Preventing extinctions

Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Melissa Whitecross, Linda van den Heever, Ernst Retief, Sam Ralston (via Skype) and Mark Anderson showcased BirdLife South Africa’s work to delegates from the Hawk Conservancy Trust (UK), including Penny Smout (CEO), Scott Jones (Chairman) and Campbell Murn (Head of Conservation Research). Hanneline chaired a Flufftail Festival planning meeting with the National Zoological Garden and Rand Water. She also finalised a poster on Vulture Safe Zones for the upcoming Oppenheimer De Beers Research Conference. Hanneline attended the Birds and Renewable Energy Specialist Group and Forum meetings in Cape Town. Linda van den Heever ran lead extracts from the first White-backed Vulture blood samples through the MC-ICP-MS machine at the University of Johannesburg in an effort to determine their isotopic signatures. She also submitted the first draft of her paper on the effects of lead poisoning on South Africa’s vultures for review. At Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, Linda was interviewed by ONEPLANET, a French production company filming a documentary series on the reversal of anthropogenic impacts on natural areas. An insert on Tswalu’s declaration as a Vulture Safe Zone will be included. Linda also travelled to Semonkong (Lesotho) to take part in the biannual Bearded Vulture Task Force meeting. Carina Coetzer and Sakhile Mthalane monitored several breeding sites in and around Ingula Nature Reserve, including six Southern Bald Ibis colonies, four Secretarybird nests and one African Marsh Harrier nest. Carina also updated the national Southern Bald Ibis database with information obtained from volunteers, and engaged with several landowners regarding either nest monitoring or the Upper Wilge Stewardship initiative.  Melissa presented a talk to the Grade 0 to Grade 7 boys at The Ridge School. As part of their fundraising for the school’s Centenary celebrations next year, the boys will be supporting the purchasing of a tracking device for one of the Southern Banded Snake Eagles in 2019. Robin Colyn, with Melissa Whitecross, spent the majority of the week completing spatial modelling and analyses on the dataset derived from the Taita Falcon team. Robin presented on behalf of the Landscape Ecology Project to the Birds and Renewable Energy Forum, as well as the Cape Bird Club. Robin continued working on the White-winged Flufftail manuscript assessing nesting ecology results from the most recent Ethiopian survey.

Renewable Energy

The Birds and Renewable Energy team hosted the annual Birds and Renewable Energy Forum, which brings together representatives from the renewable energy industry, NGOs, government, academics and consultants to discuss the latest industry trends, lessons learned and opportunities to help minimise the negative effects renewable energy can have on birds and other biodiversity. A Birds and Renewable Energy Specialist Group meeting was also held this week (this group advises BirdLife South Africa and EWT’s work on renewable energy) and we co-hosted a workshop with the South Africa Bat Assessment Association on the latest tool available to estimate the number of bird and bat fatalities at renewable energy facilities (GenEst).



Common Oceans

Philip Augustyn has been offering technical and compliance related support remotely to Stephanie Winnard from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) during the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna compliance meeting in New Caledonia. He has also been adding Global Fishing Watch night setting results to the transhipment photo analysis database. Nini van der Merwe completed and submitted the report for the Malaysia National Awareness workshop. Together with Ross Wanless, she worked on budgets for the remainder of the project. She completed contracts for two data consultants on the project, and Ross and Nini had a Skype call with one of the consultants to discuss the way forward and upcoming project deadlines. Ross also had lengthy discussions with BirdLife South Africa, BirdLife International and RSPB colleagues about the future of the project, including how to fulfil all project obligations with Philip’s departure for greener pastures at the end of the month.

Marion Island

Nini assisted a number of individual donors with completing payments on the Mouse Free Marion website. She also worked on an article for African Birdlife magazine, which will assist with fundraising for the project.

