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January 2023 Newsletter

The Cape Parrot is the Bird of the Year for 2023. Credit Chris Brooke

Conservation Conversations are back

Our Conservation Conversations webinars will be back on your screens from 24 January 2023 at 19h00 (SAST). The format will be slightly different this year: webinars will take place every two weeks, on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. But don’t worry, we will continue to record them and post them on YouTube if you miss any.

Join us on 24 January for a celebration of this year’s Bird of the Year, the Cape Parrot. Host Melissa Whitecross will be joined by Francis Brooke from the Cape Parrot Project and Prof. Colleen Downs from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the chairperson of the Cape Parrot Working Group. South Africa’s only endemic parrot is a charismatic ‘jewel of the forest’ that acts as a flagship species for its threatened habitat, mist-belt forest. Unfortunately, it faces a multitude of threats. Join us as we explore the work being done by researchers, conservationists and organisations to save not only the species, but also the habitat it occupies.

The Conservation Conversations team has an exciting line-up of talks planned for the year, details of which will be posted on our website soon. In the meantime, you can register at: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_x1mH7OlASwq3gOuav3lj_Q

CHRISTINA HAGEN, ON BEHALF OF THE CONSERVATION CONVERSATIONS TEAM

Help us to make the circle bigger by inviting your friends and family to join the SA Listers’ Club.

Listers’ Club starts 2023 with a bang

The South Africa Listers’ Club is a community of birders who are passionate about our country’s birds. In 2022, the club exceeded the 500-member mark and early in 2023 that number grew to more than 550. Over the course of December and January, some 100 birders have submitted updates to their totals on the leader board.

To find out more about the Listers’ Club or to make an update to your list, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/go-birding-south-africa-listers-club/

We would like to remind all our members that this is a South Africa-only club! Please double-check your list and make sure that you have only included birds seen within the political bounds of South Africa (and yes, the Prince Edward Islands do count!). We are aware that there is some confusion with the southern African subregion listing area, but there are other platforms for that. Please submit an update to your total if what we currently have is incorrect.

Please also remember to purchase your milestone pin badges! We have the last of our 2020 stock left on our online store, so make sure to get yours soon to avoid an inflated price on new stock. There has been a pandemic and a war in Europe since we last ordered and they, along with inflation, will have pushed up the price. The milestone pin badges are a fun and patriotic way for you to celebrate your listing milestones and also to support BirdLife South Africa. The proceeds from the sale of these badges support the administration of the club and any left over go to our Avitourism Project.

Lastly, please help us to make the circle bigger by inviting your friends and family to join! Birding is growing swiftly in South Africa and we would love to welcome new members into our community.

Any queries about the South Africa Listers’ Club can be sent to salistersclub@birdlife.org.za

ANDREW DE BLOCQ, AVITOURISM PROJECT MANAGER

Last chance for 2023 calendars!

It’s not too late to purchase your 2023 Birds of Southern Africa calendar. Featuring a stunning collection of bird photographs and reminders of key environment-related days, it’s a must-have to start planning for the year ahead.

The calendars are now selling at a reduced price of R150 each and can either be collected at Isdell House or delivered Postnet to Postnet for an additional cost of R95.

Click here to order while stocks last, or email membership@birdlife.org.za for more information.

SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER

Submit your abstracts for LAB

The 6th Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference will take place on 25 and 26 May 2023 at the Wilderness Hotel in the Western Cape during the Flock to Wilderness event. LAB, co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, aims to give ornithologists and bird enthusiasts an opportunity to share and learn about birds and their conservation across southern Africa.

LAB has two parallel streams: Science LAB is more academic and is made up of two plenary speakers, a host of 15-minute scientific presentations, a panel discussion on the future of African ornithology and a speed-talk session. Any delegates wishing to submit an abstract for the Science LAB are requested to do so via the online registration form before 31 January 2023.

In parallel to Science LAB, the organisers have put together a fantastic line-up of Layman’s LAB speakers to share their knowledge and expertise in a series of talks lasting between 20 and 45 minutes. Speakers include Dr Mark Brown (Discover Eden), Dr Odette Curtis-Scott (Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust), Christopher Patton (SANParks), Dr Cloverley Lawrence (SANParks), Dr Ian Russell (SANParks), Melanie de Morney (FitzPatrick Institute), Brittany Arendse (Nature’s Valley Trust), Kevin Shaw (Overberg Crane Group), Willem Matthee (Nelson Mandela University) and Justin Ponder (Lakes Bird Club).

In addition to the above, on Wednesday, 24 May 2023, Mike Bridgeford and Cassie Carstens will host a workshop on forest birds, their ecology, conservation and how to identify them, and on Sunday, 28 May 2023, Richard Flack will be hosting a photography workshop sponsored by Canon South Africa.

There will be plenty of other exciting birding excursions, celebrations and activities as part of the broader Flock to Wilderness event. To find out more, please visit https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/flock-to-wilderness-2023/

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

Win big in our new photography competition!

BirdLife South Africa is excited to announce a brand-new photography competition that we will be launching soon. So sort through those memory cards and see if you can find that special bird image – a Knysna Turaco taking flight perhaps, a pair of raptors locked in battle or a weaver steadfastly building a nest. Photography freezes a moment in time and opens a window into the lives and behaviour of the birds that surround us every day.

You might be shooting on the latest mirrorless camera or an ‘old school’ DSLR and in a national park, a local park, your urban garden or a rural area. If it’s a stunning shot of a wild bird that occurs in South Africa, we want to see it and celebrate it.

And you could be celebrating too, because if your photograph is selected as the best you and a partner will be heading to Tswalu Kalahari Reserve for a three-night stay to the value of R237 960!

Don’t miss out on South Africa’s premier bird photography competition, brought to you by Birdlife South Africa. Watch your inbox for more details soon.

ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

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Boat and trailer for sale 

BirdLife South Africa is offering for sale a 9-foot 2012 Aquaquad boat and trailer. The vessel is equipped with a 15-horsepower 2012 Honda outboard motor and can be used on inland water bodies. The selling price is negotiable. For more information, or to arrange a viewing, please e-mail Julia Coldham at assistant.bookkeeper@birdlife.org.za or Janine Goosen at officeadmin@birdlife.org.za, or call our office on 011 789 1122.

FANIE DU PLESSIS, CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER

For sale: a 9-foot 2012 Aquaquad boat and trailer. Credit Fanie du Plessis

Zululand Snake Eagle weekend 

The Zululand Snake Eagle Big Weekend will take place on 3–5 March 2023. This citizen science initiative aims to get as many people as possible looking for Southern Banded Snake Eagles over the same weekend, which will enable us to get a snapshot of the population of this regionally Critically Endangered species.

We invite all members of the public to participate and enjoy some fun self-organised birding trips. Participants will be required to identify areas that are likely to harbour Southern Banded Snake Eagles using the map provided on our Zululand Snake Eagle Big Weekend page and plan their own survey trips. Some local knowledge will be helpful, as the map provides only a rough indication of likely habitat.

Participants will have to look for the patches of natural forest that are the preferred breeding habitat for these eagles. A good strategy to find them is to survey the edges of these forests where they connect to more open habitat, as Southern Banded Snake Eagles can often be found perched in a dead tree scanning the open habitat for prey. Early mornings are the best time to conduct these surveys, as the birds are relatively active at this time.

You can log sightings using the BirdLasser App on your phone. Before doing so, please ensure that you are signed up to BirdLife South Africa’s ‘Threatened Species Cause’ under the ‘Causes’ section in the app’s Settings menu. This will allow us to get your sighting reports and associated location data. We also ask that all participants register their search effort after the event using the link on the project website. If this registration is not completed, we will have no idea which areas have been surveyed.

Please also report if you only hear Southern Banded Snake Eagles calling (but only if you are certain); their calls are quite distinctive. BirdLasser sightings can be recorded as ‘Heard’ or ‘Seen’, so please mark your entry appropriately. BirdLasser also allows you to specify breeding status in your entries if you discover a nest site. These eagles’ nests are quite well concealed in the canopy, with creepers hiding them from view, so this will be a rare and valuable find! If you manage to find a physical nest, please also report it directly to me at christiaan.brink@birdlife.org.za.

We hope to see as many of you out there as possible and happy birding!

DR CHRISTIAAN W. BRINK, RAPTOR & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD MANAGER & SECRETARYBIRD CONSERVATION OFFICER

The Critically Endangered Southern Banded Snake Eagle is rarely seen, a ‘phantom’ of the Zululand forests. Credit William Trollip
Kevin with a happy client.
Brown-headed Parrot
White-crested Helmet-shrike

We recommend…

I’m Kevin Tutty, a retired IT governance and compliance professional who has chosen to now follow a career as a registered South African National Tourist Guide. Qualified in the fields of culture and nature, I offer guided and self-drive tours anywhere in South Africa, tailored to your interests, taste and budget. Above all, we keep things interesting and fun!

Some of my favourite destinations are:

  • Pilanesberg National Park, an area with low risk of malaria. Add a bush walk or hot-air balloon flight;
  • Isimangaliso Wetlands UNESCO World Heritage Site;
  • Mapungubwe UNESCO World Heritage Site and Mapesu Private Game Reserve;
  • Greater Kruger National Park;
  • Drakensberg UNESCO World Heritage Site;
  • Cape Town, Cape Peninsula and Cape Winelands;
  • South Africa’s incredible national parks and private game reserves;
  • Garden Route or Panorama Route.

And, of course, you can combine two or more of the above.

Don’t need a guide? No problem! Over the years I have built up many contacts in the tourism business and am in a position to offer self-drive accommodation packages at a competitive rate. Why not try this for your next getaway?

For more details, please see my website at www.kevintheguide.co.za

Flock to Marion was a resounding success, despite a global pandemic. Credit Mark D. Anderson
At De Hoop, African Penguins successfully fledged two chicks at the first human-assisted African Penguin Colony ever established. Credit Kevin Shaw

Highlights of 2022

BirdLife South Africa’s year began with a bang in January, when we partnered with MSC Cruises to take more than 1500 bird enthusiasts on a once-in-a-lifetime voyage to Marion Island. The main objective of the voyage was to raise funds for the Mouse-Free Marion Project, which aims to restore the ecosystem on Marion Island and save millions of seabirds that are threatened by invasive mice. We raised more than R3-million, making this trip both a success for conservation and a unique tourism adventure. Other highlights for 2022 were:

  • Finding 18 penguin adults at the African Penguin colony we have been trying to establish at De Hoop Nature Reserve. Better still, a breeding attempt there has fledged two chicks.
  • Publishing ground‐breaking research that links lead poisoning in Critically Endangered White‐backed Vulture chicks to lead‐based ammunition.
  • The 10-year anniversary of the Birds and Renewable Energy Project, which supports a nature-friendly transition to renewable energy.
  • The declaration of the Middelpunt Wetland near Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, as a private nature reserve to protect the only confirmed breeding site for the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail in the southern hemisphere.
  • The designation of two of the sites we are working at – Ingula Nature Reserve and Berg River Estuary – as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance.
  • Progress made by the Key Biodiversity Areas Programme in Africa with BirdLife South Africa’s support, especially in West Africa and Kenya.
  • The continuing achievements of the Policy & Advocacy team in strengthening networks and building capacity among other stakeholders, such as by sharing experiences with other NGOs in Africa and contributing to training materials on the Species Environmental Assessment Guideline and Mitigation Hierarchy.
  • The high-quality scientific products of the Science & Innovation Programme, including seven peer-reviewed scientific publications and progress made with planning and fundraising for the revised Regional Red Data Book.
  • The training of 12 nature guides in the Western Cape.
  • The publication of the first completed list of bird names in isiZulu by the South African Names for South African Birds project.
  • The launch of the GoBirding platform in May. This revolutionary avitourism platform offers information on a digital map for more than 400 birding sites, 75 accommodation establishments, 50 local guides, 20 bird clubs and 10 specialist tour operators. (Head to gobirding.co.za to plan your next birding trip!)
  • The recruitment of two new BirdLife Species Guardians, Ekapa Mining and Overberg Renosterveld Trust, for their contributions to the conservation of Lesser Flamingo and Black Harrier respectively.

BirdLife South Africa also received several awards during the year:

  • The AEWA Waterbird Conservation Award in the Institutional Category was presented in Budapest, Hungary, in September for work on research and conservation of the White-winged Flufftail over the past decade.
  • The Star Award from Wetland Link International for excellence in wetland Communication, Education, Participation and Awareness (CEPA) went to Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre.
  • Second place in the Conservation Supporter category of the African Conservation Awards went to the Landscape Conservation Programme: Protecting Ecosystems for its work with private landowners to protect more than 200 000ha of private land over the past decade through biodiversity stewardship in the high-altitude and mist-belt grasslands and Western Cape estuaries.

In addition, Anton Wolfaardt (Marion Island Project Manager) and Kyle Lloyd (Wetlands Conservation Project Manager) were two of the 10 finalists for the Mail & Guardian’s Greening the Future Award; and Carina Pienaar (Grasslands Conservation and Ingula Project Manager) was named as one of 200 Young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian.

BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA TEAM

Our Birds and Renewable Energy Project celebrated 10 years of supporting a nature-friendly transition to renewable energy.
GoBirding offers information on a digital map about birding sites, accommodation establishments, local guides, bird clubs and specialist tour operators.

Virtual book launch

BirdLife South Africa and Jacana Media have held several successful virtual book launches over the past three years, all of which can be viewed on BirdLife South Africa’s YouTube channel. On 26 January 2023 at 19h00 SAST we plan to bring you yet another fascinating discussion on the newest book in Jacana Media’s natural history repertoire: Dr Bruce McKenzie’s An Ecological Guide to the Bush. Join Dr McKenzie and me as we discuss the links between birds and the ecology of the bushveld and explore how you can improve your birding skills by unlocking some of the ecological principles that drive the African bushveld.

Bruce McKenzie’s An Ecological Guide to the Bush captures the essence of what makes the bush tick. Here you’ll find the basic principles of how ecosystems work, with the emphasis on energy flow through the bushveld and the adaptations that the plants and animals make in facilitating this energy flow.

This book will answer the questions you always wanted to know, such as

  • Why do large predators have to rest for up to 20 hours a day?
  • How much energy does a bird expend flying?
  • How important are grasshoppers, dung beetles and other insects to ecosystem functioning?
  • Why are termites so important for understanding energy flow in the bush?
  • Why are small leaves necessary in the more arid bush areas? What are the nutritional differences between grass and tree leaves?
  • Why do very small herbivorous mammals need to consume high-quality food? Why do very large herbivores produce so much poorly digested dung?

The book is based on Bruce’s approach to interacting with students and citizen scientists over the past 40 years and will enrich the understanding of bushveld management and conservation.

To register for this live webinar, please visit https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/8116704038100/WN_VAyGRX6FSF2uwG9bQRBULw

DR MELISSA WHITECROSS, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

The latest issue of Ostrich

The December issue of BirdLife South Africa’s scientific journal Ostrich (Volume 93, Issue 4, December 2022) is now available online, hot on the heels of the special issue on African-Eurasian birds. It contains a number of fascinating topics, including the African version of SABAP, and Hooded Vultures in different parts of the continent.

SABAP2 is one of the greatest citizen science projects to have come out of South Africa. The data generated have been immensely valuable for science and conservation organisations and are used extensively by birders to understand current bird distributions. SABAP2 has developed into ABAP (the African Bird Atlas Project), with local projects in several countries, notably Nigeria and Kenya. However, it is important that those contributing to the data and those using them understand the collection protocol. The article is free to access at The African Bird Atlas Project: a description of the project and BirdMap data-collection protocol.

Most birdwatchers and conservationists know that the plight of vultures is dire, with populations plummeting across Africa. But how are vultures perceived on the continent? In a study from Burkina Faso, Adama Ouéda and his team report that more than 72% of interviewees regarded Hooded Vultures as important and venerated birds. Many were aware of the birds’ vulnerability and were willing to take conservation action. Local perceptions and sociocultural value of Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

However, the decline in vultures is not equal everywhere. The Gambia has good news about its Hooded Vulture population and the country may turn out to be one of the last strongholds for the species. Clément Daboné and his team report in Road counts reveal The Gambia’s West Coast region still has the densest population of Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus in Africa.

The colonisation of South Africa’s cities by Rose-ringed Parakeets has not gone unnoticed. The Shivambu team, led by Colleen Downs, investigated where the invaders were breeding and discovered that they had some favourite tree species. There appear to be enough nest cavities for them, which means we shall probably see more of the parakeets in coming years. Read more about them in Breeding status of invasive Rose-ringed Parakeets Psittacula krameri in Durban, South Africa.

Common Diving Petrels became extinct on Marion Island due to the introduction of cats, but the good news is that they’re back. Maëlle Connan and co-authors provide details of the recolonisation in Natural recolonisation of sub-Antarctic Marion Island by Common Diving Petrels Pelecanoides urinatrix.

The birding and systematic communities have not taken kindly to the suggestion that the francolin family needed taxonomic revision, and some questioned the methods used. With a consensus approach using DNA, vocalisations and physical characteristics, Mandiwana-Neudani, supported by Rob Little, Tim Crowe and co-authors, suggested a large-scale revision. In this response, led by Tim Crowe, the authors outline why the revision was needed: Why the taxonomy of francolins and spurfowls (Galliformes, Phasianidae) needs revision: responses to Hustler (2021) and Hunter et al. (2021a,b).

Finally, Mark Brigham and Peter Locke pay tribute to ‘Des’ Jackson, who died in 2022. Des contributed much to our understanding of nightjars, as Mark and Peter describe in Hilery Desmond Jackson: ornithologist and museologist.

This issue was a special one for me, as it was my last as the lead editor of Ostrich. We look forward to introducing the new editor, Dr Martim Melo, in a future newsletter.

DR ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

A Hooded Vulture graces the cover of the latest issue of Ostrich.
BirdLife South Africa’s Secretarybird team (left to right) Cassie Carstens (Project Officer), Melissa Whitecross (Programme Manager) and Christiaan W. Brink (Project Manager).
Two young Secretarybirds well on their way to fledging early in 2023. Credit Ettiene Larson

In search of Secretarybird nests

During the coming year, Birdlife South Africa’s Raptor & Large Terrestrial Bird Project will renew its focus on the nomad of the grasslands, the Secretarybird. This stately species has experienced acute population declines across its range over the past three decades and faces increasing pressure from a variety of threats, including habitat loss, collisions with power infrastructure and entanglement in fences.

To respond more effectively to these threats in 2023, we have employed a Secretarybird Conservation Project Officer, Cassie Carstens, who spent almost a decade working on Southern Ground-Hornbill and Cape Parrot research and conservation before joining us. Cassie’s duties will include engaging with landowners to find effective management practices that will benefit both landowners and Secretarybirds. He will also launch a nest site monitoring programme to provide insight into the ecology and population trends of the species.

To assist Cassie and contribute to our existing citizen science project, please report any active Secretarybird nest sites via our website (here), remembering to record the coordinates of the site using your phone and associated map app. Your reports will feed into a national breeding database that will assist in conservation planning. For more information, please visit our Secretarybird page.

DR CHRISTIAAN W. BRINK, RAPTOR & LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER, AND CASSIE CARSTENS, SECRETARYBIRD CONSERVATION PROJECT OFFICER

New faces at BirdLife South Africa

BirdLife South Africa wishes all its new team members happy and fulfilling careers with the organisation.

Cassie Carstens, Secretarybird Conservation Project Officer

Cassie will be responsible for monitoring nesting behaviour and distribution of the Secretarybird and he will engage extensively with farmers and other stakeholders. He has been involved in bird research and conservation work for almost a decade, having previously worked with Southern Ground-Hornbills and Cape Parrots. A highly qualified bird, field and cultural guide with more than 20 years’ experience, Cassie also holds a BA Honours in Heritage and Cultural Tourism and a BSc Honours in Geography.

Valery Phakoago, Landscape Conservation Intern

Valery holds an MSc in Environmental Sciences from the University of Venda, where she studied geophagic practices (consumption of earthy materials) in the Sekhukhune area. She is currently in the final stages of submitting her PhD in Wildlife Conservation Physiology at the University of the Witwatersrand, working on the ecology of aardvarks and Temminck’s pangolins in the Kalahari. Valery is responsible for assisting the Landscape Conservation Programme Manager with administrative duties, including report writing, taking minutes, social media and website updates. During her internship she will also assist in field work and in the coordination of events, such as the Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference.

Christie Wooding, Conservation Assistant

In her role as Conservation Assistant, Christie will be working closely with Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson in the Conservation Division and in the Regional Conservation Programme. She will be assisting mainly with administrative tasks, events and social media, making use of her experience of more than 15 years in online education, project management, administration and wildlife television. She is looking forward to applying her skills in the field of conservation.

 

Marlize Muller, Conservation Biology Intern

Marlize is the Conservation Biology intern under the mentorship of Dr Kyle Lloyd. This internship forms part of SANBI’s Groen Sebenza Phase II Programme, which aims to develop the competence and confidence of graduates in the management of biodiversity. Marlize will be assisting primarily with data processing and analysis, which forms part of a larger project to conserve the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail and its wetlands. She is also finalising her PhD in Grassland Ecology, which stemmed from a love for nature while growing up on nature reserves.

Thandulwazi Ndaba, Empowering People Programme Intern

Thandulwazi holds an Honours degree majoring in Curriculum Studies and has a strong background in the development of learning material. She believes that education is the foundation upon which we build our future, so she is excited to be part of BirdLife South Africa’s Empowering People Programme. In her role as an intern, Thandulwazi will be assisting in environmental education and awareness, avitourism, an approach to sustainable livelihoods and programme administration.

Mpho Magidi, Communications Intern

Mpho graduated in Information Systems, Journalism and Media Studies from Rhodes University. With a bubbly personality, she is passionate about helping others and is goal driven and dedicated to her work. She enjoys learning about new things and meeting new people. Mpho will be responsible for assisting with BirdLife South Africa’s internal and external marketing, media and communications, including writing, website administration, newsletters and social media.

You can access previous entries from 2022 using the buttons below

If you’d like to read our archive (2016-2021), you can visit our e-newsletter archive.