Winds of change in the Great Karoo
It’s a Thursday evening in mid-October and I’ve begun a five-hour drive into the heart of the Karoo. My immediate destination is the side of the road in a virgin pentad well off the beaten track to the north-west of Three Sisters. As I roll across the boundary of the target pentad, a genet bounds away through the low scrub; an unexpected sighting and a good omen of renewed life in the Karoo after years of drought.
On the horizon, the blinking red lights of a wind farm remind me of ‘big development’ and winds of change blowing across the Karoo. For the 15km of dirt track I’ve followed since leaving the N12 I have seen no cars, no farmhouses. Yet there, probably 50km away, are the slowly flashing lights signalling the generation of energy – and warning of the impact of man.
In the distance a Barn Owl screeches; my first bird species for the pentad. I settle into the passenger seat for a few hours of uncomfortable sleep before sunrise. But even before dawn breaks, Eastern Clapper Larks are displaying beneath the moon and stars. Then the chats begin to call and the Karoo Long-billed Lark starts its day. With the dawn, the Lark-like Buntings awaken and arise in swarms from their hiding places among the shrubs.
Like much of South Africa, this part of the Karoo had good rains in the past summer and I pass brimful dams dotted with South African Shelducks and their offspring and even Greater Flamingos. I tally well over 50 species for that first pentad, where a wooded valley with a trickling stream attracts buntings, Namaqua Doves and Red-eyed Bulbuls. By the end of the third pentad, completed just before 13h00, it is clear there will be no point in starting another; the birds have disappeared into whatever shade they can find. It’s time to continue north.
It seems to me there is a change of sentiment in the air. When I last surveyed south of Victoria West in 2017, the prospect of fracking loomed large. My presence as an ally against this threat was well received. Birds drink and would be vulnerable to contaminated water resulting from shale gas extraction. But now the blinking lights have sparked dollar signs in the farmers’ eyes; a wind farm on one’s land is a cash cow. But wind energy is no friend to birds, so the doors of at least one family I’d met before do not open on this expedition. They don’t want documentation of raptors and other vulnerable birds on their land now.
I’m heading for the El Jo guest farm south of Vosburg to rendezvous with a dedicated group of atlasers. This ‘atlas bash’ has been organised by Stefan Theron, one of the top contributors to SABAP2 and a candidate for the title of best birder in the Karoo, and the other participants are birding veterans Mel Tripp, Simon Fogarty, Chris Cheetham (another Karoo specialist) and Dean Boshoff. We are welcomed by El Jo hosts Elsabe and Johan van Rensburg, who have already made contact with landowners to ensure that we can get onto farms beyond locked gates. Their excellent guesthouse lies in a virgin pentad, as does their adjoining farm.
Chris arrived earlier and has already contributed substantially to coverage of the area. The seventh member of the group, Henk Nel, has brought his family along to make a holiday of the occasion. Our evening discussions revolve around larks and other local species, enticing Mel and Simon to stay a few more days beyond the weekend. Everyone contributes fistfuls of lists of virgin pentads, enabling us to finally close off the Vosburg gap on the coverage map for SABAP2.
There are many micro habitats across the Karoo. Koppies with Cinnamon-breasted Warblers and African Rock Pipits are one, gannaveld with Sclater’s Larks is another and Karoo farmsteads are a third. With water and tall stands of trees, farmsteads are like oases in the desert at times, and here you’ll find White-eyes, Karoo Thrushes and Gabar Goshawks. And, of course, every birder knows the value of water. To my astonishment, an afternoon pentad on the way home had multiple dams and stunning surprises, like Glossy Ibises and African Spoonbills.
If you’re itching for peace and quiet somewhere off the beaten track, unsurpassed hospitality and amazing birds (at the moment, at least), the Karoo is the place to go. Vosburg is on the road between Britstown (on the N12 south of Kimberley) and the west coast. There are still plenty of virgin pentads scattered across the plains, calling you to come and contribute your name to the legacy of the SABAP2 project.
Many thanks to Afrit, Ekapa Minerals and Italtile and Ceramics Foundation. Thanks also to the sponsors of the SABAP2 project (mediated by Ernst Retief), which covered some of the accommodation costs for participants during this bash.
DR ALAN LEE, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER
Automated monitoring at Bird Island
The African Penguin has lost more than 70% of its population since the turn of this century and colony numbers continue to decline by five to 10% per annum. The population in Algoa Bay, at the eastern edge of the species’ breeding range, has lost 68% of its population since 2015. This worrying decline can be attributed largely to threats in the marine habitat where the birds target anchovies and sardines, their main prey. The threats include competition for resources, and chemical and noise pollution, which has increased exponentially since the advent of ship-to-ship bunkering in 2016.
The penguin breeding season in Algoa Bay starts in February and peters off in August. During this time the birds are constrained to forage within 30km of their colony so that they can return to their nests to attend to their eggs and chicks. A productive foraging trip, where schools of forage fish are frequently encountered, can see these birds gain up to a third of their pre-departure body mass in a day. If times are tough, however, they can lose up to 20% of their pre-departure weight. If this happens repeatedly, they may choose to abandon their breeding effort. Monitoring this variation in body weight can provide useful insights into the penguins’ habitat conditions, enabling us to identify and mitigate threats to these birds at sea.
The Coastal Seabird team at BirdLife South Africa, in collaboration with electrical engineer Pierre Retief, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), Nelson Mandela University and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, recently installed an automated penguin monitoring system on Bird Island in Algoa Bay, the home of currently the third largest African Penguin colony in South Africa. The monitoring system comprises two weighbridges, an electronic pit-tag reader to record individually marked birds, a mini-computer to process the data and a router to transmit the data in real time. Information coming from the system can give us the condition of birds on a daily scale and will enable us to flag adverse habitat conditions very quickly.
The monitoring system will also be a valuable tool for gauging the efforts of various resource management and maritime authorities in managing various activities in Algoa Bay, such as purse-seine fishing and vessel traffic. Another use will be to generate awareness about the daily lives of African Penguins through a dedicated portal that will go live during 2023.
DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND DR TEGAN CARPENTER-KLING, COASTAL SEABIRD PROJECT MANAGER
Please report House Crows!
Like other corvids, the House Crow is a highly successful generalist omnivore that is both opportunistic and intelligent, attributes that have enabled it to be especially successful in cities. It has established breeding populations in 24 countries outside its native range in Asia, managing to do so by hitching a ride on ships. After arrival, these crows quickly proliferate in urban areas and then spread to other human settlements nearby. House Crows harass and predate upon indigenous birdlife, destroy crops and food stocks, cause mess and noise pollution and may even be carriers of human and animal diseases.
Since arriving in South Africa in the 1970s, they have spread across seven municipalities and have been recorded in nine others. The current population is estimated to be between 3482 and 6223 birds. Despite some control efforts, the species is spreading rapidly along the coastline and further inland, and if unchecked it will eventually colonise all urban and settled areas around the country.
To take advantage of a limited window of opportunity to minimise the impacts of this colonisation and to protect biodiversity, conservation and environmental professionals in both government and private sectors are formalising a National House Crow Strategy. Its objective is to prevent a permanent House Crow population from being established in South Africa. The longer nothing is done about these birds, the greater will be the cost to biodiversity and the more money will be required to address the issue in future. A national strategy – rather than local eradication schemes that were used in the past – will coordinate efforts and help prevent and manage any potential new colonisation.
To put this strategy into effect will require real-time reports of House Crow sightings across a wide area. BirdLife South Africa therefore asks that all South African citizens report sightings of House Crows via the Birdlasser app. For these reports to reach the relevant parties, please ensure that you are signed up to the ‘invasive species cause’ under the app’s settings.
House Crows should not be confused with our indigenous species; they can be differentiated by their grey breast and neck, as compared to the black or black-and-white plumage of our own species. In addition, House Crows have a medium-sized bill compared to the slender bill of the most similar local species, the Cape Crow. When logging House Crows, please note the number of birds and any potential nest sites.
Please support the management of invasive House Crows and help protect South Africa’s indigenous birdlife.
DR CHRISTIAAN WILLEM BRINK, RAPTOR AND LARGE TERRESTRIAL BIRD PROJECT MANAGER
A small but dedicated group of atlasers descended on Kimberley between 19 and 23 October 2022 for the annual Kimberley atlas bash. As well as collecting valuable data for atlas blocks with very few cards, they recorded bird species that are threatened and some uncommon species for the area, such as Blue Waxbill and Grey Go-away Bird. The presence of these species around Kimberley indicates that they are expanding westward.
During an atlas bash, atlasers for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) target specific blocks, called pentads, in an area that has limited full protocol cards. For this year the target was pentads with fewer than four cards or ones that had not been atlased during 2022.
The weather played along nicely and the veld around Kimberley looked beautiful after last summer’s rains. Lists per pentad recorded between 35 and 70 species, which is not bad for the Kimberley area. Some of the most interesting were Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, Blue Crane and Kori Bustard – all threatened species.
Unusual birds for the area included Blue Waxbill and Grey Go-away Bird, both of which seem to be expanding their ranges westward. By highlighting this distribution change, the records for these species are therefore of great value – and they demonstrate the importance of the atlas project as a whole in that it enables such changes to be detected.
One of the fun aspects of an atlas bash is the conversation around the campfire after a long day in the field. Although the occasional rare bird sighting may be mentioned, most of the discussion is about relatively common bird species. Why would the Blue Waxbill expand its range to the west? Why do we get species X in pentad A but not in the neighbouring pentad? It’s a learning experience for all the participants!
Another positive aspect of an atlas bash is the conversation with landowners about the bird species occurring on their properties and the conservation issues, such as uncontrolled fires, that they are dealing with. These are valuable opportunities to remind landowners that their properties are crucial for the conservation of many threatened bird species.
BirdLife South Africa would like to thank Ekapa Minerals in Kimberley for their financial support and the Ford WildLife Foundation for the use of the Ford Ranger.
ERNST RETIEF, SPATIAL PLANNING AND DATA PROJECT MANAGER
Almost time for BBD!
Each year during Birding Big Day (BBD) teams record more than 85% of the regular terrestrial bird species occurring in South Africa. BBD thus provides us with an excellent opportunity to collect bird distribution data for South Africa. So much more than just a team competition, BBD provides an excellent opportunity to collect valuable data that can be used to conserve the wonderful diversity of birds in South Africa.
South Africa hosts more than 850 bird species. Each year, the combined total of species logged by all the BBD teams is around 660 species, which is more than 75% of the total species. Considering that many of the species on the South African checklist are vagrants and seabirds, the percentage of regular terrestrial species seen on BBD is most probably upward of 85%.
In addition, the number of atlas cards, both ad hoc and full protocol, submitted to SABAP2 shows a significant increase in the period before and after BBD. We also receive lots of data for the ‘threatened bird species cause’ on BirdLasser. These are trends that we should build on, increasing the contribution to citizen science projects during BBD.
So we’re inviting you to try and submit an atlas card on BBD or join the ‘threatened species cause’ on BirdLasser before BBD. For more information about SABAP2, go to sabap2.birdmap.africa/ and birdlasser.com.
However, you can participate in BBD in any way that you feel comfortable. Maybe you want to go all out and win the team competition or a provincial challenge or compete against your friends. Or you just want to bird your local park or nature reserve for an hour or two – it’s really up to you. BBD is simply about enjoying South Africa’s amazing bird diversity.
For more information, go to birdlife.org.za/support-us/events/birding-big-day-2022/
ERNST RETIEF, SPATIAL PLANNING AND DATA PROJECT MANAGER
Listed as globally Critically Endangered, the White-winged Flufftail has an estimated population size of fewer than 250 mature individuals and it is known to breed only in Ethiopia and South Africa. Middelpunt Wetland, near Dullstroom in Mpumalanga, is the only confirmed breeding site in South Africa. Declaring Middelpunt Wetland a private nature reserve was therefore considered a top priority by the White-winged Flufftail International Working Group.
BirdLife South Africa worked to this end with Middelpunt Wetland Trust, local landowners, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and others, and on 14 October 2022 Middelpunt Private Nature Reserve officially came into being.
Not only an important site for White-winged Flufftail, the Middelpunt reserve provides habitat for many different plant and animal species. The peat-based wetland also retains and purifies water and helps to control floods, thus bestowing benefits on the surrounding Lakenvlei farming community. It is our hope that Middelpunt Wetland will continue to be a bastion of nature conservation in South Africa for many years to come.
We acknowledge and thank Dullstroom Trout Farm, Eland’s Valley Guest Farm, Middelpunt Wetland Trust, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, Conservation Outcomes, Rockjumper Birding Tours and Eskom through the Ingula Partnership, as well as the many individuals who have contributed to the research and conservation of the White-winged Flufftail. Middelpunt Nature Reserve is a private reserve and is not open to the general public.
An article giving more detail about this crucial step forward in the conservation of habitat for the White-winged Flufftail will appear in the January/February 2023 issue of African Birdlife. Look out for the magazine from the end of December.
DR KYLE J LLOYD, WETLAND CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER/ROCKJUMPER FELLOW OF WHITE-WINGED FLUFFTAIL CONSERVATION
World Habitat Day at school
A habitat is the physical place or natural home of an animal, plant or other organism and World Habitat Day, celebrated annually on the first Monday of October, focuses on human settlements and the basic rights for all, biodiversity included, to adequate shelter. There’s a different theme every year and this year it was ‘mind the gap’, which highlighted growing inequality and challenges around human settlements.
Talking to local communities and schools about habitat conservation is key, as we share the environment with a diversity of life that also needs to be considered. Because of the challenges people face daily – water shortages and lack of electricity, food and health care – we tend to forget that we also share the space with other living creatures and that they also have a right to shelter and space for their survival.
With this in mind, I visited Mphophomo Combined School near Van Reenen in the Free State and spoke to Grade 7 learners about the importance of habitat not only for birds, animals and plants, but also for humans. Therefore we need a balanced energy web if we all are to function. I told them about Ingula Nature Reserve, a protected area that hosts threatened birds and other wildlife while securing energy through the generation of electricity on site, and water through the conservation of wetlands. The Grade 7s also learned the importance of three threatened habitats – wetlands, grasslands and escarpment forest – and that they are special habitat for different bird species. At BirdLife South Africa we are working to save these birds and the places they live in.
STEVEN SEGANG, INGULA AND GRASSLAND CONSERVATION ASSISTANT
SANParks Honorary Rangers visit Ingula Nature Reserve
With summer already here, migratory birds are either back already or just about to arrive. The swifts and swallows flying around the bridges and watercourses are immediately noticed, alerting us to the fact that we will soon be welcoming back the Palaearctic migrants, including the storks, cuckoos, falcons and other raptors such as the migratory harriers. The more common birds and endemics are also starting to call, display and change into their breeding plumage to ensure that their gene flow will continue.
At Ingula Nature Reserve, we were pleased to host the SANParks Honorary Rangers and their guests in early and mid-October. Local Community Bird Guide Bonginkosi Ndaba and I guided them around Ingula and in the surrounding area and were fortunate to get some very interesting bird sightings while enjoying the magnificent views of the beautiful grasslands, wetlands and escarpment areas. The weather was cool and misty, which resulted in some birds being missed, but it did not derail our plans and the guests could still enjoy the beautiful landscape, wildflowers and other biodiversity.
Ingula has received good support in the past and we certainly would like to increase our reach and make it a well-known birding destination. Being situated on the Little Drakensberg escarpment on the border between Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, the reserve boasts an incredible diversity of birds. If you’re planning to spend time with family and friends at the coast this holiday, we invite you to consider making a detour to the Ingula Nature Reserve. We are just four hours from Johannesburg and three hours to Durban, and just a short distance from the N3.
For bookings and any queries, please contact Carina Pienaar at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the BirdLife South Africa website and go to the Go Birding site for more information.
STEVEN SEGANG, INGULA AND GRASSLAND CONSERVATION ASSISTANT
Pre- and post-moult African Penguins
Unlike other seabirds, which stagger their moult, penguins replace their entire plumage in 2–5 weeks, in a so-called catastrophic moult. While moulting, penguins are land-bound and are entirely dependent on endogenous reserves, resulting in a 40–50% loss in body mass over the moult period. They starve if they do not begin their moult with sufficient fat reserves to complete it and return to sea. Consequently, penguin moult is often marked by higher adult mortality. And even if adult penguins survive the moult, poor foraging conditions during the post-moult recovery period can have carry-over effects into the following breeding season. These factors could have serious negative consequences on individual fitness and associated population growth, highlighting the importance of the non-breeding period for penguin conservation strategies.
The Coastal Seabird team at BirdLife South Africa has been dedicated to tracking pre-and post-moult penguins from Bird Island (Algoa Bay), Dassen Island and Stony Point since 2012. These data have been incredibly valuable for conservation and management strategies for the penguins. So far, we have used the data to identify marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas for pre- and post-moult penguins. We have submitted these layers to the Critical Biodiversity Areas maps, which are used to inform planning and decision-making in support of sustainable ocean development within South Africa; this includes the identification of new marine protected areas.
These data have also been crucial to reinforce the argument for no-take zones for purse-seine fisheries around major African Penguin colonies. We plan to continue collecting tracking data from pre- and post-moult penguins so that we can continue to delineate important marine areas for these birds and investigate how the penguins may alter their at-sea distributions in response to variability in climatic and/or fishing pressure conditions. From next year, we will expand this study to pre- and post-moult penguins at Boulder’s Beach.
DR ALISTAIR McINNES, SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND DR TEGAN CARPENTER-KLING, COASTAL SEABIRD PROJECT MANAGER
Shop for the Birds! at Open Day
Our annual BirdLife South Africa Open Day in October has been and gone. Many thanks to all our members, visitors and suppliers who came through to Isdell House to create a very successful, fun-filled event. But, year-end shopping doesn’t end there!
Special thanks go to the market stalls at the event: Elaine’s Birding, the Platter Project, Dungbeetle Crafts, Wordsmiths, Just me, Bobby Yarn, Tutus Loco, Painted Wolf Wines, Tipto, Sugar ’n Ice, the Bee Keepers Hub, Steady Shots, Outliers Coffee Roasters, artists Dini Condy, Hilary Bateman and Oliver, and last but not least, Sleighing It!
Shop for the Birds! co-hosted the event with the BirdLife South Africa membership team and Witwatersrand Bird Club, who joined the second-hand book table. Mahdiyyah Wadee, a talented young author and conservationist, was present, proudly signing copies of her book, The Song of the Sunbird.
Shop for the Birds! and our online store remain open for all those last minute year-end gifts. View the online store and place your orders here or visit us at BirdLife South Africa’s Isdell House (Monday to Friday, 09h00–15h00). For further information, please e-mail email@example.com
CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER
Hotels for bees
So what is a bee hotel? Well, it’s accommodation for bees and is made from untreated pine (no toxic fumes) with different-sized holes drilled into one face. Research and experimentation have determined the size of the holes and each suits a particular species of solitary bee. The holes in the hotel mimic the holes solitary bees would find in nature, usually made by other insects in dead wood. They offer the bees a safe place to rest and breed.
All pollinators, including solitary bees, are under threat, mainly as a result of habitat loss. Owning a bee hotel offers you the opportunity to do your bit for the planet by contributing to the conservation of these vitally important, but under-recognised pollinators. You can benefit your garden by encouraging biodiversity, which helps create a balanced and healthy ecosystem. Most solitary bees are stingless or rarely sting; they do not swarm and are very docile. As with all things in nature, if you are respectful, bee hotels are safe for children, pets and those with allergies.
Become the proud owner of a bee hotel – purchase one from Shop for the Birds! (see previous article for contact details).
CLARE NEALL, EVENTS MANAGER
Exceptional artworks for sale!
The Roberts bird guides are well known not only for their authoritative text, but also for their exquisite plates, all created by South African artists. The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, which publishes these guides, would like to remind the birding public that the original fine-art illustrated plates are available for purchase. Better still, BirdLife South Africa receives a 25% donation for each sale. Please view our website at robertsbirds.co.za/fieldguide-images/ for further details.
iNGRID WEIERSBYE, JOHN VOELCKER BIRD BOOK FUND
2023 is almost here!
All you need to do to order your 2023 Birds of Southern Africa calendar is go to birdlife.org.za and follow the relevant prompts. The calendars are selling for R185 each and can be either collected at Isdell House or delivered Postnet to Postnet for an additional cost of R85. They make perfect gifts for family, friends, colleagues or clients.
For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER
Travel Africa with us…
In the latest issue of African Birdlife we follow the fortunes of a project to re-introduce Ostriches to the Sahara, travel with researchers to investigate the presence of Taita Falcons in Mozambique, explore the rather wet wetland of Nylsvley Nature Reserve and engage with breeding Narina Trogons. And there’s more … binocular and scope reviews, rare bird sightings, SABAP and FitzPatrick reports, your last chance to read about the 2022 Bird of the Year, and all your contributions.
Be sure to get your copy!
Death of an albatross – and a silver lining
When I got a call from Imvelo, a fisheries observer agency, asking me to collect a dead bird brought in by a pelagic longline vessel, I was not surprised. We work closely with the observers and encourage them to bring back for research purposes birds that have been accidentally caught during fishing operations. I asked if the observer could please meet me at the harbour so I could find out under what circumstances the bird had died.
‘There was no observer on board this trip,’ was the reply. ‘The captain, Abilio, decided to bring back the bird for the Albatross Task Force to collect.’ This was unusual, as it is not often that a dead bird is brought back voluntarily by the fishermen. When I received it, I saw it was an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, with a metal ring on the right leg and a bright yellow alpha-numeric ring on its left. This meant it was an adult breeding bird and that it could only have come from one of the islands within the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, more than 2500km away!
The Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross is endemic to Tristan da Cunha, where an estimated 26 000 pairs remain. In the late 1970s, the long-term monitoring of colonies began on Gough and the Tristan da Cunha islands, allowing researchers to follow population trends and study the albatrosses’ behaviour. These birds, like other similar albatrosses, form long-term pair bonds and breed annually in loosely aggregated colonies. Pairs will lay a single egg during the breeding season, and it takes both parents six months to raise a fully grown chick to fledging.
I had seen this during a year I spent on Gough Island: how one of the parents remains behind while the other heads out into the ocean in search of food. It’s gone for three to four days before coming back to either relieve its partner on an egg or with food for the chick. So, while my heart sank at the prospect of a partner waiting and the inevitable fate of the egg, the fact that Abilio had brought the bird to us was positive and we made a plan to meet up.
José Abilio de Jesus has been a fisherman for most of his life and goes out fishing most months, for 10 to 12 days at a time. Originally from the island of Madeira in Portugal, he has made Cape Town his home and lives there with his wife and three sons. At the mention of Portugal, I ask if he still speaks the language and for the next hour or so we revert to Portuguese, talking about fishing methods and tuna, but also of orcas and sharks and how seabirds are caught. I want to know what made him return the bird to us and thank him. After all, he has nothing to gain from it, but for the Albatross Task Force working to reduce seabird deaths, it is a chance to engage, learn and together find ways to ensure fewer birds are caught, one vessel at a time.
I tell him about the albatrosses and Abilio quickly realises how the slowness of their breeding means that even if small numbers of birds are caught, it has a significant impact on total population numbers. He tells me he has recently started using the new bird-scaring line that we developed for smaller longline vessels and is very happy with it. The bird-scaring line acts as a scarecrow, preventing seabirds from accessing the baited hooks before they have sunk out of reach. Another measure is adding weights directly to the baited hook lines so they can sink even faster. Abilio, however, uses weighted swivels, which can be very hazardous if the line is suddenly cut and a 60g swivel is flung back like a bullet. I promise to give him information about safe leads, which have been specially developed to prevent fly-backs. They are costly, but he is keen to try them and suggests he could phase them in slowly over time. We both parted with new knowledge and mutual appreciation, agreeing to keep communicating.
With the information provided by the rings on the albatross’s legs, colleagues at the RSPB were able to tell me that the bird had been ringed as an adult on Gough Island in 2016 and they also knew its long-term partner, E46. Born on Gough, it had been ringed in 1997. Researchers currently on the island confirmed that E46 was indeed sitting on an egg the day I collected its dead mate.
Can there be a silver lining to the death of an albatross? I hope so, as only by becoming aware can we change our perception, develop trust and ultimately make a difference by changing the way we do things.
ANDREA ANGEL, ALBATROSS TASK FORCE MANAGER
Securing the future of high-biodiversity areas
There is something unique about the natural environment in sub-Saharan Africa that can only be fully understood once you have experienced it. At the Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve deep in the heart of the Cederberg, you can explore an area of natural beauty and cultural heritage that has been restored to a near-pristine state and continues to be managed in a way that shares this natural gem with visitors, yet limits the impacts of tourism on the land.
Thanks to the Loubser and De Waal families, who purchased this property and four adjacent farms in 1986, approximately 18 000ha of fynbos, renosterveld and succulent karoo, as well as many endemic and unique animals and insects, continue to thrive. The families understand that while ecotourism is important for South Africa, they have a duty to minimise its impact on the environment. At the same time, they believe in making a positive impact on the prosperity and well-being of the local community while protecting its cultural heritage.
The area was once inhabited by the Khoi and San, and ‘Kagga Kamma’ means ‘place of water’ in their language. The design of the huts in the reserve’s lodge mimics those of the Khoi San, and their legacy lives on in more than 57 sites of rock art found on the many rock formations and overhangs.
Covid provided the tourism industry with an opportunity to reset and ensure that people understand how too much tourism can have a negative effect on a place. Equally important is a commitment to sustainable ecotourism. To highlight a few of the sustainable practices at Kagga Kamma, the huts, lodge and cave suites are built with natural materials and there is an emphasis on supporting local businesses, investing in water-saving initiatives and moving towards renewable energy sources – in this case, solar.
Representing BirdLife South Africa, I had the opportunity to conduct an ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECM) site assessment during the launch of the reserve’s new solar farm. Kagga Kamma was chosen as a case study site within the ecotourism sector to investigate whether these sites would meet the OECM criteria (as part of the pilot project in the Western Cape funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust). OECMs are sites that achieve long-term biodiversity conservation regardless of their primary aim (in this case, tourism), are effectively managed and are not currently in formally protected areas.
The property is ideally located on the border of the Tankwa Karoo National Park (a formally protected area), near adjacent Mountain Catchment Areas (also protected areas) and forms part of the Sneeuberg Conservancy. This connectivity in the landscape is an important aspect of the OECM assessment. Other criteria we consider include the strength of the management and governance authority of the site, its long-term objectives, and what threats have been identified and how they are being mitigated. We also investigate whether the site is likely to continue to conserve and manage biodiversity in the long term and whether any ecosystem services and cultural or spiritual values are recognised.
Kagga Kamma’s solar farm replaces the old solar units on the property, can supply the entire reserve with power, is a modular system and has a lifespan of 10–25 years. The system was built off site and installed on site, and it can store power from the peak periods (daylight/summer) to see the reserve through the periods of lower solar energy at night and in winter. The launch of the farm was celebrated with a riel dancing ceremony, performed to the tunes of a local band from Wuppertal.
Much of South Africa’s remaining intact or near-natural land is privately owned. Engaging with these landowners, providing conservation support in the landscape and recognising the good work they do for nature on these private properties is key to ensuring that these valuable natural landscapes and cultural gems remain in the future.
For more information, contact me at email@example.com.
BRONWYN MAREE, EAST ATLANTIC FLYWAY INITIATIVE PROJECT MANAGER
The Fitz needs new wheels
The FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town urgently needs to replace one of its vehicles for the current season in the field. We’re looking for a 4×4 double cab, ideally a Toyota with relatively low mileage (approximately 100 000km).
If you have one for sale, or know of someone who might be looking to part with theirs, please contact Hilary by e-mailing her at Hilary.Buchanan@uct.ac.za or by calling 021 650 3291.
PROFESSOR PETER RYAN, DIRECTOR, FITZPATRICK INSTITUTE OF AFRICAN ORNITHOLOGY
A world first for African Penguins
It’s been confirmed: African Penguins are breeding at the site of their new colony in De Hoop Nature Reserve!
BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and SANCCOB have been working to re-establish a penguin colony at De Hoop so that the breeding birds will have better access to fish stocks on the move. The project has now reached an important milestone: the first penguin pair has successfully hatched and is raising two chicks, giving us new hope for the future of the Endangered species. The African Penguin breeding colony at Stony Point, adjacent to the Bettys Bay Marine Protected Area, also started with very few birds and is now a flourishing breeding colony.
African Penguins attempted to breed at De Hoop Nature Reserve between 2003 and 2008, but abandoned the colony when they were preyed on by caracals. In 2015 BirdLife South Africa partnered with CapeNature to investigate whether the colony could be re-established. Three years later we constructed a predator-proof fence and then installed penguin decoys and a speaker playing penguin calls. Since 2021 we have released more than 140 juvenile penguins from the site in the hope that they will return to breed when they have matured in three to six years’ time.
In June this year three adult penguins were found roosting at the site. These birds had arrived spontaneously and were not any of the juveniles that had been released. Then more penguins were seen, the number fluctuating up to seven in one day. It appeared that some of them had formed pairs, but no nests were confirmed.
Then one day I was there to do some maintenance on the fence and was casually observing the penguins sitting on the rocks when I realised with astonishment that there was a chick standing next to an adult. On closer inspection, I saw there were actually two chicks. Because this is a long-term project , we hadn’t expected to see any breeding yet, so we are thrilled that it has already happened.
‘This success is an important step in the conservation of the Endangered African Penguin,’ says Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa. ‘It has created a new safe breeding habitat in an area of good food availability and proves that it is possible to establish new land-based African Penguin colonies, which has never been done before.’
‘The chicks are two to three months old and will probably take another few weeks to fledge,’ observes Dr David Roberts, a clinical veterinarian at SANCCOB. Penguins fledge between about 75 and 120 days after hatching. ‘The nest is in a very rocky area and the chicks would have stayed hidden in the nest for much of the time, which explains why they weren’t seen before,’ he adds.
Dr Razeena Omar, CEO of CapeNature, comments, ‘The presence of an African Penguin nesting site at De Hoop is a significant step towards the establishment of a viable African Penguin breeding colony there and holds promise for the future success and contribution to African Penguin conservation.’
CHRISTINA HAGEN, PAMELA ISDELL FELLOW OF PENGUIN CONSERVATION
Last chance to win!
Enter your best bird photos, taken anywhere in South Africa, in the People’s Weather photography competition and stand a chance to win a full-board two-night stay for two people at !Xaus Lodge in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Enter now at http://www.peoplesweather.com/competitions/birdlife/ to complete the entry form.
The competition closes on 28 November 2022 and the winners will be announced on People’s Weather’s social media platforms and in its newsletter in December 2022.
International recognition for Wakkerstroom
BirdLife South Africa’s Tourism and Education Centre in the Mpumalanga town of Wakkerstroom is one of 23 wetland centres around the world to have won a Star Wetland Centre Award at the Convention on Wetlands’ CoP14 in Geneva, Switzerland. The award is a new initiative to recognise best practice in ecotourism and education at wetlands and is coordinated by Wetland Link International (WLI), a support network for staff and volunteers at 300 wetland visitor centres.
The awardees were selected by an international panel of experienced wetlands professionals. ‘The judges were particularly struck by the quality of signage and visitor interpretation,’ said Chris Rostron, the head of WLI and leader of the Star awards process. ‘The staff at Wakkerstroom work with local groups on scientific knowledge, livelihoods and sustainable behaviour, showing how beneficial a wetland visitor centre can be to its community.’
‘We are honoured that the Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre has been recognised as among the world’s best in wetland ecotourism and education. BirdLife South Africa would like to thank Wetland Link International, the Star Wetland Centre Awards and the dedicated team, volunteers and Wakkerstroom community who make the centre the world-class learning experience that it is,’ commented Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa.
KRISTI GARLAND, CENTRE MANAGER, WAKKERSTROOM TOURISM AND EDUCATION CENTRE
Give the gift of membership
By becoming a member of BirdLife South Africa, you are helping us to carry out critical work to conserve this country’s precious birdlife. And by giving the gift of membership to someone you care about, you are doubling that support.
Membership of BirdLife South Africa includes:
- 6 issues of African Birdlife magazine a year
- A supporter’s sticker
- A digital membership certificate
- 2 free bird call ringtones for your cell phone
- An e-newsletter every month
- Invitations to BirdLife South Africa events
If you purchase a gift membership before 15 December, you will receive a 15% discount on the fee. To do so, please use the Gift Subscription form at https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/gift-subscription/ and enter ‘GiftMem22’ as your promo code.
In addition, all gift membership recipients will be entered into a lucky draw and will stand a chance to win a Lowepro Field Station Optics belt pack with a Roberts Birds of Southern Africa field guide.
For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
SHIREEN GOULD, MEMBERSHIP PROGRAMME MANAGER
Register now for Flock 2023!
BirdLife South Africa and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology are delighted to invite you to Flock to the Wilderness in May 2023.
Join us and we’ll take you to some of the Garden Route’s best birding hotspots to look for the region’s forest birds and waterbirds. And when you’re not looking for and at birds, you can discover more about them at the Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference.
Dates: Wednesday, 24 May to Sunday, 28 May 2023
Venue: The Wilderness Hotel, 6 George Rd, Wilderness, 6560 Wilderness
Learn About Birds Conference: 25 & 26 May 2023
BirdLife South Africa’s 94th AGM: 27 May 2023
Find out more about the wide selection of free and paid activities and excursions in our Flock to the Wilderness excursion information booklet by clicking here.
For more information, frequently asked questions and to register for the event, please visit our Flock to the Wilderness web page here.
Coming soon: Bird of the Year 2023!
Each year BirdLife South Africa selects a threatened bird species to focus on as its Bird of the Year. Check your inbox and our social media channels on 3 December 2022 to discover which species has been chosen for 2023.
For each species, we produce, in several South African languages, various types of resources that include posters, infographics, fact sheets, lesson plans and sticker designs – and they can all be downloaded for free at the following web pages:
- Bird of the Year 2022 (Cape Gannet): https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2022/
- Bird of the Year 2021 (Cape Rockjumper): https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2021/
- Bird of the Year 2020 (Southern Ground-Hornbill): https://www.birdlife.org.za/bird-of-the-year-2020/
- Bird of the Year 2019 (Secretarybird): https://www.birdlife.org.za/what-we-do/environmental-education/bird-of-the-year-2019/