Latest news

2015-10-31 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
2015 Spring LepiBASH Report! 

For the 2015 Spring LepiBASH, 17 to 25 October, 93 observers participated and we received a total of 1883 records!!

-- 965 butterfly records

-- 918 moth records

Of these 1883 records 1273 have been identified already! Well done to our super LepiMAP ID Panel! The 1273 identified records consist of 166 taxa of Lepidoptera.

We received records from 8 African countries: Mozambique, Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and South Africa. The country for which we received the most records outside of South Africa was Tanzania (302 records).

For South Africa, we received records from all 9 provinces! We received the most records for KwaZulu-Natal (455), followed by the Northern Cape (324), and in third place we have Limpopo Province (184). We received the fewest records from Mpumalanga Province (3).

The top ten LepiMAPpers for the Spring LepiBASH are:

1. Martin Grimm (309)

2. Vaughan Jessnitz (278)

3. Altha Liebenberg (142)

4. Johan Heyns (83)

5. Luelle Watts (67)

6. Bernardine Altenroxel (65)

7. Dave Rimmer (63)

8. Quartus Grobler (61)

9. Richard Johnstone (59)

10. Alicia Culverwell (50)

Well done everyone!!! You are super LepiMAPpers!

Thank you to everyone that participated in the 2015 Spring LepiBASH! You are AWESOME!


2015-09-28 Megan Lategan 
Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) 

Mad Mammal Monday!

The drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) is one of the most endangered of all African primates. It is a large short-tailed forest baboon, which displays pronounced sexual dimorphism. The males can grow up to twice the size of females!

Drills are active during the day and occur in small troops of around 20 individuals, usually composed of a single dominant male, related females and their offspring. In times of food abundance, these small groups may congregate, forming large groups of over 100 individuals.

Vocal communication is very important for troop cohesion in the dense forests that they inhabit; two distinct 'grunt' calls have been identified and these may be important in keeping contact between group members.

A female will usually give birth to a single infant; whilst daughters remain in their natal group, males will disperse, once they have reached maturity, to join a new troop.

Drills mainly forage on the ground or in the lower levels of the trees, and are generally fruit eaters, although they will also take a range of plants, seeds and insects.

This species has an extremely restricted range; the mainland subspecies is known only from the Cross River in Nigeria to the Sanaga River in Cameroon. The Bioko drill is found on the southern tip of the island of Bioko, Equatorial Guinea.

Please submit your mammal photos to our Virtual Museum and help us build 21st century distribution maps for African mammals! Visit and register:
~Megan Lategan



2014-11-30 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

Happy SCALY SUNDAY!! Most people fear snakes, but it is important to remember that snakes are a key component of natural ecosystems. Common in many types of habitat, they affect the "balance of nature" as both predators and prey. From an ecological point of view, snakes help to control rodent populations. Snakes and their eggs are in turn eaten by fish, amphibians, other snakes, birds and predatory mammals. Snakes are an important part of the food web. We must help to protect them rather than harm them. The best policy when it comes to snakes is to just leave them alone and in peace. They are not out to get you!

“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

The species in the spotlight today is the Mole Snake (Pseudaspis cana) - this beautiful snake has a widespread distribution throughout southern Africa and occurs in nearly every habitat, although its preferred habitat is grassland. The photo shown here, taken in Limpopo Province, is from the ReptileMAP database (view here: ). Mole Snakes prey on golden moles (hence the name), rats, mice and gerbils. For this reason, they are considered useful for the natural control of problem rodents. Juveniles, however, are largely restricted to preying on lizards.

Mole Snakes are uniform brown, grey or black in colour (juveniles have zigzag or mottled markings) and they have round pupils. They can grow to an average length of 1.4 m but may reach 2 m in length, particularly in the Cape. The Mole Snake gives birth to live young, between 25 and 50 young, in late summer. This species of snake is are non-venomous and not dangerous to man but they can inflict a painful bite, so it's best to just leave them be.


2014-10-31 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
FROG FRIDAY is here! 

Hooray! It's Friday! And that means it's time for FROG FRIDAY :) -- this awesome frog is a Yellow-spotted Tree Frog (Leptopelis flavomaculatus), this frog is quite widespread, ranging across the lowlands of eastern and southern Africa, from Mozambique north of the Save River and eastern Zimbabwe, north through Malawi and southern and eastern Tanzania, as far as the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in coastal Kenya. It also occurs on the island of Zanzibar (Tanzania).

It lives in lowland and montane evergreen forest and especially in dry forest, in both pristine and secondary habitats, often along streams. Males call from leaves of branches, often at 3-4 m above the ground, and also from the mouth of burrows in the ground. It does not survive in open habitats outside forest, but it does occur in small forest remnants. If it is similar to most other members of its genus, it generally lays its eggs in a nest near water, into which the larvae emerge and develop. An egg mass has been observed in the root mass of floating vegetation in a permanent forest pond.

Reference: IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group 2013. Leptopelis flavomaculatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. .


2014-10-30 Les Underhill 
Six million records in the SABAP2 database 

Six Million SABAP2 records

Six million records in the SABAP2 database. Team SABAP2, you have got from five million to six million in two days less than a year. The previous millions have all taken about 13 months (apart from the first, which took two years!).

We are steadily building not only the start-of-the-21st-century distribution maps, but we are also getting enough data on an annual basis to start thinking about mapping changes in bird distribution continuously. No one, nowhere, has come close to achieving this!

Well done, Team SABAP2. Seven million, here we come.


2014-10-26 Les Underhill 
SABAP2 at 70% in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland 

SABAP2 at 70%

70% of the 17633 pentads in the original SABAP2 area of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland have been visited at least once. When we started the project on 1 July 2007 this level of coverage seemed an unimaginable pipedream. This is the day for a resounding celebration for the Citizen Scientists who have participated in the project. Well done, Team SABAP2. You are building the maps of current distribution for all our bird species. You are participating in the most important bird conservation project in the region. Without these maps, and the ability to compare them with the maps produced by the first bird atlas project, bird conservation would be based on guesswork.


2014-10-10 Les Underhill 
Awesome new Virtual Museum feature: how to find the gaps in coverage 

VM Gap Analysis

This news item explains how to find the gaps in coverage in ADU Virtual Museum projects. On the Virtual Museum website, first choose (from the left hand side menu) the project you are interested in finding the gaps for. Then, from this menu, choose "Maps" and click on the tab "Gap Analysis" and then on "Request summary." A map like the one on the left appears. The grid generates the Quarter Degree Grid Cells. Those with data are coloured. Those without data are blank. Click on the grid cell you are interested in. A Google map like the one on the right appears. This grid cell is 2824DA and covers part of Kimberley, and a section of the Vaal River. It is the basic road map that appears first; I clicked "Satellite" at the top right corner to get this view.

If a grid cell has records, then a species list for the Quarter Degree Grid Cell appears under the map.

This is the Gap Analysis for LacewingMAP. It is little short of astonishing that this new section of the Virtual Museum already has records for 47 Quarter Degree Grid Cells, 2.3% of the region.

This is Version 1 of the ADU Virtual Museum Gap Analysis. It will be extended to cover Africa, and be extended to be able to find the gaps for specific time periods, for example, gaps since 2000.


2014-08-08 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

TGIFF - Thank Goodness it's FLUTTERBY FRIDAY! This stunning butterfly is a Little Pansy (Junonia sophia) -- the Little Pansy is a butterfly in the Nymphalidae family. There are two subspecies of this beautiful butterfly, namely: -- Junonia sophia sophia (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon) -- Junonia sophia infracta Butler, 1888 (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, eastern Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, western and central Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, northern Zambia)

The Little Pansy prefers forest and savanna habitat. The larvae feed on Paulowilhelmia sclerochiton, Hypoestes verticillaris, Brillantaisa lamium, Sclerochiton paulowilhelmina, Asystasia, Barleria, Justicia, and Ruellia species.



2014-07-18 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver nests with long entrance tubes 
phown 5189 phown 1028 phown 5320 phown 11499 phown 5338 phown 8416

Several weaver species regularly build nests with long entrance tubes, although some individual nests have shorter tubes:
Baya Weaver phown 7442
Black-throated Weaver
Nelicourvi Weaver
Dark-backed Weaver
Black-necked Weaver
Spectacled Weaver
Gola Malimbe
Cassin's Malimbe
Red-bellied Malimbe
Ibadan Malimbe
Rachel's Malimbe
Red-vented Malimbe
Red-headed Weaver

Often long tubed nests are built by solitary, monogamous weavers. This group of weavers usually consists of a pair and they build the nest together. In some malimbes, a group of birds help build a nest. The long tube probably reduces predation but does not stop some predators. In the polygnous weavers it is usually the male that builds (although the female lines an accepted nest) and males want to build many nests in a breeding season, rather than spending energy on building nests with long tubes.

Thanks to the observers who submitted these records! Please record and submit your record of weaver nests to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.  


2014-07-08 Les Underhill 
Greater Kruger National Park Challenge – 2014 – the mid-year progress report says "Outstanding" 

Greater KNP The Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project has selected a few key areas for special annual attention. This reports on excellent progress with the Greater Kruger National Park Challenge for 2014.

Although the Greater Kruger National Park Challenge was set up at the start of 2014, we have not made a big deal of it.

This challenge supplements the annual atlasing effort on the Four Degree region, centred on the Johannesburg and Pretoria conurbation. This constitutes the Greater Gauteng challenge area and it is important because about 30% of South Africa’s population lives in it. The Kruger National Park and its environs are important because this is the premier conservation region in southern Africa. In the Greater Gauteng area, we need to monitor intensively because we fear that development will impact the birds. In the Kruger National Park, we need to monitor intensively because we hope that there will be little change to bird species composition through time. If there are changes, then it is due to causes other than “development.”

The underpinning paradigm for the Greater Kruger National Park Challenge is the same as for the Four Degrees region. We aim to go as wide as we can (ie to get full protocol checklists from as many pentads as possible) and we aim to go as high as we can (ie to build the stack of checklists on each pentad as high as possible).

We defined the region for the Greater Kruger National Park Challenge as every pentad east of 31°E and north of 26°S (and inside the South Africa border with Mozambique). This includes quite a lot of territory outside the park, but this is important because it enables “inside-outside” comparisons to be made. See the map below. There are a total of 671 pentads in the region. In 2013, atlasers visited 326 of the 671 pentads (48%) and accumulated a total of 1154 checklists. So for 2014, we decided that aiming to visit 350 pentads, and making 1250 checklists were realistic targets

How has Team SABAP2 Greater Kruger National Park fared? They have done remarkably well. By 8 July they had visited 283 pentads (that is 80.9% of the target). It looks as if we will be able to adjust the coverage target upwards! Already, 680 checklists (54.4% of the target) have been submitted. Just beyond the halfway stage of the year, this as pect the challenge is on track.

Atlasers, if you visit this region, please become part of Team SABAP2 Greater Kruger National Park, and help to monitor bird populations in one of Africa’s most important protected areas. SABAP2 is unique in being able to provide a broad-brush monitoring of all bird species across this large area.


2014-07-06 Les Underhill 
Two-thirds coverage in 2014 of the Four Degrees of Greater Gauteng reached on 5 July 

66.67% coverage on 5 July for the Four Degrees

Celebration time for the Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project! It is only a couple of days after mid-year. But 'Team SABAP2 Greater Gauteng' have already achieved two-thirds coverage of the Four Degree Squares defined as Greater Gauteng. This is the area inside the Red Square on the 2014-only coverage map. So there are almost six months left to tackle the final one-third, inevitably the more inaccessible and challenging pentads to reach.

In detailed numbers, 384 of the 576 pentads in this region have already had a full protocol checklist made in 2014. We also set ourselves the target of an average of six checklists per pentad for the year. That is 6 × 576 = 3456 checklists. Team SABAP2 Greater Gauteng is already at 1848, 53.5% of the target, just nicely ahead of schedule.

Three pentads are shaded PURPLE – astonishingly this means that they already have more than 50 checklists. Another 11 are RED, and they have more than 25 checklists. Is this really a celebration. Yes, it is, and it is a reason for celebration because the statisticians who analyse these data thrive on large sample sizes. Many of the little biases that bedevil analyses with small samples are averaged out by large sample sizes. These large samples will enable us to detect changes in species composition more easily.

This is the area where stuff is going to happen. 30% of South Africa’s population lives and works and plays in the Red Square. The development pressure is huge and is going to continue to be huge. The pressure on biodiversity is going to be huge, and it is only as we have lots of good solid quantitative data to back up the conservation agenda do we have a chance of mitigating the impact of development.

The map also includes a half-degree broad band around the edge of the Red Square. Please don’t neglect this region. Some of it does not yet have four checklists in total since SABAP2 began seven years ago.


2014-07-06 Les Underhill 
90000 records uploaded through the Virtual Museum website 

90000th Virtual Museum record

The critical first requirement for the Red List assessment of a species is a good and up-to-date distribution map. Without this map, the assessment for a species becomes “Data Deficient” which is an admission of failure: “We do not have enough information about this species to be able to decide where to place it along the spectrum: Least Concern, Near-threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered.”

Even if you do not know your butterflies, your moths, your scorpions, your reptiles, your spiders, your starfish, etc, you can help to build these 21st century distribution maps which are so crucially important. You simply take photographs and upload them into the ADU Virtual Museum. They will be identified by the expert panel for the group.

The ADU’s MammalMAP project is currently partnering the EWT and SANBI to undertake the re-evaluation of the Red List for mammals in South Africa. Our responsibility is to produce the maps on which the assessments are based. If you have photos of mammals, large or small, abundant or rate, from inside nature reserves or (even more valuable) from outside them, please upload them to the Virtual Museum and they will contribute to the Red List assessment. In other words, you are not powerless when it comes to biodiversity conservation. You CAN make a difference.

And each of the other groups will also get their turn to be Red Listed, and re-Red Listed. So please do upload your photos. Start at the Facebook page called ADU Virtual Museum. Click on the cover photo, and it will take you a series of links to slides shows that explain how to do this.

The photo below was the 90000th record to be uploaded to the ADU Virtual Museum through the website upload system. It is a butterfly with the delightful and descriptive common name of Scarlet Tip. Its scientific name is Colotis annae annae. The record was made in 5 July 2014 and uploaded to the Virtual Museum on the same day by Richard Johnstone. The photo was taken at the Zimango Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. Go to LepiMAP record 49146 to see this record in its Virtual Museum context.

Please help build the 21st century distribution maps. Your photos are needed for completing the big jigsaw puzzle we are steadily constructing.


2014-07-04 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
TGIFF - Thank Goodness it's FLUTTERBY FRIDAY! 

TGIFF - Thank Goodness it's FLUTTERBY FRIDAY! The Guinea-fowl butterfly / Tarentaaltjie (Hamanumida daedalus) is a butterfly of the Nymphalidae family and the only member of the Hamanumida genus. It is widespread throughout Africa.

The wingspan is 55–65 mm for males and 60–78 mm for females. Adults are on wing year round, with peaks in midwinter and summer. The Guinea-fowl butterfly's larvae feed on Combretum and Terminalia species.

Reference: Woodhall, S. 2005. Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa, Cape Town: Struik Publishers.


2014-07-01 Les Underhill 
DAY 1 of YEAR 8 of SABAP2 

Wish list for Year 8 of SABAP2

The eighth year of SABAP2, the Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project starts today, 1 July 2014. When we set out on this journey on 1 July 2007, none of us dreamed that we would still be keeping going. The biggest lesson from SABAP2 is that bird distributions are on the move. We cannot afford to stop atlasing. SABAP2 is probably the best broad-brush bird monitoring exercise anywhere on the planet.

(1) If you are an atlaser, please maintain “sustainable atlasing.” We cannot afford for you to suffer “burn-out.” Please keep on atlasing at the pace you enjoy doing it.

(2) If you are not yet an atlaser, please learn the protocol and get involved. We are NOT near the END of the project, we are near the BEGINNING. We need you on board. Atlasing is easier than it has ever been with Lynx Birdticks (Android) and BirdLasser (iPhone). See their Facebook pages.

Keep Calm and Keep Atlasing(3) There is no pentad for which we have “enough” data.

(4) The top priority remains full protocol checklists – a minimum of two hours of intensive birding within a pentad which aims to produce as comprehensive a list as feasible of the species present in the pentad.

(5) If you are able to travel, please help fill the major gaps in coverage. Try to participate in gap-filling expeditions. Even better, take courage, and organize an expedition yourself.

(6) Please treat any pentad with fewer than four full-protocol checklists as a top priority pentad.

(7) If you are in an area where data coverage is poor, and you have the opportunity to make even a short list of species for a few minutes, please submit the records as an ad hoc list.

(8) If you have seen a single species which you know is rare in a pentad (or might not yet have been observed), please submit it as an incidental record. If in doubt, submit.

(9) If a pentad has not yet been atlased in 2014, treat it as a priority. Try to get 2014 coverage up to four checklists in as many pentads as feasible.

(10) Please be careful. Please ask permission before you venture onto private land. Please don’t atlas and drive at the same time.

(11) If you have a collection of "Out of Range Forms" (ORFs) please make a resolution to deal with them.

(12) Please try to be an Ambassador for Biodiversity. How do you answer this question: “How does my participation SABAP2 make a difference for biodiversity conservation?”?

(13) Please try to recruit new atlasers. Mentoring is a powerful tool in bringing new atlasers on board. We need to share the workload out more broadly!

(14) If you are within striking distance of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens on Saturday, 16 August, please attend the ADU's Citizen Scientist Day. On the pogramme will be bird atlas feedback. We have done comparisons between bird distributions in the first and second bird atlas projects. The changes go way beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

(15). Most important, your participation needs to be something that you enjoy doing.

Viva SAPAB2!


2014-06-02 Warwick Tarboton 
OdonataMAP Batch 9 Identified — records 7547–9750 
Proischnura polychromatica

Batch 9, with just about 2200 new records for the Odonata VM has been a particularly interesting one to work through.


Most of the records are for the period January – May 2014 and they include no less than 115 species, eight of them new to the database. Alan Manson led the field with another terrific submission of 544 records of 73 species and he continues his systematic coverage of KZN's rivers and wetlands with great results. Look at Alan's first-ever images (e.g. 8831) of the highly elusive damselfly, Balinsky's Sprite Pseudagrion inopinatum,which KD Dijkstra, accompanied by Alan, discovered along the Mkomazi river in kwaZulu-Natal in March. Felicity Grundlingh (who was with them) has also got up to date with her backlog of records and her submission of 437 records in this batch cover 95 species, six of them new to the Odonata VM. She's submitted the first records and images of the three western Cape endemic Presbas (Syncordulia legator [8043], venator [8046] and serendipator[8156]) and also the first ones for Mauve Bluet Proischnura polychromatica, a species with a severely restricted range in Western Cape and currently listed as critically endangered (see record 8038).


More and more people are using their cameras to record dragonflies and are submitting their records - in this batch 61 people did so, 21 of them for the first time. Some are submitting images of outstanding quality, Desire and Gregg Darling for instance, and others are targeting the species in a particular area: Kate Braun, for instance has submitted nearly 300 records from Swaziland. The VM now has about 8900 records from South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho and approaching 600 from other African countries. As expected, records of Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis arteriosa (539 records) and Broad Scarlet Crocothemis erythraea (406) are still way out in the lead … something about red dragonflies that attracts photographers maybe?


2014-05-27 Richard Sherley 
Colour Rings on Swift Terns 

Swift Terns are one of the few locally-breeding seabirds whose numbers are increasing. To help understand the main factors driving the positive trend of this species, a team of researchers from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town marked 500 Swift Terns chicks from Robben Island in April 2013 and 2014 with metal and individually engraved colour rings. In 2013 members of the public reported how these birds dispersed, providing information on the fledging success, survival and dispersal of juvenile Swift Terns, which were re-sighted from Namibia to the Eastern Cape. 

Gathering dispersal records is a time consuming but important task that relies on assistance from volunteers across southern Africa. 

Rings in 2014 are orange and yellow (with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and are engraved with an “A” followed by a letter and a number (e.g. AU2). Rings from 2013 are yellow and white (with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and bear a code of one letter and one number (e.g. U2).  The majority of the colour rings are top-down and all are on the right leg. Click here for more information on the rings.

If you see any ringed birds please record their location as accurately as possible (ideally GPS), the date and time of sighting, ring colour, letters on the ring (if legible) and age class (juvenile or immature). If a bird is found dead, please also record the number of the metal ring. 

Please send the information to Davide Gaglio:

Thanks for your help!


2014-04-09 Les Underhill 
Advisory Board for the Animal Demography Unit 

The governance of the Animal Demography Unit takes a big stride forward with the appointment of an Advisory Board. Prior to this most projects had their own committees which oversaw the management of activities. The need to have an overarching structure in place is one of the outcomes of a strategy planning exercise undertaken recently.

We are delighted that the following people have accepted nomination to our Advisory Board: Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, Ashwell Glasson, Hermann Staude, John Donaldson, Peter Greaves, Res Altwegg, Robert Morrell, Sue Kuyper and Les Underhill.

The Advisory Board represents a wide diversity of stakeholders. The Board will be having its first meeting during April. The appointment of the Advisory Board marks the commencement of a new phase in the development of the Animal Demography Unit.


2014-04-03 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
An exciting record for OdonataMAP!! 

A very exciting record has been submitted to OdonataMAP!! This beautiful dragonfly is a Black Percher (Diplacodes lefebvrii). Laurenda Van Breda writes: "In the first week of March 2014 a very small dragonfly was found in the Cape Flats Nature Reserve and identified as the Black Percher (Diplacodes lefebrvii), confirmed to be rare in the Western Cape. The few records for this species in the Western Cape range from Citrusdal to East London. No records for the Cape Peninsula have ever been recorded!! And this is the first record of this awesome dragonfly for the Cape Peninsula!"

"The dragonfly experts (Prof. Michael Samways from Stellenbosch University and Prof. Klaas-Douwe B. Dijkstra from Leiden University) have been consulted and the photograph confirmed as this species. Further confirmation was received when a breeding pair of Black Perchers was discovered in the reserve at a different locality on 13 March 2014. Diplacodes lefebrvii has officially been added to the OdonataMAP database as the first record for the Cape Peninsula!!"

Thank you Laurenda for submitting this amazing record to OdonataMAP!! Here is the link to the record: --- If you have any photos of dragonflies or damselflies please submit them to OdonataMAP at


2014-03-18 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

Sappi TREE TUESDAY has the spotlight on the Wing-leaved Wooden-pear / Wild Jasmine / Vlerksteelhoutpeer (Schrebera alata). Wild Jasmine is a quick-growing evergreen tree or shrub, 4–15 m tall, with a greyish or light brown bark. The leaves are opposite and pinnately compound with few leaflet pairs and a single terminal one. The leaves are shiny dark green above, paler beneath and smooth or velvety when young. The flowers are sweet-scented, trumpet-shaped, and white to pink, with reddish brown hairs near the mouth of the corolla tube.

Schrebera alata

This beautiful tree occurs on the margins of forest or bushveld in Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. It is also found in Swaziland, through southern Mozambique, and north to tropical Africa. The wild jasmine's scented flowers attract bees to the garden, while hawk-moths and dusk-flying skipper butterflies are also often seen sipping nectar from the tubular flowers.

References: Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3: 913. Struik, Cape Town.

Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park: 536, 537. Jacana, Johannesburg.


2014-03-09 Les Underhill 
Citizen Science Week : Saturday 8 March to Sunday 16 March 

Citizen Science Week 8-16 March

Ultimately, the goal of all the data collection by the ADU’s citizen scientists is to have an impact on biodiversity conservation. The wealth of data and information contributed by our citizen scientists, collated and curated at the ADU, and analysed by our students and staff and by many other people, has improved biodiversity conservation in southern Africa. Together we are making a difference!

Citizen Science Week celebrates the participation and involvement of citizen scientists in building our digital biodiversity databases, totalling some 18 million records. The objective of our "Citizen Science Week" is to give all citizen scientists a chance to become a community with the objective of collecting and submitting as much biodiversity data in digital format as we are able during the week. Citizen Science Week runs from Saturday 8 March to Sunday 16 March, so it includes two weekends.

We want to involve as many of our existing citizen scientists as possible. We want to recruit new people to our citizen science team. We want to collect as much biodiversity data as possible: so we will try to count the total number of records entering the various databases, and try to determine the total number of different species we record. We want to encourage Team Citizen Science.


We would be delighted if our citizen scientists participated in more than one project, and especially if they participated in one they had not been involved in before. So we want our bird atlasers to participate in LepiMAP, The Atlas of African Lepidoptera, our bird ringers to take pictures of weavers' nests for PHOWN, PHOtos of Weaver Nests, and our CAR counters to give bird atlasing a try, etc. We particularly want to grow awareness and participation in the growing family of virtual museums: see


This is also a great opportunity to try to expand the citizen science team. The best way to do this is to invite someone new to join you atlasing, ringing, counting, virtual museuming. And to show them the project protocols – for example, exactly how to go about bird atlasing.

These celebrations honour you, the citizen scientist. Thank you for your on-going support from all of us at the ADU.


2014-03-03 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
We celebrate 70 000 Virtual Museum records 

70000 virtual museum records

We have hit 70000 records submitted to the Virtual Museum projects through the Virtual Museum website at – it is only two months back that we celebrated 60000! This amazing achievement is all thanks to YOU, the awesome ADU contributors and citizen scientists! We value each and every record and we appreciate your support beyond measure! WELL DONE!!!!


2014-03-02 Les Underhill 
SABAP2 up to the end of February, 2014 

SABAP2 SummerMAP 2013/14The end of February brings the curtain down on a mini-project that has been beavering away in the background. SummerMAP. During December, January and February we have quietly been accumulating the coverage displayed on this map. Do we have enough data to be able to make a statement about the distribution of species in the summer of 2013/14? There are certainly some areas, especially Gauteng, Kruger National Park and coastal KwaZulu-Natal, where we have extensive coverage. The analysts will have to tell us whether what we have achieved is good enough! Whatever they say, the coverage is remarkable; 2002 pentads visited, 3945 checklists submitted so far, nearly a quarter of a million records collected. From the start of the project in July 2007, it took until August 2008 to get coverage of the first 2000 pentads. Now we achieve in three months what took us 14 months at the start of SABAP2.

From March to May our miniproject is AutumnMAP. This represents our one and only opportunity to document the timing of departure of migrants on northward migration. One of the predictions of global climate change is that long-distance bird migrants will be impacted. SABAP2 is one of the best projects anywhere in the world to test these predictions. There are two reasons why we are in such a good position: (1) unlike most bird atlas projects, we collect data throughout the year, including the migration seasons; (2) we have the data collected during SABAP1 for comparison purposes. First analyses show that we are collecting sufficient data each year. We encourage atlasers to tackle all their pentads, several times, if possible, during the next three months. And to tackle them as if this was the start of the project!

From next Saturday 8 March to the following Sunday 16 March we celebrate “Citizen Science Week.” The dates are chosen to coincide with “Open Education Week.” This is a global event, see The ADU is delighted to be able to make “Citizen Science Week” a component event of UCT’s Open Education Week. “Open Education” is primarily about “Sharing knowledge, insights and information with others, upon which new knowledge, skills, ideas and understanding can be built − sharing is probably the most basic characteristic of education − Open Education seeks to scale up educational opportunities by taking advantage of the power of the internet, allowing rapid and essentially free dissemination, and enabling people around the world to access knowledge, connect and collaborate.” In real tangible ways, the ADU’s projects achieve precisely the goals of “Open Education.” We have never set out to make “Open Education” a primary goal of what we do, it is a delightful by-product.

The ADU Virtual Museum has had a brilliant start to the year. In January and February 8104 records were submitted, compared with 3937 in these two months last year. There is a great visual report on Virtual Museum progress in 2013 2013 Progress. And there are instructions on how to do submissions at How to submit.


2014-02-25 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

Sappi TREE TUESDAY!!!! The Scented-pod Thorn (Acacia nilotica subsp. kraussiana) or Lekkerruikpeul is a medium to large tree that can reach a height of 10 m. The crown is somewhat flattened or rounded, with a moderate density. The branches have a tendency to droop downwards if the crown is roundish. The bark is blackish grey or dark brown in mature trees and deeply grooved, with longitudinal fissures.

This tree occurs in a variety of woodland types, wooded grassland and scrub escarpment, forests and low-lying forest, in deep soil and along rivers. It is found in large areas of KwaZulu-Natal , Swaziland, eastern and northern Mpumalanga, the northern part of Gauteng, throughout Limpopo and the north-eastern part of the North-West. This subspecies occurs south of the Zambezi River.

The wood of this species is hard and reddish in colour and most of the browsers eat the leaves. It is used as firewood and for fencing posts. The bark exudes an edible gum and is used medicinally according to Van Wyk et al. (2000). The gum can also be used as glue. The Zulus take a decoction of the bark as a cough remedy. The Voortrekkers made ink and dyes from the pods (red, black and yellow). Other parts of the tree were used to treat eye diseases, or as a tranquillizer and even as an aphrodisiac. A root extract was used in the treatment of tuberculosis, impotence, diarrhoea, haemorrhages, toothache, dysentery and gonorrhoea. Extracts made from the leaves are used in the treatment of menstrual problems, eye infections, sores (specifically those caused by leprosy), ulcers, indigestion and haemorrhage.

References: Van Wyk, B., Van Wyk, P. & Van Wyk, B-E. 2000. Photographic guide to trees of southern Africa . Briza Publications, Pretoria. Venter, F. & Venter, J.A. 1990. Making the most of indigenous trees . Briza Publications, Pretoria.


2014-02-25 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
How To Create a Species List From the Virtual Museum Project Data 

Want to know how you can create a species list from the Virtual Museum projects?? Then take a look at this slideshow


2014-02-18 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea spp. caffra) 

On Tuesdays we celebrate all things green and wonderful - Happy TREE TUESDAY!!! The species in the spotlight today is a true symbol of Africa - the Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea spp. caffra). The Marula tree is a medium to large tree, usually around 9 m tall, but trees of up to 18 m have been recorded; it is single stemmed with a dense, spreading crown and deciduous foliage; the bark is grey and usually peels off in flat, round disks, exposing the underlying light yellow tissue. The Marula is widespread in Africa from Ethiopia in the north to KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. In South Africa it is more dominant in the Phalaborwa area in Limpopo province. It occurs naturally in various types of woodland, on sandy soil or occasionally sandy loam soil.

Insects pollinate the flowers and elephants, antelope, giraffe, zebra and many others browse the leaves. The fruits of the marula have a light yellow skin when ripe, with white flesh, and they are rich in vitamin C. Inside is a walnut-sized, thick-walled stone. The seeds have a nutty flavour and are much sought after, especially by small rodents. The fruits of the marula are used in the commercially available Amarula liqueur.

You can help us to map this amazing tree’s 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to ViTH at


2014-02-16 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

SCALY SUNDAY takes a look at the Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis dilepis)! This beautiful chameleon is widely distributed throughout southern and eastern Africa. It has been recorded as far west as Cameroon and possibly Nigeria.

The Flap-necked Chameleon inhabits coastal forest, both moist and dry savanna, woodland and bushy grasslands, it has also been found in urban areas. Unfortunately this species is collected for the international pet trade with the greatest demand coming from the USA. Between 1977 and 2001, 49836 individuals were traded!! Because population sizes are not known, there are no estimates of survival or rates of population increase, and the taxonomy regarding the status of sub-species is uncertain, careful attention should be paid for any warning signs of declines.

You can do your bit to help us map this beautiful reptile's distribution by submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at

Reference: Tolley, K. and Burger, M. 2007. Chameleons of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town. 


2014-02-14 Megan Loftie-Eaton 

African Small White

TGIFF - Thank Goodness it's FLUTTERBY FRIDAY! This beautiful butterfly in the photo is an African Small White (Dixeia charina charina) or Kus Termiethoopwitjie as it is known in Afrikaans, and it is native to south-eastern Africa. The wingspan of this butterfly is 34–40 mm in males and 36–42 mm in females.

The African Small White in the photo was photographed near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Liezle Allen and S. Allen submitted it to LepiMAP:

LepiMAP is the continuation of SABCA, the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment. LepiMAP is a project aimed at determining the distribution and conservation priorities of butterflies and moths on the African continent. You can help us by submitting your photos to LepiMAP at


2014-02-13 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
The Caterpillar Rearing Group is here! 

On the 10th of February the Caterpillar Rearing Group (CRG) was launched!! The CRG is the continuation and expansion of the Great Moth Caterpillar Hunt Challenge in association with the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa (Lepsoc) as well as LepiMAP!

With new rules and new Prizes! We're calling on all Citizen Scientists out there to help discover as many new life histories of African Lepidoptera (moths AND butterflies) as possible. This group is there to answer all your questions regarding caterpillar rearing! With “How to” documents and data templates to assist you during your experiments while also creating a place to share photos and compare stories or discoveries! Join the CRG Facebook Group for more information! (


2014-01-28 Richard Sherley 
African penguin features in IUCN Red List's Amazing Species 

Since 2011, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been keeping a list of 'Amazing Species' on their Red List website. The initiative is designed "to increase awareness of the enormous variety of life on our planet, and raise the profile of threatened species". In December 2013, the African penguin made the list. The IUCN produces a nice PDF for each species with links to websites where you can find out more about them and how you can help. The PDF for the African Penguin can be found here. The African Penguin was listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2010 and the species continues to decline at an alarming rate. For more on what you can do to help, visit SANCCOB's websiteBirdLife International's Global Seabird Programme or consider supporting the University of Cape Town's Environmental Research.  

The Amazing Species series continues in 2014 and can be followed on the IUCN's websites or directly using the Amazing Species Twitter feed:


2014-01-23 Les Underhill 
Prepub Offer: "The Ultimate Companion for Birding in Southern Africa" 

The Ultimate Companion for Birding in Southern Africa

The distribution maps in "The Ultimate Companion for Birding in Southern Africa" were generated in the ADU using SABAP data. You can get the book on a prepublication offer – it is a two-volume set – the prepub price, until 28 February, is R1248.30 (incl VAT and postage in South Africa). You have to work really hard to find the place where to put in the Promotional Code: if you slot in the promotional code ADU1234, then the publishers will give the ADU R100 for each copy sold. SO WHEN YOU ORDER THE BOOK, PLEASE SEARCH UNTIL YOU FIND THE PLACE TO SLOT THIS INFORMATION IN!


2014-01-19 Les Underhill 
The Great Little White Butterfly Migration 

The Great Little White Butterfly Migration is a miniproject of LepiMAP. There is a Facebook group where you are invited to report your observations. It is at

The Great Little White Butterfly Migration

This is how the Facebook group describes itself: "This is an experiment in doing some real scientific research on Facebook. The question we are asking is: “What is the extent of the current migration of white butterflies across southern Africa?” The English common name for this species is Brown-veined White, the Afrikaans common name is Witgatwitjie, and the scientific name is Belenois aurota.

"The most important information we need is “Where did you make your observations?” and “What was the date?” and “What did you see?” For the first question, if you can gives us geographical coordinates (from a GPS unit, from your phone, or from GoogleEarth) that would be great, but if you need to describe it in words, that is also fine (eg “10km north of Deneysville on the N14”). You can expand your answer to the third question by answering these questions: “How many butterflies were passing by?” (none, just a few, tens, 100s, 1000s, 10000s or more?). “In which direction were they going?” “When did the migration start in your area?” If there are no swarms of little white butterflies moving across the landscape in your area, please report that too – negative information is valuable. And you may contribute more than once. If we need to, we might send you a message on Facebook to ask you for some more information.

"This project is led by LepiMAP, a joint initiative of the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, and LepSoc, the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa. Data collected will be shared with Reinier Terblanche, who is doing his PhD on this topic."


2014-01-07 Les Underhill 
ADU-linked interviews on the Sappi Nature Journal : the 2013 record 

Radio Today

The Sappi Nature Journal in 60 Minutes is a radio programme on Saturday mornings from 08h00 to 09h00 on Radio Today. Tim Neary interviews guests, and many of them have been ADU staff and students, and the ADU’s Citizen Scientists talking about their participation in the projects such as the Virtual Museum. This is a compendium of the interviews broadcast in the second half of 2013.

Tali Hoffman talked about MammalMAP, our bold initiative to atlas the mammals of the whole of Africa – the African Mammal Atlas Project: Tali Hoffman: MammalMAP

Megan Loftie-Eaton took us through the “species days,” from Mad Mammal Monday through Thank Goodness It’s Frog Friday to Snake Sunday: Megan Loftie-Eaton: Mad Mammal Monday and the rest of the awesome week

Dieter Oschadleus, in charge of SAFRING, described what we learn from bird ringing: Dieter Oschadleus: Bird ringing

PhD student Elsa Bussiere entertained us with her ideas about “wild fashion” – the wonderfully marked fur coats that many animals wear: Elsa Bussiere: Wild fasion

Postdoc Richard Sherley kept us abreast with the latest in penguin research at the ADU: Richard Sherley: Penguins research

Postdoc Sally Hofmeyr described how she had used the data from the CAR project, which undertakes counts of large terrestrial birds (cranes, storks, bustards, Secretarybird, etc), for her PhD research: Sally Hofmeyr: Large terrestrial birds

Dieter Oschadleus shared his passion for weavers, and promoted the PHOWN Virtual Museum (PHOtos of Weaver Nests): Dieter Oschadleus: Passion for weavers

A new arrival into the ADU Virtual Museum is ScorpionMAP. Ian Engelbrecht, PhD student at the University of Pretoria, took this opportunity to promote this project: Ian Engelbrecht: ScorpionMAP

Another new Virtual Museum is called SpiderMAP. Besides scorpions, Ian Engelbrecht’s other big research interest is baboon spiders, so there is a special focus within SpiderMAP on the baboon spiders. In this interview, Ian describes the Baboon Spider Atlas: Ian Engelbrecht: Baboon spider atlas

Yahkat Barshep completed her PhD on Curlew Sandpipers, analysing data from Sweden, Poland, South Africa, India, Kenya and Australia; she talks about her amazing findings. Tim also asked her questions about how she had got into science as a career in the first place, and how she had set about doing her MSc at the University of Jos, Nigeria, and her PhD at UCT: Yahkat Barshep: A PhD on Curlew Sandpipers

Justin O’Riain is not formally part of the ADU, but his laboratory and office adjoin the space occupied by the ADU, and the two of us cosupervise students. Justin is a behavioural ecologist. The first interview describes the interactions between Cape Fur Seals and Great White Sharks around Seal Island in False Bay and around Dyer Island at Gansbaai: Justin O'Riain: Seals and sharks

Justin’s second interview deals with a major human-wildlife conflict issue in the Cape Peninsula, the “baboon problem”: Justin O'Riain: Baboons on the Cape Peninsula

Justin Bode is a member of LepSoc who is making a big contribution to LepiMAP through butterfly photography. Like MammalMAP, LepiMAP sees Africa as its parish, and aims to map the distributions of butterflies and moths throughout Africa: Justin Bode: Butterfly photography

Ian Sharp and Allison Sharp were ostensibly interviewed to talk about the Great Caterpillar Moth Challenge, now a LepSoc project, but included a promotion of the ADU Virtual Museum Ian & Allison Sharp: From caterpillars to moths

Likewise, Darren Pietersen was interviewed about pangolins, but also strayed into Virtual Museum territory and promoted MammalMAP: Darren Pietersen: Pangolins

Kevin Winter is a colleague in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science. He is also involved in Citizen Science, but the main theme of his involvement is “water” – he is key person in the conservation of the river which lies closest to UCT and the ADU, the Liesbeek River: Kevin Winter: Friends of the Liesbeek River

He also leads a crazy annual event in midwinter, called the “Peninsula Paddle” – the event, which is designed to raise awareness about water quality on the Cape Flats, starts at Muizenberg and ends at Milnerton, taking the shortest route between them. This involves navigating all the tiny waterways from Strandfontein to Paarden Island: Kevin Winter: the Peninsula Paddle

And finally, Tim Neary interviewed MSc student Megan Loftie-Eaton about her experiences doing a FGASA level one game ranger course: Megan Loftie-Eaton: FGASA course

There will be more ADU-linked interviews in 2014 broadcast during the Sappi Nature Journal, primarily with a "Citizen Science" theme. The programme is broadcast by Radio Today 1485. The radio signal has a small footprint in Gateng, a larger footprint on DStv audio channel 869, and a global footprint by going to


2013-12-24 Les Underhill 

ADU end of year greeting


2013-12-07 Les Underhill 
How to submit records to the Virtual Museums (2) 

Slideshow for uploads to Virtual Museum

This slideshow gives the details on how to do submissions to the Virtual Museums.


2013-11-22 Les Underhill 
These Four Degrees are on the cusp of a lot of milestones 

Four degrees green with numbers Magnificent effort Team SABAP2. On the ADU's Facebook page it says: "The citizen scientists who participate in the second bird atlas project, SABAP2, are especially encouraged to visit all 576 pentads in this area annually. It is the four one-degree grid cells centred on Gauteng in which about 30% of South Africa's population lives. There is huge pressure for development, and therefore huge pressure on biodiversity.

"Today, the 2013 project stands at the cusp of a lot of milestones. Perhaps all of them will be surpassed this weekend!

"88.9% of pentads have at least one visit. Six more will get us to beyond 90% coverage, and mean that the percentage not yet visited is below 10%.

"49.5% of pentads have two or more checklists. Three checklists from pentads with only one list will mean that more than half the pentads have at least two visits.

"32.8% of pentads have three or more checklists. Getting a third checklists for three pentads which currently have two checklists will mean that more than one third of pentads have three or more checklists.

"24.7% of pentads have four or more checklists, and are GREEN or darker colours on the this map. Only two pentads with three lists need a fourth checklist to get this figure to 25%. That is an astonishing achievement. Four or more checklists for a quarter of this area in 2013 alone."

The digits inside the pentads on this map are the numbers of checklists for the pentad this year so far. Once the number of checklists gets into double figures, this is represented by a *. The map shows the Four Degrees region, plus two rows of pentads around the edges – it would be nice to get lots of these visited too this year, especially along the southern edge!


2013-11-09 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
How to submit records to the Virtual Museums 

How to submit records to any of the Virtual Museums of the Animal Demography Unit.

Step 1: Register (or check if you are registered) as an ADU observer at – fill in your email address in the white block on right hand side. One registration works for ALL ADU projects.

Upload screenStep 2: Once you are registered, you can login to the Virtual Museums website at, click on the "LOGIN" tab on the left-hand side of your screen and login with your email (the email you registered with) and password. The left-hand side menus grows longer once you have logged in!

Step 3: On the left-hand side of your screen click on "Data Upload", a form appears. It is a two page form. The first page collects the information, and the second page uploads the photos.

Step 4: Fill in the form. All areas marked with * are required fields: Year, Month, Day, Country, Closest Town, Locality, Latitude, Longitude, and the Source of your GPS coordinates. The "Gazetteer" at Part 3 can be used for localities from which you submit records from regularly; ignore it for now. If you do not have the GPS coordinates you can use the Google Map provided and pinpoint the area where you took the photo (i.e. find the general area, zoom in repeatedly, and click to place a marker on the map, trying to be as accurate as possible). If you use the Google Map, the operation of clicking automatically provides the coordinates. After completing the form click on "Save" at the bottom to save this information, and to move onto the second form.

Step 5: Select the project to which you want to submit your photo. Upload your photos (JPEG images no larger than about 1 MB) and click on "Submit" at the very bottom of the form! After your photo(s) have finished uploading to the database, you will receive a confirmation of the submission. You can load up to three photos per record. The form makes provision for three photos at the site described on the first form. (Usually, there is one record per site, so you skip over the provision for records two and three right down to the bottom of the form, and submit it.) Once the record is submitted, confirmation of its arrival is provided by the appearance of a thumbnail version of your photo, and the basic details of your record.

Well done! You've successfully submitted your first record to the Virtual Museum. You are now a qualified citizen scientist and an ambassador for biodiversity! The drill is the same for all the Virtual Museums of the Animal Demography Unit.


2013-11-09 Les Underhill 
SABAP1 vs SABAP2: the Rock Dove aka Feral Pigeon  

SABAP1 vs SABAP2 range change map for Rock Dove

Richard Brooke wrote in the text for the first bird atlas (when Rock Doves were still called Feral Pigeons): "Feral Pigeons are derived from escaped domestic stock first brought from the Netherlands to South Africa in 1652. When escaped birds first become feral is unknown." In 1997, Richard could write: "They are birds of central urban and industrial areas, including harbours." Nowadays, they also are prevalent in the suburbs, and are increasingly becoming common in agricultural areas. For example, they have largely replaced the Speckled Pigeons on most of the dairy farms in the Swartland. The generally upwards and outwards pattern for the Rock Dove is nicely shown on the SABAP1 vs SABAP2 range change map – the predominant colours are GREEN (upwards, higher reporting rate) and BLUE (outwards, new range).

Rock Dove on the tableFeral birds usually breed on the ledges of buildings. Richard noted: “In a few places they have returned to nesting on cliffs, the ancestral site.” If you see Rock Doves breeding anywhere other than on buildings, please write it up as a short note for the ejournal Ornithological Observations. There are only six pictures of Rock Doves in the BirdPix Virtual Museum. One of them, taken in the food plaza at UCT is shown here! It is Record 4108 in the BirdPix Virtual Museum. We would like to see photos not only of the "wild type" Rock Dove, with the irridescent green and purple neck and generally grey underparts, but also of the black, brown and white hybrids, which have clearly derived from birds which more recently became feral. Upload the records to the Virtual Museum at Help with uploading records is provided here.

The Rock Dove is native to Mediterranean Sea region and eastward to India. There are introductions to all continents, except Antartica.

Richard's final observation, in his atlas text, dealt with the health of urban populations of Rock Doves: "While there is no interest in the conservation of the Feral Pigeon, it is noticeable that in urban flocks there are many deformed and sickly birds. This is probably due to urban scavenging not always producing a nutritionally balanced diet, or to the effects of pollution."


2013-11-06 Dieter Oschadleus 
Development of Southern Masked Weaver chick 

On 2 Oct 2009 I ringed 2 Southern Masked Weaver nestlings in a colony of bamboos in Elfindale, Cape Town (same colony photographed in different years, see here). The older chick, ring BE58110, has been recaptured 3 times during normal mist-netting. In its first year, the bird had partial breeding plumage. From its second year it obtains full breeding plumage, as shown in its fourth year below. Read more about the ringing of the weaver chicks here and about earlier results here.


phown 306


2013-11-02 Les Underhill 
Five million records in the SABAP2 database 

Five million records

We got to five million records with nine hours of October to spare. Brilliant work, Atlaser Henk Nel, who submitted the five millionth SABAP2 record. And awesome work, every member of Team SABAP2 who submitted the 4999999 records that were essential to getting the 5000000th.

The background colour on the SABAP2 website has been changed to purple to celebrate.


2013-11-02 Les Underhill 
SABAP2 strides ahead in October 

Hadeda striding across the road

This report covers SABAP2's October. A total of 1722 checklists was submitted during the month, a big step up on the 1412 checklists which were submitted during September. 109349 records were added to the database, compared with 67854 in September. 64 pentads got their first checklist, way below the exceptional September total of 175, the result of the Kuruman Atlas Bash! My target is for an average of 50 checklists per day, or 1550 for 31-day month like October. So my target was exceeded by 11%, and that is amazing. In September we reached 94% of target. Like this Hadeda striding across the road, SABAP2 strode ahead in October.

A massive project milestone was reached on the last day of October: five million full protocol records. Together with the incidental records and the records from SABAP1, the ADU bird database totals 12.7 million records, one of the largest in the world. The massive database enables really quite fine detail to be analysed and appraised. It is a huge and living and growing monument to all the citizen scientists who have participated in the two projects.

The 4DY (Four Degrees Yellow) challenge has two aims: to get every one of the 576 pentads in the four degree cells centred on Gauteng visited at least once this year, so that the whole area is YELLOW or darker on the coverage map; to get an average of six lists per pentad, 3456 checklists (=6×576) in total for the year. At the end of October, 86% of the pentads had been visited bring the total to 494 out of 576, with 27 added during the month. The total number of checklists during October was 341 (a shade ahead of the 338 in September). The total number of checklists ought to have been 2880 at the end of October, and we were on 2777. The backlog is down to 103, compared with 156 a month ago! But that is within reach. 343 checklists in each of November and December will get us to the target.

The SpringMAP project is at the three-quarter mark. During November lots of individual birds are still arriving on migration and numbers are building up. Please continue to make a special effort to atlas your favourite pentads regularly during November. Regular atlasing will help us complete the picture of the overall timing of arrival of the migrants in our region this spring, 2013.

LepeMAP logoSABAP2013 passed the 25% mark during October. The minimum target for the year is 30%. At this stage last year we were 1% ahead of where we are now, and reached 30% on 29 December. But at this stage last year, 485 people had done checklists in the year; this year it is 572. We have more checklists and more records this year than last year too.

The second phase of the butterfly atlas, one of SABAP2’s sister projects, had its elaunch during September. The project is called LepiMAP, and has a Facebook page. LepiMAP covers both butterflies and moths, together known as the Lepidoptera. Records are based on photographs, and we encourage all atlasers to take the cameras into the field with them, and go LepiMAPping. Atlasers can access the upload function in the Virtual Museum website ( using the same email/password combination as they use to logon to the SABAP2 website.

The Virtual Museums had a great month in October. 3229 records were uploaded, across the spectrum of Virtual Museum projects. This is the third best month for the Virtual Museum. Please explore the taxa that are currently covered.


2013-11-01 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
FROG FRIDAY is here! 

FROG FRIDAY is here!! Featuring the Dwarf Grass Frog (Ptychadena taenioscelis) - the Dwarf Grass Frog is a small to medium sized frog with long legs and a pointed snout. The dorsum is brown with darker squarish markings. There are raisedDwarf Grass Frog parallel ridges on the dorsum, and two of the ridges extend between the eyes onto the snout.

The Dwarf Grass Frog is distributed from Angola, northern Namibia (Caprivi), southeastern Zaire and Tanzania, southward through northern Botswana and Zambia to northern Mozambique. Within this range the distribution is reported to be patchy.

This frog has been listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN. You can submit your frog photos to FrogMAP ( and help to contribute valuable distribution data! 

~ Megan Loftie-Eaton


2013-10-30 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday – Tree Wisteria 

Sappi Tree Tuesday Tree Wisteria

Happy Sappi TREE TUESDAY! The Tree Wisteria Bolusanthus speciosus is certainly one of the most spectacular of our indigenous trees when in flower. The drooping, blue-mauve, fragrant, pea-like flowers hang from the branches in bunches, often covering the whole tree. Flowering time is from August to January (spring and early summer). Flowers are followed by papery, brown fruit pods, that hang from the branches in clusters. Animals, including monkeys, gemsbok, giraffe and common duiker eat the pods and leaves of this tree.

The Tree Wisteria is widespread in wooded grasslands in southern Africa, from Angola and Zambia south to KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa.

Reference: SCHMIDT, E., LOTTER, M. & McCLELAND, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Redhotmoondog Communications & Jacana, Johannesburg.


2013-10-22 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Northern Masked Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday

The Northern Masked Weaver Ploceus taeniopterus is a typical 'masked weaver'. The male in breeding plumage is distinguished from other masked weavers by a combination of the brown eye and the black mask that extends as far as the breast. The female has a dark eye and yellow supercilium - the upperparts are browner and the bill is darker than in the female Vitelline Masked Weaver P. vitellinus. The juvenile is similar to the juvenile Lesser Masked Weaver P. intermedius but the former has a grey eye and slightly thicker bill.

Northern Masked Weaver map The Northern Masked Weaver is abundant in Sudan and South Sudan from Khartoum south along the Rahad River and the White Nile. It also occurs in south-west Ethiopia, north-east DRCongo on the Upper Uele River, and western Kenya at Lakes Baringo and Bogoria (see red on map right). The population in Darfur, western Sudan, was separated as a subspecies but specimens fall within the general range of plumage variation of the species, and it is thus treated as monotypic.

The Northern Masked Weaver inhabits tall grassland with acacia trees, along larger rivers and swamps. Outside the breeding season it forages in flocks and forms large roosts in marshes, away from its nesting areas. Its diet is mainly seeds, including those of cultivated sorghum and millet. It also feeds on snail shells, and insects including beetles and cockroaches. Nestlings are initially fed with insects. In parts of Sudan, flocks of thousands of Northern Masked Weavers and Ruppell's Weavers P. galbula cause extensive damage to crops.

Northern Masked Weaver The Northern Masked Weaver is polygynous and colonial. Colonies may be small with less than 10 nests, or large with more than 30 nests. The nest is oval, with the entrance below and no tunnel. The outer shell is woven of strips of grass. A thick inner layer consists of broad grass strips, and a ceiling of grass heads is added. The nest lining, most probably added by the female, is a layer of grass strips with some plant or papyrus down. The nest is supported by vertical stems of reeds, long grass, papyrus stalks, or shrubs.

There are 2-3 eggs in a clutch. The eggs are highly variable and may be green or brown, and plain or spotted with brown and red-brown markings. The female incubates the eggs and feeds the chicks. The last-hatched chick in a clutch often dies of starvation. Intraspecific brood parasitism is common in some populations; in addition to laying her own clutch, the female lays some eggs in the nests of other females.

The Northern Masked Weaver has no PHOWN records (see PHOWN summary) and many are needed to study the variation in colony size in this species. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Madagascar Fody           Full weaver species list


2013-10-08 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today is Sappi Tree Tuesday! And our featured tree is the Forest Fever Tree  

Forest Fever Tree Michelle van der BankAnthocleista grandiflora. The Forest Big-leaf (photo by M. van der Bank) is from the family Gentianaceae (formally classified under Loganiaceae). It is an evergreen tree up to 30 m, with a long stem and rounded crown. The bark is smooth and grey and bears prominent leaf scars on young branches. The leaves are borne at the end of branches, simple, opposite and very large, up to 1500 mm × 450 mm. Leaf pairs are borne with one pair at right angles to the next. The white flowers are borne in branched inflorescences at the tip of the branches turning yellow with age, these are very fragrant. Fuit is oval-shaped and up to 30 mm long.

Elephants browse the leaves and bush pigs, monkeys and birds relish the fruit. It attracts many species of insects and birds when in flower and fruit. Cattle will eat fallen leaves. The tree has a light wood that will not crack when nails are driven in and this has been used for fruit boxes in the past. Extracts of the plant have been used medicinally in the past, notably for malarial treatments but for other ailments, including roundworm and diabetes as well. A scientific basis for these remedies has not been established however.

/>The Forest Big-leaf occurs in riverine forest and along forest margins, often in swampy places. It is sporadic in South Africa but occurring further north to Kenya, occurring along perennial rivers and wet areas in forest in humus rich soils. This is a protected tree in South Africa. It gives a lovely tropical feel to a garden with its large, glossy leaves.

You can help us to protect this wonderful tree by submitting your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at The photo featured here is ViTH record number 87 from Limpopo province.


2013-10-03 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday: visualization of the penguins  

Explore the penguins with PewFor Threat Thursday this week, we invite you to view a great new visualization about penguins on the Pew Charitable Trusts website. It allows you to explore the 18 species currently recognised by the IUCN and then to get a visual representation of the threats each species is facing. The information for the interactive display is based on a new book "Penguins: Natural History and Conservation"

"Penguins serve as marine sentinels because the health of their populations signals changing conditions in the ocean and on land. The 18 penguin species are affected by environmental pressures with varying intensity. Here you can see each species, its population size, and the threats it faces, plus its IUCN ranking, based on factors such as population trajectory, geographic range, and current population size." It's time to go and have a look at visualization.


2013-10-01 Richard Sherley 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released 

IPCC reporetOn Friday 27 September 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on global climate change. The first part of AR5, the Working Group I contribution, was complied by a team of 259 lead authors and over 600 contributing authors from 39 countries. The report, published as Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, provides a comprehensive assessment of the most upto date evidence and science behind the physical science basis of global climate change. According to a press release by BirdLife International, calling for ambitious respone to climate change, the report "states with greater confidence and authority than ever that climate change is happening, and that human influence on climate is clear. The evidence is stronger, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system’s response, and improved climate models".

As may be expected, the report has been met with mixed reactions. According to George Monbiot, Environmental Columnist for the Gaurdian newspaper (UK) "Already, a thousand blogs and columns insist the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new report is a rabid concoction of scare stories whose purpose is to destroy the global economy". But, the report is the concensus output of over 850 expert contributors, recieved input from more than 1000 expert reviewers and 1855 comments from 32 governments. As George Monbiot goes on to note in his article, it is "perhaps the biggest and most rigorous process of peer review conducted in any scientific field, at any point in human history" and "there are no radical departures in this report from the previous assessment, published in 2007". It is just that the evidence is now becoming overwhelming that warming and purterbation in the Earth’s climate system is unequivocal and the signature of human-driven change undeniable.

For global biodiversity, the predictions are dire. Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850-1900 and unless emissions are cut radically there is little chance of staying below 2°C, the upper limit to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system agreed by the United Nations Environment Programme. Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. Wet regions of the earth will recieve more rain, dry regions less. As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, at an ever faster rate.

In the marine environment, global climate change in likely to lead to changes in water temperatures, circulation, sratification, nutrient input, oxygen content and ocean acidification as the oceans absorb carbon dioxide. So far, CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and the ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide. These changes, because of physical intolerance in many species to new environmental conditions, will lead to altered species distributions, reduced structure and diversity in marine communities and changes in species interactions. Many of these impacts are already evident and are set to get worse. For penguins, which are already amongst the most threathened groups of birds in the world, climate change is a big concern. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently recognises 18 species of penguin and "climate change" or "ocean warming" are recognised as current or potential threats to 10 of them on the IUCN Red List.

To find out more about how you can help the call for action, check out the responses of global NGOs like WWF and BirdLife International. The summary (36 pages) of the IPCC AR5 Working Group I contribution can be read here and the full report will be released on Monday.


2013-10-01 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi TREE TUESDAY – Ana Tree  

Ana Tree

Happy Sappi TREE TUESDAY everyone!! Today we are looking at the Ana Tree Faidherbia albida. The Ana Tree (photo by Neot Hakikar) is one of the fastest growing indigenous trees in Africa. It is deciduous and can grow up to 30 m in height. It has branching stems and an erect to roundish crown. The young stems are smooth and greenish grey in colour, whereas the older branches and stems are grey and rather rough in texture. The Ana Tree has straight, whitish thorns, which grow in pairs and are up to 40 mm long. This tree has scented, pale cream-coloured flowers that form an elongated spike. The flowers show from March to September, followed by fruit from September to December.

