Birdlife South Africa E-Newsletter October 2020

As the country’s only dedicated bird conservation NPO, it is important for BirdLife South Africa to keep in touch with the public and inform them about important bird conservation matters.

BirdLife South Africa therefore distributes a free, monthly electronic newsletter to its members and other interested people. The newsletter contains interesting articles about birds, BirdLife South Africa’s work, and other relevant information.

If you would like to receive this attractive and informative e-newsletter, all you need to do is it provide us with your contact details by completing the subscription form.

If you wish to submit an article or if you would like copies of previous issues of the e-newsletter, please contact BirdLife South Africa by clicking the email button on the right. Subscription Form Newsletter Archive

BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: October 2020

BBD 2020 – register now!

The 36th Birding Big Day (BBD) will take place on Saturday, 28 November 2020 and BirdLife South Africa invites all birders to participate and enjoy the wonderful bird diversity we have in this country. You do not need to be an expert birder to take part and can even confine your birding to your garden or local park for merely an hour or two.

To join in the fun, all you need to do is make up a team of at least four members, choose an area with a maximum 50km radius and then bird within that area to see as many species as possible. You can decide to log your sightings on the BirdLasser mobile app or simply jot the species down on a piece of paper. For more information about BBD, go to

Please register for the project at

You can also attempt to surpass the provincial totals set last year (see the link above to the BBD page). Just to remind you, each province will have its own BirdLasser event page; you just log your sightings and your team’s totals will update to each provincial page. However, you will have to calculate your route carefully to make sure it does not cross provincial boundaries. 

BBD promises to be great fun, so select your team, decide on your route and register! If you need more information, please contact me at 


Flocking in 2021

Along with its annual Flock, BirdLife South Africa will be hosting next year the fifth Learn About Birds (LAB) conference, in collaboration with the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. The dates are 27–29 May 2021 and the location is Wilderness, so we will partnering with local bird clubs BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and the Lake Bird Club to bring you exciting birding opportunities.

Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s website, e-mailers and social media feeds for more information about the venue and presenters, as well as how to submit abstracts. This event promises to be an exciting one, with great excursions planned and parallel Science and Layman’s LABs to keep all participants entertained.

We will be monitoring the Covid-19 situation closely and will ensure that strict hygiene and safety protocols are in place. Should the physical event not be able to take place, we are making contingency plans for a virtual Flock in 2021. For more information, please contact us at


Conservation League Donor competition

Congratulations go to Patricia Lehle, who won our annual Conservation League lucky draw and is now the proud owner of a pair of ZEISS Conquest HD 10×42 binoculars! We wish her many happy years of birding with these outstanding optics.

Thank you to all our existing and new Conservation League donors for your loyal support. Your kind donations enable BirdLife South Africa to continue our important and much-needed conservation work. We would also like to thank ZEISS, and Gail Giordani and Divan Swanepoel in particular, for always being willing to support BirdLife South Africa. ZEISS has been a generous supporter and donor to our organisation for many years and for that we are extremely grateful.


2021 calendar

Collaborating this year with Chamberlain, BirdLife South Africa proudly presents its 2021 calendar, with 12 eye-catching images for the months of the year and a bonus one on the cover! The calendars sell for R150 each (excluding delivery) and will make beautiful gifts for friends and family, colleagues and clients.

This year, due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, all calendar orders will be taken online at and payments will be processed via PayFast. The calendars will be despatched via PostNet at a reduced rate of R80. Unfortunately, delivery of orders outside South Africa is not currently available.


30 episodes and counting…

Please consider making a donation to keep our webinars going.

Every Tuesday night at 19h00, you are invited to join us via Zoom for Conservation Conversations with BirdLife South Africa. The webinars, which started out as part of the lockdown contingency plans to help keep members informed about the work that BirdLife South Africa is doing, have become a weekly staple and ‘ray of sunshine’ for many who are still confined to their homes during these uncertain times. All of them are recorded and posted to YouTube for anyone who is unable to join in the live fun. Recordings of previous webinars can be accessed through our BirdLife South Africa YouTube channel or by visiting the Conservation Conversations webpage If you haven’t already done so, you can register for upcoming webinars on the same webpage.

