.

Led by a qualified facilitator, the training comprised a mixture of physically, mentally and emotionally challenging tasks that were both fun and edifying. The activities focused on self-realisation and understanding one another’s personalities and they taught us how to communicate with reference to each individual’s character.

Seabird teambuilder 1The training also helped us to cultivate trust and mutual respect, which are well known to be critical factors in successful organisations. Above all, a team thrives when there is an encouraging atmosphere of cooperation and all members are working together to ensure success. One of the many interesting highlights was a personality profiling system called Clarity 4D. After a brief introduction by the facilitator, members of the team identified specific communication strategies that they preferred or were not responsive to. These strategies were then reinforced through a number of team-building activities. Each activity focused on a different skill required for effective and coherent teamwork.

It meant a great deal to me, as the new intern in this dynamic team, to discover what my colleagues are like outside work. It was enlightening to learn about the diversity in our team and to find ways in which our differences can help us work together and be a stronger team. It was a day well spent, and we are all eager to apply the new skills in our everyday work.


Above: Christina, Makhudu, Andrew, Taryn, Brownyn and Phillip watch with amusement as activities are performed by other team members.
Right: Brownyn, Andrea and Reason enjoy chilling together.

A bright new talent

Nnwda1Nndwandiyawe Muhali recently joined the Terrestrial Bird Conservation team, an opportunity made possible by sponsorship from Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking.

Nndwa comes from Thohoyandou in Limpopo and is currently completing her MSc in Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda. Both her Honours mini-dissertation and her Master’s dissertation focused on lead poisoning in Cape Vultures and reveal her deep interest in bird research. She is enthusiastic about joining the team and hopes that this internship will give her the knowledge and experience she needs to succeed in the field.

Nndwa will be assisting the bird and renewable energy manager with many aspects of the project, from commenting on impact assessments to helping with events. We are delighted to have her on board and look forward to seeing her spread her wings.

Inspiring future conservationists

Kirstenbosch 1‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,’ said Nelson Mandela. With this in mind, Andrew de Blocq and Makhudu Masotla, the two newest members of the Seabird Conservation Programme, took time out to represent BirdLife South Africa at the Kirstenbosch Careers Day hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute on 22 February.

Kirstenbosch 3

Grade 11 and 12 learners from schools in marginalised areas around Cape Town attended to learn about career opportunities in the fields of environmental science, conservation and research. Andrew and Makhudu told them about some of the work that BirdLife South Africa is involved in, including the very successful Albatross Task Force and the Common Oceans project, which focus on mitigating seabird bycatch on the high seas, as well as the efforts currently being made to protect the Endangered African Penguin.

The two seabird conservationists also shared their wisdom on what to study in order to work in conservation, how to acquire skills by volunteering and internships, and how to make your CV really stand out in a competitive job market. The presentation took on a life of its own with demonstrations of bird-scaring lines and hook protection mechanisms, all presided over by Bob, the ever-popular stuffed Tristan Albatross. Hopefully a few of the students will be inspired to pursue a career in this sector – or at least are thinking about how they as individuals and school communities can reduce their impact on an increasingly fragile environment.

Call to action

The White-winged Flufftail is Critically Endangered and one of the rarest birds in the world. The destruction and degradation of its high-altitude grassland habitat have made its survival in the wild uncertain. Through the use of a novel survey method, BirdLife South Africa’s research team recently discovered that this flufftail breeds in South Africa, contradicting the previously held belief that it is a non-breeding visitor to South African wetlands.

In order to find out where else this elusive bird occurs – and, importantly, whether there are other breeding sites – we need to expand our use of the BirdLife South Africa Rallid Survey Method, which includes the deployment of camera traps. A donation of R4000 for each camera would help us to reach our target of buying another 60 camera traps for use in the 2018–2019 breeding season.

Anyone wishing to donate to this important conservation work can either deposit funds directly into BirdLife South Africa’s account (FNB, account number 62067506281, branch code 250655), using the reference ‘WWF YourInitials&Surname’; or can use the online payment platform accessed via, where the White-winged Flufftail tab can be selected as the chosen cause.


For more information, contact Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Manager: Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme/Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation



Owl Award nominations, please

Do you know anyone or any organisation that you feel has made an outstanding contribution to BirdLife South Africa and bird conservation during the past year? The call for nominations for the 2018 Owl Awards is open and now’s the time to put their name forward. Please contact Beth Hackland at for more information about the criteria and nomination process. The deadline for submission of nomination forms is Friday, 20 April.

Space for Nature 1Space for nature

It was one of the key questions that the world’s leading scientists and conservation practitioners were trying to answer at the Zoological Society of London’s symposium: how much space does nature need? Entitled ‘Safeguarding space for nature and securing our future’, the symposium aimed to inform the formulation of the post-2020 conservation targets that all signatory countries of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will work to achieve for the following 10 years. As a signatory to the CBD, South Africa will have to align its own conservation priorities and national targets with the global targets.

Speaking specifically to the CBD Aichi Target 11 (2010–2020), the consensus at the symposium was that the current modest target of protecting at least 17% of the world’s land and 10% of its sea by 2020 was far too low. Even though globally we currently protect 15% of the land, and it is possible that we may achieve 17% by 2020, this would not be enough to protect the world’s biodiversity and halt biodiversity loss. Far more ambitious targets of ‘50% for nature’ were proposed, which was juxtaposed against the holistic proposal that we need to conserve ‘the whole earth’ by protecting priority sites and at the same time utilise the rest of the natural world sustainably. There was a strong view that the post-2020 CBD targets need to support an inclusive ‘people in nature’ ideology rather than segregating the two.

Space for Nature 2

Daniel Marnewick is the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Community Chair and African Representative and was also recently elected as the country focal point for the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. He was invited to the symposium to present on KBAs as part of a session entitled ‘Areas important for biodiversity’. The session analysed how much land should be protected if biodiversity targets are to be met, and how KBAs can be used to guide where we prioritise biodiversity conservation. Daniel was also invited to a post-symposium workshop to write the key recommendations for the post-2020 targets.

This symposium forms part of a multi-year process under way to define the post-2020 CBD targets leading up to the CBD Conference of the Parties in 2020. The targets will determine our global conservation trajectory from 2020 onwards. Coming away from the symposium, Daniel’s impression is that we need more ambitious targets and that they should embrace dynamic landscapes that include people and allow for the formal protection of high biodiversity priorities; identify conservation areas where land use is compatible with conservation objectives; and promote the sustainable use of the land to support livelihoods and economic growth.

Daniel, together with Candice Stevens, the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Policy & Advocacy Programme, will work closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs to ensure that our national government understands and supports the policy and implementation implications of the post-2020 CBD targets.


African Birdlife

March 2018 coverAs jam-packed as ever, the latest issue of African Birdlife brings landmark news about the breeding of the White-winged Flufftail and the uplisting of the Cape Gannet, plus exciting seabird discoveries; images and observations of Green Malkohas and Spotted Eagle-Owls at the nest; and an itinerary for the best birding spots in Malawi. There are binoculars and books to be won and, as a special bonus, a poster of the African Black Oystercatcher, the 2018 Bird of the Year, comes as part of the package.



Booze for Birds – a great success!

BirdLife South Africa hosted its first Booze for Birds event on 4 February 2018 at Isdell House, our head office in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. The event was a gin tasting in partnership with the Artisan Cocktail & Tapas Bar, generously sponsored by Cruxland Gin.

On arrival, guests were given three coupons that could be exchanged for a selection of gin and tonics or gin cocktails over the course of the afternoon. Gin and tonics included a refreshing naartjie and mint combination or a pink gin and tonic with strawberries and thyme.

Cruxland Gin is infused with the rare Kalahari truffle and seven other distinct botanicals, including South African rooibos. The afternoon therefore took on a Kalahari-inspired theme and guests were given the choice of trying either a Red Lark or a Secretarybird gin cocktail, both of which were delicious!

Booze for Birds Pic 2

Guests could try either a Red Lark or a Secretarybird gin cocktail.

Congregated on the front terrace at Isdell House, guests were surrounded by the beautiful indigenous garden as they watched the sun sink slowly behind the horizon on a beautiful, still Johannesburg evening. Shop For the Birds! was open for a few hours, providing an opportunity to browse its shelves for bird-inspired merchandise and gifts. People were encouraged to explore the garden and view the wonderful bird photography and artwork throughout the office buildings while they sipped on their drinks. Waiters moved around with a selection of finger snacks supplied by The Artisan and umbrellas and beanbags were scattered on the lawn, creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for drinking, snacking and socialising.

Booze for Birds Pic 3

Umbrellas and beanbags on the lawn helped to create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

A big thank you goes to both Cruxland Gin and The Artisan for supporting and sponsoring the evening. We hope that this was just the first in a series of Booze for Birds events in partnership with The Artisan and that they will have a twofold benefit: encouraging visitors to share and enjoy our beautiful premises in a relaxed atmosphere; and raising greater awareness of BirdLife South Africa and the work we do. Perhaps a craft beer, whisky or wine event is more your style, so look out for details of our next event.

Baroque in the Bush

baroque in the bush

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: February 2018

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter February 2018

Roaming Rocky on social media

Roaming Rocky for websiteTo celebrate the declaration of the African Black Oystercatcher as Bird of the Year for 2018, we are selling some very cute fluffy toy oystercatchers. Modelled on Chrissie Cloete’s little character Rocky, these toys are available for R150 each at BirdLife South Africa’s Shop For the Birds! and at the offices of the Nature’s Valley Trust in Nature’s Valley and Offshore Adventures in Plettenberg Bay.

To raise awareness of the Bird of the Year, we will be running a social media campaign that encourages people to take photos of their fluffy toy, Rocky the oystercatcher, in all the beautiful, wild or interesting places they visit. We would particularly like to see if we can get a shot of Rocky visiting each of South Africa’s 112 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) during 2018. So make sure to take your Rocky toy with you on your travels and post your photographs on social media with the following hashtags (#RoamingRocky, #BOTY2018, #Oystercatcher, #ShareTheShores, #WhereIsRocky). Let’s see how far Rocky can travel in 2018!

Monty Brett online

montybrett final resized

Endorsed by BirdLife South Africa, Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses cover a wide range of topics, from bird identification for beginners to tackling cryptic LBJs and perplexing birds of prey. The comprehensive courses are hosted by two of South Africa’s best-known bird experts, Geoff Lockwood and Duncan McKenzie. They take you step by step through an abundance of information in an easy and engaging manner. Best of all, you can watch the sessions at leisure on your computer, tablet or smartphone – all you need is an Internet connection. And you can watch them repeatedly to refresh your memory and ensure you don’t miss a thing. No matter your level of experience, you’ll learn a great deal from Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses. Visit

Bird of the Year 1

Bird of the Year 2018 merchandise

Shop For the Birds! is now selling African Black Oystercatcher-themed T-shirts, buffs and pins, as well as fluffy toys of Rocky the Oystercatcher that are sure to be a huge hit with kids. Visit the shop at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West in Johannesburg or e-mail Bianca at for postal orders.

International Land Conservation Congress

International Land Conseervation Congress DW Panel Discussion

Dale Wright, IBA Regional Conservation Manager for the Western Cape, and Candice Stevens, Policy & Advocacy Programme Manager, attended the International Land Conservation Network Congress 2018, which was held in Santiago, Chile, from 24 to 26 January. This congress takes place every two years to host leaders in Private Land Conservation and facilitate lesson sharing and the formation of strategic global partnerships. The 2018 event was attended by 160 delegates from 24 countries.

The need for Privately Protected Areas (PPAs) is growing worldwide. So too is their success, which is based firstly on increasing pressure to protect formally and manage effectively our last bastions of biodiversity, and secondly on realising that vast tracts of land that are crucial to successful conservation lie within private ownership, be it communal, business, individual or otherwise. Candice and Dale were able to lend their expertise and experience to this global platform and showcase innovative achievements resulting from their work in South Africa.

International Land Conservation Congress Birding in La Campana IBAThe 2018 congress focused on legal and policy frameworks, with specific emphasis on conservation finance, particularly tax incentives, and on tools for better governance and management. Candice was invited to present her work in developing South Africa’s first effective biodiversity tax incentive, section 37D, and this success story was warmly applauded by the global community. Dale talked about enhancing the conservation of private land in South Africa as part of a discussion session entitled ‘Thinking strategically: Responding to changing needs’ and he got participants reflecting on innovative ways to improve their own projects back home. The BirdLife South Africa team helped to put South Africa on the map at this congress, illustrating how we are achieving Private Land Conservation through South Africa’s unique and world-leading PPA model, Biodiversity Stewardship.

International Land Conservation Congress CS Panel DiscussionDale and Candice were enriched by the many practical lessons learnt in various sessions and the great networking with colleagues within this specific sector. A number of exciting strategic outcomes were also achieved, including a preliminary discussion regarding the establishment of a Land Conservation Network in Africa. Dale is looking forward to making progress in documenting and understanding the various Private Land Conservation approaches under way across the continent. Candice was invited to co-chair a global conservation tax committee to create a platform for developing tax incentives in other countries and transfer successes from the likes of South Africa to other parts of the world.

Fortunately there was also time for some birding, with the highlights being a Giant Hummingbird in the La Campana National Park and fantastic views of Andean Condors in the Yerba Loca National Park, surrounded by the high Andean mountains.

Bag a Cape Parrots bag from Woolworths

Cape Parrot BagsThese beautiful shopping bags are available at Woolworths stores throughout South Africa. There are now only a few thousand left, so get to your closest Woolworths store today and show your support!

R10 from the sale of each bag will be donated to BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme. Funds raised through this initiative will help to safeguard the remaining patches of Cape Parrot habitat and support the annual Cape Parrot census.

The biggest challenge facing the conservation of this species is the need to protect the forest habitat on which it relies so heavily. Over-utilisation and degradation have resulted in the fragmentation of the parrots’ home, which continues to this day. Mortality from Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease is also an increasingly common concern.

For more information, go to

On the road with Ross

image2Readers of this blog should hold onto their seats because there’s a travel schedule for the first quarter of 2018 that may well be the end of me! January got off to a rollicking start when I joined my colleague Bronwyn Maree for a Common Oceans meeting in Fiji. We’ve established a beachhead there as a means to engage with the Chinese distant-water fleet because all our other attempts have resulted in much talking with officials but nothing on the water. A large contingent of China’s high-seas fleet uses Suva, the capital of Fiji, as a base, so we have appointed James, a Fijian, as our Port-Based Outreach (PBO) officer there.

image 1The main purpose of going to Fiji was to host an inception workshop for Fijian officials and, crucially, the many agents who work with the Chinese fishing vessels. However, Bronwyn and I also needed to get an understanding of James’s working conditions. It’s difficult enough to manage people remotely, but without knowledge of the ‘lie of the land’ and how things work (or don’t work), it’s even more tricky. Both objectives were well achieved. We spent a good evening sharing a bowl of kava (a traditional Fijian drink) with the staff of BirdLife International’s (BLI) Pacific Office (it hosts James who, like Bronwyn, is not actually a BirdLife staffer) and some people from Nature Fiji, the BirdLife Partner. Fiji is a big country and the main island, Viti Levu, is massive, but the towns are small and the people are wonderfully relaxed and friendly, but still professional and efficient. What a great mix!

I had never been to Polynesia, so there was always going to be a crushing need to get out into the forest to find some of the endemics – and I duly did. Mark O’Brien from BLI kindly took Bronwyn, Karen Baird (my counterpart for the Pacific region) and myself out one afternoon after our meetings. Just a 10-minute taxi ride from downtown Suva is some intact habitat with most of the Viti Levu endemics. The Masked Shining Parrot was probably the top bird, but the Red Lory came in a close second! I had hoped to do some decent birding elsewhere, but torrential rain and disastrous flight cancellations put a premature end to those hopes. In the end I came away with 15 lifers – not an unreasonable outcome for so little quality birding. However, quite a few Fijian endemics, including the Fiji Petrel, will remain on my wish list for the foreseeable future.

Above left: The exquisite blue sea and tropical reefs that fringe emerald islands make Fiji a stunning tourist destination.

Above right: A visit to Levuka, an outlying port, required a short flight. The size of the plane to take us there was cause for some excitement!

IBA challenge for website map of IBAsNew IBA BirdLasser Challenge

The new Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas BirdLasser Challenge focuses on the network of 112 sites identified by BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme. These IBAs are critical for the long-term survival of bird species that are globally threatened, have a restricted range or are confined to specific biomes or vegetation types. Included among them are birding hotspots such as the Kruger National Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Wakkerstroom and iSimangaliso Wetland Park. For a map of South Africa’s IBAs, see; to find out more about each IBA, go to

Left: The IBA Programme has identified 112 IBAs across South Africa.

For the challenge, launched by BirdLife South Africa and BirdLasser in 2018, only birds logged within IBAs will count. It is hoped that birders participating in the challenge will collect valuable data about the distribution of birds within the IBA network.

To take part, go to, click on ‘Log in’, visit an IBA and start logging. The data will automatically update to the online map. We believe the network holds more than 750 bird species. The challenge is, can we record most of them in one year? Sign up now and let’s try to log sightings within all the 112 IBAs before 31 December 2018. We need you to take up the challenge and help us ‘give conservation wings’.

Engaging a new generation of conservationists

Spring Alive 2017 featured the campaign’s first children’s story book, a cuddly toy and a bird fact ‘Advent calendar’. The success of all three sums up its achievements.

30 Days of Spring

Spring Alive Learners from Country College Volksrust meeting Ringo and learning about her storyKicking off Spring Alive in South Africa, an ‘Advent calendar’ of bird-related facts and activities each day took children on a month-long journey of learning about bird migration. CDs distributed to schools across the country contained 30 bite-sized activities devised to gradually build up the class’s knowledge in a fun and varied way. Tasks ranged from word searches and food web designs to recording and monitoring the birds in their neighbourhood.

Teachers reported that this was an excellent way to introduce children to the Spring Alive message. Thanks to 30 Days of Spring, children across South Africa have gained a better understanding of the birds they see around them and they are now aware that some of the species they encounter are on just one step of an amazing round-the-world journey.

Ringo – the Journey of a White Stork

Spring Alive Ringo Story2017 saw the publication of Spring Alive’s very first children’s story book: Ringo – the Journey of a White Stork. This charmingly illustrated narrative follows Ringo on her first migration from her nest in Germany to Wakkerstroom, South Africa. On the way she encounters issues common to many migrating birds: conservation efforts like the ringing of chicks, and negative human impacts such as hunting and climate change. The book shines a light on the fascinating life history of the White Stork, from nest building and raising young to the way in which individuals communicate with each other. It also incorporates tales of human traditions surrounding the species and the ways in which some European villages honour this symbolic bird. The book has already been distributed in electronic form to 60 schools across South Africa, with the plan to expand to another 40 schools in 2018.

Spring Alive The Ringo team Judy Lynn Wheeler Carol Preston and Kristi GarlandTo bring Ringo and her story to life, Spring Alive created a White Stork soft toy to accompany the book – it even bears the leg ring that inspired the original story. Having something tangible to hold, like this toy, provides young children with a character to connect with, enabling them to identify better with the White Stork and its inspirational migration journey.

Conservation Club workshops

Complying with this year’s theme, ‘Don’t Take Chicks with You’, various activities were designed to spread the important message of what to do if a chick is found outside its nest. The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) trained school Conservation Club coordinators to run workshops on this theme that could be taken back to their schools. Coordinators were also shown how to construct bird feeders and nest boxes, which were then replicated in their respective schools, with impressive results.

Judging by the enthusiasm that greeted the Spring Alive campaign, it’s clear that the next generation of conservationists is going to be more talented and passionate than ever before.

Spring Alive Action of the Year results

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: January 2018

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter January 2018

Year of the Bird

2018 Year of the Bird logoNo, it’s not Bird of the Year, it’s Year of the Bird! 2018 marks the centenary of one of the most important and powerful laws to protect birds ever passed in the USA: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. To honour this milestone, National Geographic, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and BirdLife International, as well as more than 50 other participating organisations, have committed to raising awareness about birds, the threats they face and the conservation measures needed to protect them. News about birds will be broadcast across many channels – magazines, television and social media, among others – with fresh editorial, content and programmes. Follow it on the official website or #birdyourworld.

BirdLasser challenge a huge success

BLSA Staff birding challenger 2017The winner of the BirdLife South Africa staff’s fun BirdLasser challenge for 2017 was Melissa Whitecross, who recorded 533 species. She was followed by Fanie du Plessis with 515 species, Linda van den Heever with 483 species and Mark and Tania Anderson with 481 species. Fanie is the finance and operations manager and Mark is the CEO, which makes their contributions even more impressive as they have fewer opportunities to go out birding than the rest of the conservation staff. Fifteen of the staff members recorded more than 200 species during the year. Bianca Hare deserves special mention as she only started birding in 2017 and recorded 293 species! Ernst Retief logged the most records (5130), followed by Fanie du Plessis (4099).

Most of the staff members are also keen contributors to SABAP2, so many of these records were added to the database. The most common species logged was Hadeda Ibis, while 59 species were recorded only once. Although this is a fun event that generates a lot of banter among the staff, it does also show that they have a genuine passion for birds and really do enjoy birding as a hobby.

A new project manager for Threatened Species

Melissa Whitecross Levuvhu Black Stork SurveyWhile completing her PhD in savanna ecology at Wits University, Dr Melissa Whitecross joined BirdLife South Africa as a part-time intern in the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme (TBCP) in January 2017. After graduating in July, she took on more responsibility with the TBCP and has become a valued member of the team.

Melissa is an avid birder and was the winner of the 2017 BirdLife South Africa staff BirdLasser challenge with a tally of 533 species. She cycled for the organisation’s Fast & Featherless team in last year’s Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge and will be riding again in 2018 – and has challenged colleagues to join her. A keen wildlife photographer and passionate naturalist, Melissa hopes to combine her background in ecology and vegetation analyses with her ornithological knowledge and skills to contribute to furthering our understanding of threatened bird species and their habitats in South Africa. She will be focusing on projects involving the Secretarybird, White-winged Flufftail, Taita Falcon and Southern Banded Snake Eagle.

