Conserving South Africa’s birds in 2022
BirdLife South Africa’s work is immensely important and, to a large extent, our country’s birds are in our hands. And you can help! If you love birds and would like to leave a positive legacy to future generations of South Africans so that they too can enjoy the beauty and wonder of our birds, please consider supporting BirdLife South Africa. There are several ways in which you can do so:
Become a member
If you are not yet a member of BirdLife South Africa, consider joining. One of the benefits is receiving six issues of African Birdlife, our world-class magazine, each year. You can find out more at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/join-us/join-birdlife-south-africa/ or by contacting Shireen Gould at firstname.lastname@example.org
Give a gift subscription
Take out a gift subscription to African Birdlife for a special person and they will be reminded of your generosity six times in the following year when they receive their copy of this excellent magazine. The details are at www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/give-a-green-gift/ or available from Shireen at email@example.com
Shop for the Birds!
If you’re like me, you struggle to select a birthday, anniversary or Christmas gift to buy for a loved one. We have the solution because our online ‘Shop for the Birds!’ provides a range of great gifts to choose from. Shopping could not be easier and we can ensure that the gifts are delivered within a few days. Make your selection at www.shop.birdlife.org.za
A long-lasting legacy
If you have derived a lifetime’s pleasure from birds, why not help ensure their future by leaving a bequest to BirdLife South Africa in your will? Any amount, large or small, will be put to good use. Find out more at www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/leave-a-legacy/ or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr Isabel Human at email@example.com
Thank you for helping to secure a better future for South Africa’s birds.
MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
Focus on … Cape Gannet
Gannets are spectacular and unmistakable, with their unusually narrow-set eyes and exquisitely painted faces. They are also high-speed diving birds that feed primarily on sardines and anchovies. To compete with the many other seabirds, fish and mammals that chase after these fish, gannets plunge-dive to depths of more than 20m, hovering some 30m up in the air before plummeting head-first towards a fish they have spotted. They can reach speeds of up to 100km/h by streamlining their body and extending their wings backwards before cutting the water surface with their sharp beaks. The Cape Gannet Morus capensis is an excellent ambassador to highlight pressing conservation issues that put South Africa’s seabirds at risk. Listed as Endangered, its population has decreased by more than 50% over the past 60 years. Cape Gannets breed on only six islands off the coasts of South Africa and Namibia and their survival is threatened by the lack of their fish prey due to a shift in the distribution of sardines and anchovies and to competition with one of the most important commercial fisheries in South Africa. To compensate, gannets often resort to feeding on hake discards thrown off the back of trawl vessels. This, however, is a double-edged sword: the birds risk becoming tangled in the fishing nets and the hake, while sufficient for the nutritional requirements of adults, contains too little fat for growing chicks.
Throughout 2022, BirdLife South Africa will create awareness about the Cape Gannet by producing an informative poster and developing for schools learning resources that are free to download from the BirdLife South Africa website (www.birdlife.org.za). Articles about this stunning species will also appear in African Birdlife magazine and social media posts, and presentations about it will be made to interested groups. Cape Gannet merchandise (T-shirts, pin badges and plush toys) will be on sale at Shop for the Birds! from January 2022 (https://shop.birdlife.org.za).
BirdLife South Africa is grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for sponsoring the Bird of the Year 2022.
For more information and photographs, please contact Dr Daniel Danckwerts Daniel.Danckwerts@birdlife.org.za, Dr Melissa Whitecross firstname.lastname@example.org or Mark Anderson email@example.com
BirdLife South Africa would like to give eight community bird guides the opportunity to hone their seabird identification skills, and test their sea legs, on the voyage to Marion Island later this month.
Guides going to Marion
BirdLife South Africa’s Community Bird Guide Project is one of the organisation’s longest-running and most successful initiatives. A network of 50 community bird guides is spread across South Africa and they operate as freelance professional guides. Coming from rural disadvantaged backgrounds, they function as conservation ambassadors in their local communities. The project is proudly supported by Swarovski Optik, who generously supply many of the guides with top-of-the-range optics.
In 2017, community bird guides David and Grace Letsoalo took part in Flock at Sea Again! aboard MSC Sinfonia.
BirdLife South Africa is hoping to include eight of the community bird guides on the Flock to Marion voyage this month. The voyage will be an incredible opportunity for these guides, giving them a chance to network with nearly 2000 birders, be mentored by some of the world’s best bird guides and gain new ID and guiding skills. Swarovski Optik will be on board, both literally and figuratively, and we plan to run some events to promote the community bird guides.
The cost for the eight guides is in the region of R130 000 and includes flights, transport, heavy-weather gear, accommodation, Covid-19 tests and insurance, field guides and a drinks package. So far we have raised R80 000 and are appealing to our supporters and the wider birding community to help us achieve our goal. You can do so by either sponsoring one or more individual guides in full or making a contribution to the general fundraising effort.