BirdLife South Africa has launched its own podcast channel, which allows listeners to hear the webinars without drawing the heavy data required for downloading the videos as well. The simultaneous live stream of our webinars to Facebook Live through the BirdLife South Africa Facebook page has enabled us to reach a wider audience and offers an alternative to the Zoom platform for viewers who would still like to participate in the live webinar and ask questions during the event. You do not have to be a member of BirdLife South Africa to take part in our webinars. 

We are grateful to the many generous followers who have sent donations via the Quicket collection platform at or the BirdLife South Africa website to help cover the cost of producing these webinars. Continued donations are appreciated.

October has been dubbed ‘avitourism month’ by the webinar team and features spectacular talks by Andrew de Blocq, Albert Froneman, Richard Flack and Trevor Hardaker. All these talks highlight different aspects of birding as a hobby, from the lingo to photographic skills and even South Africa’s best birds. Be sure to check out the recordings if you missed the conversations via the website.

November, the final month of Conservation Conversations for this year, also promises excellent speakers. BirdLife South Africa’s new Honorary President Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan will talk about the evolution of birds; BirdLife South Africa Board member and renowned author Vernon Head will tell his favourite birding stories; Dr Caroline Howes-Whitecross will showcase the diversity of birds found within the City of Johannesburg’s boundaries; and author and illustrator Duncan Butchart will share his insights into how best to garden for birds. 

We have thoroughly enjoyed bringing you these weekly webinars and cannot wait to bring you more exciting talks in 2021. We have begun planning for our next season, which will kick off on 12 January 2021. Keep an eye on our social media feeds and website to find out who will be joining us online for more exciting, educational and entertaining webinars. 

For more information, go to or e-mail 


Birding in Kruger

Tawny Eagle. Credit T. Yates

SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region invite you to their 23rd Kruger National Park Birding Weekends scheduled for January and February 2021. While recognising that the safety and well-being of members, guests, SANParks staff and South Africans in general remain a priority, they also know that conservation in the national parks must continue despite the current difficult conditions resulting from Covid-19, and that conservation cannot survive without tourism.

Hopeful that Covid-19 has passed its peak in South Africa, the Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region have therefore taken the decision to cautiously resume certain fundraising activities scheduled for late 2020 and early 2021, while being guided by lockdown regulations and prescribed safety protocols. These activities include the popular summer birding weekends in Kruger. From R3600 per person sharing, they include dawn and dusk drives in the company of birding experts.

For more information, contact Norma on 011 476 3057 or

KBAs and effective conservation 

An apex predator in Central and South America, the jaguar is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and is losing ground to deforestation, among other threats. The identification of KBAs within its extensive range could play a role in its ultimate survival, highlighting the global value of this system. Credit Brent Chambers

In conservation circles it is a well-known fact that there is more biodiversity to be conserved than there is money to do so. If we are to reverse the decline of threatened species, ecosystems and habitats, therefore, we need to be sure that we are investing in the most important places.

Often NGOs, philanthropists, governments and big business that want to invest in the environment have been faced with too much choice and not enough guidance. They are pulled in different directions by the conservation sector, which advocates for conserving globally threatened species such as those listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List; or species with small ranges that are more susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss; or large intact wilderness areas with fully functioning ecosystems and greater potential to deliver ecosystem processes such as carbon sequestration at scale; or sites that are unique and irreplaceable.

Given that these are all important considerations, in 2016 the international conservation community came together and developed a globally recognised standard to identify Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) – the most important sites for biodiversity globally. The KBA approach captures the ideas mentioned above under 11 criteria. Following the development of this agreed approach, 13 of the leading conservation institutions came together to form the KBA Partnership, the largest such partnership to exist to date. 

It has been a timely birth for this global currency, given that in 2020 the world is forging a new biodiversity strategy for the next decade, and it will rely on indicators such as KBAs to both guide where we achieve our conservation targets and to measure our effectiveness. This blueprint for where nature matters most was recently described by global KBA advocates in an online article, much of which is based on the work done in South Africa.

