Category Archives: Feathered Friends

Sprightly Sparrows’ Birding Big Day Experience

BLSA and Club logos

Sally Cumming describes her wonderful experience during Birdlife South Africa’s 31st Annual Birding Big Day (BBD) held on the 28 November 2015. Team Sprightly Sparrow, from the KZN Midlands Bird Club, consisted of four participants with Pam Nicol as their leader, Sally Cumming, Rosemary Forrester and Gail Glyn.

One of the goals of the Birding Big Day was to collectively tally as many of South Africa’s 846 bird species in a single day. In the end, a total of 621 bird species were recorded. Another goal is to fundraise money for bird conservation, and R60 000 was raised in donations and sponsorships from over 120 teams and individuals who took part in the 2015 event. Birding Big Day 2015 also created an awareness for the importance of citizen science, with the help of BirdLasser.

We started by birding in Amber Valley, just catching the African Sacred Ibis and Cattle Egrets roosting on the trees in the pond before they flew off on their daily search for food. Falcon Dam in the game area produced a Reed Cormorant, Southern Red Bishops, and the call of a Rufous-naped Lark, among others.

Southern Red Bishop

Southern Red Bishop

Our next stop was Howick Falls in the hope of seeing the Peregrine Falcon, but we only found Olive Thrush and Green-backed Camaroptera before moving on to the Fairways car park to tick Village and Cape Weavers and Common Mynas!

The drive out to Thurlow at Midmar was unproductive, as the road is busy and travelling slowly is not advisable, but once inside the reserve we were able to concentrate on looking out for birds. Not far from the gate we ticked White-necked Raven, Speckled Pigeons, and Pied Crow. The water level in the dam was extremely low, so the first inlet, which is usually very productive, was almost deserted. However, we were done proud as regards Raptors, for we saw Yellow-billed Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, a pair of African Fish-Eagles with a youngster, Long-crested Eagle, Jackal Buzzard and, as we were leaving, a Rock Kestrel. Further into the reserve we eventually saw our highlight for the day, a rather distant view of Southern Red Bishop, over 30 Grey Crowned Cranes, and an Osprey.

Black-shouldered Kite

Black-shouldered Kite

From Thurlow we headed to Queen Elizabeth Park. Lots of bird calls greeted us in the forest, and we saw and heard Chorister Robin-Chats. Continuing on to the end picnic site – the road potholed and muddy – we had a cup of coffee while admiring the dainty white Mystacidium orchids flowering on the branches of several trees. I was not permitted by our driver to “adopt” one orchid which had fallen out of a tree, and instead hid it in another tree in the hope that it would take root on its new host.

Then it was on to Darvill Sewerage Works, where the ponds are overgrown with reeds, but we did see a large flock of Cattle Egrets, several Spur-winged Geese, a couple of Goliath Herons, and pair of Red-billed Teals, as well as Weavers and Bishops. We had hoped to take in Albert Falls, but with a couple of participants needing to get back for another commitment, we headed back to Howick from Darvill. We unfortunately got caught in Saturday road works on the N3, as all traffic was diverted into one lane, holding us up considerably.

Red-billed Teal

Red-billed Teal

Our count amounted to 94 species, which was a little disappointing but understandable in cloudy dull weather, and Pam was able to send R1 000 to BLSA for their conservation projects.

Click here to view the Sprightly Sparrow’s Bird List.

The Last Stand for our Birds

BLSA IBA

One-third of the 112 most important sites for nature in South Africa are facing imminent danger of irreversible damage, according to a new South African IBA Status Report published today by BirdLife South Africa.

These sites – known as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – are threatened by invasive species, changes in habitats through incorrect burning practices, and agricultural expansion or mismanagement. Unprotected IBAs in particular are deteriorating at a concerning rate, most especially in grasslands, wetlands and fynbos, but habitats in protected IBAs are also showing signs of deterioration. Over 85% of all IBAs face high to very high levels of threats, and there is little distinction between protected and unprotected IBAs in this regard. The IBAs with the highest and most imminent threats will be included in BirdLife International’s list of IBAs in Danger, the global list of priority sites identified for urgent action.

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This South African IBA Status Report is accompanied by a revised National IBA Directory, building on and up-dating the first such inventory published in 1998. It provides updated information of the most important aspect of each of these 112 IBAs, including the geography and climate of the area, the list of the bird species found at the IBA, the biggest threats to the site, and what conservation action is taking place to secure the IBA. This publication can be used by conservation practitioners and planners to prioritise their work, by developers who need to understand the sensitivity of an area, and can even be used by bird enthusiasts to plan a birding trip.

The 112 IBAs in South Africa are the last stand for bird conservation on a landscape level. Protecting these sites has benefits not only for South Africa’s birds, but also for other animals, plants and the vital ecological services these sites provide to people. These services include providing us with fresh water, managing floods, controlling disease, and providing grazing lands for livestock farming. Conserving IBAs is also important for attaining our government’s environmental commitments like the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11 that calls for the expansion of terrestrial Protected Areas by at least 17%, and the Convention on Migratory Species. Therefore, their deteriorating status is a very high concern which requires immediate attention from government agencies and other stakeholders.

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The main recommendations from the IBA Status Report to remedy this situation include that government needs to allocate more resources towards managing protected areas and expanding the protected areas network through biodiversity stewardship. That IBAs should be used as a first cut when identifying priority areas for conservation, including for protected area expansion. By following the published management guidelines, the agricultural sector is able to manage their lands for the parallel purposes of producing livestock, improving veld condition and conserving biodiversity. IBAs should be considered as red flags and often exclusion areas when other development options are being considered, such as mining.

While both these publications are milestones for bird conservation, they need to be seen as the spearhead which will now be used to lobby, plan and implement effective conservation for birds, their habitats and other biodiversity.

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Both the revised IBA Directory and IBA Status Report can be bought in hard copy from BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme (011 789 1122, daniel.marnewick@birdlife.org.za), or the electronic versions can be downloaded for free from: http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/documents-and-downloads.

For further information please contact Daniel Marnewick at daniel.marnewick@birdlife.org.za (011 789 1122).