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.

Annual Taita survey

The 2019 Taita Falcon survey team (left to right) Andrew Jenkins, Anthony van Zyl, Kyle Walker and Melissa Howes-Whitecross.

In December, core members of the Taita Falcon team Anthony van Zyl and Andrew Jenkins were joined by Kyle Walker, a recent BSc Honours graduate from the FitzPatrick Insitute of the University of Cape Town, and Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross in their survey of the Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment for this rare species.


Kyle Walker and Anthony van Zyl watch patiently for any hint of movement on the big red cliffs of the Blyde River Canyon that could reveal the presence of a Taita Falcon. Credit: Melissa Howes-Whitecross

The Taita Falcon is a small, cliff-nesting raptor that preys almost exclusively on small birds it catches in high-speed, mid-air strikes. It is one of the rarest raptors in Africa, with just a scattering of small, isolated populations known in the south-eastern half of the continent. The South African population was discovered in the late 1980s and is thought to comprise fewer than 20 individuals, with breeding pairs found only on the high cliffs of the eastern escarpment. Given the low numbers of known breeding sites and the limited extent of its aggregate range, the Taita Falcon is considered to be Critically Endangered in South Africa.

As the smallest of the three bird-eating falcon species resident on the escarpment cliffs of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, Taita Falcon pairs may be pressured by pairs of Peregrine and Lanner falcons, both of which overlap with the Taita in terms of their resource requirements and are likely to be dominant in territorial interactions. Compounding this, the two larger falcons seem to be more tolerant of ongoing changes in habitat quality, in particular the encroachment of rural development and commercial agriculture into pristine woodland and savanna. Hypothetically, this could lead to the Taita Falcon territories being taken over by either Peregrines or Lanners.

Kyle Walker, Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl watch the cliffs overlooking the Swadini Resort. Credit: Melissa Howes-Whitecross

The recent loss of the Taita Falcon site at the J.G. Strydom Tunnel is a case in point. In August this year, dedicated Taita Falcon guide Michael Kumako observed a pair of Peregrines displacing the Taitas from this site. During the December survey, the team recorded two Peregrine fledglings being fed by their parents on the cliff that has been the go-to location for visiting birders to see Taita Falcon for the past 15–20 years.

Protecting the pristine and ecologically functional woodlands that typically occur on the slopes below the cliffs occupied by Taita Falcons, as well as the healthy grasslands along the top of the cliffs, may be vital for sustaining the remaining pairs of this extremely rare species in South Africa. If we can achieve this, we will be giving these diminutive falcons access to abundant small-bird prey over habitats where they perhaps have a competitive edge over their larger counterparts. In early 2020, the team will be submitting an exciting scientific publication that synthesises what they have discovered about the raptor community along the eastern escarpment and what the future looks like for the Taita Falcon.


Out with the old…

BirdLife South Africa’s 2020 Birds of Southern Africa calendar not only helps you to keep track of important dates, but brightens each month with a stunning image of a southern African bird.

To order your 2020 Birds of Southern Africa calendar for R150 (excluding postage/delivery), or for more information, e-mail me at


Records, records and more records!

BirdLife South Africa’s 35th Birding Big Day (BBD) took place on Saturday, 30 November 2019. Almost 300 teams of birders attempted to see as many bird species as possible within a 24-hour period and within 50km of a central point. Most of the species were logged on the BirdLasser mobile app, while a few teams submitted paper lists.

For the first time, teams using the BirdLasser app could compete at provincial as well as national level. This levelled the playing field a bit, as teams in provinces that host fewer species were always at a disadvantage to teams participating in more species-rich provinces.

Despite very hot conditions over the country on BBD, a few records were broken or equalled. The first is for the combined total number of species seen by all of the teams. A whopping 667 species were recorded, breaking the previous record of 654 set in 2017. The seabirds logged by team Anne’s Birding Boys on a pelagic trip helped to add species to the overall list not recorded in the past. In previous years, the sea conditions prohibited BBD teams from going out to sea, so it was wonderful that they could do so this year.

Also well done to team A Bowl of Corncrakes, who managed to equal the team record of 325 species set by Zonke Inyoni in 2006. The team, consisting of John Davies, Garth Bowen, Darren Pietersen and Kyle Middleton, covered the area to the east of Polokwane and did extremely well under testing conditions.

As the provincial challenges were held for the first time this year, we have lots of first-time record holders. Congratulations to each of the teams who came in first. In the Eastern Cape, two teams shared the spoils and in other provinces the winning margin was only a few species. The bar has now been set in each province and we look forward to seeing how many of these records will still stand in 2020.

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. Funds raised for BBD supports the conservation work of BirdLife South Africa, so every cent is much appreciated.

We would also like to thank Elaine’s Birding for corporate sponsorship of the event. Please support Elaine’s company; for more information, see

Birding Big Day 2020 will be held on Saturday, 28 November. Time will tell how many records will be broken during next year’s event!


New flufftail survey season starts

The Dullstroom wetlands, where field work for White-winged Flufftail research was undertaken in November.

Working in the wetlands.

Robin Colyn, who leads the White-winged Flufftail project, interns Elelwani Makhuvha and Nolumanyano Camagu, and I recently installed 45 camera traps and three acoustic devices across several wetland systems around the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment. The aim for this season’s research is to gain further insight into the current size of the White-winged Flufftail population in South Africa, as well as an understanding of the birds’ fine-scale use of a large wetland system as habitat conditions fluctuate.

Field work was conducted over five days after the first big rain in the district and will continue throughout summer. Sites were chosen after taking into consideration a number of factors: distance from one another, differing conditions of the habitat (relatively pristine or used by livestock), and the presence of topographical barriers, such as a steep hillside. Selecting for these differing aspects in a wetland system not only will help us to determine the relative abundance of individual flufftails, but will also allow for finer determination of some ecological and conservation facets.

BirdLife South Africa’s research on the Critically Endangered and highly secretive White-winged Flufftail has made the news several times over the past three years, initially when an effective method for studying the species was developed. This method has been refined and has led to the discovery of the species’ successful breeding in South African wetlands and its vocalisations and habitat requirements. Many unanswered questions still loom, but thanks to the involvement of Middelpunt Wetland Trust and Rockjumper Birding Adventures we can continue with the research necessary to help conserve the White-winged Flufftail.


Conservation Division restructured

Over the past six months the Conservation Division has been undergoing a restructuring process, resulting in a number of important changes that will ensure that BirdLife South Africa remains relevant, cutting-edge and in the vanguard of efforts to protect this country’s precious birdlife and its habitats.

The organisation’s work on species and habitat has been integrated into a single Landscape Conservation programme – led by Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross – to create a more holistic approach that brings together sites and species. Looking towards the rest of Africa, the new Regional Conservation programme will be led by Daniel Marnewick (far left) and will support BirdLife Partners throughout the continent, especially in securing important habitats for birds and other biodiversity by establishing strong partnerships, delineating Key Biodiversity Areas and providing in-country red list training and policy support. The third new programme, under the leadership of Robin Colyn, will focus on science and innovation.

The Policy and Advocacy programme remains unchanged, as does the Seabird Conservation programme. For the latter, Dr Alistair McInnes and his team recently held a breakaway session to discuss their strategy for the next five years.

Having conducted a fair, competitive and transparent recruitment process, we are pleased to announce that Melissa, Daniel and Robin have been appointed managers of the respective programmes and they will take up their positions on 2 January 2020.

We are proud and privileged to have such a good team at BirdLife South Africa.

Congratulations, Melissa, Daniel and Robin – we wish you all the best in your challenging and important new roles!


2020 is almost here!

BirdLife South Africa’s 2020 Birds of Southern Africa calendar gives you 12 stunning images – one per month – of your favourite birds. It makes a beautiful gift for friends and family, colleagues and clients – and not forgetting yourself!

To order your 2020 Birds of Southern Africa calendar for R150 (excluding postage/delivery), or for more information, e-mail me at



Stepping outside silos

An adult Black Harrier flying around wind turbines.
Credit: R.E. Simmons

One of our favourite things to do is bring people who have unique experiences and diverse perspectives, expertise and priorities together in one place. This is because learning happens when we step outside our own spheres and members from different communities can start to see things from someone else’s perspective. 

The Birds and Renewable Energy team was lucky enough to be part of three such events last month. At Windaba, the South African Wind Energy Association’s annual conference, Sam Ralston-Paton, representatives from industry and government and an international consultant formed a panel to share insights and explore strategies for delivering a sustainable roll-out of 17.7 gigawatts of wind energy by 2030. Some exciting ideas emerged and we look forward to seeing these come to fruition. 

The second event was the annual Birds and Wind Energy Forum. Co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), this brings together local researchers, environmental consultants and consulting bird specialists, as well as representatives of industry and government, to discuss the latest lessons learnt and challenges faced in our efforts to ensure that the impact of renewable energy on birds is kept at a sustainable level. BirdLife South Africa committed that it will not support the development of wind turbines in areas of high sensitivity, where birds are breeding and where there is a lot of bird activity. The forum provided an opportunity to consult with stakeholders, as BirdLife South Africa introduced the draft Guidelines on Wind Energy for the Black Harrier, a brochure that has recently been released. These guidelines document the options available to reduce the impacts of wind energy on this rare and Endangered raptor, a southern African endemic. If you would like a copy, please e-mail

We also shared details of Robin Colyn’s Landscape Conservation Modelling Project, which uses habitat suitability models to help steer development away from habitat that can host rare and threatened species. The summary of the proceedings will be available on the Birds and Renewable Energy mailing list. Please subscribe to this list to gain access to the Birds and Wind Energy Forum presentations or if you would like to know more about this topic.

Africa is at the edge of a renewable energy revolution and while South Africa may be leading the continent in terms of installed wind energy capacity, we are not alone in having to deal with the environmental challenges that energy infrastructure brings. The BirdLife Africa Energy Forum has been established to improve the capacity of the BirdLife Africa Partnership to engage in the energy sector in order to stop or mitigate the negative impacts that renewable energy infrastructure can have on birds. The topic of the forum’s second meeting was powerlines, and we heard of the progress being made by BirdLife Partners in Tunisia and Egypt to promote bird-friendly energy infrastructure. These meetings are held online, demonstrating that we can keep our carbon emissions down and still overcome geographical barriers.



Go green for the festive season

Membership to BirdLife South Africa is the perfect green gift for loved ones, friends and clients this festive season – and it’s a gift that lasts the whole year! The recipient will be given a membership card, two bird-call ringtones for their cell phone, a monthly e-newsletter and a subscription to African Birdlife magazine. Wings 1 is the standard membership, while Wings 2 includes a copy of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa field guide.

For more information, please contact me at



Fast & Featherless in the bush 

Team Fast and Featherless 2019.
Credit Trish Liggett

From 1 to 4 November 2019, BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme hosted an exciting mountain bike adventure at Pafuri in the Kruger National Park. To make the event even more thrilling, Phil Liggett, the renowned ‘voice of cycling’, was welcomed as the guest of honour. Phil has a passion for conservation and he and his wife Trish have been patrons of BirdLife South Africa’s Fast & Featherless team for many years.

Guests were hosted by Return Africa at Pafuri, which was the base for the daily bike rides and game drives. They would leave early in the morning to avoid cycling in the midday heat and cycle approximately 24km each day, accompanied by the exceptional guides organised by Return Africa, who ensured that each route was fun, exciting and safe for all. Each ride brought a diversity of birds plus elephants and buffaloes, as well as picturesque landscapes unlike those of any other region of South Africa.

Group 1 makes a quick pitstop.
Credit Jan Basch

Between rides, guests had the opportunity to enjoy game-viewing on evening drives, sundowners, bush dinners and even the opportunity to watch the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup. Phil recounted fascinating stories about the Tour de France, and BirdLife South Africa and ZEISS staff members gave informative talks.

The event raised almost R100 000 for the IBA Programme’s work to protect critical habitats and biodiversity areas across South Africa. It would not have been possible without the support of the generous sponsors: ZEISS covered many of the costs; Escape Cycle Tours arranged logistics, including the incredible venue; Return Africa hosted the bikers, providing excellent service and organising great guides; and supplied a mountain bike for Phil Liggett.

For more information about the IBA Programme or the event, see or contact me at



African Birdlife

In the run-up to the holiday season, fasten your seat belts for exciting rides to Gabon’s spectacular coast and the wondrous avian world of the Ngorongoro Crater, join well-known South African birders on trips to their favourite hangouts, marvel at how carefully engineered birds are, and tease your birding brain with some craftily devised puzzles. All you need is the latest issue of African Birdlife.


The latest on the advocacy front

Middelpunt Wetland, the global stronghold of the Critically Endangered White winged Flufftail, is threatened by mining.

Unfortunately, mining threats to the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment, between the towns of Belfast and Dullstroom in Mpumalanga, persist. BirdLife South Africa is challenging the legality of a small open-cast coal mine that is currently operating adjacent to Greater Lakenvlei, as well as an application to prospect for diamonds next to the protected environment’s Middelpunt Wetland – the global stronghold of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. If you’ve driven between Johannesburg and Dullstroom in recent years, you would have noticed that mining operations have steadily spread to the east of the Witbank coal fields, with major new mines being developed in the vicinity of Belfast. It is our priority to strengthen the environmental protection offered to the Middelpunt Wetland and surrounding Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment and we are in talks with the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency to this effect. 

In the past few months a dune mining threat has arisen in pristine dune forest habitat just to the south of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal and within the park’s buffer zone. BirdLife South Africa is actively opposing the planned mine and we were recently pleased to be notified that the environmental consultants charged with doing the Environmental Impact Assessment are withdrawing their services. This is the second consultancy group that has abandoned the project in less than a year, a development we hope indicates the fatally flawed nature of the project.



An atlas bash in the Free State/KZN

The overall SABAP2 coverage maps of the area (before and after the bash). Credit Ernst Retief

Targeting the escarpment between the Eastern Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State–KZN Escarpment SABAP2 subproject was launched in June 2019. It aims to obtain species coverage and distribution data for several threatened and endemic species, such as Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd’s and Botha’s larks, Blue, Grey Crowned and Wattled cranes, Denham’s Bustard, Southern Bald Ibis and White-bellied and Blue korhaans. To meet this challenge, the first objective is to get four or more full-protocol cards for each pentad; the second is to submit at least one atlas card for all the pentads at least once a year. In accordance with these objectives, it was decided to host an ‘atlas bash’ for the 89 pentads within the subproject area, only 39 of which had been atlased in 2019 before the bash began. So between 25 October and 11 November, 13 birders ‘bashed’ the high-altitude grasslands of the Ingula and Seekoeivlei nature reserves and the diverse Chelmsford Nature Reserve.

The 2019 SABAP2 coverage maps of the area (before and after the bash).

The bash kicked off with a SABAP2 workshop at the Ingula Nature Reserve on the eastern border of the subproject area. The workshop, presented by Ernst Retief and attended by keen birders from the Ladysmith Birders and Izinyoni (Harrismith) bird clubs, included a short introduction to BirdLasser and the SABAP2 protocol. Afterwards atlasers had the opportunity to apply their new-found knowledge by birding in this beautiful reserve. Some of the specials recorded on the day included Martial and Wahlberg’s eagles and Sand Martin.

It wasn’t long before the first atlas cards were completed, and by the main bash on 8 November 24 pentads had been atlased. During the main bash weekend, atlasers from Gauteng, Bethlehem, Harrismith and Newcastle joined in to work on the pentads that still needed attention.

All BirdLasser points of atlasers during the bash (25 October to 11 November).

More than 260 bird species were recorded during the whole bash and more than 4000 records were logged. This brings the total number of pentads atlased in 2019 to 84, five short of the 89 pentads in the project area. By the end of the bash, only one pentad had only one card, four pentads had two cards, and nine pentads had three cards – a total of 14 pentads to go to reach the first objective of the subproject. Given that the situation looked much more gloomy before the bash, the effort can be considered a major success!

Some of the special sightings, other than the three species already listed, included Pallid Harrier, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, about 30 Knob-billed Ducks, Terrestrial Brownbul, Buff-streaked Chat and Cape Eagle-Owl. A very interesting observation from the out-of-region atlasers was that very few of the bishops, weavers and widowbirds in the area had moulted into their breeding plumage, whereas elsewhere in the country they were fully moulted. This is probably due to the drought in the Eastern Free State, which was only broken during the main atlas event. 

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who participated – and we are looking forward to hosting the next bash in 2020!



AEWA and the White-winged Flufftail

White-winged Flufftail supporters who attended the AEWA meeting in Dullstroom.

From 5 to 7 November, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries hosted the 3rd African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) International White-winged Flufftail Working Group meeting in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga. Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Melissa Howes-Whitecross, Robin Colyn and Elelwani Makhuvha from BirdLife South Africa attended the meeting, together with representatives from AEWA, Middelpunt Wetland Trust, the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (the BirdLife Partner in Ethiopia) and Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.

With only 50 birds estimated in South Africa and perhaps as few as 250 remaining throughout the species’ global range, the White-winged Flufftail is listed as Critically Endangered and considered to be on the brink of extinction. It is only known to occur in specific wetland areas of South Africa and Ethiopia.

Getting down to work at the meeting. Credit Melissa Howes-Whitecross

The role of the AEWA White-winged Flufftail International Working Group is to coordinate the implementation of the International White-winged Flufftail Single Species Action Plan, which was developed in 2008. The main purpose of the meeting was to revise the action plan, share updates from South Africa and Ethiopia, and report on the latest White-winged Flufftail research findings. This productive workshop ended with a field visit to Middelpunt Wetland and the BirdLife South Africa Rallid Survey research site.

It really is a race against time to ensure that the White-winged Flufftail does not become the first African bird to go extinct in recent times!



The African Bird Fair 2019

Birders gather before setting off on a guided bird walk with Dylan Vasapolli.

Faansie Peacock and budding birders are ready for a guided kiddies’ walk.

The African Bird Fair was held in the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden over the weekend of 14 and 15 September. It was wonderful to see the garden teeming with birding enthusiasts who had come to the fair to visit exhibitor stands and to participate in the guided walks, presentations and photography workshops that took place during the two days.

We are happy to report that the fair was a big success and would like to thank everyone who supported it and joined in the fun. We look forward to seeing you all again next year!


Penguin conference ‘Down Under’

Christina Hagen presents her work on creating new penguin colonies. Credit Andrew de Blocq

Held every three years, the International Penguin Conference (IPC) brings together penguin researchers and conservationists from all over the world. In 2016 it was held in Cape Town, where BirdLife South Africa was well represented. This year it returned to Dunedin in New Zealand, the city where the first conference was held in 1988. Dr Alistair McInnes and Andrew de Blocq of the Seabird Conservation Programme and Christina Hagen, the Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation, made the long journey to join a raft of penguinologists.

IPC10 took place at the University of Otago in Dunedin, on the south-eastern coastline of the South Island, from 23 to 28 August 2019. New Zealand is a particularly appropriate venue for a penguin conference as the country hosts no fewer than three species breeding on the mainland and a further two on more distant islands.

BirdLife partner organisations were well represented at the conference.

The BirdLife South Africa team attended a number of workshops on the day before the conference’s official opening, including an early careers workshop and an IUCN Penguin Specialist Group panel discussion. The conference then began in earnest with a traditional Maori welcome, which included the presentation of a ceremonial pounamu (greenstone) statuette of a penguin. The inclusion of local culture throughout the conference was much appreciated by the many foreign visitors.

A busy schedule of keynote addresses and lectures followed, representing a wide range in species (including a robust debate on just how many species of penguin there really are), topics (from climate change and penguin–prey relationships to fossil penguins and the ethics of penguin selfies) and geographical scope (from the Antarctic to the tropics). Likewise, presenters ranged from tenured professors and their graduate students to career conservationists and zookeepers. There were also plenty of opportunities for this blended community to network, explore potential new collaborations and strengthen existing relationships. Well-attended poster sessions were also held on two of the evenings, during which exciting projects were discussed over cheese and wine.

Alistair, Christina and Andrew explore the fjords of New Zealand’s wild west coast.

A particular highlight for the BirdLife South Africa team was a lunch attended by all the representatives of BirdLife partner organisations (including members from Argentina, the Falkland Islands and the UK). We also enjoyed a range of excursions that explored the magnificent natural landscapes and targeted sightings of the local penguin species.

On a personal note, this was the first scientific conference that I have attended and it was refreshing to see that the old adage of ‘ivory towers’ is entirely misplaced in this conservation community. We often witnessed the doyens of penguin research sharing their experience and expertise with ‘lowly’ grad students and there was a familial feeling to the whole affair, with knowledge sharing and relationships a theme regularly brought up in the official proceedings. This kind of atmosphere is surprisingly rare in science and conservation, despite the dire need for us to set aside differences and work together. It bodes well for our quest to conserve penguin species, some of which are dangerously close to the brink…

Alistair, Christina and I would like to thank the conference organisers, in particular Sue Murray of the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and her team, for putting on an impressive, useful and inspiring event. We are also grateful to BirdLife South Africa and donor Pamela Isdell for giving us the opportunity to travel to New Zealand and to grow personally and professionally. We are confident that the relationships we formed and the experiences we gained will stand us in good stead for conserving our precious seabirds.


Birding Big Day 2019

BirdLife South Africa’s 35th Birding Big Day (BBD) will take place on Saturday, 30 November 2019. We invite all birders to go out birding on BBD and enjoy the wonderful avian diversity we have in South Africa. You don’t need to be an expert birder to participate, nor do you need to travel far: you can list the birds you see in your garden or local park. And you can spend the whole day and night looking for birds, or just an hour or two.

The concept of BBD is quite simple: create a team of at least four birders, choose an area in which to go birding (maximum 50km from a central point) and look for birds for as long as you like to see as many species as possible. You can decide to log your sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser or just jot the species down on a piece of paper. For more information, go to

Please register for the project at

We are also trying something new this year in that we will be introducing provincial BBDs. How will this work? Simply log your sightings on BirdLasser and it will automatically upload them to the relevant provincial BBD map as well as to the South Africa map. Teams that would like to become the first provincial champions will have to calculate their routes carefully to make sure they do not cross provincial boundaries.

It promises to be great fun, so select your team, decide on your route and register! If you would like more information, feel free to e-mail me at


Identifying raptors at Letaba

Take a long weekend in February to sharpen up your raptor identification skills with the aid of expert Joe Grosel. Joe’s legendary knowledge and practical approach will help you identify raptors of all shapes, sizes and colours in no time, while his personal anecdotes and birding knowledge will keep you entertained and informed.

The course will be hosted at Letaba Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park, which offers some of the best raptor viewing on the continent. Activities for the weekend include morning and afternoon bird- and game-viewing drives in open vehicles.

Date: 20–23 February

Venue: Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

Cost: R2490 per person (includes course material and outings; excludes accommodation)

Contact: Charles Hardy

Nature Society Singapore in Cape Town

Geoff Lim photographs Greater and Lesser flamingos at Strandfontein.

Singapore is a small, densely populated country in South-East Asia where industry, infrastructure and new development are on the increase. However, it is also a ‘garden city’ and, despite its reputation as a modern, fast-paced metropolis, it has shown the rest of the world how to integrate green spaces and natural areas into a cramped, highly transformed cityscape. How birds fit into this integrated environment is therefore of great interest.

Geoff and Andrew went birding together in Singapore during Andrew’s layover en route to New Zealand.

Geoff Lim of the Nature Society Singapore’s (NSS) Bird Group was recently in Cape Town for a conference and BirdLife South Africa staff members there were happy to host him. The NSS is the official BirdLife Partner in Singapore and cross-partner collaboration and knowledge sharing are features of the BirdLife family of organisations. Geoff gave the Seabird Conservation Programme a talk about the mountain of work the NSS is involved in, which stretches from encouraging birding as a hobby by leading bird walks and organising public lectures to becoming involved in conservation projects, community engagement and environmental lobbying.

The Critically Endangered Straw-headed Bulbul is a flagship species for the Nature Society Singapore. Credit David Liu

Geoff spoke passionately about how his interest in birding led to his involvement in conservation, which is a model that the NSS actively pursues in recruiting supporters. He also talked about how NSS is helping to conserve forest patches in Singapore and with partners in Malaysia. In the socio-political context of these two countries, collaboration between environmental groups is essential if remaining patches of forest are to be protected from development and changes in land use. One particular flagship species that NSS champions is the Straw-headed Bulbul, which is Critically Endangered and relies on island refuges within Singapore to persist.

Fortunately Geoff found time in his schedule to go birding and we enjoyed a day on the Cape Peninsula getting him some African lifers, including the African Penguin.


Joining the Global #Climate Strike

Protesters in the climate strike march set off from Pieter Roos Park. Credit Mark D.

Future fledglings also want a habitable planet!’ was one of the messages on placards held aloft by BirdLife South Africa staff members who took part in the Climate Justice Action March in Johannesburg and Cape Town on 20 September. The march, part of the Global Climate Strike that ran from 20 to 27 September, prefaced the Climate Action Summit held in New York on 23 September, in which more than 150 countries participated.

The march in Johannesburg set off from Pieter Roos Park after a few keynote speakers had stressed its importance, especially for the younger generation whose future will be most affected by climate change. It ended at the Gauteng Provincial Legislature.

BirdLife South Africa staff outside the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. Credit Mark D. Anderson

Marchers highlighted the need to transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon, renewable energy and the urgency with which our government should be addressing the climate emergency. They gained a lot of support from the public and civic society, as well as on various social media platforms, with #FridayForFuture trending among young people. A large number of learners, inspired by the 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, skipped school in support of this movement to raise awareness of the climate change crisis we are now experiencing.

Why should I study for a future nobody is doing anything to save?’

You’ll die of old age. I’ll die of climate change.’

If the climate can change, why can’t we?’

were among the many impactful statements seen on the march.

BirdLife South Africa’s staff were privileged to be part of this important worldwide movement, which was reported to be the biggest climate strike yet.

It’s ‘a race we can win, a race we must win’.


Planning for Cape Parrots

Delegates attending the workshop to set up a conservation action plan for the Cape Parrot.


The Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus was recently recognised as a separate species from the Brown-necked Parrots P. fuscicollis fuscicollis and P. f. suahelicus. The species is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable, with a small but stable population of about 1800 birds.

Cape Parrots live in the mistbelt and afromontane forests along South Africa’s eastern escarpment; three subpopulations occur from the forests in the Amatole Mountains of the Eastern Cape along the escarpment through KwaZulu-Natal and up into Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The parrots move nomadically between forest patches in search of fruiting trees and suitable nesting habitat.

The major threats facing Cape Parrots are the loss and degradation of their habitat, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) and illegal harvesting for the pet trade. Emerging threats include the impacts of climate change and the rapidly expanding invasive polyphagous shot hole borer beetle. Cape Parrots are also known to feed on macadamia nuts and as a consequence have been persecuted as crop pests.

Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross presents the Habitat Group’s input into the action plan.
Credit Rowan Martin

On 26 and 27 September, a group of scientists, conservation specialists, industry representatives, local and provincial government officials, private landowners and interested individuals gathered at The Edge Mountain Retreat in Hogsback, Eastern Cape, to develop an effective and implementable conservation action plan. BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross joined BirdLife Species Guardians the Cape Parrot Project and Cape Parrot Working Group at the meeting. During an intensive two days of discussion, plans were formulated and exciting multi-industry collaborations were created.

The key message coming out of the workshop was the need to halt, and reverse, any further loss and degradation of the current network of forests hosting Cape Parrots in South Africa. At the close of the proceedings, the Wild Bird Trust generously stepped forward to commit to funding an administrator for a Cape Parrot conservation plan to maintain the momentum built up at the workshop.

BirdLife South Africa is grateful to our Species Guardians for their hard work and dedication in setting up this workshop and we look forward to being a part of the conservation action plan going forward.


Get your 2020 calendar now!

The latest edition of the Birds of Southern Africa calendar is as beautiful as ever, with a stunning image to remind you each month of the exceptional birdlife that graces this part of the world. These calendars make fantastic gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients. Order yours today for R150 (excluding postage/delivery) – while stocks last!

For more information, please e-mail me at


Give a Green Gift

As the end of 2019 approaches, please consider giving a Green Gift to your loved ones this festive season. Present them with membership to BirdLife South Africa and they will be getting a membership card, two bird call ringtones for their cell phone, an e-newsletter each month and a subscription to African Birdlife, the organisation’s excellent bi-monthly magazine.

Wings 1 is the standard membership, and Wings 2 includes a Roberts Birds of Southern Africa field guide.

For more information, please e-mail me at


BirdLife South Africa & BID in Cameroon

In 2018, BirdLife South Africa signed a partnership agreement with the IUCN Species Survival Commission to support other African countries in the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Within the framework of this partnership, BirdLife South Africa will pass on what we have learnt from our cutting-edge work and experiences relating to the conservation of species and habitats in South Africa to other African countries, including Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya and Ethiopia.

In my capacity as the Regional Red List and KBA Programme Officer at BirdLife South Africa, I was invited to the Biodiversity Information for Development (BID) African regional closing meeting. Convened by Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) secretariat, the meeting was held in Yaoundé from 3 to 6 September.

The BID programme is a multi-year initiative funded by the European Union and led by the GBIF to increase the amount of biodiversity-related information available for use in scientific research and policy making. Since its launch in 2015, the first phase of the programme has supported more than 60 projects in Africa and the Caribbean and Pacific regions to:

  • Mobilise biodiversity data relating to protected areas, threatened species and invasive alien species;
  • Use and extend best practices for digitising natural history collections;
  • Apply biodiversity data in support of decision making and research;
  • Develop lasting national, regional or thematic networks to support ongoing data sharing.

Participants of the Biodiversity Information for Development African Regional Closing Meeting.

The BID closing meeting for Africa brought together biodiversity stakeholders from 15 African countries to identify regional priorities and actions that build on and expand the impacts of biodiversity data for both science and policy, and to plan the programme’s future. Discussions centred on two main objectives: reflecting on the programme’s overall impact by sharing results achieved in various countries, examples of how biodiversity information has been integrated into decision-making processes, and best practices in the use of data; and identifying priorities and opportunities for the future to ensure that data are shared as required.

BirdLife South Africa has been helping Cameroon to develop National Red Lists of Threatened Species and identify KBAs through the Biodiversity Assessment for Spatial Prioritisation in Africa project. Effectively, biodiversity data mobilised from the various BID-funded projects in Cameroon could serve as baseline data that can be fed into the IUCN’s Red List process to calculate parameters of the geographic range of species. By identifying the conservation status of species using IUCN guidelines, the information can be used to influence policy making.

For example, Red List information can be used to guide scientific research; inform policy and multilateral environmental conventions; influence the allocation of conservation resources; inform conservation planning for individual species; educate and raise awareness; contribute to human health and livelihoods.

Explaining how GBIF data can be used for compiling Red Lists and for policy making.

At the meeting I was able to explain how GBIF data mobilised from the first phase of the BID programme can be used to evaluate the conservation status of species by following the IUCN Red List standards and to identify KBAs, with the ultimate goal of mainstreaming them into individual countries’ policy and decision making. Specifically, I highlighted how point occurrence data can be used to calculate a species’ range using online tools such as GeoCat, which has been developed by scientists at Kew Royal Botanic Garden in the UK.

The meeting’s deliberations were followed by an excursion to the millennium ecological museum of Cameroon, which houses important collections of Cameroon’s flora and fauna, and a field visit into semi-deciduous forest. Then, to round off the conference, the participants adopted a position statement for Africa calling on governments to:

  • Step up efforts to mobilise biodiversity data in Africa in order to overcome the remaining massive under-representation of accessible data;
  • Leverage capacity in the region to sustain knowledge transfer through targeted training, mentoring and lesson sharing among experts;
  • Increase awareness of the benefits of open-access data among a broader range of stakeholders;
  • Transmit relevant evidence-based information to policy and decision makers at all levels;
  • Ensure sustainability by increasing GBIF membership, establishing and supporting new nodes, improving regional coordination, facilitating access to IT infrastructure, boosting fundraising capacity and channelling data mobilisation into ongoing projects and activities.

If this can be done, we will ensure that biodiversity information contributes fully to the conservation, management and sustainable use of wildlife, and thereby support the achievement of sustainable development goals in Africa.

A side meeting held with staff of the GBIF secretariat to explore options for future collaborations and joint capacity-building initiatives in Africa ended my visit to Yaoundé on a very positive note.


Wetland Award for Ingula Partnership

The winners of the National Wetlands Awards 2019 were presented at Tzaneen on 10 October 2019. Credit South African Wetland Society.

The Ingula Partnership was established in 2003, after several NGOs, including BirdLife South Africa, objected to the construction of the proposed Braamhoek Pumped Storage Scheme (PSS) by Eskom. Although the scheme was crucial to sustaining the national power grid, the opposition argued that highly sensitive and valuable biodiversity would be lost as a result of the required dams being constructed within the wetland system. Over-utilisation and degradation of the wetlands were also rendering the ecosystem vulnerable.

The wetlands – then known as the Bedford/Chatsworth IBA – hosted the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail and Wattled Crane, among other threatened species, and BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust especially were concerned about the damage construction activities would undeniably cause to this sensitive system and the species it hosts. In an attempt to find middle ground, the Ingula Partnership was initiated by Eskom to ensure that the construction of the pumped storage scheme would not have an adverse impact on the wetlands and their wildlife. To mitigate the social impact of the project, additional property was purchased to be declared a nature reserve after construction.

While the construction was being carried out between 2005 and 2016, the Ingula Partnership frequently intervened to ensure minimal damage and raise environmental awareness among the construction teams and contractors. During this time, BirdLife South Africa’s project managers and Eskom’s environmental staff regularly monitored the three main habitat types: grassland, wetland and escarpment forest. The partnership provided input to reduce visual impact, optimise the hydrological aspects and ensure that the effects on threatened species were minimal.

The biodiversity-rich oxbows and wetlands within the Ingula Nature Reserve, neighbouring the upper reaches of the Wilge River. Credit Carina Coetzer

Social aspects were regarded as important, too, as 16 families were living around the sensitive wetlands. A social reform programme was initiated and approximately 4000ha of additional property were purchased for resettlement. Houses were constructed and communities were moved from sensitive to less sensitive areas. Capacity building within the communities is currently in progress, changing the former subsistence farming to sustainably productive families with land ownership.

This is an ongoing project, carried out in conjunction with a number of government departments and community organisations. Direct impacts on the wetlands have been reduced and communities have the capacity to establish sustainable livelihoods.

The Ingula Nature Reserve was formally proclaimed in 2018. There are approximately 1200ha of wetland within the reserve and they supply ecosystem services in the headwaters of the Senqu catchment. Constant monitoring and appropriate management strategies aim to limit erosion and siltation, and the continuous removal of alien vegetation reduces water consumption, allowing the wetland to continue supplying water to the Wilge and Vaal river systems.

Working together as partners has allowed initially opposing organisations to combine resources and focus on a common goal. The cooperation between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust has resulted in the conservation of a significant wetland system and the biodiversity contained therein, and resulted in the establishment of an internationally recognised sustainable conservation area.


Toyota and the Flufftail Festival

Learners from MW de Wet Primary School gather together before splitting into groups to take part in games and activities designed to teach them about water, wetlands and waterbirds.
Credit: Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross

Friday, 6 September 2019 was a day of firsts. It heralded the first-ever Flufftail Festival Educational Excursion, hosted by Toyota SA at its Atlas Road plant in Boksburg, Gauteng, in partnership with BirdLife South Africa, Rand Water’s Water Wise team and the Rare Finch Conservation Group. Grade 6 pupils from MW de Wet Primary School took part in the excursion, where they learned about the conservation of water, wetlands and waterbirds.

Wetlands are the most threatened habitat in South Africa: more than 50% have been transformed or damaged by human-related activities and changes in land use. They provide important ecosystem services, including the cleansing of water by filtration, the reduction of flooding and the storage of large amounts of water, which is released slowly into river systems below the wetland. They are also the only habitat where highly specialised plants and animals are found, such as sedges, reeds and bulrushes that are adapted to grow in extremely wet soil. Bird species such as the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail – a rare small bird found only in high-altitude wetland – and Wattled Crane, as well as the Orange-breasted Waxbill are all associated with wetlands.

Learners enjoying the ‘Small is BIG’ puppet show featuring Waxi the Hero.
Credit: Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross

The Flufftail Festival is named after the White-winged Flufftail because this species is possibly Africa’s rarest bird, with fewer than 250 individuals left in the world. The biggest threat facing it is the loss of its pristine high-altitude wetland habitat through drainage for mining and agriculture. BirdLife South Africa has been working to understand more about this elusive species for the past 15 years and has recently discovered what its call sounds like. By raising awareness about this rare bird and its wetland habitat through events like the Flufftail Festival, BirdLife South Africa and its partners hope to improve understanding of the importance of this ecosystem among young people of South Africa and to help conserve water, wetlands and waterbirds into the future.

At this year’s Toyota Flufftail Festival, the 85 learners were welcomed to the plant with hot chocolate and muffins before Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross spoke about the importance of wetlands and the threats they face. To help illustrate this message, Waxi the Hero entertained the youngsters in an excellent production of the ‘Small is BIG’ puppet show, in which the intrepid Orange-breasted Waxbill engaged the learners to help him and his friends find their missing companion, Fluffy the White-winged Flufftail.

Dr Andries Botha of Toyota SA talks about the company’s wetlands and environmental operations at the Atlas Road plant.
Credit: Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross

The rest of the morning’s events took place in the open fields around the Atlas Road plant near Toyota’s very own conserved wetland, the Parkhaven Pan. Before diving into the outdoor activities lined up at four different stations, the learners were given an insightful talk on wetlands and the environmental operations at the plant by Toyota’s Dr Andries Botha. Then they split into groups to take part in activities designed to teach them about water, wetlands and waterbirds under the supervision of the talented Water Wise team. The interactive games, posters and models demonstrated how wetlands function and how they are destroyed, and then the youngsters got the opportunity to see up close a real wetland and its birds when they were shown the Parkhaven Pan. The distribution of sponsored lunch packs, goodie bags containing educational material and movie tickets brought the fun-filled day to a close.

Learners and teachers expressed their sincere gratitude to the organiser Karen Strever of Toyota SA, to representatives of BirdLife South Africa and the Rare Finch Conservation Group and to Rand Water’s Water Wise team. Toyota SA was a proud sponsor of the Atlas Road Flufftail Festival and all the partner organisations are grateful to the company for making this fun, educational day possible. Many of the learners were inspired by the ‘Start your impossible’ and ‘Small is BIG’ messages and we hope they will go on to grow their passions and remain mindful of their responsibilities to help protect the environment.



Travel with Birding Ecotours

See the world’s birds with Birding Ecotours! Get 5% off the tour price and we donate a further 5% to BirdLife South Africa if you sign up for any of the trips shown at before 15 November 2019. Please send an e-mail to, quoting ‘BLSA’.


False Bay Nature Reserve Birdathon

The birdathon held every year in the False Bay Nature Reserve is a fun-filled and educational day for local school groups, young people and families. In previous years, more than 1000 community members, young and old, have enjoyed this celebration of our natural spaces. The aim of the event is to expose local children and their communities to the joys of the nature reserve and provide a family fun day out at minimal cost.

This year the event will again begin with a walk through the nature reserve looking for birds, followed by the festival component of exhibits, games, food, drinks and activities.

The Cape Town Environmental Education Trust, in partnership with BirdLife South Africa and the City of Cape Town, invites you to help us host the festival on 19 October.



A breath of fresh air

After the conference, Sam visited the Whitelee Wind Farm near Glasgow and was blown away by how this site has become a destination for walking and mountain-biking tourists.
Credit: Samantha Ralston-Paton

Increasingly, conservationists are eschewing international travel and, where possible, opting to participate in conferences virtually. The climate crisis means that, now more than ever, the pros and cons of travelling must be considered carefully. With this in mind, our decision to attend a conference on wind energy and its impacts on wildlife in Scotland was not taken lightly. We were determined to make the best of the opportunity.

While in the UK, we visited the RSPB’s head office near Cambridge and later its office in Edinburgh, where we discussed how the RSPB supports the development of wind energy – as long as turbines are located in the right place. Like BirdLife South Africa, the UK organisation strongly opposes proposed wind energy facilities if they will have significant adverse impacts on important bird populations and their habitats, and it works with government and developers to ensure a more positive outcome. The RSBP firmly believes that wind energy is part of the solution to address climate change and has even erected a turbine at its head office. This generates the equivalent of half the electricity the organisation uses at all its offices and nature reserves.

As representatives of BirdLife South Africa, we delivered two presentations at the conference. We shared our concern that without careful planning and management, wind energy could present a new threat to already beleaguered vultures in Africa. Drawing on work done in collaboration with the FitzPatrick Institute, we summarised the diversity of birds affected by turbine collisions in South Africa, cautioning that impacts on habitats and smaller rare bird species, as well as on raptors, should not be overlooked when considering the appropriate location for wind turbines. To date most studies on wind energy and wildlife have been from Europe and North America, and BirdLife South Africa is proud to help begin addressing this geographical bias.

Measures to address global climate change should not compromise biodiversity. We were encouraged that many discussions at the conference highlighted the need to demonstrate a net positive gain to biodiversity, and there is growing recognition that we should be collaborating and sharing data across sites and across borders. Speaking of working together, the conference was a bit of a family reunion for BirdLife partners, with representatives from BirdLife International, Croatia, Egypt, India, Israel, Japan, South Africa and the UK all in attendance.

On a more sobering note, the challenges faced when developing wind energy in emerging markets were highlighted in a panel discussion. We ended our trip somewhat daunted – ensuring that clean energy is delivered to all without harming nature is not going to be easy. At the same time, we are pleased to be part of a wider community committed to tackling the problem. New ideas, new connections and reunions can sometimes be as invigorating as a breath of fresh air.




Ndumu River Lodge’s reception area is set among towering fig trees. Credit: Louis-John van Rooyen

Welcome to Ndumu River Lodge!

An en-suite executive room at Ndumu River Lodge.
Credit: Fiona Davison

Lying between Tembe Elephant Park and Ndumo Game Reserve, Ndumo River Lodge is a birders’ paradise, although a holiday on the Elephant Coast will be enjoyed by everyone from adventure lovers to those who just want to escape to the bush and commune with nature.

A spectacular array of birds, including the Brown-hooded Kingfisher, can be found in the area. Credit is still Gary Nel.

Ndumo River Lodge offers a variety of excellent accommodation options to suit every pocket: air-conditioned rooms with en-suite bathroom, self-catering units and a campsite. Delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners can be enjoyed in either our Bar Lounge restaurant or the restaurant that overlooks the inviting swimming pool. A well-stocked bar has everything you need to quench your thirst, including that special bottle of wine to relish with your meal.

As a Birder-Friendly member of BirdLife South Africa, Ndumu River Lodge is perfect for beginner and seasoned birders alike. From the waterfowl at the pans within five minutes of the lodge to the raptors soaring above the game reserves and the smallest insect-feeders bustling in the shrubbery within the lodge grounds, ‘our’ birds will provide endless entertainment. We are certain that all our birding guests will be enchanted by the incredible variety nature has to offer.

For more information and to book, contact us at 035 592 8000 or, or go to




Tandweni Villa

Tandweni Villa is a private luxury self-catering villa set in the bush, with breathtaking views of Jozini Dam. It comfortably accommodates 10 adults and includes a game-drive vehicle and a boat for cruising and tiger fishing. We can tailor your package by providing a specialist birding guide to take you on walks and drives.

The villa has a fully equipped kitchen, a boma, a private gym and a jungle gym, as well as a swimming pool. An airfield gives a fly-in safari option, with a hangar for storing your aircraft during your stay.

To book your stay, go to



Conservation League winner

Congratulations to Thinie van der Merwe, the lucky Conservation League donor who won the lucky draw held earlier this month for a pair of Swarovski binoculars worth R44 000. We wish you many happy years of birding with your new binoculars!


African Birdlife magazine

Itching to get out into the fresh spring air to see some birds? We take you to Gauteng’s birding hotspots. And to Rwanda in the company of John Maytham. Or you could join Andrew Jenkins along the Benguela shore, pondering why coastal birds are disappearing from this once-productive region. Or perhaps you want to simply sit at home and hone your photographic skills in your garden…

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter August 2019

Ingula hosts Reach Africa Birding

The group spent a full day birding at the local Cape Vulture colony at Nelsonskop. Credit: Carina Coetzer

A very wind-blown quartet of birders explored Ingula Nature Reserve from 11 to 13 August as part of a grassland and forest birding trip that also took in Karkloof Nature Reserve. The tour was planned and led by Grahame Snow, the owner of Reach Africa Birding Tours.

Members of the group made the most of photographic opportunities in the reserve. Credit: Carina Coetzer

A well-known and passionate guide, Grahame has taken birders on more than 350 tours in southern Africa since 1996. He heard about Ingula from a friend whose bird club visited the reserve last year and he and his clients were looking forward to not only the breathtaking scenery of its mountains, grasslands and wetlands, but also the special birds these habitats host. They were not disappointed! Their final tally was 98 species, despite the landscape having been burnt by recent wild fires, a wind that almost blew the visitors off their feet for two of the three days and it being out of season for most of the local specials. Among the birds they saw were Martial Eagle, Secretarybird, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Vulture, Black Stork and Southern Bald Ibis. They even added a new species to the Ingula list – a Scarlet-chested Sunbird.

The Reach Africa Birding group ended their tour to the area with a quick visit to Malandeni at Ladysmith, where they added Greater Flamingo, Black Sparrowhawk and Gabar Goshawk.

Learning more about the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme at the visitors’ centre, driving the surrounding passes and enjoying sundowners at Nelsonskop added to the overall experience and led the birders to promise to come back in a more appropriate season with their friends. Grahame is also planning to visit Ingula again in early 2020.



Black Stork team at Mutale Falls

The 2019 survey team, comprising Andrew, Caroline and Melissa, with their guide Jethro.

The annual Black Stork survey that covers the northern Kruger National Park and Makuya Nature Reserve took place this year from 5 to 13 August. As the team leader, I was joined by Andrew de Blocq (Coastal Seabird Conservation project officer) and Caroline Howes-Whitecross (Wits PhD candidate/BirdLife South Africa media assistant).

This is the third survey that has been conducted along the Luvuvhu River, formerly a breeding stronghold for the vulnerable Black Stork. The survey originally focused on the cliffs and gorges along the river from Memba Valley in the south-west to Crook’s Corner in the north-east, an area that was home to eight breeding pairs of Black Storks in the mid- to late 1980s. Unfortunately, the two previous surveys of these sites located only one active nest, which was occupied by a 30-day-old chick.

The Luvuvhupoort gorge is the only confirmed Black Stork nesting site in the region.

This year the African Ivory Route Mutale Falls Safari Camp kindly offered to host the survey team for no charge at its rustic tented camp on the Mutale River, a tributary of the Luvuvhu. This beautiful camp overlooks some of the last remaining riparian forest, where the low hoots and booms of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls and Pel’s Fishing Owls can be heard echoing from below. The four two-person safari tents each has a private bathroom and a spacious deck that looks onto the river. A west-facing communal kitchen and dining area provides the perfect setting for sundowners after a long day of hiking through the river gorges or for a game of Wingspan, a new bird-themed board game. Experienced trail guide Jethro Nephawe was at our disposal and he was superb at navigating the river gorges and ensuring that we reached the best possible viewpoints from which to watch for storks and raptors.

The camp’s location gave us our first opportunity to study the previously surveyed sites on the cliffs around Mutale Falls and Mutale Bend. Unfortunately, the severe drought that has gripped the northern section of the Greater Kruger National Park has drastically reduced the diversity and abundance of birds and no breeding Black Storks were located. This is cause for concern and the research team is looking into the possible reasons for this dramatic decline in breeding storks and raptors throughout the valleys.

The communal kitchen deck overlooks the setting sun and the Mutale River.

Two breeding pairs of Verreaux’s Eagles and two territories of Crowned Eagles were discovered along the Luvuvhu and a young Martial Eagle put on a wonderful show for us near Lanner Gorge. Three groups of Southern Ground-Hornbills were also located. Despite the dry conditions, we also found northern specials such as Orange-winged Pytilia, Böhm’s Spinetail, Grey-headed Parrot, Dickinson’s Kestrel and Tropical Boubou.

It takes a long time to reach the secluded Mutale Falls Safari Camp and to get there you need a 4×4 or a vehicle with high clearance, but staying at this magical camp will give you the opportunity to not only enjoy excellent birding in this far northern region, but also to hike through some of the most breathtaking landscapes you’ve ever seen.

The camp’s fire pit, with lanterns and canvas chairs, made for a cosy evening setting.

We are grateful to the African Ivory Route for seeing the value of our bird conservation work. To help its local guides to improve their knowledge of birds, we presented them with a complete set of African Birdlife magazines, an Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, a collection of Bird of the Year posters and two field guides to the birds of southern Africa. We hope that all this information will be of use to the current and future guides at Mutale Falls Safari Camp.

Thanks go also to the Ford Wildlife Foundation for providing us with a highly capable Ford Ranger bakkie that transported us and our large pile of equipment across the dusty and rocky Limpopo terrain. We are grateful too to ZEISS Optics South Africa for the use of outstanding binoculars and a scope that made it much easier to study the large and sometimes distant cliffs. Much-appreciated funding for the 2019 survey was provided by the Airports Company South Africa and the Ingula Partnership, a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa, Middelpunt Wetland Trust and Eskom.



Eskom to help a Critically Endangered eagle

Michael Govender presented on the roadmap of actions that will see 62 high-risk transformer bays fitted with insulation to prevent the electrocution of Southern Banded Snake Eagles.

An apex predator in the eastern Indian Ocean Coastal Forest Biome, the Southern Banded Snake Eagle has a distribution that stretches from the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal up to southern Somalia, but the species is restricted mostly to the coastal plain and the large riparian corridors of East Africa. Its diet comprises mainly reptiles and amphibians, which it hunts by observing the ground below open perches at the edge of patches of coastal forest. More recently it has adapted to using electricity pylons and railway infrastructure as hunting perches. Eagles that have tried to hunt from pole-mounted transformer bays have been electrocuted and at least four instances of birds killed in this way have been reported to the Eskom–EWT Strategic Partnership.

Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross prepares for her presentation at the launch of the Southern Banded Snake Eagle Project.

The Southern Banded Snake Eagle is listed as Critically Endangered in South Africa, with fewer than 50 mature individuals estimated to remain in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Using both field surveys and species distribution modelling, BirdLife South Africa has been working hard to understand where these eagles still occur within this highly transformed region. Having conducted an electrocution threat analysis to identify where pole-mounted transformer bays overlap with their key habitat, I presented this research at the African Conference for Linear Infrastructure and Ecology at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park in March. Attending delegates included Rudi Kruger and Kishaylin Chetty from Eskom’s sustainability and biodiversity units, both of whom were moved by the presentation and initiated urgent mitigation efforts.

Troy Govender presents an overview of Eskom’s conservation work to prevent the negative impacts of power infrastructure on wildlife.

Transformer bays that overlapped with the snake eagle’s core distribution range were identified and their positions passed on to Eskom through the Ingula Partnership, a collaboration between Eskom, Middelpunt Wetland Trust and BirdLife South Africa. Discussions were held with Troy Govender, the environmental manager of Eskom’s operations unit in KwaZulu-Natal, to fast-track mitigation and in July I met with delegates from the operations unit and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in Pinetown. The purpose of the meeting was to launch the Southern Banded Snake Eagle Project, which will see Eskom commit to the proactive retrofitting of 62 pole-mounted transformer bays in northern KwaZulu-Natal over the next financial year.

During the meeting Troy presented an overview of Eskom’s conservation work, which aims to reduce the impact of interactions between wildlife and power infrastructure. I took the opportunity to explain the biology and conservation of the Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Michael Govender, the plant maintenance manager of the KwaZulu-Natal operations unit, discussed the roadmap for how the retrofitting will be carried out. It costs Eskom up to R30 000 per structure to implement the safety features that prevent the electrocution of wildlife, and the utility’s commitment to protecting the snake eagles is greatly appreciated.

BirdLife South Africa is extremely grateful to the Eskom team for moving so quickly to mitigate this severe threat to Southern Banded Snake Eagles and we look forward to seeing the changes rolled out in the months ahead – we’ll post updates as and when they happen. We are also grateful to the Ingula Partnership for its support of our species conservation work.



The African Bird Fair 2019

Be sure not to miss The African Bird Fair on 14 and 15 September at the beautiful Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. There will be an exciting variety of exhibitors who will showcase birding gear such as binoculars and spotting scopes, books, birding apps, bird feeders, wildlife art and birding holidays and tours. Lots of things will be happening throughout the weekend, including guided birding walks, photography workshops with well-known bird and wildlife photographer Albert Froneman and guided creepy-crawly walks (both must be booked in advance), and fascinating presentations by experts such as Faansie Peacock and Michael Mills. There will also be fun activities for the kids.

The fair will be open from 08h00 to 17h00 on both days. More details will be released soon, so please keep an eye on our website: or contact me at



Ride on the wild side

The beautiful Pafuri Walking Trails Camp. Credit: RETURNAfrica

Mountain biking is a great way to experience the natural world, enabling you to engage with the nature around you while enjoying an exhilarating sport. In November 2018, BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) Programme hosted a new take on the annual Fast & Featherless IBA fundraiser with the legendary ‘voice of cycling’, Phil Liggett. An enthusiastic group of 18 cyclists were given the experience of a lifetime as they got to ride through the Thornybush Game Reserve, coming face to face with the Big 5 while accompanied by Phil Liggett and his wife Trish. The inaugural event was a wonderful success, so we’ve decided to do it again in a new location.

Expect to see wonderful birds such as the Little Bee-eater. Credit: RETURNAfrica

BirdLife South Africa and ZEISS invite you to take part in our annual three-day mountain bike trail. Phil will again accompany us and this year we will travel to the beautiful Pafuri Camp in northern Kruger National Park, staying there from 1 to 4 November. Guests will be hosted at RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Walking Trails Camp for two nights and Pafuri Camp for one night (shared accommodation in both locations). The daily bike rides will depart and return from the camps and much of the socialising will take place there too. Each ride will take guests through roughly 25km of African bush and give opportunities of sightings of the Big 5 and other amazing wildlife. In between rides, participants can enjoy game drives, sundowners and bush dinners with informative talks given by Phil Liggett, BirdLife South Africa and ZEISS.

Last year’s event raised more than R100 000 for the IBA Programme’s work on protecting critical habitats and biodiversity areas across South Africa – and we hope to increase this total in November. There are only a few spots left for this year’s event, so be sure to book yours soon!

This fundraiser would not be possible without the support of our generous sponsors: ZEISS for covering many of the costs; Escape Cycle Tours for arranging logistics; RETURNAfrica for hosting the guests; and for supplying mountain bikes for Phil Liggett and his wife Trish.

For more information about the event, visit or contact me at



2019 Owl Awards

Thursday, 25 July saw the annual Owl Awards being presented in the beautiful indigenous garden of Isdell House. Almost 70 people joined us for the event and all thoroughly enjoyed the morning. BirdLife South Africa would like to congratulate the recipients, all of whom have made outstanding contributions to the conservation of our country’s birds and their habitats.

As pictured, the recipients were: (back row, left to right) Alastair Findlay, Judy Stockill, Kevin McCann and Melanie and Martin Potgieter, all presented with Owl Awards; Andrew Whysall (representing Swarovski Optik) and Peter Hohne (representing Kimberley Ekapa Mining-JV), who earned Eagle-Owl Awards; (front row) Rozanne Fleet and Ro’ees van der Speck (on behalf of Garth Shaw and Khanyisane Falake), who received Owl Awards. Recipients who were unable to attend were Charles Malherbe, Geoff McIlleron and Jessie Walton (Owl Awards) and Rocco da Silva (Owlet Award).



Nibela Lake Lodge

BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter July 2019

Win Swarovski binoculars!

If you haven’t yet become a Conservation League donor, there is still time to sign up and be entered into the lucky draw to win a pair of Swarovski EL 10×42 binoculars worth R44 000. Entries close on 6 September 2019. All current Conservation League donors will also be entered into the draw.

To qualify as a Conservation League donor you need to be a member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R2800. We are able to issue Section 18A tax certificates, so the donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the attached form and e-mail it to Shireen Gould at or fax it to 011 789 1122. The draw will take place at The African Bird Fair on Saturday, 14 September 2019.

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s relevant and worthwhile work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


JeepLife Festival 2019

With only a week to go, be sure to book your spot at the JeepLife Festival! BirdLife South Africa has negotiated a 20% discount for all members, so just go to, click on ‘Buy tickets’ and at ‘Redeem a promo code’ insert our code, depending on which day you want to attend: BIRDLIFESAT, BIRDLIFESUN or BIRDLIFEWEEKEND. Your ticket gives you access to the exhibition and certain activities. Information about accommodation and additional activity options will be sent on booking.

There will be two bird walks per day as well as various talks to attend. If you’re on Facebook, you can keep up to date with what will be happening at

Bookings for accommodation options and activities are open, but available only to those who have a ticket. On your ticket will be a code that you use to make these bookings.

Designed for those who love life, the JeepLife Festival is about adventure, travel, great food and the outdoor lifestyle and this year it will take place on a private equestrian stud farm in Parys. At just 125km from Sandton, it is easy to reach and there is plenty of onsite parking.

You can expect:

  • An expo with a pop-up Jeep dealership
  • Exciting products and accessories
  • The Airplane Factory
  • 4×4 MegaWorld
  • Travel destinations
  • BirdLife South Africa
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • Children’s fun area
  • 4×4 trails
  • Artisan food trucks and craft beverages
  • Helicopter flips, tandem sky-diving and river-rafting
  • Trips to a cheetah breeding facility
  • A day spa
  • A dog demo


BirdLife South Africa at the House of Lords

On 26 June, an exclusive reception was hosted at the House of Lords by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Britain’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, to thank the RSPB’s partners, funders and supporters for their contributions to the Gough Island Restoration Programme. Representing BirdLife South Africa, an RSPB partner, I was fortunate to attend.

Peter Harrison MBE, Patricia Zurita (CEO of BirdLife International), Martin Harper, Mark Anderson, Professor Tony Martin (Dundee University) and Baroness Young of Old Scone.

At the event, seabird guru Peter Harrison MBE and Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation, explained why the operation to rid Gough Island of mice in 2020 is so vitally important. If they are not eradicated, two Critically Endangered species, Tristan Albatross and Gough Bunting, are at risk of extinction.

Mark Anderson, Peter Harrison MBE and Mike Clarke (CEO of the RSPB).


BirdLife South Africa’s CEO visits UK

The Lodge, the RSPB’s head office in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

During my two-week visit to the UK in June, I participated in the three-day BirdLife International Global Council Meeting, a bi-annual gathering that deliberates on, among other things, governance issues relating to the BirdLife Partnership. I also attended meetings at The Lodge, the RSPB’s head office at Sandy in Bedfordshire, and at the David Attenborough Building, BirdLife International’s head office in Cambridge. It became clear to me how much of an honour it is to be a member of the BirdLife Partnership, and I was pleased to hear BirdLife South Africa’s work being acknowledged during the meetings and to be told how much it is appreciated.


Reaching out in Limpopo

In early 2018, when I started to spend my free time and weekends visiting schools to talk about science, animals, biodiversity, environmental challenges, veterinary medicine, and diseases and hygiene, all as part of a community outreach programme, I never expected that my efforts would be so multidisciplinary and require so many partners. But now, with the support of BirdLife South Africa, the South African Veterinary Association, Bayer, Anglo American and, of course, the University of Limpopo, I am able to easily amaze the youngsters with all the new information I bring.

Most of the rural schools I visit have no library – and if they do, there is not a single book on the fauna and flora of South Africa. That’s why I approached BirdLife South Africa to sponsor bird checklists and magazines – and hopefully bird field guides and binoculars in future – that I can distribute among the children and their schools. In this way we can encourage young South Africans to take up careers in science and biology or at least learn enough about wildlife and plants that will help to conserve the unique biodiversity of this country. Certainly there are potential conservationists out there, but we need to discover, encourage and invest in them.


African Birdlife magazine

Cosy up this winter with the July/August issue of African Birdlife and it will take you to Uganda in search of the Green-breasted Pitta, to the Mountain Zebra National Park for its 20 southern African endemics, to Tristan da Cunha to learn about its remarkable thrush, and to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to share in the rescue of hundreds of storm-damaged Amur Falcons. And that’s just on the action side; there are thought-provoking articles too, plus the usual round-up of conservation and monitoring efforts – and prizes to be won!

Birding Big Day – register now!

30 November is the Big Day – Birding Big Day – this year and registrations are now open. For more information, visit

To register, go to

Facebook event page:

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


BirdLife South Africa, Ingula & Eskom

Kishaylin Chetty, Eskom’s Senior Adviser: Environment, plays the Ingula habitat game. Credit: Carina Coetzer

Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross, the acting manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme, and I recently attended the Eskom Environmental Management Conference at Megawatt Park as exhibitors representing our respective organisations. The idea was to showcase the work that BirdLife South Africa is doing in collaboration with Eskom and to highlight the successes achieved by the longstanding Ingula Partnership. Particular conservation projects we discussed were those relating to the Southern Banded Snake Eagle and the Secretarybird, which the Ingula Partnership generously funded. Eskom’s environmental and technical staff members were among those who attended the conference, so Melissa and I took the opportunity to point out to them the importance of bird conservation and managing bird habitats on Eskom properties.

Melissa Whitecross, Carina Coetzer and Kishaylin Chetty at the Eskom Environmental Conference. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

The people we spoke to often started the conversation by asking, with a frown, how we were relevant to Eskom, but once we’d chatted for a while their overall attitude was very positive. Several employees even tried their luck at the Ingula habitat game, which helps to showcase the bird monitoring that has been conducted at Ingula Nature Reserve over the past decade. The game shows the different habitat types in the reserve (grassland, wetland, dams and escarpment forest) and the object is to link threatened species to their correct habitat. This proved to be great fun and most players soon realised how easy it is to infer the correct habitat even though they don’t know the birds. Their efforts were rewarded with chocolate coins.

Melissa and I made several valuable connections and we are looking forward to seeing Eskom staff members as new recruits to the birding community soon!


Google Earth Engine workshop

The first Google Earth Engine workshop to be held in South Africa took place at Stellenbosch University on 26 and 27 June and I was there as a representative of BirdLife South Africa. Combining satellite imagery and geospatial datasets, the Google Earth Engine enables scientists, researchers and developers to detect changes and map trends and quantify differences on the earth’s surface. The workshop provided hands-on training for the Google Earth Engine platform and was intended for students, GIS specialists, remote sensing specialists, academics and others working on Earth Engine projects. During the course of it I took the opportunity to engage with many of these fellow attendees. I also learned GIS and some basic R skills, which will be fundamental to work relating to renewable energy and conservation modelling projects.

The training was organised by the Google Earth Outreach team, SAEON, the CSIR, Rhodes University and Stellenbosch University.


Birds of the Karoo: Ecology and Conservation

Verreaux’s Eagle is a raptor that will benefit from appropriate habitat management in the Karoo. Credit: Dale Wright

The Karoo landscape is unique and has maintained its aesthetic for many generations while other areas have succumbed to change and excessive development. In many respects the landholders, primarily private and communal farmers, are the key custodians of this landscape, which includes taking responsibility for its birds and other species.

The work of BirdLife South Africa has shown that agriculture and birds can happily co-exist and that the traditional sheep farming of the region can support biodiversity. However, certain threats to both landscape and species exist. In some instances threats are increasing, particularly those that come from mining and renewable energy facilities. The aim of this booklet is to educate and inspire people to take action, if necessary, or continue with existing positive actions that support the conservation of the Karoo’s birds and biodiversity.

The booklet starts off by introducing a suite of the birds that occupy the region, specifically the charismatic species that may spark an interest in birds, as well as the endemics that occur nowhere else. The species descriptions and images should help with identification while also providing an introduction to the birds’ ecology. The Karoo’s endemic species are part of South Africa’s unique natural heritage and it is our responsibility to create awareness of them and encourage people to support their conservation.

Namaqua Sandgrouse are widespread across the Karoo. Credit: Dale Wright

The booklet goes on to describe some of the threats to the Karoo landscape and specifically its birds and biodiversity. In many instances these are shared threats and we hope that knowing about them will support action to mitigate their impact. In the final pages are conservation recommendations and actions that can be taken by interested landholders, private farmers, communal property owners, environmental organisations and government agencies. In this way, the booklet intends to support the people and organisations already undertaking conservation initiatives in the Karoo while also encouraging action from all who call the region home.

The booklet, in English or Afrikaans, can be freely downloaded from the BirdLife South Africa website via or


SABAP2 challenge: Free State–KZN

SABAP2 coverage summary for the Free State–KZN Escarpment Challenge.

The escarpment area targeted by the latest SABAP2 challenge encompasses 89 pentads that stretch over the high-altitude grasslands and wetlands of the Free State, across the escarpment forests and into the diverse mid-altitude grassland/savanna habitats in western KwaZulu-Natal (see map A total of 379 species have been recorded in this area since SABAP2 began in 2007.

The aim of the challenge is to obtain species coverage and distribution data for several threatened and endemic species, such as Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd’s and Botha’s larks, all three cranes, Denham’s Bustard, Southern Bald Ibis and White-bellied and Blue korhaans. Therefore the first priority is to get four or more full protocol cards for each pentad within the challenge area. The second objective is to submit at least one atlas card for all pentads no less than once a year. Doing so will enable us to detect changes in species distribution over time.

Escarpment forest habitat at Ingula Nature Reserve. Credit: Carina Coetzer

The challenge is divided roughly into three sections, based on the locality of each of the three coordinators. The southern section, around Harrismith, Van Reenen and the Ingula Nature Reserve, is coordinated by Carina Coetzer, the Ingula Project manager. The north-western section, around Memel, Verkykerskop and the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve, is coordinated by Morné Pretorius, the manager of the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve. And Rina Pretorius from BirdLife Northern Natal coordinates the section around Newcastle and the Chelmsford Nature Reserve.

For more information about the challenge and how you can contribute, please contact Carina at




Teaming up for penguins

Some of the photographs in the exhibition. Credit: Christina Hagen

Penguins are very photogenic birds that inspire countless photographers. And to prove the point, several species have been captured in an array of stunning photographs now on display at Mullers Gallery, 104 Longmarket Street in Cape Town. In partnership with ZEISS South Africa and Mullers Optometrists, BirdLife South Africa has put together an exhibition of penguin photographs to raise funds for African Penguin conservation projects. Featured photographers include Chris Fallows, Peter Chadwick, Rob Tarr, Davide Gaglio and our own Andrew de Blocq.

The exhibition opened at a well-attended ‘First Thursday’ in July and will continue until the end of the month. On 25 July another evening event featured short talks about the project to establish new colonies and about the art of photographing penguins.



National Lead Task Team

In conjunction with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, BirdLife South Africa has been campaigning for the creation of a national Lead Task Team under the auspices of the recently established National Wildlife Poisoning Prevention Working Group (NWPPWG).

Representatives from BirdLife South Africa participated in two two-day workshops aimed at fleshing out the practicalities of the proposed task team, including the creation of its terms of reference and general stakeholder assessments. The creation of the team will be tabled at the first meeting of the NWPPWG at the end of July.

The Lead Task Team will consist of representatives from various wildlife conservation sectors, government and the angling and hunting communities. Its aim will be to minimise the threats of lead poisoning to all wildlife. These include the threat posed by lead ammunition to vultures and other scavengers and the threat posed by lead fishing sinkers to crocodiles, waterbirds and other inhabitants of wetland areas. Various initiatives have already been identified to achieve this aim, including the creation of an infographic that will illustrate the dangers posed by lead ammunition to our endangered vulture species.


Special ZEISS promotion

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BirdLife South Africa is looking for a web developer who can help to maintain our MouseFreeMarion website.

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Wildlife rehab – doing it right

Under the auspices of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, Friends of Free Wildlife is hosting two important wildlife rehabilitation courses at the end of June.

The African Bird Fair 2019

BirdLife South Africa is excited to invite you to join us at this year’s African Bird Fair on Saturday, 14 and Sunday, 15 September at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in Gauteng. A wide variety of exhibitors will be displaying their wares and an exciting programme of presentations, guided walks and workshops has been lined up – you won’t want to miss it!

For more information, e-mail me at


Bird of the Year 2019 fluffies

Have you got your Secretarybird fluffy yet? These beautiful soft toys are available at BirdLife South Africa’s Shop for the Birds! at R150 each. If you would like to place an order or have any questions, please e-mail


Mapping a way forward for KBAs in Zimbabwe

The stakeholders who attended the KBA planning meeting in Harare.

When Julia Pierini, the CEO of BirdLife Zimbabwe, invited me and Martin Taylor, BirdLife South Africa’s Special Projects and Avitourism Programme manager, to attend a Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) planning meeting in Harare on 21 May 2019, we were only too happy to accept.

Convened by BirdLife Zimbabwe, the meeting brought together various KBA stakeholders, including representatives from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), BirdLife International, BirdLife Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’s Environmental Law Association, Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry and Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Chinhoyi University of Technology and the Forestry Commission.

The overall objective of the conference was to map a way forward for BirdLife International’s flagship programme Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and to better understand how to transition from IBAs to Key Biodiversity Areas. Since the global standard for the identification of KBAs was approved in 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these key areas have been accepted as a global currency for profiling sites that contribute significantly to the persistence of biodiversity around the world. The overall goal of the KBA programme is to ‘implement a programme to develop and maintain an up-to-date, fully documented list of sites identified against the KBA Standard and to communicate, promote and position this information to enable the achievement of the KBA vision’. Globally, KBAs have mostly been informed by bird data from the well-established IBA programme and there is an urgent need to include other taxonomic groups. Identifying KBAs at national level will help countries to be better at:

  • informing decision-making on funding at global, national and local levels;
  • informing local economic development to ensure that it is not detrimental to biodiversity;
  • informing the expansion of protected areas and Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures;
  • raising the profile of sites globally and the biodiversity profile of countries.

Simeon Bezeng provides an overview of the KBA programme and lessons learnt in
South Africa.

To contribute to this global campaign, BirdLife Zimbabwe convened the meeting in Harare to begin mapping a way forward with this process at a national level. By doing so, the organisation will be achieving the KBA Programme Strategic Plan 2018–2024 results 3–7. I started the ball rolling by presenting an overview of the KBA programme and identification process and the lessons we in South Africa have learnt from the KBA review process and national coordination group. A series of discussions were then held to identify:

  • data gaps;
  • key stakeholders to be part of the KBA national coordination group;
  • potential taxa and taxa experts who can be brought into the KBA identification process;
  • the next steps to successfully undertake a national KBA review process in Zimbabwe.

Ending on a high note, Julia Pierini thanked me for the presentation and the RSPB for providing the funding to support this meeting. She highlighted the need to form a stronger national coordination group in order to secure financial sustainability, build national level capacity, strengthen the KBA partnership and ultimately deliver a successful KBA programme in Zimbabwe.


New binocular bags & phone pouches

An avid BirdLife South Africa supporter and the patron of Fast & Featherless, Phil Liggett loves birding with his Zeiss binoculars. Now, with the aid of a JOEN Belt Bag, he can carry them much more easily whether he’s walking or cycling. These new bags are made by the small, industrious company set up by Silvia and her son Collins.

Phil Liggett with his JOEN binocular bag and phone pouch.

The compact JOEN workshop is based in Limpopo, close to Kruger National Park, and produces high-quality, strong and versatile handmade items that include the two latest additions to its range: binocular bags and phone pouches. The material used is batik, which is handmade following a traditional method handed down over many years. Both Silvia and Collins create the designs from five primary colours, ensuring that no two bags will ever be quite the same, and the brown/yellow and blue/green ranges are bush and bird friendly. There is also a waterproof camouflage option that is made from commercial material.

For more information or to place an order, please e-mail

‘Glamorously Green’ at the Eco-Logic Awards

Andrew and Christina talk with the Honourable Minister Barbara Creecy and her
advisor about our collaborative projects.

The Eco-Logic Awards is an annual event that honours and celebrates individuals and organisations that work to make the planet a better place. Conceptualised by David Parry-Davies, founder of the Enviropaedia, the evening brings together trailblazers in the green sector from all over the country. Although we were not up for an award ourselves, BirdLife South Africa was invited to attend this year as VIP guests.

John Maytham of 567 Cape Talk with his shoebill statuette and Andrew with ‘Strider’.

The dress code this year was ‘Glamorously Green’, with the instruction that all attendees wear outfits inspired by their connection to Mother Earth. Christina Hagen and Andrew de Blocq represented BirdLife South Africa and a last-minute ploy to fix one of our Bird of the Year soft toys, nicknamed ‘Strider, to Andrew’s head proved a winning strategy for attracting the attention of local media. The evening was held at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront complex, with John Maytham of 567 Cape Talk radio, a dedicated birder and supporter of our work, as the emcee.

Christina, Andrew and Mbulelo Dopolo of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries chat over canapés and champagne.

The proceedings featured a number of illustrious guests, including representatives from government and the media. Foremost of these was the newly appointed Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the Honourable Barbara Creecy, who as the event’s keynote speaker delivered her maiden address in her new appointment. Though she was less than a week into the job, she gave an impressive account of the successes of her department in the past as well as the challenges that she anticipates tackling during her tenure. Andrew and Christina managed to meet her and talk about our collaborations with her department. We are confident that our excellent relationship with government will continue under her leadership.

‘Strider’, our Bird of the Year soft toy, was an instant hit and stood out above the crowd.

We would like to applaud the award nominees and winners for their positive contributions to a healthier, safer planet. It is inspiring to see the good work being done in South Africa. Events like these are important for keeping a positive mind-set in the face of the many challenges that the world is facing.


Win top-of-the-range Swarovski binoculars!

We are running another exciting competition to recruit new Conservation League Donors.

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R2800. We are able to issue Section 18A tax certificates, so the donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the attached form and e-mail it to Shireen Gould at or fax it to 011 789 1122. The entries must be received by 6 September and the draw will take place at The African Bird Fair on Saturday, 14 September 2019.

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s relevant and worthwhile work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


JeepLife Festival

Join us for the second #JeepLife Festival, which is designed for everyone who loves life, adventure, travel, great food and the outdoor lifestyle. This year’s event will take place over two days on a private farm on the banks of the Vaal River in Parys. What is #JeepLife? It’s difficult to put into words because sometimes it’s just a feeling. It’s a connection to something bigger than you, a community, a lifestyle. It’s bonding and sharing with like-minded people. It’s about adventure and freedom…

It’s also an outdoor festival aimed at people who value quality and products and companies that deliver. Building on last year’s success, the organisers have hand-picked exhibitors whose focus is on top-of-the-range products and activities and who prioritise safety above all else – nothing but the best will do. JeepLife is also about an elegant way of life. Expensive doesn’t always mean better, so it embraces simple yet authentic pleasures too, including handcrafted products.

The venue, an equestrian stud farm in Parys, is 125km from Sandton, so visitors can attend for the day or make a weekend of it. Inside the arena, an expo will feature various outdoor (including braai) products and accessories, travel destinations, camping equipment, adventure activities, off-road fitments, clothing, legendary motorcycles and lots more. Artisan food trucks and craft gin and beer stalls will be just some of the refreshment providers, and a dedicated children’s area will keep kiddies busy. Activities on both days will include helicopter flips, tandem sky diving, visits to a cheetah-breeding facility, hiking in the Vredefort Dome, river rafting, 4×4 trail driving, golf, spa treatments and stargazing – and there’ll be an epic party on Saturday night!

BirdLife South Africa has negotiated a 20% discount (on the Early Bird rate) for all our members. Bookings are open now ( simply click on ‘Buy tickets’ and insert our special promo code, depending on which day/s you want to attend – BIRDLIFESAT, BIRDLIFESUN or BIRDLIFE WEEKEND.

BirdLife South Africa will be conducting bird walks, organising lectures and… Watch this space! If you’re on Facebook, you can keep up to date on

Your ticket grants access to the exhibition. Certain activities (and accommodation if required) are charged separately and advance ticket sales for both will be available soon. Note that you can only book accommodation and activities if you already have a ticket, or are purchasing a ticket at the same time.

For more information, contact Jacqui Ikin at JMI Productions on 082 338 8809,


Staff meeting 2019

The BirdLife South Africa staff. Credit Albert Froneman

BirdLife South Africa has its headquarters in Johannesburg at the impressive Isdell House, but its staff are spread widely across the country, from Cape Town to Wakkerstroom – and even Vanwyksdorp! It is necessary that our work is coordinated and that our staff function as a team, so we undertake to meet once a year to update one another on what we’re doing and identify areas where we can share skills and collaborate more closely, and to make sure that our efforts take place within a single cohesive framework. We also use the opportunity to invite guest speakers who challenge and inspire us and to do skills training.

The 2019 staff meeting was held at the Dunkeld Bowls Club, which can be found about two bowls lawn lengths downhill from Isdell House. The venue worked out well in terms of its proximity to the main office and the indoor and outdoor spaces available to us. The two-day event kicked off with individual and team photographs – courtesy of Albert Froneman – with us looking smart in our new branded gear from Jonnson’s. After reflections on our 2018 meeting and the actions that have been taken forward, as well as the fantastic AGM the preceding weekend, the team got stuck into a range of short presentations on their work and discussion sessions around key issues and concepts.

Our guest presenters this year included Yvette Nowell of RMB, who reprised her role as comedienne-in-residence as well as the facilitator of our soft skills training in tandem with Rosemary Clark, who took us through some communication exercises and got us to reflect on what motivates us as employees of BirdLife South Africa and as individual people. Wayne Duvenage, the chairperson of OUTA, generously gave of his time to speak to us about having the moral courage and conviction to do the right thing. He encouraged us to continue doing our good work and challenged us to find new ways of engaging different people and demographics. Our new chairman, Philip Calinikos, in his first official duty, visited the meeting to introduce himself and to talk about the role of the board in the organisation.

Aside from the formal proceedings, the team enjoyed some down time together in the evening by taking part in the annual staff meeting quiz.

The staff meeting is important for BirdLife South Africa if we are to continue to function as a team and to keep improving our systems, processes, projects and, most importantly, our people – the individuals who drive our work forward.


BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter May 2019

Tracking our 2019 Bird of the Year

Chrissie Cloete’s latest Bird of the Year Comic.

The charismatic Secretarybird has the auspicious honour of being BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year 2019. As part of its campaign to focus attention on this Vulnerable species, BirdLife South Africa, with the support of the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, has teamed up with Chrissie Cloete of ChrissieCanDraw to produce a series of incredible fact sheets, lesson plans, colouring pages and comics. These materials are designed to engage young people and educate them about Secretarybird biology and conservation in a fun and interactive manner. All these materials are free to download from the BirdLife South Africa website and we encourage all our members to take a look at them and share them with any family, friends or teachers you may know who could use them. We are proud to have partnered with WESSA’s education team to assist us with distributing the educational materials to their network of schools and educators.

The nest sites where BirdLife South Africa has tracked Secretarybirds across South Africa.

A new aspect to the Bird of the Year fun is our partnership with BirdLasser through the Bird of the Year 2019 Challenge. Using this app-based platform, which is available on both iStore and Google Play, we are encouraging the public to log any sightings of Secretarybirds throughout the year. The challenge thus far has recorded 266 records from 75 observers and you can follow its prgoress at If you would like to join the challenge and have your 2019 BirdLasser records added, please e-mail Every sighting helps the BirdLife South Africa team to understand where our Secretarybirds are still being observed.

BirdLife South Africa’s Ernst Retief started tracking Secretarybird chicks back in 2012 and fitted 10 birds with telemetry devices that provided a steady flow of movement data until 2017. I took over the Secretarybird project in 2018 when I joined the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme as the Raptors & Large Terrestrial Birds Project Manager. Together Ernst and I, with input from Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson, have just had our first scientific article on the movements of juvenile Secretarybirds published in Ostrich (Whitecross MA, Retief EF, Smit-Robinson HA. 2019. Dispersal dynamics of juvenile Secretarybirds Sagittarius serpentarius in southern Africa. Ostrich 90(2)). This is the first detailed analysis of the development of Secretarybird chicks around their nests and will help us take conservation of these threatened birds further.

Kwezi’s early movements around the nest show a similar pattern to those of other tracked Secretarybirds.

We have begun to fit telemetry devices to new chicks in areas not previously covered by the original 10. A young Secretarybird we called Tambo was rescued from the OR Tambo Airport in May 2018 with a severe foot infection. After several months of intensive rehabilitation at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, it was released on a farm in the grasslands of Devon, Gauteng, on 11 September 2018. Unfortunately, on 3 October we discovered that Tambo had been killed after colliding with a high-voltage power line. Despite its short life, we learned a lot from this young bird and were able to recover its tracking unit. Refurbished, the unit was fitted to another young Secretarybird near Besters, KwaZulu-Natal, in February this year. The local landowner named the bird Kwezi, which means ‘morning star’, and we are happy to report that she fledged successfully and is now showing the typical exploratory behaviour seen in our other young Secretarybirds. We predict that Kwezi will disperse from her nest site within the next two months.

Our most recent addition to the team of tracked Secretarybirds is Setomi, meaning ‘hunter’ in Sotho. Setomi is a juvenile Secretarybird that SPCA officials in Springs, Gauteng, confiscated from individuals who were trying to sell it. Setomi was rehabilitated at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital and fitted with a tracker before being released at Telperion Nature Reserve. We hope that the pristine grasslands in the area will provide Setomi with a safe environment to grow and live in. To watch a video of this Secretarybird’s release, visit

Follow the ‘Secretarybird’ Facebook page for more information about the project or visit the new BirdLife South Africa website to learn more about our conservation work on these wonderful raptors.


AGM 2019

BirdLife South Africa’s 90th AGM was hosted at the Nedbank Head Office in Sandton on 11 May. We would like to thank the almost 200 people who joined us and especially those who travelled from far to do so. Congratulations to our new Chairman, Philip Calinikos, and Honorary Treasurer, Manuela Krog.

Hearty congratulations go to Professor Claire Spottiswoode, who received the Gill Memorial Medal Award for her significant contributions to ornithology in southern Africa, and to Bruce Dyer, who was presented with the Austin Roberts Memorial Medal Award for his enormous contributions to seabird conservation.


JeepLife Festival

Join us for the second #JeepLife Festival, which is designed for everyone who loves life, adventure, travel, great food and the outdoor lifestyle. This year’s event will take place over two days on a private farm on the banks of the Vaal River in Parys. What is #JeepLife? It’s difficult to put into words because sometimes it’s just a feeling. It’s a connection to something bigger than you, a community, a lifestyle. It’s bonding and sharing with like-minded people. It’s about adventure and freedom…

It’s also an outdoor festival aimed at people who value quality and products and companies that deliver. Building on last year’s success, the organisers have hand-picked exhibitors whose focus is on top-of-the-range products and activities and who prioritise safety above all else – nothing but the best will do. JeepLife is also about an elegant way of life. Expensive doesn’t always mean better, so it embraces simple yet authentic pleasures too, including handcrafted products.

The venue, an equestrian stud farm in Parys, is 125km from Sandton, so visitors can attend for the day or make a weekend of it. Inside the arena, an expo will feature various outdoor (including braai) products and accessories, travel destinations, camping equipment, adventure activities, off-road fitments, clothing, legendary motorcycles and lots more. Artisan food trucks and craft gin and beer stalls will be just some of the refreshment providers, and a dedicated children’s area will keep kiddies busy. Activities on both days will include helicopter flips, tandem sky diving, visits to a cheetah-breeding facility, hiking in the Vredefort Dome, river rafting, 4×4 trail driving, golf, spa treatments and stargazing – and there’ll be an epic party on Saturday night!

We have negotiated a 20% discount (on the Early Bird rate) for all BirdLife South Africa members. Bookings are open now ( simply click on ‘Buy tickets’ and insert our special promo code, depending on which day/s you want to attend – BIRDLIFESAT, BIRDLIFESUN or BIRDLIFE WEEKEND.

BirdLife South Africa will be conducting bird walks, organising lectures and … watch this space! If you’re on Facebook, you can keep up to date on

Your ticket grants access to the exhibition. Certain activities (and accommodation if required) are charged separately and advance ticket sales for both will be available soon. Note that you can only book accommodation and activities if you already have a ticket, or are purchasing a ticket at the same time.

For more information, contact Jacqui Ikin at JMI Productions on 082 338 8809,


Birding basics with Lance Robinson

If you are keen to learn more about birds and how best to go about birding, or perhaps you feel you need a refresher, then this birding basics course is just what you have been looking for. Presented by Lance Robinson at Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, it comprises a theory session on Saturday, 6 July and a practical session on Sunday, 7 July at a local birding spot. The cost is R350 per person and you can book on or by calling 011 782 7267.

Win top-of-the-range Swarovski binoculars!

We are running another exciting competition to recruit new Conservation League Donors.

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R2800. We are able to issue Section 18A tax certificates, so the donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the attached form and e-mail it to Shireen Gould at or fax it to 011 789 1122. The entries must be received by 6 September and the draw will take place at The African Bird Fair on Saturday, 14 September 2019.

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s relevant and worthwhile work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Nolu joins the team

I am originally from Port Elizabeth, but I came to the Western Cape in 2014 to pursue my Honours degree in Conservation Ecology at Stellenbosch University. I was inspired to study nature by my father, who used to take me on field trips when I was a young girl.

I recently joined the Birds and Renewable Energy Programme based at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town. As an intern, I will be assisting the KEM-JV Fellow of Conservation and the Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager with the development of sensitivity maps for birds that are vulnerable to the impacts of renewable energy and other drivers of habitat loss. The 12-month internship will provide me with opportunities to gain experience with leading-edge survey methods and multiple facets of data science.

In the future, I want to become an environmental scientist and assess the sensitivity of species and ecosystems that are vulnerable to developments such as shopping malls and mining, as well as renewable energy. I would like to ensure that species and ecosystems at risk are considered during strategic planning, site screening and impact assessment.

In my spare time, I like reading and socialising. I’m excited to join the BirdLife South Africa family and to begin working with the renewable energy team so that I can start learning and applying my knowledge.


Birders’ Life Breakaway at Crab Apple Cottages

Enjoy a three-night break at Crab Apple self-catering cottages, from Tuesday to Friday for only R950 per person – that’s a three-night stay for the price of two! Our package includes a guided walk through the Dargle Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, where the forest is filled with ancient trees and more than 200 bird species have been recorded. For only R500 per person, you can also experience Midmar Dam from a different vantage point – the comfort of a kayak! As you cut gently through the water our guide will help you identify the nature reserve’s wildlife, and the abundant birdlife, at close range.

Visit or e-mail for more information and quote ‘BirdersLife’ in your enquiry to qualify for this special package. The offer expires on 31 July 2019.


Owl Awards 2019 nominations

Recipients of the 2018 Owl Awards held at Isdell House.

Nominations are now being accepted for the BirdLife South Africa 2019 Owl Awards. If you would like to submit a nomination, please contact Emma Askes at for more information.


African Birdlife magazine

The May/June issue of African Birdlife is bursting with birds, as contributors look at vultures in Gorongosa, Mozambique, and flamingos at Kamfers Dam; try counting queleas; disentangle plumage variations in White-chinned Petrels; observe nesting African Barred Owlets and kingfishers; and take a birding walk through Kirstenbosch.


Jackpot birding!

BirdLife South Africa is offering you the chance to win an 11-day birding tour to Sri Lanka with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures. Endemic birds and big game will be the focus of the tour and the jackpot prize is for two people sharing.For only R500 a ticket, you stand a chance to win this adventure of a lifetime. There are only 1000 tickets available and they’re going to go fast! You can buy your ticket now at



Bird of the Year 2019 fluffies

Have you got your Secretarybird fluffy yet? These delightful toys are available at BirdLife South Africa’s shop for R150 each. To make enquiries or place an order, please e-mail


Going for 505050

In last month’s newsletter we told you about the 505050 Campaign, in which Dave Chamberlain, a long-distance runner and passionate supporter of BirdLife South Africa, planned to run 50 consecutive Two Oceans ultra-marathons before the 50th iteration of the event. When he completed the race itself on 20 April, he also completed his 50th run along the route. This feat is all in aid of fundraising for the African Penguin Relocation Project, an ambitious and crucial attempt to establish colonies of African Penguins in new locations along the Indian Ocean coastline of the Western Cape. This work is necessary because penguin populations along the Atlantic coast are declining due to the lack of available food and the birds’ loyalty to their breeding sites. The dire situation is compounded by the fact that no suitable breeding sites are currently available further east, where the penguins’ food is more plentiful.

The project has been a significant focus for our social media content (have a look at our Facebook and Instagram for all the penguin posts!), and with the help of Utopia we developed a dedicated website where daily content is unlocked as Dave completes another run. These include fact cards about African Penguins and the project, as well as updates on Dave’s running stats (including an altitude gain equivalent to Everest and a step counter that has ticked into the multiple millions) and his experiences (which so far have included marriage proposals, wolf whistles from septuagenarian cyclists and a growing fan base complete with posters).

The beginning of April heralded the achievement of R50 000 raised, which is a neat additional five-zero to the 505050 name. The initial goal of R150 000 is still a fair distance off, but as Dave will tell you, this project is an ultra-marathon and not a sprint! We encourage you to visit the website to see how far we have got by the time of publication, and to contribute to the project through the GivenGain page. We are encouraging donors to contribute an amount per run completed, i.e. R500 at R10/run, R2500 at R50 per run, and so on. However, all donations are appreciated and gratefully received and will be contributing to important work that will help to secure the future of this iconic and endearing but beleaguered species.

Article graphics by Utopia


Saving Africa’s Vultures

Hosted and sponsored by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center based in Annapolis, the ‘Saving Africa’s Vultures’ pursuit (collaborative, team-based synthesis research) brought together, over the course of four meetings held over two years, a multi-national group of scientists, conservationists, economists and anthropologists. Their aim was to develop innovative approaches to the conservation of Africa’s vultures.

This fourth, and final, meeting touched on the expansion of renewable energy in Africa (and the threat this may pose to vulture populations), as well as innovative ways in which youth education may be used to develop respect for these often misunderstood birds.

The group also focused on finalising various outputs developed during the course of the four meetings, including an in-depth review of the link between vultures and the prevention of disease; a socio-synthesis strategy to restore Africa’s vultures; a situational crime prevention strategy to prevent the illegal poisoning of vultures in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area; an investigation into whether African vulture species can be used as indicators of ecosystem health; and a review of lead poisoning in Africa’s vultures.


Surveying Madagascar’s remote rainforests

The survey team in high spirits after catching their first glimpse of the Mahimborondro protected area. Credit: Dale Wright

As the saying goes, all good things take time. And this was indeed the case with our Madagascar biodiversity expedition. John Mittermeier and I had first met at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Montpellier, France, in July 2015. We immediately realised that we shared a passion for birds, conservation and adventure. Almost four years after this first meeting, we found ourselves driving into The Peregrine Fund’s base camp at Bemanevika, in the far north of Madagascar. Through the fortunate provision of a sabbatical, BirdLife South Africa staff members are given the opportunity to take three weeks away from their work to support the conservation efforts of another organisation. I was thus able to combine my sabbatical with this long-held dream to help survey some of Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity.

Bemanevika gained some recognition in the birding world in 2006, when the director of The Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar project, Dr Lily-Arison Rene de Roland (or Lily, as he is known), came upon a Madagascar Pochard, a species thought to be extinct, on a tiny crater lake in the high-altitude grassland–forest mosaic that surrounds Bemanevika. Fortunately, the area’s isolation had left some of the natural forest intact and alongside this ‘Lazarus species’ Lily also found populations of some of the rarest birds in Madagascar – perhaps even the world. These include the Madagascar Serpent-eagle, Madagascar Red Owl and Slender-billed Flufftail.

Extensive surveys of the area also revealed a much larger forest fragment to the north-east of Bemanevika, known locally as Mahimborondro – meaning ‘to feel the clouds’. John had previously visited Lily at the Bemanevika site and their conversations revealed that this particular forest patch had, to the best of their knowledge, never before been surveyed by a group of scientists. In our modern world, with increasing loss of habitat and ever-shrinking areas of true wilderness, the opportunity to visit such a place and contribute to its conservation is a biologist’s dream come true.

So, with colleagues from The Peregrine Fund and other organisations, our final team comprised three ornithologists, two entomologists and one herpetologist, alongside a veterinarian with a passion for anything that moves. Over the three-week period we were able to complete rapid biodiversity surveys of both the Bemanevika and Mahimborondro protected areas. Although we did not have the good fortune to discover a new bird species, we recorded a number of altitudinal range extensions and documented many of Madagascar’s eastern rainforest specials, including Blue Vanga, Tylas Vanga, Nelicourvi Weaver and Madagascan Cuckooshrike, to name a few. One of the entomologists, with the help of the inquisitive veterinarian, collected what may turn out to be a new species of spider, aptly one of the group known as ‘pelican spiders’ because their large ‘jaws’ (chelicerae) resemble a pelican’s beak!

Our expedition was fairly short in the greater scheme of things and we were only able to scratch the surface of the larger Mahimborondro protected area. Fortunately we found the habitat to be almost pristine, with very low levels of disturbance. Lily has told us that The Peregrine Fund is already planning follow-up surveys to this area, now that we have helped to establish access to it and a site for a remote camp. He wants to return later this year when the birds are breeding, around October, specifically to search for rare species such as the Madagascar Serpent-eagle and Madagascar Red Owl, which are notoriously difficult to locate. The expedition team is still reviewing samples and compiling species lists and other outputs to support The Peregrine Fund’s ongoing conservation efforts in the region.

Interested readers can learn more about the expedition through our blog posts at


A small project making a big difference

David Goad shows a woman how to make a bird-scaring line. Credit: James Nagan

A buzzword that I’ve come across more and more in the work place is ‘capacity building’. It’s defined as the process through which individuals or organisations obtain the necessary skills or knowledge to perform their job – or do it better – and is often considered to be something that happens at a large scale. The aim is to improve production, be bigger, better and faster. But capacity building, or capacity development, can also happen on a smaller scale.

James Nagan, the Common Oceans Port-Based Officer (PBO) stationed in Suva, Fiji, saw an opportunity for some local capacity development after he learned from his engagement with foreign fishing vessels docking in port that one of the reasons the fishermen do not deploy bird-scaring lines is because they have nowhere to get them. Bird-scaring lines act like scarecrows, keeping seabirds away from the danger zone behind a fishing boat where the hooks are set. The foreign vessels that James monitors in Suva are at sea for months on end and often only return to their home port every two years. This realisation got James thinking: if bird-scaring lines were available for purchase in Suva, not only would the foreign fishing vessels have no excuse for not using the lines, but also an opportunity to develop business for the local community would be created.

James Nagan delivering materials to make bird-scaring lines to the local community. Credit: unknown.

With support from the Common Oceans Project, in May 2018 James was able to launch an initiative modelled on a similar enterprise managed by the Albatross Task Force in South Africa. The initiative affords local women, most of whom are widowed and the sole breadwinners in the family, the opportunity to build bird-scaring lines, which James can then sell to foreign vessels docking in Suva. An invited expert from New Zealand, David Goad, came to Fiji to teach both James and the women how to construct the lines correctly. They are easy to make and most of the raw materials can be sourced locally.

Right: James Nagan delivering materials to make bird-scaring lines to the local community. Credit: unknown.

The initiative has brought a lot of hope to the community, as it has created an opportunity for these women to provide for their families. At the same time, it fulfils a need that James identified during his interactions with foreign fishing vessels.

Kinisimere Batisaresare, a widow in the women’s group, says, ‘The money I earn from making bird-scaring lines has helped me to buy food for my family. The project is a blessing to my family. Vinaka (thank you).’

So far the group has completed 20 lines, which are currently being promoted to vessels docking in the port. All proceeds from the sales (after the women have been paid) will be used to purchase more raw materials, thus creating more employment for these women and at the same time enhancing the sustainability of the project. Multi-faceted initiatives that address multiple issues in a community have a greater chance of success. This pilot project hopes to do exactly that – provide a service to foreign fishing vessels (which will hopefully result in fewer seabird mortalities at sea) and also answer a need in an impoverished community.


Welcome Baile Sechabe

Baile Sechabe, the new Membership Administrator, was born in Mpumalanga and came to Johannesburg in 1996 to further her studies. She subsequently went into the corporate world, where she was a membership administrator in the medical field for more than 15 years.

Changing from a corporate environment to a conservation organisation is a dream come true for Baile. Growing up surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Mpumalanga, she couldn’t help but love the natural world and she spent many hours at places like God’s Window, Mac Mac Falls, Kruger National Park, the Three Rondavels and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.

We hope Baile will be happy at BirdLife South Africa and look forward to working with her!


A new book from Botswana

Observations and Experiences with Birds Breeding in Botswana is no run-of-the-mill bird book, but a lifetime of active and dedicated observation in some of Botswana’s finest birding areas packed into one large volume. Ken Oake, a well-known birder in northern Botswana, has a special interest in nesting birds. He has a unique and extraordinary talent for finding birds’ nests, and the species accounts that feature most of Botswana’s breeding birds form the basis for this book.

Although Ken and his wife Mel are amateur birders, they have kept meticulous records over a long period so that the book in its entirety is an accurate chronicle of Botswana’s birdlife and contemporary bird conservation issues in the country. It is not, however, a scientific treatise; it is embellished with personal accounts of the trials and tribulations that go with pursuing any worthwhile dream, and this makes it eminently readable. The Oakes’ passion for birds brings the pages to life.

The species accounts can be dipped into at random, but most people would probably read the book from cover to cover. This is because the Oakes have made so many interesting and original observations about the birds. They haven’t just seen, they have photographed hitherto unrecorded bird behaviour. This is one of the real strengths of the book. The comprehensive collection of photographs accompanying the breeding records add colour and authenticity to the observations, while the line drawings and colour illustrations bring an artistic touch to the whole.

This book is a major contribution to our knowledge of Botswana’s avifauna. It is unlikely to be superseded and will certainly become a collector’s item.

496 pages, with full-colour photographs. Price approximately R1160 (depending on currency fluctuations), excluding delivery. For more information or to order, e-mail


The Flufftail Festival hits Pretoria!

Tumi, of Water Wise, teaches learners about the importance of wetlands.

Learners enjoyed the interactive and educational Waxi the Hero Puppet Show brought to the Flufftail Festival by Toyota.

This year, for the first time since its inception in 2015, the Flufftail Festival held two consecutive events in Gauteng. The first took place at Joburg Zoo over the weekend of 8–10 February and was a resounding success. Three weeks later the team took the Flufftail Festival north to the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria.

On Friday, 1 March, 221 Grade 6 learners from Christian Progressive School, Dr Monare Primary School and Nelmapius Primary School took part in the various activities linked to the Flufftail Festival. All the events were designed to teach the youngsters about the importance of conserving water, wetlands and waterbirds. Half the learners started off in the aquarium, where they enjoyed close-up views of the many fish and other marine creatures on display; the rest of the students enjoyed a production of the ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet show, which has become a staple of the Flufftail Festival and shares the conservation message through the fun, interactive and entertaining medium of puppetry. We are grateful to Toyota for its sponsorship of the puppet show productions during both of this year’s Flufftail Festivals. The two groups switched over before breaking for a quick lunch.

The BirdLife South Africa team manned the waterbird station over the two Family Days during the weekend.

The post-lunch session involved three stations that explore the functionality and importance of wetlands and the threats to this vital habitat. The wetlands station had hands-on activities that illustrated how wetlands filter water, prevent floods and store water. Learners were also shown a large map of South Africa that highlighted all its RAMSAR wetlands of importance. The hippo station taught them about the threats to wetlands by having them pull different objects

At the hippo station participants played a memory game with photographs of the impacts that different threats have on wetlands.

from a bucket and place them in the good or bad categories. The final and most entertaining station for the learners was the wetland wonders station. They were divided into two groups and had to send their bean bags representing water molecules, germs and dirt particles through the inflatable jumping castle as if it were a wetland. The germs and dirt had to exit through the sides of the inflatable, but the water molecules could pass all the way through to simulate the cleaning action of the wetland.

On the Saturday and Sunday the stations were set up again for the benefit of the general public. At the waterbird station run by BirdLife South Africa, participants could take on the waterbird word search challenge or the ‘Where does the waterbird belong?’ activity.

We would like to thank our partners Rand Water (Water Wise), Toyota, the Rare Finch Conservation Group and SANBI National Zoological Garden for making the event such a fantastic success. We look forward to the 2020 edition of the Flufftail Festival. Keep an eye on our social media feeds to find out more.


Win Swarovski binoculars!

We are running another exciting competition to recruit new Conservation League Donors.

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a member of BirdLife South Africa and make a minimum donation of R2800. We are able to issue Section 18A tax certificates, so the donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the attached form and e-mail it to Shireen Gould at or fax it to 011 789 1122. The entries must be received by 6 September and the draw will take place at The African Bird Fair on Saturday, 14 September 2019.

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s relevant and worthwhile work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Cumberland Nature Reserve

Cumberland Nature Reserve is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including some 280 bird, 50 butterfly and 30 mammal species, as well as more than 200 wild flower species and an abundance of indigenous trees and grasses. Owned by a conservation-driven family, Cumberland Nature Reserve is also a proud Oribi Custodian.

The reserve’s habitats include pristine savanna, woodland, valley thicket and wetland and they are dotted with extensive cliff faces, deep valleys, waterfalls and well-wooded gorges that provide unrivalled landscape photography opportunities. Sought-after bird species include Palmnut Vulture, Grey Crowned Crane, Narina Trogon, Black Stork, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Peregrine and Lanner falcons, African Finfoot, Western Osprey, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Swee Waxbill, Green Twinspot, Bokmakierie, Knysna Turaco and Southern Bald Ibis. A network of trails enables you to explore the reserve and seek out these specials.

Cumberland offers camping and self-catering accommodation options at affordable rates, all equipped for a convenient and comfortable stay.

The campsite is a birders’ paradise, where more than 80 species can be recorded without even venturing beyond its limits. The self-catering rooms sleep up to 14 guests and have access to a communal kitchen and lounge, perfect for larger family groups. Situated near the banks of the Umgeni River, Horseshoe Cottage has the cry of the African Fish Eagle as its alarm clock. For couples who love to get away from it all, the Kranz Hut boasts a jaw-dropping view, an outdoor shower and a kitchenette equipped with all the basics, including a gas fridge and gas stove. Rustic, but clean and comfortable, it’s a firm favourite!


Birdsong at Arderne Gardens

Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, spoke about the importance of birds, including in indigenous parks and gardens.

A number of donated trees were auctioned, and this raised significant funds for Friends of the Arderne Gardens and BirdLife South Africa.

On 13 March, BirdLife South Africa and Friends of Arderne Gardens invited guests to help celebrate the return of birdsong to the garden, which is located in Claremont, Cape Town. Although delayed by unseasonal rain, the event attracted supporters from the Western Cape and overseas visitors who had a magical wind-free evening, seeing the champion trees to their best advantage.

More than R350 000 was raised for the two charities, including the proceeds of the auction of a magnificent Tawny Eagle sculpted by David Tomlinson. Bird-attracting indigenous trees from different nurseries were also auctioned to be planted out in the autumn by the successful bidders.

Andrew Ovenstone, Friends of the Arderne Gardens, thanked the people and organisations who contributed to the success of the project.

On a recent field trip to the garden led by Mel Tripp and Vernon Head, 23 bird species were seen, including the Bronze Mannikin, a species rare in this part of South Africa. It is hoped that the indigenous trees, together with a wetland planting around the ponds made possible with the generous support of Pamela Isdell, will encourage more birds back to this busy urban area.


Seabird Conservation Programme Manager Vacancy

BirdLife South Africa, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, is one of the largest, most active, non-governmental conservation organisations in South Africa.

The organisation is the South African Partner of BirdLife International, which operates through Partners in over 120 countries and territories worldwide. The BirdLife Partnership is the leading and internationally acclaimed authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting birds. BirdLife South Africa has special links with the BirdLife Partners in Africa, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK.

BirdLife South Africa is looking for a well-qualified, experienced and innovative Seabirds Conservation Programme Manager to head the organisation’s Seabird Conservation Programme, implement African Penguin and Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries projects and manage the programme’s seabird conservation projects and staff. The ideal candidate would be dedicated, strategic, innovative and dynamic and have a passion for conservation.

The Seabird Conservation Programme Manager will be committed to BirdLife South Africa’s vision and mission and be willing to work collaboratively with other organisations, regional and international, to further the conservation cause of seabirds in particular. The Seabird Conservation Programme Manager will report directly to BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Manager.

View full vacancy listing

90 and counting…

BirdLife South Africa takes pleasure in inviting you to our 90th Annual General Meeting, which will take place on Saturday, 11 May 2019 at the Nedbank Head Office in Sandton.


Dabchick Wildlife Reserve

The Zebra Tent at the Dabchick Wildlife Reserve.

Vultures waiting for a table at their restaurant.

Combine birdwatching and glamping at our comfortable tented lodge or, if you really insist on roughing it, stay in the Dung Beetle Bush Camp, both at the Dabchick Wildlife Reserve in the Waterberg, Limpopo. The reserve’s range of habitats – mountain, grassland, savanna, forest and wetland – will ensure that you see many different species. Hides for photography have been set up in various locations and a vulture restaurant attracts Cape Vultures.

The daily tariff includes bush cooking, a guided walk and a game drive, with prices depending on the accommodation selected. For more information, go to or call Rory at 079 944 8717.

90 and counting…

Save the date: on Saturday, 11 May 2019 BirdLife South Africa’s 90th Annual General Meeting will take place at the Nedbank Head Office in Sandton. More details to follow soon.

Hiral joins the team

New member of the BirdLife South Africa team, Hiral Naik is a conservationist and researcher who has a passion for nature. Growing up in Zimbabwe, India and South Africa, she spent a lot of time outdoors, which ignited her love for the natural world. A graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand with an MSc in Ecology and Conservation, Hiral has worked with a diversity of mammals and reptiles and some of her most treasured times have been spent in the African bush. Her other passion is travel, which led her to work with amphibians in the cloud forests of Peru. She has been a research developer and education mentor for a local non-profit focusing on urban biodiversity and has been involved in snake conservation with an international non-profit.

Hiral has a broad skill set that includes media, administration, communication, organisation and conservation and we look forward to the dynamic contribution she can bring to the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas and Policy & Advocacy programmes. In her new job she hopes to combine her passions for wildlife and travel and communicate the importance of biodiversity around the world. When she isn’t sitting at a computer working for conservation, she is usually outdoors enjoying nature, taking photographs or learning about the world.

Kruger challenge for White-winged Flufftails

Birding started before the teams even reached Kruger National Park.

All the bird sightings collected during the Kruger Bird & Wildlife Challenge using the BirdLasser app.

At the beginning of 2018, Rockjumper Birding Tours approached BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust with an exciting idea: to challenge teams to find as many wildlife species – and especially birds – as possible over a 10-day period in the Kruger National Park. And the proceeds of the event would be channelled into research and conservation of the White-winged Flufftail, for which Rockjumper is a BirdLife Species Champion.

Many hours of hard work and organisation later, the first Kruger Bird & Wildlife Challenge got under way on 6 February 2019. Each team of nine members was accompanied by a birding expert and registered Kruger guide, and participants came from the UK, USA, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as South Africa. They travelled the length of the park in open safari vehicles, trying to see or hear as many bird and mammal species as they could between the hours of 05h30 and 20h00. In all, they logged 10 500 records using the BirdLasser app, providing BirdLife South Africa with a valuable snapshot of the bird communities in Kruger during the peak of summer.

Six of the eight teams began their journey at Berg-en-Dal camp at the south-western end of the park, while the remaining two started at Punda Maria in the north. They also spent nights at Skukuza, Olifants and Shingwedzi camps before all coming together to end the challenge at Mopani. On the final day, Adam Riley’s team discovered a Golden Pipit – only the 21st record of the species in the subregion – and within three hours almost all the participants had managed to see it.

The Kruger camps are full of great birds and offered participants a chance to bird on foot rather than from the safari vehicles.

A gala dinner at Mopani Camp brought the event to a close, giving everyone the opportunity to share their highlights of the challenge. Signed prints by Raymond Harris-Ching, a New Zealand-born bird artist, were auctioned to raise funds for BirdLife South Africa’s White-winged Flufftail research, while Malcolm Drummond of Middelpunt Wetland Trust and Hanneline Smit-Robinson of BirdLife South Africa presented talks about research into this Critically Endangered species.

The event culminated in a gala dinner that featured the prize-giving, an auction and a presentation on the conservation work being done by BirdLife South Africa on the White-winged Flufftail.

The challenge had been organised to raise funds for the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail and Adam Riley of Rockjumper Birding Tours handed over a cheque for R300 000 to Middelpunt Wetland Trust at the dinner. This funding will go a long way in continuing support for research into the species and the conservation of it and its high-altitude wetland habitat.

A feature of the challenge was the camaraderie between the eight teams; if a good bird or mammal was found, the information was shared so that others could see it too. It was also wonderful just how many special birds were seen, with particular highlights including Collared Flycatcher, breeding White-backed Night Herons, African Pygmy Goose, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Red-footed Falcon, Dusky Lark and Little Bittern.

A big thank you goes to the local organising committee, especially Sarah Dell of Rockjumper Birding Tours and our dedicated organiser, Gisela Ortner, for all the hard work before and during the event. Thank you as well to all the guides, volunteers and participants for helping to make the challenge such a success; you helped to raise the profile of – and funds for – the White-winged Flufftail.


Flufftail Festival

Since its inception in 2015, the Flufftail Festival has aimed to teach the young, and the young at heart, about the importance of looking after water, South Africa’s most precious resource. Water sustains all life on earth and plays an important role in wetlands, where it creates a habitat for a wide variety of organisms, including waterbirds. The festival was named for the most elusive waterbird of all, the White-winged Flufftail, a Critically Endangered species that, in a landmark study conducted by BirdLife South Africa, has now been shown to breed in South Africa’s high-altitude wetlands.

On Friday, 8 February, 289 Grade 6 learners from four different schools in the Soweto area were transported to the Joburg Zoo, where they took part in a variety of activities aimed at explaining the importance of water and the human activities that threaten the existence of wetlands. They were also entertained by ‘Waxi the Hero’, a puppet show run by the Rare Finch Conservation Group and sponsored by Toyota that sees its hero, Waxi, in search of Fluffy, a White-winged Flufftail that has disappeared from the wetland. Learners were captivated by Waxi and the antics of his friends and welcomed the ultimate discovery of Fluffy with screams of delight.

The following day, 340 community members were bused in from different wards in the Johannesburg area and were also invited to participate in games and activities that highlighted the importance and plight of our wetlands. Introduced to the many waterbird species that can be observed in the vicinity of Johannesburg, many of the participants expressed their appreciation for these creatures they frequently see but had not been able to identify. It is this spark of interest, in both young and old, that makes the Flufftail Festival such a rewarding experience for all involved.

We would like to thank our partners Rand Water (Water Wise), Toyota, the Rare Finch Conservation Group, Joburg City Parks and Zoo and GDARD for making the event such a tremendous success. The next event will take place at Pretoria Zoo from 1 to 3 March 2019. The event will be open to the public on Saturday, 2 and Sunday, 3 March 2019, so please join us to find out more about water, wetlands and waterbirds.


An Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries

A Cape fur seal hunts sardines near Hout Bay. Credit Rob Tarr

‘There are plenty more fish in the sea’ is a once-common phrase that is fast becoming antiquated as the world’s fish stocks are being rapidly depleted. Fish are a critical element in marine food webs as they are prey for a wide range of predators – and some are even predators themselves. Fish are also important for people, as a source of food and because they support economies by providing income and jobs. However, unsustainable pressure from fishing as well as climate and environmental changes are threatening fish stocks worldwide and the sensitive marine ecosystems they support. It is important that fish stocks are brought under appropriate and sustainable management to avoid their collapse.

One strategy for sustainable management is through an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF). EAF recognises not only social and economic needs, but also the needs of the environment, including marine predators and the ecosystem processes that fish underpin, and integrates these into fish stock management. Taking the broader ecosystem into account when managing fish is an important step in making sure that marine ecosystems remain intact and functional, which also ensures that fisheries will still be productive and profitable well into the future. Biological thresholds and indicators are used in the application of EAF, and the health of marine predator populations in particular gives a useful insight into the health of the ecosystem and the sustainability of fish stock management. If critical limits and functional relationships can be established between predators and fish populations, then management procedures can use these as tools to guide the setting of catch limits and the spatial management of fishing.

BirdLife South Africa approached the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) in 2018 about sponsoring a project that would look into the application of EAF to the management of South Africa’s small pelagic fisheries. The RFA is a membership-based association of commercial fishing companies and environmental NGOs (including BirdLife South Africa and WWF) that work together to advance socially and environmentally responsible fishing through their four pillars of Sustainability, Transparency, Traceability and Social Responsibility.

A diet analysis of the Cape Gannet is a promising new avenue for a biological indicator. Credit Peter Hagen

The sardine and anchovy fisheries are the largest in South Africa by volume, but these species also feed a wide variety of marine predators, many of which are threatened. Currently, only the African Penguin is considered part of the fisheries management procedures, but this is not directly as part of the catch limit setting; rather it is part of the projections of estimated future stocks and the effect of catch/no-catch scenarios on penguin populations.

Wishing to look at how best to integrate other marine top predators that rely on small pelagic stocks, BirdLife South Africa proposed an initial scoping study followed by a more in-depth investigation of potential indicators and their adoption into management protocols. The RFA approved the initial scoping study and we set about organising a workshop to gather information for the initial scoping. In January 2019 WWF joined us in co-hosting a workshop where experts on a range of marine taxa (linefish, cetaceans, seals and seabirds) were assembled, along with a fisheries management expert. The workshop was chaired by Dr Lynne Shannon of UCT, an expert in EAF and marine modelling, and her report will fulfil the objectives of the scoping study while also recommending a route forward for the more in-depth investigation into implementing the resulting ideas.

The workshop was a great success, with a lot of fruitful discussion about current fisheries management strategies and potential improvements to be made by implementing EAF. In particular, a yet-to-be-published paper by Rob Crawford et al. that examines a foraging index derived from the endangered Cape Gannet’s diet could provide a very promising option for guiding fisheries management towards a greater consideration of the wider environment’s needs. There were also inputs from other predator experts that were promising, but they need to be refined before they can be integrated.

We would like to thank all the experts in attendance for giving their time to the project, WWF for helping to host the workshop, Dr Shannon for her excellent facilitation and the RFA ( for funding this important initiative.

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance funded the workshop.


Last few 2019 calendars left!

There is still a limited number of Birds of Southern Africa 2019 calendars available at a cost of R145 each, excluding postage. For each month there’s a beautiful, full-page bird image and a block for each day in which you can record family and friends’ birthdays, your appointments and more. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order or for more information (including Postnet to Postnet rates).


Top-flight breakfast

SANParks Honorary Rangers, Pretoria Region, invites you to join us for a birding breakfast with Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa. Come and hear Mark’s observations about our country’s birds and his thoughts on their conservation. All proceeds go to projects identified by SANParks in our national parks. The breakfast will be held at 08h30 on 9 February at the Pretoria Country Club. The cost is R300 per person and includes the talk and breakfast. For more information, contact Almarie van Zyl at

Secretarybirds striding into 2019

Strider the Secretarybird, illustrated by Chrissie Cloete.

Each year, BirdLife South Africa selects one of the more than 850 bird species that occur in this country to bear the title of Bird of the Year. In 2019 the title goes to the Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, one of Africa’s most charismatic birds. Characterised by long and powerful pink legs and a plume of black quill-feathers that flutter behind the grey head, Secretarybirds stride through the grasslands and open savannas of Africa in search of rodents, lizards, birds, amphibians and insects – and the creatures they are best known for hunting, snakes.

Free Bird of the Year materials
As part of the Bird of the Year 2019 initiative, and in collaboration with talented illustrator and environmental educator Chrissie Cloete, BirdLife South Africa will once again produce a collection of exciting and freely downloadable materials designed to be used in the classroom and to raise awareness about Secretarybirds, the challenges they face and the conservation efforts being made to protect them. The materials will take the form of lesson plans, infographics, cartoons and colouring pages and will feature a main character, Strider, who will lead learners on this journey. All materials produced will be freely available via the BirdLife South Africa website at and will be promoted via our social media and online platforms.

Look out for this year’s poster
In conjunction with the educational materials, BirdLife South Africa is producing once again its Bird of the Year poster, which will be distributed in the March/April issue of African Birdlife, our bi-monthly magazine. Also watch out for the Bird of the Year articles, which have been compiled by David Allan and will appear in each of the year’s issues of the magazine. There is much to learn about the Secretarybird and David presents this information clearly and concisely for our readers.

This year’s Bird of the Year pin badges will be on sale at Shop for the Birds! and various BirdLife South Africa events during the year, including the annual African Bird Fair. We will also be selling soft toy replicas of Strider the Secretarybird.

Tracking Secretarybirds in 2019
BirdLife South Africa has partnered with BirdLasser, a user-friendly app that enables birders to capture easily the location, date and time of a Secretarybird sighting. All this information helps our conservation team to understand where South Africa’s Secretarybirds are surviving and where we should focus our efforts to protect them. Breeding information is extremely useful too and can also be submitted via the app. To assist with locating Secretarybirds, please send an e-mail to and he will add you to the challenge. You can follow the progress of this challenge at


A visual guide to signing up for the Bird of the Year BirdLasser challenge to track South Africa’s Secretarybirds during 2019.


Birding Big Day 2018

Selwyn Rautenbach, Joe Grosel and Henk Nel, together with scribe Cornelius Kruger, make up Zonke iNyoni, the winning team of Birding Big Day 2018. Photo: Henk Nel

On Birding Big Day (BBD) 2018 more than 1200 people recorded 646 species and logged nearly 42 000 sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser. And this was achieved despite the very dry and hot conditions that prevailed at the time, although they probably accounted for slightly fewer species being reported than during BBD 2017, when 650 species were logged. Many teams also indicated that they had missed some common species, especially migrants, which turned up late in the season. There was a slight increase in the number of teams and people taking part, and after the event there were numerous postings on social media about the wonderful time everyone had.

This year many teams registered for the first time with SABAP2 in their name, indicating that they would be focusing on collecting data for SABAP2. Some teams even concentrated on only one pentad, with the aim of seeing as many species as possible within it – one team logged more than 200 species! It’s amazing to think that such a small area (roughly 60km²) can host so many species. We hope that this practice will grow in future BBDs.

The 2018 winning team was Zonke iNyoni, comprising Selwyn Rautenbach, Joe Grosel and Henk Nel, who saw 323 species. Team Hamerkop (Ehren and Johan Eksteen, Duncan McKenzie and Lourens Grobler) came in a close second with 320 species – well done to both. Wat-Kyk-Jy and Soaring ISUZUs also passed the 300 mark, while six teams saw more than 250 species.

Two corporate sponsors this year donated R65 000 in total to BirdLife South Africa; we are grateful to Chamberlains and Ocean Breeze for their generous contributions. In addition, numerous donations from individual teams have been received and are still coming in. Thank you for these donations; each one is much appreciated.

BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank BirdLasser ( for its fantastic support. BirdLasser adds a great deal of value to the event and creates a sense of community – BBD would simply not be the same without BirdLasser! It receives some of the funding raised during BBD.

The next Birding Big Day will be held on 30 November 2019 and preliminary details about the event will be sent out early this year.


BirdLife South Africa’s American visitors

Hanneline Smit-Robinson and her family spent a morning birding with Hana Weaver and Jackie Dougherty at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Johannesburg. Left to right: Hana Weaver, Claire Robinson, Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Jackie Dougherty. Photo: Lance Robinson

Hana Weaver, an employee of the Peregrine Fund who is currently involved in a Sharp-shinned Hawk reintroduction project in Puerto Rico, has been in contact with BirdLife South Africa over the past year in connection with her interest in the Taita Falcon project. The Peregrine Fund is a non-profit organisation specialising in the conservation of birds of prey worldwide, with headquarters in Boise, Idaho, USA. With the prospect of pursuing a PhD degree on South Africa’s Taita Falcon population, Hana invested resources to join our 2018 survey of the species. A long-term study is needed to increase our understanding of its biology and, depending on funding, we hope to welcome Hana back to South Africa in the future.

The 14th annual Taita Falcon breeding survey was conducted in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve area in Mpumalanga from 3 to 9 December 2018 by the BirdLife South Africa Species Guardians, the South African Taita Falcon Survey team under the leadership of Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl. South Africa is currently the only country in the species’ distribution that undertakes annual surveys. The resulting long-term dataset provides a snapshot of the population status of the species in this country. The latest data are currently being analysed and a draft scientific article will be submitted for peer review later this year.

Jackie Dougherty arrived in South Africa early in December 2018, having been selected as the MSc candidate to undertake research on the avian scavenger guild as part of a larger carcass decomposition project led by Dr Haemish Melville at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Entitled ‘Death in the long grass: the ecological implications of carcass decomposition in a southern African grassland’, the project is a multi-faceted approach to discovering what resources a carcass provides in a grassland ecosystem. Studying a typical ungulate carcass and the species that compete for the resources it provides would also help to understand a landscape without vultures present.

Jackie will be registered at the UNISA Florida campus and will be based at Telperion Nature Reserve for the duration of her field research. She completed dual undergraduate degrees in wildlife and fisheries science and physical geography at Penn State University and has extensive research experience, with strong field skills in avian ecology and camera trapping. Her research has focused on corvids, raptors, grouse and songbirds throughout the western United States. We wish Jackie many successful hours in the field during the carcass decomposition project and a happy stay in South Africa.


AEWA meeting in Durban

The BirdLife South Africa delegation took advantage of a lunch break to celebrate Linda van den Heever’s birthday at the beach.

The African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) is an international conservation treaty between European and African governments that protects migratory waterbird species and their habitats along the important Africa–Eurasia flyway. AEWA was developed under the framework of the UN’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and is administered by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP). The Agreement aims to provide a cohesive and collaborative framework for the 254 listed species and their habitats, which are primarily wetlands and coasts. A Meeting of the Parties (MOP) is held every four years, during which the Contracting Parties discuss progress, set new goals and develop resolutions that will further advance conservation action for waterbirds along the flyway. The seventh such meeting (referred to as MOP7) was hosted by the South African government in Durban in December 2018. The theme for the event was ‘Beyond 2020: shaping flyway conservation for the future’. Four BirdLife South Africa staff members, Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Linda van den Heever, Samantha Ralston-Paton and Andrew de Blocq, attended.

Andrew de Blocq presents on seabird conservation in South Africa.

The team was very busy throughout the four-day meeting, hosting or co-hosting no fewer than three side events. The first focused on the White-winged Flufftail and African Penguin conservation collaborations between BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs, with Hanneline and Andrew presenting well-received talks. The announcement of the discovery of the White-winged Flufftail’s call was a particular highlight. Andrew then hosted a side event dedicated to highlighting the importance of AEWA to seabird conservation, notably through the flagship Multi-species Action Plan for Benguela Current Coastal Seabirds, which includes nine species in South Africa, Namibia and Angola. Lastly, Samantha co-hosted and spoke at a side event highlighting various energy issues, including the impacts of renewable resources and mortalities related to energy infrastructure.

Various discussions held on the fringes of the MOP were as productive as the side events. Hanneline and Linda met with local hunting lobby groups about lead pollution, Andrew worked with the South African government and the AEWA Secretariat to influence resolutions relating to seabird conservation, and each member of the BirdLife South Africa delegation had the opportunity to speak to national and international journalists about the MOP and the issues facing our waterbirds and seabirds. The theme for the 2019 World Migratory Bird Day was announced as ‘Waterbirds and plastic pollution’ which promises to raise further awareness of this pressing and growing issue. Andrew gave a short interview on this topic, which can be viewed here. The destination for MOP8 in 2022 was announced as Budapest, Hungary.

Hanneline Smit-Robinson presents on BirdLife’s White-winged Flufftail work.

BirdLife South Africa would like to congratulate the South African government for hosting such a successful MOP7 and for its productive discussions and interventions from the floor during the plenary and working groups. In particular, the announcement that the South African government will be championing the newly adopted Action Plan for Africa as well as the Single-species Action Plan for the White-winged Flufftail and the Multi-species Action Plan for Benguela seabirds was a good sign of its commitment to conservation action. BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank our two volunteers from the Port Natal Bird Club, Lesley Frescura and Arnia van Vuuren, who gave of their time to manage our stand selling merchandise and taking member and newsletter subscriptions. Lastly, the AEWA Secretariat worked tirelessly to make MOP7 a success and we appreciate the ongoing excellent working relationship between it and BirdLife South Africa.


Giving young graduates wings

Nndwa and Alice Collier, of the RSPB, at the Sere wind farm.

An internship can be an important step in a graduate student’s career. It is designed to offer a learning experience to someone who has not been exposed to a working environment and a good internship has been proven to help a graduate gain skills, knowledge, experience and exposure to a particular field of work. It gives a young professional an opportunity to figure out the right career for themselves and can help make a candidate more competitive in the job market. For BirdLife South Africa, internships are necessary for additional support and diversity, as well as the new perspectives that young graduates can bring to the workplace.

I joined BirdLife South Africa in March 2018 as an intern in the Birds and Renewable Energy Programme, a position sponsored by Investec Corporate and Institutional Bank, and I report to the programme’s manager, Samantha Ralston-Paton. I am fortunate to have Samantha as my mentor. She has worked hard to improve my knowledge, skills and work ethic through one-on-one training, and I am grateful for her efforts. Managing someone who is not experienced in a field of work is not an easy task, but I think it comes naturally to her.

I have enjoyed working at BirdLife South Africa. During my internship, I had a chance to get a peek into the conservation of birds, both terrestrial and seabirds, and learnt about renewable energy in South Africa. Through that, I’ve become interested in renewable energy and environmental impact assessments (EIAs).

Like every journey, my time at BirdLife South Africa has had its highs and lows. The highs include my first trip to the Sere wind farm on the West Coast and delivering presentations at the Learn About Birds and the Birds and Renewable Energy Forum. The statistics course I attended at UCT, training at SANCCOB to handle seabirds and the one-on-one training I had with Samantha also helped expand my knowledge. In the office, the most interesting times were when I was reviewing EIAs, a process that taught me the importance of the Birds and Renewable Energy Project. The lows of my experience at BirdLife South Africa were the Cape Town traffic in the morning and the long meetings.

The months I spent at BirdLife South Africa were worthwhile. My presence made things easier for Samantha, as we worked as a team. It is sad to leave, but I hope that the internship programme continues to empower more unemployed graduates in South Africa. BirdLife South Africa doesn’t just give wings to conservation; it helps young graduates to flourish too. If I were rich, I’d share my wealth with BirdLife South Africa because I know it’s for a good cause! The thing I will miss most is the amazing people who work for the organisation.


African Birdlife magazine

The first issue of African Birdlife of 2019 makes a whole lot of introductions: to the new Bird of the Year (Secretarybird), to the Korsman Bird Sanctuary, to slackpacking with Cape Vultures and to The Gambia. We hope you enjoy ‘meeting’ these new birds, activities and places, while still getting pleasure from the old favourites, like the rare bird, SABAP2 and Fitzpatrick reports and the regular photo features and competitions.

Speaking to strangers for sustainable energy

Social science and engineering students may not seem like an obvious target audience for BirdLife South Africa, but these bright young minds might just come up with solutions to one of our planet’s more vexing challenges: how to provide everyone with access to electricity, with no cost to the environment.

I recently attended the WindAc-Africa conference, advertised as the ‘academic hour for wind power’. The conference was attended by a mix of national and international participants and there was a strong emphasis on South African students. One of the aims of the event was to broaden knowledge, strengthen networks and inspire students to pursue an academic career in the energy sector. It is quite possible I was the only biologist in the room.

It can be daunting to speak to a room full of people who might not share your love for nature. As I delved into the results of our study, relating details of how wind energy facilities are affecting birds in South Africa, I had to wonder if I was hitting the right note. To be perfectly honest, my fear stemmed partly from the fact that the technical details of many of the presentations before mine went way over my head. I suspect that presenters and audience spoke a different language from mine and that the gap between our respective career interests was cavernous.

But who knows, I might just have sparked an idea, possibly even a light-bulb moment, in one of those enquiring young minds. Perhaps they are already working on a truly green solution to meet our global energy needs. I do know that, more so than ever before, we conservationists need to step out of our comfort zones and explore new realms. It’s a good thing we are normally up for an adventure.


At the end of the year…

We would like to thank our members, donors, collaborators and supporters for their much-appreciated contributions during 2018. BirdLife South Africa continues to be successful in its work, and our country’s birds and their habitats are better off because of what we have achieved. Our successes are the result of the combined efforts of many people and organisations. We appreciate all the support we receive, no matter how large or small. In fact, any support is appreciated – your membership, a gift subscription to a loved one or a purchase from our shop.

I often tell people that they can assist our important cause just by talking favourably about BirdLife South Africa and its work. Ultimately all South Africans, of both current and future generations, will benefit from a healthy environment. Thank you for helping us to ‘give conservation wings’.


International Pathfinder Award

The Pathfinder Award acknowledges and recognises outstanding and innovative solutions for protected and conserved areas.

BirdLife South Africa is excited to announce that the Pathfinder Award Special Commendation has been bestowed on its Policy & Advocacy Programme Manager, Candice Stevens, and the South African government represented by the Department of Environmental Affairs for their innovative work on biodiversity tax incentives. The award was presented at a ceremony at the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP14) in Egypt on 18 November 2018.

BirdLife South Africa’s Policy & Advocacy Programme Manager Candice Stevens launched the Fiscal Benefits Project in 2015. Credit: Daniel Marnewick

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its World Commission on Protected Areas, and WildArk – A Movement for the Wild conferred the inaugural Pathfinder Award, which acknowledges ‘innovation and excellence in protected and conserved area financing and resourcing’. It also recognises outstanding and innovative solutions for protected and conserved areas. More than 200 nominations were submitted from around the world.

A rigorous selection process involving a high-level panel of international judges and experts on protected area financing determined the winners of the award. The assessors commended the collaborative work by BirdLife South Africa’s Fiscal Benefits Project and the South African government and noted in particular that ‘achieving the specific application of a tax break for establishing privately protected areas is globally innovative. No other country has a similar solution in place and it is a tremendous achievement’.

Details of the Solution on Biodiversity Tax Incentives for South Africa’s Protected Area Network are available at


BBD 2018 in just one pentad

Following a relatively late decision to participate in Birding Big Day in 2018, I thought it would be nice to set a slightly different challenge and stick within the confines of a single SABAP2 pentad. There are some very diverse pentads across the wider Gauteng region and it was not easy deciding where to head. I settled on Vaalkop Dam. My home pentad birding buddy, Jerome Ainsley, decided to join in for the fun. Team SABAP2: Vaalkop was born. We arrived in the pentad late on Thursday afternoon, having done about as much online mapping, SABAP2 data dissecting, planning and general resourcing as we could. Lance Robinson provided a few useful tips on where to go. On Friday morning we followed our route options between early morning fishing with my sons (riverine habitat review), a family game drive (open grassland review) and a late afternoon braai (evening chorus review). Our route was massaged extensively during the day with numerous iterations and all permutations considered. Like many participants, we retired early with heightened anticipation for the day that lay ahead.

A child-related midnight wake-up prompted a somewhat earlier start than planned. Seated on the stoep with coffee in hand and a full moon above, I could hear that avian activity was high. Species in earshot included Spotted Eagle-Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, Black-crowned Night Heron, Temminck’s Courser and lapwings and thick-knees. At 01h30 we ventured out onto the local roads, adding Fiery-necked and Rufous-cheeked nightjars, Red-crested Korhaan, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Western Barn Owl. A quick check on the terrific BirdLife BirdLasser BBD data centre showed that there were quite a few other teams already active out there!

Lesser Kestrel. Credit: Bruce Ward-Smith

At 04h00 we arrived at the reedy and overgrown settling ponds downstream of the waterworks with 27 birds already on the list. After some success, we worked our way along the waking riverine habitat, picking up a steady stream of species from the rising chorus. We then moved onto the bridge, where we started to gain real momentum. Red-chested, Diederik and Levaillant’s cuckoos called incessantly and three species of kingfisher flew past. For the next hour and half we birded the riverine thicket and agricultural lands and by the time we arrived at the reserve gate at 06h30 we’d just passed the 100-species mark. Although there was nothing of real regional excitement, a very active flock of Lesser Kestrels hunting over the parched agricultural land in the morning light was memorable.

The buffalo-thorn thicket below the dam wall supplied a host of riverine species, including Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Speckled Mousebird and two bush-shrikes. A quick scan over the dam provided distant Ruff, Glossy Ibis and many of the usual shoreline species. The Lesser Spotted Eagle seen around the hill the day before was no longer around. We headed west towards the bird sanctuary, picking up Ashy and Southern Black tits, Burchell’s Starling, the first of three Grey Tit-Flycatchers for the day and a Black-headed Oriole. The open woodland near the western boundary revealed Northern Black Korhaan, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Coqui Francolin and Black-chested Snake Eagle. As we moved north, the wooded valley provided Shikra, Red-breasted Swallow, a very obliging Buffy Pipit and the ubiquitous Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler.

We then headed back to the shoreline, where a single Marabou Stork and a handful of Yellow-billed Storks stood tall among Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stints and a handful of Black-winged Stilts. By now it was 08h45 and we were pushing into the late 150s. Two of our ‘more reliable’ ticks (from the day before) in the form of Groundscraper Thrush and African Pied Wagtail were nowhere to be found. We headed south-east, hoping to cash in on some late morning activity in acacia thicket. After a false start with a locked gate, we eventually got over the dam wall and into the thicket. The area was dry and completely dead. A White-backed Vulture flew overhead. We had added two species in the last hour. A message from my father wanting to know if we were sitting having breakfast somewhere as our score had barely moved in 45 minutes brought a smile and a chuckle. A Common Buttonquail flushed from near the shoreline lifted the spirits. It was quickly followed by a selection of waders and a Grey-headed Gull. Quite bizarrely, we managed to spish a Monotonous Lark into song just before we left. It was now getting very warm.

Marabou Stork. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

At midday we were back at the waterworks for a few bits and pieces. Our first Woodland Kingfisher of the season and the previously elusive Groundscraper Thrush moved us into the 170s. We headed north-east to some moister acacia and found a few mixed groups with Icterine Warbler, Black Cuckooshrike, Lesser and Greater honeyguides, Yellow-throated Petronia and a Lesser Masked Weaver. White-browed Sparrow-weaver and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver were added to the list.

It was now 14h00 and we were in the upper 180s. It was going to be tight. After a quick plunge in our swimming pool and a cup of tea to cool Jerome down, we headed back to the agricultural lands and found our first Red-backed and Lesser Grey shrikes of the season, followed by a solitary Yellow-crowned Bishop atop a distant umbrella thorn.

Needing six for the double century, we drove back westwards to the upper reaches of the dam. It was past 16h00 and the day was hanging in the balance. Yellow-billed Duck, Black Egret and Cape Teal obliged to bring us within reaching distance … 197. A large storm was moving in steadily from the south. Birding our way back to the dam wall, we found the missing African Pied Wagtail and a distant Water Thick-knee on the opposite bank … 199. We stopped at the base of Bullkop, hoping to hear something from the rocky slopes above, but the music coming from the campsite drowned even our own voices. We had heard Double-banded Sandgrouse flying over on the previous two nights, so decided to head back after a quick stop on the dam wall. At 18h20, almost 18 and a half hours after we had started, a single male Violet-backed Starling brought up 200 for the day in the pentad with a fly-by! With dusty throats and a little sunburnt around the edges, we arrived home just as the storm hit. It had been a spectacular day.

I believe that the collaboration of BirdLasser has made Birding Big Day so much more compelling and exciting to be part of and to follow. The data centre and real-time updates are simply terrific and credit needs to go to all involved. BBD really is a special event. Here’s to 2019!


Our biodiverse estuaries

Blue Cranes gather on riparian farmlands at the Berg River estuary. Credit: Andrew Bance

In spring this year, bird and botanical surveys were completed for riparian properties at the Berg River and Klein River estuaries, bringing to a close the biodiversity stewardship site assessment process. These assessments formed part of BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project, which is working with landowners at these estuaries to safeguard the area’s biodiversity and ecosystem services through biodiversity stewardship. (Biodiversity stewardship is a conservation model that helps private and communal landowners to gain conservation recognition and protection for their high biodiversity land. This could include declaration as a formal protected area, such as a nature reserve.) The surveys yielded extraordinary results, with the discovery of new populations of threatened plant species and intact areas of threatened vegetation types that support diverse and plentiful birdlife.

At the Klein River estuary, properties contained a significant area of the threatened vegetation type Agulhas Limestone Fynbos, which is home to healthy populations of several vulnerable protea species, and there is an important wetland area nearby. The properties form part of the Cape Whale Coast Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and support a remarkable diversity of birds. Almost 200 bird species have been recorded, including the regionally threatened African Marsh Harrier and the near-threatened Knysna Woodpecker. Connecting existing protected areas, the properties represent vital links in both the estuarine-river and catchment-ocean corridors of the Cape Overberg area.

A heron flies over the Berg River floodplain. Credit: Andrew Bance

More than 150 plant species were recorded from the Berg River estuary’s riparian farmlands, including viable populations of several critically endangered and endangered species, some previously unrecorded from the area. These species contribute to the two threatened vegetation types, Hopefield Sand Fynbos and Saldanha Flats Strandveld. Despite the relatively transformed nature of the wider landscape, large, interconnected areas of the endangered Saldanha Flats Strandveld still exist. Even more heartening is the news that this habitat is recovering on land that was previously strip-ploughed. All the properties surveyed have river frontage and many include significant areas of critically endangered estuarine floodplain habitat.

In 2018, the floodplain had standing water and delivered excellent birding, including several regionally near-threatened and threatened species, such as Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, Caspian Tern and African Marsh Harrier. The floodplain also attracted migrant waders like Ruff, Common Greenshank, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Surveys of the terrestrial habitats picked up on several biome-restricted species, including Karoo Lark, and important numbers of the regionally threatened Southern Black Korhaan – a welcome recurrence of this species here, as it has been absent in significant numbers for many years. Large flocks of globally threatened Blue Cranes gathered in the surrounding farmland habitat, where they engaged in courtship display. All in all, about 180 bird species were recorded during the surveys, signalling these areas’ importance to the Berg River Estuary IBA.

A wetland area at the Klein River estuary. Credit: Giselle Murison

The biodiversity value of the Klein River and Berg River estuaries, their floodplain habitats and surrounding lands cannot be underestimated. They form intact terrestrial and aquatic corridors through the landscape and deserve protection.

The results of the assessments were presented at CapeNature’s Western Cape Protected Area Review Committee. At the Berg River estuary, properties qualified to join a Protected Environment, with several properties qualifying for Protected Environment Status individually. A Protected Environment provides high-level formal protection for biodiverse lands declared in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003), similar to Nature Reserves but with fewer restrictions on land use. At the Klein River estuary, properties were recommended for Nature Reserve status.

Working with landowners and other partners going forward, BirdLife South Africa’s Estuaries Conservation Project is looking to formally protect threatened plants and vegetation types and to ensure a safe haven for the estuaries’ remarkable birdlife.


Raptor identification course

Brown Snake Eagle

The Honorary Rangers of the Limpopo Region invite you to join leading Limpopo Province birding expert and ecologist Joe Grosel on an exciting four-day raptor identification programme that introduces participants to a practical system that enables them to recognise the raptors of the entire region. Apart from the identification aspect, interesting subjects relating to the life history and ecology of each species are also covered. The event will take place in the Letaba Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park, which offers some of the best raptor viewing in Africa. Activities for the weekend will include morning and afternoon bird and game drives in open vehicles in the company of Joe Grosel and park rangers.

The cost of this exciting course is R2400 per person, which includes tuition, all birding activities and outings, teas and lunches as well as stationery, literature and a full-colour raptor identification manual. It excludes the park entrance and conservation fees and accommodation.

Participation is restricted to 16 people. Non-participating partners will be welcome to accompany the outings subject to the availability of space. All proceeds from the weekend will go to the Honorary Rangers Environmental Fund.

For more information or a full itinerary, please e-mail Charles Hardy at or call him on 083 457 1721.

Observer workshop in Turkey

Seabird identification, bycatch issues, mitigation methods and seabird handling were topics of this training workshop. The soft toy was helpful in handling demonstrations. Credit: Bronwyn Maree

Information about the incidental bycatch of sharks, rays, turtles and seabirds is scarce or haphazardly collected during fishing operations, and this is so in Mediterranean waters as in any other sea around the world. As a result, the extent of bycatch is poorly understood, which makes it extremely difficult to develop and implement measures that would prevent the accidental catching of threatened species. In a bid to gain a better understanding of the bycatch of such species in the Mediterranean and to test potential mitigation measures, a collaborative project has been launched in Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco.

With the aid of a translator (right), Bronwyn Maree (left) explains the important aspects of an effective bird-scaring line to prevent seabird bycatch. Credit: Selçuk Aslan

One of this project’s undertakings is to set up observer programmes in each of these countries that will collect data in one of three ways: self-reporting by fishing captains (after training), port-based questionnaires and reporting by on-board observers. Observer training workshops have already been conducted in Tunisia and Morocco; the final one took place in Turkey from 7 to 11 November.

The workshop’s agenda was action-packed, with sessions focusing on individual species, safety at sea, working relationships with fishermen, detailed information on the various fishing operations and the best methods of collecting relevant data. Three seabird experts – Bronwyn Maree, representing BirdLife South Africa, who has extensive experience and knowledge of trawl fisheries; Julius Morkūnas, who knows about gill-net fisheries; and local seabird specialist Cem Orkun Kiraç – were able to give participants a well-rounded understanding of the bycatch and identification of seabirds and how to handle live birds.

The most exciting aspect of the training was a full day of practical experience on a local trawl vessel. The team (about 25 of us) boarded the largest vessel in the fleet, which operates with only four crew members, and witnessed two trawl operations. This gave the observers invaluable experience in identifying the common species caught, practice in how the data sheets and protocol work and how to operate on fishing vessels, and the opportunity to ask questions of the invited experts and trainers.

Selçuk Aslan, the Seabird Project Officer (Doğa, BirdLife Turkey), gives the opening address of the observer workshop in Foça, Turkey. Credit: Bronwyn Maree

The workshop was a huge success, resulting in 15 fully trained observers who were excited to be among the first people to be getting an understanding of the status of bycatch in the Mediterranean. They will collect data for the next year, piloting the project with trawl vessels, and during the following year they will analyse the data, test mitigation measures and promote and implement relevant regulations with the fishing fleets.

This project is coordinated by BirdLife International and carried out by SPA/RAC (Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre), GFCM (General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean), ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area), MEDASSET (Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles) and IUCN-Med (International Union for Conservation of Nature – Mediterranean). It is supported financially by the MAVA Foundation.


The green gift that keeps on giving

Take out a year’s gift membership to BirdLife South Africa for a friend or family member and not only will you be giving them six issues of the informative and beautiful magazine African Birdlife, 12 e-newsletters and other benefits, but you’ll be contributing to the conservation of South Africa’s birdlife.

Apply online at or contact Shireen Gould at for more information.

A plate showing two of the southern African bittern species.

Roberts Bird Guide artwork

The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund wishes to remind everyone that artwork from the second edition of the Roberts Bird Guide is for sale and 25% from each purchase is being donated to BirdLife South Africa. To view the artwork available, kindly go to

Reducing our carbon footprint

For many people, Christmas is the busiest and most joyful time of the year. Some will be spending time with family and friends, others will be going on an adventure, hosting parties or relaxing at home. We all want a festive season to remember.

But how many people think about protecting our environment at this time? It may not be as interesting as planning an overseas trip, yet it is worth thinking about. A healthy environment makes it possible for us to go on safari adventures and lead active lives.

Everything we do has either a negative or a positive impact on the environment. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. Most of the things we do and use for Christmas contribute to our carbon footprint – the journey by car or plane, the exotic foods we eat, the gifts we buy and the source of energy we choose.

An increase in carbon dioxide emissions will result in an increase in temperatures and shifts in rainfall patterns. This will negatively affect ecological systems and human health. Plants and animals will not survive or grow to their full potential due to drought, excess rainfall or lack of food. For humans, hotter or colder days than average can cause increased levels of illness and premature death. The body’s ability to regulate temperature is compromised and will result in an increase in chronic conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

These emissions can be reduced if we change our lifestyle. The easiest way to start reducing our carbon footprint is to travel less: limit the number of flights taken and walk, ride a bicycle or carpool. Eat smart: choose organic food, cut down on meat and dairy, buy from local farmers, avoid waste by cooking only as much as you will eat, and opt for products with eco-friendly packaging. Save energy: use energy-efficient appliances and LED lights. Lastly, the greatest Christmas gift you can give is one that is made from recycled material and is re-useable or organic (such as organic wine). And wrap the gift in recyclable or re-usable wrapping paper. BirdLife South Africa supports the reduction of our carbon footprint by offering two options for gift membership. Find out more at or e-mail Shireen Gould at


Searching for snake eagles

From 23 October to 4 November, Dr Melissa Whitecross, Threatened Species Project Manager for the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme, led a survey team comprising BirdLife South Africa-trained community guide Sphamandla Junior Gabela and volunteer Caroline Howes to the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal in search of Southern Banded Snake Eagles. The survey forms part of BirdLife South Africa’s work to conserve this species, which was uplisted to Critically Endangered in South Africa during the production of The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Since the original type specimen was collected near Durban and first described to science by Johan Jakob Kaup in 1850, the Southern Banded Snake Eagle has experienced a large range contraction. Today, the most southerly limit at which the species is regularly seen is the Tugela River mouth, although individuals are occasionally observed south of this location.

Southern Banded Snake Eagles forage in the ecotone between indigenous coastal forest and lowland grasslands. An individual will perch overlooking a patch of coastal grassland and swoop down to catch prey, which may be a snake, lizard or frog, or occasionally a rodent. Once the prey has been caught, the bird retreats into the cover of the dense forest canopy. Since much of the coastal and sand forest along the northern coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal has been transformed into sugar cane fields, plantations and human settlements, ecotones between coastal forest and grasslands have been lost, leading to a decline in the species.

Dr Shane McPherson led the previous Southern Banded Snake Eagle survey for BirdLife South Africa and identified a nest site within one of the natural forest patches that snake their way through the Mtunzini plantation owned by Mondi. This discovery has guided the BirdLife South Africa team to investigate whether plantations can be utilised as a conservation space for raptors, especially the Southern Banded Snake Eagle.

BirdLife South Africa is working to understand whether Southern Banded Snake Eagles are persisting across this landscape of transformed habitats. By partnering with Forestry South Africa, the team is surveying several plantations owned mainly by Sappi, Mondi and SiyaQhubeka to assess the presence and diversity of raptors within the composite of plantation and natural forest along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline. In addition to searching for Southern Banded Snake Eagles, the survey team managed to atlas 22 full protocol cards for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) in several pentads that had received little coverage. A full summary of its atlasing efforts can be read at The team successfully located several Southern Banded Snake Eagles and has learnt a lot about the ecology and history of the area. The survey is planned for a total of three years and Melissa is currently analysing the data collected in order to develop ecological niche models for the Southern Banded Snake Eagle in southern Africa.

BirdLife South Africa has also partnered with Eskom through the Ingula Partnership to understand how to mitigate the threat of electrocution to perching Southern Banded Snake Eagles. Owing to the loss of the ecotone of coastal forest and grassland, many raptors have taken to perching on power-line infrastructure and are at risk of electrocution if the line is not sufficiently insulated. BirdLife South Africa and Eskom are coming up with cost-effective strategies to reduce this electrocution risk within the protected area network of northern KwaZulu-Natal.

A big thank you must go to Sphamandla Junior Gabela, whom we dubbed ‘Mr Eagle-eyes’, for his enthusiasm and dedication during the survey. Junior was trained by BirdLife South Africa through our community guides programme and has a wealth of knowledge about the birds of Zululand. We highly recommend getting in touch with him if you are visiting the Zululand region; his ability to find the special birds of the region is unparalleled.

For more information about Junior, go to


The art of science communication

Science communication can be reduced to an equation where:

f = communication effectiveness

a = audience understanding at time = 0

L = Language of recipients, as a function of the language of the communicator multiplied by the number of large words and jargon

b = a prior, which can be expressed as (), where C = cow, g = grass and T = time

n = background noise

x = a constant, because all good equations have at least one

No, not really. Communication is a bit of a non-science. Sure, there are guidelines and heuristics, but it’s an ineluctable issue for any scientific analysis. There’s a dark art to it and good communicators have this art, able to make their communications intelligible and intelligent no matter the context or content.

That said, to communicate effectively requires some very clear steps that members of BirdLife South Africa, as a conservation NGO, should always be mindful of. To be a scientist you need to be comfortable with technical information and understand a setting, be it fisheries, grassland burning regimes or climate change. But being a scientist also requires that you communicate what you know. The rules for writing science are clear and extremely strict, yet there’s still an ocean of difference between science papers that are well written and those that are poorly written. So is it possible to combine the dark art of communicating and the arcane business of science?

Science communication is not about a public relations exercise to get you out of trouble when things go wrong – a bandage you haul out when blood is pouring from an open wound. In BirdLife South Africa’s NGO context, it’s better viewed as a vaccine: if you get it right early in the game, you’re set. Communicating science requires a deep understanding of tools, tricks, platforms and the like. It also benefits from a certain familiarity with the subject (and even a brilliant journalist will often miss the nuance that makes all the difference when writing about a scientific issue). To be a creative communicator about science you need to know why and what you are communicating. More importantly, though, you need to know your target audience.

Nini van der Merwe, who is among other things the communications coordinator in the seabird team and responsible for disseminating information about the Common Oceans and Mouse Free Marion projects, recently completed a semester course in science communication at the University of Stellenbosch. The ending of the Common Oceans project means that Nini will be involved in developing communication products for months – and the science communication course will be invaluable for this. She passed the course with flying colours, scoring more than 90% (compared to the class average of 80%). Congratulations, Nini!

She is available to assist other BirdLife programmes with their communication needs, but cautions that there is no one-size-fits-all in this space, so developing effective communication requires concerted team effort. Sure, giving conservation wings is what we do, but if we don’t know how to tell people about it, our equations will be missing some important factors!


African Penguin conservation research update

African Penguins are in drastic decline. The latest data suggest that there are only 15 400 breeding pairs remaining, which is about 2% of the estimated population in 1900. Of perhaps greater concern is the fact that the population has decreased by roughly 70% in the past 20 years alone.

The threats to the population are wide-ranging and diverse, but chief among them is lack of food. While breeding, penguins are central place foragers, meaning that they cannot travel far before having to return to their nests. Protecting the fish stocks around breeding areas is therefore an obvious action. But penguins also experience critical periods after breeding, specifically before and after they moult. During the moulting period, the birds are land-bound and thus endure an enforced fast for three to four weeks. Penguins can travel widely before moulting in order to fatten up, as they are not restricted by having to return to a nest. Similarly, they need to find food soon after completing their moult in order to replenish lost fat reserves. Protecting fishing grounds for pre- and post-moult penguins is vital, but also difficult because we know they travel great distances. But where exactly do they go? Getting an answer to that question is the first step towards more effective conservation.

I have been fitting penguins with GPS trackers at two colonies to find out where they go. The trackers are small (about 20g) and have minimal drag effect, which is important considering that the birds will be carrying them during critical foraging periods. The devices communicate data via cell signal, so I can download and follow the penguins’ movements online.

We are currently working at Dassen Island, near Yzerfontein on the west coast, and at Stony Point, near Betty’s Bay. These two colonies are quite different and make an interesting comparison: Dassen Island is offshore and was the largest colony of African Penguins in the world before suffering sharp declines, whereas Stony Point is a mainland colony that was established in the 1980s and increased in size before the number of birds stabilised.

At the time of writing, I have deployed trackers on pre-moult penguins at Dassen Island and at Stony Point, as well as on some post-moult birds on a second trip to Dassen. After a few retrievals, there are currently 21 tagged African Penguins at sea. These birds have shown some very interesting patterns. By way of example, I’ll take you through the journey of my ‘favourite’, the first penguin tagged at Dassen Island.

The first surprise came the evening after it had been tagged, when it set off and ended up rounding Cape Agulhas in just five days, covering a distance of more than 300km as the penguin swims. It proceeded to settle in the area between De Hoop Nature Reserve and Stilbaai for three weeks before heading back west to haul out at Stony Point colony for moulting (penguins are not as loyal to one site for moulting as they are for breeding, as it turns out). When CapeNature staff retrieved the tracking device, they took the opportunity to weigh the bird. It tipped the scale at 4.2kg, which is impressive considering that when it left Dassen Island it weighed a relatively meagre 2.68kg! All in all, the pre-moult foraging trip clocked up more than 1000km on the odometer (in a straight line; it’s more likely that the penguin covered many more kilometres) in exactly four weeks.

This first bird was a fairly good reflection of the overall pattern. While some birds from Dassen chose to stay closer to the colony and one ventured north, more than half of them chose to travel to the area off De Hoop to fatten up before moulting. This area is being favoured by birds from the Stony Point colony too, affirming the importance of this stretch of coast to the species. Without modern tracking technology, it would have been impossible to know that an area 300km from a colony could be so important for their feeding.

These data are also affirming that the new penguin colony soon to be established at De Hoop is well located relative to important fishing areas. Penguins at the De Hoop colony will have less far to travel for food, which comes with significant energy savings that benefit the birds in a number of ways, including better body condition and breeding success.

This research will continue for a few seasons more in order to look at changes in strategies from one year to the next, environmental conditions and changes in fish stocks. But already we are armed with an important piece of information that will help us to provide better protection for the African Penguin.


The flagship flufftail

An effective and reliable method of surveying rare and elusive wetland rallids is an example of one of the novel products derived from the White-winged Flufftail Project thus far. Each year since its inception, the project has surveyed a designated wetland in Mpumalanga to ascertain the status of the most threatened rallid in South Africa, the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. During October 2018 Robin Colyn and Carina Coetzer undertook the immense task of expanding this project to three high-altitude wetland sites spanning KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Mpumalanga.

The project is aimed primarily at gaining further insight into the rallids’ population sizes, ecology and conservation status. By better understanding these facets, we hope to direct conservation strategies that are effective and can promote the persistence of these rallids going forward. Furthermore, by using the White-winged Flufftail as a flagship species we hope to understand the state of the overall wetland diversity and promote the conservation of this threatened ecosystem in South Africa.

We would like to thank KEM-JV for sponsoring the BirdLife South Africa Fellow of Conservation position, and the Ingula Partnership, Rockjumper Birding Tours, Airports Company South Africa and many individual donors for their support and sponsorship of the White-winged Flufftail Project.


The African–Asian experience

My visit to Bangkok from 9 to 21 October 2018 to attend the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) staff retreat and the annual IUCN SSC Steering Committee meeting was an exciting trip for me, primarily because it was my first time in Asia. Also, it gave me the opportunity to put faces to the many names I have been in e-mail contact with in the larger SSC network. This will hopefully make communication with my distant colleagues easier in the future.

Considering that the SSC Chair’s Office for the current quadrennium (2016–2020) is based in Caracas, Venezuela, and that staff members are scattered around the world, including in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Venezuela and Argentina, the annual staff retreat gives us a rare chance to get to know each other better through discussions and the exchange of ideas. Specifically, during the course of the four-day get-together we discussed issues relating to the strategy and vision of the Chair’s Office for the current quadrennium, with each staff member reflecting on the past year and citing its highlights as well as challenges to carrying out their roles effectively. In addition, we prepared for the IUCN SSC Steering Committee meeting to follow, looking into the agenda and how the SSC can support the work of the IUCN Asian Regional Office (ARO). The retreat ended with a staff team-building bicycle ride through the Bang Krachao National Park in Bangkok.

During the IUCN SSC Steering Committee meeting, members of the committee and representatives from the IUCN SSC, IUCN Global Species Programme (GSP) and the IUCN ARO deliberated on various topics to ensure the delivery of the Red List Strategic Plan for the current quadrennium. Specifically, we looked into issues of governance of all SSC Specialist Groups working together with the GSP under the ‘One Programme Approach’, and how the SSC should engage with the Convention on Biological Diversity to make sure the Red List of Threatened Species stays relevant beyond 2020.

The meeting ended with a public symposium at Kasetsart University, Bangkok, which had as its theme ‘A Global Perspective on Conservation’. Conservation leaders from around the world shared some fascinating success stories relating to various species, while I spoke about National Red Listing and the delineation of Key Biodiversity Areas and its importance for country reporting from an African perspective.

The final day was dedicated to sightseeing, including an excursion to the Gulf of Thailand, where we went whale watching. Although looking for whales was the primary activity of the day, a brief stop at a lagoon close to the harbour was also an exciting time for me as we spent some time birding. Among the many bird species observed, I logged Little Egret, Black Crow, White-throated Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Great Egret and Little Cormorant.

The hot weather in Bangkok notwithstanding, this was definitely one of the best meetings I have ever attended as it presented an excellent opportunity for networking, sharing knowledge, sightseeing and trying out the local ‘spicy’ cuisine. In particular, there were areas of synergy between IUCN ARO (the Belt and Road Initiative) and the Biodiversity Assessment for Spatial Prioritisation in Africa (BASPA) project that I am currently coordinating in Africa, where accurate biodiversity data can be extremely useful in informing large developmental projects.


Come Flock with us!

BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meeting will be held at 15h00 on Saturday, 11 May 2019 at the Nedbank head office in Sandton, Johannesburg. Drinks and canapés will be served after the AGM, followed by a presentation by a distinguished international speaker. More details will be available soon.

African Birdlife magazine

With the summer holiday fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about where you’ll spend your leisure time – an ambitious road trip around the subregion perhaps, or a more sedate, family-oriented exploration of the Garden Route? And speaking of family, when is a good age to introduce your child to the delights of birding? Wherever you are, you’ll find plenty to keep you well informed and well entertained in the November/December issue of African Birdlife.

Get your 2019 calendar now!

Purchase BirdLife South Africa’s stunning new Birds of Southern Africa calendar and each month you’ll enjoy a beautiful full-page bird photograph. The calendar makes a lovely gift for the festive season and we can post it on your behalf locally and internationally.

The cost of each calendar is R145 (excluding postage). As stocks are limited, we recommend you send us your order soon to avoid disappointment. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order or for more information (including Postnet to Postnet rates).

Walkerbouts Inn

Only 60km from Barkly East, Walkerbouts Inn in Rhodes is a 3-star home-from-home providing comfortable en-suite accommodation, fine country cuisine and hospitality in the best traditions of the ‘Platteland’. In addition to our catered accommodation, we have self-catering houses and cottages to offer in the village.

The village of Rhodes, established in 1891 and proclaimed a National Monument in 1997, is surrounded by mountains and passes that allow visitors to access the plateaux where rare bird species may be encountered. These include the endangered Bearded Vulture and other montane species such as the Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Ground Woodpecker, Grey-winged Francolin and Mountain Pipit, as well as the Black Harrier and many others. In fact, about 230 species have been identified in the district to date; copies of the local bird list are available from reception at Walkerbouts.

At an altitude of more than 2600m, the famous Naudesnek Pass is one of the highest passes in South Africa and is an entry point to the escarpment plateau, while the Carlisleshoek Pass provides access to the Ben McDhui plateau. At 3001m, Ben McDhui is one of the highest peaks in South Africa.

As well as birding, visitors can enjoy the Alpine flora – a feast for the eye in summer – and may encounter Sloggets ice rat, a high-altitude rodent. An added incentive is that the Eastern Cape highlands are malaria free.

For more information, go to; for booking enquiries, e-mail or call 045 974 9290.

The Sentinels: Cranes of South Africa

It’s little wonder that cranes so captivate photographer Daniel Dolpire. They are among the most stately and spectacular of all birds. The largest of them are the tallest flying birds on the planet. Their plumage is typically striking and members of the family are acclaimed for the intricate patterning on their faces and heads. The habits of these elegant birds are no less entrancing. Their joyous and acrobatic dancing is simply breathtaking. The sounds of their resonant trumpeting calls are among the most powerful and evocative in the avian world.

Sadly, cranes are also among the most threatened of birds. No fewer than 11 of the world’s 15 species are now considered in danger of extinction. The main threats come from the wanton destruction of the expansive wetlands that these birds are so reliant on for their continued survival. But other perils intrinsic to our increasingly crowded planet also take their toll. The demise of cranes is by no means unavoidable though. They are adaptable animals, capable of living alongside humans if they are afforded a measure of tolerance.

South Africa supports three crane species. The courtly Blue Crane occurs virtually nowhere else in the world and is the country’s national bird. The majestic Wattled Crane is among the most endangered birds in South Africa. The ornate Grey Crowned Crane is one of the most beautiful birds on earth but, worryingly, it seems to be decreasing across its broad African range even faster than the other two species.

The Sentinels is a photographic festival celebrating the beauty and uniqueness of these remarkable birds. Daniel travelled through the heart of South Africa’s ‘crane country’, meticulously documenting these birds in their natural habitat. Sharing with us timeless images of cranes at rest and in action as they go about their daily routines, he draws us deep into the private lives of these flagship species, even revealing intimate details of their nesting activities.

Towards the end of the project, Daniel brought in local ornithologist David Allan to ensure that the volume was underpinned by a scientifically rigorous text.

The Sentinels provides an unmatched window into the allure and wonder of South Africa’s cranes and the enchanting places they call home.

The book can be purchased directly from Daniel at

Conservation leaders: the next generation

The development of human capital has increasingly become a concern for the conservation community in South Africa. How do we ensure that there are enough well-qualified, suitably experienced and passionate people to continue to carry the flame for biodiversity conservation in this country? This is the question the current leaders of conservation organisations have begun to ask themselves.

Enter the new IUCN Tomorrow’s Leaders Today initiative, which forms part of the response to this question and aims to develop young conservationists and teach them new skills so that they are ready for the rigours of leadership. The IUCN partner organisations were asked to nominate potential candidates and from these a core group of 22 participants was selected. The first and perhaps most important consideration was that this group represented the demographics of South Africa, embodying the transformation which all are hoping for, both in our country and within the environmental sector.

The four-day workshop included sessions where participants were pulled out of their comfort zone and expressed their visions for the future of the environment through acting or dance. Another session focused on the biggest drivers of change for humanity and how these may impact conservation. One particularly interesting session involved the participants asking the workshop leaders what they felt were the toughest challenges facing biodiversity conservation. Transformation of the sector, overcoming conflict and improving collaboration, and how to rise above politics were some of the issues discussed.

The workshop’s loosely structured programme created a ‘safe space’ that allowed us to delve into these hard questions without prejudice or emotion, which a good leader will no doubt be required to do. The cherry on the top was that the young leaders were asked to imagine how this programme should be developed, thereby charting the course for our own development.

It was a privilege to have been given a few days to step away from the duties in which we are all ensconced and to consider the bigger picture for conservation in South Africa. Strangers left the workshop as friends, confident in a bright future for the conservation of our nation’s natural heritage.

Images by Dale Wright


Being birder-friendly

BirdLife South Africa aims to promote the enjoyment, conservation, study and understanding of wild birds and their habitats. One way to achieve this is by promoting birding, which is considered to be environmentally friendly since it has very little impact on nature. Birdwatching is a fast-growing hobby practised by people of all ages and is a popular family activity that can be enjoyed anywhere and at any time.

To promote birding in this country, BirdLife South Africa’s Avitourism Division identified the need to offer local and international birders relevant information, particularly about where to go, who to go with and where they could stay. From this initiative the Birder Friendly Establishment programme was launched.

Birder-friendly Establishments and Tour Operators register with BirdLife South Africa after they have met certain criteria. They must:

  • Cater to the specific needs of birders by recognising that they often rise before dawn and by offering flexible meal times or packed meals when requested;
  • Be a responsible tour operator by respecting the environment, offering customised birding holidays and links to birder-friendly lodges and providing information about birds in their area and local bird guides;
  • Support community bird guides involved in BirdLife South Africa’s Guide Training Programme and provide guests with information about where to contact local bird guides; and
  • Support BirdLife South Africa’s strategic objective of conserving wild birds and their habitats.

Birder Friendly Establishments are encouraged to create an environment that will attract birds at their lodges, for example by planting indigenous trees that produce nectar and plants that bear fruits or seeds, by providing food for wildlife and by using alternatives to pesticides whenever possible.

Lodge owners can also cater for birders by providing bird lists, binoculars and field guides that can be used around the lodge, and even facilities such as bird hides. They could also consider putting up birdfeeders and bird baths to attract birds to their property.

For an annual subscription of R1280 (South Africa) or R1880 (SADC countries), BirdLife South Africa offers members of the Birder Friendly Programme the following benefits:

  • A listing on the BirdLife South Africa website where clients will be able to book directly with the establishment;
  • Use of the Birder Friendly logo and branding on their marketing material;
  • Information and advice on how to make their enterprise attractive to both birds and birders;
  • Inclusion in self-drive itineraries that will be marketed on the website and in the BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter;
  • Promotion of establishments to bird tour operators;
  • BirdLife South Africa membership;
  • Six issues of African Birdlife magazine.

Please visit our website: for more information about the Birder Friendly programme. You can also contact Natasja Retief at for more information and to enquire how you can register as a Birder Friendly Establishment or Tour Operator.


Isdell House goes solar

The new rooftop solar installation at BirdLife South Africa’s Isdell House in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, will bring huge benefits to the organisation. The 23 panels will help to cut municipal electricity usage significantly, will pay for themselves in five years and will thereafter generate increasing cost savings each year. We pride ourselves on our indigenous, water-wise garden and this was the logical next step to improve the resource use of our retrofitted building.

Thanks go to Raydian Power Solutions for the sterling job done and for also adding 57 energy-saving lights for the offices as a bonus! Thanks also go to Centrafin for providing the competitive finance deal that made the project a reality.


Birding Big Day 2018

One of the highlights on the local birding calendar is BirdLife South Africa’s Birding Big Day (BBD). By doing their best to record as many species as possible within 24 hours, birders in South Africa celebrate the wonderful bird diversity we enjoy. This year, on 24 November, we are again partnering with the mobile app BirdLasser so that we can show the progress of teams live on an interactive map that can be viewed by participants and their supporters at any time during the day. In addition, a dedicated Facebook Events Page has been created to enable participants to post and interact before, during and after the event.

There are two categories in which birders can participate: either the Open Category, where a team – maximum four members – birds within an area of 50km radius; or the Community Category, which is less formal and aimed at large groups, such as bird clubs or schools. For more information, visit the BirdLife South Africa website.

Teams are invited to log their sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser and share them to the dedicated BirdLasser BBD event page. In order to do so, one member of the team must enter the data on BirdLasser while birding. Excitement levels will increase over the course of the day, as the challenge page updates automatically when teams record their sightings. For more information about BirdLasser, visit or e-mail

If you plan to participate in BBD, please register before the event by completing the online form. There is no entry fee, but a minimum donation of R300 is required to qualify for a BirdLife South Africa Birding Big Day 2018 cloth badge.


Monitoring Southern Bald Ibises

The national project will build on work done previously by Kate Henderson and Robin Colyn and aims to assess the current status of Southern Bald Ibis breeding colonies across South Africa and Lesotho; identify potential unknown or under-surveyed breeding sites; monitor changes in colony size and breeding success over time; determine what proportion of breeding colonies and available habitat fall under formal protection and within Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs); and examine the spatial movement of fledged individuals over their range through tracking.

The project’s current focus is to obtain data on breeding success from a representative number of colonies. Bird clubs in the Southern Bald Ibis’s core distribution area have been identified and contacted with regard to establishing a citizen scientist monitoring programme.

Nest monitoring started at the end of August – the peak egg-laying season is in August and September – and the feedback already received from the volunteer monitors is mostly positive. Six known nests in the vicinity of Van Reenen and Ingula Nature Reserve have also been monitored, with confirmed breeding at all sites.

Anyone willing to assist with this monitoring initiative is asked to contact Carina Coetzer at


Vultures are safe at Tswalu

Situated in the far north of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve covers 115 000ha of arid savanna, including vast stretches of the Korannaberg and red dunes blown in from the Kalahari. White-backed Vultures frequently skim over the reserve, not only in search of food, but also to indulge in daily baths at Griffon Pan, while Lappet-faced Vultures use the reserve’s numerous camel thorn trees to build large, bowl-shaped nests in which to raise their young.

Dedicated to the conservation of its wildlife, the reserve’s management has committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the vultures visiting the reserve have every opportunity to flourish and perhaps even increase in number. This includes retrofitting all power lines with mitigation measures that will prevent collisions and electrocutions; ensuring that water reservoirs are fitted with mechanisms that will allow floundering birds to escape; protecting and monitoring nest trees during the breeding season; and enforcing the use of lead-free ammunition by all rangers in the reserve.

Linda van den Heever visited Tswalu early in October to meet with management and to assess various aspects of the reserve’s infrastructure. During her time there she was also interviewed by ONEPLANET, a French production company filming a documentary series about the reversal of anthropogenic impacts on natural areas. Tswalu will feature as an example of how anthropogenic impacts can be reversed successfully, and an insert on the declaration of Tswalu as a Vulture Safe Zone will be included.

Soon to be declared South Africa’s first Vulture Safe Zone, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve serves as a prime example of how the passionate commitment of landowners can change the prospects of our vulture populations for the better.

We would like to thank Gus van Dyk and his team for their heartfelt hospitality and their dedication to the safety and conservation of vultures.

Images by Linda van den Heever


Sustainable energy needs strong networks

Some problems are just too large for any individual, group or even country to tackle alone. When it comes to lessening the effects of global climate change, ensuring that everyone has access to clean, green energy and protecting biodiversity, BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project is playing a small part in the achievement of these goals by helping to promote communication among stakeholders in South Africa and beyond.

In October the project hosted its annual Birds and Renewable Energy Forum, which brings together representatives from the renewable energy industry, NGOs, government, academics and consultants to discuss the latest industry trends, lessons learnt and opportunities to help minimise the negative effects renewable energy can have on birds and other biodiversity. We also co-hosted a workshop with the South Africa Bat Assessment Association on the latest tool available to estimate the number of bird and bat fatalities at renewable energy facilities (GenEst).

Soon we will be convening the newly established BirdLife Africa Energy Forum, which seeks to enhance the capacity of the BirdLife Africa Partnership to engage in the energy sector and help address the negative impacts of this sector’s development on birds.

For more information, contact me at


Mitigating climate change is up to everyone

In the wake of the report issued earlier this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in which scientists recommended that global warming be restricted to below 1.5°C rather than the previously proposed 2°C, BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson asked staff how we could all contribute to achieving this.

Although it is often not explicit, much of our work already helps to address climate change. Healthy ecosystems, including those whose protection we secure through our Important Bird and Biodiversity Programme, are important for climate change mitigation (keeping carbon in the ground) and for climate change adaptation (protecting people and infrastructure from extreme weather events and flooding). Our Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme helps identify resilient ecological networks, providing space for species to adapt and respond to a changing climate, and our Birds and Renewable Energy Project helps ensure that the generation of renewable energy does not have negative consequences for biodiversity. But we can always do more.

To further the BirdLife South Africa contribution, we have committed to regularly updating, educating and inspiring our members to play their part in helping achieve the ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ that the IPCC states are required to keep warming below 1.5°C. By supporting BirdLife South Africa’s work, you are already making a huge difference. But if you want to do more, watch this space in our next newsletter for tips and advice.


SABAP2 data at work in the Waterberg

Collecting data for SABAP2 is a time-consuming (though fun) activity and can be costly too, so atlasers can be forgiven for wanting to know what the data are used for. Michèle and Warwick Tarboton, as the Regional Conservation Group for the Waterberg System IBA, have created a website called Waterberg BioQuest, which contains information about animals, birds and plants of the region. In the section on birds, next to each species is the relevant distribution map. These maps are based on vetted SABAP2 data – data submitted by atlasers.

The website helps to promote the Waterberg as a birding destination and highlights the importance of the area from a biodiversity point of view. We will soon use data from it to determine whether the Waterberg System IBA also qualifies as a Key Biodiversity Area, a new global, unified system for identifying the most important sites for biodiversity.

So there is no doubt that SABAP2 data are extremely important, as shown by the efforts of Michèle and Warwick – just one of many examples of how SABAP2 data are used for the benefit of birds and their conservation.


The last of the National Awareness Workshops

Having held National Awareness Workshops in fishing countries such as Namibia, Mozambique, the Seychelles, Indonesia and Fiji, the BirdLife South Africa representatives knew only too well that the engagement in each country was different. And Malaysia proved to be no exception. They returned happy to report that the engagement there was very positive and they are optimistic about future collaboration with the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DOFM).

Malaysia’s tuna longline fleet consists of 19 vessels, only six of which operate in the area south of 25°S where vessels are required to employ two out of three seabird bycatch mitigation measures (according to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s (IOTC) Resolution 12/06). As Malaysia currently does not have a national observer programme, measuring compliance is a challenge. The DOFM was very receptive to an awareness workshop and the BirdLife South Africa team was encouraged to see that it really is committed to improving its practices. However, like similar departments in many other smaller fishing nations, it has limited capacity.

The team was also encouraged to see that nine of the 16 Malaysian participants at the workshop were women. This was the highest female–male ratio noted in any of the National Awareness Workshops and shows that Malaysia is open to reform and equal representation in its governmental departments.

The workshop had three very positive and potentially exciting outcomes. A frank and open discussion about the need for a national observer programme enabled the BirdLife South Africa team to gain an understanding of the challenges faced by the DOFM, and together the two parties were able to consider potential solutions. One idea is for a professional observer agency to provide a service or offer training once a national programme has been established. The DOFM realises that it is not currently compliant with IOTC resolutions and in a bid to mitigate this it has installed CCTV cameras on three of its longline vessels, one of which operates on the high seas. This decision again indicates that the DOFM is serious about meeting the necessary requirements, and that if offered enough support and assistance, its fleet could soon achieve better compliance.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommends that all countries with fishing operations that might impact seabirds should produce and implement a National Plan of Action for Seabirds (NPOA-S). Malaysia has few seabirds in its national waters – and no albatrosses or petrels – and there are no known interactions between seabirds and tuna longline operations. Understandably, many officials considered an NPOA-S to be irrelevant – as it was until Malaysian vessels began operating in waters south of 25°S. The BirdLife South Africa team provided guidance on how to best go about drafting and implementing an NPOA-S. Malaysia Nature Society (MNS), the local BirdLife International partner, attended the workshop and agreed to support the DOFM in the drafting of a plan.

The most exciting outcome of the workshop was that a vessel owner requested that the use of line-weighting be demonstrated on his vessels. This was unexpected, as vessel owners and fishers are notoriously opposed to any mitigation measures that might interfere with their gear configurations. Although an agreement has not yet been signed, BirdLife South Africa and the DOFM are discussing how such a demonstration could be achieved.

The BirdLife South Africa team has learnt many lessons from the National Awareness Workshops, above all that informing about and implementing bycatch mitigation measures is an ongoing process that relies on multiple stakeholders showing up and showing support. All the countries engaged with were receptive to the team’s suggestions, but the practicalities of implementing mitigation measures are the point in the process where uncertainty creeps in and the process comes to a halt. Continued engagement and capacity building are therefore necessary to ensure that best practice is continuously implemented. Also a willingness to take bold steps with countries and assist their fleets to change is a critical step in bringing sustainability to tuna fishing on the high seas. The Common Oceans project has allowed us to make significant inroads and in some cases to achieve meaningful success. However, it’s clear that much work remains to be done to help other fleets to implement best-practice measures to mitigate seabird bycatch.

For more information, contact Nini van der Merwe or Ross Wanless, Seabird Conservation Programme Manager


Junior bird clubs

Dr Maria Montessori said, ‘Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.’ This is exactly the platform that our staff have been providing to Country College (Volksrust), The Clay Edu-Centre and the Smiley’s Group (eSizameleni). Every week Kristi Garland and David Nkosi spend valuable time with each group, introducing them to birds and birding and using birds as vehicles to explore environmental issues.

We begin by connecting the head, heart and hand, where learning about birds and their habitats will lead to appreciation and care – and ultimately to taking action to secure habitats and species for future generations. The learners build their skills and knowledge base to create a better understanding of the natural world. Our activities take into account the curriculum and what the children are learning about in class so that, although we are biased towards natural sciences, there are activities that also involve mathematics (data handling of species sightings), social sciences (creating an awareness about birds in local communities) and life skills (social responsibility).

How do we make birds and birding exciting for these children? Do you remember the first time you picked up a pair of binoculars, the thrill as you focused on a small speck in the distance? And then more excitement when, with the help of your field guide, you identified the bird? This is the adventure that 200 learners embark on each week, exploring their school grounds, learning to handle field guides and binoculars, identifying birds and keeping records of all their sightings. Add a touch of competition and you have no problem keeping their interest and increasing their enthusiasm!

At the end of each term we hold a quiz on what has been covered during the previous three months. Not only do the learners thoroughly enjoy it, but it also enables us, as facilitators, to gauge how much knowledge the youngsters have retained and where we need to focus attention in the term ahead. The Wakkerstroom Bird Club and the Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association have helped us with this work and we are grateful for the support they have given the learners.

The ultimate challenge that the junior bird clubs build up to each year is Birding Big Day. With this event just around the corner, the team is keen to start and has already scouted out the best areas to visit on the day. We aim to improve on the 64 species that we recorded in 2017 during a 15km walk around Wakkerstroom. Watch this space for our results!

Images by Kristi Garland and David Mbuza


BirdLife in Belgium

Representing BirdLife South Africa, Mark Anderson and Roger Wanless took part in the BirdLife Council for Africa Partnership and the Global Partnership meetings held in Belgium from 24 to 28 September. Of the 120 organisations that make up the BirdLife Partnership, most were also represented. The meetings dealt with a number of important matters, including the development of strategies, the election of Global Council members and the launch of the State of the World’s Birds Report. Ultimately, the goal of the meetings was to ensure that the partnership is better equipped to conserve birds around the globe.


The Hawk Conservancy Trust

On 11 October BirdLife South Africa welcomed to its headquarters the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s CEO Penny Smout, its chairman Scott Jones and Campbell Murn, who heads up Conservation and Research. The morning’s programme of events gave both organisations a platform to showcase what they do and the current research projects and conservation initiatives they are involved with.

After Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, had welcomed everyone and given an overview of the organisation, Penny gave a synopsis of the history, structure and activities of the Hawk Conservancy Trust. Based near Andover in Hampshire, the trust is a registered charity dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey. Visitors to its premises can enjoy close encounters with various different raptor species and watch breathtaking flight displays, while the knowledgeable staff talk them through the biology and conservation of the individual species. The trust is also home to the UK’s only raptor hospital and its rehabilitation centre has a release rate of patients of about 50%.

Campbell Murn gave a presentation about some the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s research programmes, which include a large number of projects on vultures in southern Africa and Pakistan. He was followed by Hanneline Smit-Robinson, manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme and Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation, who presented an outline of the programme and the wide scope of species it is currently working on. Linda van den Heever, who manages the threatened species project on vultures, was next on the agenda with two presentations: one on her investigations into the impacts of lead on vultures and the second on introducing vulture-safe zones in South Africa, which will provide landscape-level protection for these far-ranging birds.

Hanneline returned to the stage to showcase the Taita Falcon project, explaining how difficult it is to survey these seldom-seen cliff nesters. Melissa Whitecross, threatened species project manager for raptors and large terrestrial birds, delivered three talks: on the movement ecology of juvenile Secretarybirds in southern Africa; on assessing the distribution and demographics of the Southern Banded Snake Eagle within the forestry matrix of northern KwaZulu-Natal; and a synopsis of the Black Harrier Collaboration and the work being done to investigate the potential pathways that are enabling harmful chemicals such as PCB and DDT to reach these apex predators.

Samantha Ralston-Paton, manager of the Birds & Renewable Energy Programme, presented some of the highlights from her world-leading research and implementation of bird-friendly practices within the wind energy industry. To finish off the day, Ernst Retief, data and spatial manager for the Important Birds and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme, illustrated how the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) network will cater for large birds of prey that have a tendency to disperse out of protected areas.

The day was a huge success and opened a dialogue between our two organisations that is sure to continue. Thank you to Penny, Scott and Campbell for taking the time to meet with us and we look forward to future discussions and conservation actions that benefit the world’s birds of prey.

Image by Janine Goosen


BBD at Mopane Bush Lodge

Mopane Bush Lodge is a luxury 4-star safari lodge in northern Limpopo Province that offers a relaxing stay with great food and wonderful amenities. It is located in Mapesu Private Game Reserve, a 7200ha property surrounded by unusual sandstone formations, mopane bushveld and abundant wildlife, where the focus is on conserving biodiversity and the reintroduction of endangered species.

The reserve recently launched an unfenced camping area comprising 24 individual sites and three ablution blocks. Tent rentals are optional. For guests who prefer a more pampered experience, the reserve also offers four air-conditioned self-catering units close to the lodge. All the accommodation options offer complimentary Wi-Fi and allow guests to use the pool, bar and restaurant facilities at the lodge.

Situated less than 10km from Mapungubwe National Park, Mopane Bush Lodge makes an ideal base for exploring the park and visiting the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site and Museum, San rock art and the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Big 5 game viewing is excellent, as is birding in the two reserves – with about 430 species in the area, your BBD tally won’t be low!

The lodge is in a low-risk malaria area, so ideal for any age group.

For more information, visit and To book, e-mail or call 015 534 7906/083 633 0795.

IBA team meeting

The IBA and Policy and Advocacy teams birding in the Wolkberg Forest Belt IBA.

The teams talked about the various challenges they face and discussed potential solutions.

As members of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) team are scattered around South Africa, the annual team meeting is a great platform for getting to know each other better and exchanging and discussing ideas. Last month the IBA team, together with the Advocacy Programme team, held the meeting and breakaway at Kurisa Moya in Magoebaskloof.

Team members made presentations on the status of their projects and as a group they talked about various challenges they face and workshopped potential solutions. Such challenges included trying to get better political buy-in for the IBA’s work and influencing policies to help provide incentives for landowners to engage in conservation activities on their properties.

The team is striving to work more effectively across programmes and with conservation NGOs, including in our new partnership with Conservation Outcomes. Its successes since the last meeting were also celebrated: 21 000ha within IBA project sites have been secured as private protected areas and another 31 000ha have been designated conservation areas in the past year.

Team-building was an element of the meeting and there’s no better way to achieve it than by birding, on this occasion in the beautiful indigenous forests of the Wolkberg Forest Belt IBA where forest specials such as Knysna Turaco, Black-fronted Bush-shrike and Olive Woodpecker were seen. The team returned home energised, inspired and ready for another year of working to protect South Africa’s important bird habitats.


Make your mark on Instagram

Red-knobbed Coot with chicks. Photo credit: Tom Davies

African Pitta. Photo credit: Anton Kruger

Tag us when you post your photographs of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) or birds on Instagram and they could be chosen to feature on BirdLife South Africa’s Instagram account, giving you additional exposure.

All photographs must be of southern African bird species or one of the 112 IBAs within South Africa. Featured photos will be selected on quality, showing unique bird behaviour or the rarity of the bird.

To submit a photograph, simply tag BirdLife South Africa on Instagram using the hashtag #birdlife_sa. If you are not on Instagram or find it easier, you may also submit your photo via e-mail to

Some photos may even be selected to be used for BirdLife South Africa’s marketing campaigns (photographers will be credited).

We look forward to your contributions!


BBD 2018 – celebrating South Africa’s birds

This year Birding Big Day (BBD) will be held on Saturday, 24 November. We are again partnering with the mobile app BirdLasser and will be able to show the progress of teams live on an interactive map that can be viewed by participants and supporters at any time during the day. A dedicated Facebook events page has been created on which participants will be able to post and interact before, during and after the event.

Birders can take part in one of two categories: the Open Category, which allows teams of maximum four members to bird within an area of 50km radius; the less formal Community Category, which is for large groups such as a bird clubs or schools. For more information about the categories and rules, visit

Teams are invited to log their sightings on the mobile app BirdLasser and share them to the dedicated BirdLasser Birding Big Day events page. In order to do so, one member of the team must enter the data on the app while birding. During the day the challenge page will update automatically as the teams record their sightings, thus adding to the excitement. For more information about BirdLasser, go to or e-mail

If you would like to take part in BBD 2018, please register before the event by completing the online form. There is no entry fee, but a minimum donation of R300 is required to qualify for a BirdLife South Africa Birding Big Day 2018 cloth badge.


A happy return

The UCT Birding Club is a home for the community of bird lovers at the University of Cape Town, staff and students alike. The club organises day excursions, multi-day trips, talks and lectures, film screenings, volunteer and research opportunities, citizen science involvement and other events such as the ever-popular pub quiz. It has strong ties to the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, considered to be one of the finest institutions of its ilk in the world. As part of its annual celebrations, the club invited me, in my current capacity as a Conservation Project Officer at BirdLife South Africa, to be the keynote speaker at its AGM in the hallowed Niven Library.

The UCT Birding Club committee for 2018–2019.

Luckily for my nerves, the ‘Niven’ is familiar territory, as I spent long hours there while studying for my MSc through the ‘Fitz’. In fact, it was during a period of writer’s block in the library that I came up with the idea of founding a university bird club. The pull of being outside and looking for birds was much stronger than my inclination to delve into statistics! I began to wonder who might be up for a jaunt to Strandfontein … Jess, Billi, Dom? The list went cold. I knew there were other students out there who were keen birders, but there was no connection between us. Then it struck me: we need a bird club!

I arranged a meeting with the university’s societies coordinators, who suggested I get a committee together to run the club for a year. If we could show that we were satisfying a need for at least 50 people on campus and were capable of organising successful events, they would accept us onto the official roster. I roped in a few birdy friends, who pulled in a couple more and, just like that, the UCT Birding Club was born.

Returning a few years later in a professional capacity was, therefore, a real privilege. I gave a talk about the plight of the African Penguin and what BirdLife South Africa is doing to prevent this iconic species from going extinct. The talk was followed by some lively discussions over popcorn and wine (it is a university society after all) about eating seafood sustainably, the exciting prospect of a new penguin colony at De Hoop (the club had visited the reserve during the year) and the general poor status of seabirds worldwide. Voting for the new committee followed and I was delighted that my good friend Jessleena Suri, the last remaining member of the founding committee, was re-elected as chairperson.

It was very heartening to see that the club has grown in scope and enthusiasm. It even offers merchandise such as bumper stickers, is taking longer trips to places like Agulhas National Park, the Garden Route and Tankwa Karoo, and is keeping a steady membership, which is difficult in a university environment where people come and go.

As far as I can tell from Internet searches and asking around the Youth Africa Birding (YAB) community, the club is currently the only university-based birding club in Africa – quite a feather in its cap! The successes of YAB and the UCT Birding Club show that birding is not a hobby exclusively for older people as is so often perceived; young people also enjoy the marvels of the avian world. As more and more of the global population becomes disconnected from nature, fostering appreciation for the natural environment is crucial for the sake of conservation going forward.

If you know any birding UCT students or staff, encourage them to join the club!


2019 calendars now available

Purchase BirdLife South Africa’s stunning new Birds of Southern Africa calendar and each month you’ll enjoy a beautiful full-page bird photograph. The calendar makes a lovely gift for the festive season and we can post it on your behalf locally and internationally.

The cost of each calendar is R145 (excluding postage). As stocks are limited, we recommend you send us your order soon to avoid disappointment. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order or for more information.

African Birdlife magazine

Readers of the September/October issue of African Birdlife will find a sober – and sobering – account by Peter Ryan of the effects of plastic pollution, especially on birds. It’s a subject that Peter has studied for much of his adult life and one that is now firmly in the world conservation spotlight.

Also in this issue are articles on drongo and white-eye identification, the African Fish Eagles of Lake Naivasha and, closer to home, the Swift Terns of the V&A Waterfront, and the kingfisher–mangrove connection – as well as the usual crop of competitions, news, sightings, SABAP2 and more.

BirdLife South Africa at the IOC

Robin Colyn presenting about White-winged Flufftails.

Hanneline and Robin enjoying the sights in Vancouver.

In August, Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Robin Colyn travelled to Vancouver, Canada, where they represented BirdLife South Africa at the 27th International Ornithological Congress (IOC) (#IOCongress2018). Arguably the largest ornithological congress in the world, the IOC was attended this year by more than 2000 delegates, who were given the chance to increase their knowledge and learn the latest about innovations in ornithology and conservation science. Conferences such as this also provide networking opportunities and the prospect of catching up with peers. The South African delegation included colleagues from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, and academic staff and students from the universities of Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal and Stellenbosch.

This year the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Waterbird Society (#Waterbirds2018) coincided with the IOC. At both conferences Hanneline presented BirdLife South Africa’s collaborative work on unravelling the genetics of the two populations of White-winged Flufftails (in South Africa and Ethiopia), while Robin demonstrated how he is using remote sensing and ecological niche modelling to guide efforts to protect the White-winged Flufftail in Africa. Recent advances in our knowledge about this species were well received. These meetings presented an opportunity to showcase the results of research, to contribute to global conservation science and ultimately to develop our efforts to save the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail from extinction.


Are Black Storks still nesting in the KNP?

Surveying Lanner Gorge was made infinitely easier using our sponsored Zeiss scope.

Did you know that the Black Storks of southern Africa are a resident subpopulation of the larger migratory European/Asian population that moves into East and Central Africa from November to March? The breeding behaviour of the two populations differs in that the storks in the European population nest in trees in April and May, whereas the resident southern African birds breed on cliffs from late July to September. A small population of Black Storks on the Iberian Peninsula are also cliff nesters and do not migrate south.

The Black Stork survey team 2018 in Makuya Nature Reserve: Cox Maradwa, Fanie du Plessis, Melissa Whitecross, Thetshelesani Ndwmato and Ernst Retief, with Linda van den Heever and Shelly Tshilani Munyai in front.

Declines in the number and distribution of southern Africa’s Black Storks observed in the past two decades, as shown by the Southern African Bird Atlas projects SABAP1 and SABAP2, are cause for concern. Surveys of historical nest sites in the Waterberg region of Limpopo have yielded no active sites for the past two seasons. It is still unclear what may be driving these declines, but BirdLife South Africa is working to find out and implement conservation actions that will help these secretive storks. After Warwick Tarboton had given BirdLife South Africa the historical location of nest sites in the Luvuvhu Gorge, an area regarded as a stronghold for the species in the 1980s, it was decided that the gorge would be the focus of the Black Stork Project’s attention.

Over the past two years, South African National Parks (SANParks) has granted BirdLife South Africa permission to survey the Luvuvhu River gorge in the northern Kruger National Park. The Luvuvhu forms the park’s western boundary for about 52km in the north between the Punda Maria and Pafuri gates. As it flows eastward out of the Soutpansberg range, the river has cut through sandstone and quartzite to form a steep-sided gorge. In August 2017 the survey team did observe four Black Storks in the area, but could locate no active nests on the gorge’s cliffs. This year it hoped to have better luck when it set off up the N1 highway in early August. The team comprised BirdLife South Africa staff Linda van den Heever, Melissa Whitecross, Fanie du Plessis and Ernst Retief.

After collecting SANParks game guard Herman Ntimane at Punda Maria, the team headed for the Pafuri research camp on the South Africa–Mozambique border. For the next few days we surveyed long tracts of the Luvuvhu River, including Lanner Gorge and Mamba Valley near Punda Maria. Once again four birds were seen, but no active nests were found.

A Black Stork adult stands guard near its nest. The single chick was estimated to be 30–40 days old.

We bade farewell to Herman and journeyed north to Makuya Nature Reserve, which lies adjacent to Kruger National Park on the other side of the Luvuvhu. With the assistance of local game guard Cox Maradwa and two interns who were staying in the reserve, Thetshelesani Ndwmato and Shelly Tshilani Munyai, we surveyed Luvuvhupoort and the Makanja area. On the final day we went back to check a section of cliff where we’d seen substantial whitewash the day before. As the sun rose over the rocky cliffs, we looked down into the valley and saw a lone Black Stork perched on the white-washed cliff. Then, after repositioning ourselves along the cliff line, we located a second adult in a half-hidden hole. Could this be the nest we had been searching for? We moved further along the cliff line to get a better view. As I zoomed into the image on the back of my camera, I exclaimed in excitement, ‘There’s a chick in that nest!’

The changes in reporting rates for Black Stork in South Africa between the SABAP1 and SABAP2. The red and orange areas indicate quarter degree squares where, respectively, no or fewer Black Storks were reported.

After more than 50km of difficult hiking, scrambling and bouldering down the Luvuvhu River, we had at last managed to find an active Black Stork nest. Unfortunately it was the only one.

It is an indescribable privilege to walk in the hidden valleys of the Luvuvhu River gorge in search of breeding Black Storks. Given that the survey team were able to locate only one active nest with a single chick, the overall prospects for this species are of major concern. However, each new survey brings more knowledge and improves BirdLife South Africa’s ability to model which areas in the country are still suitable for these regionally Vulnerable birds.

Thanks go to our sponsors Airports Company South Africa, the Ingula Partnership and Zeiss, as well as the Ford Wildlife Foundation, which provided a hard-working but always reliable bakkie.


Vetting atlas records

A distribution map for Secretarybird comparing SABAP1 and SABAP2.

The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2) is what is called a citizen science project – in other words, it’s a scientific project whose data are submitted by citizens, in this case birders. Any scientist will tell you that if data are to be accepted for scientific analysis, he or she has to be sure that those data used are accurate. The same is true for SABAP2.

The vetting system linked to SABAP2 is therefore essential, as it filters out inaccurate records and ensures that the data used by scientists and decision makers are accurate. Thus it is important that atlasers diligently complete Out of Range forms and submit them as required. Doing so is just as crucial as the data collection part of the project.

The work done by Regional Atlasing Committees is of great importance and all the volunteers who sit on these committees are to be thanked for dedicating so much time to the project.


Great birding opportunities!

SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region is hosting Kruger National Park Birding Weekends! Bookings are open now for dates between 24 January and 24 February 2019. All proceeds go to conservation projects. For more information, visit or e-mail

A Tree for the Birds



Mouse Free Marion website launched

Regular followers of the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page and weekly updates will have noticed mention of the Mouse Free Marion Project over the past few months. The project aims to raise R30-million to help the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to eradicate house mice from Marion Island. Raising such a large amount will be no small feat, but to achieve it we are approaching the task from multiple angles. We are also harbouring no illusions that this will be a quick process. Luckily for us, time is on our side – we have until 2020 to make it happen. Over the coming months, we will be featuring the Mouse Free Marion fundraising campaign on a number of BirdLife South Africa media outlets until we have reached our goal.

Now we are excited to introduce the website as the main channel for fundraising. Donors can ‘sponsor’ a hectare of Marion Island for R1000, or US$90. This amount is roughly what it costs to purchase the toxic bait required to eradicate mice from 1ha of the island. The website has a built-in secure payment system, with options for credit card or EFT payments (within South Africa). Sponsors can receive a section 18A tax certificate for their donation. We are also able to process payments from the United States and Canada and provide tax certificates for these countries.

All sponsors’ names will be listed on the website and a real-time map of the island will be updated to reflect the total number of hectares sponsored. Each sponsor will be e-mailed a certificate with the GPS coordinates of his or her hectare.

The blocks on Marion Island available to sponsors.

You can even sponsor a hectare on behalf of a friend. If you like to plan ahead, a ‘hectare of Marion Island’ will make a perfect Christmas gift for the person who has everything!

Help us to help the birds by sponsoring one hectare (or more) at

The website is an information portal for Marion Island and the importance of the restoration project. To keep donors updated on the progress of the campaign, video interviews with key partners will be uploaded as the project grows. A section containing Frequently Asked Questions will also inform visitors to the site about the project and the process.

The blocks on Marion Island available to sponsors.

All funds received through the website will be used for the Marion Island Restoration Project, except for a 2% administration fee. The proceeds will be independently audited and these records will be made available upon request.

For more information about this project, please contact Nini van der Merwe at


Look out for Kate!

Daria Spence works on the reconstructed wing.

Last year the members of the Country Club Johannesburg enjoyed the privilege of witnessing a pair of Long-crested Eagles nesting on the Woodmead Estate. Then, late in October and a few days before the juvenile was due to fledge, tragedy struck. The female was hunting on the estate when her wing was shattered by an errant golf ball.

Right: Kate is almost at the end of her stay at Ben Hoffman’s Raptor Rescue Centre.

After the club had contacted Friends of Free Wildlife, senior animal manager Claudius Sibanda carefully caught the injured bird and took her to the Bryanston Avian, Exotic and Small Animal Clinic (BAESAC). After assessing the injury, a team of four specialist veterinary surgeons led by Dr Jean Davidson of the BAESAC performed a two-and-a-half-hour operation to reconstruct the wing. Eight months of rehabilitation followed, initially under the guidance of Daria Spence at the BAESAC and subsequently at Ben Hoffman’s Raptor Rescue Centre near Pietermaritzburg.

Daria Spence works on the reconstructed wing.

Given the name Kate by club members, the eagle made a full recovery and on 24 June was released back into the wild at the Country Club. We would like to monitor her progress, so news of any sightings of her will be appreciated; she wears a red ‘HO’ tag on her left leg. Please report sightings to Margi Brocklehurst of Friends of Free Wildlife on 082 561 3681, indicating the date, time and location of the sighting.

Right: Kate is almost at the end of her stay at Ben Hoffman’s Raptor Rescue Centre.


Wagtail Conservation Festival 2018

Come and join us in Amanzimtoti on 9 and 10 November for the Wagtail Conservation Festival 2018, a weekend of fun and learning about the local natural environment and its inhabitants. The inaugural Wagtail Conservation Festival was held last year thanks to the efforts of a group of passionate people who came together to create awareness among the communities of Amanzimtoti and Illovo of environmental issues in their region. There were talks on topics that ranged from birds, snakes, insects and plants to the work being done by conservation organisations in KwaZulu-Natal and the nation as a whole. The event was hailed as a major success and in 2018 we intend to build on that achievement.

Amanzimtoti and Illovo lie on the Sapphire Coast, an ecotourism treasure chest, and we want to ensure that visitors and residents alike spend time exploring this wonderful gem that teems with birdlife. This year we have assembled some of South Africa’s leading speakers about nature, including Faansie Peacock, the well-known author and ornithologist; David Allan, another ornithologist, from the Durban Museum; Nick Evans the snake guy; and butterfly expert Steve Woodhall.

The festival will start on the evening of Friday, 9 November with a dinner. The following day the action will begin early and continue until 17h00, with talks and guided walks taking place throughout the day. There will also be various conservation and nature stands, some with products and books; a nature-friendly garden section; and an interactive children’s area with activities and talks.

As well as giving exposure to conservation organisations, the Wagtail Festival is an excellent platform for introducing birding- and nature-focused businesses to the KwaZulu-Natal market. Its advertising has a broad reach and we encourage optics and camera and lens companies, bird guides, tour companies, birding and nature destinations and nature apparel brands to book a stand. The stands are available at a rate that allows cost-effective marketing to be done.

There will also be a limited number of stalls available for food vendors. In keeping with the natural theme, we encourage them to be ‘nature friendly’; single-use plastic straws will not be permitted.

The Wagtail Conservation Festival 2018 is a weekend when we all come together for the greater good of our environment, to educate about the importance of conservation and to partner with people from all walks of life, cultures and backgrounds. All the funds raised over the course of the weekend will be used for the upkeep and improvement of the nature trails at Amanzimtoti Sports Club and Ilanda Wilds.


Friday, 9 November

19h00–21h00 : Wagtail Conservation Dinner with Faansie Peacock. Tickets available from 3 September 2018. Ticket price TBC.

Saturday 10 November

08h00–17h00 : Wagtail Conservation Festival, with a bird walk starting at 06h30 and talks starting at 09h00.

If you would like to book a table or partner in any way, please e-mail or contact Adam on 061 485 3625 or Cathy on 083 767 9471.


Gill Memorial Medal Award 2019

The Gill Memorial Medal Award is conferred for an outstanding lifetime contribution to ornithology in southern Africa. The inaugural presentation was made to Jack Winterbottom in 1960 and the most recent to Les Underhill in 2017. Between these two august recipients there has been a procession of others no less distinguished: Phillip Clancey, Roy Siegfried, Richard Brooke, Warwick Tarboton, Richard Dean, John Cooper and Adrian Craig, among others. The award is presented at BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meetings.

BirdLife South Africa is inviting nominations for consideration for the 2019 award. Nominations can only be made by members of BirdLife South Africa and should include an appropriate motivation, a short CV for the candidate and a list of the candidate’s relevant achievements (especially his/her publication list). For more information about the procedure and criteria, please go to

Please send your nomination to by Friday, 23 November 2018.

Austin Roberts Memorial Award 2019

BirdLife South Africa’s Austin Roberts Memorial Award has been established to honour people who have made a significant contribution to bird conservation in South Africa. The inaugural award was presented to John Ledger in 2014, followed by David Chamberlain in 2015. The award is presented at BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meetings.

BirdLife South Africa is calling for nominations for consideration for the 2019 award. Nominations can only be made by members of BirdLife South Africa and should include a detailed motivation and the nominee’s CV. You can find out more about the criteria and procedure for making a nomination at

Please send your nomination to by Friday, 23 November 2018.

AS@S heads into the Indian Ocean

A flock of Masked Boobies.

A soaring Great Frigatebird.

The Second Indian Ocean Cruise was undertaken by the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) research vessel SA Agulhas II, which visited Tanzania and the Comoros between 10 June and 8 July 2018. As a volunteer with the Atlas of Seabirds at Sea (AS@S) project, Kate du Toit went along to record data about the seabirds observed en route.

A collaborative project between BirdLife South Africa and the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON), the AS@S is also supported by the DEA’s Oceans and Coasts branch, which makes valuable sea time available to bird observers on its research cruises. Using a standardised protocol, the project collects data about the distributions of seabirds at sea and addresses the gap in our knowledge of where seabirds go when they are not breeding. The birds reliably return to specific islands every year or every second year to breed, but disperse into the open ocean between breeding attempts. GPS or satellite tracking devices have revealed some astounding movements, but such technology can be prohibitively expensive, while the data collected relates only to a single individual.

At-sea observations can not only contribute to our knowledge of the distributions of many species, but also help to identify biodiversity hotspots and the optimal locations for Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (Marine IBAs) and marine protected areas (MPAs). All the data collected by the project are open-access and the protocol is robust and globally applicable, so the AS@S database is readily available for any researcher or conservationist wanting to work with it.

The AS@S team on the Second Indian Ocean Cruise

Kate collected data over 606 transects, each of which lasted 10 minutes. Overall, she counted 1118 birds representing 22 species, the most common of which were Common, Sooty and Swift terns, Brown Noddy, White-chinned Petrel and Masked Booby. Understandably, she enjoyed the trip immensely! In her own words: ‘It is always a privilege to be aboard the SA Agulhas II as a birder. The trip was a fantastic opportunity to put my sea-birding skills to good use and just enjoy the highs of seeing such wonderful species that are found only in the tropics – I even added a few lifers to my list! Travelling among relatively untouched tropical islands that rise from the sea like something from Jurassic Park, watching dozens of Great and Lesser frigatebirds soaring above our heads, and networking with like-minded scientists… Such great memories! All this comes with a great sense of fulfilment in knowing that this data will contribute to seabird conservation. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to go on this research cruise and for being able to follow my passion for seabirds!’

We thank Kate for volunteering her time to the AS@S project, the crew of the SA Agulhas II, and the Oceans and Coasts division of the DEA for making this opportunity available for the project. To learn more about the project, please visit


Tracking African Penguins on Robben Island

Andrew de Blocq tagging an African Penguin

One of the icons of Cape Town, along with Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront, is the African Penguin. Unfortunately, this species is undergoing a rapid decline and since 2010 has been classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Not many people realise that this species is faring much, much worse than the more renowned rhinos; without urgent intervention, it faces a real threat of extinction. Currently, just fewer than 18 000 pairs remain in South Africa, down from 50 000 in the year 2000 and about one million pairs in the early 1900s.

Andrew de Blocq and Reason Nyengera, both of the BirdLife South Africa Seabird Conservation Programme, and Jenni Roberts, whose MSc thesis was co-supervised by members of the programme, recently ventured out to Robben Island to collect data for a project that is examining whether seabirds breeding on islands benefit from fishing exclusion zones around their islands. The work of Dr Lorien Pichegru and Dr Richard Sherley and their colleagues has already revealed that closures can impact penguins positively by decreasing the amount of energy the birds expend while foraging and improving their breeding success and the condition of the chicks. However, data are still being collected so that these impacts can be assessed over multiple years and under different environmental conditions.

Table Mountain seen from Robben Island.

As the Coastal Seabird Conservation Project Officer, Andrew focuses heavily on the conservation of African Penguins. While Reason is now an Albatross Task Force instructor at BirdLife South Africa and Jenni is doing consulting work, both have extensive experience working with African Penguins, as they did their Masters’ research on the species. And, as anyone who has worked with penguins knows, handling them is not a one-man job! Although African Penguins may appear endearing, cute and cuddly, they are anything but when they feel threatened. A razor-sharp bill paired with two bruising flippers is a tricky arsenal to deal with when you’re trying to fit a tracking device onto the bird! Luckily, all three of us are well trained in methods that protect both the researcher and the penguin, and the latter’s welfare is prioritised throughout the procedure. The penguins at Robben Island were fitted with GPS devices and accelerometers that track their movements and energy expenditure during one trip while fishing for their chicks. Some were also fitted with underwater cameras, which will give us a better understanding of their behaviour at sea, especially while hunting.

Andrew, Reason and Jenni successfully deployed and retrieved devices on four penguins over a short period (and returned with all fingers intact!), boosting the season’s sample size to a larger and more representative total.

It is always a privilege to spend time on Robben Island, which is well known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its long history as a political prison. It also offers some of the best views of Table Mountain! The work that BirdLife South Africa is contributing to will, hopefully, ensure that the African Penguin is around for many generations to come.


Kedar Heritage Lodge

Kedar Heritage Lodge, outside Rustenburg in North West, will host a birding weekend from 14 to 16 September. Join BirdLife South Africa CEO, Mark Anderson, for a weekend of talks and birding walks in the bushveld. To book your place for this exciting weekend, e-mail

Save the date!

The African Bird Fair will take place on 8–9 September at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. Come join us for:

  • More than 35 exhibitors on the lawn – bird books, binoculars, cameras, bird feeders and more…
  • Photography workshops – visit to sign up
  • Beginner bird ID course
  • Guided bird and nature walks
  • Owl pellet dissection table
  • Waxi the Hero puppet shows
  • BirdLife South Africa activity area for kids

For more information, please contact Nikki McCartney on 083 636 1060 or

BBD 2018 and raising funds

During Birding Big Day (BBD) 2017 more than R70 000 was raised for BirdLife South Africa’s conservation work through the sale of BBD badges, from donations and by dedicated fund-raising efforts. We hope that BBD 2018 will be able to generate even more funds in support of terrestrial bird conservation.

We are pleased to announce that Chamberlains ( and Ocean Breeze ( have already agreed to sponsor BBD 2018 with a combined total of R65 per species recorded on the day. So if 650 species are seen on 24 November, the donation will amount to about R42 000. We would like to thank Chamberlains and Ocean Breeze for this generous support.

We are, however, looking for more companies and individuals to sponsor BBD 2018. If you own a company or know somebody who owns a company that might like to support BBD 2018, please e-mail We hope to see about 650 bird species, so a sponsorship of R10 per bird equals a donation of R6500 – or even more if we see more species on the day. We will list the company’s name on the BBD website and also on social media posts.

Please consider supporting this exciting initiative – you will be making a valuable contribution to bird conservation. For more information, contact Ernst Retief at

On the road with Ross

Fea’s Petrel breeds in valleys incising the caldera rim of the active volcano on Fogo Island. Homes in the town of Cha das Caldeira within the crater were buried under lava in 2014, but the people have since rebuilt their lives.

Regular readers of this newsletter will have noticed that this column did a disappearing act for a while. This wasn’t because I haven’t been travelling. On the contrary, it’s because travel, combined with a crazy workload, got the better of me and something – the column – had to give.

There are a few Africa-endemic seabirds that I have not seen. However, I’m fortunate to be overseeing a project that includes significant work in Cape Verde, where the only endemic seabirds in the African Atlantic islands are found. And no, I’m not referring to the recently elevated Cape Verde Storm Petrel Oceanodroma jabe-jabe; that’s an armchair tick from last year. I’m talking about Fea’s/Cape Verde Petrel Pterodroma feae.

A Bulwer’s Petrel in the hand.

Together with Miguel Lecoq, the BirdLife International project manager for our Cape Verde Seabirds project, I attended a Project Steering Committee meeting in the island nation. Afterwards, Miguel wanted to do a site visit to gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities encountered by the teams implementing the project. Our trip started with a visit to Cha das Caldeira, a tiny town in the caldera of the active volcano on the island of Fogo. It’s here, in the steep valleys at the rim of the crater, that Fea’s Petrel (known locally as Gongon) breeds.

In 2014 almost the entire town was destroyed by a massive lava flow that also decimated its famed vineyards. But islanders are resilient and the people of Cha das Caldeira rebuilt their town and continue to produce wine. They seem phlegmatic about living on the edge, even though in some houses the floors are too hot to walk on barefoot – great in winter, but less so in summer!

BirdLife International’s Miguel Lecoq on his way to the seabird study colony on the islet of Cima.

We were hosted by Projeto Vito, a small team of highly dedicated conservationists who monitor a number of threatened species, including the Gongon. The timing of the visit, right at the end of the breeding season, was poor, but Herculano (who has a presence and stature that befit a man of that name!) was confident we would still fnd a chick in the nest. So, shortly after arriving at the project’s base, we set off for the ‘valley’. It took an hour of winding our way along a gully of broken scree before we stopped at a very large boulder with tell-tale guano streaks and some grey fluff in evidence – the nest! Having a fluffy petrel chick in the hand perhaps isn’t every birder’s ideal for ticking a species, but for me, as an island biologist, it was close to a spiritual experience. Fortunately I was able to round off ticking the species the following day. Riding in a very small inflatable boat to the tiny, uninhabited island of Cima, we were being battered and soaked by the incessant Cape Verde trade winds when, looking up, we got a brief view of a towering Pterodroma!

Because it’s devoid of predators, Cima is heaving with birds – and consequently a sensational place for seabird biologists. But you’d never guess so from a quick view: a desert island with hardly a scrap of vegetation and no birds to be seen anywhere. They are there though – in burrows. In fact, we couldn’t walk alone on the island, but had to be accompanied by the Projeto Vito team because the burrows are everywhere and will collapse if stepped on. That evening Miguel and I joined the team at the study colony, did the nest checks and waited to see if some of the adult Cape Verde Shearwaters with tracking devices would return. That, of course, meant we also got White-faced and Cape Verde storm petrels, Cape Verde Shearwaters and Bulwer’s Petrels in the hand. It really doesn’t get better than that…


Birding Ecotours

With small groups and superior accommodation, yet at competitive prices, Birding Ecotours offers the best birding tours worldwide. See for example our Uganda birds and primates tours at  – and don’t forget to keep checking the ‘on sale’ section on the website. Best of all, BirdLife South Africa members qualify for a 5% discount on any tour! Peruse our website or e-mail

Crab Apple

The perfect spot to relax and watch birds, Crab Apple offers cosy, AA Superior-rated self-catering cottages located at the edge of the Dargle Conservancy. With more than 200 bird species plus the Oatley bird-hide, it’s a birder’s haven! Book now at or

Tswalu Kalahari winner

BIG congratulations go to Jan Boshoff, who is the winner of our Conservation League donor competition. Jan has won a two-night stay for two people at the luxurious Tswalu Kalahari, with flights and meals included. Congratulations Jan; we are sure you will have a wonderful time in the Kalahari!

What’s the difference?

So you’re going to do some atlasing, but aren’t sure whether to submit a full SABAP2 protocol card or an ad hoc card. Does it matter?

Yes, it certainly does. A full protocol atlas card is one that complies with all the requirements of the SABAP2 protocol. For example, a full protocol card requires that the atlaser birds intensively for two hours in an atlas block and tries to visit as many habitats as possible. An ad hoc card might only contain a few species, as the atlaser has only birded for 30 minutes.

Statisticians tell us that full protocol atlas cards are much more valuable than ad hoc cards. The two-hour period is an indication of the amount of effort spent to compile the list – valuable information that statisticians need. A species list obtained from two hours of birding in a pentad is also more representative of the various species within the pentad than a list submitted after just 30 minutes of birding.

So when atlasing, please try to complete full protocol atlas cards if possible; they are highly valuable and make the biggest contribution to our knowledge of birds and their distributions.

For more information, please visit or e-mail


Learning a new language called R

Nndwandiyawe Muhali is an intern with the Birds and Renewable Energy programme (which is sponsored by Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking). Through internships, BirdLife South Africa provides graduates with work experience and skills development relevant to their chosen career, giving young professionals a competitive advantage when seeking full-time employment. We believe that this will help to address transformation challenges in the environmental sector.

Nndwandiyawe recently participated in a statistics course hosted by the Centre for Statistics in Ecology, the Environment and Conservation (SEEC) at the University of Cape Town. The course introduced her to statistical modelling and data analysis using R, a computer language for data analysis. Although apprehensive about learning a new programme and not confident in maths, Nndwandiyawe reported that the course was useful and enjoyable. She hopes to study further and mastering R will help her manage and make sense of the data she will generate in her research.

The use of statistical modelling in conservation leads to a far deeper understanding of natural systems, which is the foundation for the sustainable use and management of pressures on biodiversity. The knowledge and skills that Nndwandiyawe acquired from this course benefit not only the Birds and Renewable Energy programme, but BirdLife South Africa as a whole. The new skills will increase her contribution to BirdLife South Africa and also develop sound working practices aligned to the organisation’s goals. Opportunities such as this will also help Nndwandiyawe take her career to the next level.

BirdLife South Africa would like to acknowledge the SEEC for running the course at a highly discounted rate. To find out more about similar courses, visit and

International Honorary Rangers Day

At the invitation of SANParks Honorary Rangers, BirdLife South Africa hosted a stall in the Pretoria Botanical Gardens to help celebrate International Honorary Rangers Day on 28 July 2018. It turned out to be a worthwhile event on a beautiful sunny day in late winter, with various interesting activities and talks as well as many exhibitors selling their wares. Our stall drew many people wanting to know more about who we are and what we do. A few new members were signed up and sales of African Black Oystercatcher merchandise were good. Rocky, our very own African Black Oystercatcher, enjoyed the festivities and helped to raise awareness of South Africa’s coastal birds.


Welcome to Wendy

The Membership Programme is very pleased to welcome Wendy Dittrich to the team as the Membership Administrator. Originally from KwaZulu-Natal, Wendy has been in Johannesburg for the past few years. She trained as a chef at the International Hotel School and continued her training in hotels in Durban, including the Oyster Box Hotel, Royal Palm Hotel and Tsogo Sun Elangeni. She also spent five years gaining administration experience in various industries, including banking and sector training.

Wendy has always been interested in nature and now, at BirdLife South Africa, has the opportunity to learn more about birds and their habitats. We wish her well in her new position and hope she will be happy at BirdLife South Africa.


Roberts Voëlgids (Tweede Uitgawe)

When Roberts Bird Guide was published in 2016, it became an immediate favourite of many birders. It contains 570 pages, covering almost 1000 species as well as 20 vagrant species that the authors thought may be seen in southern Africa, the area covered by the guide. This guide was six years in the making and five different bird artists were used to upgrade the existing art work and to show a greater range of juvenile and female images.

Nou, twee jaar later, is die Afrikaanse weergawe van die publikasie gepubliseer. Die translasiewerk is gedoen deur Joey Kok, ’n massiewe taak op sy eie. Die sketse, fotos ens is dieselfde as in die Engelse weergawe. Die gids is nou beskikbaar in boekwinkels en aanlyn.

According to one of the authors, Hugh Chittenden, work has already begun on improving the art and upgrading the guide to ensure that it maintains its high standard and remains one of the finest field guides in the world.


A holiday addition to the P&A team

Elelwani Makhuvha recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and is now conducting her Honours research in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. She was born and raised in Gunda Village in Limpopo, surrounded by nature and wildlife, and accredits her passion for the environment and her interest in the environmental sciences and geology to her exposure to the natural world during her childhood. She enjoys adventures, reading and spending time outdoors.

Elelwani will be joining the Policy & Advocacy team as its very first vacation work candidate. The programme will run from 2 to 13 July and aims to expose the candidate to the day-to-day workings of a leading conservation NGO. She will also be job shadowing the Policy & Advocacy programme manager, Candice Stevens, and contributing to the team’s research and administration needs. Elelwani looks forward to gaining different skill sets in policy and tax legislation for conservation and being part of an innovative conservation team.


Sowetan schools at the 2018 Flufftail Festival

The first day of June saw 449 learners from four schools in Soweto – Lakeview Primary, Sekwati Primary, Molalatladi Primary and Khomanani Primary – arrive at Johannesburg Zoo for the Flufftail Festival. Buses sponsored by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo delivered the children to the festival, where the youngsters were welcomed by Manzi, Rand Water’s Water Wise mascot. With a vibrant mix of song and dance that had all the children (and adults) on their feet, Manzi taught them the five ways to be a ‘Water Wise Warrior’.

The learners were then split into three colour groups and assigned to a team of facilitators from the host organisations (BirdLife South Africa, Water Wise and Johannesburg City Parks). The facilitators guided their groups around the festival, assisting with the different activities and lessons at each station. Each colour group started at one of the three stations and after 45 minutes rotated to the next station.

The first station was the Wetlands Station, where eight interactive activities showed learners the services and benefits that wetlands provide for us. In one of the activities, cut-outs of wetland birds were placed on a picture of a wetland, which taught learners about the different birds that live in wetlands and why BirdLife South Africa is working to save the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. The Hippo Station was next, and here learners had to ‘fish’ for objects out of buckets that would teach them about the many threats facing South Africa’s wetlands. If, for example, a fire-lighter was retrieved, the facilitators would teach the group about the dangers of burning wetlands too often because frequent fires reduce vegetation biomass and suitable habitat for wetland animals.

The final station was the Puppet Show Station, where groups were treated to a viewing of the ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet show created by Alastair Findlay and Eelco Meyjes of the Rare Finch Conservation Group. Using cute, interactive bird puppets, this fun and captivating show teaches its audiences about the importance of wetland conservation and not to pollute wetlands with plastic or litter. At the end of the morning each learner received a lunch pack and enjoyed a picnic on the Centenary Lawn before boarding the bus home.

A big thank you goes to all the staff involved from each of the partner organisations for making the 2018 edition of the Flufftail Festival full of fun, energy and learning. Let’s hope that a new generation of conservation-minded individuals has been unleashed into the world.

Images courtesy of Grant Pearson


It’s Bird Fair time again!

The African Bird Fair is an ideal opportunity to add to your knowledge of birds and learn about some of the measures being taken to conserve the continent’s birdlife. The two days are packed with fun-filled activities that range from guided walks and demonstrations to shows and talks. There will be a photography workshop and interactive activities for children. A range of exhibitors will be displaying their wares, including binoculars, camera equipment, bird books, bird feeders and birding destinations. Food and drink stalls will keep up your strength!

Whether you are a seasoned birder or a beginner, there are at least five reasons to visit The African Bird Fair.

Conservation success

The African Black Oystercatcher, the 2018 Bird of the Year, is a modern-day conservation success story because its population has increased dramatically over the past few decades. In fact, its regional Red List status has been downgraded from Near Threatened in 2000 to Least Concern in 2015. BirdLife South Africa has produced African Black Oystercatcher-themed posters, buffs, T-shirts, pin badges and soft toys, which will be on sale at The African Bird Fair. The children’s activity area will make use of oystercatcher resources, including educational games and pictures to colour in.


The many different habitats of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, from cliff faces and grassland to water, woodland and bushveld, attract a diverse range of birds. A total of 240 bird species has been recorded in the garden – and there is even a resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles nesting on the cliffs of the Witpoortjie Waterfall (and you can purchase a Verreaux’s Eagle pin badge as a memento at the Bird Fair).


EcoSolutions will have a ‘pellet dissection table’ with a supply of owl pellets, tweezers, face masks and Petri dishes for visitors to dissect owl pellets, using a skeleton key to identify the bones they find.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group will present ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet shows at the amphitheatre. These performances are all about bird conservation and the importance of preserving wetlands and are fun and informative for kids and adults alike. Guided bird walks to the wetland area of the botanical garden will take place after each show.


There are many benefits to be gained from joining a bird club. Beginners are able to learn from expert birders during outings to local birding sites, while clubs provide birding courses from beginner to advanced level. Visit the local bird club stands at The African Bird Fair for information about a bird club in your area.

Birding resources

It would not be nearly as exciting to discover a new bird species for your life-list if you weren’t able to learn more about it. Thankfully, birders will find many superb resources offered by exhibitors, including a wide range of field guides and reference books and birding tours and destinations. There will also be products on display and for sale that make birding at home rewarding, such as specialised bird feeders, nectar feeders, owl and barbet boxes and birdbaths.

For more information about the African Bird Fair, contact Nikki McCartney at 083 636 1060 or


New membership fees

As of 1 July 2018, the annual membership fees are

Ordinary members                          R530

Senior citizens/Students                 R372

Please remember that you are able to renew your membership online at

Should you need assistance, please e-mail Shireen Gould at

Christmas in July

Don’t forget that we will be celebrating the southern hemisphere’s festive season at Isdell House (17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Gauteng)on Saturday, 28 July from 10h00 until 14h00 – and we’d love to see you here! Shop For the Birds! will be open and selling second-hand books, and there will be soup and rolls, wors rolls and tea and coffee to keep the chill at bay.

Your own garden theatre…

Birds can animate your garden and all you have to do is entice them there. Shop For the Birds! has an extensive range of locally produced bird feeders that have been especially designed to make attracting birds easy. And the food in the feeders can make the temptation even sweeter – Suet Bits, Orange- and Strawberry-flavoured Nectar Mix and the wildly popular Nutty Putty are all available at competitive prices.

For more information about availability, prices and other bird-related items, e-mail Deborah Hele at

SABAP2 and BirdLife South Africa

There are a number of ways in which BirdLife South Africa makes use of SABAP2 data to improve its conservation efforts. For example, SABAP2 data made a huge contribution when the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas network in South Africa was re-evaluated and a revised directory was published in 2015. In order to conserve birds we need to know where they occur and where best to focus our efforts – and SABAP2 tells us exactly that!

The SABAP2 data were also used extensively to evaluate the threat status of birds for the Red List assessment published in 2015. Each of the maps in the Red Data Book are based on SABAP2 data. Without this information, the assessments in this publication would have been much more difficult to compile.

So, please consider submitting data to SABAP2 when you go birding – we need them to help us conserve our birds!


Avian flu in seabirds

We’ve all had ‘the flu’. The disease is synonymous with the sniffles, winter, warm layers, blankets and soup. A simple vaccination helps us humans to beat the virus, but there is currently no cure for avian influenza. In early 2018 an outbreak of the disease in wild seabirds was cause for concern, and a report by the state veterinarian on the progression of the flu until May 2018 was recently released. It is summarised here, with the addition of some pertinent information.

The second half of 2017 was a difficult time for the South African poultry industry. H5N8, a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI; commonly referred to as bird flu or avian flu), was diagnosed in commercial chickens in June. In testament to the strain’s volatility, the poultry industry reported a loss of 70% of commercial layer chickens by October, and two-thirds of all ostrich farms were under quarantine. The outbreak slowed, but by then the disease had spread to other species, with a Helmeted Guineafowl being the first wild bird to test positive. In late December, the first reports of abnormally high rates of tern mortality began to come in, heralding a new wave of birds affected by this virus.

Avian influenza is a viral respiratory disease spread through direct contact with infected birds or contaminated materials. The virus can persist in bird guano and mucous discharges. This strain is harmless to humans, although humans can spread the disease through contact with infected birds. The disease causes birds to become very weak and have flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nasal discharges and headaches. Visual signs of the disease include cloudy eyes, bright green guano and neurotic behaviour such as rocking back and forth, turning in circles and nodding the head.

If you find a live bird showing these symptoms, please report it to SANCCOB in Cape Town or your nearest seabird rehabilitation centre. The disease is transferred through contact, so avoid touching the bird unnecessarily and use disposable gloves or newspaper to transfer the bird to a box for safekeeping. Be sure to call ahead for instructions, as some species such as Swift Terns are not being admitted due to poor rehabilitation success. Dead birds are best removed and incinerated or buried.

Seabird species most affected by this latest outbreak include Swift Terns and Cape Gannets (both with more than 1000 suspected cases as of May 2018), Common Terns, African Penguins and Cape Cormorants (all with more than 100 suspected cases). Other species of gulls, terns, cormorants and even a handful of African Black Oystercatchers have also tested positive, though the numbers of suspected cases are still very low.

The state veterinarian report has stressed that the data presented are limited. It is prohibitively expensive to test every single suspected case and it is likely that there are undiscovered or unreported cases that have not been factored in. The Department of Environmental Affairs is concerned about the outbreak and has instigated measures to try limit its spread and effect. However, as these are wild birds that move many hundreds of kilometres on a regular basis, this is not an easy task. We ask that members of the public are responsible in the way that they share information about avian flu. Unnecessary panic is counterproductive and the outbreak as it stands is not threatening the survival of any species. It is important to remember that disease is also a natural and normal part of life and occasional outbreaks are to be expected.


How to trick a penguin

Decoys have been used for many years by hunters to lure their prey into range. Now conservationists are turning to these life-like models of birds and other animals to attract seabirds to suitable breeding areas. BirdLife South Africa will be using decoy penguins as a tool to re-establish a penguin colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve on the southern Cape coast.

Most seabirds breed in colonies and don’t feel safe if there are no other birds around. Decoys fool them into thinking that other individuals are already breeding there; some even trick the birds into attempting to feed or form pair bonds with them!

Christina Hagen and Roelf Daling with the clay model used to make the penguin mould. Credit: Ross Wanless

One of the most successful decoy projects was implemented in Maine, USA, when numbers of Common and Arctic terns were decreasing. Wooden decoys and call playback speakers were placed at Eastern Egg Rock in 1978 and within a year tern sightings in the area had doubled. Within four years, Eastern Egg Rock hosted the largest Common Tern colony in Maine. There are also several successful projects involving albatrosses. In combination with the translocation of chicks, decoys have been used to encourage both Short-tailed and Laysan albatrosses to breed at more suitable sites.

We have learnt from these projects in our attempt to re-establish a previously short-lived colony of African Penguins at De Hoop Nature Reserve. We will construct a predator-proof fence to protect the penguins from mainland predators and initially use social attraction techniques – decoys and call playback – to entice the penguins to the site. CapeNature is our partner in these efforts and as soon as a management plan for the colony has been completed, work on the ground can start properly.

We have also teamed up with Cape Town artist Roelf Daling to create a number of life-like penguin decoys for the project. ‘I studied photos and live penguins to create a 3D computer model of a penguin. The 3D model is then “sliced” into layers and built out of cardboard, which I cover in clay,’ says Roelf. ‘I use the clay model to make a polyurethane mould, which can be used up to 400 times. I then apply layers of cement that has been reinforced with glass fibre to the mould.’ Once the cement has cured, Roelf paints the ‘penguins’ with an acid etch, which stains the white cement black, ensuring that the colour won’t fade or chip as paint would.

Roelf has completed the first mould of a penguin lying down and is working on one that is standing. He will produce 20 decoys in total, which will be scattered around the site. We look forward to seeing them out at De Hoop, showing their live counterparts where it is safe to breed.

Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation


Ingula Nature Reserve proclaimed

A Grey Crowned Crane at sunrise in Ingula Nature Reserve.

BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with Eskom and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust, has been running the Ingula Project since 2003, when Eskom proposed the development of a pumped storage scheme in the high-altitude wetlands at Ingula. As well as being at risk, these wetlands are home to a number of threatened bird species, including the Wattled Crane and, more importantly, the White-winged Flufftail – and that is why BirdLife South Africa got involved. Since 2003 more than 330 species have been seen on site, of which 21 are threatened. Learn more about the Ingula Nature Reserve in a forthcoming issue ofAfrican Birdlife magazine!

Carina Coetzer, Ingula Project Manager

Enhancing biodiversity stewardship

Habitat loss and degradation are among the most pressing threats facing global biodiversity. Increasing the network of protected sites and conservation areas is considered one of the most important mechanisms for conserving biodiversity and improving land management, while at the same time offering a range of potential socio-economic benefits. The declaration of Privately Protected Areas, implemented in South Africa through the biodiversity stewardship initiative, has emerged as a cost-effective tool for expanding this network. It helps state conservation agencies to meet their mandate regarding protected area expansion, while reducing the capacity burden placed on national governments. However, the financial and human capacity required to undertake this work has become increasingly limited in both public and private institutions, making it difficult to maintain the gains already achieved.

The review of the biodiversity stewardship sector was driven by the need to document the challenges currently facing it and determine the opportunities that may help to overcome these challenges. We were fortunate to receive a good spread of responses from across the sector.

A number of common ideas regarding the improvement of collaboration between government and NGOs came out of the review. These were grouped and developed into a logical work flow that can be used by provincial agencies and NGOs that would like to improve their interactions. Establishing provincial biodiversity stewardship reference groups is the first step to improving communication and structuring roles and responsibilities among different partners. A number of recommendations for enhancing the political support for the sector were discussed, as were tools to assist the extension officers and project managers who are at the core of implementing biodiversity stewardship.

There are a number of opportunities to improve the financial sustainability of biodiversity stewardship. These include establishing large-scale endowment funds and leveraging opportunities with other sectors, such as game ranching or hunting, corporate social investment schemes or mandatory government programmes such as B-BBEE.

Individual landowners and communities remain the most important partners in biodiversity stewardship. Projects to upskill landowners so that they can take the lead in maintaining the environmental integrity of their properties will help to ease the burden for government and NGO conservation agencies. A synopsis of the support mechanisms and benefits available to communities engaging in biodiversity stewardship is included in the report.

Certain recommendations contained in the report are already being explored, or actively implemented by organisations in the sector. There is thus an appetite and capacity to take these recommendations forward to the benefit of the biodiversity stewardship sector. The South African biodiversity stewardship community of practice is rising to the challenge of protecting critical resources, and delivering tangible benefits to society, under increasing environmental pressures and declining biodiversity. It is hoped that this report will further strengthen the conservation outcomes being achieved by this sector.

Dale Wright, Regional Conservation Manager

Our annual staff meeting

Yvette Noelle kept the staff entertained and engaged with her out-of-the-box skills development programme. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

BirdLife South Africa conserves birds at not only a national, but also a regional scale, and we are fast becoming leaders in conservation across Africa. Though our head office is in Johannesburg, our staff are spread throughout the country, working on conservation projects in different areas. Despite the wonders of modern communication technology, there is still a need for us to connect face to face in order to continue working together as a team.

It is with this in mind that the organisation holds an annual meeting when all the staff gather in one place for a week of intensive discussions and presentations and to recap what was achieved in the past year and strategise for the future. This year the meeting was held in Johannesburg, making use of the beautiful facilities at Isdell House and the hall of St Martin’s in-the-Veld Church, with two days at the Roodevallei conference centre.

Soft skills training was identified at the previous staff meeting as a priority and the brilliant Yvette Nowell from Rand Merchant Bank stepped up to fulfil this role. She is not only a good friend of BirdLife South Africa and a major funder, but also an accomplished facilitator and a genuine comedienne. Along with her colleagues, personal brand guru Helen Nicholson and musical maestro Ralf Schmitt, Yvette taught us valuable lessons in communication, personality management and teamwork – in between having us all in stitches.

BirdLife South Africa staff enjoyed some fantastic birding at Roodevallei Resort. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

Much of the week was filled with presentations by staff on their work and BirdLife South Africa’s strategy going forward. The talks were all of an impressively high standard and each was followed by a robust, honest and thought-provoking discussion. These discussions provided a valuable opportunity for staff to contribute constructively to each others’ projects, and multiple openings for cross-cutting collaboration were recognised. Every presenter came away with ideas to strengthen their work and make an even greater, positive impact for birds.

A number of staff undertook to lead discussions on broader subjects relating to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation strategy, branding and fundraising. These also proved to be constructive exercises in which all the staff had a say. Key recommendations and actions have been noted and will be taken forward in the near future wherever possible.

Lucky Ngwenya led a group of keen birders around the Roodevallei Resort. Left to right: Makhudu Masotla, Giselle Murison, Lucky Ngwenya, Nndwa Muhali, Kathleen April-Okoye. Credit: Melissa Whitecross

Guest presentations were delivered by Stephen Koseff, CEO of Investec; Mark Read, former CEO of WWF; and Jacques du Bruyn, MD of Flume digital marketing agency, which is partnering with BirdLife South Africa on an upcoming ad campaign. The staff also had the opportunity to interact with members of the board at a social evening at Isdell House. Other social activities included the annual staff meeting pub quiz and a birding walk at Roodevallei.

For me, as one of the newer members of the BirdLife South Africa team, it was incredible to hear how our staff are pioneering conservation action in South Africa and beyond. Among us are some of the global leaders on innovative tools such as Key Biodiversity Areas and biodiversity tax incentives. We are leading the expansion of red-listing through Africa and are integral partners in projects to prevent bird bycatch on the world’s high seas – all in addition to the sterling work undertaken here at home in South Africa to conserve our beloved birds. I left the meeting feeling rejuvenated and eager to continue contributing to the amazing achievements of this relatively small but mightily impactful organisation.

Andrew de Blocq, Coastal Seabird Conservation Project Officer

Marion Island base. Credit Mario Mairal

Marion Island Take-over

My first love as a conservation scientist was remote islands. It was on them that I first came across what to me are the most spectacular birds on the planet, the albatrosses. Joining efforts to conserve them has been one of the most rewarding career moves I have ever made. I cut my teeth on Mexican Pacific islands and then at Gough Island in 2003–2004. Nowadays I seldom get to see an albatross, let alone touch one, so the opportunity of a voyage to Marion Island was a dream come true.

The Prince Edward Islands, of which Marion is the larger, support 28 breeding species of seabirds, including 40% of the global population of the largest flying bird on earth, the Wandering Albatross. Four smaller, but no less spectacular albatross species also breed on the islands, as do a host of petrel and penguin species, including the stunning King Penguin. The islands are also home to three seal species, among them the impressive southern elephant seal. A resident population of orcas is unique in that these killer whales often come to within a few metres of shore, enabling scientists to conduct from Marion Island the only shore-based killer whale research programme on earth.

Courting Wandering Albatross on Marion Island. Photo by Andrea Angel

Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Keith Springer, a New Zealand mammal eradication expert, and I departed in early April on Agulhas II as part of the 2018 Marion Relief Voyage – or Take-over as it is more commonly referred to. The mouser team (to distinguish ourselves from the birders and sealers) would be conducting research into the biology of the house mouse and other operational aspects relating to the planned eradication of mice on Marion Island. On board with us were close on 100 people from research teams covering ecology, biology, geology and oceanography. There was also a team conducting cosmology research with a view to capturing radio waves emitted during the first hundred million years of our cosmic history, a phenomenon known as the Cosmic Dawn. We also carried all the supplies, primarily food and fuel, that the overwintering Marion 75 team would require for their 15-month stay. We were completely dependent on what we had with us – anything forgotten meant doing without or, in true South African style, ‘making a plan’.

It takes four to five days to reach Marion Island and we were lucky to have good weather all the way, although a taste of ‘Roaring 40s’ weather would have been fun too. We arrived on one of the most glorious days we were to experience during our stay, with the island showcasing itself in full sunlight. But as the crisp air hit and our breath turned white, we were reminded that we were in deep south latitudes.

The team setting off for the field huts. Photo by Andrea Angel

On Marion the weather rules all and working with it – or rather, in it – is the only way to get anything done. When 40-knot winds gusting to over 70 knots combine with everything else the elements can throw at you, your only choice is to press on and make the most of it. During the voyage, painstaking planning had gone into coordinating the ‘round island’ schedules and the allocation of the field huts. With eight teams scrambling for the use of the nine huts scattered around the island, it ended up looking like a game of musical chairs, so we couldn’t allow the weather conditions on the day to affect our plans.

When we headed out on our allotted round island slot in wonderful weather, we thought we’d hit the jackpot – until we crested Black Hagglet Ridge. Daniela was almost swept off her feet by gale-force winds that soon brought pummelling rain followed by stinging hail. By hour five into our walk we were shouldering step by step into the wind, our gumboots feeling clumsy and my backpack – containing only the bare essentials – getting more waterlogged and weighty with every step. The sight of our hut came as a heavenly relief. After I had replaced my wet clothes with the only change of dry inners I had for the next few days and wrapped my numb hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate, laughter and happiness set in. By candlelight, we shared stories of personal endurance. Later in the evening a radio check-in with base confirmed that all the teams were accounted for. Then silence set in, broken only by the wailing cries emanating from petrel burrows.

Marion Island is a truly amazing place of unique and extraordinary barren beauty lit up in shades of green, with iron-red koppies, black scoria lava flows and impressive rock formations capped by snow-clad mountains. To have witnessed the graceful courtship dance of Wandering Albatrosses or a Grey-headed Albatross gently grooming its chick is a privilege I share with very few.

I return only more convinced that the work being spearheaded by BirdLife South Africa, the University of Cape Town and the Department of Environmental Affairs is one of the most important projects yet to be carried out on Marion. Ridding the island of invasive house mice and thereby making a huge stride towards restoring its unique ecology is the only hope the millions of seabirds have for survival on this speck of South African soil in the middle of the Southern Ocean.

If you want to know more about the work we are doing, follow us on Instagram @marionisland or Facebook MouseFreeMarion

Andrea Angel, Albatross Task Force Leader

A ride on the wild side for birds

BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with ZEISS and Maseke Mountain Biking, invites you to join us for a once-in-a-lifetime bushveld experience with renowned cycle race commentator Phil Liggett.

A mountain bike wilderness trail is a one-of-a-kind safari experience for adventurers and nature lovers who are looking for an experience like no other. Spend three days cycling through the Big 5 country of beautiful Maseke Game Reserve in the company of Phil Liggett, who will recount anecdotes from the Tour de France. Rides will be led by professional armed guides, who will share their knowledge of the spectacular area, wildlife and birds as you ride each day. All proceeds raised through this event will go to protecting important bird habitat.

Date: Friday 9 to Monday 12 November 2018 (3 nights)

Place: Ndzuti Safari Camp, Maseke Game Reserve (Hoedspruit)

Cost: R15 000 per person sharing: includes of accommodation, food, drinks & guided activities; excludes travel to the Maseke Game Reserve

For more information about the event or to book, e-mail

Be sure to reference the BirdLife South Africa event.

Romy Antrobus-Wuth, Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme

Register now for BBD 2018!

Birding Big Day is all about enjoying the wonderful bird diversity we have in South Africa while raising funds for conservation. Whether you’re an old hand or a first-timer, don’t delay in registering your team for the 2018 event – registration is now open! And don’t forget to diarise the Big Day: Saturday, 24 November.

For more information, go to

To access the BirdLasser online map, go to

For more information about BirdLasser, go to or email

We will post regular updates on the Facebook events page at

Ernst Retief, Regional Conservation Manager

Biodiversity Stewardship in Eastern Free State

Nelsonskop, one of the prominent features of the Wilge Stewardship area, as seen from Ingula Nature Reserve.

The Eastern Free State is a magical place of rolling hills, never-ending grassland, beautiful wetlands and high rainfall. This makes it highly desirable real estate and the grasslands are under severe threat of development. With about 23 threatened grassland bird species and only one national park, it may appear futile to try to protect these species, as well as all the other threatened wildlife here. But there are ways to achieve this goal and one of the most promising is biodiversity stewardship, whereby farmers agree to manage their land sustainably with the aim of getting it proclaimed a Protected Environment. Thus not only will optimal habitat for threatened biodiversity be assured, but grazing potential for livestock will be increased.

The Wilge biodiversity stewardship area is situated between Harrismith, Van Reenen and Verkykerskop, with the escarpment forming one border. Conversations with the relevant landowners have been ongoing for more than a year and those who are interested will be involved in Phase 1 of the project, starting in July. As the area is not far from the Sneeuberge Protected Environment, once the project is completed it will contribute immeasurably to the formal protection of the valuable grasslands of the Eastern Free State.

Carina Coetzer, Ingula Project Manager

Christmas in July

Next month we’ll be celebrating the southern hemisphere festive season at Isdell House (17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Gauteng) on Saturday, 28 July from 10h00 until 14h00, so come and join us for our annual Christmas in July. Shop For the Birds! will be open and selling second-hand books, and there will be soup and rolls, wors rolls and tea and coffee to keep the chill at bay.

Mouse-free Marion Island

The SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region’s committee developed, promoted, secured prizes for and ran a raffle to raise money for our Marion Island mouse eradication work, which the Department of Environmental Affairs is implementing with the support of BirdLife South Africa. The amount raised was R32 250.

Entries for the raffle were sold during the Honorary Rangers’ 2018 birding event and on 6 April the draw was made at Isdell House by Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson. Hanneline demonstrated the Terrestrial Conservation Programme’s support for the Marion project by offering the third prize for the raffle. The winning numbers were generated using RANDOM.ORG, an Internet true random number generator. Congratulations to all concerned!

FIRST PRIZE: An EcoTraining ‘EcoQuest’ Course for one guest, valued at R9150. Winner: Alan and Merial Fridberg, Punda Maria 3, WRHR camp leader Geoff Lautenbach.

SECOND PRIZE: A 2019 West Rand KNP birding weekend for two guests, valued at about R6000. Winner: Terri Brooks, Crocodile Bridge 1, WRHR camp leader Snowy Botha.

THIRD PRIZE: A weekend of grassland birding for two at Wakkerstroom with a BirdLife South Africa-accredited guide, valued at about R1900. Winner: Julia Blain, Satara 1, WRHR camp leader Dave Ashby.


Great birding events

The SANParks Honorary Rangers have planned some great events for birders in the coming months. Taking place around the country, the events will raise money for important conservation projects. They all include walks or drives with fantastic birding experts.

Mapungubwe National Park, 19–22 July

Hosted by the Limpopo Region Honorary Rangers. Mapungubwe is famous for its diversity of tropical birds, such as Meves’s Starling, Senegal Coucal, Three-banded Courser and Tropical Boubou, all of which extend only marginally into South Africa.

View Flyer

Letaba Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, 27–30 September

Hosted by the Limpopo Region Honorary Rangers. A raptor weekend with raptorphile and birding expert, Joe Grosel.

View Flyer

Karoo National Park, 19–21 October

Hosted by the Karoo Region Honorary Rangers. Participants in the Big Birding Bash will be on the lookout for the many Karoo endemics that occur in the park, such as Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Long-billed Lark and Namaqua Warbler, as well as a good diversity of raptors.

View Flyer

Ndumo Game Reserve, 26–29 October

Hosted by the Johannesburg Region Honorary Rangers. Ndumo is home to nearly 500 species, including many of the sand forest endemics such as Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis and Pink-throated Twinspot, as well as other specials like Rosy-throated Longclaw and Pel’s Fishing Owl.

View Flyer

For prices and contact details, see the relevant flyer.

Bird of the Year 2018

This year’s Bird of the Year is the African Black Oystercatcher, a species that breeds only on the shores of South Africa and Namibia. This striking, jet-black bird with a neon-orange bill and reddish legs is a great iconic species to highlight not only the plight of coastal birds in general, but also the incredible conservation action being taken to ensure its survival.

The first in the Oyksy Daisy series, our Bird of the Year 2018 comic strip.

The African Black Oystercatcher is found along the coasts of Angola, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. Belying its name, it does not in fact eat oysters, but subsists on mussels, limpets, polychaete worms, whelks and crustaceans that cling to rocks at low tide. When it comes to breeding, oystercatchers are dedicated mates and parents. They are monogamous, remaining in pairs for up to 20 years, and cement their pair bonds with butterfly-like flights – slow, with deep wing-beats. During breeding they incubate their one or two eggs for four to five weeks and care for their chicks for another five to six weeks before the youngsters fledge.

African Black Oystercatchers live a perilous existence. They are long-lived and slow breeders, which puts them at greater risk of extinction. In the 1980s, the IUCN uplisted the African Black Oystercatcher to Near Threatened because it had declined rapidly as a result of uncontrolled coastal development, introduced alien predators in island breeding colonies and high levels of human disturbance on breeding beaches. Luckily, many conservation efforts, such as increased community education, bans on recreational vehicles on beaches and more marine protected areas, along with the spread of the alien Mediterranean mussel (an important food source), led to an increase in African Black Oystercatcher numbers. So successful has been the rebound that the species was recently downlisted to Least Concern.

The African Black Oystercatcher is a great ambassador for many other coastal bird species, such as Sanderling, White-fronted Plover, Damara Tern and Kelp Gull. The #ShareTheShores initiative, led by Nature’s Valley Trust with support from BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife Plettenberg Bay, has adopted the African Black Oystercatcher and the White-fronted Plover as mascots. This important programme has focused on increased monitoring of the oystercatchers on local beaches, the rezoning of beaches to avoid disturbance by dogs and humans during the breeding season, and public education and engagement.

Left: An African Black Oystercatcher surveys its surroundings on Malgas Island. Photo: Melissa Whitecross

To learn more about the African Black Oystercatcher, visit BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year page for fact sheets, lesson plans, colouring pages and games. And if you’re looking for some great oystercatcher gear, including T-shirts, pin badges and Rocky the Oystercatcher soft toys, visit Shop For the Birds! at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, or e-mail Bianca at for more information.


Right: Rocky the Oystercatcher visiting Bloubergstrand this summer. Photo: Melissa Whitecross

Angola’s specials

Hot off the press! The Special Birds of Angola by Michael Mills is now in stock at Shop For the Birds! At a price of R200, this brand-new book can be purchased at BirdLife South Africa’s shop at 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. Alternatively, you can arrange to have it posted to you by e-mailing Bianca at Don’t miss out on this great addition to your bird book collection.

BirdLife Overberg’s CleanMarine Project

Members of BirdLife Overberg decided to prioritise the club’s future fund-raising and conservation efforts and in September 2017 presented a workshop in collaboration with the Nature’s Valley Trust. Many of the region’s role-players discussed the work they were doing and Dr Mark Brown conducted a brainstorming session. It was decided to focus conservation efforts on the Overstrand region’s coastline and estuaries with a campaign called CleanMarine. It consists of six distinct projects, which are to be conducted as case studies and reported on to the Western Cape Birding Forum with a view to other clubs possibly implementing similar actions.

Right: An African Black Oystercatcher attempts to feed a mussel to a chick. Photo: Jenny Parsens

The first project seeks to support the breeding success of African Black Oystercatchers and White-fronted Plovers along the Cape Whale Coast. Key breeding sites had been identified during the previous summer and educational campaigns will be launched at these sites and others to be identified next summer. These campaigns will largely be based on posters, brochures and media releases developed by the Nature’s Valley Trust. From a pool of club members and volunteers, ‘oystercatcher champions’ will be identified to monitor progress at specific spots so that nest sites and the chick-rearing efforts of the adults can be protected. A zoning system for dogs on beaches is being negotiated with the Overstrand municipality, but will only be implemented during the summer of 2019–2020.

The second project intends to conduct more regular coordinated waterbird counts, known as CWACs, along the Klein, Uilenkraal and Bot River estuaries and the Vermont salt pan. Discussions are under way with members of several organisations to participate in the counts. These counts will support the work of Dr Giselle Murison of BirdLife South Africa and Pierre de Villiers of CapeNature, which aims to develop sustainable management guidelines for these estuaries.

Right: Fishing line bins provided by Plastics SA. Photo: Anton Odendal

Three projects form the basis of what has been dubbed the ‘CleanMarine war on coastal pollution’. In one, efforts are being made to rid beaches and inshore waters of discarded fishing line, and bins are being set up at key sites along the coastline for the collection of this litter. Important partners in this endeavour include the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT), the Coastal Clean-up Conservation Trust, the Overstrand municipality and CapeNature. The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) division of BirdLife South Africa and Plastics SA are thanked for their financial support. A separate campaign to address the problem of cigarette butt pollution is also being negotiated with regional agencies.

Seven monthly coastal clean-ups, managed by Elaine Odendal and Helé Oosthuizen, have already been undertaken. The content of the litter is analysed and the results are forwarded to Plastics SA and the Oceans Conservancy. The bags collected are deposited at the local recycling plant. A monthly ‘Oystercatcher Hero Award’ honours individuals or agencies that contribute to our war against marine pollution. Previous recipients include the Recycle Swop Shop and the Onrus Litter Ladies. Young children from the Recycle Swop Shop participate in these clean-ups regularly, giving the project a distinct educational slant.

Left: Refreshments for young Recycle Swop Shop clean-up participants were provided by BirdLife Overberg members. Photo: Anton Odendal

Several educational campaigns are being undertaken, with BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year resources on the African Black Oystercatcher forming the central theme of our efforts during 2018. The resources, together with the club’s brochures identifying common coastal birds, are being supplied to most schools in the region. This is done with our partners at Whale Coast Conservation and the DICT.

Fundraising efforts to support and sustain these projects are ongoing and any ideas and suggestions for future efforts will be appreciated.

Regular progress reports can be viewed at Like the project’s Facebook page at to receive ongoing feedback on developments.


Left: Death of a cormorant: the result of entanglement in discarded fishing line. Photo: Anton Odendal

Bramleigh Manor

Tucked away on a secluded hillside, Bramleigh Manor provides a quiet country getaway where there is no cell phone signal or television (although guests have access to high-speed Wi-Fi). More than 50 hectares of pristine indigenous forest are home to over 200 bird species.

Birdsong is the soundtrack to life at Bramleigh Manor, from the territorial call of the Knysna Turaco by day to the night-time laughter of the African Wood Owl. Narina Trogons, African Emerald Cuckoos, hornbills, cranes and many more species all contribute to the soundscape in this idyllic setting. Enjoy a soul-restoring walk below giant yellowwood trees in the forest, with abundant birdlife, calming streams and shy samango monkeys swinging above. Alternatively, follow a hot, dry grassland trail to get panoramic views of the Drakensberg. Or simply curl up with a book next to the fire or relax on the patio and allow yourself to be soothed by nature as you soak up the fresh country air.

Our accommodation supports sustainable tourism without minimising comfort. Appliances, including electric blankets, and energy-efficient lighting are powered by the sun, while wood-burning stoves, fed on sustainably harvested alien logs, efficiently heat the rooms. Water is supplied from a forest stream, filtered and ready to drink straight from the tap. Natural cleaning products provide a fresh fragrance. Picnic breakfasts and light dinners are available on request, enabling you to sample farm-fresh organic produce and eggs.

Visit for more information and the bird list.


Fun at the Flufftail Festival

This year the annual Flufftail Festival took place on 21 April. BirdLife South Africa partnered with Rand Water’s Water Wise Team, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Rare Finch Conservation Group and HDI Youth Marketeers to put together an exciting day aimed at engaging young and old about the importance of wetland and waterbird conservation.

Families arriving at Johannesburg Zoo were welcomed by HDI activators and the very talented ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppeteers. They were each given a flier with a guide to the three Flufftail Festival stations and sent on their journey around the zoo. The Wetlands Station was positioned on the Centenary Lawns and manned by the Water Wise team. Families learned about what wetlands do for us and how they assist in cleaning water, preventing floods and providing a space for animals and specialised water-adapted vegetation.

The Hippo Station, manned by the Johannesburg City Parks team, taught visitors about the threats to wetlands, such as mining, pollutants from rubbish and overgrazing by cattle. The final station was the Flamingo Station, which was manned by the BirdLife South Africa team. Here participants found out about the different kinds of birds that live in the wetlands of South Africa, with particular focus on the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail, the bird the festival takes its name from. Other activities at the Flamingo Station included a word search for wetland birds and a ‘can you place where in the wetland this bird belongs?’ game.

Right: BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson engages visitors about the different types of wetland birds found in South Africa. Photo: Toni Geddes

Once participants had visited all three stations and received their stamps for engaging with the teams, they could return to the main entrance and draw to see if their entry had won a prize. The prizes ranged from BirdLife South Africa buffs to Water Wise water bottles and free entry vouchers to Johannesburg Zoo. The grand prize was a trip for four to Soweto with Bay of Grace Tours and BirdLife South Africa-trained guide Raymond Rampholokeng.

The Flufftail Festival Team will be hosting 600 learners from Soweto at the zoo for another fun-filled day of learning about wetlands and waterbirds. Well done to the team and thank you to all the partners involved.


Fish in mind, bird in heart

The threats behind the dire conservation status of albatrosses and petrels need no introduction to readers of this newsletter. At the forefront of these perils is the fishing industry, through the unintentional bycatch of seabirds. Birds become entangled in the fishing gear (nets, hooks or cables) while foraging behind fishing vessels and this usually ends badly for them. The Albatross Task Force (ATF) has been focusing on implementing solutions to reduce bycatch by building relationships with fishermen, talking to them during port visits and working with them on board while they are fishing.

Left: Fishermen at work, setting the lines in the early hours of the morning.

In mid-April, my colleague Reason Nyengera dropped me off at Hout Bay harbour to board Boloko-1, the vessel I was to call home for the week ahead. She was still being loaded with supplies when we arrived. We made the formal introductions and I was shown to the spot where I would be sleeping while at sea. This was no five-star accommodation; the cabins are small and cluttered with bunk beds, designed to give you rest, not comfort.

After dropping my bag in the cabin, Reason and I helped with the loading of the vessel. I was itching to get out to sea and was prepared to do all I could to speed up our departure! We finally set sail at 14h00 and the crew began to prepare the fishing gear. My first job was to find a suitable attachment point for the bird-scaring line (BSL). The purpose of the BSL is simple: to scare the birds away from the hooks, like a scarecrow in a vegetable garden. The attachment pole should allow for greatest aerial coverage without interfering with fishing operations.

Right: Wilson’s Storm Petrels released after recovery. Two birds in the hand are worth one in the bush – or ocean?

I made small talk with the crew as we steamed to the fishing grounds on the Agulhas Bank. Every man aboard was briefed on the necessary safety-at-sea protocols and precautions. After the safety briefing and fire drill, I was given a chance to address the crew to inform them of my presence on the vessel, the importance of our seabirds and the mission to save them, and how they as fishermen can contribute to the cause.

The next day we woke up at 02h00 to set the fishing lines. This was to become a ritual for the remainder of the trip. We set two lines a night, each line taking no less than 50 minutes to set, and once deployed they stretched for about seven nautical miles (roughly 12 kilometres). The line was set at night with a BSL streaming behind the vessel to deter birds from the fishing line until we finished setting, which was usually by about 05h00. Then we had time for a quick meal before going to sleep again.

Bird activity peaks at dawn and dusk, with occasional foraging throughout the day. Most birds, including all albatrosses, don’t forage much in darkness, so by setting at night we can greatly reduce bycatch. These two mitigation methods (night setting and the use of BSLs) applied together have proven successful in reducing seabird bycatch, except during the full moon, when the nights are brighter and the birds can see well.

Left: A silhouette of a White-chinned Petrel foraging at dawn.

My next morning shift began at 07h00 to do an AS@S (Atlas of Seabirds at Sea) survey before the first line was hauled. Hauling usually started at about 09h00. During this time I observed the line and bird activity around the hauling area and at the side of the vessel where bait, offal and non-target fish were discarded and the birds tended to congregate, hoping for a quick meal. This was a good opportunity to observe species’ interactions while foraging, as well as the seabirds’ interaction with the vessel. It was also a great chance to take close-up photographs of birds that are usually seen only on the wing.

By 13h00 the first line had been hauled aboard. We would break for lunch and I would conduct another bird survey. The second line was hauled from 14h00 until 19h00. After that the crew finished packing the fish, usually completing this task by about 21h00. Then they started preparing the lines for the next shoot at 02h00. Clearly, there are not many who can match the fishermen’s work ethic!

Right: A mother and calf were among a pod of six orcas that hung around the vessel for two days.

Being at sea is always one of my most challenging weeks in terms of working hours and the constant battle to keep my balance. If you like extreme sports, try taking a shower on a rocking boat! But these are also the weeks I enjoy most. The pleasure of field work and being in direct contact with nature is always fulfilling. We had a pod of killer whales hanging around the vessel for two days and then, towards the end of our trip, a series of storms. The weather was so rough that at one point a few Wilson’s Storm Petrels were blown onto the vessel (I was able to release them safely). With everything flying everywhere and people falling out of their bunks, it was difficult to continue fishing, so the skipper decided to halt fishing operations and sail back to port.

I am now back in the office trying to pull off the same hours of work at my desk, punching data, writing up reports and reminiscing about my time at sea. While there are always challenges to be faced, it is gratifying to know that the work we do is of great importance for conservation. The future of 0% bycatch for albatrosses and petrels is not far off – just minor glitches to be addressed and we will be on our way.


African Birdlife

The contents of the latest issue of African Birdlife are as diverse as South Africa’s birds: a thrilling account of the discovery of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers in Mozambique; a brief history of the Cape Bird Club; a trip to Madagascar to view its endemics; a lesson on seeing miombo birds that are doing their best not to be seen; a survey of the latest technology that enables us to track birds better than ever before – and that’s just for starters…


Click here to help raise funds

Flock on the West Coast

As we watched the sun set over the smooth waters of the Atlantic Ocean at the final dinner of Flock 2018, we could reflect on another successful year under the BirdLife South Africa belt. ‘Flockees’ had arrived at the Greek-inspired Club Mykonos in Langebaan on 6 March and had been treated to a host of excursions that ranged from boat trips out into Saldanha Bay to visits to the West Coast National Park and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area. The local celebrities (a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Broad-billed Sandpiper, both rarities in the subregion) kept delegates on their toes at the Geelbek hide throughout the week.

An ice-breaker quiz night was hosted on 7 March with in-house quiz masters Dr Taryn Morris and Andrew de Blocq (both members of the Seabird Team at BirdLife South Africa) doing a stellar job to test even the smartest of bird nerds!

Left: Delegates of the 4th biennial LAB Conference. Credit: Albert Froneman

The fourth biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference was held in the Athene Conference Centre at Club Mykonos on 8 and 9 March and co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. It was divided into a Science LAB session, during which the country’s top ornithologists presented their latest research, and a parallel Layman’s LAB session that included popular talks on bird conservation, research and identification tools. Plenary talks were presented by Dr Mark Brown and Dr Alan Lee.

Right: Dr Mark Brown explains the importance of staying relevant as a conservation scientist during his plenary at LAB. Credit: Albert Froneman

The Science LAB session covered themes that included bird breeding biology, morphology and ecology. Presentations highlighting currently known threats and conservation measures offered insights into the challenges facing South Africa’s birds and some of the solutions that are being implemented to protect them. The African Seabird Group held a special session that featured talks on the tracking of Grey-headed Albatrosses off Marion Island, lessons learnt from 20 years of seabird rehabilitation, and rodent eradication plans for islands where seabirds breed.

The Layman’s LAB session hosted talks by several BirdLife South Africa staff members about their current research and conservation efforts to protect South Africa’s diverse avifauna and their habitats. CapeNature staff members Rupert Koopman and Kevin Shaw offered insights into the ecology of the West Coast and the birds of Dassen Island; Faansie Peacock gave an in-depth lecture on strandveld birding; and Etienne Marais discussed how to find and identify the tricky specials of the Western Cape and Northern Cape. Dr Dieter Hoffmann, the head of International Strategy and Capacity Building at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK, presented on the international work of the RSPB and its collaboration with BirdLife South Africa.

Right: Dr Alan Lee highlights the importance of citizen science in monitoring what is happening to South Africa’s birds. Credit: Albert Froneman

Although integral to Flock on the West Coast 2018, the LAB Conference formed just one part of the broader event. ‘Flocks’ to amazing destinations around the country have become synonymous with BirdLife South Africa’s Annual Gathering of Members and this year’s Flock delivered another fantastic occasion for all ‘flockees’ in attendance. All delegates were encouraged to share their experiences via social media channels using the #Flock2018 and #LAB2018 handles. BirdLife South Africa also posted highlights from the event on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

The 89th AGM of BirdLife South Africa took place on 10 March and it was wonderful to see the conference hall packed to the brim with members. Chairman Roger Wanless did a sterling job of keeping the meeting interesting, relevant and on time. Professor Colleen Downs, the president of BirdLife South Africa, gave a fantastic talk on how birds are adapting to urban environments, and Dr Dieter Hoffmann of the RSPB gave a guest address on the collaborative efforts between BirdLife South Africa and his organisation. Flock 2018 was rounded off with a delicious dinner at Marc’s Beach Bar and provided guests with an opportunity to enjoy the best seafood the ‘Weskus’ has to offer.

Left: Science LAB delegates listen intently. Credit: Albert Froneman

Thank you to the organising committee for all their hard work building up to and during this mammoth event and thank you to the delegates who made this year’s Flock another memorable and enjoyable one!


Albatross Task Force in Argentina

On his first overseas trip, Zimbabwe-born Reason Nyengera joined Andrea Angel and Ross Wanless in attending the Fifth Albatross Task Force Instructors’ Workshop held in Resort City at Mar del Plata on Argentina’s coast. The Albatross Task Force (ATF) is an international team dedicated to saving albatrosses and related seabirds by working with the fishing industry, both aboard fishing vessels and in ports. This event brought together seven ATF teams from southern Africa and South America to review project developments, consider advances in research, plan future work programmes and continue the development of international conservation to ensure that we are making the best possible efforts to reduce seabird mortality in fisheries. The teams came from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Namibia and South Africa, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), from the UK, was also represented.

ATF teams presented a demonstration of seabird bycatch reductions in their target fleets. We are happy to announce that all the teams managed an 80% seabird bycatch reduction in most of the targeted fisheries. ATF South Africa demonstrated an amazing 99% and 85% seabird bycatch reduction in the demersal trawl and Japanese Joint Venture pelagic longline fleets respectively. We had a rigorous discussion on strategic planning to sustain seabird bycatch reductions in our fisheries as well as maintain low seabird bycatch in fisheries that are already compliant.

From the left, standing: Samantha Matjila, Augusto Silva-Costa, Dimas Gianuca, Nahuel Chavez, Leo Tamini, Esteban Frere, Clemens Naomab, Ross Wanless, Cristian Suazo, Gabriel Sampaio, Nina Da Rocha and Patricio Ortiz. In front: Andrea Angel, Ana Bertoldi, Reason Nyengera, Rory Crawford and Ruben Dellacasa.

The workshop was used as a platform to identify new priority fisheries that have a high impact on seabird populations. ATF South Africa introduced tuna pole and hake longline as our new priority fishery, an industry that needs immediate attention. With the help of all teams present, we strategised on how to tackle seabird bycatch in these new fisheries and created a timeline by which to manage actions.

We also discussed our engagement with the Regional Fishery Management Organisation (RFMO) in our respective regions to determine how the ATF can support the wider RFMO engagement process. The BirdLife Advocacy team works with RFMOs, national associations and fishery companies to provide high-level support and to drive the adoption of seabird conservation measures on a global scale. Recent updates to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) advice were reviewed and aligned with national regulations. ACAP best-practice guidelines are multilateral agreements that seek to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

A BirdLife International programme to identify marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (mIBAs) was presented to the ATF teams, since the ATF has the local knowledge, influence and contacts to provide an important supporting role in delineating and validating mIBAs. We explored the implementations that the mIBA process would require, taking into consideration regional priorities, and determined a strategy for each country.

Although the workshop was intense, we managed to spend some time enjoying cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, whose streets are lined with splendid 19th-century buildings, and viewing its balconied presidential palace. We also had the treat of watching some tango dancing and listening to local Spanish music. For me, it was so amazing to see Andrea Angel blend in with her origins and speak in the melodious Spanish language. We also enjoyed the delicious beef-dominated cuisine, which supports the country’s extensive cattle-ranching industry.

We returned home with renewed energy to continue our work of saving our precious seabirds and, with the support of the BirdLife South Africa Seabird Programme and the RSPB, we are sure to achieve our goals.


A great example of an IBA

The Magaliesberg area is a great example of how well a multi-use landscape can work to conserve large, biodiverse areas while providing important social services. The Magaliesberg is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2015. Biosphere reserves are divided into three zones: the core area(s) of strictly protected land, a buffer zone where limited human activity is permitted, and a transition area where greater activity is allowed. In the case of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve there are two core areas: the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and the protected environment of the Magaliesberg mountain range. Go to to identify where the zones are located.

Left: Every weekend the Magaliesberg is used by hundreds of cyclists as a training ground for big cycling events such as the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge. Credit: Daniel Marnewick

Because of this multi-use landscape there is an amazing range of activities to participate in and at the same time appreciate the scenic beauty and natural diversity of the area – and all within a short distance of Johannesburg and Pretoria. The activities include road cycling and mountain biking in the Cradle of Humankind; mountain biking and hiking in the mountains; hot air ballooning; and water sports on Hartebeespoort Dam. There are also canopy tours, a variety of scenic restaurants and accommodation options and a cable way. Of course, the birding is exceptional too: the area is home to two breeding colonies of the globally threatened Cape Vulture, at Nooitgedacht and Skeerpoort, and the 363 890-hectare IBA is known for raptor species such as Verreauxs’ Eagle, Lanner Falcon and Secretarybird.

Right: The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve and IBA. Credit: Google Maps

For more information about the area, go to ; to find out more about the IBA, visit


The Flufftail Festival at Joburg Zoo

As the drought continues unabated in many parts of our country, BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with Rand Water (Water Wise), Joburg City Parks and Zoo, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Rare Finch Conservation Group, is continuing its efforts to raise awareness of the importance of saving water, wetlands and waterbirds.

Now in its fourth year, the Flufftail Festival underwent a facelift, taking place at an exciting new venue at the Johannesburg Zoo. Part of the festival this year saw approximately 600 Grade 6 learners and teachers from eight schools treated to ‘Manzi’s Water Wise Roadshow’, ‘Waxi the Hero’ puppet shows and a range of fun educational activities at the zoo on 20 April. The following day, the Flufftail Festival was open to the public, giving them opportunities to participate in the activities and win a prize, all while learning about the importance of wetlands, waterbirds and water.

Find out more at


Josh supports Taita Falcons

Josh Crickmay dropped out of school at the age of 15, feeling broken and suicidal. With stories and exquisite photography, his 300-page, self-published book documents his teenage travels with his parents to every corner of southern Africa and to the Amazon and the Andes in what is known in birding circles as a ‘big year’, inspired by the movie of the same name.

Through the publication of his book, which describes not only his birding and photography experiences, but also his triumph over struggles, Josh raises awareness for conservation and has chosen the Taita Falcon project as the beneficiary of his donation. The SA Taita Falcon Survey Team, a BirdLife Species Guardian, undertakes annual breeding surveys of the known South African population of these small falcons in the Blyde River Canyon area, with the support of BirdLife South Africa.

Read more and support Josh at


From a broken teenager who dropped out of school at 15 comes Josh’s Big Year, a remarkable book that tells a story of courage and the triumph of the human spirit.

Joining forces for conservation

BirdLife South Africa and Conservation Outcomes have initiated an exciting partnership to promote and support the conservation of KwaZulu-Natal’s natural heritage. The partnership will support the management of areas essential for bird conservation, in particular sites that support the Critically Endangered Blue Swallow and its threatened mistbelt grassland habitat.

There are fewer than 30 pairs of Blue Swallow left in South Africa, while only 2% of the Grassland Biome is conserved in formal protected areas. The mistbelt grasslands and forests in southern KwaZulu-Natal have been systematically destroyed over the past 100 years and it is therefore essential that the remaining fragments are protected and managed to ensure the survival of the threatened Blue Swallow, Cape Parrot and other threatened species, and to secure the natural production of water in the region.

For more information about this partnership, download the official media release at

Left: A site in the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Grassland. Credit: Greg Martindale (Conservation Outcomes)


Fundamentals of Bird Photography Course

by Albert & Marietjie Froneman – 19 May 2018 Johannesburg (Limited spaces still available)

This course is aimed at the digital photographer who wants to learn the fundamentals of how to take photos of birds and other wildlife, as well as master the art of post processing their images. Both beginner and experienced photographers will benefit from the course content. The course will cover aspects of equipment, settings and field techniques and will provide training in an easy-to-follow post-processing work flow aimed specifically at bird photographers. For more information and to book online, click here or visit


Increase in membership fees

As announced by the previous Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba, VAT was increased by 1% from 1 April. Going forward, and until the annual price increase on 1 July 2018, Ordinary Membership will be R504.39, while Senior Citizen and Student Membership will be R353.07. We appreciate your understanding and continued support.

On the road with Ross

In January, in the company of Nini van der Merwe, who coordinates our fleet-based Common Oceans work, I left a sweltering Cape Town and landed in an unbelievably cold Seoul – on the evening we arrived the temperature dropped to an insane -17 °C! The workshop we were there to attend wrapped up our four-year collaboration with South Korea’s National Institute for Fisheries, during which we assisted with at-sea trials of mitigation measures to protect seabirds. For both the workshop and the collaboration we can thank RSPB-led fisheries work and the Common Oceans project jointly.

Seabird expert Dr Dom Rollinson, who conducted some of his doctoral studies aboard one of the Korean vessels that was participating in our collaborative research, joined us, as did Dr Joel Rice, a stock assessment scientist who is contracted to assist our Common Oceans work in supporting countries with their analyses of seabird bycatch data. It was immensely gratifying not only to co-host this workshop and meet up with colleagues who have supported our work in Korea, but also to have such fruitful discussions.

We came away with some clear leads for where Korea’s tuna fleet may require further collaboration and everyone agreed that our trials were highly successful. The Korean fleet that fishes where albatrosses and petrels are at risk can do so safely and efficiently by using weights on their branch-lines – a key measure to minimise seabird bycatch. In addition, Korea indicated strong support for another stream of our Common Oceans agenda and promised to be in Peru in February for a data preparation workshop on assessing the global impacts of tuna bycatch on seabirds.

Above: Dom Rollinson birding in Namsan Park.

Our travel to Korea was combined with a meeting in Japan, but sadly that was all business and left no time for anything but incidental birding. Due to Joel’s prior commitments, we had to schedule the Japan meeting for a Monday, which meant that Dom and I had to spend a Saturday in Seoul. It was, beyond a shadow of doubt, the coldest birding I have ever done.

Winter birding can be a little desolate, but our target area, Namsan Park, proved to be quite productive. A massive highlight was a very loud drumming sound, clearly made by a large woodpecker doing a territorial drum on a dead branch some distance away. Not being able to get it to respond, we gave up, but were very aware that we might have been hearing a Black Woodpecker – a massive bird in many respects! About an hour later, lower down in pine woodland, we heard a penetrating call being made repeatedly. Thinking it was a raptor, we set off towards it. Suddenly Dom yelled and pointed – and we had a brief flyby of not a raptor, but a very large, all-black woodpecker!

Ringing a Wattled Crane chick


Although Wattled Cranes usually breed during the winter months in South Africa, the recently declared Ingula Nature Reserve was fortunate enough to have two breeding pairs successfully incubating during December. Both these pairs and their chicks were monitored very closely, since the parents will hide their offspring at the first sight of intruders.

Being a few weeks older and at the perfect age for ringing, the first chick on the property Strathmorn, adjacent to Ingula, was ringed in February with the help of members of EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme. Approximately 10 weeks old, it was fitted with SAFRING and colour rings for identification. A provincial colour ring indicates where the chick hatched and was ringed, while the other three colour rings used in a specific combination help to identify it from a distance. Tracking the chick as it grows will provide information about its local movements, including which floater flock it joins and the distance it travels from its home. In a broader sense, the ringing and tracking of Wattled Crane chicks helps researchers to understand, for example, the mortality rate and age of birds within a population.

Samples were taken from the chick’s cloaca to screen for disease, which will lead to a better understanding of the health of the population around Ingula, and a blood sample was taken to determine the chick’s gender.


Above left: Colour rings are for identification purposes while the individual is still alive, while the metal ring (at the base of the left leg) will be used if the bird’s corpse is collected.
Above right: Samples are taken from the chick’s eye and cloaca to determine whether disease was present. Image by Meyrick Bowker

Team-building for the seabird team

On Friday, 9 February 2018, BirdLife South Africa’s seabird team congregated at a member’s house in Cape Town for a team-building event. The objectives were to help integrate the newly appointed staff members, reconnect with colleagues, learn more about each other’s personalities and ultimately to integrate our personal goals into a team effort.

Led by a qualified facilitator, the training comprised a mixture of physically, mentally and emotionally challenging tasks that were both fun and edifying. The activities focused on self-realisation and understanding one another’s personalities and they taught us how to communicate with reference to each individual’s character.

The training also helped us to cultivate trust and mutual respect, which are well known to be critical factors in successful organisations. Above all, a team thrives when there is an encouraging atmosphere of cooperation and all members are working together to ensure success. One of the many interesting highlights was a personality profiling system called Clarity 4D. After a brief introduction by the facilitator, members of the team identified specific communication strategies that they preferred or were not responsive to. These strategies were then reinforced through a number of team-building activities. Each activity focused on a different skill required for effective and coherent teamwork.

It meant a great deal to me, as the new intern in this dynamic team, to discover what my colleagues are like outside work. It was enlightening to learn about the diversity in our team and to find ways in which our differences can help us work together and be a stronger team. It was a day well spent, and we are all eager to apply the new skills in our everyday work.


Above: Christina, Makhudu, Andrew, Taryn, Brownyn and Phillip watch with amusement as activities are performed by other team members.
Right: Brownyn, Andrea and Reason enjoy chilling together.

A bright new talent

Nndwandiyawe Muhali recently joined the Terrestrial Bird Conservation team, an opportunity made possible by sponsorship from Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking.

Nndwa comes from Thohoyandou in Limpopo and is currently completing her MSc in Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda. Both her Honours mini-dissertation and her Master’s dissertation focused on lead poisoning in Cape Vultures and reveal her deep interest in bird research. She is enthusiastic about joining the team and hopes that this internship will give her the knowledge and experience she needs to succeed in the field.

Nndwa will be assisting the bird and renewable energy manager with many aspects of the project, from commenting on impact assessments to helping with events. We are delighted to have her on board and look forward to seeing her spread her wings.

Inspiring future conservationists

‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,’ said Nelson Mandela. With this in mind, Andrew de Blocq and Makhudu Masotla, the two newest members of the Seabird Conservation Programme, took time out to represent BirdLife South Africa at the Kirstenbosch Careers Day hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute on 22 February.

Grade 11 and 12 learners from schools in marginalised areas around Cape Town attended to learn about career opportunities in the fields of environmental science, conservation and research. Andrew and Makhudu told them about some of the work that BirdLife South Africa is involved in, including the very successful Albatross Task Force and the Common Oceans project, which focus on mitigating seabird bycatch on the high seas, as well as the efforts currently being made to protect the Endangered African Penguin.

The two seabird conservationists also shared their wisdom on what to study in order to work in conservation, how to acquire skills by volunteering and internships, and how to make your CV really stand out in a competitive job market. The presentation took on a life of its own with demonstrations of bird-scaring lines and hook protection mechanisms, all presided over by Bob, the ever-popular stuffed Tristan Albatross. Hopefully a few of the students will be inspired to pursue a career in this sector – or at least are thinking about how they as individuals and school communities can reduce their impact on an increasingly fragile environment.

Call to action

The White-winged Flufftail is Critically Endangered and one of the rarest birds in the world. The destruction and degradation of its high-altitude grassland habitat have made its survival in the wild uncertain. Through the use of a novel survey method, BirdLife South Africa’s research team recently discovered that this flufftail breeds in South Africa, contradicting the previously held belief that it is a non-breeding visitor to South African wetlands.

In order to find out where else this elusive bird occurs – and, importantly, whether there are other breeding sites – we need to expand our use of the BirdLife South Africa Rallid Survey Method, which includes the deployment of camera traps. A donation of R4000 for each camera would help us to reach our target of buying another 60 camera traps for use in the 2018–2019 breeding season.

Anyone wishing to donate to this important conservation work can either deposit funds directly into BirdLife South Africa’s account (FNB, account number 62067506281, branch code 250655), using the reference ‘WWF YourInitials&Surname’; or can use the online payment platform accessed via, where the White-winged Flufftail tab can be selected as the chosen cause.

For more information, contact Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Manager: Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme/Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation


Owl Award nominations, please

Do you know anyone or any organisation that you feel has made an outstanding contribution to BirdLife South Africa and bird conservation during the past year? The call for nominations for the 2018 Owl Awards is open and now’s the time to put their name forward. Please contact Beth Hackland at for more information about the criteria and nomination process. The deadline for submission of nomination forms is Friday, 20 April.

Space for nature

It was one of the key questions that the world’s leading scientists and conservation practitioners were trying to answer at the Zoological Society of London’s symposium: how much space does nature need? Entitled ‘Safeguarding space for nature and securing our future’, the symposium aimed to inform the formulation of the post-2020 conservation targets that all signatory countries of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will work to achieve for the following 10 years. As a signatory to the CBD, South Africa will have to align its own conservation priorities and national targets with the global targets.

Speaking specifically to the CBD Aichi Target 11 (2010–2020), the consensus at the symposium was that the current modest target of protecting at least 17% of the world’s land and 10% of its sea by 2020 was far too low. Even though globally we currently protect 15% of the land, and it is possible that we may achieve 17% by 2020, this would not be enough to protect the world’s biodiversity and halt biodiversity loss. Far more ambitious targets of ‘50% for nature’ were proposed, which was juxtaposed against the holistic proposal that we need to conserve ‘the whole earth’ by protecting priority sites and at the same time utilise the rest of the natural world sustainably. There was a strong view that the post-2020 CBD targets need to support an inclusive ‘people in nature’ ideology rather than segregating the two.

Daniel Marnewick is the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Community Chair and African Representative and was also recently elected as the country focal point for the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. He was invited to the symposium to present on KBAs as part of a session entitled ‘Areas important for biodiversity’. The session analysed how much land should be protected if biodiversity targets are to be met, and how KBAs can be used to guide where we prioritise biodiversity conservation. Daniel was also invited to a post-symposium workshop to write the key recommendations for the post-2020 targets.

This symposium forms part of a multi-year process under way to define the post-2020 CBD targets leading up to the CBD Conference of the Parties in 2020. The targets will determine our global conservation trajectory from 2020 onwards. Coming away from the symposium, Daniel’s impression is that we need more ambitious targets and that they should embrace dynamic landscapes that include people and allow for the formal protection of high biodiversity priorities; identify conservation areas where land use is compatible with conservation objectives; and promote the sustainable use of the land to support livelihoods and economic growth.

Daniel, together with Candice Stevens, the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Policy & Advocacy Programme, will work closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs to ensure that our national government understands and supports the policy and implementation implications of the post-2020 CBD targets.


African Birdlife

As jam-packed as ever, the latest issue of African Birdlife brings landmark news about the breeding of the White-winged Flufftail and the uplisting of the Cape Gannet, plus exciting seabird discoveries; images and observations of Green Malkohas and Spotted Eagle-Owls at the nest; and an itinerary for the best birding spots in Malawi. There are binoculars and books to be won and, as a special bonus, a poster of the African Black Oystercatcher, the 2018 Bird of the Year, comes as part of the package.

Booze for Birds – a great success!

BirdLife South Africa hosted its first Booze for Birds event on 4 February 2018 at Isdell House, our head office in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. The event was a gin tasting in partnership with the Artisan Cocktail & Tapas Bar, generously sponsored by Cruxland Gin.

On arrival, guests were given three coupons that could be exchanged for a selection of gin and tonics or gin cocktails over the course of the afternoon. Gin and tonics included a refreshing naartjie and mint combination or a pink gin and tonic with strawberries and thyme.

Cruxland Gin is infused with the rare Kalahari truffle and seven other distinct botanicals, including South African rooibos. The afternoon therefore took on a Kalahari-inspired theme and guests were given the choice of trying either a Red Lark or a Secretarybird gin cocktail, both of which were delicious!

Guests could try either a Red Lark or a Secretarybird gin cocktail.

Congregated on the front terrace at Isdell House, guests were surrounded by the beautiful indigenous garden as they watched the sun sink slowly behind the horizon on a beautiful, still Johannesburg evening. Shop For the Birds! was open for a few hours, providing an opportunity to browse its shelves for bird-inspired merchandise and gifts. People were encouraged to explore the garden and view the wonderful bird photography and artwork throughout the office buildings while they sipped on their drinks. Waiters moved around with a selection of finger snacks supplied by The Artisan and umbrellas and beanbags were scattered on the lawn, creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for drinking, snacking and socialising.

Umbrellas and beanbags on the lawn helped to create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

A big thank you goes to both Cruxland Gin and The Artisan for supporting and sponsoring the evening. We hope that this was just the first in a series of Booze for Birds events in partnership with The Artisan and that they will have a twofold benefit: encouraging visitors to share and enjoy our beautiful premises in a relaxed atmosphere; and raising greater awareness of BirdLife South Africa and the work we do. Perhaps a craft beer, whisky or wine event is more your style, so look out for details of our next event.

Baroque in the Bush

Roaming Rocky on social media

To celebrate the declaration of the African Black Oystercatcher as Bird of the Year for 2018, we are selling some very cute fluffy toy oystercatchers. Modelled on Chrissie Cloete’s little character Rocky, these toys are available for R150 each at BirdLife South Africa’s Shop For the Birds! and at the offices of the Nature’s Valley Trust in Nature’s Valley and Offshore Adventures in Plettenberg Bay.

To raise awareness of the Bird of the Year, we will be running a social media campaign that encourages people to take photos of their fluffy toy, Rocky the oystercatcher, in all the beautiful, wild or interesting places they visit. We would particularly like to see if we can get a shot of Rocky visiting each of South Africa’s 112 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) during 2018. So make sure to take your Rocky toy with you on your travels and post your photographs on social media with the following hashtags (#RoamingRocky, #BOTY2018, #Oystercatcher, #ShareTheShores, #WhereIsRocky). Let’s see how far Rocky can travel in 2018!

Monty Brett online

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Endorsed by BirdLife South Africa, Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses cover a wide range of topics, from bird identification for beginners to tackling cryptic LBJs and perplexing birds of prey. The comprehensive courses are hosted by two of South Africa’s best-known bird experts, Geoff Lockwood and Duncan McKenzie. They take you step by step through an abundance of information in an easy and engaging manner. Best of all, you can watch the sessions at leisure on your computer, tablet or smartphone – all you need is an Internet connection. And you can watch them repeatedly to refresh your memory and ensure you don’t miss a thing. No matter your level of experience, you’ll learn a great deal from Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses. Visit

Bird of the Year 2018 merchandise

Shop For the Birds! is now selling African Black Oystercatcher-themed T-shirts, buffs and pins, as well as fluffy toys of Rocky the Oystercatcher that are sure to be a huge hit with kids. Visit the shop at Isdell House, 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West in Johannesburg or e-mail Bianca at for postal orders.

International Land Conservation Congress

Dale Wright, IBA Regional Conservation Manager for the Western Cape, and Candice Stevens, Policy & Advocacy Programme Manager, attended the International Land Conservation Network Congress 2018, which was held in Santiago, Chile, from 24 to 26 January. This congress takes place every two years to host leaders in Private Land Conservation and facilitate lesson sharing and the formation of strategic global partnerships. The 2018 event was attended by 160 delegates from 24 countries.

The need for Privately Protected Areas (PPAs) is growing worldwide. So too is their success, which is based firstly on increasing pressure to protect formally and manage effectively our last bastions of biodiversity, and secondly on realising that vast tracts of land that are crucial to successful conservation lie within private ownership, be it communal, business, individual or otherwise. Candice and Dale were able to lend their expertise and experience to this global platform and showcase innovative achievements resulting from their work in South Africa.

The 2018 congress focused on legal and policy frameworks, with specific emphasis on conservation finance, particularly tax incentives, and on tools for better governance and management. Candice was invited to present her work in developing South Africa’s first effective biodiversity tax incentive, section 37D, and this success story was warmly applauded by the global community. Dale talked about enhancing the conservation of private land in South Africa as part of a discussion session entitled ‘Thinking strategically: Responding to changing needs’ and he got participants reflecting on innovative ways to improve their own projects back home. The BirdLife South Africa team helped to put South Africa on the map at this congress, illustrating how we are achieving Private Land Conservation through South Africa’s unique and world-leading PPA model, Biodiversity Stewardship.

Dale and Candice were enriched by the many practical lessons learnt in various sessions and the great networking with colleagues within this specific sector. A number of exciting strategic outcomes were also achieved, including a preliminary discussion regarding the establishment of a Land Conservation Network in Africa. Dale is looking forward to making progress in documenting and understanding the various Private Land Conservation approaches under way across the continent. Candice was invited to co-chair a global conservation tax committee to create a platform for developing tax incentives in other countries and transfer successes from the likes of South Africa to other parts of the world.

Fortunately there was also time for some birding, with the highlights being a Giant Hummingbird in the La Campana National Park and fantastic views of Andean Condors in the Yerba Loca National Park, surrounded by the high Andean mountains.

Bag a Cape Parrots bag from Woolworths

These beautiful shopping bags are available at Woolworths stores throughout South Africa. There are now only a few thousand left, so get to your closest Woolworths store today and show your support!

R10 from the sale of each bag will be donated to BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme. Funds raised through this initiative will help to safeguard the remaining patches of Cape Parrot habitat and support the annual Cape Parrot census.

The biggest challenge facing the conservation of this species is the need to protect the forest habitat on which it relies so heavily. Over-utilisation and degradation have resulted in the fragmentation of the parrots’ home, which continues to this day. Mortality from Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease is also an increasingly common concern.

For more information, go to

On the road with Ross

Readers of this blog should hold onto their seats because there’s a travel schedule for the first quarter of 2018 that may well be the end of me! January got off to a rollicking start when I joined my colleague Bronwyn Maree for a Common Oceans meeting in Fiji. We’ve established a beachhead there as a means to engage with the Chinese distant-water fleet because all our other attempts have resulted in much talking with officials but nothing on the water. A large contingent of China’s high-seas fleet uses Suva, the capital of Fiji, as a base, so we have appointed James, a Fijian, as our Port-Based Outreach (PBO) officer there.

The main purpose of going to Fiji was to host an inception workshop for Fijian officials and, crucially, the many agents who work with the Chinese fishing vessels. However, Bronwyn and I also needed to get an understanding of James’s working conditions. It’s difficult enough to manage people remotely, but without knowledge of the ‘lie of the land’ and how things work (or don’t work), it’s even more tricky. Both objectives were well achieved. We spent a good evening sharing a bowl of kava (a traditional Fijian drink) with the staff of BirdLife International’s (BLI) Pacific Office (it hosts James who, like Bronwyn, is not actually a BirdLife staffer) and some people from Nature Fiji, the BirdLife Partner. Fiji is a big country and the main island, Viti Levu, is massive, but the towns are small and the people are wonderfully relaxed and friendly, but still professional and efficient. What a great mix!

I had never been to Polynesia, so there was always going to be a crushing need to get out into the forest to find some of the endemics – and I duly did. Mark O’Brien from BLI kindly took Bronwyn, Karen Baird (my counterpart for the Pacific region) and myself out one afternoon after our meetings. Just a 10-minute taxi ride from downtown Suva is some intact habitat with most of the Viti Levu endemics. The Masked Shining Parrot was probably the top bird, but the Red Lory came in a close second! I had hoped to do some decent birding elsewhere, but torrential rain and disastrous flight cancellations put a premature end to those hopes. In the end I came away with 15 lifers – not an unreasonable outcome for so little quality birding. However, quite a few Fijian endemics, including the Fiji Petrel, will remain on my wish list for the foreseeable future.

Above left: The exquisite blue sea and tropical reefs that fringe emerald islands make Fiji a stunning tourist destination.

Above right: A visit to Levuka, an outlying port, required a short flight. The size of the plane to take us there was cause for some excitement!

New IBA BirdLasser Challenge

The new Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas BirdLasser Challenge focuses on the network of 112 sites identified by BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme. These IBAs are critical for the long-term survival of bird species that are globally threatened, have a restricted range or are confined to specific biomes or vegetation types. Included among them are birding hotspots such as the Kruger National Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Wakkerstroom and iSimangaliso Wetland Park. For a map of South Africa’s IBAs, see; to find out more about each IBA, go to

Left: The IBA Programme has identified 112 IBAs across South Africa.

For the challenge, launched by BirdLife South Africa and BirdLasser in 2018, only birds logged within IBAs will count. It is hoped that birders participating in the challenge will collect valuable data about the distribution of birds within the IBA network.

To take part, go to, click on ‘Log in’, visit an IBA and start logging. The data will automatically update to the online map. We believe the network holds more than 750 bird species. The challenge is, can we record most of them in one year? Sign up now and let’s try to log sightings within all the 112 IBAs before 31 December 2018. We need you to take up the challenge and help us ‘give conservation wings’.

Engaging a new generation of conservationists

Spring Alive 2017 featured the campaign’s first children’s story book, a cuddly toy and a bird fact ‘Advent calendar’. The success of all three sums up its achievements.

30 Days of Spring

Kicking off Spring Alive in South Africa, an ‘Advent calendar’ of bird-related facts and activities each day took children on a month-long journey of learning about bird migration. CDs distributed to schools across the country contained 30 bite-sized activities devised to gradually build up the class’s knowledge in a fun and varied way. Tasks ranged from word searches and food web designs to recording and monitoring the birds in their neighbourhood.

Teachers reported that this was an excellent way to introduce children to the Spring Alive message. Thanks to 30 Days of Spring, children across South Africa have gained a better understanding of the birds they see around them and they are now aware that some of the species they encounter are on just one step of an amazing round-the-world journey.

Ringo – the Journey of a White Stork

2017 saw the publication of Spring Alive’s very first children’s story book: Ringo – the Journey of a White Stork. This charmingly illustrated narrative follows Ringo on her first migration from her nest in Germany to Wakkerstroom, South Africa. On the way she encounters issues common to many migrating birds: conservation efforts like the ringing of chicks, and negative human impacts such as hunting and climate change. The book shines a light on the fascinating life history of the White Stork, from nest building and raising young to the way in which individuals communicate with each other. It also incorporates tales of human traditions surrounding the species and the ways in which some European villages honour this symbolic bird. The book has already been distributed in electronic form to 60 schools across South Africa, with the plan to expand to another 40 schools in 2018.

To bring Ringo and her story to life, Spring Alive created a White Stork soft toy to accompany the book – it even bears the leg ring that inspired the original story. Having something tangible to hold, like this toy, provides young children with a character to connect with, enabling them to identify better with the White Stork and its inspirational migration journey.

Conservation Club workshops

Complying with this year’s theme, ‘Don’t Take Chicks with You’, various activities were designed to spread the important message of what to do if a chick is found outside its nest. The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) trained school Conservation Club coordinators to run workshops on this theme that could be taken back to their schools. Coordinators were also shown how to construct bird feeders and nest boxes, which were then replicated in their respective schools, with impressive results.

Judging by the enthusiasm that greeted the Spring Alive campaign, it’s clear that the next generation of conservationists is going to be more talented and passionate than ever before.

Spring Alive Action of the Year results

Year of the Bird

2018 Year of the Bird logoNo, it’s not Bird of the Year, it’s Year of the Bird! 2018 marks the centenary of one of the most important and powerful laws to protect birds ever passed in the USA: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. To honour this milestone, National Geographic, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and BirdLife International, as well as more than 50 other participating organisations, have committed to raising awareness about birds, the threats they face and the conservation measures needed to protect them. News about birds will be broadcast across many channels – magazines, television and social media, among others – with fresh editorial, content and programmes. Follow it on the official website or #birdyourworld.

BirdLasser challenge a huge success

The winner of the BirdLife South Africa staff’s fun BirdLasser challenge for 2017 was Melissa Whitecross, who recorded 533 species. She was followed by Fanie du Plessis with 515 species, Linda van den Heever with 483 species and Mark and Tania Anderson with 481 species. Fanie is the finance and operations manager and Mark is the CEO, which makes their contributions even more impressive as they have fewer opportunities to go out birding than the rest of the conservation staff. Fifteen of the staff members recorded more than 200 species during the year. Bianca Hare deserves special mention as she only started birding in 2017 and recorded 293 species! Ernst Retief logged the most records (5130), followed by Fanie du Plessis (4099).

Most of the staff members are also keen contributors to SABAP2, so many of these records were added to the database. The most common species logged was Hadeda Ibis, while 59 species were recorded only once. Although this is a fun event that generates a lot of banter among the staff, it does also show that they have a genuine passion for birds and really do enjoy birding as a hobby.

A new project manager for Threatened Species

While completing her PhD in savanna ecology at Wits University, Dr Melissa Whitecross joined BirdLife South Africa as a part-time intern in the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme (TBCP) in January 2017. After graduating in July, she took on more responsibility with the TBCP and has become a valued member of the team.

Melissa is an avid birder and was the winner of the 2017 BirdLife South Africa staff BirdLasser challenge with a tally of 533 species. She cycled for the organisation’s Fast & Featherless team in last year’s Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge and will be riding again in 2018 – and has challenged colleagues to join her. A keen wildlife photographer and passionate naturalist, Melissa hopes to combine her background in ecology and vegetation analyses with her ornithological knowledge and skills to contribute to furthering our understanding of threatened bird species and their habitats in South Africa. She will be focusing on projects involving the Secretarybird, White-winged Flufftail, Taita Falcon and Southern Banded Snake Eagle.

Melissa is also a strong public speaker and delivered several well-received talks about the plight of Africa’s vultures to school groups and bird clubs during 2017. We look forward to watching her progress in her new role – and seeing whether she can defend her challenge title in 2018!

Welcome to three new ‘seabirds’

The three new recruits who have joined the seabird conservation squad are Andrew de Blocq, Philip Augustyn and Makhudu Masotla. Andrew joins the penguin team as the project officer for Coastal Seabirds Conservation. A recent ‘Fitz’ graduate, he researched the impact of disturbance by boat-based tourism on waterbirds at De Hoop for his MSc and after completing his studies took up a post as teaching assistant on an ecology and conservation course in the Kruger National Park. Andrew is a passionate birder and worked part-time as a professional bird guide while studying. In 2017 he participated in the Champions of the Flyway event in Israel, raising more than R180 000 for the conservation of migratory birds. He will be taking on field-work and research duties as part of his new role, focusing mainly on the African Penguin.

Philip took up a joint position under the Common Oceans Tuna Project and the Albatross Task Force (ATF). An experienced scientific observer who has studied marine mammal, fish and seabird activity around Africa, Asia, the Americas and Antarctica, he will be responsible for working with foreign tuna longline vessels that operate on the high seas and will engage in awareness activities on seabird bycatch by visiting foreign vessels that dock in Cape Town harbour. He will also be putting his extensive observer experience to use as an ATF instructor in local fleets.

Makhudu joins the team as the Seabird Conservation intern. He grew up in a village near Polokwane and it was his upbringing on the family farm that led him to pursue ecological studies. His MSc, from the University of Limpopo, focused on the breeding biology and ecology of the African Quail-finch. During his time at the university he established the Solomondale Green Movement, a project that taught young people in his community about biodiversity through tree-planting, soccer and chess. Makhudu recently returned from Marion Island, where he gained valuable experience in research and the monitoring of the island’s seabirds. He will work for the ATF and Common Oceans Project, focusing on seabird bycatch mitigation.

The addition of these new team members is most welcome and we look forward to watching them grow and spread their wings in their respective positions.

Alphabet soup: the UN FAO ABNJ Brazil-based COTP NAW

The Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Common Oceans Tuna Project has a lot of moving parts. When friends or family ask what I actually do, I usually explain that there are four different elements of the project and that each element enables us to engage and work with different individuals and institutions operating within the tuna longline industry. My questioners usually stare blankly at me and I realise that I probably threw in too many acronyms or the terminology and statements that are second nature to me mean nothing to those who are not thinking, breathing and living in this industry as fully and consistently as my colleagues and I are.

On paper, the project aims to reduce the effect of tuna longline fishing on biodiversity. In other words, we are trying to prevent the accidental bycatch of seabirds, turtles, endangered sharks and other marine mammals in longline fishing. The first step in this process is to host a National Awareness Workshop (NAW) in a specific country. The countries selected tend either to be in the process of developing a fishing industry or to have had a large fishing industry. The NAW serves to inform industry, government and other related parties about the importance of conserving seabirds; about tried and tested mitigation measures designed to increase safety for the birds without affecting the catch effort; and about the reporting procedures and requirements as set out by the bodies that govern the high seas (otherwise known as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, which are the 64% of the world’s oceans not governed by a country).

Above: Andrea Angel talks about the importance of using seabird bycatch mitigation measures during fishing operations.

The Brazilian NAW was set for the second week of December 2017. Ross Wanless, Andrea Angel and I set off for Cabo Frio, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, to host the event together with Projeto Albatroz, the Brazilian equivalent of our Albatross Task Force (ATF). Projeto Albatroz has a long history of working with the Brazilian fishing industry and trying to find innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce the accidental bycatch of seabirds in the Brazilian fleet.

The workshop went well, with BirdLife South Africa and Projeto Albatroz sharing the floor, but from the outset it became apparent that there was a lot to discuss. While we managed to cover most of the agenda items and there were great opportunities for networking, we did leave the workshop feeling as though we could have done more and spent another few days there.

A noticeable difference between this workshop and others we have held was the general age in the room. It was refreshing to see so many people in their late 20s or early 30s, considering the situation that Brazil currently finds itself in. Political turmoil is nothing new to South Africans, but the situation in Brazil reminds us that things can get worse. Getting the country back on track is going to take a long time and a lot of work, and it was good to see the energy and drive in those who will be responsible for the task.

What I learned from this workshop is that, more than anything else, this project is really about people: fishermen trying to put food on the table for their families; company owners trying to make a profit; researchers trying to make sense of data; government officials trying to keep everyone happy… And then there’s us, conservationists trying to save species. When all of these elements come together, it’s often difficult to keep the aims and goals clearly defined. The Brazil NAW proved to be one of the workshops where, despite all the politics and agendas, one thing was certain – everyone in the room was concerned about saving seabirds.

Left: Workshop attendees included scientists and representatives of government and NGOs, as well as the Projeto Albatroz and BirdLife South Africa teams.

I come home after each workshop with a sense of achievement because, on paper at least, we’ve completed a task. But the amount of work that needs to be done after each workshop in order to make a true difference in the lives of seabirds also increases, and that can sometimes be discouraging. It’s a challenge that all of us involved with this project have signed up for and will continue to strive towards.


Barn Owl squatters

Barn OwlBarn Owl 2Several bird species, notably the parasitic cuckoos or generalists like the Egyptian Goose, prefer to use ready-made nests rather than build their own. Western Barn Owls tend to either search for abandoned nests or simply take over a site that is already in use. As burrow-nesters, they occupy any type of chamber for nesting, from mine shafts, buildings or nest boxes to tree holes – or even a neighbour’s deluxe suite (the neighbour at Ingula being the resident Hamerkop pair). There have also been reports of Barn Owls taking over nests from kestrels by force in the UK. Hamerkops will spend several months building their large nest and, if undisturbed, will use it for at least four consecutive years. However, more often than not, these nests are usurped by bees, monitor lizards, Egyptian Geese – and Barn Owls.

Our find was exciting, but it also posed some questions: how long had the owls been in the Hamerkop nest? Are they breeding there? Did they force their way into the nest or did they take it opportunistically? Are there other Hamerkop nests in the area that have also been invaded by Barn Owls? We are no closer to finding answers at present, but we hope to share more exciting news in the near future!


Peter Ryan to talk at Wits Bird Club

Professor Ryan’s talk about the Prince Edward Islands as a seabird Mecca will take place at Delta Park on Saturday, 17 February 2018 at 14h00. Declared a Special Nature Reserve, South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands are home to 28 breeding seabird species, including almost half of the world’s Wandering Albatrosses, four other albatross species and four penguin species. Their only land bird is the Lesser Sheathbill, which rears its chicks by stealing food from seabirds. Marion Island, the larger of the two islands, has suffered more from human activities than Prince Edward, but this is slowly being redressed through an ambitious restoration programme. This talk will illustrate the amazing diversity of birds and other wildlife at South Africa’s only overseas territory.

The cost is R50 per person and includes cheese and wine. Book by calling Lauraine at the Wits Bird Club office on 011 782 7267 (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) or visiting

All proceeds will be donated to the Marion Island Restoration Appeal.

Monty Brett online

montybrett final resizedEndorsed by BirdLife South Africa, Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses cover a wide range of topics, from bird identification for beginners to tackling cryptic LBJs and perplexing birds of prey. The comprehensive courses are hosted by two of South Africa’s best-known bird experts, Geoff Lockwood and Duncan McKenzie. They take you step by step through an abundance of information in an easy and engaging manner. Best of all, you can watch the sessions at leisure on your computer, tablet or smartphone – all you need is an Internet connection. And you can watch them repeatedly to refresh your memory and ensure you don’t miss a thing. No matter your level of experience, you’ll learn a great deal from Monty Brett’s Online Bird Courses. Visit

Birding at Lekgalameetse

Hosted by Natural Scientific Services, this self-drive, self-catering weekend getaway is aimed at nature enthusiasts of all knowledge levels and will take place in the breathtaking Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve. Accommodation is in the reserve’s log cabins, which lie in dense forest by a stream at the foot of the imposing mountains. Activities will include a presentation about the local flora, birds and other wildlife and walks focusing on birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants. For more information, call NSS on 011 787 7400 / 083 622 9224 or e-mail or

Waterberg birding

Shakati Private Game Reserve in the heart of the Waterberg IBA (on the birding route) is a favourite destination for many birders, boasting as it does river, savanna, woodland, acacia forest and indigenous garden habitats, as well as plenty of birds and wildlife. To see the bird list, go to

Accommodation is in our small and luxurious, but affordable safari lodge. See the video at

Contact Gideon on 082 410 1808, or

African Birdlife

News, reviews and stunning photography are all wrapped up in the latest issue of African Birdlife. There’s news about the African Black Oystercatcher (Bird of the Year), a ground-nesting Black Sparrowhawk and avian flu; reviews of books, a camera and a spotting scope; and breathtaking photographs of African Pygmy Geese – and much, much more. Plus, there are binoculars and books to be won!

BirdLife South Africa calendar

Celebrate the New Year with the latest Birds of Southern Africa calendar and enjoy a stunning full-page colour photograph for each month of 2018. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage). Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order. Don’t delay – remaining stock is limited and selling fast!

Bird of the Year merchandise

The African Black Oystercatcher has been chosen as Bird of the Year 2018 and Shop For the Birds! has specially themed merchandise to celebrate this. Be the first to buy African Black Oystercatcher pin badges, buffs, T-shirts and fluffies. Visit us at 17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, or e-mail Bianca Hare at to order.

Bird of the Year 2.jpgBird of the Year 1

Giving Conservation Wings in 2017

It has been another successful year for BirdLife South Africa in our efforts to conserve our country’s birds and their habitats. Although our work is carried out by a team of hardworking and dedicated staff and volunteers, our members, affiliated bird clubs, supporters, collaborators and donors all contribute to our success. We are grateful to everyone who is helping us to ‘give conservation wings’.


Credit: Bryn De Kocks

Greetings from the Membership team

We ran a fantastic membership campaign at Flock at Sea AGAIN!, where existing or new Conservation League Members stood the chance to win a pair of Swarovski binoculars. It was a great success and 67 new Conservation League Members signed up on the cruise. Thank you for your support!

In July this year we said a sad farewell to Elaine Cherrington, who had been the African Birdlife administrator for the past four years. Elaine is enjoying her retirement spending time with her husband John, but can still be found in the office where, as a valued volunteer, she assists with the library, membership and various events. Janine Goosen joined the team in July as our new African Birdlife administrator.

Elaine and Shireen Gould once again visited the Environmental Club at Kyalami Prep, where we had a fun afternoon learning about the Lappet-Faced Vulture. We discussed how the vultures use thermals for flying, and the boys and girls made their own paper planes to fly outside on the field.

The Membership Programme assisted at The African Bird Fair in September, where we had a membership stand and sold ‘Shop for the Birds!’ items and second-hand books. This year’s fair was once again a great success. The weather was fantastic and the support from members and non-members was great.

At the end of September, the Membership Programme championed a stand at the Gauteng Getaway Show held at The Ticketpro Dome in Northgate, Johannesburg. The three-day event was well attended and we promoted membership and subscriptions to African Birdlife and sold goods from ‘Shop for the Birds!’. With more than 30 new members signed up, it proved to be a wonderful public awareness campaign.

In another awareness campaign, and to promote the digital issue of African Birdlife, we sent flyers to The American Bird Fair held in Pennsylvania, USA.

Through the year various events such as book launches and garden club visits have been held at Isdell House and the Membership team has been available to promote membership and open ‘Shop for the Birds!’.

The 2018 calendars arrived in time to be launched at The African Bird Fair, and they are once again filled with beautiful images. There are still calendars available if you would like to buy one – they make lovely gifts!

The Membership team – Shireen, Bianca and Janine – wishes you all a blessed festive season. Travel safely and wishing you all well for 2018!

The best of 2017

In April, Flock at Sea AGAIN! was the largest congregation of birders ever to have been seen in the southern hemisphere, while in September The African Bird Fair brought together several thousand birding enthusiasts during the weekend event.


Will penguins return to De Hoop?

African Penguins began to establish a colony at the eastern edge of De Hoop Nature Reserve in 2003. The colony reached about 18 pairs before attacks by a terrestrial predator, thought to be a leopard or caracal, caused the attempt to be abandoned in 2006. With the support of CapeNature, BirdLife South Africa aims to re-establish this colony, after having made sure that predators cannot disrupt the attempt this time. A suite of protection measures is still to be fully developed, but is sure to include a predator-proof fence!

The plan to re-establish the colony uses to its advantage the natural tendency of penguins to breed in groups. The birds will be attracted to the site by social cues that indicate a number of penguins are already breeding there. Decoys, call playback and artificial burrows will trick penguins into thinking that a colony exists, making it more likely that young penguins will come ashore to breed. Other plans will be developed in case this doesn’t work, and we will also consider translocating birds if necessary. There is still plenty to be done before penguins will once again breed at De Hoop, but watch this space!

 The beautiful site at the eastern edge of De Hoop Nature Reserve, where BirdLife South Africa is trying to re-establish a penguin colony. Credit: Adam Welz

This work would not have been possible without the support of Pamela Isdell, Patron for the African Penguin, who has funded the project thus far. We would also like to thank CapeNature and the Department of Environmental Affairs for their assistance and support of this endeavour.


Above left: Hopefully African Penguins will soon be a common sight at De Hoop. Credit: Ross Wanless
Above right: A meeting on site with CapeNature staff and consultants. Credit: Christina Hagen

MAVA Foundation supports seabirds in West Africa

My journey with the MAVA Foundation began in 2011 when, in my role as Africa Coordinator for the BirdLife International Marine Programme, I began supporting, a spatial research and mapping initiative on seabirds in West Africa. Called the Alcyon Project, it was funded by the foundation.

I could see that once we had a reasonable idea of where birds go, we would want to understand and address threats in the hotspots. And given the scale of fishing in the Canary Current, the third most productive marine ecosystem on earth, bycatch was always going to be on the radar. So I began to position BirdLife International as the go-to team for addressing seabird bycatch threats.

In 2015, the MAVA Foundation announced that it was closing its doors and would provide no funding beyond 2022. This may seem like bad news, but MAVA is an extraordinary donor that prefers to develop projects that will have a lasting impact – and seabird and turtle bycatch is a key issue. I was asked to lead the process of developing a bycatch project for West Africa. On 15 November 2017 I was advised that our efforts (‘our ’ includes my BirdLife International colleagues, consultants, project partners and the Albatross Task Force) had been successful – to the tune of €5.5-million!

With a team in Dakar that will grow to six in early 2018, we will spend two years understanding the nature, scale and extent of turtle and seabird bycatch in the region, and the following three years doing trials to get workable solutions into target fisheries. Throughout this time we will also build capacity and a cadre of young scientists to strengthen the future of marine science and conservation in West Africa; roll out engagement programmes across the fisheries sector in all key countries; and expend significant time and energy on building better, more robust fisheries governance structures and institutions. Suddenly, R20-million a year doesn’t seem unduly generous…


IBA team’s 2017 successes

IBA Team 2017

Based on the significant progress and successes of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme and our national position within the conservation sector, we decided to assess our current resources, skills and operational structures and develop a future strategy that will increase our success of conserving key sites and habitats. The strategy is close to being finalised and will be implemented from 2018.

Part of the metamorphosis of the programme has been the advent of the global Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) Programme. Daniel Marnewick, the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme, decided in late 2016 that it would be in the programme’s best interests to play a proactive role in embracing KBAs. In 2017 he developed a strategic partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute to drive KBAs nationally. He was also nominated as the KBA Community regional representative for Africa and the KBA Community chairperson, which earns him a voting seat on the global KBA Committee. Consequently, Daniel is now playing strategic roles in KBAs nationally, regionally and globally. It is his intention that BirdLife South Africa, and South Africa as a country, will play a leading role in the global KBA Programme.

The IBA Programme continued to take the lead in securing and managing key sites and habitats for birds. After the declarations of Chrissiesmeer (2014) and Sneeuwberg (2016) as Protected Environments, the IBA Programme, through Ernst Retief, played a significant part in supporting the declaration of the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment in 2017, securing 12 000ha of critical grassland and wetland habitat. This brings the total area in IBAs protected by these three sites to more than 90 000ha.

Thanks to Sam Schroder’s hard work, the declaration of the Moutonshoek Protected Environment will hopefully be gazetted before the end of 2017 or in early 2018; the accompanying management plan has also been drafted. Sam has also re-established and formalised the Verlorenvlei Conservancy, thus making substantial progress towards securing this vital estuarine system. Similarly, Giselle Murison re-established the Berg River Estuary Conservancy, and her surveys over this summer in both the Berg River and Klein River estuaries have shown high biodiversity value on properties abutting them. We are therefore hoping that these supporting properties will also be declared protected areas in 2018.

The success of securing and managing the protection status for privately owned land rests with the willingness and support of committed landowners. They are the true champions. It is also indicative of how much of our conservation work focuses on building positive relationships with the people who depend on IBAs. Part of this is skills development and supporting local job creation. In 2017 Sam facilitated the training of 40 local community members, all from the Verlorenvlei project area, as well as others from additional sites on the West Coast. They received training in three separate courses: herbicide application, first aid and health and safety. They are all accredited Extended Public Works Programme workers for the West Coast District Municipality. The training ensures that they meet all legislative requirements, and also for some it has meant an increase in their daily rate of pay. Thus, on top of the improvement and rehabilitation of critical bird habitat at our West Coast IBAs and their catchment, including Verlorenvlei and the Berg River estuaries, there are also direct socio-economic and livelihood impacts via increased wages and overall employability. BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme is certainly now being seen as a leader in estuarine conservation in the Western Cape.

The programme continues to guide the appropriate management of key habitats for birds. In 2017 Dale Wright published Bird-friendly Habitat Management Guidelines for the Endemic Birds of the Fynbos Biome (Wright et al. 2017a) and Floating Wetlands: Increasing Biodiversity and Cleaning Water in Farm Dams (Wright et al. 2017b), which provides guidelines for making farm dams more waterbird-friendly.

None of this work would be possible without the support of our funders. We are grateful to Trencor, Neil Jowell, Italtile Foundation, Zeiss, Rand Merchant Bank, Ford Wildlife Fund, Mr Price, Grindrod Bank, Rupert Natuurstigting, WWF Nedbank Green Trust, WWF-SA, Toyota and the Table Mountain Fund.

Wright DR, Lee, ATK. 2017a. Bird-friendly Habitat Management Guidelines for the Endemic Birds of the Fynbos Biome. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

Wright DR, Purnell AJ, Altern S, Frenzel, P. 2017b. Floating Wetlands: Increasing Biodiversity and Cleaning Water in Farm Dams. Table Mountain Fund, Cape Town.

Renewable energy in harmony with nature

Renewable energyAs 2017 draws to a close, many Cape Town residents are wondering if they will be queuing for water at Christmas. Across the world, news of droughts, intense storms, fires and flooding has become the norm. We cannot attribute a single weather event to global climate change, but 16 of the 17 warmest years in NASA’s 136-year record of global surface temperatures have occurred since 2001. There is strong evidence that the intensity and frequency of severe weather events are a result of increasing global temperatures.

BirdLife South Africa has little doubt that there is an urgent need to address the threat of global warming. One approach is to minimise greenhouse gas emissions, for example by shifting from our heavy reliance on coal to renewable energy sources. Another key response is to protect and restore ecosystems – nature is our first line of defence against severe weather events. This implies that development, including that of renewable energy facilities, must take place in harmony with nature. For all the environmental benefits associated with wind and solar energy, poorly planned facilities can impact negatively on environmental health. Fortunately, the need to reconcile the development of renewable energy with biodiversity conservation is gaining recognition both locally and internationally, and thanks to sponsorship from Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking, BirdLife South Africa has been helping to address this challenge.

BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project provides rational, evidence-based guidance and advice to stakeholders, including government, renewable energy developers and operators, environmental assessment practitioners and consulting bird specialists. One of our major achievements for 2017 was the publication of a report summarising the results of operational phase monitoring at wind farms in South Africa. The report was based on the first eight wind farms of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, where less than two years of operational phase monitoring was completed at each site. Although the results are preliminary, they provide important information for risk assessment and mitigation at new wind energy facilities. They also point to new priorities for research and conservation action.

The publication comes after years of groundwork to ensure that the monitoring of birds takes place at wind farms and follows standard survey protocols (as outlined in BirdLife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Best Practice Guidelines), and that the monitoring reports are made available for review. These are challenges that many other countries are still struggling to overcome.

BirdLife South Africa would like to express its gratitude to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African Wind Energy Association, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, our advisors on the Birds and Renewable Energy Specialist Group, and our sponsors, Investec Corporate and Institutional Banking, for helping to make it happen.

For more information, contact Samantha Ralston-Paton at or visit BirdLife South Africa’s website

Wins for vulture conservation

WBV chick from cherry pickerDuring the past 18 months a great number of blood, bone and feather samples has been collected from vulture species across South Africa in an effort to understand the prevalence of lead poisoning. As this collecting nears completion, all samples will be processed and submitted for testing and the results will be published in 2018. BirdLife South Africa will then move on to the next and most important phase of the project: to determine the source of the lead poisoning.

In October 2017 a team from BirdLife South Africa attended a workshop in the USA that was sponsored and facilitated by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, Maryland. This was the first of four workshops aimed at addressing the complex reasons for the alarming declines in Africa’s vulture populations. The themes of this meeting focused on poisoning (both intentional and unintentional) and the threats posed by energy infrastructure, as well as possible ways to mitigate these problems. BirdLife South Africa has been tasked with developing a comprehensive review of vultures and the role they play in the prevention of disease, as well as producing a document that could be used to gain traction with policy makers.


Also in October, the Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) for saving Africa and Eurasia’s vultures was accepted by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) COP. One of the actions called for by the plan is the creation of Vulture Safe Zones, where owners of large tracts of land commit to managing their properties in ways that will provide safe havens for existing vulture populations. Importantly, this approach encourages positive action for vultures, focusing less on prohibition and negative messaging and more on sound environmental practices that could provide the landowner with reputational and economic benefits. Initially implemented by countries in Asia, and recently in Zambia, Vulture Safe Zones could offer conservation solutions that are effective, realistic and achievable at grassroots level.

We would like to thank Neville Isdell and Niall Perrins for making our research on vultures and lead toxicosis possible.

Flufftail Festival 2017

The Flufftail Festival’s display took the form of a maze where individual stations provided information about different aspects of water, wetlands and waterbirds. As well as learning about the basic ecology of wetlands and the services they provide, visitors discovered how to avoid polluting wetlands, why it is important to have key conservation species like the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail and how critical it is to conserve water in a semi-arid country such as South Africa. Shoppers were encouraged to move through the maze and complete a competition form with five questions about wetland conservation. Prizes for the daily competitions were provided by Woolworths, Mr Price, Panarottis and Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo. Raymond Rampholokeng, the founder of Bay of Grace Tours and a BirdLife-accredited guide in Soweto, also donated a half day’s birding tour as one of the prizes.

This year the Flufftail Festival partnered with the Sowetan Schools Programme and brought Grade 6 and 7 learners from four different schools in Soweto to experience an educational puppet show, ‘Waxi the Hero’, hosted by the Rare Finch Conservation Group. After the show the children were taken through the maze in small groups and were given the chance to enter the daily competitions.

The Flufftail Festival was a huge success, with a record 2288 participants working their way through the maze and learning about the importance of wetlands and the biodiversity in them. Numerous attendees commented on the positive experience they enjoyed while attending the festival and left with a new understanding about conserving the wetlands of South Africa. The positive collaboration between BirdLife South Africa, Eskom and Rand Water ensured a successful Flufftail Festival and exposed the residents of Soweto – many of whom had never heard of wetland, nor realised that Soweto is situated in a wetland – to the world of conservation and sustainable living.

flufftail images

Sowetan Schools Programme

In the current year’s cycle of the Sowetan Schools Programme, BirdLife South Africa and the Water Wise team arranged four contact sessions with learners from each school to demonstrate to them the importance of wetlands and their inhabitants. The introductory session, held in the first week of November 2016, was followed by a session when the learners attended the Flufftail Festival, hosted by Maponya Mall in Soweto from 31 January to 6 February 2017.

For the third contact session, learners were taken on guided walks in Tokoza Park to see its wetlands, dams and fields. They were shown the many different bird species that utilise this important green space and then they learned how to conduct a miniSASS assessment, which is a tool used to assess quickly the health of a stream or river. The South African Scoring System (SASS) ranks the presence of different invertebrates based on their sensitivity to pollutants in the waterway and enables users to calculate a health score.

The final contact session taught the learners about the importance of recycling and making sure that rubbish stays out of the fragile wetland systems that surround Soweto. BirdLife South Africa is proud to have partnered with Rand Water’s Water Wise team to bring the message of water conservation to learners in Soweto and we look forward to continuing our community engagement work with young people.


Raymond Rampolokeng (left) and Melissa Whitecross (right) tell learners from Lakeview and Sekwati primary schools about the birds in Tokoza Park, Soweto.


Left to right: The recycling bins used to quiz students about what items of trash should be recycled; students from Sekwati Primary School hold up bird feeders they have made; learners of Lakeview Primary School hang their feeders in a tree at the school; at Molalatladi Primary School, students complete an assessment of what they have learnt from the contact sessions.

South Africa and Ethiopia: the White-winged Flufftail link

Research on the White-winged Flufftail published in the African Journal of Ecology is the first to confirm genetic connectivity between the South African and Ethiopian populations of this Critically Endangered species. In this study, analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear markers was conducted for samples from South African (n = 3) and Ethiopian (n = 7) White-winged Flufftails, as well as Red-chested Flufftail for species comparison. Analyses of the DNA regions identified only three interspecific variations between the two populations, supporting the hypothesis that the birds in South Africa and Ethiopia do not represent different species or subspecies, but constitute one migrating population that has separate ranges in different seasons in Ethiopia and South Africa.

The results of our study link to the species having been recorded in South Africa only during the austral summer, whereas it is known to breed in Ethiopia between June and August – or summer in the northern hemisphere. However, these results do not exclude the possibility of additional breeding and non-breeding sites in countries other than South Africa and Ethiopia. The low genetic diversity observed in the populations of White-winged Flufftail needs to be investigated, as it may ultimately contribute to the extinction of the species. The lack of diversity in the immune regions of White-winged Flufftails is quantified and further discussed in our recently published paper in Scientific Reports (Dalton et al. 2016), which focuses on the sequencing and analyses of Toll-like receptor genes.

This research is a collaborative effort between the National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria, and BirdLife South Africa.


Dalton DL, Smit-Robinson HA, Vermaak E, Jarvis E, Kotzé A. 2017. Is there genetic connectivity among the Critically Endangered Whited-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) populations from South Africa and Ethiopia? African Journal of Ecology. Accepted.

New habitat for threatened grassland species

yellow breasted pipit

A combination of ecological niche modelling, remote sensing and field surveys has enabled us to determine the distribution and population status of three threatened grassland species: Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit, all of which are localised and require specific habitats.

From 5 to 7 October, a field trip was conducted in the Memel area of the Free State to increase survey effort across these species’ ranges and to establish the accuracy of ecological niche models that had been developed. These models make it possible to identify sites for certain species that may not be covered by other monitoring projects. By identifying one of the largest contiguous patches of habitat for Rudd’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit, the surveys supported the accuracy of our findings, yielding tracts of optimal and untransformed habitat. The results of this research are being fed directly into biodiversity stewardship initiatives that aim to secure these intact patches of habitat and thus contribute to the conservation of these threatened species. Large patches of the newly discovered habitat overlap with the recently created Sneeuwberg Protected Environment, which also contributes enormously to the species’ conservation.

Further studies will be done to describe and understand the current farming practices on these properties in order to determine, for example, how burning and grazing regimes impact on the three species. Such information will feed back into improved management practices.


Yellow-breasted Pipit. Credit: Warwick Tarboton

Threatened larks absent from protected areas

red larkIn a prioritisation study focusing on threatened bird species in the Northern Cape, it has been determined that more than 60% of the South African range of six of the species falls within that province. And of these six species, three – the Near Threatened Barlow’s and Sclater’s larks and the Vulnerable Red Lark – have South African ranges that are restricted entirely to the Northern Cape. Disturbingly, these three species are also the least represented species within the existing protected area network.

The aim of the study was to identify which threatened species or suites of species in the Northern Cape require the most urgent conservation intervention, research and formal protection. Red Lark and Barlow’s Lark were chosen to be the first subjects for further research. Initial objectives will include the assessment of the species’ global ranges by means of ecological niche modelling. The relatively small climatic threshold range (in terms of rainfall and temperature) in which both species occur suggests that they may be vulnerable to global climate change.

This project in the Northern Cape is supported by Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture.

Right: Red Lark. Credit: Japie Claassen

Grey-headed Gulls head to the coast for summer

As part of its operational support for Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), BirdLife South Africa has helped set up a research project to track Grey-headed Gulls in the vicinity of OR Tambo International Airport and establish their daily and seasonal movements. Once the team was comfortable that the correct harness fit had been achieved, three birds were trapped on the morning of 22 August 2017 and were fitted with trackers before being released.

Map All GHG Movements Sept17

Map of the movements of the three tracked Grey-headed Gulls between 23 August and 31 September 2017.

Two of the birds flew to the coast, indicating a possible migration, although this will only be confirmed if these birds return to Gauteng in autumn next year. The female, Embraer, made a mammoth overnight flight from eastern Gauteng to the iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal on 2 September. Antonov, a male, flew to Maputo approximately two weeks later. This is the first concrete evidence that Grey-headed Gulls in Gauteng are heading to the eastern coastal areas for the summer. The information gained from these trackers will assist in monitoring the gulls’ movements to and from OR Tambo and will improve the mitigation efforts to decrease bird-strike incidents at the airport.

gull collection

Left: A Grey-headed Gull. Credit: Mark D. Anderson
Centre: Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Craig Nattrass and Gail Schaum fit a tracking device to one of the Grey-headed Gulls. Credit: Albert Froneman
Right: Melissa Hofmann releases one of the tracked birds. Credit: Albert Froneman

IBA fundraisers in 2017

Phil Liggett Collage

Fast Featherless CollageOn 16 November BirdLife South Africa and Zeiss hosted their annual evening of cocktails and canapés with special guest speaker, Phil Liggett, the world-renowned Tour de France commentator. The event was held at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandton and guests were treated to a fascinating talk by Phil, who detailed how the Tour de France has changed since it commenced in 1903 and his impressions of some of the race’s top cyslists over the years.

Right: This year Team Fast & Featherless raised more than R40 000 for the IBA Programme. Well done!

Through ticket sales and a raffle for prizes generously donated by Zeiss and JustEyewear, as well as the auctioning of an original Chris Froome cycling shirt from the 2012 Tour de France, more than R50 000 was raised for the IBA Programme.

Above: A successful annual fundraiser was held in partnership with Zeiss and Phil Liggett.

Cape Parrot Bags

On Sunday 19 November, cyclists took to the streets of Johannesburg in the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge and 29 of them were riding in aid of BirdLife South Africa. It was a very hot day on the roads, but Team Fast & Featherless did us proud, managing to raise more than R40 000 for the IBA Programme. THANK YOU Team Fast & Featherless; we hope to see you all again next year.

Thanks to all these wonderful supporters, more than R90 000 has been raised to assist with the IBA Programme’s work to safeguard important bird habitats throughout South Africa.

The IBA team is also very excited that the first Woolworths shopping bags in support of BirdLife South Africa have been designed and will raise funds to support our work to protect the remaining fragments of Cape Parrot habitat. These beautiful bags are available in Woolworths stores nationwide and R10 from every bag bought goes towards protecting Cape Parrots and funding the annual Cape Parrot census. For more information, go to

Uninhibited funds raised from initiatives such as these are very important in assisting with the day-to-day running costs of the IBA Programme. We thank everyone who has supported these initiatives as we close 2017 on a high note and look forward to another productive year in 2018.

The state of our country’s birds

The State of South Africa’s Bird Report, which provides a snapshot of the current state of birds in South Africa, the pressures they face and the steps being taken by various stakeholders to mitigate these threats, was completed this year. This is the first time this publication has been produced for South Africa.