To donate, please use the bank details below, with ‘Flock CBG’ as the reference:
Account name: BirdLife South Africa
Bank: First National Bank, Randburg
Branch code: 254005
Account number: 62067506281
Please send proof of payment to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We will acknowledge any substantial sponsorships of the guides while at sea as well as in subsequent communications. In the event that our fundraising exceeds the amount needed, the surplus will go to the ongoing support of the wider network of guides and the training of future candidates.
Any queries can be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER
BirdLife South Africa’s partners at Swarovski Optik are running a limited special on Swarovski CL Companion 8×30 binoculars ahead of the Flock to Marion cruise. Purchase a new pair of binoculars at the unbeatable price of R24 000 before the end of January 2022 and receive a free lens cleaning kit. The price includes a R500 donation to BirdLife South Africa.
For more information, please visit www.shop.birdlife.org.za or click here
BirdLife South Africa’s partners at ZEISS are running a limited special ahead of the Flock to Marion cruise in January 2022. Every purchase of ZEISS Terra binoculars will come with a free cleaning kit, while for purchases of ZEISS Conquest HD binoculars the free gift is a ZEISS harness.
Buy a pair of top-of-the-range ZEISS Victory SF binoculars and you will receive a free ZEISS cleaning kit and harness. All purchases made in December 2021 and January 2022 will also receive a free one-year subscription to African Birdlife magazine.
For more information, please visit www.shop.birdlife.org.za, contact email@example.com or click here
Ringing in the new year
Long-distance travelling Sandwich Terns commute between Europe and South Africa each year and now, thanks to changes in how they are ringed, we know a lot more about their long-haul flights – and, indeed, their life history. African Birdlife readers take a much shorter trip, just up the road to Namibia, in the January/February issue of the magazine, plus visit a ‘vulture restaurant’ in KwaZulu-Natal and delve into a forest to photograph birds.
Win a hamper of books!
One lucky new subscriber to African Birdlife magazine will win a hamper of Struik Nature books valued at R1000! Only R340 buys you six bi-monthly issues of African Birdlife, which is packed with expert information about the magnificent birds of Africa. At the same time you will be showing your support for BirdLife South Africa’s invaluable work in bird research and conservation.
To subscribe and automatically get entered into the draw for this hamper, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/subscribe-to-african-birdlife-magazine/#. Ts & Cs apply. Entries close on 28 February 2022.
Success! Taita Falcons at Niassa
With only two nesting records in South Africa, the Taita Falcon is the rarest raptor in this country. Small, isolated populations have been discovered elsewhere and for many years Zimbabwe, specifically Batoka Gorge, was thought to be a stronghold for the species. However, a survey in 2021 found the gorge to be all but abandoned. Similarly the South African population, eight territories strong at its height, has dwindled in recent years and now only a single nesting pair is known to be currently producing chicks.
Inselbergs scattered across Niassa’s miombo woodland would, it was surmised, provide excellent habitat for Taita Falcons. Credit Christiaan W. Brink
Biologists working on Taita Falcons have long been casting a speculative eye towards northern Mozambique, where historically three pairs have been recorded. Large inselbergs dotting the miombo woodland landscape around the Niassa National Reserve were, they thought, potentially ideal habitat for the species, but difficulty of access precluded confirmation. However, as populations dwindled elsewhere, it became more urgent to get a better understanding of how many Taita Falcons remain.
A workshop hosted by BirdLife South Africa to strategise the future of Taita Falcon conservation highlighted the need for more information and led to a grant from the Peregrine Fund to survey Niassa and determine whether the species persisted there. With this funding in place, I assembled a team of experienced raptor biologists comprising Andrew Jenkins, Anthony van Zyl, Kyle Walker, Neil Deacon, David Allan and myself. With some concerns about the recent unrest in northern Mozambique, we set off to brave malaria, tsetse flies, the Big Five and possibly insurgents. Three flights and a cramped 10-hour drive finally brought us to Mbatamila, the operational headquarters for Niassa National Reserve and our base of operations.
Anthony, Andrew and George, one of our dependable scouts, wait for a helicopter to extract them from a survey site. Credit Christiaan W. Brink
On the first morning, some of the team flew a reconnaissance mission in a small aircraft to evaluate the inselbergs we had identified on Google Earth as likely candidates for Taita Falcons. A week of getting up at 04h00 and being ferried by helicopter from inselberg to inselberg followed. Each day we would sit in the melting sun and scan cliff faces to the incessant sound of mopani flies buzzing in our ears. For this we were well rewarded with spectacular sightings of Crowned Eagles copulating, Augur Buzzards and Dickinson’s Kestrels, among others – and above all, Taita Falcons!
These falcons are truly the most impressive fliers I have ever seen and to witness the speeds at which they stoop and the agility with which they pull out was simply jaw-dropping. By the end of the week we had surveyed roughly 30 inselbergs across the landscape and discovered occupied territories at nearly half of these, and were entertained by many a fledged juvenile frolicking about. All indications were that there is a comparatively substantial Taita Falcon population at Niassa and that the reserve is indeed a stronghold for the species.
The team was thus able to return elated after a ground-breaking and very successful survey. We look forward to analysing our data and making some extrapolations across the region to provide an indication of the potential size of this Taita Falcon population.
