Preventing extinctions

Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Robin Colyn and Mark Anderson attended the bi-annual Middelpunt Wetland Trust meeting, focused on research and conservation for the White-winged Flufftail. Hanneline and Melissa Whitecross had a lunch discussion regarding BirdLife’s raptor conservation projects with Ian Barber, RSPB representative, who visited BirdLife South Africa. Hanneline was interviewed for a press release which will advertise the SANParks Honorary Rangers birding weekends and highlight BirdLife South Africa’s involvement in vulture conservation.  Hanneline edited the draft Southern Ground-Hornbill Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP). Melissa and Hanneline held a Skype meeting with Shane McPherson to discuss his experiences on the Southern Banded Snake Eagle survey. Melissa was joined by Nicci Wright (JHB Wildlife Vet), Craig Nattrass and Caroline Howes for the release of the Secretarybird rescued from OR Tambo International Airport in May 2018. This bird has undergone intense rehabilitation of an infected foot and was successfully released in the Devon grasslands on Tuesday. The bird has been fitted with a tracking device and Melissa will monitor its movements going forward. Melissa was interviewed by Sheree Bega (Saturday Star) about the Secretarybird collaboration and release. Melissa completed the Airports Company South Africa Annual Report and continued with Taita Falcon analyses. Carina Coetzer and Sakhile Mthalane continued with the monthly avifaunal surveys on Ingula, completing all block counts covering the Nature Reserve. Carina also continued with the Southern Bald Ibis research, while Sakhile commenced with the 2018/19 breeding monitoring for White-bellied Korhaan around Ingula. As part of the BirdLife South Africa Arid Species and Vulture Safe Zone projects, Robin Colyn and Linda van den Heever designed a modelling framework and prepared data analyses for a vulture conservation study currently underway. Robin revised a White-winged Flufftail manuscript following consideration for publication from a peer-reviewed journal. Final logistics for the South African White-winged Flufftail surveys continued this week. These surveys will commence in October 2018 and aim to assess the presence and state of this Critically Endangered species, as well as the broader wetland communities, across multiple sites in South Africa. Linda met with Gareth Tate (EWT) to discuss the collaborative framework of the Vulture Safe Zone project. She also presented a talk on lead poisoning in vultures at Blouberg Nature Reserve as part of their International Vulture Awareness Day celebrations.

Renewable energy

Sam Ralston reviewed the revised EIA and submitted comments on a proposed wind farm in the Eastern Cape. This is a challenging site as Cape Vulture, Grey Crowned Crane and Southern Ground- Hornbill are all occasional or regular visitors to the site. Sam and Hanneline met with Wendy Foden (University of Stellenbosch and IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group Chair) to discuss a partnership opportunity. Exciting news is that the paper Sam co-authored titled "Assessing the impacts of a utility-scale photovoltaic solar energy facility on birds in the Northern Cape, South Africa” has been published in the journal Renewable Energy https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148118310565. Nndwa Muhale attended training on how to use Google Earth hosted by SANBI. She collected spatial date for Martial Eagle and Black Harrier from EIA and monitoring reports, and has been sorting out the filing system.