It is a valuable fodder tree for wildlife and domestic animals. It is mostly browsed by elephants, giraffe, kudu, nyala, and impala. The Ana Tree loses its leaves in summer, thus providing fodder during the winter. The leaves are nutritious, the seeds have high protein content, and the pods are high in starch.

The Ana Tree occurs throughout Africa from Egypt in the north down to KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. It grows in waterlogged soils along rivers, swamps, floodplains and dry river courses. Please submit your Ana Tree photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium at to help us map this wonderful tree’s 21st century distribution.


2013-10-01 Les Underhill 
Tim Neary interviews Kevin Winter about the Peninsula Paddle 

This coming Saturday morning from 08h00 to 09h00 (28 September), you can listen to Tim Neary, hosting "The Sappi Nature Journal in 60 Minutes." Tim's fourth interview in this week's programme is with Kevin Winter, from UCT's Department of Environmental and Geographical Studies, and deeply involved with theFriends of the Liesbeek River. Kevin will discuss the Peninsula Paddle Paddle, and event that highlights the state of the waterways that lead across the Cape Flats. The route for the Peninsula Paddle starts at False Bay and ends in Table Bay, and uses the waterways that run from the estuary of Sandvlei, and finally along the Black and Liesbeek Rivers to the sea.

Peninsula PaddleOther interviews this Saturday are with Dave Everard, Environmental Manager for Sappi, with an introduction to the series “Life in and on a Forest.” Johann Botha from Projek Aardwolf shares the importance of storytelling in the world of nature. Bonne de Bod talks to sharks ... Then it's Kevin Winter's turn and finally John Wesson from WESSA talks about Alien Invaders ... Plants from Space?

The program is broadcast by Radio Today 1485. The radio signal covers the greater Johannesburg area, from Alberton in the south, Midrand in the north, Randfontein in the west and Benoni in the east. It is also on DSTv channel 869. And you can listen anywhere in the world by going to

"The Sappi Nature Journal in 60 Minutes" program is broadcast between 08h00 and 09h00 every Saturday. All the earlier programmes are podcast on the website. So you don't even have listen at the right time, you can also go to the radio website and click on "Podcasts." The programme also has a Facebook page at The Sappi Nature Journal in 60 Minutes.


2013-09-28 Les Underhill 
Listen to Sally Hofmeyr's interview with Tim Neary 

Blue Cranes in the Swartland

Sally Hofmyer was interviewed by Tim Neary on the Sappi Nature Journal in 60 Minutes on Radio Today. If you missed the interview when it was broadcast, you can listen to it through this link.

Sally described some of the results of her research for her PhD at the ADU. Her analysis of trends in abundance of species such as the Blue Crane made use of the data collected by our Citizen Scientists. She also talked about her MSc project and her postdoc, and in general about her experiences of being a postgraduate student.




2013-09-27 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
TGIFF – Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday with the Long-toed Tree Frog 

Long-toed Tree Frog Dominic Rollinson

TGIFF!! Thank Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY!! The Long-toed Tree Frog Leptopelis xenodactylus is found in the southern KwaZulu-Natal highlands, but also marginally in adjacent parts of the Eastern Cape Province. The photo shown here is the only photographic record in the FrogMAP database, submitted by Dominic Rollinson and James Harvey.

This beautiful frog is a large tree frog, reaching 50 mm in snout–vent length. It has a uniformly green dorsum and a creamy white belly. The Long-toed Tree Frog occurs in the Grassland Biome, mainly in high altitude Moist Upland Grassland that receives annual summer rainfall of 650–1000 mm. It also inhabits Short Mistbelt Grassland and North-eastern Mountain Grassland.

If you have any frog/toad photos please submit them to FrogMAP at – you too can be an ambassador for biodiversity!


2013-09-23 Dieter Oschadleus 
Barberspan conference 28 November - 3 December 2013 

The ringers' conference from November 28 to December 3 is approaching fast and we would like to urge everyone to consider joining us at Barberspan for a novel event unlike anything experienced before in South Africa.

Attractions range from talks and practical sessions presented by Kobie Raijmakers on the identification of cisticolas and reedbed warblers to participating in the "Baltic to Barberspan" project, an international effort to track migrants from their breeding grounds in the north to their snowbird summers in South Africa. Ringers, trainees and birders can also attend sessions, workshops and demonstrations on all facets of bird ringing and atlasing.

The conference is organised this year by Safring in partnership with the Bird Migration Station at the University of Gdansk in Poland. The event will combine talks with ringing sessions in the mornings and afternoons. Participants can join groups trapping and ringing waders, ducks and passerines or conduct their own ringing around Barberspan Bird Reserve, a Ramsar site and IBA. Teams will demonstrate techniques from operating walk-in traps to camera trapping and the locating of nests by arrays of audio recorders. Plans are being made to attach loggers to various species and the specialised skills this requires will be demonstrated and discussed. More topics are also being planned.

Ringing will be conducted from the afternoon of Thursday November 28 to Tuesday morning December 3. The formal programme of talks, presentations, workshops and social events is scheduled from Friday until Sunday. Further details and the programme will follow soon. Anyone interested in presenting a talk, presentation or workshop please contact the organisers. Meanwhile please pass on the news about the conference to friends and colleagues.

For more information and registration please go here.


2013-09-18 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday [66]: Sao Tome Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday

The Sao Tome Weaver Ploceus sanctithomae is a distinctive short-tailed weaver, easily separated from other weavers on Sao Tome. It has a black cap, orange-buff underparts, and dark brown upperparts with 2 conspicuous pale wing-bars. The female is similar to the male but duller. The juvenile is duller still, with the underparts mainly white. These weavers are noisy, making it easy to find. This is one of the 'nuthatch' (bark-gleaning) weavers, the others being Brown-capped Weaver, Preuss's Weaver, Yellow-capped Weaver, Bar-winged Weaver, Usambara Weaver and Olive-headed Weaver.

The Sao Tome Weaver is restricted to Sao Tome Island in the Gulf of Guinea, where it is common and locally abundant in forests in the south-west and central east parts of the island (see Google map below). Sao Tome Weaver map

The Sao Tome Weaver inhabits primary and secondary woodland but not the grassy wooded savannas in the north. It lives in pairs and family parties, during and after the breeding season, and forms flocks of at least 20 birds outside the breeding season. Sao Tome Weavers are noisy, singing and often calling.

Its diet is seeds, and also insects (including ants and caterpillars), spiders, and the nectar of Erythrina trees. It forages at all vegetation levels, particularly where mosses and lichens abound, and often near the bases of tree trunks. It climbs vertically up (or sometimes down) mossy tree trunks, inspecting moss, lichen, and holes in bark and rotting branches. It probes vigorously with its bill, lifting up bits of moss. It also hunts for invertebrates amongst leaves, and probes into curled-up dead leaves.

Emerald Cuckoo

The Sao Tome Weaver is monogamous, but two or three pairs may nest in the same tree. The nest is retort-shaped with an entrance tunnel up to 100 mm long, constructed mainly by the male. The nest is suspended from the tips of branches at 5-15 m (mainly 6-7 m) above the ground. The leaves are stripped from the twigs with nests. The nest resembles that of the Dark-backed Weaver or some Malimbes. The nest is made of liana tendrils, resulting in a rough surface and the nests are never green. Nests are lined with lichen, moss and leaf skeletons. One nest had an additional entrance and more observations are needed to see if this is a regular occurrence.

1-2 plain blue-green eggs are laid, but there is no incubation data. Nestlings fed by both male and female. The Sao Tome Weaver is parasitized by the African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus with some 20% of weaver nests containing a cuckoo egg.

The Sao Tome Weaver has no PHOWN records (see PHOWN summary) and many are needed. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


2013-09-17 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday focus on Sterculia africana 

Sappi Tree Tuesday Sterlucia africanaToday is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! The African star-chestnut or Tick tree Sterculia africana is a medium sized tree with a stout trunk. Its bark is smooth silvery-grey, and often mottled with purple-brown, peelings. Its leaves are crowded near the ends of its branches. The African star-chestnut grows in hot, dry areas along the fringes of mopane woodland and rocky outcrops.

Sterculia is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. It was previously placed in the now obsolete Sterculiaceae. Members of the genus are colloquially known as tropical chestnuts. The scientific name is taken from Sterculius of Roman mythology, who was the god of manure; this is in reference to the unpleasant aroma of the flowers of this genus.

Reference: Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T. & Ballings, P. (2013). Flora of Zimbabwe: Species information: Sterculia africana., retrieved 17 September 2013


2013-09-12 Dieter Oschadleus 
DST-NRF Internship Programme 2014/15 

There are 1 year job opportunities for post-grad students to work at a university. The ADU has applied for students, and students will have the opportunity to work on ADU projects. Read more below.

Required Qualifications
Only university graduates with Bachelor’s, Honours, BTech, MTech or Master’s degrees may apply. People holding a National Diploma, DTech and PhD need not apply.

Interns will receive a monthly salary ranging between R5 771.70 and R 7 695.60 per month, depending on the level of qualification.

Who is Eligible to Apply?
Unemployed South African university graduates and postgraduates in the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) Research and Development fields are eligible. Non-South Africans need not apply. Applicants should not be older than 35 years at the time of submission of application. Candidates with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

Successful applicants will be placed in various institutions throughout the country and should thus apply for a position available in the province where they would like to be placed. The NRF does not pay relocation costs to appointed applicants who have to relocate to faraway provinces.

The internship programme is offered for a period of 12 months. Successful applicants will be required to sign an internship contract for the duration of the internship period. [Successful candidates will start their internship on 1 April 2014].

How to Apply?
All applications must be submitted electronically on the NRF Online Submission System here - register and then log in. Please also scan in and attach certified copies of qualifications, academic records and South African Identity Document. Please note that you can only apply for a maximum of 3 disciplines across all provinces.

For technical online enquiries, please contact the Support Desk (Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 16:30) at tel. (012) 481-4202 or e-mail supportdesk [at]
For programme-related queries, please contact Sello Raseruthe, tel. (012) 481-4388 or Monwabisi Mfihlo, tel. (012) 481-4023
Closing date: 11 October 2013
NB: Applications received after the closing date will not be considered. Correspondence will be limited to short-listed candidates only. If no correspondence has been received within 4 months of the closing date, applicants should consider their applications unsuccessful. Successful candidates will start their internship on 1 April 2014.


2013-09-11 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday [65]: Black-necked Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday

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The Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis is similar to the Spectacled Weaver P. ocularis, having a golden head with a narrow black mask through the eye, and a black bib in the male. Birds from Cameroon to Kenya are easily distinguished from the Spectacled Weaver by black upperparts, wings and tail in both sexes; thefemale and juvenile have a diagnostic yellow line between the black crown and mask. Birds in West Africa have green upperparts and differ from Spectacled Weavers in having a green (not yellow) crown, themale has a heavy chestnut wash around the black part, and the female has a yellow line between the crown and mask and a brown eye.

The Black-necked Weaver is found from West to eastern Africa. Three subspecies are recognised (see map left, based on Birds of Africa): P. n. nigricollis, black-backed, in central Africa (see red on map). Black-necked Weaver map
P. n. brachypterus, green-backed, in West Africa, including Bioko Island (see green on map). Birds from Bioko may be an additional race (po) having a longer and heavier bill, but further study is needed.
P. n. melanoxanthus, black-backed, in East Africa (see blue on map). The male resembles the nominate subspecies but the forehead and crown are golden yellow.
birdpix 1412

The Black-necked Weaver inhabits woodland, ranging from savanna to gallery forest, forest clearings and edges, gardens, oil palm, cocoa and coffee plantations, and mangroves, and occasionally in eucalypt plantations. Pairs remain together all year. It is not usually gregarious but small groups may forage together during the dry season, and may roost in groups.

The Black-necked Weaver is mainly insectivorous, feeding on grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, ants, bugs, termite and ant alates. It also feeds on seeds, spiders, berries, fruit and nectar. In one study in Ivory Coast, diet was estimated as 60% arthropods, 20% fruit and 10% seeds. It sometimes joins mixed-species flocks of insectivores around clearings, gleaning the vegetation for insects. It usually feeds within 2 m of the ground, but may feed in the canopy.

phown 5070

The Black-necked Weaver is solitary and monogamous, probably having a permanent pair bond, but polygyny has been recorded. The male defends the immediate vicinity of the nest. There are usually solitary nests or, where several nests are together, only one is occupied. One colony had 30 pairs in oil palm near Libreville, Gabon.

The nest is retort-shaped with the entrance tunnel short or up to 20 cm long but narrower than the tunnel of the Spectacled Weaver. The nest is woven of grass, or in more forested areas, vine stems or tendrils of creepers. It is not tightly woven and often unlined, so that the eggs are visible from outside, but nests are usually well hidden (in contrast to the more exposed nests of Spectacled Weavers). phown 5070 The nest is usually built in the centre of thick trees but in Uganda may be attached to elephant grass. On Bioko nests in coconut palms are built near wasp nests. Two eggs are laid, and they are blue to whitish, with fine red speckles.

The Black-necked Weaver has 1 PHOWN record (see PHOWN summary) and many are needed. Also look out for old nests which may be used for breeding by Dusky-blue Flycatchers Muscicapa comitata and occasionally by Bronze Mannikins Spermestes cucullata. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


2013-09-10 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi TREE TUESDAY, and today we are featuring the Knobbly Creeper 

Sappi Tree Tuesday Knobbly Creeper

Happy Sappi TREE TUESDAY!! Today we are featuring the Knobbly Creeper Combretum mossambicense – Masses of lovely fluffy pink-white flowers are displayed on bare branches in early spring. Fragrant and resembling small powder puffs, they lure a variety of pollinating insects. The deciduous knobbly creeper has long trailing branches and usually easily scrambles into surrounding bush, where its flowers can be seen to advantage. However, it may also form either a shrub or small tree (3– 4 m high, 3 m wide).

Flowers appear from August to November (spring to summer), and are followed by five, or sometimes four, winged fruits that are tinged pink for a while before ripening to brown and papery in summer (October to January). The grey to brownish bark is smooth. The Knobbly Creeper is found in low-lying bushveld and thicket in hot, dry areas, on hills (koppies) and often near rivers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and northwards into the dry, hot parts of tropical Africa.

Reference: Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


2013-09-03 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! The Weeping Sage Buddleja auriculata 

Sappi Tree Tuesday Weeping Sage

Today is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! The Weeping Sage Buddleja auriculata has beautiful glossy foliage: its leaves are deep-green above and silver below. Profuse spikes of tiny, tubular, sweetly-scented cream, orange or lilac flowers appear in July (mid-winter) to September (spring) on the ends of the 'weeping' branches. The fruit is a tiny, creamy brown capsule that splits at the tip (June to September).

The Weeping Sage occurs naturally on mountain slopes, in rocky ravines, and on forest margins, from Eastern Cape to Zimbabwe. The flowers attract many butterflies and other insects, which in turn become food for insectivorous birds like the Southern Boubou and Cape Robin-Chat.

Reference: POOLEY, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust.


2013-08-30 Les Underhill 
Public Lecture Wednesday 18 September "The metamorphosis of the butterfly atlas"  

LepiMAP34343 Vaughan JessnitzThe Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA) project aimed to increase understanding of the diversity and distribution of butterflies in the atlas region (South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland), thereby providing for effective conservation assessment and planning. It was a three-way partnership between the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa and the Animal Demography Unit (UCT). The main outputs were conservation assessments and red listings, as well as distribution maps, for all 794 butterfly species and subspecies in the atlas region. Three taxa are extinct and one in every eight butterflies is threatened with extinction. The SABCA project started as an idea in 2004 (the “egg” stage), and metamorphosed since then to produce the Red List and Atlas which was recently published and launched in May 2013 (the “adult” stage).

Dr Silvia Mecenero : Silvia was the project coordinator for the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA) project. SABCA ran from May 2007 to April 2011. It was a three-way partnership between the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa (LepSoc) and the Animal Demography Unit at UCT. Silvia is currently doing a postdoc through the University of Pretoria and the South African National Biodiversity Institute in Kirstenbosch, with close collaboration with the University of York, UK. Her research involves macroecological approaches towards understanding spatiotemporal patterns in butterfly diversity and distribution in southern Africa, with relevance to biodiversity conservation. Her project is making use of the database compiled during the butterfly atlas project (SABCA).

Date: Wednesday 18th September 2013

Time: 17h00 (Tea will be served from 16h30)

Place: South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) Auditorium, Observatory Road, Observatory

You can also get this information as a pdf. Please forward the information to anyone whom you think might be interested.

The photo is by Vaughan Jessnitz, and is from the ADU Virtual Museum through which a lot of data was uploaded into the butterfly atlas. This project continues. Please upload all photos of butterflies to the Virtual Museum. Full details of the photo are available here.


2013-08-30 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Village Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday


phown 2454 phown 2017

The Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus is one of the most common, widespread weaver species. It is larger than most weavers, with a red eye in both sexes and a heavy black bill. The plumage varies through its wide range (see also subspecies below). The breeding male has the head mainly black (except the crown is yellow in spilonotus); the nape, hind neck and breast below the black throat are chestnut in West Africa and yellow elsewhere. The back is either yellow with a black "V" formed by the scapulars (West Africa to Ethiopia) or spotted. The male Speke's Weaver P. spekei has a pale yellowish eye, and a very different song. The breeding female is yellow below, and whiter on belly; most subspecies have a yellow superciliary stripe. The non-breeding birds are duller than the breeding female.

Village Weaver map

The Village Weaver is widespread in sub-saharan Africa except in the arid south-west and north-east. Five subspecies of the Village Weaver are recognised (see map left, based on Birds of Africa):
P. c. cucullatus in West Africa and most of DRCongo; also on Bioko island (see red on map).
P. c. collaris in south Gabon to west Angola (see green on map). The male has a black mask extending back to the nape, the mantle is flecked black and yellow, a broad chestnut band on the breast around the black bib, and chestnut flecking on the flanks.
P. c. abyssinicus in Sudan to Kenya (see purple on map). The male has a black V-shape on the mantle like the nominate, but differs in having a chestnut crescent on the hindcrown and yellow collar on the nape.
P. c. nigriceps in Somalia to east Angola and north Mozambique (see blue on map). The male has a black head lacking brown on the crown or nape, the mantle is flecked with yellow and black, and golden-yellow underparts with no brown wash.
P. c. spilonotus in southern Mozambique to South Africa (see yellow on map). The male has a yellow forehead and crown, the mantle is flecked black and yellow, and the underparts are plain yellow.
The Village Weaver was introduced in the West Indies (nominate subspecies), on Mauritius and Reunion (spilonotus), and probably introduced on Sao Tome (nigriceps).

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The Village Weaver inhabits bushy savanna, riverine woodland, wetlands, cultivated areas, rural villages, urban and suburban gardens, and villages and clearings in forest. It is frequent associated with human habitation in west and central Africa. It is absent from arid regions, dense forest, and miombo woodland.

Its diet is seeds, including grass seeds and cultivated cereals. It is regarded as a pest in rice-growing areas, and also damages maize, sorghum and durra crops. It also feeds on fruit, nectar, and insects, such as beetles, ants, termites and their alates, grasshoppers, mantids, caterpillars, and bugs. It forages by gleaning vegetation, including tree trunks, and visits feedlots. Experiments with captive birds indicate that it uses colour to discriminate between different seed types, rejecting bitter-flavoured varieties. The Village Weaver is gregarious, being found in large flocks; and in the non-breeding period joins large communal roosts.

The Village Weaver is polygynous, with up to five females simultaneously on the territory of a male, and up to seven during a season. Females may change mates in a season, e.g. one ringed female was successively mated to three different males. It is highly colonial, with more than 200 nests in a single tree and colonies in excess of 1000 nests. The numbers of nests per territory (3-4) is similar in dense and sparse colonies. Larger colonies appear to be more attractive to females, with a higher proportion of females per male. It often breeds in mixed colonies with other weaver species.

phown 4142 When females enter a colony, males hang below their nest entrances while giving nest-invitation calls and flapping their wings to show the yellow underwings. The nest is spherical, sometimes with a very short entrance tunnel. The nest is woven by the male within a day, generally from strips torn from reed or palm leaves. The male often includes a ceiling layer of broad leaves. The female lines an accepted nest with leaves, grass-heads and some feathers. Nests are suspended from drooping branches (usually 6-18 m above the ground), supported at the sides by reeds (1-2 m above the water), or occasionally hanging from telephone lines. Some colonies are placed in heronries or attached to the nests of raptors. A single male may build more than 20 nests in a season, and unused or old nests are regularly destroyed to make space for new nests. Empty nests may be occupied by other animals, including snakes, wasps, mice and bats, and nests may be used for breeding by a wide variety of species including Cut-throat Finches Amadina fasciata.

phown 5627 The eggs are white, pale green or blue, either plain or variably marked with red-brown speckling. Incubation is by the female only, for about 12 days. The chicks are usually fed by the female alone, but males in some parts help. The Village Weaver is regularly parasitized by Diederik Cuckoos Chrysococcyx caprius. Female Village Weavers recognize their own egg pattern, which are constant throughout her life, and discriminate against non-matching eggs. Nest predators include snakes, especially boomslang Dispholidus typus, monkeys and baboons, crows and raptors. The longevity record is 14 years in the wild and 24 years in captivity (see more weaver longevities here.

The Village Weaver has many PHOWN records, covering all subspecies (see PHOWN summary) but many more are needed to study variation in colony size. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Clarke's Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-08-27 Les Underhill 
Sappi Tree Tuesday – Poison Star-apple 

Sappi Tree Tuesday

Sappi TREE TUESDAY is here!! And today we are featuring the Poison Star-Apple Diospyros dichrophylla –The Poison Star-Apple is a shrub or tree, that grows 3 to 13 m in height, It is single or multi-stemmed with branches that grow straight up, forming a dense canopy. The poison star-apple is found in coastal scrub, coastal sandy flats, in open grassland, wooded ravines, on wooded rocky hillsides and along forest margins. This species is confined to a wide coastal belt all the way from Montagu in the west, eastward and northwards through the Eastern Cape and along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. It is one of the most common plants on top of the Lebombo Mountains.

Some specimens of Poison Star-Apple have been collected in Limpopo, but it does not seem to occur further north of the Soutpansberg. This plant can tolerate some frost, and temperatures ranging between 8º and 39º C, but predominantly prefers the more moist areas with a high rainfall of 1 000 mm per year in the summer rainfall areas of South Africa. This plant does well in the Pretoria National Botanical Garden and can tolerate much more drought than indicated from its distribution.

Reference: Thomas, V. & Grant, R. 2004. SAPPI tree spotting. KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. Jacana, Johannesburg.


2013-08-21 Dieter Oschadleus 
"Citizens who advance science" 

What the ADU is all about is described in this article which appeared in the Cape Times on 2 August 2013. We are grateful to the Cape Times for permission to upload the pdf here. It was the newspaper's subeditor who gave the article its awesome title: "Citizens who advance science." The article describes many of the ADU projects; it talks about the PHOWN project and includes this photo of a male Cape Weaver at its nest.

You can download the article here [1.4 Mb].


2013-08-21 Les Underhill 
2000 up on Facebook 

ADU 2000 on Facebook

The "page" for the Animal Demography Unit on Facebook now has 2000 "friends" who have "liked" it.

It is the best place to keep up to date with the goings on in the ADU and beyond. It is where the news breaks first!

You don't need to have a Facebook log-in to see the page, which is at


2013-08-20 Les Underhill 
Sappi Tree Tuesday – Apple-leaf Tree 

Tree Tuesday Apple leaf treeHappy TREE TUESDAY!! The Apple Leaf tree Philenoptera violacea is a protected tree in South Africa. It is a medium to large-sized, deciduous to semi-deciduous tree up to 15 m tall with a wide-spreading, dense and rounded crown. The name Philenoptera is derived from the Greek words philenos (tractable or manageable) and pteros (wing) which conveys the meaning that the wing makes the pod manageable for dispersal. Violacea is derived from the Latin word violaceus (violet) which refers to the violet (blue-red) flowers of the Apple-leaf tree.

The Apple Leaf tree is a frost sensitive and drought resistant species. The tree is frequently attacked by the spittle bug or frog-hopper, which causes exudation of water from stem and branches to such an extent that the ground or area covered by this tree is often wet, allowing it to use the moisture in drought conditions. It occurs at low altitudes, from 50–1250 m, in drier areas, mostly on sandy or alluvial soils. Apple Leaf trees are usually found in bushveld, open wooded grassland, on the banks of seasonal streams/rivers, near water courses and on floodplains.

Reference: Van Wyk, A.E. (Braam) & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


2013-08-09 Les Underhill 
SpringMAP 2013 


The annual SpringMAP project is especially important for SABAP2. It is the only opportunity we will ever have to collect data on the timing of the arrival of migrants this spring. We will compare this year's data with the awesome data we have collected over the past five years. Once upon a time, we lived in a world in which we thought of the timing of migration as a static thing. Once we had done enough fieldwork to establish when the swallows arrived, we did not ever have to do that again. But our world view is different now, and we are aware that nothing can be assumed to be stable. We have already demonstrated that the timing of the arrival of many migrants has changed since SABAP1. With lots of data every spring we can quantify the timing of migration within each year, and compare this between years. We can also begin to understand the regional timing of migration. How long after the Barn Swallows reach Polokwane do they reach Cape Point?

Besides all this useful stuff, spring is a great time to be outdoors. It is warm, but not hot. And to be out at dawn does not mean getting up at five o'clock! So it is a great time of the year for easy birding. Many breeding species are singing conspicuously.

Every list made between now and the end of November contributes to SpringMAP. But the best data of all consists of repeat lists for the same pentad. You can make a fantastic contribution by doing your local pentad as frequently as it is fun for you to do it!


2013-08-09 Les Underhill 
Report on the winter 2013 count, done on Saturday 27 July 

CAR count; photo Duncan Cooke

The winter CAR count was completed on Saturday 27 July. Donella Young writes: "Many thanks to the 800 CAR counters who rose early in the dark to count about 350 CAR routes this last Saturday! I know it was certainly a wet, winter count for some in the Overberg and Humansdorp precincts and there were muddy roads to contend with. In the Swartland the weather was better than predicted and the rain held off most of the time, but two routes were incomplete due to flooding of a bridge and a drift.


"Throughout the rest of the country the weather was dry, but cold and in some areas like the Northeastern and Southern Free State, northeastern Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga it was windy, but fortunately visibility was good. But as Saroné van Niekerk remarked the 'strong wind shook us to make counts difficult!

"It was amazing to see that 10 counts had already been captured by the Saturday evening of the count and by Tuesday evening there were 40 and by the following Friday there are 84! There are five completed precincts and many more Free State counts than usual. From MyBirdPatch and emails or phone calls it is evident that a number of you are capturing your counts for the first time, which is fantastic ? as this makes the tasks of Precinct Organisers or volunteer data capturers so much easier. Thank you very much for all your efforts, please do not hesitate to phone or email if you are struggling – particularly with obtaining a password as this seems to be the most tricky step.

"This was the first count that a few representative raptor species and the three crow species were included in CAR counts nationally, due to concern about raptors declining and crows increasing. I was surprised to see that Peter and Jenny Swift, George Branford and Ian Field who counted EB03 in the Eastern Cape Border area recorded 153 Cape Crows, Saroné van Niekerk and her family counted 130 on EE08 in the northeastern Eastern Cape and Gayle and John Ellison, Aldo and Sharon Berruti saw 123 on KU01 in the Underberg area. Altogether 14 species were recorded on KU01, the highest species total so far. Game birds are counted in KZN which helps increase the totals there! Keith and Michele Moodie, who count OV08 in the Overberg had the most records or lines of data so far, they counted 943 Blue Cranes on their route! Their route regularly has close to or just over a thousand Blue Cranes for the winter count, there are many small dams or wetlands in this area. The highlight for Irmgard Kaiser and Leoné du Preez on FN39 was 5 Wattled Cranes with two Grey Crowned Cranes at a dam. I have just checked the database and this is not only the first time this species has been seen on this route, but it is the biggest group of Wattled Cranes in the Free State since counts began in 1997! Yvonne Bosman has sent a comprehensive report in which she writes about EH06: 'On our last winter count, before wind farm construction and wheat fields appearing, there were 86 bustards and this time only 24 so it just goes to show how the changing landscape has affected this species. Let’s hope that once construction is over that the birds will again make their appearance in this area or at least find another place of refuge.'

"Thank you so much for driving and stopping safely every 2 km! I am most grateful that there have been no accidents on a CAR route while people have been counting in the last sixteen years that I have been coordinating CAR. All the best for all the capturing and checking and huge thanks to all the Precinct Organisers for all their help with ensuring a successful count. You all form a wonderful team, I will let you know when the interim website report is up."

Sadly, this is the last count for which Donella will be coordinator of CAR. I know that you will all join me in wishing her well into the future. Donella has made the most amazing contribution to this project over many years. We all need to do our bit to keep the project running as smoothly as we can into the future.


2013-07-31 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Cinnamon Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday



phown 3054 phown 3054

The Cinnamon Weaver Ploceus badius occurs in Sudan and South Sudan. The male in breeding plumage has a black head and chestnut body, closely resembling the Chestnut Weaver P. rubiginosus. The Cinnamon Weaver is distinguished from the Chestnut by yellow wing edges (rather than pale) and yellow vent (rather than brown). Also their ranges are mostly separate. Female and non-breeding male Cinnamon Weavers are sparrowy, streaked above, and with olive-green heads and yellow eye-stripes. Cinnamon Weaver map

The Cinnamon Weaver is found in Sudan and South Sudan, especially along the Nile River and its tributaries, as far north as 16° N, and south to the Uganda border (see red on map left, based on Birds of Africa). It is common to locally abundant. It occurs in some protected areas but is apparently hunted in Bandingilo National Park. No subspecies are currently recognised.

The Cinnamon Weaver inhabits tall grassland near rivers, with some bush and scattered trees. Its diet includes seeds. It is gregarious, occurring in small flocks in the non-breeding season. It roosts communally in tall trees.

phown 3054

The Cinnamon Weaver is colonial and may be monogamous. Colonies may be large or small. The male displays from the nest or nearby vegetation. The nest is roughly globular, with an entrance at one side. It is closely woven from grass blades and strips torn from sorghum leaves. The nest is placed 1.5-2 m above the ground or water. It is supported by vertical stems, in tall grass in flooded areas, or suspended on twigs in trees.

The clutch is 2-3 eggs, which are lightly or heavily spotted. Very little is known about this species and its breeding habits, and a few more PHOWN records will provide much more knowledge about the nesting sites and colony sizes of this species.

The Cinnamon Weaver has one PHOWN record, a colony of 8 nests, being the first time a colony size has been recorded for this species (see PHOWN summary). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Black-winged Bishop           Full weaver species list


2013-07-23 Les Underhill 
Bring the trumpets out of the cupboard! Sound the fanfare 

Trumpet - Wikimedia Commons

Fanfare sound! Well done, Team SABAP2. 90000 checklists in the database.

Ninety thousand is a huge number. Let us set our sights even higher, and work towards a six-digit number!

Photo: Roy Benson, Wikimedia Commons


2013-07-19 Dieter Oschadleus 
PHOWNing on elephant back 

This is the first time anyone has submitted PHOWN records while elephant riding!


phown 6399

Leah Werner is an intern at the ADU. Leah has degrees in B.S. Environmental Science and Policy and B.A. Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland. She is in Cape Town from 7 June to 12 August to study the how many nests an individual male Cape Weaver owns in colonies of different sizes.

Last week Leah had the opportunity to visit Victoria Falls for a few days with her mother. While on an elephant ride, Leah was able to take photos of several White-browed Sparrow-Weaver colonies!

See Leah's PHOWN records here.

PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests, is a Virtual Museum (, citizen science project of the Animal Demography Unit, to collect and monitor breeding distributions and colony sizes of weaver birds globally. To take part, register and upload records at


2013-07-05 Dieter Oschadleus 
Virtual Museum records 
The ADU Virtual Museums started with the Frog Atlas in 1996, followed by the Reptile Atlas in May 2005 and SABCA (Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment) in May 2007. During these early years records (photos and the associated information) were emailed to the ADU by participants. In July 2010 Rene Navarro set up an online data submission process and PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) and MammalMAP came into being at this time. There are now 11 Virtual Museums running and more to come in the future.

The top ten contributors are as follows (these stats are based on online records, ie since July 2010):

    Records Participant
  • 7564 Willis, C.K.
  • 3135 Boland Project, Cape Leopard Trust
  • 2953 Cronje, Pieter
  • 2415 Sharp, IC
  • 2320 Manson, A.
  • 1580 Grundlingh, Felicity
  • 1520 Oschadleus, HD
  • 1520 Kennedy, David
  • 1417 Wilkinson, J H
  • 1282 Bode, J

The upload system is the same for all the Virtual Museums, so if you have taken part in one project, it is very easy to submit photos to any of the others! The contributors who have submitted records to the most Virtual Museums are:

    VMs Participant
  • 11 Oschadleus, HD
  • 10 Cronje, Pieter - missing Scorpion Map
  • 10 Underhill, L.G - missing Scorpion Map
  • 9 Wilkinson, J H
  • 9 Archer, A.M.
  • 9 Ainsley, J.
  • 9 Loftie-Eaton, M
  • 9 Navarro, R.A

Thanks to ALL participants for your records and keep the cameras rolling!
Submit your records at the Virtual Museum site.


logo logo logo logo

2013-06-27 Doug Harebottle 
Twenty years of CWACing the Bot River Estuary 

The 25th of July1993 marked the first Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC) for the Bot River Estuary, one of the largest estuarine systems in the Western Cape. It was one of the first wetland sites to be counted soon after the CWAC programme was launched in 1992. The 6th of July 2013 will mark the 20th anniversary of these counts which have been coordinated by Mariana Delport of the Tygerberg Bird Club.  Counts and observers have undergone various changes through the years. Says Mariana, "The first count was originally scheduled for 17 July 1993, but due to bad weather conditions it was postponed to 25 July 1993.  Initially we only counted the Bot River Estuary (known locally as the Botriviervlei), but from 1995 we included the nearby Kleinmond Estuary as the two systems are closely linked."

The CWAC pioneers, made up of four teams, included Mariana Delport, Willie D’Hondt, Colin Jones, Jurie and Adele Fourie, Anton Nel, Mossie Smit, John and Debbie Philogene, Margaret McCall, Talitha le Seur, Brian Vanderwalt, Ann Rickets, Libby Kerr, Brenda Anderson and Beverley Patterson. From this group Mariana and Beverly remain as active counters! Additional counters from Kleinmond, Hermanus, Somerset West and Cape Town have given of their time to assist with the counts over the last 20 years. 

Most counts have taken place twice a year (February and July), but from January 2003 until December 2006, all sections were counted to monitor the changes within a full breaching cycle of the estuary. The results were included as a chapter in Doug Harebottle's PhD thesis and which had important conservation outcomes for the estuary's waterbirds. Quarterly counts were then done for another three years. Mariana comments, "This called for some dedication, especially for us driving all the way from Cape Town, sometimes in adverse weather conditions!"

This is an incredible data set and probably one of the longest running series of waterbird counts for a South African estuary. Mariana says, "Looking at the results of the past 20 years, not much has changed since 1993. Numbers of Red-knobbed Coot, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, grebes, flamingos, terns, shorebirds, have varied seasonally as well as based on the breaching regime of the sand bar at Meerensee". But she adds, "...some species, such as Red-knobbed Coot and Great Crested Grebe have seen gradual declines in  numbers and in more recent years we have seen an increase in the number of Blue Crane along the upper reaches of the lagoon, which is great.  Occasionally some rarities make their appearance, like Osprey, Black Harrier, Common Black-headed Gull and African Openbill."


The ADU salutes Mariana, her team and the Tygerberg Bird Club for taking ownership of this important wetland as a CWAC site over the past twenty years. It takes dedication and commitment to sustain monitoring at these levels. Like Stan Madden and the Blesbokspruit wetlands, Mariana has been the stalwart and champion for the Bot estuary CWACs.

We are also extremely grateful to all the citizen scientists who have given up their time, petrol and effort to help with these counts. Ensuring continuity for these counts is vital to understand the long-term dynamics of waterbird populations and everyone's contributions makes a difference; in Mariana's words "Let’s continue for another 20 years!"



2013-06-21 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver species ranked by mean colony size 

phown 3739

PHOWN has been running for nearly 3 years, collecting data on nesting by weavers, and most records include a nest count. Here we look at how average colony size varies by species. Ploceus weavers with more than 10 nest count records were extracted. A summary of colony sizes per species is presented in the table below with the minimium, mean, and maximum nest counts, followed by the sample size.

Chestnut Weavers, Lesser Masked Weavers and Village Weavers have the largest colonies (average of >30 nests). Eastern Golden Weavers and Cape Weavers have medium sized colonies on average (about 20 nests per colony). The Southern Masked Weaver mostly has small single-male colonies of 5-6 nests, but occasionally colonies are larger with several males in the colony. The last 4 weaver species are usually found in pairs that have single nests although a few old nests may be present, giving a slightly higher nest count.

Interestingly, even very colonial species occasionally build single nests, and the maximum colony size can be large for any colonial species.

Species Min Mean Max Records
Chestnut Weaver Ploceus rubiginosus 1 88.7 350 37
Lesser Masked Weaver Ploceus intermedius 2 49.1 200 49
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus 1 37.1 500 748
Eastern Golden Weaver Ploceus subaureus 1 20.7 120 67
Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis 1 20.4 348 833
Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus 1 5.7 91 1489
Baglafecht Weaver Ploceus baglafecht 1 4.7 18 19
Holub's Golden Weaver Ploceus xanthops 1 4 15 21
Spectacled Weaver Ploceus ocularis 1 1.4 5 113
Dark-backed Weaver Ploceus bicolor 1 1 1 39


Many more PHOWN records are needed, even for the above species, but also for all the other weaver species. Several common colonial species have few records with nest counts, or no PHOWN records, so look out for some weaver colonies near you!

Thanks to all the citizen scientists who have submitted PHOWN records already!  


2013-06-11 Doug Harebottle 
Atlas bash to Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape, 8-11 August 2013 


This comes from Garth Shaw, one of our avid Western Cape atlasers...

"Flower season in the Northern Cape is a bucket list thing to do! What better way to enjoy the flowers than to atlas a couple of pentads in flower season! Join the Loeriesfontein bash over the long weekend of 8-11 August and contribute a couple of virgin pentads to the SABAP2 database.

The bash will be based in Loeriesfontein as there are a high number of virgin pentads in the region, and there is a good road network making atlasing possible even in sedan type vehicles. Willing atlasers will also be able to "sleep a night on the road" by joining the group on the Thursday evening, but then "sleeping out" on Friday night either in a neighbouring town, or by camping on farmers ground (obviously with the farmers permission) before joining the group again on the Saturday evening.

Although pentad lists might not be long, the area is potentially host to a number of specials including Namaqua and Cinnamon-breasted Warblers, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Red, Sclater’s and Stark’s Larks, Tractrac Chat, Burchell’s Courser, Ludwig’s Bustard, as well as most of the typical karoo species like Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Karoo Eremomela amongst others.

This might be a good chance for out-of-towners to push their atlasing life list that little bit higher!"

If you are interested in joining the bash, please send an email to Garth at There is also a Facebook events page for this bash - click hereto take a peek.

See you in Loeriesfontein!  



2013-06-10 Doug Harebottle 
Save the date: 20-21 July 2013, SABAP2 workshop, Port Elizabeth 

BirdLife Eastern Cape will be hosting a winter atlasing workshop during the weekend of 20-21 July.

Large parts of the Eastern Cape represent some of the main gap areas for the project so building additional monitoring capacity will be important to try and expand and continue pentad coverage in the region. 

Anyone is welcome to attend the workshop but we would really like to encouarge any new atlasers or anyone wanting to get involved with the project to consider attending. We would particularly like to target birders and/or farmers who live in or close to those areas that have no or very little coverage. If anyone has a birding friend in these areas please pass this information on to them.


Here are the details for the workshop:


Saturday 20 July (workshop), 09:00 - 15:30

Sunday 21st (outing to put theory into practice), 09:00 -13:00

Venue: St Johns Church Hall (cnr 8th Avenue and Church St, Walmer)

Presenter: Doug Harebottle

What to bring: Your own lunch, laptop (to load software), notebook + pen, and binos and fieldguide for the outing.

To book your place please contact Corne Erasmus at or phone him on 084 5158425


2013-05-05 Doug Harebottle 
SABAP2 workshop: Intaka Island, Century City – ths Saturday 11 May, 09h00 – 15h30 

Intaka Island Eco-centreTogether with Intaka Island Eco-Centre, the ADU will be hosting a bird atlasing workshop at this popular Cape Town birding venue on Saturday 11 May. So if you would like to learn more about atlasing, SABAP2 and citizen science, or just brush up on some of your atlasing skills please register for the workshop by confirming your attendance with Dirk Lombard at before Wednesday 8 May.

There is no charge for the workshop and space is limited so book your place as early as possible. Please note that lunch will be for your own account and we recommend bringing a light picnic lunch which can be enjoyed at some of the picnic areas within the reserve many of which overlook the constructed wetlands in the reserve as can be seen in the image on the left.

There will be opportunities to do some birding and/or photography so bring your binos and cameras.


Here is the breakdown of the programme for the day:

  • 08:30 - 09:00  Arrival (Coffee/tea will be available)
  • 09:00 - 10:30  Introduction and atlas protocols
  • 10:30 - 11:00  Tea/coffee break (mugs will be provided but you are welcome to use your own)
  • 11:00 - 12:30  Capturing and submitting data, ORFs and website demonstration
  • 12:30 - 13:30  Lunch break
  • 13:30 - 15:30  Discussion time/Loading software

What to bring?

  • Your laptop/tablet (to load software)
  • Notebook
  • Binoculars, birdbooks, camera etc. 
We look forward to meeting a whole bunch of new people and perhaps seeing a few old faces too!. Any enquiries can be directed to Doug Harebottle.

2013-05-02 Les Underhill 
April, the best month ever for the ADU Virtual Museums 

ReptileMap 8350 --- last record accepted in April The Virtual Museums of the ADU are helping to construct the 21st century distributions for thousands of species. They had a record month in April. A total of 2758 submissions was made in the month.

The photograph of a snake was the last record that was formally accepted into the Virtual Museum during April. It was taken by Vaughan Jessnitz in Limpopo and it is Record 8350 in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. April was also the best month for reptile uploads to the Virtual Museum since the new system was implemented in June 2010. The reptiles in fact provided the impetus to start the initial Virtual Museum, and the first records were submitted on 10 May 2005, eight years ago. In the first years, submissions were made by attaching photos to emails. By 2010, "broadband" had become commonplace, and the mode of submission was transformed to the internet upload system we are using now.

The ReptileMAP Virtual Museum now totals 134909 records. Besides the photographic record, the database contains the specimen record data that goes back to 1834. So we are building onto the database that contains all the museum records. The advantage that this gives ReptileMAP is the abiliy to plot maps through time, and to examine range changes.

Please keep your submissions coming in to all the Virtual Museums. It does not matter if your collective upload power exceeds that of the identification panels for the various project – the important thing is the information is uploaded into the Virtual Museum, and is therefore curated and available. In contrast, the large numbers of photos that are uploaded into the social media such as Facebook are lots of fun, but they are ephemeral, and fade into oblivion within a relatively short space of time.

Uploading to the Virtual Museum is a bit more time consuming than uploading a photo to Facebook, but that is only to be expected. The spatial information is critically important to the Virtual Museum projects, otherwise the distribution maps cannot be made. Put your biodiversity photos to the ADU Virtual Museums, and make your photography count for conservation.


2013-04-24 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Golden Palm Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday


Golden Palm Weaver phown

The Golden Palm Weaver Ploceus bojeri is a common weaver of the coastal palms in East Africa. The black eye is in striking contrast to the orange (male) or yellow (female) head. The adult male has the head uniform orange, shading to a chestnut patch on the lower throat - in the similar male Eastern Golden Weaver P. subaureus the orange face pales onto the ear-coverts and sides of the neck. The Golden Palm Weaver shows no seasonal change in plumage. The subadult male has a yellow head with developing orange on the nape and lower throat - the similar Taveta Golden Weaver P. castaneiceps differs in having a well-defined occipital crescent and rufous upper breast, and their ranges do not overlap. The female Golden Palm Weaver is entirely yellow below (thefemale Eastern Golden has a white belly) and the back is indistinctly streaked (heavily streaked in Taveta Golden Weaver).

Golden Palm Weaver map

No subspecies of the Golden Palm Weaver are recognised (see map right, based on Birds of Africa). There are few records from Ethiopia, near the border with Somalia. In Somalia, it occurs on the Jubba and Shabeele Rivers and in Boni Forest. In Kenya it is found on the coast and inland along the Tana River, with a separate localized inland population. Records from Tanzania are now considered misidentifications and the species has been deleted from the Tanzanian list.

The Golden Palm Weaver inhabits palm savanna on the coast, as well as riverine habitats and it extends into savanna in areas below 1200 m and with more than 500 mm annual rainfall inland. Food consists of seeds and insects. It is gregarious and roosts in flocks when not breeding.

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The Golden Palm Weaver is colonial, and suspected to be polygynous. It may occur in mixed colonies with Eastern Golden Weavers or with Village Weavers P. cucullatus. The male displays while hanging below the nest entrance, with his wings spread vertically, but wings usually move very little; the head may be bowed slowly.

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The nest is spherical with no entrance tube. The male weaves the outer shell of long grass strips or strips from palm fronds and builds a complete inner shell of short grass strips. The female lines accepted nests with leaf fragments and fine grass heads. Nests are usually suspended under palm fronds or over water in thorn trees.

phown 2415

Clutch size is 2. The eggs are green, mottled with grey or reddish markings; sometimes eggs are white, overlaid with fawn. The introduced House Crow Corvus splendens raids colonies for eggs, young and adults in Mombasa.

The Golden Palm Weaver has 4 PHOWN records from Kenya and two of these colonies low nest counts - 1 and 10 nests. Many more PHOWN records are needed for this species (see PHOWN summary), especially to determine range in colony size. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Speke's Weaver           Full weaver species list 

2013-04-17 Dieter Oschadleus 
Gravit8 Weaver Wednesday [44]: Speke's Weaver 

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday


Speke's Weaver phown

The Speke's Weaver Ploceus spekei is a large weaver with a long, heavy bill and pale eye in both sexes. The breeding male (see above) has the black mask extending to the upper breast where it is fringed with chestnut. The similar male Village Weaver P. cucullatus has a red eye. The similar male Heuglin's Weaver P. heuglini is smaller and does not overlap in range. The female Speke's Weaver is dull coloured and lacks the prominent yellow supercilium and bright yellow breast of the female Village Weaver.

Speke's Weaver map

No subspecies of the Speke's Weaver are recognised (see map right, based on Birds of Africa). Speke's Weaver is common in East Africa, occurring in western Ethiopia, north and east Somalia, south-west and central Kenya to north central Tanzania.

Speke's Weaver inhabits bushed country and woodland with available water - nesting colonies may be abandoned if local water supplies run out. It is common in urban and suburban areas in Kenya. It feeds on seeds including those of crops such as maize, and is regarded as a crop pest in some areas. It also feeds on insects, including alate termites, especially when feeding its young. It is generally found in small flocks.

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The Speke's Weaver is polygynous and colonial, but sometimes nests singly. It may breed in large mixed colonies with Lesser Masked Weavers P. intermedius or Chestnut Weavers P. rubiginosus. Of 40 colonies in Nairobi, 60% were near a busy road or occupied building, and 65% were sited in acacia trees (40% were in fever trees Acacia xanthophloea). Some nests have been built in Eucalyptus trees. Usually the entire colony is in a single tree, with 22-205 nests. More than half of the permanent colonies are active twice a year (breeding periods (Mar-May and Oct-Dec). Males arrive at the colony first to start nest construction.

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The nest is a bulky, oval structure, with the entire upper surface attached to the underside of a twig. The entrance is narrow, with a short spout. The nest is roughly woven of grasses, including grass stems, stems with leaves and grass heads attached. There is an interior ceiling of grass heads and some acacia leaves. The chamber floor is lined with different grass heads. Unused or incomplete nests are torn down, to litter the ground below the nesting tree. The male builds a nest in 8-10 days, and a female adds lining once she has accepted a nest and male. One male may have 4-14 nests within a colony.

Breeding success is reduced in nests with fly larvae Passeromyia heterochaeta, and some nests suffer from mites and fleas. Some colonies experience mass desertion, as shown by many dead chicks in colonies. Predators include Augur Buzzard Buteo augur, Yellow-billed Kite Milvus migrans and Gabar Goshawk Melierax gabar.

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The Speke's Weaver has 5 PHOWN records from 3 countries and many more PHOWN records are needed for this species (see PHOWN summary). Newly-built nests, active or old nests may be used for breeding or roosting by a variety of species including Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau Uraeginthus bengalus, Northern Grey-headed Sparrows Passer diffusus, Cut-throat Finches Amadina fasciala, or Superb Starlings Spreo superbus, so keep a look out for such ecological records. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Speckle-fronted Weaver           Full weaver species list 

2013-04-17 Richard Sherley 
Colour Rings on Swift Terns  

A team from the University of Cape Town studying the Southern African population of Swift Terns Thalasseus bergii has recently put engraved color-rings and metal rings on ca. 300 chicks at Robben Island (location in the image below, left) in order to better understand changes in the population numbers of this species. With your help, we will be able to estimate survival, dispersal and movement patterns in this species. Any reports from inside and outside South Africa of color-ringed Swift Terns (dead or alive) are crucial to this program and to the conservation of seabirds.

If you see a tern with a ring and are willing to help, please report the sighting to our team at:

In your report please note:

1) Location of birds as accurately as possible (GPS if possible).

2) Date and time of sighting.

3) Color of the ring.

4) Characters on the ring, e.g. A7 (majority of rings are top-down and all are on the right leg).

5) Age class (immature or adult).

6) Number of metal ring (if found dead).

Ring colors are: - Yellow with black text - White with black text - Green with white text - Blue with white text and the specific codes used can be found here.

Thank you for your help!

The Swift Tern Team


2013-04-16 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday – we are featuring the African Wattle 

Sappi Tree Tuesday African Wattle

Hooray! Today is Sappi TREE TUESDAY!!! And we are featuring the African Wattle Peltophorum africanum tree. Peltophorum africanum is one of South Africa's most wonderful flowering indigenous trees. With its dense, spreading, rounded crown and showy golden yellow flowers the African Wattle is a great tree to plant in dry or windy areas. The spectacular flowers of this hardy tree provide a high yield of pollen and nectar which is perfect for bee keeping. One of the common names for this charming tree, 'Weeping wattle,' refers to the moisture that drips from the branches before the first rains. This is caused by nymphs or small frog hoppers called spittle bugs that suck sap from the trees which they excrete as almost pure water. Butterflies, bees and birds are all attracted to this tree which provides them with food and shelter, especially in urban settings. The bright yellow flowers with crinkled petals appear at the ends of the branches in showy upright sprays from November to February.


2013-04-11 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday – Juanita's Hairtail, a "Critically Endangered" butterfly 

Threat Thursday Juanita's HairtailFor Threat Thursday this week we consider the "Critically Endangered" Juanita's Hairtail Anthene crawshayi juanitae. This butterfly was originally known only from the type locality at Manoutsa Park below the Strydom Tunnel in the Abel Erasmus Pass in Limpopo, where it had not been seen since its discovery – hence its "Critically Endangered" status in the previous Red Data Book for butterflies. During 2011, Mark Williams found it in numbers at Lekgalemeetse Nature Reserve and this locality has since been visited by other lepidoterists confirming that a strong colony exists there. This may ultimately lead to a revision of its "Critically Endangered" status, which has been maintained in the forthcoming Conservation Assessment of Butterflies of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland: Red List and Atlas since it is secure in a nature reserve, and a real possibility exists that other colonies will be found. In November 2012 Reinier Terblanche relocated a male and a female at Manoutsa Park (see picture).

This attractive small hairtail was originally found in riverine vegetation on the banks of the Olifants River in the vegetation type designated as Granite Lowveld in the Savanna Biome, surrounded by Ohrigstad Mountain Bushveld, Limpopo. At this locality two females were captured while sucking fluid from wet mud and a male and three females were found as pupae under a rock in a clearing.

Investigations by Andre Coetzer during February 2013 have revealed that this butterfly breeds on Acacia polycantha and a number of larvae and pupae were photographed in the wild and reared in captivity (see pictures).

What are the threats and conservation actions needed for this species? The habitat at the Manoutsa Park holiday resort appears to have been modified, and is occasionally subjected to severe flooding. Manoutsa Park is not protected but it should receive priority as a butterfly conservation area. The Lekgalameetse locality is in a nature reserve and is thus more secure. Renier Terblance is the LepSoc COREL "custodian" for this species.

Note that you only have until Monday to order the Conservation Assessment of Butterflies of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland: Red List and Atlas.


2013-04-10 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Speckle-fronted Weaver  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday


The Speckle-fronted Weaver Sporopipes frontalis is one of the smallest weavers. It is finch-like, with a short stubby bill. The head pattern is distinctive (see right) - the black feathers on the crown are tipped white, giving a speckled effect, which gives rise to its name. The nape is chestnut and there is a black moustachial streak surrounding the broad pale grey face. The sexes are alike. The juvenile is like the adult but paler, especially on the nape, which is tawny rather than chestnut. The Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser superciliosus is much larger and has a chestnut crown and ear-coverts.

Speckle-fronted Weaver map

Two subspecies of the Speckle-fronted Weaver are recognised (see map left, based on Birds of Africa):
S. f. frontalis from Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia across the West African savanna belt to Ethiopia and Eritrea (see red on map).
S. f. emini, South Sudan and Uganda south to Tanzania (see blue on map). The mantle of this subspecies is darker grey than in the nominate.
Projected climate change is thought likely to increase its range in the future.

The Speckle-fronted Weaver inhabits dry bush and open thorn-scrub savanna, and thickets, often around villages. It roosts in groups in old nests throughout the year. When not breeding, it is generally gregarious. Birds allopreen, mainly the head. It moves locally during the rains in Mauritania and is apparently present only during the wet season in the sahel zone of Nigeria. Post-breeding wing moult starts in mid-March, and lasts at least 5-6 months in Nigeria. In occurs in pairs during the breeding season and in flocks of 5-10, sometimes 20, at other times. Its fFood consists of seeds, some small insects (picked up on the ground), and termite alates. It feeds mainly on the ground in open gravelly patches, often alongside waxbills. The Speckle-fronted Weaver moves by hopping.

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The Speckle-fronted Weaver is a monogamous, solitary nester, or it may form small colonies. The nest is a large, untidy ball of dry grass with a long entrance tunnel on the side. The nest is lined with finer material and a few grass seed heads, and rarely with feathers. The nest chamber is formed by trampling material. The nest is sited in Ziziphus shrubs, or in branches of acacia trees, 2-6 m above the ground. Nests may be sited near wasp nests. Clutch size is 2-4 eggs, with generally 2 near its northern limits and 3-4 further south. In one record of nest predation, 4 nests in Kenya were raided by a pair of wood-hoopoes which ate several eggs.

The Speckle-fronted Weaver has 2 PHOWN records - see news about the first PHOWN record. Many more PHOWN records are needed for this species (see PHOWN summary). Active or old nests may be active nest taken over by Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau Uraeginthus bengalusSubmit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Black-chinned Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-04-10 Les Underhill 
Sappi Tree Tuesday this week in April Aliens features the Black Wattle 

Black Wattle Sappi Tree Tuesday

It is "April Aliens" here at the Animal Demography Unit, so we are taking a look at some of the alien/invasive species in South Africa. For Sappi Tree Tuesday this week, we are featuring the Black Wattle tree Acacia mearnsii. Within southern Africa, Black Wattle, an indigenous tree of south-eastern Australia, is perceived differently depending upon country and stakeholder. The species was first introduced to the southern Africa region through South Africa in the 1860s, and systematic plantation establishment began in the early 1900s. The main attraction of this fast-growing alien invasive species was its commercial value within the timber and tannin industry and lack of indigenous forest species within southern Africa for commercial and subsistence use.

During the 1950s it is estimated that wattle plantations in South Africa covered 360 000 ha, these supplied tannins which lead to the development of an extremely competitive tanbark industry particularly in South Africa. However, wattle has the capacity to spread outside of plantation areas, and has established self-reproducing, invasive populations in natural ecosystems, and thus the call for management and control of the species. The negative impacts of the species relates to reducing indigenous biodiversity, reduced water run-off for agriculture, towns and biodiveristy, and the conversion of communally managed grazing areas to bushland – encroaching wattle excludes grasses and herbs. All in all, Black Wattle has a negative impact upon ecosystem goods and services. It is listed by the IUCN as one of the world's 100 Worst Invasive Alien Species.

In South Africa, the government classifies wattle as a category two invader plant, and it may not occur on any land other than a demarcated area or a biological control reserve (CARA Act No 43 of 1983). The estimated cover of Acacia species infestations in South Africa is 719 950 ha, with the greatest threat occurring within the endemic rich Cape Floristic Kingdom (fynbos), savanna and grassland biomes of South Africa.

Reference: Traynor, C.H., Hill, T., Ndela, Z., and Tshabalala, P. (2008). What'll We Do With Wattle? The Dualistic Nature of Acacia mearnsii as Both a Resource and an Alien Invasive Species, Swaziland. Alternation 15(1): 180–205


2013-04-07 Les Underhill 
April Aliens – the Common Myna continues its march across the southern African landscape 

April Aliens - Common Myna range change mapWith 396 BLUE quarter degree grid cells (QDGCs) on the range-change map, the Common Myna has displayed more range expansion than any other species during the gap between the SABAP1 and SABAP2 projects. That is in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland alone. The recent extension of the bird atlas project to Zimbabwe will reveal a scary range expansion to that country.

The best account of the early history of the Common Myna in South Africa is probably in the first bird atlas book, in Adrian Craig's species text. He considered that although it was first introduced to South Africa in Durban in 1888, it was a release by bird dealers in 1900 which was the first to be "successful."

Common Mynas have not only been introduced to South Africa. They has also been introduced to parts of South East Asia, New Zealand, eastern Australia and Madagascar. They are also present in many islands in the Atlantic Ocean (including the Canary Islands, St Helena and Ascension Island), Indian Ocean (including Réunion, Mauritius, Rodriguez north to Lacadive and Maldive Islands and east to Andaman and Nicobar Islands) and Pacific Ocean (including Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Cook Islands, Society Islands and some other French Polynesian islands). There are also more recent accounts of an introduction in France.

The Common Myna features on the IUCN list of the 100 worst invasive species. Their short explanation of why it is one of the worst invaders is here and the longer version is here. They four key impacts of Common Mynas are a consequence of them being communal, often in huge flocks, and being commensal, living in close association with people. (1) They are a public nuisance. They are raucously noisy. Their droppings foul buildings and streets. (2) They are a human health hazard. "Their droppings can spread Psittacosis, Ornithosis, Salmonellosis and arboviruses." "Mynas fearlessly steal food off plates" which is a hygiene risk. They also carry mites associated with human diseases. (3) They damage fruit crops, and especially "grapes, apricots, apples, pears, strawberries, figs and gooseberries." (4) They are known to have significant impacts on threatened bird species in Australia, New Zealand, Saint Helena, French Polynesia, Cook Islands and the Comoro Islands.


2013-04-07 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Snake Sunday! – Black-headed Centipede Eater  

Black-headed Centipede Eater ReptileMAP 3872

Black-headed Centipede Eater ReptileMAP distributionHappy Snake Sunday! The Black-headed Centipede Eater Aparallactus capensis can be identified by its distinctive black head and collar, its small thin body and strictly nocturnal lifestyle. It grows to an average length of 30 cm and a maximum length of 40 cm. The Black-headed Centipede Eater is found throughout the eastern half of South Africa (as well as throughout Lesotho and Swaziland), as shown on the ReptileMAP distribution map. It is also present in southern and central Mozambique, Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana. It favours the following habitats: moist savanna, lowland forest and grassland where it is typically found in termite mounds.

Although venomous, it is not thought to be dangerous to man and due to the small size of its teeth it is unable to pierce the skin when biting.

This photo is Record 3872 in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. This Virtual Museum currently contains 8255 georeferenced photographs of reptiles; together with 126 584 specimen records going back more than a century, it is the most complete electronic database of reptiles records. This is the database that can be used to examine the distributions of species and how they are changing. Every record is a valuable contribution, and helps us build the 21st century distributions of these species. Without up to date information on distributions and how they are changing, it is near-impossible to know which species need conservation interventions, and how to prioritize these.

So please continue to upload your photographs of reptiles to the ADU's ReptileMAP Virtual Museum at

Reference: Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.


2013-04-06 Les Underhill 
April Aliens – if the voracious European Shore Crab reaches the Saldanha Bay-Langebaan Lagoon system, well, dot dot dot 

European Shore Crab Charles Griffiths April Aliens

It is April Aliens month in the Animal Demography Unit. During the course of the month we will put the spotlight on a few of the alien species that are invading South African biodiversity.

The first species we will contemplate is one that most of us are blissfully unaware of. It is the European Shore Crab Carcinus maenas. Charles Griffiths tells us about it: "This crab was introduced from European shores to Table Bay Docks. They were first reported in 1983; now very common in that harbour, where they have largely eliminated mussels and other shellfish. A few small colonies have established in sheltered sites in the vicinity, notably in Hout Bay harbour. But it appears to be incapable of colonising the open, wave-swept shores typical of most of the South African coastline. There is, however, real concern that they will sooner or later make the jump to Saldanha Bay, where there are large areas of suitable habitat and abundant shellfish resources.

"The European Shore Crab is a robust and aggressive crab with strong claws, mottled green or sometimes red on upper side, with semicircular row of white dots across carapace; yellow or orange on underside. The front margin of carapace has three teeth between the eyes and there five prominent triangular teeth along either margin. They are voracious predators, often aggressive when handled and consuming a wide range of prey, especially shellfish such as mussels and clams, but also carrion. They can also be cannibalistic. They reach 100 mm carapace width in size.

"They are not good news. In North America and in other places to which they have been introduced, they are an important pest of shellfisheries. If they do get introduced to the Saldanha Bay-Langebaan Lagoon system, they will pose a severe threat. This is both the centre of the marine aquaculture industry in South Africa and the lagoon is the key feature of the West Coast National Park.

"They can readily be caught in traps, but it would need a huge effort to eliminate the extensive population in Table Bay Docks manually. Biological control using the Castrating Barnacle Saccilina carcini has been proposed, but this method is not yet sufficiently developed to be practical."

Key reference: Hampton S, Griffiths CL 2007. Why Carcinus maenas cannot get a grip on South Africa's wave exposed coastline? African Journal of Marine Science 29: 123–126.


2013-04-04 Les Underhill 
The butterfly to think about on Threat Thursday is the Fraternal Widow 

Threat Thursday Fraternal Widow male Steve Woodhall

Today's species for Threat Thursday is the "Critically Endangered" Fraternal Widow Dingana fraterna. It is only known with certainty from a single locality southwest of the town of Stoffberg in Mpumalanga Province, where it occurs on a few hectares of rocky grassland. Searches over a wide area around Stoffberg have not yet revealed any other localities.

The vegetation type at this locality is classified as Rand Highveld Grassland. The species occurs in grassy patches among Protea species along a steep, convex, rocky ridge on the southeast-facing side of the plateau, between 1 600 and 1 700 m.

The species has only one short emergence, with adult butterflies seen for about 10 days in early October. They start flying around 09h00 in the morning and usually stop flying by 11h00. It has never been seen in substantial numbers – usually fewer than 10 butterflies are seen on any one day. The larval food is an unidentified grass species among which females have been observed dropping their eggs – a normal behaviour for this subfamily. The population was stable since its discovery in 1996, when the site was visited annually for about six years. In recent years ther have been no further records, despite sporadic visits by members of LepSoc.

Threat Thursday Fraternal Widow male Steve WoodhallThe main threat to this species is that the habitat appears to have changed since the early 2000s and this has made the butterfly even scarcer at its type locality. It must have a fairly narrow habitat specificity, and may be dependent on a suitable fire regime and animal grazing activities. Airborne pollutants from mining operations in the vicinity might also have induced changes to the habitat at the site. Expansion of mining activities is also a threat in the future.

Graham Henning is LepSoc's COREL custodian for this species. No conservation management measures can be implemented until the butterfly is found in numbers again. Its similarity to some of its close relatives supports a case for better taxonomic definition. Continued search for more localities is needed. If they can be found intensive research into the ecological requirements of this species may make it possible to understand the reasons for its restricted distribution. Management procedures will then need to be implemented to improve and maintain the habitat in optimal condition.

The photographs are by Stephen Woodhall, and show the upperside and underside of a male Fraternal Widow.


2013-03-31 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
The snake in the spotlight for today's Snake Sunday is the Black File Snake 

Black File Snake ReptileMAP 7397

Happy Snake Sunday! The snake in the spotlight today is the Black File Snake Gonionotophis nyassae. The Black File Snake inhabits savanna, open woodland, grassland, coastal dune forest and gardens. It mainly preys on skinks. It is an is oviparous (egg-laying) snake, with clutch sizes of up to six eggs.

The Black File Snake is found on the east African coastal plain from southern Somalia, south through Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to northern South Africa. The range may also extend through Botswana to central Namibia. It can be found from sea level to a maximum altitude of 1 200 m.

Reference: Branch, W.R. 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.


2013-03-30 Les Underhill 
Today is SCORPION SATURDAY! And we are featuring the very cool Emperor Scorpion ... 

Scorpion Saturday Emperor Scorpion Pandinus imperator

Hooray!!! Today is SCORPION SATURDAY! And we are featuring the very cool Emperor Scorpion Pandinus imperator. The Emperor Scorpion is native to Africa. It is one of the largest scorpions in the world, with adults averaging about 20 cm in length. It has a lifespan of 5–8 years. The Emperor Scorpion is an African rainforest species. It is found in a number of African countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. This species inhabits both tropical forest and open savannas. The emperor scorpion burrows beneath the soil and hides beneath rocks and debris, and also often burrows in termite mounds.

The emperor scorpion has a dark body which ranges from dark blue-green through brown to black. The large pincers are blackish-red and have a granular texture. The front part of the body, or prosoma, is made up of four sections, each with a pair of legs. Behind the fourth pair of legs are comb-like structures known as pectines, which tend to be longer in males than in females. The tail, known as the metasoma, is long and curves back over the body. It ends in the large receptacle containing the venom glands and is tipped with a sharp, curved stinger. Their sting is categorized as mild (similar to a bee sting)

P.S. Remember to submit your scorpion photos to ScorpionMAP at and help us to build up 21st century distribution maps for all of Africa's scorpions!

Reference: Prendini, L. (2004) On the scorpions of Gabon and neighbouring countries, with a reassessment of the synonyms attributed to Babycurus buettneri Karsch and a redescription of Babycurus melanicusKova?ík. California Academy of Sciences Memoir 28: 235–267.

Photo acknowledgement: Mike Baird.


2013-03-28 Les Underhill 
On this Threat Thursday we pay attention to the Black Stork, a species which is not doing well in our region  

Range-change map for Black Stork, SABAP1 vs SABAP2

The bulk of the world's Black Storks breed across central Eurasia, and migrate south, but stay north of the equator. So the population in southern Africa is an isolated breeding population. This species is like the European Bee-eater – a northern migrant, which has an isolated breeding sub-population in the south. There is also a handful of White Storks that breed in South Africa – this little population has never taken off in the way that the Black Storks must have done some hundreds or maybe even a few thousands of years ago.

Sadly, the range-change map comparing SABAP1 with SABAP2 tells the unhappy story of the southern African population of the Black Stork being in a sharp decline. This is evidenced by all the grid cells which RED (disappeared) and ORANGE (decreased) on the map. This is one of the largest shrinkages in range recorded by SABAP2. This is one of the case studies which supports the assertion that SABAP2 is the most important conservation initiative in the region – if it were not for SABAP2, the Black Stork might have disappeared entirely before we became aware of its decline. It was SABAP2 that alerted us to this issue. SABAP2 provides a broad-brush monitoring of all species across the entire region, the fundamental data upon which all conservation interventions are based, and against which they need to be prioritized. Information about ranges of species and how they are changing is one of the imperatives on the list of things we need to know in conservation management decisions.

Black Stork Alan Manson BirdPix VM record 1199In the 2000 Red Data Book for South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, the Black Stork was classified as "Near-threatened." Keith Barnes wrote the species text: "Its montane breeding habitat is not under threat. It is, however, dependent on shallow waterbodies such as estuaries and rivers where it forages for fish, amphibians and a range of aquatic invertebrates. Wetland conversion in the form of degradation of estuaries and highland marshes, the afforestation of catchments which reduces water inflow and the damming of smaller rivers are causes for concern. The species is susceptible to poisoning and is highly prone to disturbance; it tends to avoid contact with people." And then, unfortunately prophetically, he wrote: "The Black Stork may suffer a decline in the near future and, owing to its small population, it requires monitoring." The monitoring was not done, and it has taken SABAP2 to alert us to the reality that this is a species which is now in real trouble.

The latest issue of Promerops, the magazine of the Cape Bird Club, contains an article by Francois van der Merwe in which he describes a nest he found in the Hantam Mountains north of Calvinia in the Northern Cape. The article highlights the sensitivity of this species to disturbance: "Although I tried to observe the parents at the nest, this proved impossible as they were extremely wary and would not come to the nest at all when I was in the area. ... I soon abandoned the idea of making direct observations."

In fact, one of the factors common to many of the species showing range reductions between SABAP1 and SABAP2 is a lack of tolerance to human disturbance.

This picture was taken by Alan Manson in Lesotho, and shows the Black Stork in its natural habitat context; it is Record 1199 in the BirdPix Virtual Museum. Please submit your photographs of birds to this Virtual Museum – they become part of the SABAP2 database.


2013-03-24 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Snake Sunday in National Water Week appropriately focuses on the Brown Water Snake 

Snake Sunday ReptileMAP Brown Water Snake

It's time for another SNAKE SUNDAY!!!! And since it is National Water Week we are featuring a water loving snake – the Brown Water Snake Lycodonomorphus rufulus. The Brown Water Snake is restricted to areas with permanent water and hence occurs primarily in the wetter coastal and eastern parts of South Africa, as shown on the distribution map from the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum.

Snake Sunday ReptileMAP distribution Brown Water SnakeThe Brown Water Snake is a slender snake with a small and indistinct head. The average size of adults is 50 cm (maximum 90 cm). The body is normally an olive brown to dark brown above and a pearly orange to yellowish colour below. The eye has a round pupil. This snake is always associated with water, e.g. streams, vleis and marshes. It is frequently found in the water or under water.

This snake prefers an aquatic diet of frogs, tadpoles and occasionally fish although they are known to take lizards too. It is an expert swimmer and hunts very capably underwater. It will also dive underwater to escape threats and remain under for several minutes. It may even shelter under rocks in flowing streams which may indicate that it is able to extract some oxygen from the water possibly through the skin.

Remember that you can submit your reptile photos to ReptileMAP at and help us to build up 21st century distribution maps for our reptiles. Many of the gaps in this distribution map, and many others, must be "false negatives" – places where this species occurs but from which we do not yet have any records. Please help us fill the gaps.

Reference: Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.


2013-03-22 Les Underhill 
Frog Friday in National Water Week focuses on a very water dependent species, the Cape Ghost Frog 

Cape Ghost Frog

For National Water Week we are featuring a very water dependant frog for FROG FRIDAY – The Cape Ghost Frog Heleophryne purcelli. The Cape Ghost Frog is endemic to certain mountain ranges in the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape, South Africa. Adult females may attain a body length of 56 mm and males 47 mm. It only occurs in undisturbed habitat within the Mountain Fynbos or Afromontane Forest vegetation types and is dependent on clear, fast flowing, perennial mountain streams for breeding. When they are not breeding, ghost frogs utilize damp terrestrial habitat surrounding the streams and have even been found sheltering under rocks several hundred metres away from the nearest watercourse. They are well adapted for climbing in steep, rocky terrain and enter rock crevices and caves. By means of the adhesive pads on their fingers and toes they are able to climb virtually any wet or damp surface, including smooth, vertical rock faces.


2013-03-21 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday in National Water Week : African Marsh Harrier 

African Marsh Harrier - Trevor Hardaker

Although the African Marsh Harrier is regarded as Least Concern globally, within South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland it was classified as "Vulnerable" in 2000. This was mainly a result of the fact that SABAP1 had demonstrated that the range of this species was vastly smaller than depicted in any of the earlier representations in the field guides. These maps showed a distribution which covered almost the entire South Africa.

National Water WeekThe African Marsh Harrier is an eminently appropriate species to choose for Threat Thursday in National Water Week. It is entirely dependent on wetlands, and especially on those which are large and permanent – it both breeds and feeds in wetlands. The nest is usually in a reedbed over water. Foraging activity is mostly focused on wetlands, and its diet consists mainly of mice, frogs and reptiles hunted there.

The biggest threat to this wetland specialist is the gradual, creeping disappearance and degradation of suitable habitat. Drainage of wetlands, pollution of water bodies with agricultural and urban run-off, encroachment of wetlands by alien trees, inappropriate burning patterns in the reedbeds in which they breed, and grazing pressure when cattle utilize wetlands. During the breeding season, African Marsh Harriers are intolerant to human disturbance, and readily abandon breeding attempts.

African Marsh Harrier range change map

The range-change map between SABAP1 and SABAP2 demonstrates that there has been an ongoing shrinkage of the range of this species. Half of the map is RED (the species has disappeared from 244 quarter degree grid cells between projects – that is almost exactly 50% of its SABAP1 range) and ORANGE (there are lower reporting rates for 121 grid cells in SABAP2 than in SABAP1). It is yet another alarming pattern to emerge from SABAP2.

In the Red Data Book of 2000, Callan Cohen, who wrote the species text for this species, made a suggestion: "The African Marsh Harrier could be promoted as a flagship species to encourage protection of wetlands." Threat Thursday today is part of that promotion. The African Marsh Harrier is indeed one of the iconic species of a healthy wetland, and sadly one which we are seeing less frequently.

The photograph of the African Marsh Harrier in flight is by Trevor Hardaker and was taken at Langebaan Lagoon in the West Coast National Park.


2013-03-20 Dieter Oschadleus 
Gravit8 Weaver Wednesday : Southern Red Bishop  

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday Water Week

It is National Water Week in South Africa, so this week a typical wetland weaver is featured. birdpix Southern Red Bishop

The Southern Red Bishop Euplectes orix is a conspicous wetland species in southern and East Africa (see map below, based on Birds of Africa). The breeding male is generally black and red, with a short tail. Females, non-breeding males and young birds are dull coloured and difficult to distinguish from other bishops and widows. Even the brightly coloured males are similar to other bishop males in breeding plumage. The Southern Red Bishop has a black mask and abdomen, with the crown, throat, breast, rump, upper and under tail coverts red.

The Southern Red Bishop was well known to early travellers and writers. For instance, in 1816 George Shaw wrote: "This species is gregarious, and builds its nest in large societies, among the reeds, near the rivers and ponds in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena: the appearance of these birds among the reeds is said to have a most beautiful effect, from the brilliancy of their colours."

Southern Red Bishop map

Several subspecies of the Southern Red Bishop have been proposed in the past, but none are currently recognised since populations are not reliably separable on measurements nor on plumage characters. It has also been introduced to several countries, eg Australia (see here) and St Helena (unsuccessfully). This species has increased in numbers due to the building of dams and irrigation canals, and expansion of seed crops. Numbers are reduced, however, where wetlands are drained.

The Southern Red Bishop feeds mainly on seeds, and also on insects in summer and when feeding young. 24 seed species, mostly small, were recorded in the Free State, South Africa. Chicks are fed on arthropods including dragonflies, beetles, caterpillars and spiders, and eggshell fragments have been found in chick stomachs. It is a significant crop pest in wheat fields in the south-western Cape, South Africa, where up to 70% of the crop may be destroyed in some fields. Birds generally forage in two sessions daily, morning and late afternoon, and gather in day roosts during the middle of the day.

The oldest bird is over 13 years (see here).

The Southern Red Bishop is polygynous, with up to 7 females nesting in a male's territory at any one time, and up to 18 females in a breeding season. It is colonial, with colonies of several hundred nests in reeds; nests are also found in small groups and sometimes a pair nests solitarily. The nest is an oval, with a side entrance under a porch near the top. The nest is tightly woven of thin strips of reed or grass blades, and lined with plant down and grass seed heads. The nest is built by the male and may be completed in a single day, but usually takes 2-3 days. Initially eggs are visible through the weaving, but as the female adds lining during incubation the nest walls become opaque. The average clutch size is 3 eggs, but the mean clutch size is larger in years of heavier rainfall. The female incubates for only 40% during the day, with bouts in the nest of 1-10 minutes and absences of 1-12 minutes.

phown 19 phown 5275 phown 1714

Some nest predators that have been recorded are water monitor, egg-eating snake, rats, slender mongoose, Cattle Egret and White-browed Coucal. Old nests used by Tawny-flanked Prinia Prinia subflava, Zebra Waxbill Sporaeginthus subflavus and other species. Climbing mice Dendromus mesomelas take over old nests of weavers, including the nests of Southern Red Bishops. The Southern Red Bishop is a major host to the Diderick Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius but high rates of brood parasitism are found only at small colonies where all the territory-holders may be absent at the same time (see here).

The Southern Red Bishop has 209 PHOWN records, spread through southern Africa, but many more PHOWN records are needed for this species (see PHOWN summary). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Asian Golden Weaver           Full weaver species list 

2013-03-19 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday for National Water Week spotlights the Red Mangrove 

Sappi Tree Tuesday Mangrove

This week is National Water Week, so for Sappi TREE TUESDAY we are featuring a water-loving tree – the Loop-root Mangrove or Red Mangrove Rhizophora mucronata tree. The Red Mangrove tree is a species of mangrove found on coasts and river banks in the Indo-Pacific region. It is the only mangrove species that occurs along the eastern coast of Africa.

Mangrove ecosystems are highly valuable habitats! Mangroves provide nursery habitat for many wildlife species, including commercial fish and crustaceans, and thus contribute to sustaining the local abundance of fish and shellfish populations. Mangroves maintain coastal water quality by abiotic and biotic retention, removal, and cycling of nutrients, pollutants, and particulate matter from land-based sources, filtering these materials from water before they reach seaward coral reef and seagrass habitats. Mangrove root system's slow water flow facilitates the deposition of sediment. Toxins and nutrients can be bound to sediment particles or within the molecular lattice of clay particles and are removed during sediment deposition. Compared with the expense of constructing a waste water treatment plant, mangroves are commonly selected as receiving areas of effluent. Increasingly, the notion of specifically constructed mangrove wetlands is being adopted and used for treatment of aquaculture and sewage effluents.

The Red Mangrove is a small to medium size evergreen tree growing to a height of about 20–25 m on the banks of rivers. On the fringes of the sea 10–15 m is a more typical height. The tree has a large number of aerial stilt roots buttressing the trunk. The leaves are elliptical and usually about 12 cm long and 6 cm wide. There are corky warts on the pale undersides of the leaves. The flowers develop in axillary clusters on the twigs. Each has a hard cream-coloured calyx with four sepals and four white, hairy petals. The seeds are viviparous (reproduction via embryos, such as buds, that develop from the outset without interruption, as opposed to germinating externally from a seed) and start to develop whilst still attached to the tree. The root begins to elongate and may reach a length of a metre or more.

In South Africa, the Red Mangrove tree occurs on the eastern coast of the country as far south as the Nahoon River in East London, which is the most southern mangrove forest in Africa! It also occurs in south-eastern Egypt, eastern Ethiopia, eastern Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, the Seychelles, Somalia, south-eastern Sudan, and eastern Tanzania.

Reference: Gillikin, David; Verheyden, Anouk (2005). "Rhizophora mucronata Lamk. 1804". A field guide to Kenyan mangroves.


2013-03-18 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
It is National Water Week and we are featuring a wonderful water mammal for MAD MAMMAL MONDAY – the Hippopotamus  

Mad Mammal Monday Hippo Megan Loftie-Eaton MammalMAP3185

It is National Water Week and we are featuring a wonderful water mammal for MAD MAMMAL MONDAY! – the Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius. The hippopotamus, or hippo for short, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" (?πποπ?ταμος), is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae (the other is the Pygmy Hippopotamus). After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest species of land mammal and the heaviest extant artiodactyl. Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, their closest living relatives are the cetaceans (whales, porpoises, etc) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago. The common ancestor of whales and hippos split from other even-toed ungulates around 60 million years ago. The earliest known hippopotamus fossils, belonging to the genus Kenyapotamus in Africa, date to around 16 million years ago.

The hippopotamus is semi-aquatic, inhabiting rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps, where territorial bulls preside over a stretch of river and groups of 5 to 30 females and young. During the day, they remain cool by staying in the water or mud; reproduction and childbirth both occur in water. They emerge at dusk to graze on grass. While hippopotamuses rest near each other in the water, grazing is a solitary activity and hippos are not territorial on land.

Hippos are recognizable by their barrel-shaped torso, enormous mouth and teeth, nearly hairless body, stubby legs and tremendous size. They are the third largest species of land mammal by weight (between 1½ and 3 tonnes); the only heavier species on average are the white and Indian rhinoceroses, typically 1½ to 3½ tonnes, and the elephants, typically weighing 3 to 9 tonnes. The hippopotamus is one of the largest quadrupeds and, despite its stocky shape and short legs, it can easily outrun a human. Hippos have been clocked at 30 km/h over short distances. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and is regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Nevertheless, they are still threatened by habitat loss and poaching for their meat and ivory canine teeth.

You can help us to map this amazing mammal's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details, to the MammalMAP Virtual Museum at The photo featured here is from our MammalMAP Virtual Museum database, where it is Record 3185

Reference: Novak, R. M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.


2013-03-17 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today's Snake Sunday focuses on the Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake 

Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake ReptileMAP 3413. G TomsettToday is SNAKE SUNDAY! ( The species in the spotlight today is the Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake Psammophis subtaeniatus. This photograph, by G. Tomsett, is Record 3413 in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. There are a total of 484 records of this snake in the Virtual Museum, of which 24 are photographic records, and the overwhelming majority of the remainder are specimen records dating back a century or more.

The Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake can be identified by its slender head, large eyes, yellow underside, the stripes down the length of its body and strictly diurnal lifestyle. It grows to an average length of 1 m and a maximum length of 1.4 m.

Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake ReptileMAP distributionThis snake preys on lizards, rodents, birds and frogs. Its favoured habitat is arid savanna where it occurs in Mopane woodland. It is oviparous (egg-laying), and lays between 4 and 10 eggs in summer. Although venomous, the Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake is not dangerous to man. This snake species is found in Namibia, Botswana, Limpopo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – its South African distribution is shown in this map based on the 484 records in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. The photographic records, in the blue circles, confirm the continued existence of this snake in part of its distribution, and are the first records of the species in some grid cells.

Reference: Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.


2013-03-17 Les Underhill 
Have you seen an unCommon Sandpiper recently?  

BirdPix 1209 Louis and Ralda Heyns Common Sandpiper

Tomorrow, 18 March is the start of National Water Week. In the Animal Demography Unit, we will be focusing on species associated with water. Our theme is Water – Conserve – Value – Enjoy.

Range change map Common SandpiperOur first water species is the Common Sandpiper, a species which is recorded in southern Africa wherever there is suitable open water. In the first bird atlas, we wrote of the Common Sandpiper. "It is catholic in its choice of wetland sites during the nonbreeding season, adapting well to artificial wetlands such as farm dams and sewage works. Thus no conservation action is required while the Common Sandpiper is in southern Africa."

But the SABAP1 vs SABAP2 comparison map shows that this species is now the unCommon Sandpiper. This range change map has 504 RED quarter degree grid cells, where the species was recorded during SABAP1, but has not been recorded in SABAP2. There are 342 cells which are ORANGE, with reduced reporting rates now, 5 YELLOW cells with the same reporting rates for both projects, 139 GREEN cells with higher reporting rates, and 67 BLUE cells, where the species has only been recorded in SABAP2. Thus 48% of the this map is RED and an astonishing 80% is either RED or ORANGE. The map on the left shows the actual reporting rates for SABAP1 (on top) and SABAP2 (at the bottom) of each grid cell in a large section of KwaZulu-Natal – this gives an understanding of how large the decreases in reporting rate really are.

Range change map Common Sandpiper, showing reporting rates in KZNIn spite of this massive decline, the species remains classified as "Least Concern." BirdLife International says for the Common Sandpiper: "This species has an extremely large range (26 million km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion, combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation. Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion."

This species breeds across most of Europe, and right across that part of Asia which is north of the Himalayas and south of the tundra. With this massive range, it is not a species which anyone would predict to be getting seriously into trouble.

The original SABAP2 atlas region – South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland lies at the southern end of the nonbreeding range, the farthest distance from the breeding areas. It is precisely here that the problems are likely to become evident first. As the size of the population migrating southwards decreases, all the Common Sandpipers will find "space" at wetlands along the route. There won't be many needing to travel as far as southern Africa in search of enough space to spend the nonbreeding season.

Because of its "catholic" choice of wetland habitat, including artificial sites, the decrease in southern Africa of this attractive waterbird cannot be attributed to problems here. There is no shortage of habitat; there is a shortage of Common Sandpipers.

The photograph illustrating this news item was taken by Loius and Ralda Heyns, and submitted to the BirdPix Virtual Museum. You can have a look at this Record 1209, in its context in this Virtual Museum. Please submit your bird photographs to the BirdPix Virtual Museum. Your SABAP2 logon combination of email address and password gives you access to "Upload" section of the Virtual Museum, at These photos are being used to illustrate the species distribution maps on the SABAP2, where there is an option to "show" the locations of the photographs, and to view them.


2013-03-16 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Time for another SCORPION SATURDAY!! Today we are featuring Opistophthalmus lawrencei 

Scorpion Saturday Opisthophthalmus lawrencei

Time for another SCORPION SATURDAY!! Today we are featuring Opistophthalmus lawrencei. The Opistophthalmus genus contains some of the world’s most beautifully coloured scorpions. They have large robust pincers with a comparatively thin tail. The sting is long and slender. Their distributions are influenced by substrate texture and hardness. Many species have narrow habitat requirements and show a high degree of specialization. They are sit-and-wait predators, preferring to lie in wait at the entrance to their burrows, waiting for prey to wander past. The scorpion then runs out and grabs the prey. Because their venom is mild, they crush and sting their prey when necessary.

They dig their burrow using their mouth parts to excavate the burrow, and use the first two pairs of legs to drag away the loose substrate. Burrow configuration is no indication of scorpion species, but is influenced by factors such as soil hardness, soil texture, submerged obstructions such as rocks and tree roots, and degree of slope. As burrows descend they usually spiral to the left. Active burrows can easily be seen because of newly excavated substrate deposited in a fan shape at the burrow entrance.

scorpionMAP logoThis photo of Opistophthalmus lawrencei was taken by John Wilkinson in Tshipise, Limpopo Province. It is our first record in ScorpionMAP for this species – it is Record 23 in this new Virtual Museum. If you have any scorpion photos then please submit them to ScorpionMAP at and help us build the 21st century distribution maps for this poorly understood taxon.

Reference: Leeming, J. (2003). Scorpions of Southern Africa. Struik Nature Publishers. Cape Town.

If you are interested in scorpions, you might like to join the Facebook group called Scorpions of Southern Africa.


2013-03-15 Les Underhill 
Thank Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY! – Today we are featuring the Cape Sand Frog  

FrogMap 449 TGIFF Trevor Hardaker Cape Sand Frog

TGIFF! Thank Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY! – Today we are featuring the Cape Sand Frog Tomopterna delalandii. The Cape Sand Frog is a medium-sized frog with a robust build and is rather toad-like in appearance and gait. The head is broad and has large bulging eyes with horizontally elliptical pupils. The Cape Sand Frog inhabits flat, low-lying areas and valleys, especially in sandy areas, and its habitat extends from the coastal lowlands inland into the Karoo, in both the winter and summer rainfall regions. It breeds in pans, marshlands, dams and rivers.

Cape Sand Frog FrogMAP distribution mapBreeding takes place from late winter to early summer in the winter rainfall region, and during summer in the rest of its range. Breeding males are known to form large choruses and are very vocal. They call at night, generally from exposed positions in shallow water, and breeding choruses can be heard over a distance of several hundred metres. About two to three thousand eggs are laid singly or in small masses and have an unpleasant odour. These hatch within about three days and develop into sluggish, heavy-bodied benthic tadpoles which attain a length of about 44 mm and take about 25 to 35 days to change into frogs.

This species has a wide distribution in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Its range also extends into the Eastern Cape Province and Northern Cape Province. The distribution map shows the positions of the records in the FrogMAP Virtual Museum. The photo, by Trevor Hardaker, is Record 449 in this Virtual Museum.


2013-03-15 Les Underhill 
With 4000 records, "the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum data-base is really coming of age" 

OdonataMAP2820 John Wilkinson St Lucia Basker

OdonataMAP is the Virtual Museum for dragonflies and damselflies. Read about oding and becoming an oder and about the terrific response to this VM.

For OdonataMAP, the records get sent to Warwick Tarboton in batches. He writes in an email this week: "Attached are the identifications of batch 5; it burned a bit of midnight oil getting through these 1850 records.

"The three big contributors in this latest batch were Chris Willis (567 records), Alan Manson (543 records) and Gerard Diedericks (311 records), and these three are also the overall leading contributors to the data-base as a whole, having submitted 1085, 907 and 484 records respectively. Alan is really putting KwaZulu-Natal's dragonfly fauna on the map by surveying many different areas in the province; Gerard is doing the same in the Mpumalanga lowveld while Chris's massive contributions covers all the provinces but with a particular input from Gauteng. John Wilkinson (302 records) has also been doing a terrific job of documenting dragonflies in the odonate-rich region north of the Soutpansberg.

"With nearly 4000 records now in, and about 88 people having contributed at least one record, the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum data-base is really coming of age. The quality of the photographs being submitted has improved with each batch, making identification more complete and 90% of the latest batch were identifiable to species. There will always be a few groups (especially sprites and skimmers), though, where identification to species from a photograph will not be possible.

This batch included seven species new to the database and the species covered in the South African region (inclusive of Lesotho, Swaziland and southern Mozambique) now stands at 120, which is 75% of the region's odonate fauna. Of particular interest in this batch were the first records for the region of the Amatola Malachite, Kubusi Stream-damsel (both from Felicity Grundhling from E Cape), Slender Bluet (Chris Willis from KZN), Clubbed Hooktail (Alan Manson from KZN and Gerard Diedericks from Kruger Park), Quarre’s Fingertail (Gerard from Kruger Park), Spectacled Skimmer (Alan Manson from three sites in KZN) and the first-ever photographs taken of the elusive St Lucia Basker (John Wilkinson from Lake St Lucia). This is the photo that illustrates this news item. It is Record 2820 in OdonataMAP.

"The species currently topping the table in records are Red-veined Dropwing (187), Broad Scarlet (145), African Bluetail (144), Common Spreadwing (130), Two-striped Skimmer (121), Black-tailed Skimmer (112) and Kersten’s Sprite (107). The distribution maps generated for these will certainly be better than anything previously available."

Help us build these 21st century distribution maps for dragonflies and damselflies by submitting your photographs to the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum at They are not that difficult to take photos of – much easier than butterflies. There will be dragonflies and damselflies still flying for the next few weeks. Have a go. And make your photos count for conservation.


2013-03-14 Les Underhill 
TTT – Thoughtful Threat Thursday focuses on the "Critically Endangered" Paarl Mountain Copper 

Paarl Mountain Copper Threat Thursday Steve Woodhall

The Paarl Mountain Copper Trimenia malagrida paarlensis, as its name suggests, was originally discovered on Paarl Mountain, but is now probably extinct there, owing to severe invasion of alien vegetation and too frequent fires in summer/autumn. It is still known to occur on the Paardeberg about 20 km northwest of Paarl, where there are two small colonies, each currently less than 1 ha in size, and about 1 km apart. It is classified as "Critically Endangered" in the forthcoming Atlas and Red Data Book for Butterflies.

The habitat at both the Paarl Mountain and the Paardeberg sites are islands of the vegetation type "Boland Granite Fynbos" which occur near their summits. It is here that this butterfly occurs (or occurred in the case of Paarl). On the Paardeberg site, the butterfly occurs near rocky outcrops where there is some open ground. At the larger western site this has become rather overgrown.

Adults have been noted from December to March, and the peak is in February and March, a time of the year when the fire hazard is also at its highest. Probably less than 150 adults emerge every season, based on observations over the past decade. Although females were seen on Paarl Mountain laying eggs on an Aspalathus species in the 1950s, the larvae have never been found feeding on any vegetative material. The larvae are probably aphytophagous with an intimate ant association.

The the most severe threat to the Paarl Mountain Copper is invasive alien vegetation, mainly Port Jackson Willow Acacia saligna on the Paardeberg, and a Pinus species and Port Jackson Willow on Paarl Mountain. Inappropriate fire regimes have also proved harmful. At present, the western Paardeberg locality is very overgrown (natural vegetation) and would probably benefit from a local burn. The smaller eastern locality is currently not overgrown. There is a 4×4 trail on the Paardeberg Mountain, but its location does not appear to be impacting negatively on either colony. However, this also has to be further assessed and monitored.

The probably extinct colony on Paarl Mountain was situated in the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve but no conservation management appropriate to the needs of this butterfly was timeously instituted or maintained. The Paardeberg localities are in a nature conservancy (formed by a group of local farmers). The two small habitats currently have no significant invasion of alien vegetation but there is very significant, dense alien vegetation in a ring (containing some very degraded Renosterveld) around the lower portions of the mountain. This will continue to pose an ever-increasing fire risk with the accumulation of combustible material. An appropriate regime of mosaic burning therefore has to be instituted at and around this locality. Detailed autecological and synecological data for the Paarl Mount Copper, as well as ongoing monitoring, are urgently needed. LepSoc has appointed Andrew Morton as its custodian for this species.

You only have two weeks left to order your "butterfly atlas" – order it today, and order it here.

Photo: Male – Steve Woodhall


2013-03-10 Les Underhill 
New paper: Survival of Rockhopper Penguins in times of global climate change 

Southern Rockhopper Penguins Katta Ludynia New Island Falkland Islands

Postdoc Katta Ludynia is co-author of a new paper that deals with the potential impact of climate change on rockhopper penguins. As a component of her postdoctoral research, Katta is a key member of a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Radolfzell, Germany. This team conducts research on New Island, one of the smaller islands of the Falklands Islands. The motivation for this project is described in the Introduction: "On the Falkland Islands, Southern Rockhopper Penguins have been effectively protected since the 1950s and appear to be hardly affected by introduced predators. Nevertheless, the breeding population has declined from an estimated 1.5 million in the 1930s to 319 000 breeding pairs in November 2010. Currently, the conservation status of the southern rockhopper penguin is classified as 'vulnerable’ by the IUCN. Southern rockhopper penguins are good sentinels of change because they are less mobile than flying seabirds and mainly feed on low trophic level prey (e.g. krill, small fish and squid), which makes them more susceptible to changes in local primary productivity. Thus, Southern Rockhopper Penguins appear to be limited in the plasticity of their response to prey scarcity, an important criterion for seabirds as environmental indicators." In other words, the problem of introduced predators being the driving force for changes in population size are not true here, so any changes must be due to things going on in the ocean.

Rockhopper penguins New Island Wikimedia Commons Stan ShebsDehnhard N, Poisbleau M, Demongin L, Ludynia K, Lecoq M, Masello JF, Quillfeldt P 2013. Survival of rockhopper penguins in times of global climate change. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. Currently published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2331.


1. Anthropogenic changes in the marine environment and global climate change have led to population declines in several seabird species worldwide. Rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome and Eudyptes moseleyi) have experienced a dramatic population decline, potentially linked to increasing sea surface temperatres (SST). Among Southern Ocean diving seabirds, rockhopper penguins typically occupy a low trophic level, and might therefore be expected to mirror climate-driven bottom-up changes to the food web sensitively and on a short time scale.

2. Using passive integrated transponders, survival rates of adults in a colony of southern rockhopper penguins (E. chrysocome) on the Falkland Islands were monitored over five consecutive years. Mean annual survival rates were in the range 84 to 96%.

3. These values are high compared with other crested penguin species and reflect the generally good conditions during the study period, when low SST prevailed. However, survival rates were lower in 2010, corresponding to very cold conditions. Curve fits showed a best-fit quadratic relationship between average SST anomaly and survival rates for the present data, aswell as for a data set including two additional years froma different study at Staten Island.

4. Results of this study suggest that rockhopper penguins survive best at SSTs that are lower than the average of the last four decades. In accordance with previously observed rockhopper penguin population declines, the present data suggest that rockhopper penguins are highly sensitive to changes in SST and their effects on the food web, a worrying perspective in times of global climate change. It seems likely that these changes could, in the long term, also affect population trends of other seabird species with similar ecological preferences.

5. The most promising conservation approach should aim at enhancing ecosystem resilience, mainly by reducing industrial fishing and oil exploitation. This would allow the currently over-exploited fish and squid stocks to recover, offering larger food resources to seabirds and other vertebrate species.

The pdf of the paper is available by email.


2013-03-10 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
It's SNAKE SUNDAY! And this week we are featuring the Eastern Bark Snake  

Snake Sunday Eastern Bark Snake ReptileMAP 7982 Nick HartYay yay yay! It's SNAKE SUNDAY! And this week we are featuring the Eastern Bark Snake Hemirhagerrhis nototaenia. The Eastern Bark Snake is a small (30–35 cm in length), slender snake with a flattened head. They often shelter under loose bark in savannah type habitat. Eastern Bark Snakes prey on small lizards, particularly on skinks and day geckos. They are oviparous (egg-laying) snakes, and lay between 2 and 8 eggs in summer.

The Eastern Bark Snake occurs in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia through to Victoria Falls area in Zimbabwe, as well as northern and eastern Limpopo province in South Africa. Go to ReptileMAP at to submit your reptile photos. You can become an ambassador for biodiversity by helping us build the 21st century distribution maps for Africa's reptiles.

Reference: Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.

This picture, by Nick Hart, is Record 7982 in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum.


2013-03-09 Les Underhill 
Soon the Seli 1 will be out of sight below the waves, and it can be out of mind for penguins, because all the oil will be gone 

Seli 1 Wikimedia Commons Warren Rohner

The wreck of the Seli 1 has been an eyesore along the coast of Table Bay near Bloubergstrand since September 2009. Three winters of oil leakage and the accompanying polluted penguins have followed. The Seli 1 was carrying a cargo of 30000 tons of coal and 660 tons of fuel oil and had 60 tons of diesel fuel on board. After its engines failed it was anchored in Table Bay. Strong westerly winds broke the anchorage before dawn on 8 September 2009, and drove the ship aground. The photo was taken soon after it came ashore - it looks nothing like this now. There was a big fire on board in June 2010 during dismantling operations, it has broken up in winter storms, and the most recent oilslick was in August 2012 when hundreds of penguins were oiled.

Weather permitting, next week it will have disappeared. It will still be there, but well below the surface. The aim is to flatten the three dimensional wreck into a two dimensional sheet of metal, but most importantly from the penguin perspective, to get rid of the last of the oil on board.

The City of Cape Town press release says: "A wreck reduction process in respect of the stranded Seli 1 vessel is, subject to favourable weather conditions, set to commence during the week of 11 March 2013. The wreck reduction, planned and undertaken through a multi-agency Task Team, is intended to strategically weaken the wreck structure and, with the help of the ocean forces, collapse it onto the seabed. Remedial and protective measures are being put in place by the Joint Task Team to manage and mitigate the release of any oils or pollutants, and the impact of this on the coastline and marine life. All risks with regards to oil pollution and the sensitive marine environment have been considered. Standby teams to respond to any oil pollution or oiling of seabirds will be in place, and SANCCOB and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town have been engaged as part of the process. The complete collapsing of the wreck in this manner and the release of remaining pollutants under controlled conditions will likely remove all remaining negative impacts of the Seli 1 on our coastline."

The full press release is here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Warren Rohner.


2013-03-09 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today is a very exciting day! It is our first official SCORPION SATURDAY! 

Scorpion Saturday Opistophthalmus capensis Megan Loftie-Eaton.jpg

Today is a very exciting day! It is our first official SCORPION SATURDAY! And we have some GREAT NEWS! The African Scorpion Atlas (ScorpionMAP) was launched this past week! So get out there, photograph those scorpions and get them into the ScorpionMAP database at – where the georeferenced photos help us to build up the 21st century distribution maps of all of Africa's scorpions! We give a big THANK YOU to Rene Navarro for developing ScorpionMAP, and to Gérard Dupre for providing us with the full list of African scorpion species!! Our featured species for today (in the photo) is Opistophthalmus capensis, the Cape Burrowing Scorpion.

The Opistophthalmus genus consists of more than 59 recognized species, endemic to southern Africa, being especially diverse in Namibia and the Northern Cape Province of South Africa (Leeming 2003). These burrowing scorpions, as theor name suggests, construct burrows. Opistophthalmus is an intriguing genus due to the high degree of specializations that some of the members exhibit. Medium to large in size (180 mm) these scorpions have powerful pincers and a relatively thin tail. Their sting is noticeably elongated (Leeming 2003).

Opistophthalmus capensis can grow up to 130 mm in length. They construct burrows under rocks in rugged areas. They are common on the Cape Peninsula. If you have photos of this cool scorpion or any other scorpion then please submit it to ScorpionMAP! By contributing to citizen science projects like the various Virtual Museums of the Animal Demography Unit, you are helping with conservation of biodiversity – you are an ambassador for biodiversity!

Reference: Leeming, J. (2003). Scorpions of Southern Africa. Struik Nature Publishers. Cape Town.


2013-03-08 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Yes, it is Frog Friday, and we are featuring the Strawberry Rain Frog 

Frog Friday Strawberry Rain Frog Trevor Hardaker FrogMAP 520

Yes!! Today is another FROGGY FRIDAY! Our featured species is the Strawberry Rain Frog Breviceps acutirostris. The Strawberry Rain Frog is restricted to the south-western ranges of the Cape Fold Mountains in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The most westerly boundary of its range is the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, the most easterly boundary is the Langeberg Mountains; these ranges also represent the northern limits of the species (Du Preez and Carruthers 2009).

The Strawberry Rain Frog reaches a maximum size of 40 mm. It is a stout frog with short legs and a slightly pointed snout. It is reddish to creamy white in colour with many elevated black granules on its back (Du Preez and Carruthers 2009). The Strawberry Rain Frog's belly is plum-coloured with cream spots and a fine granular texture.

Frog Friday Strawberry Rain Frog FrogMAP distributionThe Strawberry Rain Frog occurs only in areas of high precipitation in uplands and mountains, both in Mountain Fynbos and in Afromontane Forest. Where mountains reach the coast, the species can occur at sea level (Channing 2001). The montane habitat of the Strawberry Rain Frog is generally little disturbed and both the habitat and the species occur within a number of protected areas such as the Marloth Nature Reserve, Boosmansbos Wilderness Area and Grootvadersbosch State Forest (Channing 2001). So the IUCN threat status of this beautiful frog is "Least Concern."

Please go to FrogMAP at and submit your frog/toad photos. You can help us to build 21st century distribution maps for all of South Africa's (and eventually the whole of Africa's) wonderful amphibian creatures!

The photo by Trevor Hardaker is Record 520 in the FrogMAP Virtual Museum. The FrogMAP distribution map shows that this is our only photographic record of this species (blue circle). This range map is based on 45 records, going back to 1973. Only a handful of the records are from the 21st century, underlining the importance of maintaining maps based on current information.


Channing, A. (2001). Amphibians of Central and Southern Africa. Comstock books in herpetology. Ithaca, N.Y. Comstock Pub. Associates.

Du Preez, L., and Carruthers, V. (2009). A Complete Guide to Frogs of Southern Africa. Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Nature Publishers and North-West University.


2013-03-07 Les Underhill 
The bad news Threat Thursday: The "Critically Endangered" Table Mountain Copper is probably extinct 

Colonies of the Table Mountain Copper Trimenia malagrida malagrida were once known from various localities on the Table Mountain Range. The original extent of occurrence was historically less than 100 km2 and the area of occupancy was less than 10 km2. And then over the past few decades severe fragmentation of its habitat occurred, and a population decline took place. The last known colony was on the western side of Lion's Head above Cape Town in an area the size of one or two tennis courts. Between 20 and 50 adults were observed per season in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but no records have been made since the mid-1990s. The taxon is possibly "extinct" but it does not yet have a formal IUCN classification as "Extinct." In the forthcoming butterfly atlas (you must order your copy by the end of month), it is classified as "Critically Endangered." Threat Thursday Table Mountain CopperThis is because searches for the butterfly continue and there is still hope that it may yet be rediscovered. This rather poor quality picture is all we have left of this beautiful butterfly, the Table Mountain Copper.

The habitat in which this butterfly occurred was Peninsula Granite Fynbos, at altitudes of 250–350 m, and included nectaring sources, such as pink-flowered Mesembryanthemum and various Cuscuta species. Larvae and pupae of another subspecies of this butterfly have been recorded in the nests of the Pugnacious Ant, and the larvae of this butterfly may not feed on plants at all. Adults fly from late January to early April and prefer fairly open rocky ground with sparse vegetation, where they exhibit short, jerky flights, settling on the ground, rocks, grasses or low vegetation.

Repeated uncontrolled fires during the main part of the butterfly's late summer flight period during the mid-1990s on the western side of the higher slopes of Lion's Head in Cape Town destroyed this population. A political decision was made to discontinue fire breaks and the controlled burning of fynbos on Table Mountain and elsewhere in the Cape Peninsula, as a result of the threat of legal claims from residents who objected to the smoke and ash which resulted from these burns. The second last known colony of this taxon, near the Apostle Batteries above Llandudno, was destroyed by invasive alien vegetation – groves of trees of a Eucalyptus species. These groves continue to expand, displacing indigenous vegetation and thus inhibiting invertebrate presence, and also pose a major fire hazard.

This butterfly is specifically protected by legislation and the places where it flew are now within the Table Mountain National Park. This protection has not prevented the decline of its populations in the absence of habitat management. Butterfly species such as T. malagrida will be safe in the long term only if management plans are developed through scientific research and then applied diligently.

LepSoc's "Custodian" for this species is John White. He needs lots of good fortune in his pursuit of a persisting colony of this species.


2013-03-07 Les Underhill 
The good news Threat Thursday: The "Critically Endangered" Waterberg Copper, thought to be extinct, rediscovered on 2 March 2013 

Waterberg Copper rediscovered

The "Critically Endangered" Waterberg Copper Erikssonia edgei, last seen in its only known colony in the late 1980s and since thought to be extinct, has been re-discovered within the Bateleur Nature Reserve in the Waterberg by a member of the Lepidopterists Society of Africa (LepSoc). The photo above is of a male in the new locality, and the photo below is a female.

The butterfly was originally discovered on 21 December 1980 by LepSoc member Dr Dave Edge, accompanied by his wife Esmé. It was found in a small area of sparse savannah at the foot of a hill on a farm in the Waterberg near Jan Trichardt's Pass. Some 10 years later the butterfly had disappeared from this locality primarily because of habitat changes induced by altered grazing and fire management practices. Originally thought to be the same as another species only recorded from southern Angola and Zambia, it was described as a distinct species in 2010 following more research on the genus by Alan Gardiner and Reinier Terblanche. It has been Red-Listed as "Critically Endangered" in the soon to be published South African Butterfly Atlas (which you need to order this month).

Waterberg Copper femaleFittingly, the re-discovery of this rare butterfly has been made by Professor Mark Williams, who originally founded the Lepidopterists' Society of Africa (LepSoc) in 1983. The new locality, at Bateleur, is about 25 km northwest of Bela-Bela, and is a fair distance from the original locality. The vegetation of the Bateleur locality differs from the original locality by being purely grassland with no savannah elements. Two new colonies of Erikssonia edgei have been discovered within an area of about 5 ha. Interestingly, the larval host-plant at the Jan Trichardt's Pass locality, Gnidia kraussiana, appears to absent at Bateleur, and females have been observed laying eggs at the base of a different plant species. The host ant at the new locality appears to be the same but this has still to be confirmed.

The butterfly has never been recorded flying as late as March because the previously confirmed flight period was December to early February. This has apparently been a very dry season in the Waterberg, which may have delayed its emergence, but the possibility exists that its flight period could be longer than previously thought.

The two LepSoc custodians of this species in terms of the COREL programme are Jeremy Dobson and Owen Garvie. They will be working on a conservation plan for this new locality, in conjunction with specialist scientists who will conduct detailed research into the butterfly’s life history and ecology.

The manager of Bateleur Nature Reserve, Wouter Schreuders, is excited about the discovery of the butterfly and has said he will assist with any management programme that the lepidopterists develop. In the meantime he has undertaken to maintain his current veld management practices.


2013-03-06 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday – African Flame Tree 

Sappi Tree Tuesday African Flame TreeToday is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! Our featured tree for today is the African Flame Tree Spathodea campanulata. Spathodea is a monotypic genus in the flowering plant family Bignoniaceae. The single species it contains, Spathodea campanulata, is commonly known as the African Flame Tree or African Tulip Tree. This tree grows between 10–25 m tall and is native to the tropical dry forests of Africa. The African Flame Tree is planted extensively as an ornamental tree throughout the tropics and is cherished for its very showy reddish-orange or crimson campanulate (i.e. bell-shaped) flowers. The open, cup-shaped flowers hold rain and dew, making them attractive to many species of birds. The wood of the tree is soft and is used for nesting by many burrowing birds such as barbets.

The African Flame Tree prefers forest edges and occurs in tropical Africa (Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia). ViTH logoOutside of Africa it has become an invasive species in many tropical areas, such as Queensland in Australia and the wet and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka.

Please remember to submit your tree photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at and help us to map the distributions of all the wonderful trees of Africa! (Photo by Bart Wursten from


2013-03-01 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
TGIFF : this weekend we are celebrating Weale's Frog, a South African endemic 

Weale's Frog Trevor Hardaker FrogMAP522TGIFF!! Thank Goodness it's Frog Friday!!! Today we are featuring the Weale's Frog/Rattling Kassina Semnodactylus wealii. The Weale's Frog is a small (males up to 44 mm), South African Kassina-like frog. This frog inhabits the Grassland Biome, but it can also be found in pastures, clearings in forests and grassy corridors between plantations (Channing 2001).

Weale's Frog FrogMAP distributionWeale's Frogs are agile, climbing from one grass stem to the next with the greatest of ease. Like the Bubbling Kassina, Weale's Frog seldom hops or jumps, but rather walks with a few quick paces, pausing intermittently. When threatened, these frogs often sham death by lying on their backs with feet tucked in (Channing 2001). When the danger has passed they quickly turn over and walk away.

Weale's Frog is endemic to South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho and occurs in several provincial nature reserves and national parks throughout its range (Channing 2001). It is not threatened. Please help us to map this frog’s distribution by submitting your photos to FrogMAP at The pohoto above was submitted to FrogMAP by Trevor Hardaker, and you can see it in its Virtual Museum setting as FrogMAP Record 522.

Channing A (2001). Amphibians of Central and Southern Africa. Comstock Books in Herpetology. x, 470 p., [24] p. of plates. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock Pub. Associates.


2013-02-28 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday moves to the KwaZulu-Natal coast, and contemplates another aristocratic sounding species, the "Critically Endangered" Pickersgill's Reed Frog 

Pickersgill's Reed Frog Dominic Rollinson FrogMAP294Threat Thursday moves from the Swartland of the Western Cape to the coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal. It moves from a butterfly to a frog. But it retains the theme of posh-sounding names. Last Thursday, the focus was on Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper, a Critically Endangered butterfly, which now occurs on just two hills near Darling. Today, the spotlight falls on Pickersgill's Reed Frog, also Critically Endangered.

Pickergill's Reed Frog Hyperolius pickersgilli only occurs along a narrow stretch of the KwaZulu-Natal coastal lowlands, from just west of Kingsburgh in the south to St Lucia in the north. It is a secretive species is easily overlooked. In the 2004 frog atlas, there is a paragraph which talks of an area where frogs had been studied intensively for 25 years, at which this species had escaped notice for the bulk of the period. But even though it is under-recorded, it is definitely not common. Dominic Rollinson, James Harvey and Adam Shuttleworth were lucky to find one, and they submitted the photograph to the FrogMAP Virtual Museum where it can be viewed as Record 294.

Pickersgill's Reed Frog FrogMAP distribution mapIt is classified as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN because its "Area of Occupancy" is only 9 km2. This is the total area of the habitat patches in which it is known to occur. These habitat patches are spread out across nine quarter degree grid cells, as shown on the FrogMAP distribution map. As a result these patches of habitat are badly fragmented, so dispersal between breeding sites is now unlikely. And even worse, most of them are not protected. These patches are threatened by a variety of forms of development: urbanization, habitat fragmentation, afforestation, and drainage for agricultural and urban development. Invasive alien vegetation near some of these patches consumes vast volumes of water, resulting in drying out of wetlands. The IUCN notes that "Some breeding sites are being polluted by DDT, which is used for controlling malarial mosquitoes." You can read the full details about the threat status of this frog on the IUCN website.

What can be done to help this species? Phil Bishop, in the 2004 frog atlas wrote: "Management recommendations include habitat management, public education and monitoring programmes. This species often occurs in relatively small, stagnant ponds, which are more likely to be drained by landowners and municipalities than are larger wetlands. The public should be made aware of the importance of preserving these small pockets of breeding habitat."

But there is an exciting new development. A captive-breeding programme has been started at the Pretoria Zoo and the Johannesburg Zoo. 30 frogs have been taken from the wild, and the zoos plan to develop the skills and know how to breed these frogs. You can read the full story here.


2013-02-27 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday : Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver 

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday

adult The Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser donaldsoni is a localised species in East Africa. It overlaps in range with the more widespread White-browed Sparrow-Weaver P. mahali. Both species have a white rump, but the Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver has no obvious white in the wing and has a very different head pattern (scaly crown, no white eyebrow, pale cheeks with black moustachial stripe). It is named after the collector, Arthur Donaldson Smith, an American explorer who collected many birds in East Africa.

No subspecies of the Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver have been proposed. It is a common but very local bird. It is found in southern Ethiopia (eg Mago National Park, but rare in Omo National Park) and in northern Kenya (particularly in the Isiolo district game reserves). In Somalia, it has only been recorded at Afmadow (see map left, based on Birds of Africa).

Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver mapThe Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver is poorly-known. Its call has been recorded - see here. It inhabits dry bushland, open woodland, grassland and rocky areas; and even in barren lava country in north Kenya. It forages on ground, feeding on grass seeds and insects. It occurs in small flocks, which may associate with White-headed Buffalo-Weavers Dinemellia dinemelli.

The Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver is colonial. Its mating system is unknown but it is probably a co-operative breeder. The nest is a mass of grass with a short entrance tube, lined with feathers; it resembles the nests of other sparrow-weavers, but is larger than that of the White-browed Sparrow-weaver. The nest is placed in low thorn trees 1.5–3 m above the ground, or in stunted bushes. A colony of 20 nests in a single bush has been recorded. The eggs are pinkish or greyish, with fine speckles of mauve and reddish-brown, but clutch size has not been recorded.

The Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver has two PHOWN records, both from Kenya. Many more PHOWN records are needed for this species (see PHOWN summary), especially to document colony size. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

phown 3221 phown 3221










PHOWN summary           Previous Weaver Wednesday: Taveta Golden Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-02-26 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Hooray it's Tuesday!!! But it's not just any Tuesday ... it is Sappi TREE TUESDAY 

Pod-mahogany Tree Sappi Tree TuesdayHooray it's Tuesday!!! But it's not just any Tuesday ... it is TREE TUESDAY!! (sponsored by Sappi). Today we are featuring the Pod-mahogany Tree Afzelia quanzensis. The Pod-mahogany is a medium to large sized deciduous tree. The bark is greyish-brown, flaking, with pale patches (Biegel 1977). The leaves are paripinnate (describing a pinnate leaf in which all the leaflets are paired) with 4–6 pairs of leaflets. The leaflets are oblong-elliptic, 3–9 cm long, dark green above and paler below (Biegel 1977). The leaflets have a leathery texture and they have a yellow rim. The Pod-mahogany tree's flowers grow in small clusters; the petals of the flower are pinkish-red with yellow veining. The fruit is a large flattened pod, thickly woody, 10–17 cm long, and it splits to reveal large, shiny black seeds with a bright red aril (Biegel 1977).