Melissa is also a strong public speaker and delivered several well-received talks about the plight of Africa’s vultures to school groups and bird clubs during 2017. We look forward to watching her progress in her new role – and seeing whether she can defend her challenge title in 2018!

Welcome to three new ‘seabirds’

Three new seabird staffThe three new recruits who have joined the seabird conservation squad are Andrew de Blocq, Philip Augustyn and Makhudu Masotla. Andrew joins the penguin team as the project officer for Coastal Seabirds Conservation. A recent ‘Fitz’ graduate, he researched the impact of disturbance by boat-based tourism on waterbirds at De Hoop for his MSc and after completing his studies took up a post as teaching assistant on an ecology and conservation course in the Kruger National Park. Andrew is a passionate birder and worked part-time as a professional bird guide while studying. In 2017 he participated in the Champions of the Flyway event in Israel, raising more than R180 000 for the conservation of migratory birds. He will be taking on field-work and research duties as part of his new role, focusing mainly on the African Penguin.

Philip took up a joint position under the Common Oceans Tuna Project and the Albatross Task Force (ATF). An experienced scientific observer who has studied marine mammal, fish and seabird activity around Africa, Asia, the Americas and Antarctica, he will be responsible for working with foreign tuna longline vessels that operate on the high seas and will engage in awareness activities on seabird bycatch by visiting foreign vessels that dock in Cape Town harbour. He will also be putting his extensive observer experience to use as an ATF instructor in local fleets.

Makhudu joins the team as the Seabird Conservation intern. He grew up in a village near Polokwane and it was his upbringing on the family farm that led him to pursue ecological studies. His MSc, from the University of Limpopo, focused on the breeding biology and ecology of the African Quail-finch. During his time at the university he established the Solomondale Green Movement, a project that taught young people in his community about biodiversity through tree-planting, soccer and chess. Makhudu recently returned from Marion Island, where he gained valuable experience in research and the monitoring of the island’s seabirds. He will work for the ATF and Common Oceans Project, focusing on seabird bycatch mitigation.

The addition of these new team members is most welcome and we look forward to watching them grow and spread their wings in their respective positions.

Alphabet soup: the UN FAO ABNJ Brazil-based COTP NAW

Brazil NAWThe Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Common Oceans Tuna Project has a lot of moving parts. When friends or family ask what I actually do, I usually explain that there are four different elements of the project and that each element enables us to engage and work with different individuals and institutions operating within the tuna longline industry. My questioners usually stare blankly at me and I realise that I probably threw in too many acronyms or the terminology and statements that are second nature to me mean nothing to those who are not thinking, breathing and living in this industry as fully and consistently as my colleagues and I are.

On paper, the project aims to reduce the effect of tuna longline fishing on biodiversity. In other words, we are trying to prevent the accidental bycatch of seabirds, turtles, endangered sharks and other marine mammals in longline fishing. The first step in this process is to host a National Awareness Workshop (NAW) in a specific country. The countries selected tend either to be in the process of developing a fishing industry or to have had a large fishing industry. The NAW serves to inform industry, government and other related parties about the importance of conserving seabirds; about tried and tested mitigation measures designed to increase safety for the birds without affecting the catch effort; and about the reporting procedures and requirements as set out by the bodies that govern the high seas (otherwise known as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, which are the 64% of the world’s oceans not governed by a country).

Above: Andrea Angel talks about the importance of using seabird bycatch mitigation measures during fishing operations.

The Brazilian NAW was set for the second week of December 2017. Ross Wanless, Andrea Angel and I set off for Cabo Frio, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, to host the event together with Projeto Albatroz, the Brazilian equivalent of our Albatross Task Force (ATF). Projeto Albatroz has a long history of working with the Brazilian fishing industry and trying to find innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce the accidental bycatch of seabirds in the Brazilian fleet.

The workshop went well, with BirdLife South Africa and Projeto Albatroz sharing the floor, but from the outset it became apparent that there was a lot to discuss. While we managed to cover most of the agenda items and there were great opportunities for networking, we did leave the workshop feeling as though we could have done more and spent another few days there.

Brazil NAW 2A noticeable difference between this workshop and others we have held was the general age in the room. It was refreshing to see so many people in their late 20s or early 30s, considering the situation that Brazil currently finds itself in. Political turmoil is nothing new to South Africans, but the situation in Brazil reminds us that things can get worse. Getting the country back on track is going to take a long time and a lot of work, and it was good to see the energy and drive in those who will be responsible for the task.

What I learned from this workshop is that, more than anything else, this project is really about people: fishermen trying to put food on the table for their families; company owners trying to make a profit; researchers trying to make sense of data; government officials trying to keep everyone happy… And then there’s us, conservationists trying to save species. When all of these elements come together, it’s often difficult to keep the aims and goals clearly defined. The Brazil NAW proved to be one of the workshops where, despite all the politics and agendas, one thing was certain – everyone in the room was concerned about saving seabirds.

Left: Workshop attendees included scientists and representatives of government and NGOs, as well as the Projeto Albatroz and BirdLife South Africa teams.

I come home after each workshop with a sense of achievement because, on paper at least, we’ve completed a task. But the amount of work that needs to be done after each workshop in order to make a true difference in the lives of seabirds also increases, and that can sometimes be discouraging. It’s a challenge that all of us involved with this project have signed up for and will continue to strive towards.


Barn Owl squatters

Barn OwlBarn Owl 2Several bird species, notably the parasitic cuckoos or generalists like the Egyptian Goose, prefer to use ready-made nests rather than build their own. Western Barn Owls tend to either search for abandoned nests or simply take over a site that is already in use. As burrow-nesters, they occupy any type of chamber for nesting, from mine shafts, buildings or nest boxes to tree holes – or even a neighbour’s deluxe suite (the neighbour at Ingula being the resident Hamerkop pair). There have also been reports of Barn Owls taking over nests from kestrels by force in the UK. Hamerkops will spend several months building their large nest and, if undisturbed, will use it for at least four consecutive years. However, more often than not, these nests are usurped by bees, monitor lizards, Egyptian Geese – and Barn Owls.

Our find was exciting, but it also posed some questions: how long had the owls been in the Hamerkop nest? Are they breeding there? Did they force their way into the nest or did they take it opportunistically? Are there other Hamerkop nests in the area that have also been invaded by Barn Owls? We are no closer to finding answers at present, but we hope to share more exciting news in the near future!


Peter Ryan to talk at Wits Bird Club

Peter RyanProfessor Ryan’s talk about the Prince Edward Islands as a seabird Mecca will take place at Delta Park on Saturday, 17 February 2018 at 14h00. Declared a Special Nature Reserve, South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands are home to 28 breeding seabird species, including almost half of the world’s Wandering Albatrosses, four other albatross species and four penguin species. Their only land bird is the Lesser Sheathbill, which rears its chicks by stealing food from seabirds. Marion Island, the larger of the two islands, has suffered more from human activities than Prince Edward, but this is slowly being redressed through an ambitious restoration programme. This talk will illustrate the amazing diversity of birds and other wildlife at South Africa’s only overseas territory.

The cost is R50 per person and includes cheese and wine. Book by calling Lauraine at the Wits Bird Club office on 011 782 7267 (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) or visiting

All proceeds will be donated to the Marion Island Restoration Appeal.

Monty Brett online

montybrett final resizedEndorsed by BirdLife South Africa, Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses cover a wide range of topics, from bird identification for beginners to tackling cryptic LBJs and perplexing birds of prey. The comprehensive courses are hosted by two of South Africa’s best-known bird experts, Geoff Lockwood and Duncan McKenzie. They take you step by step through an abundance of information in an easy and engaging manner. Best of all, you can watch the sessions at leisure on your computer, tablet or smartphone – all you need is an Internet connection. And you can watch them repeatedly to refresh your memory and ensure you don’t miss a thing. No matter your level of experience, you’ll learn a great deal from Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses. Visit

Birding at Lekgalameetse

Hosted by Natural Scientific Services, this self-drive, self-catering weekend getaway is aimed at nature enthusiasts of all knowledge levels and will take place in the breathtaking Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve. Accommodation is in the reserve’s log cabins, which lie in dense forest by a stream at the foot of the imposing mountains. Activities will include a presentation about the local flora, birds and other wildlife and walks focusing on birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants. For more information, call NSS on 011 787 7400 / 083 622 9224 or e-mail or

Waterberg birding

Shakati lodgeShakati river















Shakati Private Game Reserve in the heart of the Waterberg IBA (on the birding route) is a favourite destination for many birders, boasting as it does river, savanna, woodland, acacia forest and indigenous garden habitats, as well as plenty of birds and wildlife. To see the bird list, go to

Accommodation is in our small and luxurious, but affordable safari lodge. See the video at

Contact Gideon on 082 410 1808, or


African Birdlife

News, reviews and stunning photography are all wrapped up in the latest issue of African Birdlife. There’s news about the African Black Oystercatcher (Bird of the Year), a ground-nesting Black Sparrowhawk and avian flu; reviews of books, a camera and a spotting scope; and breathtaking photographs of African Pygmy Geese – and much, much more. Plus, there are binoculars and books to be won!

Calendar 2018 Cover

BirdLife South Africa calendar

Celebrate the New Year with the latest Birds of Southern Africa calendar and enjoy a stunning full-page colour photograph for each month of 2018. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage). Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order. Don’t delay – remaining stock is limited and selling fast!

Bird of the Year merchandise

The African Black Oystercatcher has been chosen as Bird of the Year 2018 and Shop For the Birds! has specially themed merchandise to celebrate this. Be the first to buy African Black Oystercatcher pin badges, buffs, T-shirts and fluffies. Visit us at 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, or e-mail Bianca Hare at to order.

Bird of the Year 2.jpgBird of the Year 1

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: December 2017

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter December 2017 

IMG 508411Giving Conservation Wings in 2017

It has been another successful year for BirdLife South Africa in our efforts to conserve our country’s birds and their habitats. Although our work is carried out by a team of hardworking and dedicated staff and volunteers, our members, affiliated bird clubs, supporters, collaborators and donors all contribute to our success. We are grateful to everyone who is helping us to ‘give conservation wings’.


Credit: Bryn De Kocks

Events 1Greetings from the Membership team

We ran a fantastic membership campaign at Flock at Sea AGAIN!, where existing or new Conservation League Members stood the chance to win a pair of Swarovski binoculars. It was a great success and 67 new Conservation League Members signed up on the cruise. Thank you for your support!

In July this year we said a sad farewell to Elaine Cherrington, who had been the African Birdlife administrator for the past four years. Elaine is enjoying her retirement spending time with her husband John, but can still be found in the office where, as a valued volunteer, she assists with the library, membership and various events. Janine Goosen joined the team in July as our new African Birdlife administrator.

Elaine and Shireen Gould once again visited the Environmental Club at Kyalami Prep, where we had a fun afternoon learning about the Lappet-Faced Vulture. We discussed how the vultures use thermals for flying, and the boys and girls made their own paper planes to fly outside on the field. 

The Membership Programme assisted at The African Bird Fair in September, where we had a membership stand and sold ‘Shop for the Birds!’ items and second-hand books. This year’s fair was once again a great success. The weather was fantastic and the support from members and non-members was great.

Events 3

At the end of September, the Membership Programme championed a stand at the Gauteng Getaway Show held at The Ticketpro Dome in Northgate, Johannesburg. The three-day event was well attended and we promoted membership and subscriptions to African Birdlife and sold goods from ‘Shop for the Birds!’. With more than 30 new members signed up, it proved to be a wonderful public awareness campaign.

In another awareness campaign, and to promote the digital issue of African Birdlife, we sent flyers to The American Bird Fair held in Pennsylvania, USA.

Through the year various events such as book launches and garden club visits have been held at Isdell House and the Membership team has been available to promote membership and open ‘Shop for the Birds!’.

The 2018 calendars arrived in time to be launched at The African Bird Fair, and they are once again filled with beautiful images. There are still calendars available if you would like to buy one – they make lovely gifts!

The Membership team – Shireen, Bianca and Janine – wishes you all a blessed festive season. Travel safely and wishing you all well for 2018!


The best of 2017

In April, Flock at Sea AGAIN! was the largest congregation of birders ever to have been seen in the southern hemisphere, while in September The African Bird Fair brought together several thousand birding enthusiasts during the weekend event.


Will penguins return to De Hoop?

African Penguins began to establish a colony at the eastern edge of De Hoop Nature Reserve in 2003. The colony reached about 18 pairs before attacks by a terrestrial predator, thought to be a leopard or caracal, caused the attempt to be abandoned in 2006. With the support of CapeNature, BirdLife South Africa aims to re-establish this colony, after having made sure that predators cannot disrupt the attempt this time. A suite of protection measures is still to be fully developed, but is sure to include a predator-proof fence!

The plan to re-establish the colony uses to its advantage the natural tendency of penguins to breed in groups. The birds will be attracted to the site by social cues that indicate a number of penguins are already breeding there. Decoys, call playback and artificial burrows will trick penguins into thinking that a colony exists, making it more likely that young penguins will come ashore to breed. Other plans will be developed in case this doesn’t work, and we will also consider translocating birds if necessary. There is still plenty to be done before penguins will once again breed at De Hoop, but watch this space!

De Hoop panorama Adam Welz

 The beautiful site at the eastern edge of De Hoop Nature Reserve, where BirdLife South Africa is trying to re-establish a penguin colony. Credit: Adam Welz

This work would not have been possible without the support of Pamela Isdell, Patron for the African Penguin, who has funded the project thus far. We would also like to thank CapeNature and the Department of Environmental Affairs for their assistance and support of this endeavour.


Penguin and chick Ross Wanless

IMG 3118

Above left: Hopefully African Penguins will soon be a common sight at De Hoop. Credit: Ross Wanless

Above right: A meeting on site with CapeNature staff and consultants. Credit: Christina Hagen

Paired perfectionMAVA Foundation supports seabirds in West Africa

IMG 7326

My journey with the MAVA Foundation began in 2011 when, in my role as Africa Coordinator for the BirdLife International Marine Programme, I began supporting, a spatial research and mapping initiative on seabirds in West Africa. Called the Alcyon Project, it was funded by the foundation.

I could see that once we had a reasonable idea of where birds go, we would want to understand and address threats in the hotspots. And given the scale of fishing in the Canary Current, the third most productive marine ecosystem on earth, bycatch was always going to be on the radar. So I began to position BirdLife International as the go-to team for addressing seabird bycatch threats.

Tarrafal St Antao 2

In 2015, the MAVA Foundation announced that it was closing its doors and would provide no funding beyond 2022. This may seem like bad news, but MAVA is an extraordinary donor that prefers to develop projects that will have a lasting impact – and seabird and turtle bycatch is a key issue. I was asked to lead the process of developing a bycatch project for West Africa. On 15 November 2017 I was advised that our efforts (‘our ’ includes my BirdLife International colleagues, consultants, project partners and the Albatross Task Force) had been successful – to the tune of €5.5-million!

With a team in Dakar that will grow to six in early 2018, we will spend two years understanding the nature, scale and extent of turtle and seabird bycatch in the region, and the following three years doing trials to get workable solutions into target fisheries. Throughout this time we will also build capacity and a cadre of young scientists to strengthen the future of marine science and conservation in West Africa; roll out engagement programmes across the fisheries sector in all key countries; and expend significant time and energy on building better, more robust fisheries governance structures and institutions. Suddenly, R20-million a year doesn’t seem unduly generous…


IBA team’s 2017 successes

IBA Team 2017

Based on the significant progress and successes of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme and our national position within the conservation sector, we decided to assess our current resources, skills and operational structures and develop a future strategy that will increase our success of conserving key sites and habitats. The strategy is close to being finalised and will be implemented from 2018.

Part of the metamorphosis of the programme has been the advent of the global Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) Programme. Daniel Marnewick, the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme, decided in late 2016 that it would be in the programme’s best interests to play a proactive role in embracing KBAs. In 2017 he developed a strategic partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute to drive KBAs nationally. He was also nominated as the KBA Community regional representative for Africa and the KBA Community chairperson, which earns him a voting seat on the global KBA Committee. Consequently, Daniel is now playing strategic roles in KBAs nationally, regionally and globally. It is his intention that BirdLife South Africa, and South Africa as a country, will play a leading role in the global KBA Programme.

The IBA Programme continued to take the lead in securing and managing key sites and habitats for birds. After the declarations of Chrissiesmeer (2014) and Sneeuwberg (2016) as Protected Environments, the IBA Programme, through Ernst Retief, played a significant part in supporting the declaration of the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment in 2017, securing 12 000ha of critical grassland and wetland habitat. This brings the total area in IBAs protected by these three sites to more than 90 000ha.

Thanks to Sam Schroder’s hard work, the declaration of the Moutonshoek Protected Environment will hopefully be gazetted before the end of 2017 or in early 2018; the accompanying management plan has also been drafted. Sam has also re-established and formalised the Verlorenvlei Conservancy, thus making substantial progress towards securing this vital estuarine system. Similarly, Giselle Murison re-established the Berg River Estuary Conservancy, and her surveys over this summer in both the Berg River and Klein River estuaries have shown high biodiversity value on properties abutting them. We are therefore hoping that these supporting properties will also be declared protected areas in 2018.

The success of securing and managing the protection status for privately owned land rests with the willingness and support of committed landowners. They are the true champions. It is also indicative of how much of our conservation work focuses on building positive relationships with the people who depend on IBAs. Part of this is skills development and supporting local job creation. In 2017 Sam facilitated the training of 40 local community members, all from the Verlorenvlei project area, as well as others from additional sites on the West Coast. They received training in three separate courses: herbicide application, first aid and health and safety. They are all accredited Extended Public Works Programme workers for the West Coast District Municipality. The training ensures that they meet all legislative requirements, and also for some it has meant an increase in their daily rate of pay. Thus, on top of the improvement and rehabilitation of critical bird habitat at our West Coast IBAs and their catchment, including Verlorenvlei and the Berg River estuaries, there are also direct socio-economic and livelihood impacts via increased wages and overall employability. BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme is certainly now being seen as a leader in estuarine conservation in the Western Cape.

The programme continues to guide the appropriate management of key habitats for birds. In 2017 Dale Wright published Bird-friendly Habitat Management Guidelines for the Endemic Birds of the Fynbos Biome (Wright et al. 2017a) and Floating Wetlands: Increasing Biodiversity and Cleaning Water in Farm Dams (Wright et al. 2017b), which provides guidelines for making farm dams more waterbird-friendly.

None of this work would be possible without the support of our funders. We are grateful to Trencor, Neil Jowell, Italtile Foundation, Zeiss, Rand Merchant Bank, Ford Wildlife Fund, Mr Price, Grindrod Bank, Rupert Natuurstigting, WWF Nedbank Green Trust, WWF-SA, Toyota and the Table Mountain Fund.

Wright DR, Lee, ATK. 2017a. Bird-friendly Habitat Management Guidelines for the Endemic Birds of the Fynbos Biome. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

Wright DR, Purnell AJ, Altern S, Frenzel, P. 2017b. Floating Wetlands: Increasing Biodiversity and Cleaning Water in Farm Dams. Table Mountain Fund, Cape Town.

Renewable energy in harmony with nature

Renewable energyAs 2017 draws to a close, many Cape Town residents are wondering if they will be queuing for water at Christmas. Across the world, news of droughts, intense storms, fires and flooding has become the norm. We cannot attribute a single weather event to global climate change, but 16 of the 17 warmest years in NASA’s 136-year record of global surface temperatures have occurred since 2001. There is strong evidence that the intensity and frequency of severe weather events are a result of increasing global temperatures.

BirdLife South Africa has little doubt that there is an urgent need to address the threat of global warming. One approach is to minimise greenhouse gas emissions, for example by shifting from our heavy reliance on coal to renewable energy sources. Another key response is to protect and restore ecosystems – nature is our first line of defence against severe weather events. This implies that development, including that of renewable energy facilities, must take place in harmony with nature. For all the environmental benefits associated with wind and solar energy, poorly planned facilities can impact negatively on environmental health. Fortunately, the need to reconcile the development of renewable energy with biodiversity conservation is gaining recognition both locally and internationally, and thanks to sponsorship from Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking, BirdLife South Africa has been helping to address this challenge.

BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project provides rational, evidence-based guidance and advice to stakeholders, including government, renewable energy developers and operators, environmental assessment practitioners and consulting bird specialists. One of our major achievements for 2017 was the publication of a report summarising the results of operational phase monitoring at wind farms in South Africa. The report was based on the first eight wind farms of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, where less than two years of operational phase monitoring was completed at each site. Although the results are preliminary, they provide important information for risk assessment and mitigation at new wind energy facilities. They also point to new priorities for research and conservation action.

The publication comes after years of groundwork to ensure that the monitoring of birds takes place at wind farms and follows standard survey protocols (as outlined in BirdLife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Best Practice Guidelines), and that the monitoring reports are made available for review. These are challenges that many other countries are still struggling to overcome.

BirdLife South Africa would like to express its gratitude to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African Wind Energy Association, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, our advisors on the Birds and Renewable Energy Specialist Group, and our sponsors, Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking, for helping to make it happen.

For more information, contact Samantha Ralston-Paton at or visit BirdLife South Africa’s website

Wins for vulture conservation

WBV chick from cherry pickerDuring the past 18 months a great number of blood, bone and feather samples has been collected from vulture species across South Africa in an effort to understand the prevalence of lead poisoning. As this collecting nears completion, all samples will be processed and submitted for testing and the results will be published in 2018. BirdLife South Africa will then move on to the next and most important phase of the project: to determine the source of the lead poisoning.

In October 2017 a team from BirdLife South Africa attended a workshop in the USA that was sponsored and facilitated by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, Maryland. This was the first of four workshops aimed at addressing the complex reasons for the alarming declines in Africa’s vulture populations. The themes of this meeting focused on poisoning (both intentional and unintentional) and the threats posed by energy infrastructure, as well as possible ways to mitigate these problems. BirdLife South Africa has been tasked with developing a comprehensive review of vultures and the role they play in the prevention of disease, as well as producing a document that could be used to gain traction with policy makers.

