June 2022 Newsletter
Fundraising for Black Harriers
Black Harriers are in deep trouble. Fewer than 1300 mature individuals now remain, making the species one of southern Africa’s most endangered raptors. Its population is estimated to be declining by 2.3% annually, which means it is likely to become extinct in less than 75 years – and our children will probably witness its demise. In order to halt this decline, we need to find out more about these incredible birds. The Overberg Renosterveld Trust, led by Dr Odette Curtis-Scott, is raising funds to purchase three tracking devices to fit onto Black Harriers.
The largest known Black Harrier breeding colony was recently found in a fragment of renosterveld in the Overberg that is located very close to a recently established wind farm. One of the six birds already tracked by the Overberg Renosterveld Trust was killed by a wind turbine and another was accidentally hacked to pieces by a grain-cutter after dark. Other threats include the loss of habitat, especially of lowland renosterveld.
Given that Black Harriers are susceptible to colliding with wind turbines, it is a matter for concern that the Overberg’s entire wheat-belt, which includes small remaining patches of renosterveld, has been identified by the government as a development zone for renewable energy. This area contains much of what is left of the Black Harrier’s preferred renosterveld breeding habitat. The added threat from new wind farm developments is likely to accelerate the species’ population decline.
To identify which areas need to be safeguarded against wind farm development, we need to know more about Black Harrier movements; hence the tracking study. The data gathered will enable researchers to identify where these birds forage, at what heights they fly and when they may be at risk of collision with wind turbines. The Overberg Renosterveld Trust is working with other members of the Black Harrier Task Force from BirdLife South Africa, University of Cape Town, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Conservation Outcomes to save this species.
If you would like to support this project and bring the number of birds tracked to the minimum requirement of 10, please go to https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/saving-black-harriers?fbclid=IwAR1IaIw4ONE5Sc7l-iQFEMM58KXruXTHWXVYgDs3LHDxhs24nwZTB9r2oVc
DR CHRISTIAAN WILLEM BRINK, RAPTOR AND LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER
Southern Ground-Hornbills head to Kruger
BirdLife South Africa’s Shop for the Birds! team staged a local count of 260 Southern Ground-Hornbill fluffy toys before sending them on their way to Kruger National Park and other SANParks shops. They make a memorable gift for any child, of whatever age!
CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER
Learn About Birds
The next Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference, co-hosted by the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and BirdLife South Africa, will take place in Wilderness on 25 and 26 May 2023. After a highly successful virtual event in 2021, it will return to its physical roots with an in-person conference comprising parallel Science LAB and Layman’s LAB sessions. Virtual tickets will also be available for any presenters or attendees who are not able to make it to the physical conference.
We will be circulating a call for abstracts in the upcoming weeks and ask Science LAB presenters to please begin thinking of the talks they would like to give at next year’s conference. We are also lining up an exciting list of Layman’s LAB speakers who will share interesting talks on a range of topics relevant to the Wilderness area and bird conservation in general.
The LAB Conference will form part of the bigger Flock to Wilderness event taking place from 24 to 28 May 2023, based at the Wilderness Hotel. There will be exciting excursions on offer and wonderful evening entertainment throughout the event.
Be sure to save the dates and watch the BirdLife South Africa social media channels for more information. Bookings will open in July 2022. For more information, please e-mail email@example.com or visit the BirdLife South Africa website here.
DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Biological diversity celebrated at Ingula
The United Nations has proclaimed 22 May the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase global understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. On this day, scholars especially are encouraged to take part in biodiversity-themed events to learn about the natural environment and what action they can take to help protect it and the many species that live in it.
As assistant to the Ingula Project, I was privileged to arrange a celebration of this day with 23 learners and six teachers at Zaaifontein Primary School, during which I demonstrated the web of life game to show how wetland ecosystems function and how they benefit biodiversity. The school principal, Mrs Mbhense, and the teachers were excited about the visit and are creating a file of the activities and materials shared with them.
STEVEN SEGANG, INGULA PROJECT ASSISTANT
Conserving Blue Swallows in KZN
The Blue Swallow is globally Vulnerable, but in South Africa it is considered Critically Endangered. To put its plight into perspective, only 40–50 pairs of Blue Swallows remain in South Africa compared to several thousand rhinos. The rhinos, quite justifiably, are given a massive amount of conservation attention, but the swallows receive very little.
An intra-Africa migratory species, the Blue Swallow faces the degradation, fragmentation and destruction of its grassland and wetland habitats in both its breeding grounds in southern Africa and its non-breeding grounds in East Africa. Over the past 20 years or more, this fragmentation and destruction have led to a rapid decline in its already small population. In KwaZulu-Natal, Blue Swallows forage and breed in moist mistbelt grassland, nesting in sinkholes and abandoned aardvark burrows. We see these beautiful but elusive little birds in the grasslands of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands each summer from the end of September to the end of March, mostly on private and communal land.