The wood of the Pod-mahogany Tree, known as Chamfute, is hard and durable. The tree is threatened by illegal cutting for wood carvings. The Pod-mahogany Tree is widespread. It grows in low altitude woodland and dry forests, usually in deep sand. Its distribution stretches from northern KwaZulu-Natal, through to Limpopo province in South Africa, and other neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe. It is also found in Somalia (Biegel 1977). We only have one photographic record of this beautiful tree in the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH), so if you have a photo of this tree please submit it to ViTH at You can help us to map this tree’s 21st century distribution!!

Reference: Biegel, H.M. 1977. Check-list of ornamental plants used in Rhodesian parks and gardens. Rhodesia Agricultural Journal. Research Report No. 3. Page 19.


2013-02-26 Dieter Oschadleus 
New paper: An R package to estimate the parameters of moult in birds 

Erni B, Bonnevie BT, Oschadleus HD, Altwegg R, Underhill LG. 2013. moult: An R Package to Analyse Moult in Birds. Journal of Statistical Software 52(8): 1-23. You can download the pdf of the paperhere.

Abstract:. Moult is the process by which birds replace their feathers. It is a costly process in terms of energy and reduced flight ability but necessary for the maintenance of the plumage and its functions. Because birds generally avoid to moult while engaged with other energy demanding activities such as breeding and migration, the analysis of moult data gives insight into how birds fit this life stage into the annual cycle, on time constraints in the annual cycle, and on the effects of environmental variables on the timing of moult. The analysis of moult data requires non-standard statistical techniques. More than 20 years ago Underhill and Zucchini developed a likelihood approach for estimating duration, mean, start date and variation in start date of a population of moulting birds. However, use of these models has been limited, mainly due to the lack of user-friendly software. start of moult by yearThe moult package for R implements the Underhill-Zucchini models, allowing the user to specify moult models in a regression type formula. In addition the functions allow the moult parameters (duration, and mean and variation in start date) to depend on explanatory variables. We here describe the package, give a brief summary of the theory and illustrate the models on two datasets included in the package.

The introduction to moult analysis is followed by two examples, the first on sanderling moult and the second on moult of Southern Masked Weavers Ploceus velatus. The weaver data contains observations of adult birds for 1988 to 2005, from the Western Cape, South Africa.

The estimated starting date of primary moult varied by year, as shown in the graph. It turned out that the starting date of moult depended on the amount of September rainfall (mm) which can be taken as a measure of breeding suitability, predicting a later start of moult in years with more September rain.


2013-02-25 Tali Hoffman 
A Mad Mammal Monkey for Mad Mammal Monday! 

MandrillThis spectacularly coloured monkey is the focus of this Mad Mammal Monday. Mandrills Mandrillus sphinx are the largest – and probably most conspicuous – of all monkeys. Male mandrills are far more colourful than females, and they use this colour as an advert of their virility as they try to win over the ladies. These social primates live in large, noisy troops headed up by a dominant male ('drill sergeant') who reigns over the lower ranking individuals. They are known to occur only in West Africa in Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo.

Mandrill populations are buckling under the strain of habitat loss as their natural forests give way to crops and villages. They are also targeted as bushmeat and consequently under IUCN species classifications they are considered 'Vulnerable.'

Hearing this news might make you despair – both at the state of the wilderness and its wildlife, and at the difficulty of the challenge of reversing the negative effects that humans have wrought.

MandrillHere at MammalMAP we do not intend for you to despair! In fact, what we hope to provide, more than anything else, is a platform where every one of you can make a positive, valuable and achievable contribution to wildlife conservation. May Mandrills serve as a colourful reminder that every wildlife photograph you submit to MammalMAP can help to ensure that mandrills – and their furry and furless wild mammal relatives – will be given a chance to survive beyond this human generation and the next and the next ...

So please take heart from this conservation platform, and use it for the good of wildlife everywhere. Please spread our message by sharing this post, and inviting your friends to join in the fun of MammalMAPPING. Upload your mammal photographs to the MammalMAP Virtual Museum at

PS. For some more information about Mandrills look here.


2013-02-24 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Snake Sunday features the Brown House Snake 

Brown House Snake ReptileMAP 28 Bryan Maritz

It's the start of the new week, and that means that it is Snake Sunday! And we are featuring the Brown House Snake Boaedon capensis. The Brown House Snake can be identified by its uniform brown colour and two light coloured stripes which extend down the length of the head. Like all house snakes, Boaedon capensis is very iridescent, their scales often shining with an oily sheen in certain lights. Brown House Snakes are known for their preference for habitats close to human dwellings.

Brown House Snake ReptileMAP distributionThese snakes are oviparous (egg-laying), they lay between 8 and 18 eggs in summer and sometimes they lay more than one batch per season. Brown House Snakes prey mostly on rodents (rats/mice), birds, bats, and lizards (particularly skinks). They are non-venomous and not dangerous, but they will bite if threatened.

The distribution map, taken from ReptileMAP, shows that Brown House Snakes are found pretty well throughout South Africa. They are found in all habitats and they are particularly common in residential areas. But there are gaps in the map where they must occur, and there are orange grid cells for which the records are up to a century old. If you have photos of this beautiful snake then head on over to ReptileMAP at and please submit your photos. Help us build the 2st century distribution map for this species, and do this for all other reptiles too. The photo that illustrates today's Snake Sunday was taken by Bryan Maritz, and it is Record 218 in ReptileMAP.


2013-02-23 Les Underhill 
Southern Bald Ibises building nests on artificial structures 

Bald Ibis nests on Westoe DamThere is a brand new paper in Ornithological Observations, our ejournal. Kate Henderson, PhD student and BirdLife South Africa employee, has written a paper about her study species, the Southern Bald Ibis. This is a "Vulnerable" species, and her PhD is looking at its biology and population dynamics, and it is not doing particularly well.

But this new paper reports a surprising development – Southern Bald Ibises have taken to building at artificial nest sites – on ledges in quarries, on the walls of dams, and on buildings. The paper is the sixth paper in Volume 4 of Ornithological Observations, and you go directly to it from this link and then click on "download pdf" – it is not a big file.

This photo shows one of these artificial nest sites, at Westhoe Dam, near Amsterdam, Mpumalanga

This is the 78th paper in Ornithological Observations, OO for short. Please do browse around the papers in the four volumes. As Arnold van der Westhuizen, the editor of OO, says: "Real papers about real birds" and "Best birding reads." If, after reading the papers already there, you feel you have an interesting ornithological observations to contibute, then please write it up for Ornithological Observations. There are guidelines for authors on the OO website, which enable prospective authors to get the right design and fonts from the start.

OO is a joint initiative of the ADU and BirdLife South Africa.


2013-02-22 Les Underhill 
Sudden death syndrome in Yellow-eyed Penguins in New Zealand – do you have any helpful suggestions? 

Since 21 January this year, 57 Yellow-eyed Penguins Megadyptes antipodes have been found dead on the Otago Peninsula in southeastern New Zealand.

As background reading, you need to know that the Yellow-eyed Penguin is endemic to New Zealand. Its IUCN threat status is "Endangered." There are two distinct sub-populations of Yellow-eyed Penguins. One breeds in the sub-Antarctic Campbell and Auckland Islands to the south of New Zealands's South Island. The other breeds on Stewart Island and other islands along the southeast coast of South Island, and also on the mainland on the Otago Peninsula.

Dead Yellow-eyed Penguin in Otago: Melanie Young; Peter McIntosh (photo)The subpopulation along the South Island of New Zealand mainland is genetically distinct from sub-Antarctic populations. Therefore, penguins breeding along the South Island's coastline and its offshore islands need to be managed separately from those breeding on the sub-Antarctic islands. Population estimates assume a world population of 1700 breeding pairs, most of which belong to the sub-Antarctic subpopulation. However, the last comprehensive population surveys were made more than 20 years ago.

The South Island subpopulation is however monitored closely and fluctuates between 400–600 breeding pairs per year. The Otago Peninsula had 181 breeding pairs in the 2012/13 breeding season, is an important mainland population stronghold for this subpopulation.

Penguin consultant and expert Ursula Ellenberg writes: "Most of the 57 dead penguins were in excellent condition and experienced breeders. Dead birds had generally empty stomachs and often traces of vomit around their beak. In some cases blackish faeces stains were apparent. Post mortems and histological examinations showed no evidence of an infectious disease or trauma. Avian malaria has been ruled out though some virology testing is still being undertaken. Currently, acute poisoning possibly via biotoxins is being considered the most likely cause of death.

"The event is so far localised to the Otago Peninsula, on the south-east coast of the South Island, down-current from Dunedin city. Several weeks of warm and unusually calm weather may have resulted in the development of a harmful algae bloom (HAB). However, no other seabirds are known to have been affected.

"Because yellow-eyed penguins are almost exclusively bottom foragers we suspect any toxins associated with this event may have been ingested at the seafloor. Three freshly dead birds have been tested for a range of biotoxins, usually associated with HAB (e.g. domoic acid, brevetoxin, see below); but results all came back negative.

"We are keen to hear of any ideas as to what could have caused such rapid and unexpected deaths. Apart from biotoxins – can you think of any other toxic agents (probably of anthropogenic origin) that could be responsible and thus would be worthwhile testing for? Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your suggestions to Melanie Young or Ursula Ellenberg. The biotoxins which we have tested for so far are domoic acid, epi domoic acid, gymnodimine, azaspiracid, okadaic acid, DTX-2, DTX-1, PTX-2, PTX-2 seco acid, yessotoxin, hydroxy yessotoxin, homo yessotoxin, 45 hydroxy homo yessotoxin, YSP toxin 1, Brevetoxin B2 and S-deoxy-Brevetoxin B2. In this picture, Mel Young examines one of the Yellow-eyed Penguins which died on the Otago Peninsula. Cause of death: currently unknown." (The photograph was taken by Peter McIntosh, of the Otago Daily Times.)

Here is a link for some Further reading.


2013-02-22 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Our Frog Friday species is a YouTube star 

Happy FROG FRIDAY! Today we are featuring a frog that has recently caught the attention of the media worldwide because of a video posted to YouTube – it is the Desert Rain Frog Breviceps macrops. The link to the news item is here and the link to the YouTube video is here.

The Desert Rain Frog is a species of frog in the family Microhylidae. This frog is a small, plump species with bulging eyes, a short snout, short limbs, spade-like feet and webbed toes. On its underside it has a transparent area of skin through which its internal organs can be seen. It is yellowish-brown in colour and it often has sand adhering to its skin. The Desert Rain Frog is endemic to a coastal strip of land about 10 km wide in Namibia and South Africa (Channing and Wahlberg 2011). Desert Rain Frog - FrogMAP distribution It lives along the western coast of South Africa and Namibia in a region known as Namaqualand, an arid coastal desert in the Succulent Karoo ecoregion with large sand dunes and sparse desert vegetation. This area of sand dunes often has sea fog rolling in which supplies some moisture in an otherwise arid region. There is some xerophytic vegetation (plants that are adapted to an environment with a limited supply of water) in the area and in the spring, the desert blooms (Channing and Wahlberg 2011). The locations in which this frog is found have at least 100 foggy days per year.

The Desert Rain Frog is nocturnal, spending the day in a burrow, usually at a depth of 10–20 cm where the sand is moist (Channing and Wahlberg 2011). It emerges on both foggy and clear nights and wanders about over the surface of the dunes. Its footprints are distinctive and are often found around patches of dung where it is presumed to feed on moths, beetles and insect larvae (Channing and Wahlberg 2011). It digs its way into the sand in the morning and its presence in a locality can be deduced from the little pile of loose sand dislodged by its burrowing activities. Breeding is by direct development of eggs laid in its burrow and there is no aqueous tadpole stage (Channing and Wahlberg 2011).

We don't have any photographs of the Desert Rain Frog in the FrogMAP Virtual Museum; so if you want to see what it looks like, go to the photograph. The distribution map, which illustrates this news item, is based on 33 records from eight quarter degree grid cells; these records go back to 1928. If you have any photos of this wonderfully unique frog then please submit them to FrogMAP at You will help us build the 21st century distribution map for the species, and please do the same for all other species of frogs.

Reference: Channing A, Wahlberg K 2011. Distribution and conservation status of the Desert Rain Frog Breviceps macrops. African Journal of Herpetology, 60(2): 101–112.


2013-02-21 Dieter Oschadleus 
Afring News and Trust Fund 

There are very few early copies of Safring News/Afring News, but SAFRING had one extra complete set and several incomplete sets. A complete print set is vol 1-35, 1973-2006, totalling 59 issues. The number of issues in a volume during the first few years varied - vol 1 had 1 issue, Vol 2 and 3 both had 3 issues, and Vol 4 had 1 issue. Vol 5 onwards usually had 2 issues but sometimes only 1. The early issues are in ok condition but most are second-hand while more recent issues are in mint condition.There are no printed copies from 2007 onwards, but pdf papers may be downloaded here.

There is there is nothing like having a printed set of invaluable information on your bookshelf, and in an auction the complete set of printed Safring/Afring News volumes went to ringer Marietjie Jordaan in Bloemfontein.

The sale funds went into the Steven Piper Safring Trust. If you want to support a good cause and help secure SAFRINGs future, please make a donation to this fund - see details here.


2013-02-21 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday stays in the Swartland: as aristocratic as Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper might sound, it is "Critically Endangered" 

Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper male upper

Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper male underLast week, Threat Thursday focused on Schlosz's Opal, which occurs on just one hill near the village of Koringberg in the Swartland region of the Western Cape. The butterfly for this weeks's Threat Thursday occurs on just two hills, also in the Swartland. Today's species is the "Critically Endangered" Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper Trimenia wallengrenii wallengrenii. Neither the silver spots or the long aristocratic-sounding name are helping this butterfly now. It is going to need a serious conservation intervention to save it from extinction.

Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper has two remaining localities, neither of which can be described as strongholds. One is on the Kapokberg and the other on the Contreberg, south and south-east of Darling, respectively. Each locality is about 700 m2 in extent. The two sites are 7.5 km apart. The Kapokberg locality has had very few specimens in the last 10 years (probably no more than 50 adults per flying season). The Contreberg site has shown considerable fluctuations in population numbers; there were about 100 adults here in November 2003. No adults have been observed at another recent locality north of Mamre for nearly 15 years, so we can assume that they have become extinct there.

The habitat in which this butterfly currently occurs is known as Swartland Granite Renosterveld. In the past, the butterfly was also found in the ecotone between renosterveld and Sand Plain Fynbos. No life cycle information has so far been published. The larvae are probably aphytophagous, with an obligate ant association. Adult butterflies were noted to fly low and fast, in open areas. Autecological studies are urgently needed to determine the critical resources needed by the butterfly.

Wallengren's Silver-spotted Copper female upperThis subspecies is threatened by habitat destruction and degradation from agricultural activities (wheat farming) and invasive alien vegetation. Fires, when the adult butterflies are on the wing, can also be devastating. Originally it occurred near Stellenbosch and a number of other places closer to Cape Town, but extensive agricultural activities have led to the extinction of all these colonies. The two places where it has survived are a few places situated on higher, rough or rocky ground, which have escaped the plough. In some cases cultivated areas extend right up to the borders of the existing colonies. Severe fragmentation of its habitats near Darling has already taken place and the lack of dispersal routes and connecting corridors have become major concerns for the long-term survival of the butterfly. These last two subpopulations are both on privately owned farms. Urgent monitoring of this taxon and research into its ecological requirements and life history, followed by design and implementation of a habitat management plan are essential if extinction is to be avoided. The LepSoc "custodian" of this species is Jonathan Ball. These three photos are by Steve Woodhall; the top one shows a male, and the photo below shows the underside of a male. The photo at the bottom is a female.


You can learn all about the butterflies of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland by purchasing a copy of the "butterfly atlas." The window of opportunity to buy this book closes on 31 March. We will print as many copies as are ordered. To buy your copy, go to


2013-02-20 Les Underhill 
Does this carnage in this picture pose a threat to butterflies? 

Butterfly carnage on the Trans Kalahari Highway Peter WebbDoes this carnage in this picture pose a threat to butterflies?

The photograph was taken by Peter Webb, who plays the role of communication officer for LepSoc. He travelled from Gauteng to Swakopmund along the Trans Kalahari Highway on 5 January this year: "At one point there were butterflies in their thousands everywhere and not just Brown-veined Whites, the species most frequently involved in mass butterfly migrations. It was amazing to see. Trucks coming towards us were so covered in dead butterflies, that the only clean part on the front of these huge truck was where the windscreen wipers had cleaned the butterflies away. I was just stunned to see the layers of butterflies stuck to these vehicles. Here is a photograph which shows a tiny part of the front grill of one truck at the Botswana border along this highway. The photo does not do the carnage justice. This was the only truck I could get a photograph of and it was one of the least-covered vehicles."

Is this rate of mortality of adult butterflies sustainable? Or is this yet another conservation issue that needs to be addressed?.

Hermann Staude, who is a former President of LepSoc and who has a specialist interest in moths, has made some rough estimates of the scale of the carnage of insects by traffic on South African roads. He used NAAMSA figures of distances travelled and actual counts of insects on vehicles. He estimated that 120 000 000 000 000 insects are killed on South African roads annually. For every 10 000 km which you drive as a motorist, he estimates that you are responsible for 30 000 000 insect road deaths.

Butterfly atlas coverFortunately, this is one issue you do not need to lose sleep over.

Hermann, talking for the butterflies, says: "The primary survival strategy of butterflies is predator satiation. They produce vast numbers of offspring to counteract losses to predation and other forms of mortality. There is not one recorded incidence where the direct impact of road traffic has made any long-term difference to butterfly populations. They are designed to withstand severe predation but are sensitive to changes in their environment."

So what should we be losing sleep over? Hermann tells us in his last sentence. It is habitat transformation and habitat loss that are most frequently the critical factor in tipping species into threat categories and towards extinction. This is true for all components of biodiversity, but especially for butterflies. The key issues driving butterflies towards extinction are agriculture, development, pollution, alien invasives and climate change.

All the factors facing the conservation of butterflies are discussed in the forthcoming Conservation Assessment of Butterflies of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland: Red List and Atlas (aka "the butterfly atlas"). Order your copy today, or by 31 March 2012 at the absolute latest.

For more information about the book, and to place your order, go to


2013-02-20 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday celebrates the Water Berry Tree 

Water Berry TreeOn Tuesdays we celebrate the wonderful diversity of trees that we have here in Africa. For today's Sappi TREE TUESDAY we are featuring the Water Berry Tree Syzygium cordatum. The Water Berry is an evergreen, water-loving tree, which grows to a height of 8–15 m. This tree is often found near streams, on forest margins or in swampy spots. The leaves are elliptic to circular, bluish green on top and a paler green below. Young leaves are reddish. The white to pinkish fragrant flowers are borne in branched terminals and have numerous fluffy stamens and produce abundant nectar. It flowers from August to November. The fruits are oval berries, red to dark-purple when ripe.

The Water Berry Tree is known for its many uses. Monkeys, bush-babies and birds love to eat the fleshy fruits which are slightly acid in flavour. In central Africa the tree is known as a remedy for stomach ache and diarrhoea. It is also used to treat respiratory ailments and tuberculosis. The Water Berry Tree occurs along streambanks from Kwazulu-Natal Province in South Africa northwards to Mozambique. It grows in forest margins, in bush or grassy plains and it is sometimes found in the high country.

Show your love and enthusiasm for trees by submitting your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at . If you are not sure how to submit records to the virtual museums then here is a quick and easy "How To" guide on the Virtual Museum website.


2013-02-20 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday [36]: Taveta Golden Weaver


adult, nominate from phown 3483

The Taveta Golden Weaver Ploceus castaneiceps is a bright yellow weaver with a very restricted range in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The male is golden yellow, with chestnut crown ending in sharply defined crescent on nape, and chestnut band on breast. Female is yellow without orange and heavily streaked back and 2-tone bill (dark above, yellowish below). The juv. browner above, buffy below. In captive birds Male nestlings on day 14 were heavier than female nestlings, with little overlap, but sample sizes were small (7 males, 13 females) - see Sex of Taveta Golden Weaver chicks.

Taveta Golden Weaver map

More measurements are needed for this species - a sample of 7 males ringed near Arusha had larger wing and tail and shorter bills than the measurements provided for 8 males (possibly museum specimans) in Birds of Africa). It was first collected near the town Taveta, giving rise to its English name.

No subspecies of the Taveta Golden Weaver are recognised, although one other has been proposed. It is common but very local. In Kenya, it is found in the Amboseli and Taveta areas, and Lake Jipe. In Tanzania, it occurs along the Pangani River, around Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro (see map left, based on Birds of Africa).

The Taveta Golden Weaver inhabits woodland and dry bush country, and moves into swampy lowlands to breed. The diet is seeds, including grass seeds, and maize, and ants have been recorded.

phown 3483

The Taveta Golden Weaver is probably polygynous. It breeds in colonies in swampy or flooded areas. Breeding areas may be deserted suddenly and completely, for weeks or months at a time. It is not clear if this follows a regular pattern in Tanzania. The nest is spherical or ovoid with no entrance tube but a slight porch. The nest is woven of strips of reed leaf-blades. Nests are usually suspended over water in reedbeds or bulrushes, and sometimes in low trees overhanging water.

The Taveta Golden Weaver has 2 PHOWN records. One record provides the first colony size (20 nests in this case). Many more PHOWN records are needed for this species (see PHOWN summary), especially to document colony size. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Dark-backed Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-02-17 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
What a good way to end off the weekend – SNAKE SUNDAY featuresthe Vine Snake 

Vine Snake Distribution Map ReptileMAP

Vine Snake Alex Zaloumis ReptileMAP 7478What a good way to end off the weekend ... yes, it is time for SNAKE SUNDAY!! And we are featuring the Vine Snake/Twig Snake Thelotornis capensis. These snakes are cryptically coloured and, when motionless in a tree, they resemble branches or twigs, hence the name. This photo was taken by Alex Zoulomis in Mpumlanga, and is Record 7478 in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. Above, these snakes are ash grey or grey-brown with darker and lighter blotches and flecks of black, orange and/or pink. On the sides of the neck there are usually one or two dark blotches. The upperside of their heads is pale blue-green, and heavily speckled with dark brown, black and sometimes pink blotches. Both the chin and throat are white, speckled with black. Below, these snakes are pinkish white to light grey, speckled and streaked with brownish black. The tongue is bright yellow to orange-red and black-tipped.

The Vine Snake is a slender, mostly tree-living snake that prefers low shrubs, bushes and trees where its cryptic coloration blends so well with the background that it is seldom seen. It moves gracefully and swiftly when disturbed. It may remain in the same position for several days if not disturbed.

There are two subspecies. The Southern Vine Snake Thelotornis capensis capensis, is the smaller of the two, reaching a maximum length of less than 1.5 m. It has speckling on the head. It occurs in the southern parts of the over species range, and extends into the northern and northeastern parts of South Africa, as shown in ReptileMAP distribution above. Oates' Vine Snake or Twig Snake Thelotornis capensis oatesii is the larger subspecies, reaching nearly 1.7 m. The top of its head is blue-green and generally lacks speckling, except for a dark Y-shaped marking. It occurs in northern Namibia, northern Botswana, Zimbabwe, western Mozambique and elsewhere.

Remember that you can submit your reptile photos to ReptileMAP at


2013-02-16 Les Underhill 
14087 waterbirds of 68 species were recorded on the Vaaldam CWAC last Sunday 

Leaving at dawn on the yacht Baleka

Around dawn last Sunday, 16 boats set out to their count sections on the Vaal Dam, to do a survey of the water birds. This was the 10th Vaal Dam CWAC, arranged by BirdLife Vaal Dam and sponsored by Sasol. The CWAC project coordinates waterbird counts throughout South Africa.

The Vaal Dam results are all in, added up and audited. Well done to Rosemary Girard and Jerome Ainsley, who coordinated all the logistics. 14087 birds were recorded of 68 species. The winners were the Egyptian Geese with 2178. There were an awesome 1844 Blacksmith Lapwings --- imagine have all of them clinking at the same time.

Another impressive total was 887 Caspian Terns – this is amazing because about 20 years ago the total number of Caspian Terns in South Africa was estimated at 1500 birds, less than twice the number seen last Sunday at this single site. Even more amazing is that Caspian Terns were first recorded breeding in the highveld interior in 1968.

Some other totals of interest were 7 Great-crested Grebes, 3 Pink-backed Pelicans (and no Great White Pelicans), 685 White-breasted Cormorants, 120 Goliath Herons, 1 Black Stork, 3 White Stroks, 20 Yellow-billed Storks, 845 Yellow-billed Ducks, 585 Red-billed Teals, 684 Southern Pochards, 19 African Fish Eagles, 3 Ospreys, 1124 Red-knobbed Coots, 6 Common Ringed Plovers, 352 Black-winged Pratincoles, 798 Grey-headed Gulls.

Other important statistics. In total there were some 100 people on the water involved in the count, birds and boaters. And there were 135 guests at the Saturday evening celebratory dinner.

Tomorrow, Sunday 17 February, the focus moves to the CWAC on another mega-wetland, Langebaan Lagoon.


2013-02-15 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
The loud call of the Raucous Toad consists of short, rasping duck-like quacks repeated incessantly – it is advertizing Frog Friday 

Raucous Toad TGIFF Frog Friday

Great, the weekend is just ahead and so today is FROG FRIDAY!!!! We are featuring the Raucous Toad Amietophrynus rangeri. The Raucous Toad is large and stout with a blunt head and squared appearance. The skin is rough and dry with wart-like glandular elevations on the upper side and they have a pair of large and distinctive parotid glands on the neck. The Raucous Toad's upper body surface is brown with irregular pairs of darker brown patches on the back. These are sometimes fused together across the midline and usually there is a dark bar between the eyes. A pale vertebral line may be present from the shoulders downwards. The underside is a dirty white with a granular texture. Their loud advertisement call consists of short, rasping duck-like quacks repeated incessantly at a rate of about two per second.

Raucous Toad Distribution map from FrogMAPThe Raucous Toad occurs in a variety of habitats including farmlands and gardens. It breeds in rivers, streams, dams and ponds, but spends most of its time away from water. Breeding takes place in spring and summer. Males call singly or in groups, generally from an open position along the edge of a water body or from a rock protruding above the water level. Their calls can be heard both day and night, but mainly at night. The eggs are laid in double jelly-like strings each about 5 mm thick, and become wrapped around vegetation and other objects in the water. The eggs develop into free-swimming benthic tadpoles which are dark brown to black in colour and reach a length of 25 mm. Du Preez & Carruthers (2009) reported that metamorphosis takes at least five weeks after which the young toads leave the water.

The map shows that the Raucous Toad occurs through most of South Africa, but especially in the the eastern and southern parts, but avoids the semi-arid to arid areas. On this map, the orange squares are historical records, mostly from the 20th century. Only the turquoise circles are 21st century records. You can submit your frog and toad photos to FrogMAP at and help us to map the 21st century distributions of all the amazing amphibians of southern Africa. The photo shown here was taken by Megan Loftie-Eaton.


2013-02-14 Les Underhill 
It's Threat Thursday. You probably don't know where Koringberg is, and it is possibly too late to see this butterfly, the Critically Endangered Schlosz's Opal  

Schlosz's Opal male upperside Steve Woodhall

Schlosz's Opal Chrysoritis thysbe schloszae is a Critically Endangered butterfly that occurs at single, small type locality which has an area less than 1 km2. Thus the entire known range of this incredibly attrative species is situated on the southern side of the small mountain known as the Swartberg a little south of the village of Koringberg near Moorreesberg, in the Swartland District of the Western Cape. It has never been seen on the nearby hill called Koringberg or on other low hills in the vicinity. Fewer than 10 female specimens have ever been seen, and there are possibly less than 50 adult specimens emerging annually, based on counts made during site visits. The top photo shows the upperside and the side photo shows the underside; both photos by Steve Woodhall.

Schlosz's Opal male underside Steve WoodhallAdults of this butterfly are found amongst scrubby, low vegetation containing numerous mesemb or vygie plants of the family Aizoaceae in an isolated remnant of natural vegetation which is known as Swartland Shale Renosterveld. Adults have been observed at altitudes of 350–450 m. The males have a short, low, whirling flight, and settle on low vegetation or on the ground. The butterfly is double-brooded, with adults most often seen in spring (October) and autumn (March). The early stages have never been seen.

The major threat to this Critically Endangered species is habitat loss and degradation. The isolated renosterveld habitat of Schlosz's Opal has been severely impacted by increasing aridification, exacerbated by climate warming. Only a small portion of the original extent of renosterveld in the Cape Floral Kingdom remains. The habitat of the type locality is marooned in a sea of wheat farms, isolated by a lack of genetic exchange and impacted by changes in grazing and natural fire. The lack of fire has led to an overgrowth of grass (invasive, altered succession) on the higher reaches of the low mountain. No conservation measures have been taken to date.

LepSoc has a programme called COREL (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Lepidoptera). This species has a COREL custodian, Harald Selb. In the last three years, he has made a number of visits have been made to the type locality, but C. t. schloszae has not been seen. There has been some deterioration of the habitat since a boma was built on one of the hills where the males used to hilltop. This butterfly is in dire straits and may have already become extinct at the type locality. Searches will continue and if the butterfly is found local conservation measures will be planned in cooperation with the surrounding farmers. It would be a tragedy to lose this butterfly.

Support butterfly conservation by buying a copy of the butterfly atlas. You will support conservation in two ways: the contents of the book will improve your understanding of the plight of butterflies in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland; all profits on this publication will be returned to butterfly conservation and research – the butterflies are the only shareholders in this book! Buy it now. The order form is here.


2013-02-13 Les Underhill 
The linkage between jellyfication of the oceans and fisheries 

Jellyfish, Luderitz, Namibia

Jean-Paul Roux is based in Lüderitz, Namibia, at the Ministry for Fisheries and Marine Resources. As Honorary Research Associate of the ADU, he has cosupervised a string of PhD students, and mentored several postdocs. Now we are celebrating his lead authorship of an incredibly important paper on the "jellyfication" of the northern Benguela Ecosystem. Many ocean ecosystems have seen huge increases in jellyfish populations. Jellyfish superabundance is a threat to fishing, but it is the fisheries themselves which are potentially linked to the explosions of jellyfish populations. The northern Benguela Ecosystem is often highlighted as an example of a system where increased jellyfish superabundance may have resulted from overfishing. This paper explores these linkages.

Jean-Paul's team of coathors on this paper are Carl van der Lingen, Mark Gibbons, Nadine Moroff, Lynne Shannon, Anthony Smith and Philippe Cury. The title is Jellyfication of marine ecosystems as a likely consequence of overfishing small pelagic fishes: lessons from the Benguela. It has just been published online in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science at this link.

ABSTRACT: Changes in two contrasting ecosystems of the Benguela upwelling region, one dominated at mid-trophic level by jellyfishes (Namibia, northern Benguela ecosystem, where small pelagic fish abundance has been severely depleted) and one still dominated by small pelagic fishes (South Africa, southern Benguela) were compared in an effort to determine ecosystem trajectories under different exploitation regimes. The role of small pelagic fishes (clupeoids) was highlighted in the context of their importance in maintaining interactions in marine ecosystems. In particular, we examined trophic cascades and possible irreversible changes that promote the proliferation of jellyfishes in marine systems. We found that the presence of large populations of small pelagic fishes has a fundamental role in preserving beneficial trophic interactions in these marine ecosystems. The implications of trophic cascades, such as those observed in the northern Benguela, for ecosystem-based management were apparent. In addition, this comparison provides contrasting case studies to inform the development of management scenarios that avoid ecosystem shifts that affect predators and reduce the value of fisheries production.

The pdf of the paper is available from Les Underhill.

The photograph, by Kolette Grobler, illustrating this news item shows a jellyfish stranding on a beach near Lüderitz. This is the beach at Gauno Bay, south of Dias Point opposite Halifax Island. It is one of Jean-Paul's favorite spots when it is not covered in jelly!


2013-02-13 Les Underhill 
OdonataMAP: "What a terrific response" says Warwick Tarboton, faced with 1514 records to identify! 

DragonflyThe developer of the intricate software that runs the Virtual Museums is Rene Navarro. Rene has a soft spot for Odonata, the dragonflies and damselflies. OdonataMAP is his brainchild. Rene has sent another batch of 1514 records from this Virtual Museum to Warwick Tarboton for identification. Warwick does not have a fast enough internet connection to do the IDs online, so we do it as a batch process.

Warwick's response to getting this huge task was brave: "Thanks for this, what a terrific response! I'm looking forward to getting these new records to go through. A new species for South Africa, the Great Hooktail Paragomphus magnus, was recently added to the South African list when one was photographed by an overseas visitor in Letaba camp, Kruger Park, last November. This demonstrates the value of taking photographs of dragonflies and damselflies whenever opportunities present themselves; this creature had taken shelter in a hut after a storm.

OdonataMAP species richness"There are still a few months of summer left for dragonflies to be on the wing. Perhaps, as a result of all the storms and flooding in the northern parts of the country, a couple more new species for the region may have been swept in. A clear photograph is all that is needed to add more species to the list. Please do not hesitate to send your records to the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum.

"I have loaded a pdf of an up-to-date list of South African Odonata onto my website at I have written two identification guides: Fieldguide to the damselflies of South Africa is still available as a book and it sells for R120 (inclusive of postage in South Africa). However, Fieldguide to the dragonflies of South Africa is out of print, but it is available from me as a pdf on CD. It sells for R60." You can order copies from Warwick by emailing him at They'll be posted to you and you'll be invoiced by e-mail.

The OdonataMAP Virtual Museum now contains 3614 records. More than 2000 of these have been submitted in the past couple of months, many of the them in response to the news item called "Become an Oders and go Oding." This map shows species richness of Odonata – Orange cells, 1 species; red cells, 2 species; purple cells 3–6 species and dark-blue cells have 7 or more species.

As Warwick says, we have a few months left this summmer when lots of dragonflies and damselflies will still be flying around. They are a lot easier to take photographs of than butterflies! So please HAVAGO, and submit your photos to the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum at


2013-02-13 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Dark-backed Weaver  

adult, nominate juv with adult

The Dark-backed Weaver Ploceus bicolor is bright yellow below and dark above, the throat is solid black or mottled black and yellow. The sexes are alike (photo left). Juveniles (photo right) are duller than adults, have a mottled throat, and pale bill. The wing edges are dark (unlike Clarke's Weaver P. golandi.

Dark-backed Weaver map

Seven subspecies of the Dark-backed Weaver are recognised, although many more have been proposed (see map left, based on Birds of Africa):
P. b. bicolor in E Cape to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa (see yellow on map).
P. b. tephronotus in SE Nigeria, Cameroon, Bioko Island, Gabon and western Congo (see dark green on map). The crown and nape are brownish black, mantle slate-grey, and the throat is brownish black flecked with grey.
P. b. amaurocephalus in Angola and southern DRC (see blue on map). The crown and cheeks are brownish black, mantle and throat grey.
P. b. mentalis in South Sudan, NE DRC, Uganda, and western Kenya (see grey on map). The back is dark grey, crown and cheeks black, throat black or sometimes yellow and black.
P. b. kigomaensis in Rwanda, Burundi, east and SE DRC, Zambia, extreme SW Tanzania (see light green on map). The throat feathers are tipped with yellow but throat is more blackish than amaurocephalus. Dark-backed Weaver
P. b. kersteni in S Somalia, coastal Kenya, E Tanzania south to Rufiji River, and Zanzibar Island (see orange on map). The upperparts are entirely black.
P. b. stictifrons, coastal Tanzania from Kilwa southwards, S Malawi, E Zimbabwe, Mozambique to northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa (see red on map). The upperparts are greyer and more olivaceous than other races, and the forehead feathers are tipped whitish.

The song of the Dark-backed Weaver is often a duet, with the male and female singing the same elements in a nearly simultaneous sequence, after some introductory notes which show increasing synchrony. There are local dialects in this song which appear to remain stable over many years. There are large-scale differences in song between geographically separated populations. The youg apparently learn the song from their parents and other adults, and the song type stabilizes within the first two years.

The Dark-backed Weaver inhabits forested areas, including riverine and gallery forests in open country, and second-growth forest regenerating after shifting cultivation, coffee forests, denser patches in dry baobab woodland, and in South Africa dry Valley Bushveld. It joins mixed-species flocks of insectivorous birds. This species forages in the tree canopy and at the leafy ends of branches. Food items are mostly arthropods, including grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, bugs, flies and spiders. Other food items are berries, fruit, and nectar.

The longevity record for Dark-backed Weaver is over 5 years in the wild, but can be expected to be much more (see news item.

Dark-backed Weaver

The Dark-backed Weaver is a monogamous, solitary nester, with the pair-bond lasting for several years. The nest is retort-shaped. The entrance is extended into a spout that is usually <30cm long but may be up to 60 cm. The nest looks rough because it is made of stiff materials such as thin vines and creepers. A pair usually nests in the same area each year, so there may be 2-3 nests close together. One nest took 7 days to complete, and another took 9 days. Although nests are often high, and at the end of twigs, snakes do reach them and take young.

The Dark-backed Weaver has 40 PHOWN records, covering most subspecies, but no records yet from the West and central African races. Many more PHOWN records are needed for this common species (see PHOWN summary), to determine nest site fidelity, breeding density, etc. Look out for old nests which may be taken over by Grey Waxbills Estrilda perreini or Green Twinspots Mandingoa nitidula. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Zanzibar Bishop           Full weaver species list


2013-02-12 Les Underhill 
The tree for Sappi Tree Tuesday hosts a butterfly, and promotes the butterfly atlas 

Karoo Boerboon Tree Megan Loftie-EatonToday is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! The tree in the spotlight for today is the Karoo Boerboon Tree Schotia afra – this photo was taken by Megan Loftie-Eaton. The Karoo Boerboon Tree or Karoo Boer-bean is small in stature (maximum height 5 m), evergreen, with rigid branches. It has a gnarled trunk. The flowers are numerous, bright red to pink in colour and are borne in small clusters in February and March.

Flowers are followed by attractive, large, lime green to pink seedpods which turn brown when ripe. The seed is dispersed through an explosive seedpod, which when dry, catapults the seeds great distances from the parent plant. Seeds are produced in May and June of each year. Under normal circumstances the seeds would germinate in moist soil in late spring after the winter rains. ViTH logoBrown Playboy SABCA 2181 RA DobsonThese trees often occur along the banks of dry streams and small rivers in the Little Karoo, the drier areas of Eastern Cape and the southern part of Western Cape. You can help us to map the distribution of this amazing tree by submitting your photos to the Virtual Museum for trees at

The flowers of the Karoo Boerboon Tree produce copious amounts of nectar which attracts birds, especially the Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Malachite Sunbird. The butterfly Deudorix antalus, English common name Brown Playboy, breeds in the tree.

Mention of a butterfly is an excuse to remind everyone about the prepublication offer on the butterfly atlas. Do not delay. Buy it now. Go to ordering the butterfly atlas.

This picture by RA Dobson of the Brown Playboy is Record 2181 in the Virtual Museum for butterflies, soon to morph into ButterflyMAP.


2013-02-11 Les Underhill 
75th paper in Ornithological Observations published 

Ornithological Observations, 75th paper

Ornithological Observations, OO for short, has just published its 75th paper. By Peter Ryan, Jonathon Colville and Mike Picker, the 75th contribution reports an obervation of an African Pipit feeding on monkey beetles at the Strandfontein Sewage Works in Cape Town. The paper is illustrated by photographs and this is one of them. You can download the pdf of the paper by going to this link and clicking on "PDF (full text)" – there is no charge for downloading.

While you are at the OO website, click on the links to the "current volume" and to the three earlier volumes, from 2010, 2011 and 2012, and have a look at the diversity of papers already in OO. As Arnold van der Westhuizen, editor of OO says: "Real stories about real birds" and "Best birding reads."

While you are browsing round these papers, you might well realize that you have a similar interesting bird observation to report. Please consider writing it up, and submitting it to OO. The website contains a link to Guidelines to authors and you can download a "template" which help get the layout and fonts into the standard format for OO.

The total number of downloads of the pdfs of OO papers is currently 24 818, less than 200 downloads short of 25 000.

Ornithological Observations is a joint initiative of BirdLife South Africa and the Animal Demography Unit.


2013-02-11 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
SNAKE SUNDAY looks at the Highveld Garter Snake 

Highveld Garter Snake David Maguire ReptileMAP356

Garter Snake Distribution, ReptileMAPSNAKE SUNDAY looks at the Highveld Garter Snake Elapsoidea sundevalli media. Adult Highveld Garter Snakes are about 75 cm in length with a maximum length of under 1 m. There are five subspecies of Elapsoidea sundevalli. Sundevall's Garter Snake Elapsoidea sunde­valli sundevalli is the largest and is found in KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland and Mpumalanga Province (green symbols). The Highveld Garter Snake Elapsoidea sundevalli media occurs in the extreme Northern Cape, the Free State, North West Province and Gauteng (red). Juveniles have 16-23 distinct pink bands on the tail. These bands fade with age. The belly and scales on the lower flanks are pale brown. The Kalahari Garter Snake Elapsoidea sundevalli fitz­simonsi is found in the Northern Cape, and on into Botswana and northern Namibia, where it is restricted to sandveld areas in arid savanna and karoo scrub (purple). Juveniles have 18-21 white bands on a black background on the body and 2-3 white bands on the tail. The belly and scales on the lower flanks are white. The dorsal band only appears when the snake reaches a length of about 37 cm. Until then it is dark slate grey with a reddish brown tinge and a creamy white belly. The dorsal bands fade with age.

The Long-tailed Garter Snake Elapsoidea sundevalli longi­cauda occurs from southern Mozambique northwards into the Limpopo Province and on into south-east Zimbabwe (dark blue). Juveniles have 17-20 buff bands on a black background on the body and 2-3 buff bands on the tail. The belly is uniform white. The bands fade with age and the adults are uniform black above with a white belly and pink on the lower flanks. This is the largest race. De Coster's Garter Snake Elapsoidea sundevalli decosteri has a limited distribution in the northern KwaZulu-Natal and on into southern Mozambique (brown). Juvenile specimens have 19-21 white-edged pale brown bands on a darker background on the body. There are also 3-4 of these bands on the tail. The belly and scales on the lower flanks are white. These bands fade with age and eventually disappear completely.

Because of its nocturnal habits and fossorial existence, this snake is seldom encountered. It shelters underground, especially in disused termite mounds, under rocks and logs and among leaf litter. Individuals are sometimes encountered while crossing roads at night. It is a sluggish, inoffensive snake that seldom bites, even when first handled.

If you have photos of this wonderful snake you can submit them to ReptileMAP Virtual Museum at This photo, by David Maguire, is record 3536 in ReptileMAP.


2013-02-08 Les Underhill 
Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday, and the TGIFF spotlight falls on the Tinker Reed Frog 

TGIFF Tinker Reed Frog Nick Evens FrogMAP556

Tinker Reed Frog distribution from FrogMAPIt's another FROGGY FRIDAY here at the Animal Demography Unit!! And today we are featuring the beautiful Tinker Reed Frog Hyperolius tuberilinguis. The Tinker Reed Frog is a large Hyperolius species with a broad head and a sharply pointed snout. Males are 25–33 mm and females are 30–40 mm in snout-vent length. Most individuals are solid yellow, tan or near translucent green in colour, but some may be marked with a faint hourglass figure on the dorsum or a light triangle between the eyes. Tinker Reed Frog males have bright yellow throats and the throats of females are pale yellow. The insides of the legs are red.

Tinker Reed Frogs inhabit a variety of bushveld vegetation types in the Savanna Biome. It is abundant in coastal lowland savanna and grasslands at elevations of up to about 1000 m. These frogs can tolerate some degree of habitat modification and do occur in parks and agricultural areas. Look at the FrogMAP distribution map and see that Tinker Reed Frogs occur along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, through Swaziland and in parts of Mpumalanga; they are widely distributed north of South Africa, extending through eastern Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania to Kenya. But this distribution is based mostly on museum specimens going back a century (the orange cells), with only a handful of recent Virtual Museum records. One of these, by Nick Evans, illustrates this news item. Please help us to map this species's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to FrogMAP.


2013-02-07 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Zanzibar Bishop  

from PHOWN 4392

The Zanzibar Bishop Euplectes nigroventris is a small East African bishop. The breeding male (photo left from wikipedia) is red and black, and is distinuished from similar bishops by an entirely red crown and forehead and lack of a red breast-band on the black underparts; it differs from the sympatric Black-winged Bishop E. hordeaceus by a short brown tail, brown wings, and red undertail-coverts. The female (photo right) and non-breeding male are smaller than the Black-winged Bishop, with a shorter bill, and with a duller buff breast-band.

Zanzibar Bishop

No subspecies of the Zanzibar Bishop are recognised and it is found in the coastal belt of south-east Kenya, southwards from Lamu; in Tanzania, on the coast including Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, westwards along the Pangani River, and an isolated inland population that is west of Songea; in northern Mozambique the distribution is less clear but occurs at Mocuba (see map below, based on Birds of Africa).

Zanzibar Bishop map

The Zanzibar Bishop inhabits coastal grasslands and cultivation. It is found in flocks, often with Black-winged Bishops, or other bishops and queleas. It feeds on grass seeds of Echinochloa haploclada, Panicum maximum, sorghum and rice. It readily feeds on termites and spiders in captivity. Their young are fed on insects.

The Zanzibar Bishop is territorial, and polygynous, with up to 5 females per male. The nest (photo below from phown 2853) is a thin-walled oval structure of coarse grass with a side entrance, and grass heads project over the entrance to form a small porch. The nest is built by the male, but the female adds the lining of seed-heads of grasses such as Panicum maximum.

Zanzibar Bishop

The nest is attached to grass, bushes or reed stems, usually 1-1.5m above the ground. Early in the season, nests are usually placed in reeds or bulrushes. In Mombasa, House Crows Corvus splendens are predators on eggs and young of this species.

The Zanzibar Bishop has 2 PHOWN records, both from Dar es Salaam, at a constructed wetland. The records were submitted by Anne Outwater, who provided lots of detail about the breeding attempts of this species: the female successfully raised chicks. Read more at the PHOWN record 683; also see news item.

Many more PHOWN records are needed for this common species (see PHOWN summary). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Holub's Golden Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-02-07 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday: Riley's Opal only occurs around Brandvlei Dam near Worcester. It is "Critically Endangered" 

Wiley's Opal Steve Woodhall Threat ThursdayIt is Thursday, the day we think about threatened biodiversity. This Threat Thursday focuses on a butterfly, originally known only from a single locality, a few hectares in extent, near the east side of Brandvlei Dam, southwest of Worcester, in the Western Cape. Probably less than 200 adult individuals of Riley's Opal Chrysoritis rileyi occurred here in favourable years; the species was last observed at this site in good numbers in 2005. The species is classified in the butterfly atlas as "Critically Endangered." This series of photos was taken by Steve Woodhall.

Riley's Opal occurs on sandy slopes which are fairly gentle, west-facing and sparsely vegetated, in vegetation type known as Breede Sand Fynbos. The adults fly in these dry areas around the Brandvlei Dam among short bushes along the gentle slopes of hills overlooking the dam and are often seen feeding on mesembryanthemum flowers. The flight period is from September to April. Females have been recorded laying on Thesium species and Aspalathus species. The ant which is associated with this species is Crematogaster peringueyi.

Continued urban sprawl and agricultural developments in the area constitute major threats. Ad examples, a building development has recently occurred close to the type locality, and there is a quarry which has impacted on the habitat.

Progress in the conservation of this species has been made recently. The type locality is a lost cause; it no longer hosts the butterfly due to habitat changes caused by grazing animals. Fortunately, a number of strong populations have been located around other parts of the Brandvlei Dam. The landowners of these sites on which these populations occur are the Department of Water Affairs, Eskom and the Department of Correctional Services, and all have given full cooperation to conserve the species, and have given permission to conduct research. Burning of some veld in 2009 seems to have encouraged recovery of the population. The Department of Correctional Services have initiated an active alien eradication programme.

The prepublication offer on the butterfly atlas is underway. Order your copy now. Click here.


2013-02-06 Tali Hoffman 
Mad Mammal Monday – Africa's smallest antelope, the royal antelope 


For our first February Mad Mammal Monday post, we’d like to up the ‘cute factor’ and introduce you to the smallest antelope in Africa: the royal antelope (Neotragus pygmaeus).

With a maximum height of 30cm and a maximum mass of 3.6kg, this tiny ungulate is believed to range only in the West African forests of Sierra Leone. Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Royal antelopes are so small that an average-sized calf can fit comfortably into a person’s hand!  Like many of their larger antelope counterparts, the males grow horns (albeit a miniature sized pair) that are around 2.5cm long.

There is remarkably little known about these antelopes, with only a handful of ecological studies ever having been conducted, and there are no recorded observations of these animals in the wild (or at least, none have been published).

Needless to say, we’re eagerly awaiting the day when the first royal antelope record makes its way into the MammalMAP Virtual Museum!  


2013-02-05 Les Underhill 
Sappi Tree Tuesday – Small Knobwood 

Tree Tuesday Small Knobwood Bart WurstenHappy Sappi TREE TUESDAY! The Small Knobwood Zanthoxylum capense is a small to medium-sized tree that is found in dry scrub, bushveld and in forest margins in KwaZulu-Natal Province and up to Limpopo Province in South Africa as well as parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Small Knobwood grows in a variety of mostly dry wooded habitats, and is often found in rocky places. The main stem is smooth, has dark grey bark and is covered with cone-shaped knobs that are up to 30 mm long. The knobs are tipped with sharp, short straight spines. The Small Knobwood is usually a slender, small tree with a bare stem and a sparse crown. The leaves grow in clusters on the tips of branches. The leaves have a distinct citrus smell when crushed. The Small Knobwood flowers from October to February. The flowers are small, greenish-white, and grow in dense, terminal sprays up to 60 mm long. Male and female flowers occur on separate trees. The fruits, which the tree carries from November until June, are small and round, up to 5mm diameter. They split open to reveal shiny black seeds with high oil content.

Please remember to submit your tree photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) &ndsh; – and help us to map all the awesome tree species of South Africa!


2013-02-03 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Hey, it is Snake Sunday, and we are celebrating the remarkable Beetz's Tiger Snake 

Beetz's Tiger Snake Clifford Dorse ReptileMAP4699Let's celebrate Ssssssssnake Sunday! And today we are featuring the beautiful Beetz's Tiger Snake/Namib Tiger Snake Telescopus beetzii. The Beetz's Tiger Snake's head is distinct from the rest of its body; it has large eyes (with vertical pupils), between 30 and 39 dark blotches on its body, and between 12 and 20 blotches on its tail. This snake lives a nocturnal lifestyle and is often seen crossing roads at night. The Beetz's Tiger Snake has an average length of 60 cm but has been known to grow to 68 cm in length. This snake preys mostly on lizards, particularly geckos.

Beetz's Tiger Snake ReptileMAP distributionIn South Africa, Beetz's Tiger Snake is found in the northern part of the Western Cape and across the Northern Cape and its range extends into southern Namibia. Its favoured habitat is the Karoo, where it is mostly found in rock crevices and termite mounds. The photo shown here is from the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum where it is record 4699. This photograph was taken by Clifford Dorse between Vanrhynsdorp to Nieuwoudtville at Gemsbokrivier in grid cell 3118BD.

You can visit the Virtual Museum at to check out more photos of this awesome snake. Please remember that you can also submit your own photos to the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum, and help fill some of the gaps in the distribution map alongside. It must occur in many of the grid cells from which there are no records as yet!

Please help us build the 21st century distribution map for this snake, and all other reptiles. And also the butterflies, mammals, dragonflies, ... Please do explore the Virtual Museums of the ADU.


2013-02-02 Les Underhill 
What do these species have in common? 

World Wetlands Day collage

What do these beautiful animals have in common? They are all dependent on wetlands. Today, 2 February, is World Wetlands Day, the day we focus on the importance of wetlands. Why 2 February? "It marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the community have taken advantage of the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general, and the Ramsar Convention in particular" – this statement is from the Ramsar Convention itself.

Anada Tiéga, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, in a message about World Wetlands Day 2013 says: "Our focus this year is the chance for all of us working for wetlands to convince those who manage water that wetlands are not competitors for water but rather they are essential components of water infrastructure, providing a clean source and store of freshwater. Please join us in celebrating World Wetlands Day this year and help us to raise awareness about the critical role of wetlands in water management." You can read the full message here.

What is another thing these beautiful animals have in common? All these photographs are from the Virtual Museums of the Animal Demography Unit. Our Virtual Museums are like the "staff only" area in a real museum, where there are vast collections of specimens, not like the "public display" area, where there are only one or two specimens of a species on display. We are happiest if we have thousands of photographs of the same species, we are not concerned about duplicate records. From this enormous database, we can compile a set of photographs of all the species of birds, reptiles, frogs, mammals, dragonflies, and even butterflies that are dependent on a particular wetland, using photographs from that wetland. In broad terms, our Virtual Museums are helping to build up a knowledge of the 21st century distributions of species, a vital contribution to all conservation initiatives.

This collage was assembled by MSc student Megan Loftie-Eaton. Thanks, Megan.


2013-02-02 Les Underhill 
Some dry facts about wetlands 

Dry facts about wetlands


2013-02-01 Les Underhill 
CAR count on 26 January: 20 years of counting in the Overberg! 

20-year CAR gathering Caledon Gardens

The CAR project monitors large terrestrial bird species, mainly across agricultural landscapes. Donella Young, CAR project coordinator, reports on the survey undertaken last Saturday: "What an amazing milestone to celebrate in the journey of the CAR project, 40 counts in the Overberg precinct! When David Allan enlisted Cape Bird Club members to do roadcounts of the threatened Blue Cranes and Denham's Bustards in July 1993, I am sure he never envisaged the project continuing for 20 years, spreading throughout most of South Africa and also including many more species.

"Last Saturday's count, observers in the Overberg and Swartland also did a trial survey of four raptors and the corvids as well, because there is concern about raptors declining and corvids increasing. From the July count we would like all participants to include these species. In re-reading David's foreword of the CAR eight-year report I see that he would approve of this – he admits to counting the raptors in his own counts saying 'raptorphilia allowed nothing less!' David also wrote that one of his assistants 'dryly commented, as they passed through Riviersonderend in the Overberg for the umpteenth time that year, that he felt trapped in a "Road-count-sonderend."' David 'fervently wished the same fate for current and future participants.'

Overberg CAR 20 years cake"Eighteen Overberg observers were able to gather at the Caledon Wild Flower Gardens to celebrate this milestone on Saturday afternoon after the count. Inés and Duncan Cooke and I really enjoyed seeing people, some of whom we hadn't seen since the 10-year celebration on Wicus Leeuwner's farm and a few whom we hadn't met yet. It makes such a difference to be able to match a voice to the person. In sharing some highlights with the group gathered I was really struck by the faithfulness of observers to counting their route. As far as I know CWAC and CAR are the only bird monitoring projects in South Africa that span such a long period. Congratulations to you all and particularly to Wicus Leeuwner, Dave and Sue Whitelaw, Sheila and Pieter Siebert, Madelaine Loubser and Mel Tripp who counted in that inaugural count in 1993 and are still counting (Mel is now counting a route in the Swartland).

"As far as the Blue Cranes are concerned it is very interesting that route OV18 had the highest total for 19 summer counts (3569), but route OV08 had the highest total for the 20 winter counts (12873). This means that Keith and Michele Moodie, who often count OV08 by bicycle, have counted more cranes than anyone else in CAR! Wicus counts OV18, and records many breeding pairs and their offspring – a large section of his route is along the Riviersonderend River. OV08 has a huge number of wetlands/dams near the route. The route with the highest total of Denham's Bustards for the 20 winter counts was OV13 with 546 birds. In winter 2006, Jill Mortimer, Inés Cooke, Rene Lind and Ann White had the amazing total of 94 Denham’s Bustard on this 70 km route near De Hoop, which they have counted for many years. However OV24 had the highest total for all summer counts by far (238). Mick D’Alton initiated OV24 on the Agulhas Plain and Dave and Sue Whitelaw have counted it more recently.

"Thank you to Adriaan Hanekom, Chairperson of the Caledon Wildflower Society, for arranging for us to meet in sheltered shade close to the cars and for the very welcome cup of tea/coffee which you, your wife and sister provided for us. Inés and Duncan Cooke made the most amazing and delicious iced fruit cake which we so enjoyed sharing. Inés and Duncan are going on a trip up the N2 later in February and are thoughtfully going to take cake to those further north, who were too far to come to the Caledon gathering!

"Each and every count is important, thank you to each team of observers for planning to be out bumping over dirt roads, stopping to get out every 2 km, scanning all around for the big birds, recording all the details on your form and now sending it to your Precinct Organiser. All your time, effort, skills and transport costs are much appreciated and many thanks to those who are also able to capture the data online. I am most impressed that by Wednesday morning there were already 25 captured routes on MyBirdPatch. The Humansdorp routes are all captured, thanks to Yvonne Craig-Bosman, the Precinct Organiser. Surveys were done all over South Africa, and to celebrate this, here is the team that counted Route FS106 in the Free State: Rikus, Dawie, Iné de Swardt and Hennie Bester. Many thanks to everyone who was involved last Saturday!"


2013-02-01 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
TGIFF &ndash: welcome the weekend with the Southern Foam Nest Frog! 

Southern Foam Nest Frog Gerhard Diedericks FrogMAP22TGIFF! Thank Goodness it is FROG FRIDAY!! To kick-start the weekend we are featuring the Southern Foam Nest Frog Chiromantis xerampelina. The Southern Foam Nest Frog is a slender grey treefrog, appearing almost completely white during the daytime. Males measure 43 75 mm and females 60–90 mm in snout-vent length. These frogs are grey to whitish in colour, but can also be brown with scattered dark markings. Southern Foam Nest Frogs are capable of considerable colour changes depending on their surrounding environment.