South Africa became the first mega-diverse country to comprehensively test the KBA standard and complete the identification of KBAs at national level and across multiple species types and ecosystems. A group of experts, including from BirdLife South Africa, systematically identified hundreds of KBAs across the entire country to help build a greater understanding of the global significance of many sites, especially for geographically restricted species and ecosystems. South Africa is a world leader in systematic biodiversity planning, as well as in the recognition of other important sites, such as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs). This comprehensive, newly identified KBA network will complement these biodiversity priority areas and assist in the making of better decisions and in management. As a world leader, South Africa is setting an example for countries regionally and globally. 

As countries come together to identify and map KBAs nationally, a blueprint is being developed to conserve nature in an actionable manner. KBAs will go a long way towards ensuring that we protect our species and ecosystems as we focus on developing the next 10-year strategy to conserve nature. 


Conserving White-winged Flufftails and wetlands

Middelpunt Wetland, near Dullstroom, is the only known breeding site for White-winged Flufftail in the southern hemisphere. Credit Hanneline Smit-Robinson

When the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) arranged an introductory meeting with the departments of Water and Sanitation and of Mineral Resources and Energy to discuss their interest and concerns regarding the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail, various other stakeholders were invited to join in. Among those present were BirdLife South Africa (represented by Dr Melissa Lewis, the manager of the Policy and Advocacy Programme, and myself), Middelpunt Wetland Trust, Dullstroom Trout Farm and the Mpumalanga Tourism Parks Agency. 

During the meeting, colleagues from the DEFF explained the importance of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail as a flagship species for the conservation of high-altitude wetlands and drew attention to a number of threats that impact on the species’ survival in the wild. They also referred to South Africa’s responsibility to protect the flufftail under the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and to the various actions highlighted for implementation within the AEWA White-winged Flufftail International Single Species Action Plan. Several of the wetlands where the flufftail is known to occur are earmarked to be designated Ramsar sites of international importance.

BirdLife South Africa greatly valued this opportunity to raise the profile of the White-winged Flufftail and to enter into discussions with the departments of Water and Sanitation and of Mineral Resources and Energy, facilitated by the DEFF.


Where do penguins go?

Utilisation distributions of non-breeding African Penguins that bred at Dassen Island (2012–2019), Stony Point (2018–2019) and Bird Island (2012–2015).

Tegan Carpenter-Kling attaches a GPS logger to the back of a non-breeding African Penguin. Credit Marlene Van Onselen

Thanks to a massive collaborative effort by researchers, we know relatively well where African Penguins forage during the breeding season. When the penguins are no longer feeding chicks, however, they are free to roam much further from their colonies in search of food, far past the boundaries of marine protected areas. Our knowledge about where they go outside the breeding season is far less extensive so, prompted by this gap and the growing need to protect the species, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology have tracked non-breeding African Penguins annually since 2012 from major colonies such as Dassen Island, Stony Point and Bird Island. In consequence, BirdLife South Africa has one of the largest long-term datasets of non-breeding penguin GPS tracks.

In her role as manager of the Coastal Seabird Project, in September Tegan Carpenter-Kling deployed GPS loggers on 10 adult African Penguins that were looking after chicks about to fledge on Dassen Island. In the weeks to come she will deploy loggers on another 10 penguins at Stony Point and track their movements from her home and office. For what’s left of the year she will use the data, together with the long-term dataset, to investigate the influence of fish and fishing pressure on the distribution of non-breeding African Penguins. Her findings will be crucial in assessments for the future expansion of marine protected areas and other spatial management initiatives for the benefit of these penguins.

Attention magazine subscribers

Due to the frequently late and sometimes non-delivery of magazines, we would like to move away from using the SA Post Office. If you subscribe to African Birdlife and have not yet informed us of your physical address, please e-mail the details to Baile at or Janine at We do understand that some subscribers may not want their magazine delivered to their home or office; in this case, please e-mail Baile asking her to continue sending your magazine via the SA Post Office. 

