As the country’s only dedicated bird conservation NPO, it is important for BirdLife South Africa to keep in touch with the public and inform them about important bird conservation matters.

BirdLife South Africa therefore distributes a free, monthly electronic newsletter to its members and other interested people. The newsletter contains interesting articles about birds, BirdLife South Africa’s work, and other relevant information.

If you would like to receive this attractive and informative e-newsletter, all you need to do is it provide us with your contact details by completing the subscription form.

If you wish to submit an article or if you would like copies of previous issues of the e-newsletter, please contact BirdLife South Africa by clicking the email button on the right.

Below are a list of archived monthly newsletters from recent years. For our 2022 e-newsletter page, please click here.

Dyer Island in dire straits

Avian influenza in the Western Cape in 2021 has had a devastating effect on the seabird populations on Dyer Island, off Gansbaai. The impact on the island’s Endangered African Penguins has been particularly severe.

The African Penguin, already an Endangered species, is at further risk due to the recent outbreak of avian influenza. Credit Daniel Danckwerts

There is no cure for avian influenza and the best course of action is to lower the viral load in the environment by removing sick birds and carcasses. The staff of CapeNature, the management authority for Dyer Island, are working around the clock to ensure that dead birds are taken away as swiftly as possible, and slowly but surely we are seeing the tide turn: the number of carcasses removed has dropped from more than 500 per day to about 65. We thank every CapeNature staff member who has been part of this effort.

The staff have also been removing compromised young African Penguins from the island and taking them to the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS), a project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust in Gansbaai, where every effort is being made to rehabilitate them. And this is where you can help. The extra quarantine requirements and additional precautions have resulted in an increase in the costs of rehabilitation. Just to feed the young birds for the next six weeks, we estimate we will need R100 800.

In the past the APSS relied on donations from tourists and other visitors, but now we’ve been hit by two pandemics: one bringing the world to a standstill and the other decimating our seabird populations.

So why remove African Penguin chicks from Dyer Island? It’s not because the adults are bad parents – in fact they do an excellent job to feed and raise their young despite challenging circumstances . October–November is the end of the breeding season and chicks are supposed to be fat and healthy and ready to start fending for themselves. But the parents face a dilemma: they not only have to feed their young, but also have to undergo a full change of feathers. This means they must build up enough fat reserves (about three times their normal body weight) to stay on land for the entire moult because they are not waterproof and cannot hunt.

For various reasons, some parents start their moult before their offspring are ready to fledge. The chicks of these birds will either starve to death on the island or venture into the ocean without the fat reserves they need to survive the challenges of the wild. In a perfect world this could be considered a natural process of selection, but in our less-than-perfect world humans have taken millions of penguin eggs for consumption as a delicacy; scraped tons of guano off islands where penguins bred, forcing them to nest in the open instead of in insulated and protective burrows; and spilled toxic oil into the penguins’ habitat.

So in this world we need to take action to prevent the possible extinction of one of South Africa’s most iconic animals – an extinction, if it happens, predicted for 2026. At the moment #EveryPenguinCounts. Removing and raising by hand underweight chicks and the chicks of moulting parents is just one part of the bigger African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan.

Please support us. One donation from you is one small step towards preventing the extinction of the African Penguin. Donations can be made via or

For tax benefits available to South African, UK and US donors, please go to


Avian influenza 2021

The carcass of a Cape Cormorant floating in Table Bay. Credit Alistair McInnes

Over the course of 2021 an outbreak of a highly contagious and pathogenic strain (HPAI, H5N1) of avian influenza has severely affected South Africa’s seabirds, especially the Cape Cormorant. CapeNature reported that by 1 October 2021 18 388 seabird fatalities due to the virus had been recorded in the Western Cape, of which 17 926 were Cape Cormorants. The area most affected is Dyer Island, where 12 203 dead birds have been reported to date.

The virus was first detected in May in the Western Cape, mostly in gulls. The first Cape Cormorants were diagnosed with it in mid-September and positive cases exploded exponentially across the province over the following weeks, peaking at approximately 700 new cases per day.

Unfortunately there is no curative or preventative treatment for this virus, but the safe removal of carcasses and sick birds, among other measures, can mitigate its impact. However, to prevent the spread of the disease, Anton Bredell (the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning) has urged the public to avoid areas where seabirds may congregate and not to collect sick or dead birds. This means that people must not attempt to assist or transport sick birds, but rather alert local conservation authorities of any carcasses or birds displaying symptoms so that the case can be properly managed. Symptoms may range from tame behaviour or weakness to muscle twitches and seizures.

It has been estimated that the 2021 outbreak of avian influenza has led to the loss of 15% of the Cape Cormorant population, a massive blow to this Endangered seabird species. BirdLife South Africa, the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, CapeNature, SANParks, West Coast District Municipality, Bergrivier Local Municipality, the Robben Island Museum, Western Cape Veterinary Services, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, the Owl Orphanage St. Helena Bay, Dwarskersbos Snake Rescue and local veterinarians are all collaborating to monitor and manage the situation.

For contact details and more information:…/BirdLife-South-Africa……/veterinary-services-0……


The new Bird of the Year

Gannets are spectacular, high-speed diving birds and with their unusually narrow-set eyes and exquisitely painted faces they are as unmistakable as they are beautiful. They feed primarily on sardines and anchovies, which are small schooling fish at the base of the food web. To compete with the many other seabirds, fish and mammals that also prey on these fish, gannets plunge-dive to depths of more than 20m. To do this, they hover some 30m up in the air, spot a fish and plummet head-first towards it. By streamlining the body and extending the wings backward, they can reach speeds of up to 100km/h before cutting the water’s surface with their sharp beaks.

Breeding on only six islands in South Africa and Namibia, the Cape Gannet population has experienced a decline of more than 50% in the past 60 years and the species is now listed as Endangered. Food scarcity, resulting from the combination of a shift in the distribution of anchovies and sardines and competition with one of the most important commercial fisheries in South Africa, is a factor in this decline. 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 entangled in the fishing nets and the hake discards, while sufficient for adults, do not provide enough nutrition for growing chicks.

Throughout 2022, BirdLife South Africa will create awareness about the Cape Gannet by producing an informative poster, developing learning resources for schools (free to download from, publishing articles in African Birdlife magazine and on social media, delivering presentations to interested groups and selling merchandise. Cape Gannet merchandise (T-shirts, pin badges and plush toys) will be sold by the Shop for the Birds! from January 2022 (

BirdLife South Africa is grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for sponsoring the Bird of the Year 2022.

Don’t forget that all the educational resources for Bird of the Year 2021, the Cape Rockjumper, are still available for free online. You can download lesson plans, infographics, fact files and drawings for the Cape Rockjumper at

Noise pollution & penguins

African Penguins congregate in large groups at sea, especially when preening, and often use
calls to locate each other. Photograph from animal-borne video logger.

The cacophony of calls emanating from an African Penguin colony is probably a familiar auditory memory for anyone who has visited the colonies at Boulders Beach or Betty’s Bay. However, most people are unfamiliar with the penguins’ social communication systems at sea and it is in this habitat that these auditory cues are likely to be crucially important in locating profitable foraging areas and forming groups to minimise their chances of being predated on while preening or commuting. A recent study based on recordings from animal-borne video recorders has shown that African Penguins regularly call at sea and do so using at least three types of call.

Christina Hagen of BirdLife South Africa and researcher Dr Andréa Thiebault recording
African Penguin calls offshore of Cape Town. Credit Alistair McInnes

Given that penguins spend a considerable amount of time below the sea’s surface, they are also exposed to underwater sounds. Recent research has established the first evidence for underwater penguin calls, but as yet little is known about the relative importance of these marine communication systems for African Penguins. Nor do we understand how the penguins’ communication networks may be influenced by artificial noise from vessel traffic and seismic surveys, sources of marine noise pollution that are known to negatively impact many other marine animals, including whales and dolphins.

To fill these knowledge gaps, the project Acoustic Foraging Networks in African Penguins (AFNAP), led by Dr Andréa Thiebault from the University of Paris-Saclay, has been established and will work in partnership with BirdLife South Africa’s coastal seabird team, Nelson Mandela University and SANCCOB. The project aims to understand the surface and underwater acoustic communication systems of African Penguins, the functions of these calls in relation to different behaviours (including those that influence foraging success) and how these communication networks are influenced by increasing anthropogenic noise in the marine environment.

A key site we are concerned about is Algoa Bay, home to two of the largest global breeding colonies of African Penguins and where there has been an exponential increase in shipping traffic recently. The results of this study will be used to inform the sustainable management of activities associated with marine noise pollution to limit this threat in an increasingly hostile marine environment for these birds.

AFNAP has been generously supported by a European Union Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant and funding from the French National Centre for Research–International Emerging Action, as well as Tygerberg Bird Club, which sponsored an expensive miniature hydrophone. If you too would like to contribute to the AFNAP project, please contact me at For more information about the AFNAP project, please visit


Working together for Blue Swallows

Checking a section of KwaZulu-Natal’s mistbelt grassland for Blue Swallows. Credit Steve McKean

Fewer than 50 pairs of Blue Swallows remain in South Africa and it is essential to monitor them so that efficient and effective action can be taken to conserve them – to measure is to know! 

The Blue Swallow population has been declining steadily over the past 20 years, due mainly to the destruction of its mistbelt grassland habitat. As only 2% of the grassland biome is conserved in formal protected areas, it is crucial that we continue to work with private and communal landowners to protect what is left of this species’ habitat and to monitor breeding success and population trends. Over the past hundred years, mistbelt grassland and forest in southern KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga have been fragmented and destroyed. What remains of these important habitats has to be protected and managed if the Critically Endangered Blue Swallow and Endangered Cape Parrot, as well as other threatened species, are to survive.

A Blue Swallow nest with eggs. Credit Steve McKean

We are monitoring areas where Blue Swallows are known to feed and breed, including nest sites, and are continually looking for new areas where they may occur, using techniques that predict suitable habitat localities. This involves travelling to more than 30 sites, finding and checking nest holes and documenting active nests, including the numbers of eggs laid and chicks hatched and fledged.

Blue Swallows breed in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga between October and April each year. During the 2020–2021 season we monitored 36 nest sites and recorded 47 fledged chicks, a 38% increase over the previous year. So far this season we have recorded four nests with eggs, but it is still early days; with frequent and ongoing monitoring we will no doubt document a lot more.

We are grateful for funding support provided by the IUCN Save Our Species Fund (co-funded by the European Union), Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, N3 Toll Concession and Baynesfield Estate.

For more information, please contact us at or Alternatively, go to or


Not a stilt in sight

Birding Big Day, hosted each year on the last Saturday of November by BirdLife South Africa, is is a highly anticipated event on the birding calendar. Teams have just 24 hours to record as many bird species as possible within a pre-defined area, plus the chance to take the national or provincial title.

This year, Team BirdLife South Africa set an ambitious challenge: to record as many species as possible no more than 50km from the Johannesburg head office, Isdell House. This, we knew, would be difficult, given that the area is predominantly urbanised and many important birding sites (such as Marievale Bird Sanctuary) are outside the 50km radius. We persevered nevertheless, motivated by our goal to raise funds to send a community bird guide on the Flock to Marion cruise in January 2022. We would like to cover the expenses of one of the eight community bird guides and have been accepting pledges for every species recorded by the official team on the day. So far we have raised R12 000 of the R19 000 needed… 

Our day was an incredible success, though we fell shy of our target of 211 species due to adverse weather conditions. We set off from Isdell House at 04h00 and birded the wider Gauteng area until after 21h00 that evening – almost 18 hours of marathon birding! Highlights from the day included a vagrant Slaty Egret, the rare African Cuckoo Hawk, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Striped Pipit, Verreaux’s Eagle, Cape Vulture, Red-chested Flufftail, Sand Martin, Great Reed Warbler and African Rail. Torrential rain during the middle of the day reduced bird activity at our wetland sites and we missed a few obvious species such as Pied Kingfisher and Black-winged Stilt as a result. We ended on 191 species, with Spotted Eagle-Owl the last bird of the day as we returned to Isdell House. 

Centred on Isdell House, BirdLife South Africa’s head office, our route covered areas to the west, north and east of Johannesburg.


If you would like to help us reach our goal of R19 000 to support a community bird guide on the Flock to Marion cruise, please consider pledging an amount of your choosing for our total of 191 species recorded. For more information, please contact


Escape to the Karoo

The KhoiSan Karoo Conservancy is divided into the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve and the Hanover Aardvark Reserve, which together offer a range of activities and accommodation options. Owned by PC Ferreira, the conservancy is run as a black empowerment company to support previously suppressed Khoi people and provides work and mentorship for several Khoi women. Through their own efforts, these women now own some R400 000 worth of game animals and, as some of the few black female game breeders in South Africa, they have a sustainable source of income for their families.

New Holme Nature Lodge is located in the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve and comfortably sleeps up to 27 guests in eight newly renovated rooms. The Karoo Gariep property also offers a self-catering log cabin (Stoffels Rus) and a tented campsite. Guests who prefer not to self-cater can take up a fully catered option. 

The KhoiSan Karoo Conservancy is well known for its ‘Shy 5’ safaris, which offer visitors the chance to see aardvark, aardwolf, black-footed cat, bat-eared fox and striped polecat, as well as the Cape porcupine. Some 218 bird species have been recorded, including most of the Karoo specials. Among these are the Karoo Korhaan, Ludwig’s Bustard, Double-banded and Burchell’s coursers, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Titbabbler, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Pink-billed and Melodious larks. Other sought-after species include Orange River Francolin, Verreaux’s Eagle, Black Stork, Blue Korhaan and Short-toed Rock Thrush.

The Khoisan Karoo Conservancy is a BirdLife South Africa Recommended Accommodation Option. BirdLife South Africa members travelling to and from the Flock to Marion cruise in January 2022 will be treated to an exclusive 10% discount on all accommodation and birding activities. 

For more information, please call (0)82 567 9211, send an e-mail to or visit 

Will the Hookpod work in South Africa?

The compact Hookpod encases the barb of the hook and prevents seabirds from swallowing it as they dive in pursuit of bait. Credit Mark Avery

It was the high number of seabirds that drowned after swallowing baited hooks set by tuna longline fishing vessels that first caught the attention of scientists as being the leading cause of population declines some three decades ago, particularly in the Southern Ocean where most pelagic seabird species breed and forage. A bird-scaring line was the first mitigation measure invented (by a Japanese fisherman; hence the name ‘tori’, Japanese for ‘bird’, line) to reduce the number of seabirds caught. However, research showed that significant reductions could be achieved in this longline fishery only when the tori line was used in conjunction with other measures, namely the addition of extra weights to the lines and the setting of the lines at night. 

Andrea Angel and Deon Antwerpen aboard a longline vessel in 2018 while testing Hookpod samples. Credit Alén Angel-Wanless

It’s not easy to interfere with or change fishing gear or how the fisheries operate, as any proud fisherman will point out. ‘You don’t mess with the gear!’ they say. Implementing mitigation measures in pelagic longline fishing fleets has therefore been slow, while seabird populations continue to decline the world over.

So when British brothers Ben and Pete Kibel came up with the idea of the Hookpod in 2005, they worked very closely with fishermen for several years to perfect a solution that would fit seamlessly into fishing operations, enabling them to catch fish but not birds.

The Hookpod is a hook-shielding device that works by disarming the baited hook. The added weight at the hook causes it to sink rapidly out of the reach of diving birds, while a water pressure release mechanism automatically opens the pod at depths below 20m to reveal the baited hook. 

Hookpods attached to branch lines and ready to be deployed. Credit Andrea Angel

The initial prototype was trialled by South African, Brazilian and Australian fleets in 2012, leading to significant improvements, and it has since been demonstrated that the Hookpod is the most effective method of preventing seabird bycatch in the pelagic longline fleet. The Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels therefore recommended that it be adopted as the best-practice, stand-alone bycatch mitigation measure. In 2019 it was incorporated into the South African Longline Fisheries Permit Conditions, but with no practical demonstration and proof that it will not impact target catch or unduly disrupt fishing operations, there has been no uptake of the Hookpod locally.

In a bid to remedy this situation, the Albatross Task Force (ATF) engaged with Deon Antwerpen, a pelagic longline skipper, and with a few samples provided by Becky Ingham of Hookpod Ltd we were able to share with him the potential of this novel measure in 2018. But proper trials were needed and finally this year, thanks to a generous donation from a US supporter, we have secured most of the funding needed to do just that. Starting next year, Deon will make his vessel and crew available, and accommodate the ATF on board, to test the Hookpod during actual fishing operations using his gear.

If successful, we hope to demonstrate that the Hookpod can be used as a stand-alone mitigation measure and that other fishermen will follow Deon’s lead in using it – and thereby join the journey to eliminating seabird bycatch in this fishery. 

If you wish to contribute or to know more about this project, please send me an e-mail at 


The devil’s in the detail!

The new structure and bird-scaring line being tested at sea aboard the inshore fishing vessel
Imbongi. Credit Reason Nyengera

ATF team members Reason Nyengera and Andrea Angel with a fisherman. Working together, they find practical ways to attach bird scaring lines to the gear of individual fishing vessels. Credit Andrew Gordon

Opportunities are often long in the making and in the world of conservation I know I am not alone in saying that patience and perseverance are two words we learn to take in our stride. It took the ATF several years of working side-by-side with fishing crews of the South African Deep-sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) to tackle the significant issue of seabird bycatch (bird mortalities caused by interactions with fishing gear) in the offshore hake trawl fishery. But it paid off. The implementation of mitigation measures in this fleet prevents the deaths of close to 10 000 seabirds every year and today, thanks to ongoing engagement with SADSTIA, we can sustain this success.

So having tackled the hake trawl fleet, we could move on to other fisheries – or could we? Our focus had been the offshore trawl sector, which has a higher fishing quota and more and bigger vessels than other sectors and operates off the edge of the continental shelf, where most pelagic seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels occur. The smaller inshore trawl sector has fewer and often smaller vessels, but they use basically the same fishing method and can also fish close to the continental shelf edge. Concerns about seabird bycatch are therefore similar in both fleets, yet only the offshore sector had mandatory bycatch mitigation measures added to its permit conditions in 2006. 

It’s often when ignoring the detail that conflict arises, because the measures we so painstakingly developed for the offshore sector could not simply be transferred to the inshore vessels without in some cases quite significant changes, including structural. Finding out what and how mitigation measures could be adapted meant doing research and it was not until earlier this year that a two-year grant from the Marine Stewardship Council’s research fund made it possible for us to engage with the inshore fishing association, South East Coast Inshore Fishing Association (SECIFA), in earnest. 

As we did with the offshore sector, the ATF headed for the harbour to work closely with the fishermen on solutions for the very diverse inshore fleet. Its vessels range between 12m and 30m in length and some sit quite low in the water, leaving no doubt that the more than 50m-long bird-scaring lines (BSLs), the principal mitigation measure developed for the offshore fleet, would have to be altered. A greater challenge is the absence of attachment points for the BSLs. To be effective, they must be set parallel to and on the seaward side of each of the two trawl cables holding the net from the stern of the vessel. However, the cables run through ‘blocks’ or steel rings suspended from a beam, which often sticks out over the side of the vessel, with no possible means of attachment for a BSL. 

So not only are the vessels small, medium or large, but their blocks are located in different positions on, on the side of or over the edge of the vessel. Moreover, in more than half the cases, the nets are hauled over the side of the vessel rather than over the stern as in the offshore fleet. Each difference presented a challenge, but we met them one at a time, often with help from ATF teams in Latin America and Namibia that have dealt with similar issues. However, our greatest resource is the fishermen themselves. Once there is understanding that we are not there to impose but to work together, magic happens, doors open and dialogue begins. 

ATF member Reason Nyengera recently returned from the project’s first trip trialling a lighter and shorter BSL and a new attachment structure. The latter was developed and fitted by one of the company’s mechanics after he had spent time with Reason going over what was needed, and it proved to be a much simpler design than the one we had come up with. Fishermen know their vessel, what it needs to do and where there is room for change and adaptation. Collaborative work is therefore the best way to take a step closer to solving the challenges faced by this fleet in addressing seabird bycatch. 

If you would like to know more about this project, please e-mail me at


Birding with Aldo, by Zoom

Since April 2020 Birding with Aldo has provided an expert and insightful way to begin, or further, your birding career without leaving home. The courses, each comprising two or three sessions, are small, interactive, relaxed and engaging. Focusing on how to become a birder rather than learning by rote endless characters for each species, they feature unique protocols for remembering birds and interactive techniques such as polling, annotation, chat room, open mike and comparative species slides. Participants get recording links after each session and PDF copies for reference. 

The calendar below gives the next few months’ schedule of courses, all inexpensively priced. BirdLife South Africa members will receive 10% discount. 

Begin Birding with Aldo 17, 19 & 21 January 2022

Raptors with Aldo 24, 26 & 28 January 

Intermediate Birding 7, 9 & 11 February 

Bring Birds to your Garden 14, 16 & 18 February 

Kruger with Aldo 28 February, 2 & 4 March 

Customised courses are available for BirdLife South Africa bird clubs and have already been run for Wits Bird Club and BirdLife Sisonke, both very well attended.

The courses make a great gift for the festive season and beyond, and personalised vouchers that can be given to a family member or friend are available.

Go to or send an e-mail to for more information. ‘Birding with Aldo’ and ‘Birding with Aldo Participants’ on Facebook offer a daily ‘Bird of the Day’ challenge to test your identification skills.

Aldo’s courses bring out the best of Zoom and are perfectly comfortable and thoroughly professional. He loves sharing his birding with others and although he draws on 55 years of experience, he has not forgotten his early birding struggles and strives to make birding as accessible as possible. 


2022 is almost here…

Be sure to buy your copy of the 2022 Birds of Southern Africa calendar and you won’t just be getting an attractive and useful wall hanging; you’ll be helping to give conservation wings. Produced in collaboration with Chamberlain, the large-format calendar features striking photographs of some of the region’s most eye-catching bird species.

Priced at R175 each, the calendars can be ordered online at and will be delivered either Postnet to Postnet or by Fastway Couriers. Alternatively, you can collect yours at Isdell House by prior arrangement. For more information, please contact me at


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 Ts & Cs apply. Entries close on 28 February 2022.

Wakkerstroom Centre upgrade

At the Wakkerstroom Education Centre, like any property, there is always something that needs to be done. We have identified two areas of concern and would greatly appreciate any donations, be they monetary or items/plants, to help us make these improvements.

  • The old boundary fence from the edge of the wetland up to the centre needs to be replaced with bird-friendly fencing.
  • Spaces around the centre’s buildings would make ideal indigenous garden patches that attract insects, birds and small mammals. These patches will provide opportunities to observe and enjoy these special visitors while at the same time implementing conservation principles and water-saving techniques. They would also contribute to our outdoor classroom programme, which promotes the connection between nature and people.

If you would like to learn more or make a donation, please contact me on 081 726 5282 or at


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 is for a good cause, as proceeds will go to conservation projects in our national parks. 

Date: 7–20 February 2022

Venue: Letaba Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Cost: R2190 per person (includes activities, brunches and game drives; excludes accommodation)

Contact: Charles Hardy

More information: or click here 

Welcome Kirsten!

Kirsten Day, the new member of the Policy and Advocacy team.

In mid-November, BirdLife South Africa’s Policy and Advocacy Programme welcomed a new team member: Kirsten Day. In her new role as part-time Advocacy Officer, Kirsten will be responsible for coordinating many of BirdLife South Africa’s responses to development applications and authorisations that threaten priority species and habitats (i.e. the organisation’s ‘casework’). She will also contribute to BirdLife South Africa’s inputs on relevant legal and policy developments, and to the development and dissemination of various position statements and guidance documents.

Kirsten’s qualifications and wealth of professional experience make her a valuable addition to the Policy and Advocacy team. She has a Master’s degree in Environmental Management and a second Master’s in Environmental Law from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Following a 14-year career in environmental consulting, focusing primarily on Environmental Impact Assessment, Kirsten has been completing a PhD in Environmental Risk. The focus of her research is on controversy as a product of different and often divergent perceptions of environmental risk among stakeholders in response to technological innovation. She has a particular interest in the theory and practice of risk communication and conflict management. While doing her PhD, she has been teaching a post-graduate module on the theory and practice of environmental assessment and management at UCT. In her spare time she enjoys being outdoors: trail running, hiking and, of course, watching birds.


Swarovski special

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 pair of new 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

ZEISS special

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 or contact 

Flamingos at Kamfers Dam

A relatively small number of Lesser Flamingos breed at Kamfers Dam. Credit Mark D. Anderson

One of the most attractive bird species in Africa, the Lesser Flamingo is highly gregarious and occurs in large flocks when feeding and breeding. Its main breeding site is Lake Natron, in Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley, but it also nests at three wetlands in southern Africa, including Kamfers Dam near Kimberley. 

Although the population is estimated to number more than two million birds, it has apparently been in steady decline due to habitat loss and disturbance. Conservation interventions are therefore necessary to reverse the negative population trend.

Through research and conservation efforts, BirdLife South Africa aims to contribute to the conservation of Kamfers Dam, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, and its Lesser Flamingos. These efforts include monitoring breeding flamingos, analysing water quality, addressing threats to the birds (for example, collision with power lines and other infrastructure), liaising with landowners around Kamfers Dam and implementing responsible tourism.

In partnership with AfriCam and to increase awareness of the plight of the Lesser Flamingos, BirdLife South Africa has installed a live webcam at Kamfers Dam. You can watch what the flamingos are getting up to at  

Please consider donating money to the important conservation work that is being undertaken to conserve Kamfers Dam and its flamingos and other biodiversity. With your contribution, we hope to make a real difference and ensure the future survival of this charismatic species!

For more information, go to

Please also consider donating to our crowd-funding initiative at 


An Agulhas Long-billed Lark claims the crown as hide-and-seek champion. Credit Alan Lee

Hide-and-seek champion

Amazing predator sightings filled the five days in mid-September that I spent in the Overberg helping Sanjo Rose with field work for her Master’s degree. On arrival at our base at Haarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve, we quickly located the resident Jackal Buzzards nesting in a grove of gum trees. An orientation walk that afternoon resulted in the first of many Black Harrier sightings and a few days later, regular activity and food drops at a certain location suggested a nest with chicks. Cape Vultures from the Potberg colony nearby drifted lazily overhead. A drive to bolster the pentad list added Black-winged and Yellow-billed kites and a splendid sighting of a Martial Eagle. Another special morning started with dawn views of a Spotted Eagle-Owl perched splendidly on a bitter aloe and progressed to a potentially exciting encounter between a Secretarybird and some Helmeted Guineafowl. The Secretarybird, though, settled for locusts instead.

Non-feathered predators seen included three mongoose species – Cape grey, large grey and yellow – while camera traps recorded caracals, African wild cats and genets. Perhaps the only predators of birds that I didn’t see were snakes, although various species had been recorded in the area. Other wildlife that would happily snack on eggs includes bushpigs and baboons. And as evidence that predators were active, walks in the reserve often turned up tufts of feathers of birds that had become protein for some other creature.

My mission in the Overberg was not, however, to spot raptors or predators but to assist Sanjo with her research into the Agulhas Long-billed Lark. Previous work done at Haarwegskloof by Celeste de Kock showed that the species was fairly abundant in the area, while atlas data suggest that it is doing rather well over the 14 years that the project has been running; at least there have been no declines in the population.

The Overberg is one of the most transformed landscapes in the Western Cape; the rolling hills once covered by renosterveld are now intensively managed agricultural land that produces tonnes of maize, wheat, canola, wool and lamb chops. Bakkies and trucks race along roads that switch from dust to mud from one day to the next. Patches of indigenous vegetation are a minimal component of the landscape. So why are birds so abundant and why is the region so species-rich?

A well-hidden Agulhas Long-billed Lark’s nest. Credit Alan Lee

By comparison, before arriving in the Overberg I’d been in the Tankwa Karoo National Park, where the pentad at Elandsberg had produced 39 species in three days of comprehensive birding effort. Haarwegskloof gave me a final pentad tally of 85, albeit with an extra day of effort, and the Potberg pentad of De Hoop Nature Reserve had produced 50 species in an afternoon of marginal effort. And while it’s true that the Overberg receives far more rainfall than the Tankwa, on this occasion the latter had benefited from good winter rainfall and put on the most spectacular flower show I’ve ever seen. Nomadic bird species – Grey-backed and Black-eared sparrowlarks, Yellow and Black-headed canaries and Lark-like Bunting – were particularly abundant.

But still, given the transformed landscape and high diversity and abundance of predators, how do regular birds survive – and even thrive – in the Overberg? Experts here suggest that the remnant patches of renosterveld combined with the adjacent high-productivity terrain may be the key. So far, we still can’t say conclusively that the birds (and our target lark in particular) are not nesting in the transformed landscape.

Interestingly, Warwick Tarboton’s book on nests and eggs does not include an entry for the Agulhas Long-Billed Lark. That there are so few nest records for such an abundant bird is quite astounding, but it does suggest that from a hide-and-seek perspective this lark is the champion. During our first field season in 2020 we had no idea what we were looking for; our nest searches had to be guided by the nests of other long-billed lark species. Our first attempts with Vincent Ward and Susan Miller were unsuccessful, although we did catch a few females with brood patches, indicating breeding (the species is also under-represented in the SAFRING database). So how could we get to the bottom of their breeding strategy? Sanjo’s project, like those before it, is focusing on data that will provide statistical results that can be written up as a thesis; specifically, occurrence in the landscape. A far trickier chapter aims to describe nesting location and success. I wasn’t sure it would come to fruition, but at the end of 2020 Sanjo’s extraordinary, dedicated efforts in the field had finally produced for her the first nests. 

Now I was there to help again. Unbelievably, beginner’s luck was on my side and I found two nests on my first full day in the field. I spent the morning with a male, foolishly falling for his distraction display until, some hours later, I realised I was being taken in and started to move on. I couldn’t believe my luck when, driving into an adjacent territory, I spotted a male with a caterpillar in his beak. A significant amount of time and patience later, the female confirmed the delivery spot: incredibly in the middle of the track! Nestled in the swathe of annuals was a well-concealed nest with two chicks about 10 days old. That afternoon, a patient walk and a good dose of persistence would bag me my second nest, which contained three dainty speckled brown eggs. Unbelievably, I’d walked right past it during my first pass through the suspected location. 

This was going to be a breeze! Except my luck was up. I spent hours following larks over the next three mornings but came up empty handed. The Agulhas Long-billed Lark had reclaimed its crown as hide-and-seek champion. Will Sanjo and her team of assistants be able to take it back this breeding season? Stay tuned for the next exciting update, or get involved by taking a trip to the Overberg and joining the game. Every nest is a special event.


Birding to enjoy the best of South Africa

With more than 800 bird species, South Africa is a very rewarding country for birders and the spirit of Birding Big Day (BBD) lies in enjoying the challenge of finding birds with family, friends and like-minded people in various parts of our diverse country.

BBD allows birders to decide how seriously they want to take this challenge. Some teams will aim to break national and provincial records; others will take a more relaxed line and stay in their own gardens or a local park. Simply getting out and doing some birding – maybe aiming to log 20 species or submit one atlas card – will bring a sense of achievement and well-being, and adding friends or family to the mix will increase the level of fun.

But we also want to use BBD to tell South Africans and the rest of the world about the wonderful bird diversity in this country. So please consider publishing a BBD trip report or a few photos on social media, as well as logging your sightings on BirdLasser and sharing your data to the BBD online maps. More than 48 000 records were logged during BBD 2020 (see – maybe we can log even more in 2021!

So how do you join BBD? It’s easy! Decide where you want to bird, create a team of up to four people and decide on a name for your team. 

For more information, visit (where you will also find the link to register) or send an e-mail to


Get a start on 2022!

We are excited to announce that stocks of the 2022 Birds of Southern Africa calendar have arrived and can be ordered online at Produced in collaboration with Chamberlain, the large-format wall calendar features striking photographs of some of the region’s most eye-catching bird species.

Priced at R175 each, the calendars can be delivered either Postnet to Postnet or by Fastway Couriers. Alternatively, you can collect yours at Isdell House by prior arrangement. 

For more information, please contact me at


Abelana’s exclusive safaris

Abelana Game Reserve offers luxurious accommodation options and safari experiences that are tailored to suit guests’ preferences.

Blanketing 15 000ha of rich mesic savanna in the Lowveld, Abelana Game Reserve is located within one of South Africa’s major tourism hotspots, close to Phalaborwa and adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park and Selati Game Reserve. Here guests are aware of a feeling of exclusivity as they enjoy an authentic and luxurious safari experience tailored to suit their preferences.

The reserve’s varied topography and mosaic of rich habitats, including a 10km stretch of riverine woodland along the semi-perennial Selati River, make it a prime birding destination. Raptors in particular abound and include African Fish Eagle (there are several resident pairs), Peregrine Falcon, Martial and Verreaux’s eagles, Bateleur and five vulture species (White-backed, White-headed, Lappet-faced, Cape and Hooded).

The rich riverine woodland hosts the comical Retz’s Helmet-shrike, while its brood parasite, the uncommon Thick-billed Cuckoo, is a regular visitor in summer, from October to April. Bat Hawks are sometimes seen along the river at dusk when they emerge to hunt among the large leadwood trees. Other notable species among the well over 400 that are known to occur in the region are Shelley’s Francolin, Saddle-billed Stork, Bronze-winged Courser, Purple-crested Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo (in summer), Gorgeous Bush-shrike, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Bearded Scrub Robin, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler and Bushveld Pipit.

In terms of accommodation, there is a lodge at each end of the reserve – Abelana Safari Camp at the southern end and Abelana River Lodge in the north – so it is very possible that only a single vehicle containing guests would be exploring this large area at any one time.

Abelana Safari Camp occupies an elevated position amid mighty granite outcrops and overlooks a large waterhole. The views over the bushveld are spectacular and daily guided game drives afford guests the opportunity to explore large tracts of bushveld with no one else around. The Meru-style, solar-powered tents are simple yet comfortable and well equipped, offering beds in either a twin or a king-size configuration and an en-suite bathroom. Food is freshly prepared in a home-cooked style, often over an open fire, and using the finest locally sourced fresh produce.

The newly rebuilt Abelana River Lodge overlooks the Selati River and has 20 luxurious thatched rooms with en-suite facilities, including an outdoor shower, and a spacious deck that looks onto the river. Also overlooking the river is the communal indoor/outdoor dining area with a bar and a fire pit. Various activities are offered, including guided game drives, birdwatching, photography and stargazing.

Abelana Game Reserve and the lodges in it are BirdLife South Africa Recommended Accommodations.

For more information, please call +27 (0)61 952 4302 or e-mail Alternatively, visit, Facebook Abelanagamereserve or Instagram @abelanagamereserve


Martial Eagles breed at Ingula

An adult Martial Eagle incubates the egg in May 2021. Credit Carina Pienaar

Ingula Nature Reserve is the chosen breeding ground for at least 10 threatened bird species and several more are found in the immediate vicinity. One of these threatened species nesting in the afromontane forest on the escarpment between KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State is the globally Endangered Martial Eagle. 

A photo of the fledging juvenile in September 2021, taken through a spotting scope. Credit Carina Pienaar

With a wingspan of 2.6m, the Martial Eagle is Africa’s largest eagle and, at up to 4kg, is the fifth heaviest eagle on earth. These mighty eagles were first recorded breeding in Ingula Nature Reserve in 2014, when they also successfully fledged a chick. Since then, the breeding activity has been infrequent and the nest unused for the past three years, although adults and juveniles are seen in the district fairly regularly. 

In May 2021, however, while the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Raptor and Large Terrestrial Birds Project was being given a tour of the reserve, a single adult Martial Eagle was seen flying with nesting material in its claws. Upon inspection, an adult was recorded incubating on the nest. Martial Eagles incubate a single egg for approximately 50 days so we monitored the nest monthly to determine the progress of the chick. On 22 September we found a grown, fully feathered juvenile on a branch in the vicinity of the nest – the breeding attempt had been successful! 

Juvenile Martial Eagles remain in the nesting area for up to three months after fledging while they are learning to hunt but are still dependent on the adults for meals. Following fledging, they remain in their mostly white plumage for up to seven years until they reach sexual maturity and can find their own mate and establish their own territory. During this time, they become skilful hunters of other birds, reptiles and small mammals, and can spot prey up to 5km away. The size of their territory depends on the availability of food, but they usually have a home territory of 150km²

The fact that the pair has now successfully raised at least three chicks (the result of one additional breeding attempt is unknown) is very positive for Ingula and the surrounding area, as it indicates that the grassland can support enough small mammals and other prey items to sustain not only one adult but up to three, since some immature eagles are also frequently observed in the area after fledging. Management of the Ingula Nature Reserve will remain focused on sustaining healthy ecosystems that will support populations of threatened species such as the Martial Eagle. 



Learn about the Cape Rockjumper

Did you know that the temperature is estimated to rise 2–3°C in South Africa as a result of climate change? Learn more about how this may affect species such as the Cape Rockjumper, and what we can do to help, in this month’s Bird of the Year infographic. All the educational resources about the 2021 Bird of the Year are available for free on BirdLife South Africa’s social platforms and website at

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


Seabirds need your help

Cape Cormorants. Credit Frédéric Pelsy

We know quite a lot about the distribution of South Africa’s seabird species during the breeding season and current conservation and management strategies have been built around this knowledge. This is largely because it is relatively easy to retrieve a tracking logger from a bird that regularly returns to its nest to incubate or feed chicks. Once the chicks fledge, however, the parents no longer return to this central location and travel instead to distant profitable foraging grounds. To find out where adult seabirds go during this time, we need tracking loggers that enable us to download data remotely. Unfortunately, these loggers cost a pretty penny, which is the main reason why we still don’t know where many seabird species go when they are not breeding.

BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme has recognised the paucity of non-breeding tracking data as a serious impediment to developing effective conservation and management strategies for threatened seabird species. This is essentially because the larger distribution of non-breeding seabirds increases the probability that they will interact with potentially risky anthropogenic activities. Although knowledge about the non-breeding distribution of seabirds is crucial for their conservation, the expensive price tag of GPS loggers has prevented us from discovering and protecting the non-breeding grounds of South Africa’s seabirds and therefore limits their conservation. Now, for the first time, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation team plans to track two Endangered seabird species, the Cape Gannet and the Cape Cormorant, using sophisticated GPS devices outside the breeding season. But we need your help to do so. 

Once we know more about the at-sea foraging movements of South Africa’s seabirds, we plan to present the information to the relevant government structures in the form of proposals for marine Important Bird Areas that need greater protection. We will also investigate anthropogenic (such as fishery activities) and natural (such as climate) drivers of their foraging behaviour in the hope that these relationships can be used to improve ecosystem-based fisheries management.

If you would like to help discover where Cape Gannets and Cape Cormorants go during this crucial period when they are not breeding, please contribute via our crowdfunding initiative at

Donations of all sizes are welcome!



Unravelling migration mysteries

As summer migrants join us for our holiday season, in the November/December issue of African Birdlife Peter Ryan and Michelle Vrettos consider the costs and benefits of their long journeys. We also check in on the progress of the Gough Island Restoration Programme, go birding in the Northern Cape and venture much further afield to the Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve in Chad. Closer to home, Andrew Jenkins has compiled a stunning portfolio of coastal bird photos and we follow the fortunes of the African Grass Owls of Kyalami.

An Empowering People recce in Zululand

Andrew de Blocq with community bird guides in Dlinza Forest.

A BirdLife South Africa team comprising Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson (Head of Conservation), Dr Isabel Human (HR Manager and Executive Assistant) and myself travelled to Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal recently for a series of meetings and to get a better feel for local challenges and opportunities ahead of an anticipated expansion of the Empowering People Programme. 

The Empowering People Programme was created during a strategic restructuring exercise at BirdLife South Africa in 2019 and aims to use birds and bird conservation to empower local communities by providing training and creating jobs within the biodiversity economy. Currently, the programme includes the longstanding Avitourism Project, which has community bird guide training and broader avitourism development at its heart. Thanks to the generous support of the Italtile & Ceramic Foundation, which has a significant footprint of community empowerment in the province, the programme is due to employ a manager soon and set in motion a community conservation initiative in KwaZulu-Natal. 

BirdLife South Africa, represented here by Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Andrew de Blocq, aims to support Themba Mthembu in his efforts to raise awareness of the need to protect birds in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

This initiative will draw on our well-established network of more than 20 community bird guides operating between Durban and the Mozambique border. We intend to use these guides to deliver community education for both children and adults to address local issues and to increase awareness of birds and the environment. We are also looking for funding to implement several upskilling initiatives for these guides, including the development of entrepreneurs and a workshop to empower women.

During the five-day trip to the area, Hanneline, Isabel and I met with most of the local community bird guides and gave them new uniforms that have been sponsored by Swarovski Optik and Whylo Distributors. We were also able to hand over to them eight cameras, several copies of Sasol Birds of Southern Africa provided by Struik Nature Publishers and some Eskom Red Data Books, as well as a number of pairs of donated binoculars. This was my first opportunity to meet most of the guides, although I communicated extensively with them during the pandemic and in connection with the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund in 2020.

We visited Themba Mthembu’s training facility, the Zulu Bird Camp, outside Tembe Elephant Park. As well as training guides, this facility reached a significant number of schoolchildren and young adults through its community education activities. However, the pandemic dealt it a distressing blow and we intend to find ways to support Themba in his important work. We also visited Amatigulu Nature Reserve, where community grazing intrusions are proving a very difficult challenge for the under-resourced reserve management.

Meetings with representatives of the Wilderness Leadership School and the WildTomorrowFund were an important part of our trip. These organisations are significant local role players and there is considerable scope for collaboration and synergy that we look forward to pursuing. We were also able to share a meal with Andrew Whysall of Whylo Distributors, a long-time supporter of the Community Bird Guide Project, and Hugh Chittenden, the renowned naturalist and author.

This trip was immensely beneficial in helping us to better understand the local context, challenges, opportunities and existing initiatives, as well as the needs of local communities. We are looking forward to taking our work further in this strategically important area.


Indigenous names for South Africa’s birds

As its title implies, the Indigenous Bird Names of South Africa (IBNSA) working group aims to put names to birds in South Africa’s indigenous languages. English and Afrikaans have been excluded from the group’s mandate as these languages already have their own full lists of bird names.

At the first meeting in August, Dr Johan Meyer was appointed chair of the group’s committee, which will oversee the language-specific working groups tasked to assign a preferred name to all the species listed in the Checklist of Birds of South Africa. This is no easy undertaking for a number of reasons. In many cases, a species does not occur in parts of the country where a specific language is spoken. Some species may share a group name, or conversely some may have several names, each specific to a regional dialect.

The names found in today’s bird books, such as Cape Rockjumper, were standardised at some time in the past in a process that is ongoing as taxonomic updates continue to be made. For languages such as English, French and Spanish the standardisation is now done at international level. Locally, the Afrikaans ‘Voëlnaamgroep’ standardises the regional list of Afrikaans bird names. For the other languages spoken in South Africa, generic names for many 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 language, which could lead to names being lost.

Building on the work of the broader African Bird Names Group, the IBNSA will bring together people doing research into bird names, ornithologists, linguists and, most importantly, birders who traditionally speak the language in question, as it is from them that the species names will originate. Each name should reflect not only the language but also the culture of the people to whom the language belongs – and it should capture the essence of the bird as experienced in that culture. Language specialists will be on hand to guide the process, which will inevitably involve much discussion.

Although the aim is to devise species-specific names for all South African birds in all nine of the country’s African languages, the group will initially focus on isiZulu (facilitated by Prof. Adrian Coopman) and Sesotho (facilitated by Lucas Namanyane and Johan Meyer). If anyone with a knowledge of bird names in any of the region’s African languages would like to help us, they can contact Johan at We will soon be putting out a call for funding to facilitate the workshops that will be held during the course of 2022. We look forward to hearing from you!


Birding at Zvakanaka

Situated in the Soutpansberg, Limpopo, Zvakanaka Farm is an idyllic getaway 11km north of Louis Trichardt, just off the N1. It is also an ideal stopover for the Kruger National Park’s Pafuri and Punda Maria gates, Mapungubwe National Park, Zimbabwe via Beit Bridge, Mozambique via Pafuri and Botswana via Pontdrift and Platjan.

The farm is 54ha in extent and contains grassland, wetland and semi-deciduous scrub-forest. There are numerous trails that range from a gentle stroll to a serious hike to the top of a mountain, from which there are stunning views in all directions.

The birdlife is plentiful and varied, delighting guests with dawn and dusk choruses. Zvakanaka Farm falls within Pentad 2255_2955 of the SABP2 project (The South African Bird Atlas Project 2), which contains 209 species; the tally for the farm itself, at 133, also includes Garden and Olive-tree warblers, Pink-throated Twinspot and Yellow-throated Longclaw. When you book, please indicate whether you are a birder and we will e-mail you the most up-to-date list for the pentad, with the farm’s species ticked.

On the walking trails, look out for Olive and Gorgeous bush-shrikes, Narina Trogon, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Cape Rock Thrush, Eastern Nicator, Green Twinspot, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, White-starred and Chorister robin-chats, Bearded Scrub Robin, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Crowned and Verreaux’s eagles and Black Sparrowhawk, among many others.

An excellent and well-known bird guide in the area is Samson Mulaudzi, who can help you see elusive species such as Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Bat Hawk, African Broadbill, Orange Ground Thrush and Magpie Mannikin. Samson can be contacted at

Zvakanaka Farm’s accommodation comprises Igababa Cabin, Madala’s Cottage and Fook Farmhouse Flat, all of which are self-contained homes fully equipped for self-catering; Kubla’s Caravan, which is also fully equipped for self-catering; and Zvakanaka Campsite. All facilities are fully electrified and have braai stands and pit fires.

Igababa Cabin sleeps two, has an en-suite bathroom (shower, not bath), an outdoor double bath and a small wallow pool, and is very secluded.

Looking out from Igababa Cabin.

Madala’s Cottage sleeps 2–4 and has a double bedroom with en-suite bathroom (shower) plus an outdoor shower and double bath. There are two single beds in a small bedroom with access to its own bathroom (shower).

William’s Site in the campsite.


There is also Kubla’s Caravan, which sleeps two and has an adjacent unit with a scullery and a bathroom with gas-heated shower.


For enquiries or to book, contact Gail and Al Maytham at 084 400 4595 or Also see

OECMs in the Western Cape

‘Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures’ (OECMs) is a conservation designation for areas that are achieving the effective in situ conservation of biodiversity outside protected areas. OECMs are integral to creating a network of connected conservation areas across various landscapes that prioritise sustained, high-value biodiversity conservation. They can encompass a range of governance and management regimes, like those recognised through biodiversity stewardship, and can be implemented by a diverse set of actors, including local communities, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and government agencies.

OECMs are being trialled in the Western Cape through a project funded by WWF Nedbank Green Trust and led by BirdLife South Africa in partnership with Conservation Outcomes, CapeNature, World Wide Fund for Nature – South Africa (WWF-SA), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Wilderness Foundation Africa, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Commission of Protected Areas.

This project, which featured in the June issue of BirdLife South Africa’s e-newsletter, aims to identify and assess potential OECMs in the province, to understand and quantify the capacity and resource requirements needed to assess these OECMs, and to provide training to key stakeholders to support their assessment and reporting in the Western Cape. With the support of CapeNature, this year’s Western Cape Biodiversity Stewardship Peer-learning Workshop adopted an OECM theme and provided an exceptional platform for introducing OECMs to stewardship and other conservation practitioners from across the province. Designed and led by BirdLife South Africa and Conservation Outcomes, the programme comprised an introductory virtual meeting and an in-person practical workshop at the beautiful Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens in Worcester, as well as a virtual ‘practical’ alternative.

A screenshot of participants in the virtual workshop that introduced OECMs.

Wilderness Foundation Africa provided an excellent background to OECMs in the introductory virtual event, with contributions from the DFFE and other project partners. Following this, BirdLife South Africa and Conservation Outcomes guided participants through the application of the site-based methodology to identify and assess OECMS in the practical workshops, supported by outstanding case study presentations from key OECM stakeholders CapeNature and Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust. These events attracted over 70 participants from more than 10 key stakeholder groups and were regarded as an unqualified success, providing a solid grounding in the background, identification and assessment of OECMs. 

OECMs offer a significant opportunity to increase the recognition of and support for effective long-term conservation that is taking place outside currently designated protected areas and they will help South Africa to reach its conservation estate targets, including those of the draft Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which call for 30% of the world’s marine, freshwater and terrestrial spaces to be well protected and conserved by 2030 through an expanded and well-connected network of protected areas and OECMs.

The Western Cape pilot project is led by BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Melissa Whitecross, Bronwyn Maree and myself, with support from Conservation Outcomes, CapeNature and other partners. It will run from June 2021 to June 2023.

For more information, please contact me at or visit the website 


African Penguin. Credit Andrew de Blocq

Empty nest syndrome

Since 1950 seabird population numbers have decreased by about 70%, making them one of the most threatened groups of birds globally. This dramatic decline is due largely to the challenges the birds face both on land and at sea, such as the depletion of food resources due to climate change or competition with fisheries; introduced predators and diseases; loss of breeding habitat; and mortality linked to fisheries bycatch. Marine protected areas, in which commercial activities are limited or prohibited, have been proposed as the most appropriate strategy to mitigate against this ensemble of challenges. However, in order to locate them where they will be most effective and give the best advantage to the seabirds at the lowest socio-economic cost, we need in-depth knowledge of how a species uses its environment throughout the year.

The distributions of South Africa’s seabird species during the breeding season are relatively well known and current conservation and management strategies have been built around this knowledge. This is largely because it is relatively easy to retrieve a tracking logger from a bird that returns regularly to its nest to incubate or feed chicks. Once the chicks fledge, the parents no longer return to this central location, but travel instead to distant profitable foraging grounds. To follow adult seabirds at this time, tracking loggers that enable the user to download data remotely are needed. Unfortunately these loggers are expensive, which is the main reason why we still don’t know where many seabird species go when they are not breeding.

BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme has recognised the lack of non-breeding tracking data as a serious impediment to developing conservation and management strategies for threatened seabird species. This is essentially because the larger range of non-breeding seabirds increases the probability that they will encounter human activities that are potentially risky for them. To address the shortfall in tracking information on non-breeding birds, the Seabird Conservation Programme aims to track South Africa’s three Endangered seabird species – African Penguin, Cape Gannet and Cape Cormorant – during crucial life-history stages such as juvenile and post-breeding. The identification of important foraging areas for non-breeding birds will be used to inform not only marine spatial planning initiatives, but also an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries through the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. 

At present the Seabird Conservation Programme does not have enough funding to carry out all the work we would like to. Thanks to the support of the Charl van der Merwe Trust over the past decade, we now largely know where African Penguins go to find food just before and just after their annual moult. This information has not only improved our knowledge about the species, but has proved invaluable when participating in conservation and management negotiations within South African government structures. We – and the penguins – are sincerely grateful for the continued support of the Charl van der Merwe Trust.

If you would like to help fund the Seabird Conservation Programme’s efforts to track non-breeding seabirds, please contact me at or visit


Shade aid for Tankwa

As climate change denialism evaporates like a puddle under the blazing sun in the face of mounting evidence that the effects of warming temperatures exacerbate disaster situations, conversations around the world are starting to change from ‘Is it happening?’ to ‘What can we do about it?’

On a positive note, Wendy Foden, the research manager for SANParks and chair of the IUCN’s Climate Change Adaptation Group, says that modellers of long-term warming trends are beginning to favour a more likely 4°C warmer planet by the end of the century over the more pessimistic 8°C warmer planet. But that is still a lot of warming. For species at the thermal edge, even 4°C is likely to be too much. In essence, as we change to more sustainable technologies, there is a lag effect that will continue to result in warming, even if we were able to make a complete switch to green energy today.

Dr Susie Cunningham at the FitzPatrick Institute is increasingly starting to consider management solutions for the species she knows best: those of the arid environments. The Hot Birds project has undertaken a wide range of baseline research subjects to establish beyond doubt that climate change impacts for birds in arid environments will see population declines and local extinctions. For those species already making considerable behavioural trade-offs to stay alive in the heat there is little room to adapt, especially when there is no water around. 

The Tankwa Karoo is part of the Greater Cape Floristic Region and one of the driest places in South Africa, where summer temperatures hover between the mid-40s and 50°C. Ironically, as the eagle flies it is not too far from Jonkershoek, one of the country’s wettest locations. But the Cape Fold Mountains catch most of the rain, leaving little for Tankwa in their rain shadow. Water is precious and a host of species rely on natural and artificial water sources to stay alive.

By providing shade at waterholes, could we offset to a small but vital extent the exposure some of our important bird species experience when they come to drink? This is the question that SANParks, the FitzPatrick Institute and BirdLife South Africa want to answer. Tackling the field work will be Sean Morar, an MSc student in Conservation Biology at the Fitz. 

When I was last in the Tankwa Karoo in 2017, a long and severe drought was reducing the landscape to dust and tumbleweeds. The large Oudebaaskraal Dam and the waterholes in the national park thronged with avian activity. By contrast, 2021 has been one of the wettest years recently recorded and during the scouting and planning trip in September 2021 our team had to navigate streams and mud puddles. Driving to the research base, we were escorted by Black-eared and Grey-backed sparrow-larks and many Lark-like Buntings, nomadic species that had been absent in 2017. The normally dusty plains were awash with yellow and orange daisies and the hills were purple with Ruschia and Lampranthus flowers. It was truly a privilege to see the Tankwa in all its floristic glory.

But the ravages of drought were still evident; dotted among the hardy resurrection bushes, now gloriously green, were brown and black smudges of skeletal plants that hadn’t made it. A poignant site was a magnificently flowering desert rose. It was the only one, its century-old companions no more than decaying stumps in an empty plain.

Susie and Sean will be implementing a before-after controlled experiment designed to determine the influence of shade at water points. Sean will also be conducting point counts to determine how species are influenced by the presence of water in the landscape. Susie’s previous work has shown that waterholes dramatically change the species richness of avian communities over small spatial scales. Another goal of the project is to quantify the influence of water on bird densities: are birds still willing to fly long distances between water and foraging grounds or are they making yet another trade-off to beat the heat? Sean will be conducting the research over this coming summer and preliminary results will be on your screens early next year. We would like to think they will bring another message of hope. 


Hampers to help celebrate 25 years 

Looking for that gift with a difference that can’t fail to bring pleasure? Don’t know what to buy for hubby? Shop for the Birds! and Elaine’s Birding have not one, but three answers for you – and the birds in your garden will love them too…

Finch Hamper

A galvanised food tray, a small (300g) suet pop, a large (550g) suet pop, a peanut pop and a seed pop. Price: R420 (including VAT).

Cape Robin-Chat Hamper

A galvanised seed storage box, wild bird seed (2kg), luv bugs larvae (100g), a small seed bell on a rope, a green top suet ball feeder and a pack of three mini suet balls. Price: R499 (including VAT).

Weaver Hamper

A galvanised storage chest, orange nectar sachets (150g), a small seed bell on a rope, a terracotta suet ball holder, a bird grub suet ball (200g), luv bugs larvae (100g) and wild bird seed (2kg). Price: R599 (including VAT).


Hampers can be delivered to your door by courier, in which case a courier fee of R173 per hamper will be added to your invoice. Please allow 7–15 days for despatch once payment has been received. Alternatively, let us know if you would like to collect from BirdLife South Africa’s Isdell House in Dunkeld, Johannesburg, so that a date and time can be arranged. 

For more information or to place an order, please send an e-mail to Include your first and last names, your physical address for delivery, your postcode and province and your cell phone number. Also let us know whether you prefer a courier delivery or to collect your purchase at Isdell House and we’ll send you an invoice. 

All items mentioned are subject to availability and Elaine’s Birding reserves the right to substitute any items if necessary. Please note that these hampers are not available from our online store.


Mouse-Free Marion gains momentum


A large Wandering Albatross chick being attacked by a mouse on Marion Island. Credit Stefan and Janine Schoombie

The Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) Project, a partnership between BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), was established to restore this sub-Antarctic territory. South Africa’s Marion Island is home to globally important populations of seabirds, which are being devastated by an inconspicuous menace – house mice. These tiny terrors were accidentally introduced by visiting sealing parties more than 200 years ago and have been wreaking havoc on the ecology of the island ever since. In recent decades their adverse impact has escalated dramatically, as they have started preying on the eggs, chicks and even adults of many of the island’s breeding seabirds.


It has been predicted that if left unchecked, the mice will cause the local extinction of the majority of the island’s seabird species, including the Wandering Albatross. The MFM Project is working to eradicate the invasive mice from Marion Island, thus helping to secure a positive future for this iconic species and the many other seabirds that call the island home. The conservation benefits of the project will extend beyond seabirds, enabling plants, invertebrates and the entire ecosystem to recover. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed many projects and the MFM Project is no exception. However, it has made significant progress in 2021, notably with the appointments of key staff members. Since the appointment of Dr Anton Wolfaardt as the project’s manager in February, two more staff members have been added to the Mouse-Free Marion team. Keith Springer, who has led rodent eradication efforts on islands in Australia and New Zealand, joined the project as operations manager in July and the following month Robyn Adams was appointed as communications officer and project assistant. The MFM Project is in the process of finalising the appointment of an international philanthropy officer, who will be responsible for leading the project’s fundraising efforts. 

An eradication operation on an island that lies some 2000km from South Africa is a highly challenging and ambitious task, but it is also an urgent one and it can, and must, succeed. Recently, positive news of the successful completion of the baiting component of the Gough Island Restoration Programme has provided further impetus and encouragement for the MFM Project. While this is incredibly encouraging, for both Gough and Marion, it’s useful to note that Marion Island is significantly larger than Gough Island. If our efforts are successful, Marion will be the largest island from which introduced rodents have been eradicated in a single operation. 

Even from a home, removing a rodent infestation is not easy. Eradicating mice from a sub-Antarctic island larger than the city of Bloemfontein will be orders of magnitude more difficult. Eradication requires that every single mouse is removed, and thus it differs fundamentally from a control operation, which seeks to keep the pest population at a low level. Pest control officers in the city of Bloemfontein would be delighted to remove 99.9% of the pests in their patch, yet an eradication project with the same outcome would be a complete failure.

The cost to safeguard Marion Island’s seabirds is substantial and will rely on funding from a number of sources. To this end, a ‘Sponsor a Hectare’ crowd-funding initiative has been established to source some of the funds needed to conduct the eradication operation. The ‘Sponsor a Hectare’ initiative has set a target to raise R30-million of these funds. Marion Island covers just under 30 000ha. A donation of R1000 for each hectare will ensure that we reach this target. 

To date, the project has inspired more than 900 donations from all over the world. The first 100ha sponsorship came from Taiwan and support has been received from many other countries, including Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia and, of course, South Africa. Bird clubs have been generous supporters of the project, with many members eagerly awaiting their opportunity to visit Marion Island during the Flock to Marion cruise in 2022. Currently, donations have secured 8% of the 30 000ha target. Although there is still a long way to go to reach the funding goal, the project is fast gaining momentum. 

To help save Marion Island’s seabirds and secure a lasting conservation legacy, please visit For more information about the project, go to or subscribe to the newsletter for regular news updates. 


Win on BBD 2021!

Participate in Birding Big Day (BBD) this year and you could win big! On 27 November 2021 you can bird all day and set your own target of species logged or attempt to break a record. The area you cover can be large or small or you can confine yourself to your garden or a local park, but wherever you go you will be able to enjoy the remarkable diversity of birds South Africa has to offer.

This year we have added a new 5km radius category to the standard 50km one and it will be ideal for birders who don’t want to travel too far and are content to atlas a pentad or just cover their local patch. They can still upload their sightings using BirdLasser and there will be a dedicated online map for this category.

To participate in BBD 2021, create a team of at least four birders, choose an area to bird in and then register. You can log your sightings on the BirdLasser mobile app or simply list the species as you go.

For more information, visit or e-mail me at To register, go to

Lucky draw

Stand a chance to win a pair of Swarovski CL 8×30 binoculars valued at R25 000! If you participate in Birding Big Day 2021 and your team donates at least R300 to BirdLife South Africa, each team member will be entered into a lucky draw for these binoculars. To be eligible for the prize:

  • Only members of Birding Big Day teams with a maximum of four members (not clubs or community groups) that have registered on the BirdLife South Africa website will be entered into the lucky draw; 
  • BirdLife South Africa employees and their immediate families are not eligible; 
  • The details of each member must be entered correctly on the registration form; 
  • The team must make a donation of R300 or more to BirdLife South Africa before 31 December 2021; 
  • The team must log at least 20 bird species on the day and submit the records either through BirdLasser or on paper as per the BBD rules; 
  • All the eligible team members will be entered into the lucky draw. 


Big Birding Weekend in Zululand

As one of South Africa’s top birding destinations, Zululand is where you’ll want to be for Birding Big Day. Click on this link to find out more about the Big Birding Weekend at Ghost Mountain Inn.

Mabula Ground Hornbill Project updates

The Mabula Ground Hornbill Project was recently announced as one of six recipients of the Whitley Award, which is presented by the UK-based Whitley Fund for Nature. To hear Sir David Attenborough talk about our work as he presented the awards virtually was the most incredible experience for all the dedicated people who have worked so hard to understand Southern Ground-Hornbills and find ways to keep them safe. The project would never have made it without you, so each and every one of our team sends our supporters a massive thank you for helping us to achieve our goals.

Then, as a bonus, BirdLife South Africa presented the project with a prestigious Eagle Owl Award – wonderful recognition of our work in such a beautiful form. Award ceremonies are less fun via Zoom, but we are extremely grateful for all the attention being focused on Southern Ground-Hornbills. Our heartfelt congratulations go to all the other award winners too – amazing work is being done for birds in South Africa and conservation around the world.

We at the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project encourage contributions from citizen scientists as part of our National Monitoring Plan and were delighted to receive this photograph taken by Morné Vermeulen of an incredible sighting of Southern Ground-Hornbills. It shows an adult male and a sub-adult presenting a united and threatening front to a circling Tawny Eagle in a bid to appear as intimidating and dangerous as possible. The hornbills had been carrying food items to an active nest when the Tawny Eagle attempted to swoop in and snatch their prey. This is just one of the many photos of sightings sent to us each month.

We’re very happy to report that a group of three Southern Ground-Hornbills has been released successfully into a new site. With the assistance of the reserve’s ecology team, we set up the temporary aviary in just a day and brought in the pair-bonded group on 22 July. The four-week acclimatisation period passed smoothly and then the group was released into the reserve and has stayed together ever since. As this group is located in the foothills of the Waterberg, near our headquarters, it forms part of our strategic core of Mabula–Marakele breeding groups. Our goal is to establish at least 10 breeding groups as a viable self-sustaining population in Limpopo. The next priority will be to resolve the growing gene flow gap in northern Zululand; we hope to reconnect the Limpopo–Mpumalanga population with the KwaZulu-Natal–Eastern Cape population. 

This adult female was one of the redundant second chicks we rescued from a wild nest and now
she is ready to take on the role of a breeding female in a reintroduced wild group.

One of the reintroduced birds flying where Southern Ground-Hornbills haven’t flown for years.

Kyle Brand, a lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology, and some of his students have developed ‘super nests’ for the ground-hornbills and continue to improve on their design. The latest version is pieced together more quickly and easily than previous ones, as an automated laser cutter produces the individual panels for alignment. The new nests are also lighter (at 30kg) and allow improved air flow for climate control within the nests. We hope to have 20 of these new nests available for the start of the 2021 breeding season! If you are interested in sponsoring a nest, please get in touch with us ( 

The Mabula Ground Hornbill Project has recently provided some individuals of the BirdLife Zimbabwe team with the skills needed to establish the conservation status of their country’s Southern Ground-Hornbills by using the power of citizen science. The determined team has now set up seven WhatsApp champion groups and the sightings are starting to flood in. We hope to add more groups in the coming weeks and months. What started as a theoretical plan for monitoring a widespread, low-density species in South Africa has become a reality and it is working like a charm. 

In South Africa, more than 500 sighting records come in per month; now Namibia and Zimbabwe are picking up steam and a few other range states are setting up their own national reporting networks. It is gratifying to know that a network of citizen scientists who love ground-hornbills can provide a wealth of data on the birds’ density across the range and their persistence outside protected areas.

We’re excited that the Covid-19 vaccine is finally widely available! As our team members get their jabs, we’re preparing for the coming breeding season. The ground-hornbills are getting vaccinated too – but there’s not a needle in sight. Avian avulavirus 1, which leads to Newcastle disease, is a threat to Southern Ground-Hornbill populations and we’ve given the vaccine to both captive and reintroduced birds. It is administered through their food, so no stressful captures or injections are necessary, and it will help to maintain a healthy reintroduction population that we hope will produce new – and healthy – chicks for future reintroductions.

And to ensure that the 2021 rearing season runs smoothly, we’ve put some finishing touches to the Baobab Rearing Facility. The protruding front of each unit helps to create a healthy distance between humans/rearers on the outside and the hornbill chick inside. At the back of each unit is the aviary the chick will fledge into as it start its journey to becoming an adult hornbill in the reintroduction programme. 

With the invaluable and much-appreciated assistance of Tincup Animation, Triggerfish Animation, Sonic Studios (Durban) and Sonovision (Gauteng), we are producing a conservation animation that will be another tool in our ever-growing kit to help raise awareness about the Southern Ground-Hornbill and improve conservation efforts throughout its natural range. Dr John Kani (English and isiXhosa) and Dr Gcina Mphlophe (isiZulu) have done incredible voice-overs for the animation, and I was delighted to be able to spend some time with Dr Kani during the recording process.


Kruger Challenge postponed

The Kruger Challenge is a fundraiser in aid of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail, one of the world’s rarest birds, for which Rockjumper Birding Tours is also the BirdLife International Species Champion. The inaugural Kruger Challenge, hosted by Rockjumper Birding Tours, BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust, took place in the Kruger National Park in February 2019 and was so successful that there has been a demand for another such event. We had been planning to hold another challenge in February 2022, but have decided to hold off for another year in view of the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19. We would like to apologise for the inconvenience that the postponement might cause to our valued supporters and thank you for your understanding.

In 2023 we will return to the Lowveld for a second event and hope to see you there! Eighteen teams following 10 different routes that run the length of the Kruger National Park will take on the challenge to experience first-class birding and Big Five experiences. Each team of nine members in an open safari vehicle will be accompanied by a birding expert and a registered Kruger guide. During this fun challenge, which will start in Skukuza and end in Mopani, the competitive teams will try to find and identify as many bird and mammal species as they can. Each species recorded will be awarded points based on its rarity.

The routes will vary in pace from competitive to relaxed. The competitive routes will be complemented by a non-competitive route in the north of the park and one in the south, as well as photographic and special Kruger Bush Camp routes. The rates for most include breakfast and dinner, except for the Bush Camp routes, which include all meals. 

Please check BirdLife South Africa’s social media platforms for the latest updates on the Kruger Challenge. You can also visit and bookmark the Kruger Challenge page at 


2022 calendars are here!

We are excited to announce that the 2022 Birds of Southern Africa calendar is now in stock and can be ordered online at Produced in collaboration with Chamberlain, the large-format wall calendar features stunning photographs of some of the region’s most eye-catching bird species.

Priced at R175 each, the calendars can be delivered either Postnet to Postnet or by Fastway Couriers. Alternatively, you can collect yours at Isdell House by prior arrangement. For more information, please contact me at


River Valley Nature Reserve

Located in a picturesque horseshoe of the iVungu River, River Valley Nature Reserve is a small remnant of once-pristine natural coastline. With its grassland and its riverine and coastal forests, the reserve counts impala, nyala, the shy bushbuck and several smaller and more elusive antelope species among its mammals, as well as a pair of Cape clawless otters whose tracks may be seen along the muddy verges of the river. Some 145 bird species are also known to occur, including the beautiful Narina Trogon, the Crowned Eagle, Knysna and Purple-crested turacos, Green Malkoha, Freckled and Fiery-necked nightjars and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher. The reserve is also conveniently situated near other top birding destinations in KwaZulu-Natal and serves as a wonderful base from which to explore the surrounding region. Accommodation is available in luxurious cottages overlooking the river, while the property also features a small campsite. 

For more information, please e-mail, tel. 083 263 5537 or go to 

BirdLife South Africa aims to promote South Africa as a top-class birdwatching destination that is vital to the long-term conservation of the country’s wild birds and their habitats. With this in mind, we have a network of BirdLife South Africa-recommended accommodation establishments that we encourage birders to make use of. For more information or to have your property listed, please visit


175 years of ZEISS

To find out more about the ZEISS special offers, including a chance to win a trip to Colombia, click on this link.

Linda van den Heever and Andrew de Blocq met with Bernard van Lente, the project manager at Zinave National Park (centre), to discuss various criteria relating to the Vulture Safe Zone initiative. Credit Melissa Whitecross

Marabou Storks breeding in a baobab tree in Zinave National Park. Credit Melissa Whitecross

Vulture Safe Zones for Mozambique

BirdLife South Africa’s Vulture Project is successfully establishing Vulture Safe Zones in many areas of South Africa. However, since vultures travel vast distances with little regard for country borders, it is important to expand the initiative into southern Africa’s Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).

With the support of the Peace Parks Foundation, a Vulture Project team comprising Melissa Whitecross, Andrew de Blocq and myself recently visited Zinave National Park, a 400 000ha reserve on the banks of the Save River in Mozambique, to assess its potential as a Vulture Safe Zone. We were impressed by the sheer scale of this wilderness area and could see it becoming a sanctuary for southern Africa’s embattled vulture populations. Although vultures do not currently breed in the park, there is every reason to believe that they may do so in future, as increases in game introductions are slowly opening up the vegetation. We observed numerous Critically Endangered White-backed Vultures during the visit, as well as the elusive and also Critically Endangered White-headed Vulture. The presence of the latter is of special significance, as the Great Limpopo TFCA, which straddles the South Africa–Mozambique border, is arguably one of the last remaining refuges of this species in southern Africa.

The success of the trip was underscored by a visit to the 145 000ha Karingani Game Reserve, situated on the border of Kruger National Park, whose management has also expressed an interest in joining the initiative. Karingani hosts about 65 White-backed Vulture nests, as well as several nests of White-headed and Endangered Lappet-faced vultures. Both Zinave and Karingani will be enormous assets to the Vulture Safe Zone initiative and could play a vital role in ensuring that vultures remain part of the southern African landscape.


Spring Alive

A parade of ‘spring migrants’ at a local primary school. Credit Kristi Garland

Africa’s Spring Alive season is about to start and we are delighted to welcome two new countries to our network: Senegal and Ivory Coast. Across the continent, teachers, parents and volunteers will be educating children about birds and nature through our seven Spring Alive focus species. Although these birds breed in Europe, they couldn’t do it without the rest, warmth and nourishment that Africa provides. 

In the coming weeks, many migratory birds will be returning to Africa for a much-deserved rest after the intensive activity of the breeding season in Europe. They will use their time on our continent to moult their old feathers and grow shiny new plumage to impress next year’s mate. They will also eat as much as they can, building up their fat stores before setting off to start the process all over again.

The nesting habits of the Spring Alive focus species are as varied as the birds themselves. Here’s a glimpse of what these migrants get up to during the northern hemisphere’s spring and summer:

Penthouse apartment
The White Stork is not afraid to build its nest near humans, often locating it high up on telegraph poles, church roofs or even people’s houses. Male White Storks return to the same nest every year, adding to its height until it can reach an incredible two metres. Their nests are so big that smaller birds such as sparrows and starlings often breed in the sides of these towering structures, which become multi-storey, high-rise apartment blocks. In a network of ‘stork villages’ in Europe, storks are both protected and celebrated by humans. The district of Cheshinovo-Obleshevo in North Macedonia, for example, holds annual Stork Day festivities and has even updated its coat of arms to feature the White Stork. The Macedonian Ecological Society (a BirdLife partner) works with energy companies in the area to re-model potentially dangerous power lines that could electrocute nesting storks.

Life underground
Unlike most birds, which make their nests out of twigs, the Sand Martin digs deep burrows into the sandy banks of rivers or lakes or into coastal cliffs. The martins like to nest in large groups ranging from 12 to several hundred pairs and their tunnels can stretch for more than a metre! In modern times, though, humans have modified waterways, putting in flood control and anti-erosion structures, and the natural cliffs are being lost. Quarries are one of the few remaining habitats where Sand Martins can set up a colony, but they are also working landscapes that constantly change as new areas are excavated. Our sponsor HeidelbergCement solves this problem by attracting birds to cliffs in unused parts of the quarry and making sure the machinery is kept a safe distance away.

Hidden in plain sight
Most birds like to build their nests out of harm’s way, but the Common Ringed Plover has another strategy, barely bothering to build a nest at all and laying its eggs directly onto the beach. The eggs, however, are perfectly camouflaged to look like pebbles. Even the chicks are grey and mottled like the stony shingle of the shoreline. If a predator does manage to sniff out the nest, the parents have another trick up their sleeve: they stagger away from the nest, calling out and feigning a broken wing to lure the predator towards them. Sadly, this plover’s population is declining due to wetlands being polluted or drained to make way for agriculture, especially along its migratory journey. The Ghana Wildlife Society (a BirdLife partner) runs school birding trips to local wetlands, using the Common Ringed Plover as an ambassador for these vital habitats.

Sculpted to perfection
Barn Swallows used to nest in caves, but today they nest almost exclusively in small gaps underneath the roofs of houses, churches and, of course, barns. They build their distinctive cup-shaped nests out of hundreds of tiny pellets of mud that they collect in their beaks. Unfortunately, modern buildings have fewer suitable cavities for the birds to use. There is also sometimes little or no mud to build the nests from, especially in urban areas or during unseasonably dry weather. To combat this, Spring Alive runs workshops across Europe on how to create artificial Barn Swallow nests. The Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia has even employed artists from a local ceramics museum to coach families on the best techniques to make clay homes for the birds.

Where are those migrants? Primary school learners on the lookout for birds arriving at Wakkerstroom after their long flight down Africa. Credit Kristi Garland

A flying visit
The Common Cuckoo’s habit of laying its eggs in other birds’ nests is notorious worldwide, to the extent that the word ‘cuckoo’ has become synonymous with an unwelcome intruder. The deception starts with the adult female, whose plumage mimics that of the fearsome Eurasian Sparrowhawk. By scaring off other birds, she is able to lay her eggs in their nests unchallenged. As a species, the Common Cuckoo can target more than a hundred different bird species, including the Eurasian Reed Warbler, Pied Wagtail and European Robin. However, individual females tend to specialise in targeting just one species, laying eggs that are the same colour and pattern as those of the host.
The similarities end when the chick hatches. It quickly grows big, pushes the host’s eggs and chicks out of the nest and calls loudly, mimicking the sound of a whole nest full of chicks begging to be fed. This may sound shocking, but it’s worth remembering that cuckoos don’t understand that they are tricking other birds; they evolved this strategy because it helps their species to survive. Despite this, the Common Cuckoo’s population is in decline and scientists around the world are satellite-tagging individuals of the species to understand why. The first cuckoo to be tagged by the Beijing Cuckoo Project (a collaboration between several conservation organisations, including BirdLife) was christened ‘Flappy McFlapperson’ by local schoolchildren. Flappy became famous, inspiring thousands of followers with her amazing journey from China to Africa.

Life on the wing
The Common Swift spends most of its life in mid-air and never lands on the ground. You might be forgiven for thinking it has trouble finding nesting materials, but that is not so. This ingenious master of the skies builds its nests out of anything that can be gathered on the wing, including feathers, straw, hay and seeds, and glues them together with its own saliva. Swifts form lifelong pairs, meeting up with the same partner every year after journeying thousands of kilometres from their wintering grounds. We humans love it when they arrive, as their streamlined silhouette and screeching call herald the start of spring. World Swift Day takes place on 7 June every year, and in Spain the town of Alange holds a Swift Festival in celebration of the birds. Organisations across the Spring Alive partnership hold tutorials on how to build artificial nesting boxes to help these birds out and SEO/BirdLife, our partner in Spain, even has its own recovery centre to care for swift chicks that jump out of the nest prematurely during increasingly common heat waves.

A dinner date
What kind of food would you eat on your ideal date? Curry? Pizza? Sushi? Or a delicious dead wasp? Don’t worry, your date has removed its sting by hitting it against a hard rock – the perfect way to win a female European Bee-eater’s heart. During courtship, the male will impress the female with his hunting prowess, depositing a series of bees, wasps, hornets, dragonflies and even butterflies at her feet. And while the male seems to do most of the work at the start of the relationship, when the eggs are laid the couple share the duties equally, taking turns to incubate the eggs and feed the chicks in their sandy cliff-side burrow. Their neighbours in the colony might even help out too.

Africa has plenty of resident bird species too and they breed right here, so it’s still important to keep up to date with this year’s Spring Alive theme, ‘How should we protect birds’ nests?’ From letting your garden grow to building a nest box, there are plenty of simple actions you can take to help local birds raise their chicks in safety. Added to these actions, BirdLife South Africa has developed a range of lesson plans and activities for you to use at school, in a junior bird club or in your own home with children and grandchildren. To access these resources and stay up to date with the monthly competitions, please send me an e-mail at 


Vulnerable to climate change

As well as facing the threat of habitat loss, some animal species of the fynbos biome have been highlighted as being directly vulnerable to temperature increases. The Cape Rockjumper is one such species and it is important to understand its specific vulnerabilities if we are to have any chance to protect it.

You can learn more about the Cape Rockjumper and the challenges it faces in the lesson plans for this and previous months, as well as the other educational resources – all for free – on BirdLife South Africa’s social platforms and website at

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.



On foot in Big 5 country, the team inspect a possible Southern Banded Snake Eagle nest site.

Chasing forest phantoms

After a tip-off from Malcolm Drummond, a staunch supporter of BirdLife South Africa, that there were potential breeding pairs of Southern Banded Snake Eagles at Phinda Private Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, we quickly initiated contact with the reserve’s management. They were keen to help the Southern Banded Snake Eagle Conservation Project in any way they could and agreed to allow a BirdLife South Africa team to attempt to fit one of the eagles with a tracker. If we were successful, this would be the third Southern Banded Snake Eagle to be tracked by the project – and in the world. 

BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Melissa Whitecross, bird-ringer Craig Nattrass and I were full of optimism as we made our way to Phinda. The reserve had many surprises for us, not least the level of support provided by its staff. In the weeks leading up to our three-night stay, guides and ecological monitors had been keeping tabs on where Southern Banded Snake Eagles were being frequently seen, so they could direct us immediately to where we were likely to encounter them. But rather than just point us in the right direction and wish us luck, they accompanied us and supported our efforts to an extraordinary extent. Firstly, ecological monitor Charli de Vos drove and guided us every day, having adjusted her own busy schedule. We are very grateful for her invaluable assistance over the four days we spent looking for the eagles. Even the reserve’s manager, Simon Naylor, made time to join in the search. Some mornings there were as many as three vehicles out in the bush, their occupants all looking and listening for our elusive quarry. We could not have wished for more support or a more capable team. But to catch the forest phantoms that are Southern Banded Snake Eagles you sometimes need more than a capable team – like a fisherman, you need time, patience and luck.

In a patch of sand forest on our first morning, our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the snake eagle’s unmistakable call, a sound that to my mind conjures images of a mythical and majestic chicken. We glimpsed the bird in the distance as it disappeared between the trees. The following days were filled with excitement as we located individuals – and disappointment when they flushed or flew off before we could even put out the trap. On two nail-biting occasions we managed to set up the trap and a snake eagle showed interest – but not enough to be caught. Both birds had probably already found a meal that morning.

Although we weren’t successful in our bid to fit a tracking device to a Southern Banded Snake Eagle in the short time we spent at Phinda, we did observe some new and interesting behaviour, identify breeding territories and build relationships with our collaborators on the ground. We therefore feel confident that we can refine our approach and will soon return to the reserve with a better chance of catching one of these shy and endangered eagles. 


New bird guides fledge

The seven newly qualified guides, with trainer Wayne Johnson (far right) and Andrew de Blocq (far left).

BirdLife South Africa’s Community Bird Guide Project is one of its most successful and impactful initiatives, having trained more than 200 people from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds to become professional bird guides over the past 20 years. More than 40 of them are still active as bird guides and they have formed a strong network within South Africa. Bearing a hallmark of excellence, they are much appreciated by birders and have become ambassadors for conservation within their own communities. Other bird guide graduates have used their qualification as a stepping stone into conservation, hospitality, education and other related careers.

BirdLife South Africa is pleased to announce that a new cohort of guides has recently graduated. With support from Eskom, an associate in the Ingula Partnership, we have completed the training of seven new guides who are based mostly in the grasslands of the Free State and western KwaZulu-Natal, with one on the boundary of Gauteng and North West. The training was led by Wayne Johnson of African Edu-Eco, one of BirdLife South Africa’s recommended course providers, and was conducted at the Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre. The guides have been well drilled in the art of bird guiding, with a significant focus on the development of soft skills and entrepreneurial initiative, which can be easily adapted and will ensure sustainable livelihoods for the graduates.