TGIFF Southern Foam Nest Frog FrogMAP distribution mapSouthern Foam Nest Frogs inhabit a variety of bushveld vegetation types in the Savanna Biome. Breeding usually takes place in temporary pans and wetlands, but also occurs in more permanent water bodies such as dams and quarries. In the absence of trees and shrubs, nests may be attached to the sides of large rocks or man-made structures which overhang water, including bridges, culverts and even bird hides. This frog is widely distributed in eastern and southern Africa. In southern Africa, the species occurs from near sea level in KwaZulu-Natal Province, through Swaziland and Mpumulanga and to 1200 m in Limpopo and North West Provinces. Visit the ADU's FrogMAP project at and remember to submit your froggy photos to the Virtual Museum.


2013-01-31 Les Underhill 
TTT – the species for this Thoughtful Threat Thursday is the "Vulnerable" Cape Dwarf Chameleon 

Find the Cape Dwarf ChameleonHave a TTT – Thoughtful Threat Thursday. And the animal in our thoughts today is the Cape Dwarf Chameleon. Its threat classification in the forthcoming reptile atlas is "Vulnerable" – this is the first time this species has had a threat status. There is a Cape Dwarf Chameleon in the photograph above. Once you have found it, it is easy to spot. It is ReptileMAP record 8085.

Cape Dwarf Chameleon distribution mapThe ReptileMAP distribution for this species shows that it has a tiny distribution in the southwestern corner of the Western Cape, stretching eastwards along the coast to Cape Agulhas. The dwarf chameleons occurring farther to the east have been demonstrated by molecular methods to be a series of distinct species; formerly many of these were regarded as a single species, with several subspecies.

Cape Dwarf Chameleons occur in fynbos, renosterveld, thicket, riparian vegetation, including exotic tree species. The species also occurs in leafy gardens, but is generally absent from agricultural landscapes.

The greatest current threat to this species is habitat loss through urban sprawl and especially through the transformation of natural vegetation to agricultural monocultures. It has been estimated that more than half of the historical natural habitat of this chameleon has been transformed.

Electrocuted Cape Dwarf ChameleonThis species needs the formulation and implementation of a research and management plan. Given that habitat loss, fragmentation and transformation are the most serious threats to this species, its remaining habitat must be wisely managed. Its new threat status of Vulnerable will influence future environmental impact assessments and also the design and management of urban green areas and nature reserves. The dispersal abilities of this chameleon need to be understood so that recommendations can be made regarding the linking of existing habitat fragments along corridors which enable dispersal and interbreeding. Public awareness should focus on the negative impacts of translocating chameleons and encourage the planting of chameleon-friendly gardens to increase and link remaining suitable habitat. Electric fencing (illustrated here) is yet another mortality factor in suburban areas. This photograph is ReptileMAP record 7986 in the Virtual Museum.

Every Cape Dwarf Chameleon encountered should be photographed, and uploaded to the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. This applies especially in the suburban areas, so that we can produce detailed 21st century distribution map of Cape Dwarf Chameleons in this environment.


2013-01-30 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Holub's Golden Weaver  

from PHOWN 4392

The Holub's Golden Weaver Ploceus xanthops is a golden yellow weaver, larger and heavier-billed than Eastern Golden (or Yellow) Weaver P. subaureus, and the eye is pale yellow, not red. The sexes are similar but males have an orange wash on the throat and upper breast (photo right) - other sympatric golden weavers have the whole head orange. Juveniles have longer tails than other similar juvenile weavers.

No subspecies of the Holub's Golden Weaver are recognised and it is found in Congo, DRC and Angola, and from East Africa south to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (see map, based on Birds of Africa). No large-scale range changes are apparent.

The Holub's Golden Weaver inhabits bushy areas interspersed with tall grass: it likes forest margins, woody savanna and dense vegetation along watercourses and stream lines. This species occurs mainly singly and in pairs, but may roost in flocks. Anting has been recorded.

Holub's Golden Weaver map

Holub's Golden Weavers feed on a variety of food including insects, berries, fruits, green and ripe seeds of grasses, seeds and nectar. They extract grubs from pods; termite alates are caught on the ground or on the wing. Young are fed on spiders and insects like grasshoppers, praying mantises, and tabanid flies.

Like many weaver species, the longevity record is over 10 years (see here).

The Holub's Golden Weaver is a territorial, monogamous, semi-colonial nester. Two or three territorial males often breed in a loose colony of 2-5 nests each. The male builds several nests (photo below from phown 2853) but usually only one is used for eggs. The breeding season is Jan-Apr over much of its range.

Holub's Golden Weaver

The nest is a large, bulky, kidney-shaped structure, with no spout but usually with a 'veranda' of seed-heads protruding from the entrance on the underside. The nest is woven of coarse, broad-bladed grass. Breeding nests are lined with grass heads and stems and sometimes a few feathers. The nest is usually suspended from its roof. Sometimes it is slung between reeds or supported at one side by a reed; or placed in tall bushes amongst elephant grass, on drooping tips over water, and in reedbeds.

Holub's Golden Weaver

The Holub's Golden Weaver has 49 PHOWN records, from across its range (see PHOWN summary). Colony size varies from 1 - 4.3 - 15 (n=19). Nests are mostly built in trees (n=42), but also in reeds (n=4) and mixed sites (n=3). In contrast, a study in Zimbabwe, counted 54 nests in reeds and 43 in trees.

Many more PHOWN records are needed for this common species, especially to study nest site use. Also look out for old nests which may be used by a variety of birds like Orange-breasted Waxbill Amandava subflava, and even by Woodland Mouse Grammomys dolichurus. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Cape Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-01-29 Dieter Oschadleus 
"Weavers for Africa" Conference, 26 January 2013 

The Animal Demography Unit held a successful one-day conference on weavers on 26 January 2013, sponsored by Project for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC), University of Cape Town. It was held at the Education Centre at Intaka Island, one of the top birding sites in Cape Town. See also the pre-conference details here.

30 participants attended, including two who travelled from far: Rene van Dijk from his Sociable Weaver study site near Kimberley, and Alex Zaloumis from Hoedspruit.

The following talks were presented:

  • Welcome to the Weaver conference - Les Underhill
  • Virtual Museum (Future developments) - Rene Navarro
  • Breeding biology of weavers - Dieter Oschadleus
  • The benefits of the communal life of Sociable Weavers - Rene van Dijk (See also Thermoregulation in Sociable Weaver nests)
  • PHOtos of Weaver Nests - what can be learned? - Dieter Oschadleus
  • MammalMAP, the African Mammal Mapping Project - Megan Loftie-Eaton [Photo (right): a link between weavers and MammalMAP!, from phown 4912.]
  • Weaver research, SESAW and more - Dieter Oschadleus
  • The weavers: ornithological opportunity for Africa - Les Underhill
  • Virtual Museum upload tips and Discussion - Dieter Oschadleus

On 27 January a ringing session was held at Intaka for those participants that wanted to attend. It was pretty windy but a number birds, including weavers, were ringed. Most of the weavers in Cape Town finished breeding earlier this year than is normal, but one active Southern Masked Weaver nest was found, and the single chick was ringed – here held by Camdyn (photo left), before replacing the chick in the nest (more photos at phown 5086).

Birds ringed include: Barn Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Cape Robin-Chat (recapture), Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Reed Warbler, Cape White-eye, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, and Common Waxbill.

Thanks to PERC for funding, to Intaka for the super venue, to Diva Cuisine for wonderful catering, and to all speakers and participants!


2013-01-29 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! We are featuring a species that attracts birds, Halleria lucida, the Tree Fuchsia  

Sappi Tree Tuesday Tree Fucshia Sally Adam ViTH196

We might be called the Animal Demography Unit, but we don't only focus on animals. We also have a Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH), which we will probably rename TreeMAP, to fit the MammalMAP, ReptileMAP, FrogMAP, ..., theme. And today is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! We are featuring Halleria lucida (also known as Tree Fuchsia, umBinza or Notsung). Halleria lucida is a small, attractive, evergreen tree that is indigenous to southern Africa. It is increasingly grown as an ornamental tree in African gardens. This tree has lush, glossy, bright-green foliage on arching and drooping branches. It is often multi-stemmed and can eventually reach a height of over 15 m. Tree Fuchsia is unusual in producing its flowers and fruit, not from the tips of its branches like most flowering trees, but from its trunk. The orange or purple flowers are incredibly rich in nectar, and are extremely attractive to sunbirds. The small, fleshy fruits are edible, and attract fruit-eating birds.

Halleria lucida is found in coastal scrub, deep evergreen forest, forest margins, forested ravines, and rocky mountain slope habitats, near rivers and on stream banks. ViTH logoThis tree is found from the Cape Peninsula in the south and along a strip of coastline on the eastern coast of South Africa, through the Eastern Cape Province to Lesotho, the eastern Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland where the distribution turns inland and roughly follows the escarpment into Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo and North West Province. Halleria lucida also occurs in isolated pockets in Zimbabwe. You can submit your Halleria lucida photos to ViTH at, and help us to create the 21st century distribution map for this awesome tree!

The photo above is ViTH record 196. The photo was taken by Sally Adam near Ruiterbos along the Garden Route.


2013-01-29 Les Underhill 
New paper: potential logger impact on foraging behaviour in Southern Rockhopper Penguins 

Logger technology has revolutionised our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of free-living animals but handling and logger attachments may have negative effects on the behaviour of the animals and their welfare.

ADU Postdoc Katta Ludynia was part of a team of researchers from the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, that studied the foraging behaviour of Southern Rockhopper Penguins breeding on New Island, in the Falkland Islands. Katta and her colleagues have now published a paper in PLoS ONE where they look at the impact of the handling and logger attachments on the foraging parameters and physiology of the penguins. They found little evidence for negative impact but pointed out that the diving behaviour might be negatively affected. This would not only constrain the birds' ability to catch prey but also affect the results obtained in logger studies as the results might not respresent the normal dive behaviour of the birds studied.

Southern Rockhopper Penguins Katta Ludynia New Island Falkland Islands

The paper is open access and is freely available from the PLoS ONE website.

Abstract: Logger technology has revolutionised our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of free-living animals but handling and logger attachments may have negative effects on the behaviour of the animals and their welfare. We studied Southern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) females during the guard stage in three consecutive breeding seasons (2008/09–2010/11) to evaluate the effects of handling and logger attachment on foraging trip duration, dive behaviour and physiological parameters. Smaller dive loggers (TDRs) were used in 2010/11 for comparison to larger GPS data loggers used in all three seasons and we included two categories of control birds: handled controls and PIT control birds that were previously marked with passive integrative transponders (PITs), but which had not been handled during this study. Increased foraging trip duration was only observed in GPS birds during 2010/11, the breeding season in which we also found GPS birds foraging further away from the colony and travelling longer distances. Compared to previous breeding seasons, 2010/11 may have been a period with less favourable environmental conditions, which would enhance the impact of logger attachments. A comparison between GPS and TDR birds showed a significant difference in dive depth frequencies with birds carrying larger GPS data loggers diving shallower. Mean and maximum dive depths were similar between GPS and TDR birds. We measured little impact of logger attachments on physiological parameters (corticosterone, protein, triglyceride levels and leucocyte counts). Overall, handling and short-term logger attachments (1–3 days) showed limited impact on the behaviour and physiology of the birds but care must be taken with the size of data loggers on diving seabirds. Increased drag may alter their diving behaviour substantially, thus constraining them in their ability to catch prey. Results obtained in this study indicate that data recorded may also not represent their normal dive behaviour.


2013-01-27 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Time for Sssssssssnake Sunday! Today, Schlegel's Beaked Blind Snake Sunday Schlegels Beaked Blind Snake Vaughan Jessnitz ReptileMAP7560

Time for Sssssssssnake Sunday! Today we are featuring Schlegel's Beaked Blind Snake Rhinotyphlops schlegelii. The Schlegel's Beaked Blind Snake is a relatively large snake. It grows to an average length of 60 cm but a few specimens reach up to 1 m in length. It has a beaked snout and small yet prominent eyes. The Schlegel's Beaked Blind Snake preys on termites and other invertebrates. They are oviparous snakes and lay between 8 and 60 eggs in summer.

Schlegel's Beaked Blind Snake is found in Mpumalanga and in Limpopo Provinces in South Africa as well as in southern Mozambique. Its favoured habitats are coastal forest and moist savannah. You can help us to build the 21st century distribution map of this (and other) cool snakes by submitting your photos to the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum at The photograph shown here is from this Virtual Museum, where it is Record 7560. It was taken by Vaughan Jessnitz at Hlambanyathi Nature Reserve, Mkuzi, KwaZulu-Natal.

The map below shows the species richness per quarter degree grid in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. As represented here, the species richness shown here includes both the Virtual Museum data from the 21st century, as well as the historical specimen data. It is clear that there are vast tracts of the region for which the recorded species richness is far below what the actual species richness must be!

ReptileMAP Snake species richness


2013-01-25 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
The Bush Squeaker is the focus of "Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday" this week 

TGIFF Bush Squeaker Ricky Taylor FrogMAP 396

It's the end of the week! Which means it is time for FROG FRIDAY!! Today we are featuring the Bush Squeaker Arthroleptis wahlbergii. The Bush Squeaker is a forest species, but also occurs in adjacent thickets and grasslands that have dense cover and accumulations of leaf litter. These frogs are common where they occur and frequently inhabit gardens and even alien tree plantations.

Bush Squeaker FrogMAP distribution mapThe Bush Squeaker is endemic to the east coast of South Africa, from just south of Port St Johns northward to the Mozambique border. In KwaZulu-Natal, its range extends inland to altitudes of c. 1000 m in the mist belt, where it is particularly common. The current FrogMAP distribution map is shown. All the orange grid cells represent historical records. The torquoise circles are Virtual Museum records. The photo shown here is one of these: FrogMAP database Record 396. It was taken by Ricky Taylor on 27 July 2012 at Mtunzini Village, KwaZulu-Natal. You can help us build the 21st century distribution maps for this and other frog species by submitting your photographs to the FrogMAP Virtual Museum at


2013-01-24 Dieter Oschadleus 
New weaver items added this week 

PHOWN records have been added for two new weaver species this week! Also a new paper about weaver idenification in the hand in the Western Cape has been uploaded.

Bannerman's Weaver

Bannerman's Weaver - first PHOWN record for the species (see phown 5068)

Black-necked Weaver

Black-necked Weaver - first PHOWN record for the species (see phown 5070)


bill lengths
Oschadleus HD. 2013. Identifying wetland warblers and weavers in Cape Town. Afring News 42: 1-4 (479 kB)

See more weaver identification papers here.


2013-01-24 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday reports fantastic news – the discovery of a second locality for the Wolkberg Zulu, one of South Africa's most endangered butterflies 

Wolkberg Zulu Andre CoetzerThe Wolkberg Zulu Aleana margaritacea is a unique butterfly in South Africa. They are mostly orange and black, and are tiny – the wingspan when their wings are open is only about the size of a R5 coin.

There are two zulu species in South Africa. The other one, called the Yellow Zulu Alaena amazoula, is yellow, as the name implies. It also lacks the bright orange on the underside of the wings and the veins on the underside are black, whereas the underside of the Wolkberg Zulu has a more mottled appearance. Apart from the Yellow Zulu, there are basically no South African butterflies that look similar. Until a few weeks ago, the Wolkberg Zulu was known only from the type locality, on a farm near Haenertsburg, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Habitat was a single grassy slope, where the adult butterflies fly on a steep, rocky north-east facing slope (see the lower picture(. The adult butterflies can be found flying slowly between the grass tussocks, and spend a lot of time just sitting on the grass stalks, or flying slowly between the grass tussocks. The best way to find them is to flush them up by walking through the grass! The females lay their eggs on the lichen-covered rocks, usually close to the ground. The lichen is also the larval food source, so when the eggs emerge the larvae feed on the lichen during the night and probably spend the days hiding in between cracks in the rocks. The flight-period is from mid-December to early January. There are historical records from as late as February, but the main brood flies only around Christmas time. The numbers of this butterfly have been dwindling and it is feared that an encroaching bluegum plantation may have had a negative effect on the only known colony of this butterfly.

Wolulu habitatThis butterfly is part of the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa's COREL program (Custodians Of Rare and Endangered Lepidoptera), which aims to protect South Africa’s critically endangered species. Custodian of the Wolkberg Zulu is André Coetzer.

In first week of January 2013, Haenertsburg botanist, Sylvie Kremer-Köhne, sent André a photograph of a butterfly taken while photographing wild flowers. It was a female Wolkberg Zulu! And it had been found about 10 km southeast of the original locality. With his father Bennie, and LepSoc council members Justin and Yolande Bode, he arrived in Haenertsburg on Saturday 5 January 2013. The Wolkberg was living up to its name and was covered in dense cloud with light drizzle. The temperature was around 14°C and far from ideal for searching for butterflies! With Sylvie joining them, the party set off to where the butterfly had been photographed the previous Thursday. The weather turned worse, an icy wind blowing rain across. Sylvie pointed upwards to a cloud-covered hill, where she said she’d photographed the butterfly...

Climbing over the steep slippery terrain, the cold rain made it a miserable ascent. After summiting in the hope of stumbling on a butterfly, the team decided to return to hot coffee in Haenertsburg. But on the way down, Yolande stumbled on an almost frozen butterfly – a beautiful male Wolkberg Zulu. The long drive and the cold weather were suddenly forgotten as Sylvie's find was confirmed – only the second known locality of one of South Africa's most endangered butterflies. Shutters clicked away as the little fellow was photographed. The next day, when the weather was warmer, the team found more butterflies, confirming that the discovery of the second locality!


2013-01-23 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Cape Weaver  

Cape Weaver Cape Weaver Cape Weaver

The Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis is a large weaver, with a long bill. The adult male (above left) in breeding plumage is bright yellow with varying amounts of orange-brown on the face, a black bill, and a pale eye. The female (above middle) is olive, with a yellow throat and belly, brown eye, and pale horn bill. Adult females usually have brown eyes, but 19% have pale eyes in summer and thus eye colour alone cannot be used to sex this species (read more at here). The male is in non-breeding plumage for a relatively short time when it resembles the female but is yellower below, and retains the pale eye. The juvenile (above right) is dull, with a yellowish belly.

Cape Weaver map

No subspecies of the Cape Weaver are recognised and it is a near endemic to South Africa (see map left, based on The Atlas of Southern African Birds and on SABAP2). The stronghold of the species is in the Western Cape. Currently it seems to have decreased its range in some areas, particularly in the northern Free State and North-West Province (red grids on the map).

The Cape Weaver has a relatively long bill that is adapted to feeding on a wide variety of vegetable and animal matter. There is a long list of recorded food items, including various insects, spiders, seeds, nectar, and fruit. Females appear to have a more varied diet than males. They forage on the ground and may turn over small stones and dried cow-pats. They also search the bark of trees for insects, and hawk flying insects. Cape Weavers are generalist nectar-feeders that are now considered to be the major pollinators of aloes.

This species is found in flocks, and it forms large roosts throughout the year, which may be shared with other weavers and species. In some areas they leave their breeding sites, and do not return until the following season. Anting has been recorded. Cape Weavers may bathe even in misty or rainy conditions.

Cape Weaver

The Cape Weaver is colonial and highly polygynous with up to 7 females per male. Males are strongly territorial within a colony, and males chase intruders off neighbouring territories. The nest (photo left from phown 1094) is built by the male. The nest is a bulky, kidney-shaped structure, with the entrance below and usually without an entrance tunnel. Males display from their nests to attract females. If a female accepts a nest, she lines it with fine grass.

The Cape Weaver has the second-most number of PHOWN records (first is the Southern Masked Weaver). There are 881 PHOWN records currently(see PHOWN summary), providing some useful statistics. Nests are mostly built in trees (n=725), but also in reeds (n=140) and on man-made sites (n=9). Colonies may be large with up to 348 nests recorded, but the average colony size is around 20 nests.

Cape Weaver

Some interesting records are: boomslang raiding colony phown 572 (photo right), colony in shopping mall phown 1260, and nests built on a building phown 1196. Cape Weavers also build their nests near nests of larger birds, like Hadedas or in heronries.

Many more PHOWN records are needed for this common species, especially repeat counts of colonies to study variation in colony size through the season and in different years (read more here). Also look out for old nests which may be used by Cape Sparrows Passer melanurus or African Dusky Flycatchers Muscicapa adusta. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-01-22 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday features the Umzimbeet 

Sappi Tree Tuesday Umzimbeet ViTH225 Chloe ReynoldsHooray!! Today is Sappi TREE TUESDAY! We're featuring the Umzimbeet tree Millettia grandis. The Umzimbeet tree belongs to the family Fabaceae. The Umzimbeet is a semi-deciduous tree that grows between 10–25 m tall. The stem is usually twisted or bent and often branches low down. The colour of the bark is pale brown to pale grey-brown. Its leaves are glossy dark green or blue-green above, and yellow-green beneath. Fine silky hairs are present on the undersides of the leaves and on the midrib. ViTH logo Older leaves turn yellow. Umzimbeet trees lose most of their leaves in the drier months, but they are soon replaced by new leaves which are reddish-brown and velvety at first.

These trees are found in the coastal regions of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. They are said to be most common in the Pondoland area of the Eastern Cape. They grow in forests and on forest margins. If you have photos of this cool tree please remember to submit them to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at


2013-01-20 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Good morning! And happy SNAKE SUNDAY!Today we are featuring the Bicoloured Quill-snouted Snake  

Snake Sunday Bicoloured Quill-snoted_Snake Dave Maguire ReptileMAP3499

Good morning! And happy SNAKE SUNDAY! Today we are featuring the Bicoloured Quill-snouted Snake Xenocalamus bicolor. The Bicoloured Quill-snouted Snake is a slender snake with a peculiar elongate, quill-shaped head and a pointed snout. This snake is usually uniformly black above with pale-centred or yellow-edged scales which give it a fine, chequered pattern. This species occurs in sandy soils and it is adapted to living underground. They are seldom seen on the surface, but can be found in termite mounds. Adults reach a length of between 30–50 cm.

Little detail is known about the reproduction of the Bicoloured Quill-snouted Snake. They are known to be oviparous and lay small clutches of 2–4 eggs at a time. These snakes are generally slow-moving, docile and are very reluctant to bite. They mainly prey on worm lizards (i.e. amphisbaenians) and burrowing skinks. The Bicoloured Quill-snouted Snake is restricted to sandy substrates and occur in the northern half of southern Africa. If you have any photos of this lovely little snake then please submit them to ReptileMAP ( and help us to build a 21st century distribution map of this awesome species!


2013-01-19 Les Underhill 
Our newest Virtual Museum, EchinoMAP, has already had more than 100 submissions in January! 

EchinoMAP record 84The Echinoderms, the taxon which includes the starfishes, sea urchins, brittle stars, feather stars and sea cucumbers, are conspicuous and attractive marine animals. They are frequently photographed by divers. Although many can be identified from photographs, no comprehensive guide to even the South African species exists, making it difficult to identify images accurately. Globally, the oceans contain about 7000 known species of Echinoderms.

Our newest Virtual Museum is for the Echinoderms, and it is called EchinoMAP. We launched it three months ago. New Virtual Museums grow slowly. This was especially going to be the case with our first ADU venture into the marine environment, and with this the need to recruit an entirely new community of participants. We are delighted that EchninoMAP is now starting to build up momentum. 102 records have been submitted this month already. EchinoMAP aims to collate all available images of echinoderms from anywhere along the South Africa (and in fact the whole of Africa), from the intertidal zone out to the ocean depths. If you have friends who are recreational divers, please encourage them to submit their photos to the EchinoMAP Virtual Museum. But you don't have to be a diver to contribute – photos of starfish in tidal rockpools are also valuable.

The project is motivated by the interest and enthusiasm of Professor Charles Griffiths of the UCT Department of Biological Sciences, and his team of postgraduate students, one for each of the major classes within the phylum. Charles says: "EchinoMAP will first of all help us to build up a comprehensive identification guide. Secondly, it will help us map the 21st century ranges of each species. Images of echinoderms from anywhere in Africa are welcomed and all contribute equally towards a better understanding of the distribution patterns of these fascinating creatures. This taxon is so poorly known that it is likely that divers will encounter species new to the region, or even to science." Submit your photos to

This awesome starfish illustrating this news item is Austrofromia schultzei. It is record 84 in the EchninoMAP Virtual Museum. The picture was taken by Johan Swanepoel in Algoa Bay.


2013-01-18 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
TGIFF – kick-start your weekend by sparing a thought for the Greater Leaf-folding Frog!! 

FrogMAP 573 Greater Leaf-folding Frog Nick Evans Thank Goodness It Is Frog Friday

TGIFF! Thank goodness it is FROG FRIDAY! Let's kick-start the weekend with this awesome frog – the Greater Leaf-folding Frog Afrixalus fornasini. The Greater Leaf-folding Frog is a large and slender frog (30–40 mm in length). Its dorsum and tibia are silvery white with small black-tipped spines that are larger on males than on females and many individuals have a broad brown mid-dorsal band. The Greater Leaf-folding Frog's sides, arms and feet are clear brown with white flecking. Their fingers are slightly webbed at the base and their toes are webbed with the exception of the tip of the fourth toe.

The Greater Leaf-folding Frog primarily inhabits dense savannah, but can also be found in dry forest and shrubland. It is typically found at altitudes below 300 m, although it has been recorded up to 1300 m in Malawi. The Greater Leaf-folding Frog occurs from the coast of southern Somalia southward through East Africa to Malawi, Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe as well as in South Africa. Go to FrogMAP at to submit your frog photos. Help us build the 21st century distribution maps.

Photo shown here, by Nick Evans, is FrogMAP record 573.



2013-01-17 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday: the alarming Cape Cormorant shrinkage  

Cape Cormorants, breeding at Stony PointMost people are a bit surprised to know that the Cape Cormorant is in a threat category. For example, if you travel out of Cape Town harbour, the breakwater is usually covered with a flock of Cape Cormorants several hundred metres long, and stretching almost its full width, 15 m or so. This single flock can represent 1000s of birds.

But the harsh reality is that, no matter how large and impressive these single flocks may be, counts at breeding colonies have shown a huge shrinkage in numbers of Cape Cormorants nesting. There were around 100 000 breeding pairs in 1978, this figure was down to little more than about 35 000 last breeding season, a decrease of more than 60%. At this rate of decrease, the Cape Cormorant should move into the "Endangered" category. In the Red Data Book published in 2000 it was listed as "Near-threatened", so it has potentially moved two threat categories to the worse in 13 years. It is alarming how quickly a species can collapse!

Pentad-scale distribution map for Cape Cormorant in western South AfricaA large fraction of Cape Cormorants, probably around half, are now breeding in a single colony, at Dyer Island, just west of the southern tip of Africa, at Cape Agulhas. There are real hazards in having, literally in this case, all your eggs in one basket. An oil spill during the breeding season could decimate the remaining populaton. The rehabilition of oiled cormorants is generally unsuccessful – this is mainly because oiled cormorants are usually extremely weak before they are catchable – cormorants are in sharp contrast to oiled penguins and even oiled gannets, where the rehabilitation success rate is extremely high.

And Dyer Island has seen the worst outbreaks of avian cholera at any locality in southern Africa. In one outbreak in 2004/05, 10 000 adult Cape Cormorants died essentially on their nests over the space of a few weeks. This was about one-third of the birds nesting on the island at the time, and 14% of the total population of the species in that year. Avian cholera is totally unrelated to cholera in humans, but has similar symptoms. A bird infected with the disease dies within a few hours. You can find a full account of this incident here

This is the new SABAP2 distribution map for the species. The area shown is western South Africa, from Cape Agulhas, westwards to Cape Point and then northwards to the Namibian border at the Orange River estuary. This is one of the new-generation maps, on a pentad scale. There was a news item in December about these new maps, with a full description of the interpretation (which is quite complex!). In a nutshell, if a pentad has up to three checklists, only "presence" or "absence" is shown, in grey squares and white circles, respectively. But once a pentad has four or more checklists, reporting rates are portrayed in full colour, from yellow to dark blue. If a pentad has four or more checklists, and the species has not been recorded, a white square is shown, which indicates the species is likely to be absent from the pentad. What is striking about this new range map is how scattered the distribution along the West Coast seems to be, especially north of St Helena Bay. Admittedly, many of the coastal pentads are white circles, so there are less than four checklists, and the absence of Cape Cormorants is only tentative. But the pattern is none the less not encouraging.

One of the (many!) things that we would really love Team SABAP2 to work towards in 2013 is to get as many pentads as possible up to at least four checklists, so that they are LIGHT GREEN on the coverage map. This will greatly improve the impact of these pentad-scale distribution maps.



2013-01-16 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver  

Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver

The Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser superciliosus is found in the savanna belt from Senegal across to Eritrea and central Ethiopia and as far south as Kenya. The adult (painting right) is a brown and white sparrow-like bird, with a distinctive head pattern: rufous crown, white supercilium and subocular mark, rufous patch on cheeks and ear-coverts separated by white line from prominent black malar stripe. It has white wing-bars and wing feather edgings. The immature bird is duller and paler than the adult.

This species was collected by Eduard Rüppell, a German naturalist and explorer, in Kordofan (Sudan) in 1825. He sent his specimens to Philipp Jakob Cretzschmar, a German physician and zoologist, who described around thirty new species in "Atlas zu der Reise im nordlichen Afrika von E. Rüppell", 1826-30 ("Atlas of Rüppell's Travels in Northern Africa"), including this species. The description was accompanied by a colour painting (right).

No subspecies of the Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver are recognised (see map right, based on Birds of Africa.


Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver map

The Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver is found in woodland and tall bush areas. In Nigeria it inhabits mature woodland, but appears to be more common in degraded and overgrazed erosion areas with many thorn bushes. It feeds on seeds by foraging on the ground, in tall grass heads, and in canopies of large bushes and small trees. It occurs mainly in pairs and can be unobtrusive; sometimes it is found in small flocks and sometimes feeds on the ground in loose flocks with other seed-eaters. There is one record of predation - a python swallowed an adult Sparrow-Weaver in Sudan.

Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver

The Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver is colonial, with several nests in a single tree. It may be a co-operative breeder. The nest (photo left from phown 695) resembles that of the White-browed Sparrow-Weaver. Nests are placed on branches rather than slung between them, up to 6 m above the ground. At least ten weaver species,including the Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, have been recorded as nesting near wasps.

Little is known about its breeding. The eggs (clutch size is 2) are cream or red, and heavily spotted with grey and lilac. Laying dates are known, but no more.

There are 3 PHOWN records (see PHOWN summary); two records from Gambia had one nest each and a record from Ethiopia had 8 nests. Many more PHOWN records are needed for this uncommon species to obtain more information on its breeding. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Sakalava Weaver           Full weaver species list


2013-01-15 Les Underhill 
Sappi Tree Tuesday features the Wild Gardenia 

Wild GardeniaHappy Sappi Tree Tuesday! Today we are featuring the Wild Gardenia Rothmannia capensis. The Wild Gardenia is indigenous to South Africa and it belongs to the family Rubiaceae. It usually grows 5–10 m in height, but can reach 20 m in forest conditions. It occurs from the Western Cape Province along the coastal regions and inland to the Waterberg and Soutpansberg in Limpopo Province. The Wild Gardenia produces abundant, sweetly fragrant flowers in the summer months, and these are followed by smooth, dark green, spherical fruits that are about 80 mm in diameter. The blackish bark has a distinctive rectangular pattern of fine cracks. The hard pliable wood is popular for instrument handles but also for making various household utensils. It makes durable spoons for cooking and stirring sticks for porridge. Baboons, vervet and samango monkeys eat the green and ripe fruits off the trees and bushbuck, grey duiker and bushpigs immediately devour dropped fruits in the forests.

Help us to map this beautiful tree's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to ViTH (Virtual Tree Herbarium) at


2013-01-14 Les Underhill 
The Power of the Citizen Scientist: Dr Tali Hoffman MammalMAP Coordinator, at TEDxUCT 

Tali Hoffman TEDxUCT The Power of the Citizen Scientist MammalMAP

TED started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED is devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading." There are annual TED conferences in the US and in Scotland. At these conferences, the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers are challenged to give the talk of their lives, and they are given 18 minutes or less to do this. The TED mission is about spreading ideas: "We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other." TED lectures to date are on the TED website.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED created a program called TEDx, where x means an independently organized TED event. TEDx is TED at the local level. TEDx is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like conferences, dealing with "ideas worth spreading." The first TEDxUCT took place at UCT late last year. The list of speakers is here. One of them is Dr Tali Hoffman, who leads the ADU's MammalMAP project. Her presentation is entitled The power of the citizen scientist, a topic hugely relevant to every ADU project. She says: "Our economies and lifestyles depend on biodiversity. Our very survival depends on the products of biodiversity: water, food, energy ... but the sustainability of our communities depends on the health of our relationships with our biodiversity." In her presentation, she is adamant that conservation is no longer restricted to scientists in white lab coats, or game rangers in khaki uniforms. Tali's focus is on the project she coordinates, MammalMAP, the African Mammal Atlas Project, and she demonstrates how it is promoting citizen science to reconnect us with our natural environments.


2013-01-13 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
First Snake Sunday of 2013 features the Angola Green Snake 

Angola Green Snake Gerhard Diedericks ReptileMAP 4590Yessssssss! Today is SNAKE SUNDAY! And we are featuring the Angola Green Snake Philothamnus angolensis. The Angola Green Snake has black skin between its scales and blue spots. It has round pupils. This snake has an excellent climbing ability and lives a diurnal lifestyle (i.e. active during the day). The Angola Green Snake grows to an average length of 1 m and a maximum length of 1.2 m.

The Angola Green Snake preys on birds, lizards (particularly chameleons) and frogs. It is an oviparous (egg-laying) snake, and usually lays between 4 and 8 eggs but sometimes lays up to 16 eggs. It is a non-venomous snake and is not dangerous to man. They average lifespan is likely to be about 10 years.

The Angola Green Snake is found in central Namibia, the Caprivi strip, northern Botswana, eastern Zimbabwe, west Mozambique and along the Mozambique/South Africa border. Its favoured habitats are lowland forest and the edges of arid savanna.

You can be an ambassador for biodiversity by submitting you snake photos, along with the location details, to the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum at This photo is the only record of Angola Green Snake so far in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum, where it is Record 1884. The photo was taken by Gerhard Diedericks.


2013-01-13 Les Underhill 
The Southern Grey-headed Sparrow continues on its mission of colonization! 

SABAP1vs2 range comparison, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, 27 March 2011

SABAP1vs2 range comparison, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, 13 January 2013

The last time we reported on the range expansion of the Southern Grey-headed Sparrow was on 27 March 2011. Here is that news item, as it was written then. This was one of the first species that we did a range change map for. Has this species continued expanding its range in the past two years? The answer is a resounding "YES" – the top map is the range-change map produced two years ago, and the bottom map is today's version.

The new map, the lower one, shows that a lot of the gaps in the Western Cape have been filled since 2011 – these are the cells which are now BLUE. GREEN cells, where reporting rates have increased between SABAP1 and SABAP2, now seem even more dominant. Many, but by no means all, of the PINK cells in the top map have disappeared since March 2011, because atlasing has taken place in them. These are the cells where Southern Grey-headed Sparrow had occurred during SABAP1, but for which there was no SABAP2 data. There are also fewer RED cells; these are places where the species had occurred during SABAP1, and for which there was at least one SABAP2 checklist, but Southern Grey-headed Sparrow had not yet been recorded. With additional checklists, the ongoing presence of the species has been confirmed.


2013-01-11 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
First Frog Friday for 2013! We feature the Bushveld Rain Frog 

Bushveld Rain Frog Vaughan Jessnitz FrogMAP537The first FROG FRIDAY for 2013! Today we are featuring the Bushveld Rain Frog Breviceps adspersus. The Bushveld Rain Frog occurs in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Its distribution closely matches that of the Savanna Biome, particularly the bushveld vegetation types that are characterized by "a grassy ground layer and a distinct upper layer of woody plants." It is conspicuously absent from the Grassland and Forest biomes. To see this, look at the distribution map that is produced by the FrogMAP Virtual Museum.

In spring or early summer, following heavy rain, males emerge from the soil and establish call sites 5–200 cm from their winter retreats. Bushveld Rain Frog distribution map from FRogMAPThe call site usually consists of a well-concealed shallow depression, about the depth of the frog's body, at the base of a grass tuft or small herbaceous plant. In overcast, damp conditions, calling may continue for several days and nights. Males are prompted to call by the calls of their immediate neighbours, and this results in bouts of calling which spread through the population in waves. When hot, dry weather returns, or when disturbed, males retreat to their underground burrows. Males have been observed to use the same call site for up to five consecutive nights.

On the distribution map, the historical records are shown as orange squares, and the handful of Virtual Museum records as torquoise circles. The picture above is one of these, and was taken by Vaughan Jessnitz in the Manyeleti Nature Reserve in Limpopo. It is record 537 in FrogMap. The historical records go back a 100 years or more! We needs lots more new distribution data. So, please help us to map this cool frog's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details, to FrogMAP at This applies to every other species of frog, too!


2013-01-08 Les Underhill 
Welcome to the first Sappi Tree Tuesday of 2013: the Keurboom 

Sappi logoThis is the first Sappi Tree Tuesday of 2013. Welcome. Today's tree is the Keurboom (two species, Virgilia oroboides and V. divaricata). The Keurboom is a "legume," a member of the family Fabaceae. The legumes comprise the third largest family of flowering plants behind the "orchids" and the "daisies." The legume family contains 730 general and 19400 species! It contains some key plants for food and agriculture including soybeans, beans, peas, lucerne, peanut, and (from my perspective!) liquorice.

KeurboomThe jury is still out on whether we are dealing with two separate species or whether there is just one very variable species, the "Keurboom." At present they are classified as two separate species. The species of Keurboom called V. oroboides is indigenous to the southern coast of South Africa, below about 1 200 m along a narrow strip of coast from the Cape Peninsula westwards to the town of George. V. divaricata occurs from the Klein Swartberg range near Goerge to as far west as Van Staden's Pass near Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape. Both species occur on the margins of forest patches, usually alongside streams and rivers but also on hillsides. In the wild, it is a forest pioneer species, and slower growing tree species benefit from the shade it provides.

The Keurboom is greatly valued as an ornamental tree by gardeners. It has a short life, 15–20 years, but it grows fast – in really good conditions it can be 1.5–2 m high at the end of its first year. It is wind tolerant. The tree has dense foliage and branches which grow right down to ground level, so they are great for making gardens private and for protecting more sensitive plants (and their owners!) from wind.

Keurboom3Keurbooms reach 10–15 m in height with a maximum trunk diameter of about 600 mm. The trees tends to be round and bushy. It has pinnate compound leaves. The flowers are generally pink and are fragrant and are rich in nectar, and attract birds and insects, especially sunbirds, and also honey bees, carpenter bees and ants. The flowers are produced mainly in spring and early summer. The flowers are followed by velvety pods, 50–88 mm long, which each release 2–6 seeds.

The generic name Virgilia was given in honour of Virgil, the great Roman poet. The Afrikaans name Keurboom means something like 'the tree of choice.' It is a horticultural species grown in gardens Australia and the United State where it goes under names such as the "Tree-in-a-hurry" and "Cape Lilac."


2013-01-07 Les Underhill 
Watch for the formal launch of the prepublication offer on the "butterfly atlas"  

SABCA book coverThe "butterfly atlas" is being prepared for printing. This is the product of the SABCA project, the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment. This project was a partnership between SANBI, LepSoc and the ADU.

Unless the distributions and Red List status of species are known, conservation planning is impossible. This book reports the outcomes of the most important biodiversity conservation project for butterflies ever undertaken in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. It contains an updated Red List for all 794 butterfly species and subspecies in the region. Each conservation assessment account is supported by a map showing the range of the species. These maps are based on the comprehensive butterfly distribution database assembled during this project. Each butterfly species has a colour photograph to enable identification. Introductory chapters provide details on the methods employed, a discussion on the conservation status of and threats to the butterflies in the atlas region, future priorities for butterfly conservation and research, and guidelines on how this publication should be used by various stakeholders. The broad range of information as well as the informative and beautiful illustrations presented here makes this a publication which will be useful to everyone, from conservation planners and managers, researchers, professional and amateur lepidopterists, legislators, environmental consultants and members of the public.

There are 657 species of butterflies in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Some of the species have subspecies, and it was at the level of subspecies that this conservation assessment was undertaken. Thus 794 taxa were assessed. Three are "Extinct" and 14 are "Critically Endangered" and four of these 14 are considered to be "Possibly Extinct." Another 27 taxa are classified as "Endangered," 19 as "Vulnerable," five as "Near Threatened" and nine as "Data Deficient." The remaining 717 taxa are "Least Concern."

This is a South African book. It will be printed on South African paper supplied by Sappi, and produced by CTP Book Printers. This is the same company that printed Faansie Peacock’s LBJs, a book that critically depends on the accurate rendition of colours. Each copy will include a contribution to butterfly conservation in southern Africa. Each copy sold will make a contribution to the South African economy and to butterfly conservation in the region.

There will only be one chance only to buy this book. Unless you buy your copy on the prepublication offer, you will be extremely lucky to obtain a copy later on. It will be 600 pages long, A4-size and full colour throughout, with a hard cover. The anticipated price on the prepublication offer will be R595, and this will include VAT, packaging and postage.

The formal pre-publication offer will launch towards the end of January, and will remain open until 31 March 2013. This is advance warning to prepare for this publishing opportunity.


2012-12-13 Dieter Oschadleus 
"Weavers for Africa" Conference, 26 January 2013  


If you are interested in weavers, the Animal Demography Unit Virtual Museums, or citizen science then consider attending the "Weavers for Africa" Conference, 26 Jan 2013, at Intaka Island in Cape Town.

The programme will include a variety of talks, field sessions, and workshop time. Provisionally, the formal programme will start at 9h00 and run until 15h00. Talks to expect:
Breeding biology of weavers
What has been learned from PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests)?
Talks presented by delegates
Future Virtual Museum developments
Virtual Museum upload tips
About the other Virtual Museums

Deadlines for registration:
by 7 Jan 2013 - to present a talk
by 14 Jan 2013 - early registration, includes free registration, entry and refreshments
until 25 Jan 2013 - late registration - entry fee (R10) and refreshments will be at own cost

More details are available HERE and programme details will be updated early in January.


2012-12-11 Les Underhill 
The Tall Firethorn Corkwood is the species for this week's Sappi Tree Tuesday 

Tall Firethorn Corkwood Sappi Tree Tuesday Vith84 Olivier Maurin

It is Sappi TREE TUESDAY!!!! The tree in the spotlight for today is the Tall Firethorn Corkwood Commiphora glandulosa. The Tall Firethorn Corkwood is usually a single-stemmed tree and grows up to 8 metres tall. Its bark is greyish-green to yellowish-green in colour and it tends to form flakes of small papery yellowish pieces. Young branches are hairless and spine-tipped. The Tall Firethorn Corkwood’s leaves are clustered on small lateral branchlets that are up to 6.5 cm long, they are more or less shiny green and hairless except for long glandular hairs near their base. The flowers grow in small clusters on the spur-branchlets. They are pink to reddish in colour and appear on the tree before the leaves. ViTH logoThe fruits of the Tall Firethorn Corkwood are ellipsoid to almost round in shape, up to 1.4 cm long, and red when ripe with a black seed inside.

The Tall Firethorn Corkwood prefers well-drained sandy soils in dry deciduous woodland areas. This tree occurs throughout Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in South Africa. If you have any photos of this beautiful tree, please submit them to ViTH at

Tree Tuesday is sponsored by Sappi.


2012-12-09 Les Underhill 
SABAP2 is not retiring at 65% coverage!! 


SABAP2 reached 65% coverage today. Awesome. And, nope, SABAP2 is not retiring at 65% coverage, we are pushing on as far as we can. Into the 70s, the 80s and 90s!

But let us first focus on the next big milestone, which is 2/3rds coverage, 66.67%, which is now 289 pentads away.

Can we get there by the end of the summer holidays? Yes, we probably can, provided we plan our holiday travels to take in a few undone pentads.


2012-12-09 Les Underhill 
ssssssssSSSSSnake ssssssssSSSSSunday: Southern Stiletto Snake 

Snake Sunday Southern Stiletto Snake

It is still Sssssssnake Sunday! And we are featuring the Southern Stiletto Snake Atractaspis bibronii. The Southern Stiletto Snake has a tail spine, small eyes, and has a uniform purple or black colouration. It has enlarged, erectile front fangs (this makes it very difficult to handle) and it has a predominately nocturnal lifestyle. It grows to an average length of 40 cm and a maximum length of 70 cm.

The venom of this snake is not lethal, but it is still dangerous and causes intense pain and swelling and often the loss of fingers. Anti-venom is not effective and should not be used.

The Southern Stiletto Snake preys on burrowing reptiles, frogs and rodents. They are oviparous snakes (egg-laying), and females lay between three and seven eggs in summer months.

The Southern Stiletto Snake ranges from KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Limpopo provinces in South Africa to Swaziland, southern and central Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and north east Namibia. It favours a wide variety of habitats ranging from fynbos to lowland forest. Please remember to submit your Southern Stiletto Snake photos to ReptileMAP at


2012-12-07 Dieter Oschadleus 
Southern Masked Weaver survey in Pretoria  

Over the last three months Pieter Cronje has searched for as many Southern Masked Weaver colonies in eastern Pretoria as possible and submitted the records to PHOWN. This must be the most intensive survey for this species to date! Well done, Pieter!

He submitted 107 records in October, 273 in November, and 44 in December for this species in Gauteng. This data set gave an average colony size of 3.1 nests, range 1-21 (n=424 colonies).

In urban areas, the Southern Masked Weaver often has small colonies with single males, and these colonies are relatively evenly dispersed. Typically each suburban garden has 1 colony with 1 male, but of course there are many exceptions. Pieter's data illustrates the small colony sizes very well. In rural areas, colonies may be much larger and contain several males.

The Southern Masked Weaver is the weaver with the most records in PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) and a summary of records may be viewed here.

Pieter has also submitted PHOWN records from East and West Africa. See all Pieter's records here.


2012-12-07 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
TGIFF – Frog Friday features the Flat-backed Toad 

Flat-backed Toad John Wilkinson. FrogMAP 228TGIFF! Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday! Today we are featuring the Flat-backed Toad Amietophrynus maculatus. This toad is medium-sized – adult males measure 38–54 mm) and females 41–60 mm. The parotid glands have numerous prominent warts, and the Flat-backed Toads have numerous sub-digital tubercles. They often have a light vertebral stripe, but they never have red colouration on the outer parts of their thighs. This toad has very warty skin.

Breeding takes place along rivers in the dry season, and during the wet season Flat-backed Toads move into the forest or savanna. Males call from partially concealed positions among vegetation at the edge of streams and pools. Long strings of darkly pigmented eggs are laid directly in the water including rivers, streams, pools and ditches. Tadpoles are 14–17 mm in length.

Flat-backed Toads inhabit various vegetation types within the Savanna and Grassland biomes, as well as on the Zululand coastal plain. Although this species is usually associated with riverine habitats in the Ivory Coast it occurs in both forest and savanna habitats. FrogMAP logoThe Flat-backed Toad is a widespread species associated with lowland rivers, forest edges and humid savanna at elevations up to 1700 m. It tolerates degraded habitat including agricultural fields.

If you have a photo of this lovely toad then please submit it, along with the location details, to FrogMAP at The photo shown here is FrogMAP record 228. It was taken by John Wilkinson, who is a regular contributor to the Animal Demography Unit's Virtual Museums.


2012-12-06 Les Underhill 
Threat Thursday this week travels to the Garden Route and ponders the status of the Critically Endangered Knysna Skolly 

Knysna Skolly Threat ThursdayThe Knysna Skolly Thestor brachycerus was discovered at Knysna by Roland Trimen, who also found the Brenton Blue. While it was originally very abundant, it has become rare because it is very habitat specific and has a small geographic range (only known from Knysna). Suitable habitat within this range has been lost. The population has declined since the 1960s and this has accelerated since 1980. It is classified as CRITICALLY ENDANGERED in the soon-to-be-published Butterfly Atlas.

The adults lay their eggs on a large range of different plants, demonstrating that the larvae do not to feed on plants at all. They are believed to be associated with ants and Homopterans (aphid-like insects) from which they obtain an (unknown) food source.

This species occurs on fynbos covered north, north-west and north-east facing slopes at an altitude of 10–180 m above sea level, but also remarkably at altitudes of less than 10 m adjacent to the sea shore. The habitat is prone to occasional fires, for which the insect is adapted, but it cannot cope with high intensity sheep grazing.

Knysna Skolly Threat ThursdayBuilding activities since the 1980s destroyed the strongest colonies of the Knysna Skolly close to the Knysna Eastern Heads, with the last colony lost in 1996, when the farm owner built a house on the exact centre of this colony. A strong colony found on Sparrebosch Estate was exterminated by the building of the access road to a golf estate in 1998. A small colony on a farm on the hills overlooking the Woodbourne Pan was eliminated by the change to sheep farming in the early 2000s. The strongest colony now remaining is on the Pezula Golf Estate below a single fairway of the golf course. The Pezula owners have recently undertaken to manage the site in accordance with the recommendations of butterfly experts. Searches for the butterfly are continuing on private land further to the east as far as the Harkerville State Forest and most of the way to Plettenberg Bay, so far without success.

A research programme is currently being undertaken by Liz Bazin, an MSc student at North-West University. Topics being studied are • Adult butterfly behaviour and habitat requirements • Female butterfly oviposition (egg laying) behaviour • The vegetation occurring in the habitat of the butterfly, both in terms of species composition, but also structure and age. • Sampling and identification of ant species assemblages at the places where the butterfly occurs. • The population of the butterfly at its various locations. • The impact of various management techniques (burning; cutting of vegetation)


2012-12-06 Les Underhill 
This disaster was ridiculously preventable: maritime report on the head-on collision between the bulk carrier Oliva and Nightingale Island last year in March 

Oliva Claudia Holgate

On 19 March last year, the ADU website carried the following news item. It was among the first to break the news of this ornithological disaster.

'SAFRING ringer, Claudia Holgate, is currently aboard the M/V Prince Albert II, a cruise ship to the Antarctic. She reports: "On Wednesday 16 March 04h30 the cargo ship Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island close to Tristan da Cunha. Because our arrival in the area was within 24 hours, our ship was informed by local authorities and asked to assist. On Thursday afternoon we conducted a rescue operation with our zodiacs to get the 10 remaining crew off the vessel. At 02h30 on Friday morning (yesterday), the ship split in half." This picture of the stricken vessel was taken by Claudia Holgate.

'Currently there is an oil slick spreading, and there are reports from Nightingale Island of Northern Rockhopper Penguins coming out of the sea covered in oil. Claudia reports: "The spill could not have happened at a worse place."

'The Oliva was a 75 300 tonne cargo ship carrying soya beans from Brazil to Singapore, and was carrying about 1500 metric tons of heavy fuel oil. The ship ran aground at Spinners Point, the NW corner of the island. There are many species of birds that are only found in this area and a major oil leak may have catastrophic consequences to the bird life around these islands. Nightingale Island and the closeby Middle Island host breeding populations of seabirds numbered in millions. Another potential problem is rats finding their way from the sinking ship onto the island and this is a real threat to burrow nesting birds. A salvage tug, the Smit Amandla, was dispatched from Cape Town on 17 March, and is expected to arrive on 21 March. The distance from Cape Town is about 2000 km. On board the tug is Estelle van der Merwe, who was in charge of SANCCOB at the time of the Treasure oil spill, and she is working in close collaboration with SANCCOB.

'More news, especially as it relates to oiled birds, will follow here as it becomes available.'


Well, a news blackout was pretty rapidly imposed. And very little information emerged at the time. But now at last, the final report from the shipping investigation has been released. This maritime safety document deals with what can only be described as the head-on collision between the bulk carrier Oliva and Nightingale Island. The wreck produced a massive oil spill in the Tristan da Cunha group. The 51-page document can be downloaded here. Here are some of the summarizing points in the report.

Oliva ran aground because the planned course the vessel was following on the plotting sheet was found to have taken the vessel directly over Nightingale Island.

• Although the bridge team was aware that the vessel would be passing close to some islands, it was not aware as to when that event would take place.

• Although the vessel did not have BA chart 1769, other appropriate available charts covering the area had not been used.

• Both the second mate and chief mate were not aware that the vessel was heading towards Nightingale Island. This was because there was no indication on the plotting chart to alert them of the dangers ahead.

• Both the second mate and chief mate saw some echoes on the radar screen, but did not investigate them and dismissed them as rain clouds.

• There was no suitable mark placed across the ship's track to indicate the need to change to a hydrographic chart.

• Neither officer had consulted BA chart 4022. Although this chart was of an unsatisfactory scale, it could have prompted them to adopt a precautionary approach when radar echoes were sighted on the radar.

• The combination of the cold, the medication, lack of sleep, the time of the day and reaction to the vessel's grounding suggests that the chief mate was probably not fit to stand a navigational watch.

• Although the company had provided comprehensive guidance and procedures in its SMS to prevent this accident, these were not followed on board.

• The passage plan did not comply with the company's instructions of clearing distances when a vessel was in open waters.

• The master made no reference to the passing of Islands in his night orders. Reference to the Islands, could have alerted the second mate and chief mate to the significance of radar echoes.

• The handing over checklist required the chief mate to establish the proximity of any hazards to the vessel. This appears not to have happened and he relied on the brief hand-over he received from the second mate.

• The chief officer did not check the position which the able-bodied seaman plotted on the chart.

Gosh, what a disgrace – this is a disaster which was ridiculously preventable.


2012-12-05 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Grey-headed Social Weaver  

Photo (left): adult Grey-headed Social Weaver, from Wikimedia Commons, by Dick Daniels.

The Grey-headed Social Weaver Pseudonigrita arnaudi is named after the French collector M Arnaud, and the English name is based on the bird's plumage. It is a brownish bird with a conspicuous pale grey crown, white eye-ring and pale-tipped tail; the sexes are similar (photo left). It is found in bush and acacia woodland.

The Grey-headed Social Weaver is similar to the only other species in its genus, the Black-capped Social Weaver - see Weaver Wednesday [6]. The two species can occur together, although the Grey-headed usually prefers wetter areas than the Black-capped.

Two subspecies of the Grey-headed Social Weaver are currently recognised (see map, based on Birds of Africa):
P. a. arnaudi in SW Sudan, south to NW Tanzania (see red on map).
P. a. dorsalis in north, central and eastern Tanzania (see blue on map). The mantle is grey instead of brown.

The Grey-headed Social Weaver feed mostly on the ground, eating grass seeds and insects, the latter including grasshoppers, beetles, termites and caterpillars. They feed their young on soft green grass seeds and insects. Birds drink regularly.

It is a colonial, monogamous, co-operative breeder. Several groups of 2-10 birds occupy a colony, each group having 2-8 nests, with up to 157 nests, sometimes touching, in a single tree. Sub-adult helpers may assist in feeding young. Breeding depends on rainfall and at some colonies, eggs laid in all months of the year.

The nest (photo, from phown 3160) is built by both sexes and is a large, compact grass nest firmly attached to thin branches. The nest is symmetrical, with 2 openings below in roosting nests, but one entrance is closed when eggs are laid. The nest is made of straight grass stems, laid like thatch around a central cavity. Birds constantly add to and modify the nest.

Incubation is by both sexes. Pairs with helpers raise more young than pairs without helpers. Old nests are used by Cut-throat Finches Amadina fasciata, while Chestnut Sparrows Passer eminibey actively take over new nests.

There are 15 PHOWN records (see PHOWN summary), all of the nominate subspecies, and more PHOWN records are needed. Also look out for other bird species using their nests. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Spectacled Weaver           Full weaver species list


2012-12-04 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Sappi Tree Tuesday features the Giant Raisin Tree 

Giant Raisin Tree Michelle van der Bank Sappi Tree TuesdayToday is Sappi Tree Tuesday! And we are featuring the Giant Raisin Tree Grewia hexamita. The Giant Raisin is a shrub or small tree (5 m tall) with rough, dark grey bark and smooth, reddish-brown branches. The flowers of the Giant Raisin Tree are showy, golden-yellow, and about 4–5 cm in diameter. They grow solitary or in 2–3-flowered axillary clusters. The Giant Raisin's lovely scented flowers attract butterflies and birds and many wild animals such as warthogs, antelope and baboons eat the fruits. The seeds that have passed through the stomach of these animals germinate rapidly, due to the stomach acids that help to dissolve the tough seed coat.

The Giant Raisin tree is a frost-resistant, hardy and adaptable to all soils, from clay to sand, and does not require a lot of water. It occurs naturally in open grasslands and in sparse, dry woodlands. It is found in ViTH logoKwaZulu-Natal province and the lowveld of South Africa and northwards to Tanzania. If you have photos of this cool tree then please submit them to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at


2012-11-30 Les Underhill 
How to make 2.5 billion termites disappear? A case for protecting the Amur Falcon 

Amur Falcons ready for market; Conservation India What impact does the recently reported hunting of Amur Falcons in India have on South Africa? The original news item, written by Conservation India, has the title Shocking Amur Falcon massacre in Nagaland and you can read it here. Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan, who authored the report, summarize it as follows: "This is a documentation of the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migratory Amur falcons Falco amurensis in the remote state of Nagaland in India's northeast. We estimate that during the peak migration 12 000–14 000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale everyday. We further estimate that a mind-boggling 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state." This photograph was provided by Conservation India, and shows Amur Falcons plucked and ready for market.

In a new paper in Ornithological Observations, Henk Bouwman and Hanneline du Plessis, University of North-West in Potchefstroom, plus Craig Symes at the University of Witwatersrand, point out that termite alates are an important part of the diet of Amur Falcons while they are in their non-breeding grounds in South Africa. They discuss the implications of termites for ecosystem functioning in general and agriculture in particular. They remind us: "Termites are landscape engineers. Effects on their numbers might effectively alter ecosystem functioning at the landscape level. Each breeding pair of alates could establish one nest, producing thousands of termites that consume much vegetation biomass (fresh or dead) over many years. A reduction in avian predation on termites would presumably increase the number of termite colonies and therefore increase pressure on agriculture, rangelands, and wooden constructions."