Common Oceans

Philip Augustyn, Nini van der Merwe and Ross Wanless attended the Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which was held in Cape Town. Ross presented a paper on the outcomes of the Common Oceans Tuna Project Global Seabird Bycatch Data Preparation workshop, which was held in Peru earlier this year. Philip presented a paper on transhipment observer data collection of seabird bycatch mitigation measure use in high seas fishing fleets. Philip’s paper drew the ire of certain scientists, but the provision of wine that evening by the hosts seemed to have quelled the fires, and we were even entertained during the meeting with an Elvis impersonation. Engagements with colleagues in the margins of the meetings and particularly in the evenings led to some excellent avenues for future collaborations and the strengthening of relationships. Nini embraced the opportunity to liaise with colleagues from other international organisations, specifically project partners to the FAO Common Oceans Tuna Project. She also built on her excellent working relationship with South African officials present at the meeting. Philip and Nini also had the opportunity to take a WWF colleague from Pakistan on a harbour visit, to inform them on South African longline fishing operations and discuss options for increasing more sustainable fishing operations in Pakistan. Nini received the excellent news from the Indonesian scientist at the meeting that our collaborative at-sea research with Indonesia is back on the water – the fisheries observer that we trained last year is back onboard and will be undertaking experimental research into line weighting for Indonesian tuna longline vessels. Nini also secured participation from China into the global seabird bycatch assessment work – a very significant coup after we’ve failed to gain any traction for the past three years. Bronwyn Maree worked through multiple vessel visit reports and the mid-term report of the Port-based Outreach pilot project in Fiji.  She helped produce an internal document summarizing the outcomes, results and next steps of the Port-based Outreach projects in Mauritius, Cape Town and Fiji. Lastly, she has continued liaising with representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to extend capacity building and training of Fisheries Control Officers in bycatch issues and the required regulations. 

Albatross Task Force

Andrea Angel attended portions of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission meeting with the Common Oceans team. She also attended the Demersal Scientific Working Group meeting where fisheries stock and bycatch assessment research is presented and form the basis of fisheries management.  Reason Nyengera updated and transferred the Demersal Trawl and Longline seabird bycatch data onto a new database. He also visited the Ocean View Centre for Persons with Disabilities to deliver materials and catch up with the team. Makhudu Masotla is at sea for the next 30 to 40 days on board a Japanese pelagic longline vessel collecting seabird data and gaining an understanding of their fishing operations.     

Coastal Seabirds

Christina Hagen continued with preparations to get the De Hoop penguin colony predator-proof fence constructed and went to Stony Point penguin colony to record African Penguin calls to use to attract penguins to the new De Hoop colony. Andrew de Blocq continued to follow his tracked pre-moult penguins. Most penguins have headed east, with some still at Dassen Island, and one bird heading north towards Namibia. Andrew sent the remaining GPS devices for depth testing over the weekend with local divers and then checked that each was functioning properly when they were received back this week. Andrew also prepared a talk on careers in conservation for an upcoming school engagement. Andrew and Christina attended the Small Pelagics Scientific Working Group meeting hosted by DAFF, where aspects of the management of sardine and anchovy stocks were discussed.



Supporting Biodiversity Stewardship

Dale Wright finalised edits and re-submitted a manuscript on enhancing biodiversity stewardship which is intended for publication in a scientific journal. He also met with a colleague from Conservation South Africa to conduct the first of a series of interviews which will form a part of the investigation into the alternative mechanisms for area-based conservation in South Africa.

Karoo Research and Conservation Project

Dale Wright joined Dr Alan Lee and his field assistant Eric Hermann, along with five other volunteers for the “Brandvlei Birding Bash”. The aim of the event was to improve coverage of SABAP2 in the area surrounding the town of Brandvlei in the Northern Cape. The group was able to complete a total of 40 pentads over 3 days of surveying, 38 of which had never been surveyed before. Highlights from the weekend included sightings of Red Lark, Verreaux’s Eagle, Stark’s Lark and Ludwig’s Bustard. Sclater’s Lark remained conspicuously absent from the atlas card lists despite the group’s best efforts. BirdLife South Africa would like to thank Stefan Theron, Chris Cheetham (BirdLife Overberg), Mel Tripp, Otto Schmidt and Simon Fogarty (all Cape Bird Club) for giving up their time to support this important endeavour.

Regional and Global Key Biodiversity Areas

Simeon Bezeng and Domitilla Raimondo had a Skype meeting with Dr Tariq Stevart from the Missouri Botanic Garden (MBG) to understand the funding environment in Gabon following the recommendation of Andy Plumptre to go through the different country missions to apply for USAID funding. Following this meeting, there was another opportunity to collaborate with MBG to apply for funding through the Franklinia Foundation to red list ~1500 trees of Atlantic Central Africa over a period of four years. Simeon Bezeng also attended a webinar organized by the UN Biodiversity Lab on the 6th National Report on Uploading and Using Spatial Data.

