World Wetlands Day
World Wetlands Day is celebrated annually on 2 February to raise awareness about wetlands and to mark the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands, which was adopted in 1971. The day is an opportunity to increase people’s understanding of this critical ecosystem’s functions and the threats and challenges it faces. Wetlands around the world are drained to make way for agriculture, are being overgrown by alien plants and polluted, and their natural vegetation is being overharvested. It is therefore important for us all to get involved in addressing these challenges as they affect everyone. Wetlands provide us with clean water, reduce floods, store carbon and create opportunities for ecotourism.
On World Wetlands Day, I visited Zaaifontein Primary School, near Ingula Nature Reserve, and engaged with learners in Grades 4 and 5 using posters, booklets and a practical demonstration of how a wetland functions. The learners explored further with a colouring-in exercise showing life in a wetland habitat.
On 5 February, I joined the Nakekela Nature Heroes, a local environmental group managed by Community Bird Guide Bonginkosi Ndaba in the Van Reenen district, to further celebrate wetlands. About 35 learners of all ages from Mphophomo Combined School and Van Reenen Public Primary School participated in a wetland walk, an in-field learning experience and a demonstration of an eco-pyramid showing how living and non-living things depend on each other. In the final activity, on the wetland food web, children played wetland species and showed how they were dependent on each other. It was a successful day, with good interaction and discussion with the learners.
We look forward to continuing our engagement with these and other schools and communities around the Ingula Nature Reserve.
STEVEN SEGANG, INGULA AND GRASSLAND CONSERVATION ASSISTANT
Improve your skills at LAB Forest Birding
During this year’s Flock to Wilderness you will have the opportunity to become a better forest birder and learn more about forest birds and their habitat. Presented by forest bird guide Cassie Carstens and Garden Route expert Mike Bridgeford, the Learn About Birds (LAB) Forest Birding Workshop will take place on Wednesday, 24 May from 14h00 to 16h00.
The focus will be on the birds of the Garden Route’s forests, but topics such as forest ecology, distribution and conservation will also be discussed, as will bird vocalisations and how to bird with your ears. Several key tips will be included to ensure that your next birding trip into a forest will be productive.
The workshop costs R250 per person and can be attended in person or virtually. You do not have to be booked for the entire LAB conference to take part, but you must have booked a place at the BirdLife South Africa AGM and luncheon to qualify for a spot at the workshop.
More information about Flock to Wilderness and registration details for the various events and workshops can be found at birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/flock-to-wilderness-2023/
CASSIE CARSTENS, SECRETARYBIRD CONSERVATION OFFICER
Last chance for 2023 calendars!
It’s not too late to purchase your 2023 Birds of Southern Africa calendar. Featuring a stunning collection of bird photographs and reminders of key environment-related days, it’s a must-have to start planning for the year ahead.
The calendars are now selling at a reduced price of R100 for one, or R400 for five, and can either be collected at Isdell House or delivered Postnet to Postnet for an additional cost of R95.
Click here to order while stocks last, or e-mail email@example.com for more information.
SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER
Tribute to Pam Nicol
Pam Nicol, who retired last year as the membership secretary of BirdLife KZN Midlands, passed away on the evening of 1 February in the Amber Valley Care Centre.
Pam started birding in Bulawayo, where she moved to be with her mother after the death of her father. Wanting something to do, she joined the Matabeleland Bird Club, a branch of the Rhodesian Ornithological Society (ROS). Peter Steyn was the chairman of the ROS and she worked with him until she returned to Johannesburg with her mother in the mid-1970s. At that time the South African Ornithological Society (SAOS) moved from Cape Town and Peter asked her to be its treasurer, a position she held from 1976 until 1980. Pam was on the SAOS council in the early days.
In 1987 the Southern Transvaal region of SABAP was launched and Pam and her husband Bill were recruited to handle most of the administration work between the atlasers and the SABAP office in Cape Town. They continued to be involved in the first SABAP project, doing a lot of work on the pentads around Wakkerstroom with Warwick Tarboton.
Pam and Bill moved to Howick in 1995 and after settling in she, together with Eve Hughes, Pam Reynolds and Bob Moore, began arranging outings for small groups of birders in the area. The activities of BirdLife KZN Midlands were based mainly in Pietermaritzburg, where Pam and Eve were co-opted onto the committee. Pam took over as the membership secretary some 20 years ago and also served as chairperson of the Howick group before the two committees merged.
A dedicated member of the committee, Pam was passionate about the club and membership and was very good at welcoming everyone who attended our evening talks. She was awarded honorary life membership of BirdLife KZN Midlands on 23 February 2019. She will be sorely missed.
