July 2022 Newsletter

Ostrich on a roll

BirdLife South Africa’s scientific journal Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology has attained the highest-ever CiteScore (2.3) and the second-highest impact factor score (1.09) in its 90-year history. And crucially, the impact factor remains above the critical psychological barrier of 1. According to the Academic Accelerator website, Ostrich is now classified as a ‘hot’ journal.

Of the many ways of ranking journals, impact factor is the best known. It measures how often research published in a journal appeared in other scientific journals over the preceding two years. So on average, each paper published in Ostrich in 2019 and 2020 was cited at least once. As results are released the following year, we have learnt about the 2021 score in 2022. Ostrich has been improving on all metrics, including the five-year impact factor.

Some of the ‘hot’ articles currently available are:

Adrian Craig’s review of bird parties in Africa: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2022.2064930

Jonah Gula’s review of the status of storks in Africa (depressing): https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2022.2045642

Abubakar Ringim’s enthusiastic account of atlasing in Nigeria: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/00306525.2022.2058105

Published under the same name since 1930, Ostrich is one of the oldest academic journals in Africa. For almost 20 years it has been produced on behalf of BirdLife South Africa by NISC, a publisher of African scholarly research. It has seen significant growth and improvement during this collaboration, and NISC’s high production standards and excellent online exposure have ensured sustained inclusion in the most prestigious indexes. The journal has been co-published with Taylor & Francis since 2009.

You can play a part in maintaining Ostrich’s success by signing up for new content alerts, which are delivered free by e-mail and are an important source of readership and associated article sharing. To do so, visit https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tost20/current and click ‘Subscribe: Alerts & RSS feed’. 

You can also follow us on Twitter for news of recent ornithological developments in Africa: @ostrichJAO



Researchers Dr Thierry Aubin and Dr Andréa Thiebault conduct a playback experiment on foraging African Penguins in False Bay. Credit David Hurwitz

Tuning in to penguins ‘talking’ at sea

African Penguins are known for foraging together. Like dolphins, they work as a group to corral schools of fish into bait balls, a strategy that increases their foraging success. But we still don’t know how they coordinate these group activities. 

We suspect that acoustic communication is essential for penguins to form foraging groups at sea. To study this, we are conducting a project called Acoustic Foraging Networks in African Penguins and so far it has involved several sessions of field work. After spending days at sea last year recording the calls penguins make at the surface, we were recently able to conduct one of the ‘ultimate’ experiments in bio-acoustics: playback.

To do this, we play previously recorded calls in earshot of free-ranging penguins and record how they react. Depending on the reaction, we are then able to decipher the function of these calls. During the experiment we observed mostly vocal reactions (the penguins were literally ‘responding’ to us), which suggests that vocal communication is important for penguins to maintain contact with other penguins of the same species over several hundred metres and thus form a network at sea.

Why is this important in terms of conservation? In the current maritime context, the observed increase in levels of manmade noise both above and below the water’s surface may have negative effects on the ability of penguins to communicate efficiently at sea and could contribute to the decline of the Endangered African Penguin. A key site we are concerned about is Algoa Bay, which is home to two of the largest African Penguin breeding colonies in the world. There has been an exponential increase in shipping traffic in the bay recently and this has been linked to the decline of the penguin population in the area. By informing the management of activities associated with marine noise pollution, the results of this study can help to limit the threat of noise in an increasingly hostile marine environment for these birds.

The Acoustic Foraging Networks in African Penguins project has been generously supported by a European Union Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant, with additional funding from the French National Centre for Research–International Emerging Action and the South African National Research Foundation. Tygerberg Bird Club has contributed too by sponsoring an expensive miniature hydrophone. If you would also like to contribute to the project, please contact Dr Alistair McInnes at alistair.mcinnes@birdlife.org.za. For more information, visit https://www.cb.universite-paris-saclay.fr/afnap/ 



The Smith family proudly wearing their Bird of the Year T-shirts. Credit Dudley Smith
The boys took time off from game-viewing to do some colouring in. Credit Dudley Smith

Gannets in the Kruger National Park!

By proudly wearing their Cape Gannet T-shirts, the Smith family held a special ‘Bird of the Year Day’ in support of BirdLife South Africa while they holidayed in the Kruger National Park. And while they were there, they even took time out to take part in the colouring-in competition ‘Win with Faansie Peacock’, which was part of The African Bird Fair. 

Thanks go to Dudley Smith for sending us the photos; we do appreciate your family’s unwavering support.


Policy and Advocacy goes bilateral

On 6 July 2022 the Policy and Advocacy team of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) met in person at the society’s headquarters, The Lodge in Sandy, Bedfordshire, for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic. I was visiting London at the time and used the opportunity to meet the team and share a selection of the interesting cases and challenges that we at BirdLife South Africa have been dealing with.

Focusing mainly on priority areas that have come under increasing pressure from mining and infrastructure and other developments, I explained some of the implications of these activities for important grassland, coastal and estuarine habitats. I also described how BirdLife South Africa’s Policy and Advocacy team (which is supported in part by RSPB funding) is responding to these challenges. There were ‘good news’ stories to share too, such as the recent penguin sightings at De Hoop and the progress we’ve made to get Middelpunt Wetland declared a protected area.

It was my first visit to The Lodge and a highlight for me was a walk through the woodland, heath and grassland that cover approximately 220ha around the RSPB headquarters.


Kirsten Day meets the RSPB’s Policy and Advocacy team. Credit Kirsten Day
The Lodge is the headquarters of the RSPB in Bedfordshire, England. Credit Kirsten Day

Carina is a top Young South African

For 17 years, the Mail & Guardian has featured 200 Young South Africans who are on their way to making a positive impact in the world through their future-focused innovation and passion. Being included is not just an award like any other, but a lifetime badge of distinction, given only to those who stand out and have grown into pioneers in their field. This year the theme was to celebrate the creators of an inclusive, equal and sustainable future in South Africa. 

Carina Pienaar, BirdLife South Africa’s Ingula and Grasslands Conservation Project Manager, was named one of 2022’s 200 Young South Africans in the Environment category for her Biodiversity Stewardship work in the high-altitude grasslands. She liaises with landowners, including livestock farmers and Eskom, to implement biodiversity-friendly land management principles to conserve these grasslands in the Eastern Free State – and the 23 threatened bird species that inhabit them.

Thanks to her work with the landowners, Carina has helped to secure the declaration of about 50 000ha of protected area in the grasslands through Biodiversity Stewardship, namely the Ingula Nature Reserve, the Upper Wilge and Sneeuwberg protected environments, and the Jadelo Nature Reserve, which is in the process of being declared. However, declaration is just the beginning of the story. In designated protected areas, bird populations are monitored, especially if a species is threatened and may be breeding in the area; remote sensing and ground-truthing techniques are used to advise landowners about appropriate grazing and fire regimes; assistance is given to resolving environmental challenges the landowners face; and ecotourism and education and awareness-building projects are undertaken.

Carina’s love for South Africa’s grasslands drives her to ensure that the agricultural landscapes of the Eastern Free State and Northern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area will continue to provide food and water security to South Africa – and at the same time provide a safe haven for the threatened and endemic wildlife of this unique grassland region. As Carina’s line manager, I was pleased to nominate her for this important award and to see her hard work and passion for grassland conservation rewarded on a national scale. Hearty congratulations from us all at BirdLife South Africa.


Carina Pienaar, BirdLife South Africa’s Ingula and Grasslands Conservation Project Manager, has been named one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans for 2022.

Cape Gannets auctioned

BirdLife South Africa is very grateful to wildlife and landscape artist Willie Sonnenberg for allowing us to auction at The African Bird Fair his dramatic painting of Cape Gannets, the 2022 Bird of the Year. Willie and Dan Sonnenberg, both passionate birders and conservationists, kindly donated the artwork to help us raise funds for seabird conservation.

More of Willie’s beautiful paintings can be found at www.sandrivers.co.za


Learn About Birds 2023

Taking place on 25 and 26 May 2023 at Wilderness in the Western Cape, the 6th Learn About Birds (LAB) conference will provide speakers with the opportunity to present and discuss their work with people who are passionate about the study and conservation of birds – and in a setting that is perfect for seeing and admiring the forest and coastal birds of South Africa. To cater to both bird enthusiasts and ornithologists, the event will comprise a Layman’s LAB and a Science LAB. Delegates who cannot travel to Wilderness can participate and present virtually. With its plenary speakers, workshops and field excursions, LAB promises to be a diverse and enriching experience for all who attend. 

If you would like to present at Science LAB, you can submit an abstract of your presentation via the LAB website. The deadline for Science LAB abstracts will be 31 November 2022. The LAB organising committee will assign either a 15-minute presentation or a five-minute speed talk to participants based on the talks accepted. Each 15-minute time slot allows 12 minutes for the presentation and three minutes for questions. A five-minute speed talk involves a quick synopsis of the presenter’s work that will encourage discussion or highlight proposed objectives on which the speaker would like to receive input. Delegates will be notified before 31 January 2023 whether their talks have been accepted.

It is important that BirdLife South Africa, as a conservation NGO, bridges the gap between research and conservation. Please make room in your presentation (one slide will do) about how your research could assist in conserving species and/or their habitats.


Come cycling in Selati!

There’s nothing like cycling to give you an up-close-and-personal experience of the bush and nowhere better than in Selati Private Nature Reserve. BirdLife South Africa will be hosting two multi-day cycle events, one in August and one in October, and they will help to raise funds for the Empowering People and Regional Conservation programmes. Highly knowledgeable guides will be on hand to share their experience of the bush and BirdLife South Africa staff will also attend to tell you about some of the organisation’s key projects.

Non-cycling partners are welcome and can join the ride in a game-viewing vehicle or relax at the lodge.

Saddles are limited, so don’t delay if you’d like to join us! You can book using this link: https://birdlife2022.myactive.co.za/CaptureDetails/Home.aspx


Become a GoBirding volunteer

The Avitourism Project has set up a new GoBirding initiative and it needs the help of a volunteer. The work will involve mostly web-based admin as well as the recruitment of new members for BirdLife South Africa’s Recommended Accommodation network. Someone with some experience of website backend editing would be preferred, but this is not essential.

If you would like to contribute a few hours a week to this important and exciting project, please contact me at andrew.deblocq@birdlife.org.za


Donations for FreeMe Wildlife

BirdLife South Africa and local bird club BirdLife KZN Midlands have donated 10 pairs of binoculars and 10 Sasol Birds of Southern Africa (fourth edition) field guides to FreeMe Wildlife in Karkloof in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. These will be used for the facility’s programme to bring local children closer to nature. We thank Struik Nature and Penguin Random House for the donation of the bird books to BirdLife South Africa.

FreeMe Wildlife is a registered, fully permitted facility established to undertake the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured wildlife.


(Left to right) Peter Divall, vice-chair of BirdLife KZN Midlands; Wade Whitehead, CEO of FreeMe Wildlife; Tammy Caine, raptor specialist at FreeMe Wildlife; and Sean Glynn, chairman of BirdLife KZN Midlands.
Some of the species you could see on these tours! Join this once-in-a-lifetime experience and support BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work.

Anyone for Antarctica?

For any wildlife and nature enthusiast, a voyage to Antarctica is an experience of a lifetime, and now Rockjumper Birding Tours and BirdLife South Africa are offering you two chances to explore the remote Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Shetlands and, finally, the Antarctic continent.

Along the way, you will be able to marvel at some of the world’s last truly pristine wildernesses and you’ll be treated to spectacular vistas, hauntingly beautiful icebergs and the planet’s greatest concentrations of marine wildlife. Walking among vast, crowded colonies of more than 200 000 displaying King Penguins and their fluffy young is an experience that defies description. 

You will also set foot on Antarctica at the aptly named Paradise Bay, while the return via the Drake Passage promises to produce some thrilling pelagic birding as you search for species such as Wandering and Light-mantled albatrosses, Snow and Antarctic petrels and the South Georgia Diving Petrel. 

The departures in both 2022 and 2023 have been timed for the earlier part of the season to increase the chances of finding Antarctica’s holy grail: the Emperor Penguin. 

Dates & details

1–19 November 2022 (guaranteed departure)

12.5% discount on final spaces (from US$15 300)
Tour leaders: Adam Riley and Heinz Ortmann

2–21 November 2023

17.5% early bird discount (US$12 970)

 Join various industry-leading guides, including many from Rockjumper, for this exclusive Antarctica charter.

When booking, please quote ‘BLSA Antarctica’ to qualify for your discount and in order for a donation to be made to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation work.

Sign up for 2022 at https://www.rockjumperbirding.com/tour-info/rockjumper-cruise-falkland-islands-south-georgia-antarctica-2022/47760/ or pre-register for 2023 by e-mailing info@rockjumper.com


Buy your raffle ticket before they sell out

Each year BirdLife South Africa holds a raffle to raise funds for its conservation work and this year there are three cash prizes to the value of R100 000, R25 000 and R10 000. You can do your bit to help conserve birds and their habitats by purchasing a ticket for R500 – but you’ll need to be quick, as only a couple of hundred tickets remain.

You can buy your ticket at https://www.birdlife.org.za/jackpot-birding-2022/. Entries close at 12h00 on 11 October 2022 or when all the tickets have been sold, whichever comes first. The draw will take place on 18 October 2022 at Isdell House, BirdLife South Africa’s head office in Johannesburg, and will be broadcast live during BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Conversations webinar.

Society Lottery Scheme is registered with National Lotteries Commission (Reg No. 00293/04).


Mouse-Free Marion news

The Mouse-Free Marion Project has produced its second quarterly newsletter to inform its supporters about the progress being made to eradicate albatross-killing mice from the island. Issue No. 2 (July 2022) can be found on the Mouse-Free Marion website at https://mousefreemarion.org/publications/

In this issue, operations manager Keith Springer shares a personal essay on how proper planning is key to ensuring a successful eradication operation. In addition, Dr Anton Wolfaardt, the project’s manager, explains the urgent need to ensure a mouse-free Marion Island.


A mixed bag…

The July/August issue of African Birdlife takes us to Zambia, where Philip Briggs spent two months visiting the country’s top birding destinations; to the Free State to follow the fortunes of a breeding pair of Secretarybirds and the film crews assigned to record them; and to the Overberg with Rob Simmons to investigate the impacts of wind farm infrastructure on Black Harriers.

Photographer Jody de Bruyn captures some special moments of bird behaviour for us, while Claire Spottiswoode highlights the lifetime contribution Peter Ryan, recipient of the Gill Memorial Medal, has made to ornithology. And Peter himself reviews Swarovski’s new NL Pure 32 binoculars. 

New wheels for penguin conservation

The Seabird Conservation team’s penguin conservation work was given a much-needed boost in July when we received a Ford Ranger, the use of which has been donated by Scottfin Finance and the Halfway Group for the next year. These new wheels will make it much easier, and safer, to get to and from the De Hoop Nature Reserve to work on establishing a penguin colony there, as well as to the various penguin colonies where we conduct research to aid the conservation of this Endangered species. To learn more about Scottfin Finance, please visit www.scottfinfinance.co.za


Thank you to Scottfin Finance and the Halfway Group for supporting penguin conservation!
Juvenile African Penguins were transported in boxes from SANCCOB’s centre in Cape Town to De Hoop Nature Reserve. Credit Tanya Chute

An exciting discovery at De Hoop

African Penguin numbers have declined by more than 60% over the past 30 years, due mainly to a lack of food. In response, BirdLife South Africa has partnered with CapeNature and SANCCOB to create a new breeding colony for African Penguins in an area of high fish abundance, at De Hoop Nature Reserve in the southern Cape. We have released more than 100 juvenile penguins at the reserve over the past two years. 

Six groups of penguins have been released so far, bringing the total to 148 birds. The penguins in the three latest groups spent a night in a pen on the beach before being set free so that they could get a feel for the area. Once released, the young birds leave the colony site and are expected to spend the next few years at sea learning how to fend for themselves and prospecting at different colonies. 

During the latest release we made an exciting discovery. After the penguins had left, David Roberts came back from his vantage point where he’d watched the birds going out to sea and found an adult penguin under a boulder. On further inspection, it looked like an adult that may have recently moulted. After cautiously looking around the area, the team found two more adult penguins showing no signs of moulting. The penguins will be monitored carefully from a distance so as not to disturb them during this sensitive prospecting period.

To read or download the full press release, please go to https://www.birdlife.org.za/media-and-resources/media-releases/


The last three groups of birds released were kept in a pen on the beach overnight so they could acclimatise and imprint on the site. Credit Christina Hagen
Most of the penguins were raised from abandoned eggs and had never seen the ocean, so there was some hesitation before they entered the water. Credit David Roberts
Once the first penguin enters the water, the rest follow. Credit Christina Hagen

Stunning seabird plates for sale

The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, publisher of the Roberts Bird Guides, has released a selection of seabird plates that capture exquisitely the birds’ striking plumage patterns and often muted coloration. Particularly since Flock to Marion, many birders have become captivated by this group and the drama of ocean birding, and they are invited to view the plates available for sale at http://www.robertsbirds.co.za/fieldguide-images/

BirdLife South Africa receives a 25% donation from each purchase, so when you become the proud owner of one of these beautiful plates not only do you benefit, but bird conservation gets a boost too.

To place an order or find out more, please e-mail me at ingridw@polka.co.za


This artwork of storm petrels is just one of the beautiful plates available for sale. Credit John Voelcker Bird Book Fund

A newcomer to southern Africa

When SA Rare Bird News sends out a ‘GIGA ALERT’, as it did recently for the second time this year, subscribers know that it means a new species for southern Africa has been sighted. This time the alert was telling birders that a Wood Warbler had been found at Sefapane Lodge in Phalaborwa by a visiting British birder, Nick Addey.

Superficially similar to a Willow Warbler (which in itself would be an unusual record here in mid-winter), this bird has a subtly different shape because of its longer wings and shorter tail. In addition, the facial pattern is slightly different, and the yellow throat and sides of the breast contrast quite starkly against the pure white underparts. The obviously pale-edged tertials on the Phalaborwa bird (even although they are a little worn) were another useful feature that confirmed the ID as a Wood Warbler.

This species occurs widely across Europe and in western Asia and it winters in Africa, reaching as far south as central Tanzania. Instead of migrating north as it should have done, the Wood Warbler in Phalaborwa clearly turned south – a case of reverse migration. 

The bird has now been present for several weeks and has been particularly reliable in a small patch of trees alongside the dam in the lodge grounds. Many birders from all over the region have arrived to see it, but no one knows how long it will stay before deciding that it is time to move on and try to get back to where it should be.


The Wood Warbler is a new species for southern Africa. Credit Trevor Hardaker

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