Also in October, the Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) for saving Africa and Eurasia’s vultures was accepted by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) COP. One of the actions called for by the plan is the creation of Vulture Safe Zones, where owners of large tracts of land commit to managing their properties in ways that will provide safe havens for existing vulture populations. Importantly, this approach encourages positive action for vultures, focusing less on prohibition and negative messaging and more on sound environmental practices that could provide the landowner with reputational and economic benefits. Initially implemented by countries in Asia, and recently in Zambia, Vulture Safe Zones could offer conservation solutions that are effective, realistic and achievable at grassroots level.

We would like to thank Neville Isdell and Niall Perrins for making our research on vultures and lead toxicosis possible.

Flufftail Festival 2017

The Flufftail Festival’s display took the form of a maze where individual stations provided information about different aspects of water, wetlands and waterbirds. As well as learning about the basic ecology of wetlands and the services they provide, visitors discovered how to avoid polluting wetlands, why it is important to have key conservation species like the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail and how critical it is to conserve water in a semi-arid country such as South Africa. Shoppers were encouraged to move through the maze and complete a competition form with five questions about wetland conservation. Prizes for the daily competitions were provided by Woolworths, Mr Price, Panarottis and Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo. Raymond Rampholokeng, the founder of Bay of Grace Tours and a BirdLife-accredited guide in Soweto, also donated a half day’s birding tour as one of the prizes.

This year the Flufftail Festival partnered with the Sowetan Schools Programme and brought Grade 6 and 7 learners from four different schools in Soweto to experience an educational puppet show, ‘Waxi the Hero’, hosted by the Rare Finch Conservation Group. After the show the children were taken through the maze in small groups and were given the chance to enter the daily competitions.

The Flufftail Festival was a huge success, with a record 2288 participants working their way through the maze and learning about the importance of wetlands and the biodiversity in them. Numerous attendees commented on the positive experience they enjoyed while attending the festival and left with a new understanding about conserving the wetlands of South Africa. The positive collaboration between BirdLife South Africa, Eskom and Rand Water ensured a successful Flufftail Festival and exposed the residents of Soweto – many of whom had never heard of wetland, nor realised that Soweto is situated in a wetland – to the world of conservation and sustainable living.

flufftail images

Sowetan Schools Programme

In the current year’s cycle of the Sowetan Schools Programme, BirdLife South Africa and the Water Wise team arranged four contact sessions with learners from each school to demonstrate to them the importance of wetlands and their inhabitants. The introductory session, held in the first week of November 2016, was followed by a session when the learners attended the Flufftail Festival, hosted by Maponya Mall in Soweto from 31 January to 6 February 2017.

For the third contact session, learners were taken on guided walks in Tokoza Park to see its wetlands, dams and fields. They were shown the many different bird species that utilise this important green space and then they learned how to conduct a miniSASS assessment, which is a tool used to assess quickly the health of a stream or river. The South African Scoring System (SASS) ranks the presence of different invertebrates based on their sensitivity to pollutants in the waterway and enables users to calculate a health score.

The final contact session taught the learners about the importance of recycling and making sure that rubbish stays out of the fragile wetland systems that surround Soweto. BirdLife South Africa is proud to have partnered with Rand Water’s Water Wise team to bring the message of water conservation to learners in Soweto and we look forward to continuing our community engagement work with young people.


Raymond Rampolokeng (left) and Melissa Whitecross (right) tell learners from Lakeview and Sekwati primary schools about the birds in Tokoza Park, Soweto.


Left to right: The recycling bins used to quiz students about what items of trash should be recycled; students from Sekwati Primary School hold up bird feeders they have made; learners of Lakeview Primary School hang their feeders in a tree at the school; at Molalatladi Primary School, students complete an assessment of what they have learnt from the contact sessions.

South Africa and Ethiopia: the White-winged Flufftail link

Research on the White-winged Flufftail published in the African Journal of Ecology is the first to confirm genetic connectivity between the South African and Ethiopian populations of this Critically Endangered species. In this study, analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear markers was conducted for samples from South African (n = 3) and Ethiopian (n = 7) White-winged Flufftails, as well as Red-chested Flufftail for species comparison. Analyses of the DNA regions identified only three interspecific variations between the two populations, supporting the hypothesis that the birds in South Africa and Ethiopia do not represent different species or subspecies, but constitute one migrating population that has separate ranges in different seasons in Ethiopia and South Africa.

The results of our study link to the species having been recorded in South Africa only during the austral summer, whereas it is known to breed in Ethiopia between June and August – or summer in the northern hemisphere. However, these results do not exclude the possibility of additional breeding and non-breeding sites in countries other than South Africa and Ethiopia. The low genetic diversity observed in the populations of White-winged Flufftail needs to be investigated, as it may ultimately contribute to the extinction of the species. The lack of diversity in the immune regions of White-winged Flufftails is quantified and further discussed in our recently published paper in Scientific Reports (Dalton et al. 2016), which focuses on the sequencing and analyses of Toll-like receptor genes.

This research is a collaborative effort between the National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria, and BirdLife South Africa.


Dalton DL, Smit-Robinson HA, Vermaak E, Jarvis E, Kotzé A. 2017. Is there genetic connectivity among the Critically Endangered Whited-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) populations from South Africa and Ethiopia? African Journal of Ecology. Accepted.

New habitat for threatened grassland species

yellow breasted pipit

A combination of ecological niche modelling, remote sensing and field surveys has enabled us to determine the distribution and population status of three threatened grassland species: Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit, all of which are localised and require specific habitats.

From 5 to 7 October, a field trip was conducted in the Memel area of the Free State to increase survey effort across these species’ ranges and to establish the accuracy of ecological niche models that had been developed. These models make it possible to identify sites for certain species that may not be covered by other monitoring projects. By identifying one of the largest contiguous patches of habitat for Rudd’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit, the surveys supported the accuracy of our findings, yielding tracts of optimal and untransformed habitat. The results of this research are being fed directly into biodiversity stewardship initiatives that aim to secure these intact patches of habitat and thus contribute to the conservation of these threatened species. Large patches of the newly discovered habitat overlap with the recently created Sneeuwberg Protected Environment, which also contributes enormously to the species’ conservation.

Further studies will be done to describe and understand the current farming practices on these properties in order to determine, for example, how burning and grazing regimes impact on the three species. Such information will feed back into improved management practices.


Yellow-breasted Pipit. Credit: Warwick Tarboton

Threatened larks absent from protected areas

red larkIn a prioritisation study focusing on threatened bird species in the Northern Cape, it has been determined that more than 60% of the South African range of six of the species falls within that province. And of these six species, three – the Near Threatened Barlow’s and Sclater’s larks and the Vulnerable Red Lark – have South African ranges that are restricted entirely to the Northern Cape. Disturbingly, these three species are also the least represented species within the existing protected area network.

The aim of the study was to identify which threatened species or suites of species in the Northern Cape require the most urgent conservation intervention, research and formal protection. Red Lark and Barlow’s Lark were chosen to be the first subjects for further research. Initial objectives will include the assessment of the species’ global ranges by means of ecological niche modelling. The relatively small climatic threshold range (in terms of rainfall and temperature) in which both species occur suggests that they may be vulnerable to global climate change.

This project in the Northern Cape is supported by Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture.

Right: Red Lark. Credit: Japie Claassen

Grey-headed Gulls head to the coast for summer

As part of its operational support for Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), BirdLife South Africa has helped set up a research project to track Grey-headed Gulls in the vicinity of OR Tambo International Airport and establish their daily and seasonal movements. Once the team was comfortable that the correct harness fit had been achieved, three birds were trapped on the morning of 22 August 2017 and were fitted with trackers before being released.

Map All GHG Movements Sept17

Map of the movements of the three tracked Grey-headed Gulls between 23 August and 31 September 2017.

Two of the birds flew to the coast, indicating a possible migration, although this will only be confirmed if these birds return to Gauteng in autumn next year. The female, Embraer, made a mammoth overnight flight from eastern Gauteng to the iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal on 2 September. Antonov, a male, flew to Maputo approximately two weeks later. This is the first concrete evidence that Grey-headed Gulls in Gauteng are heading to the eastern coastal areas for the summer. The information gained from these trackers will assist in monitoring the gulls’ movements to and from OR Tambo and will improve the mitigation efforts to decrease bird-strike incidents at the airport.

gull collection

Left: A Grey-headed Gull. Credit: Mark D. Anderson
Centre: Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Craig Nattrass and Gail Schaum fit a tracking device to one of the Grey-headed Gulls. Credit: Albert Froneman
Right: Melissa Hofmann releases one of the tracked birds. Credit: Albert Froneman

IBA fundraisers in 2017

Phil Liggett Collage

Fast Featherless CollageOn 16 November BirdLife South Africa and Zeiss hosted their annual evening of cocktails and canapés with special guest speaker, Phil Liggett, the world-renowned Tour de France commentator. The event was held at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandton and guests were treated to a fascinating talk by Phil, who detailed how the Tour de France has changed since it commenced in 1903 and his impressions of some of the race’s top cyslists over the years.

Right: This year Team Fast & Featherless raised more than R40 000 for the IBA Programme. Well done!

Through ticket sales and a raffle for prizes generously donated by Zeiss and JustEyewear, as well as the auctioning of an original Chris Froome cycling shirt from the 2012 Tour de France, more than R50 000 was raised for the IBA Programme.

Above: A successful annual fundraiser was held in partnership with Zeiss and Phil Liggett.

Cape Parrot Bags

On Sunday 19 November, cyclists took to the streets of Johannesburg in the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge and 29 of them were riding in aid of BirdLife South Africa. It was a very hot day on the roads, but Team Fast & Featherless did us proud, managing to raise more than R40 000 for the IBA Programme. THANK YOU Team Fast & Featherless; we hope to see you all again next year.

Thanks to all these wonderful supporters, more than R90 000 has been raised to assist with the IBA Programme’s work to safeguard important bird habitats throughout South Africa.

The IBA team is also very excited that the first Woolworths shopping bags in support of BirdLife South Africa have been designed and will raise funds to support our work to protect the remaining fragments of Cape Parrot habitat. These beautiful bags are available in Woolworths stores nationwide and R10 from every bag bought goes towards protecting Cape Parrots and funding the annual Cape Parrot census. For more information, go to

Uninhibited funds raised from initiatives such as these are very important in assisting with the day-to-day running costs of the IBA Programme. We thank everyone who has supported these initiatives as we close 2017 on a high note and look forward to another productive year in 2018.

state of sa birdsThe state of our country’s birds

The State of South Africa’s Bird Report, which provides a snapshot of the current state of birds in South Africa, the pressures they face and the steps being taken by various stakeholders to mitigate these threats, was completed this year. This is the first time this publication has been produced for South Africa.

Policy & Advocacy – a new approach

Policy and Advocacy Programme 1Although specific conservation action projects are undeniably important, laws and environmental policy create the wider framework into which all conservation efforts fit. The ability to reform and direct the ambit of legislation and environmental policy, while often challenging to accomplish, can have far-reaching positive consequences that impact numerous sites and species. Yet even where solid policy commitments exist, advocacy and monitoring by civil society are often essential to ensure that they are properly implemented. BirdLife South Africa’s new Policy & Advocacy Programme is tasked with this in support of its nationwide conservation work.

The programme’s team comprises Candice Stevens as manager and Jonathan Booth as the advocacy officer. With a combined skills set that encompasses tax and biodiversity finance, environmental law and sustainability, they have revised the strategy and outlook for BirdLife South Africa’s national policy work and regional and local advocacy responses, and are supported by funding from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This new approach began in July 2017 and has seen some interesting successes and challenges.

Our policy work has been instrumental in providing carefully considered input into the Draft National Offsets Policy that is currently being developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs. This is a somewhat contentious topic that poses opportunities and challenges to the country’s key biodiversity areas and protected areas network. Our comments on the need for legal protection mechanisms in perpetuity for offset sites have been accepted and drafted in, giving this component of policy work long-term security and protection.

We have also been hard at work creating BirdLife South Africa’s first advocacy structure, which provides us with a clear and well-formulated approach to answering development applications and enables us to expand our proactive approach to dealing with threats to our birds and their habitats. The structure is aimed at prioritising where and how we respond in order to ensure both the efficient use of our limited resources and the effective and legal accuracy of our work. The team has already responded to numerous development applications and has taken on larger legal advocacy cases in areas requiring urgent action to protect the birds and other biodiversity housed there, such as the Mabola Protected Environment in Mpumalanga and the Letseng Wind Farm in Lesotho.

An interesting and unique element of the policy work we do involves the Fiscal Benefits Project, managed by Candice in her capacity as a tax specialist. This project has introduced South Africa’s first biodiversity tax incentive – an historic achievement nationally that is also globally unique. Candice continues with her work on mainstreaming access to section 37D of the Income Tax Act, as well as engaging with National Treasury and SARS to further amend legislation to create additional biodiversity finance for protected areas in South Africa. This work is conducted in partnership with SANBI through funding from the Global Environment Fund.

Despite the growing threats to our birds and our environment in general, as well as limited resources, the Policy & Advocacy team has secured achievements in both the national policy frameworks that impact our conservation work and within the sphere of biodiversity finance that ensures their financial sustainability, while holding the thin green line on the advocacy front. We look forward to a positive and impactful 2018.

Black Eagle fixedBlack Storks in South Africa

Although the Black Stork is globally listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the resident population of Black Storks in South Africa is regarded as regionally Vulnerable due to the loss of appropriate breeding and foraging habitat. It is of great concern that, for two years running, none of the traditional nest sites in the Waterberg area have been found to be active, nor could any other active nest sites be found.

In August 2017, BirdLife South Africa was granted permission to survey the length of the Levuvhu River in the northern regions of the Kruger National Park, an area that was previously regarded as a stronghold for the species. Again, none of the traditional nest sites were found to be active, with the week-long survey recording only 3–5 adult birds in flight. The survey team did note the presence of an impressive number of Verreaux’s Eagle breeding pairs along the river (6–7 pairs), as well as one aggressive interaction between a Black Stork and a Verreaux’s Eagle above Lanner Gorge, which prompted a discussion on the possible role this dense population of Verreaux’s Eagles may be having on the breeding success of the Black Storks. A follow-up survey is scheduled for August 2018.

Left: Disappointingly, 2017 surveys of traditional Black Stork breeding sites found no active nests.

Champagne weekend getaway for the whole family

Set in the central Drakensberg, the prestigious Champagne Sports Resort offers activities for the non-birding sports enthusiast and relaxation for the spa lover. While you and other like-minded birders take part in birding lectures and guided walks, they will have plenty of time to engage in activities they find fulfilling.

For the birders in the family, this is your chance to have a unique ‘Rockjumper Birding Experience’. You will be whisked away on bird walks by our highly experienced and knowledgeable guides, who will be aiming for sightings of sought-after species such as Southern Bald Ibis, Barratt’s Warbler and the stunning Malachite Sunbird. Guides will be on hand to deliver lectures about current birding topics and trends, and will be available during social times to discuss birds and birding and to share stories of their adventures. This promises to be a very enjoyable and enlightening time.

In the meantime, your family has access to the resort’s incredible facilities:

  • a championship golf course that has been rated one of South Africa’s most beautiful courses in recent years;

  • a salon whose well-balanced range of treatments and incredible views from the resting area ensure a relaxing upmarket experience;

  • an outstanding kids’ club that will keep your young ones entertained nonstop as they make friends and play games.

There is so much for the family to do that no one will feel like they’re just ‘tagging along’, but instead that they are also having a fantastic time.

More details are at

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BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: November 2017

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter November 2017


Raise funds for conservation!

Birding Big Day (BBD) 2016 raised more than R60 000 for BirdLife South Africa through the purchase of Birding Big Day badges, donations and dedicated fundraising. We hope that BBD 2017 will raise even more funds to support terrestrial bird conservation, such as research on threatened species and efforts to conserve valuable habitat. You can help to raise funds in the following ways:


  • Teams that participate in BBD 2017 can buy BBD badges at R300 for four cloth badges and then R45 for any additional badges; 
  • Teams can raise funds by asking individuals and companies to sponsor them on the day. Sponsors can either donate one amount or sponsor an amount per bird seen. A sponsorship form and Funding Support Letter can be downloaded from;
  • Direct donations can be made at Just select ‘Birding Big Day 2017’ under the ‘Donations Options’ heading. 

BirdLife South Africa can provide any company or individual who donates more than R500 with a Section 18A tax certificate. In order to do so we need the complete details of each donor, including their full name, address and the amount donated. 

This year for the first time a prize will be awarded to the team that raises the most money on average per team member (total money raised / number of team members). The winning team will enjoy two nights for four guests on a walking trail at Pafuri Trails Camp, including accommodation, all meals and walks each day. The prize is sponsored by RETURNAfrica.

A Christmas gift that keeps on giving

Gift membershipHere’s an idea for a Christmas present for someone special – why not take out a gift membership to BirdLife South Africa or a gift subscription to African Birdlife magazine for them? There are three options you can choose from:

Wings One: Ordinary – R500/Senior citizen – R350

Wings Two: Ordinary – R680/Senior citizen – R530

African Birdlife magazine only – R288

To take advantage of this offer in time for Christmas, please e-mail Shireen Gould at before 15 December (the office will be closed from 15 December 2017 until 2 January 2018).


Raptors with Joe Grosel

712023 SANParks February Raptor Course Facebook

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Perfect for birding

Crab Apple photo

Lying at the edge of the Dargle Conservancy in the KZN Midlands, Crab Apple’s cosy AA Superior self-catering cottages are the ideal spot for relaxing and, with more than 200 bird species and the Oatley bird hide, are a birder’s haven! Book now via or





A measure of success

Sponsored by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), 12 learners from Ekurhuleni Municipality were selected in November 2016 to take part in the BirdLife South Africa guide training programme. Over the past year they have studied for their Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) qualification, spending time with various birders and bird clubs in the Gauteng area and in the bush in Grietjie Nature Reserve.

Guie article IMG 20170215 WA0007

After their second attempt at the FGASA exam two of them got the required 75 per cent to pass and three others came close with more than 70 per cent. This is some achievement, considering that a year ago they had never handled binoculars and were unable to name more than a dozen bird species. Most of them had never even ventured out of the city!

Left: Three of the learners birding with members of the BirdLife Northern Gauteng bird club.

The commitment and dedication shown by these 12 learners was humbling to say the least. They would spend half the night studying, frequently going to bed at 01h00 and getting up again at 05h30 for a game drive and then the day’s lectures. If we could have given them a qualification based on dedication and hard work, I am sure they all would have passed.

However, that is not the case. We are controlled by standards – and rightly so. We dedicate ourselves to training learners to become role models within the tourism industry and so we need to ensure that minimum standards are maintained. This is vital for the benefit of all: the guides themselves and the tourists and birders, as well as for the reputations of BirdLife South Africa, FGASA and South Africa as a premier tourism destination with guides that can match the best in the world.

Some critics suggest that the standards are set too high and that it is not possible for some learners to ever achieve those heights. I firmly believe that you do not make something stronger by reducing the criteria required or moving the goalposts so that people can score an undefended goal. The only way to ensure that standards stay where they are, or even improve, is through education.

Guide article IMGP3587

Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’ This is a philosophy followed by our bird guide training courses and we try very hard to get the required – and desired – results. However, we face an uphill struggle when the learners coming to us have gone through an education system in which standards have dropped and it is easier to achieve a matric pass now than it ever was. We have to balance the time we spend educating learners against the level of funding we are able to obtain. In a perfect world we should be taking these learners on for a full 12 months, but the costs associated with that would probably chase away even the most dedicated donors.

Right: The learners get their first lesson in how to use binoculars from one of our community guides, Raymond Rampolokeng.

In our courses going forward, learners will spend a minimum of two months in the bush under the permanent mentorship of a qualified and experienced trainer. I am convinced that this new strategy will begin to show better results and that the learners will benefit far more. 

One of the most important factors that we often forget about when considering success or failure is that one of our objectives through this education is to expose these learners to the world of conservation. Our vision is that they can return to their communities as future wildlife ambassadors. I believe that the learners of the past two years have become more aware of the natural environment and more conservation minded since studying with BirdLife South Africa and that they have indeed become ambassadors in one way or another. Our success in life is often measured only by a piece of paper or the job we end up with, when in fact success should be measured by what has been achieved in our mind and our heart and by the spirit with which we go forward.

In the words of racing driver Mario Andretti, ‘Desire is the key to motivation, but it is determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.’

To find out more about the guide training programme or to enquire about making use of the services of one of the community guides, contact me at or on 083 286 8281.


African Birdlife magazine

birdlife coverIn the latest issue of African Birdlife we journey to Chad and Lesotho in the name of birding – and quite spectacular birding it is too. There are tips for photographing in the dark (you’ll never miss a nightjar shot again) and for planting a grassland garden for birds, as well as insight into how African Emerald Cuckoos and Violet-backed Starlings are more than just pretty plumage. We also look at the importance of alates in some birds’ diets and how successfully a few species have adapted to monoculture in the Renosterveld. And that’s not to mention the usual crop of reader contributions, latest scientific news, rare bird sightings and stunning photographs!




Keep up to date with 2018! 

Calendar 2018 CoverBuy a BirdLife South Africa calendar and for each month of 2018 you’ll enjoy a spectacular full-page colour photograph of one of this country’s magnificent birds. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage) and, as stocks are limited, we recommend that you order soon to avoid disappointment. The calendar will make an amazing festive season gift. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order.



Welcome Simeon Bezeng

Welcome Simeon BezengBirdLife South Africa is partnering with the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) to assist other African countries in carrying out National Red List assessments to determine the status of threatened species and identify national Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in support of the work of the IUCN’s National Red List Working Group Alliance. In order to achieve this, the new position of Regional Red List Programme Officer has been established and will be based at BirdLife South Africa’s offices in Johannesburg. 

BirdLife South Africa and the IUCN SCC are therefore excited to welcome Dr Simeon Bezeng Bezeng to the team as the Regional Red List Programme Officer. Simeon has a BSc in Botany and Environmental Sciences from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Now a South African permanent resident, he also has an MSc and a PhD in Botany from the University of Johannesburg. Since his early research days, understanding the threats that species face and providing recommendations for their management prioritisation has been Simeon’s passion. Throughout his academic career, he has studied ways to prioritise biodiversity management using modern advances in DNA technology and spatial techniques.

We look forward to having Simeon on the team and wish him luck as the new Regional Red List Programme Officer.


Watch conservation in the grasslands

 Grassland IBA video

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Agricultural production, mining, commercial plantations and over-utilisation have caused the deterioration or disappearance of large areas of our grasslands and associated wetlands. But there is good news: some of these land uses, such as livestock ranching, can operate while supporting grassland conservation. Through initiatives such as biodiversity stewardship, more and more farmers recognise that they have a responsibility to conserve grasslands. Watch this short video to find out more about BirdLife South Africa’s work in the Grasslands Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. 

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Cape Parrot shopping bags

From December, Woolworths stores throughout South Africa will stock beautiful Cape Parrot shopping bags. Buy one and R10 will be donated to BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme. Funds raised through this initiative will be used to help safeguard and secure the remaining patches of Cape Parrot habitat and to support the annual Cape Parrot census. The bag will make the perfect Christmas wrapping.

The Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus robustus is a habitat specialist that depends on mature afromontane yellowwood forest at 1000–1700 metres above sea level for most of its diet and nesting sites. The species is listed as Endangered due to the continuing decrease in its population that is caused by habitat loss, declining food availability, disease and capture for the illegal pet trade.

Cape Parrot WTarboton

Cape Parrot bagsToday, less than two per cent of all South African landscapes comprise natural forest and only a small proportion of this is afromontane yellowwood forest. This habitat is being lost through the extraction, both legal and illegal, of yellowwood trees from the forests, resulting in the further fragmentation of the already disjointed territory occupied by the parrots. The core of the Cape Parrot population (where the most critical habitat remains) is represented by three Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs): the Wolkberg Forest Belt in Limpopo, the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Forests in KZN and the Amatola–Katberg Mountain in the Eastern Cape.

Left: Image by Warwick Tarboton

The biggest challenge to the conservation of the Cape Parrot is the need to protect the forest habitat on which the species depends so heavily. It’s a challenge made more difficult by a history of forest over-utilisation and degradation that has resulted in the fragmentation that continues to this day. That aside, mortality from psittacine beak and feather disease is an increasingly common concern.

For more information, go to 

Cape Parrot IBA Map

On the road with Ross

Ross Wanless 1The annual expedition to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s (IOTC) Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch is one of my favourites. Two years ago I reported on a very successful meeting that set the scene for really important progress for seabird conservation at the IOTC (duly achieved in 2016), as well as an amazing post-meeting birding trip in the Castro Verde region of Portugal. This time we were meeting in San Sebastian in the Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain, and I was vaguely hoping for similarly exciting birding. I also hoped that the meeting itself would be dull. Why? Because we’ve done the hard yards and are now working for the science to be turned into new regulations at the IOTC. Therefore if there were any significant papers on seabird bycatch, we might have been in trouble. Fortunately, the meeting was as dull as dishwater! 

Left: Mundaka is a medieval town in the picturesque Basque Country.

Ross WanlessThe birding plans collapsed about me before I’d even made it to Spain. My efforts to find any birding information about the region all came to nought. And then came the rain. In the end, I bailed on my two nights in the mountains and accepted an offer from one of the participants to move out of San Sebastian and explore a bit of the region without doing birding. During the meeting I had taken advantage of San Sebastian’s famed pincho bar cuisine. Bars, which abound in the old town, compete for patrons by serving the most amazingly elaborate snacks, or pinchos, usually on fresh baguette – and they are delicious beyond description. Even breakfast, which is not served before 09h00, consists almost exclusively of a variation of pincho that is combined with Spanish tortilla (basically an omelette on baguette).

My stay in the scenic medieval village of Mundaka was very relaxing, though somewhat rain-interrupted and characterised by desultory birding, despite my efforts. And if I never see a breakfast pincho again, I won’t complain. But I’ll gladly return to the Basque Country with its beautiful vistas, deep culture and, according to the books, some decent birding.

Above: Some of San Sebastian’s legendary pinchos.

Soweto schools recycling for birds

As part of the annual Flufftail Festival, BirdLife South Africa has been involved with several Soweto-based primary schools to educate their learners about the conservation of water, wetlands and waterbirds through a strategic partnership with Rand Water’s Water Wise Team. For this year’s Flufftail Festival cycle, four contact sessions with learners from each school were agreed upon, starting in the fourth term of 2016 with Grade 5 pupils and continuing with them, now in Grade 6, in the first, second and third terms of 2017. The chosen schools were Sekwati Primary School, Molalatladi Primary School and Lakeview Full Service Primary School. 

Soweto Schools 1The fourth and final contact session with the learners taught them about the importance of recycling and making sure that trash stays out of the fragile wetland systems that surround Soweto. Dr Melissa Whitecross of theTerrestrial Bird Conservation Programme met with each of the classes on 18 September 2017. The learners first played a game to see if they could figure out whether an item presented to them belonged in the paper, plastic, glass/can or general waste bins placed in front of the class. All the groups displayed a good understanding of what was and was not recyclable.

Soweto Schools 3

The next activity involved learners splitting into pairs to build their own bird feeders out of recyclable materials such as plastic bottles, wooden skewer sticks and string. Once they had constructed their bird feeders and filled them with seed, the class went into the school grounds to hang up the new feeders. Each teacher was left with a bag of seed to replenish the feeders over the remainder of the school year.

The final activity of the day for the learners was filling out a worksheet and summarising what they had learnt. This exercise gave them the opportunity to express what they would take away from the contact sessions. 

BirdLife South Africa is proud to have partnered with Rand Water’s Water Wise Team to bring the message of water conservation to the young people of Soweto and we look forward to continuing our community engagement work with South Africa’s youth into the future.

Birding for schools in Camdeboo

Camdeboo birdingIn this technological age when young people spend so much time on cell phones, video games and a host of other high-tech distractions, Johan Bouwer and his SANParks Honorary Ranger: Camdeboo Region team are to be commended for their initiative to provide the children of Graaff-Reinet with something very different, wholesome and positive to do at the Camdeboo National Park’s education centre.

On Friday, 20 October the junior grades from all the schools in Graaff-Reinet were introduced to birds, taken on birding outings and assessed. We don’t expect the children to know the birds well after only a couple of outings – that would be asking a lot – but they were assessed on their ability to pay attention and on their enthusiasm for the birds and nature in general. It is not necessary to have a lot of knowledge to be able to love and appreciate nature.

Camdeboo birding 2On Saturday it was the turn of the higher grades and, as is to be expected, some of the learners knew some of the birds. Again, though, the emphasis was on the appreciation of nature and how birds fit into the whole scheme of things.

Professor Adrian Craig, an ornithologist from Grahamstown, and his wife Cheryl came for the weekend and showed the learners how to catch and ring birds. This added a wonderful dimension to birding at a more complex level and Adrian had a captive audience of children.

On Sunday the youngsters returned to Camdeboo National Park for the final bird hike, after which the various winners and winning schools were celebrated. Hoër Volkskool took the overall prize in the senior schools’ category, with students San-Marie de Goede from Hoër Volkskool taking first place, Theodor Dorfling, also from Hoër Volkskool, taking second and Alzane Loff from Asherville Secondary School taking third. The primary schools’ category was won by Thembalisizwe Primary, while learners Robyn Ludrick from Narsing Straat Primary took first place, Jaydene Vaaltyn from Laer Volkskool came in second and Xhobani Konogo from Isibane Primary came in third.

Camdeboo birding 4The honorary rangers also treated us to a braai on Saturday evening to round off a very worthwhile birding weekend at the education centre. 

The Camdeboo Honorary Rangers would like to thank Montego Pet Nutrition, Pick n Pay Graaff-Reinet, Shoprite Graaff-Reinet, Spandau Spar, L’Ormarins, Bush Transport, McNaughtons Bookshop, Kens Radio, Mesh Steel & Weld, Mr Paint and Camdeboo National Park for sponsoring the weekend, and Alan Collet, Zorb and Judy Caryer of the Graaff-Reinet Bird Club, as well as the South African College for Tourism for its support with the students in the culinary department. 

The Graaff-Reinet community and the honorary rangers would like to acknowledge the following schools for participating in the event: Laer Volkskool, Lincolm Primary, Graaff-Reinet Primary, Adendorp Primary, Isibane Primary, Thembalisizwe Primary, Narsing Street Primary, Ryneveld Primary, Hoër Volkskool, Nqweba Secondary School and Asherville Secondary School. Without the interest shown by these schools, the event would have not been such a success.

Our aim for the 2018 Camdeboo National Park’s inter-schools birding weekend is to involve more schools from the surrounding area and to involve more parents to join our festivities with the children. They can only have a lot of fun!

West Coast Wader Bash

Wader bash 2

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River Valley Nature Reserve 

River Valley 1River Valley 3River Valley Nature Reserve lies within a horseshoe of a picturesque section of the iVungu River, which meanders through a valley of hills into the Indian Ocean at well-known Uvongo Beach, rushing over the iVungu Falls. As one of the few remaining privately owned and family-run pockets of natural habitat on the South Coast, it is a small reminder of the once untouched natural coastline that boasted varied ecosystems consisting of grassland, riverine and coastal forest. 

The reserve’s abundant birdlife includes Narina Trogon, African Finfoot, Crowned Eagle, Knysna Turaco and Olive Woodpecker among the 145 or so species that inhabit the area. Antelope such as nyala, impala, bushbuck and blue and grey duiker can also be seen, and if you’re fortunate you may even catch sight of a Cape clawless otter.

We offer two upmarket self-catering cottages, a small private campsite and a picnic area in addition to walking trails. Although the reserve borders the Margate golf course and is close to the main South Coast beaches and shopping centres, its rural location ensures a peaceful stay. 

For bookings, please contact Andrew on 083 263 5537 or visit our website

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: October 2017

BirdLife Africa in Burkina Faso

Collage numbered


1. The BirdLife Africa Regional Committee members.

2. The Double-spur Spurfowl is common in southern Burkina Faso.

3. Baobab trees are numerous in southern Burkina Faso.

4. The Exclamatory Paradise Whydah is not very common, but in its breeding plumage is impossible to miss.

5. Nazinga Game Ranch was lush and green after good rains.

6. Idrissa Zeba is the executive director of Naturama, the BirdLife Partner in Burkina Faso.

7. Naturama is a well-respected conservation NGO that is responsible for numerous projects across the country.

8. The White-headed Lapwing is relatively common in southern Burkina Faso.

9. The Yellow-crowned Gonolek is a striking bird.

10. During a short field trip, the ARC members visited the legendary Clark Lungren, who was responsible for establishing the well-known Nazinga Game Ranch. Clark is still active in several conservation and education projects.

11. The White-shouldered Black Tit has a conspicuous pale eye and white shoulders.

12. Vulture numbers in Burkina Faso have declined and only 16 vultures – 12 Hooded and four White-backed – were seen during a drive from Ougadougou to Po (about 120km) and then at Nazinga Game Ranch.

Key Biodiversity Areas: what sets them apart?

2. KBA Emailer Baviaanskloof A Lee 7

As the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Community Chair, Daniel Marnewick sits on the global KBA Committee. He believes that what sets the global KBA Programme apart from other similar initiatives – and stands out as one of its most important aspects – is that it has behind it the full weight of 12 of the largest conservation NGOs in the world. This means that advocacy for KBAs packs a powerful punch.

KBAs are ‘sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity’ in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. Sites qualify as global KBAs if they meet one or more of 11 criteria, clustered into five categories: threatened biodiversity; geographically restricted biodiversity; ecological integrity; biological processes; and irreplaceability. The KBA criteria can be applied to both species and ecosystems.

2. KBA partners meeting Cambridge September 2017

Currently South Africa has 168 KBAs, a network that constitutes sites previously designated as IBAs as well as those KBAs that have been identified under the previous KBA criteria by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). These sites will soon be reassessed to ensure that they meet the new KBA criteria. New KBAs will then also be proposed so that other priority species and ecosystems are covered. This is a project in partnership with BirdLife South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

For more information, contact

Left: KBA Partner and Committee representatives at the recent KBA Committee meeting held at the David Attenborough Building, Cambridge, UK



Pelagic birding on 2 October 2017

Pelagic birding 1

Conditions were calm when BirdLife South Africa’s seabird team and its Namibian fisheries observer guests set off from Hout Bay in a boat chartered from Hooked on Africa. Shortly after leaving the safety of the bay, we came across three humpbacked whales that appeared to be actively foraging. There were dozens of seals feeding in association with the whales, but remarkably few birds.

Pelagic birding 2

Our skipper had located a couple of trawlers quite far in the west and after a long steam we found them, but had missed the first haul of the day. As soon as we slowed down to take stock of the situation, a massive Wandering Albatross cruised by! The views of it weren’t amazing – it was heading into the sun – but it was a good find to start the day. There were a few late Pintado Petrels still about, but almost no Great Shearwaters, a species that we had expected to be abundant. Clearly most of them had returned to their Tristan and Gough breeding grounds to prepare nesting burrows and begin courting. We were pleasantly surprised to see good numbers of Black-bellied Storm Petrels, a few early arrivals of Sabine’s Gulls and even a Spectacled Petrel while we waited for the net to be hauled in. There were good numbers of other common albies in all stages of maturity (good for observers to get their heads around!) and decent views of both Giant Petrel species. On the way home, close to Hout Bay, two sharpish-looking Parasitic Jaegers must have recently arrived from Europe. It was unusual to see so many Kelp Gulls and Cape Gannets around the boat, and there were scores of Swift and ‘Commic’ terns kicking around the deep too Above: Spectacled Petrel
Right: Shy Albatross and White-Chinned Petrels

Pelagic images by Grant Scholtz

The following is a list of pelagic species seen, with ballpark numbers, throughout the day:

  1. Wandering Albatross: 1
  2. Shy Albatross: ~300
  3. Black-browed Albatross: ~300
  4. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross: 2
  5. Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross: 10
  6. Southern Giant Petrel: 3
  7. Northern Giant Petrel: 1
  8. White-chinned Petrel: ~500
  9. Spectacled Petrel: 2
  10. Pintado Petrel: 10
  11. Sooty Shearwater: ~100
  12. Great Shearwater: ~20
  13. Black-bellied Storm Petrel: 10
  14. Wilson’s Storm Petrel: 20
  15. Sabine’s Gull: 3
  16. Subantarctic Skua: 5
  17. Parasitic Jaeger: 2
  18. Common Tern: 50
  19. Arctic Tern: 10 

BirdLife South Africa’s 2018 calendar

Calendar 2018 CoverBuy a BirdLife South Africa calendar and for each month of 2018 you’ll enjoy a spectacular full-page colour photograph of one of this country’s magnificent birds. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage) and, as stocks are limited, we recommend that you order soon to avoid disappointment. The calendar will make an amazing festive season gift. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order.



A gift for a friend – or yourself

3. Igerbook Xmas SpecialThe IgerBook features the photographic talents of local Instagram enthusiasts, or Igers, and showcases the city of Johannesburg in a new and artistic light. From street scenes and urban architecture to powerful portraits, it captures the essence of the city in all its glory.

All proceeds from the sale of this coffee-table book go to BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme to support habitat management in identified IBAs.

Make the most of our limited Christmas offer and buy your copy of the book for only R375 from



Training seabird conservationists

For the week of 2–5 October, the Seabird Conservation Programme office was busier than an albatross breeding colony when the parents return to their chicks from a foraging expedition. Under the Common Oceans Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Tuna Project, Bronwyn Maree and Nini van der Merwe, with help from Ross Wanless, Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera, as well as the Namibian Albatross Task Force (ATF) team of Clemens Naomab and Samantha Matjila, hosted the Namibian Observer Training workshop. Four Namibian observers took part, one of whom was the coordinator of the Fisheries Observer Agency, and we were also pleased to welcome the new Port-Based Outreach (PBO) officer for Fiji, James Nagan.

The main aim of this workshop was to inform the fisheries observers about the use of best-practice seabird bycatch mitigation measures. The hope is that this will accelerate the uptake of such measures by fleets operating in critical fishing areas of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

The workshop started off with a full day ‘in the field’, focusing on seabird ID skills’ training on a pelagic birding trip. Three days of lectures followed, as well as a harbour visit to view a local tuna longline vessel. Overall, the event created an invaluable opportunity to develop our working relationship with our neighbours to the north, and also for our team to get a better understanding of the challenges that observers face in the field.

Seabird training 1Capacity building of the fisheries observers and PBO officer was achieved through teaching them about the effective use of seabird bycatch mitigation measures, including practical demonstrations at sea; enhancing their seabird identification skills; and informing them of data collection and reporting requirements as stipulated by tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (tRFMOs). This type of training is important as it builds long-term sustainability by developing not only individuals involved in the local fishing fleets, but also coordinators of the observer programmes to further the training in their own countries.

The Namibian ATF team’s visit to Cape Town enabled it to gain experience in presenting in a workshop setting and gave it a valuable opportunity to strategise with the South African ATF so that joint goals for southern Africa could be streamlined and approaches to fishing industry-related matters could be aligned.

All in all, the workshop was a great success. The observers and James Nagan excelled in learning about seabirds and have returned to their home countries with an increased understanding of why these birds are so important and why it is our duty to protect them.

Seabird training 2We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Namibia Fisheries Observer Agency and the Republic of Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as we work together to ensure the relevant mitigation measure regulations are implemented and the collection of seabird data is included as part of observer protocols in the near future.

For more information about the ABNJ Tuna Project, please contact Nini van der Merwe at or call the Seabird Conservation Programme on 021 419 7347.

Above: An excited, albeit somewhat bruised and battered group return from a full day’s pelagic seabird identification practical training session, led by Ross Wanless.
Right: During the pelagic trip the skipper sailed close to a fishing trawler so that the observers could practise their identification skills on the birds that gathered while the net was being hauled in.

Farmers help to revive the Lower Berg River Conservancy

1.Berg River Emailer Photo. Photo 2a

Although established in 1997 and active during its early years, the Lower Berg River Conservancy has been dormant until recently. Through a series of workshop presentations and individual discussions, BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project introduced the idea of a revived conservancy and the benefits it would bring to landowners. This was a first step in seeking formal protection for the estuary’s floodplain and riparian lands through Biodiversity Stewardship.

1. Berg River Photo 3

Led by a handful of dedicated farmers, the community mobilised to revive this voluntary forum. At the opening meeting in September this year, members emphasised the need for a united voice for farmers at the estuary and agreed that the conservancy would provide a recognised vehicle for collective action on a number of environmental issues. BirdLife South Africa presented on the proposed Ramsar application for the estuary and the upcoming biodiversity site assessments as part of ongoing stewardship negotiations. The issue of erosion was also high on the agenda, and BirdLife South Africa is an active partner in the development of an erosion control programme for the estuary.

 A workshop comprising riparian farmers, where the revival of the Lower Berg River
Conservancywas proposed by BirdLife South Africa and the issue of erosion was discussed.

The revived conservancy comprises all members of the original forum as well as several new members, bringing to more than 20 000ha the extent of riparian land within its borders. It will strengthen this committed group of landowners’ continued efforts to improve environmental conservation on private land.


Farewell to Mr B and Pete

Farewell Mr B! It is with mixed feelings that we say goodbye to Bokamoso Lebepe, or ‘Mr B’ as he is affectionately called by the seabird team, as he leaves us to rejoin his family back in Limpopo. For the past four years he has been part of the Albatross Task Force (ATF) team, having joined in September 2013. During his time as an ATF instructor, Bokamoso facilitated dialogue and good working relationships with people in the fishing industry. He spent many days at sea, often under strenuous working conditions, collecting data on seabirds and the use of mitigation measures by the longline fleets. His experience as a research assistant for three months on the SA Agulhas II was put to good use when he took over trialling the hook pod, a hook-shielding device aimed at preventing seabirds from getting caught while scavenging for bait behind longline vessels.

Farewell Mr B and Pete Golf dayMuch of Mr B’s work involved harbour visits, where he was good at striking up a rapport with the fishermen and explaining to them the work of the ATF. He was also the lead instructor in our engagements with foreign-flagged vessels, ensuring that they fully understood our local fishing operations. Bokamoso’s light-heartedness, good humour and cooperative nature made him an esteemed and much-valued colleague – and he was definitely the prankster in the office! However, being away from his family for long periods has been hard for him, especially since his daughter was born two years ago. We therefore understand his need to leave and wish him all the best in his new endeavours.

Left: The Seabird Team’s farewell golf game for beginners was loads of fun!

Pete Watt-Pringle has been with the Common Oceans team within BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme for almost 18 months and has played an integral role in achieving the first port awareness outreach to foreign fishing vessels docking in Cape Town harbour. His was the difficult task of liaising with agents and coordinating translators, vessel access and skippers to ensure that these vessels have a good understanding of the regulations and mitigation measures they are required to use on the high seas. Pete’s leadership and help on various other awareness interventions with the public were enhanced by his friendly manner, while his scientific bent ensured that he was always quick to grasp concepts and worked in a systematic manner to achieve the required outcome. We will miss his analytical and quiet approach, and wish him the best as he departs for his next adventure!
Andrea Angel and Bronwyn Maree

Think Birds!

BirdLife South Africa’s new ‘Love Birds’ campaign will encourage all South Africans to think about birds – or ‘Think Birds’. Developed and executed by our advertising agency Utopia and our marketing committee, the campaign has come up with a number of clever adverts that play on the double meaning of names such as ‘cranes’ and ‘petrel’. Twelve billboards, sponsored by JCDecaux, carry these witty messages.

billboard ads

Peanut butter sandwiches, a puppy – and birds

Yvonne 1Once a month, a trusty band of birders convene at what is known as the Kingfisher Pond at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary for the monthly Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC) – a ritual that started in January 1993. At the heart of this long-running count is coordinator Yvonne Weiss, who celebrated her 90th birthday in September this year. It was Yvonne who, in 1994, prompted the town engineer of the Paarl (now Drakenstein) Municipality to give the birds that roost, feed and breed at the local sewage works proper protection. And although it has had its security challenges over the years, the sanctuary remains a favourite on many a committed birder’s list. Regular counter and photographer Rita Meyer says, ‘The bird lady! Yvonne taught me everything about birds. She has never missed a count, come rain or shine. And those sandwiches!’ The sandwiches (peanut butter jazzed up with rocket or nasturtium leaves) are Yvonne’s speciality and a welcome snack for the team after they have counted every pond and furrow at the works.