CHRISTIAAN WILLEM BRINK, RAPTOR AND LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER
Indigenous names for birds
There is a need for each bird species in South Africa to have a unique name in all our languages. You may be surprised to learn that many do not. To address this, towards the end of 2021 a new working group, Indigenous Names for South African Birds (INSAB), was established to produce lists of bird names in South Africa’s indigenous languages. Although BirdLife South Africa produces a Checklist of Birds in South Africa, so far this annual list has appeared only in English and Afrikaans. There is, however, consensus within the organisation that more of South Africa’s indigenous languages need to be represented.
In these languages, generic names for a lot of bird groups exist, but very few species-specific names. Most young speakers of African languages do not know the names of birds in their own tongue. This could lead to names being lost as time goes by, which makes INSAB’s mandate an urgent one.
South Africa’s rich birdlife can only be appreciated and conserved by everyone if there is a unique name for each species in the various South African languages. Thus, the working group’s goal is to ensure that each bird species has a species-specific name in all the official languages. While this may sound like an easy task, one cannot simply translate names from English to other languages. Existing names need to be sought out and different versions and dialects need to be consolidated. Where names do not exist, the new names need to originate from people who speak the language and are familiar with the birds. The names must also capture the essence of the birds in the relevant culture. The process needs to be guided by language specialists, so it involves teams of people and requires lots of discussion and time.
To achieve the main goal, the group will initially focus on isiZulu, facilitated by Professor Adrian Koopman and the experienced team who were involved in workshops between 2013 and 2018 to give isiZulu names to all the birds of KwaZulu-Natal; and Northern Sotho, facilitated by Lucas Namanyane and Dr Johan Meyer.
A workshop is planned for May 2022 to complete the task of allocating a species-specific name to all the birds in isiZulu. These names can then be included in the Checklist of Birds in South Africa 2023, where it can be freely used by other authors and publishers. However, we need funding for the workshop to cover conference hire, travel and the guide fees of those involved.
If you would like to help fund this important initiative, you can find out more at https://www.birdlife.org.za/what-we-do/empowering-people/indigenous-names-for-south-african-birds/; to make a donation, click the Support Us button. For additional enquiries, contact Andrew de Blocq at firstname.lastname@example.org or Johan Meyer at email@example.com.
To help a broader sector of South Africans to appreciate and conserve our birds and their habitats, there is an urgent need for the names of all South Africa’s birds to be in all South Africa’s languages. Let’s make conservation local and encourage diversity in birding and conservation!
Letaba is for the birds
Letaba is one of the loveliest of the Kruger National Park’s rest camps and offers some of the best birding in South Africa. To make this experience even more special, the Honorary Rangers will arrange some exciting off-the-beaten-track birding opportunities along the Letaba River.
Prof. Engelbrecht is an accomplished ornithologist and a recipient of Birdlife South Africa’s Eagle-Owl Award for his exceptional contribution to bird conservation. He will share what he knows about finding birds, recognising calls and interpreting behaviour during informal talks and game drives in open game-viewing vehicles.
All this for a good cause, as proceeds will go to conservation projects in our national parks.
Date: 17–20 February 2022
Venue: Letaba Rest Camp, Kruger National Park
Cost: R2190 per person (includes activities, brunches and game drives; excludes accommodation)
Contact: Charles Hardy firstname.lastname@example.org
More information: https://www.sanparksvolunteers.org/events/letaba-birding-experience-with-prof-derek-engelbrecht/ or click here
Welcome to new staff
The newcomers to the BirdLife South Africa team introduce themselves:
Andy Wassung, Communications Manager
I grew up calling some of southern Africa’s most breathtaking but fragile wilderness areas home and at an early age I became passionate about protecting them. I caught the birding bug at the age of seven when my family moved to the banks of the Zambezi River and my eyes were opened to an unimaginable world of birdlife right on my doorstep. Subsequently I obtained a degree in Journalism & Media Studies from Rhodes University, and 11 years of experience in marketing and communications followed. I am passionate about creating compelling multimedia stories that inspire the next generation of conservationists.
Abigail Ramudzuli, intern
I have joined BirdLife South Africa as an intern with the Conservation Division and specifically the Landscape Conservation Programme. I was born and raised in Agatha, just outside the small town of Tzaneen in Limpopo Province, and after passing matric I went to the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) to study Nature Guardianship and Environmental Education. It was here that my love for nature grew even more. After SAWC, I enrolled for a BSc in Life Sciences at the University of Limpopo, majoring in Zoology and Human Physiology. In 2016, I visited the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town for the first time and was inspired to concentrate on studying birds. Once I’d enrolled for my Master’s degree at the Fitz, my research formed part of the intra-African migrant project, with a focus on the migration of the Woodland Kingfisher.
