Discovering a precious treasure
While doing research on the beautiful and charismatic Cape Parrot, I frequently came across the description of it as a ‘jewel of the forest’. As an artist with a particular love of rich colour, I was excited to explore a palette of iridescent bright and deep bottle-greens, golden yellows and dramatic hot reds to capture the plumage of this forest bird. Appropriately, the process feels like lifting the lid of a jewellery box that is full of intense hues, all just waiting for my paintbrush to bring these delightful birds to life.
Sadly, just like a rare treasure, the Cape Parrot is precious because of its small population, which is found only in isolated pockets of mist-belt forest in South Africa. During the course of the year I am looking forward to exploring the world of the fascinating Cape Parrot and sharing my discoveries along the way.
The first of the Cape Parrot infographic posters covers the identification and distribution of the species. The accompanying fact sheet can be downloaded at birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2023/ and used alongside upcoming lesson plans, which will be published during the year.
LEIGH WOLFAARDT, ARTIST AND RESEARCHER FOR BIRD OF THE YEAR 2023
Forest birding 101
At BirdLife South Africa’s Flock to Wilderness this year you will have an opportunity to improve your forest birding skills and knowledge. Garden Route expert Mike Bridgeford and I, a forest bird guide, will present the Learn About Birds (LAB) Forest Birding Workshop on Wednesday, 24 May 2023 from 14h00 to 16h00. The focus will be on the birds of the forests along the Garden Route, but forest ecology, distribution, structure and conservation will also be discussed. The best ways to get to know different bird calls will be shared with attendees, along with other key tips and strategies to ensure a successful trip the next time you head into a forest.
The workshop costs R250 per person and can be attended in person or virtually. You do not have to book for the entire LAB conference to take part, but you must have booked for the BirdLife South Africa AGM. More information about Flock to Wilderness and registration details for 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
Tracking non-breeding Cape Gannets
Knowing where seabirds go is vitally important if we want to protect them throughout their life cycles. It is much easier to do this when they are breeding and regularly return to their colonies to incubate eggs and feed chicks. Tracking seabirds during the non-breeding season is much more difficult, as they forage far and wide, staying out at sea for long periods. So you have to use tracking devices that send data via satellites or cell-phone tower networks and are equipped with small solar panels, which makes them very expensive.
This is why we were so excited to deploy 20 devices on non-breeding Cape Gannets. These birds have never before been tracked during the non-breeding season and the data the loggers provide will be crucial for improving marine spatial planning initiatives around South Africa’s coast. Alistair McInnes, manager of the Seabird Conservation Programme and I worked with collaborators from Nelson Mandela University and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to deploy the trackers on Bird Island in Algoa Bay and on Malgas Island on the west coast. The loggers have a lifespan of up to three months and we can’t wait to see where the birds go.
This work was made possible by a grant from the Van Tienhoven Foundation (https://www.vantienhovenfoundation.com/projects/87) and the many generous donations raised via a crowd-funding platform.
ELEANOR WEIDEMAN, COASTAL SEABIRD PROJECT MANAGER
Kruger Challenge – a successful adventure
Four teams comprising nine birders each spent a week in the Kruger National Park, together with BirdLife South Africa, Rockjumper Birding Tours and Middelpunt Wetland Trust, competing in the Kruger Challenge. The aim of each team was to record the most birds and mammals over the seven days, and its prize – a new pair of ZEISS SFL 40 binoculars for each member!
Rockjumper Birding Tours is the BirdLife Species Champion for the conservation of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail and all proceeds from the event will contribute to the conservation of this species.
The competing teams were the California Thrashers Birding Club, guided by Julian Parsons and supported by driver/guide Ryan Ker, who took fourth place with 275 bird and 35 mammal species; the Kruger All Stars, guided by Johan Potgieter and supported by driver/guide Neil Waitt in third place with 301 bird and 32 mammal species; the Terrific Twitchers, guided by Daniel Danckwerts and supported by driver/guide Mario Paul in second place with 303 bird and 34 mammal species; and the BirdLife International team guided by Adam Riley and supported by driver/guide Dirk Neethling in first place with 312 bird and 40 mammal species.
BirdLife South Africa’s efforts to conduct research on and to conserve the White-winged Flufftail were recognised by the AEWA (African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement) when the organisation received the Waterbird Conservation Award in the Organisational Category at the AEWA MOP in Hungary in September 2022. It coordinates the AEWA White-winged Flufftail International Working Group. The head of the Science, Implementation and Compliance Unit, UNEP/AEWA Secretariat, Sergey Dereliev, also attended the Kruger Challenge and addressed the participants at the opening dinner. As well as recognising the organisations driving the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail, he praised the efforts of three trustees of Middelpunt Wetland Trust: Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Head of Conservation at BirdLife South Africa; Malcolm Drummond, chairman of Middelpunt Wetland Trust; and Adam Riley, founder of Rockjumper Birding Tours.