We encourage all birders to contact these new bird guides and book tours in their areas (see the captions to their photographs). While they are finding their feet in their new careers, we would also welcome any offers of mentorship in their local areas. Their contact details, as well as those of other BirdLife South Africa community bird guides, can be found at


Bongani Ngwenya: Hammanskraal, Zaagkuilsdrift, Dinokeng and surrounds

Bonginkosi Ndaba: Ingula Nature Reserve and surrounds, Van Reenen

Dolly Khanye: Memel and surrounds

Mpho Motaung: Golden Gate National Park

Phadi Mashapane: Golden Gate National Park

Steven Segang: Ingula Nature Reserve and surrounds, Ladysmith

Toka Mosikidi: Harrismith, QwaQwa and surrounds, northern Drakensberg

Join us as an intern!

birdlife-logoAre you looking to work in conservation and would like to get a foot in the door at a respected NPO? BirdLife South Africa is offering two exciting internships for 2022, one in the Conservation Division and the Landscape Conservation Programme and the other in the Regional Conservation and Empowering People programmes. The Conservation Division comprises six programmes and the successful applicant will assist the Head of Conservation in overseeing the running of these. The Landscape Conservation Programme works to protect and preserve South Africa’s key bird species and their habitats.

Applicants for both internships should have administration, marketing, fundraising and research skills and should be keen to make a contribution to the conservation of the natural environment. Those applying for the internship in the Conservation Division and Landscape Conservation Programme should also have writing skills and an interest in avian conservation. Applicants for the position in the Regional Conservation and Empowering People programmes should be interested in area-based conservation and avitourism.

These internships will give the successful candidates exposure to the inner workings of a conservation NPO and help to develop the well-rounded and elevated administrative skill set that is vitally important to any effective conservation programme.

Both positions are full-time and contracted for one year, commencing 4 January 2022. Applicants should be willing to commit to the internship for at least 12 months.

The closing date to submit applications is 30 September 2021.

For comprehensive information, please go to


Celebrating migrants

World Migratory Bird Day, celebrated on 9 October this year, is an annual global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the need for international collaboration to conserve these special birds and their habitats. The theme for 2021 is ‘Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!’ We invite you to participate in World Migratory Bird Day by watching and listening to birds wherever you are. Take part in this year’s BirdLife South Africa and BirdLasser’s Migratory Bird Day Challenge and log as many birds as you can see in a 72-hour period. Can we beat the total of 111 participants and 86 migratory species recorded in 2020? 

To register, go to 

Good luck to all participants in this year’s challenge and don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the sounds and colours of these special long-distance travellers!



Local is lekker

The September/October 2021 issue of African Birdlife is about getting out to enjoy springtime birding, with features on the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo-Kgomo route and the excellent birding spots around Mbombela in Mpumalanga. We also venture to Zambia and, with Peter Steyn, muse on European Honey Buzzards in southern Africa. Sadly, we reflect on the lives of three well-known members of the sub-region’s birding community who have died in the past few months. A stunning photographic portfolio provides a feast for the eyes, and with news of recent research as well as puzzles, there’s plenty for the brain to chew on too.


Get ready for 2022!

BirdLife South Africa, in collaboration with Chamberlain, is proud to present the 2022 Birds of Southern Africa calendar. Available from mid-September, calendars can be ordered via our online shop at and cost R175 each, plus the Postnet charge. They will also be available for collection at BirdLife South Africa’s head office in Dunkeld West by arrangement.

Last year the calendars sold out and many people were disappointed, so be sure to order yours soon.

For more information, please e-mail me at


A bib to protect birds

In 2013, a US study estimated that 1.3–4 billion birds were killed by cats annually. In Cape Town alone, the number of birds that fall prey to the city’s 300 000 or so domestic cats each year is about 450 000, according to research by Rob Simmons, Colleen Seymour and Justin O’Riain ( The killing of birds by feline pets is a highly emotive issue that unsheathes the claws of many a cat lover and releases a tsunami of anger from bird lovers.

Cats rely on stealth and camouflage to stalk their prey, so making them more visible would enable birds to see them long before they got within pouncing range. That’s where the Birdy Bib comes in; the brightly coloured fabric collar slides over your cat’s existing collar, making it highly visible to all birds. Studies on similar products in the USA show that brightly coloured fabric collars can reduce bird kills by up to 87% (

When television producer Phillip Lennon’s cat killed a second Buff-spotted Flufftail in two weeks, he decided to do something about it. After some research, the idea for Birdy Bib was born. The collar is recommended by BirdLife South Africa as a measure that reduces the number of birds killed by domestic cats in our country. 

A significant portion of the proceeds of the sale of each Birdy Bib is donated to BirdLife South Africa. What’s more, the Birdy Bib is a South African product hand-made by women on the Lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, who also benefit from the sale of each Birdy Bib. The brightly coloured fabric used to make the bibs is sourced from Africa and no two are the same, as a mix of different coloured fabrics goes into each bib. 

You can purchase your Birdy Bib now from BirdLife South Africa’s online store for a launch price of only R249 for a pack of two. To buy your Birdy Bib, visit our online shop here.


SANCCOB rehabilitator Curtly Ambrose fed the penguins before they were released. Credit David Roberts/SANCCOB

Penguin sleepover at De Hoop

When African Penguins are ready to breed, they usually return to the colonies where they hatched. But not always. The Boulders Beach, Stony Point and Robben Island colonies were all established (or in the case of Robben Island, re-established after an absence of 200 years) naturally in the 1980s by penguins that obviously didn’t return to their natal colonies. We don’t know what makes a penguin choose a breeding colony or at what point they ‘imprint’ on their natal colony. There have been suggestions that it may be when they go to sea for the first time and look back at the coastline.

Heading out to sea. Credit Christina Hagen/BirdLife South Africa

In their bid to persuade penguins to establish a breeding colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve, BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and SANCCOB are releasing juvenile penguins at the site in the hope that some will return to breed after 3–6 years of life at sea, where they mature and learn how to hunt. The first two groups of 58 penguins were released in June 2021, but they spent very little time at the site before heading out to sea. The project team decided to adapt this method for the third group of 30 penguins, which was released in August. To give the birds more time to de-stress after the long journey and to get used to the sights and smells of the colony – and possibly increase their chances of imprinting – they spent the night there before being released the following morning. The ideal situation would be to keep the penguins there for longer. This is a logistically challenging option as the penguins would have to be cared for in a remote location, but it hasn’t been ruled out for future releases. 

On arrival at De Hoop, the penguins were shepherded into a pen within the predator-proof fence around the colony area and although they seemed nervous about the strange sights and sounds, they settled in for a quiet night. SANCCOB rehabilitator Curtly Ambrose and vet David Roberts gave them one more meal of sardines just after sunrise before the gate of the pen was opened. As the pen was about 50m from the sea, we had closed off a pathway to channel them towards the water, so that we could keep track of all of them. It took a few minutes for them to realise they were free to go before they rushed off in a group. After only a short pause, they entered the water together and made their way out to sea. There they will travel along the coastline and learn to fish. When they feel the urge to breed, we hope that they will remember the spot where they took their first ocean swim!


Sizwe with a load of sandbags for the predator-proof fence at De Hoop Nature Reserve.

Seabirds need a new bakkie

The Seabird Conservation Programme is trying to raise funds to replace its ageing workhorse bakkie, Sizwe, which has been a trusty steed for more than a decade. But its time has come and we need a replacement to transport the people and materials our work depends on. At present, much of this work is centred on establishing a new African Penguin colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve. Christina Hagen, the project leader, visits the site regularly to check the predator-proof fence and surveillance system so that when penguins start to breed they will be safe from caracals and the like. Many of her trips involve carrying equipment to improve the infrastructure.

We began to transport hand-reared chicks from SANCCOB in Cape Town to De Hoop earlier this year and have released three batches already. This work will continue for the next five years to increase the chances that penguins will recruit to the colony, so the bakkie will make the round trip many times. It will also be used to deliver bird-scaring lines to the fishing industry for the important work that the Albatross Task Force is doing to mitigate seabird bycatch by fishing vessels.

The Seabird Conservation Programme is therefore appealing for funds so that Sizwe can be replaced with a more reliable bakkie that will meet the demands of our efforts to conserve South Africa’s threatened seabirds. If you would like to support this initiative, please contact me at


A dual role for Simmy

Since mid-August, Dr Simeon (Simmy) Bezeng Bezeng has been acting as the interim Regional Conservation Programme Manager at BirdLife South Africa, following the resignation of Daniel Marnewick at the end of April. This interim arrangement will continue until the end of the year. He will support Bronwyn Maree in her role as manager of the East Atlantic Flyway project while still handling his own project, the Biodiversity Assessment for Prioritisation in Africa (BASPA), with a focus on providing support and guidance to selected African country partners on Red Listing and identifying Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).

Simmy’s role as the Regional Red List coordinator for the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) includes providing the training and support to African countries that enables them to implement the IUCN Red List standard when they assess the risks of species going extinct and ecosystems collapsing. He obtained his certification as a Red List trainer after completing the relevant course and is one of only two certified Red List trainers in Africa. He also serves on the IUCN SSC Steering and Red List committees and the National Red List Alliance, which provide global guidance to the Red List of Threatened Species.

In addition, as the KBA Regional Focal Point for western and southern Africa Simmy helps to build capacity in countries of these regions, enabling them to establish KBA National Coordination Groups (NCGs) and to identify the most important sites for the global persistence of biodiversity. Through his efforts, KBAs have been identified and NCGs have been created in South Africa, Uganda, Mozambique and Malawi. NCGs have also been formed in Kenya, Tunisia and Nigeria, while Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Madagascar and São Tomé and Príncipe have expressed interest.

Congratulations to Simmy and we wish him every success as he takes on the additional responsibilities of Regional Conservation Programme Manager.


Support White-winged Flufftail conservation

The White-winged Flufftail is distinguished from other flufftail species by its white secondary flight feathers. Credit Warwick Tarboton

Motion-detecting camera traps give us a glimpse into the life of the highly elusive White-winged Flufftail. Credit Kyle Lloyd

The White-winged Flufftail is listed as Critically Endangered and its survival is threatened by the degradation and destruction of its wetland habitat. BirdLife South Africa staff were instrumental in discovering the first breeding record of the species in the southern hemisphere, describing its call and improving the conservation status of locations where it is known to be present. But there is a lot more work to be done if we are to prevent this very rare species from becoming extinct in the wild.

During its 2020–2021 breeding season I surveyed some 16 sites using acoustic devices, but we need more funds to continue the search in the upcoming season and to safeguard the locations known to host this elusive bird. Please consider donating to this important cause. BirdLife South Africa can issue 18A tax certificates for donations of R500 or more if specifically requested to do so. 

To donate, you can use Payfast by selecting the ‘Species of conservation concern’ fund option or you can make an EFT:

Bank: First National Bank

Branch code: 250655

Account name: BirdLife South Africa 

Account number: 62067506281 

Reference: initial&surname_WWF

Swift number: FIRNZAJJ

If you have any queries, please contact me at For more information about the White-winged Flufftail Conservation Project, go to


Other environmental variables are measured to determine the habitat requirements of the species. Credit Sipho Ndebele

Cape Rockjumper resources

The Cape Rockjumper, BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2021, has been highlighted as likely to be particularly vulnerable to the higher temperatures and variations in the rainfall pattern brought about by climate change. Research into the species has underlined the importance of understanding the species-specific mechanisms that may expose some birds to greater risk from such changes.

Learn more about these challenges from the latest infographic on this charismatic species, which is available for free on the BirdLife South Africa website at and on our social platforms. 

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


Final relief for bird guides

One of the few feel-good stories to come out of the past 18 months was the success of the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund launched by BirdLife South Africa. When the Level 5 lockdown came into force in 2020, birders around the country rallied around the community bird guides in their time of need. With no prospect of work for six months, more than 40 guides were able to rely on the fund as a lifeline and contributions from individuals, companies, bird clubs and other donors kept them going until local travel re-opened at the end of the year.

With the return to Level 4 lockdown we began to worry again about the guides. Our concerns were compounded last month when violence and looting broke out in KwaZulu-Natal, where many of the guides operate, and the committee for the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund decided to pay out the remaining funds held over from last year. The guides expressed tremendous gratitude when they received this final payment in late July, as they had been struggling again as a consequence of limited local travel and very few international clients.

The guides are very grateful for all the support the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund has given them.

The Community Bird Guide Relief Fund is now closed, but if you would still like to support the guides there are several avenues for doing so. You could donate to BirdLife South Africa’s Avitourism Project, which assists the guides by providing uniforms and marketing their services, or you could approach an individual guide and ask about his or her needs. Best of all, though, you could use the guides’ services when birding in their areas – they will add immense value to your birding experience. 

All the community bird guides’ details can be found at Alternatively, you can e-mail me at


A community project at Ntsikeni

Ntsikeni Nature Reserve offers breathtaking views and a diversity of bird species. Credit Sipho Ndebele

Run by the Ntsikeni Liaison Forum, Ntsikeni Lodge and May Lodge provide affordable accommodation for overnight visitors and a conference venue respectively. Ntsikeni Lodge is the perfect place to warm up by the fire on a misty day. Credit Sipho Ndebele

Located in southern KwaZulu-Natal between Underberg and Kokstad, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve protects an area of 9500ha. It lies within the Southern Drakensberg Strategic Water Resource Area and supplies water to the Ngwagwane and Umzimkhulu river systems. It also protects one of the largest high-altitude wetlands in South Africa and one that has been declared a Ramsar wetland of international importance. As one of the few locations in Africa that supports the globally Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail, Ntsikeni Vlei has been identified as an important site for the conservation of this species.

At a meeting of the White-winged Flufftail International Working Group in 2019, the launch of a project that would involve the local community was identified as a priority action and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment was to look into opportunities to develop such a project. Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is bordered to the south and east by many villages of the Umzimkhulu Local Municipality within the Sisonke District Municipality, where the unemployment rate is high and the youth unemployment rate even higher; few people older than 20 have higher education and more than 60% of households are headed by women. 

The rolling grasslands, steep rocky mountains and boggy wetlands of Ntsikeni Nature Reserve provide a haven for threatened birds such as Bearded Vulture, Wattled Crane and White-winged Flufftail. Credit Sipho Ndebele

Two tourist lodges built in the reserve in 2003 as a community development project are administered by the Ntsikeni Liaison Forum, which acts as a go-between for the reserve authority and the rural community. The lodges, however, are operating at a loss and are not being maintained. Nevertheless, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve provides a means to alleviate poverty and develop skills in the area through community-based projects. This not only develops a community’s appreciation of the value of nature, but also opens up more opportunities for job creation through improved ecosystem service delivery.

BirdLife South Africa’s primary focus is to conserve the most important sites for bird species and their habitats, mitigate direct threats to these and create an environment in which effective conservation can be facilitated by engaging with local communities. For the Ntsikeni project, the organisation has identified objectives that fall broadly into three categories, based on the most pressing conservation and management requirements of the reserve and the needs of the surrounding communities: ecotourism development, habitat restoration and reserve infrastructure. Phase 1 of the Ntsikeni Community Project will focus on developing ecotourism and includes:

  • providing the public with tourist information (a website interface, signage, maps, brochures and checklists);
  • providing an automated booking and payment system on the proposed website for accommodation at Ntsikeni Lodge and conference facilities at May Lodge;
  • establishing and maintaining hiking trails with signage and infrastructure for erosion control and river crossings;
  • documenting, preserving and mapping notable sites, whether cultural (such as San rock art) or natural (such as waterfalls, Bearded Vulture nest), for the benefit of visitors and erecting signboards to communicate the history and significance of these sites.

Funding is needed to carry out this work. If you are interested in supporting the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve Community Project, please contact me at You can find out more about the project at


Caught on camera

BirdLife South Africa assists Ekapa Minerals with monitoring the various bird and mammal species on Rooifontein, a beautiful farm just outside Kimberley that is owned and managed by the mining company. The mobile app BirdLasser is used to compile a bird list for the property, while camera traps placed at strategic points record mammals. One of the camera traps is positioned at the entrance to an aardvark burrow and has taken some amazing images. BirdLife South Africa will continue to work with Ekapa to ensure that Rooifontein continues to cater to the needs of its animal inhabitants.


Not surprisingly, many images have been captured of the secretive aardvark as it visits its burrow.


Caracal has been caught only once on camera.


A family of porcupines – two adults and a pup – was photographed one night. When presumably the same family was ‘caught’ again a few weeks later, the pup was considerably larger.


Rooifontein is home to various antelope species and we regularly record springbok and kudu.

Taita Falcon conservation

A Taita Falcon in Niassa National Reserve. Credit Claire Spottiswoode

BirdLife South Africa’s virtual workshop to develop strategies for the conservation of the Taita Falcon in southern Africa was attended by 10 participants who are or have been involved in research on the species. They included independent ornithological consultants, representatives from BirdLife Zimbabwe and the president of the Peregrine Fund, and the discussion benefited considerably from their varied expertise, enabling us to set a course for our work in the year ahead.

As Taita Falcon Species Guardians, Anthony van Zyl and Dr Andrew Jenkins gave an overview of their 15 years of monitoring the Taita Falcon population in South Africa. Unfortunately, their surveys seem to be documenting a steady decline. As the species is poorly understood and the South African population is at the edge of its range, it is difficult to determine what conservation action is advisable and whether the decline can be reversed. We speculate that large-scale habitat transformation and the occupation of the Taitas’ territory by larger falcons may be major contributors to the downward trend. Modelling by BirdLife South Africa’s Robin Colyn seems to indicate that this is indeed the case. The habitat transformation may well be irreparable, which does not bode well for the long-term survival of South Africa’s Taita Falcons.

However, we do not know enough about the biology and ecology of the species to fully interpret the results of the monitoring. The current low sample size of active territories in South Africa makes any in-depth study here difficult. This and the need to identify and protect more viable Taita strongholds refocused our sights further afield. A survey at Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique, which may well be a stronghold, was identified as a priority for Taita Falcon conservation. One of the most exciting outcomes of the workshop was that we have potentially secured funding for this endeavour through the Peregrine Fund. BirdLife South Africa is immensely grateful to the fund for its interest in this ambitious project. 

If a healthy Taita Falcon population is found in Niassa National Reserve, this would be a huge leap forward for the conservation of the species in southern Africa. We hope that the in-depth research required to guide Taita Falcon conservation could be conducted on such a population.


KBAs in Zambia

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are the most important places in the world for species and their habitats. Faced with a global environmental crisis, we need to focus our collective efforts on conserving the areas that matter most. The KBA Programme supports the identification, mapping, monitoring and conservation of KBAs to help safeguard the most critical sites for nature on our planet – from rainforests to reefs, mountains to marshes, deserts to grasslands and the deepest parts of the oceans. By mapping these important areas, and understanding the spatial limits of the various trigger species, governments, industry and other stakeholders can make informed decisions about how these areas are managed and protected, and where to avoid unsustainable developments.

The Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (published by the IUCN in 2016) sets out globally agreed criteria for the ‘bottom-up’ consultative, science-based identification of KBAs to be led by the National Coordination Group. The KBA Standard was developed by building on the criteria of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), which are areas identified as being globally important for the conservation of bird populations. All existing IBAs identified before the KBA Standard in 2016 qualify as KBAs, either Global or Regional. It is important – and a global priority – that countries implement programmes that reassess these KBA sites against the KBA Standard and identify new KBAs, taking into account additional taxa and ecosystems.

On 28 June 2021, a virtual workshop was held to introduce the concept of KBAs to relevant stakeholders in Zambia; understand the spatial planning tools and biodiversity data that already exist; and provide guidance on the next steps to initiate the KBA process and assessment. My colleague Dr Simeon Bezeng, the KBA Regional Focal Point for western and southern Africa, and I, together with BirdWatch Zambia, the BirdLife partner in Zambia, set up this workshop and it was conducted in collaboration with the KBA Secretariat, the IUCN, Botanical Gardens Conservation International, WWF–Zambia and the Frankfurt Zoological Society. There were more than 30 participants and two of the key outcomes were the nomination and acceptance of BirdWatch Zambia to take the lead in driving the KBA process forward in Zambia and the development of a road map outlining the next steps to securing the buy-in of key government departments and other relevant stakeholders. BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Programme looks forward to assisting BirdWatch Zambia as this important process unfolds in Zambia.

For more information, please contact me at


Critical lessons from tracking penguins

Katta Ludynia of SANCCOB (left) and Tegan Carpenter-Kling of BirdLife South Africa retrieve a GPS logger from an African Penguin breeding at Boulder’s Beach, near Simon’s Town.

Winter is the African Penguin’s core breeding season in South Africa and a busy period for conservation scientists who are conducting research into the species. Scientists from BirdLife South Africa, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), South African National Parks (SANParks), Nelson Mandela University and the University of Paris are investigating how prey availability, competition for prey with fisheries and increasing marine traffic influence the penguins’ foraging performance during this critical life stage. Once we have a better understanding of how the ensemble of anthropogenic and natural stressors influence the survival of Africa’s only penguin species, we can help inform conservation and management strategies that we hope will alleviate some of the pressures these birds face.

An image grabbed from a miniaturised camera attached to an adult African Penguin from the
Stony Point breeding colony in 2021. Penguins are corralling fish into a bait ball while another
seabird, probably a Sooty Shearwater, dives in for a share too.

To do this, we use some of the latest technology available to study the birds in their marine environment. Over the course of the breeding season, GPS loggers, hydrophones and animal-borne cameras were attached to adult penguins breeding in the Stony Point and Simon’s Town colonies. These remarkable miniaturised devices give us valuable insight into the lives of the aquatic birds. It’s incredible to think that just a few decades ago many scientists thought that this was impossible! 

During June and July, we and colleagues from SANCCOB, SANParks and CapeNature deployed loggers on birds breeding at the Stony Point and Simon’s Town colonies. A camera attached to a bird breeding at Stony Point revealed amazing footage of many seabirds feeding on a fish bait ball near Hermanus. This is the largest bait ball that has been recorded since these devices were first deployed in 2015 and hopefully a sign that fish stocks are relatively healthy during the current breeding season.

Our field season is nearly complete and so far we are exceedingly happy with the data we have already collected. The logger deployments at Stony Point will be used to compare these results with the Automated Penguin Monitoring System’s outputs in the hope that we can track the condition of penguins continuously and in real time during their breeding season. These data will be extremely valuable for implementing adaptive management strategies to counter at-sea threats to these birds.


Be a Conservation League Donor

Don’t miss out – the Conservation League Donor competition closes at the end of August. Become a Conservation League Donor and you could win a four-night stay for two people at Zimanga Private Game Reserve, valued at R40 000. To qualify, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R3000 in addition to your membership fee. We can issue a Section 18A tax certificate for this donation. All new and current Conservation League Donors will be entered into the lucky draw.

Entries must be received by 31 August 2021 and the draw will take place on 7 September 2021.

The prize includes accommodation, all meals, four game drives, one lagoon or scavenger hide session, one Mkombe or Behjane hide session and one overnight hide session. Zimanga is the first reserve in Africa designed for avid safari enthusiasts while simultaneously addressing the needs of wildlife photographers of all levels, offering exclusive wildlife-viewing experiences and innovative photographic opportunities unlike any found elsewhere on the continent. The prize will need to be redeemed by April 2022 (booking subject to availability).

For more information, please contact me at


And we have a winner!

Congratulations to Russell Adams, who won a pair of ZEISS Terra ED 10×42 binoculars in the lucky draw competition for new BirdLife South Africa members at the Virtual African Bird Fair at the end of July. We wish Russell many happy hours of birding with his new binoculars!


Shop for the Birds! online

Despite Shop for the Birds! having been closed for many months because of Covid-19, we have had numerous requests from BirdLife South Africa members who have wanted to purchase items. So it’s been a natural progression for us to go online. Uploading our products is still a work in progress, but the fun is about to begin as we go out in search of fresh and interesting bird-related items to stock.

We plan to assist you with your monthly bird seed and suet purchases, we will soon start operating a second-hand bird book shelf and if you’re after a new book that’s not in stock we’ll do our best to source it for you (minimum orders may apply). Bulk book orders are our speciality, and we’ll happily discuss the sourcing of corporate gifts, room drops and year-end gifts. We’re also excited about the imminent arrival of our Flock to Marion Island merchandise.

In the meantime, we have lots of familiar items, such as bird books, general titles and children’s books, African Birdlife magazines, soft toys, lapel pins, coffee, mugs, ZEISS binoculars, lens wipes, T-shirts and bird food and feeders on our shelves, as well as gift vouchers and cards for all occasions.

Please keep in touch; our members, friendships and connections are incredibly important to us and we look forward to the weather warming up and to a time when we are once again able to open our shop doors at Isdell House and offer you a coffee and a biscotti while you browse!

BirdLife South Africa’s wishlist

These are the items currently on the BirdLife South Africa Wishlist:

  • A high-clearance vehicle. BirdLife South Africa’s community bird guides are ambassadors for the environment in their communities. Support from the Italtile & Ceramic Foundation has enabled us to expand our community conservation work in northern KwaZulu-Natal with a project that falls under the Empowering People Programme and aims to offer established community bird guides opportunities for further training. We still need a vehicle for this project and, given the areas to be visited, it should ideally be one with high clearance. Please e-mail Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson at for more information or if you can assist.
  • Birding equipment. The community bird guides and the education programmes in their communities are in need of optical equipment, especially spotting scopes but also binoculars. Old laptops are incredibly useful, as are cameras and lenses and also bird books. Please e-mail Andrew de Blocq at for more information or if you can donate any of these items.
  • The pump for the Isdell House ponds in Dunkeld West needs a service; any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
  • Funds for a new protocol for the BirdLasser app. The BirdLasser team accepted BirdLife South Africa’s proposal to add a point count and transect protocol to the BirdLasser mobile application. This new protocol will enable us to obtain population data for threatened and other bird species. Accurate population data are important for various reasons, for example, when evaluating the Red List status of birds. We are looking for funding to cover the development costs. If you would like to make a donation to help cover these costs, please e-mail Ernst Retief at

Lucky gets lucky with a new scope

Swarovski Optik has been supporting BirdLife South Africa’s Community Bird Guide Project for two decades, providing financial contributions as well as loan equipment for some of the top guides. In July, Lucky Ngwenya became the first of the guides to be loaned a Swarovski spotting scope. Based at the BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre, Lucky is widely known as a ‘lark whisperer’ and has shown countless local and international visitors their Rudd’s Lark and Botha’s Lark lifers. He is incredibly grateful for this very useful addition to his guiding kit and will be putting it to good use on his tours. To book a tour with Lucky, please contact Kristi Garland at


Lucky Ngwenya with his Swarovski Optik spotting scope.

Another Virtual African Bird Fair success

With an audience of more than 1800 people tuning in from across Africa and around the world, this year’s Virtual African Bird Fair was the biggest event in African birding. It came together thanks to its sponsors, speakers, exhibitors and auction donors – and, of course, all the participants who, undaunted by the intricacies of the interactive software program, managed to find their way around our novel virtual event platform. As most of the events took place on the Saturday, families were able to spend quality time together listening to a talk or attending a workshop.

Although guest speakers Chris Packham CBE and David Lindo were the major drawcards, there were many others who contributed to the action-packed programme and we are grateful to everyone who donated their time, effort and enthusiasm. If you missed them, the free sessions are available on BirdLife South Africa’s YouTube channel. 

Seventy items were on offer in the silent auction, ranging from accommodation, wine and art to binoculars, hampers and books. A late donation of 10 air tickets from lifted the bidding stakes, creating a fun, fast-paced and exciting end to the auction deadline. The Bird Search game saw those with a competitive streak quick off the mark – yes, we all love a challenge! We eagerly watched the scores climb and before too long our winner appeared. Even the intervention of the late afternoon rugby match between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions did not distract from our Wine Down Quiz, which is becoming the most popular bird quiz on the continent. Who thought multiple-choice questions were easy?

The Virtual African Bird Fair is one of BirdLife South Africa’s most important annual events, and not just because it raises unencumbered funding for our important conservation work. It also serves to increase awareness about birds and their conservation in South Africa and beyond our borders.

The organising team thanks everyone who contributed and attended, and we look forward to seeing you all again at the Virtual African Bird Fair in 2022.


The IOCongress is coming to Durban

The 28th International Ornithological Congress will take place from 15 to 19 August 2022 and will include 45 state-of-the-art symposiums, more than 500 ‘live’ talk slots, 34 round-table discussions, unlimited virtual posters and nine plenary sessions. All scientifically valid submissions will be included in the virtual programme as pre-recorded oral presentations and the best presentations to have been submitted early will be selected for in-person ‘live’ talks during the physical conference. Attendance can be in person or virtual and all contributions will be available as pre-recorded podcasts at any time, so every presentation can be seen regardless of timetabling or location. The entire programme of virtual presentation podcasts will then form the conference proceedings.

There will be time for ‘play’ too: half-day birding excursions and small group birding outings with local guides early each morning, as well as opportunities to combine the conference with wider birding and safari opportunities in southern Africa. 

For more information, visit 

As a supporting partner, BirdLife South Africa is looking forward to seeing you in person or virtually at the IOCongress™ in Durban in August next year. 


Lindsey moves to BirdLife International

At the end of July, BirdLife South Africa said farewell to Lindsey Smith, who has spent the past seven months as part-time assistant to the Regional Conservation and Policy & Advocacy programmes. As an admitted attorney with a wealth of experience in administering protected area and biodiversity conservation, Lindsey has certainly made her mark during her time with the organisation. The Policy & Advocacy Programme in particular has benefited enormously from her well-reasoned and pragmatic legal opinions. She has played an especially pronounced role in screening and commenting on development applications, analysing the legal and policy framework applicable to Lesser Flamingo conservation at Kamfers Dam and exploring ways in which the BirdLife Africa partnership can more actively engage with the World Heritage Convention.

Lindsey also provided administrative services to the Regional Conservation Programme and was responsible for the development of marketing materials and for logistical support for the Cycle in the Bush event. In her role as Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Secretary, she assisted Daniel Marnewick, the KBA African Representative and Community Chair, and Dr Simeon Bezeng, the KBA Regional Focal Point for western and southern Africa. She also provided invaluable input into the development of the Regional Conservation Programme Strategy (2021–2025). 

As part of BirdLife International’s global policy team, Lindsey will work to deliver on a range of significant biodiversity and development policy and advocacy initiatives, with a particular focus on safeguarding biodiversity associated with renewable energy and other developments. We have no doubt that Lindsey will make a valuable contribution to BirdLife International’s work and we wish her every success.


Bird of the Year 2021

Classified as Near Threatened, the Cape Rockjumper faces a number of challenges that threaten its future, prime among them being habitat loss and climate change. Learn more about these challenges from the latest infographic about this charismatic species, which is available for free on the BirdLife South Africa website at and on our social platforms. 

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


Penguins at De Hoop 

Juvenile African Penguins wait to be released after arriving at De Hoop Nature Reserve. Credit David Roberts/SANCCOB

The African Penguin population is decreasing rapidly, primarily due to lack of food. A shift in fish stocks away from the species’ former feeding grounds along the west coast of South Africa and competition with the fishing industry have meant that African Penguins breeding on the west coast are struggling to find food. The birds have been unable to follow the changed prey distribution because of a lack of safe breeding sites along the southern Cape coast. Penguins established a small colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve in 2003, but predation by caracals caused them to abandon it a few years later. 

In 2015, when BirdLife South Africa began investigating whether it would be possible to establish new African Penguin colonies, the erstwhile De Hoop colony was chosen as an ideal candidate for the site. In partnership with CapeNature, BirdLife South Africa designed and constructed a predator-proof fence to ensure that this time the penguins would be safe. To entice penguins to recolonise the area naturally, life-like penguin decoys and penguin calls broadcast by loudspeakers help create the impression that penguins are breeding there.

One of the penguins fitted with a GPS tracker. Credit Alistair McInnes/BirdLife South Africa

After waiting two years to test whether natural colonisation would happen, BirdLife South Africa and CapeNature approached the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to assist with taking the next step, which is to release penguins at the colony. The first release of 30 penguins took place on 11 June. One week later, a second group of 28 birds was released. 

These releases will be the first of many and are the culmination of many years of work. Although there are more years of hard work ahead of us, it is an important step to take now, as the longer we wait, the more penguins we lose.

The released penguins were hand-reared at SANCCOB; most hatched from abandoned eggs rescued at the Stony Point penguin colony and incubated at the organisation’s Table View facility. The penguins are released as fledglings that have not yet chosen a place to breed. Once an African Penguin starts breeding at a colony, it will return there year after year. The released fledglings left the colony area, as expected and is normal for penguins of this age. However, we hope that they will return to De Hoop Nature Reserve to breed when they are ready to do so in three to six years’ time. 

In addition to the released birds being individually marked with Passive Integrated Transponders for post-release monitoring, four of them were fitted with GPS trackers to monitor their movements immediately after release.

We are grateful to our partners, CapeNature and SANCCOB, and all the donors who have made this work possible, particularly Pamela Isdell, the Patron of the African Penguin.


Birding allsorts

Whether you’re interested in biology (predator–prey tussles), species focus (Montagu’s Harrier and South African Shelduck), birding personalities (Peter Steyn), off-the-beaten-track birding (Baviaanskloof) or reviews of the latest equipment (spotting scopes), you’ll find it in the July/August issue of African Birdlife. Or perhaps you just like to marvel at stunning bird portraits – they’re here too. Plus you get the latest news from the Fitz, SABAP and BirdLife South Africa, chances to test your birding wits and a round-up of rare bird sightings. What better for a cosy read on the couch?

Virtual African Bird Fair 2021

The Virtual African Bird Fair platform is now open for registration at In addition to being able to interact with exhibitors and online stores and to network with other birders around the continent and beyond – all of which is free – participants are invited to listen to keynote speakers and attend workshops. The fee charged for these events will go towards the conservation of South Africa’s birds.

Keynote speakers are Chris Packham, CBE, an English naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author; and David Lindo, a British birder, broadcaster, tour leader and author, also known as the Urban Birder. The fee for each lecture is R100 per person.

The three workshops are

  • Basics of Birding with Lance Robinson
  • Raptors with Niel Cillié and Prof. Johann Knobel
  • Bird Photography Masterclass with Albert Froneman

The fee is R100 per person per workshop or R250 for a workshop bundle pass that will give you access to all three workshops.

To read more about the Virtual African Bird Fair, please go to 


Thank you, Bryan!

Bryan Butler has been associated with Somerset West Bird Club since 2012, when he became a committee member after volunteering to take over the production of Batis. As the newsletter’s editor he made many changes, including opening it to advertising and introducing colour. When Brian Dennis retired as the club’s chairman in 2015, Bryan took over and, among other achievements, led the club back into the BirdLife South Africa fold.

Born in England, Bryan moved to South Africa with his parents in 1947. He was schooled in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg and graduated from Rhodes with a degree in Psychology and English. Initially he practised as a market researcher, then moved into advertising and became the media director of one of the largest agencies. At the time of his retirement he was the managing director of the company that handled the advertising placements of companies such as Unilever.

As a young man Bryan was a keen birder, but marriage, children and business commitments edged out his hobby. When his two children left home he returned to birding and was a founder member of the Rand Barbets Bird Club in Johannesburg. He and his wife Jill retired to Somerset West in 2002 and after Jill passed away 10 years later Bryan attended a birding course presented by Anton Odendaal. He was hooked back into his favourite hobby.

An inspirational chairman, Bryan has left big shoes to fill. His good sense of humour and ready wit made any club meeting a joyful experience, and when Covid struck he remained enthusiastic, helping the club to stay on track under difficult circumstances. He will be missed as chairman, but fortunately is still available for help and information – we’ll be sure to make use of his experience!

World Albatross Day

On 19 June BirdLife South Africa joined the rest of the world in celebrating World Albatross Day, an initiative of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). ACAP works by coordinating international activities aimed at finding best-practice solutions that reduce the threats to albatross and petrel populations. The theme for this year’s World Albatross Day – Ensuring Albatross-friendly Fisheries – drew attention to the dangers posed to albatrosses by fishing gear and to how these dangers can be mitigated. In support of this day, we at the Albatross Task Force (ATF) in South Africa featured the two most threatened albatross species, one of which, the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross, occurs in our waters.

Albatrosses, the largest flying birds, are exquisitely adapted to effortlessly brave the wildest of storms and howling winds. These slow-maturing seabirds with an extraordinary lifespan of approximately 70 years, readily circumnavigate the Southern Ocean, covering thousands of kilometres to bring back a single meal for their chick. Their quest for food, however, often brings them into close contact with fishing vessels. Attracted to fish discards and the baited hooks, they are easily injured or killed when they become ensnared in or collide with fishing gear. This form of mortality is known as ‘bycatch’ and it is a leading cause of declining populations among the 22 albatross species around the world.

Credit: Charlie Thomas

Bycatch can take several forms, depending on the fishing gear used. In the trawl fishery, as the birds engage in a feeding frenzy behind the vessel, they can be fatally struck by the cables towing the net and dragged under by the force of the water. In demersal (sea-floor) and pelagic (open-ocean) longline fisheries the seabirds, mostly albatrosses and petrels, are attracted to baited hooks that target fish such as tuna and hake. As baited hooks take some time to sink to their fishing depth, scavenging albatrosses attack the bait, get caught on the hooks and ultimately drown.

The international ATF is a team of seabird bycatch experts supported by the Birdlife International Marine Programme and its efforts to ensure that fisheries are albatross-friendly are ongoing. By directly engaging and collaborating with fisheries stakeholders on the ground, the BirdLife South Africa ATF team is implementing seabird bycatch mitigation measures in various fisheries. A dramatic reduction in albatross deaths has been achieved in the hake trawl fishery, from 7300 fatalities annually in 2004–2005 to fewer than 100 today. With much still to be done in other fisheries, as well as in maintaining the reductions already achieved, the work of the ATF remains critical.

World Albatross Day featured several online activities and campaigns, including free downloadable infographic posters produced by ACAP. These posters have been made available to schools and members of the public to draw attention to the albatrosses’ conservation crisis. The Grey-headed Albatross was crowned the 2021 Albatross World Cup champion during a Twitter campaign @AlbyTaskForce and Instagram pages @albatross_stories. Organised by the international ATF team, the campaign featured fun short video clips on each of the 22 albatross species, and the Grey-headed won the poll – thanks for voting! Let’s keep working together to highlight the unnecessary mortality of these magnificent birds and try to reduce it. In case you missed the celebrations, please check hashtags #WorldAlbatrossDay, #WAD2021 and #AlbatrossWorldCup. Visit our Twitter @AlbyTaskForce and Instagram pages @albatross_stories. You can find out what we do here in South Africa at and internationally at Please join us next year on the same day to celebrate our magnificent albatrosses.


Congratulations to Owl Award recipients

Warm congratulations to the recipients of BirdLife South Africa’s 2021 Owl Awards. The presentation of the awards took place virtually on 22 June, with an audience of about 600. All those who received Owl Awards are making important contributions to the conservation of South Africa’s birds.

The recipients are:

EAGLE-OWL AWARDS: Geoff Lockwood, Mabula Ground Hornbill Project

OWL AWARDS: Dullstroom Trout Farm, Nicolette Forbes, Peter Ginn, Chris Lotz, Sithembiso Blessing Majoka, Gavin Petersen, Saul Sithole, Clive Vivier, Crystelle Wilson 

OWLET AWARD: Mark Heystek and Justin Ponder.

To read the citations, go to


Government says no to Karpowership

The draft EIA for Algoa Bay recognised that underwater noise may adversely affect African Penguins by increasing their foraging effort and, consequently, negatively impacting their reproductive success. However, an underwater noise impact assessment was not performed. Credit Chris van Rooyen

On 23 June 2021, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) announced its decision in respect of three applications submitted by Karpowership SA (Pty) Ltd to develop gas-to-power via powerships in the ports of Nqgura, Richards Bay and Saldanha Bay. In a win for conservation, all three applications were refused.

Karpowership had received preferred bidder status in terms of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. However, the proposed projects have long been fraught with controversy. In 2020, the applicants evoked an emergency provision in South Africa’s environmental legislation to try to sidestep entirely the requirement to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and obtain environmental authorisations. The DFFE initially granted this exemption. However, its decision to do so was ultimately reversed following public outcry over the apparent abuse of process and Karpowerships was directed to conduct EIAs. 

When eventually released for comment, the draft EIAs and their supporting specialist reports attracted a throng of objections. BirdLife South Africa’s submissions focused specifically on the proposed operations at Saldanha Bay and the Port of Ngqura (in Algoa Bay), both of which hold populations of South Africa’s most threatened seabirds. 

BirdLife South Africa’s central concerns pertained to the EIAs’ failure to quantify potential underwater noise emissions. The draft EIAs recognised that such emissions may adversely affect marine species (such as the Endangered African Penguins breeding on the nearby Jaheel and St Croix islands) and their specialist reports emphasised the need to properly assess underwater noise levels and their potential impacts. However, no such assessments were undertaken. This and other gaps in the EIAs meant that the DFFE was not presented with adequate information to understand fully the projects’ potential impacts. Other shortcomings included inadequacies in the public participation process and the addition of significant new information to the final EIAs that was not made available for public comment.

BirdLife South Africa welcomes the DFFE’s decision on these applications. Our organisation is becoming increasingly concerned about marine noise pollution and its impacts on African Penguins and other marine predators and considers it crucial that such impacts receive adequate consideration in development application processes. In addition to protecting various threatened species against impacts that had been identified as potentially harmful, the DFFE’s decision on the Karpowership applications sends an important message to environmental assessment practitioners that shoddily performed EIAs will not be accepted. All too often, South Africa’s EIA process is, unfortunately, diminished to a tick-box exercise, in which potential negative impacts go without rigorous assessment and little effort is made to identify meaningful mitigation measures. This approach is incompatible with the constitutional imperative to secure ecologically sustainable development. We are encouraged by the DFFE’s refusal to tolerate it in this instance and hope that the department will remain firm in this stance when deciding the appeals that Karpowership has submitted in respect of these three applications.


Membership fees go up

BirdLife South Africa’s membership fees increase annually on 1 July each year. The new fees for 2021–2022 are:

Ordinary members R650

Senior citizens R470

Youth/Students R450

For any membership-related queries, please contact me at


Conservation League Donor competition

Become a Conservation League Donor and you could win this great prize! To qualify, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R3000 in addition to your membership fee. We can issue a Section 18A tax certificate for this donation. All current and new Conservation League Donors will be entered into the lucky draw.

Entries must be received by 31 August 2021 and the draw will take place on 7 September 2021.

The prize includes accommodation, all meals, four game drives, one lagoon or scavenger hide session, one Mkombe or Behjane hide session and one overnight hide session. Zimanga is the first reserve in Africa designed for avid safari enthusiasts while simultaneously addressing the needs of wildlife photographers of all levels, offering exclusive wildlife-viewing experiences and innovative photographic opportunities unlike any found elsewhere on the continent. The prize will need to be redeemed by April 2022 (booking subject to availability).

For more information, please contact me at


A new, ‘innovative’ manager

Credit: Anja Kirchdoerfer Lee

BirdLife South Africa has appointed Dr Alan Lee as the Ekapa Science and Innovation Manager, to work with Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Ernst Retief in continuing the valuable information pipeline for spatial products that help inform conservation decisions and management. Alan is a conservation biologist and data scientist with a passion for the natural world and figuring out how it works. He is no stranger to BirdLife South Africa, having worked on surveys of fynbos and Karoo birds over the past decade. 

He lives and conducts most of his research on Blue Hill Nature Reserve in the Western Cape. This remote location offers few distractions and, in his previous independent capacity, enabled him to maintain a prolific contribution to Africa’s ornithology. He has accomplished several projects that were largely thought to be impossible: obtaining density estimates for Blue-headed Macaw and other parrot species; a biome-wide survey of the endemic birds of the fynbos conducted on foot and by bicycle; getting the Ostrich journal’s impact factor over 1; and obtaining density estimates, population sizes and ecological parameters to determine the distribution of the Fynbos Buttonquail. For having undertaken and completed these projects, some people consider him to be an ‘extreme biologist’, but Alan considers himself largely retired from such a role and at BirdLife South Africa he prefers to see himself rather as Ned Leeds (Spiderman’s guy in the chair). In essence, he is looking forward to working with BirdLife South Africa staff and partners (and their data) to create an enviable scientific publication record for the organisation. 

Since taking up the position as the editor of Ostrich in 2016 and guiding it over its strongest period in recent history, Alan’s firm relationship with BirdLife South Africa has continued. In essence, this is because the organisation’s vision is also his own: to see a country where nature and people live in greater harmony and more equitably and sustainably. Similarly, his life mission, like BirdLife South Africa’s, is to contribute to bird conservation by informing policy through science-based research. 

Alan is affiliated to the FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town and the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is a member of the SABAP2 steering committee and holds the scientific chair for the International Ornithological Congress’s local organising committee. He is also the manager of Blue Hill Nature Reserve, a consultant to various organisations and academic bodies, and the founder of the Uniondale Fitness Club. 

On our wish list

With the support of Italtile & Ceramic Foundation, BirdLife South Africa is expanding its conservation work in conjunction with communities in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Our aim is to get established community bird guides involved and provide them with up-skilling and additional training opportunities. These men and women are ambassadors for the environment in their communities.

We will be appointing a manager for the Empowering People Programme to oversee this work in Zululand, but we still need a vehicle for the project. In view of the roads to be travelled and the areas to be visited, we ideally need a vehicle with high clearance. If you are able to assist or would like to find out more, please contact me at


Ostrich goes above and beyond

Not only the scientific journal of BirdLife South Africa, Ostrich is also the leading journal for African ornithology, yet it has always lagged in the top 20 rankings of international ornithological journals. But things are looking up, and for the first time its impact factor has risen above 1. But what is an impact factor? In short, it is a measure of how often research published in a journal appeared in other scientific journals over the preceding two years. Over the period 2018–2019, on average each paper in Ostrich was cited at least once, giving the journal an impact score of 1.36 for 2020. There are many ways of ranking journals, but impact factor is the best known. Ostrich has been improving on all metrics, including the more stable five-year impact factor (now 1.26) and the Scopus CiteScore (1.8). 

To fully appreciate this recent achievement requires an understanding of how science and academia work. Generally, scientists need to publish in a peer-reviewed journal in order to have their research results validated by the scientific community. There are numerous types of journals, many of which will publish ornithological work. In academia there is great pressure – both social and institutional – to publish in ‘top’ journals, which are those with high impact factor scores. 

These scores depend mostly on how often work in the journal is referred to in other research: cited research is ‘important’ research. This means that prestigious journals get many submissions and can pick and choose what they publish, thus ensuring they stay ‘high impact’. At the other end of the spectrum, journals with a low impact factor get fewer submissions and have to make do with what they get. Top international journals, such as Science and Nature, have impact factors of about 40; the top ornithological journals punch only slightly above 2. ‘Sub-1’ journals, which Ostrich was, are held in low esteem in the world of academia. When leading research is going to other journals, it is an uphill battle to increase the impact factor – if your impact factor is low, how do you attract the articles that will get cited and thus increase your impact factor?

So how did Ostrich do it? When I took over the journal in 2016 I introduced an advisory board that including respected names in the field: Prof. Colleen Downs, Prof. Phoebe Barnard and Prof. Adrian Craig, among others. Since Ostrich is also Africa’s journal of ornithology and half of Africa speaks French, I also instituted translations of abstracts into French: special thanks go to Imad Cherkoui for his efforts over the years. Social media accounts were set up for the first time, with a particularly active Twitter account (@ostrichJAO). To increase regional and professional coverage, up-and-coming ornithologists were approached to be associate editors, while others in the top ranks were actively solicited for articles. I too contributed my best research to special issues. 

Particular thanks must also go to Susie Cunningham, Chevonne Reynolds, Doug Harebottle and Petra Sumasgutner, who organised special issues of Ostrich on topical themes. In fact, the increase in the journal impact factor was probably kick-started by a special issue by Rob Little dedicated to the late Phil Hockey in 2015. 

Relationships with the publishers, NISC and Taylor & Francis, were improved. NISC agreed to do individual issue covers. Service to authors became a top priority and a special effort was made to identify interesting research submitted that needed additional work to improve articles from authors for whom English was only a distant language. Also, close attention was paid to reviewers’ decisions, as ignoring their decisions undermines the integrity of the journal. Almost all South Africa’s top ornithologists were probably shocked and annoyed by rejections from Ostrich over the past few years. On the plus side, going forward they will have more to boast about when their articles are published in Ostrich


Buy your raffle ticket now!

You can help our country’s birds by purchasing a ticket in BirdLife South Africa’s annual raffle. But you need to be fast, as there were only 1000 tickets available and we have sold 810. 

A sincere thank you to everybody who has bought a ticket. All funds raised go to BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work.


Protecting personal information

The Protection of Personal Information Act (‘POPIA’) is effective from 1 July 2021. POPIA regulates how we manage personal information and special personal information of individuals and juristic persons. As per our privacy policy, your personal information is being processed in line with our terms and conditions and for the legitimate purpose for which it was provided.

You are hereby notified that you are entitled to refuse consent for your personal information to be held in our database. You may exercise your right to refuse by notifying BirdLife South Africa at, now or at any time in the future, that you no longer wish to be listed on our database. Should you elect not to respond, it will be accepted that you have consented to be a part of this database. Please ensure that your personal information is updated as required. 

Should we intend to use your information for any purpose other than for which it was collected, we will seek your consent.

For more information, please go to

Thank you for allowing us to keep your information safe.


Bird of the Year 2021

Lesson plans about BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2021, the Cape Rockjumper, explore topics such as its biology and conservation and how it is affected by the changing climate. This educational material is available free on our social media platforms and our website at, and you can also download a great new poster!

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


BirdLife South Africa’s 2020 Annual Report

Compiling an annual report for a conservation organisation such as BirdLife South Africa gives insight into the enormous amount of work that a dedicated and hardworking team can achieve in 12 months. Although the report is only a summary of all that we did in 2020, it does provide a glimpse into our staff’s ongoing efforts to conserve South Africa’s birds and their habitats.

Sappi kindly sponsored the design, paper and printing costs of the report. E-mail if you would like a hard or soft copy of it. Alternatively, it can be downloaded from (follow the link on the home page).

The Saul Sithole Memorial Library

Saul Sithole (right) with Austin Roberts (left).

One of the unsung heroes of ornithology in southern Africa was recognised on 29 May when, at its Annual General Meeting, BirdLife South Africa commemorated Saul Sithole for his significant contribution to our understanding of birds by naming its library after him.

For more than 60 years, Saul Sithole (1908–1997) was an invaluable assistant to South African anthropologists and ornithologists, including Austin Roberts. Little-known highlights of his career were a six-week collecting trip into the wilds of Zululand in 1932 and being alongside Dr Robert Broom at the Sterkfontein Caves in August 1936 when the Australopithecus africanus skull known as ‘Mrs Ples’ was discovered.

Saul was born in Standerton and grew up in Mamelodi in Pretoria. He started his career at the city’s Transvaal (now Ditsong) Natural History Museum in 1928, initially as a cleaner, and two years later joined the Vernay-Lang Kalahari expedition, a collaborative effort between the museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This marked the beginning of his specialisation in birds. His last expedition was to the Blouberg region of Limpopo with the ornithologist OPM Prozesky.

Saul’s proudest moment , as he related to the entomologist Charles Kock during a trip to Angola in 1956, was when he showed Austin Roberts how to collect black-and-white striped beetles in the dunes of Namibia. Roberts acknowledged the rare find in Ostrich, BirdLife South Africa’s ornithological journal.

The organisation is grateful to Themba Zitha, Saul’s great-grandson, and other members of his family for permission to commemorate the unsung ornithologist in this way.


New leader for Cycle in the Bush

Unfortunately, ongoing travel restrictions in the United Kingdom will prevent Phil Liggett from leading our popular mountain biking fundraising event, Cycle in the Bush, in 2021. We have, however, engaged Stephen McGown to take his place.

After living and working in the United Kingdom for seven years, Stephen and his wife decided to return home to South Africa. While travelling by motorbike from London to South Africa, Stephen was abducted with a Dutchman and a Swedish national in Mali by Al Qaeda. He was held hostage deep in the Sahara Desert for almost six years, with very little contact with his family. Finally released in 2017, he is the longest surviving Al Qaeda hostage to date.

Stephen’s story of resilience, survival and overcoming adversity has enthralled and inspired audiences and is most apt during this global pandemic. Above all, he embraces and shares the philosophy that ‘freedom is an attitude’.

We invite you to join Cycle in the Bush 2021 and have the chance to meet Stephen and hear his story of inspiration while cycling in Big 5 territory at Abelana Game Reserve. The event takes place from 24 to 27 September and costs R13 000 per person sharing.

Non-cycling spouses, partners and friends are welcome to join in! Bring your own regular mountain bike or E-bike or hire one – a limited number are available at additional cost.

For more information or to book, contact me at Terms and conditions apply.


Gill Memorial Medal goes to David Allan

The Gill Memorial Medal is awarded for outstanding lifetime contributions to ornithology in southern Africa and those who have already received it have all been distinguished experts in this field. David Allan, ornithologist at the Durban Natural Science Museum, is the most recent recipient, recognised by BirdLife South Africa for more than four decades of contributions to the knowledge and conservation of birds.

An accomplished academic ornithologist, David is also an avid and enormously experienced birdwatcher who has always favoured application over theory and active and effective conservation over the simple generation and analysis of data. During his career, he has brought to bear his unique blend of pragmatism, sincerity and deep knowledge to further our understanding of the region’s birds and to highlight and mitigate the threats they face. 

On being presented with the medal, David said, ‘It is a deep honour to receive this award from an organisation of the stature of BirdLife South Africa. I am delighted to have been able to contribute to the cause so close to BirdLife South Africa’s mission: the understanding and conservation of South Africa’s rich and unique avifauna.’

David has always had the enthusiasm, the time and the humility required to mentor younger ornithologists, speak to, chair or administer bird clubs (including many within the BirdLife South Africa stable), deliver courses in bird identification, lead outings and otherwise encourage and nurture a passion for birds in the general public. A long-time member of BirdLife South Africa, he is a thoroughly deserving recipient of its Gill Memorial Medal.

In a career that is hopefully far from over, David has written several books and some 400 popular and semi-popular articles on southern African birds, as well as more than 200 scientific papers, about 70 of which are in peer-reviewed journals. He is a regular contributor to African Birdlife, BirdLife South Africa’s magazine, and wrote a column for it for five years.

Born in Nakuru, Kenya, in 1958, David moved to Johannesburg with his family when he was nine years old. His tertiary education began with a BA in law, obtained at Wits in 1981. He obtained his MSc with distinction in 1994 while playing an increasingly significant role in the Southern African Bird Atlas Project, one of the largest and most ambitious citizen science initiatives of its time. In 1996, David moved to Durban and took up a position as the Curator of Birds at the Durban Natural Science Museum, where he remains to this day.


LAB flies online!

This year’s Learn About Birds (LAB) conference had to adapt to the impacts of the global pandemic and, like many of BirdLife South Africa’s current events, it took to the virtual skies. So although it’s the fifth LAB that’s been held, it was the first that participants experienced virtually. They could choose to attend both the Science and Layman’s LAB content or just the Conservation Conversations-themed Layman’s LAB lectures in the evenings. 

At Science LAB, which ran during the days of 27 and 28 May, some of South Africa’s top ornithologists described their recent undertakings. The two plenary lectures were outstanding. Dr Susie Cunningham, from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, opened day one with an overview of how birds in the Kalahari, in particular Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Fork-tailed Drongos and Southern Pied Babblers, are adapting their behaviour to cope with the impacts of warming temperatures. Prof. Pierre Pistorius, head of the Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University, started day two with a plenary about seabirds as ocean sentinels and the incredible advances made with technology to understand more about the ecology and conservation of these wide-ranging pelagic birds.

The remainder of Science LAB saw talks covering themes of thermoregulation, urban ecology, conservation, forest ecology and large terrestrial birds, and there was also a major focus on seabird research and conservation. The best MSc presentation was won by Shamiso Banda for her talk, ‘A significant shift in cephalopod diet of the Sooty Albatross during a pronounced El Niño event’. The top PhD award for the best presentation went to Kailen Padayachee, who shared his research titled ‘Temporal and spatial changes in DDT: a global systematic review’. 

Each evening two Layman’s LAB lectures provided fascinating insights into birds and birding. Dr Temidayo Osinubi shared his postdoc research into the Woodland Kingfisher and its three subspecies across Africa. He was followed by Prof. Phoebe Barnard, his former supervisor, who gave an overview of her lifetime’s work investigating the impacts of climate change on birds endemic to fynbos in the Western Cape. In day two’s Layman’s LAB lectures Etienne Marais discussed in depth the ethics of birding and how to minimise the impact of our birding activities on the birds themselves. The final talk of Layman’s LAB was an outstanding overview of the ecology and conservation of Southern Ocean seabirds by Dr Anton Wolfaardt, which raised the excitement level in anticipation of next year’s Flock to Marion cruise. The Layman’s LAB lucky draw winner who took home a copy of Peter Ginn and Geoff McIlleron’s Ultimate Guide to Birds of Southern Africa was Dave McDonald. 

Following the virtual AGM on Saturday, Canon South Africa’s sponsored photographic workshop presented by Andrew Aveley was well attended and very insightful. Participants were given a thorough demonstration of how to improve their wildlife photography and which cameras are best suited to photographing birds. The two lucky winners at the Canon workshop were Barbi Forsyth, who received four copies of Andrew Aveley’s eBooks on photography, and Elizma Petzsch, who took home the Canon South Africa prize – a Powershot Zoom with a year’s subscription to the BirdPro app.

We are grateful to our partners the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and our sponsor Canon South Africa, as well as all our supporters who attended the 2021 Virtual LAB and helped to generate much-needed funds for the Landscape Conservation Programme. We look forward to another LAB in 2023 and will hopefully be able to host this event in person. Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s media channels to find out more. 


Conservation League Donor competition

Become a Conservation League Donor and you could win this great prize! To qualify, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R3000 in addition to your membership fee. We can issue a Section 18A tax certificate for this donation. All current and new Conservation League Donors will be entered into the lucky draw.

Entries must be received by 31 August 2021 and the draw will take place on 7 September 2021.

The prize includes accommodation, all meals, four game drives, one lagoon or scavenger hide session, one Mkombe or Behjane hide session and one overnight hide session. Zimanga is the first reserve in Africa designed for avid safari enthusiasts while simultaneously addressing the needs of wildlife photographers of all levels, offering exclusive wildlife-viewing experiences and innovative photographic opportunities unlike any found elsewhere on the continent. The prize will need to be redeemed by April 2022 (booking subject to availability).

For more information, please contact me at


Platinum sponsors for bird fair

Welcome ZEISS, MSC Cruises, Italtile, Ford Wildlife Foundation and the Automobile Association of South Africa to the Virtual African Bird Fair, and thank you for sponsoring the biggest event in African birding!

This virtual event includes a star-studded line-up of speakers and excellent opportunities to interact with exhibitors and network with other birders on the continent and around the world. There will also be an online auction.

BirdLife South Africa is using an amazing platform that allows a range of people to present both pre-recorded and live talks. There will also be discussions, interviews, demonstrations and even a quiz, and a wide variety of exhibitors will be in attendance. Best of all, the event will be truly African because of its virtual nature. We expect several thousand people to join us over the two days, especially as the Virtual African Bird Fair is being marketed globally.

Proceeds raised from the fair go straight into supporting BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work.

Registration details for the event will be announced in due course. 


Flock to Marion 2022 update

MSC Cruises recently notified passengers who have booked for Flock to Marion 2022 of a ship change from the MSC Lirica to the MSC Musica. In addition, the voyage now leaves Cape Town on 24 January and returns to Durban on 31 January 2022, instead of vice versa.

What does this actually mean? Well, we welcome the MSC Musica as our new vessel, as it is larger and better configured for birding. It’s also very elegant, with a large auditorium for lectures, and there’s even bird décor in some of the lounges! 

The organising team is now busy processing the reallocation of cabins. Thankfully, we have been informed that these changes constitute the final arrangements for this once-in-a-lifetime voyage. We ask you to please bear with us and with MSC Cruises. The past year has not been easy and the company has had to make some tough decisions. 

BirdLife South Africa remains enormously grateful to MSC Cruises for all that is being done to ensure a successful Flock to Marion voyage. We apologise for the inconveniences that the postponement and other changes have caused, and we thank you for your support as we negotiate these largely uncharted waters. Flock to Marion will happen. We will sail to the Southern Ocean. We will see some awesome seabirds and marine mammals. And we will enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded people who love seabirds, the ocean and the natural world.


Tours before and after Marion 

There’s a good chance of seeing Drakensberg Rockjumpers at high altitude in the Drakensberg.

Travelling to Cape Town to begin the Flock to Marion voyage or disembarking in Durban and you’d like to do some birding while you’re in these bird-rich areas? Local operators will be happy to help you extend your birding time; you’ll find information about additional trips on the dedicated page

One such operator is Birding Ecotours, a BirdLife South Africa-recommended tour operator that will donate 5% of its tour prices to our important conservation work. Its set itineraries, with target specials, are listed below. 

Pre-Flock tours

  • 12–14 January 2022: The Garden Route (Knysna Warbler, Knysna Woodpecker, Buff-spotted and Red-chested flufftails)
  • 15–17 January 2022: Agulhas Plains endemics and specials (Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Southern Tchagra, Knysna Woodpecker)
  • 18–20 & 21–23 January 2022: Tankwa Karoo and tough fynbos species (Protea Canary, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Karoo Eremomela, Ludwig’s Bustard)
  • 21 January 2022: Cape Peninsula and False Bay (Cape Rockjumper, Cape Siskin, Victorin’s Warbler, African Penguin)
  • 22 January 2022: West Coast (waders, Black Harrier, Cape Long-billed Lark, Chestnut-banded Plover)
  • 23 January 2022: More tough species (Fynbos [Hottentot] Buttonquail, Knysna Warbler, Striped Flufftail)

Post-Flock tours

  • 1–3 February 2022: Natal Midlands, Sani Pass and Lesotho endemics (Drakensberg Rockjumper, Blue Swallow, Orange Ground Thrush, Bearded Vulture) NB Passport required for entry into Lesotho.
  • 4–8 February 2022: Zululand (Spotted Ground Thrush, Green Barbet, Lemon-breasted Canary, African Broadbill, Southern Banded Snake Eagle)


Mouse-Free Marion needs admin help 

BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) are collaborating on the Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) Project to rid Marion Island of the mice that are having a devastating impact on its seabirds, invertebrates and plants, as well as its ecological functioning. More information about the project is available at

A special entity, the Mouse-Free Marion Non-Profit Company, has been established by BirdLife South Africa to implement the project. 

The MFM Project is looking for an accounting or bookkeeping firm that would be prepared to provide either pro bono or reduced-rate assistance with the financial management of this project. The initial staff complement of the MFM Project will be about six people, but this number will increase in 2023 when the eradication work is undertaken. The project will also procure goods and services, both in South Africa and internationally.

The financial responsibilities will include:

  • Full bookkeeping and payroll function 
  • Relevant statutory and tax submissions 
  • Assistance with the annual audit

It may be easier if the firm were based in Johannesburg (or at least Gauteng) and had experience in dealing with Public Benefit Organisations, foreign currency transactions and customs.

Please contact me at or Fanie du Plessis (Head of Finance & Operations) at if you are willing to assist or you know of a company that may be interested in assisting. 

An involvement with this work represents an opportunity to make a significant contribution to an immensely important conservation project.


Rolling out OECMs 

The Berg River mouth is a priority estuary for protected and conservation area expansion in the Western Cape, including the roll-out of OECMs. It is partly covered by a biodiversity partnership area (conservancy), which will be assessed as a potential OECM during this project. This floodplain habitat in the upper Berg River estuary is covered by the conservancy. Credit Andrew Bance

When the Aichi Targets, specifically Target 11, were ratified in 2011 by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the global conservation community agreed that ‘by 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, will be conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes’.

Although the term ‘Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures’ (OECMs) has been around since 2011, it was only formally defined in 2018. An OECM is ‘a geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and, where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio-economic and other locally relevant values’. (CBD/COP/DEC/14/8) (CBD, 2018). 

The delay in pinning down the definition has resulted in a delay in the roll-out of OECM reporting in many countries, with the further consequence that the majority of countries have fallen short of their Target 11 commitments; global coverage is currently estimated at 16%. Potential OECMs include private nature reserves, biosphere reserve buffer areas, botanical gardens, military land and Ramsar sites.

The post-2020 draft biodiversity framework proposes a new area-based target to replace Aichi Target 11: 30% of land and sea, comprising protected areas and OECMs. This encourages countries to put more effort into expanding their conservation estates over the next decade and it is thus imperative that South Africa continues to drive the expansion of its conservation estate through biodiversity stewardship, protected area expansion and the formal declaration and reporting of OECMs. Both the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) support the roll-out of OECMs and will assist with the facilitation and institutionalisation of OECMs within South Africa’s policy frameworks to recognise and report on conservation areas at a national level in line with commitments to the CBD. However, in practice, OECMs will need to be rolled out and managed at a provincial level through each province’s conservation authorities. 

BirdLife South Africa’s Daniel Marnewick was instrumental in driving the project ‘Assessing South Africa’s Conservation Areas’ (2018–2019), where BirdLife South Africa partnered with the DFFE and SANBI to support the effective integration of OECMs into biodiversity stewardship and the expansion of South Africa’s protected and conserved areas. This previous project aimed to align global and national frameworks and processes and use OECMs to expand and strengthen the current categories under biodiversity stewardship. The full project report (Marnewick et al. 2020) can be downloaded here.

While the former project defined clear synergies between biodiversity stewardship and OECMs, it is still unclear as to how provincial authorities will integrate and manage OECMs within their own frameworks. There is a legitimate concern that the provincial biodiversity stewardship programmes are already under-resourced and therefore any additional resource and capacity needed to undertake OECM work will not be available or easily mobilised. BirdLife South Africa will undertake to assess the resource and capacity requirements needed to facilitate the roll-out of OECMs in the Western Cape as a case study for other provinces to follow. The major aims of this project will be firstly to identify and assess potential OECMs in the Western Cape; secondly to quantify the capacity and resource requirements required by CapeNature to feed this information into a national OECM implementation strategy; and thirdly to provide skills development, support and reporting assistance to the OECM assessment process with CapeNature. The project aims to provide the DFFE and SANBI with results that will form the basis for the development of a national OECM implementation strategy under the auspices of biodiversity stewardship and to facilitate the assessment of OECMs that allow South Africa to report these to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre’s world database on OECMs in order to meet the CBD’s 2021–2030 biodiversity framework targets.

This project will be led by Giselle Murison, Bronwyn Maree and myself from BirdLife South Africa, with support from Conservation Outcomes and CapeNature. The project will run from June 2021 to February 2023. 

For more information, please contact me at


Owl Awards

BirdLife South Africa recognises the valuable contributions that people and organisations make to the conservation of South Africa’s birds and their habitats. This recognition comes in the form of the presentation of Owl Awards to deserving recipients.

Please register for this event via the Conservation Conversation webinar link: Webinar Registration – Zoom.


Birding Big Day 2021

There’s a new look to Birding Big Day (BBD) this year. Instead of the Community and Open categories, we’re introducing two new options: the 50km Radius Category, which is similar to the Open Category, and the 5km Radius Category.

Teams who select the 50km-radius option can have one or more members, but can only qualify for national and provincial records if they comprise 2–4 members. We decided to create the 5km Radius Category because many birders asked for one covering a smaller area – and we listened!

For more information, please visit

To register, go to



Bird of the Year 2021

Find out how to tell the difference between South Africa’s (and the world’s!) only two rockjumpers from the latest infographic about BirdLife South Africa’s 2021 Bird of the Year. And the new fact file will tell you about the specialised environment that the Cape Rockjumper inhabits. Discover more about this awesome endemic species from all the Bird of the Year 2021 resources, which can be accessed for free at

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


What a summer!

At diagonally opposite ends of South Africa, there were a lot of happy birders this past summer. In the south-west, many had stunning views of the first Crested Honey Buzzard to grace our shores (or was it? Read Callen Cohen’s explanation), while good rains in the north-east brought out no-longer-so-secretive Striped Crakes. And to emphasise just how good a summer it was, no fewer than six pages of the May/June issue of African Birdlife are dedicated to ‘Sightings in the Subregion’. There’s also a focus on cuckoos, plus observations of nesting Wahlberg’s Eagles, trips to Plettenberg Bay, Addo and the Okavango and an interview with doyen of birding Warwick Tarboton. 

Cycle in the Bush 2021

The lodge’s deck overlooking the Selati River is a good spot for relaxing after the ride while still watching out for birds. Credit Abelana Game Reserve

Abelana River Lodge welcomes participants in the Cycle in the Bush event. Credit Abelana Game Reserve

BirdLife South Africa’s popular fundraising event with renowned cycling commentator Phil Liggett is back! This year it will be held at Abelana Game Reserve, a private Big 5 community-owned reserve adjacent to the Greater Kruger Region from 24–27 September.

Partnering once again with Escape Cycle Tours and with the Abelana reserve, BirdLife South Africa has secured this exclusive opportunity to enjoy a weekend of cycling, game drives, excellent birding and delicious dining for only R13 000 per person. The offer includes shared accommodation at Abelana River Lodge for three nights, a guided cycle ride, a game drive each day and all meals. Non-cycling spouses, partners and friends are also welcome and additional activities such as guided walks and game drives will be available. Participants are welcome to bring their own E-bike or regular mountain bike, or bike rentals are available on request. Transport between Johannesburg and the venue is also available on request.

Abelana River Lodge is beautifully situated on the Selati River in Abelana Game Reserve and lies adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park and the Selati Game Reserve. The Mashishimale community owns Abelana Game Reserve and the lodge’s operations partner leases the land and works with the community to uplift and empower its people while protecting the wilderness under its stewardship.

Cyclists stand a good chance of seeing White-backed Vultures soaring over the reserve. Credit Abelana Game Reserve

With just two lodges – Abelana Safari Camp in the south and Abelana River Lodge in the north –Abelana Game Reserve ensures that guests exploring its 15 000ha are unlikely to see another game-viewing vehicle. It hosts a range of ecosystems, from granite outcrops in the south to riparian forest dominated by large trees in the north, and is a paradise for birders wanting to see the likes of African Fish Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Arnot’s Chat, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Bat Hawk and Pel’s Fishing Owl.

Numbers for this exciting event are limited, so be sure to book early. Contact me at to make a booking or request more information. Terms and conditions apply.



Conservation League Donor competition

All current and new Conservation League Donors will be entered into a lucky draw for a four-night stay for two people at Zimanga Private Game Reserve worth R40 000. To qualify as a Conservation League Donor you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa and have made a minimum donation of R3000. (We can issue a Section 18A Tax Certificate for this donation.) The competition closes on 31 August 2021.

The prize includes accommodation, all meals, four game drives, one lagoon or scavenger hide session, one Mkombe or Behjane hide session and one overnight hide session. Zimanga is the first reserve in Africa designed for avid safari enthusiasts while simultaneously addressing the needs of wildlife photographers of all levels, offering exclusive wildlife-viewing experiences and innovative photographic opportunities unlike any found elsewhere on the continent. The prize must be redeemed by April 2022 (booking subject to availability).

For more information, please contact me at


Welcome Clare

A Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), Clare Neall has spent many years in the global events, conference, incentive and exhibition industry. She will be working with the BirdLife South Africa team at Isdell House in Johannesburg to coordinate all aspects of the forthcoming Virtual African Bird Fair in July and the Flock to Marion voyage next January. We wish her well in this position.

Virtual African Bird Fair 

Following the success of last year’s Virtual African Bird Fair, the 2021 event will take place over a day and a half at the end of July and you can expect all the typical attributes of a physical fair, including talks, workshops, exhibitor stalls, an auction and social networking. The virtual edition was born out of the need to re-imagine our popular African Bird Fair – traditionally held in Johannesburg each year – in the face of Covid-19. The proceeds go straight into supporting BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work. So, save the date: 30–31 July! Registration details will be announced in due course.


92nd Annual General Meeting

During the meeting, members and guests will have an opportunity to listen to BirdLife South Africa’s Chairman, Philip Calinikos, presenting his 2020 report and Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan delivering the President’s address. Members can also consider and adopt the annual report of the Chief Executive Officer, Mark Anderson, as well as the report of the Treasurer, Manuela Krog, and the audited 2020 financial statements. Also during the AGM, the prestigious Gill Memorial Medal will be awarded to a worthy recipient.

To attend, please register using the link

For additional information, please visit

Alternatively, contact me at


Oil and gas exploration in the KAZA TFCA?

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only global region where extreme poverty is increasing. Economic growth is the most powerful instrument for reducing poverty, yet it frequently goes hand in hand with increased infrastructure development and resource extraction, intensified agriculture and ultimately a negative impact on the natural environment. While most African countries are economically poor, the continent is one of the most biodiversity-rich in the world. 

The most important places for biodiversity often straddle national borders, requiring political collaboration and coordination to ensure their effective conservation. Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) are areas that extend across two or more countries and where the natural and cultural heritage resources and the biodiversity value and ecosystem services need to be collaboratively managed. TFCAs encompass different types of conservation and biodiversity stewardship areas, including national parks, private game reserves, communally managed areas and hunting concessions. These areas play a critical role in the management of transboundary ecosystems, while also providing areas for tourism development, investment for sustainable development and employment opportunities that will help to reduce poverty.

The Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) TFCA is the world’s largest TFCA, covering approximately 520 000km². It lies in the Kavango and Zambezi river basins where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge and it features such iconic areas as the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls, both of which are World Heritage Sites. Apart from sustaining conservation, one of the key aims within this TFCA is to provide local communities with alternative livelihoods – the capacity to bring in an income. The initiative places a strong emphasis on the sustainable management and wise use of natural resources and its vision is ‘to establish a world-class transfrontier conservation and tourism destination area in the Okavango and Zambezi River Basin regions of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe within the context of sustainable development’.

Kavango-Zambezi TFCA, where Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge. Courtesy of Peace Parks Foundation

Unfortunately, the KAZA TFCA is facing several threats. These include exploration for oil and gas reserves, which has generated considerable international concern with regard to the environmental impacts of any eventual resource extraction, especially if this involves hydraulic fracturing (fracking). While ReconAfrica (a Canadian company) has obtained an exploration right in Botswana, our understanding is that its investigations in this country are still in the desk-top phase and that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) has yet to commence. In Namibia, however, the company has obtained an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) to drill test wells and has begun doing so. It also recently applied for an ECC to conduct a 2D seismic survey in the Kavango West and East regions in northern Namibia.

Last month, BirdLife South Africa submitted objections to this most recent application. In our submission, we rejected the assertions that fracking-related concerns are irrelevant at the exploration stage and that oil and gas extraction is compatible with the goal and vision of the KAZA TFCA. The reality is that exploration occurs with the purpose of identifying viable oil and gas resources. We therefore do not agree that the question of whether to allow exploration to proceed in, or close to, an ecologically sensitive area can be entirely divorced from the impacts that such extraction would have on the area of interest and beyond; and we oppose exploration with the intention to ultimately extract oil and/or gas within the KAZA TFCA. Our submission additionally identified a variety of shortcomings with the application’s supporting EIA and Environmental Management Plan, which we argued need to be addressed before a decision is made on whether to grant an ECC. We further highlighted our concerns regarding media reports that ReconAfrica’s exploratory drilling in Namibia has not taken environmentally responsible measures to protect the local water supply from contamination; and argued that the applicant should not be granted an additional ECC if it is unable to demonstrate that it has implemented appropriate mitigation measures under its existing authorisations. 

BirdLife South Africa will continue to track this matter closely in collaboration with other BirdLife partners and to engage in any future public participation processes as and when these arise.


Protecting the Klein River estuary

A wetland area at the Klein River estuary that will be protected through BirdLife South Africa’s new stewardship project.

The Klein River estuary is known for its incredible birdlife and is one of the country’s most important estuaries for conservation. It and the adjacent habitats are utilised by upwards of 200 bird species, including resident threatened species such as African Marsh Harrier, Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo and Caspian Tern. On the south bank, the wetland and terrestrial habitats comprise critically endangered vegetation types like Agulhas Limestone Fynbos, as well as well-established and intact stretches of milkwood thicket. Currently, the estuarine and fynbos habitats have limited protection and are vulnerable to an increasing number of threats, including the encroachment of invasive alien plants such as rooikrans.

The new project to protect fynbos, forest and wetland habitats forms part of BirdLife South Africa’s Estuaries Conservation Programme. Using the tools of biodiversity stewardship, we will work with riparian landowners and the wider community at the Klein River estuary to increase protection for it and improve management of its biodiversity-rich lands. 

This project contributes to the initiative of the larger Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy to grow its protected area network. By facilitating the formal protection of more than 1500ha of threatened estuarine and fynbos habitat along the Klein River estuary’s south bank and improving habitat management and biodiversity security, it will contribute to the conservation of the area’s diverse and abundant birdlife.


Upper Wilge Protected Environment

The grasslands and wetlands in the Eastern Free State fulfil an important role, not only as habitat to threatened birds and other animals, but also as an important water catchment area. BirdLife South Africa, the Ingula Partnership, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Department of Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the Free State have been working alongside landowners to conserve the landscape between Harrismith, Van Reenen and Verkykerskop, and its biodiversity, as the proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment. 

The proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment.

This proposed protected environment is located in the Northern Drakensberg Water Source Area, one of 22 Strategic Water Source Areas in South Africa. Of this area, 86% is still natural and 8% is cultivated, according to a 2013 report by WWF-SA, and most of the water it produces is used by residents in Pretoria and Johannesburg. The Upper Wilge is also critical for several threatened bird species in South Africa that reside in intact grasslands and wetlands, including the country’s three crane species: the Vulnerable Wattled and Blue and the Endangered Grey Crowned. Other bird species of conservation concern that are regularly recorded and breed in this area are the Vulnerable endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit and near-endemic Southern Bald Ibis, the Near Threatened Blue Korhaan and Denham’s Bustard and the Endangered Secretarybird. Other critically important wildlife species, including the Vulnerable sungazer, are also found here.

Grassland and wetland that would be protected by the proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment. Credit Carina Pienaar

In addition, the Upper Wilge provides a critical, well-managed buffer zone for Eskom’s Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme and Ingula Nature Reserve (a Ramsar wetland system of international importance). This buffer zone will provide additional protection to the Ingula Nature Reserve and help to protect its biodiversity, including more than 24 threatened bird species. 

BirdLife South Africa aims to protect areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services by means of effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas that are integrated into broader landscapes. Currently, only 16% of grasslands in South Africa is adequately protected. Declaring the Upper Wilge a protected environment will contribute an additional 24 078ha of grassland and wetland to the country’s protected area network. 

Please help BirdLife South Africa support the declaration of the Upper Wilge Protected Environment by signing our online form at We can all play a part in protecting South Africa’s threatened ecosystems and biodiversity!


Building bonds and saving penguins

Alistair McInnes, followed by Tegan Carpenter-Kling, Andrea Angel and Christina Hagen,
explored the beautiful coastline of Infanta, near De Hoop Nature Reserve. Credit Reason

Maintaining team cohesion and morale has been difficult during the Covid-19 pandemic, but with case numbers in South Africa at a relatively low level and important conservation work needing to be done, the Seabird Conservation team recently went to De Hoop Nature Reserve to bond while doing manual labour.

BirdLife South Africa is working with CapeNature and SANCCOB to re-establish an African Penguin colony at De Hoop, along South Africa’s southern Cape coast. Penguins attempted to colonise the site naturally in the mid-2000s, but abandoned it due to predation by caracals. At the end of 2018 we constructed a predator-proof fence around the site as part of an attempt to re-establish the colony. The fenced area doesn’t reduce the habitat available for predators such as leopard and caracal, as it represents a very small part of the reserve that is open to them. Life-like decoys and penguin calls have been put in place to make it seem like an already established colony, enticing penguins to come ashore. The next step will be to release juvenile penguins at the site to get them to imprint on it as a future breeding site. More on that in the coming months!

While the fence has been effective at preventing access by larger animals, smaller predators such as mongooses and genets have been able to find an entry point in rocky areas where the base of the fence has been more difficult to secure. To prevent them from gaining access, we are placing rock-filled gabions along the base of the fence. Each bag weighs 20kg and needs to be carried about 300m downhill from the road to the fence. The team carried 50 bags and managed to secure the last major portion of fence needing this work. 

Two of the African Penguin decoys at the colony site. Credit Reason Nyengera

We also took some time out to enjoy the beautiful coastline and, of course, went birding. Some highlights included a Southern Tchagra, a lifer for two of our team, and sea-watching that produced Great and Sooty shearwaters. It was a great way to re-connect as a team and do some important work on the penguin colony project!