Natasha Shilubane, intern
I am excited to be joining the BirdLife South Africa team as an intern with the Regional Conservation and Empowering People programmes. I recently completed my MSc at Wits University, investigating signature whistle use in Indian Ocean humpback dolphins in Richards Bay. I also have a background in seabird research, as my Honours research project at Nelson Mandela University looked at resource partitioning in Northern and Southern giant petrels at Marion Island. I am looking forward to being a part of two amazing programmes: the Regional Conservation Programme because conservation has always been a passion of mine, and the Empowering People Programme as it shows that BirdLife South Africa is an organisation that acknowledges and prioritises people in conservation, especially those within local communities. I am keen and ready to apply the skills I have acquired through my academic career as well as learn new skills while working with the BirdLife South Africa team.
Bonginhlanhla ‘Nana’ Gcabashe, intern
Having graduated in Communication Science and Psychology from the University of the Free State, I look forward to joining the BirdLife South Africa team as a communications intern. My interest in communications began in my third year, when I decided to take on a new major. During my academic years I learned about the core principles of communication and the motives that contribute to human behaviour. The knowledge I acquired enables me to facilitate dialogues in the environments that I have chosen to inhabit and to constantly find ways to engage with people. Importantly, I will be continuing my studies this year as I aim to broaden my knowledge of organisational communication so that I can outperform my responsibilities. I have taken an interest in sign language as I feel it is important to accommodate everyone. Finally, I hope to exceed all the expectations of colleagues and management.
2021 – a successful year for Ingula
A Southern Bald Ibis chick on the nest at the artificial breeding site in Ingula Nature Reserve. Eskom’s ground-breaking work to build the artificial site has inspired the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority to do the same. Credit Carina Pienaar
Over the years, the Ingula Partnership, an alliance between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust, has achieved a number of goals, including the declaration in 2018 of the Ingula Nature Reserve, which spans KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.
The latest major conservation milestone was reached in March 2021, when the Ingula Nature Reserve, with the support of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, was designated as South Africa’s latest Wetland of International Importance according to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. This is the 2446th Ramsar site to be declared in the world and the 27th in South Africa. In a proud moment for the Ingula Partnership, the designation showcases what can be achieved by a collaborative project that defines how industry and conservation can work together for the benefit of the natural environment.
Another of the Ingula Partnership’s aims was to extend the influence of the nature reserve beyond its boundaries and assist in a landscape conservation approach. The partnership therefore initiated the efforts of BirdLife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust to declare the buffer zone around the nature reserve as a protected environment: the Upper Wilge Protected Environment. This declaration was completed in December 2021, adding 24 000ha to the protected grasslands and wetlands of the Eastern Free State and providing Ingula with a well-managed zone of influence.
The team from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Eskom and BirdLife South Africa assessing the Ingula Nature Reserve for Ramsar designation as a wetland of international importance. Credit Carina Pienaar
Bird monitoring by BirdLife South Africa in 2021 recorded a total of 233 bird species at Ingula, of which 18 are threatened. Nine of the threatened species successfully bred in and around the nature reserve during the year. A Wattled Crane pair successfully raised two chicks and a Martial Eagle pair bred there again for the first time in three years.
The vision of Ingula Nature Reserve is to be a sustainable, internationally acclaimed conservation area and, apart from its formal recognition as a Ramsar site, it caught the attention of other international audiences in 2021. The first of these was when the BBC filmed Barn Swallows at Ingula for its feature on the risks faced by these birds during their migrations. Some of the reserve’s employees were interviewed for radio and television segments in the UK.
Ingula also featured at the International Grassland & International Rangeland Virtual Congress in October, when research on threatened grassland species at Ingula and the effect of management regimes and climate change was presented. And finally, the artificial breeding site built by Eskom for the relocation of Southern Bald Ibis breeding pairs after the inundation of their previous site inspired a similar intervention by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority in a bid to protect Southern Bald Ibis colonies under threat from the construction of a new dam in the north of Lesotho.
BirdLife South Africa, as part of the Ingula Partnership, shares in these proud achievements and will continue to promote collaboration between industry and conservation for the effective protection of South Africa’s natural environment.
CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA AND GRASSLANDS CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
Birding Big Day roundup
BirdLife South Africa’s 37th Birding Big Day (BBD) took place on Saturday, 27 November. This event sees teams of birders from around the country attempting to log as many species as they can within a 24-hour period. For the first time, more than 400 teams registered, and many bird clubs, schools and scout groups took part informally, bringing the estimated total of participants to more than 1700. The day saw very challenging birding conditions, especially with strong winds and rain in the Western Cape, yet 659 species were recorded by all teams combined.
This year featured a new 5km-radius category that attracted 81 teams, many of which targeted a Southern African Bird Atlas pentad or two and contributed valuable data to SABAP2. We hope that many more teams will register for this category in the future.
Team Wat-Kyk-Jy, the winners of BBD 2021
Several teams were introduced to the wonderful world of BirdLasser. People could follow progress of the teams using Birdlasser via its website. Species registered via BirdLasser can also contribute to conservation causes and BBD is a fun way for people to learn how to use the app. We hope that many of these users will now regularly log birds and soon begin to submit data to citizen science projects.
Support for the provincial challenges also continues to grow. Teams holding records went all out to defend their titles, while others aimed to become the new record holders. Due to the unfavourable weather, not as many provincial records were broken as last year. However, new records were set for Northern Cape and Eastern Cape by The Lebanese Smit Titz and Kei’d Pingfishers respectively and the record for Limpopo was equalled by team Wat-Kyk-Jy. The Gourikwa Swifts nobly did not record Common Ostrich, which would have given them a tie with the Western Cape record (244).
The winning team of BBD 2021’s main event was Wat-Kyk-Jy, comprising Jody de Bruyn and Richter, Rowan and Marcia van Tonder. They recorded an amazing 329 species from the well-known BBD area east of Polokwane. Dedicating their effort to the memory of Joe Grosel, who passed away earlier in the year, the team recognised via social media the contribution Joe had made to BBD in general and to their own group in particular.
In second place, with 326 species, was E-birders (Derek and Daniel Engelbrecht and Selwyn Rautenbach), and A Bowl of Corncrakes (John Davies, Darren Pietersen, Kyle Middleton and Martin Taylor) came in third. This means the top three teams nationally were all from Limpopo. It was Mpumalanga, however, that recorded the most species: 522 across all teams, followed by Limpopo with 499. The BBD record of 335 species set last year by The Raven Dikkops (Bradley Arthur, Michael Mills, Marc Cronje and Callan Cohen) is still intact. Six teams recorded more than 300 species.
The winning team of the new 5km category is Middelburg Storkers, who recorded 179 species in one pentad to the north of Middelburg. Amazingly, 24 teams recorded more than 100 species for this category. This just shows again how privileged we are in South Africa to be able to record so many species in a relatively small area.
Together, the teams recorded just over 46 000 sightings on BirdLasser. More than 800 records were received for species of conservation concern. Michael Brooks at the University of Cape Town reported that full and ad-hoc protocol cards were submitted for nearly 600 pentads, supplying valuable data for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project.
BirdLife South Africa would like to thank Henk Nel and his team at BirdLasser for their wonderful support. Thank you, too, to Craig Nattrass for ensuring that the servers hosting the BBD data could manage the additional load.
We would also like to thank Swarovski, who donated CL 8×30 binoculars to the retail value of R25 000 for the lucky draw.
ERNST RETIEF, BIRDING BIG DAY ORGANISER
|Region||Team name||Team members||Number of species recorded in 2021 (and in 2020 / 2019)|
|South Africa||First place:
|Jody de Bruyn
Richter van Tonder
Rowan v Tonder
Marcia van Tonder
|329 (335 / 325)|
A Bowl of Corncrakes
|5km Challenge||Middelburg Storkers||Pieter Very
Johan van Rensburg
|179 (new category)|
|314 (335 / 311)|
|Free State||Rick Ramblers||Rick Nuttall
|136 (194 / 185)|
|Northern Cape||The Lebanese Smit Titz||Sharon Smit
Suzanne von Maltitz
|159 (153 / 149)|
|North West||3 Ruffs & a Gull||Shaun Mcgillewie
Estie van der Merwe
|229 (269 / 244)|
|Western Cape||Gourikwa Swifts||Rudi Minnie
|243 (244 / 236)|
|Eastern Cape||Kei’d Pingfishers||Wesley Gush
|222 (180 / 185)|
|Gauteng||Soaring iSuzu’s||Michael Johnson
Corrie van Wyk
|197 (220 / 215)|
|Limpopo||Wat-Kyk-Jy||Jody de Bruyn
Richter van Tonder
Rowan van Tonder
Marcia van Tonder
|329 (329 / 325)|
|KwaZulu-Natal||Eastern Accipiters||Jon Cilliers
|247 (265 / 237)|
|RSA species||All the teams||659 (653 / 667)|
Ostrich highlights in 2021
The two latest issues of Ostrich featured two fynbos endemics on the covers. The Cape Rockjumper, Bird of the Year for 2021, graced the cover of issue 3, illustrating an article about how managing fire could be a route to population management for a species under pressure from climate change. And for the first time a lark made the cover of Ostrich; in issue 4, an article described the pioneering application of South Africa’s land use and land cover types in conjunction with BirdLasser data points to inform the status of the Agulhas Long-billed Lark. This technique will provide useful information about the status of many of South Africa’s endemic species in future.
Bread and butter for Ostrich, dietary articles featured in both issues in relation to Algerian Nuthatch, Maghreb Owl, Olive Bee-eater and Cape Cormorant. The last-mentioned highlighted the ongoing potential impact of the fishing industry on an endangered species, while the Olive Bee-eater article was one of two from Madagascar. The second drew attention to the negative impact of rainforest fragmentation on bird communities.
An article from Kenya explained irruptions of Red-necked Phalaropes in relation to oceanic water temperature and plankton changes connected to the Indian Ocean Dipole. Another article, on Brown-throated Martins in Morocco, explored reasons why some individuals of the same species nest alone and others in colonies.
The Cape Gannet, BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2022, featured in an article examining the timing, duration and symmetry of moult. The first paper by Peter Ryan’s daughter highlighted how most of the millions of burrow-nesting petrels that breed at Tristan da Cunha are susceptible to light pollution. Another article that featured Peter as a contributor showed how digital photography is useful to science (as well as fun) and can be used to study the extent of moult in breeding seabirds more efficiently.
Building on the successful Urban Birds Special Issue, a study from Zimbabwe explored differing impacts of human presence on flight initiation distance. A long-term mist-netting and bird-ringing study from Equatorial Guinea provided some insights into the bird communities on the island of Bioko. On a more sombre note, the trade of vulture parts for traditional uses has been linked to vulture declines in Central Nigeria.
Ostrich will be showcasing more fascinating ornithological studies from the African continent in 2022.
All abstracts are free to view at https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tost20/92/4?nav=tocList and full articles can be requested from the authors or editors.
ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Powering green energy networks
One of the few good things to have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is that participation in conferences and meetings is more accessible to more people, thanks to online meeting platforms. This was evident at the Birds and Renewable Energy Forum hosted online by BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project in December. More than 100 attendees tuned in to the event – almost double the participation in previous years.
Renewable energy developers and operators, NGOs, government officials, environmental assessment practitioners and researchers all joined online to discuss approaches to minimising conflicts between wildlife and renewable energy in South Africa. The careful location of power infrastructure is still the best way to reduce environmental risks and the forum covered environmental policy, plans, guidance and spatial tools to support site selection. We discussed challenges – and successes – in monitoring and mitigating impacts at operational wind farms. Many of these are unique to South Africa and other emerging markets. It is clear that while we can learn from countries with well-established renewable energy industries, we also need to develop locally appropriate solutions.
One of the event’s highlights was hearing about the excellent observer-led shutdown-on-demand programme at Excelsior Wind Farm in the Overberg. Trained observers stop turbines if threatened species are at risk of collision. Sadly, this has not been 100% effective, despite the observers’ best efforts. However, it is still an essential and beneficial mitigation measure that has created valuable green jobs. We hope more wind farms will be inspired to adopt a similar strategy.
More great work was showcased by representatives of Conservation Outcomes, who spoke about the contribution that wind farms in the Kouga area have made to conservation through the Greater Kromme Stewardship Initiative. Several speakers challenged the renewable energy industry to think beyond mitigating impacts and explore opportunities to enhance their environments. After all, we are in the ‘decade of restoration’ and must prevent and reverse the degradation of our ecosystems.
If you would like to learn more, visit BirdLife South Africa’s YouTube channel to watch recordings of the forum or visit our website.
SAM RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT MANAGER (sponsored by Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking)
A platform for biodiversity partners
The Biodiversity Partners Program, funded by the French Development Agency (AFD, Agence Française de Développement), provided a unique opportunity for 30 individuals to come together to form a community of change-makers, to explore new networks and new knowledge and to gain new tools to accelerate their projects and increase their impact and sustainability.
The programme began in June, having attracted participants from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and closed in November 2021 with a prestigious ceremony. Designed to apply concepts and lessons learnt to individuals’ projects, it provided participants with an invaluable opportunity to network with like-minded individuals across Africa, share the uniqueness of each of their innovative projects, brainstorm challenges they faced, create a network of support into the future, build business skill sets and grow as individuals. In my case, as a representative of BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Programme, the chosen project was community bird guides, which I hope to expand into southern Africa, following on from its success in South Africa.
The Biodiversity Partners Program was divided into three phases:
‘Explore’: a four-week course of online classes, including entertaining ice breakers, informative lectures and interactive teamwork assignments to learn about biodiversity, deep ecology, systems thinking and indigenous knowledge.
‘Experiment’: a six-day intensive business sprint with the Sustainability Institute that involved experimenting with start-up methods (specifically under time pressure to maximise creativity), obtaining advice from dedicated experts and working on aspects of the project/business such as its value proposition, marketing and a business model. A key component of this phase was to develop a prototype and test new ideas on existing stakeholders to quickly find out what would be sustainable or not.
‘Grow’: a two-month virtual learning programme with the African Management Institute to develop new business and marketing skills by applying them to each individual’s project.
One of the outcomes was a video to showcase our pro-nature projects.
The final step in the programme was to develop a short video and in-person pitch of the final product and to present it to two high-level jury members for feedback. In addition, Re:Wild provided each participant with a professionally made video to market their project and showcase the highlights that the Biodiversity Partners Program provided to each person. To watch my video, go to https://youtu.be/B9FrOwrFIdU
This programme brought together bee and mushroom farmers, communities who build musical instruments from local wood sources, alien-clearing project leaders, children’s animators and community bird guides into one virtual room, all with different requirements but one common goal: to see their projects succeed and our planet earth, its biodiversity and all it provides to us continue into the future for many generations to come.
BRONWYN MAREE, EAST ATLANTIC FLYWAY INITIATIVE PROJECT MANAGER
Abelana’s bird checklist grows
With summer in full swing in South Africa, buckets of rain have endowed the Lowveld with an abundance of life. Mother Nature couldn’t have orchestrated better seasonal conditions for the return of migratory birds to the region. While game viewing on safari is notoriously better in winter due to the dry conditions, summer is a special time at Abelana Game Reserve with its plethora of birds.
Located just outside Phalaborwa and half a day’s drive from Johannesburg, the Abelana Game Reserve and Abelana River Lodge brands have been in existence for just two years. In that time, 230 bird species have been recorded in the reserve, many of which are rare. ‘It’s really exciting to find a previously unseen species,’ says Bill Drew, a guide and avid birder at Abelana. ‘The birding experience here is exceptional. I’m always wondering what new species might be just around the corner.’
Some of the most recent new sightings at Abelana include African Dusky Flycatcher, Black Crake, African Cuckoo Hawk, Broad-billed Roller, Brubru, Bronze-winged Courser, Green-winged Pytilia and White-headed Vulture.
Perhaps one of Abelana’s greatest assets for bird-viewing is its diverse and water-rich landscape, which encompasses rivers and dams, open veld and mountainous, rocky outcrops. The lush riverbank, with its fig trees in full fruit and the cool, deep shade cast by a variety of evergreen trees, draws frugivores from far and wide, including magnificently coloured Purple-crested Turacos and cheeky Black-collared Barbets. Meanwhile, Black Storks and rare Saddle-billed Storks wade through shallows preying on fish and frogs, while African Fish Eagles soar overhead.
Insectivores are always around, catching fruit flies, caterpillars and ants. They include African, Common, Diederik, Klaas’s, Jacobin, Levaillant’s, Red-chested and Great Spotted cuckoos, which feast on the hairy and mopane caterpillars that breed profusely in summer.
Nearby, the Ramspruit Dam attracts waterbirds such as the rare Black-crowned Night Heron and the Black-winged Stilt, as well as favourites like White and Woolly-necked storks and the African Spoonbill. The mountains to the south of the 15 000ha reserve are home to Verreaux’s Eagle, Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat and African Cuckoo Hawk.
The dry, thick African bushveld offers opportunities to see Capped Wheatears, Bronze-winged Coursers and Broad-billed Rollers, as well as Wattled Starlings, Southern White-faced Owls, proud Dwarf Bitterns and delightful Little Bee-eaters. There are honeyguides too, which have interacted with humans for centuries.
With well over 200 species to be found in this sublime birding paradise, it’s only right that nature’s most flamboyant performances of song and dance be enjoyed from the luxurious comfort of Abelana River Lodge. Overlooking the Selati River, 20 opulent king suites provide exclusivity, all-inclusive accommodation and days filled with adventure.
On a recent trip to Abelana, a guest and avid birdwatcher told lodge management that one morning she had spotted more than 60 bird species on the short walk from her suite to the main lodge.
Bill Drew sums it up: ‘We have so much life here: an abundance of water, prolific tree and vegetation growth, incredibly diverse landscapes and a banquet of fish, insects, fruit and small animals for our incredible bird population to feast on. For birdwatchers, the luxury of Abelana is the cherry on top of an unforgettable birding getaway.’
To find out more about Abelana Game Reserve and Abelana River Lodge, or to book a birding getaway, please contact Bryan West on 061 952 4302 or email@example.com
Kimberley fires and birds
In September 2021 uncontrolled fires swept through a large area of the Northern Cape around Kimberley, stretching eastward into the Free State. This was devastating for local agriculture as much of the land burnt was cattle rangeland. Farmers lost livestock, game and infrastructure, resulting in stress and anguish.
From an ecological perspective, little is known about the impact of fire on arid savanna, and especially its bird communities. While fires cause immediate stress and apparent devastation, their long-term impact is not always negative. For instance, bush encroachment due to the suppression of fire is cause for concern as it benefits some generic species but negatively affects specialist species that require open rangeland, including Secretarybirds and Northern Black Korhaans. Fire keeps woody plants in check and encourages the growth of fresh palatable fodder if it rains, and it releases seeds from serotinous plant species, which can benefit some granivorous bird species.
The fires of September last year provide an interesting opportunity to determine how bird populations changed in the Northern Cape after such an extensive burn. BirdLife South Africa is very grateful to Ekapa Minerals for sponsoring a research project that will investigate how bird communities change with time after fire, comparing burnt and unburnt areas now with a survey conducted in 2004 by SANBI’s Dr Colleen Seymour as part of her PhD. One of our study areas is Benfontein Game Reserve, the site of long-term Sociable Weaver monitoring projects. Although several Sociable Weaver nests burned in the fire, we are not aware of any large birds that lost their lives. Information about displacement and lost breeding opportunities is harder to capture and repeated visits are needed to get a better understanding of them. To this end, field biologist Eric Herrmann has been contracted to undertake point count surveys (60 points in burnt and unburnt areas). The first surveys were conducted at the start of December 2021, in conjunction with an atlas bash.