Gough Island Restoration Project

Nini spent three days this week meeting with John Kelly from the RSPB and Carol Jacobs from the Department of Environmental Affairs. The aim of the meeting was to discuss and produce a framework for the newly established Island Biosecurity Working Group, which will be having its 2nd meeting in November. The meeting succeeded in producing a strategic framework document, including a SWOT analysis, Terms of Reference for the group, detailed action plan and also an agenda for the next meeting. The meeting further allowed Nini to discuss a way forward for certain aspects of the Mouse Free Marion project, which cannot take place without increased biosecurity measures at the port, on the vessel and on the island stations. Ross Wanless and John Kelly met with Guy Preston (Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) lead for the Marion project) on Friday, essentially so that John could update both Ross and Guy on the Gough work, but also so that Ross could understand the political landscape after the untimely and tragic death of the erstwhile DEA Minister, the late Edna Molewa.

Albatross Task Force

Andrea Angel submitted the draft mid-year report to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the main funder of the Albatross Task Force Programme. She attended a Demersal Scientific Working Group where the challenges around proposing seabird bycatch limits were discussed. She met with CapMarine colleagues to discuss observer data and coverage on trawl and longline fleets. Reason Nyengera spent the week onboard a demersal longline vessel collecting seabird data and conducting experiments. Makhudu Masotla is still at sea and scheduled to return on the 22 of the month.  

Coastal seabirds

Christina Hagen spent much of the week preparing for construction of the predator-proof fence at the site of the De Hoop Nature Reserve mainland penguin colony that we are re-establishing. Construction will start next week. She also took delivery of the completed penguin decoys that will be used as part of the attraction process to establish the colony. Andrew de Blocq had a productive field visit to Stony Point and fitted 10 tracking devices onto African Penguins that are about to start their pre-moult exodus. These are the first penguins that we have tagged at this site as part of the non-breeding research project, so this was a big milestone! These birds will reveal which areas penguins from this colony depend on for their critical pre-moult fattening. Andrew assisted researcher Dr Alistair McInnes to fit underwater cameras and GPS devices on breeding penguins and Cape Cormorants, which was a new species for Andrew to handle and deploy on. Andrew also kept an electronic eye on the penguins he tagged on Dassen Island, which are coming to the end of their pre-moult phase. Many of these birds are returning to Dassen to moult, but others have headed for Stony Point instead, which poses some interesting research questions. Apart from his penguin work, Andrew also met with collaborators at SAEON about the Atlas of Seabirds at Sea (AS@S) project. Ross Wanless started developing an application to the Charl van der Merwe Trust, for renewal of funding for the island closures and related work that we’ve lead for the past 9 years.


Ross was rather relieved to find himself in Cape Town this week, after a trip to Pakistan was postponed to early November. He engaged in a lot of communication and reporting for the Alcyon Programme (in West Africa), including preparing for a visit to the team in Dakar later this month, at the request of Ademola Ajagbe, head of BLI Africa Secretariat. He also followed up on dialogues regarding the high seas policy project that he’s leading for BirdLife International, which is looking at governance and MPAs in the East Atlantic Ocean (and an analogue, linked process in the east Pacific Ocean).



Estuary IBA Conservation Project

Giselle Murison met with CapeNature and representatives of the Klein River Estuary Advisory Forum and bird clubs in the Hermanus/Stanford area to discuss bird information signage and other educational material needed for the Klein River estuary (and wider Cape Whale Coast Important Bird and Biodiversity Area). She joined Stanford Bird Club chair, Peter Hochfelden, skipper of the Lady Stanford river boat, for a wonderful trip along the Klein River on Monday evening (featuring more than 40 waterbird species), and saw first-hand the urgent need for water-based signage for the zoned bird sanctuary in the upper estuary. Giselle also visited landowners at the Berg River estuary project site this week to discuss the declaration process for a Protected Environment for their property.

Blue Swallow Monitoring Project

The Blue Swallow monitoring data form has been revised slightly to improve data quality. This improved form will be used during this season of monitoring.