Lead and vultures

Craig Nattrass, along with his team of experienced climbers, traversed challenging
terrain to collect samples from Cape Vulture chicks at a breeding colony above the
Karnmelkspruit. Credit Melissa Howes-Whitecross

Research conducted on White-backed Vulture chicks at Dronfield Nature Reserve in 2019 has shown that lead may adversely affect a vulture’s ability to manufacture haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. As a result, chicks with high levels of lead in their blood may be severely anaemic, which may compromise their survival once they fledge. This was the first conclusive study to show the negative impact that lead may have on vulture physiology. To improve our understanding of the impact of lead on South Africa’s vultures, the research has now been expanded to include Cape Vulture chicks.

Last month, Melissa Howes-Whitecross and I, accompanied by a team of experienced climbers, travelled to a Cape Vulture breeding colony near the town of Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. The colony comprises about 60 nests, which are situated on several ledges along sheer cliffs above the Karnmelkspruit Gorge. Although the terrain proved incredibly challenging, the climbing team, led by Craig Nattrass and Jennie Hewlett of Onderstepoort, managed to collect several valuable samples for the project. These have been submitted for analysis and the results will be published, along with the White-backed Vulture data, early in 2021.

We would like to thank Ian Cloete, the owner of the farm Karnmelkspruit, for giving us access to his property and for his incredible kindness and support. We would also like to thank the Ford Wildlife Foundation, whose continued support of BirdLife South Africa’s Vulture Project enables the team to reach some barely accessible locations.


Specially for birders…

Sustain Safaris Scheduled Tours has a special offer for you: book for five or more people and one travels for free! (Maximum six people per guide.)

As the travel and safari industry gets moving again, Sustain Safaris has scheduled a superb range of small-group, set-departure tours for 2020 and 2021 at great prices. We also arrange Tailor-made Tours and Day Tours. Our Scheduled Tours include:

KwaZulu-Natal Midlands & Drakensberg, 6–9 November 2020 (4 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens and Krantzkloof;

KwaZulu-Natal, 13–20 December 2020 (8 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens, St Lucia, uMkhuze, Ongoye, Dlinza, Mtunzini and Sappi Stanger; 

KwaZulu-Natal & Wakkerstroom, 3–13 January 2021 (11 days). Visits Tillietudlem, Marutswa, Ntsikeni, Sani Pass, Karkloof, Benvie Gardens, Wakkerstroom, uMkhuze, Muzi Pan, Nibela Peninsula, iSimangaliso (Western and Eastern shores), Bonamanzi, Dlinza, Ongoye, St Lucia, Umlalazi, Amatikulu and Sappi Stanger;

KwaZulu-Natal Zululand & Maputaland 17–21 January (5 days). Visits Dlinza, Ongoye, St Lucia, iSimangaliso (Eastern and Western shores), Bonamanzi, Nibela Peninsula, Muzi Pan, uMkhuze, Umlalazi, Amatikulu and Sappi Stanger.

The cost of all four tours includes guide, comfortable yet affordable accommodation, three meals per day, transport and entrance fees. The last three also include the services of a Zululand community site guide for half a day. The tours are aimed at birders, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and general biodiversity lovers.

Importantly, we have put in place a Covid-19 protocol and amended booking T&Cs, and use a Client Medical Declaration Form. We believe leisure accommodation and provincial borders will be open, but if not, we can either amend or postpone the tour. 

In the next issue we will focus on three variations on a Transfrontier Conservation Area theme.

For enquiries, please contact Michael Wright on 083 670 1436, info@sustainsafaris.com

Birds connect our world

Imagine undertaking a journey like no other, a pilgrimage of thousands of kilometres, twice a year every year. This is exactly what migratory birds do! World Migratory Bird Day gives us a nudge to stop and think about these amazing journeys, the equally amazing birds that make them, the threats they face en route and the importance of these long-distance fliers in our world today.