The populations and breeding attempts of Blue Swallows have been monitored with varying levels of success since the late 1980s, but between 2012 and 2018 efforts declined significantly. In 2018 BirdLife South Africa partnered with Conservation Outcomes to address Blue Swallow conservation in KwaZulu-Natal by reviving the monitoring of the species’ breeding success and securing as much of its grassland habitat as possible by means of voluntary conservation agreements with landowners through the Biodiversity Stewardship mechanism.
The monitoring has recorded an increase in the number of fledged Blue Swallow chicks from 29 in 2018–2019 to 47 in 2020–2021, and in 2022 more than 250 visits were made to known and newly discovered nest sites. Eight monitors are involved, comprising staff of the BirdLife South Africa–Conservation Outcomes partnership and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, two funded full-time monitors (courtesy of IUCN SOS and N3TC) and several private volunteers. The monitoring may be improving, but there’s no doubt that the overall trend in Blue Swallow numbers is declining.
To protect this vulnerable species and its habitat, over the past three years the BirdLife South Africa–Conservation Outcomes partnership has worked with landowners to declare four new nature reserves that include some 3000ha of Blue Swallow habitat. Trewirgie, Tillietudlem, Roelton and KwaWula nature reserves contribute significantly to the achievement of KwaZulu-Natal’s conservation targets for endangered mistbelt grassland and forest, and several more reserves are in the process of being declared. The partnership is also working hard to support landowners in their efforts to conserve Blue Swallow habitat by, for example, helping to control invasive alien plant species such as American bramble in the grassland.
This is just the beginning. The BirdLife South Africa–Conservation Outcomes partnership is currently working on securing and supporting a further 2000ha of mistbelt grassland and forest, while also providing support for conservation on private and communal land. We are very grateful to the funders and supporters of this work, including the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, N3TC, IUCN SOS Fund and Baynesfield Estate.
STEVE McKEAN, BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA–CONSERVATION OUTCOMES PARTNERSHIP
Celebrating diversity in Pride Month
In the past, birding was viewed as an elitist hobby that excluded certain sectors of the population. Thankfully, the world of birding and nature conservation has come a long way since then. To celebrate Pride Month in June, we recognise and revel in the strides made to create space for all to live, love and be themselves.
Of course, it is also a time to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done globally to secure rights for all citizens of the world. We pay homage to the many who have lost their lives because they dared to live as themselves. A few weeks ago, the news of murdered 25-year-old Kenyan non-binary lesbian Sheila Adhiambo Lumamba horrified the free world and brought home the message that there is much still to be done across Africa to provide equality and safety for all who call this beautiful continent home.
But, you may be asking, why is a conservation- and bird-focused NGO putting up its hand as an ally to the LGBTQIA+ movement? The reason is simple: at BirdLife South Africa we believe that nature is for everyone – and everyone has the right to participate in enjoying, protecting and conserving the rich diversity of the natural world. We acknowledge that in South Africa we have a constitution that recognises the rights of all citizens; we also have a whole range of amazing, beautiful and queer-looking birds to enjoy. Equally, BirdLife South Africa’s members and supporters are a diverse range of wonderful and diverse beings who share a love for birds. It is this shared passion that unites us and fuels us to work together to conserve our birds.
So, to recognise that BirdLife South Africa and its affiliated events are a safe and inclusive space, we have launched a limited-edition Pride pin badge, kindly supplied by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and released in support of our Landscape Conservation Programme’s work to protect all South Africa’s terrestrial birds and their habitats.
Celebrate with us this Pride Month, whether you are gay, straight or somewhere in between. Be an ally for all, but most especially be an ally for nature and birds.
To purchase one of only 90 pin badges available, please visit https://shop.birdlife.org.za/product/rainbow-starling-pin-badges/
DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Where’s Flock at Sea going next?
After the previous three very successful Flocks at Sea in 2013, 2017 and 2022, the next destination of BirdLife South Africa’s popular Flock at Sea will be the tropical waters of the Mozambique Channel in October/November 2023. Join Flock to the Mozambique Channel for an excellent opportunity to see tropical species such as frigatebirds, boobies and tropicbirds.
The MSC Orchestra will depart from and return to Durban on this five-night voyage.
BirdLife South Africa will make further announcements, including the dates of the voyage, in the coming months. Bookings will probably be open by September 2022.
ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
Gill Memorial Medal awarded to Peter Ryan
Professor Peter Ryan, director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, received BirdLife South Africa’s prestigious Gill Memorial Medal at the organisation’s AGM on Saturday, 28 May 2022. Not only a world-renowned ornithologist, Peter is also an accomplished bird photographer and the author of many bird books.
You can read the citation for his award at https://www.birdlife.org.za/who-we-are/awards/gill-memorial-medal-award/
ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
Who deserves an Owl Award?
Each year, BirdLife South Africa recognises the valuable contributions that people and organisations make to the conservation of South Africa’s birds and their habitats by presenting Owl Awards to deserving recipients. The 2022 Owl Awards event will take place at 10h00 on Tuesday, 20 September 2022.
Please view the nomination categories here and submit your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org on or before Friday, 22 July 2022.
DR ISABEL HUMAN, HR MANAGER & EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
A raffle for conservation
BirdLife South Africa’s annual raffle is now open, giving you the chance to win a share of R135 000, while contributing to conservation in the process.
Only about 500 tickets are left, so purchase yours today to avoid missing out. All funds raised go to BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work.
To enter the raffle and check the terms and conditions, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/jackpot-birding-2022
In case you missed it…
BirdLife South Africa held its 93rd Annual General Meeting on Saturday, 28 May 2022. It was a virtual event, hosted via Zoom at the organisation’s head office in Johannesburg, and attracted a large audience. Highlights of the meeting were an account of the important work done during the past year, the presentation of the Gill Memorial Medal to Professor Peter Ryan and news of the next Flock at Sea event.
For anyone who was unable to join us on the day, a video recording of the meeting is now available at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/93rd-annual-general-meeting-agm/
Register for The African Bird Fair
The African Bird Fair is just a month away, taking place on 22 and 23 July, so be sure to register in good time. You can register online, and need to do so whether you plan to join us at Isdell House or attend the free online talks or the paid workshops and keynote presentations.
As a special bonus, if you join BirdLife South Africa during the course of The African Bird Fair, you will receive a 20% discount on the membership fee!
Children will be welcome too and they are invited to take part in a colouring-in competition that offers a signed copy of Faansie Peacock’s Faansie’s Bird Book as the prize for each of the two age groups (7–10 and 11–13 years).
You can find out all you need to know at https://www.birdlife.org.za/african-bird-fair-2022/
Fun in the fynbos
After 20 minutes of sitting on a rocky slope staring across a deep valley to a distant ridge of the Kouga Mountains without a single bird sighting or audible peep, the group of students I was with may well have been wondering if there were any birds at all at Blue Hill Nature Reserve. And how on earth they were going to complete their project looking at the link between birds and the age of the fynbos.
The students were from the George campus of Nelson Mandela University, doing their final year of the Advanced Nature Conservation Diploma. The university’s Nature Conservation Management programme (https://conservation.mandela.ac.za/What-we-do) involves students in a number of activities that relate to conservation of the natural world and people’s interactions with it. Research focuses on the various components of the environment and how they interact, as well as the interactions of humans with nature. From undergraduate level, students learn the methodologies used to study ecosystems and the organisms in them. With large expanses of indigenous forest and fynbos as well as freshwater and marine ecosystems close to the George campus, students are involved with a diversity of research projects in the area, either as part of their assignments or as extracurricular activities with ongoing research projects.
Dr Anina Coetzee and I had chosen this site to kick off the field work because after a fire in 2017, a multi-year drought had devastated the vegetation’s recovery. On what was once a hillside covered in proteas and buzzing with sugarbirds, now stood a forest of skeletal sticks and the only sound was of dust blowing in the wind. The site represented a stark warning of the potential impact of climate change. It was also a good place to introduce in a manageable way the few species that did show up.
The next site we tried was much more productive. It had burnt in 2012 and the fire had been followed by good rains. Here, proteas were thick and tall and the students were kept busy recording Orange-breasted, Southern Double-collared and Malachite sunbirds, Cape Sugarbirds and Karoo Prinias. The students could identify the proteas and birds and they had been trained in veld-ageing techniques. Overall, I was impressed by their enthusiasm and good work ethic. It’s good to know that our beleaguered planet will be receiving the attention of these nature enthusiasts.
DR ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Listers’ Club reaches 500 members
Now with 500 members – and counting – the South Africa Listers’ Club is celebrating this momentous milestone. We are very grateful to all the birders who have joined the club since its inception in February 2020. Building a list of at least 300 bird species is no easy feat, so we hope that all our club members are immensely proud of their efforts. We have truly enjoyed engaging with this august community on various social platforms as we celebrate the achievement of 500 members and we are looking forward to the club’s continued growth as a proudly South African birding collective.