Artificial colonies provide hope for penguins 

The waters off the southern African coast are some of the most productive in the world. They are home to a wide array of marine species, including dolphins, whales and sharks as well as seabirds such as penguins, cormorants and gannets. Humans are increasingly placing at risk the survival of many of these birds because of climate change, their fishing and coastal development activities and events such as oil spills.

The African Penguin is a case in point. Found only in South Africa and Namibia at the south-western tip of Africa, this species, unlike other penguins, bucks the cold climate trend and survives in temperatures higher than 30°C. Over the past few decades its population has decreased dramatically: from a known total estimated at between 1.5 and 3 million birds, it dropped to 300 000 birds by 1956 and kept on decreasing. ‘Last year there were fewer than 13 000 pairs in South Africa,’ says Dr Alistair McInnes, the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme. At only 1% of the size of its population in the 1900s, the species is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to a 2018 study, African Penguins may be all but extinct from the west coast of South Africa by 2035 if current patterns are maintained.

Decoys have been deployed at De Hoop Nature Reserve in the hope that African Penguins will
be encouraged to try again to establish a colony there. Credit Christina Hagen

The collection of penguin eggs and harvesting of guano for fertiliser contributed to the population decline in the past and today the massive decline continues to be driven by the reduced availability of the penguins’ preferred prey of anchovies and sardines. Shifts in the distribution of these species and high fishing pressure around the birds’ breeding colonies threaten the survival of African Penguins. Growing penguin chicks need a diet very high in lipids, which sardines and anchovies provide. And as if conditions for the penguins weren’t bad enough, research suggests that when seabird chicks are fed on lower quality ‘junk food’, they develop more slowly and can experience decreased cognitive ability, making it harder for the young birds to find food once they have fledged.

Because of the fishes’ distributional shifts, there is now a mismatch between penguin breeding islands and the fish stocks, as breeding penguins can’t hunt farther than 40km, at most, from the nest if they are to feed their young regularly. African Penguins generally breed on islands where they are safe from terrestrial predators. ‘There is a 600km stretch of coastline between Dyer Island and Port Elizabeth where there are no islands – and therefore no breeding penguins – which effectively splits the South African population in two,’ explains Alistair.

It is to counter this situation that BirdLife South Africa is planning to create new penguin colonies on a stretch of South Africa’s south coast that has no offshore islands but high fish abundance. The aim is to create resilience in the penguin population by increasing the number of colonies, to bridge the gap between the western and eastern populations and to enable penguins to breed in a region that has healthy supplies of prey. ‘Working with CapeNature and other penguin experts, we identified De Hoop Nature Reserve on the south coast, 300km east of Cape Town, as a suitable place to start,’ says Alistair.

Previous penguin breeding attempts in the area were unsuccessful because of predation, which led to the colonies being abandoned. To prevent this from recurring, BirdLife South Africa has installed a predator-proof fence – designed in conjunction with a wildlife fence expert – along the perimeter of the site. The site has also been equipped with a remote monitoring system with cameras that send alerts to project staff when predators are detected.

Because penguins breed in colonies, they are less likely to adopt a new site with no penguins already breeding there. Consequently, BirdLife South Africa is using decoys and playing penguin calls to attract birds from the sea. Working with SANCCOB, we are also planning to release young penguins from De Hoop to encourage them to return and breed. Once penguins start breeding in a colony they return there annually, a trait that helps them find the same mate again. It is hoped that these strategies will persuade penguins to colonise De Hoop and thus contribute to increasing their numbers.

Collaboration is critical to advancing penguin conservation. To this end, BirdLife South Africa’s Coastal Seabird Project is working with the government and the fishing industry, advocating for an approach to fisheries management that incorporates ecosystem and socio-economic concerns. An example of this approach is the African Penguin Island Closure Experiment. Since 2009 we have been working closely with other NGOs, seabird scientists and the government to assess the impact of purse-seine fishing closures around four of the largest African Penguin breeding colonies. Results of this study will be used by fisheries management to make decisions that may limit resource competition in sensitive penguin habitat.

In addition, the Coastal Seabird Project is working on different approaches that integrate ecosystem concerns into the way catch limits are set for sardines and anchovies, the key prey species for three of the four most threatened coastal seabird species in South Africa.

There have been many studies identifying areas where breeding African Penguins go to forage. To ensure that all phases of the species’ life cycle are protected, since 2012 we have tracked non-breeding penguins from major colonies such as Dassen Island, Stony Point and Bird Island. At present we are analysing the data, which will be critical to assessing the expansion of marine protected areas.

The African Penguin is facing an uncertain future but by moving penguins closer to their food and trying to ensure there are more fish in the sea, we hope to enable their populations to thrive again.


Canon photography workshop at LAB

As part of the Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference and Virtual Flock 2021 proceedings, BirdLife South Africa has teamed up with Canon South Africa and Andrew Aveley to bring you a two-hour workshop that is sure to help you improve your bird and wildlife photography skills. 

Andrew has spent more than 20 years capturing the unique wildlife of Africa with his signature style of photographic magic. From expansive landscapes to the tiniest insects and flowers, he has photographed Africa’s biodiversity and has also led photographic tours for many high-profile clients to Africa’s major wilderness areas. 

Andrew’s passion for bird photography will be shared during this interactive webinar that will provide participants with a new set of photographic skills to add to their personal photographic journeys. The workshop will start at 13h00 SAST on 29 May 2021 (after the BirdLife South Africa AGM) and will run for two hours. It costs R250 per person and registration and payment can be made through Quicket at

To find out more, please visit If you have any questions, please e-mail


The Kruger Challenge is back! 

This photo of a Bateleur was taken during the inaugural Kruger Birding & Wildlife Challenge.
Credit Clayton Burne

Jointly hosted by BirdLife South Africa and Rockjumper Birding Tours, the Kruger Birding & Wildlife Challenge is back by popular demand! It will take place from 2 to 9 February 2022 in the Kruger National Park, starting in Skukuza and ending in Mopani. You can look forward to:

  • First-class birding in one of the world’s great untouched wildernesses
  • Unrivalled wildlife experiences, including the Big Five
  • Excellent safari drives in small groups, guided by an expert birder and a professional Kruger driver
  • A fun challenge to find and identify as many bird and mammal species as you can, scoring points for each species based on its rarity
  • Meeting and spending time with like-minded birders and conservationists.

And there’s a group discount! If someone books a group of nine guests, the organiser of that group can receive 50% discount on his or her individual booking. Prices start from R22 950 per person sharing. For more information and to pre-register your booking, please e-mail Sarah Dell at

The Kruger Birding & Wildlife Challenge is a fun fundraiser for the conservation of one of the world’s rarest birds, the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail.


This leopard cub was also photographed during the previous Kruger Wildlife Challenge. Credit Julian Parsons


Bird of the Year 2021

Did you know that the Cape Rockjumper is one of only two species in the Chaetopidae family? You will find this nugget of information in the first fact file of our Bird of the Year 2021 series, along with many more. All the Bird of the Year resources can be accessed for free at

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


Return of the Kruger Challenge!

A coffee break during the 2019 Kruger Birding and Wildlife Challenge. The inaugural event proved to be very popular and paved the way for making this a fundraiser dedicated to the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail and the protection of the wetland habitats that are important for this species.

Hosted jointly by BirdLife South Africa and Rockjumper Birding Tours, the second Kruger Birding and Wildlife Challenge will take place from 2 to 9 February 2022, starting at Skukuza and ending at the Mopani rest camp. This incredible naturalist experience builds on the success of the 2019 event and is not to be missed.

We have increased the options and now offer various routes – competitive, non-competitive in the northern or southern sections of the park, and photographic – as well as an exclusive luxury bush camp experience. Rates for most of the routes include breakfast and dinner, but those for the special bush camp routes include all meals. Flock to Marion passengers joining the Kruger Birding and Wildlife Challenge can easily connect via a flight from Cape Town to Skukuza.

The Kruger Birding and Wildlife Challenge is a fun fundraiser for the conservation of one of the world’s rarest birds, the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail.

For more information and to book, please e-mail Sarah Dell at 


Community conservation at Ntsikeni 

Ntsikeni Nature Reserve spans an entire local catchment within the Southern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area and, at more than 1700m above sea level, protects one of the largest high-altitude wetlands in South Africa – one that has also been declared a Ramsar wetland of international importance. Credit Glen Valentine

Established as recently as 2020, the Empowering People Programme encompasses the older Avitourism Project, which trains community members to become professional bird guides and provides them with post-training support. As part of BirdLife South Africa’s five-year conservation strategy, the Empowering People Programme plans to expand and include community conservation projects that will educate, uplift and empower local communities to earn livelihoods. 

At selected sites around South Africa we aim to create an environment that will permit effective conservation and at the same time alleviate poverty and develop skills within the community. The first such site, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, is located between Underberg and Kokstad and protects an area of 9500ha, including an entire local catchment within a Strategic Water Source Area that supplies and regulates water for downstream users. Two tourist lodges were built in the reserve in 2003 as a community development project. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has 15 permanent staff positions within the reserve, most of which are filled by members of the local community. In addition, Ntsikeni Vlei is one of the few sites in Africa to support the globally Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. 

We have broadly identified the most pressing conservation and management requirements for effective conservation at Ntsikeni as the development of ecotourism facilities, the restoration of habitat and the upgrading and maintenance of reserve infrastructure. BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and other partners are currently seeking support to develop the existing project to the benefit of the local community and to ensure the effective conservation of this important Strategic Water Source Area. 


Win a stay at Zimanga

All new and current Conservation League Donors will be entered into a lucky draw to win this fantastic prize. To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa and have made a minimum donation of R3000. (We can issue a Section 18A Tax Certificate for this donation.) Entries must be received by 31 August 2021.

The prize includes accommodation, all meals, four game drives, one lagoon or scavenger hide session, one Mkombe or Behjane hide session and one overnight hide session. Zimanga is the first reserve in Africa designed for avid safari enthusiasts while simultaneously addressing the needs of wildlife photographers of all levels, offering exclusive wildlife-viewing experiences and innovative photographic opportunities unlike any found elsewhere on the continent. The prize must be redeemed by April 2022 (booking subject to availability).

For more information, please contact me at


Virtual LAB is coming up in May!

The 5th Learn About Birds (LAB) conference is once again co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and will cater to the seasoned scientist as well as the weekend birder. It promises to deliver an impressive range of talks, ranging from the latest cutting-edge ornithological research to the most relevant topics in bird conservation today.

These include the future of birds in a warming world, the perils facing ocean birds and fynbos endemics and how they adapt, and the mysterious intra-African migration of the Woodland Kingfisher, our most vocal bushveld visitor. Panel discussions will weigh ecology and conservation against the demands of the economy or give pointers to newly fledged scientists on how to make the transition from student to employee. Whatever your level of expertise, this year’s Virtual LAB is not to be missed.

Registrations close on 30 April 2021, so follow this link and sign up now to avoid disappointment:


Training community bird guides in the grasslands

Lucky Ngwenya from the Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre shows trainee bird guides the ropes. Credit Wayne Johnson

BirdLife South Africa’s longstanding Community Bird Guide Project has trained more than 200 previously disadvantaged individuals to become professional freelance bird guides. The pandemic put training plans on hold in 2020, but we were able to resume the project in March 2021, when eight trainee guides gathered at the BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre. Their training is an extension of our work within the Ingula Partnership and is funded by Eskom and carried out by accredited trainer Wayne Johnson of African Edu-Eco.

The trainee guides out with senior community bird guide, Norman Ncube. Credit Wayne Johnson

The eight candidates will cover a vast area between them, encompassing Golden Gate National Park, Memel, QwaQwa to Harrismith, and Ingula Nature Reserve near Van Reenen, as well as popular birding sites north of Pretoria. Wayne has reported that they have shown enthusiasm and commitment in the face of a gruelling programme. Three and a half weeks of in-person training in March is to be followed by a remote window during which the trainees will learn their local patches before returning in August/September to complete their tuition and assessments. To learn both theoretical and practical aspects of guiding, they will be mentored by three of the existing community bird guides in the Wakkerstroom area.

We are very excited to have community bird guides being trained again and particularly that we could host this training at our centre in Wakkerstroom, which last hosted guide training more than a decade ago. We will update our members and supporters on the guides’ progress later in the year, as we are sure many birders will be eager to hire local bird guides in these popular birding hotspots in the grasslands.

We would like to thank Eskom for its support, the Ingula Partnership Steering Committee for its guidance, Wayne Johnson for his forward-thinking mentorship and Kristi Garland of the Wakkerstroom Centre for her on-the-ground support.


The Virtual African Bird Fair returns

The biggest event in African birding will once again be gracing your screens in 2021. The Virtual African Bird Fair was born out of the need to re-imagine our popular African Bird Fair, traditionally held in Johannesburg each year, in the face of the pandemic. It proved to be hugely successful, with over 2000 people from more than 30 countries tuning in to the inaugural event in 2020. This year we are looking to take this exciting event to even greater heights. 

You can expect all the typical attributes of a physical fair, including talks, workshops, exhibitor stalls, an auction and social networking, with the added benefit of being able to enjoy all this from your own home. We are bringing in some of the biggest names in African birding to give presentations and are putting together an attractive list of sponsors and exhibitors as well. 

This year’s event will take place over a day and a half, with an opening ceremony and an evening activity on the Friday followed by a jam-packed Saturday with parallel presentations to choose from. There will be something for everyone, from the beginner birder to the expert ornithologist.

If you would like to be a sponsor or exhibitor at this year’s event, please e-mail and we will send you the necessary information. Please watch BirdLife South Africa’s social media channels for more information as it is released.


Capturing the spirit of wild places

Conserving Africa’s wild places is a large part of BirdLife South Africa’s work. Anyone who has visited these places will understand the peace and awe that are to be experienced when sitting on the bank of the Limpopo, Zambezi or Letaba, for example. Elephant tracks in the sand, a crocodile sunning itself on a riverbank, a Hamerkop in a pool, vultures wheeling above – all these sights stir up the indescribable feelings associated with being in a wild place. 

White Storks. Credit Willie Sonnenberg

Marula against a grey sky. Credit Willie Sonnenberg

Willie and Dan Sonnenberg, dedicated birders and conservationists, have just launched their website Sand Rivers (, which showcases Willie’s beautiful paintings and the duo’s evocative photographs of African landscapes and wildlife. Original paintings, prints of paintings and prints of photographs are available for sale via the website. Should you as a BirdLife South Africa member purchase a painting or print, 7.5% of each sale will be donated to BirdLife South Africa. 

Please take a look.



Binocular bargain 

This brand-new (still in the box), never-used pair of beige Swarovski EL 10×32 binoculars is for sale at R34 000, negotiable (retail price R42 000). For more information, e-mail me at 



Rockjumper T-shirts

The protection and conservation of biodiversity are firmly at the core of the Rockjumper Birding Team, so we are excited to offer you this opportunity to order a limited-edition, eco-performance Rockjumper T-shirt!

Your purchase will help fund the exceptional conservation initiatives for the mountain fynbos endemic Cape Rockjumper, BirdLife South Africa’s 2021 Bird of the Year. You will also be supporting a cleaner planet, as each T-shirt is made from 70% recycled contents – that’s equivalent to approximately three water bottles.

Click here to order your Rockjumper T-shirt and help us to raise awareness of the habitat loss and climate change threats facing the Cape Rockjumper – and the funds needed to counter them.

Our T-shirts are super soft and designed to draw moisture away from the body and they make wonderful gifts for your nature-loving family and friends.


Bird ID training at Ingula 

Steven Segang gives a presentation to horse patrollers at Ingula Nature Reserve. Credit Carina Pienaar

In birdwatching, understanding the relationship between birds and people is often ignored within many African communities, unless they are engaged in research or working in a biodiversity area. Growing up as a young boy on a rural farm, I had a close relationship with nature and birds, yet many people saw them mainly as a food source – and still do in a number of communities even today. This practice has been a way of life and is being passed on from generation to generation, as are the cultural beliefs and omens attached to birds. It took me a long time to understand how all things are connected in nature, to build up the enthusiasm and interest in nature that I have today. It is only by acquiring environmental knowledge and experience that we can communicate with our communities, to change their mindset and behaviour towards the environment and its birds.

Birds have been used as symbols in art, music and religion for thousands of years. Some species, like honeyguides and cormorants, have been used, too, to help locate or to catch food. Feathers have long been used for bedding, as well as for quill pens and for fletching arrows. Birds have often been regarded as sacred or are seen as bringing bad luck and death. It is critical to understand these concepts and how people perceive birds and other animals to have mutual understanding.

A guided walk around the Ingula offices offered an opportunity to demonstrate the use of a field guide. Credit Carina Pienaar

On the other side of the coin, birdwatching has become a major leisure activity. Millions of people around the world, amounting to nearly half of all households in some developed countries, put out feeders to attract birds to their gardens. In essence, understanding birds is not just science; it is understanding relationships and interactions between people and the environment they live in, with the aim of a harmonious existence.

To effect a change in mindset it is necessary to think outside the box. If you really look at it, most people already have substantial indigenous knowledge about birds and their behaviour. Some might know that certain birds change colour when seasons change, but they don’t really understand why. We were recently involved with the training of horse patrollers in the Ingula Nature Reserve and it was through engaging with them that we were able to appreciate what they know and at the same time add to their understanding of bird biology and ecology. The participants were guided through steps on the identification of birds and why we must care for and learn about them. It is amazing to teach others that birding is a form of leisure and contributes to health, and how avitourism contributes to our economic growth. They can now increase their knowledge through our mentorship in order to assist and add value to bird research and data collection at Ingula Nature Reserve.


Flufftail breeding done for another year

A camera trap caught a male White-winged Flufftail displaying.

Thanks to Christiaan Brink (left), Kyrone Josiah (centre) and Luna the dog for their assistance in retrieving the monitoring equipment. Credit Kyle Lloyd

March marks the end of the White-winged Flufftail’s breeding season. This Critically Endangered bird was first found to breed in South Africa during the summer of 2018 and over the past year BirdLife South Africa set up three long-term study sites in the Dullstroom area to find out more about it. 

Given its highly cryptic behaviour, little is known about the biology of the White-winged Flufftail. To observe the species, motion-detecting camera traps and acoustic devices are placed in high-altitude wetlands where it is known to occur. Camera-trap tunnels, developed by BirdLife South Africa to improve detection rates, mimic the dense sedge vegetation undergrowth used by the White-winged Flufftail to elude predators. With the assistance of several colleagues, I deployed passive monitoring equipment in October 2020 and retrieved it in March. During this time, I measured and collected several environmental variables that will help to explain the patterns observed from the monitoring equipment. It is hoped that more breeding records of chicks and juveniles have been captured by the devices to provide more information about these critical life stages. 

I am very grateful to Hannes Marais, Shirley Sibya (Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency) and my colleagues Dr Melissa Whitecross, Carina Pienaar, Christiaan Brink, Kyrone Josiah and Kyle Walker for their assistance with field work. 


A new communications manager 

New communications manager Jeanette Smith has been tasked with collaborating with the media at various levels and initiating ideas to preserve and promote BirdLife South Africa’s objectives, with a special focus on social media. She has several qualifications, including a BTech in Journalism from the Tshwane University of Technology, and extensive experience in journalism, NGOs, content development, digital marketing and social media. Having started her working life as a journalist, Jeanette has been employed in eastern Europe and the UK. Since returning to South Africa she has worked for several large corporations and NGOs. Jeanette is a member of the International Communication Association.

Bird of the Year 2021

The Cape Rockjumper, our Bird of the Year for 2021, is a monogamous and cooperative breeder and this month’s handy infographic tells you all about its breeding biology. You can access all the educational resources about this special bird for free at

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support of this campaign.


Where do we go next?

In addition to introducing you to birding in iSimangaliso and Madagascar, the latest issue of African Birdlife takes an up-close look at nesting Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls, observes a mix of raptors breeding in a remnant pine plantation, reviews mirrorless cameras, reports on a bumper crop of midsummer rarities and interviews one of South Africa’s premier photojournalists about conservation photography. Plus, there are binoculars and books to be won, the latest news from SABAP and the FitzPatrick Institute and, of course, readers’ own contributions.

Sharpening our talent for talons

Bird guide Paul Nkhumane points out a Black-fronted Bush-shrike in the Magoebaskloof forest while Christiaan fights mounting pain in the back of his neck. Credit Andrew de Blocq

Andrew advertises BirdLife South Africa merchandise against the backdrop of a very full Letaba River. Credit Christiaan W. Brink

When Avitourism Project manager Andrew de Blocq and I were invited to attend a raptor identification course hosted by the Honorary Rangers’ Association in Letaba Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, we recognised a chance to escape the confines of the office as well as a fine opportunity to sharpen raptor our ID skills. And for me, as manager of BirdLife South Africa’s raptor projects, it would be a particularly valuable experience.

We broke the long drive to Kruger by staying over at the Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages, right across from the artisanal coffee house as you descend into the Magoebaskloof valley. The cottages are beautifully situated right in the cloud forest and offer spectacular views. It was here that the birding started in earnest, with Andrew, a wise old owl when it comes to birding, feeding me, little more than a hatchling, titbits of knowledge. That evening we enjoyed our first beers since the alcohol ban was lifted and an African Wood Owl came to join our celebrations while steaks sizzled in the background.

To bag some forest birds and support BirdLife South Africa’s network of knowledgeable guides, early the next morning we went birding with Paul Nkhumane in the surrounding forest. Paul proved to be an excellent guide and great company, and with his experienced direction we managed to get some real gems: Barratt’s Warbler, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, African Emerald Cuckoo and White-starred Robin. But as the focus of the trip was raptors, the real highlight was a European Honey Buzzard which, seen at quite a distance, initially caused quite a bit of speculation and debate. Paul also taught me a valuable lesson: forest birding is neck-breaking work.

At Letaba, the meet and greet with the rest of our group was the ‘new normal’ clunky affair of masks and awkward hand waves instead of handshakes. But we were an affable group, despite the necessary safety precautions. The course consisted of a series of lectures on all the raptors of South Africa, organised into key groups by a series of diagnostic features to facilitate identification. The presenter, Joe Grosel, continuously entertained and kept us engaged with the content, offering endless interesting anecdotes and observations on the species being discussed. Far from experiencing any boredom in the classroom, I was only sorry that there was not more time for Joe to share even more of his experiences (luckily he was happy to do this at the evening braais). On many occasions we left the classroom and drove into the reserve to put our newly acquired identification skills to the test under Joe’s tutelage. 

Christiaan remembers his grandmother’s friend. Credit Andrew de Blocq

On the third day we set off on our first extended morning game drive and by this point the banter about which vehicle will spot the most raptors had turned into a fierce competition. Having just completed the section on brown eagle identification – a tricky business – we set out hoping to find large brown quarry. Spotting a parked car down a side road and hoping to get the better of the other vehicle, our team took a detour. We were rewarded by the driver of the car confidently informing us that there was a Tawny Eagle in the grass off to the left. An excited discussion followed as we debated which of the large brown eagles it was. The most experienced birder in our vehicle, and therefore the least likely to be swayed by the confident assertions of a layman, gently guided the rest of the vehicle to an embarrassing conclusion: it was a Common Buzzard. What little ambiguity existed was removed the moment the bird jumped onto a stump and exposed its yellow, unfeathered tarsi, leaving the rest of us red-faced. 

In terms of raptors it was a productive trip and our team managed to tick 23 species. The only group that eluded us were the harriers. With all this practice propping up our confidence, we went into the final exam. BirdLife South Africa shone, with Andrew taking first place with full marks and me coming in third, having being fooled by a juvenile Pale Chanting Goshawk and an Ayres’s Hawk Eagle sitting in the grass. And so the course came to an end, with friendly farewells and many a thank you.

On our way out of the camp we stopped at a bench to pay homage to one of my grandmother’s very close friends who passed away recently and whose ashes were scattered at Letaba. The bench, overlooking the Letaba River, was sponsored by her husband and the words on the plaque – ‘Don’t cry for me for I have come home’ – are testament to the connection people feel with the beautiful natural history of our country and the importance of preserving it.


Conservation through art

Cape Rockjumpers: The Outcry.

The Cape Rockjumper first came to my attention when BirdLife South Africa announced that it was the 2021 Bird of the Year. Although I have always liked birds and had already painted a number of species, my enthusiasm for them was still in its infancy – until I was introduced to this special bird. As soon as I became aware of these rufous little bounces of energy I was captivated, by their lively personality as much as their reddish-brown beauty. The curiosity and determination so evident in their eyes and the striking coloration of their plumage got me itching to pick up a brush.

In my painting, the male and female are portrayed in their natural fynbos habitat, the male apparently calling out in an urgent bid to draw attention to the species’ threatened status. (My thanks go to photographer Michael Buckham for the use of his photographic material in compiling this composition.)

To increase awareness of the rockjumper’s plight and to promote its protection, I have decided to donate a percentage of the revenue from sales of the artwork prints to BirdLife South Africa and its conservation efforts. A limited edition of 20 certified prints of the highest quality are now available. If you would like to purchase one of these prints, please e-mail me at for more information.

About the artist

I am a botanical artist and scientific illustrator living in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal. After I completed my postgrad in languages, my passion for art and nature got the upper hand and I decided to pursue botanical art as a career. Initially this involved doing scientific illustrations for the University of Pretoria and SANBI, as well as a two-year botanical art assignment for a renowned boutique hotel. These projects kick-started my career and set the platform for many collaborations to follow. Although my predominant focus has always been on painting indigenous orchids in their natural environment, of late bird illustrations are beginning to feature more in my portfolio. Please see my website ( for examples of what is flowing from my brush.

About the prints

Watercolour, each 345 x 265mm. Certified and printed on Hahnemühle Museum Etching 350gsm. Cost R1400, of which 15% will be donated to BirdLife South Africa. Postage not included.


The Automated Penguin Monitoring System installed at the African Penguin colony on St Croix Island, Algoa Bay. The scale and pit-tag antenna (on the right of the system) records penguin weights and identities before and after foraging trips. These data are processed and transmitted in near-real time via various electronic systems housed in the box on the left. Credit Alistair McInnes

Penguin watch in Algoa Bay

As the population of Africa’s only penguin species continues to decrease, we need to explore novel methods to keep tabs on the penguins’ condition on an appropriate scale that can inform timeous and effective management responses. The Automated Penguin Monitoring System (APMS) is a remote system that passively monitors and records the condition of penguins (the weight gained or lost during a foraging trip and the time spent at sea) at their breeding colonies and transmits the data in near-real time via cell phone networks. This information has an important bearing on the African Penguins’ breeding success and ultimately the species’ population recovery.

In collaboration with engineers from the University of Cape Town’s Electrical Engineering Department and seabird scientists from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme recently installed an upgraded APMS at St Croix Island in Algoa Bay, the home of the world’s largest African Penguin colony. The precipitous decline in penguin numbers at this colony since 2015 has sounded the alarm for seabird conservationists, who are now exploring the possible drivers of this collapse. 

The APMS will collect important data to assess the response of foraging penguins to various threats in the bay and these data will hopefully inform the implementation of management and policy interventions that can diminish these threats.


Bat Hawk watch in Mpumalanga

The Bat Hawk is an enigmatic raptor that specialises in feeding on insectivorous bats (20–75g) and is thus active mainly at dawn and dusk. It is well adapted for this way of life, having excellent eyesight, pointed wings with unslotted feathers for rapid flight and a specially adapted middle claw that enables it to capture its bat prey efficiently. It also takes birds such as swifts and swallows, as well as insects. In flight it resembles a small, dark falcon and can be identified by its arched, pointed black wings, small head and stout, rectangular tail. It often hunts in riparian habitat, especially where there are high concentrations of bats and swifts. A Bat Hawk’s home range can be as large as 400km²!

One of the Bat Hawk pair lines the nest bowl with fresh eucalyptus leaves.


The BatHawkCam monitoring project was launched in August 2020 under the auspices of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) Lowveld with the support of Jeremy Anderson, the late Petri Viljoen, Rael Loon, Peter Retief, Garth Batchelor and Stewart Matheson, as well as Terry Pappas of Bat Hawk LSA and Micro Aviation. A camera installed near an active Bat Hawk nest at an undisclosed site in the Mbombela region, Mpumalanga, is providing fascinating insights into the natural history of the species, including its breeding and feeding behaviour.

Bat Hawks locate their nests on horizontal branches of trees such as eucalypts, baobabs and African star chestnuts, whose pale bark seems to guide the hawks to the nest in low light conditions. They generally build a stick platform, 560–660mm in diameter and 380mm thick, with an inner basin of thinner sticks, and use the same nest over and over again.

The wing profile of the Bat Hawk is pointed, with a high aspect ratio, and its primary feathers are stiff and unslotted. The high aspect ratio ensures that the hawks’ manoeuvrability is equal to that of their bat prey.


The pair bond is strong and the male and female share incubation duties. Only one egg – plain white or lightly marked with reddish-brown blotches – is laid and hatches after 51–53 days. The female broods more during the nestling period, which lasts an additional 35–40 days. 

The information gathered by the BatHawkCam project will help to establish a population and habitat viability assessment and a biodiversity management plan for this species. To raise funds to keep the camera operating, WESSA Lowveld is selling a limited edition of prints of an original Bat Hawk painting by Ingrid Weiersbye.

Prints of this Bat Hawk painting by Ingrid Weiersbye, on Epson radiant white fine art paper and signed by the artist, are being sold to raise funds to continue the BatHawkCam monitoring project.



If you would like to purchase one of these high-quality signed prints, please deposit R550 + R99 postage (Postnet to Postnet) in the account of WESSA Lowveld: Standard Bank, account number 132835126 (reference ‘BatHawks’ and your surname). E-mail with your confirmation and delivery address. For more information, telephone 084 811 4314.


Rockjumper T-shirt

With conservation firmly in mind, Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures invites you to order this limited-edition eco-performance T-shirt! Your purchase will help to fund the conservation of the Cape Rockjumper, a mountain fynbos endemic. Perfect for outdoor wear, the T-shirt is made of super-soft material that draws moisture away from the body. It makes a wonderful gift for nature-loving family and friends.

To place your order, go to

Who deserves an Owl Award?

This year the annual Owl Awards presentation will be a virtual event that forms part of BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Conversations webinar series and will be hosted on 22 June 2021 at 19h00. We’d like to know who you think deserves an Owl Award for making a valuable contribution to the conservation of South Africa’s birds and their habitats. All the information you need to nominate someone for any of the Owl Award categories can be found at Please submit your nomination to me at on or before 20 April 2021. 


AGM 2021: a Virtual Affair 

BirdLife South Africa cordially invites all members to attend its 92nd Annual General Meeting, which will be held at 10h00 (CAT) on Saturday, 29 May 2021. It will be a virtual meeting (via Zoom) and hosted from Isdell House in Johannesburg. There will also be a presentation of the Gill Memorial Medal Award. This, BirdLife South Africa’s most prestigious award, is presented for outstanding lifetime contributions to ornithology in southern Africa. The organisation’s Honorary President, Prof. Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, will deliver the president’s address.

To register, please go to

The minutes of the 2020 AGM are available at

Agenda for BirdLife South Africa’s 92nd Annual General Meeting

  1. Apologies
  2. Confirmation of the minutes of the 91st AGM
  3. Matters arising from the minutes of the 91st AGM
  4. Chairman’s 2020 Report
  5. President’s Address
  6. Consideration and adoption of the annual report of the Chief Executive Officer
  7. Consideration and adoption of the report of the Treasurer and the audited 2020 Annual Financial Statements
  8. Appointment of External Auditors
  9. Nomination and Election of Office Bearers in accordance with BirdLife South Africa’s Constitution 
  10. Presentation of the Gill Memorial Medal
  11. BirdLife South Africa Initiatives and Publications
  12. Resolutions
  13. Any Other Business

Should you have any questions, please contact Dr Isabel Human at

LAB 2021: don’t miss early bird tickets 

BirdLife South Africa understands the challenges experienced over the past 12 months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and we’ve heard your calls for an event that reduces the risk of exposure to the virus, is more inclusive, allows for a larger audience and doesn’t require travel. So this year our Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference will be virtual. From your own home you will be able to learn about recent ornithological research and gain some insights into avian-related work carried out by non-academic stakeholders. Importantly, though, you will also be contributing to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation goals, as most of the proceeds from your participation will go to our Landscape Conservation Programme’s projects. 

The two segments of LAB – Science and Layman’s – will take place on 27 and 28 May: Science LAB from 08h30 until 15h30 (SAST), followed by Layman’s LAB at 17h00 and 19h00 each day. This timing will allow you to attend both segments if you wish. Not just for scientists, Science LAB is an opportunity for non-academics as well as academics to be present at interesting panel discussions and to learn about recent significant ornithological research in South Africa and around the world. 

This year’s plenary speakers include Dr Susie Cunningham from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and Dr Pierre Pistorius from the Department of Zoology at Nelson Mandela University. The four lectures at Layman’s Lab will be presented by Prof. Phoebe Barnard (the impacts of climate on our birds), Dr Temidayo Osinubi (his research on the Woodland Kingfisher, an intra-African migrant), Dr Anton Wolfaardt (birds of the Southern Ocean, in preparation for next year’s Flock to Marion) and Etienne Marais (endemics of South Africa).

Register now for the conference and you can still save, as early bird rates end on 31 March 2021. They are R700 per person for both Science LAB and Layman’s LAB (a saving of R100) and R300 per person for Layman’s LAB only (a saving of R50). To gain access to the conference, you must have registered by 30 April 2021.

For more information and to find the registration link, please go to or contact us at


Cycle in the Bush 2021

Participants stand a good chance of seeing White-backed Vultures while cycling. Credit Abelana Game Reserve

The lodge’s deck overlooking the Selati River is a good spot for relaxing after your ride, while still  keeping a lookout for birds. Credit Abelana Game Reserve

BirdLife South Africa is pleased to be partnering once again with Escape Cycle Tours and with Abelana Game Reserve to bring you the 2021 BirdLife South Africa Cycle in the Bush event with internationally renowned cycling commentator, Phil Liggett. From 24 to 27 September 2021, join Phil for a weekend of cycling, game drives, excellent birding and delicious dining at Abelana River Lodge. 

We have been able to secure this exclusive opportunity at only R13 000 per person. This includes three nights’ shared accommodation and all meals, along with a guided cycle ride and a game drive each day. 

Beautifully situated on the Selati River in Abelana Game Reserve, Abelana River Lodge is adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park and Selati Game Reserve. The Mashishimale community owns Abelana Game Reserve and the lodge’s operations partner leases the land and works with the community to uplift and empower its people while conserving and protecting the wilderness under its stewardship. 

African Barred Owlets are sometimes seen at night. Credit Abelana Game Reserve

With just two lodges – Abelana Safari Camp in the south and Abelana River Lodge in the north – the reserve provides guests with a truly immersive and authentic safari experience. At such low density, they could easily be in the only vehicle exploring the 15 000ha of this Big Five territory at any one time. Geographically, the reserve is blessed with a range of ecosystems, from the distinctive granite outcrops and koppies of the south to beautiful riparian forest dominated by large trees in the north. It is also a birders’ paradise, particularly along the Selati River. An impressive number of bird species make their home here, including the African Fish Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Arnot’s Chat, Thick-billed Cuckoo and Bat Hawk, as well as the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl.

The number of participants for this exciting event is limited, so be sure to book early to avoid disappointment. Please contact me at for more information or to book.


Waterfall Bird Club

Waterfall Bird Club started as a casual group of birders at Waterfall Hills in 2012 and subsequently invited residents of the other Waterfall Estates to join it. As more people became interested in becoming members, the club was put on a more formal footing under the direction of a management committee. Its current membership stands at 90. 

Members meet on the third Wednesday of every month in the Manor House Auditorium at Waterfall Hills Estate. The meetings start at 17h30 for 18h00 and last an hour, during which time an invited speaker gives a presentation on a bird- or conservation-related topic and answers questions during and after the talk. Guided walks are arranged within the Waterfall Estates, which boast 37km of paved walkways meandering through green corridors and along the Jukskei River. The bird list for Waterfall Estates stands at 252. The next walk is scheduled for Wednesday, 17 March at 06h30 and will take place in Waterfall Country Estate. 

Visits to local birding spots such as Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden, Marievale Bird Sanctuary and Rietvlei, Suikerbosrand and Rietfontein nature reserves are also organised. From time to time overnight trips are arranged to places like Nylsvlei, Ingula and Wakkerstroom. 

For information about joining Waterfall Bird Club, please go to the BirdLife South Africa website. Support us by joining a bird club.


Membership developments

BirdLife South Africa is excited to let you know that we have a new membership database software programme running through Salesforce. The transition started in late 2020 and the team started working live in Salesforce in mid-January. There have been some teething problems, but we are working with Sean from Connelly Consulting to work through the challenges. The new database should enable us to manage our members’ details more easily and facilitate sending out renewal invoices. It also has a broader range of standard reports, which means we don’t need an outside consultant to script reports.

Problems with the delivery of African Birdlife by the South African Post Office have led BirdLife South Africa to work with a courier company instead. This will only be for delivery within South Africa and to subscribers in larger towns and cities. The relevant division of the courier company specialises in delivering magazines and the cost is much in line with that charged by the SA Post Office. The courier company will collect the magazines from the printer and take them to its warehouse to sort them before distribution. Each magazine will then be delivered to a subscriber’s physical address and left in a house post box, at a gate or with security at a complex. No signature is required. An SMS will be sent to the subscriber to let them know that the magazine will be delivered shortly and a second SMS will be sent after the magazine has been delivered.

It was hoped that this method could be implemented for delivery of the March/April issue of the magazine, but the courier company has requested changes to be made with the layout and format of the addresses supplied to them. The membership team is currently working to implement these changes.

If you subscribe to the magazine and have not yet provided a physical address, please e-mail it to either Baile at or Janine at We do understand that some subscribers prefer to have their magazines delivered by the SA Post Office, in which case this method will remain in place. Please note that if your physical address is outside a town (such as a farm or a plot), the courier company will not be able to deliver your magazine.

Many subscribers are aware of the difficulties we face in getting the magazines delivered and we hope you agree that this is the right step to ensure safe and prompt delivery.


Return of the Bird Fair

After a very successful debut in 2020, we plan to take this year’s Virtual African Bird Fair to the next level by making it bigger, better and even more interactive – and you won’t want to miss it! Details of the biggest event in African birding will be announced soon, so please watch BirdLife South Africa’s website and social media feeds.

A rockjumper on your wall…

If you would like extra copies of the colourful and informative Bird of the Year poster featuring the Cape Rockjumper, e-mail Kathleen April at We have partnered, fittingly, with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures in our efforts to raise awareness of the 2021 Bird of the Year. This work is funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust.


Tuesday webinars return

February’s Conservation Conversations webinars are in full swing (to check out the line-up, visit, while in March Melissa Whitecross and Andrew de Blocq will be co-hosting some enthralling sessions, including the launch of our ‘Birding in National Parks’ series presented by Chris Patton of SANParks. During this series, which will run on the first Tuesday of each month from March to November, we will highlight a different national park and its extraordinary birds and will provide gems of birding information that will make your next trip into nature a successful one.

Other speakers taking to your screens in March will be BirdLife South Africa staffers Linda van den Heever, Simmy Bezeng, Ernst Retief and Andrew de Blocq. As the manager of the Vulture Project, Linda will showcase the important work being done to understand how vultures help to mitigate the spread of diseases. Simmy, the Regional Red List and KBA Programme Officer, will talk about how he works around Africa to improve the skills of conservation planners and is involved in Red List assessments for biodiversity in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and Uganda. Our Spatial Planning and Data Manager, Ernst will describe the incredible work being done by the Science and Innovation Programme to develop fine-scale habitat suitability models for 96 of South Africa’s threatened birds and how these models are now influencing decision-makers. And finally, Andrew will present the second instalment of the ‘How to be birder’ series. If you missed part 1, you can watch it here.

Visit the website to find out more, or to register for the webinar series please click here.

Finding flufftails

Surveys spanned most the length of the Eastern Escarpment. Credit: Sipho Ndebele

The Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail is a habitat specialist that breeds in high-altitude wetlands. In the past its distribution spanned the Eastern Escarpment from the Eastern Cape to Mpumalanga, but over the years inland wetlands have been degraded and destroyed by drainage, peat fires and erosion and sedimentation. We simply don’t know whether the flufftails still occur at sites where they were seen in the past – and the fact that we don’t know hampers our efforts to conserve the species because we don’t know where we should focus those efforts.

