MARCH NEWSLETTER 2024

newsletter
E-Newsletter 2024
African Penguins forage most successfully in groups. Credit Alistair McInnes

No break for penguins

While conservation scientists have long been aware of, and worried by, the decline in the number of African Penguins, ongoing research indicates that the plight of this iconic species is worse than ever. The species has now lost a staggering 97% of its population since the 1950s. Currently, wild populations are declining at a catastrophic rate of 8% per year, with breeding pairs in South Africa having now dwindled to around 8534.

BirdLife South Africa and our partners in the conservation sector, including SANCCOB, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), WWF-SA and Nelson Mandela University, have implemented a multi-pronged strategy to address this crisis. The strategy includes actions to achieve the following:

  • A reduction in competition for resources and the safeguarding of critical foraging areas to support African Penguins, particularly during the moult and breeding seasons;
  • A better understanding and insight into the drivers of the population decline through research and monitoring in collaboration with local and international conservation scientists;
  • An addressing of maritime threats, including oil spills, maritime vessel noise and disturbance, and impacts of seismic surveys;
  • The creation of new colonies in secure locations where African Penguins have a greater chance of survival;
  • Public awareness about the plight of the African Penguin and support for conserving the species.

A significant cause of the decline in penguin numbers – and one that affects island colonies in particular – is shortage of food, which is exacerbated by competition for prey from the purse-seine fishery. It is essential that sardine and anchovy stocks around the primary breeding areas for African Penguins are protected and optimised. The Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) called for a review of fishing closures around penguin breeding colonies by a panel of international experts to resolve debates around their benefit to penguins and potential costs to the fishing industry. In August last year, the Minister implemented fishing closures around six of the largest penguin colonies for a period of 10 years, in accordance with some of the expert panel’s recommendations. However, by not following other recommendations about how the delineation of the closures should be determined, this decision implements closures that will not be effective at reducing resource competition with the fishing industry.

Consequently, BirdLife South Africa and SANCCOB have launched review proceedings against the office of the Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. The decision to litigate is motivated by an urgent need to resolve the prolonged impasse with the purse-seine fishery. Our ask is for the Minister to replace the decision to implement the current ineffective island closures around six of our most important colonies with a revised decision that ensures meaningful closures – ones that cater to the biological requirements of breeding African Penguins.

Please monitor our African Penguin website and our publications for updates about the court case, and other interventions to save the African Penguin. Any donations in support of our efforts to conserve this iconic and Endangered species would be appreciated and can be made at birdlife.org.za/african-penguin-conservation

KIRSTEN DAY, POLICY AND ADVOCACY PROGRAMME MANAGER

The penguin colony at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay is one of the six colonies at which small pelagic fishing closures have been implemented. Credit Alistair McInnes
African Penguins arrived and bred at the De Hoop Nature Reserve colony in 2022 for the first time in 15 years. Credit Christina Hagen
The African Penguin was classified as Endangered in 2010 and the species’ population has continued its drastic decline since then. Credit Christina Hagen; data supplied by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment
Sanjo Rose

New to the Science and Innovation Programme

We are excited to welcome two new members to the Science and Innovation Programme, each of whom brings unique strengths and experience to our team. Their expertise is set to bolster our mission to protect South Africa’s birdlife.

Sanjo Rose joins us as the principal coordinator for the Red Data Book, a pivotal role at BirdLife South Africa, and takes over from Shamiso Banda, who will continue to assist with seabird-related enquiries and the book about birds on the brink. Sanjo will be familiar to many thanks to her work with SABAP2, and her new role promises to draw on her expertise to advance our efforts in the red listing field. She will be the contact for all Red Data Book queries and her leadership in clarifying the assessment process and updating the Red Data Book for 2025 underscores our commitment to using the latest scientific knowledge to inform conservation actions and priorities. Sanjo is supported by funding from SANBI on a one-year contract.

David Ehlers Smith is the new Science and Spatial Planning Manager. With an impressive academic background and more than 16 years of field experience, David will make significant contributions to our conservation strategies. His role encompasses projects such as SABAP2 and the Botha’s Lark Working Group, enhancing our conservation database, updating the checklist of South Africa’s birds and contributing to the red listing process, and his commitment to conservation and extensive experience, particularly in the ecology of forest birds, make him a valuable asset to our team. David’s position is supported by Ekapa Minerals.

The addition of David and Sanjo to our team marks an exciting new chapter for BirdLife South Africa. Their roles are critical in our ongoing efforts to conserve birdlife, supported by robust scientific research and community engagement.

ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

Dr David Ehlers Smith
Getting ready… Credit Michele Kirsten

A wetland walk at Ingula

Wetlands Day is commemorated annually in February around the globe with the aim of raising awareness about wetlands and to mark the anniversary of the convention of wetlands (known as the Ramsar Convention), which was adopted in 1971. The day can be celebrated in various ways and by anyone, including schools and community or environmental groups.

Ingula Nature Reserve, designated South Africa’s 27th Ramsar site in 2021, hosted its annual walk on 2 March to celebrate wetlands, promote interaction with this threatened ecosystem and highlight the reserve’s biodiversity and scenic beauty. The day’s visitors, including members of the public, a representative of the Ladysmith Gazette and members of BirdLife South Africa staff, were greeted by a warm, relatively windless morning as they set out on the 5km hike.

Four guides took part to ensure the safety and comfort of the hikers and provide information about the environment. The walk skirted the wetland where the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail has been recorded, and although the flufftail eluded us this time, there were other notable birds. Lifers for some of the participants included Black Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Great Egret and Whiskered Tern. Positive energy, happy participants and beautiful weather combined to make the event an enjoyable experience for all involved.

At least 50 people participated in the hike, some of whom were newcomers and others were returning visitors. We hope that this and similar events in future will help raise awareness about the reserve and lead to an increase in meaningful ecotourism, with long-term benefits for conservation efforts on site.

STEVEN SEGANG, INGULA AND GRASSLAND CONSERVATION PROJECT ASSISTANT, AND KYLE PIETERSE, CONSERVATION/ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICER, INGULA PUMPED STORAGE SCHEME NATURE RESERVE

… for the wetland hike in Ingula Nature Reserve. Credit Kyle Pieterse

Fostering sustainable community development

BirdLife South Africa is delighted to welcome Ntuthuko Mathe, who joins us as the Ntsikeni Conservation Officer. Born and raised in Manguzi, a small town in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Ntuthuko was part of a rural farming community. Being aware of limited access to resources, particularly for livestock farmers, he was inspired to pursue a career in agriculture and majored in Animal Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His interest in linking agriculture and nature led him to study for a multidisciplinary Master’s degree, writing a thesis on how people, nature and ecosystems can co-exist without interfering with one another. Ntuthuko currently holds an MSc degree in Animal and Poultry Science. With work experience in different organisations and various positions, Ntuthuko has worked with rural farming communities with a focus on community engagement. He has also worked on a community–nature conservancy project, looking at how a mining company can affect protected natural areas and farming communities in the vicinity.

Ntuthuko believes that community engagement is key to addressing challenges facing nature reserves that neighbour rural communities in Africa. As the Ntsikeni Conservation Officer, he will be responsible for facilitating the establishment of the Sustainable Livelihoods Development Project in the Ntsikeni community. He will also be instrumental in community and stakeholder engagements. As he takes pride in developing rural farming communities, he is excited to be part of an organisation that strives to see a country and region where people and nature live together in harmony.

NANDI THOBELA, EMPOWERING PEOPLE PROGRAMME MANAGER

Ntuthuko Mathe

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New in our book corner

The new edition of Roberts Bird Guide to the Greater Kruger National Park is now available at BirdLife South Africa’s Shop for the Birds! This completely revised field guide to one of the finest birding spots in Africa is packed with new information about the more than 550 species that have been recorded to date in the Kruger Park and adjacent Lowveld. Text and distribution maps have been updated based on data from SABAP2, and hundreds of illustrations and sections on bird tracks and habitats have been added, as well as the latest rarity information.

The authors

Duncan McKenzie has been birding in the Kruger Park for the past 35 years and was the first person to record 400 species in the park in a calendar year. A consulting ecologist in the Lowveld, he has worked on many bird and plant surveys and has presented more than 60 bird courses, mostly in the far north. He is also the SABAP2 coordinator for Mpumalanga and a trustee of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund.

Hugh Chittenden has birded in the region for more than 50 years, but his ornithological interests have also taken him to many remote places in Africa and around the world. He received an honorary doctorate in 2012 for his contributions to ornithology, is an excellent bird photographer and has written many guides to the birds of southern Africa. Hugh was chairman of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund for 25 years.

Ian Whyte lived and worked in the Kruger Park for 37 years, mainly studying large mammals but also coordinating bird research. He co-authored the first edition of this field guide in 2008 and has made several other contributions to scientific and popular bird literature. Now retired, he lives in Hoedspruit.

Price: R300

To order, visit shop.birdlife.org.za/product/roberts-bird-guide-greater-kruger-national-park/

A magazine for all

In the March/April 2024 issue of African Birdlife Alan Lee unravels mysteries of moult, Sean Thackwray takes us far below the waves to find gannets feasting on fish, a Gauteng birder discovers a hotspot on his doorstep, two Zimbabweans explore a highland corner of their land that’s filled with special species, and Anton Crone encounters an abundance of raptors in Mbabe, Botswana. And that’s just for starters.

Catch up on a bounty of rare summer sightings, the latest FitzPatrick research, and retirement according to former BirdLife International director Hazell Shokellu Thompson, as well as all the latest news from BirdLife South Africa.

Be sure to get your copy now. To find your nearest retail outlet, visit birdlife.org.za/media-and-resources/blsa-african-birdlife/

A pair of penguins claiming their nest site. Credit Christina Hagen

Return of the penguins – to breed again?

African Penguins return to the same colony to breed year after year, as this enables them to find their mate from the previous season. Often, they even return to the very same nest each year. In 2022, when one pair bred at the re-established colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve, it was the first time penguins had bred at the site in 15 years. Four pairs nested in 2023, and we have been waiting with anticipation to see what 2024 holds.

Penguins have a unique spot pattern on their fronts that enables researchers to identify individuals. We were able to capture photos of many of the breeding birds in 2023 and have been very excited to see that some of these same birds are starting to return to the colony. Using a newly installed pan-tilt-zoom camera to avoid disturbing the birds, we have been able to monitor the colony remotely and photograph the penguins’ spot patterns. So far, the female from the very first pair to breed has been photographed at last year’s nest and hopefully her partner won’t be too far behind. We know she is the female as they were observed mating last year. Three other individuals that bred last year have also been seen, including one with spots in a distinctive ‘C’ shape. This suggests that the season is off to a good start, and we hope that several more pairs will join the colony and have a successful breeding season!

Our work at De Hoop is in partnership with CapeNature and SANCCOB, and made possible through the support of Pamela Isdell and the Isdell Family Foundation, and ScottFin Finance.

CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION

The female of the first pair that bred at the colony at her nest in 2023 (left) and after her return in March 2024 (right). Credit Christina Hagen
The penguin with a distinctive ‘C’ spot pattern with its chicks in 2023 (left) and preening after having come ashore at the colony in March 2024 (right). Credit Christina Hagen
The first European Roller tagged in southern Africa. Credit Craig Nattrass

Tagged European Rollers take flight

The past few months have been a whirlwind for the East Atlantic Flyway Initiative programme. We collaborated with WildEarth on its Bird Bowl Campaign, monitored European Rollers in the Kruger National Park and, most excitingly, tagged and ringed two of the rollers for the first time in southern Africa.

Although the Kruger Park survey covered 3000km2, European Roller sightings were scarce. This raises important questions, and without dedicated monitoring and research we can’t understand the challenges these migratory birds face, let alone protect them and their habitats.

The deployment of satellite tags on two European Rollers is a first for BirdLife South Africa. If the tags remain active for the predicted two years and the birds survive their perilous journeys, we will gain invaluable data that will help us to guide conservation efforts and protect migratory birds more effectively.

The importance of our research is underscored by the first State of the World’s Migratory Species report produced by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Although the lot of some migratory species is improving, 44% are showing population declines. In addition, 22% of the listed species are threatened with extinction. And the two greatest threats identified? Overexploitation and habitat loss due to human activities.

The European Roller is a flagship species and protecting it indirectly benefits other migratory species. By understanding the needs of – and threats to – a ‘common’ species, we should be able to extrapolate information to others. At the end of this project, we intend to track other migratory species – your suggestions for new subjects are welcome!

None of this would be possible without the generous support of several individuals and organisations, including Sabi Sabi Foundation, Marc Solomon, Future for Nature, The Royal Portfolio Foundation, Royal Malewane staff, Craig Nattrass, Lyle Wiggens, Bart Gazendam and the countless monitoring volunteers.

JESSICA WILMOT, FLYWAY AND MIGRANTS PROJECT MANAGER

Guides from Royal Malewane, vet Bart Gazendam, bird ringer Craig Nattrass and BirdLife South Africa’s Jessica Wilmot made up the team tagging European Rollers. Credit Craig Nattrass
A Drakensberg Rockjumper, endemic to Lesotho and South Africa. Credit Carina Pienaar
The Senqu River below the Polihali Dam, which is under construction. The river is a prominent feature meandering through the Lesotho landscape. Credit Carina Pienaar
The Southern Bald Ibis was the sixth most recorded species of the atlas bash. Credit Carina Pienaar

Lesotho Atlas Bash 2024

From 8 to 11 March 2024, 23 birders, including members of East Rand Bird Club and the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) team, embarked on a SABAP2 atlas bash in the Mokhotlong region of Lesotho. The second such bash, it aimed to collect data for the Polihali catchment area and assist BirdLife South Africa’s red listing process.

Once Ernst had provided a refresher course about the BirdLasser mobile app and SABAP2 protocols, the team of novice and seasoned birders was ready to explore Lesotho’s diverse avian landscape. Last year’s bash saw participants birding in snow; this year they birded in dry, scorching heat. Nevertheless they persevered and by the end of the weekend had recorded 97 species – 31 fewer than last year.

A total of 1425 records of those 97 species were logged on the BirdLasser app, covering 18 pentads in full and ad hoc protocol atlas cards. These were a significant contribution to SABAP2 coverage in Lesotho, although more effort is needed to achieve the target of four atlas cards per pentad.

Among the memorable sightings were Cape and Bearded vultures, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, African Rock and Mountain pipits, Southern Bald Ibis and Layard’s Tit-babbler (Warbler) – and the first Malachite Kingfisher recorded in the region! An unforgettable moment was seeing more than 300 House Martins resting on a powerline near the Polihali Dam construction village.

Thanks go to Palesa Monongoaha and Refiloe Ntšohi from LHDA for facilitating this expedition, and to all participants for their dedication and enthusiasm during the weekend. To fellow birders visiting Lesotho, we encourage you to contribute to the SABAP2 project by submitting atlas cards, as every observation counts.

CARINA PIENAAR, INGULA AND GRASSLANDS CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER, AND ERNST RETIEF, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER

This year heat and drought affected much of the Lesotho landscape’s vegetation, leaving only small patches of croplands still green. Credit Carina Pienaar

Zero to one hundred…thousand!

The BirdLife South Africa Facebook Group can proudly claim that it now has 100 000 members! The group was created 15 years ago – when Facebook had only just caught on in this country – in the hope of reaching a larger birding audience in and around South Africa. It has since become the go-to online forum for people to share their love of birds, birding and conservation by posting sightings, beautiful photographs, advice and recommendations.

We’d like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all our Facebook Group members for their continued support, engagement and inspiring photographs, and for helping grow the footprint of BirdLife South Africa in our mission to ‘give conservation wings’.

If you have yet to join our community of like-minded Facebook folk, check it out and join here: facebook.com/groups/BirdLifeSouthAfrica

MPHO MAGIDI, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN

We’re Flocking to Marion again!

BirdLife South Africa is Flocking to Marion once again! Get out your permanent marker and block off 24–31 January 2025. And don’t forget to tell your fellow ‘Flockers’ too, so they won’t miss the boat as it sets sail for the glorious Southern Ocean in 10 months’ time.

Will you be on board?

Watch this space for more details about booking (including preferential booking for Conservation League Donors and members of BirdLife South Africa). They’ll be available soon.

BirdLife South Africa membership

  • If you’ve been thinking about becoming a BirdLife South Africa member or Conservation League Donor, now is the time to do so because there will be an approximately two-week preferential booking period when only Conservation League Donors and then members will be able to book. Thereafter, bookings will open to non-members and the public.
  • Take advantage of this preferential booking period by becoming a member now at birdlife.org.za/join
  • If you’re unsure whether you’re a paid-up member (and do not know what your membership number is), please contact Shireen Gould by e-mailing membership@birdlife.org.za
  • Please note that African Birdlife magazine subscribers, monthly e-newsletter subscribers and Facebook Group members are not considered paid-up members of BirdLife South Africa.

ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

Back to the Bird Fair!

The Bird Fair is back! Save the date 24 August 2024 for an epic day of birding excitement at the Country Club Johannesburg (Woodmead) or online via Zoom. Expect another sell-out event of early morning birding walks, talks by inspiring guest speakers and workshops aimed at kids, beginner birders and garden birders, as well as those who want to get to grips with LBJs. There will also be a full house of exhibitors, the annual fundraiser auction and, of course, the ever-popular wine-down birding quiz.

Keep your eye on your inbox and our social media platforms for more information.

ANDY WASSUNG, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, AND CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER

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