The Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference is co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Two parallel sessions are held aimed at Scientists and Laymen respectively, however, all delegates are invited to attend whichever sessions they would prefer.

6th LAB Conference 2023

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The 5th LAB Conference, Virtually, South Africa – 27 & 28 May 2021

The 5th biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference had to adapt to the impacts of the global pandemic and like many of BirdLife South Africa’s current event took to the virtual skies to carryout the first ever VIRTUAL LAB Conference. Delegates could choose to either attend the Science and Layman’s LAB content or stick with the Conservation Conversations themed Layman’s LAB lectures in the evenings.

Science LAB, which ran during the days of 27 and 28 May 2021, saw some of the top recent ornithological undertakings shared by South Africa’s top ornithologists. The two plenary lectures were outstanding – Dr Susie Cunningham, from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, opened day one with a phenomenal plenary lecture giving an overview of the behavioural adaptations and impacts that warming temperatures are having on birds in the Kalahari, in particular Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Fork-tailed Drongos and Southern Pied Babblers. Prof. Pierre Pistorius, head of the Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University, started day two with an excellent plenary discussing Seabirds as ocean sentinels and the incredible advances made with technology to understand more about the ecology and conservation of these wide-ranging pelagic birds. The remainder of Science LAB saw talks covering themes of thermoregulation, urban ecology, conservation, forest ecology, large terrestrial birds and a large focus on seabird research and conservation. The best MSc presentation was won by Shamiso Banda for her talk titled ‘A significant shift in cephalopod diet of the Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca) during a pronounced El-Niño event’. The top PhD award for the best presentation was awarded to Kailen Padayachee who shared his research into the ‘Temporal and spatial changes in DDT: a global systematic review’.

Each evening delegates were entertained with two Layman’s LAB lectures providing interesting insights into birds and birding. Dr Temidayo Osinubi shared his postdoc research into the Woodland Kingfisher and its three subspecies across Africa and was followed by his former supervisor Prof. Phoebe Barnard who gave an overview of her lifetime of work investigating the impacts of climate change on our Fynbos endemic birds across the Western Cape. Day two’s Layman’s LAB lectures saw Etienne Marais share his in-depth opinions on ethical birding and how to minimise the impact of our birding activities on the feather friends we enjoy. The final talk of Layman’s LAB was an outstanding overview of the ecology and conservation of Southern Ocean seabirds by Dr Anton Wolfaardt who certainly raised the excitement for next year’s Flock to Marion cruise. The Layman’s LAB lucky draw winner who took home a copy of Peter Ginn and Geoff McIlleron’s Ultimate Guide to Birds of Southern Africa was Dave McDonald.

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

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

For more information contact:
Dr Melissa Whitecross at melissa.whitecross@birdlife.org.za
Telephone: +27 (11) 789 11 22

The 4th LAB Conference, Club Mykonos, Langebaan – 8 & 9 March 2018

The 4th biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference was held at Club Mykonos in Langebaan, Western Cape on 8 and 9 March 2018. This event was co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology. The LAB Conference was divided into a Science LAB session where the country’s top ornithologists presented their latest research, with a parallel Layman’s LAB session that included popular talks on bird conservation, research and identification tools.

The Science LAB session covered themes including bird breeding biology, morphology and ecology. Sessions highlighting the currently known threats and conservation measures offered insights into the challenges facing South Africa’s birds. A special session for the African Seabird Group was held, where talks on the tracking of Grey-headed Albatross off Marion Island, lessons learnt from 20 years of seabird rehabilitation and rodent eradication plans for seabird breeding islands were presented.

The Layman’s LAB session hosted talks by several BirdLife South Africa staff on their current research and conservation efforts to protect South Africa’s diverse avifauna and their habitats. CapeNature staff, Rupert Koopman and Kevin Shaw, offered insights into the ecology of the West Coast and the birds of Dassen Island, while Faansie Peacock gave an in depth lecture on strandveld birding, after Etienne Marais’ had presented about how to find and identify the tricky specials of the Western and Northern Cape. Dr Dieter Hoffmann, Head of International Strategy and Capacity Building at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK presented on the international work of the RSPB and their collaboration with BirdLife South Africa.

The LAB Conference forms an integral part of the broader Flock on the West Coast 2018 event. “Flocks” to amazing destinations around the country have become synonymous with BirdLife South Africa’s Annual Gathering of Members and this year’s Flock delivered another fantastic event for all “flockees” in attendance. All delegates were encouraged to share their experiences via social media channels using the #Flock2018 and #LAB2018 handles. BirdLife South Africa also posted highlights from the event on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

For more information contact:
Linda van den Heever at linda.vdheever@birdlife.org.za or
Dr Melissa Whitecross at melissa.whitecross@birdlife.org.za
Telephone: +27 (11) 789 11 22

The 3rd LAB Conference, Skukuza, Kruger National Park – 9 to 11 March 2016

The biennial LAB, co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, held at Skukuza, Kruger National Park (9 – 11 March 2016), offered a full programme. Presentations covered a variety of scientific and conservation-related topics, including summaries of research and report-backs on ongoing studies.

Two workshops began proceedings on the Wednesday, one on advanced bird identification by Faansie Peacock and another pertaining to bird photography by Albert Froneman. The official jam-packed programme got going on Thursday and ensured that attendees remained engrossed in the various discussion topics of both the Science and Layman’s LAB parallel programmes. Further highlights were the keynote addresses by Kruger stalwarts, Dr Ian Whyte and Dr Alan Kemp. Joe Grosel’s raptor and lark identification workshops proved very popular amongst the delegates and both were oversubscribed.

LAB 2016 was attended by nearly 300 delegates, a perfect opportunity for both the scientific and birding communities to talk about what we have in common, a passion and love for our birds. Photo: Albert Froneman

Apart from full days in the various lecture rooms, there was naturally time for some great Kruger birding.

Thanks to Henk Nel and Ernst Retief for setting up the BirdLife South Africa – Flock in Kruger 2016 BirdLasser challenge. Over the five days, 10 213 sightings were logged for 299 species and 101 full protocol atlas cards were submitted.These added significantly to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2) dataset for Kruger. Two participants (Dylan Vasapolli and Jason Boyce, both from Birding Ecotours) managed to see more than 200 species each. A special mention must be made of the 43 teams and individuals who also participated in the challenge.

A trip report of the Skukuza area during Flock 2016, prepared by Jason Boyce of Birding Ecotours, can be downloaded hereCertainly the bird that got everyone dashing off was the Sooty Falcon seen near Lake Panic. Other Kruger specials seen included Martial, Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagles, Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill, White-crowned Lapwing, Bronze-winged courser, Mosque Swallow, Senegal Lapwing, Crowned Hornbill and Retz’s Helmet-shrike, amongst many others.

Thanks to all the bird guides and experts for sharing their exceptional skills and knowledge. Thanks are also due to the SANParks staff, Cattle Baron restaurant, SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region, Birding Ecotours, Tembele Birding Safaris, keynote speakers, presenters, BirdLife South Africa staff and all the volunteers, especially Gisela Ortner, for their supreme efforts and for giving us so much of their valuable time. Lastly, thanks to all the delegates for their support of the conference and for making LAB 2016 an undoubted success!

For more information contact:
Linda van den Heever at linda.vdheever@birdlife.org.za
Telephone: +27 (11) 789 11 22