Awareness for IBA & KBA Conservation

Dale Wright set-up a BirdLife South Africa exhibition stand at the annual Darling Flower Show this week, and also provided two talks during the show, aimed at children and adults respectively, along with an informal birding walk for the groups.


Daniel Marnewick and Ernst Retief were on sabbatical leave this week.




Candice Stevens completed a case study review this week for the United Nations Development Programme’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BioFin). This global case study looks at highlighting the successes of the Fiscal Benefits Project in introducing the first biodiversity tax incentive within the context of a protected area and how this has created an unique biodiversity finance solution. Candice also continued work on an extensive review of South Africa’s privately protected areas for the UNDP. Candice had a number of policy planning meetings regarding the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP) planned for November this year. This included meetings with members of the policy team at RSPB, Mark Anderson, and Daniel Marnewick.


This week Jonathan Booth worked on a number of advocacy cases including writing a responding to a new and highly threatening proposed sand mine in the St. Lucia dunes, just to the south of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. He met with RSPB colleagues in order to discuss threats to local ecosystems that stem from international investment, and identify possible solutions. He also finalised the Policy and Advocacy Programme budget and contract and worked to finalise a major project proposal. 



Martin Taylor was on leave for the majority of the week. Work was undertaken on the draft regulations for the protection, conservation and sustainable utilisation of avifauna in Mozambique and in particular on sections relating to the application of permits to undertake research on threatened and listed bird species. Time was also spent completing several administrative as well as financial forecasting tasks as well as the reply to comments received relating to the development a birding tourism development product. A number of tasks relating to the bird guide training programme were dealt with.



General Centre operations: The Centre has been a hive of activity this week – from finishing off the tiling around the Centre to attending to various bookings coming in for the later part of the year.  September looks like it will be a bumper month on the accommodation side of operations.  We are at full capacity for the rest of the month.  Thank you to everyone who is supporting us.  Daphne Pyott has kept her administrative eye on things whilst Lucky Ngwenya, David Nkosi and Kristi Garland continue to tackle maintenance tasks in and around the Centre.  The weather is starting to turn to warmer days and we all wait in anticipation for the spring rains.   

National Lotteries Biodiversity Stewardship Project (NLBSP): Kristi and David spent most of this week attending to various tasks relating to the project – from visiting five schools and preparing for next week’s school visits.  The enthusiasm that these schools have towards the project has been overwhelming, even during assessment time.  Learners are getting out into the natural areas around their schools and communities and really starting to ‘log’ all the birds and other organisms.  This has created a great platform and database for teachers to bring the natural world into the classroom across the subjects.  Kristi and David starting preparing for term 4 this week as well, including a teachers workshop on scientific investigations and experiments. 

Guiding operations: A quiet week on the guiding side of things for Lucky, with only a couple tours done this week.  Reported sightings include a pair of Fish Eagle soaring over the Centre along with a pair of Secretarybird crossing through our grassland.   

Junior Bird Clubs: Things are starting to heat up on the juniors side as we start preparing for Birding Big Day.  All sessions going forward will focus on local birds and the id thereof.  Kristi has registered a team for BBD and the excitement is starting to build with all three clubs.  Thursday saw David attending the Clay Edu-Centre group’s meeting and on Friday the Smiley’s group.     

Working on Fire Team:  The team continues to be on standby, seven days a week, till the end of fire season in October. 



Several meetings took place at Isdell House this past week, including the bi-annual Middelpunt Wetland Trust meeting and monthly Board of Directors meeting. Mark Anderson participated in the BirdLife Council for Africa Partnership planning meeting, held meetings with Ian Barber, and presented a talk on Thursday evening to 130 members of “Park Views” and guided and presented a talk to birdwatchers at Kedar Lodge on the weekend. Mark and Ross Wanless met with the Charl vd Merwe Trust trustees on Saturday.