Yvonne 3According to the CWAC website, the Paarl Bird Sanctuary had been counted 254 times by the end of April 2017 – the highest count for any single site in the Western Cape. For Yvonne, it has not only been a 24-year labour of love, but is also where she found her beloved companion, Kwezi. Driving around the works one Saturday after a count, she saw a group of children running across the road. One of them thrust a wet puppy in the window, saying ‘Take this, take this!’ Yvonne surmises they had been sent to dispatch the pup but didn’t have the heart to do so – and that’s how Kwezi (now also advancing in age) came into her life. The two soldier on together in spite of what Yvonne calls their mutual ‘creaking’ due to arthritis.

James Harrison, who served on the first advisory committee for the Paarl Bird Sanctuary, recalls, ‘Yvonne made sure that the regular CWAC counts were meticulously executed and recorded. She epitomises the type of citizen scientist who takes conservation and environmental education forward. We need more like her.’

Happy birthday, Yvonne, and thank you for your commitment to the cause!

Andrew Weiss

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: September 2017

All the fun of the (Bird) Fair

ClaireA variety of exhibitors and a range of activities at The African Bird Fair ensured that visitors were entertained throughout the weekend. We would like to thank everyone who supported us and joined in the fun. And we look forward to seeing you all again next year! BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank the following for their support of The African Bird Fair: Eskom, Jay van Rensburg, JC Decaux, Nikon, Struik Nature and the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden.

An evening with the ‘voice of cycling’

Phil Liggett Evening

Join us for an evening of cocktails and canapés with guest speaker Phil Liggett, a well-known cycling commentator who specialised in the Tour de France. Take this opportunity to meet and chat to this patron of BirdLife South Africa and listen to his anecdotes from more than 30 years of experiences in cycling, especially from the 'Le Tour'.
All funds raised through this event will go to BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme to help conserve important bird habitats across South Africa.

For event details and bookings, please see above.   Early bird bookings made before 30 September will receive a 10% discount.

Calendar 2018 CoverBuy a calendar, support bird conservation

Buy a BirdLife South Africa calendar and for each month of 2018 you’ll enjoy a stunning full-page colour photograph of one of this country’s magnificent birds. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage) and, as stocks are limited, we recommend that you order soon to avoid disappointment. The calendar will make an amazing festive season gift. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order.

African Birdlife magazineSept cover 2017

The latest issue of African Birdlife takes us right around South Africa, from Cape Point to Msikaba and up to the Blyde River Canyon, with a side-trip to Erongo in Namibia. There’s quite a bit about plants too, like the persuasive strategies of subtropical species to entice bird pollinators and which are good in bushveld bird gardens, as well as their diminishing role in providing cavities for nesting (and how competition for those cavities plays out). Falcons and eagles, larks and weavers, vultures and shearwaters – you’ll find them all in this issue.

Jono joins BirdLife South Africa

JonoThe BirdLife South Africa Policy and Advocacy team welcomes Jonathan Booth into its ranks. Jono has an Honours degree in Ecology and has just begun an MSc in Wildlife, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health at the University of Edinburgh (via correspondence). After guiding at MalaMala, he spent two years in London working for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem, the UK’s official energy regulator). On returning to South Africa in 2010, he joined KPMG and worked in the Climate Change and Sustainability team for three years and the Internal Audit team for 18 months. Subsequently he ran his own small business and worked as an independent sustainability consultant.

Whether visiting game reserves, exercising or working in his garden, Jono loves spending time in the outdoors and has a great appreciation for our unspoiled landscapes. He’s a keen mountain biker, canoeist and trail runner and has travelled extensively in the region’s national parks with his wife and family. Some of his greatest bush memories come from encounters with birds in Botswana, Zambia, the Lowveld and Zululand.

An enduring passion for conservation has precipitated Jono’s move back into the field. He is thrilled to be joining the dynamic BirdLife South Africa team and hopes to make full use of his skills and experience to make a positive impact for birds

Nedbank Reader Evenings

Join us in October for a Nedbank Reader Evening in either Johannesburg or Cape Town.
In Johannesburg on 5 October, Albert Froneman will talk about the art of bird photography. Acknowledged as one of the leading bird photographers in southern Africa, Albert understands that beautiful images of birds play a vital role in creating awareness for bird conservation, and in this spirit he works closely with BirdLife South Africa. During the lecture he will share interesting facts about the birds as well as tips, tricks and field techniques for capturing top-class images.

Date: Thursday, 5 October 2017
Time: 18h00 to 20h30
Venue: Nedbank Auditorium (parking entrance 2), 135 Rivonia Road, Sandton
Please click here to book.

In Cape Town on 19 October, Professor Peter Ryan will discuss the scourge of marine plastic pollution. Director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Peter studied the impact of ingesting plastic on seabirds for his Masters degree in the mid-1980s, long before there was widespread concern about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. He will explain why the increasing amount of plastic entering the environment is alarming and what we can do to tackle the problem.

Date: Thursday, 19 October 2017
Time: 18h00 to 20h30
Venue: Nedbank Clocktower Auditorium (parking Clocktower Precinct, Silo District level P2), V&A Waterfront
Please click here to book.

Both events are brought to you by Nedbank Green Affinity in partnership with WWF Nedbank Green Trust, BirdLife South Africa and African Birdlife. A light dinner and refreshments will be served after the talks. The events are free, but seating is limited and booking is essential.

Job shadowing at BirdLife South Africa

JoshuaWhen Joshua Olszewski (left) job shadowed the Terrestrial Bird Conservation team, his daily duties ranged from tracking gulls to attending meetings. Describing the experience, he said ‘I was lucky to have spent two weeks in August (21 August to 1 September) being taught and mentored by Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Dr Melissa Whitecross in conservation and ornithology at BirdLife South Africa’s offices in Dunkeld West. This experience formed part of the compulsory job shadowing hours required by my school.

‘When it came to choosing an occupational field in which to complete my job shadowing hours, I knew for a fact that I would ideally want to shadow an ornithologist, a field biologist or a wildlife conservationist; basically, anyone who was working with birds in order to conserve them and their habitats. My reason for choosing this career path stems from my deep-seated passion for birds and other wildlife, a passion that I’ve carried with me from a very young age, as well as a desire to study and protect them.

‘When it came to recalling friends and acquaintances in this line of work whom I could shadow, I remembered that I knew people in higher places. Once settled in my mind that BirdLife South Africa was the way to go, I wasted no time in e-mailing the CEO, Mark Anderson, requesting permission to shadow Melissa. This led to me being able to shadow Hanneline for the first week and Melissa for the second. I felt extremely lucky to be working with such respected individuals in my preferred future career path.

‘During the job shadowing, I attended a number of meetings for various conservation projects and initiatives, from the Ingula Partnership and the Flufftail Festival to potential conflict between Cape Vultures and wind farms, and new work on Ludwig’s Bustards. These also included my first official meetings, which made me feel rather important.

‘I was also privileged enough to witness the capture, ringing and attachment of satellite-tracking devices to three Grey-headed Gulls near the O R Tambo International airport, as part of a new project BirdLife South Africa is running in collaboration with Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), to track the movements of these birds around the airport, specifically near the runway. This was a special event for me as I had never seen a bird being ringed before, let alone for such an amazing project.

‘Through job shadowing at BirdLife South Africa, I was able to meet many wonderful people and experience at first hand the exciting happenings in the world of conservation and ornithology. I am incredibly thankful to Mark Anderson for allowing me to shadow such highly respected and esteemed conservationists, and to Hanneline and Melissa for giving their time and efforts to mentoring me and teaching me about avian conservation, and for helping me to complete my job shadowing hours. I am most definitely looking forward to all the exciting developments that are coming up in BirdLife South Africa and will hopefully be doing more work with them in the near future.’


Flock on the West Coast 2018, with LAB

Block out 6–11 March 2018 in your calendar now and make sure to get to the Flock 2018 website to secure your spot for a great week of birding and bird-nerding in the Western Cape. Delegates who book for the Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference before 30 September 2017 stand a chance to win a free pelagic trip out of Saldanha Bay during Flock on the West Coast 2018.

All LAB delegates will be entered into a draw to win a free pair of Zeiss binoculars during the conference.
Information about the event can be found here and any additional queries can be directed to Melissa Whitecross, Emma Askes or Gisela Ortner at

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: August 2017

Win with Birding Big Day 2017

BBD Pafuri Trail PrizeLast year, within a 24-hour period, more than a thousand birders recorded 654 bird species across the country and in doing so raised valuable funds, awareness and data for bird conservation. BirdLife South Africa strives to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity through scientifically based programmes, by supporting the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and by encouraging people to enjoy and value nature. In order to do this, BirdLife South Africa needs funding.

While Birding Big Day (BBD) is all about finding and recording as many birds as possible, the sightings records help to determine bird population distributions. At the same time, the funds raised from the day are channelled into work conducted by the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) and Terrestrial Bird Conservation programmes, as well as to BirdLasser.
To assist in the fundraising initiative and to reward the team that raises the most funds (on average per member), this year the organising committee has added an exciting new category to BBD in the form of a fund-raising competition that all teams can participate in.

RETURNAfrica Pafuri Collection has generously offered a prize, to the value of more than R16 000, of two nights for four guests on a walking trail at Pafuri Trails Camp, including accommodation, all meals and walks on each day. This prize will be awarded to the team that raises the most funds (per member) for BirdLife South Africa’s conservation programmes.

Teams can raise sponsorship by asking people or companies to pay either a certain amount per species seen or a fixed amount, independent of the number of species seen. The sponsorship can be sourced before, during or after the event, although payment must be made by 15 December 2017. BirdLife South Africa can provide any company or individual who donates more than R500 with a Section 18A tax certificate.
In addition to this fundraising prize, there will be some lucky draw prizes, including two copies of Michael Mills’ new book, The Birder’s Guide to Africa.

For more information about prizes and how the fundraising aspect of BBD will work, and for sponsorhip forms and fundraising letters, please visit the BBD page.

Support Team Fast & Featherless947 Cycle Challenge

This is your last chance to join Team Fast & Featherless and ride the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge for bird conservation. All funds raised by cyclists taking part for BirdLife South Africa will go to the Important Bird and Bioidversity Area Programme, which works to conserve valuable bird habitats across South Africa. Join us for a day of fun in the name of conservation.

For more information about how to register to ride with BirdLife South Africa’s team, contact Romy at Riders’ details must be submitted before 28 August 2017.


Managing habitat for fynbos birds

Orange breasted SunbirdBirdLife South Africa members probably recall Dr Alan Lee for the incredible 2400km cycle ride that took him across the Western Cape’s highest mountain ranges to study the impacts of climate change on bird species that are endemic to fynbos. The study now completed, Alan has joined Dale Wright to form the ‘fynbos birds team’, which has produced a user-friendly booklet that showcases birds endemic to fynbos, gives interesting pointers about their ecology and summarises the major threats facing them. The text also provides a set of management recommendations that private landowners or reserve managers could use to enhance their fynbos habitats to support these species. The booklet is available for free from the BirdLife South Africa website, and we encourage interested members to download and share this beautiful resource far and wide.
Get your copy here.

Image Credit: Alan Lee

On the road with Ross

The UK in summer. Again. I was there in June last year and found myself back there this July, with a sneaky little trip to Rome in between. But my eyes were set firmly on Scotland… Read more.

Membership team visits Kyalami Prep

On Friday, 21 July Shireen Gould and Elaine Cherrington of the membership team visited the Eco Club at Kyalami Prep to talk to the learners about Kyalami prepvultures and how they fly. The lesson started off with a short talk about the five vulture species found in South Africa and why vultures are so important in nature. It then proceeded to the flight of vultures, illustrated by a short YouTube clip by David Attenborough. Afterwards, the learners made their own paper gliders, which they took out onto the field to fly.

Each of the pupils received a copy of the March/April issue of African Birdlife, which included the Bird of the Year poster and a vulture pin badge. They especially loved the pin badges, as they were allowed to wear them on their school blazers for the two weeks following the visit.

Learn About Birds 8–9 March 2018


The fourth biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) conference, co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (Fitz), promises to be even bigger and better than its predecessors. With a new programme format, exciting speakers lined up for both Science and Layman’s LABs and excellent evening entertainment to help attendees relax in typical West Coast fashion, this LAB will surely be one not to miss.

The plenary speakers for the Science LAB will be Dr Mark Brown and Dr Alan Lee. Mark is the current programme director at the Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT), a small NPO dedicated to integrating conservation into the communities of the Garden Route through education initiatives, research programmes and conservation partnerships. He is also an honorary researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Life Sciences and is a Y2 NRF-rated scientist. Mark’s diverse range of research interests includes conservation biology, raptor ecology, physiology, pollination biology and climate change impacts. He has contributed to several books, including Roberts VII, and has published more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Having co-supervised more than 25 postgraduate students, he describes himself as a passionate and dedicated mentor of young conservationists – and his extensive education work through the NVT is testament to that. Mark is no stranger to the podium, having presented his research at national and international conferences, and he will no doubt deliver an exciting and engaging plenary talk during LAB 2018.

Alan took over as the editor of Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology in July 2016 and aims to make it one of the flagship publication outlets for ornithological research in Africa. He joined the Fitz in 2012 as a post-doctoral researcher supervised by Phoebe Barnard and Phil Hockey, investigating the impacts of a changing climate on the bird communities of the fynbos biome. Alan is still at the Fitz, where his main research interests are the conservation biology of endemic birds and using SABAP2 data to inform conservation policy and management decisions. Alan and his father co-founded the Blue Hill Nature Reserve at the edge of the Baviaanskloof. He has received awards for his photography and research presentations, and we look forward to his plenary during LAB 2018.

Layman’s LAB will run in parallel with the Science LAB and is designed to give attendees of Flock who don’t have a science background an opportunity to enjoy easily accessible talks about birds, birding, research and conservation efforts. Some of the topics and speakers currently lined up for LAB include Rob Simmons from the Fitz, who will highlight the Black Harrier research conducted in the West Coast National Park; Etienne Marais from Indicator Birding, who will talk about finding and identifying the tricky specials of western South Africa; and Kevin Shaw from CapeNature, who will give an in-depth view of the history of Dassen Island and the ecology of its avian residents.

The first call for abstract submissions has been opened and we encourage all students, post-doctoral researchers and lecturers to submit their presenter registration forms to Melissa Whitecross ( before 30 September 2017. Forms can be downloaded here and all other information pertaining to the event can also be found there.

Avoid Flock FOMO (fear of missing out) and register online now for a top week of bird-related fun! Flock on the West Coast will take place from 6 to 11 March 2018. The speakers listed above may change due to unforeseen circumstances.


 The Birder’s Guide to Africa

Birders guide coverThe Birder’s Guide to Africa covers all the continent’s mainland territories and its islands. The introduction presents an overview of birding in the region and highlights key destinations for different kinds of travellers. It is followed by country accounts, which detail travelling and birding in each territory and include a comprehensive list of important bird taxa to be targeted on a visit. In the family accounts, each family recorded from the region is described briefly and illustrated with spectacular photographs. Finally, the species accounts provide information about the distribution, status, habitat, subspecies and taxonomic issues of each species, as well as the best places to see it. Any serious world lister or keen African eco-traveller will find an abundance of information.
Specifications: 544 pages, full colour. Available from from late August. Retail price R450. Special offer: place your order before the end of September and pay only R400!





BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: July 2017

The African Bird Fair

2018 BirdFair logo RGBBe sure not to miss The African Bird Fair at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden over the weekend of 9 and 10 September. An exciting variety of exhibitors will be showcasing all things birding, such as binoculars and spotting scopes, bird books, birding apps, bird feeders, wildlife art and birding holiday destinations and tour operators. There will also be lots of things happening throughout the weekend, including guided bird and botanical walks, photography workshops by well-known wildlife photographer Jay van Rensburg (booking essential) and fascinating presentations by experts such as Faansie Peacock and Jonathan Leeming.

The Fair will be open 08h00–17h00 on both Saturday and Sunday. For more information, please visit our website or contact Emma Askes at 

Don’t miss Birding Big Day 2017!

BBD BL Logo Med RGBSpotPlotPlay Red bannerBirding Big Day (BBD) 2017 could be the best yet! Last year (BBD 2016) saw more than 1000 birders record 654 different bird species during the 24-hour event thanks to our partnership with BirdLasser. This year we hope to break that record.

Are you prepared to enter a team and spend 24 hours on 25 November 2017 searching every corner of a selected 50km radius anywhere in South Africa to find every bird species you can? If you are ready for that kind of adrenalin-pumping action, then sign up now as an open category team with up to four members. All rules for the competition can be viewed on the BBD website.

All teams can sign up to have their progress monitored via the BirdLasser app, which is free to download from both Android and IOS application stores. BirdLasser will make logging your species during BBD a smooth and hassle-free process and track exactly when and where in your 50km radius you saw what. It also enables everyone to follow all the teams’ real-time progress via the BirdLasser challenge page. During BBD, the challenge page will automatically update as teams record their sightings, thus adding to the excitement of the day. Progress will be reported on social and other media and teams can submit live videos and photos during the event.

community bbd ryan thomas

The community category allows larger groups, such as bird clubs, to participate together in Birding Big Day. Photo by: Ryan Thomas

This year the BBD organising committee has added an exciting new category to BBD in the form of a fund-raising competition that all BBD teams can participate in. We know that BBD is all about finding birds, but it is important to conserve them too. Much-needed conservation funds raised through the competition will be channelled into work conducted by the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas and Terrestrial Bird Conservation programmes, as well as to BirdLasser. For more information about how the fundraising aspect of BBD will work, please visit the BBD website.

In another innovation this year, BirdLife South Africa has partnered with RETURNAfrica to offer a great deal for BBD teams wishing to take on the Pafuri region for their challenge. RETURNAfrica: The Pafuri Collection is offering special rates to guests staying at Pafuri Camp and Baobab Hill Bush House for BBD 2017 and a percentage of each night sold will go to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation projects. Pafuri, located in the northernmost region of the Kruger National Park, is well known as a birding hotspot. Guests will also have access to specialist bird guides for their BBD activities.
To book, contact RETURNAfrica via  and be sure to use the code ‘BBD17’ so that the special offer will apply. For more information, go to or call 011 646 1391.
Registrations for BBD 2017 are open and should be completed before the event by submitting the online form on the BBD website. There is no entry fee, but a minimum donation of R300 per team is required for its members to qualify for a BirdLife South Africa Birding Big Day 2017 cloth badge. Please note that only four cloth badges will be produced per team of four members; for teams with more than four members, an additional R45 will be added per member.

For more information, please visit the BBD website. Team registrations can be submitted via the ‘Register’ link on the website; queries can be directed to Big Day 2013 Whatever your style of birdwatching, BBD is for everyone. Photo by: Melissa Whitecross

Flock on the West Coast 2018 with LAB

Flock 2018 LAB logos RGBFlock on the West Coast 2018 (6-11 March) promises to be a week of spectacular birding! The organising committee has secured excursions that will have you dreaming about all the exciting birds to see and places to visit with the assistance of world-class bird guides and knowledgeable local birders. The excursions will cover a diverse range of habitats to maximise the number of species that could be seen during the week. Pelagic trips will give delegates a chance to view the offshore seabirds up close, while boat trips to Dassen, Malgas and the Saldanha Bay islands will enable them to see breeding colonies of African Penguins and Cape Gannets.

For those who still need to tick off the Western Cape’s fynbos endemics, a full-day excursion to the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area will be sure to boost your life list. Local birding will take place in the nearby West Coast National Park and at the Berg River Estuary in Velddrif.

For more information about the excursions, please visit the Flock 2018 website, where a link to the downloadable PDF excursion information booklet is available. Places are limited, so book now to avoid missing out.

FitzLogo 10x10cm300dpiblsaThe bi-annual Learn About Birds (LAB) conference will be co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. At this two-day event, scientists from around the globe will showcase their research and highlight the important role it plays in furthering bird conservation. For delegates who prefer talks that are slightly less technical than understanding the genetic differences between species X and species Y, the Layman’s LAB will be run in conjunction with the Science LAB and popular interest talks will be given by BirdLife South Africa staff, respected bird enthusiasts and top researchers and conservationists. The call for abstracts will be announced via e-mail and on the Flock 2018 website, while guidelines for abstracts are on the presenter registration forms, which can also be downloaded from the Flock 2018 website. Please contact Melissa Whitecross  for more information about LAB.

The BirdLife South Africa AGM will be taking place on 10 March 2017 and will be followed by a delicious dinner and an evening of socialising and story-swapping of the week’s birding exploits.

Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s social media feeds for updates on other exciting developments leading up to Flock on the West Coast 2018. All information relating to the event will be posted here and booking forms can be filled in online via the website.

Soweto pupils learn about wetlands

On 13 June 2017, Melissa Whitecross (BirdLife South Africa), Raymond Rampolokeng (local bird guide trained by BirdLife South Africa) and Rand Water’s Water Wise team (Themba Nkuna, William Nissel, Faith Chauke and Sizwe Mndawe) met Grade 6 and 7 learners from Lakeview, Sekwate and Isaacson primary schools at Tokoza Park, Soweto.

Raymond and Melissa took learners on guided walks of the wetlands, dams and fields in the park, showing them the many different bird species that utilise this important green space. Sightings highlights included Grey Heron, Blacksmith Lapwing, Egyptian Goose, Red-knobbed Coot, African Darter, Grey Go-Away Bird, Southern Masked Weaver and Southern Fiscal. The learners showed impressive memory skills and were able to begin identifying the birds on their own after spending only a few minutes with them. It is hoped that when they return to their schools and families they will encourage them to enjoy the park and its birds. As Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum famously said in 1968, ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’

melissThe second part of the day was spent teaching learners how to conduct a miniSASS assessment, which is designed as a quick tool to assess the health of a stream or river. SASS is an acronym for the South African Scoring System, which ranks the presence of different invertebrates based on their sensitivity to pollutants within the stream and enables users to calculate a health score. A miniSASS is designed as a simplified version that enables school-level learners who have no knowledge of invertebrates to engage with practical wetland monitoring techniques. 

