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.

Bird of the Year 2021

Classified as Near Threatened, the Cape Rockjumper faces a number of challenges that threaten its future, prime among them being habitat loss and climate change. Learn more about these challenges from the latest infographic about this charismatic species, which is available for free on the BirdLife South Africa website at https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2021/ and on our social platforms. 

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, BIRD OF THE YEAR ILLUSTRATOR 


Penguins at De Hoop 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION


Birding allsorts

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


Virtual African Bird Fair 2021

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

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

The three workshops are

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

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

To read more about the Virtual African Bird Fair, please go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/virtual-african-bird-fair-2021/ 

CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER


Thank you, Bryan!

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

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

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

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


World Albatross Day

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

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

Credit: Charlie Thomas

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

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

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

REASON NYENGERA, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE PROJECT MANAGER


Congratulations to Owl Award recipients

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

The recipients are:

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

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

OWLET AWARD: Mark Heystek and Justin Ponder.

To read the citations, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/owl-awards/


 

Government says no to Karpowership

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER


Membership fees go up

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

Ordinary members R650

Senior citizens R470

Youth/Students R450

For any membership-related queries, please contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


Conservation League Donor competition

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

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

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

For more information, please contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


A new, ‘innovative’ manager

Credit: Anja Kirchdoerfer Lee

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

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

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

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


On our wish list

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

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

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION


Ostrich goes above and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION MANAGER


Buy your raffle ticket now!

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

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

JEANETTE SMITH, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER


Protecting personal information

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

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

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

For more information, please go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/privacy-policy/

Thank you for allowing us to keep your information safe.


 

Bird of the Year 2021

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

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, BIRD OF THE YEAR ILLUSTRATOR 


BirdLife South Africa’s 2020 Annual Report

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

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


The Saul Sithole Memorial Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

JEANETTE SMITH, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER


New leader for Cycle in the Bush

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

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

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

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

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

For more information or to book, contact me at lindsey.smith@birdlife.org.za. Terms and conditions apply.

LINDSEY SMITH, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT TO THE REGIONAL CONSERVATION AND POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMMES


Gill Memorial Medal goes to David Allan

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

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

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

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

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

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

JEANETTE SMITH, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER


LAB flies online!

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Conservation League Donor competition

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

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

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

For more information, please contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


Platinum sponsors for bird fair

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

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

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

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

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

CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER


Flock to Marion 2022 update

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

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

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

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

CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER


Tours before and after Marion 

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

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

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

Pre-Flock tours

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

Post-Flock tours

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

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Mouse-Free Marion needs admin help 

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

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

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

The financial responsibilities will include:

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

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

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

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

MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER


Rolling out OECMs 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please contact me at melissa.whitecross@birdlife.org.za

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Owl Awards

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

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

JEANETTE SMITH, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER


Birding Big Day 2021

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

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

For more information, please visit https://bit.ly/2QTzzAF

To register, go to https://bit.ly/3hZ1jij

ERNST RETIEF, SPATIAL PLANNING AND DATA PROJECT MANAGER

 

Bird of the Year 2021

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

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, BIRD OF THE YEAR ILLUSTRATOR 

What a summer!

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

Cycle in the Bush 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINDSEY SMITH, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, REGIONAL CONSERVATION AND POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMMES

 

Conservation League Donor competition

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

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

For more information, please contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

Welcome Clare

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

Virtual African Bird Fair 

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

CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER

92nd Annual General Meeting

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

To attend, please register using the link

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_hqxKZVYRQ0GxMzKRiezwDw

For additional information, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birdlife-south-africas-annual-general-meeting/

Alternatively, contact me at isabel.human@birdlife.org.za

DR ISABEL HUMAN, HR MANAGER AND EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT

Oil and gas exploration in the KAZA TFCA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND BRONWYN MAREE, EAST ATLANTIC FLYWAY INITIATIVE PROJECT MANAGER

Protecting the Klein River estuary

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

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

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

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

DR GISELLE MURISON, WESTERN CAPE ESTUARIES CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER

Upper Wilge Protected Environment

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

The proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment.

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

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

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

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

Please help BirdLife South Africa support the declaration of the Upper Wilge Protected Environment by signing our online form at https://bit.ly/3udsqsV. We can all play a part in protecting South Africa’s threatened ecosystems and biodiversity!

CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER

Building bonds and saving penguins

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION

Artificial colonies provide hope for penguins 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION

Canon photography workshop at LAB

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

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

Andrew’s passion for bird photography will be shared during this interactive webinar that will provide participants with a new set of photographic skills to add to their personal photographic journeys. The workshop will start at 13h00 SAST on 29 May 2021 (after the BirdLife South Africa AGM) and will run for two hours. It costs R250 per person and registration and payment can be made through Quicket at https://www.quicket.co.za/events/130409-learn-about-birds-lab-conference-canon-photography-workshop/?preview=t

To find out more, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/. If you have any questions, please e-mail lab2021@birdlife.org.za

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

The Kruger Challenge is back! 

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

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

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

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

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

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION, AND KYRONE JOSIAH, CONSERVATION AND AVITOURISM INTERN

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

 

Bird of the Year 2021

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

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, BIRD OF THE YEAR ILLUSTRATOR 

Return of the Kruger Challenge!

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

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

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

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

For more information and to book, please e-mail Sarah Dell at sarah@rockjumper.com 

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION

Community conservation at Ntsikeni 

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

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

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

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

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION, AND DR KYLE LLOYD, WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL PROJECT MANAGER

Win a stay at Zimanga

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

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

For more information, please contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

Virtual LAB is coming up in May!

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

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

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

https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, VULTURE PROJECT MANAGER

Training community bird guides in the grasslands

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER

The Virtual African Bird Fair returns

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

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

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

If you would like to be a sponsor or exhibitor at this year’s event, please e-mail birdfair2021@birdlife.org.za and we will send you the necessary information. Please watch BirdLife South Africa’s social media channels for more information as it is released.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER

Capturing the spirit of wild places

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

White Storks. Credit Willie Sonnenberg

Marula against a grey sky. Credit Willie Sonnenberg

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

Please take a look.

DAN SONNENBERG

 

Binocular bargain 

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

DALE MORRIS, PROFESSIONAL WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER, CONSERVATION WRITER, WILDLIFE GUIDE

 

Rockjumper T-shirts

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

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

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

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

TEAM ROCKJUMPER, SPECIES CHAMPION

Bird ID training at Ingula 

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEVEN SEGANG, INGULA PROJECT ASSISTANT

Flufftail breeding done for another year

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

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

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

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

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

DR KYLE LLOYD, ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION

A new communications manager 

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

Bird of the Year 2021

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

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, BIRD OF THE YEAR ILLUSTRATOR 


Where do we go next?

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


Sharpening our talent for talons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTIAAN W. BRINK, RAPTOR & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER 


Conservation through art

Cape Rockjumpers: The Outcry.

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

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

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

About the artist

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

About the prints

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

DALEEN ROODT, BOTANICAL ARTIST AND SCIENTIFIC ILLUSTRATOR


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

Penguin watch in Algoa Bay

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

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

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

DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Bat Hawk watch in Mpumalanga

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

RAEL LOON


Rockjumper T-shirt

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

To place your order, go to https://mailchi.mp/rockjumperbirding/rockjumper-t-shirts


Who deserves an Owl Award?

This year the annual Owl Awards presentation will be a virtual event that forms part of BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Conversations webinar series and will be hosted on 22 June 2021 at 19h00. We’d like to know who you think deserves an Owl Award for making a valuable contribution to the conservation of South Africa’s birds and their habitats. All the information you need to nominate someone for any of the Owl Award categories can be found at https://www.birdlife.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/BirdLife-South-Africa-Owl-Awards_2021_Call-for-Nominations.pdf. Please submit your nomination to me at Isabel.human@birdlife.org.za on or before 20 April 2021. 

DR ISABEL HUMAN, HR MANAGER AND EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT


AGM 2021: a Virtual Affair 

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

To register, please go to https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_hqxKZVYRQ0GxMzKRiezwDw

The minutes of the 2020 AGM are available at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birdlife-south-africas-91st-annual-general-meeting/

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

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

Should you have any questions, please contact Dr Isabel Human at Isabel.human@birdlife.org.za


LAB 2021: don’t miss early bird tickets 

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

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

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

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

For more information and to find the registration link, please go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/ or contact us at lab2021@birdlife.org.za

KYRONE JOSIAH AND DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


Cycle in the Bush 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINDSEY SMITH, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, REGIONAL CONSERVATION AND POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMMES


Waterfall Bird Club

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

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

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

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND YVONNE DROSTE, WATERFALL BIRD CLUB


Membership developments

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

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

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

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

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER


Return of the Bird Fair

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


A rockjumper on your wall…

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

 

Tuesday webinars return

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

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

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


Finding flufftails

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR KYLE LLOYD, ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION


A project assistant for Ingula

Steven Segang, the Ingula Project’s new assistant.

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

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

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

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

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

CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER


Support for US migratory birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND CANDICE LEWIS (INDEPENDENT)


Lindsey joins the team

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

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

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

DANIEL MARNEWICK, REGIONAL CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER


Mouse-Free Marion Project milestone

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

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

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

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

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

NINI VAN DER MERWE, ISLAND RESTORATION PROJECT MANAGER


All South Africa’s birds

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

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

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


PhD prize for Melissa

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

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

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

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

DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION


A new assistant bookkeeper

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

ROSE KNIGHT, BOOKKEEPER

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


A bird photography adventure

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

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

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

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

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

LOU COETZER, CEO CNP SAFARIS


 

Bird of the Year 2021

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

Throughout the year we will be releasing on a monthly basis educational material such as infographics and lesson plans to raise awareness about the species. These will be available for free on our social media platforms and our website at https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2021/. Watch out for the new resources each month!

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


BirdLife Partners planning ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRONWYN MAREE, EAST ATLANTIC FLYWAY INITIATIVE PROJECT MANAGER


Virtually the same, just better

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/. Abstracts for Science LAB must be submitted before 28 February 2021.

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT MANAGER


Shop for the Birds!

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


Let’s play cards!

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

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

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

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

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

Chirpy 2 is available in all major supermarkets; you’ll find it on the magazines shelf and it costs R139. You can also order the game online at www.weg.co.za. Chirpy 1 is still available online for R100. For more information, e-mail verkope@media24.com or phone 021 406 2205.

ESMA MARNEWICK, DEPUTY EDITOR OF WEG / GO MAGAZINE

 

LAB 2021 goes online

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

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

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

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

As the LAB conference is one of the Landscape Conservation Programme’s major fundraising events, BirdLife South Africa will be charging a small fee for attending it virtually. This will help to pay for the time spent by the programme’s staff on organising the event and the cost of utilising the virtual platform. Any proceeds gained over and above these costs will be used for the species and ecosystem conservation work conducted by the Landscape Conservation Programme in South Africa. The aim of this programme is to see critical sites and ecosystems, and the ecological services associated with them, sustainably managed and protected to promote the preservation of diverse and healthy bird populations, as well as other biodiversity and people. Funds raised through the LAB conference will support specifically the Vulture Conservation and the Birds and Renewable Energy projects. For more information, please e-mail lab2021@birdlife.org.za.

Registration for LAB 2021 will begin from 11 January 2021 and can be completed via the BirdLife South Africa website at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/.

 

RATES PER PERSON

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

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

SUBMITTING ABSTRACTS

Abstracts for Science LAB can be submitted between 11 January and 28 February 2021 via the online registration form on the LAB web page, https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/learn-about-birds-lab-conference/.

 


Welcome, Christiaan

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

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

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

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

 


Lucky 13 for Southern Bald Ibis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER

 


Marking a milestone

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

 


Support for community bird guides

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

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

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

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER

 


Gough go-ahead

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

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

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

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

NINI VAN DER MERWE, ISLAND RESTORATION PROJECT MANAGER

Farewell 2020

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

MARK D. ANDERSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER


Birding Big Day, a highlight of 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ERNST RETIEF, BIRDING BIG DAY ORGANISER

 

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

The Raven Dikkops

Bradley Arthur

Michael Mills

Marc Cronje

Callan Cohen

335 (325)
Second place:

Zonke Inyoni

Martin Benadie

Joe Grosel

Selwyn Rautenbach

Allan Weideman

329
Third place:

Hamerkop

Ehren Eksteen

Johan Eksteen

Lourens Grobler

Duncan McKenzie

323
Mpumalanga The Raven Dikkops Bradley Arthur

Michael Mills

Marc Cronje

Callan Cohen

335 (311)
Free State SABAP TwoCan Dawie Kleynhans

Sarieta Kleynhans

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

Alwyn Smit

Suzanne von Maltitz

Adrian von Maltitz

153 (149)
North West Bushwillow Birders Lance Robinson

Hanneline Smit-Robinson

Dylan Vasapolli

Leon Spies

269 (244)
Western Cape 230 Ostriches Rudi Minnie

Josef van Wyngaard

Dominic Rollinson

Christiaan Viljoen

244 (236)
Eastern Cape KWT KINGbirders Garth Shaw

Jean Shaw

180 (185)
Gauteng Soaring iSuzu’s Michael Johnson

Samuel Brewis

Corrie van Wyk

220 (215) 
Limpopo Zonke Inyoni Martin Benadie

Joe Grosel

Selwyn Rautenbach

Allan Weideman

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

Laurie Kelly

Dennis Kelly

Dave Shuttleworth

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

 


Searching for swallows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR KYLE LLOYD, ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION


Spotting leopards to save penguins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION


Support avitourism this festive season

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

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

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

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

Community Bird Guides https://birdlife.org.za/go-birding/community-bird-guides 

Birder Friendly Establishments https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-establishments/

Birder Friendly Tour Operators https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-tour-operators/

For any questions or feedback relating to any of these affiliated people/companies, please contact me at andrew.deblocq@birdlife.org.za

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Keep track of 2021

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

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER


 

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

GPS for vultures

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

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

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

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, VULTURE PROJECT MANAGER


Last chance to learn about…

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

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Support bird conservation in South Africa

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

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

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

For more information, contact me at membership@birdlife.org.za 

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


 

Tracking Endangered cormorants

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

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

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

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

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

DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Birding Big Year 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR CRAIG WIDDOWS


Southern Ground-Hornbill – a perfect gift!

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

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

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

Will BBD 2020 break the record?

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

So why not join in the fun? Form a team of at least four birders, choose an area to bird in (maximum 50km radius) and count the species you see for as long as you like on 28 November. You can log your sightings on the BirdLasser mobile app or simply jot them down on a piece of paper. For more information about BBD, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2020/.

Please register for the project at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2020/entry-form/.

BBD promises to be great fun, so select your team, decide on your route and register! If you would like further information, please contact me at ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za.

ERNST RETIEF, BBD ORGANISER


African Birdlife, present & future

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

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


Raptor ID? A cinch!

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

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

Date: 4–7 February 2021

Venue: Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

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

Contact: Charles Hardy at charlois@mweb.co.za


Global Bird Weekend

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

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

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

If you would like to contribute to the cause, you can still do so on the ZEISS fundraising page (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/zeiss). 

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Anyone interested?

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

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

You could be one (or two) of eight birders participating in week of bird surveying and game viewing in the heart of the Kruger National Park. You will be accommodated at the remarkable SSLI Campus in the Skukuza village, from where you will venture out by vehicle and on foot to survey selected long-term monitoring sites across the south of the park. The eight birders will be divided into four couples, each accompanied by an SSLI ecologist and/or professional bird guide as well as a game guard and a trainee bird guide from the local community. After the morning surveys are complete, birding teams will return to camp and have the rest of the day to either enjoy a guided game drive or assist with data entry and analysis. Evening dinners on the deck will be followed by fireside discussions with resident scientists on a broad range of conservation topics. 

What is special about this opportunity? 

  • It’s a rare chance to enjoy the country’s premier national park on foot;
  • It enables you to support the development of local community bird guides while enjoying your own birding;
  • It contributes to long-term research designed to understand the effects of fire, elephants and climate change on bird communities in the Kruger Park;
  • You’ll learn from Kruger’s foremost ecologists in an informal setting;
  • You’ll experience a week in the life of a scientist in the park;
  • You’ll enjoy an all-inclusive, catered Kruger experience away from the busy rest camps;
  • The various daily activities are led by professional safari and bird guides with intimate knowledge of the park and its birds and other biodiversity.

This opportunity would be best suited for couples, but individuals are welcome to book if they are willing to share accommodation. Non-birding family members can be accommodated at a reduced rate and childminders can be arranged during the morning sessions. The fee for the six-night stay will include three meals a day, all guided activities and transport after arrival, all accommodation costs, game guard fees, staff costs and expert lectures. The participants’ fees will also be used to sponsor the local trainee community bird guides, providing them with invaluable experience. The cost per person sharing will be around R3000 per night.

We feel that this is an incredibly worthwhile venture in terms of the development of community bird guides and support for science and conservation in the Kruger National Park, and providing our supporters with once-in-a-lifetime birding experiences in South Africa’s top birding destination. If you would like to be included in communications about it or be involved, please e-mail me at andrew.deblocq@birdlife.org.za. We are looking forward to getting this initiative off the ground, so please get in touch and let us know whether this is something you might support!

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Gough in the time of Covid

A Tristan Albatross chick. Credit Nini van der Merwe

I think I’m far from alone in finding that life has been strange under lockdown for much of this year. After months of isolation and working remotely, it therefore came as a refreshing change to travel to Gough Island on the annual Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ relief voyage as part of the RSPB-led team for the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP). To protect the take-over support team, the crew of the SA Agulhas II and, of course, the outgoing overwintering team, all voyage participants had to be quarantined for 14 days in a Cape Town hotel. During this time, the entire team underwent two tests for Covid-19 and only individuals who had a double negative test were allowed to proceed to the SA Agulhas II. Although the quarantine was not the most fun I’ve had this year, it was quite nice to be able to go about without wearing masks or other PPE for the remainder of the trip, as by that point everyone on board the vessel and on the island had been cleared as Covid-free. 

We left Cape Town harbour just before midnight on Saturday, 19 September and arrived at Tristan da Cunha five days later. No passengers were allowed to disembark due to health and safety protocols and cargo off-loading was completed in two days. From there we sailed to Gough, arriving at mid-day on the 27th. We hit the ground running, off-loading all passengers and making a start on cargo work while it was still light. Our time on the island this year was shorter than usual, totalling only 12 days instead of 18–20. Fortunately we had fewer on-island jobs to do, as well as much less cargo than in 2019. 

The SA Agulhas II with a Sooty Albatross in the foreground. Credit Nini van der Merwe

One of our main objectives was to off-load the new cargo and, after unpacking, store it safely in the temporary infrastructure that the GIRP team had built earlier in the year. Once that was completed, we spent a few days doing a detailed inspection of the infrastructure to identify any areas that might require repairs or replacement. Luckily, we discovered that it had held up very well and needed only a few minor repairs. This was particularly reassuring as it means that GIRP is, logistically, in a very good position to go ahead in 2021. 

Despite the shorter time on Gough, we were able to appreciate the magnificent natural beauty of the island. September is a magical month there, as it marks the return of many of the breeding seabird species. In the early evenings the air is thick with the sounds of Great Shearwaters and various prions and petrels. It’s the start of the Atlantic Yellow-Nosed Albatross breeding season and a short walk from base puts you within easy viewing of these amazing birds, many of which are on nests. 

Although the final decision to attempt the mouse eradication operation in 2021 has not yet been made, the recent visit to Gough has been very informative in offering assurance that, at least on Gough, the project is in a very good position to go ahead next year. The GIRP team is working incredibly hard to ensure that we will be as ready as we can be should we get the go-ahead – and seeing the magic of Gough again has definitely re-ignited our motivation to continue to work hard to save as soon as we possibly can the two million birds lost each year. 

NINI VAN DER MERWE, ISLAND RESTORATION PROJECT MANAGER


Bird of the Year now multilingual

BirdLife South Africa’s 2020 Bird of the Year, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, is classified as Endangered in South Africa. This month’s infographic and lesson plan show the different threats faced by these magnificent birds and how we could mitigate them to protect the species.

We have also produced the first set of resource materials that has been translated into Afrikaans, isiXhosa and Tshivenda. All the educational material, which includes fact files, infographics and lesson plans, is available for free at https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/.

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Thanks GARDENA!

GARDENA has very generously donated a range of gardening equipment to BirdLife South Africa, which will be used at Isdell House and the Wakkerstroom Tourism & Education Centre. We are very grateful to GARDENA for this gift. Our old gardening tools will be donated to rural schools in the greater Wakkerstroom area.


Bookkeeping vacancy

BirdLife South Africa is offering an opportunity to someone with bookkeeping knowledge and experience to fulfil a supporting role to the organisation’s bookkeeper. The position will give valuable insight into the wide variety of administrative and bookkeeping tasks that need to be done in a non-profit organisation. This full-time position will commence on 1 February 2021 and will be based at Isdell House, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg. The closing date for applications is 21 November 2020. Please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/who-we-are/vacancies/.

FANIE DU PLESSIS, HEAD OF FINANCE & OPERATIONS


Flufftail monitoring season begins

Camera traps in dense wetland vegetation capture images of passing White-winged Flufftails and other animals, providing insight into their undisturbed behaviour and an estimate of population size. Credit Melissa Howes-Whitecross

Motion-detecting cameras are an essential tool when it comes to studying the behaviour of the elusive White-winged Flufftail, as they can provide a glimpse into the largely unknown lives of this Critically Endangered species. Since its discovery and formal description in 1877, there have been only a few scattered sightings of this flufftail in South Africa. Most sightings are chance events or are achieved only after many hours of walking through wetland in the hope of flushing the bird. They are becoming even rarer as suitable wetland habitat is degraded or destroyed as a result of various human activities. The small sample size of records accumulated over the past 140 years has resulted in a limited understanding of White-winged Flufftail biology and has restricted the ability of conservation managers to conserve the species effectively.

Caught on camera! A male White-winged Flufftail captured by a motion-detecting camera last season.

In 2016, a survey methodology was developed that greatly improved the detection of White-winged Flufftails in dense wetland vegetation. Dubbed the ‘BirdLife South Africa Rallid Survey Method’, it makes use of a metal frame and camouflaged shade cloth. A motion-detecting camera mounted on the frame captures images of birds walking through the structure. The use of the cameras not only yields high numbers of records compared to the traditional flushing method, but is also non-invasive, with minimal impact on the sensitive wetland environment. Since its inception, the Rallid Survey Method has been refined and deployed annually during the White-winged Flufftail’s breeding season. 

For the 2020–2021 season too, BirdLife South Africa staff have deployed monitoring equipment to observe the behaviour and abundance of White-winged Flufftails . The work was intensive, but the images we’ve already seen of the birds are our reward. In the largest effort yet, 51 cameras have been deployed at three sites and we hope they will show us a good breeding year, given that rains have already fallen early in the wet season. The knowledge obtained from the monitoring data will be used to help guide conservation managers and landowners to better manage wetlands for the flufftails. Every monitoring season improves our ability to protect the species and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

DR KYLE LLOYD, ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION


We can’t wait for 2021!

Collaborating this year with Chamberlain, BirdLife South Africa proudly presents its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images for the months of the year and a bonus one on the cover! The calendars sell for R150 each (excluding delivery) and will make beautiful gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients.

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER

 


Getting the height right

The wind works its magic at keeping seabirds away from the baited hooks used by fishing vessels. Credit Yuri Artukhin

Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera of the Albatross Task Force work with the crew of a South African pelagic longline vessel to determine the optimal attachment height for a bird-scaring line. Credit Victor Ncongo

‘We need a tori pole for the tori line,’ came the request from the crew aboard the pelagic longline vessel. They weren’t asking for something to do with British party politics, but for a way to improve the effectiveness of a mitigation measure to prevent seabird mortality. Longline fishing, as its name suggests, involves the deployment of several thousand baited hooks attached to kilometres of fishing line. However, before the hooks sink out of reach they pose a threat to seabirds that dive for the bait, unaware that it hides a weapon that could kill them. Preventing these unnecessary deaths is precisely what the Albatross Task Force is aiming to achieve.

The word tori, meaning ‘bird’ in Japanese, was coined by a fisherman who developed the first concept of a scarecrow for seabirds in the 1970s. The name stuck and has since become associated with one of the main mitigation measures – a bird-scaring line – to prevent seabirds from getting caught in fishing gear.

The tori line is attached to the stern of a fishing vessel, from where the longline of baited hooks is deployed. The line, with colourful streamers attached, is flown above the fishing line and the streamers, fluttering wildly in the constant sea winds, scare the birds away, ideally for as long as it takes for the hooks to sink out of reach behind the vessel.

For the bird-scaring line to work effectively, however, it needs to be attached high enough to not interfere with the setting of the hooks, yet low enough for birds not to fly in underneath it. Much research has gone into fine-tuning this balance to match different fishing techniques, such as setting speeds and the weighting of hooks to determine the ideal length of the tori line and the height at which it should be attached.

In South Africa, the attachment points in most of the longline vessels are not high enough and tori poles are needed to increase their height and thus the reach and effectiveness of the bird-scaring line as it flies above the hook line. Fitting a tori pole has its challenges and overcoming these is the purpose of our direct engagement with individual vessel owners in harbour. So far, the Albatross Task Force has advised or assisted in the installation of tori poles in 60% of demersal and 40% of pelagic longline fleets, directly improving the effectiveness of seabird mortality mitigation measures.

ANDREA ANGEL, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE MANAGER


Species Environmental Assessment Guideline

Investigations by specialists constitute an invaluable component of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. Until recently, however, there were no standardised requirements for how such investigations should be conducted and reported on. The result was that competent authorities were frequently presented with reports that lacked sufficient information for decision-making. 

To address this challenge, a series of protocols has been developed that provides a minimum set of assessment and reporting criteria for various environmental themes. The protocols that need to be complied with for any particular development application are identified through the national web-based screening tool, which is a geographically based, web-enabled application that makes it possible to screen a proposed development site for environmental sensitivities (such as the possible presence of species of conservation concern) before an application for environmental authorisation is submitted. (Notably, BirdLife South Africa’s Science and Innovation Programme has contributed spatial layers to this tool.)

The first batch of protocols, published on 20 March 2020, addresses agriculture, noise, defence, civil aviation, terrestrial biodiversity, aquatic biodiversity and the impacts of onshore wind energy generation facilities on birds. On 30 October the Terrestrial Plant and Animal Species Protocols were gazetted. These are intended to standardise species-level aspects of EIAs and the reporting of potential impacts of proposed developments on species of conservation concern. 

Over the past two years, BirdLife South Africa has collaborated with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and several commissioned species specialists to produce a Species Environmental Assessment Guideline to support the Terrestrial Plant and Animal Species Protocols. While the protocols themselves are legally binding and must be complied with, the guideline describes the manner in which species specialists, environmental assessment practitioners and the proponents of development projects can ensure compliance with the protocols’ requirements. It provides background and context to these requirements, as well as guidance on sampling and data collection methodologies for the different taxonomic groups represented in the Terrestrial Animal and Plant Species Protocols. A draft of the guideline was made available for public comment in early 2020 and the final version was recently completed.

The BirdLife South Africa staff who contributed to this project were Jonathan Booth, the former Advocacy Officer; Samantha Ralston-Paton, the Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager; and myself. The guideline’s lead author is Luke Verburgt from Enviro-Insight and SANBI’s project leaders were Abigail Bahindwa and Domitilla Raimondo. 

The final guideline document will be published on SANBI’s website (https://bgis.sanbi.org) during the course of this month and will be updated periodically in response to revisions to the species layers of the national web-based environmental screening tool. 

DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY AND ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER

BBD 2020 – register now!

The 36th Birding Big Day (BBD) will take place on Saturday, 28 November 2020 and BirdLife South Africa invites all birders to participate and enjoy the wonderful bird diversity we have in this country. You do not need to be an expert birder to take part and can even confine your birding to your garden or local park for merely an hour or two.

To join in the fun, all you need to do is make up a team of at least four members, choose an area with a maximum 50km radius and then bird within that area to see as many species as possible. You can decide to log your sightings on the BirdLasser mobile app or simply jot the species down on a piece of paper. For more information about BBD, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2020/

Please register for the project at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2020/entry-form/

You can also attempt to surpass the provincial totals set last year (see the link above to the BBD page). Just to remind you, each province will have its own BirdLasser event page; you just log your sightings and your team’s totals will update to each provincial page. However, you will have to calculate your route carefully to make sure it does not cross provincial boundaries. 

BBD promises to be great fun, so select your team, decide on your route and register! If you need more information, please contact me at ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za 

ERNST RETIEF, BBD ORGANISER


Flocking in 2021

Along with its annual Flock, BirdLife South Africa will be hosting next year the fifth Learn About Birds (LAB) conference, in collaboration with the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. The dates are 27–29 May 2021 and the location is Wilderness, so we will partnering with local bird clubs BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and the Lake Bird Club to bring you exciting birding opportunities.

Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s website, e-mailers and social media feeds for more information about the venue and presenters, as well as how to submit abstracts. This event promises to be an exciting one, with great excursions planned and parallel Science and Layman’s LABs to keep all participants entertained.

We will be monitoring the Covid-19 situation closely and will ensure that strict hygiene and safety protocols are in place. Should the physical event not be able to take place, we are making contingency plans for a virtual Flock in 2021. For more information, please contact us at info@birdlife.org.za

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Conservation League Donor competition

Congratulations go to Patricia Lehle, who won our annual Conservation League lucky draw and is now the proud owner of a pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars! We wish her many happy years of birding with these outstanding optics.

Thank you to all our existing and new Conservation League donors for your loyal support. Your kind donations enable BirdLife South Africa to continue our important and much-needed conservation work. We would also like to thank ZEISS, and Gail Giordani and Divan Swanepoel in particular, for always being willing to support BirdLife South Africa. ZEISS has been a generous supporter and donor to our organisation for many years and for that we are extremely grateful.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER


2021 calendar

Collaborating this year with Chamberlain, BirdLife South Africa proudly presents its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images for the months of the year and a bonus one on the cover! The calendars sell for R150 each (excluding delivery) and will make beautiful gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients.

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER


30 episodes and counting…

Please consider making a donation to keep our webinars going.

Every Tuesday night at 19h00, you are invited to join us via Zoom for Conservation Conversations with BirdLife South Africa. The webinars, which started out as part of the lockdown contingency plans to help keep members informed about the work that BirdLife South Africa is doing, have become a weekly staple and ‘ray of sunshine’ for many who are still confined to their homes during these uncertain times. All of them are recorded and posted to YouTube for anyone who is unable to join in the live fun. Recordings of previous webinars can be accessed through our BirdLife South Africa YouTube channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage www.birdlife.org.za/blsa-conversations/. If you haven’t already done so, you can register for upcoming webinars on the same webpage.

BirdLife South Africa has launched its own podcast channel, which allows listeners to hear the webinars without drawing the heavy data required for downloading the videos as well. The simultaneous live stream of our webinars to Facebook Live through the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page has enabled us to reach a wider audience and offers an alternative to the Zoom platform for viewers who would still like to participate in the live webinar and ask questions during the event. You do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part in our webinars. 

We are grateful to the many generous followers who have sent donations via the Quicket collection platform at www.quicket.co.za/event/103556/collect or the BirdLife South Africa website to help cover the cost of producing these webinars. Continued donations are appreciated.

October has been dubbed ‘avitourism month’ by the webinar team and features spectacular talks by Andrew de Blocq, Albert Froneman, Richard Flack and Trevor Hardaker. All these talks highlight different aspects of birding as a hobby, from the lingo to photographic skills and even South Africa’s best birds. Be sure to check out the recordings if you missed the conversations via the website.

November, the final month of Conservation Conversations for this year, also promises excellent speakers. BirdLife South Africa’s new Honorary President Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan will talk about the evolution of birds; BirdLife South Africa Board member and renowned author Vernon Head will tell his favourite birding stories; Dr Caroline Howes-Whitecross will showcase the diversity of birds found within the City of Johannesburg’s boundaries; and author and illustrator Duncan Butchart will share his insights into how best to garden for birds. 

We have thoroughly enjoyed bringing you these weekly webinars and cannot wait to bring you more exciting talks in 2021. We have begun planning for our next season, which will kick off on 12 January 2021. Keep an eye on our social media feeds and website to find out who will be joining us online for more exciting, educational and entertaining webinars. 

For more information, go to 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


Birding in Kruger

Tawny Eagle. Credit T. Yates

SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region invite you to their 23rd Kruger National Park Birding Weekends scheduled for January and February 2021. While recognising that the safety and well-being of members, guests, SANParks staff and South Africans in general remain a priority, they also know that conservation in the national parks must continue despite the current difficult conditions resulting from Covid-19, and that conservation cannot survive without tourism.

Hopeful that Covid-19 has passed its peak in South Africa, the Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region have therefore taken the decision to cautiously resume certain fundraising activities scheduled for late 2020 and early 2021, while being guided by lockdown regulations and prescribed safety protocols. These activities include the popular summer birding weekends in Kruger. From R3600 per person sharing, they include dawn and dusk drives in the company of birding experts.

For more information, contact Norma on 011 476 3057 or westrandbirders@gmail.com


KBAs and effective conservation 

An apex predator in Central and South America, the jaguar is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and is losing ground to deforestation, among other threats. The identification of KBAs within its extensive range could play a role in its ultimate survival, highlighting the global value of this system. Credit Brent Chambers

In conservation circles it is a well-known fact that there is more biodiversity to be conserved than there is money to do so. If we are to reverse the decline of threatened species, ecosystems and habitats, therefore, we need to be sure that we are investing in the most important places.

Often NGOs, philanthropists, governments and big business that want to invest in the environment have been faced with too much choice and not enough guidance. They are pulled in different directions by the conservation sector, which advocates for conserving globally threatened species such as those listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List; or species with small ranges that are more susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss; or large intact wilderness areas with fully functioning ecosystems and greater potential to deliver ecosystem processes such as carbon sequestration at scale; or sites that are unique and irreplaceable.

Given that these are all important considerations, in 2016 the international conservation community came together and developed a globally recognised standard to identify Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) – the most important sites for biodiversity globally. The KBA approach captures the ideas mentioned above under 11 criteria. Following the development of this agreed approach, 13 of the leading conservation institutions came together to form the KBA Partnership, the largest such partnership to exist to date. 

It has been a timely birth for this global currency, given that in 2020 the world is forging a new biodiversity strategy for the next decade, and it will rely on indicators such as KBAs to both guide where we achieve our conservation targets and to measure our effectiveness. This blueprint for where nature matters most was recently described by global KBA advocates in an online article, much of which is based on the work done in South Africa.

South Africa became the first mega-diverse country to comprehensively test the KBA standard and complete the identification of KBAs at national level and across multiple species types and ecosystems. A group of experts, including from BirdLife South Africa, systematically identified hundreds of KBAs across the entire country to help build a greater understanding of the global significance of many sites, especially for geographically restricted species and ecosystems. South Africa is a world leader in systematic biodiversity planning, as well as in the recognition of other important sites, such as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs). This comprehensive, newly identified KBA network will complement these biodiversity priority areas and assist in the making of better decisions and in management. As a world leader, South Africa is setting an example for countries regionally and globally. 

As countries come together to identify and map KBAs nationally, a blueprint is being developed to conserve nature in an actionable manner. KBAs will go a long way towards ensuring that we protect our species and ecosystems as we focus on developing the next 10-year strategy to conserve nature. 

HIRAL NAIK, ASSISTANT TO REGIONAL CONSERVATION AND POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMMES


Conserving White-winged Flufftails and wetlands

Middelpunt Wetland, near Dullstroom, is the only known breeding site for White-winged Flufftail in the southern hemisphere. Credit Hanneline Smit-Robinson

When the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) arranged an introductory meeting with the departments of Water and Sanitation and of Mineral Resources and Energy to discuss their interest and concerns regarding the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail, various other stakeholders were invited to join in. Among those present were BirdLife South Africa (represented by Dr Melissa Lewis, the manager of the Policy and Advocacy Programme, and myself), Middelpunt Wetland Trust, Dullstroom Trout Farm and the Mpumalanga Tourism Parks Agency. 

During the meeting, colleagues from the DEFF explained the importance of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail as a flagship species for the conservation of high-altitude wetlands and drew attention to a number of threats that impact on the species’ survival in the wild. They also referred to South Africa’s responsibility to protect the flufftail under the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and to the various actions highlighted for implementation within the AEWA White-winged Flufftail International Single Species Action Plan. Several of the wetlands where the flufftail is known to occur are earmarked to be designated Ramsar sites of international importance.

BirdLife South Africa greatly valued this opportunity to raise the profile of the White-winged Flufftail and to enter into discussions with the departments of Water and Sanitation and of Mineral Resources and Energy, facilitated by the DEFF.

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION


Where do penguins go?

Utilisation distributions of non-breeding African Penguins that bred at Dassen Island (2012–2019), Stony Point (2018–2019) and Bird Island (2012–2015).

Tegan Carpenter-Kling attaches a GPS logger to the back of a non-breeding African Penguin. Credit Marlene Van Onselen

Thanks to a massive collaborative effort by researchers, we know relatively well where African Penguins forage during the breeding season. When the penguins are no longer feeding chicks, however, they are free to roam much further from their colonies in search of food, far past the boundaries of marine protected areas. Our knowledge about where they go outside the breeding season is far less extensive so, prompted by this gap and the growing need to protect the species, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology have tracked non-breeding African Penguins annually since 2012 from major colonies such as Dassen Island, Stony Point and Bird Island. In consequence, BirdLife South Africa has one of the largest long-term datasets of non-breeding penguin GPS tracks.

In her role as manager of the Coastal Seabird Project, in September Tegan Carpenter-Kling deployed GPS loggers on 10 adult African Penguins that were looking after chicks about to fledge on Dassen Island. In the weeks to come she will deploy loggers on another 10 penguins at Stony Point and track their movements from her home and office. For what’s left of the year she will use the data, together with the long-term dataset, to investigate the influence of fish and fishing pressure on the distribution of non-breeding African Penguins. Her findings will be crucial in assessments for the future expansion of marine protected areas and other spatial management initiatives for the benefit of these penguins.

 


Attention magazine subscribers

Due to the frequently late and sometimes non-delivery of magazines, we would like to move away from using the SA Post Office. If you subscribe to African Birdlife and have not yet informed us of your physical address, please e-mail the details to Baile at memadmin@birdlife.org.za or Janine at subscriptions@birdlife.org.za. We do understand that some subscribers may not want their magazine delivered to their home or office; in this case, please e-mail Baile asking her to continue sending your magazine via the SA Post Office. 


Lead and vultures

Craig Nattrass, along with his team of experienced climbers, traversed challenging
terrain to collect samples from Cape Vulture chicks at a breeding colony above the
Karnmelkspruit. Credit Melissa Howes-Whitecross

Research conducted on White-backed Vulture chicks at Dronfield Nature Reserve in 2019 has shown that lead may adversely affect a vulture’s ability to manufacture haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. As a result, chicks with high levels of lead in their blood may be severely anaemic, which may compromise their survival once they fledge. This was the first conclusive study to show the negative impact that lead may have on vulture physiology. To improve our understanding of the impact of lead on South Africa’s vultures, the research has now been expanded to include Cape Vulture chicks.

Last month, Melissa Howes-Whitecross and I, accompanied by a team of experienced climbers, travelled to a Cape Vulture breeding colony near the town of Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. The colony comprises about 60 nests, which are situated on several ledges along sheer cliffs above the Karnmelkspruit Gorge. Although the terrain proved incredibly challenging, the climbing team, led by Craig Nattrass and Jennie Hewlett of Onderstepoort, managed to collect several valuable samples for the project. These have been submitted for analysis and the results will be published, along with the White-backed Vulture data, early in 2021.

We would like to thank Ian Cloete, the owner of the farm Karnmelkspruit, for giving us access to his property and for his incredible kindness and support. We would also like to thank the Ford Wildlife Foundation, whose continued support of BirdLife South Africa’s Vulture Project enables the team to reach some barely accessible locations.

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, VULTURE PROJECT MANAGER


Specially for birders…

Sustain Safaris Scheduled Tours has a special offer for you: book for five or more people and one travels for free! (Maximum six people per guide.)

As the travel and safari industry gets moving again, Sustain Safaris has scheduled a superb range of small-group, set-departure tours for 2020 and 2021 at great prices. We also arrange Tailor-made Tours and Day Tours. Our Scheduled Tours include:

KwaZulu-Natal Midlands & Drakensberg, 6–9 November 2020 (4 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens and Krantzkloof;

KwaZulu-Natal, 13–20 December 2020 (8 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens, St Lucia, uMkhuze, Ongoye, Dlinza, Mtunzini and Sappi Stanger; 

KwaZulu-Natal & Wakkerstroom, 3–13 January 2021 (11 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens, Wakkerstroom, uMkhuze, Muzi Pan, Nibela Peninsula, iSimangaliso (Western and Eastern shores), Bonamanzi, Dlinza, Ongoye, St Lucia, Umlalazi, Amatikulu and Sappi Stanger;

KwaZulu-Natal Zululand & Maputaland 17–21 January (5 days). Visits Dlinza, Ongoye, St Lucia, iSimangaliso (Eastern and Western shores), Bonamanzi, Nibela Peninsula, Muzi Pan, uMkhuze, Umlalazi, Amatikulu and Sappi Stanger.

The cost of all four tours includes guide, comfortable yet affordable accommodation, three meals per day, transport and entrance fees. The last three also include the services of a Zululand community site guide for half a day. The tours are aimed at birders, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and general biodiversity lovers.

Importantly, we have put in place a Covid-19 protocol and amended booking T&Cs, and use a Client Medical Declaration Form. We believe leisure accommodation and provincial borders will be open, but if not, we can either amend or postpone the tour. 

In the next issue we will focus on three variations on a Transfrontier Conservation Area theme.

For enquiries, please contact Michael Wright on 083 670 1436, info@sustainsafaris.com, https://www.sustainsafaris.com/scheduled-tours


Birds connect our world

Imagine undertaking a journey like no other, a pilgrimage of thousands of kilometres, twice a year every year. This is exactly what migratory birds do! World Migratory Bird Day gives us a nudge to stop and think about these amazing journeys, the equally amazing birds that make them, the threats they face en route and the importance of these long-distance fliers in our world today.

When you look up and see the first migratory bird of the season, do you ever consider the harrowing flight it has made, covering about 14 000km in the case of the Red Knot or up to 90 000km if it is an Arctic Tern? That’s a journey like no other, following a route its forebears have undertaken for millions of years, and an astonishing feat that requires endurance, strength and stamina.

Since 2006, World Migratory Bird Day has been celebrated on the second Saturdays in May and October , reflecting the cyclical nature of this long-haul migration. Aiming to engage people living along all the major flyways, the celebration is a global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the importance of working across national boundaries to protect them.

‘Birds Connect Our World’ is the theme for 2020 and it seems particularly relevant when humans around the globe are under some level of restricted movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights the importance of conserving and restoring ecological connectivity and the integrity of the ecosystems that support the natural cycles of migratory birds. These birds fly thousands of kilometres, relying on a complex migration strategy that requires numerous connected sites along a travel path that often spans hemispheres.

A Red Knot in breeding plumage.

Unfortunately, their journeys have become both more dangerous and more onerous as they face increased and more diverse threats, including habitat loss resulting from urbanisation, agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and climate change. Coordinated conservation action is therefore required to mitigate these threats. The birds stop over at specific sites along their migratory route to refuel and if these sites are not properly protected the consequences are likely to be dire – and not just for the birds. It is not only they that benefit from successful migrations; migratory birds are very important for ensuring that entire ecosystems are fully functioning, for example by dispersing seeds and controlling pests. They also provide many economic benefits, contributing to tourism, research, education and recreational activities that connect us to nature and to each other.

The East Atlantic Flyway, a recognised route for migratory birds, spans 75 countries and covers an area of approximately 45 605 000 km². Some of the most important sites found along this flyway are the Wadden Sea (Netherlands), a major staging and wintering site for waterbirds; the Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania), which accounts for more than 30% of all the waders using this flyway; Sandwich Harbour (Namibia), the most important wetland for waterbirds in southern Africa; and, closer to home, Langebaan Lagoon (South Africa), which supports high numbers of waterbirds.

As the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s East Atlantic Flyway project, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I will be working in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe to identify and address the threats faced by priority species and sites along the flyway and to conserve and connect these ecologically important areas through regional cooperation and transboundary biodiversity conservation. To our travelling friends and welcomed visitors, we say ‘Mi casa es tu casa’. 

For more information, visit www.worldmigratorybirdday.org

BRONWYN MAREE, EAST ATLANTIC FLYWAY INITIATIVE PROJECT MANAGER


Keeping Black Harriers safe

With wind energy presenting a new threat to South Africa’s scarcest endemic raptor, the Black Harrier, BirdLife South Africa has teamed up with two of the world’s foremost experts on the species, Dr Rob Simmons and Dr Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras, to provide evidence-based guidelines on how to assess and minimise that risk. The guidelines draw on up-to-date research and spatial information, including fine-scale habitat suitability models developed by BirdLife South Africa’s Science and Innovation Programme. They are the third in a series of guidelines on species most at risk from wind energy; others have been produced for the Cape Vulture and Verreaux’s Eagle. 

By providing advice on the appropriate location, impact assessment and management of wind energy facilities proposed within the ranges of species at risk, we hope to reduce conflict between wind energy and wildlife, and create a healthier environment for all. 

For more information, read our press release at https://www.birdlife.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/BirdLife-South-Africa-Media-release-A-close-shave-for-scarce-bird-of-prey.pdf. Our Birds and Renewable Energy webpage, https://www.birdlife.org.za/what-we-do/landscape-conservation/what-we-do/birds-renewable-energy/, is also very informative.

SAMANTHA RALSTON-PATON, BIRDS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT MANAGER


Southern Ground-Hornbill

Classified as Vulnerable worldwide and Endangered in South Africa, the Southern Ground-Hornbill faces an array of threats that make protecting the species a challenge. Some of the threats – and efforts to mitigate them – are highlighted in one of our recent fact files, while the species’ prominence in African cultures is featured in another. Do you, for example, know why it’s called the ‘rain bird’?

All the educational material about the Southern Ground-Hornbill, the 2020 Bird of the Year, can be downloaded for free from https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/ 

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, which is the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for supporting this campaign.

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR

The Virtual African Bird Fair

Watching the opening ceremony.

For about 15 years BirdLife South Africa has held physical African Bird Fairs, initially at the Johannesburg Zoo and latterly at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, and these popular events have been important activities on the calendars of Gauteng birders. Due to Covid-19, we had to change our mindset and we took on the challenge of transforming a physical fair into a virtual one – a first for BirdLife South Africa!

The easy way out would have been to cancel The African Bird Fair and leave it at that. But every week since the beginning of lockdown we have been hosting Conservation Conversation webinars that attract about 1000 viewers watching live and as many tuning in to the recording posted later on YouTube. The webinars’ popularity told us that the audience is there; we just need to continue spreading knowledge, creating communication opportunities and supporting the birding community in South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic. When it came to providing a fully fledged virtual fair, what we may have lacked in experience, we certainly made up for in motivation and inclination!

We found a company, Participate Technologies, to build a customised platform that would include the most important ingredients of a bird fair: speakers, exhibitors, learning, community and interaction. After that, the challenge was to find enough funding to make sure that we could host the fair with free admittance. The response was overwhelming, from both sponsors and exhibitors. We realised that the need to have a virtual presence, whether necessitated by the pandemic or by technological shifts in society, had become an important factor to companies and organisations across domains.

We were fortunate to secure five Platinum Sponsors: ZEISS, the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Italtile, Boundless Southern Africa and MSC Cruises. Our Gold Sponsors were Pick n Pay, Ford Wildlife Foundation, Swarovski, Canon and Leica, while Game Parks Publishing and Penguin Random House were our Silver Sponsors. We extend a special thank you to all these companies for their support and commitment to The Virtual African Bird Fair.

For the first time in the event’s 15-year history we had the opportunity to make it truly African. This meant that not only were attendees from all over Africa participating, but exhibitors and our BirdLife Africa Partners were involved too. More than 70 exhibitors were on the platform, showcasing products from around the world and important conservation efforts in their own countries, while local support from South African exhibitors included our affiliated bird clubs.

Just one of the many exhibitors at The Virtual African Bird Fair 2020.

The backbone of each African Bird Fair has always been the enthralling, high-quality speakers that we bring to the stage for birders to learn from and be entertained by – and the virtual platform allowed us to do this in spades. The schedule for the day operated over three channels, which we called our Main Feeder, Feeder 1 and Feeder 3, the implication being that this was where our attendees would congregate for their day’s sustenance. For most of the day we had three parallel sessions running, giving ample choice of content. The schedule began at 06h30 with a live game drive courtesy of WildEarth, which streamed wildlife from Kruger to Kenya. We then had some sessions for the kids before kicking off the proceedings in earnest with the official opening. This was a star-studded affair, headed by Mmaloko Kubayi-Ngubane, the Minister of Tourism in South Africa; Patricia Zurita, the CEO of BirdLife International; and Prof. Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

Through the middle of the day we covered such diverse topics as African and South African birding destinations; International Vulture Awareness Day; the conservation work of BirdLife South Africa, its African partners in the BirdLife family and some of our NGO partners in South Africa; the intricacies of bird art; current ornithological research at the FitzPatrick Institute; the value of citizen science projects such as the African Bird Atlas Project; and how to inspire new and young birders in Africa. We also had two panel discussions, one international panel led by Patricia Zurita covering the effects of the global pandemic on avitourism and birding events, and another chaired by BirdLife South Africa CEO Mark Anderson, which explored the value of local bird clubs.

We had three lectures to bring the event to a close: Duncan Butchart gave an inspiring talk on how to rewild your garden spaces to support and attract birds; Prof. Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, world-renowned palaeontologist and Honorary BirdLife South Africa President, explained the evolutionary origin of birds, flight and feathers; and then Peter Harrison MBE, the ‘David Attenborough of the Seas’, delivered our keynote conservation lecture on albatrosses. While a standing ovation is difficult to achieve on a virtual platform, the chat room comments were a veritable waterfall of applause. This was also our only paid event of the day, raising funds for albatross conservation. But there was more: the climax of the fair was the Biggest Bird Quiz in Africa, which tested attendees’ new knowledge. Never before has The African Bird Fair delivered such a wealth and diversity of content! 

Fifteen years on, we feel comfortable in knowing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to organising a physical bird fair, but that doesn’t mean to say that everything will run perfectly or that we can predict challenges before they happen. This is even more likely to be the case for a virtual fair, especially in its first year when everything is new to the organisers, speakers, exhibitors, sponsors and, of course, the attendees. Overall, though, the day progressed smoothly and any technical issues were resolved timeously. Our technical support team worked around the clock to ensure that we could deliver what we promised in terms of content – not even load shedding could faze us! We are proud to have produced what we feel was a world-class show, with many lessons learnt for future fairs, both virtual and physical.

This entire Virtual African Bird Fair would not have been possible without those who tuned in and supported us throughout the day. Your attendance and participation were outstanding and a true testament to the community to which we enjoy bringing such events. To our sponsors and exhibitors, your commitment and involvement made us proud to introduce your names and products into a digital space. Although the experience was a first for many of you, your enthusiasm and support made it worthwhile. To our speakers and presenters, we believe that content is key and you provided and produced the golden key! Thank you for the time and effort spent on your presentations; we hope you enjoyed both preparing your ‘stage’ and being part of our show. 

Finally, to the team that worked on the Virtual African Bird Fair, our partners, and now friends, at Participate Technologies – you were the magicians behind the day. Your professional support throughout the process made us very proud to have partnered with you and we believe this is the start of something very exciting for our birding community. And to our BirdLife South Africa colleagues who threw themselves into the event – it would not have been possible without you!

What’s next? The future is bright for events and fundraising initiatives and we now have a baseline to work from – and that means there’s only one way to go: up! We can’t ignore the benefits of physical events, but a virtual platform has opened the doors to so many new opportunities. Who’s to say that we can’t have both? Watch out for 2021 – it could see the first hybrid African Bird Fair, with several physical locations being brought together to the rest, virtually.

For those who missed out or still want to see what The African Bird Fair was all about, please visit https://bit.ly/birdfair2020

JULIE BAYLEY, EVENTS AND MARKETING CO-ORDINATOR; DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER; ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Guide relief fund roundup

The onset of the lockdown in South Africa was catastrophic. Our economy nose-dived, taking many people’s livelihoods with it; our national relief efforts were plundered by tenderpreneurs and corrupt officials; our country’s initial feel-good, #StrongerTogether attitude waned and a general feeling of anger and helplessness took its place. However, as always, we South Africans showed that we are resilient and will find a way to come together in the toughest times.

One instance of this ubuntu was the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund. Recognising the difficulties that would lie ahead for community bird guides, BirdLife South Africa proactively established this fund for the men and women from historically disadvantaged communities who have completed our training course to become freelance professional bird guides. These individuals have gone on to establish a benchmark in the industry as expert guides and are much in demand by birders visiting their sites. 

However, as travel ground to a halt these guides were up against the ropes. Most are single breadwinners in extended families and we knew we had to help them get through this lean period. We made a crowdfunding appeal to the birding community to support their guides and within just a few weeks we had disbursed payments to more than 30 guides. We then received enough funding to continue this on a monthly basis and were even able to increase the number of beneficiaries to more than 40. 

The generosity of individuals, clubs and organisations raised R700 000 in total, a testament to the regard that the birding community has for these guides and the goodwill that exists among birders in South Africa. These monthly contributions were a lifeline for the guides, and both we and they cannot thank you enough for this support. While we were not able to entirely replace their income, the disbursements were enough to cover monthly food, electricity, water and other essentials for them and their families. 

Now, as the lockdown has dropped to Level 2 and interprovincial travel is re-opening, we have reassessed our options. Many of our guides have begun working again, albeit in smaller groups and in accordance with lockdown regulations. The committee behind the fund took the decision to stop asking for donations in August and to switch to asking people to support the guides directly by booking their services. We will continue to disburse payments until mid-November, when the fund will be completely depleted. 

If you would like to book a community bird guide, you can find their details at https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/community-bird-guides/. We have guides in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, and would ask any birders going to these provinces to see which guides service the sites they intend to visit. Though there are several popular established guides, we also ask that you try out some of the newer recruits. And please don’t forget the female community bird guides – they sometimes struggle to get as much work as their male peers. By supporting the bird guides you are enabling them to support in turn their families and communities. Most of our guides are involved in community initiatives such as school programmes and vegetable gardens, so remember to ask about these and contribute if you have the means.

BirdLife South Africa does not actively manage these guides, but we do have an excellent relationship with each of them and market their services through our networks. All bookings and tour costs need to be discussed with the guide in question. If you have any queries about supporting the guide training project or any related issues, you can contact me at andrew.deblocq@birdlife.org.za

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Help us make Marion mouse-free

Wandering Albatrosses performing a courtship display on Marion Island. Credit John Dickens

Momentum for the Mouse-Free Marion Project is growing and recently included the establishment of a management committee and the advertising of a contract position for a project manager. The project’s goal – to eradicate the house mouse from Marion Island in 2023 – is a challenging one, which is why BirdLife South Africa is looking for someone with experience and dedication who will get the enterprise up and running in 2023. And if the project is a success, it could effectively prevent 17 seabird species from going extinct on the island, including a quarter of the globe’s nesting Wandering Albatrosses, the largest seabird on the planet.

The management committee, set up by BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, will oversee the implementation of the eradication plan, including the appointment of a project manager to start in early 2021. This challenging position will require extensive experience of complex, large-scale projects in demanding conditions. Similar eradication endeavours have been successful on more than 160 islands and involved highly skilled teams with expert knowledge of the harsh conditions and the risks associated with these operations.

The project manager will need to play the key role in contracting the team and making sure that all preparations are made for the effective removal of all mice from Marion Island in 2023. Successful eradication will ultimately eliminate the extinction risk posed by these alien predators to the 17 seabird species, including four threatened albatrosses. We can make a serious difference to the conservation of these and other seabird species globally if we get this right.

If you are interested in this position, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/who-we-are/vacancies/ to find out more. 

DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


Zululand zone for vultures

The beautiful Zululand region in northern KwaZulu-Natal is home to five of South Africa’s nine vulture species and an important breeding area for these magnificent birds, particularly for the tree-nesting and Critically Endangered White-backed Vulture. Driven by Clive Vivier, the owner of Leopard Mountain Lodge, landowners in the region have committed to managing their properties in ways that will maximise the safety of vultures. Covering the length of the Zululand Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, the new Zululand Vulture Safe Zone stretches from Pongola in the north to the Mkuze section of the iSimangaliso National Park.

Many of the landowners maintain supplementary feeding sites for the local vulture populations and have set up a mobile chat group to monitor the whereabouts of the birds and coordinate a feeding programme in the hope that a consistent supply of food will minimise the lure of carcasses laced with poison by poachers. In addition, they will now ensure that carcasses and gut piles put out at ‘vulture restaurants’ are free of lead and contaminants; that water reservoirs are fitted with escape ladders to prevent drowning; and that lead-free ammunition is used for hunting and culling. Certain members of their staff will receive poison response training, nesting trees will be safeguarded, powerlines will be monitored and nesting vultures will be kept free of disturbance.

Although Vulture Safe Zones may not remove the threats that poachers pose to vultures, they will go a long way towards minimising those threats that can be prevented. BirdLife South Africa would like to thank the landowners and reserve managers who are committed to ensuring that vultures remain an enduring part of the Zululand landscape.

LINDA VAN DEN HEEVER, VULTURE PROJECT MANAGER


Out & about with African Birdlife

Tired of being cooped up in lockdown? Aren’t we all. But the latest issue of African Birdlife offers solace by highlighting Hermanus and Zululand as local birding destinations and helping to plan trips further afield to Ethiopia and the Vumba in Zimbabwe. Or you could subscribe and win a holiday in the Waterberg. And if you haven’t yet had your fill of reading detective stories, try the one involving a Madagascar Pratincole…


Reaching out to partners

Over the past few months the staff of the Conservation Division have been exploring partnerships with other conservation organisations. Colleagues working on avitourism, Seabird Conservation and Landscape Conservation projects have held discussions with WILDTRUST, Singita Lowveld Trust, Boundless Southern Africa, Good Work Foundation and Ecotraining to investigate opportunities for collaboration. We already have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Peace Parks Foundation and have been able to expand our current work within its structure, focusing on projects of mutual interest within Transfrontier Conservation Areas across the southern African region. These include Vulture Safe Zones, Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) and avitourism opportunities relating to the training and upskilling of guides.

Daniel Marnewick and Bronwyn Maree of the Regional Conservation Programme have been looking into collaboration beyond South Africa’s borders and their discussions with other BirdLife Partners (BirdLife Zimbabwe, BirdWatch Zambia and BirdLife Botswana) have focused on the potential of identifying KBAs and OECMs, the establishment of Vulture Safe Zones and the opportunities for avitourism in the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) region. Daniel and Bronwyn have also been researching other opportunities in Angola and Namibia.

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION



Environmental NGOs after Covid-19

What role can environmental NGOs play in the post-Covid economic recovery? It’s a question that members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) have been considering for the past six months. Their first meeting, held in April, was attended by Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy, who directed participants to work in four dialogue groups and provided further input through representatives from the DEFF.

The discussions and report sessions have continued over the past few months and BirdLife South Africa’s involvement has been centred on nature-based tourism (Andrew de Blocq and myself), biodiversity conservation (Daniel Marnewick) and green infrastructure (Melissa Howes-Whitecross and Giselle Murison). Giselle chaired the discussion group on green infrastructure and took its recommendations to the minister in a subsequent meeting in July. Andrew led a subgroup within the nature-based tourism group that focused on diversifying skill sets and livelihoods for trained guides. The Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa (IPASA) subsequently joined the IUCN and DEFF in a follow-up symposium to seek synergies and engage potential new funders.

BirdLife South Africa continues to be involved in the dialogue groups, with discussions now being opened to IUCN members within the SADC region.

DR HANNELINE SMIT-ROBINSON, HEAD OF CONSERVATION


2021 calendar

BirdLife South Africa, in collaboration with Chamberlain, is proud to present its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images, one for each month of the year. The calendars are selling for R150 each (excluding delivery) and make beautiful gifts for friends, loved ones, colleagues and clients.

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER


Rain bird

As a large and unmistakable inhabitant of the bushveld, the Southern Ground-Hornbill plays a prominent role in African cultures and is perhaps best known as a harbinger of the rainy season. Bad omen or protector, it appears to have a number of different attributes, as this month’s infographic describes. And such attributes are both interesting in themselves and important to consider for the conservation of the species.

The free educational material, which includes fact files, infographics and lesson plans, as well as stickers, are all available at https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR 


An appeal for binoculars

Field rangers are the backbone of every protected area; on the ground they help to keep wildlife and humans safe. These brave men patrol our reserve day and night, walking among dangerous game without fear. To be able to detect poachers from afar, keep eyes on vulture activity and monitor rhinos and other endangered wildlife, they need the right resources.

We appeal to the public: if you have a pair of binoculars you no longer use, please consider donating it to our rangers to assist them in their daily work. With the right tools, our team can be far more effective in keeping safe our wildlife, in the air and on the ground.

If you have binoculars to donate, please contact us at compliance@manyoni.co.za and we can arrange collection or easily courier them using PEP PAXI services.

KAREN ODENDAAL, 082 885 1824, MKUZE 8319


Spring Alive!

Waiting for spring migrants. Credit Kristi Garland

Spring Alive is an international project that encourages children to take an interest in nature and specifically the conservation of migratory birds, take action for birds and other wildlife and participate in events organised by BirdLife Partners in Europe, Asia and Africa. Having begun in Europe in 2006, the project soon spread to Central Asia and, in 2010, it extended into Africa. Here, from September until mid-December, children and adults look out for the return of the same seven species from their breeding grounds in the north.

The project brings together children and their teachers and families to record their first sightings of the easily recognised migratory birds: Barn Swallows, White Storks, Common Cuckoos, Sand Martins, Common Swifts, Common Ringed Plovers and European Bee-eaters. The first sightings of these mascots of migration are posted on www.springalive.net to create a real-time map of the incredible journeys the birds make every year. Each spring a theme is selected by the International Steering Group to guide the season’s objectives.

Spring migrants mask parade at Country College. Credit Kristi Garland

Spring Alive encompasses many indoor and outdoor events designed to engage children, schools and the wider community in the conservation of migratory birds. I lead the project in South Africa and design a range of take-home resources and activities for schools and community groups, as well as add to the growing collection of storybooks about the migrants. The resources for the 2020 season include a ‘Chasing Migration’ board game and a kamishibai story about the Common Ringed Plover.

‘Chasing Migration’ takes participants on an adventure of discovery from the northern hemisphere to the south. Each one plays as a mascot – Ari the European Bee-eater, Ringo the White Stork, Sterling the Common Swift, Cloud the Barn Swallow, Stone the Sand Martin, Cedar the Common Cuckoo or Wren the Common Ringed Plover – and the aim is to collect as many energy points as possible by answering questions relating to the mascot species, important aspects of migration and being a good birder. Answer correctly and you gain energy to continue the migration; a wrong answer means you lose energy. There are safe stopovers where participants can rest for a while before taking to the skies again. The winner is the one who not only completes the migration, but also has the most energy at the end of the game.

Practising identification skills. Credit Kristi Garland

Kamishibai is a form of Japanese street theatre and storytelling that was popular during the Depression of the 1930s and the post-war period in Japan before the advent of television. Using this format, a story was created around the migration of the Common Ringed Plover with artwork by a local Wakkerstroom resident, Carol Preston. Carol has supported the Spring Alive project for the past three years and worked with me and another local, Judy-Lynn Wheeler, on the storybooks Ringo, the White Stork and The Family of Bee-eaters

Under the theme of how to be a good birder, the Spring Alive annual art competition is open to all children in South Africa under the age of 16. Using paints, pencils or any other medium, they should design a picture that shows how to watch birds, being respectful of the area and the birds being watched. If they want something more to sink their teeth into, they can create their own kamishibai story about one of the Spring Alive mascots, presenting it either in a PowerPoint format with voice-over or a recording of themselves telling the story in the traditional kamishibai way. Awesome prizes can be won for both the art and the kamishibai competitions; entries close on 15 December 2020.

Wildlife groups, clubs, teachers and others who would like to become more involved in Spring Alive can contact me at kristi.garland@birdlife.org.za or 081 726 5282 for more details.

KRISTI GARLAND, WAKKERSTROOM CENTRE MANAGER

Wattled Crane success

The proud Wattled Crane parents guard the nest site where the chick was hidden.
Credit Carina Pienaar

Located near De Beers Pass on the escarpment between Harrismith and Ladysmith, the 8000ha Ingula Nature Reserve protects high-altitude grassland and marshy wetland. It’s also home to more than 13 threatened species monitored for breeding activity each year. For most of these species, breeding takes place in summer; however some, like the regionally Critically Endangered Wattled Crane, more often than not breed in winter.

The Wattled Crane is one of four Critically Endangered species recorded in the reserve, the others being the White-winged Flufftail and the Bearded and White-backed vultures. High-altitude wetland covers about 1200ha of the reserve and is of critical importance for water production and filtration – and not only for the surrounding area, but also for Gauteng. Managing this wetland and the surrounding grassland to optimise and maintain their biodiversity is a priority and the relevant authority takes great care to ensure that good grazing patterns are implemented and to limit traditional annual fires to areas that require the removal of old, moribund vegetation.

To show just how important Wattled Cranes are at Ingula, BirdLife South Africa’s Robin Colyn developed a Wattle Crane Species Action Plan in 2015, which has recently been revised. The plan aims to inform optimal management of the wetland for the cranes and other biodiversity, using the Wattled Crane as an indicator species.

Ingula Nature Reserve’s wetland in summer. Credit Fifi Meyer

Although there are still challenges, recent developments have proven that management seems to be effective for the resident pair of Wattled Cranes. Since we started to actively monitor their breeding in 2014, five chicks have fledged – most recently at the beginning of this month. This current fledgling, named Lockdown Lucy, is now the third in three consecutive years and the second chick to have hatched in this particular nest. Visitors to Ingula are frequently treated to sightings of the proud family, as the previous chick remained in the reserve until March 2020, just before incubation commenced for Lockdown Lucy.

Another pair can be seen on a neighbouring farm and it too has had some breeding success, raising a chick in 2018. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to confirm more recent chicks, although breeding behaviour has been recorded.

The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 considers the Wattled Crane to be a regional rarity for the Free State, as it is confined mostly to these eastern wetlands. It may not be so rare at Ingula, but it is still a sight to be valued, respected and celebrated!

CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA PROJECT MANAGER



The Virtual African Bird Fair

For about 15 years BirdLife South Africa has held physical bird fairs, initially at the Johannesburg Zoo and latterly at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. They have been very popular and an important activity on the calendar of Gauteng birders. Due to Covid-19, we have decided to organise a virtual event in 2020. And, as it will be virtual, we can now make it a truly African event. Already we have secured the support of many South African organisations, as well as a growing number of those that work all round the continent.

We are using an amazing platform that will allow a range of people to present both live and pre-recorded talks. There will also be discussions, interviews, demonstrations and even a quiz. Many exhibitors will be present, from bird tour operators and bird clubs to optics companies and bird feeder manufacturers.

Our weekly Conservation Conversation webinars are a great success, with up to 1000 people watching live and just as many tuning in to the subsequent recording on YouTube. So we know we can reach a large audience. As The Virtual African Bird Fair is being marketed globally, we’re expecting that several thousands of people will join us during the course of the day.

So what are you waiting for? Register now at https://eventapp.co.za/birdlife/

Need a little more persuasion? Two of the speakers joining us will be Peter Harrison and Graeme Arnott, and you can be sure they will have plenty of interest to say.

Peter Harrison MBE has led birding expeditions all over the globe and has written and/or illustrated more than a dozen bird books, most famously Seabirds: An Identification Guide. In early 2021 he will be launching a completely new identification guide, with all-new text and plates. Peter has dedicated his life to protecting birds and was rewarded with the Conservation Gold Medal Award by the RSPB. The Linnaean Society of New York bestowed on him the Eisenmann Medal for Excellence in Ornithology in 2017 and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has made him a Member of the British Empire. Peter will be familiar to those who joined us on Flock at Sea in 2017 and, as the keynote speaker at The Virtual African Bird Fair 2020, he will once again regale us with tales of albatrosses.

Graeme Arnott is one of southern Africa’s best bird artists. Having grown up in Zimbabwe, he now resides in Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape, where he is a full-time artist. He most recently illustrated most of the passerines for Roberts VII. Graeme has donated one of his paintings as an item for The Virtual African Bird Fair’s silent auction, the proceeds of which will help to support BirdLife South Africa’s important work. He will be exhibiting other artworks for sale – and donating one-third of the proceeds – and, in an interview with Tim Cockcroft from his studio, will be contributing to our session on bird art.

For more information, please contact me at julie.bayley@birdlife.org.za (exhibitors and virtual platform); Andrew de Blocq at andrew.deblocq@birdlife.org.za (speakers and schedule information); or Tanya Caldwell at tanya.caldwell@birdlife.org.za (sponsorship).

JULIE BAYLEY, MARKETING AND EVENTS COORDINATOR


Southern Banded Snake Eagles in KZN

The Southern Banded Snake Eagle team (left to right): Dr Jess Briner, Junior Gabela,
Kyle Walker, Craig Nattrass and Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross. Credit Melissa Howes-
Whitecross

Mtunzini, a town nestled in coastal forest bordering the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, is home to a small population of Critically Endangered Southern Banded Snake Eagles. With only 50 individuals estimated to occur in South Africa, the species is regarded as one of our rarest raptors. It’s also one of the least understood, although we do know that its preferred habitat of dense coastal forest and savanna-like thicket is being taken over by mining, forestry and agricultural enterprises; what is left is highly fragmented across the eagle’s range. But if we can protect this species, one of the few apex avian predators in coastal forest, all the other wildlife of this habitat will benefit.

Over the past five years, BirdLife South Africa has sought to improve our knowledge of the Southern Banded Snake Eagles of coastal KwaZulu-Natal. Many hours of observation, together with location data collected by citizen scientists, have led us to a better understanding of the species’ distribution in South Africa. Now it is time for the next phase of this long-term study, which will be carried out using GSM solar-charged tracking devices to monitor the daily movements of adult birds in their territories.

With the help of Junior Gabela, a superb bird guide in the Mtunzini area, Dr Jessica Briner, a wildlife expert from Briner Veterinary Services, and Craig Nattrass, a skilled bird ringer from the Wits Bird Club, the BirdLife South Africa team – Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross and myself – embarked on the first Southern Banded Snake Eagle trapping trip. Our hopes were high as we travelled down to Mtunzini in the first week of August, but with reservations; the birds are notoriously difficult to locate.

A feather moult assessment of one of the female Southern Banded Snake Eagles.
Credit Kyle Walker

We set out at dawn the next day and drove around for an hour before eagle-eyed Junior spotted a pair of the snake eagles perched in the forest canopy. After we’d deployed the necessary equipment, the female came in and, with bird in hand, we worked rapidly to fit a small ring around her leg and a lightweight tracker on her back and to take blood samples for DNA purposes. After the procedure the female took flight and has been active in her territory ever since. The capture of the second female progressed in much the same way, although we were kindly given a helping hand by a few Mtunzini locals. A third snake eagle proved to be more of a challenge and we had to settle for two out of three – a score we are still ecstatic about.

The two females are the first Southern Banded Snake Eagles to be tracked to date and their daily movements as recorded by the tracker will improve our understanding of their habitat preferences and, in particular, how they use eucalyptus plantations and their highly fragmented natural forest habitat. The results of this study will help to inform conservation authorities, landowners, farmers and plantation managers about the Southern Banded Snake Eagle’s habitat requirements, with a particular focus on improving the interface between natural forest and eucalyptus plantations. Our thanks go to Hugh Chittenden and Fred Mittermayer for their help during the trapping trip and continued updates.

BirdLife South Africa would like to hear from you if you have recently seen these special birds. Please e-mail the location of the sighting and a brief description of the snake eagle’s behaviour to me at kyle.walker@birdlife.org.za. With your help, we would like to improve the conservation of this cryptic species and the few remaining fragments of forest in which it survives.

KYLE WALKER, RAPTOR AND LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER


More about Southern Ground-Hornbills

Different bird species live in different environments – biomes – that provide the conditions the birds require to exist and, hopefully, thrive. This month we provide a lesson plan about how the environment contributes to the breeding success of our Bird of the Year, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and about different biomes and how they relate to survival, reproduction and conservation. We also offer another great colouring-in page for kids (and others) to add to their collection.

The lesson plan and colouring-in page for August, as well as all the educational material for previous months of the year, are available for free download on our website at https://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


Especially for birders – and bird guides

Birding Ecotours, a Birder Friendly Tour Operator, is raising funds to assist community bird guides in South Africa (https://www.birdingecotours.com/birdlife-south-africa-community-guides/) and around the world (https://www.birdingecotours.com/guides-relief-effort/), and thanks to generous fellow birders we’d raised about R50 000 by the end of July – and still counting. This has literally put food on the table for a good number of people who usually earn a living from bird guiding but whose source of income abruptly dried up several months ago due to Covid-19.

To raise more funds to help meet the huge need and assist a greater number of people through these difficult times, we’re offering a 5% discount to tour participants and are also donating 5% of the total tour cost to community bird guides – who desperately need the money right now – for any of our tours booked before the end of September this year (we’re extending this offer beyond the original end of August deadline especially for readers of the BirdLife South Africa newsletter!). More details about how this will work can be found at https://www.birdingecotours.com/guides-relief-effort/

To make a booking, please e-mail info@birdingecotours.com and if you quote ‘BLSA’ we’ll donate the 5% to BirdLife South Africa’s community bird guide relief fund; otherwise we’ll allocate it to the bird guide whom we feel needs it the most. We work with guides all over the world, from Indonesia to Ecuador to Cameroon, and some of them are really suffering right now.

Effectively we’re giving away 10%: 5% tour discount to you as a client and 5% to a community bird guide. This applies to day trips as well as longer tours, all of which are detailed at www.birdingecotours.com. We are only taking bookings for 2021 and 2022 tours and are not running any tours at present so as to avoid risking anyone’s safety. If the pandemic is not under control by the time your tour is due, there will be no penalties if you postpone for this reason.

If you prefer to simply donate rather than join a tour, please go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/birdlife-guide-relief-fund/ and you can donate online via BirdLife South Africa.


Updates from Ostrich 

To view the latest issue of Ostrich online, go to https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tost20/current

With ornithologists cancelling field trips and writing up their research during lockdown, the Ostrich team has been very busy recently. A number of articles have been published online ahead of print and can be found at https://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=tost20

These include a number of important papers, such as this one on the impact of wind turbines on birds, a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2020.1770889

Another is a report from Ben Dilley and his team on rats and prions on Tristan da Cunha https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2020.1771622

One of two papers on the White-winged Flufftail can be found at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2020.1737259

A team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal reports on the ranging behaviour of Long-crested Eagles at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2020.1770888

And an interesting nest manipulation experiment on Monteiro’s Hornbill is documented at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2020.1794998

Please contact the authors or editor should you require access to an article.


A human right to a healthy planet

More than 100 civil society organisations from around the world are petitioning the United Nations (UN), and if they’re successful the world body will make history by adding a new article to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the first time since its inception in 1948. The pioneering addition is the universal human right to live on a healthy planet. BirdLife South Africa is a core #1Planet1Right campaign partner and you can play your part by signing the petition at https://www.birdlife.org.za/

The #1Planet1Right campaign is dedicated to establishing this new human right and is led by BirdLife International, the world’s largest conservation partnership. Joining it are other civil society organisations such as ClientEarth and the Global Pact for the Environment, while Dr David R. Boyd, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, has endorsed it. On Earth Day, #1Planet1Right sent a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres officially requesting the new human right and it will continue to put pressure on the UN by launching the global petition.

So why is this necessary? According to the World Health Organization, 23% of global deaths are linked to damage to and the destruction of our natural environment, while hundreds of millions of people suffer from illnesses related to living in an unhealthy or unnatural environment. 

Climate change results directly in more intense and frequent storms, droughts and wildfires and rising sea levels, which in turn threaten the lives of billions of people. The Covid-19 pandemic has its roots in habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade. This new human right could help to ensure that the green recovery the world needs to rebuild society following the pandemic takes into account both biodiversity and climate emergencies. 

#1Planet1Right calls on the UN to vote to include discussion of the right to a healthy natural environment at the UN Human Rights Council, in the UN General Assembly and as an urgent topic at the UN Summit on Biodiversity in mid-September 2020, with a view to including it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by 2023.

Commenting on the proposed new right, Dr Boyd says, ‘The right to a healthy planet, as a universally recognised human right, would be a powerful addition to the toolkit for saving the planet. The right to a healthy environment already provides the foundation for much of the progress we are seeing in different nations around the globe. What we need to do now is seize this moment of global eco-crisis to secure United Nations recognition of this right so that everyone, everywhere benefits. The human right to a healthy planet, if recognised by all nations, could be the most important human right of the 21st century.’

Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International, adds, ‘Our planet’s health is our health. If our planet is sick, we become sick. And right now, our planet has never been more ill. The survival of humanity is already threatened by the climate and biodiversity crises, and this pandemic has pushed us one step closer to the brink. In order to transform, and save society, the starting point must be to ensure that every person has the same baseline – guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy planet.’


Last chance to win!

Time is running out, but your name can still be entered into the lucky draw to win a pair of ZEISS binoculars. All existing and new Conservation League Donors stand a chance to win a fantastic pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars worth R19 800.

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

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

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

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP MANAGER

Sasol 5 is here!

For a long time the Sasol illustrated field guides have been on the top shelf of the proverbial bookcase stacked with excellent bird books in South Africa. Now the fifth edition of Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, or Sasol 5, has set a new benchmark for local field guides, with the inclusion of a new species, additional annotations to assist with identification and an innovative barcode function to play bird calls via a paired free app.

On 9 July BirdLife South Africa co-hosted the launch of this latest edition, with its two associated apps. As befitting the times, this was a virtual event: a panel comprising four authors and one of the artists answered questions in an interview that was broadcast live to more than 2500 viewers in their homes, as well as many more who watched the recording later on YouTube.

Pippa Parker, publisher of the Struik Nature imprint for Penguin Random House, opened the proceedings and was followed by Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, who explained why it was such an easy decision for the organisation to endorse this excellent publication. Facilitator Mike Buckham then introduced authors Dr Warwick Tarboton, Prof. Peter Ryan, Dr Dom Rollinson and Niall Perrins and artist Faansie Peacock and proceeded to lead them in an engaging discussion prompted by questions from the audience as well as his own.

The topics covered included the history of the Sasol guides, the choice of the cover species, this guide’s additional features, Faansie’s innovative illustration techniques, the science behind decisions to include or exclude species, anecdotes relating to the new records for the subregion and a fun guessing game as to which new species might make it into the next edition. The event was the first virtual launch for Struik Nature, whose staff commented that it was a lockdown highlight. It certainly set a record for a launch attendance, as the online platform allowed many more people to ‘attend’ than a physical event could.

 

The launch of Sasol 5 covered the English and Afrikaans editions and checklists, as well as the apps.

Available in English or Afrikaans, Sasol 5 can be ordered through BirdLife South Africa and we are currently offering it at a discounted price. To get your copy, go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/sasol-vol-5-pre-order or e-mail membership@birdlife.org.za. The free bird calls app (called Struik Nature Calls) and the app version of the book (Sasol E-Birds) are available at the relevant app stores. The Sasol E-Birds app can be downloaded for half price until the end of July, so don’t delay!

It was a pleasure to be involved with this launch and we would like to thank Pippa and the Struik Nature team for inviting us to partner with them on this auspicious occasion. Sasol 5 is a welcome addition to South African birding libraries and will help to foster a love for birds and the environment that will spur future conservation efforts.

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER


Pied Crows proliferating

Image credit Charles J. Sharp

With the support of the Bakwena N1N4 Toll Concession, BirdLife South Africa convened a workshop to analyse why the Pied Crow population is on the rise in this country and identify what this could mean for the environment at large. The meeting – virtual, of course – was an opportunity to work on a review of Pied Crows compiled by Dr Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl and has resulted in an up-to-date account of the status of Pied Crows in South Africa.

An indigenous medium to large bird, the Pied Crow is found across much of sub-Saharan Africa and in South Africa has a close affiliation with urban and rural settlements, road networks and electricity and cellular infrastructure. Recent evidence indicates that the population of these social birds has grown steadily in parts of the country, most significantly in the Northern Cape. The growth can be attributed to a number of factors, such as climate change, altered land-use practices and an expanding road and power network. However, before any meaningful management decisions are made, potentially to the detriment of co-existing wildlife, it is important to understand the species’ ecological role. The workshop was used as a platform for academics, conservation managers, industry and NGOs to discuss a need for action and to strategise future research, infrastructure and landscape management plans.

Over the years, the Pied Crow has gained a somewhat unsavoury reputation in some quarters, particularly among farmers. It is a highly intelligent and adaptable species, capable of colonising new environments that were inaccessible to it before humans came and developed them; in the Northern Cape, for example, it has quickly capitalised on the advent of tall electricity pylons and cell-phone towers. As generalist predators, these crows are known to feed on reptiles, small mammals, carrion and even newborn lambs. Their impact on agriculture is relatively well documented and has led to small-scale efforts – often in vain – to eradicate them from the farming landscape. Unfortunately, most control methods are indiscriminate, if not illegal, and often lead to incidental persecution of endangered animals.

Furthermore, limited research into the biology of Pied Crows has preliminarily highlighted their impact on young tortoises, small nesting birds and even large nesting vultures. The evidence is anecdotal, but they are known to aggressively mob large birds of prey and have been seen plucking tail feathers from raptors in flight. The increasing number of conflicts and resulting physiological and psychological impacts on young raptors could become debilitating.

Thank you to all the attendees who contributed to a successful Pied Crow workshop.

Although evidence seems to be mounting against this ‘native invader’, the exact role that Pied Crows play in the environment is still poorly understood. As one of the few avian scavengers remaining in the Karoo landscape, their activities as the road-kill clean-up crew may be substantially more important than we currently understand. So before any lethal control methods can be proposed, we need to refine our understanding of the biology of the species. In the meantime, its close affiliation with anthropogenic infrastructure and its reliance on waste should be the starting point of an action plan. Improving the waste management systems around towns and rural settlements will limit the consistent source of food required by large flocks of Pied Crows and their chicks. Similarly, better infrastructure management will limit the number of available nesting sites and reduce breeding attempts.

The workshop concluded with a clear set of research questions and objectives for land-use managers and NGOs to act upon. The comprehensive Pied Crow review, which now includes clearly defined objectives and an action plan, will be published on the BirdLife South Africa website later this year. We will endeavour to maintain the collaborative momentum and push for further research and improved infrastructure and landscape management over the coming years. The solution to the Pied Crow conundrum is immensely complicated, but with the help of numerous stakeholders the revised research and management objectives will lead to a better understanding of Pied Crows – and thus improved conservation efforts.

KYLE WALKER, RAPTOR AND LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER


Where to see Southern Ground-Hornbills

Southern Ground-Hornbills occur in savanna, open woodland and grassland habitats, and you can learn more about these vital environments in this month’s fact file about BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2020. In July we are also releasing a new sticker design that you can use to help promote these fascinating and Endangered birds and our important campaign.

July’s fact file, along with the other fact files, infographics and lesson plans, are available at https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/ and can be downloaded for free.

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

CAITLIN JUDGE, ILLUSTRATOR


Update: Flock to Marion 2021

Previously BirdLife South Africa told Flock to Marion passengers via various media that we would provide feedback about next year’s voyage to Marion Island by mid-July 2020. Given the extremely difficult and unpredictable circumstances in our country (and, indeed, around the world), we have been working with cruise company MSC to find a viable solution that benefits all. These discussions are now at an advanced stage and we will soon be in a position to provide clarity.

We understand that you would like to like to know whether Flock to Marion will go ahead or be postponed and we appreciate the urgency of this matter for many of you. We are in regular contact with MSC and hope to communicate the way forward in the near future. Before we do so, however, we need to ensure that all avenues have been considered and all bases covered. In the meantime, we are grateful for your patience.

MARK D. ANDERSON, CEO


Paul and Sally Bartho at Epupa Falls.

We have a winner!

Paul Bartho is the lucky winner of the Jackpot Birding cash prize – congratulations! The draw, overseen by Andrew Mitchell, the chairman of BirdLife South Africa’s Audit & Risk Committee, took place at Isdell House on 15 July and the winning ticket was pulled by Yvonne Pennington, a member of the Board of Directors. We sold 835 tickets for the raffle, raising valuable funds for BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work. Thank you very much to everyone who supported us by buying a ticket or encouraging others to do so.

Paul, a member of BirdLife South Africa, is an avid birder based in KwaZulu-Natal.

EMMA ASKES


15 episodes and counting…

 

 

Every Tuesday evening at 19h00 BirdLife South Africa’s Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross hosts a Conservation Conversations webinar via Zoom. Started as an effort to keep members informed during lockdown about BirdLife South Africa’s work, these virtual meetings have become a weekly staple and a ‘ray of sunshine’ for many who are confined to their homes. All the webinars are recorded and posted on YouTube for anyone who is unable to join in the live fun. Recordings of previous webinars can also be accessed on BirdLife South Africa’s YouTube channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage (see below). You can also register for upcoming webinars at this site.

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

We are grateful to the many generous souls who have sent in donations for the production of the webinars via the Quicket collections platform at www.quicket.co.za/event/103556/collect or the BirdLife South Africa website.

The White-winged Flufftail and the birds of the Benguela ecosystem have featured so far in July’s talks, and Daniel Marnewick explained how the global biodiversity conservation community will adapt to a world after Covid-19, in light of how the pandemic has already affected the ‘Big Year for Biodiversity’ plans that the Congress on Biological Diversity had made for 2020. In the final talk for July, in collaboration with Jacana Media, Lee Gutteridge and Kersey Lawrence will share their insights into the tracks of birds in southern Africa.

Coming up in August, BirdLife South Africa’s CEO Mark Anderson will discuss the conservation of Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam; Reason Nyengera will describe what it’s like living at sea in order to protect seabirds; the National Lead Task Team will explain what is being done to shield wildlife from the impacts of lead; and Dr Warwick Tarboton and Fanie du Plessis will talk about what has been achieved in the 20 years of the Nylsvley Woodland Bird Census. Be sure to tune in for these amazing meetings every Tuesday at 19h00.

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

DR MELISSA HOWES-WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER


 

Another bumper issue!

As postal delays are continuing to impact delivery of copies of the July/August issue of African Birdlife, BirdLife South Africa members and subscribers to the magazine are being sent a link to the digital version, as was done for the May/June 2020 issue. So one way or another, you’ll be able to marvel at amazing photos of Peregrines and birds in action in the Kruger Park and read thought-provoking articles on effects of Covid-19 on birdlife, accipiter range expansions and contractions, temperature control in Southern Ground-Hornbills, atlasing in Kenya – and those are just the main features…

 


The long way round…

Steve Kafka (centre) and his crew back in Dunedin after 226 days at sea. Credit: Marc Severinsen

I’ve often been asked how far I’d be willing to go for conservation and until recently I thought I’d go a long way. But Steve Kafka, captain of the RSV Evohe, and his crew have gone much further than most.

Chartered by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Evohe transported members of the Gough Island Restoration Programme to the island to begin preparations to set bait for invasive house mice. Although the charter officially started only in February 2020, the New Zealand-registered yacht had to leave her home port of Dunedin on 27 November 2019 to reach Cape Town in time. By March she had completed one trip to Gough and was about to embark on the second when the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic became unavoidable and the programme was postponed.

With borders closing, the Evohe returned to Gough to evacuate stranded team members so that they could return to their various home countries. In the meantime, backup teams in the UK and South Africa worked around the clock, liaising with embassies to find secure routes to get everyone home. It was decided that the safest option would be for the Evohe to travel from Gough to Ascension Island, just below 8°S in the Atlantic Ocean and 13 days’ sailing away. From there a Royal Air Force flight took the team members back to the UK and they dispersed to their respective home countries, arriving three weeks after leaving Gough Island.

For the Evohe, however, the journey home was just beginning. Most countries had closed their borders by now and Steve and his crew decide their best route would be via the Panama Canal. Once in the Pacific Ocean they sailed south-westward, past the Galápagos Islands and onwards to New Zealand. They initially intended to stop at Tahiti, but with favourable trade winds and concerned that they may not be allowed to leave the port, they kept going and arrived back in Dunedin on 12 July – an incredible 226 days after their departure in November.

While most of us have been inundated with daily statistics, updates and information about the pandemic, the crew aboard the Evohe were isolated from world news. Their journey turned out very different from the one planned, but it certainly was an adventure. Next time someone asks me how far I’m willing to go for conservation, I might reconsider my response – spending 226 days at sea will not be part of my answer!

The RSPB is immensely grateful to Steve and his crew for their willingness to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances and for striving to get the team home safely. It is hoped the eradication programme on Gough Island will be reinstated in 2021, but a decision will only be made later this year. For more information about the programme or to make a donation, please go to https://www.goughisland.com/

NINI VAN DER MERWE, INTERNATIONAL LIAISON AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR


High tech helps at De Hoop

A screenshot from the DeepAlert system on the day of installation.

Motion trigger cameras can be very useful for monitoring, but in certain situations they produce a lot of false triggers from wind-blown vegetation, insects and the like. BirdLife South Africa is working with CapeNature and SANCCOB to re-establish a colony of African Penguins in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. To protect the penguins from terrestrial predators such as leopards and caracals, a fence has been erected and is monitored remotely using a network of CCTV cameras.

While the cameras are working well, there have been many motion triggers that aren’t relevant. It takes a long time to go through these false triggers and we are concerned that important ones, either penguins or potential predators, could get lost in the ‘noise’ of all the others.

Enter DeepAlert, a system developed for the security industry to conduct real-time video analytics, monitor for specific triggers and send an alert to specified contacts. The mini-PC hub can be connected to any commercially available camera system and uses a sophisticated deep learning system to classify images from the cameras. Tests before installation show that, although there aren’t existing classifications for any of the animals that occur at De Hoop, the DeepAlert system still picks them up.

I installed the system at the end of June and so far it is working extremely well, with the number of alerts decreasing from 50–100 per day to fewer than 10! This represents a massive time saving and reassures me that we’re not missing anything important. We are extremely grateful to DeepAlert for providing this service to BirdLife South Africa free of charge.

The predator-proof fence installed to protect the future penguin colony from terrestrial predators. Credit: Christina Hagen

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION


Especially for birders

Birder Friendly Establishment

SPECIAL OFFER: A BIRDING & WILDLIFE SAFARI DEAL IN THE KAROO

Karoo Gariep is the ideal spot for Karoo birding. Situated just off the N1 halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg, it is perfect for getting friends from both cities together for a Karoo kuier. With 206 species recorded, there is a good chance you’ll find just the bird you’re looking for.

We’ll take you on two birding drives per day in our game-viewing vehicle, plus a night drive to find the Shy 5: aardvark, aardwolf, black-footed cat, bat-eared fox and porcupine. We’ll also guide you on a walk to see Khoi engravings. We provide two good meals a day, a braai in the veld at sunset, and sundowners at the hippo pool to watch the only hippos in the Northern Cape.

This 3-night safari, including three drives a day and meals, normally costs R3200 per person, but for BirdLife South Africa members we are offering it at R2800 per person (group size 8–12).

Contact PC Ferreira on 082 567 9211, e-mail info@karoogariep.co.za or go to www.karoogariep.co.za

Birder Friendly Tour Operator

SUSTAIN SAFARIS WILDLIFE & BIRDING SAFARIS

On our scheduled tours, book six or more people per vehicle and one travels for free!

As the tourism industry gets moving again, Sustain Safaris has scheduled a superb range of small-group set-departure tours for 2020/2021 at great prices. These are:

  • Budget north-eastern South Africa & Kruger. 5–15 October 2020 (11 days). Two national parks and several other reserves.
  • North-eastern South Africa & south-eastern Zimbabwe. 20–29 October 2020 (10 days). Two national parks and several other reserves.
  • Eastern South Africa. 16–29 November 2020 (14 days). Two World Heritage Sites, a national park and several other reserves.
  • Exclusive north-eastern South Africa & Kruger. 6–16 March 2021 (11 days). Two national parks and several other reserves.

Birders, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and everyone interested in biodiversity will love these tours!

Please note: we have a Covid-19 protocol, amended booking Ts&Cs and a client medical declaration form; see our website for further details. We believe leisure accommodation and national borders will be open by early October, but will change the itinerary or postpone the tour if they are not.

There’s more to come in next month’s newsletter, including tours to KwaZulu-Natal (8 days), KwaZulu-Natal & Wakkerstroom (11 days), the KwaZulu-Natal bush (5 days) and KwaZulu-Natal Berg & Midlands (4 days).

Contact Michael Wright on 083 670 1436, e-mail info@sustainsafaris.com or go to https://www.sustainsafaris.com/scheduled-tours


The Meat Safety Act and birds

In February this year the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) published proposed amendments to the Meat Safety Act (Act 40 of 2000). Their purpose is far from clear and the implications for wild animals are equally confusing.

The central objective of the Meat Safety Act is to promote the safety of meat and other animal products. To this end, it prescribes various requirements with regard to activities relating to meat and other products, such as how they are processed at abattoirs, checks by independent inspectors, and import and export.

The Act applies only to certain animals listed, which currently include ‘domesticated animals’ (among them various bird species) and 15 species of ‘wild game’, such as eland, blue wildebeest, buffalo, crocodile, elephant, hippo and zebra. Of these, only the elephant is classified nationally as a threatened or protected species. Notably, a comprehensive regime for regulating game meat has yet to be introduced. Such regulations as there are within the Act are ill-designed for controlling the safety of meat and other products from harvested game. Draft regulations pertaining specifically to game, such as provisions for how game should be shot and dressed, were published in 2016, but a final version has yet to be gazetted. BirdLife South Africa has stressed the need for such regulations and noted that they should take into account future additions to the list, such as game birds. We have also pointed out that the revised draft should be published for public comment before being finalised.

Lappet-faced Vulture. Credit: Albert Froneman

The proposed amendments focus exclusively on the species to which the Act applies. As currently framed, they would replace the current list with one that does not distinguish between domesticated and wild animals and includes various species – and some higher taxonomic groups, such as ducks and geese (Anatidae) – that are not listed at present. They would also extend the application of the Act to ‘all other species of animals […] including birds, fish and reptiles that may be slaughtered as food for human and animal consumption’.

Because the proposed amendments would expand the coverage of the Meat Safety Act to a wide variety of animals, some of which are threatened, concerns have been raised as to whether these species would remain protected by the relevant conservation laws. The short answer is yes, but we feel that the amendments themselves should include clearer recognition of this.

The Meat Safety Act does not override South Africa’s existing conservation laws. Indeed, DALRRD attempted to clarify this by emphasising that the Act does not determine which animals can be slaughtered and that this issue is governed by Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries legislation. In addition, the proposed amendments themselves specify that the slaughter of threatened species ‘must be in line with the relevant conservation provisions’.

Although this is a step in the right direction, BirdLife South Africa feels that three issues are not satisfactorily recognised in the proposed amendments. The first is that the utilisation of wild animals is governed by a myriad of provincial as well as national conservation laws. Secondly, this suite of legislation is applicable not only to ‘threatened’ species. And thirdly, South Africa’s conservation laws impose restrictions on not only the slaughter of animals, but also other activities, such as the possession, trade and export of parts of animals of certain species.

In light of these concerns, we have proposed that the following statement be included in the amendments: ‘This schedule includes species of wild animals whose utilisation is regulated by national and/or provincial conservation legislation. The slaughter of these animals, and any associated activities that are regulated by the applicable conservation laws (e.g. possession, trade, export), must occur in compliance with these laws and the notices, licences and permits issued thereunder.’ We have also recommended a requirement that meat safety inspectors not approve game meat unless they have proof that the animal was legally harvested.

BirdLife South Africa views the process of commenting on the proposed amendments as an opportunity to highlight two issues that pose a threat to both conservation and human health but are not adequately regulated. The first is the belief-based consumption of meat or other products from poisoned animals, particularly in respect of vultures whose parts are sold as muthi. The second is the consumption of game that has been shot with lead ammunition, which is a health risk both to birds that feed on carcasses and to humans who regularly eat game meat.

Given that the Meat Safety Act is intended to ‘provide for measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products’, it constitutes an appropriate avenue for regulating both these issues to address the threats they pose to human health. If the Act’s application is to be extended to additional species, we encourage DALRRD to take these threats into consideration.

DR MELISSA LEWIS, POLICY AND ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER


Halala the women of Africa!

Prof. Claire Spottiswoode receives the 2019 Gill Memorial Medal Award from then Honorary President of BirdLife South Africa, Prof. Colleen Downs. Credit Arno Ellmer

Exceptional women have made momentous contributions in many spheres throughout history. Personally, I draw great inspiration from Rachel Carson, author of the landmark publication Silent Spring (1962), which initiated to a large extent the contemporary environmental movement. Carson was explicit about the perils of human domination over nature, a consequence of which may be said to be evident in the pandemic we are experiencing today. Six decades ago, she wrote, ‘We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been travelling is deceptively easy, a smooth super-highway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less travelled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.’

South Africa celebrates Women’s Day on 9 August as a tribute to the brave women who on that day in 1956 marched to the Union Buildings to protest the extension of Pass Laws to women. Even today, gender representation remains a pressing issue and in some ways the playing field is still asymmetric – as it is when humans dominate nature. BirdLife South Africa is privileged to employ a whole contingent of dynamic women and has strong female representation on its Board of Directors. Its Honorary President and some Honorary Patrons, as women, have made an impact in their own right and continue to contribute to ‘Giving conservation wings’. Female community bird guides, trained by BirdLife South Africa, are among the trailblazers in the avitourism industry and women lead some of our associated bird clubs. African Birdlife, BirdLife South Africa’s bi-monthly magazine, is driven by a woman-only team led by editor Eve Gracie.

In August, to celebrate women, we will feature some of these women daily and in doing so will pay homage to all the amazing women who make a difference.

DR ISABEL HUMAN, HR MANAGER

 

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.