When you look up and see the first migratory bird of the season, do you ever consider the harrowing flight it has made, covering about 14 000km in the case of the Red Knot or up to 90 000km if it is an Arctic Tern? That’s a journey like no other, following a route its forebears have undertaken for millions of years, and an astonishing feat that requires endurance, strength and stamina.

Since 2006, World Migratory Bird Day has been celebrated on the second Saturdays in May and October , reflecting the cyclical nature of this long-haul migration. Aiming to engage people living along all the major flyways, the celebration is a global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the importance of working across national boundaries to protect them.

‘Birds Connect Our World’ is the theme for 2020 and it seems particularly relevant when humans around the globe are under some level of restricted movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights the importance of conserving and restoring ecological connectivity and the integrity of the ecosystems that support the natural cycles of migratory birds. These birds fly thousands of kilometres, relying on a complex migration strategy that requires numerous connected sites along a travel path that often spans hemispheres.

A Red Knot in breeding plumage.

Unfortunately, their journeys have become both more dangerous and more onerous as they face increased and more diverse threats, including habitat loss resulting from urbanisation, agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and climate change. Coordinated conservation action is therefore required to mitigate these threats. The birds stop over at specific sites along their migratory route to refuel and if these sites are not properly protected the consequences are likely to be dire – and not just for the birds. It is not only they that benefit from successful migrations; migratory birds are very important for ensuring that entire ecosystems are fully functioning, for example by dispersing seeds and controlling pests. They also provide many economic benefits, contributing to tourism, research, education and recreational activities that connect us to nature and to each other.

The East Atlantic Flyway, a recognised route for migratory birds, spans 75 countries and covers an area of approximately 45 605 000 km². Some of the most important sites found along this flyway are the Wadden Sea (Netherlands), a major staging and wintering site for waterbirds; the Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania), which accounts for more than 30% of all the waders using this flyway; Sandwich Harbour (Namibia), the most important wetland for waterbirds in southern Africa; and, closer to home, Langebaan Lagoon (South Africa), which supports high numbers of waterbirds.

As the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s East Atlantic Flyway project, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I will be working in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe to identify and address the threats faced by priority species and sites along the flyway and to conserve and connect these ecologically important areas through regional cooperation and transboundary biodiversity conservation. To our travelling friends and welcomed visitors, we say ‘Mi casa es tu casa’. 

For more information, visit


Keeping Black Harriers safe

With wind energy presenting a new threat to South Africa’s scarcest endemic raptor, the Black Harrier, BirdLife South Africa has teamed up with two of the world’s foremost experts on the species, Dr Rob Simmons and Dr Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras, to provide evidence-based guidelines on how to assess and minimise that risk. The guidelines draw on up-to-date research and spatial information, including fine-scale habitat suitability models developed by BirdLife South Africa’s Science and Innovation Programme. They are the third in a series of guidelines on species most at risk from wind energy; others have been produced for the Cape Vulture and Verreaux’s Eagle. 

By providing advice on the appropriate location, impact assessment and management of wind energy facilities proposed within the ranges of species at risk, we hope to reduce conflict between wind energy and wildlife, and create a healthier environment for all. 

For more information, read our press release at Our Birds and Renewable Energy webpage,, is also very informative.


Southern Ground-Hornbill

Classified as Vulnerable worldwide and Endangered in South Africa, the Southern Ground-Hornbill faces an array of threats that make protecting the species a challenge. Some of the threats – and efforts to mitigate them – are highlighted in one of our recent fact files, while the species’ prominence in African cultures is featured in another. Do you, for example, know why it’s called the ‘rain bird’?

All the educational material about the Southern Ground-Hornbill, the 2020 Bird of the Year, can be downloaded for free from 

We are proud to be partnering with the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, which is the BirdLife Species Guardian for the Southern Ground-Hornbill, and are grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for supporting this campaign.


Registration Number 001-298 NPO | Public Organisation No 930 004 518 | © 2018 BirdLife South Africa. All rights reserved.Go to TopProtect yourself and others by staying at home. For more information and support on COVID-19 please visit www.sacor

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