The learners from Soweto were given nets and large white trays that they used to collect and examine the invertebrates from the Tokoza Park stream. The results of the assessment indicated that the stream is in fair condition. All results were uploaded to the miniSASS website and learners were given posters and magazines to take back to school to teach their fellow pupils about this process. This collaboration highlighted the importance of conserving urban green spaces and the biodiversity living in them and exposed a new generation of potential future conservationists to ways in which they can help advocate for nature.

Melissa Whitecross (BirdLife South Africa) teaches learners from Sekwati Primary School about the feeding behaviour of a Southern Fiscal that they were watching. (Photo: Willem Nissel)

Nini joins the Common Oceans Programme

nini2Although Nini van der Merwe joined the Seabird Conservation Programme team more than a year ago, being part of the team is not the same as being on the staff. Then, as the Common Oceans Programme reshaped towards the end of last year, it became apparent that Nini could take on some of the project’s important aspects. With funding all but guaranteed, we decided to formalise the work and create a position. Having completed an external recruitment process, we offered Nini the position and are pleased to welcome her officially as the full-time international liaison officer and office administrator. She will be working on the Common Oceans’ Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) project, which provides a series of awareness and training workshops for targeted international countries to help them reduce seabird bycatch in their tuna longline fishing operations on the high seas. She also assists the seabird team with general office administration and offers support to the various projects as required.

Nini came to seabird conservation via an unorthodox route. While sitting 2m from a Black-browed Albatross chick at the edge of a breeding colony at Steeple Jason in the Falklands, she became aware of how amazing these birds are. That was more than a year ago and since then her passion for conserving these majestic birds and their environment has only grown. Nini’s background in design and teaching has proved useful in her work, while her love of travelling is also handy in view of the amount of international travel that her work requires. And as a bonus, her colleagues on the seabird team have reason to be grateful for another of her hobbies: cooking.

Welcome Nini, we’re happy that you are now officially part of the seabird family!

Ford Wildlife Foundation supports conservation

fordIn order to engage with landowners in grassland areas, members of the Biodiversity Stewardship Project spend a lot of time travelling to remote aFord Hand Over Teamreas on roads that are often in bad condition. The Ford Ranger will therefore be a valuable asset in ensuring that the project, which aims to increase the protection of our grasslands, is successful. The handover forms part of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s (FMCSA) commitment to protecting the environment in sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the past 25 years, FMCSA has supported more than 150 conservation projects and invested over R30-million to help maintain wildlife and ecosystems in South Africa. In September 2014, it officially established the Ford Wildlife Foundation to continue that support.

The Ford Wildlife Foundation is unique in that rather than giving a cash donation to the conservation projects it supports, it equips its partner organisations with Ford Rangers. The vehicles are provided to help with essential operational tasks and are monitored and serviced by Ford’s extensive dealer network to ensure they operate at peak efficiency.

Thanks to Ford, conservation manager Ernst Retief can now safely cover many kilometres in the important Grassland Biome.

Durban pelagic trips

Durban Pelagics Photo 1 IMG 7845Pelagic birding trips off Durban have hit a purple patch recently, starting with a landmark sighting of a Barau’s Petrel in October 2013. This was followed the next month by a visit from seabird guru Hadoram Shirihai, who came out on three trips with the primary purpose of photographing Great-winged Petrels. Hadoram introduced to us a highly successful chumming technique that we have employed ever since.

Equally important has been the involvement of Johannesburg-based birder Niall Perrins and local birder Rich Everett in the organisation and running of these trips. Indeed, it was Niall’s idea to chum well away from any trawlers that resulted in the first Barau’s Petrel encounter. It’s clear that the smaller, rarer seabirds are more likely to be found while chumming away from trawlers where large numbers of the bigger, dominant species such as albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels tend to ‘frighten off’ their shyer cousins. Also critical has been the support of both local and upcountry birders whose participation has made it all possible.

All our subsequent sightings of Barau’s have occurred between September and November, which fits in well with tracking studies of this species conducted at its Réunion breeding island. According to these studies, the males make regular pre-breeding visits to our coastline at this time. Essentially, there is a better-than-even chance of seeing the species on pelagic trips during these months. We’ve also learnt that ‘gadfly’ Pterodroma petrels, of which Barau’s is one, are particularly responsive to our chumming. Great-winged Petrel is the most abundant of these Pterodroma species and on some days we’ve had more than a hundred of them buzzing around our chum spot. Another exciting Pterodroma is Soft-plumaged Petrel, which occurs in small numbers earlier in the year than Barau’s, with all our recent sightings occurring in July and August.

The other two groups of small seabirds especially attracted to chumming are prions and storm petrels. The common prion off Durban is Antarctic, although we have recorded the occasional Slender-billed. These attractive birds are strictly winter visitors with all sightings between June and August; on one memorable occasion (July 2016) about 70 Antarctic Prions visited our chum.

The most common storm petrel is Wilson’s, which occurs throughout the year but with largest numbers between May and November (at times we see more than 100). Small numbers of European Storm Petrels are also regularly attracted to the chum and as they are visitors from the northern hemisphere, they are seen mainly between November and March. More exciting have been Black-bellied Storm Petrels, recorded as probable passage migrants in May and again between August and November. But best of all in the storm-petrel department was the single White-faced Storm Petrel seen while we were still steaming out to our chum spot in May 2014, followed by an unbelievable two birds at the chum in June 2016.

Although our chumming is aimed primarily at the smaller species, we’ve also had three memorable albatross attendants. The first was a fully adult Wandering Albatross in June 2015 and the next a mind-blowing juvenile Sooty Albatross the following year, also in June. Over the years we’ve also occasionally seen albatrosses looking more like the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross than our run-of-the-mill local Indian counterpart. But it was in November 2016 that we finally had a totally convincing adult Atlantic at close range, with the distinctive features – grey hood and mantle contrasting with the white rump and dark ‘mascara-like’ markings around the eyes – clearly to be seen.

These advances mean that pelagic trips from Durban have progressed way beyond just being the best southern African chance at Flesh-footed Shearwater. If you’d like to come on one of these trips, please see the website for more details or contact either Niall Perrins (; 083 657 5511) or David Allan (; 082 361 0261) directly.

Photo Credit: David Allan

Using Birdlasser to help the IBA Programme

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) Programme needs population data for the trigger species (usually a threatened species such as Blue Crane) of each IBA – and there are 112 IBAs in South Africa. Data relating to bird populations and distributions are very important in justifying and supporting the declaration and protection of IBAs, but it can be challenging to obtain them. We hope that with this new addition to the BirdLasser app we will receive valuable data that will help the IBA team to conserve these areas.

To support this initiative, please download the latest version of the app from the Playstore or iStore, then under ‘Settings and Causes’ select the IBA Cause (and all the others). Also tick the box next to ‘Quick’. (You can also tick the box next to ‘Advanced’ if you want to). Click on the little map icon and select from the list of IBAs near you.

BirdLasser Screenshot 1Under ‘Settings and Causes’ select the IBA Cause.

Once this is done, you will be able to see the boundaries of the selected IBAs on the map view on the app. You can then easily see if you are birding within an IBA. In the image below, the boundary of the Magaliesberg IBA is shown.BirdLasser Screenshot 2

The boundaries of IBAs will be displayed on the map view of the app.

When you log an IBA trigger species, a screen will pop up to ask you to enter the number of birds seen and if it is an estimate or an exact count. Please note, you will be asked this question whether you are within an IBA or not.BirdLasser Screenshot 3

When you log a sighting of a trigger species, a screen will pop up to request the number of birds sighted.

All the information you collect will automatically be sent to Ernst Retief and the IBA team, who will then analyse it. To enter the number of birds seen takes only a few seconds and you will be making a valuable contribution. BirdLife South Africa and BirdLasser also hope to roll out this initiative to the rest of Africa, where our BirdLife partners struggle to obtain regular count data within IBAs.

Join the Fast & Featherless team

Ride this year’s Telkom 94.7 Cycle Challenge as part of BirdLife South Africa’s Fast & Featherless Charity Bond Team. All funds raised by cyclists taking part will go to the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme, which works to conserve important bird habitats across South Africa. Join us for a day of fun in the name of conservation.

For more information about how to register to ride with the BirdLife Team, contact Romy at

94.7 Cyclists new shirts

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: June 2017

BirdLife South Africa Staff Meeting 2017

BLSA staff meeting Pringle Bay May 2017

BirdLife South Africa staff visited Harold Porter National Botanical Garden during the three-day staff meeting.
Credit: Mark D. Anderson

In May the BirdLife South Africa staff and interns travelled to the Western Cape for the annual staff meeting. The team presented on their achievements over the past year, and many valuable discussions were held on how to continue ‘giving conservation wings’. Read more.

Goodbye and thank you

CaptureWhen Elaine Cherrington joined BirdLife South Africa, African Birdlife was a fairly new publication and as the magazine’s subscription administrator she has watched it grow from strength to strength. A valued team member in the Membership Programme, she has always been willing to help wherever needed, assisting at various expos that the programme champions, The African Bird Fair and events held at Isdell House, as well as visits to schools. She has always taken the work in her stride and even assisted with the membership administration when Ntombi took ill.
Elaine won’t be leaving BirdLife South Africa completely, as she has offered to volunteer in the library with Eleanor-Mary Cadell, our volunteer librarian, and at upcoming events and expos. We wish her well in her retirement and know that John is looking forward to having her at home more.

Thank you Elaine for all you have done at BirdLife South Africa and for your patience, friendliness and willingness. You will be missed!

Flock on the West Coast 2018

If you enjoyed Flock at Sea earlier this year, don’t miss BirdLife South Africa’s next AGM, which will feature the Learn About Birds Symposium! Block out 7–11 March 2018 in your calendars and join us on the West Coast for outstanding birding and interesting talks. Read more.

African BLack OystercatcherAfrican Black Oystercatcher is Bird of the Year 2018 and occurs all along the West Coast.

Credit: Melissa Whitecross

ACSA-sponsored guide training course

ACSA guides

Having completed six months of their course, 12 would-be bird guides have finally landed in the Lowveld to begin their final month of training. They flew into Phalaborwa as part of the experience organised and sponsored by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and the next few weeks will see them exposed to more than 300 bird species as well as various animals, including the Big 5. In two groups of six, they will spend the month improving their theory and practical knowledge before undergoing the FGASA assessments to become qualified field guides. Read more.

WhatsApp Image 2017 06 09 at 15.03.371

Shop For the Birds!

At Shop For the Birds! we have books, T-shirts, bird feeders, pin badges, posters and cards. The T-shirts are 100% quality cotton and the pattern is printed Direct to Garment so it won’t fade or peel. A variety of designs are available, ranging in price from R140 to R300 (excluding postage).WhatsApp Image 2017 06 09 at 15.03.37

Just arrived!

We have just received stock of the must-have 2017 Bird of the Year T-shirts, which are grey with an image of a Lappet-faced Vulture printed on the front – and only R300 each (excluding postage).

Among the books we have in stock are Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa, 101 Kruger Tales, Roberts Bird Guide (2nd edition), Eagles of Africa, South African Birdfinder, Guide to Birds of the KNP, Guide to Dragonflies & Damselflies and the two ever-popular Chamberlain’s guides, LBJs and Waders. We have also just received a range of brilliant kiddies’ nature and birding books, as well as the stories of Landy. Our range of bird feeders and suet and seed products are locally sourced and made, including the new Suet Pop, a feeder with a difference.

Shop For the Birds! is open Monday to Friday, 08h00 to 14h30, at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West in Johannesburg. Arrangements can also be made to have merchandise posted. Contact Janine on 011 789 1122 or

The unsung heroes of seabird conservation

The men and women of the Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities are the unsung heroes of seabird conservation. They turn rope and hose pipe into bird-scaring lines, which have contributed to a 97 per cent reduction in the deaths of albatrosses in the demersal hake trawl fishery and saved the lives of thousands of seabirds in southern African waters. Some of them attended Flock at Sea AGAIN! 2017 to see for the first time the birds they are helping to protect. Read more.

Unsung heroes

Ten happy OVAPD members, including Merle and Ronald Stevens who looked after the team,

with Andrea Angel and Bokamoso Lebepe of the Albatross Task Force aboard the MSC Sinfonia.

On the road with Ross

On the road with Ross 2

Tommy Melo (blue shirt) and the crew of Biosfera’s boat take shelter after a long, wind-tossed day at sea.

As regular readers of this blog can attest, field work for me usually involves meetings in exciting locations and squeezing in a day or so on the side for birding. Not so for this trip, as I headed off to Cape Verde… Read more.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: May 2017

Flock at Sea 3What the Flock is all the fuss about AGAIN?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017 was a day that few people on Flock at Sea AGAIN! will ever forget. By now it is probably also etched in many bird books, notebooks, spreadsheets and apps as the day a lucky few (hundred) got to tick off lifer after lifer after lifer. ‘GREY PETREL! SHY ALBATROSS! WHITE-HEADED PETREL! WANDERING ALBATROSS RIGHT BEHIND THE BOAT!’ were just a few of the IDs shouted by guides throughout the morning. Read more.

Shop For the Birds!

Shop for the birdsAt Shop For the Birds! we have books, T-shirts, bird feeders, pin badges, posters and cards. The T-shirts are 100% quality cotton and printed Direct to Garment so the pattern won’t fade or peel. A variety of designs are available, ranging in price from R140 to R300 (excluding postage).

Among the books we have in stock are Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa, 101 Kruger Tales, Roberts Bird Guide (2nd edition), Eagles of Africa, South African Birdfinder, Guide to Birds of the KNP, Guide to Dragonflies & Damselflies and the two ever-popular Chamberlain’s guides, LBJs and Waders. We have also just received a range of brilliant kiddies’ nature and birding books, as well as the stories of Landy. Our range of bird feeders and suet and seed products are locally sourced and made, including the new Suet Pop, a feeder with a difference.
Shop For the Birds! is open Monday to Friday, 08h00 to 14h30, at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West in Johannesburg. Arrangements can also be made to have merchandise posted. Contact Janine on 011 789 1122 or

Fast & Featherless

Ride this year’s Telkom 94.7 Cycle Challenge as part of BirdLife South Africa’s Fast & Featherless Charity Bond Team. All funds raised by cyclists taking part will go to the Important Bird and Bioidversity Area Programme, which works to conserve important bird habitats across South Africa. Join us for a day of fun in the name of conservation. To find out how to register to ride with the BirdLife Team, contact Romy at

94.7 Cyclists new shirts

Verlorenvlei Conservancy

VerlorenvleiThe manager of the Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project has been working with the community of landowners around Verlorenvlei for a number of years as part of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust-funded project in the area. Recently six landowners, primarily farmers living next to the Verlorenvlei Estuary, have come together to form the Verlorenvlei Conservancy. Their properties currently cover an area of 14 000 hectares on both the southern and northern banks of the estuary, between the Elands Bay bridge and the Redelinghuys bridge. Their main goals for the coming year are to increase the membership of the conservancy and to document the threatened biodiversity – especially vegetation types – on their properties. The project manager will be helping the conservancy to finalise its registration with CapeNature and supplying information about alien clearing, reed management and other environment-related matters. The conservancy could act as a buffer for the Verlorenvlei Estuary Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), helping to mitigate negative environmental impacts on the IBA.

The Verlorenvlei Conservancy and the Moutonshoek Valley Protected Environment form part of the Sandveld Corridor within the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor (GCBC), and the conservancy will play a direct role in furthering the GCBC’s conservation goals. The GCBC’s focus is essentially on people, primarily rural communities and landowners, and how they utilise their land. The initiative strives to introduce people to sustainable ways of using both the land and the natural resources of this unique and diverse region, while maintaining or restoring ecological connectivity across the landscape.

Already the GCBC includes the Cederberg Mountains and Verlorenvlei Estuary IBAs, but to achieve its goals it needs to stimulate the creation of additional protected areas through voluntary stewardship agreements such as conservancies, biodiversity agreements and contract nature reserves. The introduction of more benign land-use strategies and the restoration of degraded lands in key sites are also important. The Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project has been working to address these goals, in particular supporting landowners keen on signing voluntary stewardship agreements. Our work in this region is helping to maintain ecological connectivity, support livelihoods and protect threatened biodiversity.


Swarovski binoculars

Swarovski BinocularsWe are very pleased to announce that on the Flock at Sea AGAIN! 2017 cruise we received no fewer than 66 applications for Conservation League Membership, bringing the total number of Conservation League Members to 152. Thank you to all who took part in the lucky draw for the Swarovski binoculars; your support helps us to conserve South Africa’s birds and their habitats. Additional thanks are due to Andrew Whysall of Whylo Distributors, the generous donor of the binoculars.

A World Penguin Day to remember!

On World Penguin Day, participants in the Flock at Sea AGAIN! 2017 cruise were generous in both word and deed. We received a multitude of personal sustainability World Penguin Daypledges, whereby people promised to eat only sustainable seafood, stop using single-use plastic items and get involved in coastal clean-ups. These pledges went onto the ‘colony wall’, a visual display of everyone’s promises. We also asked people to support us financially by donating to penguin conservation – and we are delighted to announce that passengers pledged R51 000! A big, heartfelt thanks from everyone in the Seabird Office! This sum will make a big difference to the work we do, from ensuring there are enough fish in the sea for penguins to creating new penguin colonies. Special thanks go to Zeiss, who pledged R20 000.

We also officially launched BirdLife International’s #ProtectAPenguin campaign to raise funds for penguin conservation both within South Africa and globally. Please visit to see how you can help.

The highlight of World Penguin Day aboard MSC Sinfonia was undoubtedly the Captain’s Dinner, when we asked everyone to dress up as penguins and join us for drinks at the ship’s various bars. What a sight that was – hundreds of ‘penguins’ sipping champagne! We would like to thank everyone who made an effort, from a picture of a penguin stuck to their shirt to masks and full-on penguin onesies!
If you were not at Flock at Sea AGAIN! 2017 but would also like to contribute to the penguin work we do, please contact

On the high seas
Steve’s poem:

Out on the limitless oceanFor on the high seas poem
Nothing to see but the waves:
Ever changing, peaking, subsiding,
All the same but each detail different.
Cairns upon hills upon mountains,
Rolling, swirling, constantly in motion.
Now smooth, now rough,
Now blue, now white,
Wind whipping the spray along. Read more.

On the road with Ross

In early April my colleague Bronwyn Maree and I headed to Hoi An in Vietnam to run the second regional workshop on seabird bycatch. We’re trying to build consensus among the key nations that catch lots of seabirds in tuna longline operations that a global review should be undertaken. And then we need to figure out the hows and whys. It’s always tricky going into a meeting not knowing if there will be agreement, especially as the first regional workshop (in Kruger Park) laid groundwork but didn’t finish the plan. Would that groundwork still be acceptable? Could we get agreement on a final plan? Would the recent significant changes in Japan’s structures mean that progress made with that country at the first workshop would be undone? Read more.

African Birdlife magazine

African Birdlife MayNests is a recurring theme in the latest issue of African Birdlife. There’s a feature on the ‘tiny tailors’ of nest-building, a portfolio of nest photography, and the shocking revelation of the culprits in nest predation, as uncovered by camera-trap sleuths… It’s not just about the home front, though; for a really exotic birding trip, why not head up to Cameroon? But not before you’ve enjoyed all the regular rare bird news, snippets from science, readers’ input and competitions, plus a new gardening column.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: April 2017

penguinsmustnotfall mtPenguins must not fall!

Penguins are one of the most endangered seabird species worldwide and threats to their survival include habitat loss, food shortages, oil spills, predation, climate change and mortality caused by fishing nets. The African Penguin faces all these threats and its populations in South Africa and Namibia, the only two countries where it occurs, are decreasing.

The #ProtectAPenguin campaign launched by BirdLife South Africa in conjunction with the BirdLife International Partnership aims to improve the fortunes of penguins around the world by tackling the major threats that are driving declines. To achieve this, it intends to
• identify the most important places at sea for penguins and advocate for their protection
• tackle bycatch in fisheries
• carry out scientific and advocacy work to improve fisheries management
• protect important colonies by controlling predators, restoring habitat and improving security
• establish new colonies where appropriate
• monitor penguin populations to assess the effectiveness of conservation action

BirdLife South Africa is working to save the African Penguin by creating colonies in new locations and protecting vital marine habitat. To read more about our work, visit

If you would like to help #ProtectAPenguin, visit today to see how you can contribute to our research and conservation efforts.

Focus on Paarl Bird Sanctuary

Paarl Bird Sanctuary 2Human population pressure is encroaching on Paarl Bird Sanctuary (PBS) as it is on many other wildlife refuges, such as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Ramsar sites.Paarl Bird Sanctuary A project has been started to inform communities that PBS and the adjacent Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) are unique assets for environmental and health education, as well as for tourism, recreation and research purposes. This asset belongs to the people. The main objective of the project is to persuade communities to use the asset wisely and help to protect it in perpetuity. To begin with, the project will be targeting schools so that teachers and children can feed information back to the communities they serve.

Five modern, well-equipped and fully staffed schools serve the Mbekweni community, which lies adjacent to PBS. A slide show presentation about PBS has been staged for teachers at these Mbekweni schools, as well as two in an adjacent community. Ninety pupils from Desmond Tutu High School toured the WWTW and PBS in September 2016. A number of children spoke favourably about the visit. Among their comments were:
‘I learnt many different things about birds, their behaviour and how they raise their children. It was the most awesome lesson I ever had.’
‘I enjoyed each and every moment I spent. I learnt so many new things about birds and nature and it made me more curious to study about nature.’

In addition, 150 scholars from Groenheuwel Primary School toured PBS over two days in February 2017. The focus for these younger children was on birds and there was great excitement when they got close-up views of Greater Flamingos. Telescopes were manned by volunteers and 50 pairs of binoculars were on loan from the Cape Bird Club. Colourful laminated bird ID charts were distributed to the children, together with a score card (in three languages), and they were asked to identify as many of the birds shown on the chart as they could. There was also a tour around the pans by bus, with stops to see and identify birds. As the photos confirm, a great time was had by all.