The outbreak of Omicron coupled with torrential rain over the weekend meant the atlas bash was a muted affair. Nonetheless, Ernst Retief managed five atlas cards and Eric and I, as a team, managed six in and around Kimberley. Of the 161 species we recorded, White-backed Vultures were seen regularly and Lesser Kestrels many times. Eric and I also continued to fill the Vosburg gap in the Karoo, with 10 virgin pentads covered in that region. There are still more to do! SABAP2 monitoring is also being conducted by Dawie de Swardt at pentads burnt in the Free State.
In contrast to the first visit in October, when blackened landscapes stretched for kilometres, by December the welcome rains following the fires had transformed the region into fields of green. The skeletons of many camelthorn trees are a reminder of what occurred, but many that remained standing through the fire now show signs of resprouting. It is difficult to say categorically what the full impact of the fires has been and work must still be done to distinguish between the effect of fire and the effect of rain. Eric will conduct more surveys during 2022 and they will no doubt prove extremely interesting.
We are grateful to Ester van der Westhuizen for facilitating our stay at Rooifontein and to the Friends of Rooifontein for the use of the ‘hotel’. Thanks go also to Ford and our various sponsors who support the work of the Science and Innovation Programme.
ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
The importance of being ethical
The BirdLife South Africa Animal Research Ethics Committee was set up as a platform to gain ethical clearance for projects focusing on avian research, including applications from individuals who are not affiliated to a university or other institution. The committee evaluates all BirdLife South Africa’s bird research projects, including studies where tracking devices are fitted and observational studies. All projects in which BirdLife South Africa is an active partner are also subject to ethical clearance by the committee. One external and four internal applications were evaluated in 2021:
Determining the nest site fidelity of White-backed Vultures at Dronfield Nature Reserve, led by Angus Anthony;
Determining the impact of lead poisoning on bone mineralisation in South Africa’s Gyps vultures, led by Linda van den Heever (Vulture Project Manager);
Translocating and tracking African Penguins as part of an effort to establish a new breeding colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve, led by Christina Hagen (Pamela Isdell Fellow of African Penguin Conservation);
Studying the at-sea vocalisations of African Penguins to determine their vulnerability to noise pollution, led by Dr Alistair McInnes (Seabird Conservation Programme Manager);
Investigating ecological trends in the Orange–Senqu River Basin to determine the effects of organic pollutants, led by Christiaan Brink (Raptor and Large Terrestrial Bird Project Manager).
The BirdLife South Africa Animal Research Ethics Committee consists of the following members: Prof. Andrew McKechnie, University of Pretoria (chairperson), an academic scientist; Dr Jennie Hewlett, a qualified and registered veterinarian; Naomi Visser of the NSPCA, a representative of a welfare organisation; and Clare Mitchell, a public representative. The committee also includes administrator Linda van den Heever and myself, representing BirdLife South Africa. When a BirdLife South Africa project is evaluated, Linda and I recuse ourselves from the evaluation committee to ensure that independence in the decision-making process is maintained. The committee meets quarterly.
We are incredibly grateful for the time and expertise offered voluntarily by the committee members and the administrative assistance provided by Linda.
For more information, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-animal-ethics-committee/
DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION
A big Big Year
In a guest post in our December 2020 newsletter, Dr Craig Widdows outlined the family’s plans for their South African Big Year in 2021. He and his wife Christine packed up their old life and took sabbaticals for the first few months of the year to travel around South Africa with their two young children, Finn (then two) and Wren (then four), spotting as many birds along the way as possible.
Most Big Years by South African birders focus on the southern African subregion, rather than just South Africa. To the best of their knowledge, this is the first time that someone has attempted a concerted Big Year within this country’s borders, and therefore finding a benchmark was difficult. After much consultation with the top echelons of listers, the 681 species recorded in South Africa out of a total of 826 during Niall Perrins’s Southern African Big Year in 2011 seemed to be the number to beat. Rounding up to 700 then became the considerably challenging target for the family to achieve.
Birding with two kids in tow was no easy feat, with naps and playtime needing to be factored in either side of birding and long stints on the road between destinations. However, the kids were far from add-ons to the trip as they were part and parcel of each tick along the way. This was definitely a family affair, which makes it all the more impressive that the Widdows managed to eventually reach their target of 700 on 29 December 2021, ultimately recording 702 species during the year. Of course, looking back on the year the most important memories will be the time spent together as a family, sharing the inevitable highs and lows of such an undertaking.
The Widdows used the opportunity of the Big Year and their considerable social media presence to raise awareness and funds for BirdLife South Africa’s Community Bird Guide Project. They hired several of these guides throughout their travels and were impressed by both their birding skills and the way that they interacted with and entertained the kids. They are beginning to consolidate their fundraising now and would appreciate any contributions in recognition of their amazing feat and the role of the community bird guides in making it possible. You can donate by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
BirdLife South Africa congratulates the Widdows family on their epic achievement and is grateful for their support of our Community Bird Guide Project. We encourage any enthusiastic listers in South Africa to join the South Africa Listers’ Club by clicking on the icon under the Go Birding tab at www.birdlife.org.za
ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER