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.

In celebration of albatrosses

Reason Nyengera and Andrea Angel display the Albatross Task Force’s World Albatross Day banner at Kalk Bay harbour, Cape Town. Credit Albatross Task Force

Inaugurated by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), World Albatross Day on 19 June marked the culmination of a 12-month build-up and brought together scientists, artists, birders and young people from around the world to honour the 22 albatross species and draw attention to the conservation crisis they face.

From the world’s largest flying bird, the Wandering Albatross, to the striking Chatham and the enigmatic elegance of the Sooty, albatrosses are magnificent birds. Spending most of their lives flying at extreme latitudes over vast marine expanses, defying the darkest and stormiest of seas in their search for food, they are true ocean nomads. But they are also the most threatened group of birds, with 21 of the 22 species threatened with extinction.

James Watts’s artwork of the 22 albatross species.

This year’s theme for World Albatross Day is ‘Eradicating island pests’. Species introduced to islands, such as rodents, cats and pigs, are attacking and killing nesting albatross adults and chicks. These pests have been removed from some sub-Antarctic islands such as the Antipodes and Macquarie and once again they are safe havens for breeding seabirds, including albatrosses. Efforts are under way to rid Gough and Midway islands of ‘killer mice’ and they will go a long way towards slowing population declines in five albatross species, among them the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross.

One of the more insidious threats faced by albatrosses is from interactions with fishing gear in South African and international waters, which cause the deaths of thousands of birds every year. Efforts to reduce and mitigate these are ongoing and the principal objective of Albatross Task Force teams around the world.

A composite of albatross paintings by Artists and Biologists Unite for Nature made into a poster. Credit ABUN

To help raise awareness, field scientists working with albatrosses on their breeding islands and at sea created and displayed more than 30 banners to promote World Albatross Day. Artists and Biologists Unite for Nature dedicated their 30th project to painting and drawing the 22 albatross species in a series of promotional online images to help raise awareness. The project produced 324 works of art, some of which have been made into posters.

Naturally, we of the Albatross Task Force were keen to play our part and not only highlight the many threats these flagship species face, but also remind ourselves of our responsibility to conserve and protect all biodiversity. By protecting albatrosses, scientists are restoring island habitats and thus benefitting other threatened seabird species and many endemic plant and other animal species as well. At sea, our work with fisheries is increasing awareness about seabird mortality and promoting more sustainable fishing practices, as well as preventing seabird deaths.

You can still celebrate World Albatross Day. Follow the work of albatross experts from around the world by watching their short talks on the conservation work they do. Youngsters can take part in our albatross colouring competition, which closes at the end of June. Or you can find out about each species from informational species summaries provided by ACAP, which are available for download as a PDF.

If you would like to support albatross conservation work in South Africa, please donate to the Albatross Task Force programme. To find out more about the work we do, you can contact Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera or visit our website.

ANDREA ANGEL, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE MANAGER


New manager for East Atlantic Flyway

Bronwyn Maree will begin her role as project manager for BirdLife South Africa’s East Atlantic Flyway Initiative in July. Credit Future For Nature

Bronwyn Maree has returned to BirdLife South Africa to take up the role of project manager of the East Atlantic Flyway Initiative (EAFI) within the Regional Conservation Programme. The multiple stakeholders in the initiative comprise BirdLife partner countries along the length of the flyway, from Europe through North and West Africa to southern Africa. In her new position, Bronwyn will supervise support for regional and global conservation efforts aligned with the initiative – an undertaking by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – and will help the RSPB to revise and implement the EAFI strategy. A comprehensive suite of projects is being set in motion along the flyway, with focuses on species research and monitoring, identifying Key Biodiversity Areas and using Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) to protect key migratory stopover sites.

Fortunate to have grown up in a family that loved the outdoors and nature, Bronwyn chose the sciences and conservation when the time came to decide what to study. She obtained a triple major BSc at the University of Cape Town and then a BSc Honours and Master’s at Rhodes University in ichthyology and fisheries science. In 2008 BirdLife South Africa recruited her as an instructor in the Albatross Task Force (ATF) and she went on to become leader of the team, working primarily in the deep-sea hake trawl fishery to reduce seabird bycatch. In 2014 she won the Future For Nature Award for the strides made in this work.

After seven years of adventure and many trips to sea, Bronwyn moved on to Common Oceans, a project of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization housed under BirdLife South Africa’s roof. Through BirdLife International she has also developed training materials and facilitated workshops for fisheries compliance officers and to communicate in West Africa the ecosystem approach to fisheries management. Then, at the beginning of 2019, she was given the opportunity to transfer her skills to the terrestrial world, concentrating on human–wildlife conflict in the urban environment, with a particular focus on baboons.

When not working, Bronwyn enjoys competing in triathlons and she is an active member of Constantia Rotary Club, where she participates in community projects. She will start in her new position in July, and we are very happy to welcome her back into the BirdLife South Africa team.

HIRAL NAIK, REGIONAL CONSERVATION PROGRAMME AND POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME ASSISTANT


Conservation Conversations


Seven o’clock on a Tuesday evening is a special time for savvy bird lovers. That’s when they get to experience live a conversation pertinent to bird conservation – and each week the topic is guaranteed to be fascinating. But if you can’t make it at seven, you can always watch the webinars via our YouTube channel at a time that suits you.

Our YouTube channel subscriber numbers continue to climb, having increased from 172 before we began Conservation Conversations to 338 currently. We encourage all our members to visit the BirdLife South Africa YouTube channel and subscribe to it. Recordings of previous webinars can be accessed via the channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/. You can also register for upcoming webinars at the site.

The simultaneous live stream of the webinars to Facebook Live through the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page has enabled us to reach an even wider audience and offers viewers who would still like to ask questions during the event an alternative to the Zoom platform. You do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part in our webinars.

We welcome donations to assist with the production of these webinars. If you would like to contribute, please make your donation at www.quicket.co.za/event/103556/collect or via the BirdLife South Africa website. We are extremely grateful to the individuals who have donated so far.

Please consider making a donation to keep our webinars going.

June has produced some exciting sessions, including a talk on the Southern African Bird Atlas Project by Ernst Retief and, on Youth Day, a panel discussion about what it’s like to be a conservationist at BirdLife South Africa. During this particular webinar, Jacana Media kindly donated a conservationist kick-starter book prize, which was won by Luke Bridle. Our monthly Jacana Media book giveaway competition continues, and we look forward to presenting this month’s winner with a collection of natural history books.

We can look ahead to some really interesting talks in July, kicking off with the White-winged Flufftail conservation story. Daniel Marnewick will give some insight into how the global biodiversity conservation community is beginning to adapt to a world after Covid-19 in light of the pandemic’s impact on the ‘Big Year for Biodiversity’ plans for 2020, while Alistair McInnes will share an overview of efforts to protect seabirds endemic to the Benguela ecosystem. And in our final talk for the month we will be partnering with Jacana Media to bring our viewers a webinar with well-known photographer Isak Pretorius, who will share his tips for successful bird photography and reveal where South Africa’s bird photography hotspots are. Be sure to tune in for these amazing ‘conversations’ every Tuesday at 19h00.

To find out more about our webinars, visit www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/ or e-mail conversations@birdlife.org.za

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER AND HOST OF CONSERVATION CONVERSATIONS WITH BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA


Our new Honorary President

Prof. Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan has been elected BirdLife South Africa’s new Honorary President.

At BirdLife South Africa’s AGM on 13 June, Prof. Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan was elected as the organisation’s new Honorary President. She takes over from Prof. Colleen Downs, whose four-year term has come to an end.

Prof. Chinsamy-Turan is a South African vertebrate palaeontologist known for her expertise in the study of the microstructure of fossil teeth and bones of extinct and extant vertebrates. The head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town from 2012 until 2015, she has written four books and many scientific publications. Among several honours, she won the Distinguished Women in Science Award in 2002 and the South African Woman of the Year Award in 2005. The National Research Foundation granted her its President’s Award in 1995 and the Transformation Award in 2012, and the following year she won the World Academy of Sciences Sub-Saharan Africa Prize for popularising science.

Anusuya also has an interest in the study of extinct birds and the conservation of extant ones.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CEO


An addition to the seabird team

Tegan Carpenter-Kling conducting research on Wandering Albatrosses on Marion Island. Credit John Dickens

The Seabird Conservation team welcomes its latest recruit, Tegan Carpenter-Kling, who joins as the new manager of the Coastal Seabirds Project. She has an impressive history with seabirds, having gained her MSc for a study of the foraging ecology of Gentoo Penguins that involved field work at some enviable destinations, such as Possession and Marion islands. Currently she is completing her PhD at Nelson Mandela University on the habitat use of marine top predators, including seabirds, in the Southern Ocean.

Tegan spent two years on Marion Island, where she had the opportunity to work on diverse seabird groups, such as penguins, albatrosses and petrels. A significant part of her field work included the deployment of bio-loggers on various seabird species to record their behaviour at sea and where they go to forage. This experience will be invaluable for her new post, where she will use similar technology to continue an assessment of where African Penguins go during the non-breeding season, before and after they moult.

An important aspect of Tegan’s work going forward will be to translate the bio-logging (GPS) data of the seabirds at sea into models that can identify foraging hotspots in the Benguela Upwelling Region. This is crucial information for the assessment of marine protected area expansion. It can also be used to inform an ecosystem approach to the management of resource competition in the purse-seine fishery.

Tegan is currently applying sophisticated techniques to model the top predator data in her PhD and she will adopt these skills to assess the status of South Africa’s threatened coastal seabirds, especially where and why they visit various localities in the Benguela Upwelling Region. We are confident that she will make a difference for seabird conservation in South Africa and hope that she will enjoy her time working with us.

DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


More about Southern Ground-Hornbills

Building upon what you’ve already learnt about Southern Ground-Hornbills, this month’s fact file tells you about their social structure and their breeding behaviour. We also have a new colouring page for you to try!

All the educational material from this and previous months, including fact files and lesson plans, are available for free on the BirdLife South Africa website at www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project (the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill) and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Are you in it to win it?

There’s not much time left, but your name can still be entered into the lucky draw to win a pair of ZEISS binoculars. All existing and new Conservation League Donors stand a chance to win this fantastic pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars worth R19 800.

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa (either an ordinary or a senior citizen member) and make a minimum donation of R2800. We can issue Section 18A tax certificates, so your donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the accompanying form and e-mail it back to Shireen Gould at membership@birdlife.org.za. The entries for the lucky draw close on 31 August 2020 and the draw will take place on Saturday, 5 September 2020.

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s worthwhile and relevant work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


Jackpot Birding!

Who needs a pick-me-up prize? This could be just for you – purchasing a ticket couldn’t be easier and the R500 you pay for it is a contribution to conservation. But there are only a few weeks left, so be sure that you don’t miss out!

BirdLife South Africa recognises that, due to current travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, an international birding tour now or in the foreseeable future is unlikely to be possible. However, we have a commitment to our supporters and have therefore amended this year’s raffle prize of a trip to Brazil for two people to R100 000 cash.

All funds raised go to BirdLife South Africa and its important conservation work. Entries close at midnight on 12 July 2020 or when all the tickets have been sold, whichever comes first. The draw will take place on 15 July 2020 at Isdell House, BirdLife South Africa’s head office in Dunkeld West.

Ts&Cs apply. For more information, please visit www.birdlife.org.za/jackpot-birding


#BlackBirdersWeek

Christian Cooper, who was threatened in Central Park. Credit New York Times

We hope that 25 May 2020 – the day that George Floyd died – will be known by future historians as the date when the world changed meaningfully and for the better, despite the disturbing nature of the event that precipitated the change. The groundswell of awareness of ingrained and systemic racism, which began in the USA but quickly spread right around the world, needs to lead to societal change so that George Floyd and others did not die in vain. In a world already gripped by health and economic crises, it is notable that news networks were dominated by race relations for several weeks.

While BirdLife South Africa stands in solidarity with the protests in the USA, we are distinctly aware that police brutality and systemic racism are severe problems in South Africa too. We are also aware that the birding community does not currently reflect our country’s demographics and that there are barriers to entry for people of colour to enjoy nature as part of this community.

A few hours before the death of George Floyd, another incident took place that made the news before being eclipsed by the events in Minneapolis. A birder, Christian Cooper, was watching warblers in New York’s Central Park when he saw a dog running amok. He approached the owner, a white woman, about leashing her dog in accordance with the rules of the park. She responded by saying she would call the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life, which she proceeded to do when he refused to back down. Christian began filming the interaction and the video soon went viral. The woman’s behaviour clearly demonstrated her understanding that the police and justice system could be used as a weapon against a person of colour because of the different ways that she and he would be treated based purely on the colour of their skin.

The schedule for #BlackBirdersWeek.

The international birding community took inspiration from the response to this incident and declared the following week #BlackBirdersWeek to promote diversity and inclusion in nature-loving communities. BirdLife South Africa is actively striving to transform the organisation, including board, staff and membership, on both a racial and a gender basis and is, for example, raising awareness about birds in diverse communities and pointing out bird lovers of colour as examples that the birding community can be accessible to all. These actions are directly aligned with the ethos of #BlackBirdersWeek.

We ran a string of social media and communications content, including a number of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts as well as a short slot in our weekly Conservation Conversations webinar that ended in a call to help our community bird guides, some of South Africa’s top black birders, through the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund. One particular highlight was a video we released that focused on more than 20 birders of colour from around Africa, including BirdLife staff, specialist guides and recreational birders, each of whom supplied a quote explaining why birds are important to them. We encourage you to look through other web content created by both us and our partners such as Audubon in the USA and BirdLife International. Our partnership took this initiative to heart and opened itself up to welcome marginalised demographics. The message is clear: birds and birding are for everyone.

The response to our involvement in and promotion of #BlackBirdersWeek has been overwhelmingly positive, which bodes well for more inclusivity going forward. However, there were a few critical responses that some of our supporters took the time to mail in, and we thank them for being open and willing to engage. We do understand that we have taken a stance on a topic that is viewed by some as contentious and have thus opened ourselves up for criticism. But we are proud to actively support #BlackBirdersWeek and do not believe that acknowledging the biases against people of colour currently in our communities is the same as denigrating birders who do not identify as such. We would all like to be at a point where race does not matter in issues such as this, but right now there are stark differences in how different people are treated based on characteristics such as skin colour and gender, and that needs to be addressed urgently.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER

In celebration of albatrosses

Inaugurated by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), World Albatross Day on 19 June marked the culmination of a 12-month build-up and brought together scientists, artists, birders and young people from around the world to honour the 22 albatross species and draw attention to the conservation crisis they face.

From the world’s largest flying bird, the Wandering Albatross, to the striking Chatham and the enigmatic elegance of the Sooty, albatrosses are magnificent birds. Spending most of their lives flying at extreme latitudes over vast marine expanses, defying the darkest and stormiest of seas in their search for food, they are true ocean nomads. But they are also the most threatened group of birds, with 21 of the 22 species threatened with extinction.

This year’s theme for World Albatross Day is ‘Eradicating island pests’. Species introduced to islands, such as rodents, cats and pigs, are attacking and killing nesting albatross adults and chicks. These pests have been removed from some sub-Antarctic islands such as the Antipodes and Macquarie and once again they are safe havens for breeding seabirds, including albatrosses. Efforts are under way to rid Gough and Midway islands of ‘killer mice’ and they will go a long way towards slowing population declines in five albatross species, among them the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross.

One of the more insidious threats faced by albatrosses is from interactions with fishing gear in South African and international waters, which cause the deaths of thousands of birds every year. Efforts to reduce and mitigate these are ongoing and the principal objective of Albatross Task Force teams around the world.

To help raise awareness, field scientists working with albatrosses on their breeding islands and at sea created and displayed more than 30 banners to promote World Albatross Day. Artists and Biologists Unite for Nature dedicated their 30th project to painting and drawing the 22 albatross species in a series of promotional online images to help raise awareness. The project produced 324 works of art, some of which have been made into posters.

Naturally, we of the Albatross Task Force were keen to play our part and not only highlight the many threats these flagship species face, but also remind ourselves of our responsibility to conserve and protect all biodiversity. By protecting albatrosses, scientists are restoring island habitats and thus benefitting other threatened seabird species and many endemic plant and other animal species as well. At sea, our work with fisheries is increasing awareness about seabird mortality and promoting more sustainable fishing practices, as well as preventing seabird deaths.

You can still celebrate World Albatross Day. Follow the work of albatross experts from around the world by watching their short talks on the conservation work they do. Youngsters can take part in our albatross colouring competition, which closes at the end of June. Or you can find out about each species from informational species summaries provided by ACAP, which are available for download as a PDF.

If you would like to support albatross conservation work in South Africa, please donate to the Albatross Task Force programme. To find out more about the work we do, you can contact Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera or visit our website.

ANDREA ANGEL, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE MANAGER


New manager for East Atlantic Flyway

Bronwyn Maree has returned to BirdLife South Africa to take up the role of project manager of the East Atlantic Flyway Initiative (EAFI) within the Regional Conservation Programme. The multiple stakeholders in the initiative comprise BirdLife partner countries along the length of the flyway, from Europe through North and West Africa to southern Africa. In her new position, Bronwyn will supervise support for regional and global conservation efforts aligned with the initiative – an undertaking by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – and will help the RSPB to revise and implement the EAFI strategy. A comprehensive suite of projects is being set in motion along the flyway, with focuses on species research and monitoring, identifying Key Biodiversity Areas and using Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) to protect key migratory stopover sites.

Fortunate to have grown up in a family that loved the outdoors and nature, Bronwyn chose the sciences and conservation when the time came to decide what to study. She obtained a triple major BSc at the University of Cape Town and then a BSc Honours and Master’s at Rhodes University in ichthyology and fisheries science. In 2008 BirdLife South Africa recruited her as an instructor in the Albatross Task Force (ATF) and she went on to become leader of the team, working primarily in the deep-sea hake trawl fishery to reduce seabird bycatch. In 2014 she won the Future For Nature Award for the strides made in this work.

After seven years of adventure and many trips to sea, Bronwyn moved on to Common Oceans, a project of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization housed under BirdLife South Africa’s roof. Through BirdLife International she has also developed training materials and facilitated workshops for fisheries compliance officers and to communicate in West Africa the ecosystem approach to fisheries management. Then, at the beginning of 2019, she was given the opportunity to transfer her skills to the terrestrial world, concentrating on human–wildlife conflict in the urban environment, with a particular focus on baboons.

When not working, Bronwyn enjoys competing in triathlons and she is an active member of Constantia Rotary Club, where she participates in community projects. She will start in her new position in July, and we are very happy to welcome her back into the BirdLife South Africa team.

HIRAL NAIK, REGIONAL CONSERVATION PROGRAMME AND POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME ASSISTANT


Conservation Conversations

Seven o’clock on a Tuesday evening is a special time for savvy bird lovers. That’s when they get to experience live a conversation pertinent to bird conservation – and each week the topic is guaranteed to be fascinating. But if you can’t make it at seven, you can always watch the webinars via our YouTube channel at a time that suits you.

Our YouTube channel subscriber numbers continue to climb, having increased from 172 before we began Conservation Conversations to 338 currently. We encourage all our members to visit the BirdLife South Africa YouTube channel and subscribe to it. Recordings of previous webinars can be accessed via the channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/. You can also register for upcoming webinars at the site.

The simultaneous live stream of the webinars to Facebook Live through the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page has enabled us to reach an even wider audience and offers viewers who would still like to ask questions during the event an alternative to the Zoom platform. You do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part in our webinars.

We welcome donations to assist with the production of these webinars. If you would like to contribute, please make your donation at www.quicket.co.za/event/103556/collect or via the BirdLife South Africa website. We are extremely grateful to the individuals who have donated so far.

June has produced some exciting sessions, including a talk on the Southern African Bird Atlas Project by Ernst Retief and, on Youth Day, a panel discussion about what it’s like to be a conservationist at BirdLife South Africa. During this particular webinar, Jacana Media kindly donated a conservationist kick-starter book prize, which was won by Luke Bridle. Our monthly Jacana Media book giveaway competition continues, and we look forward to presenting this month’s winner with a collection of natural history books.

We can look ahead to some really interesting talks in July, kicking off with the White-winged Flufftail conservation story. Daniel Marnewick will give some insight into how the global biodiversity conservation community is beginning to adapt to a world after Covid-19 in light of the pandemic’s impact on the ‘Big Year for Biodiversity’ plans for 2020, while Alistair McInnes will share an overview of efforts to protect seabirds endemic to the Benguela ecosystem. And in our final talk for the month we will be partnering with Jacana Media to bring our viewers a webinar with well-known photographer Isak Pretorius, who will share his tips for successful bird photography and reveal where South Africa’s bird photography hotspots are. Be sure to tune in for these amazing ‘conversations’ every Tuesday at 19h00.

To find out more about our webinars, visit www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/ or e-mail conversations@birdlife.org.za

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER AND HOST OF CONSERVATION CONVERSATIONS WITH BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA


Our new Honorary President

At BirdLife South Africa’s AGM on 13 June, Prof. Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan was elected as the organisation’s new Honorary President. She takes over from Prof. Colleen Downs, whose four-year term has come to an end.

Prof. Chinsamy-Turan is a South African vertebrate palaeontologist known for her expertise in the study of the microstructure of fossil teeth and bones of extinct and extant vertebrates. The head of the Department of Biological Sciences from 2012 until 2015, she has written four books and many scientific publications. Among several honours, she won the Distinguished Women in Science Award in 2002 and the South African Woman of the Year Award in 2005. The National Research Foundation granted her its President’s Award in 1995 and the Transformation Award in 2012, and the following year she won the World Academy of Sciences Sub-Saharan Africa Prize for popularising science.

Anusuya also has an interest in the study of extinct birds and the conservation of extant ones.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CEO


An addition to the seabird team

The Seabird Conservation team welcomes its latest recruit, Tegan Carpenter-Kling, who joins as the new manager of the Coastal Seabirds Project. She has an impressive history with seabirds, having gained her MSc for a study of the foraging ecology of Gentoo Penguins that involved field work at some enviable destinations, such as Possession and Marion islands. Currently she is completing her PhD at Nelson Mandela University on the habitat use of marine top predators, including seabirds, in the South Ocean.

Tegan spent two years on Marion Island, where she had the opportunity to work on diverse seabird groups, such as penguins, albatrosses and petrels. A significant part of her field work included the deployment of bio-loggers on various seabird species to record their behaviour at sea and where they go to forage. This experience will be invaluable for her new post, where she will use similar technology to continue an assessment of where African Penguins go during the non-breeding season, before and after they moult.

An important aspect of Tegan’s work going forward will be to translate the bio-logging (GPS) data of the seabirds at sea into models that can identify foraging hotspots in the Benguela Upwelling Region. This is crucial information for the assessment of marine protected area expansion. It can also be used to inform an ecosystem approach to the management of resource competition in the purse-seine fishery.

Tegan is currently applying sophisticated techniques to model the top predator data in her PhD and she will adopt these skills to assess the status of South Africa’s threatened coastal seabirds, especially where and why they visit various localities in the Benguela Upwelling Region. We are confident that she will make a difference for seabird conservation in South Africa and hope that she will enjoy her time working with us.

DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


More about Southern Ground-Hornbills

Building upon what you’ve already learnt about Southern Ground-Hornbills, this month’s fact file tells you about their social structure and their breeding behaviour. We also have a new colouring page for you to try!

All the educational material from this and previous months, including fact files and lesson plans, are available for free on the BirdLife South Africa website at www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project (the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill) and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for its support for this campaign.

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Are you in it to win it?

There’s not much time left, but your name can still be entered into the lucky draw to win a pair of ZEISS binoculars. All existing and new Conservation League Donors stand a chance to win this fantastic pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars worth R19 800.

To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa (either an ordinary or a senior citizen member) and make a minimum donation of R2800. We can issue Section 18A tax certificates, so your donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the accompanying form and e-mail it back to Shireen Gould at membership@birdlife.org.za. The entries for the lucky draw close on 31 August 2020 and the draw will take place on Saturday, 5 September 2020.

If you know someone who may be interested in supporting BirdLife South Africa’s worthwhile and relevant work, please suggest that they too sign up as a Conservation League Donor. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


Jackpot Birding!

Who needs a pick-me-up prize? This could be just for you – purchasing a ticket couldn’t be easier and the R500 you pay for it is a contribution to conservation. But there are only a few weeks left, so be sure that you don’t miss out!

BirdLife South Africa recognises that, due to current travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, an international birding tour now or in the foreseeable future is unlikely to be possible. However, we have a commitment to our supporters and have therefore amended this year’s raffle prize of a trip to Brazil for two people to R100 000 cash.

All funds raised go to BirdLife South Africa and its important conservation work. Entries close at midnight on 12 July 2020 or when all the tickets have been sold, whichever comes first. The draw will take place on 15 July 2020 at Isdell House, BirdLife South Africa’s head office in Dunkeld West.

Ts&Cs apply. For more information, please visit www.birdlife.org.za/jackpot-birding


#BlackBirdersWeek

We hope that 25 May 2020 – the day that George Floyd died – will be known by future historians as the date when the world changed meaningfully and for the better, despite the disturbing nature of the event that precipitated the change. The groundswell of awareness of ingrained and systemic racism, which began in the USA but quickly spread right around the world, needs to lead to societal change so that George Floyd and others did not die in vain. In a world already gripped by health and economic crises, it is notable that news networks were dominated by race relations for several weeks.

While BirdLife South Africa stands in solidarity with the protests in the USA, we are distinctly aware that police brutality and systemic racism are severe problems in South Africa too. We are also aware that the birding community does not currently reflect our country’s demographics and that there are barriers to entry for people of colour to enjoy nature as part of this community.

A few hours before the death of George Floyd, another incident took place that made the news before being eclipsed by the events in Minneapolis. A birder, Christian Cooper, was watching warblers in New York’s Central Park when he saw a dog running amok. He approached the owner, a white woman, about leashing her dog in accordance with the rules of the park. She responded by saying she would call the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life, which she proceeded to do when he refused to back down. Christian began filming the interaction and the video soon went viral. The woman’s behaviour clearly demonstrated her understanding that the police and justice system could be used as a weapon against a person of colour because of the different ways that she and he would be treated based purely on the colour of their skin.

The international birding community took inspiration from the response to this incident and declared the following week #BlackBirdersWeek to promote diversity and inclusion in nature-loving communities. BirdLife South Africa is actively striving to transform the organisation, including board, staff and membership, on both a racial and a gender basis and is, for example, raising awareness about birds in diverse communities and pointing out bird lovers of colour as examples that the birding community can be accessible to all. These actions are directly aligned with the ethos of #BlackBirdersWeek.

We ran a string of social media and communications content, including a number of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts as well as a short slot in our weekly Conservation Conversations webinar that ended in a call to help our community bird guides, some of South Africa’s top black birders, through the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund. One particular highlight was a video we released that highlighted more than 20 birders of colour from around Africa, including BirdLife staff, specialist guides and recreational birders, each of whom supplied a quote explaining why birds are important to them. We encourage you to look through other web content created by both us and our partners such as Audubon in the USA and BirdLife International. Our partnership took this initiative to heart and opened itself up to welcome marginalised demographics. The message is clear: birds and birding are for everyone.

The response to our involvement in and promotion of #BlackBirdersWeek has been overwhelmingly positive, which bodes well for more inclusivity going forward. However, there were a few critical responses that some of our supporters took the time to mail in, and we thank them for being open and willing to engage. We do understand that we have taken
a stance on a topic that is viewed by some as contentious and have thus opened ourselves up for criticism. But we are proud to actively support #BlackBirdersWeek and do not believe that acknowledging the biases against people of colour currently in our communities is the same as denigrating birders who do not identify as such. We would all like to be at a point where race does not matter in issues such as this, but right now there are stark differences in how different people are treated based on characteristics such as skin colour and gender, and that needs to be addressed urgently.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER

Coronavirus, Conservation, Climate & Change

This time has forced us all to reflect on what is important. Credit Sam Ralston-Paton

Things change so quickly. One moment I was following reports of a dangerous new virus in China, horrified and fascinated at the same time, yet I felt safe believing it was far from my personal reality. The next, I was having tea with my beloved grandmother, our family matriarch, and wondering if the tightness in my chest was stress-induced or the dreaded Covid-19. Was I putting my loved ones at risk?

The national lockdown came shortly after that. Almost overnight, the way we all work, shop and interact changed. Decisions were made that prioritise people’s lives over the economy.

Ben Okri wrote that ‘not only will we survive this pandemic, but we will be judged by how we survived it, by what we became afterwards’. It is hard to imagine that much good can come out of this global crisis, but it has forced us all to reflect, learn and even imagine a different future.

Many of the measures we are taking to minimise the spread of Covid-19 are also good for the environment – at least in the short term. Traffic, noise pollution ad carbon emissions are down. Teleconferencing and working from home are teaching people new ways of interacting, new ways of operating. We are learning that physical isolation does not mean social isolation. People in cities are waking up to the dawn chorus, some for the first time in their lives. We are taking moments to appreciate nature from our windows. Small things matter. We have been forced to think about what is really important to us – the people we love and the planet we love.

Beautiful things can emerge from seemingly desolate places. Credit Sam Ralston-Paton

My hope is that the Covid-19 crisis will be a catalyst, transforming our society into one that is more sustainable. The other option is that we go back to business as usual once the danger has passed. Or worse, our drive to restore the economy could be based on a philosophy of ‘develop at all costs’, which will result in unprecedented increases in carbon emissions and a disregard for the environment. Will funding for conservation and climate change mitigation dry up? Or will we chart a new, gentler path together, based on love, collective responsibility and the knowledge that we are all connected, even if we are physically apart? What lessons can we learn from this crisis that could help us address other existential threats, including the ongoing loss of biodiversity and degradation of natural habitats?

Why has the world responded so quickly and decisively against the virus, and at the same time dragged its feet (gone backwards even) on measures to address carbon emissions, air pollution and habitat loss when, in the longer term, these are likely to have greater effects on human health and welfare? Perhaps it is because of how quickly the virus spreads and because deaths can be easily tracked and attributed to a single ‘enemy’. Droughts, fires, floods and extreme weather events are harder to predict. They could happen tomorrow – or in 50 years. Scientists are loathe to attribute these events to a single reason. We can say with confidence that extreme weather events are likely to occur more often as a result of climate change and that without healthy, intact natural habitats the impact of these events is likely to be more severe. But there is rarely one single cause, rather a myriad of factors that all interact in complex ways. Do we inadvertently use this uncertainty about when, where and exactly how climate change and habitat loss will affect our lives as doubt about its existence? Does this give us a gap, some wiggle-room, to bury our heads in the sand?

The virus is also personal. Some of us may have been infected and many of us know someone who knows someone who has tested positive. Our individual roles in either contributing to or helping to slow the spread of the virus can’t be ignored. Many of us have never paid so much attention to our own health; our homes, hands and tools have never been so clean! It is the responsible thing to do.

Our personal contributions to global climate change and unsustainable land-use practices are less tangible and easier to ignore. Time and space separate us from the consequences of our lifestyle choices as consumers and we are often ignorant of our personal contributions to these crises. Even when armed with knowledge of the harm we are doing, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the complex messaging and myriad options available to living more sustainably. Clear and simple messaging in relation to the coronavirus has helped people to feel empowered and respond to the pandemic. Wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow and stay at home. Can we come up with messaging that is as simple and clear in relation to the environment? What are the three most important things we can all do?

The Covid-19 crisis has also taught us that the actions of individuals can only take us so far. International cooperation and decisive action from (some) governments, informed by science, have undoubtedly saved lives. The role of strong leadership, sound governance, science-based policies and a precautionary approach has never been more important. In the face of a pandemic, we cannot afford to ‘wait and see’ if the scientists have got it right.

Covid-19 has shown us that people are willing to take extraordinary measures, even give up their freedom, if they believe it is for the greater good. We can change quickly, if we all set our minds to it. Once this crisis has passed, the world will have changed. How will you help shape the future?

SAM RALSTON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT MANAGER


Relief fund for community bird guides

Lucky Ngwenya guides birders at Wakkerstroom. Credit Mark D. Anderson

The national lockdown is a difficult time for all South Africans, especially those who have lost their income. Many breadwinners are wondering how they will get their families through this period, with no money for food, water, electricity, medicines… And with no travel permitted for at least six weeks, the tourism industry is particularly hard hit – along with our community bird guides.

BirdLife South Africa has trained upwards of 200 men and women to be professional bird guides and there are currently more than 50 affiliated community bird guides. These guides are all admired, skilful and well-liked birders who have shown countless lifers to their appreciative clients. Recognising the struggles they are enduring, especially with the announcement of an extension to the lockdown, we have set up the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund and are appealing to all our supporters to help to provide for our guides financially so that they can cover their basic expenses during this time. We have already received fantastic support from the birding community and would like to express our and the guides’ immense gratitude. However, the amount we can allocate to each guide is still limited, and we are anticipating an extended period of difficulty for them even after the lockdown has been lifted.

Donations to the relief fund are eligible for Section 18A tax certificates; please e-mail proof of payment to bookkeeper@birdlife.org.za with your full name, postal address and the amount to claim. Contributions can be made via EFT to BirdLife South Africa with the reference ‘BG_initials_surname’ (this is important for us to track the donations).

Banking details:

Account name: BirdLife South Africa

Bank: First National Bank, Randburg

Branch code: 254005

Account number: 62067506281

SWIFT: FIRNZAJJ

Alternatively, you may use the SnapScan QR code below. Please make sure to change the reference on your payment to ‘BG_initials_surname’ before processing the payment so that we can track it. Also note that we pay an administration charge on any SnapScan donations, so EFT is preferred.

The funds will be distributed using an application process, which will be overseen by four staff members and our honorary treasurer, Manuela Krog. Community bird guides are encouraged to apply as soon as possible using the online form at www.birdlife.org.za/birdlife-guide-relief-fund-form/. Any further questions can be addressed to me at andrew.deblocq@birdlife.org.za

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


More about Southern Ground-Hornbills

We’re very excited to release this month the second fact file and first lesson plan featuring the Southern Ground-Hornbill, the 2020 Bird of the Year, with a focus on how the species is adapted to its ground-dwelling lifestyle. We hope you enjoy learning more about these fascinating hornbills as we release new educational content each month. You can access the lesson plan at https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Join our weekly webinar!

BirdLife South Africa has taken to the online ‘skies’ to spread some lockdown love and keep bird and nature enthusiasts entertained during these difficult times. Every Tuesday evening at 19h00, we will host a webinar discussing all sorts of conservation-, birding- and nature-related topics.

The debut webinar took place on 14 April and saw CEO Mark Anderson present on the BirdLife global partnership, with guest appearances from Dr Chris Lotz (director of Birding Ecotours) and Jim Lawrence (the global marketing manager for BirdLife International). To watch the recorded version of this live webinar, please go to our new Conservation Conversations site, www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/. You will also be able to register for upcoming webinars at this site and receive your Zoom access link to join in the fun.

The webinars are free for all to join and you do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part.

At the next webinar, on 21 April, Christina Hagen, the Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation, will talk about her incredible work at De Hoop Nature Reserve, where she is attempting to establish a new African Penguin colony. This exciting presentation is not to be missed.

For more information, go to www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/ or e-mail conversations@birdlife.org.za

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Read African Birdlife digitally

Subscribe to the digital version of African Birdlife and you can still get your birding fix, locally and throughout Africa, without leaving home. Act now to take advantage of special rates!

What will you get if you subscribe? The digital version of African Birdlife – and as soon as it’s published. The magazine’s popular mix of conservation, biology, news and views, rarities reports, book reviews and previews of the latest equipment, all complemented by world-class photography, will keep you entertained until you can once again venture out to your favourite birding spot.


The call of the African Penguin resembles the braying of a donkey; hence their former name,
Jackass Penguin. Credit Andrew de Blocq

World Penguin Day

Everyone loves penguins – and with good reason. Not only are these birds beautiful, charismatic and sometimes comedians, they are also good indicators of ocean health. They are sensitive to changes in the sea; and they breed on land, allowing us to study them easily. Penguins are most often associated in people’s minds with the ice and snow of the Antarctic, but they actually evolved in warmer climates and became adapted to the cold later on. In fact, New Zealand is the current hotspot of global penguin diversity, hosting six of the 18 species.

In Africa, we have just a single species, so it is important that we look after it. The African Penguin is found only in South Africa and Namibia, but sadly its population has decreased by more than 60% over the past 30 years. The numbers have fallen so drastically because there is much less of the penguins’ favourite prey, sardines and anchovies, available. High fishing pressure along the west coast of South Africa and changing ocean conditions due to climate change mean that penguins aren’t finding enough food. BirdLife South Africa is working on two fronts to tackle this problem. The first is to address the lack of food at their existing colonies by advocating for the protection of important foraging areas, both around colonies and when the birds forage more widely outside the breeding season. The second is to help the penguins adapt to a changing distribution of fish by creating new colonies along the south coast of South Africa, in areas of high fish abundance. Read more about our work at www.birdlife.org.za/what-we-do/seabird-conservation/what-we-do/coastal-seabird-conservation

Penguins around the world face a multitude of threats. Credit BirdLife International

World Penguin Day is celebrated on 25 April every year. It is a day to celebrate the diversity of penguin species around the world, but also to learn about simple actions everyone can do to help safeguard penguins and the marine environment. Here are some ideas:

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION

 


Fundraisers at Ingula

There was plenty to see for non-birders too, including this protea at the lookout point. Credit
Carina Coetzer

As a volunteer conservation organisation, the SANParks Honorary Rangers organises birding weekends around South Africa and channels the proceeds into conservation. In January and February the Johannesburg region hosted two weekends at Ingula Nature Reserve, which is owned and managed by Eskom. Both weekends were fully booked – a total of 40 visitors.

Ingula is located near Van Reenen and, true to its nature, demonstrated what escarpment weather is like. Birders were blown off their feet by wind and the incredible scenery, and showered with threatened grassland species as well as rain. But even though the weather left much to be desired, the birding did not disappoint. A total of 136 species was seen over the two weekends, with some of the special sightings that included all three cranes, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Southern Bald Ibis, Rufous-breasted and Black sparrowhawks, Ground Woodpecker, Secretarybird, Black Stork, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Cape Vulture, Denham’s Bustard and Orange-breasted Waxbill.

The groups were guided by BirdLife South Africa staffers and the chairman of Ladysmith Birders, and BirdLife South Africa donated a special prize for a raffle organised by SANParks Honorary Rangers: Johannesburg Region, which helped to raise even more funds for conservation efforts.

Both weekends were a huge success and the rangers are already planning the next event – watch this space! A big thank you goes to all who helped in the arrangements for the weekends, particularly Eskom management for giving us access to the nature reserve and visitor centre’s facilities. And to all visitors, we hope to see you again soon!

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER; PETER NELSON, ESKOM SENIOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT (PEAKING); STUART GALLOWAY, SANPARKS HONORARY RANGERS: JOHANNESBURG REGION


Win ZEISS binoculars!

The time’s coming round again for our annual Conservation League lucky draw. All existing and new Conservation League Donors stand a chance to win a pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars worth R19 800. To qualify as a Conservation League Donor, you need to be a paid-up member of BirdLife South Africa (either an ordinary or a senior citizen member) and have made a minimum donation of R2800. We can issue Section 18A tax certificates, so your donation will be tax deductible.

To be eligible for the lucky draw, please complete the attached form and e-mail it back to me at membership@birdlife.org.za or contact me directly. Entries close on 31 August 2020 and the draw is scheduled to take place at The African Bird Fair on Saturday, 5 September 2020.

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.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


For dedicated service…

Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson took up her position at BirdLife South Africa on 1 June 2010. For most of the past 10 years she managed the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme (as the Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation), but in 2019 was appointed to the position of Head of Conservation. The organisation’s portfolio of conservation projects has grown significantly during her tenure.

Christina Hagen and Ernst Retief also started working at BirdLife South Africa in 2010. As the Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation, Christina is involved in a number of initiatives to help protect coastal seabirds, but especially the African Penguin. The establishment of a mainland colony of African Penguins has been her most ambitious project and, if successful, could contribute significantly to the conservation of this embattled species.

Ernst is a social scientist, top birder and IT guru and his current responsibility is the Spatial Planning and Data Management Project. He is one of the most important driving forces behind SABAP2 and it is through his efforts that the project is amassing massive amounts of bird spatial data.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CEO


A day in the life of … remote working

The Membership team

The Membership team: Shireen, Baile and Janine.

Shireen, Baile and Janine are up and running and we are able to access the membership database from our homes. Reflex Solutions assisted with setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection for the team, enabling us to process payments, follow up queries and more. Even though we are not available telephonically, we are able to answer e-mailed questions. Membership-related queries can be sent to either Shireen at membership@birdlife.org.za or Baile at memadmin@birdlife.org.za. Direct subscription queries can be sent to Janine at subscriptions@birdlife.org.za

Unfortunately, no magazines or membership cards can be posted at this stage, but we have implemented a system to keep track of what needs to be posted once the national lockdown is over.

Wishing you well during the lockdown and keep safe!

The Seabird Conservation team

The Seabird Conservation team: Reason, Christina, Andrew, Andrea and Alistair.

Working remotely has been challenging for the Seabird Conservation Programme since lockdown was enforced in March, but we are all engaged with our projects remotely so we are confident we can still make a difference to seabird conservation.

Some aspects of our work, like harbour visits and monitoring the efficacy of seabird bycatch mitigation measures by ATF project manager Reason Nyengera, have been put on hold. The production of our bird-scaring lines has also been paused due to the temporary closure of operations by our partners at the Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities, who manufacture the lines. We have informed many of the fishing vessel managers that we are available to support them remotely if they experience difficulties in deploying or maintaining their bird-scaring lines, so that we can continue to mitigate against seabird bycatch.

There are many other aspects of our work that we can pursue remotely. Christina Hagen is collaborating with statisticians and electrical engineers to develop remote monitoring systems for the new African Penguin colony at De Hoop. The purpose of these systems is to flag predator movements near the fence and alert us when the fence voltage is too low. Fortunately, the bulk of this work is desktop based. These developments will be crucial when the penguins decide to nest here, so that we have all the bases covered to prevent any intrusions by predators into the colony.

Andrew de Blocq, our coastal seabirds manager, is currently working on the development of a model that can identify the drivers of foraging hotspots frequented by non-breeding African Penguins from GPS tracking data. This information will be used to inform conservation planning initiatives such as the roll-out of the next round of marine protected areas. Hopefully it will also be incorporated into an ecosystem approach to managing our purse-seine fisheries.

Our ATF leader, Andrea Angel, is busy with various bycatch mitigation projects, including an exciting collaboration to test the efficacy of an electronic compliance device that can indicate whether a bird-scaring line is deployed.

Nini van der Merwe continues to support the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the implementation of contingency plans associated with the postponement of the Gough Island Restoration Programme. We are holding thumbs that the eradication of mice on Gough will go ahead in 2021.

While we all miss the company of colleagues in our Cape Town office, we have managed to adapt to our remote set-up by conducting regular catch-up meetings and making use of Microsoft Teams to work on remote documents collaboratively. Importantly, we manage to keep up the spirit of the team at the end of each week with our ‘wine-down Friday’ meetings, which are a lot of fun – remotely, of course!

The Science and Innovation team

Working remotely has forced the Science and Innovation team to look at how we can continue to add value and achieve our goals in spite of the challenges presented during these trying times. For Robin Colyn, manager of the Science and Innovation Programme, it has meant nurturing good communication through the platforms available to provide the support required to remain productive and positive.

Data and Spatial Planning manager Ernst Retief believes the lockdown has provided a unique opportunity to work on projects that require long hours of dedicated effort, such as GIS work. Under normal circumstances, when travelling to do field work and attend meetings in person took up time, it would have been impossible to achieve the amount of GIS work accomplished during the past few weeks. As for me, Nolumanyano Camago, I find the weekly Zoom meetings helpful, as they improve teamwork and bring team members closer. Overall, focusing on the delivery of distinct project milestones, as opposed to short-term activities, has been a beneficial approach to our current virtual environment.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER; ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER; NOLU CAMAGU, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN


Membership cards

We would like to draw our members’ attention to the fact that we can no longer post membership cards for renewals received during the lockdown. We will, however, e-mail a PDF copy of your membership card to you after payment has been captured. This will affect all members who have paid from mid-March 2020 onwards. We will continue to e-mail PDF copies of membership cards after the Covid-19 lockdown has been lifted.

If you have any queries, please contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

 

Please Note: If you have arrived here from our April newsletter email, please click here for the correct content.

Flocking bad news

In response to the South African government’s directive that bans gatherings of more than 100 people, the board of BirdLife South Africa has decided to cancel Flock to the Wilderness 2020, due to be held during the last weekend in May. We are making this announcement sooner rather than later in a bid to limit the impact of costs for our members and supporters.

Please note the following:

  • Refunds for Wilderness Hotel bookings will be paid according to the hotel’s cancellation policy. Please contact the hotel directly.
  • For refunds for bookings at other accommodation establishments, please contact them directly to cancel the booking and arrange a possible refund.
  • Any payments for the AGM lunch that have been erroneously made to BirdLife South Africa will be refunded. Please contact me at julie.bayley@birdlife.org.za
  • The AGM will be rescheduled and will most likely take place at Isdell House in Johannesburg. Platforms for joining remotely (such as Zoom) will be made available. A date for this will be communicated in due course.

We trust that you will understand and support this decision and hope to arrange a Flock to the Wilderness at a later stage to enjoy this beautiful part of South Africa. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your understanding.

JULIE BAYLEY, EVENTS & MARKETING MANAGER


 

Out of office… Members of BirdLife South Africa staff are now connected to one another only by electronic means.

BirdLife South Africa’s offices closed

BirdLife South Africa has closed its offices at Isdell House to help prevent its staff, members and volunteers, as well as members of the public, from contracting Covid-19. We have put in place measures to ensure that our staff can work from remote locations, so our bird conservation efforts will continue. All the staff will be in e-mail (and in some cases cell phone, WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom) contact; their e-mail addresses can be obtained at https://www.birdlife.org.za/who-we-are/meet-the-team/

We will re-open the offices as soon as it is considered safe to do so and let you know when this happens. We believe that closing our offices is the responsible action to take and will continue to support government directives. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your understanding.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CEO BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA


Bird of the Year 2020

This month we bring you the first fact file and colouring-in page depicting the 2020 Bird of the Year, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, with a focus on its biology and unique identification features. We hope you enjoy learning more about this iconic species as we release new educational content each month!

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Jackpot Birding

BirdLife South Africa is offering you the chance to win an 8-day Atlantic Coastal Forest Tour to Brazil with Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures for two people sharing, including return flights from Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro.

For only R500 a ticket, you stand a chance to win this incredible lucky-draw prize. There are only 1000 tickets available and they’re going to go fast, so be sure to secure yours now!

All funds raised will go directly to BirdLife South Africa and its important conservation work. Entries close at midnight on 12 July 2020 or when all the tickets have been sold, whichever comes first. The draw will take place on 15 July 2020.

To purchase a ticket and to view the full itinerary and Ts&Cs, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/jackpot-birding/ 


Saving the Albatross

Guests enjoyed canapés and wine at the Saving the Albatross event hosted by the British High Commissioner, Nigel Casey. Credit Tania Anderson

Renowned US marine biologist Robert C. Murphy was on his way to Antarctica when he caught sight of a long-winged bird gliding above the waves and declared, ‘I now belong to a higher cult of mortals for I have seen the albatross.’

It is indeed awe-inspiring to see a Wandering Albatross using its 3.5m wingspan to soar effortlessly in the face of winds that challenge even the most seaworthy of ships. And it is this same awe that drives conservation efforts to curb human impacts on albatrosses and other seabirds. 

In their quest for food, seabirds follow fishing vessels and can be accidentally ensnared on fishing hooks or trawl cables. ‘Bycatch’ is the official term for the killing of seabirds in this way and it sanitises a deeply troubling problem. Seabird bycatch is the most immediate and pervasive threat facing albatrosses today and unless action is taken, the world could lose its albatrosses.

In response to the widespread slaying of Endangered and Critically Endangered seabirds, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a BirdLife International partner organisation, launched the Albatross Task Force programme in 2006. Housed within BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme, the local Albatross Task Force team has been working on improving the conservation status of albatrosses and other pelagic seabirds that come to forage in South Africa’s rich oceans. Not only a hotspot for seabirds, our waters are also a rich fishing ground, and vast numbers of seabirds can be seen feeding in the wake of fishing vessels. 

Using trained seabird specialists, the Cape Town-based team engages directly with fishermen to find win-win solutions that address the threat of bycatch and through its hands-on approach it has reduced albatross bycatch in the offshore hake trawl fishery by an incredible 99%. In the foreign longline fleet that fishes in South African waters, an 85% reduction in seabird bycatch has been achieved. In numbers, this equates to reducing annual albatross deaths from 7400 to less than 200 in the trawl fishery today. 

Guest speakers included Prof. Peter Ryan and Nigel Casey. Credit Tania Anderson

However, while these successes are cause for celebration, there is still much more to do. Other fleets are still recording bycatch, so research still needs to be done aboard these vessels and existing mitigation measures need to be adapted. Advocacy work is required to implement the mitigation measures and, more importantly, to ensure that they are complied with at sea. Achieving the Albatross Task Force’s long-term goal of reducing the threat of bycatch across all South African fishing fleets thus requires sustainable sources of funding. 

With this in mind, a ‘Saving the Albatross’ reception was held at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, on a warm summer’s evening in February. Together, BirdLife South Africa, the British High Commissioner Nigel Casey and Golden Bird Patrons welcomed more than 200 guests to the residence’s garden to raise funds for the Albatross Task Force. 

Guest speakers at the event included Nigel Casey, Dr Guy Preston, the deputy director-general of environmental programmes at the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, and Prof. Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town.

The highlight of the evening was an auction by Strauss & Co. of a magnificent bronze sculpture of an albatross in mid-flight. Especially designed and cast for this event by wildlife sculptor Donald Greig, it helped to raise much-needed funds for the Albatross Task Force. 

All these funds as well as donations from BirdLife South Africa’s generous supporters at the event will be used to continue the Albatross Task Force team’s work in South Africa, with the primary focus on:

  • Engaging with non-compliant vessels;
  • Adapting mitigation measures to meet the needs of smaller, but not necessarily less impactful fleets;
  • Investigating potentially high seabird bycatch estimates in other South African fisheries; 
  • Maintaining engagement with compliant fleets;
  • Training observers and facilitating courses for fishermen that aim to increase awareness of the importance of the sustainable use of our ocean’s resources. 

Nigel Casey said that he was delighted to host the event to help raise the required funds. ‘The huge reduction in the number of albatrosses being lost is a great joint UK–South African achievement by BirdLife South Africa, the RSPB and others involved in the Albatross Task Force.’

If you would like to support the Albatross Task Force, please visit BirdLife South Africa’s website to donate or contact Andrea Angel at andrea.angel@birdlife.or.za

ANDREA ANGEL, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE LEADER, & JULIE BAYLEY, EVENTS & MARKETING MANAGER


Another Covid-19 casualty

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses nesting among phylica trees on Gough Island. Credit Nini van der Merwe

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has made the difficult decision to delay the operational phase of the Gough Island Restoration Programme until 2021 in view of the current Covid-19 pandemic. Senior management made the announcement on 18 March, citing as one of the major reasons the increase in global travel restrictions, which pose a considerable challenge to a project involving such an internationally diverse team. 

The programme’s board has concluded that it would be better to wait and ensure that the best possible team is available since, as we all know, there can be no second chances for a mission of this magnitude. Partners in the undertaking have been sympathetic and have commended the RSPB for making the tough, but ultimately justified decision. It is hoped that the programme can rely on the continued support of all the organisations involved. BirdLife South Africa will certainly keep up its commitment to this vitally important project to save more than two million seabird chicks that are affected annually by the mice on Gough Island. 

For more information, please see this blog by Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Global Conservation Director: https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/martinharper/posts/an-update-on-the-gough-island-restoration-project

NINI VAN DER MERWE, INTERNATIONAL LIAISON AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


The readers have spoken

From 9 January to 29 February 2020 African Birdlife readers were invited to complete an online survey that aimed to ascertain whether they are satisfied with the current content of the magazine. Respondents were also given the opportunity to suggest changes they would like to see. The survey was advertised widely by e-mail and on Facebook and Twitter.

Of the 1169 participants who responded, most declared that they are very happy with African Birdlife. Nevertheless, we are grateful to those who provided constructive feedback that will help us to improve the magazine and ensure that it remains a world-class publication.

We would like to extend a big thank you to all who participated in the survey, and especially to ZEISS for sponsoring an incredible lucky-draw prize.


Wanted: Owl Award nominations 

Since 1999, BirdLife South Africa has been presenting Owl Awards to acknowledge the individuals and companies who donate time, energy and money so that we are able to continue our conservation programmes. The organisation’s contribution to the protection of birds and their habitats is made possible by the collaborative efforts of volunteers, members and donors as well as its regular staff, and the Owl Awards were initiated to recognise the commitment of these stalwarts to helping us ‘give conservation wings’.

The call for nominations for the 2020 BirdLife South Africa Owl Awards is now open.

An Owl Award recognises the nominee’s important contribution to BirdLife South Africa and/or bird conservation over the past year or the donation of funds, materials, time or expertise. A total of nine awards each year may be presented to individuals or organisations.

An Eagle-Owl Award is presented for the nominee’s outstanding voluntary contribution to BirdLife South Africa and/or bird conservation. The nominee – either an individual or an organisation – should have made a significant and measurable contribution over at least five years to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation goals. Two Eagle-Owl Awards are presented each year.

An Owlet Award recognises the outstanding contribution to BirdLife South Africa and/or bird conservation made by a nominee aged 18 years or younger. Only one of these is presented each year.

Nominations can be made only by BirdLife South Africa members and staff, board members and bird clubs. Recommendations from partner organisations must be made via a BirdLife South Africa employee. A nomination should indicate the relevant category (Owl, Eagle-Owl or Owlet) and the motivation should address the relevant criteria as listed above.

Please submit nominations to me at isabel.human@birdlife.org.za by 17 June 2020. 

If you need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

DR ISABEL HUMAN, HR MANAGER & EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT

New! SA Listers’ Club

With 870 recorded bird species – more than 8% of the entire global tally – South Africa is regarded as one of the top birding destinations in the world. Of these 870, 18 are endemic and another 31 are near-endemic. And yet, until now there has been no consolidated platform on which country listers could publish their totals.

BirdLife South Africa, as the primary NGO dedicated to conserving the country’s birds, has responded to this need by founding the South Africa Listers’ Club, which is hosted on our website. All listers, whether based in South Africa or not, who have a South Africa list of more than 300 species are welcome to submit their totals via the official webpage through a simple form. Please note that your lists should conform to the official checklist produced and updated annually by BirdLife South Africa.

The eligible listing area comprises all of sovereign South Africa, up to and including the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone around continental South Africa and the Prince Edward Islands. This sets it apart from the geographical southern Africa list.

BirdLife South Africa hopes that the South Africa Listers’ Club will encourage birders to explore this wonderful country, strengthen their appreciation of local bird species and ultimately help us to protect these birds and their habitats. We also ask birders to always bird responsibly and follow the BirdLife South Africa Birding Code of Ethics.

Please encourage your family, friends and fellow birders to submit their totals and support this platform so that the proudly South African birding community grows.

For any queries about this list, please e-mail salistersclub@birdlife.org.za

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER


 

#FlufftailFestival

Learners at the Small is BIG Waxi the Hero Puppet show. 
Credit: Karen Strever

BirdLife South Africa staff members at the Flufftail Festival. 
Credit: Melissa Howes-Whitecross

On Friday 7 and Saturday 8 February, Johannesburg Zoo hosted the annual Flufftail Festival, which raises awareness about water (a critical resource) and wetlands (a threatened habitat) through waterbirds (especially the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail) and will lead, it is hoped, to environmental action being taken.

The festival was a fun-filled educational event, with learners from Goza Primary School in Soweto attending the school day on Friday. This was followed by a community-focused day on Saturday, when participants braved rainy weather to get involved.
A wide range of activity stations and games were set up for the wetland-themed event, including the popular Small is BIG Waxi the Hero puppet show, which introduced the learners to bird conservation through Waxi, the Orange-breasted Waxbill (Africa’s smallest finch) who goes in search of Fluffy, the White-winged Flufftail.

Participants had fun creating a wetland food web to show how all life is connected and needs to be protected, and while engaging in the Wetland Ways activity they identified good and bad practices encountered in a wetland. During the Build a Bird game they built a bird puzzle and learned what food birds need to survive – and that degraded wetlands cannot provide enough food for them.

These activities provided an educational and fun experience for both learners and community members, who were given the opportunity to pledge to ‘love and care for water, wetlands and waterbirds as they support life on earth’. On both days the event closed with an interactive ceremony that summarised the journey the participants had taken through the zoo, including a question session with prizes. During the ceremony on the first day, Manzi the mascot also entertained the learners.

We are grateful to all the partners who joined BirdLife South Africa to make this year’s festival possible: Rand Water (Water Wise), the Rare Finch Conservation Group, Joburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ), Toyota, Social Development Department: Targeted Beneficiaries Unit (Youth) and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD).

ELELWANI MAKHUVHA, CONSERVATION ADMINISTRATIVE INTERN


 

Bird Safari – to play and to win

The complete board game.

Make sure your safari vehicle gets to the finish line first!

Now’s your chance to pit your birding skills against those of friends and family, with Bird Safari, a new birding board game that is endorsed by BirdLife South Africa. And you won’t be the only winner: for every game sold, R30 goes towards bird conservation.

Bird Safari is an Afrikaans/English board game that can be played by individuals or teams of two, who identify birds by means of photos, calls or descriptions. Just decide which level of skill you want to play, then head towards the finish line – and if you’re there first, you get to claim bragging rights! It’s a great way to test your knowledge and build your skills, while having fun at the same time.

You can purchase Bird Safari for R550 at Shop for the Birds! at the BirdLife South Africa office in Johannesburg – simply call in or e-mail (shopforthebirds@birdlife.org.za).

Or you could enter a lucky draw to win the board game. Just send an e-mail with ‘Bird Safari Competition’ in the subject line to info@birdsafari.co.za and give your full name in the message – it’s as simple as that. The competition closes on 29 February 2020.

For more information about the game, go to https://www.birdsafari.co.za

JULIE BAYLEY, MARKETING & EVENTS COORDINATOR


Who merits a 2020 Owl Award?

The BirdLife South Africa Owl Awards ceremony originated from our need to acknowledge the companies and individuals who donate their time, money and expertise to the organisation, making it possible for us to continue our conservation programmes and projects. The first awards were presented in 1999.

BirdLife South Africa is making an enormous contribution to the conservation of our country’s birds and their habitats, thanks to the collaborative efforts of our staff and members, as well as volunteers and donors. During the annual Owl Awards function, the contributions of some of the people and companies who are helping to ‘give conservation wings’ are acknowledged through the presentation of trophies and certificates.

The call for nominations for the 2020 BirdLife South Africa Owl Awards is now open. An Owl Award recognises the nominee’s important contribution to BirdLife South Africa and/or bird conservation over the past year or the donation of funds, materials, time or expertise. A total of nine awards each year may be presented to individuals or organisations.

An Eagle-Owl Award is presented for the nominee’s outstanding voluntary contribution to BirdLife South Africa and/or bird conservation. The nominee – either an individual or an organisation – should have made a significant and measurable contribution over at least five years to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation goals. Two Eagle-Owl Awards are presented each year. An Owlet Award recognises the outstanding contribution to BirdLife South Africa and/or bird conservation made by a nominee aged 18 years or younger. Only one of these is presented each year.

Nominations can be made only by BirdLife South Africa members and staff, board members and bird clubs. Recommendations from partner organisations must be made via a BirdLife South Africa employee. A nomination should indicate the relevant category (Owl, Eagle-Owl or Owlet) and the motivation should address the relevant criteria as listed above.

Please submit nominations to me at Isabel.human@birdlife.org.za by 17 June 2020. The award ceremony will take place at Isadell House on Thursday, 23 July at 09h30 for 10h00.

If you need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

ISABEL HUMAN, HR MANAGER & EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT


 

Roberts’ artwork for sale

The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund is offering for sale a range of artworks from the second edition of Roberts’ Bird Guide. The illustrated plates available are large and small, specialist and mixed, and they can be viewed at http://www.robertsbirds.co.za/fieldguide-images. Purchase one of these beautiful artworks and you’ll be doing not only yourself a favour, but also BirdLife South Africa – the fund is donating 25% from each sale to the organisation to benefit its many vital conservation projects.


First off the press…

As 2020 gets under way, BirdLife South Africa is looking forward to bringing you a year’s worth of educational resources for the Bird of the Year, the Southern Ground-Hornbill. We have collaborated with illustrator Caitlin Judge to produce a mixture of infographics, fact files and lesson plans. Look out for updates, as materials will be released monthly on our website, social media and by e-mail.

We hope you enjoy this first infographic and learn something new about these incredible birds.

2020 Bird of the Year

The Southern Ground-Hornbill soft toys will be available in Shop for the Birds! soon.

Every year, BirdLife South Africa selects one of the more than 850 regularly occurring bird species in this country to carry the illustrious title of Bird of the Year. In 2019 the Secretarybird had a very successful year, with more than 800 sightings of individuals reported through the special BirdLasser challenge and media coverage across the country. We are grateful to all who participated and assisted BirdLife South Africa in raising the profile of these incredible birds.

As the new year rings in, a new species steps up to spearhead 2020’s Bird of the Year campaign, and now it’s the turn of the Southern Ground-Hornbill to take the stage. BirdLife South Africa is proud to be partnering with the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and WESSA to once again develop free education materials and illustrations that will teach both young and old all about the life history and conservation of the Southern Ground-Hornbill. This year we will also be partnering with BirdLife Species Guardians the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, a team of dedicated conservationists led by Dr Lucy Kemp that is working hard to protect, preserve and promote the Southern Ground-Hornbill across southern Africa and beyond.

The Southern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri is the largest hornbill species in South Africa. It has a jet-black body accented by a large red throat and red eye patches. The bill is long and robust and is used to overturn stones, break branches and peck at the bird’s rodent, reptile, invertebrate and small bird prey. Southern Ground-Hornbills are social creatures and usually occur in family groups, which include an alpha pair and several beta-male helpers. Groups defend territories and use a chorus of booming calls to sound their presence at the break of dawn.

Free Bird of the Year materials

Southern Ground-Hornbills calling to proclaim their territory. Credit: Albert Froneman

As always, part of the Bird of the Year initiative includes the production of exciting and fun educational materials, which include lesson plans and fact sheets designed for use in the classroom or at home to raise awareness about Southern Ground-Hornbills, the challenges they face and the conservation efforts being made to protect them. Caitlin Judge, a talented illustrator and environmentalist, will help us to create many of the items, including infographics, cartoons and colouring pages. All the materials produced will be freely available via the BirdLife South Africa website at www.birdlife.org.za/events/bird-of-the-year and will be promoted via our social media and online platforms.

Look out for this year’s poster

Every year BirdLife South Africa produces the Bird of the Year poster, which is 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 Lucy Kemp and will appear in each issue during 2020. There is much to learn about the Southern Ground-Hornbill and David and Lucy will share many little-known facts with readers.

Merchandise

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 the Southern Ground-Hornbill. Be sure to get yours before they sell out!

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Birding for conservation in Ndumo

Walking among sycamore fig trees at the edge of Shokwe Pan in Ndumo. Credit: Rory Cuthbert

As a volunteer conservation organisation, the SANParks Honorary Rangers organise various birding weekends around the country and channels the proceeds into conservation. For several years, the Johannesburg Region has arranged an annual birding weekend to Ndumo Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Ndumo is a gem of a birding destination and hosts many specials. More than 140 bird species were seen during last year’s weekend, including Palm-nut Vulture, African Broadbill, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Pink-throated Twinspot, Rudd’s Apalis and Narina Trogon. Pel’s Fishing Owl has been seen in previous years.

Proceeds from last year’s event generated a R10 000 donation to Birdlife South Africa, which will go towards the Raptor Conservation Project.

In January and February 2020, Johannesburg Region will also be hosting two birding weekends at the Ingula Nature Reserve near Van Reenen, both of which are fully booked. More than 320 bird species have been seen at Ingula, including specials such as White-winged Flufftail, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Wattled Crane, Rudd’s Lark and Bearded Vulture.

Both these birding weekends are new fundraising projects and the hope is to make them regular features on the birding calendar. BirdLife South Africa assists with marketing and guiding for both events.

If you would like to find out more about the SANParks Honorary Rangers, please visit https://www.sanparksvolunteers.org/

For more information about the Ndumo weekend, please contact Stuart Galloway

JHB.Birding@honoraryrangers.org


All aboard Flock to Marion 2021!

Gentoo Penguins. Credit: Peter Hills

Flock to Marion 2021 is due to leave Durban on 25 January 2021 and will return to Cape Town harbour on 1 February after voyaging into the Southern Ocean. The seven-night cruise on MSC Opera is a unique voyage for conservation, education and fundraising that aims to raise awareness about seabirds, to create an opportunity for birders to observe seabirds not usually seen on traditional pelagic birding trips, and to raise funds for BirdLife South Africa’s important work (including the Mouse Free Marion Project).

The cruise liner will travel into the Southern Ocean towards Marion Island and we expect both the birding and the cetacean watching to be superb. We are talking about possible sightings of 11 different albatrosses, five penguin species, 16 petrel and seven storm petrel species and seven each of prions and shearwaters, not to mention 16 whale and dolphin species. To help us find all of these, BirdLife South Africa has arranged for 40 specialist bird and cetacean guides to be on hand during the voyage and we have the generous support of some of South Africa’s – and indeed the world’s – top bird guiding companies.

Wandering Albatross. Credit: Otto Schmidt

There will also be a series of interesting lectures on seabirds, cetaceans, Marion Island and Antarctica on board. Peter Harrison, the ‘David Attenborough of the oceans’, will give some lectures, including his spellbinding talks on albatrosses and penguins. We are also pleased to announce that Peter’s new seabird book will be launched during Flock to Marion 2021 and he will be available to sign and personalise copies during the voyage.

So the only thing left for you to do is to book directly with MSC Cruises online at https://www.msccruises.co.za/cruise-deals/msc-opera-2020_21

JULIE BAYLEY, MARKETING & EVENTS COORDINATOR


Flocking to the Wilderness

Flocking good news: Flock to the Wilderness 2020 is all set to take place over the weekend of 29–31 May, with the AGM starting at 10h00 on Saturday, 30 May. Flock, centred at The Wilderness Hotel, will also comprise activities such as a post-AGM lunch, bird tours and a conservation talk provided by the ever-supportive BirdLife Plettenberg Bay, Lakes Bird Club and Nature’s Valley Trust. This is a great opportunity to explore and appreciate the fantastic birdlife that can be found in and around the Wilderness area.

BirdLife South Africa has reserved rooms at The Wilderness Hotel (https://wildernesshotel.co.za) for our members who wish to stay there. A number of alternative accommodation options are also available in and around the beautiful Wilderness area.

Six bird tours have been arranged for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, guided by BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and Lakes Bird Club respectively. No more than 25 minutes’ drive from Wilderness, these tours will provide two hours of relaxed birding with a wide variety of species to be seen. It is also a great opportunity to tick the Knysna specials: Turaco, Warbler and Woodpecker. These tours will be limited to a maximum of 10 birders on each one, making the birding far more intimate and exciting.

If you are looking for a birding experience that’s a little different, be sure not to miss the #SaveTheShores tour on Saturday afternoon. This one-hour educational talk will be presented by the Nature’s Valley Trust team at the Touws River mouth and will focus on the conservation issues relating to beach breeding birds. Here you will learn about the threats to these species and the local conservation and research efforts being undertaken to mitigate them. Although you may not see a wide variety of species, you will definitely walk away with a better appreciation and awareness of the wonderful birds we share our beaches with.

Detailed information about the tours and how to book will soon be available on www.birdlife.org.za. We look forward to seeing you all there!

JULIE BAYLEY, MARKETING & EVENTS COORDINATOR


Shop for a Cause!

Looking for the perfect gift, or needing to stock up on bird food? Or you’re planning to start birding and need some bird guides and advice? Then it’s time you stop in at Shop for the Birds!, located at the BirdLife South Africa head office (Isdell House) in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. There is plenty on offer for all ages: fluffy toys and learning material for the kids, many different books to choose from, plus a range of eco-friendly gifts, including bamboo coffee cups and stainless steel straws.

The shop also stocks its very own coffee, which has been blended by the amazing team at Outliers Coffee Roasters (http://www.outlierscoffee.co.za). Our coffee is known as ‘Dawn Chorus’ and each bag sold benefits BirdLife South Africa and our terrestrial bird conservation division. So for your early morning outings, make sure you’re prepared with a delicious cuppa that is giving back to BirdLife South Africa!

You can check out the Shop for the Birds! Facebook page for updates and specials.

JULIE BAYLEY, MARKETING & EVENTS COORDINATOR

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.

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, ACTING MANAGER, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME & DR ANDREW JENKINS, AVISENSE


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 membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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 www.elainesbirding.co.za

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!

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION MANAGER


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.

CARINA COETZER, ACTING ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION


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!

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION

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 membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


 

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 energy@birdlife.org.za

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.

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT MANAGER, AND NOLUMANYANO CAMAGU, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN


 

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 membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


 

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 Bike.Market.co.za supplied a mountain bike for Phil Liggett.

For more information about the IBA Programme or the event, see www.birdlife.org.za or contact me at hiral.naik@birdlife.org.za

HIRAL NAIK, IMPORTANT BIRD AND BIODIVERSITY AREAS PROGRAMME AND POLICY & ADVOCACY ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT


 

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.

JONATHAN BOOTH, ADVOCACY OFFICER


 

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!

ERNST RETIEF, MANAGER: DATA AND SPATIAL PLANNING, AND CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER


 

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!

ELELWANI MAKHUVHA, CONSERVATION ADMINISTRATIVE INTERN


 

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!

EMMA ASKES


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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER


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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2019/

Please register for the project at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2019/birding-big-day-2019-entry-form/

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 ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za

ERNST RETIEF, BBD ORGANISER


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 charlois@mweb.co.za


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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER


Joining the Global #Climate Strike

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

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’.

ELELWANI MAKHUVHA, BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA CONSERVATION ADMINISTRATIVE INTERN


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.

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, ACTING MANAGER, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


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 membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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 membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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.

SIMEON BEZENG BEZENG, REGIONAL RED LIST & KEY BIODIVERSITY AREAS PROGRAMME OFFICER


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.

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER

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.

ELELWANI MAKHUVHA, CONSERVATION ADMINISTRTIVE INTERN, AND DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER

 


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 https://www.birdingecotours.com/birdfair-specials/ before 15 November 2019. Please send an e-mail to info@birdingecotours.com, 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.

NOLUMANYANO CAMAGU, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN

 


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.

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT MANAGER, AND HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION

 


 

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 info@ndumu.com, or go to www.ndumu.co.za

SIBONISO MNGUNI, RESERVATIONS MANAGER

 


 

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 www.tandweni.co.za

DANICA BARTHO, OWNER

 


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!

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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.

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER


 

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.

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, ACTING TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER/RAPTORS & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRDS PROJECT MANAGER


 

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.

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, ACTING TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER/RAPTORS & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRDS PROJECT MANAGER


 

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: https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/the-african-bird-fair/ or contact me at emma.askes@birdlife.org.za

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER


 

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 Bike.Market.co.za for supplying mountain bikes for Phil Liggett and his wife Trish.

For more information about the event, visit www.birdlife.org.za or contact me at hiral.naik@birdlife.org.za

HIRAL NAIK, IMPORTANT BIRD AND BIODIVERSITY AREAS (IBA) AND POLICY & ADVOCACY ADMIN ASSISTANT


 

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).

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER


 

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 membership@birdlife.org.za 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.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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 https://www.howler.co.za/indigoburnlife, 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 https://web.facebook.com/IndigoBurnSA

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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).

MARK ANDERSON, CEO


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.

MARK ANDERSON, CEO


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.

DR ALI HALAJIAN, SENIOR RESEARCHER, UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO


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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2019/

To register, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2019/birding-big-day-2019-entry-form/

Facebook event page: https://web.facebook.com/events/212406386013322/

If you would like to know more, please e-mail me at bbd@birdlife.org.za

ERNST RETIEF, BIRDING BIG DAY ORGANISER


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!

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER


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.

NOLUMANYANO CAMAGU, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN


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 http://www.birdlife.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Birds-of-the-Karoo-Ecology-and-Conservation.pdf or http://www.birdlife.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Voels-van-die-Karoo-Ekologie-en-bewaring.pdf

DALE WRIGHT, IBA CONSERVATION IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER


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 http://sabap2.adu.org.za/coverage/group/EscarpmentFSKZN). 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 carina.coetzer@birdlife.org.za

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER & ERNST RETIEF, SENIOR MANAGER: DATA AND SPATIAL PLANNING

 

 


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.

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION

 


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.

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER


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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 emma.askes@birdlife.org.za

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER

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 shopforthebirds@birdlife.org.za

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER

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.

DR SIMEON BEZENG BEZENG, REGIONAL RED LIST AND KBA PROJECT MANAGER

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 shopforthebirds@birdlife.org.za

‘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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRDS CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER

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 membership@birdlife.org.za 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.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

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 (https://www.howler.co.za/jeeplifefest): 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 https://web.facebook.com/IndigoBurnSA.

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, jacqui@netactive.co.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRDS CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER

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 www.birdlasser.com/events/secretaryb2019. If you would like to join the challenge and have your 2019 BirdLasser records added, please e-mail ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za. 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 https://www.facebook.com/BirdLifeSouthAfrica/videos/718373091898626/

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.

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER: RAPTORS & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRDS

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 (https://www.howler.co.za/jeeplifefest): 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 https://web.facebook.com/IndigoBurnSA.

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, jacqui@netactive.co.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

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 witsbc@mweb.co.za 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 membership@birdlife.org.za 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.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

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.

NOLUMANYANO CAMAGU, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN

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

KELLY HODGKINS

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 emma.askes@birdlife.org.za for more information.

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER

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 www.birdlife.org.za/jackpot-birding

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER

 

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 shopforthebirds@birdlife.org.za

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS PROGRAMME MANAGER

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 www.505050.org 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 www.505050.org 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

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRDS CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER


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.

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER


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 https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/madagascarsrarewildlife

DALE WRIGHT, IBA CONSERVATION IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER


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.

JAMES NAGAN, PBO OFFICER, FIJI, & NINI VAN DER MERWE, INTERNATIONAL LIAISON AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


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!

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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 okavangoceramics@gmail.com

PETE HANCOCK


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.

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER: RAPTORS & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRDS


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 membership@birdlife.org.za 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.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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!

CANDICE PREISS


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.

LIZ REES-JONES


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.

EMMA ASKES, EVENTS MANAGER

Ingula celebrates wetlands

To celebrate the international importance of wetland ecosystems, the Ingula Natue Reserve hosted several events during the week of 16 to 20 February, including a day dedicated to birding and several walks for school groups.

About 20 birders representing the Cuckoo Bird Club, Ladysmith Birders and BirdLife KZN Midlands recorded 120 bird species during the birding open day. Some of the special sightings included six Secretarybirds, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Western Osprey, Grey Crowned and Blue cranes, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Denham’s Bustard, Southern Bald Ibis and White-browed Scrub Robin. Poor weather conditions meant that unfortunately a planned trip into the escarpment forest had to be abandoned.

More than 150 children from four local primary schools attended the celebrations at Ingula, starting each day with a presentation on the importance of caring for valuable wetland ecosystems by the Ingula Visitors’ Centre’s Nonhlanhla Shezi. This was followed by a 2km walk through three types of wetland, during which the children were asked to complete worksheets about the biodiversity found in this habitat. The walks ended with a show-and-tell. Places at Ingula’s wetlands celebrations are booked well in advance by schools and are always enjoyed by scholars and teachers alike.

Provisional dates have been allocated for the 2020 celebrations and anyone requiring more information can contact me at carina.coetzer@birdlife.org.za or 078 611 9881, or the Visitors’ Centre at IngulaVisitorsCentre@eskom.co.za or 036 342 3122/3236.

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER


Loving larks

Larks are considered by many observers to be typically dull, unattractive birds that are difficult to see due to their mostly terrestrial habits and cryptic coloration. Consequently they’re assumed to be uninteresting and difficult to identify and are conveniently avoided by a large proportion of birders and naturalists. Yet on closer examination quite the contrary is true. In this three-hour course, ecologist Joe Grosel will unravel lark identification and work through the fascinating life history of all the southern African species. A handy full-colour identification key issued at the course will make the birder’s life significantly easier. Refreshments will be served afterwards.

The course will be presented at Delta Environmental Centre, Delta Park, Johannesburg on Saturday, 13 April 2019 at 10h00. The cost is R350 per person. To book, e-mail witsbc@mweb.co.za or call 011 782 7267.


Kirstenbosch Biodiversity Careers Day

Reason Nyengera demonstrates how bird-scaring lines on fishing vessels protect seabirds from coming into contact with dangerous fishing gear, as Andrew de Blocq looks on.

Persuading passionate and capable people to go into careers in biodiversity research and conservation has never been more urgent. With this in mind, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) hosts an annual careers day for Grade 11 and 12 learners from underprivileged schools in Greater Cape Town. The event takes place at SANBI’s offices at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and various government institutions and NGOs involved in biodiversity conservation are invited to give presentations about their work and advise the learners on how they can structure their secondary and tertiary education to gain admittance to these fields. Exposing the young people to these potential careers, which are considered non-traditional in many lower-income communities, broadens their horizons and will hopefully inspire a new generation to work towards a healthier planet.

BirdLife South Africa, as the foremost local organisation working for bird conservation, is invited to take part in this important day each year. In the past, our presentations have been very well received, with comments that ours are some of the more interactive and enjoyable contributions.

Sam Ralston-Paton explains how ill placed wind farms are a threat to local birdlife.

This year, three staff members represented BirdLife South Africa: Sam Ralston-Paton of the Birds and Renewable Energy Project and Reason Nyengera and Andrew de Blocq of the Seabird Conservation Programme. Each one took a turn at describing what their work entails before explaining about the relevant degrees and diplomas available that can lead to a career at an organisation like BirdLife South Africa.

Sam told the learners about the proactive work she is doing to ensure that renewable energy – an important development in coal-dependent South Africa – is generated in the most sustainable way possible with the least impact on the environment. Reason told the tale of the albatrosses and other seabirds that the Albatross Task Force has saved from cruel deaths as bycatch in our fisheries, making inspired use of the team’s mascot Bob, a stuffed Tristan Albatross that fell victim to a fishing vessel’s hook while going for the bait. Andrew took the learners through the dramatic declines in African Penguin populations over the past century and what BirdLife South Africa is doing to turn the situation around. The three of them then discussed the options in tertiary education and reminded the learners that conservation is an important and very broad field that can make use of many different skills, including scientific training, law, social media management and writing, among others.

It is always a pleasure to talk to students at these events and see the twinkle in their eyes as a seed of inspiration takes root. We thank Sally Hey and SANBI for inviting us back each year and putting together such a well-organised and impressive event.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRDS CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER


Last calendars left!

There are still a few Birds of Southern Africa 2019 calendars available and they are now selling for R100 each, plus postage. The calendars have proved to be extremely popular, with a stunning full-page bird image for each month and a block for each day in which to record appointments, birthdays and more. We will send them Postnet to Postnet or via the SA Post Office.

Please contact Shireen Gould at membership@birdlife.org.za to place your order or for more information.


African Birdlife magazine

It’s tough being a Cape Rockjumper and, at times, a Southern Masked Weaver trying to complete a nest. It can also be tough if you’re a birder trying to separate cisticolas – but in this case, we can help. The latest issue of African Birdlife also has suggestions for budget birding in Ghana and shares with you the birding spectacle of the Mkgadikgadi in flood.


Membership request

Thank you to all our members for renewing your membership; we really value your ongoing support! This is a friendly reminder to please use your membership number as your reference when making a payment. If you do use your name as the reference, please use your full name and surname as we have a number of members with the same surname and are then unable to allocate the payments correctly.


CAPE and its legacy

In a world defined by instant gratification, it is not often that we come across initiatives that span multiple decades. The CAPE (Cape Action for People and the Environment) partnership is, however, just such an initiative. It was developed in the late 1990s after the Cape Floral Kingdom had been identified as one of the world’s ‘biodiversity hotspots’ – a place with very high levels of diversity, but also facing a plethora of threats. The first CAPE action plan was formulated and subsequently supported by a number of large-scale grants from international funding agencies. The scale of investment was driven by, and created a need for, partnerships to sustain work within the Cape Floristic Region. Indeed, it was the initial strength of the partners that attracted these large investments. And partnerships have remained a core component of the implementation of the CAPE programme ever since. BirdLife South Africa was fortunate to join the programme in 2013, when a renewed call for action saw a number of new partners signing the MOU for collaboration.

CAPE has seen a number of progressive conservation actions grow out of its partnerships and many of these have spread out from the south-western corner of South Africa to be implemented across the country. Biodiversity Stewardship – or the means to protect critical biodiversity areas on private land – was one such action; Business and Biodiversity Initiatives, which sought partnerships between conservation and agriculture, were another. More than anything else, partnerships within CAPE have ensured that the efforts of conservation organisations in the region have been complementary, all aiming for a single strategy and vision, united in their responses to common threats. Another major development was the emergence of Landscape Initiatives, which included the setting up of some of the Biosphere Reserves in the area, as well as other groups of organisations collaborating within a specific location, such as the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor or the Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve.

CAPE is now nearing the completion of its 20-year span and taking stock of where it might proceed to next. An old African proverb states: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ In current circumstances, when so many issues are facing the natural environment, it is essential that we join hands as conservationists and collaborate wherever possible. CAPE partnerships have shown that such collaboration is possible, at a scale larger than might previously have seemed feasible. We hope that the current evaluation will illustrate the need for such partnerships to continue. There is still much to do to ensure the protection and survival of the remarkable biodiversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom, but if we stand on the platform that is the legacy of CAPE, perhaps we’ll have a better chance…

For more information visit the CAPE website: https://www.sanbi.org/biodiversity/science-into-policy-action/mainstreaming-biodiversity/cape-programme/

DALE WRIGHT, IBA CONSERVATION IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER


50/50/50 for African Penguins

On 2 March members of the Seabird Conservation Programme team saw Dave off on the first run, to the accompaniment of bagpipes! Photo: Mel Tripp

Dave Chamberlain approached BirdLife South Africa in 2018 with an outlandish idea. He wanted to do something to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Two Oceans Marathon and in a way that would make a meaningful difference. His idea was to run the official Two Oceans Marathon route, a distance of 56km, once a day for 50 days (including the official race) and raise money for conservation.

The African Penguin Relocation Project was the perfect fit, since its focus is to shift penguins from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean coast – hence ‘Two Oceans’. BirdLife South Africa is creating new African Penguin colonies east of Cape Agulhas, thereby relocating penguins from the west coast, where they are struggling to survive. Stock of sardines – African Penguins’ favourite food – have shifted from the west coast, where they were historically more abundant, to the south coast. This is due to a combination of changing ocean temperatures and high fishing pressure on the west coast. The shift in distribution has caused a problem for penguins on the west coast, as they can only swim up to 40km to find food while they’re breeding.

Why can’t the penguins follow the fish? Because there aren’t any safe breeding areas on the south coast. When penguins breed on land, they’re vulnerable to predators like leopards and caracal. So they generally breed on islands that have no natural predators. The problem is that there are no islands where the fish are now more abundant. So BirdLife South Africa is going to create safe spaces for penguins to breed on the mainland, in areas with lots of fish. Read more about the project here.

This is not the first time that Dave Chamberlain has run for penguins. A few years ago he ran the length of the penguin breeding distribution, from Walvis Bay to Port Elizabeth, alone, pushing everything he needed in a pram. In 2011 he set off for his first long run, down the length of Argentina – a happy accident, the result of a silly challenge over sushi. Since then he’s started on a mission to run around the world and so far has crossed Canada and the USA. He’s taking a ‘break’ from that to run 2800km for the penguins.

You can lend a helping flipper to the African Penguin Relocation Project by donating for each run that Dave completes. In keeping with the theme of the campaign, you can donate R50 per run (R2500), or more or less. For each tier of donations, we have some gifts to show our appreciation. Please visit the campaign website www.505050.org to learn more, access daily content and to donate. It really is a case of every little bit helps.

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION


Ross is on the road again…

A passionate birder, Ross is always happy to go out with colleagues or visitors. Nini van der Merwe, Ross and Andrew de Blocq on a mission to find Striped Flufftail in 2018. Photo: Nini van der Merwe

Dr Ross Wanless began his tenure at BirdLife South Africa in October 2008, coincidentally on the same day that Mark Anderson took over as CEO. Appointed as the manager of the Seabird Division (as it was called then), Ross was in charge of a small team, just two members of the Albatross Task Force (ATF). He was also appointed as the African Coordinator for the BirdLife International Global Seabird Programme, a responsibility that would come to take up much of his time and require a lot of international travel. Regular readers of this newsletter will know all about his ‘On the road with Ross’ articles.

Ross presided over a period of tremendous growth in the Seabird Conservation Programme, with the field of work expanding from almost exclusively the work of the ATF – preventing bycatch of albatrosses and petrels in fishing operations – to working on the high seas with Asian fishing fleets and conserving African Penguins and other birds along the South African coastline.

The ATF has been the Seabird Conservation Programme’s flagship project for a number of years. With Ross’s guidance, and the hard work of ATF staff, the number of seabirds killed in South African trawl fisheries has been reduced by 99%! And although there have also been decreases in seabird bycatch in pelagic longline fishing in local waters, Ross and his colleagues at BirdLife International set their sights on reducing seabird bycatch on the high seas, outside any national waters. This resulted in BirdLife South Africa being responsible for the seabird component of the Common Oceans Tuna project, funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This is a massive undertaking that recognises our expertise in the field of seabird bycatch mitigation.

Ross’s work took him travelling frequently, especially in the past two years. On this occasion he was meeting colleagues from the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries in Shimizu, Japan, to discuss collaboration on the first Global Seabird Bycatch Assessment for the Common Oceans Tuna Project. Photo: National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries

As a strategic, ‘big picture’ thinker, Ross was able to get funding to start projects on the African Penguin in 2009, when concerns were being raised about the species’ ongoing population decreases. On a personal level, that move was good for me as I was employed in 2010 to run those projects! He was also instrumental in ensuring that the project to establish new penguin colonies got off the ground, although I know he is disappointed to be leaving before the first penguins arrive at De Hoop. Ross has been my line manager for the whole of my career at BirdLife South Africa, teaching me so much. But he also created a space where I could grow into my role, giving me responsibilities for projects – sometimes more than I wanted at the time – that allowed me to develop as a conservationist.

Ross has left a good legacy at BirdLife South Africa, implementing actions to improve the conservation status of seabirds, but also crucially by positioning BirdLife South Africa to play a major role in the upcoming eradication of mice from Marion Island, a vital next step to saving the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters breeding there. He has also left his mark through his passion for birding, his (sometimes outrageous) sense of humour and his love of grammar.

Ross will be moving to Taiwan to work for Ocean Outcomes, a company focused on improving tuna fisheries management. We wish him all the best for the move and, to use an overused phrase, ‘So long and thanks for all the albatross!’

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION AND ACTING PROGRAMME MANAGER: SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


Help us help Lesser Flamingos

BirdLife South Africa is actively involved in flamingo conservation work, including at Kamfers Dam, Kimberley. This wetland, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, is one of only four sites in the world where the Near Threatened Lesser Flamingo breeds. Kamfers Dam’s flamingos are closely monitored by BirdLife South Africa, and both on-site and remote methods are used to accurately record the number of flamingos, ensure that there’s no disturbance to the breeding birds, and to monitor water quality and quantity.

We need funds to help the embattled Lesser Flamingo, so please support our conservation efforts. As BirdLife South Africa is a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO no. 930 004 518) in terms of Section 30 of the Income Tax Act and is registered with SARS, a Section 18A tax certificate can be issued on request. Donations are therefore tax deductible. Please e-mail Mark D. Anderson at ceo@birdlife.org.za if you have any questions.

You can donate at www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/donate or via an EFT. Our bank account details are: BirdLife South Africa, First National Bank, Randburg (Bank code: 254005); Acc. no: 62067506281; Swift no.: FIRN ZA JJ; Sort code: 254005.

MARK ANDERSON, CEO BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA


Ostriches for Isdell House

Des Jackson feeding a King Parrot

In 1990 I took early retirement from my position as director of the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo and, with my wife Joy, emigrated to New Zealand. The regime ensured that we left with the bare minimum, so those first few years in our new country were financially difficult. We found enough for a house deposit and then managed to pay the exorbitant mortgage fees prevailing at the time.

My journal of choice for publication of my research results has always been Ostrich, the leading journal of African ornithology, but at this time it was charging authors a page fee for publishing their papers. The cost of publishing lengthy papers in Ostrich was something I simply could not afford, but the South African Ornithological Society (SAOS; now BirdLife South Africa) came to the rescue by offering to pay all my Ostrich publication fees. Over the years I have published 30 papers in Ostrich and I have never forgotten this generous assistance from the SAOS.

Now that I have written up and published all my research data, I am no longer in need of reference books and journals, so I am delighted to be able to repay my debt, in small measure, to BirdLife South Africa, by donating to the Isdell House library my set of Ostrich, of which the first 40 volumes are bound.

The photo shows our daughter, Shirley Shapiro, handing over the suitcase of journals to Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, at Oliver Tambo International Airport. I do wonder what would have happened if a customs officer had asked them what was in the case and received the reply ‘Forty bound ostriches and some loose ones!’

H.D. Jackson

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 www.dabchick.co.za 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.

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES MANAGER: RAPTORS & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRDS


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.

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER


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 (www.rfalliance.org.za) for funding this important initiative.

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance funded the workshop.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER, & CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW FOR AFRICAN PENGUIN CONSERVATION

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 membership@birdlife.org.za to place your order or for more information (including Postnet to Postnet rates).

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


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 vanzylalmarie@gmail.com


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 www.birdlife.org.za/events/bird-of-the-year 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.

Merchandise
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 ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za and he will add you to the challenge. You can follow the progress of this challenge at www.birdlasser.com/events/secretaryb2019

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER: RAPTORS & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRDS

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 (www.birdlasser.com) 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.

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION MANAGER


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.

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, MANAGER: TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME/OPPENHEIMER FELLOW OF CONSERVATION


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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER, & HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, MANAGER: TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME/OPPENHEIMER FELLOW OF CONSERVATION


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.

NNDWANDIYAWE MUHALI, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN


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.

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY MANAGER

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’.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA


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 https://panorama.solutions/en/solution/biodiversity-tax-incentives-south-africas-protected-area-network

ROMY ANTROBUS-WUTH, ASSISTANT: POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME


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!

ANDREW HESTER


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.

DR GISELLE MURISON, WESTERN CAPE ESTUARIES CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER


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 charlois1044@gmail.com 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.

BRONWYN MAREE, INVITED EXPERT (CONSULTANT), BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA


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 http://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/give-a-green-gift or contact Shireen Gould at membership@birdlife.org.za 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 http://www.robertsbirds.co.za/fieldguide-images/


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 http://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/give-a-green-gift or e-mail Shireen Gould at membership@birdlife.org.za

NNDWANDIYAWE MUHALI, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY INTERN

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 https://birdsofafeatherbirding.blog/2018/11/08/atlassing-the-kwazulu-natal-coast/. 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 http://www.bubblenet.co.za/Gabela/

MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER


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!

ROSS WANLESS


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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER


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.

ROBIN COLYN, KEM-JV FELLOW OF CONSERVATION


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.

SIMEON BEZENG BEZENG, REGIONAL RED LIST & KBA PROGRAMME OFFICER


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 membership@birdlife.org.za 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 www.walkerbouts.co.za; for booking enquiries, e-mail bookings@walkerbouts.co.za 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 ddolpire@me.com

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

DALE WRIGHT, REGIONAL CONSERVATION MANAGER: WESTERN CAPE


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: http://www.birdlife.org.za/gobirding/birder-friendly-establishments for more information about the Birder Friendly programme. You can also contact Natasja Retief at bfe@birdlife.org.za for more information and to enquire how you can register as a Birder Friendly Establishment or Tour Operator.

NATASJA RETIEF, BIRDER FRIENDLY ESTABLISHMENT PROGRAMME


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.

FANIE DU PLESSIS, FINANCE AND OPERATIONS MANAGER


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 www.birdlasser.com or e-mail support@birdlasser.com

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.

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION MANAGER: FREE STATE, GAUTENG AND MPUMALANGA


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 carina.coetzer@birdlife.org.za

HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, CONSERVATION MANAGER


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

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER


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 energy@birdlife.org.za

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY MANAGER


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.

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY MANAGER


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.

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION MANAGER: FREE STATE, GAUTENG AND MPUMALANGA


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 nini.vdmerwe@birdlife.org.za or Ross Wanless, Seabird Conservation Programme Manager ross.wanless@birdlifeorg.za

NINI VAN DER MERWE, INTERNATIONAL LIAISON AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR


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

KRISTI GARLAND, WAKKERSTROOM TOURISM AND EDUCATION CENTRE MANAGER AND WORKING ON FIRE BASE MANAGER


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.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER


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

MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER


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 www.mapesu.com and www.mopanebushlodge.com. To book, e-mail bookings@mopanebushlodge.com 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.

ROMY ANTROBUS-WUTH, IBA PROGRAMME


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 instagram@birdlife.org.za

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!

ROMY ANTROBUS-WUTH, IBA PROGRAMME


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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/events/birding-big-day

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 www.birdlasser.com or e-mail support@birdlasser.com

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.

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVAITON MANAGER: GAUTENG, MPUMALANGA AND FREE STATE


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!

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER


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 membership@birdlife.org.za 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.

HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, CONSERVATION MANAGER: TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


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.

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, THREATENED SPECIES PROJECT MANAGER: TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


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.

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION MANAGER: GAUTENG, MPUMALANGA AND FREE STATE


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 www.sanparksvolunteers.org or e-mail westrandbirders@gmail.com


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 www.mousefreemarion.org.za

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 nini.vdmerwe@birdlife.org.za

NINI VAN DER MERWE, INTERNATIONAL LIAISON OFFICER AND OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR

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.

ARTHUR PLINT

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.

Schedule

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 wagtailconservationfestival@gmail.com or contact Adam on 061 485 3625 or Cathy on 083 767 9471.

ADAM CRUICKSHANK

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 www.birdlife.org.za

Please send your nomination to isabel.human@birdlife.org.za 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 www.birdlife.org.za.

Please send your nomination to isabel.human@birdlife.org.za 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 http://seabirds.saeon.ac.za

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICERThe AS@S team on the Second Indian Ocean Cruise.

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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER

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 sales@rali.co.za

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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/events/bird-fair 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 nikki.mccartney@birdlife.org.za

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 (http://chamberlains.co.za/) and Ocean Breeze (http://www.oceanbreeze.co.za/) 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 ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za. 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 ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za

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…

ROSS WANLESS, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

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  www.birdingecotours.com  – 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 info@birdingecotours.com.

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 www.crabapple.co.za or info@crabapple.co.za

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 http://sabap2.adu.org.za/ or e-mail ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION OFFICER

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 www.seec.uct.ac.za and www.stats.uct.ac.za

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.

JANINE GOOSEN, SUBSCRIPTIONS ADMINISTRATOR

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.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

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.

ERNST RETIEF, REGIONAL CONSERVATION OFFICER

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.

ROMY ANTROBUS-WUTH, IMPORTANT BIRD AND BIODIVERSITY AREAS PROGRAMME

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

MELISSA WHITECROSS, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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.

Birds

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).

Learn

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.

Camaraderie

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 nikki.mccartney@birdlife.org.za

NIKKI McCARTNEY

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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/get-involved/join-birdlife-south-africa/renewal-form

Should you need assistance, please e-mail Shireen Gould at membership@birdlife.org.za

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 shopforthebirds@birdlife.com

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!

ERNST RETIEF, DATA AND SPATIAL PLANNING MANAGER

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.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, COASTAL SEABIRDS PROGRAMME

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 brian@masekemountainbiking.co.za.

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 http://birdlife.org.za/events/birding-big-day

To access the BirdLasser online map, go to https://www.birdlasser.com/events/bbd2018

For more information about BirdLasser, go to www.birdlasser.com or email support@birdlasser.com

We will post regular updates on the Facebook events page at https://web.facebook.com/events/212406386013322/

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.

ROSS WANLESS, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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 shopforthebirds@birdlife.org.za for more information.

CAROLINE HOWES

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 shopforthebirds@birdlife.org.za. 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 www.westerncapebirding.co.za. Like the project’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/antonodendal.co.za/ to receive ongoing feedback on developments.

ANTON ODENDAL, CHAIRMAN, BIRDLIFE OVERBERG

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 https://bramleigh.org/ for more information and the bird list.

ANDRÉ AND KAITLYNN KAUERAUF, BRAMLEIGH MANOR ACCOMMODATION AND FARM

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.

MELISSA WHITECROSS, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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.

MAKHUDU MASOTLA, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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!

MELISSA WHITECROSS, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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.

REASON NYENGERA, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE

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 https://goo.gl/Rf0p72 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 http://www.magaliesburg.co.za/index.html ; to find out more about the IBA, visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/iba-directory/item/166-sa025-magaliesberg

ROMY ANTROBUS-WUTH AND DANIEL MARNEWICK, IMPORTANT BIRD AND BIODIVERSITY AREAS PROGRAMME

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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/events/2018-flufftail-festival/

HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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 https://www.joshcrickmay.com/

HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, TERRESTRIAL BIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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)

ROMY ANTROBUS-WUTH, IMPORTANT BIRD AND BIODIVERSITY AREAS PROGRAMME

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 www.wildlifephotography.co.za

 

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.

CARINA COETZER, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER

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.

MAKHUDU MASOTLA, INTERN, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

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 https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/donate/, 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 conservation@birdlife.org.za