If you aren’t yet part of the South Africa Listers’ Club, head to www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/go-birding-south-africa-listers-club/ and complete the simple online form. And if you have already joined, remember that our leader-board is updated weekly; if you have improved your total, please submit this to us using the same link!
ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER, AND NATASHA SHIBULANE, REGIONAL CONSERVATION PROGRAMME AND AVITOURISM INTERN
Working together for White-winged Flufftails
BirdLife South Africa’s Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Kyle Lloyd and Nandi Thobela recently visited the greater Ntsikeni area, including several private properties around Kokstad. Our first stop was at BirdLife Sisonke in Underberg, where we met the local bird club’s chair and committee and other important local stakeholders, including professional bird guides, the Women’s Leadership and Training Initiative and representatives of local farmers’ organisations and development agencies. Hanneline and Kyle presented an overview of BirdLife South Africa’s conservation work and the success of the White-winged Flufftail research and conservation project to the Underberg community.
The trip continued to Coleford Nature Reserve and then on to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Ntsikeni Nature Reserve. At Ntsikeni, stakeholder meetings took place with the reserve manager and the secretary of Ntsikeni’s community liaison forum. The engagement was leading up to BirdLife South Africa’s plan to extend its footprint in this area and to assist Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with managing the wetland so that White-winged Flufftails will remain there. We also wanted to ensure that biosecurity measures are implemented for the next summer season. The encroachment of invasive black wattles into the wetland system, for example, is of concern and warrants immediate attention.
BirdLife South Africa would also like to find ways in which we can raise awareness about conservation in the adjacent communities through engagement with the traditional authorities and the potential development of a grazing management plan and educational activities. The lodges in the reserve are currently managed by the community and we will explore various avenues that will enable us to work together to the benefit of people and nature and to restore and manage these accommodation facilities.
The final leg of our expedition was a two-day reconnaissance of various private properties that have been highlighted by our current White-winged Flufftail habitat suitability model. By determining the likely presence of the species, we can prepare for summer rapid acoustic surveys in this area.
We would like to extend particular thanks to our hosts in the area for their warm hospitality and for making our stay so memorable: Tony Coetzer, Aldo Berruti and Dr Hugo and Nicky Groeneveld, as well as a number of other stakeholders: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife; Ntsikeni Community Trust; BirdLife Sisonke; Zwartberg and Underberg farmers’ associations; private landowners of the Franklin area; and members of the Harry Gwala Agri, Women’s Leadership and Training Programme.
DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION; DR KYLE LLOYD, ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION; AND NANDI THOBELA, EMPOWERING PEOPLE PROGRAMME MANAGER
Penguins released at De Hoop
Thirty African Penguins swam in the sea for the first time on 7 June, entering the waters of the De Hoop Nature Reserve from the site where BirdLife South Africa, SANCCOB and CapeNature are working to establish a breeding colony. The young penguins had been rescued from existing colonies after being abandoned by their parents and hand-reared at SANCCOB. They are at the age when they would normally go to sea by themselves and learn how to hunt the sardines and anchovies that form the main part of their diet. The young birds will spend the next three to six years at sea – coming ashore only once a year to moult – before deciding where to breed. We are hoping that they will come back to the spot where they were released. Penguins that have already started breeding at a colony will always return there, which is why we release young penguins that haven’t yet bred.
We first released penguins at De Hoop in 2021, so this brings the total number of penguins released there to 118. The penguins were driven to De Hoop in the afternoon and placed in a pen on the beach, where they were kept overnight. This is to allow them to acclimatise and imprint on the site. The next morning, after giving them all one last free fish, we opened the pen for them to go. It took a while for the penguins to realise they were able to leave but then they left in a big group, none wanting to be first but also not wanting to be left behind. They waited hesitantly at the edge of the water for a few minutes until the first penguin entered the water. Then their instincts took over and they swam strongly out to sea. We hope to see them back at De Hoop in the coming years!
CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION
GoBirding – a new avitourism portal
This month sees the launch of BirdLife South Africa’s ‘GoBirding’ portal, which features an integrated map with more than 400 birding sites, 50 guides and 60 places to stay. Designed by expert bird guides and with guest blogs, the site has been built by birders for birders and is set to become the premier trip-planning tool in South Africa for locals and visitors alike. And all the information is free!
The platform was launched at a Conservation Conversations webinar and during the BirdLife South Africa AGM. We encourage all our supporters to explore the site and to let us know if you have any comments or suggestions for improvement, especially if you know of any birding sites we may have missed or if you have photographs to add. You can e-mail me at email@example.com. If you are interested in listing your property on our map, please contact me directly.
This site has been over two years in the making and was generously supported by a donation from the Chamberlain Foundation.
ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER