29 June to 3 July 2020

SEABIRD CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

Albatross Task Force (ATF)

The ATF team was awarded a grant from BirdLife International’s Marine Programme to support the analysis of the seabird tracking data for the development of spatial distribution maps of foraging pelagic seabirds. Reason Nyengera was granted access from data holders for 30% of the pelagic seabird tracking data we have requested towards this project. Andrea Angel worked with ATF-Chile in looking at solutions to an emerging bycatch issue related to seabirds and a sticky grease used on trawl cables which is causing birds to foul their feathers when they collide with the trawl cables. This issue was resolved in our trawl fishery several years ago and no longer occurs. She visited the Cape Town harbour, together with Victor Ngcongo, to brief the skipper on the deployment of a pilot bird-scaring line monitoring device as part of the ACAP (Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) project. She also worked with Zonke Gumede from CapMarine, finalising the fisheries observer’s seabird sampling protocols and data collection forms. Reason completed the first Module of the Geospatial Ecology and Remote Sensing online course he has been working on for the past three weeks. The team, together with other BirdLife South Africa staff attended a meeting with the WILDTRUST aimed at finding ways to collaborate on bycatch issues and marine protected areas, through their marine programme WILDOCEANS.

Gough Island Restoration Programme

Nini van der Merwe has been engaging with the newly appointed Overwintering Team to discuss the various bits of field kit and equipment they will require for their year on the island. She has also been working on the procurement list for the September take-over voyage.

Mouse Free Marion

Nini wrapped up some administrative tasks that came out of the meeting held with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries & Environment (DFFE) and the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) last week. She has also been working on terms of reference for the various committees that need to be established for the project to move forward. She engaged with potential donors on the project and had brief communications with the website developer. Updates to the website are currently slow, given reduced capacity in their company due to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

Coastal Seabirds

Christina Hagen went to the new colony site at the De Hoop Nature Reserve to install a new video processing system called DeepAlert. This system will automatically classify video footage from the CCTV monitoring cameras and give alerts when animals trigger the cameras, which will cut down on the number of false motion triggers that have been received thus far. We are very grateful to DeepAlert for providing this service pro bono. Alistair McInnes completed Tegan Carpenter-Kling’s induction for her new post as Coastal Seabird Project Manager. Tegan has started working on cleaning and analysing the African Penguin tracking data. Alistair finalised and circulated recommendations for the African Penguin Island Closure Experiment in collaboration with various seabird scientists and resource managers.

LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME (LCP)

Melissa Howes-Whitecross completed the Rupert Natuurstigting biannual funding report and sent this to Gaynor Rupert who generously funds both Melissa and Giselle Murison’s positions at BirdLife South Africa. Melissa, Kyle Walker, Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Mark Anderson met with the Avisense consultants to debrief after last week’s Pied Crow workshop. Melissa, Hanneline and Andrew de Blocq met with Alan Yeowart and Inge Kotze from Singita Lowveld Trust to discuss opportunities for collaboration. Melissa attended a planning meeting for the Cape Parrot Action Plan Coordination Committee. Melissa hosted another well attended Conservation Conversations webinar presented by Andrew on Avitourism. Melissa and Giselle worked on the concept note for the IUCN-DEFF working group 4 on green infrastructure projects that will be presented to Minister Creecy in the upcoming weeks.

Protecting Species

Linda van den Heever and Hanneline took part in a meeting with Singita to discuss their joining the Vulture Safe Zone Alliance. She drafted a standard Memorandum of Understanding, which will be signed with all landowners who agree to become part of the Vulture Safe Zone initiative, and met with Melissa Lewis to discuss the particulars. She took part in a meeting of BirdLife South Africa’s Animal Research Ethics Committee, drafted and distributed the minutes of the meeting. Linda drafted a concept note to potential donors on her upcoming research at Dronfield Nature Reserve, which aims to track the survival rate of White-backed Vulture juveniles exposed to lead poisoning as nestlings, and worked on a quarterly report to her donors.

Kyle Walker completed the bi-annual Secretarybird report for Nick and Jane Prentice. He attended the Pied Crow  workshop debrief meeting and a Secretarybird data analysis discussion with Patrik Byholm and Melissa and Caroline Howes-Whitecross. He updated the Southern Banded Snake Eagle camera trap study proposal for Eskom and looked into the cameras required for the project. Kyle began the permit process to tag Secretarybirds in the Northern Cape and started the process of registering the Pied Crow workshop with South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP).

Kyle Lloyd provided advice to Hannes Marais of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency about conservation planning of wetlands in Mpumalanga Province, including Ramsar declaration. Kyle met with Prof. Mark Robertson to discuss a long-term collaboration about studying invertebrate communities in high-altitude grasslands. Mark provided contacts for KwaZulu-Natal birders and landowners that may assist in surveying wetlands for White-winged Flufftail. Mark also offered advice about how to scientifically test the predictive capabilities of ecological niche modelling with ground-truthing. Kyle continued with the Bioacoustics Course in R hosted by Organizations for Tropical Studies in the evenings. Kyle compiled the BirdLife International Biannual Report and BirdLife South Africa Monthly Scientific Report. Kyle finalised the designs for the Mk-III camera trap tunnels with Kyle Walker. This, along with designs for a walk-in trap and invertebrate emergence trap, were sent to Dynecke Engineering for consideration. Kyle requested designs and prices for other field equipment (acoustic device cases, temperature and humidity loggers) from engineer Travis Duck and ordered AudioMoth devices for the White-winged Flufftail and Ingula Projects. Kyle commented on the SANBI sampling protocol developed for White-winged Flufftails and returned the document to Prof. Antoinette Kotze. He also sent the White-winged Flufftail webinar advert to various stakeholders and interested parties.

Elelwani Makhuvha synthesised the interns contribution for the Ingula quarterly report. She has been working towards completing the BirdLife South Africa Bird of the Year English to Tshivenda translations. Elelwani also continued working on the #GetFeatured Instagram content and adding photographs to the BirdLife South Africa google image folder.

Protecting Ecosystems

Carina Coetzer attended the Grassland Society’s 55th Annual Congress virtually via Zoom. Carina conducted monitoring on Ingula Nature Reserve, including of firebreaks and threatened species and liaised with Upper Wilge Stewardship landowners. Carina also analysed and wrote the required monthly and quarterly reports to be submitted to the Ingula Partnership.

Giselle Murison visited the Moutonshoek Protected Environment (PE), near Piketberg this week. She catalogued the progress of the Invasive Alien Plant (IAP) clearing team – funded by West Coast District Municipality and BirdLife South Africa and met with landowners to discuss their financial contributions to the IAP clearing project. She also visited the Verlorenvlei and Berg River estuary project sites to assess current conditions, and at the latter, met with a landowner in the developing PE, to discuss project progress and to collect legal documentation necessary to the upcoming public participation process. Giselle had zoom meetings with landowners at the Klein River estuary to discuss the process and timings surrounding the declaration of nature reserves on their properties. She also spent time on a number of administrative issues, including dealing with requests for information from the Berg River Municipality regarding the revision of the recreational use by-laws for the estuary, currently out for public comment.

Steve McKean reviewed the relevant sections of the second addendum to the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Smithfield Dam development on the Umkomaas river, which threatens significant portions of key Blue Swallow habitat. Steve drafted a report for DFEE on alien plant eradication efforts assisted by the department’s herbicide assistance programme, which we have facilitated as part of the partnership’s support to stewardship landowners. We managed to facilitate herbicide assistance worth over R50 000 to eight stewardship nature reserves, mostly in the Mistbelt grassland and forest areas of KwaZulu-Natal, with approximately 610 ha of alien plant infestations being treated as a result. Steve has also been working on developing a project proposal which will aim to secure funding to undertake additional Blue Swallow monitoring and stewardship work as we have lost previous funding from a local funder due to economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Renewable Energy

Samantha Ralston-Paton and Melissa met with Francisco Cervantes Peralta to discuss potential collaboration to develop thresholds guidance, and Samantha did some background reading on the topic.  Samantha had one last mentorship meeting with Nolumanyano Camagu before she started her new job. She coordinated a meeting with SACNASP for staff interested in learning more about SACNASP registration. She also spent much of the rest of the week developing a project proposal and looking into funding opportunities.

EMPOWERING PEOPLE PROGRAMME

Avitourism

Andrew delivered a webinar on the Avitourism Project as part of the ongoing Conservation Conversations series that BirdLife South Africa is producing. Andrew also adjudicated a further two Birder Friendly Establishment applications. Andrew, Hanneline and Melissa Howes-Whitecross met with partners at Singita Conservation Fund to explore various potential collaborations in the area of their footprint. Andrew and Hanneline participated in a meeting between NGOs and government members of the IUCN to finalize nature-based tourism initiatives to be developed in order to contribute to the green recovery. Andrew met with Romy Antrobus-Wuth at Kruger to Canyons (K2C) to explore potential for guide training in that area. Andrew was featured as the guest on The Birding Life podcast this week. Andrew also met with Dr Craig Widdows about his idea to use a South African big year as a fundraising initiative for the community bird guide project.

REGIONAL CONSERVATION PROGRAMME

Regional and Global Key Biodiversity Areas

Daniel Marnewick attended a KBA Committee meeting. He also met with the Wild Bird Trust to discuss opportunities in Angola to identify KBAs and OECMs in the Okavango Delta. Daniel and Hiral Naik sent out the second KBA Community Newsletter for 2020 (5th in the series), to the KBA Community. The newsletter contains exciting updates from the various regions about which countries are busy identifying KBAs, and some of the key challenges and opportunities they are facing.

Biodiversity Assessment for Spatial Prioritisation in Africa (BASPA)

Simeon Bezeng continued developing a concept note for the joint Red List and KBA work to be used to scope the interest of International Financial Corporations and big businesses to invest in Red List and KBA identification in Africa. Simeon also had a meeting with the BASPA focal point from the National Herbarium Cameroon to discuss the BID – GBIF Data Use grant type concept note. Additionally, Simeon completed a mid-term project narrative and financial report to Global Wildlife Conservation.

Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs)

Daniel continued to work on the OECM country report. Daniel also met with members of the OECM Task Force and IUCN Green List committee to discuss better alignment between the two IUCN standards.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) post-2020

Daniel attended the KBA post-2020 Working Group meeting to discuss the next draft of the CBD’s post-2020 biodiversity framework, and how to further advocate for the use of KBAs as a key target and indicator.

SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMME

Ernst Retief continued to work on the development and verification of species distribution models and also assisted with the drafting of a funding proposal for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project. He also assisted with a number of IT-related issues within the organisation. Robin Colyn was on leave.

POLICY & ADVOCACY PROGRAMME

Policy

Melissa Lewis spent time working on aspects of South Africa’s draft National Implementation Plan for the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). To this end, she met with Magdel Boshoff from the DFFE to explore avenues through which South Africa’s national conservation laws could be utilised or amended to better support AEWA-implementation. She also met with Lizanne Roxburgh from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (who is the current Regional Representative for Southern Africa on the AEWA Technical Committee) to discuss progress on the draft plan, the contributions of BirdLife South Africa moving forward, and coordination with the Endangered Wildlife Trust in this regard.

Melissa met with Linda to discuss issues surrounding the establishment and implementation of Vulture Safe Zones. She also attended a briefing via webinar on the process towards developing a post-2020 global biodiversity framework; and began reviewing recently-released documents on the monitoring framework for the global biodiversity framework, linkages to the sustainable development goals, and the indicators for the framework.

Advocacy

Melissa continued to work with members of the Seabird Conservation Programme to finalise the appeal that BirdLife South Africa is submitting against an environmental authorisation that has been granted approval for finfish aquaculture in Algoa Bay. Hiral went through various advocacy emails to assess any environmental authorisations that needed comments on behalf of BirdLife South Africa. She also spent time looking into the proposed uMkhomazi Water Project Phase 1 and a prospecting coal mining project near Blouberg Nature Reserve.

HEAD OF CONSERVATION

Several BirdLife South Africa staff attended a second engagement meeting with WILDTRUST to explore synergies and opportunities for future collaboration. Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Melissa Howes-Whitecross, Linda and Andrew met with Inge Kotze and Alan Yeowart from Singita Conservation Fund to discuss various project ideas. Hanneline, with Andrew, participated in the third Nature-based Tourism meeting held by IUCN members to develop projects that will contribute to the green recovery. Hanneline attended the quarterly BirdLife South Africa’s Animal Research Ethics Committee. The Conservation Division’s Board of Directors report was finalised. Hanneline, with several other BirdLife South Africa staff, attended a BirdLife International Webinar on “Pushing Forward a Green Recovery in a Post-COVID World”.

WAKKERSTROOM CENTRE

The Wakkerstroom Centre had yet again a rather busy week.  The renovations continued with the dormitory block starting to be plastered and damp proofed.  Thanks again to STT Sales and Ezee Tile for the kind donation of all the chemicals and Naba Investments for carrying out the work.  One month into the renovations and we are looking good.  The Working on Fire team has been hard at work this week as well with assisting local land owners with their fire breaks.  For the month of June, they have completed: 4.03 ha of manual fuel reduction, 37.5 ha of fire breaks and 0. 1ha of prescribed burning across 12 properties.  Our first female probation driver has had quite a few kilometers of driving under the watchful eye of our resident driver, as well as manoeuvring the strike unit across varied terrain. The team will be on standby this coming weekend. Kristi Garland attended to a range of administrative tasks for the team and the Fire Protection Association – renewing memberships, invoicing, weekly and daily submissions of paper work etc.  Kristi also attended the weekly staff meeting on Monday morning.  Lucky Ngwenya is returned to the Centre this week.  He will be coming in twice a week until we are back to full capacity.  This gives him time to assist with a variety of small maintenance tasks as well as attending the weekly staff meetings via Zoom.  Kristi focussed attention this week on the Spring Alive Project as well as attending a Steering Group Meeting on Friday.  This meeting focussed on the European season and how the coordinators needed to adapt their programmes due to COVID-19 and the restrictions.  The team also discussed the potentially finding for the project going forward to 2023.  Kristi presented a short session on previous SWOT analysis of the project from both the Steering Group as well as the African partners last October in Morocco.  This week saw the launch of the Wakkerstroom Bird Club’s weekly quiz co-ordinated by Kristi along with our ‘die hard’ daily sighting lists being submitted by, unfortunately, a declining number of local residents.  Kristi also met with a local accommodation and venue establishment to discuss a range of educational activities they are looking at adding to their services

EVENTS & MARKETING

Julie Bayley attended to the following: She attended the weekly staff meeting on Monday and the Marketing Committee meeting on Tuesday. Focus for this week has again been on the Virtual Bird Fair with presentations made to the Marketing Committee, as well as preparing proposals for content.  Most of the Flock to Marion merchandise samples has been delivered, and the approvals for the printing of the Bird of the Year T-shirts have been finalised. Much work has been put towards the launch of the 5th edition of Sasol Birds of Southern Africa including social media posts, mailers and website updates to ensure the pre-sale success of the book. In terms of digital media, she has prepared content for the #ReturnToNature campaign, the People’s Weather collaboration and content for the Virtual Bird Fair advertising. She also attended the #1Planet1Right webinar provided by BirdLife International for the preparation of the official launch of this internationally-driven campaign

CORE

Several meetings were held, including the weekly staff meeting, two Senior Management committee meetings and an additional ad hoc meeting, the monthly Marketing Committee meeting, and a meeting with On-the-Dot about the distribution of African Birdlife magazine. Mark Anderson was interviewed by David Batzofin for his webinar series and he attended a BirdLife International “green recovery” webinar. Mark also attended the BirdLife Africa Regional Committee meeting. A significant amount of time was spent preparing the documents for the Board meeting that will take place on 8 July.