Henk and co-authors watched Amur Falcons catching alates during an emergence, and estimated that each falcon caught 250 alates, which weighed 22 g. Using this information, they made a series of estimates. "Assuming that 130 000 less birds reach Africa and if each bird experiences only one emergence while here for four months, this means that 32.5 million alates weighing 2 893 kg will not be consumed." At a population level, they made this estimate: "Assuming a global population of 1 million birds, all wintering in Africa, produces astounding numbers. 250 million alates representing 22 tons of biomass could be consumed for only one emergence per bird. For 10 emergences, 2.5 billion alates at 223 tons of biomass could be consumed. For comparison, a 747 jet weighs about 272 tons."

Download the paper from the Ornithological Observations website. It is called "How to make 2.5 billion termites disappear? A case for protecting the Amur Falcon Falco amurensis. The URL at which you can download the pdf of the paper is at This the 69th paper in Ornithological Observations, and you can browse the contents of the 2012 volume, which is the third volume, at If you have an interesting ornithological observation to report, then there are guidelines for authors on the Ornithological Observations website at

Ornithological Observations is an ejournal published by BirdLife South Africa and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town.


2012-11-30 Doug Harebottle 
New Regional Atlas Committee for Botswana 

We are pleased to announce that a Botswana Regional Atlas Committee (RAC) is now in place to adjudicate out-of-range records from SABAP2 cards that are currently submitted for Botswana pentads. As of today, all ORFs produced from Botswana atlas cards will now be processed like all other ORFs - i.e. they will be returned to observers for checking and then forwarding on to the RAC for final adjudication. Once the record has been adjudicated a notification email will be sent to the observer informing them of the outcome of the RACs decision.

The RAC essentially constitutes the Records Sub-committee of BirdLife Botswana which is chaired by Chris Brewster. Other members on the committee include Stephanie Tyler, Richard Randall, Andrew Hester and Keddy Mooketsa. Chris will be the contact point for atlasers and his email will be on the verification information sheet that you receive with your ORF email.

Chris and his team will also start reviewing and assessing all historical ORFs and may well be contacting some observers who have any 'outstanding' ORFs for Botswana. 

Although there is no formal bird atlas in Botswana, atlasing is encouraged and cards can be submitted for pentads when visiting the country or from local birders in Botswana. Any records received will certainly go a long way in helping add value to the knowledge currently available on the status and distribution of birds in Botswana, and indeed for southern Africa.

We are extremely grateful to the BirdLife Botswana Records Sub-committee for agreeing to help check and verify SABAP2 records. This will ultimately ensure that Botswana's atlas records remain as up to date as possible.


2012-11-30 Richard Sherley 
New paper: Evaluating the Impact of Handling and Logger Attachment on Southern Rockhopper Penguins  

Logger technology has revolutionised our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of free-living animals but handling and logger attachments may have negative effects on animal behaviour and welfare.

ADU Postdoc Katta Ludynia was part of a team of researchers from the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, that studied the foraging behaviour of southern rockhopper penguins breeding on New Island in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas from 2009 to 2011. Katta and her colleagues have now published a paper in PLoS ONE where they look at the impact of the handling and logger attachments on the foraging parameters and physiology of the penguins. They found little evidence for negative impact but pointed out that the diving behaviour might be negatively affected. This would not only constrain the birds’ ability to catch prey but also affect the results obtained in logger studies as the results might not respresent the normal dive behaviour of the birds studied.

The paper is freely available from PLoS ONE and the abstract is below.

Abstract: Logger technology has revolutionised our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of free-living animals but handling and logger attachments may have negative effects on the behaviour of the animals and their welfare. We studied southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) females during the guard stage in three consecutive breeding seasons (2008/09−2010/11) to evaluate the effects of handling and logger attachment on foraging trip duration, dive behaviour and physiological parameters. Smaller dive loggers (TDRs) were used in 2010/11 for comparison to larger GPS data loggers used in all three seasons and we included two categories of control birds: handled controls and PIT control birds that were previously marked with passive integrative transponders (PITs), but which had not been handled during this study. Increased foraging trip duration was only observed in GPS birds during 2010/11, the breeding season in which we also found GPS birds foraging further away from the colony and travelling longer distances. Compared to previous breeding seasons, 2010/11 may have been a period with less favourable environmental conditions, which would enhance the impact of logger attachments. A comparison between GPS and TDR birds showed a significant difference in dive depth frequencies with birds carrying larger GPS data loggers diving shallower. Mean and maximum dive depths were similar between GPS and TDR birds. We measured little impact of logger attachments on physiological parameters (corticosterone, protein, triglyceride levels and leucocyte counts). Overall, handling and short-term logger attachments (1–3 days) showed limited impact on the behaviour and physiology of the birds but care must be taken with the size of data loggers on diving seabirds. Increased drag may alter their diving behaviour substantially, thus constraining them in their ability to catch prey. Results obtained in this study indicate that data recorded may also not represent their normal dive behaviour.

Reference: Ludynia K, Dehnhard N, Poisbleau M, Demongin L, Masello J F, Quillfeldt P. 2012. Evaluating the Impact of Handling and Logger Attachment on Foraging Parameters and Physiology in Southern Rockhopper Penguins. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050429.


2012-11-29 Les Underhill 
The Critically Endangered Waterberg Copper butterfly has not been seen for 10 years – Threat Thursday  

Waterberg Copper Steve WoodhallThe Waterberg Copper Erikssonia edgei is a butterfly which was discovered by Dave and Esmé Edge in December 1980, on Tilodi game farm in the Waterberg, in Limpopo Province of South Africa. It was an extraordinary find – the closest known localities for similar butterflies were in Angola and Zambia.

For many years it was assumed that the butterflies found in the Waterberg were the same as the Angolan and Zambian butterflies, Eriksson’s Copper Erikssonia acraeina. However recent research has concluded that the Waterberg Copper is a distinct species. Photographs of the upperside (left) and underside (rightt) of this butterfly are shown below.

GifbossieAfter its discovery, this intriguing butterfly became the subject of intensive study by experts and conservationists. It was found that the adult butterflies lay their eggs on the ground next to "Gifbossie" Gnidia kraussiana plants – this is a widespread perennial which is known to be toxic to cattle. The caterpillars feed on this plant when they hatch and are associated with a species of ant that nest in the surrounding soil. The caterpillars shelter in the ants' nests until the pupae are formed. The adult butterflies fly from November to February.

The Tilodi locality is about 3 ha in extent and consists of grassy meadow with scattered trees, situated on level ground at the north-west facing base of the Perdekop. In the 1980s, cattle grazed the site and regular grass-burning was undertaken to improve grazing. As a result there were many open patches – the soil was well drained; ant nests were common and the butterfly’s larval food-plant flourished. However in the early 1990s regular burning and cattle grazing ceased and by the late 1990s the locality had become overgrown and the Gifbossie plants were scarce and in poor condition. It has not been seen for over 10 years and there is serious concern that it may have become extinct.

Waterberg Copper uppersideWaterberg Copper undersideSo it comes as no surprise that this butterfly is classified as Critically Endangered.

Recent searches by members of the Lepidopterists' Society of Africa on the Tilodi farm and on neighbouring properties such as Buffelspoort and the Marakele National Park have found large expanses of suitable habitat, but no Waterberg Copper butterflies.

Watch this space for the pre-publication offer on the new butterfly atlas which contains the conservation assessments for this, and all other South African butterfly species.


2012-11-28 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Spectacled Weaver  

The Spectacled Weaver Ploceus ocularis is named after the black line running through its eye. It is found in open woodland, forest margins, bushy thickets, wooded valleys, along riverine woodland, savanna with sparse trees, and gardens.

Unlike many other weaver species, Spectacled Weavers have the same bright yellow plumage year round. Sexes are similar but the female lacks the black bib of the male (above left). The juvenile has a pinkish bill, without the eye-stripe initially but can be distinguished from other weavers by its thin bill (above right). See a photo of the female in this pdf on eye colours here (821 kB). The western race of the Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis (see photo birdpix 1064) is very similar in plumage, and the two species overlap in range in Cameroon.

Three subspecies of the Spectacled Weaver are currently recognised (see map, based on Birds of Africa):
P. o. ocularis in eastern South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique south of the Limpopo River (see green on map).
P. o. suahelicus in coastal Kenya and highlands east of the Rift Valley, eastern Tanzania, Malawi, eastern Zambia, eastern Zimbabwe, and Mozambique north of the Limpopo River (see yellow on map). It is smaller than the nominate subspecies.
P. o. crocatus is found in SE Nigeria and Cameroon east (discontinuouly) to South Sudan and Ethiopia, East Africa west of the Rift Valley, western Zambia, Angola and south to northern Botswana (see red on map). The head of both sexes is less chestnut than in the other races.

The Spectacled Weaver is minly insectivorous, including crickets, moth caterpillars, beetle larvae; also spiders, centipedes, small crabs; geckos 3 cm long; berries; whole flowers; nectar. The typical call while feeding is a characteristic descending series of whistles,'tee-tee-tee-tee".

Photo (left): pair of Spectacled Weavers at nest suspended from roof, a rather unusal nest site for this species, from phown 2303.

It is a solitary species, probably a permanent pair bond, and pairs often nest at the same site every year. Sometimes nests from previous seasons hang near new nests. The nest is usually built by the male but sometimes the female helps. Unlike polygynous weavers which often build a nest in a day or two, the Spectacled Weaver may take 2-3 weeks to complete its nest. The entrance tunnel is usually 10-20 cm long but may be more than 60 cm long. Nest height varies from 1-7 m above the ground. Egg laying may be as long as two months after the nest is completed. Sometimes a pair will raise two broods in a season - the same nest or a new nest may be used. Beryl Fraser submitted a great sequence of photos of a Spectacled Weaver pair that raised two broods in the same nest - see the PHOWN record here.

It is an occasional host of the Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius. The oldest Spectacled Weaver to date was a female recaptured several times up to 12 years 7.5 months later (see here).

There are 62 PHOWN records (see PHOWN summary), but more PHOWN records are needed. By taking photos from the side of the nest and submitting to PHOWN, it may be possible to estimate the length of the tunnel from the photo. This way a large sample of tunnel lengths may be obtained, so please do look out for Spectacled Weaver nests! Pairs may remain near their nests during winter, so it is also worthwhile checking to see if the birds roost in their old nests during winter (if you are fortunate enough to have them breeding in your garden!). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Eastern Golden Weaver           Full weaver species list


2012-11-27 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today is SAPPI Tree Tuesday and we feature the Shakama-plum Tree 

Shakama-plum Tree Michelle van der BankToday is Tree Tuesday, sponsored by SAPPI! Today, we are featuring the Shakama-plum Tree Hexalobus monopetalus. The Shakama-plum is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows up to 15 m tall with an erect or spreading crown and low branches. The Shakama-plum prefers woodland savannas or gallery forests, often growing on sandy soil in dry rocky places, from sea level to an altitude of 1600 m. The leaves of the Shakama- plum are alternate, oblong-elliptic to obovate and often covered in short reddish hairs on the undersurface. The flowers are solitary in the leaf axils with long slender, twisted petals, usually opening only when the tree is leafless. The fruit grows in 1–3 cylindric segments, sparsely covered in short hairs, and is red when ripe. The fruits are edible.

This species of tree occurs from West Africa to Sudan, from Tanzania to the north of South Africa and the south-west of Angola, but it is absent from the evergreen forest regions. Please remember to submit your tree photos, along with the location details, to ViTH (the Virtual Tree Herbarium) at


2012-11-26 Les Underhill 
OdonataMAP, the Virtual Museum for dragonflies and damselflies, continues to grow and grow 

Nomad, Alan Manson, OdonataMAP record 2049OdonataMAP is steadily growing into a formidable database of distribution records of dragonflies and damselflies. Warwick Tarboton has just done the identifications of another 692 records. The total number of records in the database is 2114, of which 2036 have been identified by Warwick. The remainder have been submitted since the last batch was sent off to him! This picture, taken by Alan Manson in KwaZulu-Natal, on 6 November this year, is of a species that has the common name Nomad, and its scientific name is Sympetrum fonscolombii. It is record 2049 in OdonataMAP.

Warwick reports: "Chris Willis's huge submission of 518 records in this batch comprised 66 species and these included eight new species for the OdonataMAP Virtual Musuem – interesting crepuscular species such as the Usambara Dusk-Hawker Gynacantha usambarica and the Banded Dusk-Darter Parazyxomma flavicans, two sombre-looking Zululand dragonflies which largely go overlooked; another first record from Chris was the elusive Werner's Dropwing Trithemis werneri from Pafuri. The charming little Black Splash Tetrathemis polleni was recorded for the first time, simultaneously by Chris (from the Eastern Cape) and John Wilkinson (from Tshipise). Chris's superb photography allowed many of the small damselflies to be identified with greater confidence and to distinguish between the look-alike Navy and Dorsal Dropwings Trithemis furva and Trithemis dorsalis. There remains a problem, though, in identifying the very small whisps, bluets and slims from photographs, and also the pruinosed male skimmers, and in these cases photographers need to either take close-ups of the genitalia or examine them with a hand-lens and record their identification with the record. A couple of hundred records have been identified to genus level.

"The OdonataMAP Virtual Museum has now topped the 2000-mark. It includes 110 species photographed in South Africa (from a country-total of 160 species) and a couple more photographed from neighbouring countries. The species with the best coverage – Red-veined Dropwing, Julia Skimmer, Broad Scarlet, African Bluetail, Kirby's Dropwing and others – are, as expected, the commonest and most widely distributed species in the country and the OdonataMAP distribution maps are beginning to show this."

Warwick's parting shot: "January and February are prime months for dragonflying, so there's a great opportunity in the next few months to push OdonataMAP even further along the road."

If you are a registered ADU observer, with an email/password login, and participate in any of our projects, you can participate in all projects, including uploading images to any of the Virtual Museums. The Virtual Museum website is at If you are not an ADU observer, go to this website, and follow the link to "Registration."


2012-11-23 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Thank Good It's Frog Friday, and the African Clawed Frog, the Common Platanna, comes into sharp focus 

TGIFF Common Platanna, African Clawed Frog

TGIFF – Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday! The species in the spotlight for today is the African Clawed Frog or Common Platanna Xenopus laevis. The African Clawed Frog is a species of South African aquatic frog of the genus Xenopus, which in turn is part of the family Pipidae. Its name is derived from the three short claws on each hind foot, which it uses to tear apart its food. The word Xenopus means "strange foot" and laevis means "smooth". The African Clawed Frog has a flattened head and body and can grow up to 12 cm in length.

The African Clawed Frog is found throughout most of Africa, and in isolated, introduced populations in North America, South America, and Europe. All species of the Pipidae family are tongue-less, toothless and completely aquatic. They use their hands to shove food into their mouths and down their throats. African Clawed Frogs have powerful legs for swimming and lunging after food. They also use the claws on their feet to tear pieces of large food. They lack true ears but have lateral lines running down the length of the body and underside, which is how they can sense movements and vibrations in the water. They use their sensitive fingers, sense of smell, and lateral line system to find food.

Do you have photos of an African Clawed Frog? Be an ambassador for biodiversity and get your African Clawed Frog photos submitted to FrogMAP at


2012-11-22 Les Underhill 
Tali Hoffman, MammalMAP presentation, EWT store, Waterfront, Cape Town, tomorrow, Friday, 18h00 

Aardvark MammalMAP 1679 Vaughan JessnitzTali Hoffman, MammalMAP project coordinator says: "Tomorrow, 23 November, at 18h00 is the MammalMAP event at the EWT V&A Waterfront store. I'll be giving a short and hopefully entertaining talk (it's Friday evening after all), and thereafter it's time to network, mingle, and talk wildlife conservation while sipping on wine provided by Painted Wolf. Remember to RSVP the store on 021 418 6813/ Hope to see you there!"

This awesome picture of an Aardvark was submitted by Vaughan Jessnitz to the MammalMAP Virtual Museum. It is Record 1679.


2012-11-21 Dieter Oschadleus 
Weaver Wednesday: Eastern Golden Weaver  

The Eastern Golden Weaver Ploceus subaureus is also known as the African Golden Weaver or Yellow Weaver. The name has been confused with Holub's Golden Weaver P. xanthops but the scientific names prevent confusion. The Eastern Golden Weaver is common from Kenya to the Eastern Cape and as far inland as Malawi (see map below), based on Birds of Africa). Inhabits coastal plains, river floodplains and lowland river valleys.

It is a yellow weaver. The male in breeding plumage has a black bill and red eye (above left). The female is duller yellow, has a horn to dark bill, and eye is brown or reddish brown (above middle). Read more about the variation in eye colour of this species and some other weavers in a pdf here (821 kB).

Two subspecies are currently recognised:
P. s. subaureus in central and south Mozambique south of Save River and south along the coast to extreme eastern Swaziland and south to the Eastern Cape (see red on map left).
P. s. aureoflavus is found in SE Kenya (south of the Tana River), coastal Tanzania (including Pemba and Zanzibar), eastern Malawi, and northern Mozambique (see blue on map left). The male in breeding plumage has a orange wash on the forehead, crown, sides of head, chin and throat (above right), and is smaller than the nominate subspecies.

This species appears to be expanding its range westwards in Swaziland and the Kruger National Park, Mpumulanga, South Africa (see SABAP2 map here. This includes a PHOWN record 1701 near Kruger.

The Eastern Golden Weaver feeds on seeds, including rice and millet, and also nectar and insects, especially termite alates. The young are fed mainly on insects.

Photo (right): male Eastern Golden Weaver below nest, from phown 1960.

It is colonial, with small territories, and is probably polygynous. The tightly-woven nest is oval to spherical, with the entrance below. Nest material is grass or reed strips. Lined with soft Eragrostris inflorescences, rarely a few feathers. The nest is attached to a single reed stem at the side, or supported by a reed on either side, sited 1-2 m above water, or is situated in trees at a much higher level. The reeds or branches above nests are often stripped of leaves. It may nest alongside other weaver species.

Nests were raided by African Fish Eagles Haliaeetus vocifer in Malawi. It is an occasional host of the Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius. Of 13 birds recovered, 1 had moved 78 km, the others being within 10km of the ringing site. The oldest Eastern Golden Weaver to date was a female recaptured after 8 years 5 months (read more here).

There are 54 PHOWN records, covering both subspecies (see PHOWN summary). Average colony size in reeds and trees is similar at 26 (n=22) and 27 (n=8) respectively, but more PHOWN records with counts are needed to allow more detailed analyses. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: White-winged Widowbird           Full weaver species list


2012-11-21 Les Underhill 
Challenges to Statistics from Biology : Presentation at the University of Amsterdam tomorrow 

Challenges to Statistics from BiologyI am currently visiting the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam, specifically working with Professor Willem Bouten who leads the Research Group of Computational Geo-Ecology. The group describes its mission: "We investigate the behaviour and distribution of species at multiple scales in the context of global ecology and geo-bio conservation. To this end, we develop and apply technology to collect accurate and reliable observations through GPS tracking, various radar systems, and remote sensing. At the analysis-side, we combine data-driven with concept-driven modelling and actively develop techniques for model identification and data-model integration techniques. Both our observational work as well as our models generate extremely large data sets. We develop Virtual Laboratories, with tools for data visualization, explorative and inferential analysis, to handle these in a transparent and reproducible way and share knowledge efficiently with our collaborators in and the wider the scientific community."

I am presenting a talk here tomorrow, Challenges to Statistics from Biology. The posters in the corridors have got the prepositions the wrong way round! Here is the abstract of the talk. Statistics is the ultimate service discipline: Statisticians are to numbers what librarians are to words. This presentation will deal with some of the data challenges that have come my way from biology. Decent statistical analyses of the primary moult of birds were not feasible until the "Underhill-Zucchini moult model" was introduced in 1987. At one stage, the "chain index" used by the British Trust for Ornithology to generate trends in wader populations in the UK was performing so badly that results for some species were being repressed. The bird atlas projects in South Africa have produced new opportunities to quantify characteristics in bird distributions, the latest being a measure of fragmentation of distribution. GPS tracking of animal movements at intervals of seconds provides opportunities to analyse behaviour in ways never attempted before.


2012-11-20 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
This week's SAPPI Tree Tuesday focuses on the Violet Tree 

SAPPI Tree Tuesday Violet Tree

Hooray! Today is TREE TUESDAY, and it is sponsored by SAPPI. This week, we are focusing on the Violet Tree Securidaca longepedunculata. The violet tree is a small to medium-sized tree that grows up to 6 m tall, with characteristic pale grey, smooth bark. Leaves are variable in size and shape, alternate, and they have very fine hairs when young but they lose them as they mature. The Violet Tree has pink to purple coloured flowers that are sweetly scented and grow in short bunches. The flowers are produced in early summer. They are about 10 mm long and are each borne on a long, slender stalk. The fruit is round, with a distinctive membranous wing up to 40 mm long, purplish green when still young, becoming pale straw-coloured, and can be seen between April and August.

The Violet Tree is a threatened and protected species. The Violet Tree is threatened because of its use in traditional medicine. ViTH logoThe roots are the target for people using this plant, which makes it difficult for the plant to survive constant harvesting.

The Violet Tree occurs in Mozambique and in the North-West and Limpopo provinces of South Africa, and it is widely distributed in tropical Africa. The Violet Tree prefers woodland and arid savanna soils. You can help us to map this beautiful tree's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium at


2012-11-18 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
Today, just for a change, it is Society Sunday ... and the focus is on Intaka Island 

Intaka Island Eco-centreToday is Society Sunday and we are having a look at Intaka Island. From Monday 19 November until Friday 23 November, the Intaka Island Eco-Centre ( will be a hive of activity leading up to Birding Big Day on Saturday 24 November.

"Intaka Island is a majestic 16 ha wetland and bird sanctuary situated in the heart of Century City approximately 7 km from Cape Town's CBD, just north of the N1 highway."

In the week ahead, you can look forward to the following:

  • A mini Bird Expo presented by different birding clubs from across Cape Town
  • Guided bird tours from 10 AM – 3 PM conducted by the Intaka Island rangers
  • The Animal Demography Unit, in conjunction with BirdLife South Africa, will conduct focused educational programs every morning (e.g. bird ringing)
  • On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening there will be sunset talks in the Eco-Centre from 18h00:
  • Monday: Doug Harebottle – MyBirdPatch project
  • Wednesday: Clifford Dorse – Conservation of Cape Town Biodiversity
  • Friday: Trevor Hardaker – Chasing the Western Cape's Biodiversity
  • Intaka Island will be open from 05h00 every morning and we are encouraging all birders and nature lovers to take part and see how many birds they can 'tick' in a day.


    2012-11-16 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Rock Kestrel movement 

    On 10 November 2012 Anthony van Zyl recaptured a Rock Kestrel that was breeding at Danger Point near Gansbaai, Western Cape. This bird currently has 4 chicks.

    This female (ring 5H46175) had been ringed as an adult female in Upington, Northern Cape, by Dirk van Struyvenberg in April 2010. It travelled at least 715 km to its current breeding site, the second longest distance travelled by a Rock Kestrel in SAFRINGs database. The longest distance travelled is 1 157kms travelled by bird 530777

    Read more about Anthony’s kestrel research here.

    Photos below: the adult female (left) and her chicks (right), by Anthony van Zyl 


    2012-11-16 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    TGIFF!! Thank Goodness It Is FROG FRIDAY!! Today we feature the Spotted Snout-Burrower 

    Spotted Snout-burrower FrogMAP 257 RDickinson

    TGIFF!! Thank Goodness It Is FROG FRIDAY!! Today we are featuring the Spotted Snout-Burrower or Spotted Shovel-nosed Frog Hemisus guttatus. The Spotted Snout-Burrower can grow up to 80 mm in length. It has a globular body with a small pointed head and a pointed snout, and tiny eyes. It is dark purple or brown, with numerous yellow dots on the dorsum. The snout is hardened and flattened, with the mouth on the underside and is used for burrowing head-first, as the common name of Spotted Snout-Burrower suggests. Their arms and fingers are strong and muscular. Their fingers bear strong claws, like those of a mole. Their toes are not webbed and the skin is smooth. Each heel bears a small, keratinized ridge on the inner surface, facilitating burrowing. The male does not appear to have a vocal sac, but in males the throat is dark-coloured.

    The Spotted Snout-Burrower is nocturnal (active at night time). It has been described as "lively and agile", despite its globose body, and defends itself by burrowing quickly into the loamy soil. The hardened, flattened snout is pushed into the ground with up-and-down movements, like a spade, while the hands and claws dig into the soil and the back legs exert force. Spotted Snout-burrower range mapThis frog is unusual in its head-first burrowing, as most burrowing frogs do so feet-first. During the dry season, the Spotted Snout-Burrower estivates within muddy hollows and banks. It prefers loamy soil. The first rains of the season signal the frogs to breed. During the mating season, males call from concealment, usually from a muddy spot under vegetation next to pools. The mating call is a long, high-pitched buzz, consisting of many pulses emitted at a rate of about 50 pulses per second, with a dominant frequency of 2.1 kHz and a duration that may last more than 2 seconds.

    FrogMAP logoThese frogs can be found in South Africa, in the KwaZulu-Natal lowlands between Hluhluwe and Durban, and up to the top of the Lebombo Mountains, over 1000 m above sea level. They inhabit arid open and woody savanna. These frogs are mostly fossorial and thus spend most of their time underground in areas of flat, sandy soil that tend to flood during the rains, near pools or wetlands. The photo shown here is record 257 from the FrogMAP database, and was submitted by R. Dickinson. If you have any photos of this unique frog then please submit them, along with the location details, to FrogMAP at Help us build the 21st century distribution map for this, and all other, species of frogs.


    2012-11-15 Les Underhill 
    The "Critically Endangered" Barber's False Bay Ranger is our butterfly for Threat Thursday – a precious endemic in a precarious state 

    Barbers False Bay Ranger

    Barber's False Bay Ranger Kedestes barbarae bunta is a small, dark brown butterfly that doesn't stray far from its larval food-plant, Cotton-wool Grass Imperata cylindrica. The rich brown upperside of this little skipper (Hesperid) is neatly enveloped by chequered cilia. The underside has lovely white streaks splashed onto a grey-brown canvas, with one of the white streaks forming a glossy white arrowhead.

    Barber's False Bay Ranger was originally discovered near Steenberg railway station on the Cape Flats, where it has not been seen for more than half a century. This neighbourhood is now highly developed as an industrial and residential area and it is unlikely that it will be seen here again. It would seem that this butterfly has been reduced to one last population in Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, near Strandfontein. Their particular habitat requirement is damp seeps between dunes where their larval food plant grows.

    One of the main threats to Barber's False Bay Ranger is a road that splits the population in two. The adults fly right next to the road and many of them lose their lives to the passing traffic. The road is also ear-marked for widening and a major upgrade in 2013. The boundary markers for the road reserve are clearly seen in the middle of stands of Cotton wool grass within the butterfly's colony!

    Alien Australian wattles are also a big concern and for a number of seasons the butterfly hasn't been seen on the western side of the road where a profusion of wattles grow. These trees dry out the seeps causing the grass to die off and they also increase the intensity of potential fires due to the flammable oils in their leaves. Dry winters and the colony's close proximity to the road also increases the risk of fire, especially from cigarettes disposed of through car windows – Cotton-wool Grass is flammable. Not much is known of how this butterfly copes with fire, but there is no evidence to suggest that it is fire adapted like so many of the other Cape butterflies.

    Barber's False Bay Ranger is breeding on land that belongs to the City of Cape Town and their Biodiversity Management Branch is acutely aware of its precarious state. Some good decision making and careful conservation practice is the only way to save this little beauty. Right now the land is in the process of being proclaimed as a Section 23 Nature Reserve under the Protected Areas Act (this is the highest status available), and the land will be made safe in perpetuity. The proclamation process is tedious and the teams are patient and resolute in striving for their goal. This protected area will, unfortunately, not include the road reserve and we will have to wait and see how the road widening will impact the already precarious state of this precious endemic.

    Threat Thursday this week was written by Andrew Morton, appointed by LepSoc to be the "custodian" of this "Critically Endangered" species. This classification was undertaken as part of the butterfly atlas and conservation assessment, and the "butterfly atlas" will soon be launching its pre-publication offer. Watch this space.


    2012-11-15 Les Underhill 
    20000 downloads of pdfs of papers in our ejournal Ornithological Observations 

    20000 downloads of paper in Ornithological Observations

    If you've not browsed any of the papers in Ornithological Observations yet, you have missed a treat. Ornithological Observations (OO for short, and you can choose to say "oooooh" or you can choose to say "double oh") contains some of the most interesting and readable articles on birds you will find anywhere.

    Today, OO reaches a very special milestone – there have been twenty thousand (20000!) downloads of the pdfs of the 68 papers in OO. In most weeks, at least one paper is added to the OO website. OO is an ejournal, and is available freely to everyone. The pages are in landscape format, so each page fits neatly on a computer screen.

    Some recent fascinating papers have been Robyn Kadis's observation of "clowning crows" (and we would love to know if other birders have seen this bizarre hanging upside down behaviour), Robin and Heather Wood's eye-witness description of how they discovered the first confirmed record of the Black Skimmer in South Africa, and Elsa Bussière and Megan Loftie-Eaton's account of a Hamerkop and two Yellow-billed Kites having a scrap over a Gutteral Toad. And there is an astonishing account of a Ruddy Turnstone that got its bill clamped by the claw of a Hermit Crab, to the extent the the crab left a dent in the turnstone's bill!

    A regular contributor has been Derek Engelbrecht, whose articles are always illustrated by really awesome photographs. His most recent contribution, with postgraduate student Lucy Mashao, has a link to a Youtube video, and shows a Boomslang predation on a Sabota Lark nest. Work through the contents pages of the three volumes of OO to date, and pick out Derek's papers for special attention.


    The editor of OO is Arnold van der Westhuizen, and we owe him a very special vote of thanks for doing this task so diligently and faithfully. He can be satisfied that he has added more value than this 20000 Hungarian forint banknote to our knowledge of birds, and helped share this knowledge with birders. If you have an interesting "ornithological observation," please write it up for OO – the OO website has guidelines for authors.

    Ornithological Observations is a joint initiative of the Animal Demography Unit and BirdLife South Africa.


    2012-11-14 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: White-winged Widowbird  

    The White-winged Widowbird Euplectes albonotatus is common in East and south-east Africa (see map below), based on Birds of Africa). It occurs tall bushed grassland, generally below 2000m.

    It is a small widowbird with a fan-shaped tail. The male in breeding plumage is black with a white wing-patch and wing edgings, and white underwing; in southern African birds the epaulet (shoulder patch) is yellow (above left), while in East African birds it is cinnamon-rufous. Females (above right) and non-breeding birds may be identified in flight by the longish tail, white and yellow/rufous wing patches, and white underwing.

    Three subspecies are currently recognised:
    E. a. albonotatus in eastern South Africa, north-east Botswana and Namibia, to southern Tanzania (intergrading with eques around Iringa and Dodoma) (see red on map left).
    E. a. asymmetrurus found patchily from western Angola to western Gabon, and Sao Tome (see blue on map left). The tail of breeding males is much larger in this subspecies.
    E. a. eques from southern Tanzania to southern Sudan and Ethiopia with isolated populations in western Sudan and Central African Republic (see green on map left). Breeding males have cinnamon-brown (not yellow) epaulets, and females and sub-adult males have the lesser coverts edged with cinnamon.

    The White-winged Widowbird established a breeding population from escapees in the Sydney area in Australia, but apparently was extinct there by 1976 (read more here).
    This species has shown a substantial range expansion in the Free State Province of South Africa since the 1990s. Ornithologists in the Free State attribute this to increased rainfall (see maps and report here).

    The White-winged Widowbird feeds on grass seeds, nectar of Aloe marlothii, and insects, including termite alates.

    This species is polygynous, with up to 4 females per male. The nest (right, from phown 1032 by Dawie de Swardt) is oval with a large side entrance. The male builds the nest frame of dry and semi-green grass, supported by upright grass stems. The female adds a stouter weaving of finer dry grass, usually Sporobolus, inside the frame. Some nests have a small porch of projecting grassheads. Nests are usually sited below 1.5 m. Eggs may be laid before the nest is lined. Old nests may be used by Orange-breasted (Zebra) Waxbills.

    There is one photo PHOWN record from the Free State and 15 Nest Record Cards from Angola (see PHOWN summary ). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Nelicourvi Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-11-13 Doug Harebottle 
    Atlasing and patching on Birding Big Day, Saturday 24 November 

    This year BirdLife South Africa's Birding Big Day takes place on Saturday 24 November. This is a fun, competitive event where teams of birders try and record as many species as possible within a 24-hr period within a 50-km radius of a central point. This year there will be no formal SABAP2 category - rather atlasing will be encouraged as a way to compile your Birding Big Day list in the traditional Open and Family categories. Since the basis of atlasing is birding using a 'birding-big-day-style' approach (i.e. to try and get as comprehensive lists as possible per pentad) it makes sense that while participating in Birding Big Day one can accumulate important data for the atlas at the same time.  

    We would therefore encourage atlasers who are considering taking part to plan a "Birding Big Day Atlasing Bash!" It will take some careful planning, as most Birding Big Day's do, but it should be as exciting, challenging, adventurous and most of all fun!. Here are some ideas and suggestions:

    1. Choose a center point that would try and cover a myriad of habitats within a 50-km radius , or select one or two Quarter-Degree Grid Cells that have a selection of different habitats and have fairly good access to most pentads;

    2. Perhaps consider choosing QDGCs or a 50-km radius that: 

    • include pentads still requiring a first checklist;
    • include pentads that need a single checklist to turn them another colour - you can use the card count coverage map as a first guide for this;
    • include pentads that have not yet been surveyed for SABAP2012 

    3. Decide on a 'best route' to cover as many pentads and habitats within each pentad for the time you decide to spend birding on the actual day;

    4. To reduce traveling costs choose a couple of local QDGCs. There are numerous advantages to this: you will know where access points are, where roads lead in and out of pentads, where the good birding spots are located, etc, all of which should lend itself to any enjoyable day's birding and adding valuable data to coverage at a local scale.

    5. By allocating the minimum two hours per pentad, starting at first light (or even just before first light to try and get some night birds), you can possibly cover 6/7 pentads during the day depending on the location of the pentads, distances to travel between pentads and how much you would like to cover.

    6. Remember you can access the QDGC and one-degree species lists from the SABAP2 website by going to 'Summaries' --> 'All years gap analysis' ---> clicking on the appropriate one-degree area on the map and then selecting the appropriate 'species list' links in the top-right of the QDGC tables. The species list for the one-degree block is on the top left of the page. By clicking on the pentad code in each QDGC table you will be able to view the species list for that pentad.

    6. Once you have completed your pentad lists, have submitted them to SABAP2, you can then draw up a composite list of species from your pentad surveys which can then be submitted to BirdLife as your official BBD entry. 

    For those who do not want to venture too far, there is also the Garden Birder category which caters for those prefering to record birds in their garden over a 24-hr period. This can be done either during the week leading up to BBD or on the actual day. We'd encourage people taking part in this category to register their gardens and submit their lists to the MyBirdPatch project.

    For those atlasers taking part good luck with all your planning and preparations. For more information about the event and to download the official entry form click here


    2012-11-13 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Tree Tuesday – today it is the turn of the Velvet Strawberry Tree 

    Tree Tuesday Velvet Strawberry Tree Michelle van der BankToday is TREE TUESDAY!!! And the tree in the spotlight for today is the Velvet Sweetberry Tree Bridelia mollis. The Velvet Sweetberry is a shrub or small tree with dark brown to grey bark. The bark is rough with longitudinal striations. Young shoots are densely velvety. The leaves of the Velvet Sweetberry are alternate and ovate to obovate (3–12 cm long), they are light green and densely velvety on both surfaces with lateral veins that are noticeably parallel. The Velvet Sweetberry’s flowers are small and greenish-yellow in colour and they grow in tight axillary clusters. The fruit is a sub-spherical fleshy berry (10×8 mm), which is edible and black when ripe.

    The Velvet Sweetberry is found throughout southern Africa: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and in the provinces of North-West, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga in South Africa. ViTH logoThis tree prefers sandy soils among rocks or on granite kopjes (koppies). If you have any photos of this wonderful tree then please submit them, along with the location details, to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at

    Tree Tuesday is sponsored by SAPPI.


    2012-11-12 Tali Hoffman 
    Mad Mammal Monday ... and it is the Brown Hyena that gets celebrated today 

    Brown Hyena (Mark Kirk) and MammalMAP distribution mapIt's Mad Mammal Monday! Today we focus on the favourite animal of one of our favourite members of the MammalMAP team! Hyenas in general, and BROWN hyenas in particular, make Elsa Bussiere's heart pulse with excitement and enthusias ... so much so that she agreed to take time out of her exhaustingly busy field-work season to write today's Mad Mammal Monday piece.

    The hyaenidae family is small and has only four species within it. Three of the four species are bone crushing animals: the spotted, the striped and the brown hyenas.

    The brown hyena Hyaena brunnea) is dark brown to black in colour with a sloped back white neck and pointed ears. The front legs are stronger and better developed than the hind legs. All legs have a unique stripe pattern, which allow us to distinguish one hyena from another.

    Brown hyenas primarily scavenge their food. They feed on carcasses but also on fruit, bird eggs and insects. They also kill small mammals for food, although this behaviour is infrequent. They are unable to take down large prey items as their legs are not strong enough to do so.

    The main threat to the survival of these animals is human persecution. Although brown hyenas are perceived to be the killers of domestic livestock, their foraging strategy (described above) makes them unlikely livestock hunters. However, because of this perception, brown hyenas are often managed with lethal methods such as guns, poison and gin traps.

    The species is nocturnal and wide ranging, and despite being social animals, brown hyenas typically forage alone. These attributes make them very difficult to detect in the wild. This elusiveness probably explains why, approximately 40 years ago, brown hyenas were classified as endangered. However, today, thanks to the help of camera traps, we’ve found that brown hyenas are much more commonly than was previously thought.

    The Tswalu Brown Hyena Project was recently launched at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in the Northern Cape province in South Africa. Our team is studying the diet, population dynamic and conflicts with farmers. For more information about our project and about brown hyenas please follow our blog,

    You'll see from the image above, that we have very few records of brown hyena distribution in MammalMAP. Please help us build on this map by submitting your brown hyena photographs to the Virtual Mammal museum! at


    2012-11-11 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Snake Sunday features the Cape Worm Snake 

    Cape Worm Snake : Justin Rhys Nicolau

    Hey everyone today is SNAKE SUNDAY! The species in the spotlight for today is the Cape Worm Snake or Black Thread Snake Leptotyphlops nigricans. The Cape Worm Snake is a very small snake. It grows to an average length of 16 cm and a maximum length of 20 cm. It has a rounded head and has highly polished brown or black scales. The Cape Worm Snake is entirely fossorial, meaning it lives underground.

    The Cape Worm Snake preys on invertebrates. And, in turn, it is eaten by other snakes, birds, small carnivorous mammals (e.g. mongooses) and scorpions. The Cape Worm Snake is restricted to the Cape east coast of South Africa. Its favoured habitat is fynbos, but it is also found in savanna and grassland.

    You can submit your photos of this very unique snake to ReptileMAP at

    Photo by Justin Rhys Nicolau.


    2012-11-08 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday – Only detailed ecological research can save Dickson’s Strandveld Copper, a "Critically Endangered" and enigmatic butterfly, from vanishing 

    Dickson's Strandveld Copper

    Dickson's Strandveld Copper Chrysoritis dicksoni is a fascinating larger member of the ant-loving localised Chrysoritis species in South Africa. The upperside of the wings is a lustrous deep orange with black markings whereas the underside displays a complex cryptic pattern. Originally discovered by Charles Dickson, a prominent 20th century South African butterfly naturalist, near Melkboschstrand, it has always been a scarce butterfly with a history of disappearing from its known habitats and then being rediscovered.

    It has recently been assessed in the soon-to-be-published Butterfly Atlas of South Africa as "Critically Endangered." This localised butterfly can no longer be found at its former strongholds on the west coast north of Cape Town. Fortunately a substantial population has been found in the Witsand area on the southern coast.

    Life history research conducted by Dickson, Brinkman and Heath discovered that the larvae of this butterfly do not feed on plant material. Fully grown larvae and pupae have been found inside the carton nests of cocktail ants and at the base of nearby plants, and freshly emerged adults have been seen emerging from these nests. It is surmised that the larvae may be fed in some way by the cocktail ants. Scientists Reinier Terblanche and Dave Edge are conducting holistic ecological research at the habitat of the butterfly, with the aim being to establish optimum habitat management methods for these areas. The enthusiastic support and co-operation of the landowners and CapeNature has been established, giving hope that this enigmatic and beautiful butterfly, one of the earliest to emerge each spring, can be saved from extinction.


    2012-11-07 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Nelicourvi Weaver  

    The Nelicourvi Weaver Ploceus nelicourvi is endemic to forests of eastern Madagascar (see light blue on map below), based on Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 15). It occurs in rainforest and secondary forest from sea level up to 1950 m, also at forest edges, in secondary habitats and village gardens near forest. The name is thought to be a Sri Lankan word (nellukurvi) for finch. There are no subspecies.

    The male has a black helmet, surrounded by a yellow band and grey underparts; the undertail-coverts are a conspicous rufous-chestnut (left, from phown 179). The female resembles the male, but the black head is replaced with yellow, but with grey lores, and olive crown patch (right, from phown 920).

    The Nelicourvi Weaver feeds on insects, like beetles, bugs (Hemiptera) and grasshoppers; also spiders and possibly fruits. They regularly join mixed-species flocks of insectivorous birds.

    This species is monogamous, and probably has a long-term pair-bond. They are solitary breeders, with one nest, or sometimes two nests at a site but only one occupied. The nest (right, from phown 1028) has an entrance tunnel which varies in length, up to 20 cm long. The male suspends the nest above the ground, over a path or clearing, or suspended over a stream. The extent to which the sexes share incubation and feeding of the young is unknown.

    There are five PHOWN record for this common species (see PHOWN summary ). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Lesser Masked Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-11-06 Les Underhill 
    Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam 

    Faculty of Science, Science Park, University of AmsterdamOver the next three weeks, I am visiting the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam. This visit is supported by the Oppenheimer Fellowship I was awarded earlier in the year, and by the University of Amsterdam. The Institute is based in the Faculty of Science at the University, which recently combined all the departments of the faculty onto the Amsterdam Science Park. This is the end of the huge building my office is in.

    My major goal is to get to grips with the GPS tracking technology devised by the group led by Professor Willem Bouten. This is the Research Group of Computational Geo-Ecology. They describe their objectives: "We investigate the behaviour and distribution of species at multiple scales in the context of global ecology and geo-bio conservation. To this end, we develop and apply technology to collect accurate and reliable observations through GPS tracking, various radar systems, Lidar and Remote Sensing. At the analysis-side, we combine data-driven with concept-driven modelling and actively develop techniques for model identification and data-model integration techniques.

    "Both our observational work as well as our models generate extremely large data sets. We develop Virtual Laboratories, with tools for data visualization, explorative and inferential analysis, to handle these in a transparent and reproducible way and share knowledge efficiently with our collaborators in and the wider the scientific community."

    The GPS tracking system developed here is already in use in South Africa on Verreaux's Eagles in the Cederberg – this is Meg Murgatroyd's PhD project. Soon, we plan to put the same GPS tracking devices to use by Sally Hofmeyr's postdoc, on Secretarybirds. This new technology enables us to understand the feeding ecology of these species in new ways. Out of this understanding will come ideas which will assist in the conservation of these iconic species.


    2012-11-06 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Tree Tuesday celebrates the Hairy Caterpillar-pod Tree 

    Hairy Caterpillar-pod Tree Michelle van der Bank Tree Tuesday

    Hooray today is TREE TUESDAY!! And we are featuring the Hairy Caterpillar-pod Tree Ormocarpum trichocarpum. The Hairy Caterpillar-pod is a shrub or small tree that grows up to 5 m in height. Its bark is dark brown, fissured and corky in appearance. Young branches often have white hairs. The leaves are clustered on dwarf spur branchlets, with 7–15 leaflets; leaflets are elliptic-oblong, and small (3–11 × 1.5–3.5 mm). ViTH logoThe leaves usually have white hairs on their underside and are densely covered with very small black dots. The flowers are mauve-pink and grow in clusters of 1–4 flowers. The fruit of the Hairy Caterpillar-pod Tree is a very distinct small pod, resembling a caterpillar, up to 5 cm long, and is densely covered in long, stiff, swollen-based golden hairs, many over 3 mm long.

    The Caterpillar-pod tree grows best in stony places and on rocky hillsides in hot, dry areas. It occurs in the north of Africa from Sudan and Ethiopia southward to KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. The photo shown here is from the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) database, record 76. If you have any photos of this cool tree then please submit it, along with the location details, to ViTH at

    Tree Tuesday is sponsored by SAPPI.


    2012-11-04 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    On this Snake Sunday, we focus attention on the Green Water Snake 

    Green Water Snake : Dave Maguire

    Today is Ssssssssssnake Sunday! And we are featuring the Green Water Snake or South Eastern Green Snake Philothamnus hoplogaster. The Green Water Snake has round pupils, a white or yellow underside, a particularly good swimming and tree climbing ability and a diurnal (active during the day) lifestyle. It grows to an average length of 60 cm and a maximum length of 1 m.

    Green Water Snakes prey on frogs, fish, lizards and even grasshoppers. They are oviparous (egg-laying) snakes, and lay between 3 and 8 eggs in the summertime. Green Water Snakes can live up to 10 years. They are non-venomous and pose no danger to humans. These beautiful snakes are found throughout Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique, eastern South Africa and the Eastern Cape coast. They are found in a variety of habitats but are particularly common in moist savanna. If you have any photos of this awesome snake then please submit them, along with the location details, to ReptileMAP (formerly SARCA) at

    The photo shown here is by Dave Maguire.


    2012-11-03 Dieter Oschadleus 
    First PHOWN record for Red-crowned Malimbe  

    The Red-crowned Malimbe is found in primary lowland rain forest in central Africa. It is a solitary nester, but several birds may help build the nest before a single pair is left to breed. This species is probably monogamous.

    The nest is untidy, being made almost entirely of dead, dry plant material like vine tendrils, small twigs and petioles. The nest is suspended by a long liana anchoring structure and has a wide entrance tube. The nest is difficult to construct, and a group works together in bouts, birds coming to work one after the other. Most nests are abandoned while building, with much nest material falling from the nest. A completed nest, however, is thought to be an effective anti-predator device. It takes about 2 weeks to complete a nest.

    While guiding in Gabon, Michael Mills found a Red-crowned Malimbe building a nest and submitted the first PHOWN record for the species (see phown 3663). Julian Francis, a tour participant, took the photo (left).

    As more records are added, via the Virtual Museum upload site, for this species, the species summary page will be updated here.


    2012-11-02 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    It is Frog Friday. Today we celebrate the Forest Rain Frog 

    Forest Rain Frog FrogMAP45

    Happy FROG FRIDAY! Today we are featuring the Forest Rain Frog Breviceps sylvestris. The Forest Rain Frog is a species of frog in the Breviceptidae family. It is endemic to Limpopo Province in South Africa, where it occurs on the slopes and crests of the Blouberg, Soutpansberg, and Wolkberg ranges. Its natural habitats are temperate forests, temperate grassland, and rural gardens. Its threat status in the Atlas and Red Data Book of the is "Vulnerable" – this atlas was published jointly by the Simthsonian Institution and the ADU in 2004.

    Forest Rain Frogs have a granular texture and mottled markings on their skin and abdomen, and they also have a pair of longitudinal glandular ridges on the dorsum. In Forest Rain Frogs, the tympanum is indistinct and, in most cases, cannot be distinguished from the surrounding granular skin. The Forest Rain Frogs is further characterized by a broad, light margin to its down-turned mouth, giving its face a clown-like appearance.

    The frog atlas reporsts that most breeding takes place after rain in early spring, i.e. September–October, but continues into early December. In wet, misty weather, large choruses develop and continue, unchecked, for several consecutive days and nights. Once paired amplexus is adhesive and nests are constructed below the surface, at the base of a rock, log, or amongst tree roots. One observer recorded a mass of 56 eggs covered by a layer of infertile eggs; the female remained in a tunnel adjoining the egg chamber until the young were fully developed, and removed soil that fell onto the egg-mass.

    The photo shown here is Record 45 in the FrogMAP database. If you have any photos of a Forest Rain Frog (or any other frog!) then please submit them to FrogMAP at Happy frogging everyone!!


    2012-11-01 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday: a Critically Endangered, and possibly extinct butterfly, Dickson's Brown, last seen about two decades ago 

    Dickson's Brown critically endangered butterflyDickson's Brown Stygionympha dicksonia is a spring-flying brown butterfly endemic to the Western Cape. Sadly, it has not been seen for about two decades. It is classified as "Critically Endangered." It is a small butterfly, with combined wingspan of 32–40 mm. There are no digital images of live adults. The only picture available is of this specimen from a cabinet collection.

    The species of butterfly was discovered in October 1933 on the western (and later on the southern) slopes of the Tygerberg Hills. The habitat type is called Swartland Shale Renosterveld. It was first found by the lepidopterist of note, the late Charles Dickson. It was subsequently also found on the renosterveld covered Kapokberg, near Darling. The type locality on the Tygerberg Hills was obliterated by an enormous quarry. And agricultural activity, urban expansion, invasive alien vegetation and mining have combined to cause an incremental and insidious fragmentation of habitat fragmentation and finally habitat loss.

    This charming fast-flighted butterfly has ovoid orange-red patches on the upper and lower surfaces of the forewings. These are punctuated on the outer portions by yellow, black, white and blue eye-spots. The under surface of the hindwing has a dark purplish-grey or 'greasy' appearance. It is a lighter fawn-grey closer to the body. Charles Dickson recorded the larval foodplant as the locally common, annual grass Tribolium echinatum. Hopefully ongoing searches will lead to the rediscovery of this butterfly. We hope that a remnant population is hanging on, frequenting some forgotten corner of the Western Cape. Jonathan Ball is the LepSoc-appointed custodian of the speices, and he is faced with the challenge of finding an extant colony!


    2012-10-31 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Lesser Masked Weaver  

    The Lesser Masked Weaver Ploceus intermedius is a widespread weaver in eastern and the northern parts of southern Africa (see map below, based on Birds of Africa). It occurs in a variety of habitats including acacia savanna, bushveld, open woodland and riverine trees, preferring areas close to water and also human habitation.

    The adult male in breeding plumage (right) is yellow with a black mask, pale eye and thin bill. Females (below) and non-breeding males are dull coloured, with a pale eye and blue-grey legs.

    Many subspecies have been recorded but currently there are two accepted subspecies:

    (1) intermedius, found East Africa (green on map); the male has an orangy tinge on the yellow around the mask;
    (2) cabanisii, found in southern Africa (red on map); the male is bright yellow with a black mask.
    There is a slight range expansion of this species in KwaZulu-Natal (see news item).
    There is a PHOWN record of this species from Ibo Island, northern Mozambique, far out of its published range (see phown 1859).

    The Lesser Masked Weaver feeds on insects, especially caterpillars, termites, and grasshoppers. It also feeds on nectar (mainly of aloes), mulberries, and small seeds.

    This species is polygynous and a male can have 2-3 females simultaneously, and probably several more in a breeding season. Nests are usually very close together, and sometimes are suspended from other nests. Colonies may be monospecific or mixed with a variety of other weaver species. Nests have a short, narrow entrance tunnel. Nests look untidy due to short lengths of material sticking out.

    Nests are built by the male, and lined by the female, although sometimes no lining is added to breeding nests. Nests are placed in trees, reeds, roof edges of buildings, or from telephone wires.

    There are 62 PHOWN record for this species, but only two of these are from the nominate subspecies (see phown 2366 and phown 2481). Many more records are needed of this common species, especially with nest counts. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

    Photo (right): male at closely packed nests, from phown 3132.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Red-collared Widowbird           Full weaver species list


    2012-10-30 Les Underhill 
    Third Diamond Route Conference, Johannesburg, 30–31 October 

    Diamond Route Conference logoThe Third Annual Diamond Route Research Conference takes place in Johannesburg today and tomorrow.

    The ADU is represented by four presentations.

    The Tswalu Brown Hyena Project. Elsa Bussière, Les G Underhill and Ingrid Wiesel

    The African Mammal Atlas Project: Updating African mammal distribution records for improved conservation efforts. Tali Hoffman, Les G Underhill and Bob Millar.

    Investigating the decline of the Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius. Sally D Hofmeyr, Craig Symes and Les G Underhill.

    Marine nutrients imports to the Namib Desert through large terrestrial carnivores and wind-blown detritus on the southern Namibian Coast. Sophie A Kohler, Ingrid Wiesel, Jean-Paul Roux, Jessica Kemper and Les G Underhill.

    The conference press release says: "Species and community adaptations, mammal ecology, avian conservation, invertebrate conservation, community studies, climate change, geology, archaeology and heritage are the subjects to be discussed at the 3rd Annual Diamond Route Research Conference to be held at the end of October on the campus of De Beers Corporate Headquarters, south of Johannesburg.

    "The conference serves as a platform for researchers who have undertaken a variety of projects on De Beers, E Oppenheimer & Son and Diamond Route properties within South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to share the outcomes of their work with colleagues and the public. While the conference serves as an important networking opportunity for ecologists, site managers and researchers, it is also a vehicle for the public and media to access research, and to engage those behind the investigations, into less explored topics.

    "South African climate scientist and member of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Bob Scholes, will deliver an address on the Importance of Biodiversity Conservation. The IPCC is tasked with providing comprehensive scientific assessments of the risks of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and social consequences, and possible options for adapting or mitigating these effects. Dr Scholes, who is attached to the CSIR’s natural resources and environment division, will discuss why it is important, and not just desirable, to maintain biodiversity in our landscapes.

    "Strilli Oppenheimer, co-founder of the Diamond Route commented; 'After three years the Diamond Route Research Conference has established itself amongst a very diverse (as diverse as the biomes of the Diamond Route) group of academics and attracted an audience from the heads of corporates to students, and those just trying to make sense of the world around them on a daily basis. Hopefully, this diversity of knowledge is disseminated to an ever widening field of people interested in our fragile planet and how we can help its sustainability through our awareness of what is part of our own backyard.'"


    2012-10-30 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday: Wild Pomegranate 

    Wild Pomegranate Sally Adam ViTH193 Tree Tuesday

    Happy TREE TUESDAY!! Today we are featuring the Wild Pomegranate Burchellia bubalina. Burchellia is a genus in the family Rubiaceae, native to the Cape Floristic Region of southernmost Africa. It contains a single species, Burchellia bubalina, commonly named the "Wild Pomegranate" in English or "Wildegranaat in Afrikaans. The Wild Pomegranate is an attractive shrub/tree that quickly attracts nectar-feeding birds and is widely cultivated in frost-free gardens as an ornamental tree.

    The Wild Pomegranate grows up to 8 m tall. It grows naturally in forests, forest margins, rocky outcrops and bush clumps in montane grasslands. It has a smooth, grey-brown bark that becomes rougher with age. The tree bears new twigs that are always covered with hairs. The dark green, glossy, opposite leaves are hairless above and paler below, with fine soft hairs along the vein. In early spring to mid-summer, the trees bear bright red to orange flowers in dense terminal clusters, followed by green, urn-shaped fruits that are also borne in dense clusters. The fruits are crowned with distinctive horn-like calyx lobes. The fruits turn brown as they ripen and then become woody, remaining on the tree for many months.

    ViTH logoThe Wild Pomegranate grows naturally along the coastal strip of South Africa, from the Western Cape through to KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province. It is also found in Swaziland. Remember to submit your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at This image is Record 193 in ViTH, and was taken by Sally Adam.

    The tree was named after W.J. Burchell, the early explorer and naturalist in South Africa who was the author of Travels in the interior of South Africa, a book that was published in 1822. The species name bubalina is a Latin word meaning buff-coloured, possibly referring to the yellowish hairs found on some forms of this tree. This also refers to the buffalo-like horns of the mature calyx that, in this plant, is found on the fruits.


    2012-10-29 Les Underhill 
    It is back to the start of the week again – the hardship is alleviated by Mad Mammal Monday! 

    MammalMAP logoToday's Mad Mammal Monday post has been written by the MammalMAP IT developer, Rene Navarro It focuses on the species in the MammalMAP logo: the Bat-eared Fox.

    The Bat-eared Fox Otocyon megalotis is a member of the canid family distributed mainly in the African savannah in two distinct populations, which are ascribed to two different subspecies: O. m. megalotis in southern Africa and O. m. virgatus in east Africa. This fox is common and easily observed in conservation areas. Although, it is occasionally persecuted on farms in arid southern Africa, it's conservation status is 'least concern' according to IUCN's review of 2008.

    Bat-eared use their large ears to locate prey items. The harvester termite Hodotermes mossambicus comprises up to 80–90% of their diet; in fact the distributions of these two species overlap as much as 95%. In the absence of harvester termites Bat-eared Foxes consume other species of termite. Other prey items include ants, beetles, crickets, grasshopper, millipedes, moth (both adults and larvae), scorpions and spiders. More rarely Bat-eared Foxes consume birds, small mammals, reptiles and carrion. Wild fruits, seeds and berries are also part of their diet.

    Bat-eared Fox Mad Mammal Monday MammalMAP

    Bat-eared Foxes are an efficient and important predator on harvester termites, which are considered a serious pest on range lands. However, farmers in southern Africa trap and kill this beneficial species because they are perceived as being predators of small livestock.


    There is a conspicuous lack of information about both abundance and population trends of this species across its range. Citizen scientists can contribute to improve the knowledge about populations and distribution of this charismatic mammal by submitting your photos along with location data to MammalMAP!

    The Bat-eared Fox picture shown here is Record 2012 in the MammalMAP Virtual Museum and was taken by MP Kirk in the Kgalagadi, in the Northern Cape. Alongside the photo is the what-we-know-so-far distribution map for this species from the 34 records in the MammalMAP Virtual Museum at


    2012-10-26 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    TGIFF – Thank Goodness Its Frog Friday! – Water Lily Frog 

    Water Lily Frog Tony Archer FrogMAP315TGIFF!!! Thank Goodness it is FROG FRIDAY!! Today we are looking at the Water Lily Frog Hyperolius pusillus. The Water Lily Frog is a small, flat, green frog (males 16–20 mm in length) from the eastern lowlands of Africa. Its dorsum is translucent green and sometimes has dark dots. A fine dark canthal and dorsolateral line is often present. Males have white throats and females have green throats. Water Lily Frogs have golden eyes with horizontal pupils. Populations of Water Lily Frogs vary somewhat, for example, the specimens found in the dry savanna in Kenya are larger and have a conspicuous hour-glass pattern. Similar specimens are found in drier parts of eastern Zimbabwe. Water Lily Frogs can closely resemble Argus Reed Frog males Hyperolius argus.

    Water Lily Frogs call from floating vegetation. The voice is a fast series of high-pitched screams with an indistinct frequency-intensity. A strange feature that has been noted from Kenya and South Africa is that when expanded the gular sac produces two supplementary expansions. Their eggs are light green in colour, and are placed in batches of 20–120 in a single layer between leaves of floating vegetation.

    Water Lily Frog distribution map from FrogMAPWater Lily Frogs are found in open swamp vegetation in the eastern lowlands from southernmost coastal Somalia southwards through Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland and the eastern provinces of in South Africa, where the distribution is shown on the map, from FrogMAP. The photo shown above was taken by Tony Archer and is FrogMAP record 315. In the distribution map, only the torquoise circles represent distribution records based on 21st century photographs; the orange squares represent museum specimens, some of which date back more than a century. Please help us to map this beautiful frog's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to FrogMAP at


    2012-10-25 Les Underhill 
    Seminar tomorrow: Ecosystem Engineers! The bulldozer animals that shift the sand around! 

    Callianassa and field --- Deena Pillay

    There is a Zoology Department seminar tomorrow, Friday 24 October: Ecosystem engineering and trophic interactions in marine soft-sediment ecosystems.

    It will be presented by Deena Pillay, Department of Zoology and Marine Research Institute, UCT. Deena has been a Lecturer in the Zoology Department since 2008 after completing a post-doc on the ecology of the St. Lucia Estuary. He is a marine ecologist interested in the ecology of coastal ecosystems, especially intertidal and estuarine habitats and is especially interested in understanding the roles played by coastal species in structuring habitats and communities and in the functioning of ecosystems. Deena was awarded the UCT College of Fellows Young Researcher Award in 2011.

    Abstract: The modification of ecosystems by organismal activities or structures is generally referred to as ecosystem engineering. The concept is relatively new in ecology relative to other forms of biological interactions such as predation, competition and herbivory. While there have been significant theoretical advances in the field of ecosystem engineering, integrating this concept with traditional trophic ecology has been slow. In this seminar I summarise work undertaken in marine sandflat ecosystems on the influence of burrowing species in indirectly modifying the distribution and abundance of primary and secondary consumers, by altering trophic interactions. The ecological mechanisms that drive these outcomes, as well as some of the conditions necessary for these mechanisms to operate are discussed. I conclude with other examples from marine and terrestrial ecosystems where engineering species may influence consumer abundance and distribution by altering the outcome of trophic interactions.

    The seminar will be in the Zoology Museum, John Day Building, University of Cape Town, from 13h00 to 14h00.


    2012-10-25 Les Underhill 
    Congratulations, Dr Sally Hofmeyr 

    Dr Sally Hofmeyr

    A couple of days before setting off to the Pan-African Ornithological Congress, Sally Hofmeyr heard the excellent news that her PhD had been through all the hoops, and that she was now Dr Hofmeyr. One of the first people she met at the conference was one of her three examiners, Dr Juliet Vickery, of the RSPB in the UK. (Sally's examiners were happy to have their names disclosed – the other two were Professor Andre Dhondt, Cornell University, and Professor Jeremy Greenwood, St Andrews University and former Director of the British Trust for Ornithology.)

    We congratulate Sally on this fantastic achievement. Her thesis is entitled Impacts of environmental change on large terrestrial bird species in South Africa: insights from citizen science data. The research project involved using data collected by hundreds of citizen scientists over a period of 24 years to examine the status and ecology of six large terrestrial bird species. This was done with a view to understanding the effects of ongoing anthropogenic environmental change on these species, and to improving our understanding of their conservation needs. The research utilised data from two citizen science projects: the Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR) project, and the first and second Southern African Bird Atlas Projects (SABAP1 and SABAP2). The thesis begins with an investigation into the reliability of data from the CAR project, using counts conducted on consecutive days. Some species are more reliably surveyed by this methodology than others, depending behavioural characteristics. Subsequent chapters interrogate the data on each of the six focal species. One, the Southern Black Korhaan, was found to have decreased significantly in abundance, and it was recommended for inclusion in the IUCN Red List. The Blue Crane has undergone a dramatic shift of its core range from the Grassland biome where habitat destruction caused populations to decline, to the agricultural lands in the Fynbos biome, where extensive land transformation has made new habitat available. The thesis includes an analysis of the diversity of bustards and korhaans across South Africa, an assessment of coverage of key regions by CAR and SABAP2, and the conservation implications of the study. The research presents new ways of combining data from two different long-running citizen science projects to provide much needed information about the status and conservation needs of birds that are otherwise relatively poorly studied.

    Sally's interest in ecology and conservation began in earnest on a wilderness trail run by the Wilderness Leadership School in the Umfolozi Game Reserve in 1994. Since then her passion for wild nature has grown, and with it a desire to understand the effects of anthropogenically caused environmental change on natural ecosystems. Her undergraduate degree focused on Wildlife Science, with a final year research project on the endangered Cape Vulture, when her supervisor Professor Steven Piper instilled in her an appreciation for the value of large, pre-existing and relatively unused data sets. Sally’s coursework MSc focused on African mammals, with a research project on giraffes and Acacia nigrescens, which was conducted in the Kruger National Park.

    This PhD was supervised by Dr Phoebe Barnard (SANBI) and myself.

    Sally moves on to a postdoc on Secretarybirds, with Dr Craig Symes at the University of the Witwatersrand as mentor, and I will play a role as well. She will be based at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, near Kuruman.


    2012-10-24 Les Underhill 
    Prize-winning poster at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Tanzania  

    Barn Swallow moult poster Marc Burman PAOC13

    MSc student Marc Burman displayed a poster based on his research project at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress last week. It was adjudged one of the two best posters at the conference.

    Marc's project is a classic analysis of citizen science data, this time data generated by the bird ringing community in South Africa over five decades. Marc is assembling the primary moult data on the Barn Swallow, collected by ringers since the 1970s. The timing of moult can be quantified remarkably precisely, more precisely than timing of breeding or timing of migration. Moult, along with breeding and migration, is an energetically expensive component of the annual cycle, and its timing has to slotted in along with these other events.

    There is intense research interest in the changes in the timing of the major events in the annual cycle in response to global change. This is especially true for a long-distance migrant such as the Barn Swallow.

    Well done, Marc.


    2012-10-24 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Red-collared Widowbird  

    The Red-collared Widowbird is a widespread widowbird in Africa, being found from Senegal across to Ethiopia and south to eastern South Africa in the localities shown on the map below (based on Birds of Africa). It occurs in a variety of habitats including grassland, rank vegetation, cultivated areas, and slopes with sparse trees.

    The adult male in breeding plumage (above left) is black, often with a red collar or head, and a long tail. Females (below) and non-breeding males are dull coloured, with a yellowish eye-stripe and yellowish or buffy breast sharply demarcated from the white belly. Many subspecies have been recorded. Currently accepted subspecies are:
    nominate ardens, found in West, central and southern Africa (red on map); the male usually has a red collar on the breast (above left) but may be black;
    laticauda, found in Ethiopia, Eritrea and SE Sudan (blue on map); the male has a red collar, crown and nape;
    suahelicus, found in the highlands of Kenya and N Tanzania (green on map); the male has a red collar, and varying amount of red on the head (above right).

    The highland laticauda and suahelicus are isolated from the Iowland birds and from each other, and may be separate species. Molecular studies indicate that the Red-collared Widowbird is a bishop with a long tail, rather than a widow.

    The Red-collared Widowbird feeds on seeds, insects including termites, nectar. It forages on the ground, often in flocks of 200 birds or more.

    This species is polygynous and territorial. Males with longer tails attract more females and males with larger red collars held larger territories. Males prefer hillsides, where they can glide downhillfor display flights. The nest is an oval structure with a side entrance, built by the male and lined and strengthened by the female. A male may have 3-22 nest structures placed in tall grass, on his territory. The eggs are grey or blue-green and heavily speckled with brown, often forming ring near the thick end (see photo at phown 2411.

    There is one PHOWN record for this species, and a news item described this record from Nairobi (phown 2411). Many more records are needed of this common species, although nests are well hidden. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

    More photos of this species may be viewed at Birdpix.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Kilombero Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-10-22 René Navarro 
    Mad Mammal Monday 
    Bat-eared fox by MP Kirk

    The Mad Mammmal Monday species of today is the Bat-eared Fox, the species featured in MammalMAP's logo. Otocyon megalotis is a member of the canid family distributed mainly in the African savannah in two distinct populations, which are ascribed to two different subspecies: O. m. megalotis in southern Africa and O. m. virgatus in east Africa. This fox is common and easily observer in conservation areas. Although, it is occasionally persecuted in farms of arid South Africa, its conservation status is 'least concern' according to IUCN's review of 2008.

    Bat-eared foxes use their large ears to locate prey items. The harvester termite (Hodotermes mossambicus) comprises up to 80-90% of diet, in fact the distribution of these two species overlap as much as 95%. In the absence of harvester termites Bat-eared foxes consume other species of termite. Other preys include ants, beetles, crickets, grasshopper, millipedes, moth (both adults and larvae), scorpions and spiders. More rarely Bat-eared foxes consume birds, small mammals, reptiles and carrion. Wild fruits, seeds and berries are also part of their diet.

    Bat-eared foxes are an efficient and important predator on harvester termites, which are considered a serious pest of rangeland; however farmers in southern Africa trap and kill this beneficial species because they are perceived as being predators of small livestock.

    There is a conspicuous lack of information about both abundance and population trends in this species across its range. Citizen scientist can contribute to improve the knowledge about populations and distribution of this charismatic mammal by submitting photos along with location data to MammalMAP at The picture used above was submitted to MammalMAP by MP Kirk, the record can be found here.

    Bat-eared fox map

    2012-10-18 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Kilombero Weaver  

    The Kilombero Weaver is a range restricted species, endemic to the floodplain swamps along the Kilombero River in south-east Tanzania (see distribution map below from Birds of Africa). The adult male (left) is bright yellow with a dark brown mask which may appear black from a distance. Females (below) and non-breeding males are dull coloured, with a buff eye-stripe and two-toned bill.

    This species is the newest weaver species known to science, being described as recently as 1990 by Neil and Liz Baker. Their paper provided the only published breeding information for the species.

    The Kilombero Weaver feeds on seeds. It forages by moving up and down grass stems, feeding at flowering and fruiting grass heads. Flocks also forage on the ground. In December many birds in non-breeding plumage follow the Kilombero River downstream from the Ifakara ferry crossing.

    This species breeds in swamps fringed with tall Phragmites mauritianus, which is also used by Eastern Golden Weavers. The Kilombero Weaver breeds in loose colonies which often overhang water and may have a few nests or up to 20 or 30 nests, but solitary nests also occur. It is probably polygynous. The nest is woven by the male, as an oval, with a semi-elliptical side entrance facing downwards. The nest is built of grass leaves and strips and lined with broader grass leaves. The eggs (clutch 1-2) are uniform olive-brown to turquoise with light brown markings. Incubation and fledging periods are unknown.

    There is one PHOWN record for this species, and a news item described this mixed colony of Kilombero Weavers (phown 1961) with Yellow Weavers (phown 1960). Many more records are needed of this common, but highly localised species. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

    Photo (left): female Kilombero Weaver at nest, from phown 1961 (see this record for a photo of the male at a nest).


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Rüppell's Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-10-15 Tali Hoffman 
    Sharing the Badger-Friendly love this Mad Mammal Monday 

    Honey badgers have added some heart-racing moments to my camping experiences over the years, and I love them for that. Today, to honour them, I’ve made them the focus of Mad Mammal Monday! 

    In doing some online searches to gather info for this post, I came across an incredibly informative piece about honey badgers (Mellivora capensis) written by Colleen and Keith Begg on the Science in Africa website. The piece describes honey badger biology and ecology, dispels some myths about their behaviour, and explains why they have the conservation status that they do (Near Threatened in South Africa) and what we can do to help protect them. 

    Below are some great pictures of honey badgers that Yolande Oelson submitted to the virtual mammal museum. Don’t forget that in order to truly participate in animal conservation efforts, you need to go a step further than posting pictures on the MammalMAP wall and please register as official MammalMAPPERS and submit your awesome animal photographs to our database. 


    2012-10-13 Les Underhill 
    The SABAP2 analysis team is presenting its results at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Tanzania next week  


    The 13th Pan-African Ornithological Congress takes place in Arusha, Tanzania, this week. Nine staff and students from the ADU will be there, including a big SABAP2 contingent.

    This is one of the posters that will be presented. It demonstrates outputs from the SABAP analysis team. The SABAP1 and SABAP2 data are not sitting in computer files gathering dust, but we are actively developing world-class analysis methods.


    2012-10-12 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday, and the TGIFF spotlight falls on the Bush Squeaker 

    Bush SqueakerTGIFF – Thank Goodness it's Frog Friday!! The featured species for today is the Bush Squeaker Arthroleptis wahlbergii. The Bush Squeaker is endemic to the east coast of South Africa, from just south of Port St Johns northward to the Mozambique border. In KwaZulu-Natal, its range extends inland to altitudes of c. 1000 m in the mist belt, where it is particularly common. The Bush Squeaker is a forest species, but also occurs in adjacent thickets and grasslands that have dense cover and accumulations of leaf litter. These frogs are common where they occur and frequently inhabit gardens and even alien tree plantations

    Their diet includes woodlice and other crustaceans, beetles and, probably, other small insects that live in the leaf litter. Breeding takes place during spring and summer, with calling commencing immediately after rain. In wet weather, males may be heard calling throughout the day and night from concealed positions in leaf litter. Clutches of 11–30 eggs are laid in damp leaf litter and develop directly into froglets which hatch and leave the nest after approximately four weeks

    FrogMAP Bush SqueakerAlthough the Bush Squeaker is not classified as threatened, in places its habitat is under pressure from housing development and the clearing of bush for agriculture.

    More detailed distribution information is needed to evaluate the local conservation status of this species, and to map its 21st century distribution. If you have photos of this lovely frog species then please submit them, along with the location details to FrogMAP at The photograph here is record 28 in the FrogMAP Virtual Museum, and is the only photographic record in the Virtual Museum. There is one sound recording and there are 325 specimen records, going back over the past 100 years, for 56 quarter degree grid cells. It would be valuable to get its distribution up-to-date!


    2012-10-11 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday: the "Critically Endangered" Brenton Blue 

    Brenton Blue Justin Bode

    Threat Thursday features the Brenton Blue Orachrysops niobe. This "Critically Endangered" butterfly is the flagship species of the COREL programme of LepSoc (Lepidopterists' Society of Africa). The COREL custodian of the Brenton Blue is Dave Edge, a resident of Knysna. LepSoc and several other NGOs initiated a major campaign during the 1990s which resulted in the proclamation, in July 2003, of the 1.4 ha Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve (BBBR) to conserve the butterfly in its last known habitat.

    The BBBR is managed by a committee established by the Brenton Blue Trust and chaired by CapeNature with representatives from all the stakeholders. A management plan has been established and is continuously refined by ongoing research. The population is regularly monitored and has been found to vary between 50 to 280 adults per brood, with two broods per year (November and February). The butterfly population fluctuates with the varying abundances of its host plant Indigofera erecta and its host ant Camponotus baynei. Expansion of the BBBR is therefore planned onto a 20 ha of public open space to the north of the BBBR, in order to increase the butterfly population. This is a medium-term project, and habitat alteration to make it suitable for the host plant to grow and the host ant to take up residence has commenced.

    Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve Dave EdgeThe Brenton Blue butterfly originally had a wider distribution, and also occurred near Nature's Valley (about 60 km to the east). Attempts have been made to reintroduce the species at a fynbos reserve site here where it once was present. Habitat restoration work had been undertaken. But this initiative did not meet with success because of the poor condition of the host plant population at the site, the small area of suitable habitat on the site, and the absence of the host ant.

    The "butterfly atlas" – a partnership project between LepSoc, ADU and SANBI – is not far from launching its pre-publication offer. Watch out for this. It will be the most important publication in the history of butterfly studies in South Africa.

    The fundamental underpinning prerequisite for effective conservation of a species is a knowledge of its distribution. The butterfly atlas project is ongoing, as we continue to map the 21st century distributions, through the ADU virtual museum. Upload any photos of butterflies you have to

    The top picture shows the butterfly (Justin Bode). The lower picture shows the Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve near Knysna (Dave Edge).


    2012-10-10 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday looks at the Ana Tree 

    Ana TreeHappy TREE TUESDAY everyone!! Today we are looking at the Ana Tree Faidherbia albida. The Ana Tree is one of the fastest growing indigenous trees in Africa. It is deciduous and can grow up to 30 meters in height. It has branching stems and an erect to roundish crown. The young stems are smooth and greenish grey in colour, whereas the older branches and stems are grey and rather rough in texture. The Ana Tree has straight, whitish thorns, which grow in pairs and are up to 40 mm long. This tree has scented, pale cream-coloured flowers that form an elongated spike. The flowers show from March to September, followed by fruit from September to December.

    It is a valuable fodder tree for wildlife and domestic animals. It is mostly browsed by elephants, giraffe, kudu, nyala, and impala. ViTH logoThe Ana Tree loses its leaves in summer, thus providing fodder during the winter. The leaves are nutritious, the seeds have high protein content, and the pods are high in starch.

    The Ana Tree occurs throughout Africa from Egypt in the north to KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa in the south. It grows in waterlogged soils along rivers, swamps, floodplains and dry river courses.

    Please submit your Ana Tree photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium at to help us map this wonderful tree's 21st century distribution.


    2012-10-10 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Rüppell's Weaver  

    The Rüppell's's Weaver is the only weaver found in the Middle East. The adult male is yellow with a red eye and a chestnut mask which may appear black from a distance. Females and non-breeding males are dull coloured.

    Rüppell's's Weaver is found in savanna, arid coastal plains, cultivated areas, wetlands and gardens. In may flock in thousands and cause crop damage, while in Arabia flocks are smaller. It feeds on seeds, including cereal crops.

    A few subspecies have been described for this species in the past, but are no longer considered valid. This species was first described and illustrated (painting left) by Eduard Rüppell, who also described the Lesser Masked, Chestnut and white-headed Buffalo Weavers from North-East Africa.

    The distribution map (below) is based on Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 15, showing the current PHOWN records. It has been recorded in NE and E Sudan, N Eritrea (including Dahlak Archipelago in the Red Sea), C and NE Ethiopia, Djibouti, N Somalia, and S Arabian Peninsula (SW Saudi Arabia, Yemen, W Oman).

    Rüppell's's Weaver often nests in colonies of several males, but single-male colonies may occur. In Yemen colony size varies from 4 to 50 nests. Nest sites include a variety of tree species, often thorny species, and often built over water. Males are polygnous and will breed with up to three females, and typically build up to eight globular nests. The nests are woven from grass or long strips of palm fronds. lnitially the nest lacks an entrance tunnel, but a tunnel of 50 mm may be added later.

    Two or three eggs are laid and these vary in colour - either white or blue, usually heavily spotted, sometimes only finely speckled, with brick-red. Incubation is by the female. Usually in polygnous weavers the female does most of the work of feeding chicks. In the Rüppell's's Weaver the male feeds the young chicks by regurgitation while the female broods them. After four days, both sexes feed the chicks.

    There are five PHOWN records for this species (see summary), so many more records are needed. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

    Photo (left): male Rüppell's's Weaver at nest in Ethiopia, from phown 696.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Sociable Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-10-10 Les Underhill 
    A new Virtual Musuem – EchinoMAP 

    EchinoMAP logoThe Echinoderms, the phylum which includes the starfishes, sea urchins, brittle stars, feather stars and sea cucumbers, are conspicuous and attractive marine animals. They are frequently photographed by divers. Although many can be identified from photographs, no comprehensive guide to even the South African species exists, making it difficult to identify images accurately. The fauna is also poorly known, making it very likely that divers will encounter species new to the region, or even to science.

    EchinoMAP aims to collate all available images of echinoderms from anywhere along the South Africa (and in fact the whole of Africa) from the intertidal zone out to the ocean depths. The echinoderms contain about 7000 known species globally, and all of them occur in the oceans with none on land or in fresh water. This is the ADU's newest "Virtual Museum" (see

    The project is motivated by the interest and enthusiasm of Professor Charles Griffiths of the UCT Zoology Department, and a team of posgraduate students, one for each of the major classes within the phylum. Charles says: "EchinoMAP will first of all help us to build up a comprehensive identification guide. Secondly, it will help us map the 21st century ranges of each species. Images of echinoderms from anywhere in Africa are welcomed and all contribute equally towards a better understanding of the distribution patterns of these fascinating creatures."

    We encourage especially the diving community to submit their photos to the EchinoMAP Virtual Museum.

    Go and have a look at this "specimen" of Calloptariria granifera – it is record 40 in the Echninop Virtual Museum


    2012-10-09 Les Underhill 
    Here is the pdf of "Black Skimmer at Walvis Bay" paper in Lanioturdus, 2005 

    For anyone who wants to have a look at the Black Skimmer paper in Lanioturdus, you can download it here [0.6MB]. The full reference is Tree, A.J. 2005. Black Skimmer at Walvis Bay. Lanioturdus 38(1): 17–20. Lanioturdus is the journal of the Namibia Bird Club. The club has an interesting page on Facebook.


    2012-10-08 Les Underhill 
    Is lethal control of predators an effective strategy against livestock losses? Ceres Hunting Club: 1979 to 1987 

    Beatrice Conradie CSSR UCTOn Wednesday at 13h00, Dr Beatrice Conradie, will present a seminar: Is lethal control of predators an effective strategy against livestock losses? Ceres Hunting Club, 1979 to 1987. This is a Zoology Department seminar.

    Abstract: Farmers the world over get emotional about predators. In South Africa an absolute war erupted around CapeNature's recent restriction of the lethal control options available to farmers. The farmers' position is that they cannot afford to stop hunting predators, while CapeNature has indicated that indiscriminate killing must be stopped for predator populations to have any chance of stabilising. In the face of these widely diverging opinions we have surprisingly little hard evidence of the effect of predator hunting on subsequent livestock losses in South Africa. This paper uses a 152-farm nine-year panel of predator hunting and livestock loss data to explore whether lethal control is effective in reducing farm-level livestock losses. Results show a positive relationship between lethal control and subsequent livestock losses which provides some support for the CapeNature position.

    CSSRBeatrice Conradie is Director of the Sustainable Societies Unit in the Centre for Social Science Research, School of Economics, UCT. Beatrice has an undergraduate degree in Agriculture and an honours degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University. Her masters, also from Stellenbosch, was on the potential for land reform in the apple industry. Her PhD from Colorado State University was on efficient water allocation in the Fish-Sundays irrigation scheme of the Eastern Cape.

    The seminar is this coming Wednesday, 10 October, in the Museum on the 3rd floor of the Department of Zoology, from 13h00 to 14h00. If you are coming from off-campus, remember that it is term time, and you need to allow plenty of time to find parking!


    2012-10-07 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Snake Sunday: South African Python 

    SouthAfrican Python : Lorinda SteenkampToday is SNAKE SUNDAY! And we are looking at the South African Python or Rock Python Python natalensis. The South African Python is the largest snake in southern Africa. This snake has an average length of 4 m but has been recorded as growing up to 6 m. It has a dark brown body with dark speckling and grey or brown splotches, with an arrow head marking on its head.

    South African Pythons are highly dependent on water sources, and estivate during the hottest and driest parts of the year, remaining deep in burrows made by other animals. They are opportunistic predators, and will consume almost any animal they come across which they can overpower with constriction. Young pythons primarily eat small rodents, like the cane rat, but adults are capable of taking very large prey, including crocodiles, goats and small antelope. Although these snakes are non-venomous, they are dangerous because of their powerful bite and teeth which can cause deep lacerations that might need stitches; a large python can kill a person but there are a few records of this happening. This python species can live up to 30 years in captivity

    South African Python ReptileMAP distribution mapThe South African Python's range extends from Kenya and Burundi south to southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is found in southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, northern Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa (where the ReptileMAP distribution shows it mainly occurring in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces – the crosses on the distribution map depict some very old records from the Eastern Cape). It is present in a wide variety of habitats including savanna and lowland forest.

    Check out the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum for more photos of South African Pythons and if you have any photos please submit them! Help build the 21st century distribution of this species. Happy SNAKE SUNDAY!!

    The photo is by Lorinda Steenkamp.


    2012-10-06 Les Underhill 
    Red letter day for atlaser Ian Rijsdijk 

    Black Skimmer Rietvlei Michael BrooksWhat do these two pictures have in common?

    Atlaser Ian Rijsdijk was the first atlaser to submit a checklist for pentad 3350_1825 which included the Rietvlei Black Skimmer (for which, not surprisingly, he received an ORF!). For those who need to know, the SABAP2 reference number for this species is 11763. In this morning's Die Burger, there is an article about this bird. This photo was taken by SABAP2 information systems manager, Michael Brooks, taking some time off from being almost continuously at the computer screen where he develops all the good stuff on the SABAP2 website.

    And at the same time as Ian was out at Rietvlei, an article written by him was published in OO, Ornithological Observations. The guts of the paper runs like this: "A Black-headed Heron landed on a large bush and proceeded to capture and swallow whole two Speckled Mousebirds." You download the pdf of this paper from here. The paper contains three photos. The one shown here, catching the first mousebird, one with the big bulge in the heron's neck as the mousebird when down the gullet, and one showing the second capture. This event happened at the Wilderness.

    Black Heron eating Specked Mousebird: Barry GreenwoodOrnithological Observations is rapidly becoming the best birding read. It now contains 60 papers. Volume 3 runs to 210 pages; volume 2 had 104 and volume 1 had 64. Each page of the article is landscape, so they fit snugly on a computer screen – OO is designed to be an ejournal. Ian's article is the 59th in OO. The 60th was published at the same time, describes, with photographs, an incident in which a Cape Fur Seal was observed to kill a Southern Giant Petrel in Walvis Bay. This article is here. The total number of downloads of pdfs of OO articles since the journal started just over two years ago is 16500, and currently this is running at more than 100 downloads per day. Real articles about real birds.


    2012-10-04 Les Underhill 
    The Legendary Team SABAP2012 reaches 25% coverage 

    twenty five for sabap2012 Team SABAP2 is going where no team of atlasers has ever been before. We are creating the movie of bird distributions, and we reached a milestone worth celebrating today. SABAP2012 has passed the 25% level of coverage. Why is SABAP2012 important? Distributions of every component of biodiversity are on the move. Mammals, plants, butterflies, reptiles, birds, ... Changes in bird distributions are taking place continuously. SABAP2 offers a unique opportunity to monitor these changes for birds more intensively than can be done for any other taxon. All this contributes towards making SABAP2 the most important conservation monitoring project in the region.

    From the start of SABAP2, it took 24 months to reach 25% coverage; now we have achieved this in a shade over nine months.

    Maybe we could try to target one-third coverage, 33.3%, for SABAP2012. This would need a big push over the next three months, and especially in the December half of the summer holidays.

    If you need helping in finding pentads which have not yet been atlased in 2012, then there is a set of instructions in this news item. Wherever you are, there are pentads unvisited in 2012 near you.

    Great work, Team SABAP2, you are a legend.


    2012-10-04 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, introducing the butterfly series 

    The Butterfly Atlas project evaluated 15 of South Africa's butterflies as "Critically Endangered" – four of these were listed as "Possibly Extinct." There is no time to lose. The Lepidopterists' Society of Africa (LepSoc) has launched a new programme known as COREL (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Lepidoptera). The objective of this programme is to intervene actively to prevent the slide to extinction of our butterflies and moths, highlighted as an outcome of the Butterfly Atlas project.

    Brenton Blue Justin BodeCOREL will draw on the experience of LepSoc's members and specifically the successful campaign to save the Brenton Blue from extinction. The COREL programme has been adopted by the Brenton Blue Trust, and is supported by NGOs such as EWT and WESSA and by conservation bodies such as CapeNature. The immediate objectives of COREL are to save the 15 "Critically Endangered" Lepidoptera from extinction. Nine of these species occur in the Western Cape; the remainder occur in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

    Dave Edge, who leads COREL, is an Extraordinary Senior Lecturer at the School of Environmental Sciences and Development, in the postgraduate programme on Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology of North-West University. Dave writes: "For each of these butterflies and moths LepSoc has appointed one of its most passionate conservationists as its custodian and a plan of action has been drawn up for each species. This coming summer will see much activity such as securing the cooperation of landowners, searches for new localities, monitoring of known populations, recruiting scientists to do research, and establishment of local management committees to involve all stakeholders. Habitat conservation and rehabilitation is the key to saving these species, many of which have complex ecological requirements which need to be studied by scientists. Over the coming weeks and months Threat Thursday will be featuring these species in more detail. Funding is obviously the key to the success of this programme; although the custodians give freely of their time and energy, there are unavoidable costs associated with visiting the sites, carrying out the research and implementing management actions. Consequently we urge nature lovers to support us by making donations to LepSoc, no matter how small, to this very worthy cause."

    This photograph, by Justin Bode, is of a Brenton Blue, the Critically Endangered butterfly species which will be the focus of next week's Threat Thursday. This is the icon of butterfly conservation in South Africa.


    2012-10-03 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Sociable Weaver  

    The Sociable Weaver with its huge communal nest is the iconic feature of arid regions in southern Africa. This week features an example of the 16th and final genus in the weaver family. The Sociable Weaver is in the monotypic genus Philetairus. The meaning of the genus is 'loving companions', so both the genus and specific name refer to the sociable nature of this bird. Adults are distinctive with scaled upperparts and flanks, black bib and brown cap. Juveniles lack the bib.

    This species is found in open, arid country with scattered trees. It forages on the ground, feeding on seeds and insects, especially harvester termites. They forage within 1.5 km of their nest sites which they occupy year-round.

    The distribution map (below) is based on The Atlas of southern African Birds, showing the current PHOWN records. There have been very slight range expansions at the edges of its range in some parts (e.g. see here), although the southernmost colony has not changed in 21 years (e.g. see here). The Sociable Weaver is expected to expand its range as climate change results in an expansion of the arid region in southern Africa.

    Several subspecies have been described for this species in the past, but are no longer considered valid.

    The nest of the Sociable Weaver is remarkable. It may be the largest nest in the avian world, although other contenders have been considered. Nests may be up to 7m diameter, with a weight up to 1 ton. The nests are built of dry grass and nest masses would not survive in areas of high rainfall. Birds huddle together in chambers on cold winter nights to raise the temperature within the chamber. During hot summer days, birds shelter in the cool shade of the chambers. Nest sites are mainly camel thorn trees but other tree species are also used, as is the quiver tree (photo below left, phown 1103). Man-made structures are often used, particularly telephone poles. Interesting nest sites were on a dilapidated rondavel (photo below center, phown 1030) and on windmill blades (photo below right, phown 1577).


    Sociable Weaver nests provide shelter and nest sites for many other birds, particularly the Pygmy Falcon which is dependant on this weaver in southern Africa (e.g. see Tswalu survey). Some other species that regularly roost or breed in the Sociable Weaver nests are Acacia Pied Barbet, Rosy-faced Lovebirds and Red-headed Finches see photos here).

    Ideally nest records submitted to PHOWN should include a nest count, where possible, to obtain a rough guide to the colony size. For Sociable Weavers, this means counting the individual chambers by walking underneath the nest mass. Presence of snakes, however, is a good reson not to count nest chambers - Cape Cobras often raid eggs and chicks in Sociable Weaver nests, as seen in this photo (left, from phown 2172).

    There are nearly 500 PHOWN records for this species (see summary), the large number being partially due to intensive surveys (see Tswalu and southern Namibia (and Benfontein)). But many more records are needed, particularly from the edge of its range, to monitor any range changes. Every time you travel into the range of the Sociable Weaver, record the first colony you find and submit to PHOWN. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Rufous-tailed Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-10-02 Les Underhill 
    PHOWN time 

    Southern Masked Weaver PHOWN3066 Wayne JonesThe most interesting family in the Passerines is the Weavers, the Ploceidae. They find their mates in a variety of ways. Some feed on insects and others on seeds. Some species breed in massive colonies, and some breed in monogamous pairs which defend territories. The family includes the Sociable Weaver with its massive nests, and the Red-billed Quelea, Africa's "feathered locust." At the other extreme are several species in threat categories. There are species which breed in forest, in woodland and in grassland habitats.

    There are 117 species of weavers, and all except five are endemic to Africa. So here we have a biologically fascinating family, occurring almost exclusively in Africa; this has to be this continent's big ornithological research opportunity. Dieter Oschadleus is the ADU's resident ploceidologist. He is the instigator of the weaver website, with URL

    One of the projects that Dieter has initiated is called PHOWN, which stands for PHOtos of Weaver Nests. It uses the ADU's Virtual Museum platform, and is building up a fascinating visual database of photographs of weaver nests. Having the image, and not only a description in words and numbers on a nest record card, makes a huge difference to understanding the context of a breeding colony or nest. You can read up about PHOWN and what it has already achieved on the PHOWN section of the weaver website. Already the project has better data on, for example, colony sizes than in any of the published literature or handbooks. Through having vast numbers of records of weaver nests of a species, we steadily build up the breeding range of the species (whereas a project such as SABAP2 builds up the overall range of the species, which includes regions where the species does not breed).

    Right now, the weaver breeding season is getting underway throughout the summer rainfall region of southern Africa. We invite all our citizen scientists to get their digital cameras to work, take photos of nests – follow the instructions for participation.

    The PHOWN database has data for 59 species, from 27 countries. The country most recently added to the list is Lesotho – in the past few days, Wayne Jones has submitted two records of Southern Masked Weavers. The record that illustrates this news item shows nesting on transmission pylons, and the other record shows a colony with the nests attached directly to electricity cables. You can read up about them here. Nesting on on these kinds of structures, as well as on fences, has enabled several weaver species to expand their ranges into habitats where no suitable natural breeding habitat occurs. The Red-billed Quelea presents "food security" problems; the bunch of species which breed on electricity pylons present "energy security" problems, because the nests cause short circuits, and the resulting "outages" can cause whole districts to be without electricity. The bottom line is that weavers are fascinating and important, from a whole bunch of different perspectives.


    2012-10-02 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday features the Common Coral Tree 

    Coral Tree Tree Tuesday Megan Loftie-Eaton

    Happy TREE TUESDAY!! The species in the spotlight today is the Common Coral Tree Erythrina lysistemon also known as the Lucky Bean Tree or the Kanniedood (meaning "cannot die") in Afrikaans. The Common Coral Tree is a lovely, small to medium-sized, deciduous tree with a spreading crown and brilliant red flowers. It is a handsome tree at any time of the year, and its dazzling flowers have made it one of the best known and widely grown South African trees.

    This is a stocky, thickset tree that often branches low down and usually grows up to 10 m in height, but occasionally reaches 12 m. The bark is smooth and dark gray to gray-brown and has a corky appearance. Short, hooked prickles are sparsely and randomly scattered on the trunk and branches. The leaves are trifoliolate (compound leaves with three leaflets), and each leaflet is large, usually up to 17×18 cm. The Common Coral Tree blooms in early spring (from August to September) and it produces its flowers before its new leaves or just as the leaves start to show.

    The Common Coral Tree is not just a decorative tree, it is also an important component of the ecosystem, providing food and shelter for a variety of birds, mammals and insects. Many birds and insects feed on the nectar. Vervet monkeys eat the flower buds. Kudu, klipspringer, black rhino and baboons graze on the leaves. Black rhinos, elephants and baboons eat the bark. Bush pigs eat the roots, and the brown-headed parrot eats and disperses the seed. Birds such as barbets and woodpeckers nest in the trunks of dead trees, and swarms of bees often inhabit hollow trunks.

    The Common Coral Tree occurs in a wide range of altitudes and habitats from North West Province, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, through to Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal Province, and southward to the Mbashe River Mouth in the Eastern Cape. It occurs further north in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola, but only in small pockets. It grows in scrub forest, wooded gorges, dry woodlands, dry savannah, coastal dune bush, and also in high rainfall areas.

    Have a great Tree Tuesday everyone! And remember to plant some trees!


    2012-09-30 Les Underhill 
    Tygerberg Bird Club makes award to Animal Demography Unit, to expand Bank Cormorant research project 

    Corlia receives donation from Tygerberg Bird Club for Bank Cormorant project

    The Tygerberg Bird Club, located in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. One celebration was the publication of a silver jubilee calendar. Proceeds from the sale of the calendar were destined to support projects relating to conservation, research and environmental education. Gerald Wingate, chair of the club, describes the criteria used to select projects to be supported: "We wanted the money to be used on a species in the Western Cape that is either endangered or threatened. The organisation that implemented the project should also be local, engage local researchers, and have a proven track record."

    "Two projects were selected by the committee. One is being undertaken by the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at UCT, which has successfully undertaken many projects over the years, and deals with the plight of the rare and endemic Bank Cormorant, which is facing a major population decline."

    MSc student Corlia Meyer gave a presentation on the species at the Stanford Bird Fair on 29 September, and this provided the opportunity for Gerald to do the formal presentation of an award of R10 000. Corlia accepted on behalf of the ADU.

    Postdoc Richard Sherley, who leads the project from the ADU side, writes: "Seabirds, because they feed near to the top of food webs, are sentinels of the health of marine ecosystems. The populations of several seabird species in the Benguela Upwelling System have undergone large decreases in the last 50 to 100 years, linked in many cases to losses of their prey base either through large-scale changes in the ecosystem or the impacts of man.

    Bank Cormorants"One of the worst off of these species is the Bank Cormorant. This is a poorly studied 'Endangered' seabird is endemic to South Africa and Namibia. The population decreased by 66% over the last 40 years to around 3000 pairs. This project focuses on conservation research for this species. The mechanisms driving the population trends have not been fully explored or elucidated. Human disturbance, displacement by seals, and changes in prey availability have been implicated in the past, while a recent study has indicated roles for climate variability and food quality that have hitherto been unexplored. Little routine monitoring or directed research has been carried out on Bank Cormorants in South Africa since the 1970s. We recently initiated a three-year study to (1) elucidate the role that changes in prey availability might have played in the past declines in southern Africa and (2) explore the hypothesis that broadscale changes in climate and the southern Benguela Upwelling System could have contributed to the past declines.

    "At present, monitoring is primarily based on visual observation. Breeding success, chick-provisioning behaviour and thermoregulatory behaviour are currently being assessed at three colonies in the Western Cape (Robben Island, Jutten Island, Stony Point). Over the coming field seasons, we aim to extend the monitoring to include the deployment of remote-sensing technology (GPS loggers) to study foraging behaviour and the ringing of chicks to allow for survival analysis. Through existing collaborations with colleagues in Namibia data will be gathered and analysed for the same four variables at Mercury Island, Namibia. This is a site for which some baseline data on Bank Cormorants exists. A team of three students are involved with this research: two MSc students and one BSc(Hons) student are involved: Corlia Meyer and Philna Botha are graduates of the Faculty of Agri-Science of the University of Stellenbosch, with four-year BSc degrees in Conservation Ecology, and Jenni Roberts, Zoology Honours student at UCT.

    "Beyond the timeframe of the initial project, we hope to develop an annual monitoring programme, using a combination of methods above, which will improve our understanding of the factors driving the population dynamics of the species in South Africa. In doing so, we will have initiated long-term datasets to contribute to conservation decision making and ecosystem modelling studies. Our ultimate goal is to propose a collaborative management plan for the conservation of the 'Endangered' Bank Cormorant.

    "The initial project is partly supported by the National Research Foundation. We are enormously grateful for this further support from the Tygerberg Bird Club. This funding will enable us to expand the research project. We need to purchase a high-definition camera, which will enable us to measure gular fluttering, a key component of measuring heat stress."

    Some earlier news items about the Bank Cormorant on the ADU website are at

  • Storms and heat limit nest success of Bank Cormorants
  • Threat Thursday, focusing on the Bank Cormorant
  • Bank Cormorant presentation at Stanford Bird Fair
  • Bank Cormorant chick, entangled with fishing nylon, takes at least 88 hours to die


    2012-09-29 Les Underhill 
    Bank Cormorant chick, entangled with fishing nylon, takes at least 88 hours to die 

    Dangling Bank Cormorant, entangled with fishing line, Robben IslandThis is not a nice picture. Bank Cormorants are "Endangered" and there are only a few thousand left on the planet, and numbers are decreasing. It is FAR rarer than the African Penguin, for example. But sadly it does not enjoy the same iconic status as the penguin does.

    The picture shows the consequences of the careless discarding of fishing line. The adults incorporated some fishing line into their nest. This chick got entangled in this line, and somehow managed to fall out of the nest. From the time if was first seen dangling until the time it was last seen alive was 88 hours. We could do nothing to help, because it was in a colony, and rescuing this bird would have cause so much disturbance that it would have destroyed the entire breeding productivity of this colony, on Robben Island, for the year.

    Please bring this story to the attention of everyone. Be creative. This poor chick needs to live on as an ambassador for a pollution free ocean.

    The entire incident is written up as a paper in Ornithological Observations (OO), our e-journal. Go to "88 hours of torture" to download the pdf of the paper.

    You can look at all 58 papers in OO so far by going to

    Some earlier news items about the Bank Cormorant on the ADU website are at

  • Storms and heat limit nest success of Bank Cormorants
  • Welcome to Corlia Meyer, Bank Cormorant MSc student
  • Threat Thursday, focusing on the Bank Cormorant
  • Bank Cormorant presentation at Standford Bird Fair

    2012-09-28 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Hooray. It is Friday. Frog Friday. And the Giant Bullfrog is in the spotlight 

    Giant Bullfrog FrogMAP249 Jason Boyce, Wian van Zyl

    Hooray! Today is FROG FRIDAY! And the species in the spotlight is the Giant Bullfrog Pyxicephalus adspersus. The Giant Bullfrog is a species of frog in the Ranidae family. It is also known as the pixie frog due to its Latin name. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and possibly Democratic Republic of the Congo. Giant Bullfrog FrogMAP range mapIts distribution in South Africa and Swaziland was documented by the frog atlas, but only the tourquoise circles represent records of distribution from the 21st century! Please upload your photos of this, and all other species of amphibian, to the at FrogMAP virtual museum. This picture of a Giant Bullfrog is record 249 in the FrogMAP virtual museum, submitted by Jason Boyce and Wian van Zyl, and was taken last December at Nylsvley Nature Reserve in Limpopo.

    The natural habitats of the Giant Bullfrog include dry savanna, moist savanna, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, intermittent freshwater lakes, intermittent freshwater marshes, arable land, pastureland, and canals and ditches. This is a large frog, with males weighing about 1.4 kg, although they sometimes easily exceed 2 kg! Females are half the size of males, making this species unique among frogs – in most other amphibians females are either larger than males or more or less the same size.

    The Giant Bullfrog is carnivorous and a voracious eater, eating insects, small rodents, reptiles, small birds and other amphibians. This frog is also aggressive and has been known to bite when provoked. They emit a loud croaking sound. The BBC Life series contains a a short video clip about the Giant Bullfrog, narrated by David Attenborough.


    2012-09-28 Doug Harebottle 
    Coverage for 3DDG challenge ends at 75% 

    The initial aim with this challenge was to get the six most south and western degree squares of the Western Cape to a minimum of four lists per pentad (i.e. light green) within a 12 month period, from 21 September 2011 to 21 September 2012 (spring equinox to spring equinox). Garth Shaw enthusiastically took up the challenge to coordinate the atlasing effort within the region.

    The map on the left shows coverage at the start of the project which then had about 52% of the pentads already at four or more cards. The map below shows coverage a year later and one can see the change in the last 12 months - the number of light green pentads now stands at 75%. Although  the project never completed its goal, it has made major strides in achieving the type of coverage that we need to do meaningful statistical analysis.

    The northern parts made the largest contribution to the project with 109 target cards being submitted. The square (3218) took its number of green cards from 53 to 97, an increase of 44 pentads. The Worcester square (3319) appears to be the one still requiring the most attention. Its progress however has been steady. Exactly 100 target pentads were submitted, of which 14 were for virgin pentads. Garth comments, "some of my most interesting birding came from some of these mountainous pentads in this degree square." A total of 27 pentads were turned green in this square.

    The 3419 square showed the next best increase, with most of the improvement coming from the region between Gaansbaai and Bredasdorp. Coverage was improved from 69 green pentads to 94 (an increase of 25 pentads). Fifty-two target cards were submitted in achieving this. There are now only another seven pentads that are not yet green, of which three require one more card each to turn green. The square comprising Swellendam and surrounds (3420) contributed 55 target cards with 16 pentads turning green. This area still has possibly the easiest to access virgin pentads in the area, with a number of pentads in the Witsand / Cape Infanta region needing just one more checklist to reach four checklists.

    Square 3318, north of Cape Town, still has a frustrating two virgin pentads that need to be accessed but the good news is that these will be covered in the coming months. Barring these two pentads, the square is shaded green. The last square, the peninsula (3418) only required a single card from one pentad, which was duly atlased!

    Overall, 327 target cards were submitted, turning 116 pentads green. Not a bad effort considering the distances and terrain involved!  The 116 pentads represents 7.2% of the 3DDG region. During the same period 2.8% of pentads turned green in the rest of the atlas region. A fantastic effort by all involved, but special thanks to Johan van der Westhuizen, Zenobia van Dyk, John Jones, Adrius Rabie, John Carter, Deona Andrag and Stuart McLennan (amongst many others) who all put in a special effort for the challenge.   

    It is very clear what the value of a project like the 3DDG, or the 4DG, project is. The contributions made by everyone involved adds a valuable piece to the bird diversity puzzle which will ultimately assist in bird conservation in South Africa. Other atlasers are encouraged to consider starting similar projects in their areas, and drumming up enthusiasm and momentum to get more people working towards specific goals. The value of the cards submitted for the 3DDG challenge is not to be underestimated. 

    Garth's endless enthusiasm and motivation in getting atlasers to far flung corners of the Western Cape has been inspiring. We are extremely grateful he championed this mini-project and appreciate all the feedback and reports that kept us abreast of the progress of the challenge. 


    2012-09-26 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Rufous-tailed Weaver  

    The Rufous-tailed Weaver is in the monotypic genus Histurgops. The meaning of Histurgeo is "to weave (i.e. a weaver bird)" and ops means "face" so the genus name means weaver-faced! (or appearance of a weaver). Sexes are similar. This species is grey-brown with a scaly and mottled head and body and rufous tail and wing-patch. The eye colour is unique among weavers in being bluish-white (but brown in juveniles).

    Photo, right:
    Adult at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania,
    by Lee R. Berger (from Wikimedia Commons).

    The distribution map (left) is based on Birds of Africa, showing its restricted distribution in northern Tanzania (purple). However, on 4 July 2000 Dave Richards recorded a group of 5 birds in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, near the border. More records followed from 2007 onwards and the first breeding record in Kenya was recorded by Colin Jackson, as a colony of 7 nests, with chicks, on 14 April 2010. These records are shown in green.

    No subspecies have been described for this species.

    The Rufous-tailed Weaver inhabits savanna thornveld. It forages on the ground, feeding on seeds, insects and fruit. The birds run on the ground, their legs being longer than those of mostly arboreal weavers, and flocks also make short flights low across the ground while feeding. They often associate with starlings or buffalo-weavers.

    They are tame and confiding around some national parks and lodges, where they may beg for food.

    The Rufous-tailed Weaver is monogamous and colonial, with up to 30 nests per tree. They are resident at their nesting colonies and continue building all year. The nest is a ball of grass with a short, wide entrance spout. Initially the nest has two openings with one being closed when eggs are laid, as happens in White-browed Sparrow-weavers. Gall acacias are preferred as nest sites, with nests usually placed 1.5-4 m above the ground. Nests may be used for breeding by Superb Starlings, and for roosting by Fischer's Lovebirds.

    Although common within its range, incubation and nestling periods are not known for this species.

    There are two PHOWN records for this species (see summary), the first being submitted by Colin Beale (see news story). Many more records are needed, particularly with nest counts to obtain more information on variation in colony size. Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: Bob-tailed Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-09-26 Les Underhill 
    Disheritage Day: the stuff we should not celebrate  

    Pines and hakea invading Fynbos

    We celebrated Heritage Day on Monday, and the ADU focused on our heritage of dragonflies and damselflies in a news item.

    Heritage Day is over, and we focus on the unfortunate heritage of invasive alien trees species which we should do our best to disinherit.

    Here are two pictures which should make you angry and sad. The picture above shows nice Fynbos being rapidly overwhelmed by pines and hakea. The picture below shows how the alien acacias expand into the countryside from the roadsides, the seeds having arrived in the gravel for the road.

    Disheritage Day: the stuff we should not celebrate.

    Acacias invading Fynbos


    2012-09-24 Les Underhill 
    The "Endangered" Bank Cormorant will be present at the Stanford Birding Fair next weekend, Friday 28 to Sunday 30 September 

    Bank Cormorant presentation, Corlia Meyer, Stanford Birding Fair

    The annual Stanford Birding Fair takes place this coming weekend, from Friday 28 to Sunday 30 September. You can view the programme for the weekend here.

    Bank Cormorant fieldwork on Robben Island, Corlia Meyer, Stanford Birding FairThe ADU is making a contribution to the programme. On Saturday afternoon, 15h00, MSc student Corlia Meyer is doing a presentation on her study species, Bank Cormorant. Corlia has done a long winter of observations on the colony that breeds on Robben Island, and has lots of fascinating stories to tell. The Bank Cormorant was the featured species in Threat Thursday recently. This species is fading away into extinction almost unnoticed, with most of the hype been focused on the African Penguin. The IUCN threat status of Bank Cormorants is "Endangered" and the research project that Corlia is part of probably represents one of our last opportunities to gather the information to work out what the problems are, and hopefully devise measures to reverse the decline. Although the Bank Cormorant is not superficially a charismatic or iconic species, it has the most beautiful eye of any bird. The Earth would be a poorer place in which to live if we lost the Bank Cormorant.

    We encourage everyone to attend the Fair, and especially Corlia's talk.

    A feature of the Fair is a photographic competition, and the link to the 25 finalists is here.


    2012-09-24 Les Underhill 
    We celebrate Heritage Day with the flying dragons and the flying damsels 

    OdonataMAP coverage 20120924Doing things a bit differently this Monday, Heritage Day.

    Instead of having a braai, we are celebrating that this is the time of the year when dragons and damsels start taking to the air again. Over most of South Africa, dragonflies and damselflies become increasing conspicuous from about September onwards. Numbers are at a maximum in the midsummer months, and after that they slowly taper off so that only a handful are observed in winter. Peak activity is in the middle part of the day, although there are species that are mostly dawn and dusk flyers.

    Dragonflies and damselflies, together, form the order of insects called the Odonata. There are about 160 species in South Africa, an important and sensitive part of our heritage. If we lost our dragonflies, our quality of life would be the poorer. The conservation status of the Odonata of the region was highlighted a couple of months ago in a Threat Thursday news report. In a nutshell, 12 species are in threat categories, and most of these are endemic to the Western Cape.

    The dragonflies and damselflies have a Virtual Museum of their own called OdonataMAP. The map shows the coverage so far. Each circle represents a quarter degree grid cell with data. Currently, OdonataMAP contains 1348 records of which 1303 have been identified. We are extremely grateful to Warwick Tarboton, one of South Africa's authorities on this taxon, for undertaking the identifications. Warwick does the IDs in batches, and he comments on the most recent batch of records.

    Queen Malachite Gerard Diedericks OdonataMAP1261"This batch has added six new species to the growing database, bringing the total number of species in the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum so far to 105. A couple in the total are from outside South Africa, but at least 100 of the 160 South African species have had some coverage so far. One of the new species added in this batch is the rare, localised Queen Malachite Ecchlorolestes nylephtha, the first record in the database, and very nicely photographed by Gerard Diedericks from near Storm's river, Knysna area; it is a red-listed species, classified as 'Vulnerable'.

    "Not surprisingly, the most-frequently photographed species so far are also those that are most widely and commonly encountered in South Africa; the list so far is headed by the Broad Scarlet Crocothemis erythraea (68), Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis arteriosa (67), African Bluetail Ischnura senegalensis (61 records), Two-striped Skimmer Orthetrum caffrum (52) and Kirby's Dropwing Trithemis kirbyi (49). There are also lots of images from the genus Orthetrum but most of these, unfortunately, can only be identified to genus because they can only be distinguished by having close up photos of their secondary genitalia.

    "At this point in time, the top contributors are Alan Manson (257), John Wilkinson (217), Gerard Diedericks (160) and Rick Nuttall (109) and its great to see how these guys have become skilled at identifying their records."

    The dragonfly illustrating this news item is the Gerard's Queen Malachite. He commented: "This specimen was hanging from palmiet leaves adjacent a partially shaded stream. The stream canopy was dominated by exotic vegetation, mainly Acacia melanoxylon and Acacia mearnsii." You can look at this record in its OdonataMAP context here.

    Now is the time to start looking out for dragonflies and damselflies. They are a fun challenge for photographers. Please help us construct the 21st century distribution maps of these iconic insects by submitting your pictures to OdonataMAP. Do this at You need first to register as an ADU observer (you only need to register once for all ADU projects).


    2012-09-23 Les Underhill 
    Fifth International Albatross and Petrel Conference in Wellington, New Zealand 

    Black-browed Albatross Falkland Islands Anton WolfaardtAnton Wolfaardt was an ADU PhD student, graduating in 2007. He is now United Kingdom Overseas Territories co-ordinator for the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), based in the Falklands Islands.

    Last month he attended the International Albatross and Petrel Conference took place in Wellington, New Zealand (12–17 August). This was the fifth conference of this series, the first four "albatross conferences" having taken place in Hobart, Australia (1995), Hawaii, USA (2000), Montevideo, Uruguay (2004), and Cape Town, South Africa (2008). More than 80 papers were presented during the conference, 55 as oral presentations and 34 as posters. These presentations covered a range of subject areas including albatross and petrel biology, ecology, distributions and tracking, taxonomy and human interactions.

    Wadering Albatross, Prion Island, South Georgia, Anton WolfaardtIn addition to the formal presentations, discussion sessions on the distribution of albatrosses and petrels, interaction with fisheries, restoration and translocation and finally the conservation of albatrosses and petrels and future directions of research, management and policy, proved very useful. With 17 out of 22 albatross species threatened with extinction, this family of seabirds is among the most threatened groups of birds in the world. The papers presented, and the discussions that took place, provided excellent impetus in advancing our understanding of albatross and petrel biology and ecology, and also in identifying the priority research, management and policy actions required to improve their conservation status. Delegates also enjoyed a number of mid-conference field trips that were arranged by the conference organisers: a seabird-watching trip in the Cook Strait, and excursions to Kapiti Island and Mariu/Somes Island, both of which have been subject to pest eradication and bird re-introduction programmes. The conference programme and abstracts can be downloaded from the conference website.

    These two photographs of Anton's illustrate the beauty of these iconic species. Without the albatrosses, the Earth would be a poorer place. The headline picture was taken at a colony of Black-browed Albatrosses in the Falkland Islands, and the picture on the right is a Wandering Albatross at Prion Island, South Georgia. Thanks, Anton, for sharing the news and the pictures.


    2012-09-23 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Happy Snake Sunday: Dusky-bellied Water Snake 

    ReptileMAP distribution for Dusky-bellied Water Snake

    Happy SNAKE SUNDAY!! The featured species for today is the Dusky-bellied Water Snake Lycodonomorphus laevissimus. The Dusky-bellied Water Snake can be identified by its aquatic lifestyle, its brown or black colouration, a spotted underside, dark spots on the upper lip and its ability to give off a foul smell. It grows to an average length of 1 m but does sometimges reach 1.2 m. Dusky-bellied Water Snake photo Tyrone James PingTheir preferred habitat includes rivers and marshlands in moist savanna.

    The Dusky-bellied Water Snake is non-venomous and it is not dangerous to man but it will bite if it feels threatened. Its diet consists mainly of frogs, tadpoles and fish. The Dusky-bellied Water Snake is oviparous (egg-laying), and lays between 4 and 17 eggs.

    As shown by the distribution map in ReptileMAP (formerly known as SARCA), the range of this snake is restricted the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coast line and a narrow band northwards into Mpumalanga in South Africa. The map shows two specimen records which were deemed questionable because they were so far out of range. There are only two turquoise cicles on the map; these are the only Virtual Museum records, backed up by photographs. All the records shown by orange squares are specimen records, some of them dating back a 100 years. Help us to map this cool snake's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details, to ReptileMAP, the Virtual Museum for reptiles, at

    The photo was taken by Tyrone James Ping.


    2012-09-22 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    World Rhino Day : 22 September 

    World Rhino Day : Megan Loftie-Eaton"If I can't see them they can't see me, right?"

    World Rhino Day is celebrated on 22 September and highlights efforts to debunk the myths and eliminate the demand for rhino horn.

    Photo by Megan Loftie-Eaton


    2012-09-21 Les Underhill 
    Make South Africa positive. Make Swaziland positive. Make Lesotho positive. Make Namibia positive. 

    Make our countries positive

    SABAP2 is the crucial broad-brush bird conservation project in southern Africa. If we don't know where the birds are and how bird distributions are changing, we have no hope of getting conservation right. We won't know which species to focus our resources on. We won't be able to detect when species are just starting to get into trouble, the point in time when it is easiest to do something about the problem. So we invite you to help to make South Africa positive. To make Swaziland positive. To make Lesotho positive. And to make Namibia positive. How can I do this?

    You can help, because an awesome new feature has been added to the coverage maps on the website On the new maps, the number of checklists for each pentad is shown (see map above). But there is only space for the numbers from 1 to 9. For pentads with 10 or more checklists, the map shows a "+" sign. To make our countries positive, we need to get the number of checklists per pentad to 10!

    So there is now a quick and easy way to see how many full protocol cards have been submitted for a pentad and how many more cards are therefore needed to turn a pentad GREEN (four checklists) or DARK GREEN (seven checklists). So, along the way to turning your country POSITIVE, you first need to turn it GREEN. The SABAP2012 map and all of the annual maps from 2007–2011 have also been provided with options to view the number of cards for each pentad.