Policy & Advocacy – a new approach

Policy and Advocacy Programme 1Although specific conservation action projects are undeniably important, laws and environmental policy create the wider framework into which all conservation efforts fit. The ability to reform and direct the ambit of legislation and environmental policy, while often challenging to accomplish, can have far-reaching positive consequences that impact numerous sites and species. Yet even where solid policy commitments exist, advocacy and monitoring by civil society are often essential to ensure that they are properly implemented. BirdLife South Africa’s new Policy & Advocacy Programme is tasked with this in support of its nationwide conservation work.

The programme’s team comprises Candice Stevens as manager and Jonathan Booth as the advocacy officer. With a combined skills set that encompasses tax and biodiversity finance, environmental law and sustainability, they have revised the strategy and outlook for BirdLife South Africa’s national policy work and regional and local advocacy responses, and are supported by funding from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This new approach began in July 2017 and has seen some interesting successes and challenges.

Our policy work has been instrumental in providing carefully considered input into the Draft National Offsets Policy that is currently being developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs. This is a somewhat contentious topic that poses opportunities and challenges to the country’s key biodiversity areas and protected areas network. Our comments on the need for legal protection mechanisms in perpetuity for offset sites have been accepted and drafted in, giving this component of policy work long-term security and protection.

We have also been hard at work creating BirdLife South Africa’s first advocacy structure, which provides us with a clear and well-formulated approach to answering development applications and enables us to expand our proactive approach to dealing with threats to our birds and their habitats. The structure is aimed at prioritising where and how we respond in order to ensure both the efficient use of our limited resources and the effective and legal accuracy of our work. The team has already responded to numerous development applications and has taken on larger legal advocacy cases in areas requiring urgent action to protect the birds and other biodiversity housed there, such as the Mabola Protected Environment in Mpumalanga and the Letseng Wind Farm in Lesotho.

An interesting and unique element of the policy work we do involves the Fiscal Benefits Project, managed by Candice in her capacity as a tax specialist. This project has introduced South Africa’s first biodiversity tax incentive – an historic achievement nationally that is also globally unique. Candice continues with her work on mainstreaming access to section 37D of the Income Tax Act, as well as engaging with National Treasury and SARS to further amend legislation to create additional biodiversity finance for protected areas in South Africa. This work is conducted in partnership with SANBI through funding from the Global Environment Fund.

Despite the growing threats to our birds and our environment in general, as well as limited resources, the Policy & Advocacy team has secured achievements in both the national policy frameworks that impact our conservation work and within the sphere of biodiversity finance that ensures their financial sustainability, while holding the thin green line on the advocacy front. We look forward to a positive and impactful 2018.

Black Eagle fixedBlack Storks in South Africa

Although the Black Stork is globally listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the resident population of Black Storks in South Africa is regarded as regionally Vulnerable due to the loss of appropriate breeding and foraging habitat. It is of great concern that, for two years running, none of the traditional nest sites in the Waterberg area have been found to be active, nor could any other active nest sites be found.

In August 2017, BirdLife South Africa was granted permission to survey the length of the Levuvhu River in the northern regions of the Kruger National Park, an area that was previously regarded as a stronghold for the species. Again, none of the traditional nest sites were found to be active, with the week-long survey recording only 3–5 adult birds in flight. The survey team did note the presence of an impressive number of Verreaux’s Eagle breeding pairs along the river (6–7 pairs), as well as one aggressive interaction between a Black Stork and a Verreaux’s Eagle above Lanner Gorge, which prompted a discussion on the possible role this dense population of Verreaux’s Eagles may be having on the breeding success of the Black Storks. A follow-up survey is scheduled for August 2018.

Left: Disappointingly, 2017 surveys of traditional Black Stork breeding sites found no active nests.

Champagne weekend getaway for the whole family

Set in the central Drakensberg, the prestigious Champagne Sports Resort offers activities for the non-birding sports enthusiast and relaxation for the spa lover. While you and other like-minded birders take part in birding lectures and guided walks, they will have plenty of time to engage in activities they find fulfilling.

For the birders in the family, this is your chance to have a unique ‘Rockjumper Birding Experience’. You will be whisked away on bird walks by our highly experienced and knowledgeable guides, who will be aiming for sightings of sought-after species such as Southern Bald Ibis, Barratt’s Warbler and the stunning Malachite Sunbird. Guides will be on hand to deliver lectures about current birding topics and trends, and will be available during social times to discuss birds and birding and to share stories of their adventures. This promises to be a very enjoyable and enlightening time.

In the meantime, your family has access to the resort’s incredible facilities:

  • a championship golf course that has been rated one of South Africa’s most beautiful courses in recent years;

  • a salon whose well-balanced range of treatments and incredible views from the resting area ensure a relaxing upmarket experience;

  • an outstanding kids’ club that will keep your young ones entertained nonstop as they make friends and play games.

There is so much for the family to do that no one will feel like they’re just ‘tagging along’, but instead that they are also having a fantastic time.

More details are at

logo rockjumper2

Raise funds for conservation!

Birding Big Day (BBD) 2016 raised more than R60 000 for BirdLife South Africa through the purchase of Birding Big Day badges, donations and dedicated fundraising. We hope that BBD 2017 will raise even more funds to support terrestrial bird conservation, such as research on threatened species and efforts to conserve valuable habitat. You can help to raise funds in the following ways:

  • Teams that participate in BBD 2017 can buy BBD badges at R300 for four cloth badges and then R45 for any additional badges;
  • Teams can raise funds by asking individuals and companies to sponsor them on the day. Sponsors can either donate one amount or sponsor an amount per bird seen. A sponsorship form and Funding Support Letter can be downloaded from;
  • Direct donations can be made at Just select ‘Birding Big Day 2017’ under the ‘Donations Options’ heading.

BirdLife South Africa can provide any company or individual who donates more than R500 with a Section 18A tax certificate. In order to do so we need the complete details of each donor, including their full name, address and the amount donated.

This year for the first time a prize will be awarded to the team that raises the most money on average per team member (total money raised / number of team members). The winning team will enjoy two nights for four guests on a walking trail at Pafuri Trails Camp, including accommodation, all meals and walks each day. The prize is sponsored by RETURNAfrica.

A Christmas gift that keeps on giving

Here’s an idea for a Christmas present for someone special – why not take out a gift membership to BirdLife South Africa or a gift subscription to African Birdlife magazine for them? There are three options you can choose from:

Wings One: Ordinary – R500/Senior citizen – R350

Wings Two: Ordinary – R680/Senior citizen – R530

African Birdlife magazine only – R288

To take advantage of this offer in time for Christmas, please e-mail Shireen Gould at before 15 December (the office will be closed from 15 December 2017 until 2 January 2018).

Raptors with Joe Grosel

View more information

Perfect for birding

Lying at the edge of the Dargle Conservancy in the KZN Midlands, Crab Apple’s cosy AA Superior self-catering cottages are the ideal spot for relaxing and, with more than 200 bird species and the Oatley bird hide, are a birder’s haven! Book now via or

A measure of success

Sponsored by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), 12 learners from Ekurhuleni Municipality were selected in November 2016 to take part in the BirdLife South Africa guide training programme. Over the past year they have studied for their Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) qualification, spending time with various birders and bird clubs in the Gauteng area and in the bush in Grietjie Nature Reserve.

After their second attempt at the FGASA exam two of them got the required 75 per cent to pass and three others came close with more than 70 per cent. This is some achievement, considering that a year ago they had never handled binoculars and were unable to name more than a dozen bird species. Most of them had never even ventured out of the city!

Left: Three of the learners birding with members of the BirdLife Northern Gauteng bird club.

The commitment and dedication shown by these 12 learners was humbling to say the least. They would spend half the night studying, frequently going to bed at 01h00 and getting up again at 05h30 for a game drive and then the day’s lectures. If we could have given them a qualification based on dedication and hard work, I am sure they all would have passed.

However, that is not the case. We are controlled by standards – and rightly so. We dedicate ourselves to training learners to become role models within the tourism industry and so we need to ensure that minimum standards are maintained. This is vital for the benefit of all: the guides themselves and the tourists and birders, as well as for the reputations of BirdLife South Africa, FGASA and South Africa as a premier tourism destination with guides that can match the best in the world.

Some critics suggest that the standards are set too high and that it is not possible for some learners to ever achieve those heights. I firmly believe that you do not make something stronger by reducing the criteria required or moving the goalposts so that people can score an undefended goal. The only way to ensure that standards stay where they are, or even improve, is through education.

Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’ This is a philosophy followed by our bird guide training courses and we try very hard to get the required – and desired – results. However, we face an uphill struggle when the learners coming to us have gone through an education system in which standards have dropped and it is easier to achieve a matric pass now than it ever was. We have to balance the time we spend educating learners against the level of funding we are able to obtain. In a perfect world we should be taking these learners on for a full 12 months, but the costs associated with that would probably chase away even the most dedicated donors.

Right: The learners get their first lesson in how to use binoculars from one of our community guides, Raymond Rampolokeng.

In our courses going forward, learners will spend a minimum of two months in the bush under the permanent mentorship of a qualified and experienced trainer. I am convinced that this new strategy will begin to show better results and that the learners will benefit far more.

One of the most important factors that we often forget about when considering success or failure is that one of our objectives through this education is to expose these learners to the world of conservation. Our vision is that they can return to their communities as future wildlife ambassadors. I believe that the learners of the past two years have become more aware of the natural environment and more conservation minded since studying with BirdLife South Africa and that they have indeed become ambassadors in one way or another. Our success in life is often measured only by a piece of paper or the job we end up with, when in fact success should be measured by what has been achieved in our mind and our heart and by the spirit with which we go forward.

In the words of racing driver Mario Andretti, ‘Desire is the key to motivation, but it is determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.’

To find out more about the guide training programme or to enquire about making use of the services of one of the community guides, contact me at or on 083 286 8281.


African Birdlife magazine

In the latest issue of African Birdlife we journey to Chad and Lesotho in the name of birding – and quite spectacular birding it is too. There are tips for photographing in the dark (you’ll never miss a nightjar shot again) and for planting a grassland garden for birds, as well as insight into how African Emerald Cuckoos and Violet-backed Starlings are more than just pretty plumage. We also look at the importance of alates in some birds’ diets and how successfully a few species have adapted to monoculture in the Renosterveld. And that’s not to mention the usual crop of reader contributions, latest scientific news, rare bird sightings and stunning photographs!

Keep up to date with 2018!

Buy a BirdLife South Africa calendar and for each month of 2018 you’ll enjoy a spectacular full-page colour photograph of one of this country’s magnificent birds. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage) and, as stocks are limited, we recommend that you order soon to avoid disappointment. The calendar will make an amazing festive season gift. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order.

Welcome Simeon Bezeng

BirdLife South Africa is partnering with the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) to assist other African countries in carrying out National Red List assessments to determine the status of threatened species and identify national Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in support of the work of the IUCN’s National Red List Working Group Alliance. In order to achieve this, the new position of Regional Red List Programme Officer has been established and will be based at BirdLife South Africa’s offices in Johannesburg.

BirdLife South Africa and the IUCN SCC are therefore excited to welcome Dr Simeon Bezeng Bezeng to the team as the Regional Red List Programme Officer. Simeon has a BSc in Botany and Environmental Sciences from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Now a South African permanent resident, he also has an MSc and a PhD in Botany from the University of Johannesburg. Since his early research days, understanding the threats that species face and providing recommendations for their management prioritisation has been Simeon’s passion. Throughout his academic career, he has studied ways to prioritise biodiversity management using modern advances in DNA technology and spatial techniques.

We look forward to having Simeon on the team and wish him luck as the new Regional Red List Programme Officer.

Watch conservation in the grasslands

Agricultural production, mining, commercial plantations and over-utilisation have caused the deterioration or disappearance of large areas of our grasslands and associated wetlands. But there is good news: some of these land uses, such as livestock ranching, can operate while supporting grassland conservation. Through initiatives such as biodiversity stewardship, more and more farmers recognise that they have a responsibility to conserve grasslands. Watch this short video to find out more about BirdLife South Africa’s work in the Grasslands Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

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Cape Parrot shopping bags

From December, Woolworths stores throughout South Africa will stock beautiful Cape Parrot shopping bags. Buy one and R10 will be donated to BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme. Funds raised through this initiative will be used to help safeguard and secure the remaining patches of Cape Parrot habitat and to support the annual Cape Parrot census. The bag will make the perfect Christmas wrapping.

The Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus robustus is a habitat specialist that depends on mature afromontane yellowwood forest at 1000–1700 metres above sea level for most of its diet and nesting sites. The species is listed as Endangered due to the continuing decrease in its population that is caused by habitat loss, declining food availability, disease and capture for the illegal pet trade.

Today, less than two per cent of all South African landscapes comprise natural forest and only a small proportion of this is afromontane yellowwood forest. This habitat is being lost through the extraction, both legal and illegal, of yellowwood trees from the forests, resulting in the further fragmentation of the already disjointed territory occupied by the parrots. The core of the Cape Parrot population (where the most critical habitat remains) is represented by three Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs): the Wolkberg Forest Belt in Limpopo, the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Forests in KZN and the Amatola–Katberg Mountain in the Eastern Cape.

Left: Image by Warwick Tarboton

The biggest challenge to the conservation of the Cape Parrot is the need to protect the forest habitat on which the species depends so heavily. It’s a challenge made more difficult by a history of forest over-utilisation and degradation that has resulted in the fragmentation that continues to this day. That aside, mortality from psittacine beak and feather disease is an increasingly common concern.

For more information, go to 

On the road with Ross

Left: Mundaka is a medieval town in the picturesque Basque Country.

The annual expedition to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s (IOTC) Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch is one of my favourites. Two years ago I reported on a very successful meeting that set the scene for really important progress for seabird conservation at the IOTC (duly achieved in 2016), as well as an amazing post-meeting birding trip in the Castro Verde region of Portugal. This time we were meeting in San Sebastian in the Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain, and I was vaguely hoping for similarly exciting birding. I also hoped that the meeting itself would be dull. Why? Because we’ve done the hard yards and are now working for the science to be turned into new regulations at the IOTC. Therefore if there were any significant papers on seabird bycatch, we might have been in trouble. Fortunately, the meeting was as dull as dishwater!

Above: Some of San Sebastian’s legendary pinchos.

The birding plans collapsed about me before I’d even made it to Spain. My efforts to find any birding information about the region all came to nought. And then came the rain. In the end, I bailed on my two nights in the mountains and accepted an offer from one of the participants to move out of San Sebastian and explore a bit of the region without doing birding. During the meeting I had taken advantage of San Sebastian’s famed pincho bar cuisine. Bars, which abound in the old town, compete for patrons by serving the most amazingly elaborate snacks, or pinchos, usually on fresh baguette – and they are delicious beyond description. Even breakfast, which is not served before 09h00, consists almost exclusively of a variation of pincho that is combined with Spanish tortilla (basically an omelette on baguette).

My stay in the scenic medieval village of Mundaka was very relaxing, though somewhat rain-interrupted and characterised by desultory birding, despite my efforts. And if I never see a breakfast pincho again, I won’t complain. But I’ll gladly return to the Basque Country with its beautiful vistas, deep culture and, according to the books, some decent birding.

Soweto schools recycling for birds

As part of the annual Flufftail Festival, BirdLife South Africa has been involved with several Soweto-based primary schools to educate their learners about the conservation of water, wetlands and waterbirds through a strategic partnership with Rand Water’s Water Wise Team. For this year’s Flufftail Festival cycle, four contact sessions with learners from each school were agreed upon, starting in the fourth term of 2016 with Grade 5 pupils and continuing with them, now in Grade 6, in the first, second and third terms of 2017. The chosen schools were Sekwati Primary School, Molalatladi Primary School and Lakeview Full Service Primary School.

The fourth and final contact session with the learners taught them about the importance of recycling and making sure that trash stays out of the fragile wetland systems that surround Soweto. Dr Melissa Whitecross of theTerrestrial Bird Conservation Programme met with each of the classes on 18 September 2017. The learners first played a game to see if they could figure out whether an item presented to them belonged in the paper, plastic, glass/can or general waste bins placed in front of the class. All the groups displayed a good understanding of what was and was not recyclable.

The next activity involved learners splitting into pairs to build their own bird feeders out of recyclable materials such as plastic bottles, wooden skewer sticks and string. Once they had constructed their bird feeders and filled them with seed, the class went into the school grounds to hang up the new feeders. Each teacher was left with a bag of seed to replenish the feeders over the remainder of the school year.

The final activity of the day for the learners was filling out a worksheet and summarising what they had learnt. This exercise gave them the opportunity to express what they would take away from the contact sessions.

BirdLife South Africa is proud to have partnered with Rand Water’s Water Wise Team to bring the message of water conservation to the young people of Soweto and we look forward to continuing our community engagement work with South Africa’s youth into the future.

Birding for schools in Camdeboo

In this technological age when young people spend so much time on cell phones, video games and a host of other high-tech distractions, Johan Bouwer and his SANParks Honorary Ranger: Camdeboo Region team are to be commended for their initiative to provide the children of Graaff-Reinet with something very different, wholesome and positive to do at the Camdeboo National Park’s education centre.

On Friday, 20 October the junior grades from all the schools in Graaff-Reinet were introduced to birds, taken on birding outings and assessed. We don’t expect the children to know the birds well after only a couple of outings – that would be asking a lot – but they were assessed on their ability to pay attention and on their enthusiasm for the birds and nature in general. It is not necessary to have a lot of knowledge to be able to love and appreciate nature.

On Saturday it was the turn of the higher grades and, as is to be expected, some of the learners knew some of the birds. Again, though, the emphasis was on the appreciation of nature and how birds fit into the whole scheme of things.

Professor Adrian Craig, an ornithologist from Grahamstown, and his wife Cheryl came for the weekend and showed the learners how to catch and ring birds. This added a wonderful dimension to birding at a more complex level and Adrian had a captive audience of children.

On Sunday the youngsters returned to Camdeboo National Park for the final bird hike, after which the various winners and winning schools were celebrated. Hoër Volkskool took the overall prize in the senior schools’ category, with students San-Marie de Goede from Hoër Volkskool taking first place, Theodor Dorfling, also from Hoër Volkskool, taking second and Alzane Loff from Asherville Secondary School taking third. The primary schools’ category was won by Thembalisizwe Primary, while learners Robyn Ludrick from Narsing Straat Primary took first place, Jaydene Vaaltyn from Laer Volkskool came in second and Xhobani Konogo from Isibane Primary came in third.

The honorary rangers also treated us to a braai on Saturday evening to round off a very worthwhile birding weekend at the education centre.

The Camdeboo Honorary Rangers would like to thank Montego Pet Nutrition, Pick n Pay Graaff-Reinet, Shoprite Graaff-Reinet, Spandau Spar, L’Ormarins, Bush Transport, McNaughtons Bookshop, Kens Radio, Mesh Steel & Weld, Mr Paint and Camdeboo National Park for sponsoring the weekend, and Alan Collet, Zorb and Judy Caryer of the Graaff-Reinet Bird Club, as well as the South African College for Tourism for its support with the students in the culinary department.

The Graaff-Reinet community and the honorary rangers would like to acknowledge the following schools for participating in the event: Laer Volkskool, Lincolm Primary, Graaff-Reinet Primary, Adendorp Primary, Isibane Primary, Thembalisizwe Primary, Narsing Street Primary, Ryneveld Primary, Hoër Volkskool, Nqweba Secondary School and Asherville Secondary School. Without the interest shown by these schools, the event would have not been such a success.

Our aim for the 2018 Camdeboo National Park’s inter-schools birding weekend is to involve more schools from the surrounding area and to involve more parents to join our festivities with the children. They can only have a lot of fun!

West Coast Wader Bash

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River Valley Nature Reserve

River Valley Nature Reserve lies within a horseshoe of a picturesque section of the iVungu River, which meanders through a valley of hills into the Indian Ocean at well-known Uvongo Beach, rushing over the iVungu Falls. As one of the few remaining privately owned and family-run pockets of natural habitat on the South Coast, it is a small reminder of the once untouched natural coastline that boasted varied ecosystems consisting of grassland, riverine and coastal forest.

The reserve’s abundant birdlife includes Narina Trogon, African Finfoot, Crowned Eagle, Knysna Turaco and Olive Woodpecker among the 145 or so species that inhabit the area. Antelope such as nyala, impala, bushbuck and blue and grey duiker can also be seen, and if you’re fortunate you may even catch sight of a Cape clawless otter.

We offer two upmarket self-catering cottages, a small private campsite and a picnic area in addition to walking trails. Although the reserve borders the Margate golf course and is close to the main South Coast beaches and shopping centres, its rural location ensures a peaceful stay.

For bookings, please contact Andrew on 083 263 5537 or visit our website

BirdLife Africa in Burkina Faso

1. The BirdLife Africa Regional Committee members.

2. The Double-spur Spurfowl is common in southern Burkina Faso.

3. Baobab trees are numerous in southern Burkina Faso.

4. The Exclamatory Paradise Whydah is not very common, but in its breeding plumage is impossible to miss.

5. Nazinga Game Ranch was lush and green after good rains.

6. Idrissa Zeba is the executive director of Naturama, the BirdLife Partner in Burkina Faso.

7. Naturama is a well-respected conservation NGO that is responsible for numerous projects across the country.

8. The White-headed Lapwing is relatively common in southern Burkina Faso.

9. The Yellow-crowned Gonolek is a striking bird.

10. During a short field trip, the ARC members visited the legendary Clark Lungren, who was responsible for establishing the well-known Nazinga Game Ranch. Clark is still active in several conservation and education projects.

11. The White-shouldered Black Tit has a conspicuous pale eye and white shoulders.

12. Vulture numbers in Burkina Faso have declined and only 16 vultures – 12 Hooded and four White-backed – were seen during a drive from Ougadougou to Po (about 120km) and then at Nazinga Game Ranch.

Key Biodiversity Areas: what sets them apart?

As the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Community Chair, Daniel Marnewick sits on the global KBA Committee. He believes that what sets the global KBA Programme apart from other similar initiatives – and stands out as one of its most important aspects – is that it has behind it the full weight of 12 of the largest conservation NGOs in the world. This means that advocacy for KBAs packs a powerful punch.

KBAs are ‘sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity’ in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. Sites qualify as global KBAs if they meet one or more of 11 criteria, clustered into five categories: threatened biodiversity; geographically restricted biodiversity; ecological integrity; biological processes; and irreplaceability. The KBA criteria can be applied to both species and ecosystems.

Currently South Africa has 168 KBAs, a network that constitutes sites previously designated as IBAs as well as those KBAs that have been identified under the previous KBA criteria by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). These sites will soon be reassessed to ensure that they meet the new KBA criteria. New KBAs will then also be proposed so that other priority species and ecosystems are covered. This is a project in partnership with BirdLife South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

For more information, contact

Left: KBA Partner and Committee representatives at the recent KBA Committee meeting held at the David Attenborough Building, Cambridge, UK

Pelagic birding on 2 October 2017

Conditions were calm when BirdLife South Africa’s seabird team and its Namibian fisheries observer guests set off from Hout Bay in a boat chartered from Hooked on Africa. Shortly after leaving the safety of the bay, we came across three humpbacked whales that appeared to be actively foraging. There were dozens of seals feeding in association with the whales, but remarkably few birds.

Our skipper had located a couple of trawlers quite far in the west and after a long steam we found them, but had missed the first haul of the day. As soon as we slowed down to take stock of the situation, a massive Wandering Albatross cruised by! The views of it weren’t amazing – it was heading into the sun – but it was a good find to start the day. There were a few late Pintado Petrels still about, but almost no Great Shearwaters, a species that we had expected to be abundant. Clearly most of them had returned to their Tristan and Gough breeding grounds to prepare nesting burrows and begin courting. We were pleasantly surprised to see good numbers of Black-bellied Storm Petrels, a few early arrivals of Sabine’s Gulls and even a Spectacled Petrel while we waited for the net to be hauled in. There were good numbers of other common albies in all stages of maturity (good for observers to get their heads around!) and decent views of both Giant Petrel species. On the way home, close to Hout Bay, two sharpish-looking Parasitic Jaegers must have recently arrived from Europe. It was unusual to see so many Kelp Gulls and Cape Gannets around the boat, and there were scores of Swift and ‘Commic’ terns kicking around the deep too
Above: Spectacled Petrel
Right: Shy Albatross and White-Chinned Petrels

Pelagic images by Grant Scholtz

The following is a list of pelagic species seen, with ballpark numbers, throughout the day:

  1. Wandering Albatross: 1
  2. Shy Albatross: ~300
  3. Black-browed Albatross: ~300
  4. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross: 2
  5. Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross: 10
  6. Southern Giant Petrel: 3
  7. Northern Giant Petrel: 1
  8. White-chinned Petrel: ~500
  9. Spectacled Petrel: 2
  10. Pintado Petrel: 10
  11. Sooty Shearwater: ~100
  12. Great Shearwater: ~20
  13. Black-bellied Storm Petrel: 10
  14. Wilson’s Storm Petrel: 20
  15. Sabine’s Gull: 3
  16. Subantarctic Skua: 5
  17. Parasitic Jaeger: 2
  18. Common Tern: 50
  19. Arctic Tern: 10
BirdLife South Africa’s 2018 calendar

Buy a BirdLife South Africa calendar and for each month of 2018 you’ll enjoy a spectacular full-page colour photograph of one of this country’s magnificent birds. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage) and, as stocks are limited, we recommend that you order soon to avoid disappointment. The calendar will make an amazing festive season gift. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order.

A gift for a friend – or yourself

The IgerBook features the photographic talents of local Instagram enthusiasts, or Igers, and showcases the city of Johannesburg in a new and artistic light. From street scenes and urban architecture to powerful portraits, it captures the essence of the city in all its glory.

All proceeds from the sale of this coffee-table book go to BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme to support habitat management in identified IBAs.

Make the most of our limited Christmas offer and buy your copy of the book for only R375 from

Training seabird conservationists

For the week of 2–5 October, the Seabird Conservation Programme office was busier than an albatross breeding colony when the parents return to their chicks from a foraging expedition. Under the Common Oceans Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Tuna Project, Bronwyn Maree and Nini van der Merwe, with help from Ross Wanless, Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera, as well as the Namibian Albatross Task Force (ATF) team of Clemens Naomab and Samantha Matjila, hosted the Namibian Observer Training workshop. Four Namibian observers took part, one of whom was the coordinator of the Fisheries Observer Agency, and we were also pleased to welcome the new Port-Based Outreach (PBO) officer for Fiji, James Nagan.

The main aim of this workshop was to inform the fisheries observers about the use of best-practice seabird bycatch mitigation measures. The hope is that this will accelerate the uptake of such measures by fleets operating in critical fishing areas of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

The workshop started off with a full day ‘in the field’, focusing on seabird ID skills’ training on a pelagic birding trip. Three days of lectures followed, as well as a harbour visit to view a local tuna longline vessel. Overall, the event created an invaluable opportunity to develop our working relationship with our neighbours to the north, and also for our team to get a better understanding of the challenges that observers face in the field.

Capacity building of the fisheries observers and PBO officer was achieved through teaching them about the effective use of seabird bycatch mitigation measures, including practical demonstrations at sea; enhancing their seabird identification skills; and informing them of data collection and reporting requirements as stipulated by tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (tRFMOs). This type of training is important as it builds long-term sustainability by developing not only individuals involved in the local fishing fleets, but also coordinators of the observer programmes to further the training in their own countries.

The Namibian ATF team’s visit to Cape Town enabled it to gain experience in presenting in a workshop setting and gave it a valuable opportunity to strategise with the South African ATF so that joint goals for southern Africa could be streamlined and approaches to fishing industry-related matters could be aligned.

All in all, the workshop was a great success. The observers and James Nagan excelled in learning about seabirds and have returned to their home countries with an increased understanding of why these birds are so important and why it is our duty to protect them.

We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Namibia Fisheries Observer Agency and the Republic of Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as we work together to ensure the relevant mitigation measure regulations are implemented and the collection of seabird data is included as part of observer protocols in the near future.

For more information about the ABNJ Tuna Project, please contact Nini van der Merwe at or call the Seabird Conservation Programme on 021 419 7347.

Above: An excited, albeit somewhat bruised and battered group return from a full day’s pelagic seabird identification practical training session, led by Ross Wanless.
Right: During the pelagic trip the skipper sailed close to a fishing trawler so that the observers could practise their identification skills on the birds that gathered while the net was being hauled in.

Farmers help to revive the Lower Berg River Conservancy

A workshop comprising riparian farmers, where the revival of the Lower Berg River Conservancywas proposed by BirdLife South Africa and the issue of erosion was discussed.

Although established in 1997 and active during its early years, the Lower Berg River Conservancy has been dormant until recently. Through a series of workshop presentations and individual discussions, BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project introduced the idea of a revived conservancy and the benefits it would bring to landowners. This was a first step in seeking formal protection for the estuary’s floodplain and riparian lands through Biodiversity Stewardship.


Led by a handful of dedicated farmers, the community mobilised to revive this voluntary forum. At the opening meeting in September this year, members emphasised the need for a united voice for farmers at the estuary and agreed that the conservancy would provide a recognised vehicle for collective action on a number of environmental issues. BirdLife South Africa presented on the proposed Ramsar application for the estuary and the upcoming biodiversity site assessments as part of ongoing stewardship negotiations. The issue of erosion was also high on the agenda, and BirdLife South Africa is an active partner in the development of an erosion control programme for the estuary.

The revived conservancy comprises all members of the original forum as well as several new members, bringing to more than 20 000ha the extent of riparian land within its borders. It will strengthen this committed group of landowners’ continued efforts to improve environmental conservation on private land.

Farewell to Mr B and Pete

Farewell Mr B! It is with mixed feelings that we say goodbye to Bokamoso Lebepe, or ‘Mr B’ as he is affectionately called by the seabird team, as he leaves us to rejoin his family back in Limpopo. For the past four years he has been part of the Albatross Task Force (ATF) team, having joined in September 2013. During his time as an ATF instructor, Bokamoso facilitated dialogue and good working relationships with people in the fishing industry. He spent many days at sea, often under strenuous working conditions, collecting data on seabirds and the use of mitigation measures by the longline fleets. His experience as a research assistant for three months on the SA Agulhas II was put to good use when he took over trialling the hook pod, a hook-shielding device aimed at preventing seabirds from getting caught while scavenging for bait behind longline vessels.

Much of Mr B’s work involved harbour visits, where he was good at striking up a rapport with the fishermen and explaining to them the work of the ATF. He was also the lead instructor in our engagements with foreign-flagged vessels, ensuring that they fully understood our local fishing operations. Bokamoso’s light-heartedness, good humour and cooperative nature made him an esteemed and much-valued colleague – and he was definitely the prankster in the office! However, being away from his family for long periods has been hard for him, especially since his daughter was born two years ago. We therefore understand his need to leave and wish him all the best in his new endeavours.

Left: The Seabird Team’s farewell golf game for beginners was loads of fun!

Pete Watt-Pringle has been with the Common Oceans team within BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme for almost 18 months and has played an integral role in achieving the first port awareness outreach to foreign fishing vessels docking in Cape Town harbour. His was the difficult task of liaising with agents and coordinating translators, vessel access and skippers to ensure that these vessels have a good understanding of the regulations and mitigation measures they are required to use on the high seas. Pete’s leadership and help on various other awareness interventions with the public were enhanced by his friendly manner, while his scientific bent ensured that he was always quick to grasp concepts and worked in a systematic manner to achieve the required outcome. We will miss his analytical and quiet approach, and wish him the best as he departs for his next adventure!
Andrea Angel and Bronwyn Maree

Think Birds!

BirdLife South Africa’s new ‘Love Birds’ campaign will encourage all South Africans to think about birds – or ‘Think Birds’. Developed and executed by our advertising agency Utopia and our marketing committee, the campaign has come up with a number of clever adverts that play on the double meaning of names such as ‘cranes’ and ‘petrel’. Twelve billboards, sponsored by JCDecaux, carry these witty messages.

Peanut butter sandwiches, a puppy – and birds

Once a month, a trusty band of birders convene at what is known as the Kingfisher Pond at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary for the monthly Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC) – a ritual that started in January 1993. At the heart of this long-running count is coordinator Yvonne Weiss, who celebrated her 90th birthday in September this year.
It was Yvonne who, in 1994, prompted the town engineer of the Paarl (now Drakenstein) Municipality to give the birds that roost, feed and breed at the local sewage works proper protection. And although it has had its security challenges over the years, the sanctuary remains a favourite on many a committed birder’s list.
Regular counter and photographer Rita Meyer says, ‘The bird lady! Yvonne taught me everything about birds. She has never missed a count, come rain or shine. And those sandwiches!’ The sandwiches (peanut butter jazzed up with rocket or nasturtium leaves) are Yvonne’s speciality and a welcome snack for the team after they have counted every pond and furrow at the works.

According to the CWAC website, the Paarl Bird Sanctuary had been counted 254 times by the end of April 2017 – the highest count for any single site in the Western Cape. For Yvonne, it has not only been a 24-year labour of love, but is also where she found her beloved companion, Kwezi. Driving around the works one Saturday after a count, she saw a group of children running across the road. One of them thrust a wet puppy in the window, saying ‘Take this, take this!’ Yvonne surmises they had been sent to dispatch the pup but didn’t have the heart to do so – and that’s how Kwezi (now also advancing in age) came into her life. The two soldier on together in spite of what Yvonne calls their mutual ‘creaking’ due to arthritis.

James Harrison, who served on the first advisory committee for the Paarl Bird Sanctuary, recalls, ‘Yvonne made sure that the regular CWAC counts were meticulously executed and recorded. She epitomises the type of citizen scientist who takes conservation and environmental education forward. We need more like her.’

Happy birthday, Yvonne, and thank you for your commitment to the cause!

Andrew Weiss

All the fun of the (Bird) Fair

A variety of exhibitors and a range of activities at The African Bird Fair ensured that visitors were entertained throughout the weekend. We would like to thank everyone who supported us and joined in the fun. And we look forward to seeing you all again next year! BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank the following for their support of The African Bird Fair: Eskom, Jay van Rensburg, JC Decaux, Nikon, Struik Nature and the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden.

An evening with the ‘voice of cycling’

Join us for an evening of cocktails and canapés with guest speaker Phil Liggett, a well-known cycling commentator who specialised in the Tour de France. Take this opportunity to meet and chat to this patron of BirdLife South Africa and listen to his anecdotes from more than 30 years of experiences in cycling, especially from the ‘Le Tour’.
All funds raised through this event will go to BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme to help conserve important bird habitats across South Africa.

For event details and bookings, please see above.
Early bird bookings made before 30 September will receive a 10% discount.

Buy a calendar, support bird conservation

Buy a BirdLife South Africa calendar and for each month of 2018 you’ll enjoy a stunning full-page colour photograph of one of this country’s magnificent birds. The calendars are selling at R140 each (excluding postage) and, as stocks are limited, we recommend that you order soon to avoid disappointment. The calendar will make an amazing festive season gift. Please contact Shireen Gould at to place your order.

African Birdlife magazine

The latest issue of African Birdlife takes us right around South Africa, from Cape Point to Msikaba and up to the Blyde River Canyon, with a side-trip to Erongo in Namibia. There’s quite a bit about plants too, like the persuasive strategies of subtropical species to entice bird pollinators and which are good in bushveld bird gardens, as well as their diminishing role in providing cavities for nesting (and how competition for those cavities plays out). Falcons and eagles, larks and weavers, vultures and shearwaters – you’ll find them all in this issue.

Jono joins BirdLife South Africa

The BirdLife South Africa Policy and Advocacy team welcomes Jonathan Booth into its ranks. Jono has an Honours degree in Ecology and has just begun an MSc in Wildlife, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health at the University of Edinburgh (via correspondence). After guiding at MalaMala, he spent two years in London working for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem, the UK’s official energy regulator). On returning to South Africa in 2010, he joined KPMG and worked in the Climate Change and Sustainability team for three years and the Internal Audit team for 18 months. Subsequently he ran his own small business and worked as an independent sustainability consultant.

Whether visiting game reserves, exercising or working in his garden, Jono loves spending time in the outdoors and has a great appreciation for our unspoiled landscapes. He’s a keen mountain biker, canoeist and trail runner and has travelled extensively in the region’s national parks with his wife and family. Some of his greatest bush memories come from encounters with birds in Botswana, Zambia, the Lowveld and Zululand.

An enduring passion for conservation has precipitated Jono’s move back into the field. He is thrilled to be joining the dynamic BirdLife South Africa team and hopes to make full use of his skills and experience to make a positive impact for birds

Nedbank Reader Evenings

Join us in October for a Nedbank Reader Evening in either Johannesburg or Cape Town.
In Johannesburg on 5 October, Albert Froneman will talk about the art of bird photography. Acknowledged as one of the leading bird photographers in southern Africa, Albert understands that beautiful images of birds play a vital role in creating awareness for bird conservation, and in this spirit he works closely with BirdLife South Africa. During the lecture he will share interesting facts about the birds as well as tips, tricks and field techniques for capturing top-class images.

Date: Thursday, 5 October 2017
Time: 18h00 to 20h30
Venue: Nedbank Auditorium (parking entrance 2), 135 Rivonia Road, Sandton
Please click here to book.

In Cape Town on 19 October, Professor Peter Ryan will discuss the scourge of marine plastic pollution. Director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Peter studied the impact of ingesting plastic on seabirds for his Masters degree in the mid-1980s, long before there was widespread concern about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. He will explain why the increasing amount of plastic entering the environment is alarming and what we can do to tackle the problem.

Date: Thursday, 19 October 2017
Time: 18h00 to 20h30
Venue: Nedbank Clocktower Auditorium (parking Clocktower Precinct, Silo District level P2), V&A Waterfront
Please click here to book.

Both events are brought to you by Nedbank Green Affinity in partnership with WWF Nedbank Green Trust, BirdLife South Africa and African Birdlife. A light dinner and refreshments will be served after the talks. The events are free, but seating is limited and booking is essential.

Job shadowing at BirdLife South Africa

When Joshua Olszewski (left) job shadowed the Terrestrial Bird Conservation team, his daily duties ranged from tracking gulls to attending meetings. Describing the experience, he said ‘I was lucky to have spent two weeks in August (21 August to 1 September) being taught and mentored by Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Dr Melissa Whitecross in conservation and ornithology at BirdLife South Africa’s offices in Dunkeld West. This experience formed part of the compulsory job shadowing hours required by my school.

‘When it came to choosing an occupational field in which to complete my job shadowing hours, I knew for a fact that I would ideally want to shadow an ornithologist, a field biologist or a wildlife conservationist; basically, anyone who was working with birds in order to conserve them and their habitats. My reason for choosing this career path stems from my deep-seated passion for birds and other wildlife, a passion that I’ve carried with me from a very young age, as well as a desire to study and protect them.

‘When it came to recalling friends and acquaintances in this line of work whom I could shadow, I remembered that I knew people in higher places. Once settled in my mind that BirdLife South Africa was the way to go, I wasted no time in e-mailing the CEO, Mark Anderson, requesting permission to shadow Melissa. This led to me being able to shadow Hanneline for the first week and Melissa for the second. I felt extremely lucky to be working with such respected individuals in my preferred future career path.

‘During the job shadowing, I attended a number of meetings for various conservation projects and initiatives, from the Ingula Partnership and the Flufftail Festival to potential conflict between Cape Vultures and wind farms, and new work on Ludwig’s Bustards. These also included my first official meetings, which made me feel rather important.

‘I was also privileged enough to witness the capture, ringing and attachment of satellite-tracking devices to three Grey-headed Gulls near the O R Tambo International airport, as part of a new project BirdLife South Africa is running in collaboration with Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), to track the movements of these birds around the airport, specifically near the runway. This was a special event for me as I had never seen a bird being ringed before, let alone for such an amazing project.

‘Through job shadowing at BirdLife South Africa, I was able to meet many wonderful people and experience at first hand the exciting happenings in the world of conservation and ornithology. I am incredibly thankful to Mark Anderson for allowing me to shadow such highly respected and esteemed conservationists, and to Hanneline and Melissa for giving their time and efforts to mentoring me and teaching me about avian conservation, and for helping me to complete my job shadowing hours. I am most definitely looking forward to all the exciting developments that are coming up in BirdLife South Africa and will hopefully be doing more work with them in the near future.’


Flock on the West Coast 2018, with LAB

Block out 6–11 March 2018 in your calendar now and make sure to get to the Flock 2018 website to secure your spot for a great week of birding and bird-nerding in the Western Cape. Delegates who book for the Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference before 30 September 2017 stand a chance to win a free pelagic trip out of Saldanha Bay during Flock on the West Coast 2018.

All LAB delegates will be entered into a draw to win a free pair of Zeiss binoculars during the conference.
Information about the event can be found here and any additional queries can be directed to Melissa Whitecross, Emma Askes or Gisela Ortner at


Win with Birding Big Day 2017

Last year, within a 24-hour period, more than a thousand birders recorded 654 bird species across the country and in doing so raised valuable funds, awareness and data for bird conservation. BirdLife South Africa strives to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity through scientifically based programmes, by supporting the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and by encouraging people to enjoy and value nature. In order to do this, BirdLife South Africa needs funding.

While Birding Big Day (BBD) is all about finding and recording as many birds as possible, the sightings records help to determine bird population distributions. At the same time, the funds raised from the day are channelled into work conducted by the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) and Terrestrial Bird Conservation programmes, as well as to BirdLasser.
To assist in the fundraising initiative and to reward the team that raises the most funds (on average per member), this year the organising committee has added an exciting new category to BBD in the form of a fund-raising competition that all teams can participate in.

RETURNAfrica Pafuri Collection has generously offered a prize, to the value of more than R16 000, of two nights for four guests on a walking trail at Pafuri Trails Camp, including accommodation, all meals and walks on each day. This prize will be awarded to the team that raises the most funds (per member) for BirdLife South Africa’s conservation programmes.

Teams can raise sponsorship by asking people or companies to pay either a certain amount per species seen or a fixed amount, independent of the number of species seen. The sponsorship can be sourced before, during or after the event, although payment must be made by 15 December 2017. BirdLife South Africa can provide any company or individual who donates more than R500 with a Section 18A tax certificate.
In addition to this fundraising prize, there will be some lucky draw prizes, including two copies of Michael Mills’ new book, The Birder’s Guide to Africa.

For more information about prizes and how the fundraising aspect of BBD will work, and for sponsorhip forms and fundraising letters, please visit the BBD page.

Support Team Fast & Featherless

This is your last chance to join Team Fast & Featherless and ride the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge for bird conservation. All funds raised by cyclists taking part for BirdLife South Africa will go to the Important Bird and Bioidversity Area Programme, which works to conserve valuable bird habitats across South Africa. Join us for a day of fun in the name of conservation.

For more information about how to register to ride with BirdLife South Africa’s team, contact Romy at Riders’ details must be submitted before 28 August 2017.

Managing habitat for fynbos birds

BirdLife South Africa members probably recall Dr Alan Lee for the incredible 2400km cycle ride that took him across the Western Cape’s highest mountain ranges to study the impacts of climate change on bird species that are endemic to fynbos. The study now completed, Alan has joined Dale Wright to form the ‘fynbos birds team’, which has produced a user-friendly booklet that showcases birds endemic to fynbos, gives interesting pointers about their ecology and summarises the major threats facing them. The text also provides a set of management recommendations that private landowners or reserve managers could use to enhance their fynbos habitats to support these species. The booklet is available for free from the BirdLife South Africa website, and we encourage interested members to download and share this beautiful resource far and wide.
Get your copy here.

Image Credit: Alan Lee

On the road with Ross

The UK in summer. Again. I was there in June last year and found myself back there this July, with a sneaky little trip to Rome in between. But my eyes were set firmly on Scotland… Read more.

Membership team visits Kyalami Prep

On Friday, 21 July Shireen Gould and Elaine Cherrington of the membership team visited the Eco Club at Kyalami Prep to talk to the learners about vultures and how they fly. The lesson started off with a short talk about the five vulture species found in South Africa and why vultures are so important in nature. It then proceeded to the flight of vultures, illustrated by a short YouTube clip by David Attenborough. Afterwards, the learners made their own paper gliders, which they took out onto the field to fly.

Each of the pupils received a copy of the March/April issue of African Birdlife, which included the Bird of the Year poster and a vulture pin badge. They especially loved the pin badges, as they were allowed to wear them on their school blazers for the two weeks following the visit.

Learn About Birds 8–9 March 2018

The fourth biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) conference, co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (Fitz), promises to be even bigger and better than its predecessors. With a new programme format, exciting speakers lined up for both Science and Layman’s LABs and excellent evening entertainment to help attendees relax in typical West Coast fashion, this LAB will surely be one not to miss.

The plenary speakers for the Science LAB will be Dr Mark Brown and Dr Alan Lee. Mark is the current programme director at the Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT), a small NPO dedicated to integrating conservation into the communities of the Garden Route through education initiatives, research programmes and conservation partnerships. He is also an honorary researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Life Sciences and is a Y2 NRF-rated scientist. Mark’s diverse range of research interests includes conservation biology, raptor ecology, physiology, pollination biology and climate change impacts. He has contributed to several books, including Roberts VII, and has published more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Having co-supervised more than 25 postgraduate students, he describes himself as a passionate and dedicated mentor of young conservationists – and his extensive education work through the NVT is testament to that. Mark is no stranger to the podium, having presented his research at national and international conferences, and he will no doubt deliver an exciting and engaging plenary talk during LAB 2018.

Alan took over as the editor of Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology in July 2016 and aims to make it one of the flagship publication outlets for ornithological research in Africa. He joined the Fitz in 2012 as a post-doctoral researcher supervised by Phoebe Barnard and Phil Hockey, investigating the impacts of a changing climate on the bird communities of the fynbos biome. Alan is still at the Fitz, where his main research interests are the conservation biology of endemic birds and using SABAP2 data to inform conservation policy and management decisions. Alan and his father co-founded the Blue Hill Nature Reserve at the edge of the Baviaanskloof. He has received awards for his photography and research presentations, and we look forward to his plenary during LAB 2018.

Layman’s LAB will run in parallel with the Science LAB and is designed to give attendees of Flock who don’t have a science background an opportunity to enjoy easily accessible talks about birds, birding, research and conservation efforts. Some of the topics and speakers currently lined up for LAB include Rob Simmons from the Fitz, who will highlight the Black Harrier research conducted in the West Coast National Park; Etienne Marais from Indicator Birding, who will talk about finding and identifying the tricky specials of western South Africa; and Kevin Shaw from CapeNature, who will give an in-depth view of the history of Dassen Island and the ecology of its avian residents.

The first call for abstract submissions has been opened and we encourage all students, post-doctoral researchers and lecturers to submit their presenter registration forms to Melissa Whitecross ( before 30 September 2017. Forms can be downloaded