Various environmental variables were collected to gain a better understanding of the flufftail’s habitat requirements and to assess the health of each wetland. Credit: Sipho Ndebele

For the past few months I have been conducting surveys of South Africa’s Eastern Escarpment to establish the species’ current distribution in the country. As well as historic sites, I explored new sites on both private and protected land where the flufftails have never been seen before. The selection of these sites was based on a habitat suitability model developed by BirdLife South Africa’s Science and Innovation team, which predicts where White-winged Flufftails are likely to occur given their habitat requirements.

Conducting surveys at several wetlands in Mpumalanga, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, from Dullstroom in the north to Franklin in the south, I used acoustic devices to determine whether White-winged Flufftails were present. These devices provide the best means of detecting this highly cryptic species and they do not interfere with the birds’ breeding attempts. The data collected will be processed over the next few months and then made available to the National White-winged Flufftail Task Team to help it to prioritise and focus conservation efforts.

BirdLife South Africa is grateful to the many landowners and provincial conservation governing bodies that assisted with the 2020–2021 acoustic surveys.


A project assistant for Ingula

Steven Segang, the Ingula Project’s new assistant.

In January BirdLife South Africa appointed Steven Segang to provide assistance in the Ingula Nature Reserve. Steven brings vast knowledge of cranes and community engagement to Ingula and we look forward to having him as a member of our team.

His primary tasks will be to conduct routine bird surveys, including breeding surveys of 13 priority threatened species, notably all cranes, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Secretarybird and Southern Bald Ibis; guiding visitors to the reserve; and assisting with environmental awareness and education in the nature reserve. He will also help with the development of ecotourism opportunities and materials for Ingula.

Steven started working as a community awareness officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 2004 at Barberspan in North West and the following year studied Environmental Education through Rhodes University. In 2009 he completed an Environmental Education internship at the International Crane Foundation in the USA and represented the foundation at the Audubon Conference in the same year. From 2013 until August 2019 he worked on the Mpumalanga Highveld, during which time he received numerous awards, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Monthly Achiever Award. His qualifications include a Tourist Guide Certificate from Unisa and a Community-based Natural Resource Management Certificate from the Southern African Wildlife College, and he has received training from the Animal Demography Unit in bird ringing (Safring) and to be a field assistant for avian scientific research.

Married with two children, Steven currently lives in the Ladysmith area, although his home is still in Sannieshof in North West. Reserved by nature, he loves watching birds and sport. His long-term ambition is to study for a degree in environment management.

Judging from his experience and passion, we believe Steven will be a great asset to the Ingula Nature Reserve and we look forward to working with him!


Support for US migratory birds

Western Osprey is one of the many species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Credit: Melissa Lewis

The first international treaty dedicated specifically to migratory bird conservation was adopted in 1916 as a bilateral agreement between the United States (US) and Britain (on behalf of Canada). Since then, a wealth of international instruments for migratory bird conservation have emerged around the globe, many of which were modelled in part on the 1916 treaty.

More than a century after its adoption the world’s first migratory bird treaty remains in force, as does the statute by which the US sought to achieve its domestic implementation: the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This Act has proved to be one of the country’s most stringent and effective environmental laws, in large measure because it is used to hold companies accountable for activities that incidentally kill or harm birds. Such activities include, for example, the misapplication of pesticides; the release of highly toxic chemicals into a pond; the operation of oil pits without taking precautions to protect birds; and the erection of power lines in areas with high bird density. The MBTA has also been used against companies responsible for avoidable environmental disasters, such as the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills.

In recent years, however, the US Department of the Interior has attempted to weaken the MBTA by interpreting it only to prohibit the killing of birds where this was the underlying purpose of the activity in question. The implications of such an interpretation are significant. For instance, it cannot be said that industrial activities such as those mentioned above are specifically directed at killing birds, even if it is inevitable that they will do so. Under the new interpretation, such activities would therefore become immune from enforcement under the Act and any knowledge that they will cause bird deaths would be irrelevant.

Initially, the weakened interpretation of the MBTA was laid out only in a written Opinion of the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior. This document was challenged by several states and NGOs and in August 2020 was overturned by a US District Court on the basis that it was contrary to the purpose and meaning of the MBTA. Despite this ruling, on 7 January 2021 a final regulation specifying that the MBTA does not apply to conduct that results in the incidental death of migratory birds was published in the Federal Register. This rule was scheduled to come into effect on 8 February.

Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. On 19 January 2021 BirdLife partners the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, along with several other conservation organisations, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new rule. In addition, on his first day in office President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing that the rule be reviewed and the rule’s entry into force has since been put on hold. We at BirdLife South Africa sincerely hope that the rule is overturned and that the Act continues to play a strong role in the protection of migratory birds for years to come.


Lindsey joins the team

Lindsey Smith joins the Regional Conservation and Policy & Advocacy programmes as their administrative assistant. Credit: Lindsey Smith

Two of BirdLife South Africa’s important programmes – Regional Conservation and Policy & Advocacy – are delighted to welcome new team member Lindsey Smith as their administrative assistant. Having spent more than eight years at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in Gauteng managing the environmental, cultural heritage and protected area programmes, Lindsey has a wealth of experience in administering protected area and biodiversity conservation. She is also an admitted attorney, specialising in environmental and biodiversity law and with a particular interest in governance, compliance and enforcement matters. After spending the past year in the UK, she recently returned to South Africa and in mid-January began working part-time for BirdLife South Africa.

Lindsey’s experience in conservation is sure to be an asset to both programmes. She will support the Regional Conservation Programme with tasks that include marketing and media, communications, fundraising and database management. Her legal background will be put to good use in the Policy & Advocacy Programme, in which she will be helping with research and communications and will be assessing and commenting on relevant development applications and proposed changes to environmental laws and policies.


Mouse-Free Marion Project milestone

Dr Anton Wolfaardt has taken up the challenge of pushing the Mouse-Free Marion Project forward.

BirdLife South Africa supporters who have been following closely the Mouse-Free Marion Project will be used to hearing the oft-repeated message ‘We’re working on it!’ It’s no secret that the project has taken longer than anticipated to get going and has often struggled to maintain momentum. But all that is now changing. Dr Anton Wolfaardt has accepted the mammoth challenge of managing this crucial undertaking, beginning on 1 February.

Anton has plenty of experience in the realm of marine and seabird conservation. He first visited Marion Island in 1994 as part of the South African National Antarctic Programme’s overwintering team. The years following saw him working in marine conservation along South Africa’s coast and with other BirdLife South Africa partners such as CapeNature. 2008 marked a change, when Anton moved to the Falkland Islands and began to focus more on island seabird populations.

When the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) created a position to co-ordinate the interests of the UK and its overseas territories in Antarctica, Anton jumped at the chance to live and work in this incredibly special part of the world. He returned to South Africa in 2013, but remained part of the ACAP team as a co-convener for its Seabird Bycatch Working Group. It was in this capacity that he recently worked with BirdLife South Africa on the Common Oceans Tuna Project, funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization. Anton’s participation in the various workshops was immensely valuable in contributing to the achievement of the project’s goals.

BirdLife South Africa could not have appointed a better candidate for this position and we look forward to working with Anton to get this globally important project under way. He has already hit the ground running and we hope to be able to share updates about his progress very soon.


All South Africa’s birds

Looking for your annual checklist ‘fix’? Just go to and you’ll find the English and Afrikaans versions of Checklist of Birds in South Africa 2021, fully updated and ready for download in PDF format or, combined, in Excel. You’ll also find, in Excel, checklists of endemic and Red List bird species.

Adjustments to this year’s checklist include the addition of three new confirmed species for South Africa: Spur-winged Lapwing, Lesser Cuckoo and Madagascar Pratincole; changes to the scientific names of 17 species; and amendments to the common names of three species (Whimbrel, for example, was changed to Eurasian Whimbrel due to the split into Eurasian and Hudsonian whimbrels). The new total of bird species in South Africa, including the Prince Edward Islands, is 873.

BirdLife South Africa would like to thank the committee’s chair and members for their dedication and hard work. They are Chris Lotz (chairman), David Allan, Rauri Bowie, Hugh Chittenden, Callan Cohen, Bob Dowsett, Guy Gibbon, Trevor Hardaker, Etienne Marais, Faansie Peacock, Ernst Retief, Peter Ryan, Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Melissa Whitecross.

PhD prize for Melissa

BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Melissa Lewis has been recognised for having written the best PhD dissertation defended at Tilburg University (the Netherlands) in the past academic year. A jury of the university’s vice-deans of research selected her dissertation for first prize, which was awarded at an online ceremony on 21 January.

Melissa’s dissertation sought to examine the role of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) in, and its implications for, the conservation and management of migratory birds and to make suggestions regarding how AEWA’s contribution to these objectives could be enhanced. AEWA is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats and Melissa embarked upon this project after several years of experience as its legal adviser. From the outset, it was intended that her academic research and AEWA activities would be mutually supportive, and several of the recommendations made in her thesis have been incorporated into internationally adopted guidance documents.

BirdLife South Africa plays an active role in the functioning of AEWA, both internationally and domestically. 2021 is an especially busy year in this regard, since AEWA’s primary governing body, the Meeting of the Parties (MOP), is scheduled to meet in October. Such meetings are held once every three years. In the lead-up to the AEWA MOP, BirdLife South Africa has contributed to BirdLife International’s comments on various of the documents proposed for adoption. We are also assisting the South African government with the compilation of its national reports on AEWA implementation; with identifying ‘AEWA flyway network sites’ (sites that are internationally or nationally important for the conservation of AEWA species); and with developing a national AEWA implementation plan. If developed successfully, this plan will be the first of its kind in the flyway and will provide a useful example to other AEWA Parties, especially in Africa.

BirdLife South Africa’s staff also act as coordinators of the International Working Groups for two of AEWA’s International Species Action Plans, those relating to the White-winged Flufftail and Benguela seabirds. An international meeting for the latter will be held next month with participants from South Africa, Namibia and Angola.


A new assistant bookkeeper

Julia Coldham has joined BirdLife South Africa as the new assistant bookkeeper and will be based at Isdell House, assisting me in the day-to-day financial administration and bookkeeping functions. She completed her BCompt degree through Unisa and has worked in accounts for many years. Julia is looking forward to learning more about BirdLife South Africa and furthering her experience in accounting.


Right: Julia Coldham has joined BirdLife South Africa to help keep the books.

A bird photography adventure

‘No mate, this fish is mine!’ Pied Kingfishers along the Chobe. Credit: Lou Coetzer

A popular approach to birding is to rush from destination to destination in search of the next bird species on a tick list. Similarly, many photographers are caught up in what I call ‘the portrait pandemic’, whereby they set up their cameras in such a way that their photographs turn out to be mostly stationary portraits. Birders get to tick a species, photographers get to capture images (albeit stiff) and both spend time in the natural world enjoying the company of like-minded friends.

So what’s the problem? They are missing out on even more handsome rewards. By slowing down and experiencing bird interactions and behaviours, birders would find a much deeper spiritual fulfilment in seeing and understanding birds’ activities. And photographers would go home with a visible record of the stories that nature had shared with them – stories that are invariably better than we can ever anticipate.

There is hardly a better place on earth to experience and photograph bird behaviour than from the custom-designed photography boats of CNP Safaris in Chobe. The view of nature from the water is profoundly different from experiencing wildlife on terra firma. Not only are we among about 500 bird species, but we experience them from a unique perspective and can photograph their ‘stories’.

By joining Birdlife South Africa and CNP Safaris on this extraordinary safari, you will not only be rewarded with some truly amazing nature experiences, but you will also be supporting Birdlife South Africa in its conservation efforts. See you soon on the magical Chobe River!



Bird of the Year 2021

Not only stunning to look at (and illustrate), the Cape Rockjumper is special for a number of reasons and thoroughly deserves to be named Bird of the Year for 2021. To begin with, it is endemic to South Africa, and specifically to the fynbos habitat of the country’s south-west. Even more specifically, it is found at higher altitudes within this habitat. It is also classified as Near Threatened.

Throughout the year we will be releasing on a monthly basis educational material such as infographics and lesson plans to raise awareness about the species. These will be available for free on our social media platforms and our website at Watch out for the new resources each month!

We are proud to be partnering with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures in this campaign and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support.


BirdLife Partners planning ahead

In 2019 the BirdLife Partners in southern Africa convened at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to share experiences and discuss projects under way in each country, as well as consider initiatives for the conservation of species and landscapes that could be established across the region. The meeting also gave stakeholders in Zimbabwe who were interested in identifying and documenting Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) an opportunity to discuss the way forward and receive basic training in the KBA process.

In January 2021 representatives of BirdLife South Africa, BirdLife Zimbabwe, BirdLife Botswana, BirdWatch Zambia, the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), BirdLife International and the BirdLife Africa Regional Partnership Secretariat all came together virtually for a follow-up meeting. The online forum enabled many more staff members from each organisation to attend and contribute to the regional planning meeting. Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International, opened the meeting and, as always, her introduction was motivational. After sharing an overview of the Global Flyways Programme, she wished the participants a fruitful workshop.

Representatives of five BirdLife Partners in southern Africa met virtually in January to cement relationships and plan how to safeguard the region’s biodiversity.

Two key objectives of the meeting were, firstly, to discuss projects currently under way, highlighting case studies applicable to other Partners in the region and sharing challenges experienced in each country; and secondly, to establish by means of collective brainstorming priorities for the conservation of species and habitat and for policy and advocacy along the East Atlantic Flyway. This is important to ensure a regional approach to bird conservation in southern Africa, particularly for migratory species, which know no international borders.

Increasingly, funding opportunities are becoming more difficult to access, as many of the larger funding agencies require multi-stakeholder applications that span multiple countries, so as to benefit a larger area for biodiversity as well as improve human livelihoods. BirdLife is well positioned to utilise the strong relationships of the Partnership and collate project proposals on a regional level to leverage this international funding. During the workshop, Partners worked together in break-out groups to design collaborative actions that can address the priorities established and deliver high-impact and long-term conservation, and to link these actions to particular funding opportunities.

Many southern African countries are facing an increasing number of development applications or are seeing destructive practices (such as mining) destroy areas that protect endangered species and important habitats. The workshop created a platform for Partners to discuss and plan policy and advocacy interventions to tackle future developments.

The virtual meeting showcased the exceptional work being done in the region, built on the strong relationships already established and came up with key actions to take forward in the coming year. It was a pleasure to host this event with such a passionate group of conservationists.


Virtually the same, just better

The past year has been challenging, if not traumatic, for many of us, but amid the doom and gloom the pandemic has also brought some small new joys. One of these is the pleasure of attending morning meetings in our pyjama bottoms (or so I understand – no admission of guilt here). Another is that conferences, even international events, are more accessible, without the economic or environmental cost of travelling to far-flung destinations.

There are some downsides to not meeting face to face, but virtual events do mean no more dodgy hotel rooms and missed flights, no more flight shame from the hideous carbon footprint of air travel, and no need to make small talk over cheap brown liquid passed off as coffee. We are free to dip in and out of online conference sessions without disrupting the flow, and while talking to a blank screen can be daunting, it is far less off-putting than conversing with a distracted professor in real life.

So I’m looking forward to the new experience of the biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) conference being held virtually this year. BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, are delighted to invite you to join the Virtual Learn About Birds conference, to be held online on 27 and 28 May 2021. The event is going virtual this year to keep our most valuable assets safe and healthy, informed and intrigued.

There will be two parts to LAB: Science LAB and Layman’s LAB. The latter will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about birds and birding and will include talks on bird conservation, research and identification. To keep it accessible, we will host Layman’s LAB after regular working hours at 17h00 and 19h00 SAST, so you can tune in while you tune out of your busy workday.

Science LAB will include plenary lectures, live panel discussions, 15-minute scientific talks and five-minute speed talks by ornithologists and conservationists working on southern African birds. We will host this part of the conference between 08h30 and 15h30 SAST. Although the presentations will be more technical and targeted at students, academics and conservation professionals, we encourage anyone who wishes to deepen their knowledge of birds to attend.

Why not attend both? If you register before 31 March 2021, attendance for both Science LAB and Layman’s LAB costs just R700. This fee will go towards covering the costs of hosting the event; any profits will go to BirdLife South Africa’s Landscape Conservation Programme.

For more information, visit Abstracts for Science LAB must be submitted before 28 February 2021.


Shop for the Birds!

Due to the continued challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – and the recent second wave of increased infections in South Africa – we have decided to close Shop for the Birds! until further notice. All orders received and acknowledged by me will still be finalised, but no new orders will be processed until the shop re-opens. We will keep you updated and hope to start the shop’s activities up again in some form relatively soon. Thank you for your patience.


Let’s play cards!

The illustrations for the card game were drawn by professional birder Faansie Peacock. Credit: Esma Marnewick

The 12 Action Cards in the pack keep the game interesting. Credit: Esma Marnewick

Get the family together for the Chirpy 2 card game because this fun and educational activity is for kids and adults alike. Older kids can play a challenging game in which they have to establish a reserve with various types of birds (grassland species, seabirds, waterbirds), swapping cards to create the best reserve. The more diverse, rare or endangered your birds are, the more popular your reserve will be and the higher your score. It’s a game that requires some thinking!

Younger kids can play a Top Trumps-like game. You can also add the Chirpy 1 card game to this option.

As you play, you’ll learn about the birds on the cards, their conservation status and the actions that determine their survival.

Chirpy 2 is available in all major supermarkets; you’ll find it on the magazines shelf and it costs R139. You can also order the game online at Chirpy 1 is still available online for R100. For more information, e-mail or phone 021 406 2205.



LAB 2021 goes online

The 5th biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) conference, which was due to be held in Wilderness on 27 and 28 May, will be moving to a virtual platform due to the current global pandemic and venue limitations, in compliance with the current National State of Disaster.

Co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, the conference is usually divided into a Science LAB session, where the country’s top ornithologists present their latest research, and a parallel Layman’s LAB session, which includes popular talks on the conservation, research and identification of birds.

By using a virtual platform this year, we will be able to keep all participants safe while providing ornithologists and conservationists with an opportunity to present their work to a wide audience. The Science LAB will run from 08h30 to 15h30 SAST on both days and will stage a mix of plenary lectures, live discussions, 15-minute scientific talks and five-minute speed talks. We welcome presenters from around the world who are conducting research or conservation work on southern Africa’s birds.

Instead of running parallel with Science LAB, Layman’s LAB will take place in the evenings of 27 and 28 May. The first Layman’s lecture will start at 17h00 and the second at 19h00.

As the LAB conference is one of the Landscape Conservation Programme’s major fundraising events, BirdLife South Africa will be charging a small fee for attending it virtually. This will help to pay for the time spent by the programme’s staff on organising the event and the cost of utilising the virtual platform. Any proceeds gained over and above these costs will be used for the species and ecosystem conservation work conducted by the Landscape Conservation Programme in South Africa. The aim of this programme is to see critical sites and ecosystems, and the ecological services associated with them, sustainably managed and protected to promote the preservation of diverse and healthy bird populations, as well as other biodiversity and people. Funds raised through the LAB conference will support specifically the Vulture Conservation and the Birds and Renewable Energy projects. For more information, please e-mail

Registration for LAB 2021 will begin from 11 January 2021 and can be completed via the BirdLife South Africa website at



Early Bird (11 January–31 March 2021)
Science and Layman’s LAB: R700
Layman’s LAB only: R300 

Standard (1–30 April 2021)
Science and Layman’s LAB: R800
Layman’s LAB only: R350


Abstracts for Science LAB can be submitted between 11 January and 28 February 2021 via the online registration form on the LAB web page,


Welcome, Christiaan

Christiaan W. Brink is the new manager of the Raptor & Large Terrestrial Bird Project.

Christiaan Willem Brink started his career in conservation with a degree in Zoology from the University of Pretoria, followed by an MSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Cape Town, where he is now completing a PhD on the role of supplementary feeding sites in vulture conservation. He also spent two years working as a field biologist for the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries on Marion Island, focusing on various seal and seabird species.

In his new role, Christiaan is looking forward to working with our team of dedicated conservationists on some of the bird species that inspired him to become a biologist. He hopes that his scientific expertise, broad field experience and understanding of the key role played by people and communities in conservation will make a valuable contribution to the implementation of effective conservation initiatives.



Lucky 13 for Southern Bald Ibis

The artificial breeding site for Southern Bald Ibises on the Bedford Dam in Ingula Nature Reserve. Credit: Carina Pienaar

There were several highlights for BirdLife South Africa’s Southern Bald Ibis project in 2020, the latest of which was the fitting of two GSM tracking devices to juveniles at the artificial breeding site in Ingula Nature Reserve. This followed the fledging of no fewer than 13 chicks at the site, which was set up by Eskom to ensure that the existing breeding colony would still be protected after the construction of the Bedford Dam.

A GSM tracking device on a juvenile Southern Bald Ibis. Credit: Kyle Lloyd

During the planning of Eskom’s Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme on the Drakensberg escarpment 25km from Van Reenen, it became clear that the waterfall that flowed into the wetland on which the Bedford Dam was to be built would be inundated when the dam filled. This would be bad news for the Southern Bald Ibis breeding colony that nested on the waterfall’s cliffs each year. As the species is Vulnerable and endemic to South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini, Eskom recognised the importance of this colony and constructed an artificial breeding site for it – the first for the species. The colony has been monitored annually to test how effective this intervention has been.

Since relocating to the new nesting site in 2016, the colony has consistently produced four fledglings. All four successful nests were located on the ledges below the ‘potholes’ that were constructed to encourage nesting. In 2019 up to 30 adults used the artificial site for roosting, and in 2020 there was a sudden increase in breeding activity, with nine nests in total and 13 chicks reaching fledging age. Three of the nests were located in the potholes.

This success was noteworthy for a number of reasons. After the previous four breeding seasons had consistently produced four chicks, it was thought that the site’s capacity had been reached. And although the potholes apparently provided valuable shelter from the elements for adults and fledglings, their design seemed to lack certain characteristics that would have made them suitable for nests. Both assumptions have been proved wrong; nests in the potholes produced four of the 13 chicks that fledged.

A juvenile Southern Bald Ibis safely back on the nest after being fitted with the tracking device.  Credit: Carina Pienaar

According to previous literature, the Southern Bald Ibis has an average success rate of 0.3–0.6 per breeding attempt. The female usually lays between one and three eggs in a nest but, due to sibling rivalry, limited food resources and sometimes predation, only one chick will survive. This breeding event, however, has yielded a success rate of 1.4 fledglings per nest – a major improvement!

Furthermore, a team was able to ring 10 of the 13 juveniles in December, two of which were also fitted with new GSM tracking devices. They will form part of a study of the post-fledging spatial distribution and habitat use of young Southern Bald Ibises, which in turn is an element of a larger project to determine the breeding success, habitat preferences, land use and spatial movement of the species. All the information garnered will help BirdLife South Africa to make informed conservation decisions that will benefit the Southern Bald Ibis. Citizen science is also playing a role in the larger project, with volunteers monitoring breeding colonies throughout the species’ range.

Many thanks to all who helped to fit the tracking devices: Craig and Sunika Nattrass for retrieving and ringing the juveniles and fitting the devices; and Dr Kyle Lloyd for ringing the birds.



Marking a milestone

Breeding is a hot topic for the January/February 2021 issue of African Birdlife, which looks at how plovers and brood parasites, weavers, bush-shrikes and owls go about this essential activity. The magazine also celebrates its 50th issue with a feature on top birder Trevor Hardaker, valuable tips for bird photographers and tales to whet a traveller’s appetite, whether for a weekend getaway or an excursion to a seldom-explored corner of Africa.


Support for community bird guides

For me, the stand-out positive of 2020 was the immense support shown to our community bird guides. When the national lockdown hit in March, these guides were left stranded. We made a call to the birding community to contribute to the relief fund we set up for them and were blown away by the generous response, which supported 40 guides during the period they had no work. Once the local guiding market opened up to them again, we reached out to birders to support them by making use of their services. Again, the response filled us with gratitude. And then, out of the blue, we received other donations in kind to help the guides.

Last month, without a prompt or request, Jacana Media offered to donate 16 copies of bird-related books. These volumes will be treasured by the guides, who are hungry to learn and expand their expertise, but may not have been able to afford to buy them. We thank Jacana Media for their unsolicited generosity and for the outstanding relationship that we continue to share in so many ways, including book development and our mutually beneficial webinars.

It is very heartening to know that the birding community is endlessly generous, kind and welcoming. It is indeed a privilege to have so many wonderful members and supporters in the BirdLife South Africa fold.



Gough go-ahead

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses breeding on Gough Island. Credit: Nini van der Merwe

In November 2020, the board of trustees of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) gave the official green light for the Gough Island Restoration Programme to go ahead with its operational phase in 2021. It was decided that waiting until 2022 would bring no better chance of success, that the restoration of Gough Island needs to happen as soon as possible and that the team is in a position to be confident that we can see this through in the months ahead. 

This decision – not an easy one to make given the current global circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic – came after the project had to be postponed due to the virus in March 2020. The team now hopes to pick up where we left off and continue our work to rid the island of invasive mice and prevent the annual loss of an estimated two million eggs and chicks. In February and March we will send two teams – aviculture and construction – out to the island. They will have a few months to complete the work they started in 2020 and ensure that the island is ready for the baiting to begin during the austral winter. If all goes according to plan, Gough Island will be mouse free by the end of winter.

2021 will be a challenging year for the project, but we have all worked very hard to get to this point. We are grateful for the continued support from our partners and donors that has carried us through the tough times. 


Farewell 2020

As we look forward to a new year, I am happy to be able to announce that, while the Covid-19 storm is not yet behind us, BirdLife South Africa is managing to weather it, and it is pleasing to see that our conservation successes continue. Our competent and hardworking staff deserve much praise for their achievements in 2020. We are also immensely grateful for the support we have received from our Board, volunteers, affiliated bird clubs, members, collaborators and donors. ‘Giving conservation wings’ is truly a collaborative effort.


Birding Big Day, a highlight of 2020!

BirdLife South Africa’s 36th Birding Big Day took place on Saturday, 28 November and welcomed more than 350 participating teams, almost 50 more than took part last year. Of these, 320 teams logged their data using BirdLasser while the rest submitted paper lists. We also had an increase in the number of community category participants, with more school and other community groups taking part. This means that over 1500 people participated in the formal event and we know that many others did so informally. Of particular interest is the number of teams that registered for the first time, possibly as a result of the garden lockdown challenge during which people downloaded BirdLasser and learnt how to use this app.

The Raven Dikkops scored the most bird species during Birding Big Day 2020 – 335 – and set a new record.

It was also good to see that more teams targeted the provincial challenges, which were first included in last year’s event. The goal for many teams was to beat last year’s provincial totals and as a result records were set for eight of South Africa’s nine provinces. Only the Eastern Cape’s 2019 record survived. For a list of the winning teams and their totals, see the table below. 

The total of 653 species seen by all the teams was down from last year, mainly because the pelagic trip out of Cape Town was cancelled due to rough seas. Even so, this is an excellent total, with more than 75% of South Africa’s bird species being recorded during Birding Big Day. 

A highlight of the event this year was that The Raven Dikkops, comprising Bradley Arthur, Michael Mills, Marc Cronje and Callan Cohen, set a new record of 335 species, adding 10 species to the previous record. Well done to them!

In addition, the teams recorded 48 769 records on BirdLasser, which is almost 9000 more than in 2019. Over 1200 records were received for species of conservation concern and the FitzPatrick Institute’s Michael Brooks reported a massive increase in data submitted to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project during the day. This shows that Birding Big Day is not just about a fun and competitive day of birding, but also about making an important contribution to the collection of valuable bird distribution data. We also hope that some of the first-time participants will become regular contributors to the various citizen science projects. 

BirdLife South Africa would like to thank Henk Nel and his team at BirdLasser for their wonderful support. We would also like to thank those who have paid for badges or made donations. The funds raised for Birding Big Day support BirdLife South Africa’s conservation work, so every cent is much appreciated. 

We would also like to thank ZEISS, who was our corporate sponsor this year, and BirdPro (, who donated three apps as prizes. 

The next Birding Big Day will be held on Saturday, 27 November 2021 and we look forward to seeing how many records will be broken then!



Region Team name Team members Number of species recorded in 2020 (and in 2019)
South Africa First place:

The Raven Dikkops

Bradley Arthur

Michael Mills

Marc Cronje

Callan Cohen

335 (325)
Second place:

Zonke Inyoni

Martin Benadie

Joe Grosel

Selwyn Rautenbach

Allan Weideman

Third place:


Ehren Eksteen

Johan Eksteen

Lourens Grobler

Duncan McKenzie

Mpumalanga The Raven Dikkops Bradley Arthur

Michael Mills

Marc Cronje

Callan Cohen

335 (311)
Free State SABAP TwoCan Dawie Kleynhans

Sarieta Kleynhans

194 (185)
Northern Cape The Lebanese Smit Titz S Smit

Alwyn Smit

Suzanne von Maltitz

Adrian von Maltitz

153 (149)
North West Bushwillow Birders Lance Robinson

Hanneline Smit-Robinson

Dylan Vasapolli

Leon Spies

269 (244)
Western Cape 230 Ostriches Rudi Minnie

Josef van Wyngaard

Dominic Rollinson

Christiaan Viljoen

244 (236)
Eastern Cape KWT KINGbirders Garth Shaw

Jean Shaw

180 (185)
Gauteng Soaring iSuzu’s Michael Johnson

Samuel Brewis

Corrie van Wyk

220 (215) 
Limpopo Zonke Inyoni Martin Benadie

Joe Grosel

Selwyn Rautenbach

Allan Weideman

329 (325)
KwaZulu-Natal Pops @ Sons Chris Kelly

Laurie Kelly

Dennis Kelly

Dave Shuttleworth

265 (237)
RSA species All the teams 653 (667)


Searching for swallows

Mpumalanga’s grasslands have been fragmented by human activities that have transformed
the landscape. Credit Kyle Lloyd

An abandoned mine shaft once used by Blue Swallows is now overgrown by bushes that block the birds’ flight path into the tunnel. Natural excavators such as aardvarks have disappeared from the area. Credit Kyle Lloyd

Often associated with mesic grassland, the Blue Swallow is an intra-African migrant that nests in aardvark holes, natural depressions and abandoned prospectors’ mine shafts. Its global population has decreased substantially over the past few decades, resulting in it being classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN in 2019. Nowhere in South Africa has this decrease been more dramatic than in Mpumalanga: from 29 pairs in 1987 to four pairs in 2015.

The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) has been closely monitoring the swallow’s decline and, with the aid of several ornithologists, has safeguarded key nesting sites. These historical sites are now fragmented islands in a sea of plantation that stretches to the horizon. Along with Theo Mol and Lientjie Cohen of the MTPA, Frank Webb of BirdLife Lowveld and ornithologist Garth Batchelor, I visited Mpumalanga’s Blue Swallow sites to find out whether the species still occurs in the province.

We went to areas around Graskop, Sabie, Kaapsehoop and Schoemanskloof and found most of these sites to be devoid of insect and grassland bird diversity and many of the mine shafts overgrown or collapsed. Our observations painted a depressing picture of a degraded grassland ecosystem with few resources available to a bird that needs to fledge young and build up reserves for an annual migration.

One site, however, proved to be an exception, boasting wild flowers and insects galore. Flocks of grassland birds flew this way and that, hawking insects on the wing. While trying to find a known mining shaft, we heard the diagnostic call of a Blue Swallow overhead and looked up to see a male Blue Swallow fly across our path. A further search revealed two males and two females in total, but we shall have to survey the site more closely to determine whether they are breeding there.

Nevertheless, just seeing these Blue Swallows gives us hope that the species can survive in Mpumalanga – and motivation for researchers as they use existing monitoring data to pinpoint the drivers of decline and work with land managers to improve the state of the grasslands that overlap with historical Blue Swallow distribution patterns.


Spotting leopards to save penguins

Christina Hagen, Ayesha Hargey and Gareth Mann (Panthera) during the camera set-up.

In the mid-2000s, predation by terrestrial predators contributed to the failure of a breeding attempt by African Penguins and the abandonment of their colony in De Hoop Nature Reserve. BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and SANCCOB are now working to re-establish the colony in this area, which has been protected by a predator-proof fence. An initial small-scale camera trap survey showed that there are leopards, caracals and other predators in the vicinity, but not how many nor if the same individuals frequent the area.

After receiving initial advice from the Cape Leopard Trust, we have partnered with Panthera and the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) at UCT and procured a research permit from CapeNature to conduct a large-scale camera trap survey across the reserve. Our main aim is to determine the population density of leopards across the reserve and try to identify individual ones. We will also learn more about the movements of other potential penguin predators. This will help to better implement measures to mitigate predation and protect the colony. 

A female Spur-winged Goose struts past a camera, followed by her brood.

In mid-September we set up a network of 40 camera stations, each about 2km apart, in the reserve. Two cameras are deployed at each station to photograph both sides of the animals. This is especially important for leopards so that we can identify individuals by their unique pattern of spots. The stations were positioned along roads or paths, as leopards and other carnivores tend to make use of the easiest routes through dense vegetation, and to enable us to get clearer images. The cameras will be taken down in early December. When checked halfway through the survey, they had captured over 36 700 photos over 27 days.

Ayesha Hargey, who will be analysing the data for her Master’s thesis, is still working through the photos (with the help of a machine learning programme developed by Panthera) but so far has identified several individual leopards, including a mother and cub. There are also images of caracals, genets, honey badgers and many ungulates such as bontebok and zebra. The data will be shared with CapeNature to contribute to its knowledge of the reserve’s biodiversity. 

The results from this survey will ensure that we are well informed and able to make the decisions most likely to increase our chances of establishing a successful penguin colony. 


Support avitourism this festive season

David Letsoalo, a BirdLife South Africa community bird guide operating in Magoebaskloof.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has severely affected South Africa’s tourism industry, which was the fastest-growing sector of our economy. Although the country’s borders are now open, with regulations, the arrival of international travellers is still uncertain due to Covid-19 resurgences in the northern hemisphere in particular. Avitourism, a birding-related travel niche, is driven by both overseas and local visitors, but recent data from Statistics SA have shown that the local market is unlikely to be able to sufficiently replace the international contribution. Income from tourists accommodated in September 2020 was down 70% from the same period last year, despite an increase in domestic travel after the end of the hard lockdown.

BirdLife South Africa has several affiliates in the avitourism sector of the tourism industry. The past few months have been very tough for them all as revenue dried up. A slow re-opening of local travel has offered a lifeline, but they need your support in order to recover some financial security in the short term. These affiliates include our much-beloved community bird guides (who are relying solely on bookings now that their relief fund has been depleted), our Birder Friendly Establishments and our Birder Friendly Tour Operators.

Please consider making use of these guides, establishment and tour operators. They have all been vetted by BirdLife South Africa and will add greatly to your birding experiences, especially if you visit an area in which you are unfamiliar with the local birds and their haunts. All the affiliates’ details can be found on our website:

Community Bird Guides 

Birder Friendly Establishments

Birder Friendly Tour Operators

For any questions or feedback relating to any of these affiliated people/companies, please contact me at


Keep track of 2021

Be sure that you don’t miss out on a copy of the 2021 Birds of Southern Africa calendar. In collaboration with Chamberlain, BirdLife South Africa is proud to present its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images for the months of the year and a bonus one on the cover! As in 2019, the calendars still cost R150 each (excluding delivery) and will make beautiful gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients.

This year, due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, all calendar orders will be taken online at and payments will be processed via PayFast. The calendars will be despatched via PostNet at a reduced rate of R80. Unfortunately, delivery of orders outside South Africa is not currently available.



Linda van den Heever and Mark Anderson (far right) joined Angus Anthony (far left) and other volunteers to monitor the White-backed Vulture breeding colony at Dronfield Nature Reserve for the 28th consecutive year.

GPS for vultures

October 2020 saw researchers and volunteers return to Dronfield Nature Reserve, near Kimberley, for the 28th year to monitor the White-backed Vulture breeding colony there. BirdLife South Africa staff joined them to find out more about the source of lead poisoning at the reserve.

The team, led by Angus Anthony, monitored the breeding success of 97 nests and ringed and tagged 42 nestlings. BirdLife South Africa’s project to combat lead poisoning in vultures has previously highlighted elevated levels of lead among vulture chicks at Dronfield. Using GPS technology, it now aims to track the movements of juvenile White-backed Vultures from Dronfield to determine whether exposure to lead as nestlings results in behavioural changes that may make them more susceptible to anthropogenic threats as free-flying juveniles or, indeed, compromise their ability to forage successfully.

With the assistance of Melissa Howes-Whitecross and Craig Nattrass, GPS transmitters were fitted to five White-backed Vulture chicks. They were selected based on their blood levels, with two devices fitted to chicks with low lead levels and three to chicks with high lead levels. The chicks’ movements will be monitored closely to determine where the birds are feeding so that the possible source of the lead can be traced and mitigated.


Last chance to learn about…

As we round off 2020, we’re very grateful that we’ve been able to create and share educational resources – infographics, lesson plans, fact files and other illustrated awareness-raising material – about the awesome Southern Ground-Hornbill, the 2020 Bird of the Year. These resources are available in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and Tshivenda and they can all be accessed for free at

We are proud to have partnered with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, the BirdLife Species Guardians for the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.


Support bird conservation in South Africa

In 2021, the names of all Conservation League Donors will go into a lucky draw to win a 4-night stay for two at Zimanga Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, valued at R40 000. This prize includes accommodation, all meals, four game drives, one lagoon or scavenger hide session, one Mkombe or Behjane hide session and one overnight hide session.

All existing and new Conservation League Donors who sign up and pay before 31 August 2021 will stand a chance to win this fantastic prize. The draw will take place at The African Bird Fair in September 2021 and the prize will need to be redeemed by April 2022 (booking subject to availability).

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, supporters need to be paid up members of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R3000. We are able to issue a Section 18A Tax Certificate for your donation, which means that your contribution towards bird conservation is tax deductible.

For more information, contact me at 



Tracking Endangered cormorants

This screen grab from an animal-borne video logger shows the Cape Cormorant pursuing a mixed-species school of horse mackerel and anchovies.

Prof. Pierre Pistorius and Eleanor Weideman (NMU) were joined on Dyer Island by Dr Alistair McInnes of BirdLife South Africa.

Cape Cormorants are globally Endangered and face a plight similar to that of other threatened coastal seabird species – like the African Penguin – that target the same prey: small pelagic fish such as sardines and anchovies. Unlike the African Penguin, however, little is known about the movements of these birds while they’re breeding at various coastal localities in the Benguela Upwelling System. One of these localities, Dyer Island near Gansbaai, is home to the largest population of breeding Cape Cormorants in South Africa.

Together with seabird scientists from Nelson Mandela University (NMU), we went to Dyer Island and fitted small GPS loggers and animal-borne video cameras on 18 of the birds attending small chicks. The 16 tracks that we retrieved showed a diversity of movements, with many cormorants foraging close to shore (presumably mostly on anchovies, which have been recorded inshore in recent months), but also a good sample foraging directly offshore. We were quite surprised to see that a few birds also fed on horse mackerel, an important target fish for the mid-water trawl fishery. The small video loggers we retrieved showed some remarkable footage of benthic feeding by the cormorants in both sandy open water and kelp habitat.

The information gleaned from our very productive trip will be used to identify important foraging areas and associated habitat types. It will also be incorporated into various marine spatial planning initiatives that can ultimately help to protect important habitat for Cape Cormorants and other top marine predators.


Birding Big Year 2021

During the recent Birding Big Day, Finn, Christine, Craig and Wren Widdows got a taste of what 2021 will offer.

For our family, the rigours of 2020 have convinced us that we need to throw caution to the wind and embrace the moment, right now. Our dream of immersing ourselves in nature and providing our son and daughter with a childhood grounded in the outdoors – could this be possible? Slowly, as our family’s life returned to its pre-2020 form, we knew we had to make this dream a reality.

‘We’ are the Widdows, an ecologist and an occupational therapist established in 2005, married in 2013 and expanded in 2016 and 2018. Our daughter Wren and son Finn are avid nature lovers who find the most joy when barefoot in the bush. As bird lovers and budding twitchers, our children have been moved from safari tents to bird hides since they were a few weeks old. 

A Birding Big Year – one calendar year dedicated to searching for as many bird species as possible – has always been on our bucket list. Yes, we’re going to attempt to track down some of our country’s more secretive species, with four-year-old Wren and two-year-old Finn on board – what could possibly go wrong? Given the impressive diversity of birds and incredible biomes within our country, we have decided to make this a proudly South African adventure. We are taking sabbaticals, packing up our home and trading in our old life for one incredible year in 2021. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on South Africa’s tourism, we are using our journey to raise funds and support for the Community Bird Guide Training Project run by BirdLife South Africa. Over the past 20 years or so the project has successfully trained more than 200 individuals from historically disadvantaged communities to become professional bird and nature guides. Its goals are to enable individuals to benefit from avitourism and empower them to become successful entrepreneurs with sustainable livelihoods. By supporting these community guides, we also support their families and broader communities.