SEAN GLYNN, CHAIRMAN, BIRDLIFE KZN MIDLANDS
Searching for Secretarybirds
For a few days in early February 2023, Dr Christiaan Brink and I, as members of BirdLife South Africa’s Raptor and Large Terrestrial Bird Project, visited parts of the Eastern Free State to officially start the next phase of the Secretarybird Conservation Project.
This trip entailed visits to various farms to survey nest sites, fruitful engagements and discussions with birders and other interested stakeholders, and productive sessions of grassland birding in the area around the towns of Warden and Vrede. A total of five new Secretarybird nest sites were surveyed, one of which was active. The visit was a wonderful opportunity to test the effectiveness of field survey methods to ensure that the most accurate data are collected going forward.
Do you know of any Secretarybird nests in your area? Please report them to me via our website here. This will help us to grow our knowledge base of the breeding activity and distribution of these iconic birds of the South African grasslands.
CASSIE CARSTENS, SECRETARYBIRD CONSERVATION OFFICER
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Lead poisoning in vultures
A two-day workshop hosted by BirdLife International (Africa Secretariat) and BirdLife South Africa in January brought together key stakeholders from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to discuss lead poisoning in wildlife, especially vultures. The meeting featured several presentations, including the impact and source of lead poisoning in Cape and White-backed vultures (by Linda van den Heever), the prevalence of lead poisoning in Southern Ground-Hornbills (by Dr Lucy Kemp, Mabula Ground Hornbill Project) and the ballistics and availability of lead-free ammunition in southern Africa (by Boetie Kirchner, South African Hunting and Game Conservation Association).
This is the first time that a meeting of this kind has been held in southern Africa to address this important issue. Although lead advocacy efforts have already been initiated in South Africa and Namibia, a general discussion, led by Dr Lovelater Sebele (BirdLife International) and BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Melissa Lewis, ensured that work is now under way to mitigate this threat across the subregion. We would like to thank BirdLife International for funding the meeting.
LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, SPECIES CONSERVATION MANAGER
Learn more about birds at LAB
The 6th Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference will take place from Wednesday, 24 May to Friday, 26 May at the Wilderness Hotel in the Western Cape during the Flock to Wilderness event. LAB, co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute, gives ornithologists and bird enthusiasts an opportunity to learn about birds and their conservation across southern Africa, and to share their birding knowledge.
The Layman’s LAB features an exciting line-up of speakers. On Wednesday, Mike Buckham (Cape Bird Club) will present his pick for the top 20 birds in the Western Cape. Then on Thursday a full programme will showcase local birds and conservation efforts, starting with Christopher Patton (SANParks) sharing the story of the Garden Route National Park, its birds and bird conservation and research. He will be followed by Justin Ponder (Lakes Bird Club), who will talk about birding as a hobby for young people.
Dr Odette Curtis-Scott of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust will be speaking about the work of the trust, including its role as species custodian of the Black Harrier. Continuing the focus on raptors, Kevin Shaw (Overberg Crane Group) and Melanie de Morney (SANParks) will provide an in-depth look into Cape Vulture Conservation in the Overberg and the monitoring of African Crowned Eagles along the Garden Route, respectively. Willem Matthee (Nelson Mandela University) will then look at the impacts of fire on local birds.
Moving to the marine and coastal space, Dr Cloverley Lawrence (SANParks) will present on how decision-making among management authorities shapes efforts to save the African Penguin from extinction. The day’s talks will close with a look at the importance of the Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC) project in conserving our estuaries, led by Dr Giselle Murison (BirdLife South Africa).
The coastal theme continues into Friday with presentations by Dr Ian Russell (SANParks) on long-term changes in waterbird numbers in the Wilderness Lakes complex, and by Brittany Arendse (Nature’s Valley Trust) on conserving birds that breed on beaches. Finally, Dr Mark Brown (Discover Eden) will present on bird ringing, with a talk that promises to include amazing photos of birds in the hand.
The Layman’s LAB programme can be found at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/ and the full Layman’s LAB booklet on speakers will be available for download.
In addition to a jam-packed Layman’s LAB, there will be the parallel Science LAB, forest birding and photography workshops, as well as birding excursions, celebrations and activities making up the broader Flock to Wilderness event. To find out more or to register, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/
DR GISELLE MURISON, WESTERN CAPE ESTUARIES CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
Recommended Garden Route accommodation
In Toto Retreat is a new BirdLife South Africa Recommended Accommodation establishment. This contemporary six-room guest house overlooks the Swartvlei Lagoon in Sedgefield and makes a perfect base for guests wanting to slow down, explore natural wonders, discover community markets or sign up for active adventures. The property is also ideal to book as an exclusive-use villa for a group of friends or a large family.
In Toto Retreat is a member of the Sedgefield Island Conservancy, which has developed a list of 175 bird species; of these, 103 have been confirmed on iNaturalist. Recently Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron and Black-winged Stilt have been spotted in the area, to add to the usual herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, lapwings and African Spoonbill.
The Sedgefield Island Conservancy and the nearby Groenvlei, which is part of the Goukamma Nature Reserve, will soon be profiled on the GoBirding platform. These two new sites will complement other popular birding sites in the area such as the Rondevlei bird hide and Brown-Hooded Kingfisher and Half-Collared Kingfisher trails in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park.
In Toto Retreat is a great base for a group of avid birders for the upcoming Flock to Wilderness 2023. For more information or to make a booking, contact 069 511 1964, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.intotoretreat.co.za
ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER
CWAC-ing the Flyway
This month, we’re not just celebrating World Wetlands Day in the best way possible, by counting birds, we are also contributing to the International Waterbird Census (IWC) Total Count of the East Atlantic Flyway. Total counts are undertaken every three years with the aim of counting at as many coastal wetland sites along the East Atlantic Flyway as possible, in a combined effort by governments, academic institutions, NGOs, bird clubs and other volunteers.
The East Atlantic Flyway links a discontinuous band of arctic breeding grounds that stretches from Canada eastwards to central Siberia, with wintering grounds in Western Europe and western Africa (in the latter stages, birds are joined by departing temperate breeders, also heading towards Africa). Facing increasing pressures, the key sites of this flyway are seeing substantial declines in certain species, including some of our migrant waders.
The IWC is making use of South Africa’s excellent Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC) network, a citizen science project that focuses on bi-annual counts of registered waterbodies. It is made possible only with the help of volunteers around the country, who contribute to this unique dataset. CWAC is critical to our understanding of our waterbird populations – their numbers, habitats and movements – and is integral to much of our estuarine and coastal wetland monitoring, underpinning scientific research and site management.
BirdLife South Africa is coordinating the response to Wetlands International for estuaries and other coastal wetlands in the Northern Cape and Western Cape. This work will facilitate the digitisation of transects at each site (to assist in maintaining count continuity and standardisation) and the registration of new sites (to fill in gaps in the network where our knowledge of waterbird numbers is minimal). It will also improve the coordination of counts at more complicated sites, the analyses of longer-term datasets for key sites, and the provision of feedback on environmental condition and pressures faced by estuaries and other coastal wetlands along the flyway.
We would like to extend our thanks to all the CWAC volunteers, to the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute for managing the CWAC database, and to Wetlands International Africa for assisting with funds for this broader coordinating role. We are looking forward to getting out there, building our understanding of our wader populations and other waterbirds, and being part of the wider conservation efforts at many of these sites. Look out for stories from the IWC Total Count on BirdLife South Africa’s social media platforms this month!
DR GISELLE MURISON, WESTERN CAPE ESTUARIES CONSERVATION PROJECT, AND BRONWYN MAREE, EAST ATLANTIC FLYWAY INITIATIVE PROJECT MANAGER
Hiking and Biking for Birds
BirdLife South Africa and Outland Escape Tours have joined forces to organise the 2023 Hiking and Biking for Birds Adventure Series with six events happening at six locations throughout the year. The money raised from these events will go to the Empowering People and Regional Conservation programmes. The events will alternate between hiking and biking and are not intended to be strenuous; rather, a pleasant way to find and enjoy the special birds in each of the regions.
Biking for Birds adventures to look forward to include the Entabeni Private Game Reserve from 30 March to 2 April, which boasts more than 600 bird species. A second option is Limpokwena Nature Reserve from 14 to 17 September, where the natural beauty of the landscape is invigorating. Or you can take in towering mountains as you immerse yourself in the Cederberg from 2 to 5 November, when you can take a scenic cycle in the botanically diverse Cape Floral Kingdom and among impressive rock formations – you might even see Verreaux’s Eagles!
The first hiking adventure will take place at Manukuza Wilderness, situated in the heart of the Lowveld and adjacent to the Kruger National Park, from 8 to 11 June. Or from 24 to 27 August you can enjoy a Big 5 Birding Bush Walk in the birders’ paradise of Mkuze Game Reserve, where there are more than 400 bird species. And lastly you can hike in the Selati Game Reserve in the heart of Limpopo from 12 to 15 October. This reserve nestles between stunning granite outcrops and boasts amazing pockets of habitat that make it ideal for birding.
So if you enjoy hiking or biking and birdwatching, don’t miss this great opportunity to go on an adventure of a lifetime while giving to conservation. Choose one location or join them all! All proceeds will go to BirdLife South Africa.
For more information, contact me at email@example.com
CHRISTIE WOODING, CONSERVATION ASSISTANT
Dragons & damsels
Dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) are a common sight around pans, marshes, rivers and streams in the summer months. South Africa is fortunate to have many different species, which occupy very specific habitats within the wetlands where they occur. The short course ‘Of Dragons & Damsels’ by Christopher Hines is designed to give nature lovers, including birders, an introduction to the Odonata of South Africa.
The first part will cover elements of the biology and ecology of these amazing insects, including their reproduction, life cycles, habitat requirements and migration and movements.
The second part will focus on the identification of the main groups (the differences between dragonflies and damselflies) and some of the key pointers for distinguishing between species.
Watching dragons and damsels is remarkably complementary to birding – when birds go off the boil mid-morning, these wonderful insects are just getting going. Upgrade your skills and you may just get hooked!
‘Of Dragons & Damsels’ will be conducted via Zoom sessions over the evenings of 21 and 23 February at 19h00, each session lasting 40–50 minutes, with time for questions. There will also be a field trip to Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, near Bronkhorstspruit.
Cost: R225 for members of Wits Bird Club and R275 for non-members, excluding field trip entrance fees and accommodation (details on request).
Facilitator: Christopher Hines
To book: firstname.lastname@example.org
ANDY FEATHERSTONE, WITWATERSRAND BIRD CLUB CHAIRPERSON
Birding, boardwalks and beaches
BirdLife South Africa and Womxn for Wild joined forces to host a birding weekend in Mtunzini, KwaZulu-Natal from 2 to 5 February, an event that was enjoyed by all. The group spent time with Community Bird Guides Mabuyi Zungu and Nomusa Ntuli, who showed them Spotted Ground Thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon and Green Twinspot, among other highlights.
Look out for future birding adventures with Womxn for Wild in our monthly newsletters and on social media.
ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER
A new face: Valery Phakoago
I was born and raised in the Sekhukhune area, just outside Polokwane in Limpopo Province. After completing matric, I enrolled for a BSc in Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Limpopo, where I majored in Zoology and Physiology and, in 2012, went on to study for Honours in Zoology. My passion for conservation and the environment led me to complete an MSc in Environmental Sciences (with distinction) at the University of Venda.
A visit to Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in 2018 opened my eyes to the diversity of its animal and plant life and encouraged me to pursue studies in the field of conservation. Currently I am writing up my PhD in Wildlife Conservation Physiology at the University of the Witwatersrand, with a focus on the ecology of the aardvark and Temminck’s pangolin in the Kalahari. In addition to studying mammals, I have developed an interest in birds, which I love because they are free, important for the environment and attractive.
As a graduate, I told myself that one day I would work for BirdLife South Africa and it wouldn’t matter in what position. Little did I know that that dream would become reality when I applied for the graduate opportunity offered by the SANBI–Groen Sebenza Phase 2 Programme. I am excited to be joining BirdLife South Africa as the Landscape Conservation Programme’s intern and am looking forward to working with an amazing team to conserve birds while learning new skills. I am also ready to contribute my skills to an organisation that focuses on the conservation of South Africa’s most threatened birds. Without doubt, my favourite bird is the Southern Ground-Hornbill.
VALERY PHAKOAGO, SANBI–GROEN SEBENZA PHASE 2 PROGRAMME; BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA, ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING AND CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT INTERN
The photo competition is coming!
Do you enjoy photographing birds? The BirdLife South Africa Photography Competition is just around the corner and there are some amazing prizes on offer in several categories. Best of all, the grand prize is a three-night stay for two at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve to the value of R237 960!
So start sorting through your photographs and keep an eye on your inbox for all the details.
ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
Support the expansion of Greater Lakenvlei
Established in 2017, the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment protects a network of ancient wetlands on the Steenkampsberg Plateau between Belfast and Dullstroom in Mpumalanga. Several threatened and endemic bird species breed in this habitat, including the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. Important water resources of the Crocodile and Olifants catchments are protected by these wetlands, contributing not only a water supply to local and downstream communities, but also purification and flood attenuation services.
The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment is a platform for farmers, government and NGOs to develop and practise better management guidelines that promote biodiversity conservation. Several farms are being added to it, which will increase its extent by more than 7000ha. This will enlarge the area protected from external threats and improve the ecological condition of many wetlands.
Please show your support for the expansion of the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment by signing the Letter of Support.
MARLIZE MULLER, CONSERVATION BIOLOGY INTERN, AND DR KYLE LLOYD, WETLAND CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER/ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION
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