Mistbelt Grassland and Forest Conservation Project

Further progress has been made with the declaration of Tillietudlem, Trewirgie and Sunnyvale Stewardship sites. All three submissions have now been approved by the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) executive. The next steps in the process include drafting “Intention To Declare” notices and engaging in the required public participation process. Before these processes can happen, declaration diagrams for the sites are required to accompany the Intention To Declare notices and the final declaration agreements. Trewirgie has had its area surveyed and the survey diagram is in the approval process at the Surveyor General Office. Tillietudlem has initiated the required survey work while Sunnyvale has not yet done so.  On their request, Conservation Outcomes has drafted and submitted a motivation to EKZNW for costs associated with declaring stewardship sites, such as public participation advertising, to be covered. The provincial conservation agency recently took a decision to halt funding these costs for private properties. Sunnyvale, Trewirgie and Tillietudlem have been in the process since before 2016 and so costs should be covered.  The site assessment for Jerome Mitchell’s property adjoining Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve has been set for 18 October. A presentation was given on this area at the recent KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Working Group meeting and the site was approved for taking through the Stewardship process. The desktop component of the site assessment has been completed.

Karoo Research and Conservation Project

The latest blog post from Dr Alan Lee, which relates to our knowledge regarding the distribution of the Hottentot Buttonquail, can be read here: http://bluehillescape.blogspot.com/2018/10/when-species-distribution-models-are.html.

IBA/KBAs and bird data and Spatial planning Project

Ernst Retief attended to various email discussions about the SABAP2 project, such as the vetting process, cards submitted with incorrect protocols, promoting a SABAP2 buddy system (people who are willing to assist potential new atlasers) and reporting on progress relating to submission of cards and pentads done in 2018. Issues with the Google Earth maps on the IBA web pages were taken up with the various web developers and solutions found which will be implemented when the new website is launched next year.  Ernst assisted the landowners of the Blyolifant Private Nature Reserve to develop a management plan for the Private Nature Reserve (PNR). This PNR hosts a number of threatened bird species and might be used as a case study to show the importance of PNRs for bird conservation. Ernst continued to collect data for the IUCN/BirdLife International Species Monitoring Survey. Monitoring survey information has been received from more than 30 projects so far.

Awareness for IBA & KBA Conservation

Daniel Marnewick attended the Biodiversity Stewardship Conference, hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), in Morapeng this week. The conference aimed to engage with high-level government decision makers across various government departments. Daniel presented the results from the BirdLife South Africa study entitled “Enhancing Biodiversity Stewardship in South Africa” (Wright, 2018) and facilitated a discussion on the recommendations. Ernst Retief presented a short talk to the Hawk Conservancy Trust with the title “Conserving Raptor Habitat: The KBA network”.


Dale Wright spent this week at Canon Rocks in the Eastern Cape, completing the final field trip as part of the Forest Biodiversity Research Project led by Stellenbosch University, in collaboration with various partners, over the past three years. Dale completed four atlas cards for key forest areas within the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park and assisted with bird ringing activities.




Candice Stevens attended the Biodiversity Stewardship and Land Reform Conference this week. The Conference was held in Maropeng and hosted government and civil society experts and decision makers at a high level workshop to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing landscape level conservation in South Africa. The conference saw a number of very positive examples of land reform, conservation and Wildlife Economy synergies and case studies at biodiversity stewardship sites. One of the main challenges for the sector is biodiversity financing; with limited funding and resources available to adequately address biodiversity conservation effectively. Candice chaired the session on resource mobilization and encouraged the sector to be both prudent with existing funding as well as innovative regarding additional funding streams. She was able to provide feedback on the success of last week’s meeting with National Treasury regarding their support for an additional biodiversity tax incentive. Candice also continued work on the formal processing submission for this new incentive, together with colleagues from the Department of Environmental Affairs.


This week Jonathan Booth was involved in the launch of the Mabola Protected Environment mining threat social media campaign. This is designed to bring attention to the threat of mining in Protected Environments and Strategic Water Source Areas, and the court case in which BirdLife South Africa and other NGOs are opposing the mine, and which begins on 16 October. He also participated in a call to discuss the possible rehabilitation of an existing mine in the Protected Environment. Jonathan also has a productive meeting with the National Business Initiative to continue work on a project concept and proposal.