It is essential for children to get the environmental education that can only be provided by this type of outdoor excursion. In this way, and by creating neighbourly good will and support, we are hoping to put Paarl Bird Sanctuary back on the birding map.

For more information or to offer support, please contact John Fincham at

Back at the Berg to clear aliens

Berg River article bContinuing their efforts to eradicate alien vegetation from the Berg River estuary, the BirdLife South Africa team sprayed herbicide and hacked out plants from a stretch of the riverbank more than six kilometres long. The typical problem species were in evidence again, and work focused on the removal of coppicing blue gum, Sesbania species and ‘boetebos’ Xanthium spinosum. The team also recorded the location of significant erosion points along this stretch of the Berg River for input into the developing erosion control programme.

Funded by the Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project, these practical conservation actions are identified in collaboration with farmers and, by producing tangible and positive results, they have helped to establish good relations with landowners. The primary objective of the Estuaries Conservation Project is to achieve formal protection for valuable, but highly vulnerable estuaries, such as that of the Berg River, through Biodiversity Stewardship or similar conservation models. The support of landowners is key to attaining this objective, and it is only by working together that we will achieve protection for the Berg River Estuary and ensure a safe haven for its incredible birdlife.

For more information, please contact Giselle Murison at

 An addition to the IBA teamRomy Headshot

A welcome addition to the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme, Romy Antrobus-Wuth will assist with marketing, media and fundraising and will provide general conservation support. She conducted research for her Master’s degree in Geography and Environmental Studies on the Makuleke Wetlands, a Ramsar site in the Pafuri section of the Kruger National Park, and is practised at conducting environmental impact assessments and management plans and at giving GIS support. Romy loves being outdoors and exploring wild places – the more remote, the better. She grew up in a family of avid birders and runs a green lifestyle blog to encourage people to make environment-friendly choices in their everyday lives.

Romy is looking forward to experiencing the different and inspiring work environment of a conservation NGO and to being part of the BirdLife South Africa team.

Buy this book, help IBAs

Igerbook CollageJoburg through the Eyes of Igers is a limited-edition coffee-table book that features the photographic talents of local Instagram enthusiasts (or Igers) and showcases the city of Johannesburg in a new and artistic light. From street scenes and urban architecture to powerful portraits, it captures the essence of the city in all its glory.
All proceeds from the sale of the book go to BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme and will support habitat management in identified IBAs.

Buy your copy for only R795 from

Roberts artwork for saleRoberts G.A Thrushes 1

Paintings commissioned for the two editions of the Roberts bird guide have now been available for purchase for two months and are selling briskly. The artworks by Ingrid Weiersbye, Penny Meakin, Graham Arnott and Ronald Cook include plates of cisticolas, raptors, waders and seabirds. Income from the sale of the plates goes to the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund and BirdLife South Africa to enable them to continue their work for the present and future welfare of birds. Go to  to view the plates for sale.

‘Big 6’ T-shirts for a small price!

WhatsApp Image 2017 04 21 at 12.42.51We have a limited supply of beautiful ‘Big 6’ T-shirts, which are made of 100% pure cotton. The design is printed Direct to Garment so it won’t fade or peel, and you can tick off the ‘Big 6’ birds with permanent marker as you see them.

The T-shirts can be purchased directly from ‘Shop For the Birds!’ (open Monday to Friday from 08h00 to 14h30) at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West in Johannesburg. Arrangements can also be made to have them posted. Contact Janine on 011 789 1122 or

BBD at Mongena Game Lodge

Take Flight to Mongena Game Lodge in Dinokeng Game Reserve for an exciting Birding Big Day event as part of Witwatersrand Bird Club’s 70th anniversary celebrations. The target for this BBD event is 200 bird species. Proceeds in aid of BirdLife South Africa conservation projects. Click here for more information.


BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: March 2017

CapturePeter Steyn’s latest book

Peter Steyn’s travels have taken him from the Arctic to the Antarctic as well as to remote islands such as Ascension. Seven of the twenty-one chapters deal specifically with his

Roberts Bird Guide 3

seventeen years in Zimbabwe. The book is illustrated with 425 of his photographs. The price of the book, which can only be ordered from, is R300 with delivery

additional (depending on the buyer’s delivery preference). It is NOT in bookshops.

Roberts’ bird art

The absolutely magnificent original art from the “Roberts Bird Guide” is available for sale. See for

images of the 397 plates, prices, and details about how to purchase the art. Note that 25% of the proceeds of all sales will go to BirdLife South Africa, thus contributing to the conservation of birds in South Africa.

On the Road with Ross

Albatrosses in Kruger! No, this was not another freak landfall of seabirds in the park after Cyclone Dineo. It was a seabird workshop that we hosted in Skukuza, after our first-choice venue proved insufficiently attractive to invitees. Read more.

Penguin LoveValentine’s Day Winner

To celebrate the month of love, BirdLife South Africa ran a promotion for our loyal members to stand a chance to win a mid-week break for six people at the gorgeous self-catering Crab Apple Cottages. Delightfully comfortable, Crab Apple’s AA Superior Cottages are set on the edge of the Kilgobbin Forest and the Dargle Valley Conservancy, and is a popular Birder Friendly Establishment. Members were asked to send in their best photos of “birds being lovey”. While we received many entries, Geoffrey Lautenbach, with his photo of “Penguins in love”, won the grand prize. We’d also like to make special mention of John Jellema and André Stapelberg, our runners-up who both won a Robins of Africa coffee-table book. Thank you to all who entered.

Meet Isabel Human, BirdLife South Africa’s new staff memberIsabel Human

BirdLife South Africa welcomes Isabel Human, who took up the position of “HR Manager/PA to CEO” on 6 March 2017. Isabel was since 2006 the Professional Services Officer at the Zoology and Entomology Department, University of Free State. She has a Master’s Degree in Governance and Political Transformation, which included a Human Resource Management component. She’s also familiar with labour legislation, and has experience in disciplinary processes, performance management, Employment Equity, and much more. Isabel speaks several languages, including seSotho and seTswana. Isabel is also a passionate conservationist, and in her spare time she has completed a PhD degree on the ecology of the panhandle of the Okavango Delta (she will graduate in a few months’ time). Welcome Isabel, and we wish you an enjoyable and productive time in your new career.

Penguin colony camera trap 3Monitoring penguin predators

We’ve been monitoring a site for the new African Penguin colony to see what potential penguin predators are there, so we can set up the best predator deterring measures possible. We’ve identified four potential predators and photographed some other endearing animals. Read more.

Monty Brett Arm Chair Courses

Attend the famous Monty Brett courses, from the comfort of your armchair. Download


BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: February 2017

Flufftail Festival

FF 30BirdLife South Africa’s third annual Flufftail Festival kicked off at Maponya Mall in Soweto on 31 January. Coinciding with World Wetlands Day, celebrated on 2 February, the festival focused on a subject that could not be more relevant in drought-stricken South Africa today: the conservation of our most critical natural FF 13resource, water.

A giant maze led mall-goers past five stations, each focusing on a different aspect of water, wetland and waterbird conservation. Stations were manned by representatives from BirdLife South Africa, Rand Water, Eskom and the Department of Environmental Affairs, as well as Joburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ), Bay of Grace Tours (Raymond Rampolokeng) and Youth Africa Birding. By filling in an entry form and answering five different questions relating to the different stations in the maze, children of all ages stood a chance to win great prizes from Woolworths, Mr Price, Panarotti’s and JCPZ.

We were especially pleased to welcome learners aged between 7 and 12 from four different primary schools in the Soweto area. First the children were treated to the excellent ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet show, presented by the Rare Finch Conservation Group in one of the Ster-Kinekor theatres. Eagerly they helped Waxi to find Fluffy, a very rare White-winged Flufftail that had mysteriously disappeared. Once Fluffy had been found, the children were guided through the maze and given the chance to absorb the festival’s main message: without healthy wetlands and clean water, the Fluffies of our planet will disappear for good.

It is especially gratifying that interest in the Flufftail Festival skyrocketed this year, with record numbers of people passing through the maze during the week-long festival. This annual event has grown with each passing year, and it is with great excitement that we anticipate its continued success in the future.

Research into fynbos birds continues...

Fynbos bird research 3Phylogeography is the study of the genetic relationships among individuals or populations (the ‘phylo’ part) and how they are affected by location (the ‘geography’ part). It paints a picture of gene flow within a species, telling us where individuals have moved, identifying barriers and corridors for dispersal, and predicting how species might respond to changes inFynbos bird research climate and land use.

As part of ongoing research into birds endemic to fynbos, Campbell Fleming and Krista Oswald are examining these relationships in the Cape Sugarbird and Cape Rockjumper. In order to do this, they need to collect genetic material from across the species’ ranges. BirdLife South Africa recognises that this work can provide valuable insights for the conservation of fynbos endemics and in late 2016 provided funding for a field trip to two important sampling locations.

The team first visited the majestic Cederberg–Koue Bokkeveld Complex Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and established a base at Driehoek Guest Farm. Cape Sugarbirds were targeted here by setting up mistnets among protea stands. This was very successful, with a total of 32 Cape Sugarbirds sampled. Cape Rockjumpers, on the other hand, proved to be far more tricky. Instead of using mistnets, the researchers baited spring-loaded traps with mealworms. Sometimes they spent a whole day bagging a rockjumper, first locating a bird (usually very high on a steep slope), then guessing where it might move and setting traps. Then they waited – and more than likely were pulling out their hair in frustration as the rockjumper moved off in a completely different direction! Fortunately Krista has been working with this species for years and is familiar with its behaviour. She predicted the birds’ movements and placed traps with uncanny accuracy, catching a total of 10 rockjumpers.

The next sampling stop was Anysberg Nature Reserve IBA, where CapeNature staff escorted the team up the rough 4x4 track to camp at Anysberg peak. Bad weather made this trip less successful than the Cederberg exercise (one morning the mistnets were found frozen shut!), but the researchers still managed to sample eight Cape Sugarbirds and two Cape Rockjumpers. The Anysberg is a fynbos ‘island’ separated from the Swartberg and Langeberg by a considerable expanse of renosterveld and Karoo vegetation, so the relationships between these populations and neighbouring ones could reveal interesting patterns in movement or important corridors for conservation.

Image credits:
Campbell Fleming: Rockjumper in hand, mountain camp

BirdLasser workshops a huge success

Birdlasser 1There is a close partnership between BirdLife South Africa and BirdLasser, whose mobile app enables you to log the birds you see, and it’s a partnership with mutual benefits.Birdlasser 4 BirdLife South Africa promotes the use of the app to its members and the general public, and in return receives data about threatened bird species. Birders also use the app to submit data to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2), and these are used extensively by BirdLife South Africa.

Over the past two years, Ernst Retief of BirdLife South Africa and Henk Nel of BirdLasser have held a number of workshops across the country, travelling from Nelspruit, Pretoria and Johannesburg to Newcastle, Durban, Richards Bay and St Lucia, and on to East London and Port Elizabeth. During the two- to three-hour workshops, Henk explains how to create a trip card, log a species and support conservation causes and SABAP2, while Ernst demonstrates all the steps live on a screen. By the end of the session, participants are able to use all the app’s functions. These workshops are well received and many participants started using the app soon afterwards. BirdLife South Africa covers all the travel and accommodation costs, which currently stand at about R30 000. A few more workshops are planned, including ones in Cape Town, Gauteng and possibly the Northern Cape.

On the road with Ross...

Ross Wanless travel blog Caption Ross and family birding Down Under2016 ended with quite a bang – so big, in fact, that it rolled on into 2017. I spent most of December on leave in Australia with my family, followed by a three-week sabbatical placement with BirdLife Australia, giving me almost seven weeks in that fabulous land of the wallaroo and wombat, platypus and paddymelon (those are all endemic mammals, by the way!). The December bit was pure holiday, spent in New South Wales and including a trip to Cabbage Tree Island, where I was able to tick Gould’s Petrel.

We spent Christmas in Darwin – at the Top End of Down Under – and just before New Year travelled to Cairns, where I spent three weeks working with Dr Golo Maurer, BirdLife Australia’s (BLA) IBA coordinator. I was there to discuss marine IBAs and seabird conservation more generally, as our sister organisation currently has no seabird conservation programme to speak of, yet there is a real need for one. It was a great opportunity to provide some ideas and explore opportunities for BLA to initiate conservation work on seabirds. There are a few challenges, but overcoming the first – getting funds to support someone who will undertake some of the basic work – is likely to be the watershed that is required. Once a person is in place, I am sure BLA will fast become a serious player in seabird conservation.

Readers of my travel blog will know that I’ve visited Australia twice before – Tasmania and the Perth area – so it was by a combination of luck and design that I ended up going to places that gave me access to new habitats and, critically, many new bird species! Of the 256 species that I saw in the seven weeks, 132 were lifers and 141 were new to my Australia list. A real highlight, after days of fruitless searching, was a weekend trip to Etty Bay, south of Cairns, where we had amazing views of a Southern Cassowary. It was also immensely satisfying to ‘page out’ on Australia’s stunning rosella parrots and find all its ‘rainbow’ birds (lorikeet, bee-eater and pitta), while getting to grips with some of the continent’s most celebrated mammals. Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo and the wombats feeding on my colleague Nicholas Carlile’s lawn take first prize!

My next trip, in February, is local – to the Kruger National Park for a workshop. I’ll probably see more mammal species in two days than I saw in seven weeks in Oz, but I suspect I’ll see fewer birds…

Exciting news about Africa’s rarest seabird

There are probably several contenders for the ‘rarest bird’ in Africa; even under the seabird banner there are a few. But among the latter, the cryptic Reunion/Mascarene Petrel Pseudobulweria aterrima is top of the list inMascarene Petrel Photo H Shirihai The Tubenoses Project 9 my view. Its population size is unknown, although we’re pretty certain it is extremely small and probably decreasing. Barely any information exists about the species at all. It breeds exclusively on Reunion Island in the Mascarenes and is a member of the enigmatic Pseudobulweria group, which comprises four species. Of these, only one is not Critically Endangered and has a known nesting site. Every year a few Mascarene Petrel fledglings are found in a particular coastal town on Reunion, downed by street and house lights at night, and there are a few scattered records of the species at sea. And that’s it. Or at least, that was it until earlier this year.

Dr Patrick Pinet and his colleagues reported in January that, after many years of searching, they have finally found a small breeding colony! This beats other teams trying to find colonies of Fiji Petrel P. macgillivrayi and Beck’s Petrel P. becki. Now, at last, we can learn more about the Reunion Petrel’s breeding ecology, estimate the population size and possibly locate other colonies on the island (if they exist). More importantly, however, the national parks authority in Reunion can start active predator control. Feral house cats and introduced rats are ubiquitous on the island and are a source of significant mortality for all Reunion’s endemic birds, including its other endemic petrel, the Endangered Barau’s Petrel Pterodroma baraui.
Image credit: Hadoram Shirihai

Welcome to the team

Melissa WhitecrossBirdLife South Africa’s Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme is pleased to welcome Melissa Whitecross, an intern with a highly impressive pedigree. Her MSc on the benefits of early-greening phenology (for us lesser mortals, that means when deciduous trees flush their new leaves ahead of the start of seasonal rainfall) was upgraded to a PhD and was submitted for examination at the end of 2016. Despite this unforgivable lapse into savanna ecology, soon-to-be Dr Whitecross is an avid and passionate birder, with a keen interest in branching off into ornithological research in the future.

Having grown up on the East Rand, young Melissa’s passion for nature was sparked by her grandparents, who took her into their garden or the nearby park to admire birds, butterflies and flowers. We are eternally grateful to them as Melissa, now a newly fledged scientist, is ready to enter the world of conservation and use her remarkable skills to help us save South Africa’s birds. Oh, and when she is not chasing year lists, she hikes, runs and plays field hockey. In other words, a woman not to be taken lightly.

Welcome, Melissa. We look forward to working with you!

Stanford Youth Eco-Camp

Photo 2 Practicing with binoculars with Stanford Bird Club chairperson Peter Hochfelden Sheraine Van WykThis summer, participants in the Stanford Youth Eco-Camp were given the opportunity to help gather ecological data for a number of different conservation projects at the Klein River. Organised by Whale Coast Photo 1 Giselle Murison introducing the morning birdwalk Sheraine Van WykConservation, the camp drew local learners of all ages. Activities ranged from frogging and fishing to dragonfly monitoring and birding.

Giselle Murison, BirdLife South Africa’s Estuaries Conservation Project Manager, took the lead on birding and gave a short introductory presentation on the local birds. Then, helped by Stanford Bird Club members, learners first practised with binoculars, focusing on photos of birds and, more interestingly, a nearby African Harrier-Hawk nest with attending adult.

Practice was followed by a birding walk through Stanford, with the young birders checking species off their lists of common local birds provided and using field guides to add to their tallies. The group followed the ‘Wandelpad’ through the reedbed and gardens, ticking species like African Paradise Flycatcher and Common Waxbill before finishing at the Willem Appel Dam bird hide with Black Crake, African Swamphen and Malachite Kingfisher.

A research project is currently being developed to monitor bird activity in and around the dam and several of the youngsters from the camp will help with future monitoring. With more than 40 species recorded and fun had by all, the day proved to be an enjoyable introduction to Stanford birding!

The eco-camp was made possible through the support of Ds. Jan Bronkhorst (NG Church, Stanford), Overstrand Municipality and WWF South Africa’s Table Mountain Fund.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: January 2017

Bird of the Year 2017 pin badges

Bird of the Year 2017 Lappet faced VultureFor 2017 the iconic Lappet-faced Vulture has been chosen as BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year. We are using this majestic bird to highlight the plight of all Africa’s vultures. By purchasing and wearing a pin badge, you will go a long way towards raising awareness of these threatened and often misunderstood, but very necessary birds.

As usual, the pin badges are of very high quality, with information about the species printed on the backing card. They cost R25 each.

Pin badges can be purchased directly from ‘Shop For the Birds!’ (open Monday to Friday from 08h00 to 14h30) at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West in Johannesburg. Arrangements can also be made to have them posted.
Contact Janine on 011 789 1122 or

Selati Game Reserve’s annual birding weekendSelati Game Reserve

Birders from around South Africa gathered at Selati Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger Area in November last year to participate in the conservancy’s annual birding weekend. Divided into eight groups, they identified 168 species, including four new sightings (Brown-backed Honeybird, African Jacana, Common Myna and Speckled Pigeon) to increase the reserve’s official list to 300 species.

Although some of the rarer species, such as Arnot’s Chat, were not seen, several sightings of Thick-billed Cuckoo, a vocal Coqui Francolin and the nesting antics of a pair of Grey Penduline-tits got air-time at the end-of-day refreshment hour.

The success of this new annual initiative is helping to ensure a heightened awareness of the birdlife heritage on this 23-year-old, 27 000-hectare Lowveld conservancy.

Saving the White-winged Flufftail

WwF by Arno EllmerIn addition to her efforts for the planned White-winged Flufftail Research Facility at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria, Professor Antoinette Kotzé and her team have been involved in scientific research that is unravelling the mysteries of the White-winged Flufftail, including pioneering work on immunogenetic variation in the species.

Four academic papers have been completed, the first of which – by Dr Desire Dalton, Dr Elaine Vermaak, Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Professor Kotzé – has been accepted for publication in the prestigious peer-reviewed international journal Scientific Reports. Titled ‘Lack of diversity in innate immunity Toll-like receptor genes in the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi)’, the paper confirms low genetic diversity in the flufftail similar to that observed in other bird species that have experienced population bottlenecks. The species is thus likely to be more vulnerable to changes in the environment, such as exposure to a new disease.

It is critical that the current conservation and research be continued and that the White-winged Flufftail’s habitat be protected from additional human impact. Professor Kotzé also serves on the national White-winged Flufftail working group of the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Networking for European RollersLilac breasted Roller IMG6448

A familiar and much-admired bird across the bushveld region of South Africa, the European Roller is a charismatic summer visitor from Europe and Asia. During their non-breeding season, the rollers escape the cold northern winter and migrate south, spreading out across much of sub-Saharan Africa to enjoy the region’s abundant food resources.

A common thread running through most of the presentations on Afro-Palaearctic migratory birds was that most research in the past has focused on their breeding grounds in Europe, resulting in a significant lack of information about Afro-Palaearctic species on their non-breeding grounds in Africa. This is certainly true in the case of the European Roller. We hope that the newly formed monitoring network in Africa will help us to fill in some of the vital missing pieces of the migration puzzle, such as population status and trends and the threats these birds face on our continent. This information will then help to inform practical conservation action in the future that will contribute to the conservation of this charismatic species. The Pan African Ornithological Congress in Dakar provided an ideal opportunity to network with conservation organisations and research institutions across different range states in order to set up an active African network.

Helene Loon, BirdLife Species Guardian for European Roller monitoring and conservation

Strandfontein Birding Area Habitat Initiative

StrandfonteinThe Strandfontein Birding Area, part of the False Bay Nature Reserve Important Bird and Biodiversity Area in Cape Town, has been extremely generous of late, providing not only fantastic birding, but also a number of national rarities. There was, for example, a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin in July 2016, while in December we had a Temminck’s Stint, an American Golden Plover, Pectoral Sandpipers and a Red-necked Phalarope – all at the same time!

But many people may not realise that a tremendous amount of long-term effort and resources goes into the maintenance of this area as a haven for migratory waders and many other bird species, culminating in these great sightings. It’s not just the ‘ponds’ where the rarities have been seen; there are many others that are in dire need of alien vegetation clearing. With this in mind, we launched the Strandfontein Birding Area Habitat Initiative in December 2016 and encouraged our members and other birders to give back to this fantastic site. We were overwhelmed by the initial response and have already accumulated a substantial proportion of our R50 000 target! Thus we wanted to send out huge thanks to those members who have already made generous contributions.