The 2023 Kruger Challenge was a major success and an unforgettable experience for the four teams, who enjoyed wine sponsored by Painted Wolf Wines and received water bottles courtesy of Cape Union Mart. We are grateful to Petra Kregelius-Schmidt, the global marketing manager for ZEISS, and Divan Swanepoel of ZEISS South Africa for their support and for joining the adventure.
BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank SANParks, and Tracy Yates and the team from Black Chilli, the Cattle Baron at Skukuza Rest Camp and Mpila Restaurant at Mopani Rest Camp for the catering, as well as ZEISS for sponsoring a closing dinner enjoyed by all participants. And hearty congratulations go to the winning team, who walked away with SFL 40 binoculars sponsored by ZEISS.
The challenge of the heavy rainfall and flooding in Kruger Park was turned into an adventure that four teams on a mission to raise funds for conservation, while competing against each other for the highest species count, will certainly never forget!
CHRISTIE WOODING, CONSERVATION ASSISTANT, AND DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION
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In the latest issue of African Birdlife we follow Trevor Hardaker on his ‘big birding year’ and Mike Buckham to Zimbabwe in pursuit of the African Pitta. And we learn (with just a hint of tongue in cheek) about the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect in relation to swallows and get some tips on photographing these fast and agile flyers. Ever wondered how nomadic birds decide where to go next and when to go? John Mendelsohn and Sue Milton, with the help of the late Richard Dean, tease out some answers.
For the armchair traveller, there’s a visit to the Republic of Congo’s Odzala-Kokoua National Park, as Brendon Dredge takes us beneath the canopy of the Congo Basin’s rainforest to view some of its spectacular birds. And, closer to home, we follow the nesting cycle of Pearl-spotted Owlets and the breeding strategy of a Diederik Cuckoo.
BirdLife South Africa a ‘Most Valuable Partner’
The 2023 CapeNature Biodiversity Stewardship Awards event for the Western Cape’s West Landscape took place last month, when BirdLife South Africa was named the ‘Most Valuable Partner’ for ‘demonstrated environmental advocacy, financial backing and hard work, and unwavering dedication to the principles of collaboration and partnership, for supporting biodiversity conservation in a multitude of forms and facets and playing a leading role in protected area expansion’.
Mention was made of our estuaries conservation, habitat restoration and stewardship work, and the monitoring and research under way in this landscape, as well as our role in spearheading the roll-out of Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), provincially and nationally. BirdLife South Africa’s contribution to conservation nationally was also acknowledged.
As manager of the organisation’s Estuaries Conservation Project in the Western Cape, I was honoured to accept the award from Dr Ernst Baard, the executive director of Conservation Operations for CapeNature. We thank CapeNature for this accolade and congratulate our Western Cape team and the other winners and nominees at this awards event.
DR GISELLE MURISON, CAPE ESTUARIES CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
Flock to Wilderness excursions
BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology will host the 6th Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference during BirdLife South Africa’s Flock to Wilderness at The Wilderness Hotel, Wilderness, from Wednesday 24 to Sunday 28 May 2023. Delegates are encouraged to take advantage of the many fantastic birding destinations in and around Wilderness and the broader Garden Route during their stay. There will also be a variety of free and paid excursions and field trips to enhance your experience while attending the Science or Layman’s LAB talks and BirdLife South Africa’s AGM and luncheon.
A half-day pelagic trip will aim to find many of the offshore seabirds, including Black-browed, Shy and Indian Yellow-nosed albatrosses, Flesh-footed, Sooty, Cory’s and Great shearwaters, White-chinned and Northern Giant petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrel and the Endangered African Penguin. We will also be on the lookout for Bryde’s whales, hump-backed and bottle-nosed dolphins, sharks and much more. The pelagic will be guided by Tim Carr and will take place on 24 and 28 May from 07h00–13h00 at a cost of R2200 per person.
If you prefer to stay on land and are a fan of birds of prey, you’ll probably enjoy the afternoon excursion to Raptor Rescue Plett, where Long-crested Eagle, Western Barn, African Wood and Spotted Eagle owls, Jackal Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon will be the star turns. Your visit will give you close-up views of these impressive birds during a flight demonstration and will be followed by a 45-minute lecture by Dr Mark Brown on the raptors of the Garden Route. During this talk you will learn about the 30 regular raptor species you can encounter in the greater Plettenberg Bay area and hear personal anecdotes from Mark about several of them he has studied over the past 25 years. This excursion will shuttle guests to Plettenberg Bay on 24 May at 13h00, returning at approximately 17h00.
For more information please view the online excursions guide and to book these and other field trips and excursions during Flock to Wilderness, please visit our website: Flock to Wilderness 2023.
CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA AND GRASSLANDS CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
More penguins released at De Hoop
For the past two years, BirdLife South Africa, SANCCOB and CapeNature have been releasing juvenile African Penguins at the De Hoop Nature Reserve colony to increase the chances that they will come back to breed when they are ready. At the end of February, another 36 penguins were released after spending the night at the colony to allow them to imprint on the site. This brings the total number of penguins released there to 188.