We would like to appeal to South African birders to support this initiative by visiting our project funding page to assist in the continued training of bird guides. All funds donated via this link will be paid through to BirdLife South Africa. By working with this initiative, we can continue to bring together job creation and conservation at a community level. 

Throughout our Birding Big Year, we also aim to connect with various registered bird guides from the project, contracting and promoting their services while birding in the areas they operate in. If you would like to support our family along the way, either financially (personal support page; this is different to the project support link above) or maybe you know a good birding spot that we simply must see, we would love to hear from you.

Our Birding Big Year is not only about chasing rarities and adding to our year list, but rather an opportunity to rediscover ourselves and how we fit into our natural world. Hopefully, through our journey we will be able to encourage more families to get involved in the incredibly entertaining hobby that is birding. You will be able to follow us on this exciting journey by checking ‘Our Birding Big Year 2021’ on Facebook and Instagram. Should you see a bewildered family at your next twitch or birding outing, just know that’s us.


Southern Ground-Hornbill – a perfect gift!

Shop for the Birds! has a range of Southern Ground-Hornbill items that make beautiful gifts at this time of year, for family and friends – or yourself! And by purchasing them, you’re also supporting our important conservation work.

T-shirts are selling for R260 each, fluffy toys for R150 and pin badges for R35.

Shop for the Birds! is currently not open every day, so please contact me at for more information about its opening times.


Will BBD 2020 break the record?

Saturday, 28 November is BirdLife South Africa’s 36th Birding Big Day (BBD) and already it’s looking as though it will break 2019’s record of just over 300 participating teams, with most of the registrations received so far coming from teams that will be competing for the first time. Henk Nel from BirdLasser and I think this may result from so many birders having embraced BirdLasser during lockdown and taken part in challenges, and they are now keen to go for another. If all the regular BBD teams register this year as well, the total should easily surpass the 300 mark.

So why not join in the fun? Form a team of at least four birders, choose an area to bird in (maximum 50km radius) and count the species you see for as long as you like on 28 November. You can log your sightings on the BirdLasser mobile app or simply jot them down on a piece of paper. For more information about BBD, go to

Please register for the project at

BBD promises to be great fun, so select your team, decide on your route and register! If you would like further information, please contact me at


African Birdlife, present & future

The November/December 2020 issue of African Birdlife is nothing if not eclectic: Mitch Reardon considers the culture around Ostriches; conservation photographer Pete Oxford challenges all bird photographers; Grant Atkinson takes us to Kenya; and we examine the rise of the Rose-ringed Parakeet in South African towns. There are also binocular reviews, a portfolio of stunning images and a new competition, in addition to all the regular features.

You certainly won’t want to miss this issue. For this reason, and because of the frequently late and sometimes non-delivery of your magazines, we would like to become less reliant on the SA Post Office in future. If you subscribe to African Birdlife and have not yet informed us of your physical address, please e-mail the details to Baile at or Janine at We do understand that some subscribers may not want their magazine delivered to their home or office; in this case, please e-mail Baile asking her to continue sending your magazine via the SA Post Office. 

Raptor ID? A cinch!

There’s a wealth of raptors in the Kruger Park in February and you could be there sharpening up your identification skills for these often tricky species, with the help of Joe Grosel. Joe’s legendary knowledge and practical approach will help you ID raptors of all shapes, sizes and colours in no time, while his personal anecdotes and general birding knowledge will keep you entertained and informed.

The weekend’s activities include morning and afternoon bird- and game-viewing drives in open vehicles. The course will be hosted by SANParks Honorary Rangers at Letaba Camp in the centre of the park, which offers some of the best raptor viewing in Africa. Proceeds from the course will contribute to conservation in our national parks.

Date: 4–7 February 2021

Venue: Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

Cost: R2550 per person (includes course material and outings; excludes accommodation)

Contact: Charles Hardy at

Global Bird Weekend

The global birding community is close-knit and vibrant, but in 2020 its ability to interact was severely limited by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on international travel and cancellation of several large birding events. So when Tim Appleton, the founder of the British Birdfair, came up with the idea of the Global Bird Weekend ( as a way for birders around the world to unite to celebrate birds and birding, he received a lot of support. The weekend was planned to coincide with the annual eBird Big Day on 17 October and to enable birders to not only share sightings from all over the world, but also raise funds to fight the illegal bird trade that threatens so many species.

Divan Swanepoel of ZEISS South Africa approached BirdLife South Africa about partnering up for the event. As ZEISS is a major BirdLife South Africa supporter, we were only too happy to work with Divan and his colleagues. A large contingent of BirdLife South Africa staff ventured out into various parts of the country – Kalahari, Memel, Magaliesberg, Cape Town, Zaagkuilsdrift, Wakkerstroom, Johannesburg – on the Saturday and in fact submitted checklists from eight of the nine provinces. The team’s final tally of species seen came to 228 on the day and included some special South African endemics, which were useful additions to the global list. It ended up at a whopping 6899 species long!

The Global Bird Weekend was a lot of fun for our staff, who shared sightings and photographs throughout the day, and it raised significant funds for bird conservation. We thank ZEISS for partnering with us for the event and for supplying team shirts on the day.

If you would like to contribute to the cause, you can still do so on the ZEISS fundraising page ( 


Anyone interested?

Join ecologists and professional bird guides on important long-term monitoring projects in the Kruger National Park. Credit Laurence Kruger

BirdLife South Africa and the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (SSLI) are entering a new partnership that aims to provide exciting and exclusive opportunities for birders while simultaneously benefiting trainee community bird guides, science and conservation. We are currently looking for expressions of interest to determine whether this is a viable project. If you would like to be included in communications about this new opportunity, please e-mail me at

You could be one (or two) of eight birders participating in week of bird surveying and game viewing in the heart of the Kruger National Park. You will be accommodated at the remarkable SSLI Campus in the Skukuza village, from where you will venture out by vehicle and on foot to survey selected long-term monitoring sites across the south of the park. The eight birders will be divided into four couples, each accompanied by an SSLI ecologist and/or professional bird guide as well as a game guard and a trainee bird guide from the local community. After the morning surveys are complete, birding teams will return to camp and have the rest of the day to either enjoy a guided game drive or assist with data entry and analysis. Evening dinners on the deck will be followed by fireside discussions with resident scientists on a broad range of conservation topics. 

What is special about this opportunity? 

  • It’s a rare chance to enjoy the country’s premier national park on foot;
  • It enables you to support the development of local community bird guides while enjoying your own birding;
  • It contributes to long-term research designed to understand the effects of fire, elephants and climate change on bird communities in the Kruger Park;
  • You’ll learn from Kruger’s foremost ecologists in an informal setting;
  • You’ll experience a week in the life of a scientist in the park;
  • You’ll enjoy an all-inclusive, catered Kruger experience away from the busy rest camps;
  • The various daily activities are led by professional safari and bird guides with intimate knowledge of the park and its birds and other biodiversity.

This opportunity would be best suited for couples, but individuals are welcome to book if they are willing to share accommodation. Non-birding family members can be accommodated at a reduced rate and childminders can be arranged during the morning sessions. The fee for the six-night stay will include three meals a day, all guided activities and transport after arrival, all accommodation costs, game guard fees, staff costs and expert lectures. The participants’ fees will also be used to sponsor the local trainee community bird guides, providing them with invaluable experience. The cost per person sharing will be around R3000 per night.

We feel that this is an incredibly worthwhile venture in terms of the development of community bird guides and support for science and conservation in the Kruger National Park, and providing our supporters with once-in-a-lifetime birding experiences in South Africa’s top birding destination. If you would like to be included in communications about it or be involved, please e-mail me at We are looking forward to getting this initiative off the ground, so please get in touch and let us know whether this is something you might support!


Gough in the time of Covid

A Tristan Albatross chick. Credit Nini van der Merwe

I think I’m far from alone in finding that life has been strange under lockdown for much of this year. After months of isolation and working remotely, it therefore came as a refreshing change to travel to Gough Island on the annual Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ relief voyage as part of the RSPB-led team for the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP). To protect the take-over support team, the crew of the SA Agulhas II and, of course, the outgoing overwintering team, all voyage participants had to be quarantined for 14 days in a Cape Town hotel. During this time, the entire team underwent two tests for Covid-19 and only individuals who had a double negative test were allowed to proceed to the SA Agulhas II. Although the quarantine was not the most fun I’ve had this year, it was quite nice to be able to go about without wearing masks or other PPE for the remainder of the trip, as by that point everyone on board the vessel and on the island had been cleared as Covid-free. 

We left Cape Town harbour just before midnight on Saturday, 19 September and arrived at Tristan da Cunha five days later. No passengers were allowed to disembark due to health and safety protocols and cargo off-loading was completed in two days. From there we sailed to Gough, arriving at mid-day on the 27th. We hit the ground running, off-loading all passengers and making a start on cargo work while it was still light. Our time on the island this year was shorter than usual, totalling only 12 days instead of 18–20. Fortunately we had fewer on-island jobs to do, as well as much less cargo than in 2019. 

The SA Agulhas II with a Sooty Albatross in the foreground. Credit Nini van der Merwe

One of our main objectives was to off-load the new cargo and, after unpacking, store it safely in the temporary infrastructure that the GIRP team had built earlier in the year. Once that was completed, we spent a few days doing a detailed inspection of the infrastructure to identify any areas that might require repairs or replacement. Luckily, we discovered that it had held up very well and needed only a few minor repairs. This was particularly reassuring as it means that GIRP is, logistically, in a very good position to go ahead in 2021. 

Despite the shorter time on Gough, we were able to appreciate the magnificent natural beauty of the island. September is a magical month there, as it marks the return of many of the breeding seabird species. In the early evenings the air is thick with the sounds of Great Shearwaters and various prions and petrels. It’s the start of the Atlantic Yellow-Nosed Albatross breeding season and a short walk from base puts you within easy viewing of these amazing birds, many of which are on nests. 

Although the final decision to attempt the mouse eradication operation in 2021 has not yet been made, the recent visit to Gough has been very informative in offering assurance that, at least on Gough, the project is in a very good position to go ahead next year. The GIRP team is working incredibly hard to ensure that we will be as ready as we can be should we get the go-ahead – and seeing the magic of Gough again has definitely re-ignited our motivation to continue to work hard to save as soon as we possibly can the two million birds lost each year. 


Bird of the Year now multilingual

BirdLife South Africa’s 2020 Bird of the Year, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, is classified as Endangered in South Africa. This month’s infographic and lesson plan show the different threats faced by these magnificent birds and how we could mitigate them to protect the species.

We have also produced the first set of resource materials that has been translated into Afrikaans, isiXhosa and Tshivenda. All the educational material, which includes fact files, infographics and lesson plans, is available for free at

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, the BirdLife Species Guardians for the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.



GARDENA has very generously donated a range of gardening equipment to BirdLife South Africa, which will be used at Isdell House and the Wakkerstroom Tourism & Education Centre. We are very grateful to GARDENA for this gift. Our old gardening tools will be donated to rural schools in the greater Wakkerstroom area.

Bookkeeping vacancy

BirdLife South Africa is offering an opportunity to someone with bookkeeping knowledge and experience to fulfil a supporting role to the organisation’s bookkeeper. The position will give valuable insight into the wide variety of administrative and bookkeeping tasks that need to be done in a non-profit organisation. This full-time position will commence on 1 February 2021 and will be based at Isdell House, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. The closing date for applications is 21 November 2020. Please visit


Flufftail monitoring season begins

Camera traps in dense wetland vegetation capture images of passing White-winged Flufftails and other animals, providing insight into their undisturbed behaviour and an estimate of population size. Credit Melissa Howes-Whitecross

Motion-detecting cameras are an essential tool when it comes to studying the behaviour of the elusive White-winged Flufftail, as they can provide a glimpse into the largely unknown lives of this Critically Endangered species. Since its discovery and formal description in 1877, there have been only a few scattered sightings of this flufftail in South Africa. Most sightings are chance events or are achieved only after many hours of walking through wetland in the hope of flushing the bird. They are becoming even rarer as suitable wetland habitat is degraded or destroyed as a result of various human activities. The small sample size of records accumulated over the past 140 years has resulted in a limited understanding of White-winged Flufftail biology and has restricted the ability of conservation managers to conserve the species effectively.

Caught on camera! A male White-winged Flufftail captured by a motion-detecting camera last season.

In 2016, a survey methodology was developed that greatly improved the detection of White-winged Flufftails in dense wetland vegetation. Dubbed the ‘BirdLife South Africa Rallid Survey Method’, it makes use of a metal frame and camouflaged shade cloth. A motion-detecting camera mounted on the frame captures images of birds walking through the structure. The use of the cameras not only yields high numbers of records compared to the traditional flushing method, but is also non-invasive, with minimal impact on the sensitive wetland environment. Since its inception, the Rallid Survey Method has been refined and deployed annually during the White-winged Flufftail’s breeding season. 

For the 2020–2021 season too, BirdLife South Africa staff have deployed monitoring equipment to observe the behaviour and abundance of White-winged Flufftails . The work was intensive, but the images we’ve already seen of the birds are our reward. In the largest effort yet, 51 cameras have been deployed at three sites and we hope they will show us a good breeding year, given that rains have already fallen early in the wet season. The knowledge obtained from the monitoring data will be used to help guide conservation managers and landowners to better manage wetlands for the flufftails. Every monitoring season improves our ability to protect the species and bring it back from the brink of extinction.


We can’t wait for 2021!

Collaborating this year with Chamberlain, BirdLife South Africa proudly presents its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images for the months of the year and a bonus one on the cover! The calendars sell for R150 each (excluding delivery) and will make beautiful gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients.

This year, due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, all calendar orders will be taken online at and payments will be processed via PayFast. The calendars will be despatched via PostNet at a reduced rate of R80. Unfortunately, delivery of orders outside South Africa is not currently available.



Getting the height right

The wind works its magic at keeping seabirds away from the baited hooks used by fishing vessels. Credit Yuri Artukhin

Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera of the Albatross Task Force work with the crew of a South African pelagic longline vessel to determine the optimal attachment height for a bird-scaring line. Credit Victor Ncongo

‘We need a tori pole for the tori line,’ came the request from the crew aboard the pelagic longline vessel. They weren’t asking for something to do with British party politics, but for a way to improve the effectiveness of a mitigation measure to prevent seabird mortality. Longline fishing, as its name suggests, involves the deployment of several thousand baited hooks attached to kilometres of fishing line. However, before the hooks sink out of reach they pose a threat to seabirds that dive for the bait, unaware that it hides a weapon that could kill them. Preventing these unnecessary deaths is precisely what the Albatross Task Force is aiming to achieve.

The word tori, meaning ‘bird’ in Japanese, was coined by a fisherman who developed the first concept of a scarecrow for seabirds in the 1970s. The name stuck and has since become associated with one of the main mitigation measures – a bird-scaring line – to prevent seabirds from getting caught in fishing gear.

The tori line is attached to the stern of a fishing vessel, from where the longline of baited hooks is deployed. The line, with colourful streamers attached, is flown above the fishing line and the streamers, fluttering wildly in the constant sea winds, scare the birds away, ideally for as long as it takes for the hooks to sink out of reach behind the vessel.

For the bird-scaring line to work effectively, however, it needs to be attached high enough to not interfere with the setting of the hooks, yet low enough for birds not to fly in underneath it. Much research has gone into fine-tuning this balance to match different fishing techniques, such as setting speeds and the weighting of hooks to determine the ideal length of the tori line and the height at which it should be attached.

In South Africa, the attachment points in most of the longline vessels are not high enough and tori poles are needed to increase their height and thus the reach and effectiveness of the bird-scaring line as it flies above the hook line. Fitting a tori pole has its challenges and overcoming these is the purpose of our direct engagement with individual vessel owners in harbour. So far, the Albatross Task Force has advised or assisted in the installation of tori poles in 60% of demersal and 40% of pelagic longline fleets, directly improving the effectiveness of seabird mortality mitigation measures.


Species Environmental Assessment Guideline

Investigations by specialists constitute an invaluable component of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. Until recently, however, there were no standardised requirements for how such investigations should be conducted and reported on. The result was that competent authorities were frequently presented with reports that lacked sufficient information for decision-making. 

To address this challenge, a series of protocols has been developed that provides a minimum set of assessment and reporting criteria for various environmental themes. The protocols that need to be complied with for any particular development application are identified through the national web-based screening tool, which is a geographically based, web-enabled application that makes it possible to screen a proposed development site for environmental sensitivities (such as the possible presence of species of conservation concern) before an application for environmental authorisation is submitted. (Notably, BirdLife South Africa’s Science and Innovation Programme has contributed spatial layers to this tool.)

The first batch of protocols, published on 20 March 2020, addresses agriculture, noise, defence, civil aviation, terrestrial biodiversity, aquatic biodiversity and the impacts of onshore wind energy generation facilities on birds. On 30 October the Terrestrial Plant and Animal Species Protocols were gazetted. These are intended to standardise species-level aspects of EIAs and the reporting of potential impacts of proposed developments on species of conservation concern. 

Over the past two years, BirdLife South Africa has collaborated with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and several commissioned species specialists to produce a Species Environmental Assessment Guideline to support the Terrestrial Plant and Animal Species Protocols. While the protocols themselves are legally binding and must be complied with, the guideline describes the manner in which species specialists, environmental assessment practitioners and the proponents of development projects can ensure compliance with the protocols’ requirements. It provides background and context to these requirements, as well as guidance on sampling and data collection methodologies for the different taxonomic groups represented in the Terrestrial Animal and Plant Species Protocols. A draft of the guideline was made available for public comment in early 2020 and the final version was recently completed.

The BirdLife South Africa staff who contributed to this project were Jonathan Booth, the former Advocacy Officer; Samantha Ralston-Paton, the Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager; and myself. The guideline’s lead author is Luke Verburgt from Enviro-Insight and SANBI’s project leaders were Abigail Bahindwa and Domitilla Raimondo. 

The final guideline document will be published on SANBI’s website ( during the course of this month and will be updated periodically in response to revisions to the species layers of the national web-based environmental screening tool. 


BBD 2020 – register now!

The 36th Birding Big Day (BBD) will take place on Saturday, 28 November 2020 and BirdLife South Africa invites all birders to participate and enjoy the wonderful bird diversity we have in this country. You do not need to be an expert birder to take part and can even confine your birding to your garden or local park for merely an hour or two.

To join in the fun, all you need to do is make up a team of at least four members, choose an area with a maximum 50km radius and then bird within that area to see as many species as possible. You can decide to log your sightings on the BirdLasser mobile app or simply jot the species down on a piece of paper. For more information about BBD, go to

Please register for the project at

You can also attempt to surpass the provincial totals set last year (see the link above to the BBD page). Just to remind you, each province will have its own BirdLasser event page; you just log your sightings and your team’s totals will update to each provincial page. However, you will have to calculate your route carefully to make sure it does not cross provincial boundaries. 

BBD promises to be great fun, so select your team, decide on your route and register! If you need more information, please contact me at 


Flocking in 2021

Along with its annual Flock, BirdLife South Africa will be hosting next year the fifth Learn About Birds (LAB) conference, in collaboration with the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. The dates are 27–29 May 2021 and the location is Wilderness, so we will partnering with local bird clubs BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and the Lake Bird Club to bring you exciting birding opportunities.

Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s website, e-mailers and social media feeds for more information about the venue and presenters, as well as how to submit abstracts. This event promises to be an exciting one, with great excursions planned and parallel Science and Layman’s LABs to keep all participants entertained.

We will be monitoring the Covid-19 situation closely and will ensure that strict hygiene and safety protocols are in place. Should the physical event not be able to take place, we are making contingency plans for a virtual Flock in 2021. For more information, please contact us at


Conservation League Donor competition

Congratulations go to Patricia Lehle, who won our annual Conservation League lucky draw and is now the proud owner of a pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars! We wish her many happy years of birding with these outstanding optics.

Thank you to all our existing and new Conservation League donors for your loyal support. Your kind donations enable BirdLife South Africa to continue our important and much-needed conservation work. We would also like to thank ZEISS, and Gail Giordani and Divan Swanepoel in particular, for always being willing to support BirdLife South Africa. ZEISS has been a generous supporter and donor to our organisation for many years and for that we are extremely grateful.


2021 calendar

Collaborating this year with Chamberlain, BirdLife South Africa proudly presents its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images for the months of the year and a bonus one on the cover! The calendars sell for R150 each (excluding delivery) and will make beautiful gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients.

This year, due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, all calendar orders will be taken online at and payments will be processed via PayFast. The calendars will be despatched via PostNet at a reduced rate of R80. Unfortunately, delivery of orders outside South Africa is not currently available.


30 episodes and counting…

Please consider making a donation to keep our webinars going.

Every Tuesday night at 19h00, you are invited to join us via Zoom for Conservation Conversations with BirdLife South Africa. The webinars, which started out as part of the lockdown contingency plans to help keep members informed about the work that BirdLife South Africa is doing, have become a weekly staple and ‘ray of sunshine’ for many who are still confined to their homes during these uncertain times. All of them are recorded and posted to YouTube for anyone who is unable to join in the live fun. Recordings of previous webinars can be accessed through our BirdLife South Africa YouTube channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage If you haven’t already done so, you can register for upcoming webinars on the same webpage.

BirdLife South Africa has launched its own podcast channel, which allows listeners to hear the webinars without drawing the heavy data required for downloading the videos as well. The simultaneous live stream of our webinars to Facebook Live through the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page has enabled us to reach a wider audience and offers an alternative to the Zoom platform for viewers who would still like to participate in the live webinar and ask questions during the event. You do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part in our webinars. 

We are grateful to the many generous followers who have sent donations via the Quicket collection platform at or the BirdLife South Africa website to help cover the cost of producing these webinars. Continued donations are appreciated.

October has been dubbed ‘avitourism month’ by the webinar team and features spectacular talks by Andrew de Blocq, Albert Froneman, Richard Flack and Trevor Hardaker. All these talks highlight different aspects of birding as a hobby, from the lingo to photographic skills and even South Africa’s best birds. Be sure to check out the recordings if you missed the conversations via the website.

November, the final month of Conservation Conversations for this year, also promises excellent speakers. BirdLife South Africa’s new Honorary President Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan will talk about the evolution of birds; BirdLife South Africa Board member and renowned author Vernon Head will tell his favourite birding stories; Dr Caroline Howes-Whitecross will showcase the diversity of birds found within the City of Johannesburg’s boundaries; and author and illustrator Duncan Butchart will share his insights into how best to garden for birds. 

We have thoroughly enjoyed bringing you these weekly webinars and cannot wait to bring you more exciting talks in 2021. We have begun planning for our next season, which will kick off on 12 January 2021. Keep an eye on our social media feeds and website to find out who will be joining us online for more exciting, educational and entertaining webinars. 

For more information, go to or e-mail 


Birding in Kruger

Tawny Eagle. Credit T. Yates

SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region invite you to their 23rd Kruger National Park Birding Weekends scheduled for January and February 2021. While recognising that the safety and well-being of members, guests, SANParks staff and South Africans in general remain a priority, they also know that conservation in the national parks must continue despite the current difficult conditions resulting from Covid-19, and that conservation cannot survive without tourism.

Hopeful that Covid-19 has passed its peak in South Africa, the Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region have therefore taken the decision to cautiously resume certain fundraising activities scheduled for late 2020 and early 2021, while being guided by lockdown regulations and prescribed safety protocols. These activities include the popular summer birding weekends in Kruger. From R3600 per person sharing, they include dawn and dusk drives in the company of birding experts.

For more information, contact Norma on 011 476 3057 or

KBAs and effective conservation 

An apex predator in Central and South America, the jaguar is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and is losing ground to deforestation, among other threats. The identification of KBAs within its extensive range could play a role in its ultimate survival, highlighting the global value of this system. Credit Brent Chambers

In conservation circles it is a well-known fact that there is more biodiversity to be conserved than there is money to do so. If we are to reverse the decline of threatened species, ecosystems and habitats, therefore, we need to be sure that we are investing in the most important places.

Often NGOs, philanthropists, governments and big business that want to invest in the environment have been faced with too much choice and not enough guidance. They are pulled in different directions by the conservation sector, which advocates for conserving globally threatened species such as those listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List; or species with small ranges that are more susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss; or large intact wilderness areas with fully functioning ecosystems and greater potential to deliver ecosystem processes such as carbon sequestration at scale; or sites that are unique and irreplaceable.

Given that these are all important considerations, in 2016 the international conservation community came together and developed a globally recognised standard to identify Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) – the most important sites for biodiversity globally. The KBA approach captures the ideas mentioned above under 11 criteria. Following the development of this agreed approach, 13 of the leading conservation institutions came together to form the KBA Partnership, the largest such partnership to exist to date. 

It has been a timely birth for this global currency, given that in 2020 the world is forging a new biodiversity strategy for the next decade, and it will rely on indicators such as KBAs to both guide where we achieve our conservation targets and to measure our effectiveness. This blueprint for where nature matters most was recently described by global KBA advocates in an online article, much of which is based on the work done in South Africa.

South Africa became the first mega-diverse country to comprehensively test the KBA standard and complete the identification of KBAs at national level and across multiple species types and ecosystems. A group of experts, including from BirdLife South Africa, systematically identified hundreds of KBAs across the entire country to help build a greater understanding of the global significance of many sites, especially for geographically restricted species and ecosystems. South Africa is a world leader in systematic biodiversity planning, as well as in the recognition of other important sites, such as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs). This comprehensive, newly identified KBA network will complement these biodiversity priority areas and assist in the making of better decisions and in management. As a world leader, South Africa is setting an example for countries regionally and globally. 

As countries come together to identify and map KBAs nationally, a blueprint is being developed to conserve nature in an actionable manner. KBAs will go a long way towards ensuring that we protect our species and ecosystems as we focus on developing the next 10-year strategy to conserve nature. 


Conserving White-winged Flufftails and wetlands

Middelpunt Wetland, near Dullstroom, is the only known breeding site for White-winged Flufftail in the southern hemisphere. Credit Hanneline Smit-Robinson

When the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) arranged an introductory meeting with the departments of Water and Sanitation and of Mineral Resources and Energy to discuss their interest and concerns regarding the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail, various other stakeholders were invited to join in. Among those present were BirdLife South Africa (represented by Dr Melissa Lewis, the manager of the Policy and Advocacy Programme, and myself), Middelpunt Wetland Trust, Dullstroom Trout Farm and the Mpumalanga Tourism Parks Agency. 

During the meeting, colleagues from the DEFF explained the importance of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail as a flagship species for the conservation of high-altitude wetlands and drew attention to a number of threats that impact on the species’ survival in the wild. They also referred to South Africa’s responsibility to protect the flufftail under the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and to the various actions highlighted for implementation within the AEWA White-winged Flufftail International Single Species Action Plan. Several of the wetlands where the flufftail is known to occur are earmarked to be designated Ramsar sites of international importance.

BirdLife South Africa greatly valued this opportunity to raise the profile of the White-winged Flufftail and to enter into discussions with the departments of Water and Sanitation and of Mineral Resources and Energy, facilitated by the DEFF.


Where do penguins go?

Utilisation distributions of non-breeding African Penguins that bred at Dassen Island (2012–2019), Stony Point (2018–2019) and Bird Island (2012–2015).

Tegan Carpenter-Kling attaches a GPS logger to the back of a non-breeding African Penguin. Credit Marlene Van Onselen

Thanks to a massive collaborative effort by researchers, we know relatively well where African Penguins forage during the breeding season. When the penguins are no longer feeding chicks, however, they are free to roam much further from their colonies in search of food, far past the boundaries of marine protected areas. Our knowledge about where they go outside the breeding season is far less extensive so, prompted by this gap and the growing need to protect the species, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology have tracked non-breeding African Penguins annually since 2012 from major colonies such as Dassen Island, Stony Point and Bird Island. In consequence, BirdLife South Africa has one of the largest long-term datasets of non-breeding penguin GPS tracks.

In her role as manager of the Coastal Seabird Project, in September Tegan Carpenter-Kling deployed GPS loggers on 10 adult African Penguins that were looking after chicks about to fledge on Dassen Island. In the weeks to come she will deploy loggers on another 10 penguins at Stony Point and track their movements from her home and office. For what’s left of the year she will use the data, together with the long-term dataset, to investigate the influence of fish and fishing pressure on the distribution of non-breeding African Penguins. Her findings will be crucial in assessments for the future expansion of marine protected areas and other spatial management initiatives for the benefit of these penguins.


Attention magazine subscribers

Due to the frequently late and sometimes non-delivery of magazines, we would like to move away from using the SA Post Office. If you subscribe to African Birdlife and have not yet informed us of your physical address, please e-mail the details to Baile at or Janine at We do understand that some subscribers may not want their magazine delivered to their home or office; in this case, please e-mail Baile asking her to continue sending your magazine via the SA Post Office. 

Lead and vultures

Craig Nattrass, along with his team of experienced climbers, traversed challenging
terrain to collect samples from Cape Vulture chicks at a breeding colony above the
Karnmelkspruit. Credit Melissa Howes-Whitecross

Research conducted on White-backed Vulture chicks at Dronfield Nature Reserve in 2019 has shown that lead may adversely affect a vulture’s ability to manufacture haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. As a result, chicks with high levels of lead in their blood may be severely anaemic, which may compromise their survival once they fledge. This was the first conclusive study to show the negative impact that lead may have on vulture physiology. To improve our understanding of the impact of lead on South Africa’s vultures, the research has now been expanded to include Cape Vulture chicks.

Last month, Melissa Howes-Whitecross and I, accompanied by a team of experienced climbers, travelled to a Cape Vulture breeding colony near the town of Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. The colony comprises about 60 nests, which are situated on several ledges along sheer cliffs above the Karnmelkspruit Gorge. Although the terrain proved incredibly challenging, the climbing team, led by Craig Nattrass and Jennie Hewlett of Onderstepoort, managed to collect several valuable samples for the project. These have been submitted for analysis and the results will be published, along with the White-backed Vulture data, early in 2021.

We would like to thank Ian Cloete, the owner of the farm Karnmelkspruit, for giving us access to his property and for his incredible kindness and support. We would also like to thank the Ford Wildlife Foundation, whose continued support of BirdLife South Africa’s Vulture Project enables the team to reach some barely accessible locations.


Specially for birders…

Sustain Safaris Scheduled Tours has a special offer for you: book for five or more people and one travels for free! (Maximum six people per guide.)

As the travel and safari industry gets moving again, Sustain Safaris has scheduled a superb range of small-group, set-departure tours for 2020 and 2021 at great prices. We also arrange Tailor-made Tours and Day Tours. Our Scheduled Tours include:

KwaZulu-Natal Midlands & Drakensberg, 6–9 November 2020 (4 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens and Krantzkloof;

KwaZulu-Natal, 13–20 December 2020 (8 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens, St Lucia, uMkhuze, Ongoye, Dlinza, Mtunzini and Sappi Stanger; 

KwaZulu-Natal & Wakkerstroom, 3–13 January 2021 (11 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens, Wakkerstroom, uMkhuze, Muzi Pan, Nibela Peninsula, iSimangaliso (Western and Eastern shores), Bonamanzi, Dlinza, Ongoye, St Lucia, Umlalazi, Amatikulu and Sappi Stanger;

KwaZulu-Natal Zululand & Maputaland 17–21 January (5 days). Visits Dlinza, Ongoye, St Lucia, iSimangaliso (Eastern and Western shores), Bonamanzi, Nibela Peninsula, Muzi Pan, uMkhuze, Umlalazi, Amatikulu and Sappi Stanger.

The cost of all four tours includes guide, comfortable yet affordable accommodation, three meals per day, transport and entrance fees. The last three also include the services of a Zululand community site guide for half a day. The tours are aimed at birders, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and general biodiversity lovers.

Importantly, we have put in place a Covid-19 protocol and amended booking T&Cs, and use a Client Medical Declaration Form. We believe leisure accommodation and provincial borders will be open, but if not, we can either amend or postpone the tour. 

In the next issue we will focus on three variations on a Transfrontier Conservation Area theme.

For enquiries, please contact Michael Wright on 083 670 1436,,

Birds connect our world

Imagine undertaking a journey like no other, a pilgrimage of thousands of kilometres, twice a year every year. This is exactly what migratory birds do! World Migratory Bird Day gives us a nudge to stop and think about these amazing journeys, the equally amazing birds that make them, the threats they face en route and the importance of these long-distance fliers in our world today.

When you look up and see the first migratory bird of the season, do you ever consider the harrowing flight it has made, covering about 14 000km in the case of the Red Knot or up to 90 000km if it is an Arctic Tern? That’s a journey like no other, following a route its forebears have undertaken for millions of years, and an astonishing feat that requires endurance, strength and stamina.

Since 2006, World Migratory Bird Day has been celebrated on the second Saturdays in May and October , reflecting the cyclical nature of this long-haul migration. Aiming to engage people living along all the major flyways, the celebration is a global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the importance of working across national boundaries to protect them.

‘Birds Connect Our World’ is the theme for 2020 and it seems particularly relevant when humans around the globe are under some level of restricted movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights the importance of conserving and restoring ecological connectivity and the integrity of the ecosystems that support the natural cycles of migratory birds. These birds fly thousands of kilometres, relying on a complex migration strategy that requires numerous connected sites along a travel path that often spans hemispheres.

A Red Knot in breeding plumage.

Unfortunately, their journeys have become both more dangerous and more onerous as they face increased and more diverse threats, including habitat loss resulting from urbanisation, agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and climate change. Coordinated conservation action is therefore required to mitigate these threats. The birds stop over at specific sites along their migratory route to refuel and if these sites are not properly protected the consequences are likely to be dire – and not just for the birds. It is not only they that benefit from successful migrations; migratory birds are very important for ensuring that entire ecosystems are fully functioning, for example by dispersing seeds and controlling pests. They also provide many economic benefits, contributing to tourism, research, education and recreational activities that connect us to nature and to each other.

The East Atlantic Flyway, a recognised route for migratory birds, spans 75 countries and covers an area of approximately 45 605 000 km². Some of the most important sites found along this flyway are the Wadden Sea (Netherlands), a major staging and wintering site for waterbirds; the Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania), which accounts for more than 30% of all the waders using this flyway; Sandwich Harbour (Namibia), the most important wetland for waterbirds in southern Africa; and, closer to home, Langebaan Lagoon (South Africa), which supports high numbers of waterbirds.

As the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s East Atlantic Flyway project, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I will be working in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe to identify and address the threats faced by priority species and sites along the flyway and to conserve and connect these ecologically important areas through regional cooperation and transboundary biodiversity conservation. To our travelling friends and welcomed visitors, we say ‘Mi casa es tu casa’. 

For more information, visit


Keeping Black Harriers safe

With wind energy presenting a new threat to South Africa’s scarcest endemic raptor, the Black Harrier, BirdLife South Africa has teamed up with two of the world’s foremost experts on the species, Dr Rob Simmons and Dr Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras, to provide evidence-based guidelines on how to assess and minimise that risk. The guidelines draw on up-to-date research and spatial information, including fine-scale habitat suitability models developed by BirdLife South Africa’s Science and Innovation Programme. They are the third in a series of guidelines on species most at risk from wind energy; others have been produced for the Cape Vulture and Verreaux’s Eagle. 

By providing advice on the appropriate location, impact assessment and management of wind energy facilities proposed within the ranges of species at risk, we hope to reduce conflict between wind energy and wildlife, and create a healthier environment for all. 

For more information, read our press release at Our Birds and Renewable Energy webpage,, is also very informative.


Southern Ground-Hornbill

Classified as Vulnerable worldwide and Endangered in South Africa, the Southern Ground-Hornbill faces an array of threats that make protecting the species a challenge. Some of the threats – and efforts to mitigate them – are highlighted in one of our recent fact files, while the species’ prominence in African cultures is featured in another. Do you, for example, know why it’s called the ‘rain bird’?

All the educational material about the Southern Ground-Hornbill, the 2020 Bird of the Year, can be downloaded for free from 

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, which is the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for supporting this campaign.


The Virtual African Bird Fair

Watching the opening ceremony.

For about 15 years BirdLife South Africa has held physical African Bird Fairs, initially at the Johannesburg Zoo and latterly at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, and these popular events have been important activities on the calendars of Gauteng birders. Due to Covid-19, we had to change our mindset and we took on the challenge of transforming a physical fair into a virtual one – a first for BirdLife South Africa!

The easy way out would have been to cancel The African Bird Fair and leave it at that. But every week since the beginning of lockdown we have been hosting Conservation Conversation webinars that attract about 1000 viewers watching live and as many tuning in to the recording posted later on YouTube. The webinars’ popularity told us that the audience is there; we just need to continue spreading knowledge, creating communication opportunities and supporting the birding community in South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic. When it came to providing a fully fledged virtual fair, what we may have lacked in experience, we certainly made up for in motivation and inclination!

We found a company, Participate Technologies, to build a customised platform that would include the most important ingredients of a bird fair: speakers, exhibitors, learning, community and interaction. After that, the challenge was to find enough funding to make sure that we could host the fair with free admittance. The response was overwhelming, from both sponsors and exhibitors. We realised that the need to have a virtual presence, whether necessitated by the pandemic or by technological shifts in society, had become an important factor to companies and organisations across domains.

We were fortunate to secure five Platinum Sponsors: ZEISS, the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Italtile, Boundless Southern Africa and MSC Cruises. Our Gold Sponsors were Pick n Pay, Ford Wildlife Foundation, Swarovski, Canon and Leica, while Game Parks Publishing and Penguin Random House were our Silver Sponsors. We extend a special thank you to all these companies for their support and commitment to The Virtual African Bird Fair.

For the first time in the event’s 15-year history we had the opportunity to make it truly African. This meant that not only were attendees from all over Africa participating, but exhibitors and our BirdLife Africa Partners were involved too. More than 70 exhibitors were on the platform, showcasing products from around the world and important conservation efforts in their own countries, while local support from South African exhibitors included our affiliated bird clubs.

Just one of the many exhibitors at The Virtual African Bird Fair 2020.

The backbone of each African Bird Fair has always been the enthralling, high-quality speakers that we bring to the stage for birders to learn from and be entertained by – and the virtual platform allowed us to do this in spades. The schedule for the day operated over three channels, which we called our Main Feeder, Feeder 1 and Feeder 3, the implication being that this was where our attendees would congregate for their day’s sustenance. For most of the day we had three parallel sessions running, giving ample choice of content. The schedule began at 06h30 with a live game drive courtesy of WildEarth, which streamed wildlife from Kruger to Kenya. We then had some sessions for the kids before kicking off the proceedings in earnest with the official opening. This was a star-studded affair, headed by Mmaloko Kubayi-Ngubane, the Minister of Tourism in South Africa; Patricia Zurita, the CEO of BirdLife International; and Prof. Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

Through the middle of the day we covered such diverse topics as African and South African birding destinations; International Vulture Awareness Day; the conservation work of BirdLife South Africa, its African partners in the BirdLife family and some of our NGO partners in South Africa; the intricacies of bird art; current ornithological research at the FitzPatrick Institute; the value of citizen science projects such as the African Bird Atlas Project; and how to inspire new and young birders in Africa. We also had two panel discussions, one international panel led by Patricia Zurita covering the effects of the global pandemic on avitourism and birding events, and another chaired by BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson, which explored the value of local bird clubs.

We had three lectures to bring the event to a close: Duncan Butchart gave an inspiring talk on how to rewild your garden spaces to support and attract birds; Prof. Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, world-renowned palaeontologist and Honorary BirdLife South Africa President, explained the evolutionary origin of birds, flight and feathers; and then Peter Harrison MBE, the ‘David Attenborough of the Seas’, delivered our keynote conservation lecture on albatrosses. While a standing ovation is difficult to achieve on a virtual platform, the chat room comments were a veritable waterfall of applause. This was also our only paid event of the day, raising funds for albatross conservation. But there was more: the climax of the fair was the Biggest Bird Quiz in Africa, which tested attendees’ new knowledge. Never before has The African Bird Fair delivered such a wealth and diversity of content! 

Fifteen years on, we feel comfortable in knowing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to organising a physical bird fair, but that doesn’t mean to say that everything will run perfectly or that we can predict challenges before they happen. This is even more likely to be the case for a virtual fair, especially in its first year when everything is new to the organisers, speakers, exhibitors, sponsors and, of course, the attendees. Overall, though, the day progressed smoothly and any technical issues were resolved timeously. Our technical support team worked around the clock to ensure that we could deliver what we promised in terms of content – not even load shedding could faze us! We are proud to have produced what we feel was a world-class show, with many lessons learnt for future fairs, both virtual and physical.

This entire Virtual African Bird Fair would not have been possible without those who tuned in and supported us throughout the day. Your attendance and participation were outstanding and a true testament to the community to which we enjoy bringing such events. To our sponsors and exhibitors, your commitment and involvement made us proud to introduce your names and products into a digital space. Although the experience was a first for many of you, your enthusiasm and support made it worthwhile. To our speakers and presenters, we believe that content is key and you provided and produced the golden key! Thank you for the time and effort spent on your presentations; we hope you enjoyed both preparing your ‘stage’ and being part of our show. 

Finally, to the team that worked on the Virtual African Bird Fair, our partners, and now friends, at Participate Technologies – you were the magicians behind the day. Your professional support throughout the process made us very proud to have partnered with you and we believe this is the start of something very exciting for our birding community. And to our BirdLife South Africa colleagues who threw themselves into the event – it would not have been possible without you!

What’s next? The future is bright for events and fundraising initiatives and we now have a baseline to work from – and that means there’s only one way to go: up! We can’t ignore the benefits of physical events, but a virtual platform has opened the doors to so many new opportunities. Who’s to say that we can’t have both? Watch out for 2021 – it could see the first hybrid African Bird Fair, with several physical locations being brought together to the rest, virtually.

For those who missed out or still want to see what The African Bird Fair was all about, please visit


Guide relief fund roundup

The onset of the lockdown in South Africa was catastrophic. Our economy nose-dived, taking many people’s livelihoods with it; our national relief efforts were plundered by tenderpreneurs and corrupt officials; our country’s initial feel-good, #StrongerTogether attitude waned and a general feeling of anger and helplessness took its place. However, as always, we South Africans showed that we are resilient and will find a way to come together in the toughest times.

One instance of this ubuntu was the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund. Recognising the difficulties that would lie ahead for community bird guides, BirdLife South Africa proactively established this fund for the men and women from historically disadvantaged communities who have completed our training course to become freelance professional bird guides. These individuals have gone on to establish a benchmark in the industry as expert guides and are much in demand by birders visiting their sites. 

However, as travel ground to a halt these guides were up against the ropes. Most are single breadwinners in extended families and we knew we had to help them get through this lean period. We made a crowdfunding appeal to the birding community to support their guides and within just a few weeks we had disbursed payments to more than 30 guides. We then received enough funding to continue this on a monthly basis and were even able to increase the number of beneficiaries to more than 40. 

The generosity of individuals, clubs and organisations raised R700 000 in total, a testament to the regard that the birding community has for these guides and the goodwill that exists among birders in South Africa. These monthly contributions were a lifeline for the guides, and both we and they cannot thank you enough for this support. While we were not able to entirely replace their income, the disbursements were enough to cover monthly food, electricity, water and other essentials for them and their families. 

Now, as the lockdown has dropped to Level 2 and interprovincial travel is re-opening, we have reassessed our options. Many of our guides have begun working again, albeit in smaller groups and in accordance with lockdown regulations. The committee behind the fund took the decision to stop asking for donations in August and to switch to asking people to support the guides directly by booking their services. We will continue to disburse payments until mid-November, when the fund will be completely depleted. 

If you would like to book a community bird guide, you can find their details at We have guides in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, and would ask any birders going to these provinces to see which guides service the sites they intend to visit. Though there are several popular established guides, we also ask that you try out some of the newer recruits. And please don’t forget the female community bird guides – they sometimes struggle to get as much work as their male peers. By supporting the bird guides you are enabling them to support in turn their families and communities. Most of our guides are involved in community initiatives such as school programmes and vegetable gardens, so remember to ask about these and contribute if you have the means.

BirdLife South Africa does not actively manage these guides, but we do have an excellent relationship with each of them and market their services through our networks. All bookings and tour costs need to be discussed with the guide in question. If you have any queries about supporting the guide training project or any related issues, you can contact me at


Help us make Marion mouse-free

Wandering Albatrosses performing a courtship display on Marion Island. Credit John Dickens

Momentum for the Mouse-Free Marion Project is growing and recently included the establishment of a management committee and the advertising of a contract position for a project manager. The project’s goal – to eradicate the house mouse from Marion Island in 2023 – is a challenging one, which is why BirdLife South Africa is looking for someone with experience and dedication who will get the enterprise up and running in 2023. And if the project is a success, it could effectively prevent 17 seabird species from going extinct on the island, including a quarter of the globe’s nesting Wandering Albatrosses, the largest seabird on the planet.

The management committee, set up by BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, will oversee the implementation of the eradication plan, including the appointment of a project manager to start in early 2021. This challenging position will require extensive experience of complex, large-scale projects in demanding conditions. Similar eradication endeavours have been successful on more than 160 islands and involved highly skilled teams with expert knowledge of the harsh conditions and the risks associated with these operations.

The project manager will need to play the key role in contracting the team and making sure that all preparations are made for the effective removal of all mice from Marion Island in 2023. Successful eradication will ultimately eliminate the extinction risk posed by these alien predators to the 17 seabird species, including four threatened albatrosses. We can make a serious difference to the conservation of these and other seabird species globally if we get this right.

If you are interested in this position, go to to find out more. 


Zululand zone for vultures

The beautiful Zululand region in northern KwaZulu-Natal is home to five of South Africa’s nine vulture species and an important breeding area for these magnificent birds, particularly for the tree-nesting and Critically Endangered White-backed Vulture. Driven by Clive Vivier, the owner of Leopard Mountain Lodge, landowners in the region have committed to managing their properties in ways that will maximise the safety of vultures. Covering the length of the Zululand Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, the new Zululand Vulture Safe Zone stretches from Pongola in the north to the Mkuze section of the iSimangaliso National Park.

Many of the landowners maintain supplementary feeding sites for the local vulture populations and have set up a mobile chat group to monitor the whereabouts of the birds and coordinate a feeding programme in the hope that a consistent supply of food will minimise the lure of carcasses laced with poison by poachers. In addition, they will now ensure that carcasses and gut piles put out at ‘vulture restaurants’ are free of lead and contaminants; that water reservoirs are fitted with escape ladders to prevent drowning; and that lead-free ammunition is used for hunting and culling. Certain members of their staff will receive poison response training, nesting trees will be safeguarded, powerlines will be monitored and nesting vultures will be kept free of disturbance.

Although Vulture Safe Zones may not remove the threats that poachers pose to vultures, they will go a long way towards minimising those threats that can be prevented. BirdLife South Africa would like to thank the landowners and reserve managers who are committed to ensuring that vultures remain an enduring part of the Zululand landscape.


Out & about with African Birdlife

Tired of being cooped up in lockdown? Aren’t we all. But the latest issue of African Birdlife offers solace by highlighting Hermanus and Zululand as local birding destinations and helping to plan trips further afield to Ethiopia and the Vumba in Zimbabwe. Or you could subscribe and win a holiday in the Waterberg. And if you haven’t yet had your fill of reading detective stories, try the one involving a Madagascar Pratincole…

Reaching out to partners

Over the past few months the staff of the Conservation Division have been exploring partnerships with other conservation organisations. Colleagues working on avitourism, Seabird Conservation and Landscape Conservation projects have held discussions with WILDTRUST, Singita Lowveld Trust, Boundless Southern Africa, Good Work Foundation and Ecotraining to investigate opportunities for collaboration. We already have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Peace Parks Foundation and have been able to expand our current work within its structure, focusing on projects of mutual interest within Transfrontier Conservation Areas across the southern African region. These include Vulture Safe Zones, Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) and avitourism opportunities relating to the training and upskilling of guides.

Daniel Marnewick and Bronwyn Maree of the Regional Conservation Programme have been looking into collaboration beyond South Africa’s borders and their discussions with other BirdLife Partners (BirdLife Zimbabwe, BirdWatch Zambia and BirdLife Botswana) have focused on the potential of identifying KBAs and OECMs, the establishment of Vulture Safe Zones and the opportunities for avitourism in the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) region. Daniel and Bronwyn have also been researching other opportunities in Angola and Namibia.


Environmental NGOs after Covid-19

What role can environmental NGOs play in the post-Covid economic recovery? It’s a question that members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) have been considering for the past six months. Their first meeting, held in April, was attended by Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy, who directed participants to work in four dialogue groups and provided further input through representatives from the DEFF.

The discussions and report sessions have continued over the past few months and BirdLife South Africa’s involvement has been centred on nature-based tourism (Andrew de Blocq and myself), biodiversity conservation (Daniel Marnewick) and green infrastructure (Melissa Howes-Whitecross and Giselle Murison). Giselle chaired the discussion group on green infrastructure and took its recommendations to the minister in a subsequent meeting in July. Andrew led a subgroup within the nature-based tourism group that focused on diversifying skill sets and livelihoods for trained guides. The Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa (IPASA) subsequently joined the IUCN and DEFF in a follow-up symposium to seek synergies and engage potential new funders.

BirdLife South Africa continues to be involved in the dialogue groups, with discussions now being opened to IUCN members within the SADC region.


2021 calendar

BirdLife South Africa, in collaboration with Chamberlain, is proud to present its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images, one for each month of the year. The calendars are selling for R150 each (excluding delivery) and make beautiful gifts for friends, loved ones, colleagues and clients.

This year, due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, all calendar orders will be processed online at and payments can be made via PayFast. The calendars will be despatched via Postnet at a reduced rate of R80. Unfortunately, delivery of orders outside South Africa is not currently available.


Rain bird

As a large and unmistakable inhabitant of the bushveld, the Southern Ground-Hornbill plays a prominent role in African cultures and is perhaps best known as a harbinger of the rainy season. Bad omen or protector, it appears to have a number of different attributes, as this month’s infographic describes. And such attributes are both interesting in themselves and important to consider for the conservation of the species.

The free educational material, which includes fact files, infographics and lesson plans, as well as stickers, are all available at

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, which is the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.


An appeal for binoculars

Field rangers are the backbone of every protected area; on the ground they help to keep wildlife and humans safe. These brave men patrol our reserve day and night, walking among dangerous game without fear. To be able to detect poachers from afar, keep eyes on vulture activity and monitor rhinos and other endangered wildlife, they need the right resources.

We appeal to the public: if you have a pair of binoculars you no longer use, please consider donating it to our rangers to assist them in their daily work. With the right tools, our team can be far more effective in keeping safe our wildlife, in the air and on the ground.

If you have binoculars to donate, please contact us at and we can arrange collection or easily courier them using PEP PAXI services.

KAREN ODENDAAL, 082 885 1824, MKUZE 8319

Spring Alive!

Waiting for spring migrants. Credit Kristi Garland

Spring Alive is an international project that encourages children to take an interest in nature and specifically the conservation of migratory birds, take action for birds and other wildlife and participate in events organised by BirdLife Partners in Europe, Asia and Africa. Having begun in Europe in 2006, the project soon spread to Central Asia and, in 2010, it extended into Africa. Here, from September until mid-December, children and adults look out for the return of the same seven species from their breeding grounds in the north.

The project brings together children and their teachers and families to record their first sightings of the easily recognised migratory birds: Barn Swallows, White Storks, Common Cuckoos, Sand Martins, Common Swifts, Common Ringed Plovers and European Bee-eaters. The first sightings of these mascots of migration are posted on to create a real-time map of the incredible journeys the birds make every year. Each spring a theme is selected by the International Steering Group to guide the season’s objectives.

Spring migrants mask parade at Country College. Credit Kristi Garland

Spring Alive encompasses many indoor and outdoor events designed to engage children, schools and the wider community in the conservation of migratory birds. I lead the project in South Africa and design a range of take-home resources and activities for schools and community groups, as well as add to the growing collection of storybooks about the migrants. The resources for the 2020 season include a ‘Chasing Migration’ board game and a kamishibai story about the Common Ringed Plover.

‘Chasing Migration’ takes participants on an adventure of discovery from the northern hemisphere to the south. Each one plays as a mascot – Ari the European Bee-eater, Ringo the White Stork, Sterling the Common Swift, Cloud the Barn Swallow, Stone the Sand Martin, Cedar the Common Cuckoo or Wren the Common Ringed Plover – and the aim is to collect as many energy points as possible by answering questions relating to the mascot species, important aspects of migration and being a good birder. Answer correctly and you gain energy to continue the migration; a wrong answer means you lose energy. There are safe stopovers where participants can rest for a while before taking to the skies again. The winner is the one who not only completes the migration, but also has the most energy at the end of the game.

Practising identification skills. Credit Kristi Garland

Kamishibai is a form of Japanese street theatre and storytelling that was popular during the Depression of the 1930s and the post-war period in Japan before the advent of television. Using this format, a story was created around the migration of the Common Ringed Plover with artwork by a local Wakkerstroom resident, Carol Preston. Carol has supported the Spring Alive project for the past three years and worked with me and another local, Judy-Lynn Wheeler, on the storybooks Ringo, the White Stork and The Family of Bee-eaters

Under the theme of how to be a good birder, the Spring Alive annual art competition is open to all children in South Africa under the age of 16. Using paints, pencils or any other medium, they should design a picture that shows how to watch birds, being respectful of the area and the birds being watched. If they want something more to sink their teeth into, they can create their own kamishibai story about one of the Spring Alive mascots, presenting it either in a PowerPoint format with voice-over or a recording of themselves telling the story in the traditional kamishibai way. Awesome prizes can be won for both the art and the kamishibai competitions; entries close on 15 December 2020.

Wildlife groups, clubs, teachers and others who would like to become more involved in Spring Alive can contact me at or 081 726 5282 for more details.


Wattled Crane success

The proud Wattled Crane parents guard the nest site where the chick was hidden.
Credit Carina Pienaar

Located near De Beers Pass on the escarpment between Harrismith and Ladysmith, the 8000ha Ingula Nature Reserve protects high-altitude grassland and marshy wetland. It’s also home to more than 13 threatened species monitored for breeding activity each year. For most of these species, breeding takes place in summer; however some, like the regionally Critically Endangered Wattled Crane, more often than not breed in winter.

The Wattled Crane is one of four Critically Endangered species recorded in the reserve, the others being the White-winged Flufftail and the Bearded and White-backed vultures. High-altitude wetland covers about 1200ha of the reserve and is of critical importance for water production and filtration – and not only for the surrounding area, but also for Gauteng. Managing this wetland and the surrounding grassland to optimise and maintain their biodiversity is a priority and the relevant authority takes great care to ensure that good grazing patterns are implemented and to limit traditional annual fires to areas that require the removal of old, moribund vegetation.

To show just how important Wattled Cranes are at Ingula, BirdLife South Africa’s Robin Colyn developed a Wattle Crane Species Action Plan in 2015, which has recently been revised. The plan aims to inform optimal management of the wetland for the cranes and other biodiversity, using the Wattled Crane as an indicator species.

Ingula Nature Reserve’s wetland in summer. Credit Fifi Meyer

Although there are still challenges, recent developments have proven that management seems to be effective for the resident pair of Wattled Cranes. Since we started to actively monitor their breeding in 2014, five chicks have fledged – most recently at the beginning of this month. This current fledgling, named Lockdown Lucy, is now the third in three consecutive years and the second chick to have hatched in this particular nest. Visitors to Ingula are frequently treated to sightings of the proud family, as the previous chick remained in the reserve until March 2020, just before incubation commenced for Lockdown Lucy.

Another pair can be seen on a neighbouring farm and it too has had some breeding success, raising a chick in 2018. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to confirm more recent chicks, although breeding behaviour has been recorded.

The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 considers the Wattled Crane to be a regional rarity for the Free State, as it is confined mostly to these eastern wetlands. It may not be so rare at Ingula, but it is still a sight to be valued, respected and celebrated!


The Virtual African Bird Fair

For about 15 years BirdLife South Africa has held physical bird fairs, initially at the Johannesburg Zoo and latterly at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. They have been very popular and an important activity on the calendar of Gauteng birders. Due to Covid-19, we have decided to organise a virtual event in 2020. And, as it will be virtual, we can now make it a truly African event. Already we have secured the support of many South African organisations, as well as a growing number of those that work all round the continent.

We are using an amazing platform that will allow a range of people to present both live and pre-recorded talks. There will also be discussions, interviews, demonstrations and even a quiz. Many exhibitors will be present, from bird tour operators and bird clubs to optics companies and bird feeder manufacturers.

Our weekly Conservation Conversation webinars are a great success, with up to 1000 people watching live and just as many tuning in to the subsequent recording on YouTube. So we know we can reach a large audience. As The Virtual African Bird Fair is being marketed globally, we’re expecting that several thousands of people will join us during the course of the day.

So what are you waiting for? Register now at

Need a little more persuasion? Two of the speakers joining us will be Peter Harrison and Graeme Arnott, and you can be sure they will have plenty of interest to say.

Peter Harrison MBE has led birding expeditions all over the globe and has written and/or illustrated more than a dozen bird books, most famously Seabirds: An Identification Guide. In early 2021 he will be launching a completely new identification guide, with all-new text and plates. Peter has dedicated his life to protecting birds and was rewarded with the Conservation Gold Medal Award by the RSPB. The Linnaean Society of New York bestowed on him the Eisenmann Medal for Excellence in Ornithology in 2017 and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has made him a Member of the British Empire. Peter will be familiar to those who joined us on Flock at Sea in 2017 and, as the keynote speaker at The Virtual African Bird Fair 2020, he will once again regale us with tales of albatrosses.

Graeme Arnott is one of southern Africa’s best bird artists. Having grown up in Zimbabwe, he now resides in Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape, where he is a full-time artist. He most recently illustrated most of the passerines for Roberts VII. Graeme has donated one of his paintings as an item for The Virtual African Bird Fair’s silent auction, the proceeds of which will help to support BirdLife South Africa’s important work. He will be exhibiting other artworks for sale – and donating one-third of the proceeds – and, in an interview with Tim Cockcroft from his studio, will be contributing to our session on bird art.

For more information, please contact me at (exhibitors and virtual platform); Andrew de Blocq at (speakers and schedule information); or Tanya Caldwell at (sponsorship).


Southern Banded Snake Eagles in KZN

The Southern Banded Snake Eagle team (left to right): Dr Jess Briner, Junior Gabela,
Kyle Walker, Craig Nattrass and Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross. Credit Melissa Howes-

Mtunzini, a town nestled in coastal forest bordering the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, is home to a small population of Critically Endangered Southern Banded Snake Eagles. With only 50 individuals estimated to occur in South Africa, the species is regarded as one of our rarest raptors. It’s also one of the least understood, although we do know that its preferred habitat of dense coastal forest and savanna-like thicket is being taken over by mining, forestry and agricultural enterprises; what is left is highly fragmented across the eagle’s range. But if we can protect this species, one of the few apex avian predators in coastal forest, all the other wildlife of this habitat will benefit.

Over the past five years, BirdLife South Africa has sought to improve our knowledge of the Southern Banded Snake Eagles of coastal KwaZulu-Natal. Many hours of observation, together with location data collected by citizen scientists, have led us to a better understanding of the species’ distribution in South Africa. Now it is time for the next phase of this long-term study, which will be carried out using GSM solar-charged tracking devices to monitor the daily movements of adult birds in their territories.

With the help of Junior Gabela, a superb bird guide in the Mtunzini area, Dr Jessica Briner, a wildlife expert from Briner Veterinary Services, and Craig Nattrass, a skilled bird ringer from the Wits Bird Club, the BirdLife South Africa team – Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross and myself – embarked on the first Southern Banded Snake Eagle trapping trip. Our hopes were high as we travelled down to Mtunzini in the first week of August, but with reservations; the birds are notoriously difficult to locate.

A feather moult assessment of one of the female Southern Banded Snake Eagles.
Credit Kyle Walker

We set out at dawn the next day and drove around for an hour before eagle-eyed Junior spotted a pair of the snake eagles perched in the forest canopy. After we’d deployed the necessary equipment, the female came in and, with bird in hand, we worked rapidly to fit a small ring around her leg and a lightweight tracker on her back and to take blood samples for DNA purposes. After the procedure the female took flight and has been active in her territory ever since. The capture of the second female progressed in much the same way, although we were kindly given a helping hand by a few Mtunzini locals. A third snake eagle proved to be more of a challenge and we had to settle for two out of three – a score we are still ecstatic about.

The two females are the first Southern Banded Snake Eagles to be tracked to date and their daily movements as recorded by the tracker will improve our understanding of their habitat preferences and, in particular, how they use eucalyptus plantations and their highly fragmented natural forest habitat. The results of this study will help to inform conservation authorities, landowners, farmers and plantation managers about the Southern Banded Snake Eagle’s habitat requirements, with a particular focus on improving the interface between natural forest and eucalyptus plantations. Our thanks go to Hugh Chittenden and Fred Mittermayer for their help during the trapping trip and continued updates.

BirdLife South Africa would like to hear from you if you have recently seen these special birds. Please e-mail the location of the sighting and a brief description of the snake eagle’s behaviour to me at With your help, we would like to improve the conservation of this cryptic species and the few remaining fragments of forest in which it survives.


More about Southern Ground-Hornbills

Different bird species live in different environments – biomes – that provide the conditions the birds require to exist and, hopefully, thrive. This month we provide a lesson plan about how the environment contributes to the breeding success of our Bird of the Year, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and about different biomes and how they relate to survival, reproduction and conservation. We also offer another great colouring-in page for kids (and others) to add to their collection.

The lesson plan and colouring-in page for August, as well as all the educational material for previous months of the year, are available for free download on our website at 

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project (the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill) and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.


Especially for birders – and bird guides

Birding Ecotours, a Birder Friendly Tour Operator, is raising funds to assist community bird guides in South Africa ( and around the world (, and thanks to generous fellow birders we’d raised about R50 000 by the end of July – and still counting. This has literally put food on the table for a good number of people who usually earn a living from bird guiding but whose source of income abruptly dried up several months ago due to Covid-19.

To raise more funds to help meet the huge need and assist a greater number of people through these difficult times, we’re offering a 5% discount to tour participants and are also donating 5% of the total tour cost to community bird guides – who desperately need the money right now – for any of our tours booked before the end of September this year (we’re extending this offer beyond the original end of August deadline especially for readers of the BirdLife South Africa newsletter!). More details about how this will work can be found at

To make a booking, please e-mail and if you quote ‘BLSA’ we’ll donate the 5% to BirdLife South Africa’s community bird guide relief fund; otherwise we’ll allocate it to the bird guide whom we feel needs it the most. We work with guides all over the world, from Indonesia to Ecuador to Cameroon, and some of them are really suffering right now.

Effectively we’re giving away 10%: 5% tour discount to you as a client and 5% to a community bird guide. This applies to day trips as well as longer tours, all of which are detailed at We are only taking bookings for 2021 and 2022 tours and are not running any tours at present so as to avoid risking anyone’s safety. If the pandemic is not under control by the time your tour is due, there will be no penalties if you postpone for this reason.

If you prefer to simply donate rather than join a tour, please go to and you can donate online via BirdLife South Africa.

Updates from Ostrich 

To view the latest issue of Ostrich online, go to

With ornithologists cancelling field trips and writing up their research during lockdown, the Ostrich team has been very busy recently. A number of articles have been published online ahead of print and can be found at

These include a number of important papers, such as this one on the impact of wind turbines on birds, a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology

Another is a report from Ben Dilley and his team on rats and prions on Tristan da Cunha

One of two papers on the White-winged Flufftail can be found at

A team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal reports on the ranging behaviour of Long-crested Eagles at

And an interesting nest manipulation experiment on Monteiro’s Hornbill is documented at

Please contact the authors or editor should you require access to an article.

A human right to a healthy planet

More than 100 civil society organisations from around the world are petitioning the United Nations (UN), and if they’re successful the world body will make history by adding a new article to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the first time since its inception in 1948. The pioneering addition is the universal human right to live on a healthy planet. BirdLife South Africa is a core #1Planet1Right campaign partner and you can play your part by signing the petition at

The #1Planet1Right campaign is dedicated to establishing this new human right and is led by BirdLife International, the world’s largest conservation partnership. Joining it are other civil society organisations such as ClientEarth and the Global Pact for the Environment, while Dr David R. Boyd, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, has endorsed it. On Earth Day, #1Planet1Right sent a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres officially requesting the new human right and it will continue to put pressure on the UN by launching the global petition.

So why is this necessary? According to the World Health Organization, 23% of global deaths are linked to damage to and the destruction of our natural environment, while hundreds of millions of people suffer from illnesses related to living in an unhealthy or unnatural environment. 

Climate change results directly in more intense and frequent storms, droughts and wildfires and rising sea levels, which in turn threaten the lives of billions of people. The Covid-19 pandemic has its roots in habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade. This new human right could help to ensure that the green recovery the world needs to rebuild society following the pandemic takes into account both biodiversity and climate emergencies. 

#1Planet1Right calls on the UN to vote to include discussion of the right to a healthy natural environment at the UN Human Rights Council, in the UN General Assembly and as an urgent topic at the UN Summit on Biodiversity in mid-September 2020, with a view to including it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by 2023.

Commenting on the proposed new right, Dr Boyd says, ‘The right to a healthy planet, as a universally recognised human right, would be a powerful addition to the toolkit for saving the planet. The right to a healthy environment already provides the foundation for much of the progress we are seeing in different nations around the globe. What we need to do now is seize this moment of global eco-crisis to secure United Nations recognition of this right so that everyone, everywhere benefits. The human right to a healthy planet, if recognised by all nations, could be the most important human right of the 21st century.’

Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International, adds, ‘Our planet’s health is our health. If our planet is sick, we become sick. And right now, our planet has never been more ill. The survival of humanity is already threatened by the climate and biodiversity crises, and this pandemic has pushed us one step closer to the brink. In order to transform, and save society, the starting point must be to ensure that every person has the same baseline – guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy planet.’

Last chance to win!

Time is running out, but your name can still be entered into the lucky draw to win a pair of ZEISS binoculars. All existing and new Conservation League Donors stand a chance to win a fantastic pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars worth R19 800.

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa (either an ordinary or a senior citizen member) and make a minimum donation of R2800. We can issue Section 18A tax certificates, so your donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the accompanying form and e-mail it back to me at Entries close on 31 August 2020 and the draw will take place on Saturday, 5 September 2020. 

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s worthwhile and relevant work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Sasol 5 is here!

For a long time the Sasol illustrated field guides have been on the top shelf of the proverbial bookcase stacked with excellent bird books in South Africa. Now the fifth edition of Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, or Sasol 5, has set a new benchmark for local field guides, with the inclusion of a new species, additional annotations to assist with identification and an innovative barcode function to play bird calls via a paired free app.

On 9 July BirdLife South Africa co-hosted the launch of this latest edition, with its two associated apps. As befitting the times, this was a virtual event: a panel comprising four authors and one of the artists answered questions in an interview that was broadcast live to more than 2500 viewers in their homes, as well as many more who watched the recording later on YouTube.

Pippa Parker, publisher of the Struik Nature imprint for Penguin Random House, opened the proceedings and was followed by Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, who explained why it was such an easy decision for the organisation to endorse this excellent publication. Facilitator Mike Buckham then introduced authors Dr Warwick Tarboton, Prof. Peter Ryan, Dr Dom Rollinson and Niall Perrins and artist Faansie Peacock and proceeded to lead them in an engaging discussion prompted by questions from the audience as well as his own.

The topics covered included the history of the Sasol guides, the choice of the cover species, this guide’s additional features, Faansie’s innovative illustration techniques, the science behind decisions to include or exclude species, anecdotes relating to the new records for the subregion and a fun guessing game as to which new species might make it into the next edition. The event was the first virtual launch for Struik Nature, whose staff commented that it was a lockdown highlight. It certainly set a record for a launch attendance, as the online platform allowed many more people to ‘attend’ than a physical event could.


The launch of Sasol 5 covered the English and Afrikaans editions and checklists, as well as the apps.

Available in English or Afrikaans, Sasol 5 can be ordered through BirdLife South Africa and we are currently offering it at a discounted price. To get your copy, go to or e-mail The free bird calls app (called Struik Nature Calls) and the app version of the book (Sasol E-Birds) are available at the relevant app stores. The Sasol E-Birds app can be downloaded for half price until the end of July, so don’t delay!

It was a pleasure to be involved with this launch and we would like to thank Pippa and the Struik Nature team for inviting us to partner with them on this auspicious occasion. Sasol 5 is a welcome addition to South African birding libraries and will help to foster a love for birds and the environment that will spur future conservation efforts.


Pied Crows proliferating

Image credit Charles J. Sharp

With the support of the Bakwena N1N4 Toll Concession, BirdLife South Africa convened a workshop to analyse why the Pied Crow population is on the rise in this country and identify what this could mean for the environment at large. The meeting – virtual, of course – was an opportunity to work on a review of Pied Crows compiled by Dr Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl and has resulted in an up-to-date account of the status of Pied Crows in South Africa.

An indigenous medium to large bird, the Pied Crow is found across much of sub-Saharan Africa and in South Africa has a close affiliation with urban and rural settlements, road networks and electricity and cellular infrastructure. Recent evidence indicates that the population of these social birds has grown steadily in parts of the country, most significantly in the Northern Cape. The growth can be attributed to a number of factors, such as climate change, altered land-use practices and an expanding road and power network. However, before any meaningful management decisions are made, potentially to the detriment of co-existing wildlife, it is important to understand the species’ ecological role. The workshop was used as a platform for academics, conservation managers, industry and NGOs to discuss a need for action and to strategise future research, infrastructure and landscape management plans.

Over the years, the Pied Crow has gained a somewhat unsavoury reputation in some quarters, particularly among farmers. It is a highly intelligent and adaptable species, capable of colonising new environments that were inaccessible to it before humans came and developed them; in the Northern Cape, for example, it has quickly capitalised on the advent of tall electricity pylons and cell-phone towers. As generalist predators, these crows are known to feed on reptiles, small mammals, carrion and even newborn lambs. Their impact on agriculture is relatively well documented and has led to small-scale efforts – often in vain – to eradicate them from the farming landscape. Unfortunately, most control methods are indiscriminate, if not illegal, and often lead to incidental persecution of endangered animals.

Furthermore, limited research into the biology of Pied Crows has preliminarily highlighted their impact on young tortoises, small nesting birds and even large nesting vultures. The evidence is anecdotal, but they are known to aggressively mob large birds of prey and have been seen plucking tail feathers from raptors in flight. The increasing number of conflicts and resulting physiological and psychological impacts on young raptors could become debilitating.

Thank you to all the attendees who contributed to a successful Pied Crow workshop.

Although evidence seems to be mounting against this ‘native invader’, the exact role that Pied Crows play in the environment is still poorly understood. As one of the few avian scavengers remaining in the Karoo landscape, their activities as the road-kill clean-up crew may be substantially more important than we currently understand. So before any lethal control methods can be proposed, we need to refine our understanding of the biology of the species. In the meantime, its close affiliation with anthropogenic infrastructure and its reliance on waste should be the starting point of an action plan. Improving the waste management systems around towns and rural settlements will limit the consistent source of food required by large flocks of Pied Crows and their chicks. Similarly, better infrastructure management will limit the number of available nesting sites and reduce breeding attempts.

The workshop concluded with a clear set of research questions and objectives for land-use managers and NGOs to act upon. The comprehensive Pied Crow review, which now includes clearly defined objectives and an action plan, will be published on the BirdLife South Africa website later this year. We will endeavour to maintain the collaborative momentum and push for further research and improved infrastructure and landscape management over the coming years. The solution to the Pied Crow conundrum is immensely complicated, but with the help of numerous stakeholders the revised research and management objectives will lead to a better understanding of Pied Crows – and thus improved conservation efforts.


Where to see Southern Ground-Hornbills

Southern Ground-Hornbills occur in savanna, open woodland and grassland habitats, and you can learn more about these vital environments in this month’s fact file about BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2020. In July we are also releasing a new sticker design that you can use to help promote these fascinating and Endangered birds and our important campaign.

July’s fact file, along with the other fact files, infographics and lesson plans, are available at and can be downloaded for free.

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project (the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill) and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.


Update: Flock to Marion 2021

Previously BirdLife South Africa told Flock to Marion passengers via various media that we would provide feedback about next year’s voyage to Marion Island by mid-July 2020. Given the extremely difficult and unpredictable circumstances in our country (and, indeed, around the world), we have been working with cruise company MSC to find a viable solution that benefits all. These discussions are now at an advanced stage and we will soon be in a position to provide clarity.

We understand that you would like to like to know whether Flock to Marion will go ahead or be postponed and we appreciate the urgency of this matter for many of you. We are in regular contact with MSC and hope to communicate the way forward in the near future. Before we do so, however, we need to ensure that all avenues have been considered and all bases covered. In the meantime, we are grateful for your patience.


Paul and Sally Bartho at Epupa Falls.

We have a winner!

Paul Bartho is the lucky winner of the Jackpot Birding cash prize – congratulations! The draw, overseen by Andrew Mitchell, the chairman of BirdLife South Africa’s Audit & Risk Committee, took place at Isdell House on 15 July and the winning ticket was pulled by Yvonne Pennington, a member of the Board of Directors. We sold 835 tickets for the raffle, raising valuable funds for BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work. Thank you very much to everyone who supported us by buying a ticket or encouraging others to do so.

Paul, a member of BirdLife South Africa, is an avid birder based in KwaZulu-Natal.


15 episodes and counting…



Every Tuesday evening at 19h00 BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross hosts a Conservation Conversations webinar via Zoom. Started as an effort to keep members informed during lockdown about BirdLife South Africa’s work, these virtual meetings have become a weekly staple and a ‘ray of sunshine’ for many who are confined to their homes. All the webinars are recorded and posted on YouTube for anyone who is unable to join in the live fun. Recordings of previous webinars can also be accessed on BirdLife South Africa’s YouTube channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage (see below). You can also register for upcoming webinars at this site.

The simultaneous live stream of the webinars to Facebook Live through the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page has enabled us to reach a wider audience and offers viewers who would still like to participate in the live event and ask questions an alternative to the Zoom platform. You do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part.

We are grateful to the many generous souls who have sent in donations for the production of the webinars via the Quicket collections platform at or the BirdLife South Africa website.

The White-winged Flufftail and the birds of the Benguela ecosystem have featured so far in July’s talks, and Daniel Marnewick explained how the global biodiversity conservation community will adapt to a world after Covid-19, in light of how the pandemic has already affected the ‘Big Year for Biodiversity’ plans that the Congress on Biological Diversity had made for 2020. In the final talk for July, in collaboration with Jacana Media, Lee Gutteridge and Kersey Lawrence will share their insights into the tracks of birds in southern Africa.

Coming up in August, BirdLife South Africa’s CEO Mark Anderson will discuss the conservation of Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam; Reason Nyengera will describe what it’s like living at sea in order to protect seabirds; the National Lead Task Team will explain what is being done to shield wildlife from the impacts of lead; and Dr Warwick Tarboton and Fanie du Plessis will talk about what has been achieved in the 20 years of the Nylsvley Woodland Bird Census. Be sure to tune in for these amazing meetings every Tuesday at 19h00.

For more information, please go to or e-mail



Another bumper issue!

As postal delays are continuing to impact delivery of copies of the July/August issue of African Birdlife, BirdLife South Africa members and subscribers to the magazine are being sent a link to the digital version, as was done for the May/June 2020 issue. So one way or another, you’ll be able to marvel at amazing photos of Peregrines and birds in action in the Kruger Park and read thought-provoking articles on effects of Covid-19 on birdlife, accipiter range expansions and contractions, temperature control in Southern Ground-Hornbills, atlasing in Kenya – and those are just the main features…


The long way round…

Steve Kafka (centre) and his crew back in Dunedin after 226 days at sea. Credit: Marc Severinsen

I’ve often been asked how far I’d be willing to go for conservation and until recently I thought I’d go a long way. But Steve Kafka, captain of the RSV Evohe, and his crew have gone much further than most.

Chartered by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Evohe transported members of the Gough Island Restoration Programme to the island to begin preparations to set bait for invasive house mice. Although the charter officially started only in February 2020, the New Zealand-registered yacht had to leave her home port of Dunedin on 27 November 2019 to reach Cape Town in time. By March she had completed one trip to Gough and was about to embark on the second when the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic became unavoidable and the programme was postponed.

With borders closing, the Evohe returned to Gough to evacuate stranded team members so that they could return to their various home countries. In the meantime, backup teams in the UK and South Africa worked around the clock, liaising with embassies to find secure routes to get everyone home. It was decided that the safest option would be for the Evohe to travel from Gough to Ascension Island, just below 8°S in the Atlantic Ocean and 13 days’ sailing away. From there a Royal Air Force flight took the team members back to the UK and they dispersed to their respective home countries, arriving three weeks after leaving Gough Island.

For the Evohe, however, the journey home was just beginning. Most countries had closed their borders by now and Steve and his crew decide their best route would be via the Panama Canal. Once in the Pacific Ocean they sailed south-westward, past the Galápagos Islands and onwards to New Zealand. They initially intended to stop at Tahiti, but with favourable trade winds and concerned that they may not be allowed to leave the port, they kept going and arrived back in Dunedin on 12 July – an incredible 226 days after their departure in November.

While most of us have been inundated with daily statistics, updates and information about the pandemic, the crew aboard the Evohe were isolated from world news. Their journey turned out very different from the one planned, but it certainly was an adventure. Next time someone asks me how far I’m willing to go for conservation, I might reconsider my response – spending 226 days at sea will not be part of my answer!

The RSPB is immensely grateful to Steve and his crew for their willingness to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances and for striving to get the team home safely. It is hoped the eradication programme on Gough Island will be reinstated in 2021, but a decision will only be made later this year. For more information about the programme or to make a donation, please go to


High tech helps at De Hoop

A screenshot from the DeepAlert system on the day of installation.

Motion trigger cameras can be very useful for monitoring, but in certain situations they produce a lot of false triggers from wind-blown vegetation, insects and the like. BirdLife South Africa is working with CapeNature and SANCCOB to re-establish a colony of African Penguins in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. To protect the penguins from terrestrial predators such as leopards and caracals, a fence has been erected and is monitored remotely using a network of CCTV cameras.

While the cameras are working well, there have been many motion triggers that aren’t relevant. It takes a long time to go through these false triggers and we are concerned that important ones, either penguins or potential predators, could get lost in the ‘noise’ of all the others.

Enter DeepAlert, a system developed for the security industry to conduct real-time video analytics, monitor for specific triggers and send an alert to specified contacts. The mini-PC hub can be connected to any commercially available camera system and uses a sophisticated deep learning system to classify images from the cameras. Tests before installation show that, although there aren’t existing classifications for any of the animals that occur at De Hoop, the DeepAlert system still picks them up.

I installed the system at the end of June and so far it is working extremely well, with the number of alerts decreasing from 50–100 per day to fewer than 10! This represents a massive time saving and reassures me that we’re not missing anything important. We are extremely grateful to DeepAlert for providing this service to BirdLife South Africa free of charge.

The predator-proof fence installed to protect the future penguin colony from terrestrial predators. Credit: Christina Hagen


Especially for birders

Birder Friendly Establishment


Karoo Gariep is the ideal spot for Karoo birding. Situated just off the N1 halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg, it is perfect for getting friends from both cities together for a Karoo kuier. With 206 species recorded, there is a good chance you’ll find just the bird you’re looking for.

We’ll take you on two birding drives per day in our game-viewing vehicle, plus a night drive to find the Shy 5: aardvark, aardwolf, black-footed cat, bat-eared fox and porcupine. We’ll also guide you on a walk to see Khoi engravings. We provide two good meals a day, a braai in the veld at sunset, and sundowners at the hippo pool to watch the only hippos in the Northern Cape.

This 3-night safari, including three drives a day and meals, normally costs R3200 per person, but for BirdLife South Africa members we are offering it at R2800 per person (group size 8–12).

Contact PC Ferreira on 082 567 9211, e-mail or go to

Birder Friendly Tour Operator


On our scheduled tours, book six or more people per vehicle and one travels for free!

As the tourism industry gets moving again, Sustain Safaris has scheduled a superb range of small-group set-departure tours for 2020/2021 at great prices. These are:

  • Budget north-eastern South Africa & Kruger. 5–15 October 2020 (11 days). Two national parks and several other reserves.
  • North-eastern South Africa & south-eastern Zimbabwe. 20–29 October 2020 (10 days). Two national parks and several other reserves.
  • Eastern South Africa. 16–29 November 2020 (14 days). Two World Heritage Sites, a national park and several other reserves.