The funds generated so far have been raised via the accumulation of many small donations, showing the true power of our large membership base. We would also like to make one last call for support and encourage our members to contribute to this worthy project – no amount is too small to make a difference! All donations for the future habitat management of this site could go a long way to further improving and maintaining the area.
All monies collected will go directly to habitat management interventions at this site.

Click here to make your donation.

For more information, please contact Dale Wright.

Migratory species and climate change

An international task force has been established to reconcile the need for the rapid deployment of renewable energy while protecting migratory bird species. The Energy Task Force’s first meeting was held in Cape Town late last year and BirdLife South Africa was privileged to share experiences and insights with the group. Read more.

African Birdlife magazine

AB coverThe latest issue of African Birdlife is full of surprises – like observations of unexpected sparrow-lark breeding behaviour and Lesser Jacanas bent on drowning each other. There’s also a feature on scrub robins and the Karoo Scrub Robin ‘misfit’, a profile on one of South Africa’s leading bird photographers and an introduction to the new Bird of the Year. Add in prizes to be won, readers’ photographic observations, rare bird sightings and snippets of scientific news and you’ll want to be sure to get your copy.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: December 2016

Happy holidays
BirdLife South Africa staff meeting 2 July 2016

On behalf of the team of dedicated and hardworking staff who’re doing all they can to conserve South Africa’s birds, I’d like to wish you restful and enjoyable holidays. The staff are very grateful for all the support they have received from collaborators, donors and our organisation’s members. Thank you for helping us to ‘give conservation wings’.

Mark D. Anderson
Chief Executive Officer
BirdLife South Africa

Saving seabirds

seabirdsFor the Seabird Conservation Programme, 2016 has been a year of steady progress on existing work and expansion into new areas. Our staff also grew to 11 in Cape Town, with two others in West Africa – a great boost to productivity. Read more.




The Events Programme over the past 12 months was as versatile as ever and new twists to familiar themes proved to be very popular.

On behalf of everyone at BirdLife South Africa, I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who supported our Events Programme for making this year a great one. With 2016 drawing to a close, it's always nice to look back and reflect on the year gone by. Click here for some of the Events Programme highlights of 2016.

Are IBAs better off at the end of 2016?

IBAs Fiscal Benefits Project Pilot Site tax and conservation Photo Y LauransThe IBA Programme contributed to the declaration of 17 000 hectares of priority grassland and wetland protected in the Grasslands IBA. We have another 120 000 hectares in the pipeline in estuaries and grasslands. Read more.

Money matters

There’s good news for BirdLife South Africa on the financial front, largely thanks to the generosity of our supporters who, like us, believe in the importance of ‘giving conservation wings’ .
BirdLife South Africa will end the 2016 financial year with an operating surplus for the seventh year running – a surplus that will be invested wisely to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation. This enviable financial situation is thanks largely to the many generous donors who understand that successful conservation projects need to be supported by a sustainable and effective administration. On behalf of the Business Division of BirdLife South Africa, I would like to thank all our supporters. With your continued aid we look forward to taking our organisation to even greater heights in 2017.

Fanie du Plessis
Finance & Operations Manager

What’s going on at WakkerstroomWAKKERSTROOM WEBSITE Spring Alive activities at Country Kids College 2016 Volksrust

It’s been a year of change and progress at the Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre, a year in which we’ve all grown a little more and learnt new things along the way. Albert Einstein said, ‘Life is like a bicycle: to keep your balance, you must keep moving.’ So why don’t you move towards Wakkerstroom in 2017? Click here to book your trip soon to avoid disappointment! Read more.

Advocating for our birds and their habitats

POLICY ADVOCACY EMAILER CoP 13 CITES2016 seems to have been an eventful year for everyone with whom I have chatted and it’s been no different for the Policy and Advocacy Programme. We provided extensive support to our partners through the IUCN, worked with BirdLife International and the World Parrot Trust to advocate for the uplisting of African Grey Parrots at the CITES CoP17 and are currently collaborating with a plethora of talented and committed people and organisations to improve the lot of African vultures. Read more.

Working around the subregion

2016 was a very busy year for the Avitourism & Special Projects Programme, which has been involved in the East Atlantic Flyway Initiative, partner development work in southern Africa and the State of South Africa’s Birds Report and regional Red List publications, as well as the revived BirdLife South Africa Bird Guide Training Project. We are exceptionally grateful to our funders and collaborators for the support they have provided in 2016 and look forward to building on 2016’s successes in the year ahead. Read more.

Fledge Icon Web

Fledge: Young Birders Conservation Club.

BirdLife South Africa is excited to introduce its newest, hippest, coolest exclusive membership programme aimed at the YOUth: Fledge! On this creative and dynamic platform, education meets the digital age and everything is social. Whether you are an avid birder or a wandering scientist or you’re looking for the next big social trend, here it is – birding. And it promises to be lit! Click here to read more.

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: November 2016

Fledge Icon Web

Fledge: Young Birders Conservation Club.

BirdLife South Africa is excited to introduce its newest, hippest, coolest exclusive membership programme aimed at the YOUth: Fledge! On this creative and dynamic platform, education meets the digital age and everything is social. Whether you are an avid birder or a wandering scientist or you’re looking for the next big social trend, here it is – birding. And it promises to be lit! Click here to read more.

Dullstroom Flufftail FestivalFlufftail Festival Final Logo

Please save the date for the Dullstroom Flufftail Festival, an exciting new event that will take place from 24 to 26 February 2017. The programme of events and registration details will be announced soon. Read more

On the road with Ross

Mbour map

It’s time to go to Senegal again? This month’s travel insert sees Ross Wanless heading off to Dakar, where a cancelled meeting gave him a one-day window for some birding…

Read more.


Four Grade 6 learners who manned a stall at an Eco-Fair held at St Mary’s DSG in Pretoria on Friday, 7 October decided to support BirdLife South Africa’s African Penguin Project and to donate their profits to this worthy cause. Each girl provided different items for sale at their stall, which was decorated with a coastal theme. They were very excited to explain why they were supporting this cause, sharing their enthusiasm for conserving our environment and our birds and mammals. They were thrilled when they counted up their takings – R1000!

(Left to right) Mikaela Collins, Emma Theron, Emma Divall and Jenna du Preez.

A fair exchange: A much needed computer in exchange for bird scaring lines to save seabirds!

resize ovapd

The Ocean View Association for People with Disabilities (OVAPD) centre has been given a boost in the form of a much-needed desktop computer. The centre runs the Tori Line project, which produces the bird-scaring lines used on fishing vessels to prevent seabirds from being killed. Read more.

Bringing Ocean View to the oceanholding albi

Flock At Sea Again! in April 2017 will have some special guests. The team from the Ocean View Association for People with Disabilities (OVAPD) centre that makes our bird-scaring lines will be joining us on board, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Rand Merchant Bank. Read more

Robins of Africa winners

These five members receive a free copy of the magnificent Robins of Africa for renewing their membership in September:

Bernard Heritage, Janet Haskin, Erick Schafer, Gideon Scheepers and Nick du Plessis

Birding Big Day 2016

13962572 1425041367522421 5233721078068151255 nThis year’s BBD will be held on Saturday, 26 November. BirdLife South Africa has partnered with the mobile app BirdLasser to show the progress of teams live on an interactive map. In addition, an operations centre will be established at Isdell House to report on social and other media how teams are progressing.

For more information about the different categories and rules, visit the BirdLife South Africa website, to see which teams have already registered, go click here. To add your team to this map, complete the online form.

For more information about BirdLasser, visit or e-mail

Oceans of Life – a retrospective


Bringing together the top images from the annual Oceans of Life Photographic Competition since 2009, this exhibition opened on 6 October at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town and runs until 25 November, from 10h00 to 17h00 daily. It aims to demonstrate how conservation, love and knowledge are interrelated and how these three elements are needed to preserve our most vital life source – our oceans.

We apologise to readers who were unable to access this link in last month’s newsletter. You can find the full text here.

Roberts Bird Guide reworked

November sees the launch of the all-new Roberts Bird Guide, with new artwork (about 240 annotated colour plates) and updated distribution maps and breeding and seasonality bars. The individual species descriptions are concise but informative and include details of the species’ calls and eating habits. Covering almost 1000 species found in South Africa, the guide is an essential addition to birders’ libraries.

The launch will take place at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, from 18h00 on Wednesday, 30 November. RSVP to

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: October 2016


Fledge Icon Web

Fledge: Young Birders Conservation Club.

BirdLife South Africa is excited to introduce its newest, hippest, coolest exclusive membership programme aimed at the YOUth: Fledge! On this creative and dynamic platform, education meets the digital age and everything is social. Whether you are an avid birder or a wandering scientist or you’re looking for the next big social trend, here it is – birding. And it promises to be lit! Click here to read more.

Mziki Private Game Farm:logo mziki

Nestled beneath shady karee trees in the heart of Mziki Private Game Reserve, just two hours’ drive from Johannesburg, Mziki Safari Lodge offers a natural, affordable haven for eco-travellers. The reserve is home to 372 bird species, making it one of the best birding areas in South Africa. BirdLife South Africa members receive 15% discount PLUS a free upgrade! To book, e-mail and quote ‘BirdLife SA’ or call +27 (0)82 902 2058. See more:

Namibian National Awareness Workshop

Through a series of workshops, the Common Oceans Tuna Project aims to reduce the impacts of pelagic (tuna) longline fisheries on albatross and petrel populations and ensure that the implementation of best-practice seabird by-catch measures is accelerated. Read about the latest National Awareness Workshop in October, which was aimed at government officials, fishing industry representatives and fisheries observers. Click here to read more.


13962572 1425041367522421 5233721078068151255 n
Birding Big Day 2016

This year’s BBD will be held on Saturday, 26 November. BirdLife South Africa has partnered with the mobile app BirdLasser to show the progress of teams live on an interactive map. In addition, an operations centre will be established at Isdell House to report on social and other media how teams are progressing.

For more information about the different categories and rules, visit the BirdLife South Africa website, to see which teams have already registered, go click here. To add your team to this map, complete the online form.

For more information about BirdLasser, visit or e-mail

 Birding with CITES

An opportunity arose for Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Linda van den Heever and Rowan Martin (World Parrot Trust) to accompany the secretariat staff from CITES to the Magaliesberg area to view Cape Vultures.CITES COP image

The BirdLife South Africa and CITES secretariat staff visited the Magaliesberg on Saturday 1 October. They had great views of soaring Cape Vultures, and an additional highlight was protracted views of another threatened species, Black Stork. A single adult stork was seen flying along the high ridges and then joining the vultures as they took to the thermals. The outing provided an ideal opportunity to discuss some pressing trade and conservation issues, such as the illegal trade in wild-sourced African Grey Parrots and the trade in vulture body parts that is contributing to the African vulture crisis. With thanks to James Smith for hosting us at his magnificent property, Lance Robinson for leading the outing and Gisela Ortner for assisting with logistics and accompanying us.

Brush up on seabirds before Flock At Sea AGAIN! 2017 

flock yeahMost of us landlocked birders don’t get to sea very often and are a bit rusty when we do. This pre-cruise course is for you. On Saturday 25 March 2017, Dr Ross Wanless, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme manager, will run a course in Sandton on the birds we hope to see on the cruise. Click here for more information.



Oceans of Life – a retrospective

OceansOfLife6Oct1618Bringing together the top images from the annual Oceans of Life Photographic Competition since 2009, this exhibition opened on 6 October at the Iziko South Africa Museum in Cape Town and runs until 25 November, from 10h00 to 17h00 daily. It aims to demonstrate how conservation, love and knowledge are interrelated and how these three elements are needed to preserve our most vital life source – our oceans. Click here to read more.


On the road with Ross

The Seychelles is a tropical island paradise with a swathe of endemic species and stunning landscapes. Ross Wanless reports on his tuna commission meeting and finding endemic frogs, visiting a seabird island and seeing most of those endemic birds… Read more

Book donationBook donation

On behalf of my group of enthusiastic children, I would like to thank you for the box of informative bird field guides and beautiful bird photography books, which I shall use as special prizes. BirdLife South Africa’s donation has significantly boosted our small collection and will help so much on our field trips. Thank you!

Christine Harries, Facilitator, North School Birding and Environment Group.

Jaci’s Lodges Big Birding Safari

jacis lodgeThis unique safari, led by Etienne Marais and Trevor Hardaker, will take place 24–27 November 2016!

Madikwe boasts more than 300 bird species and sightings of the elusive African Finfoot, Greater Painted-snipe and yellow morph Crimson-breasted Shrike. Jaci’s Lodges is the perfect location to enjoy BirdLife South Africa’s Birding Big Day. Our Big Birding Safari offer will combine the best in birding with twice-daily safaris, luxury accommodation and outdoor dining experiences. It will be led by experts Etienne Marais and Trevor Hardaker. For rates and more information, please e-mail or call +27 (0)83 700 2071 or +27 (0)83 447 7929.

Birding at Marakele National Park

The SANParks Honorary Rangers, Marakele Region, will achieve a birding first in this Big 5 national park with guided walks in the wild to tick birds and do some atlasing.

Download here.

Guide training

Over the past month, 10 students from KZN have been studying really hard on a bird specialist course. The course is endorsed by FGASA and skill, dedication and hard work are needed to get the desired results. Guide training 5Congratulations to Lethukuthula Nxele, Bongiwe Nxumalo and Simphiwe Gumede, who have made the grade. Although further assessments are still to be done next year before they get the regional birding certificate from FGASA, they are on the right road. Read more.

Tracking penguins

African Penguins picThis winter, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme joined Dr Richard Sherley and fellow penguin researchers to deploy GPS loggers and gather data on the foraging ecology of the African Penguins on Robben Island during the breeding season. These data provide the science needed to ensure penguins are considered in the management of the small pelagic fishing industry along the west coast of South Africa. Read more.


Wilge Stewardship Project

The Wilge River runs through the grasslands of the beautiful eastern Free State, an area that contains many threatened bird species and is an important water catchment. Its formal protection is a matter of urgency, which is why BirdLife South Africa and partners are undertaking the Wilge Stewardship Project. Read more.

Cape Big Daycape bird day

On Saturday 8 October, a team comprising Garth Shaw, Dominic Rollinson, Frans-Hendrik Joubert and Andrew de Blocq did their own Cape version of Birding Big Day. In 24 hours they visited Kirstenbosch, West Coast National Park, Paarl Bird Sanctuary and the Tankwa Karoo, recorded 191 bird species and raised more than R11 000 for BirdLife South Africa.

Welcome Bianca

11141250 10153065709483721 6790849884768619038 nBianca Hare has recently joined us at Isdell House in the role of membership administrator. After matriculating, she spent a year working in the UK and travelling around Europe before returning to South Africa to complete a degree in marketing management. Bianca’s interests lie in wildlife conservation, charity work and green business practices, and it has long been her dream to work for BirdLife South Africa. She is eager to do her part to increase membership and thus ensure BirdLife South Africa’s continued success in its important work for conservation.


BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: September 2016


The African Bird FairThe African Bird Fair 2016

The African Bird Fair took place over the weekend of 3 and 4 September at the beautiful Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden – and what a weekend it was! The weather certainly played its part and the glorious sunshine throughout the weekend helped to show off the variety of eye-catching stands of the more than 50 exhibitors who took part.

It was wonderful to see the garden teeming with bird enthusiasts who had flocked to the Fair to visit the exhibitor stands, go on guided walks and attend presentations and photography workshops.

The African Bird Fair was a huge success and we would like to thank everyone who supported us and joined in the fun. We look forward to seeing you all again next year!

BirdLife South Africa would like to thank the following for their support of The African Bird Fair: Canon, Eskom, Jalapeno Advertising and Promotion, JCDecaux, Mark and Christine Read, People’s Weather, Struik Nature, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Swarovski and Zeiss.

The African Bird Fair 5

Visit the Bird Fair Website

 Thank you from Zeekoevlei Primary

Dragon boat rides lrgBirdLife South Africa and its partners, with financial support from Melomed Private Hospitals, host the False Bay Nature Reserve Birdathon at Strandfontein Birding Area each year. Part of the event includes a competition for the schools in attendance to win an overnight environmental education camp with our partner, the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust. This camp is an exciting and rewarding nature-based experience for children who may never otherwise have such an opportunity.

This year the three-day, two-night camp was won by Zeekoevlei Primary School, whose children thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful experience. ‘For many of our children it was their first experience out of their respective communities,’ said the teacher in charge of the group in a thank-you letter penned to BirdLife South Africa and other partners. ‘They learned new things, gained valuable knowledge and were exposed to many new experiences. Their night walks and dragon boat activities rated the most popular!’ It is nature experiences such as this that leave long-lasting memories in the minds of these children, helping to create the next generation of environmental stewards.

Membership Renewal Competition

The lucky draw has been done for BirdLife South Africa members who renewBMImg 11339 11339 oatley robins webed their membership in July 2016.

Congratulations to the five members who will each receive a copy of the beautifully illustrated Robins of Africa coffee-table book:

Jono Savadier
Kate Armstrong
Shirley van der Merwe
Thys Meyer
Petro Theron


Birding Big Day 2016

Red squareThis year’s BBD will be held on Saturday, 26 November. BirdLife South Africa has partnered with the mobile app BirdLasser to show the progress of teams live on an interactive map. In addition, an operations centre will be established at Isdell House to report on social and other media how teams are progressing.

For more information about the different categories and rules, visit the BirdLife South Africa website. To see which teams have already registered, click here. To add your team to this map you need to complete the online Fledge.

For more information about BirdLasser, visit or e-mail


Bird of Southern Africa 2017 calendarscal

The Birds of Southern Africa 2017 calendars are now in stock! With a stunning, full-page colour photograph for each month, they will make lovely gifts for local and international family and friends. They are selling at R130 each (excluding postage). Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order or for more information. We suggest you don’t delay – stocks are limited!



Farewell to Ntombi Stungu

ntoBirdLife South Africa staff countrywide bid a very sad farewell to Ntombi Stungu, who passed away suddenly on 24 August 2016 after a short illness. Ntombi started working with BirdLife South Africa, in 2003, initially as a cleaner and then progressing to become our membership administrator. Our condolences go to her son Mzi, her daughter Aphiwe and her little grandson Lathitha. The staff and volunteers of BirdLife South Africa remember and honour her friendship, loyalty and commitment and will sorely miss her presence at Isdell House.


The ’Mericans

In June and July BirdLife South Africa had the pleasure of hosting two student interns from the United States. Mitul Patel, from the University of Maryland, and Jennifer Mitul and JennyReiss, from the University of Houston, were hand-picked by Prof. Bill Bowerman (University of Maryland) from a number of applicants to travel to Johannesburg and assist BirdLife South Africa in conducting a literature study on the levels and sources of environmental lead in South Africa, as well as the risks the lead poses to people and wildlife alike. The input from this study will form the basis of BirdLife South Africa’s future lead strategy document.

The harmful effects of lead on human health and the environment have been extensively researched. In humans it has been linked to decreased intelligence, hearing loss and aggressive behaviour, among other conditions. Likewise, it has been shown that chronic lead exposure has a severe impact on bird populations (especially scavenging birds), causing increased lethargy, decreased hunting ability and decreased spatial awareness. With Africa’s plummeting vulture populations, it is vitally important that BirdLife South Africa treat the possible impact of heavy metals such as lead as a matter of urgency.

We would like to thank Mitul and Jennifer (aka ‘the ’Mericans’) for their invaluable contribution to this project. The amount of literature they covered over the span of two short months is nothing short of inspiring. We especially miss Jenny’s dry sense of humour and Mitul’s propensity for bursting into song. We wish you both the best of luck in what could only be highly successful future careers. Your presence in the RJ Downie Conservation Wing is sorely missed.

A bitter-sweet farewell to an IBA Team member

It is with heavy hearts that the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Team says farewell to Nick Theron, the IBA Programme’s regional conservation manager in KwaZulu-Natal. After six years of tireless dedication tImage of Nick Therono conserving IBAs, Blue Swallows, Cape Parrots and Rudd’s Lark, he (with his wife Rina and their two young boys) will be pursuing new frontiers in Limpopo Province. Our solace, though, is that Nick is not lost to BirdLife South Africa; we will continue to work closely with him in Limpopo as he takes up the position of Biodiversity Stewardship coordinator for the Kruger2Canyons Biosphere Reserve.

Nick joined BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme in 2010 as the project manager for the Cata Forest Ecotourism Development Initiative. After completing a successful project by setting up bird tourism in this rural Eastern Cape community, he took up the position of the IBA Programme’s regional conservation manager in KwaZulu-Natal. At the same time, his wife Rina became the Blue Swallow monitor for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and together they became a formidable conservation force in southern KwaZulu-Natal.

Nick remains an IBA champion and we expect he will lobby hard for the conservation and protection of IBAs in Limpopo. Nick and Rina’s undying commitment to threatened species and IBAs has resulted in numerous achievements for the IBA Programme. These include expanding the IBA network for the benefit of White-backed and Cape vultures; monitoring and advocating for Blue Swallows; finding a remnant population of Rudd’s Lark in the Eastern Cape; and obtaining improved management and protection for key grassland sites in the highly fragmented southern KwaZulu-Natal.

BirdLife South Africa wishes Nick and his family all the best in their new venture and we look forward to a continued partnership to conserve our birds and their habitats.

Mziki Private Game Reserve

safNestled beneath shady karee trees in the heart of Mziki Private Game Reserve, just two hours’ drive from Johannesburg, Mziki Safari Lodge offers a natural, affordable haven for eco-travellers seeking an authentic, unaffected encounter with the African bush. The reserve is home to 372 different bird species, making it one of the best birding areas in South Africa. All BirdLife South Africa members receive 15% discount PLUS a free upgrade! To book this special, e-mail and quote ‘BirdLife SA’ or call +27 (0)82 902 2058.

Birding weekends in KZN

The Johannesburg Region of SANParks Honorary Rangers, in partnership with BirdLife South Africa, invites you to a three-night birding weekend at two of South Africa’s premier birding destinations: Ndumo (20–23 October 2016) and Mkhuze (28–31 October 2016) game reserves in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Accommodation is available in comfortable chalets or safari tents or at shady camping sites.

For more information or to book, contact Tim or Dave at More details are also available at click here.

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