The juveniles are being released as part of the attempt to re-establish a penguin breeding colony in the reserve. Although the penguins leave the release site, because they were hand-reared at SANCCOB and this is the first time many of them have seen the sea, it is hoped that they will view the release site as their natal colony and return in three to six years’ time when they are ready to breed. Although two adult penguins bred at the colony in 2022, successfully raising two chicks, the project team decided to continue releasing juveniles to potentially increase the rate at which the colony becomes established.
Two of the penguins released in February were fitted with satellite-tracking devices, allowing us to follow their movements immediately after release. For the first time one of the devices includes a dive sensor that detects the depth and length of dives that the penguin makes, details that have not yet been determined for juvenile penguins. Both the tracked birds swam westwards when they left the colony and are now travelling up the west coast. One reached the St Helena Bay area two and half weeks after being released! They are following the seemingly instinctive pattern that has been described in a previous study (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.054) of juvenile penguins moving up the west coast towards Namibia. We hope that the trackers will work for several more weeks and continue to show us the movements of these young birds.
CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION
Birding at Vondeling Wines
A new addition to the growing range of ecotourism activities in the south-western Cape is the Babiana Trail, which leads to the recently erected Lambert bird hide on the Vondeling wine farm. The farm is located in the Cape Winelands, which overlaps the magnificent Cape Floral Kingdom, a biodiversity hotspot. This means it is ideally situated to provide nature-based activities, including birding. At least 30 different species can be seen at the farm, including Cape Floral Kingdom endemics such as the Cape Sugarbird. Appropriately, the sugarbird is the emblem identifying the 55 WWF Conservation Champions who have stepped forward as custodians of the Cape Floral Kingdom – an emblem proudly worn by Vondeling’s wine bottles.
Named after the rare Babiana noctiflora plant found in the area, the Babiana Trail is a short walk that starts at Vondeling’s tasting room and meanders past almond orchards and vineyards to a peaceful dam, with the beautiful Paardeberg as a backdrop. On the water, various duck species fossick about, a heron or two stand sentinel and an African Fish Eagle occasionally flies over. On the dam’s shore the Lambert hide overlooks a eucalypt that hosts a large cormorant and African Sacred Ibis colony, a hive of noisy activity as squadron after squadron of ibises come in to land in the evening light.
‘We hope to influence visitors by reconnecting them with the natural world and thus with themselves,’ says Julian Johnsen, the owner and general manager of Vondeling Wines. ‘There is something incredibly healing about engaging with nature that we seem to forget about when we’re caught up in life’s cobwebs!’
To book for the walk and visit the Lambert hide, please contact Vondeling Wines on 021 869 8595 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website vondelingwines.co.za
Birding with Aldo
With a proven track record since April 2020, Birding with Aldo offers 13 courses that cater for beginner and more advanced birders. The online Zoom courses comprise one to three sessions and are small, interactive and engaging, keeping you in the game with annotation, polls, comparisons, videos, vocalisations and a chat room. Each session is person-centred, focusing on how to become a birder rather than trying to learn by rote endless characters for each species. I have devised unique protocols for remembering the different species. Attendees can review any session afterwards via a time-limited link and will receive a permanent pdf copy of the session.
For my 800 previous clients, I have three brand-new courses: Wetlands with Aldo, Cisticolas and Western Cape with Aldo. The courses are excellent value for money, with discounts for pensioners.
Wetlands with Aldo 20, 22 and 23 March
Kruger with Aldo 27, 29 and 30 March
Cisticolas 3 April
Pipits and Longclaws 5 April
Larks 11 and 12 April
Western Cape with Aldo 17, 19 and 20 April
Begin Birding with Aldo 8, 10 and 11 May
Bring Birds to your Garden 15, 17 and 19 May
To be scheduled:
Waders with Aldo
Sani Pass, Forests and Grasslands
Zululand with Aldo
If you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with Begin Birding with Aldo and follow with two more courses: Wetlands with Aldo and then either Kruger with Aldo or Western Cape with Aldo. Or tackle specialist courses such as two favourites, Larks, and Pipits and Longclaws, or the brand-new Cisticolas.
My courses bring out the best of Zoom and are relaxing, comfortable and thoroughly professional. I love sharing my birding with others. I draw on 58 years of experience, but I remember clearly my early birding struggles and strive to make birding as accessible as possible.
You can also give family or friends the gift of birding; I offer a gift voucher for the course of your choice with personalised wording. To order a voucher, simply contact me via e-mail. I am also happy to do deals with BirdLife South Africa-affiliated bird clubs and run customised courses. I have already done so for Wits Bird Club, BirdLife Sisonke and BirdLife Inkwazi.
My Facebook pages Birding with Aldo and Birding with Aldo Participants offer a daily ‘Bird of the Day’ challenge to test your identification skills. This free feature has become a staple for many people as a way to start their day!
To book a course, go to birdingwithaldo.com or for a gift voucher or answers to queries, please contact me directly on email@example.com
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