Work was initiated on the drafting of feasibility studies for three birding tourism products in the Kavango Zambezi, Lubombo and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Conservation Areas. A Skype call was held with Natasja and Ernst Retief to discuss progress made on the Birder Friendly Establishment Programme contract and future direction that the programme would move. David Letsaolo travelled through to Dullstroom on a scouting trip in preparation for an upcoming Partnership for International Birding trip. Preparations were made for attendance at the SADC TFCA network meeting being held at the South African Wildlife College, Orpen, as well as a presentation to be presented at a Destination Awareness Seminar for Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve. Logistics and travel plans around a planned trip to Harare, Zimbabwe were dealt with. A proposal focusing on vulture conservation in Zimbabwe was reviewed and comments provided to BirdLife Zimbabwe. Work was undertaken on the draft avifaunal regulations for Mozambique.



The Wakkerstroom Centre has been a buzz of activity this week.  The beginning of the week was spent attending to various administrative tasks completed by Daphne Pyott and Kristi Garland.  Kristi, along with David Nkosi, put time aside to prepare for the National Lotteries Project term 4 activities and we hit the road early on Tuesday morning, visiting Luneburg and Bhekithemba Primaries.  At Luneburg, we set up an awesome experiment which will run for the next few weeks.  This activity focusses on monitoring a 2mx2m area in the schools property and monitoring the biodiversity that passes through this area in search of food – which is laid in the plot area.  The learners were introduced to how to read tracks left behind by various common species found in the area.  Each morning they will log the species crossing this plot, clear it and relay a fruit and seed mix.  Tracks that cannot be identified will be photographed and submitted for identification.  We also spent some time birding in the school property, logging twenty five species in no time at all.  For some learners this was the first time that had used binoculars and field guides which created huge excitement.  At Bhekithemba Primary we met with the co-ordinating educator to recap on the previous term’s work and to plan for the term ahead.  Wednesday saw David visiting Wakkerstroom Primary where he worked with the learners setting up the tracking experiment as well as birding around the school premises.  Kristi worked on finalising some new signage at the Centre as well as sourcing quotations for seating in the training centre.  In the afternoon, Kristi and our Working on Fire crew leader, Vusi Sibiya, attended the first Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association open meeting, themed ‘A Day in the life of a farmer’.  With three local farmers presenting on the day to day running of beef and mixed farming as well as general farm security, the 40 plus attendees were extremely impressed at how much really goes into running a large scale farm.  Thursday and we were off again on the National Lotteries Project – this time visiting Sinqobile Combined just over the KZN border, not before logging a Cardinal Woodpecker and Martial Eagle at the Centre.  The learners at Sinqobile responded extremely well to the activities presented.  Much time was spent introducing them to the tools of birding, binocular and field guide use before we headed out birding around the school property.  An hours birding resulted in twenty two species being identified.  Another tracking plot was set up at the school.  Most of Friday was spent preparing for the boards arrival at the Centre for the weekend.  It was great to spend time with the board members over the two days.  The Working on Fire team were giving an opportunity to showcase their work to the board on Friday afternoon.  Saturday saw the Centre hosting the Wakkerstroom Bird Club’s workshop, presented by Steve Davis, on Migration and Brood Parasitism.  With Steve and BirdLife South Africa’s Board members at the Centre, it was the perfect opportunity to unveil a plaque recently installed in memory of Roy Cowgill and funds left to the Centre which have made our recent renovations possible.  Lucky Ngwenya and Norman Mncube, both guides in Wakkerstroom, were each presented with a pair of Swarovski binoculars, both of whom were extremely surprised and appreciative.  Lucky reports the following sightings from this week’s tours: Botha’s Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark and Cloud Cisticola in Daggakraal, Yellow-breasted Pipit, White-bellied Bustard and Banded Martin in Paulpietersburg.



A number of meetings were took place this past week, including with Jacques du Bruyn (Flume, a digital advertising agency), 3M (regarding funding for environmental education), Mark Brown (Director of the Nature’s Valley Trust) and the Hawk Conservancy. Vernon Head’s new book, A tree for the Birds, was launched at Isdell House on Thursday. Board meetings were held at the Wakkerstroom Centre from Friday to Sunday.