    To find these cool new maps, click on "Coverage maps" and then on the new page, there is a new link just below "Static map of coverage" which says "*new* include card counts" – click on this. Click on the new map to download the enlarged version, and you might need to click on this again to see the full size version, with the numbers and "+" signs in the pentads.

    We hope you will all enjoy using this new feature to plan your future atlasing trips, especially during this long weekend! It's a fun way to find the pentads that need just that extra card or two to reach the next colour. And when you get a pentad to 10 checklists, you make that little piece of Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa or Swaziland positive.


    2012-09-21 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Oh yeah!!! Today is FROG FRIDAY!! – Rose's Mountain Toadlet 

    Rose's Mountain Toadlet: photo Mike BuckhamOh yeah!!! Today is FROG FRIDAY!! And we are featuring the Rose's Mountain Toadlet Capensibufo rosei. Rose’s Mountain Toadlet is endemic to the winter-rainfall region of the Western Cape Province in South Africa. This small toad has an elongate body and females are much larger than males. Males reach 28 mm and females reach 39 mm in length. The parotoid glands are distinct and have an inverted pear shape. There is no webbing between the toes and the hind limbs are relatively short and better adapted for walking and running than for jumping.

    The areas in which Rose's Mountain Toadlet occurs receive 600–3000 mm of rain per year. The localities vary in altitude from 60 m on the southern Cape Peninsula, to 1600 m; more than 80% of localities are above 400 m. Based on current knowledge, Rose's Mountain Toadlet has a geographically fragmented distribution pattern. This toad is restricted to mountains where it occurs in undisturbed Mountain Fynbos of the Fynbos Biome.

    The commencement of breeding is dependent on rainfall and the formation of small, shallow pools of water during the winter rainy season. The species is not known to breed in pools of moving water associated with mountain streams. The embryos take up to 12 days to develop into tadpoles after which they leave the egg capsules. Metamorphosis takes about six weeks, depending on temperature and the availability of food and water.

    Rose's Mountain Toadlet was previously listed as Restricted and is presently listed as Vulnerable, because of its restricted and fragmented distribution. You can help us to map this beautiful toad’s 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details to FrogMAP at

    Photo by Mike Buckham


    2012-09-19 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Bob-tailed Weaver  

    The Bob-tailed Weaver is in the monotypic genus Brachycope. The meaning of the genus is short - appearance, i.e. refering to the small size and very short tail of the species. The adult male has a black mask surrounded by some yellow on the head and breast. The female and non-breeding male are brownish with uniform buff underparts. The short tail and brownish plumage give the impression of juveniles, even in adult birds.

    A pair (left), the first illustration of the species (from Bannerman DA. 1949. The Birds of Tropical West Africa, Vol. 7).

    This species was first collected at the Stanley Falls on the Congo River, by German collector F. Bohndorff in 1887. He collected a young male and this type specimen is in the Berlin Museum (above, right). No subspecies have been described for this species.

    The distribution map (left) is based on Birds of Africa.

    The Bob-tailed Weaver is found in grassy clearings near large rivers in rain-forest. It has been recorded along the Congo River, and other rivers in DRC, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic, with recent sightings from Angola.

    The Bob-tailed Weaver forages on the ground, probably feeding mainly on seeds and some insects. It uses clearings created for cultivation, and is often found near villages.

    The Bob-tailed Weaver is a solitary breeder and is probably monogamous. The nest is a sphere with a side entrance, woven of grass strips. The nest is placed in bushes, small trees and oil palms. The eggs are uniform dark grey, different to the colour of most weaver eggs, and not a common colour for bird eggs.

    A quick search of the internet and a weaver bibliography has not revealed any illustration of the nest of this species (though there must be one somewhere!).

    There are no PHOWN records for this species - be the first to submit one! Please submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN summary           Previous Wedn: White-headed Buffalo-Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-09-17 René Navarro 
    Magellanic Penguin 

    Neither clown nor child nor black
    nor white but verticle
    and a questioning innocence
    dressed in night and snow:
    The mother smiles at the sailor,
    the fisherman at the astronaunt,
    but the child child does not smile
    when he looks at the bird child,
    and from the disorderly ocean
    the immaculate passenger
    emerges in snowy mourning.

    I was without doubt the child bird
    there in the cold archipelagoes
    when it looked at me with its eyes,
    with its ancient ocean eyes:
    it had neither arms nor wings
    but hard little oars
    on its sides:
    it was as old as the salt;
    the age of moving water,
    and it looked at me from its age:
    since then I know I do not exist;
    I am a worm in the sand.

    the reasons for my respect
    remained in the sand:
    the religious bird
    did not need to fly,
    did not need to sing,
    and through its form was visible
    its wild soul bled salt:
    as if a vein from the bitter sea
    had been broken.

    Penguin, static traveler,
    deliberate priest of the cold,
    I salute your vertical salt
    and envy your plumed pride.

    by Pablo Neruda


    2012-09-14 Richard Sherley 
    Have you submitted your comments on the penguin BMP? 

    The Draft Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Penguin was gazetted for public comment on 20 August and interested and affected parties were given 30 days to submit representation on or objectives to the plan.

    This means that there are only a few more days during which you can submit comments.

    Help make sure that this isn't the end of the road for the African Penguin and send your comments on the plan to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs via email:

    The draft of the plan can be downloaded here.


    2012-09-12 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: White-headed Buffalo-Weaver  

    The White-headed Buffalo-Weaver is in the monotypic genus Dinemellia. The origin of the genus and specific name is after Dinemelli a collector in Ethiopia about whom nothing is known. The genus is unique among weavers in that the birds are largely white with orange-red rump, undertail coverts and wing shoulder (photo left, from phown 2647).

    The sexes are alike and the species colours of white, black and red are unmistakable in the field. Immature birds have pale orange tail coverts, rather tahn orange-red tail coverts.

    They forage on the ground and feed mainly on insects but also eat seeds and fruit. They favour dry bush and savanna thornveld.

    Two subspecies are recognised:
    D. dinemelli dinemelli is found from Sudan to Kenya (yellow on the map below) - upperparts are dark brown.
    D. dinemelli boehmi is found in SE Kenya and Tanzania (red on the map below) - upperparts are black.
    The map also indicates current PHOWN records.

    The map (left) is based on Birds of Africa, but central Ethiopia has been added to the distribution here as indicated by Ash J and Atkins J (2009. Birds of Ethiopia and Eritrea. An atlas of distribution).

    This species is monogamous and may be a co-operative breeder. The nest built by both sexes. They build an inner herbaceous shell of dry grass stems, and then cover the top and sides with a protective layer of thorny twigs. A short entrance tube faces downwards. Nest lining of grass, leaves or feathers is added.

    There may be a single nest, or several nests which probably belong to the pair. Nests are placed in trees at 2-4 m above the ground. Nests may be placed in trees that have colonies of biting ants, as additional protection from predators.

    Details on eggs and nestlings may be seen in the summary box here but incubation period is still unrecorded. The nests may be used by Pygmy Falcons and Cut-throat Finches.

    Photo left, from phown 707.

    There are four PHOWN records for this conspicous species but many more are needed. Please submit records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN records for this species           Previous Wedn: Blue-billed Malimbe           Full weaver species list


    2012-09-12 Richard Sherley 
    See Dee Boersma's TED talk online 

    The Animal Demography Unit has played host to leading seabird Scientist Dee Boersma of the University of Washington over the last few weeks. Dee was able to visit several of the key African Penguin colonies during her time in South Africa and took the time to provide invaluable feedback and advice to the ADU's penguin team. Dee Boersma's field of interest lies in the conservation biology focussing on seabirds as indicators of environmental variation including climate change. She is best known for her research on penguins, for which she dedicated several projects such as the Magellanic Penguin Project at Punta Tombo, Argentina, in her role as a scientific fellow for the Wildlife Conservation Society. She began her career at the University of Washington in 1974 as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Zoology and was also an Associate Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies from 1987-1993. In this role, she has dedicated almost three decades to tracking the Magellanic penguin in the Atlantic and effects of human perturbations and policy changes on their survival. She is a Professor of Biology and holds the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science and is the Director of the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels.

    We were lucky enough to see Dee present a Department seminar entitled "The Penguins of Patagonia" in the Zoology Department on Monday, but if you missed it, you can always view her TED talk online.

    The image above comes from Dee's excellent project website,


    2012-09-11 Richard Sherley 
    Update on the Seli 1 oil spill 

    Having caught 194 oiled penguins and 23 chicks in the nine days since the Seli 1 was reported to be leaking oil, the Animal Demography Unit/Earthwatch team finally came off of Robben Island first thing yesterday morning. We had been joined by a team from SANCCOB over the weekend to search the bushes of the penguin colony for any remaining oiled birds with chicks or eggs. We were successful in finding a number on nests, but sadly came across two carcasses of oiled penguins which we simply did not catch in time.

    Poor weather on Sunday meant that the island's ferries did not run, with the result that we left with 27 oiled birds and several chicks in 11 penguin boxes on Monday morning! ADU postgraduate, Kate Robinson has written a piece for her Penguin Tracks blog which contains some images of the birds loaded up for the journey.

    At the quayside, we were met by a team of eight from the Department of Environmental Affairs who travelled across for the day to conducted further searches of the colony and coastline. They found 3 more oiled birds and 6 chicks which they brought off with them yesterday evening. Reports from Mario Leshoro, the Conservation Officer on Robben Island, indicate that there was at least one more bird oiled along the shoreline of the island today.

    According to a report in today's Cape Argus the National Treasury has set aside funds to completely remove the wreck of the Seli 1 from the Table View beachfront after three years and three oil spills. While this is undoubtedly good news, it comes too late for some of the penguins at Robben Island. Well over 200 seabirds have now been affected by this totally preventable oil spill and efforts will still continue to catch any remaining oiled birds. For more on the washing and rehabilitation efforts see SANCCOB's News page or facebook page. A team of penguin researchers from the ADU is standing by to return to the island tomorrow to continue efforts to catch oiled birds if necessary.


    2012-09-10 Tali Hoffman 
    Happy Mad Mammal Monday folks! 

    Today we return to the ocean and meet one of the great whales of the African seas - the Bryde's Whale Balaenoptera edeni. There's an awesome site that offers more information about Bryde's whales than you could ever want! For instance, how does one actually pronounce Bryde's? And who's bigger – the boys or the girls? Find out these answers and more by clicking on this link.

    Bryde's Whale Arnold van der Westhuizen MammalMAP 2773Today's Mad Mammal post is dedicated to Gwen Penry, the first mammal scientist to be featured as part of this series. Gwen is a marine biologist from the Mammal Research Institute at Pretoria University (the co-home of MammalMAP, along with the Animal Demography Unit at UCT), and spends almost every waking moment trying to conserve these epic mammals. Read more about her work by clicking on this link.

    Finally, as you'll read in Gwen's article, there is very little known about the distribution of Bryde's whales ... and this is where every one of us can help! If you have any records of these whales, please submit them to the virtual museum as soon as you can. This photo, record 2773 in MammalMAP, taken by Arnold van der Westhuizen in Table Bay, is one of the four records already there. Thanks!


    2012-09-09 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Frog Friday spotlights the Bains Kloof Moss Frog 


    Bainskloof Moss Frog Andre CoetzerHappy FROG FRIDAY!!!!! The species in the spotlight for today is the Bainskloof Moss Frog Arthroleptella bicolor. The Bainskloof Moss Frog is endemic to the Riviersonderend, Du Toitsberg, Elandskloof and Limietberg mountains in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It has been recorded at altitudes of 300–2000 m. This frog is associated with moss and matted vegetation found in seepages and along heavily vegetated streams, often on steep slopes. It is known from montane fynbos where the winter rainfall exceeds 750 mm.

    The Bainskloof Moss Frog reaches a maximum size of 22 mm. It has a squat body with short limbs and a rounded head. This moss frog usually varies in colour from orange-brown to black with darker blotches and paler spots on the back and legs. Breeding commences during the winter rains, and continues until the seeps dry up in midsummer. Clutches of 8–10 eggs are laid in moss or similar vegetation in seepages. Males may guard the eggs as they call from oviposition sites. The eggs develop directly into 4-mm froglets.

    Help us to map this beautiful little frog's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details, to FrogMAP at To contribute to any of the virtual museum projects you first need to register as an ADU (Animal Demography Unit) observer. Happy frogging!!


    2012-09-09 Les Underhill 
    ssssssssssssssssSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSnake Sunday: Cape Cobra 

    Cape Cobra, photo by Tyrone James PingToday is SSSSSSNAKE SUNDAY! And we are featuring the Cape Cobra Naja nivea. The Cape Cobra is a beautiful snake that varies from golden yellow to almost black in colouration. Juveniles can be identified by a brown band on their hood. This snake is most easily identified by its particularly aggressive and defensive posture which it adopts at the slightest provocation. This Cape Cobra is also noted for being highly active and very fast moving. It reaches an average length of 1.2 m but can reach 2 m. This distribution of this species is restricted to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and Free State provinces of South Africa, as well as Botswana and Namibia. It primarily inhabits dry sandy areas (e.g. the Karoo), semi-urban areas (e.g. informal settlements), disused termite mounds or rodent burrows and has been seen climbing trees.

    The Cape Cobra preys on rodents (e.g. rats and mice), lizards, other snakes, frogs and toads. It also eats birds, particularly young birds and eggs in nests (especially Sociable Weavers). Cape Cobras have a relatively long life span (one specimen in San Diego Zoo lived for over 15 years) and they have a very powerful and fast acting neurotoxic venom, more powerful than any other cobra venom in Africa. A bite from a Cape Cobra is life threatening and is a medical emergency (it is responsible for the majority of snake-bite-related fatalities in its range). It is important to note there is anti-venom available that is very effective.

    You can help us to map this amazing snake’s 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details to ReptileMAP at and, remember, in order to contribute to any of the virtual museums you need to first register as an ADU observer.

    Photo by Tyrone James Ping.


    2012-09-05 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Blue-billed Malimbe  

    The Blue-billed Malimbe is in the genus Malimbus, which contains ten species. The origin of the genus is after the town of Malimbe, Angola, where the first Malimbe (a Crested Malimbe) was collected in around 1800. Malimbes are forest loving weavers found largely in central and West Africa. They are black weavers with patches of scarlet, orange or yellow. Males and females are dissimilar with different sizes or intensities of the coloured patches. They are almost entirely insectivorous, and live mostly high in trees. Their nests are neatly woven and some have long entrance tunnels.

    The Blue-billed Malimbe is black with a scarlet patch on the throat and upper breast (photo right, enlarged from phown 984). The blue bill is slightly curved. The female is similar to the male but is slightly duller, and the immature bird is browner with a dull orange patch.


    The Blue-billed Malimbe has no subspecies, although two were proposed in the past. It is found from Senegal to western Uganda and northern Angola, as shown in the map (above, from Birds of Africa).

    The Blue-billed Malimbe is solitary or found in pairs or family parties. It climbs tree limbs like a woodpecker, while foraging for arthropods.

    This species is monogamous and the male builds a new nest every season. Old nests may survive for several years so that a few nests may be clustered nearby. Sometimes several pairs form loose colonies. The nest is ball-shaped, made of strips of epiphytes, palm fibres, twigs and tendrils (see photo right, from Collias NE, Collias EC. 1964. Evolution of nest building in weaverbirds. Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool. 73:1-239). The nests often overhang forest rivers and ponds.

    A remarkable nesting association has been found in this species. They like to build their nests in the vicinity of dens of the Central African Dwarf Crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis, presumably because the presence of crocodiles keeps predators away.

    There is one PHOWN record for this species - see phown 984 and click on Large photos to see the nests (partially hidden by leaves), adult and juvenile. There are no PHOWN records for any other Malimbus species. Please look out for nests of this species and submit to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN records for this species           Previous Wedn: Red-billed Quelea           Full weaver species list


    2012-09-05 Richard Sherley 
    Update on the Seli 1 oil spill 

    Unfortunately oiled birds are still showing up along the shoreline and within the penguin colony on Robben Island. Since I posted on Monday, when we had caught 39 oiled birds, we have managed to catch another 53 birds taking our total to 92 oiled individuals. We have been told that the slick has been broken up and we were starting to see mainly birds with dried oil on their feathers. However, this afternoon and evening we caught 25 birds, several of which were heavily fouled with what looked like fresh oil. Sadly we have also had to remove 11 chicks and 1 egg from nests where the adults were oiled. At the moment we are not sure if the worst is over yet or not, so we have sent for reinforcements from the mainland to help with searching for oiled birds.

    The good news is that many of the oiled birds we have been finding are in excellent condition and SANCCOB have been able to start washing them today. Both SANCCOB's Facebook page and the Birdworld Facebook page are carrying regular updates on this enfolding crisis. Duncan Bolton, shown in the image above with ADU PhD student Kate Robinson loading penguins onto the Robben Island Ferry this morning, came from Birdworld to help with the Earthwatch team currently on the island.


    2012-09-04 Dieter Oschadleus 
    DST-NRF Internship Programme 2013/14 

    There are 1 year job opportunities for post-grad students to work at a university. The ADU (SAFRING, MammalMAP, SABAP2) has applied for students. Read more below and apply here.

    Required Qualifications
    Only university graduates with Bachelor’s, Honours, BTech, MTech or Master’s degrees may apply. People holding a National Diploma, DTech and PhD need not apply.

    Interns will receive a monthly salary ranging between R5 445 and R7 260 per month - depending on their level of qualification.

    Who is Eligible to Apply?
    Unemployed South African university graduates and postgraduates in the Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Research and Development fields are eligible. Non-South Africans need not apply. Applicants should not be older than 35 years at the time of submission of application. Candidates with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

    Successful applicants will be placed in various institutions throughout the country and should thus apply for a position available in the Province where they would like to be placed. The NRF does not pay relocation costs to appointed candidates who need to relocate to another Province.

    The internship programme is offered for a period of 12 months. Successful candidates will be required to sign an internship contract for the duration of the internship period. Successful candidates will start their internship on 1 April 2013.

    How to Apply?
    All applications must be submitted online here and click on ‘vacancies internship’. Please also attach certified copies of qualifications, academic records and your South African Identity Document. NB: Applicants may only submit a maximum of three applications, each specifying one area of specialisation the candidate is applying for. No e-mailed or faxed applications will be considered.

    Enquiries: Monwabisi Mfihlo, tel. (012) 481-4023 or Sello Raseruthe, tel. (012) 481-4388/4049.
    Closing date: 5 October 2012
    NB: Applications received after the closing date will not be considered. Correspondence will be limited to short-listed candidates only. If no correspondence has been received within four months of the closing date, applicants should consider their applications unsuccessful.


    2012-09-04 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday features the Tree of the Year: the Waterberry Tree 

    Waterberry Tree

    Happy TREE TUESDAY!!!! Today we are featuring the tree of the year, the Waterberry Tree Syzygium cordatum. The Waterberry Tree is an evergreen, water-loving tree, which grows to a height of 8–15 m. This tree is often found near streams, on forest margins or in swampy spots. The leaves are elliptic to circular, bluish green on top and a paler green below. Young leaves are reddish. The white to pinkish fragrant flowers are borne in branched terminals and have numerous fluffy stamens. It flowers from August to November and the fruits are oval berries that are red to dark-purple when ripe. The fleshy fruit is slightly acid in flavour and is eaten by monkeys, bush-babies and birds. One of the only two nesting sites of the Woolly-necked Stork known in South Africa is in an umdoni swamp forest near Mtunzini where this tree occurs. Kudu like to browse the leaves of this tree and birds such as the Crowned Hornbill eat the hairy caterpillars that sometimes infest the tree.

    The Waterberry Tree occurs along stream banks from KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa and northwards to Mozambique. It grows in forest margins, in bush or open grassy plains and sometimes in the high country. ViTH logoThis tree is tree of the year in South Africa for 2012 and was filmed at Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve with presenter Ashley Dowds. You can watch the video here. "Walking with Trees" is a SAPPI initiative in support of their Tree Spotting books of the Bushveld, Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Highlands and Lowveld.

    You can help us to conserve this amazing tree by submitting your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium at By submitting your photos we can build up a 21st century map of the Waterberry Tree's distribution.


    2012-09-03 Richard Sherley 
    Oil spill affects penguins on Robben Island 

    The bulk ore carrier MV Seli 1, which ran aground off Bloubergstrand on 8 September 2009, has broken into three parts and released oil into Table Bay following the stormy weather this past weekend (for more click here). The wreck, which also released an oil slick this time last year (2 September 2011), produced a trail of fuel oil eight nautical miles (15km) long and three metres wide which extended between Cape Town Harbour and Robben Island, polluting two nearby beaches. Sadly, we have also found a number of oiled African Penguins on the island over the last three days. Luckily, Duncan Bolton (from Birdworld) and I have been leading an Earthwatch Team on the island over the last week, so we were able to mount a rapid response to the oiling. Along with Mario Leshoro, the Robben Island Museum’s Conservation Officer, the team has managed to catch 39 oiled penguins.

    The image is one of Duncan's taken today and shows just two of the birds that have been, or will be, sent across to SANCCOB to be cleaned and released. Research following the Apollo Sea (1994) and Treasure (2000) oil spills has shown the conservation benefit of washing oiled African penguins and hand-rearing the chicks orphaned through the removal of their oiled parents. Luckily most of the birds on the island at this time of year are not breeding, but we have still found four chicks whose parents have been oiled so far. These chicks will also go across to SANCCOB and become part of the Chick Bolstering Project.

    To keep up to date with the latest information on this oil spill response, check out SANCCOB’s Facebook page or the Birdworld Facebook page, which Duncan is trying to update daily while he is on Robben Island.


    2012-09-01 Les Underhill 
    Shredded Marsh Warbler on rice 

    Colin Jackson is an ADU PhD student based in Kenya, and who coordinates the annual ringing expeditions to Ngulia in Tanzania. He recently sent this report to Dieter Oschadleus, the SAFRING coordinator in the ADU:

    Just heard about one of our Marsh Warblers ringed at Ngulia that was found in Saudi Arabia – it was caught by a bird hunter there who wrote saying:

    Manfolh mis --- marsh warbler on rice"For information, my friend we are in Saudi Arabia are hunting these birds and eat birds migrating are a favorite meal we know that Manfolh mis but there is no strict system to stop this hobby and if you want to communicate with me more can add a digital program whatsapp in order to enclose you many pictures and a full report and comprehensive for what is happening. When you cross the migratory birds Saudi territory." He even included a photo of the dish he had made from this Marsh Warbler – and many more – see right. Presumably shredded Marsh Warbler on rice is called Manfolh mis??

    The key ringing information was that this bird was ringed at Ngulia in Tanzania on 29 November 2009 at midnight and the hunter reported it from Saudi Arabia on 13 August 2012.


    2012-08-31 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Colour ringed sparrowhawk 

    Merle and Derek Charlton forwarded this photo of a Black Sparrowhawk to SAFRING. Merle wrote: “A friend sent the attached picture of a raptor in his Hermanus garden for us to identify and we noticed that there were rings on both legs. Do hope you can identify the bird from this picture and we would be grateful to hear your conclusions.”

    This individual (ring 6H03252) had been ringed by Ann Koeslag who was excited to hear about the photo. She wrote: “This is such a great sighting. This bird was ringed at Sunnycroft in Noordhoek on the 4/10/2010 as a nestling. This is 84 km as the sparrowhawk flies from where the bird was ringed as a nestling. I am sure it took a much longer route unless it was willing to fly straight across False Bay.”

    The SAFRING map and details may be viewed here. The greatest distance moved by a Black Sparrowhawk is 212 km, a bird also ringed by Ann (in the Hout Bay area) that was found dead in Suurbrak (ring 6H05453).


    2012-08-31 Les Underhill 
    Congratulations, OO, on your second birthday today 

    OO logoHappy birthday to OO
    Happy birthday to OO
    Happy birthday, dear Ornithological Observations
    Happy birthday to OO

    OO is two years old today. There have been just over 14000 downloads of the pdfs of papers in the Ornithological Observations. See OO is an ejournal. It is a collection of interesting bird observations. All the back issues, back to Volume 1 Page 1 are always available. What is even better about an ejournal is that you don't need to remember to put it back on the bookshelf. Everything is always neatly kept in the same place on the website! Thanks, Arnold van der Westhuizen, for faithfully editing the articles.

    If you have an ornithological observation to share, you go to the OO website, and you click on "download templates." You get the Word file which enables you to write the paper in the format of the ejournal.




    2012-08-31 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Thank Goodness It's Frog Friday – Cape Sand Toad 

    Cape Sand Toad Trevor Hardaker FrogMAP393

    TGIFF!!! Thank Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY! The species in the spotlight today is the Cape Sand Toad Vandijkophrynus angusticeps. This is a medium sized toad and has the typical square, thick-set body which characterizes this genus. The skin is rough and dry with wart-like glandular elevations on the upper side and includes a pair of distinctive parotoid glands on the neck behind the eyes. The legs are longer than the body length and there are no hard ridges on the heel of the hind foot or discs on the toes and fingers. The edges of the toes are fringed with webbing (but two segments of the third toe are free of web). The tarsal fold is distinct and ridged. The upper body surface is light grey to light brown and covered in variable dark patches or blotches. Some of these are arranged in pairs that extend down the length of the back from the snout. There is usually a thin, pale vertebral line extending from the snout to the tip of the urostyle, and the upper surfaces of the feet are generally yellow. The underside is white and has a granular texture except for the throat which has a smoother skin. This species has a relatively soft call, and calling males can be difficult to locate as the calls are widely spaced and the frogs become silent when approached.

    The Cape Sand Toad is endemic to the Fynbos Biome and mainly occurs in the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape Province of South Africa, but its habitat also extends eastwards into a winter/summer rainfall transition zone. The Cape Sand Toad is mainly associated with sandy, coastal lowlands but also occurs in some rocky montane areas further inland. It breeds in shallow temporary pools in seasonally flooded land, and this may also include modified habitat such as cultivated lands. Breeding takes place once sufficient rain has fallen for temporary pools to form. This generally happens in the winter period from May to September. During rainy periods in suitable habitat, many of these toads may be seen at night moving across roads to breeding sites (especially early in the breeding season). At the breeding sites, calling males tend to be sparsely distributed and their calls are soft and intermittent. They are known to call from exposed positions at the water's edge after dark. The eggs, which are 1–2 mm in diameter, are laid in long gelatinous strings of 5–7 mm in width. The eggs develop into free-swimming benthic tadpoles which are relatively small and dark. The tadpoles take about a month or less to metamorphose into tiny toadlets.

    The photo shown here is record 393 from the FrogMAP database. The photo was taken in the Western Cape by Trevor Hardaker and it is the only photographic record of Cape Sand Toad in the database! Please help us to map this cool toad's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details, to FrogMAP (formerly known as SAFAP) at


    2012-08-30 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on the "Endangered" African Penguin 

    The Endangered African PenguinThreat Thursday today focuses on the African Penguin Spheniscus demersus. This species was chosen because last week the Government Gazette published the Draft Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for the species. The development of this BMP is enabled by an act of parliament, through legislation that was passed in 2004: National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004). This Act is usually referred to as NEMBA. This 72-page document can be downloaded as a pdf here.

    The Introduction to the BMP states the extent of the problem: "The African Penguin was South Africa's most abundant seabird. However, it has suffered a massive reduction in abundance. The overall population may have been of the order of one million pairs in the 1920s, but it decreased to about 147 000 pairs in 1956/57, 75 000 pairs in 1978, 63 000 pairs in 2001 and 25 000 pairs in 2009. Therefore, the present population is only some 2.5% of its level 80 years ago. The species has a Red List status of Endangered because the breeding population has decreased by >50% in the three most recent generations and the decrease is continuing."

    The IUCN conservation status of the African Penguin was reconsidered in 2010, when the status was changed from "Vulnerable" to "Endangered" – this change was motivated by solid quantitative evidence, it was not based on opinion or on whim. The statistical analyses which showed that the population decline over three generations exceeded 50% was undertaken by the ADU. This is the crisp criterion which has to be satisfied before a species can be tagged as "Endangered." The downward spiral "shows no sign of reversing despite conservation efforts." The bottom line looks like this: "Research has shown that shortage of food is probably the factor driving the recent decline, but it is unclear as to what is causing this shortage."

    The ADU has a big investment in trying to help clarify the cause of the decline. There have been four PhDs dealing with various aspects of the this species, and each with an important conservation-relevant thrust:

    Dr Phil Whittington – Survival and movements of African Penguins, especially after oiling.

    Dr Jessica Kemper – Heading towards extinction? Demography of the African Penguin in Namibia.

    Dr Anton Wolfaardt – The effects of oiling and rehabilitation on the breeding productivity and annual moult and breeding cycles of African Penguins.

    Dr Lauren Waller – The African Penguin Spheniscus demersus: conservation and management issues.

    And two PhD theses have had a large African Penguin component:

    Dr Newi Makhado – Investigation of the impact of fur seals on the conservation status of seabirds at the Prince Edward Islands and off western South Africa

    Dr Richard Sherley – Factors influencing the demography of Endangered seabirds at Robben Island, South Africa: Implications and approaches for management and conservation (University of Bristol, but Richard was based in the ADU).

    And there is currently a large team of postgraduate students wrestling with trying to uncover the real causes of the recent decline in African Penguins. They are supported from a variety of sources, and especially the Leiden Conservation Trust. There is scope for additional support.

    The Biodiversity Management Plan highlights a selection of research needs. These are becoming the ADU's agenda for African Penguin research.


    2012-08-29 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Red-billed Quelea  

    The Red-billed Quelea is in the genus Quelea, which contains three species. The origin of the name 'quelea' is unclear but may derive from the English quail, which has the variant spellings 'qualia' and 'qualea'. Queleas are small, short-tailed, sexually dimorphic weavers of moist to arid grassland. They are highly gregarious and colonial, being major granivorous bird pests. They are nomadic or migratory in most regions. Females and non-breeding males resemble non-breeding bishops but queleas have yellow (instead of buff) edges to the primaries - this is visible in photo 2 left.

    The Red-billed Quelea male in breeding plumage (photo above left) has a mask with no pink or varying amounts of pink around the mask. The mask is usually black but is white in some males (see more photos of head plumage variation here). This variation is to allow individuals to recognise each other. In the non-breeding season the sexes are alike, with a dull brown plumage, and a red bill, eye-rings and legs (photo above right).

    The Red-billed Quelea is one of the most abundant bird species in the world and its post-breeding population has been estimated to be 1.5 billion birds, leading to its nickname "Africa's leathered locust". It is a significant pest of small grain crops throughout sub-Saharan Africa and is therefore a major threat to subsistence farmers and of economic importance to commercial farmers. Although millions of Queleas are killed each year in government control operations, these birds remain abundant.

    There are three subspecies in which there are small plumage differences in the breeding plumages of males and it is difficult to delineate the exact distribution of the subspecies as there may be large hybrid overlap zones. Approximate distributions are: Q. q. quelea occurs in western Africa from Senegal to Chad; Q. q. aethiopica in north-eastern Africa from Sudan to Somalia, north-eastern Zaire, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania; and Q. q. lathamii in the southern third of Africa. The map (left) shows the distribution of the Red-billed Quelea - the darker green shows areas of high breeding effort.
    This species is expanding its range into the Western Cape - the most recent report about this may be read here.

    The Red-billed Quelea is monogamous and breeds in small to vast colonies - in contrast, most monogamous weavers breed as pairs or in small groups. The Red-billed Quelea has one of the shortest breeding cycles of any bird. The breeding cycle takes about seven weeks: nest construction and egg laying overlap and are completed in six days; incubation lasts 9–10 days; the nestling period takes 11–13 days; chicks fledge at age 16 days and start self-feeding at 19 days, and are independent fledglings about a day or two later.

    This species also builds non-breeding nests through the year. The birds roost in large flocks in reeds or trees, and they leave the roosts at dawn to fly some distance to forage in the early morning. By mid morning they congregate in smaller flocks near their foraging sites to rest for the hot part of the day. While resting they chatter and build nests, which may be partial or complete structures. These midday roost sites with nests provide important information on where the main foraging areas of this major pest species are. Photo right: example of quelea nests in a midday roost (from phown 1658).

    PHOWN records for the Red-billed Quelea appear here, and the midday roost sites are here. This is the most abundant weaver species, but there are very few PHOWN records. Please look out for nests of this important species and submit to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.


    PHOWN records for this species           Previous Wedn: Southern Masked Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-08-29 Les Underhill 
    A feather in the cap for the CWAC, for citizen science and for bird conservation – well done, Tygerberg Bird Club 

    Tygerberg Bird Club Overstrand Municipality CWAC award

    The Tygerberg Bird Club was recently nominated as a candidate to receive the prestigious Mayor of the Overstrand Municipality's Environmental Conservation Award for its meritorious contribution to Environmental Conservation in the Overstrand during 2012. Mariana Delport, together with Lesley Teare, attended the awards ceremony and received the certificate on behalf of the Tygerberg Bird Club's CWAC group who have diligently conducted waterbird counts at the Bot River Estuary over the past twenty years.

    Congratulations to Mariana and the Tygerberg Bird Club team. A feather in the cap for CWAC, for citizen science and for bird conservation!


    2012-08-28 Les Underhill 
    We celebrate Tree Tuesday this week with the Spekboom Portulacaria afra 

    Spekboom ViTH Tree Tuesday

    Happy TREE TUESDAY!! Today's featured species is the Spekboom or Porkbush Portulacaria afra, which of course isn't actually a tree but a really cool succulent plant. Portulacaria afra is a popular succulent garden plant in use around the world and is often used for bonsai. It has been shown to be effective for carbon sequestration (binding atmospheric carbon which is responsible for climate change) and landscape restoration purposes, in semi-arid landscapes and thicket vegetation. The porkbush is an attractive, evergreen succulent shrub or small tree that can reach 2–5 m in height. It has small round succulent leaves and red stems and small star-shaped pink flowers that are borne en masse from late winter to spring. They are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in turn attracts insectivorous birds.

    The porkbush is found in warm climates on rocky slopes in succulent karoo scrub, thicket, bushveld and dry river valleys in the eastern parts of South Africa from the Eastern Cape province northwards into KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces as well as in Swaziland, Mozambique. The leaves of the porkbush can be eaten and have a sour or tart flavour. It is heavily browsed by game and domestic stock and highly favoured by tortoises. The porkbush is a soil binder and this makes it very useful for preventing soil erosion. Recent research has shown the porkbush to be an excellent 'carbon sponge' as it has the ability to absorb free carbon from the atmosphere which it uses to make plant tissue. Carbon is one of the major greenhouse gases which are responsible for the warming of the earth's atmosphere; it is produced in excess by the burning of fossil fuels. ViTH logoThe porkbush has the unique ability to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than most other plants. A stand of porkbush has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest.

    The photos shown here are from the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) database. This particular porkbush was photographed in the Western Cape province of South Africa. You too can help us to map this wonderful plant's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location to ViTH at


    2012-08-27 Richard Sherley 
    Call for African Penguin ringing and resighting data 

    Peter the PenguinWe would like to ask all penguin people out there to check their notebooks and computer files to see if they have any data on ringed African penguins that has not been submitted to the African Penguin Database run by Barbara Barham.

    Barbara, database expert (and organizer of the next International Penguin Conference in Bristol 2013), is currently making sure that the database is up to date. So if you have any old records and are not sure whether you have submitted them, just send them to Barbara ( and she will check if they are recorded in the database already. Data submitted to SAFRING in the last couple of years might also not have reached us so just send any you may have to Barbara and she will check. 

    And we would like to ask everybody who rings and/or collects ring data from African penguins to submit their data to Barbara from now on. If you are using Barbara’s Retraps data entry software you can send the data to her simply by using the ‘export to Penguin Datasystems’ option (see user manual for details). If you are not using that software, but would like to, then please contact Sue Kuyper in the ADU ( who can arrange to send you a self-installing CD of the software. Otherwise you can send Barbara your data in the same format that you would submit your data to SAFRING in. Barbara will keep updating the African Penguin Database and all data will be forwarded to SAFRING to upload into the central database in due course. 

    Why do we want an African Penguin Database and what will it be used for?

    The Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for the African penguin has just been gazetted for public comment. It identifies threats that have led to the "Endangered" status of the species and outlines actions that need to be taken to halt the decline of the African penguin population.

    One of the objectives of the BMP is a standardised data collection and data curation. 

    The African Penguin Database is a first step towards achieving this goal and the data collected can be used by anybody who wants to analyze penguin survival, movements or anything else where it is useful to have data on ringed birds. It includes information additional to the basic resighting record, for example data on activity, nesting, nest type, band condition and so on, where available,

    Currently, a working group, consisting of scientists from UCT, government organisations, as well as conservation bodies and NGOs, is working on a model that tries to explain and predict population changes of African penguins breeding at Dyer Island, Western Cape. We are using the data on ringed and resighted penguins from the database to calculate the current survival rates of birds breeding on Dyer Island as well as their movements to other colonies.

    Every ring resighting is valuable and we thank everybody for their effort in ringing and resighting birds!

    If you have any questions regarding the African Penguin Database, please contact Barbara Barham (


    2012-08-27 Les Underhill 
    It is a batty Mad Mammal Monday 

    Mad Mammal Monday: bats

    Mad Mammal Monday is here again! This past weekend, International Bat Night was celebrated and so we thought that all the MammalMAPPers should join in the battiness. In particular, we want to refer to you an awesome blog about bats written by Rebecca Sennett over at ARKive There are 10 fascinating bat facts in this article, and it makes for an excellent read. The photos shown here are from the Virtual Mammal Museum. Please continue uploading your bat photos to our mammalMAP virtual museum at so that we can all aid bat conservation across Africa!


    2012-08-26 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Yesssssss, today is SNAKE SUNDAY, with the Green Mamba 

    Green Mamba - ReptileMap 1169Yesssssss, today is SNAKE SUNDAY!!! Our featured species for today is the Green Mamba Dendroaspis angusticeps. Green mambas can be identified by their flat coffin shaped head, a completely green body and a long thin tail. This snake has an average length of 1.8 m but some reach up to 2.5 m. Green Mambas are strictly diurnal (i.e. active during the day).

    Green Mambas have a narrow distribution along the East Coast of Africa from KwaZulu-Natal northward to Kenya. Its preferred habitats include lowland forest, moist savanna, bamboo thickets and mango or tea plantations. It is important to note that this snake is almost never found on the ground and spends most of its life in trees or shrubs. Their diet consists almost entirely of birds and bird eggs, but occasionally they will feed on rodents and juveniles have been known to eat chameleons. The green mamba is oviparous (lays eggs) and lays between 6 and 17 eggs during the summer months, the eggs are laid in a hollow tree trunk amongst decaying vegetation. The males of this species will engage in combat in order to be allowed to mate with females.

    The Green Mamba has as strong neurotoxic venom which is similar to that of the Black Mamba; however its venom is weaker and not produced in the same amounts. Its venom is still lethal enough to require serious medical assistance, but luckily this snake is not aggressive and seldom bites. You can help us to map this beautiful snake's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location, to ReptileMAP at The photos shown here, taken in KwaZulu-Natal province, are of ReptileMAP record 1169.


    2012-08-25 Les Underhill 
    Stats Saturday: 19–25 August 

    Keep calm and keep on atlasingSABAP2 is an important project because the distributions of bird species are changing rapidly, and the timing of migration is changing too. SABAP2 puts real emphasis on the collection of data throughout the year, and especially during the periods of arrival and departure of migrants. Thank you for your participation. It is valued greatly.

    Overall SABAP2 growth this past week, from Saturday 18 August to Friday 24 August, was impressive 371 checklists. This exceeds our target of 350 checklists per week by quite a good margin! Well done, Team SABAP2. During the week, the number of pentads atlased for the very first time was 14 and the number of pentads atlased for the first time in 2012 was 69. SABAP2012 reached 22% on Monday. Checklist length averaged 47.6 species, so checklist length is creeping upwards with the slow but steady return of mainly the intra-African migrants.

    During this past week, we added 17 680 records to the database. We are only 87 000 records short of four million records in the SABAP2 database. This represents about five weeks of atlasing.

    SpringMAP2012, our miniproject for this arrival-on-migration period, is gathering momentum. Since we started on 8 August, 512 checklists have been submitted for 407 pentads. During this arrival period, we especially welcome repeat checklists of the same pentads; this is best measured as the ratio of checklists to pentads visited. So far, we have 1.26 checklists for every pentad visited since 8 August. Last week this statistic was 1.13. Frequent checklists for a pentad enable us to determine the pattern of arrival of migrants for that pentad.

    The past week has had a full complement of "species days." Last Sunday, the snake of the day was the Marbled Tree Snake (link to this "snake"). Mad Mammal Monday featured the otters of Africa ( "mammal"). The tree for Tree Tuesday was the Toad Tree ("tree"), and Weaver Wednesday provided an outstanding focus on the Southern Masked Weaver ("weaver"). On Threat Thursday, we discussed the "Vulnerable" Great White Shark ("threatened species") and, yesterday, Thank Goods It's Frog Friday – TGIFF – highlighted the Banded Rubber Frog ("frog").

    The number of people who have "liked" the ADU's "page" on Facebook grew to 671. This is rapidly becoming the best consolidated source of all the ADU's news. The page is at This "page" attained its maximum reach ever during the week; 15 851 unique people saw content which was on the ADU Facebook page in a single week.


    2012-08-24 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    TGIFF – Thank Goodness Its Frog Friday! – Banded Rubber Frog 

    Banded Rubber Frog JH Wilkinson FrogMAP225TGIFF!!! Thank Goodness it’s FROG FRIDAY! :) Today we are looking at the Banded Rubber Frog Phrynomatis bifasciatus. The Banded Rubber Frog is a medium-sized frog that can grow up to 75 mm. It has a moderately robust body, more elongated and depressed than most frogs. The body is carried high on its slender limbs when moving, which is generally by walking, or occasionally running, but not hopping. The head is mobile and able to move somewhat laterally. Eyes are relatively small and have circular pupils. Digit tips are expanded into truncated discs. Their fingers lack webbing and their toes have vestigial webbing.

    The common name derives from the rubber-like appearance and texture of the frog's smooth and shiny skin, which feels dry when handled. This frog has shiny black or dark brown skin with continuous or interrupted vivid red or orange bands extending from the snout over the eyelids to the back of the body. There is also a large red or orange spot on the posterior dorsum, in the caudal region. Limbs have red bars or spots. Ventrally this frog is light brown or gray with dense, distinct white spotting. Males have a black throat. This species is nocturnal but may occasionally be seen in the daytime following a period of precipitation. Although it has expanded discs on the fingertips, it is generally found at or near ground level. However, it is also an adept climber of trees and rocky walls. During the dry season it shelters underground in burrows in loose sand or earth, in termite mounds, or in cavities within dead trees. Banded Rubber Frogs dig backwards to make their burrows, even though they do not have specialized digging "spades" on their hind feet. This frog prefers to walk slowly rather than take long hops. Ants and possibly termites form a large part of the diet in this genus.

    Banded Rubber FrogMAP distribution This frog occurs in a broad swath from southern Somalia southeastward to Angola, and extending southward into Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. It inhabits open country grassland or savanna, up to 1450 m above sea level, and is also found in agricultural areas. It can be found in loose sand under large rocks on dry hillsides, at long distances from the nearest water, in cavities of dead trees, and in holes in the ground or in a bank.

    You can help us to map (and conserve) this beautiful frog's distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location, to FrogMAP at This picture, by JH Wilkinson, is one of only two photographic records currently in FrogMAP, and is record 225. This distribution map is built up from a total of 701 records, most of them very old, and out of date, museum specimen records. FrogMAP presents us with the opportunity to build up the 21st century distribution through photographic records.


    2012-08-23 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on the "Vulnerable" Great White Shark 

    Threat Thursday Great White Shark : Alison Towner, Dyer Island Conservation Trust

    What is the most dangerous biting animal on the planet? It is the mosquito, because the malaria transmitted by mosquito bites kills about two million people per year. Crocodiles kill about 2500 people per year on average. Globally, Great White Sharks are responsible for about 15 deaths per year. That makes crocodiles are about 170 times as dangerous as sharks, and mosquitos are about 130 000 times as dangerous as sharks!

    The Great White Shark Carcharodon carcharias has an IUCN classification of "Vulnerable." It has had this classification since 1996. It occurs thinly throughout most of the world's oceans and seas, but it has aggregations at a relatively small number of coastal sites, mostly in the temperate zone (as opposed to tropical or arctic seas). So the largest numbers of Great White Sharks are in the sea off the coastlines of California and Mexico, southern Africa (from Namibia to Mozambique), New Zealand, South Australia, northwestern North America and central Chile and to a lesser extent in the western half of the Mediterranean Sea. Within southern Africa, the main known hotspots are in False Bay, in Gansbaai, and in Mossel Bay. These seem to be associated with the seal colonies in each of these bays.

    The swimming and hunting patterns of individual sharks at each of these sites vary depending on the physical complexities of the site. For example, around Seal Island, False Bay, the surrounding sea has a steep underwater slope to depths of 25–30 m, and Great White Sharks use this deep water to ambush seals with spectacular attacks from below; and they prefer to attack during dawn and dusk. In Gansbaai, 80 km to the east, the depth of the bay around the Geyser Rock seal colony is mostly around 10 m, and there are large areas of kelp forest, and the behaviour of both sharks and seals is quite different.

    On 11 April 1991, South Africa was the first country to introduce legislation protecting the Great White Shark. This made targeted fishing of these sharks, and the possession and trade in Great White Shark parts illegal. South Africa was followed by the USA and a number of other countries in affording protection for this species. In 2004, Australia and Madagascar nominated the Great White Shark for inclusion in Appendix 2 of the CITES Convention, restricting international trade.

    Remarkably little is known about the breeding biology of Great White Sharks. Mating has never been observed. Only six pregnant females have been recorded since 1980. Gestation period is suspected to be about one year, and that females have a “litter” at two-three year intervals, of sizes 2 to 10 foetuses, and that the size at birth is mostly about 1.2 to 1.5 m.

    ADU MSc student Alison Towner, whose studies were supported by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, has recently submitted her dissertation for examination: Great White Sharks Carcharodon carcharias in Gansbaai, South Africa: Environmental influences and changes over time: 2007–2011. She has done an analysis of patterns of Great White Shark occurrence in Gansbaai, using an impressive dataset collected over five years from a cage-diving vessel. Alison investigated the seasonal occurrence, trends in abundance and size through time and the influence of environmental variables, such as sea temperature and the Southern Oscillation Index on the numbers present at any time. This picture was taken by Alison.


    2012-08-22 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Southern Masked Weaver  

    The Southern Masked Weaver is part of the largest genus in the weaver family, namely Ploceus, this name meaning "a weaver or braider", referring to the group's ability to weave their nests. This genus with 61 species is one of the larger ones in the avian world, but is likely to be split when a genetic analysis is complete. The genus contains weavers throughout sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and Madagascar. There are many polygnous species, where the male tries to attract several females to breed in his territory, as well as many monogamous species where one pair remains together for a breeding season or even many years.

    The Southern Masked Weaver male in breeding plumage (photo above left) is bright yellow with a black mask and red eye. In non-breeding plumage it resembles the dull-coloured female, but retains a reddish eye. The female usually has a brown eye but about 29% of breeding females have a reddish eye (photo above right, see pdf paper on weaver eye colours). This species is gregarious when not breeding, often roosting and feeding in large numbers. It is mainly a seed-eater, although also feeds on arthropods, nectar, and other items. It is found in a wide variety of habitats, including gardens, but is usually less common in coastal regions.

    The Southern Masked Weaver has no subspecies listed in the Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 15. Several subspecies have been proposed in the past, but this species is likely to show penotypic variation, ie. the size and plumage variation is due to environmental factors rather than geographic variation in genotypes. It is found in the southern third of Africa as far north as Angola, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. It did not occur in the Western Cape historically (plain red in map below). Originally its distribution ranged from the lower Orange River across to Port Elizabeth. It then expanded its range into the Western Cape and then Northern Cape as shown in the map. In its new range the SABAP1 (1987-1991) range is shown - it is still sparse in the arid region south of the lower Orange River.


    The Southern Masked Weaver is polygnous. The male builds a neat nest which contains a ceiling inside the main structure as rain-protection. If a female accepts a nest, she lines the chamber with grass seed heads or feathers. Nests are built in trees, bushes, reeds, bamboos or man-made structures, like barbed wire fences. The latter is well illustrated by the very first PHOWN record (Photo below, phown 1). Colonies in drier areas tend to be larger with several males present, while this weaver tends to disperse into single-male colonies in urban areas. Eggs vary in colour, bluish or whitish, being plain or marked with fine or larger spots and blotches. This is one of the most common host species to the Diederik Cuckoo. One of the most abnormal weaver nests was built by this species - see phown 694.

    The Southern Masked Weaver has more PHOWN records than any other species. There are, however, no PHOWN records from Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique, and only one record from Zambia. Please look out for nests of this species in any country in its range and submit to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site. PHOWN records for the Southern Masked Weaver appear here.


    PHOWN records for this species           Previous Wedn: Compact Weaver           Full weaver species list


    2012-08-21 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Tree Tuesday features the Toad Tree 

    Toad Tree ViTH 88 Olivier Maurin

    Happy TREE TUESDAY everyone! Today we are featuring the Toad Tree Tabernaemontana elegans. The Toad Tree is a beautiful bushveld tree that can be recognised by its large, glossy leaves, fragrant white flowers and large fruit borne in pairs. This shrub or tree grows 1.5–5 m tall but occasionally reaches 12 m in height. The trunk is 50–300 mm thick with a corky, pale brown bark with longitudinal fissures. The leaves are leathery, opposite and dark glossy green above and paler beneath.

    The Toad Tree is indigenous to tropical east Africa through to South Africa and Swaziland. It is most commonly encountered along riverbanks, in coastal forest and savanna woodlands. It is a deciduous tree, losing most of its leaves during the winter. The yellow pulp from the fruit is eaten by people, monkeys, baboons, rhinoceroses, hornbills and white-eared barbets. ViTH logoFlowering time is October to February. Seeds of the Toad Tree germinate readily, and it is a relatively quick-growing plant. It forms part of the early successional vegetation in subtropical bushveld and coastal forest along southern Africa's east coast. It has been recorded among the weedy shrubs that are first to colonise untended cotton fields in Mozambique.

    You can help us to map this beautiful tree's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to ViTH (Virtual Tree Herbarium) at The photos shown here are from record 88 in the ViTH database. The photo was taken by Olivier Maurin, University of Johannesburg. This Toad Tree was seen in Limpopo province, South Africa.


    2012-08-20 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Roberts geographic variation of southern African birds. 

    Chittenden H, Allan D, Weiersbye I. 2012. Roberts geographic variation of southern African birds. The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town

    This book illustrates the geographic plumage variation of 613 subspecies of 224 bird species in southern Africa. Hugh Chittenden and David Allan have been working on this book for the last six years, with Ingrid Weiersbye doing the illustrations. There are 105 illustrated plates in a 286 page book. Hugh says that they have managed to cover about 70% of the subspecies, concentrating on those that have differences recognisable in the field. There is a well written introduction, briefly discussing the subspecies concept, the study of subspecies, a brief biography of three important collectors (Roberts, Clancey, Irwin), etc. The introduction includes some colour photos of subspecies, either in the field or museum specimens. The plates are annotated, pointing to the main differences between subspecies.

    Plumage morphs, eg yellow breasted form of the Crimson-breasted Shrike or the different head colours of the Red-billed Quelea, are not included in this book. Subspecies that show size variation are not listed, unless a particular species also shows geographic plumage variation. The colour maps (courtesy of Guy Upfold) are great, showing the approximate distribution of the different subspecies, using colours to represent the sequence in which subspecies were described historically. Highly commendable is the fact that the source of the paintings is listed, usually a specimen number, sometimes a photo, in an appendix. Also included are the meaning of scientific names of the subspecies.

    The Southern Masked Weaver is listed with several subspecies (two illustrated), but this species probably shows phenotypic variation and thus should not be included by the authors' own criteria. Male Village Weavers of the nigriceps subspecies are sometimes found far out of range - see news item and follow the links in the news items to read preceding examples.

    Doubtless future editions will provide corrections and improved information, but this is a great book for birders and ornithologists. Get the book and start looking for the subspecies; try to take photos and submit to the ADU Virtual Museum Birdpix to help collect info on the distribution of plumage variation in our birds!


    2012-08-20 Tali Hoffman 
    Mad Mammal Monday: the otters of Africa 

    Mad Mammal Monday : the otters - MammalMAP

    The focus of today's Mad Mammal Monday: African OTTERS! The MammalMAP facebook group's news feed has so far touched on the Cape Clawless Otter Aonyx capensis – also called the African Clawless Otter. It is IUCN "Least Concern" – this is the species in the photos shown here. There are also two other kinds of otters in Africa: the Congo Clawless Otter Aonyx congicus – IUCN Red List Category is Data Deficient, and the Spotted-Necked Otter Lutra maculicollis – IUCN Red List Category is Lower Concern.

    The DNA jury is still out on whether the Congo Clawless Otter is a distinct species, or just a regional variation of the African Clawless Otter. In any event, they are very similar to one another. As their names suggest, they are clawless, and only occasionally are the possibly-vestigial grooming claws spotted on their hind limbs. Their unwebbed digits give them the sensitivity and dexterity they need to catch prey with their hands. Meals of choice are crustaceans and large fish, and they have heavily-muscled necks and large teeth that enable them to crush these bony prey.

    Like the other African otters, Spotted-Necked Otters rely on their water-resistant coats, rather than layers of fat, for warmth. But in many other respects, Spotted-Necked Otters are quite similar to the Eurasian and Hairy-Nosed Otters of Europe and Asia. They have well-developed claws and small teeth that are better suited to catching fish than crushing crustaceans. They are also more aquatic than the other African otters, and have fully webbed paws.

    Otters occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, everywhere where there is water. Although the African otters are classified with different levels of risk, ongoing land drainage, increasing water pollution, food competition (caused by the introduction of exotic species like Nile Perch) and direct persecution as competitors for fish are all cross-continental factors that may compromise their survival risks in coming years. To counter these threats, the IUCN has called for increasing awareness about otters, and has highlighted that we need to know more about them, and need to keep better tabs on them.

    That's where you all come in! Please submit any African otter records you have (photographs with date and location details) to the virtual mammal museum and help us to compile an encyclopaedia of otter information. We'll store these records in this online museum, and will make sure that they land up in the hands of people who are making it their business to monitor, manage and conserve these awesome aquatic animals.


    2012-08-19 Les Underhill 
    New paper: Cape Gannet adult survival rates 

    Cape Gannet in front of the hide at Lamberts Bay

    One of the main research themes within the Animal Demography Unit is seabirds: penguins, cormorants, gannets and gulls. This paper focuses on the Cape Gannet. It is an analysis of data carefully curated and collated by SAFRING. It is based on 30 333 ringing records (consisting of ringed adults, live recaptures, dead recoveries) made between 1989 and 2009 from the three gannet colonies (Lambert's Bay, Malgas Island and Bird Island in Algoa Bay) of South Africa. These data were used to estimate survival rates using the state-of-the-art statistical modelling. The photo shows the gannet colony at Lambert's Bay, soon after the hide there was opened. This is the view from inside the hide; the colony is now much smaller than this.

    The paper finishes by making some important practical recommendations as to fisheries management in South Africa: "Most of the fish factories in South Africa are located near gannet colonies in the Western Cape, and fishers attempt to make catches as close to the factories as possible despite the reduction in food availability in the west, thereby further depleting densities of forage fish in the vicinity of Cape Gannet colonies off South Africa's west coast. For this reason, there is a need to introduce spatial considerations into fisheries management."

    Three of the authors on this new paper are linked onto the ADU. Greg Distiller, is a lecturer in UCT's Department of Statistical Sciences, and is currently doing a "statistical ecology" PhD jointly with the Centre for Research in Ecological and Environmental Modelling at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and the ADU. Both Res Altwegg and Rob Crawford are Honorary Research Associates of the ADU. In addition, SAFRING is an ADU project.

    This is the full reference for the paper. Distiller G, Altwegg R, Crawford RJM, Klages NTW, Barham B 2012. Factors affecting adult survival and inter-colony movement at the three South African colonies of Cape Gannet. Marine Ecology Progress Series 461: 245–255.

    ABSTRACT: Marine systems are under pressure from both climate change and exploitation. While many of these ecosystems are inherently variable and hard to monitor, seabirds can be used as ecological indicators that provide early warning signals of deeper environmental change. The Agulhas-Benguela marine ecosystem around southern Africa has exhibited long-term changes in sea surface temperature, and the distribution of pelagic fish in this system has shifted. The Cape Gannet Morus capensis is a seabird endemic as a breeding species to the Agulhas-Benguela ecosystem. Cape Gannets breed at just six locations and are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. Knowledge of the survival and movements of a species is important for understanding of factors influencing its conservation. A random effects multistate capture−recapture model was used to estimate the annual survival probabilities and movement between colonies for adult birds at the 3 South African colonies of the species. The effects on survival of environmental and fisheries-related covariates were explored. Survival over the 20 yr period did not exhibit any long-term trend at the two southern colonies (Malgas and Bird Islands) but decreased at Lambert's Bay between 1996 and 2007. At all three colonies, adult birds showed a high degree of site fidelity. It may be that for Cape Gannets, the primary effects of climate and fishing are on recruitment rather than on survival. The continued use of sub-optimal conditions by the west coast colonies has been referred to as an 'ecological trap' and necessitates the introduction of spatial considerations into fisheries management.


    2012-08-19 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    From this Snake Sunday onwards, submit photos of the Marbled Tree Snake to the ADU's ReptileMAP Virtual Museum 

    Marbled Tree Snake

    Today is SNAKE SUNDAY and the species in the spotlight is the Marbled Tree Snake Dipsadoboa aulica. The Marbled Tree Snake can be identified by its large eyes (with vertical pupils), a head which is distinct from its body, a white tongue and its nocturnal lifestyle. It grows to an average length of 60 cm and a maximum length of 85 cm. The Marbled Tree Snake is found in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga in South Africa and in Swaziland, southeast Zimbabwe and southern and central Mozambique. Its favoured habitats are lowland forest and moist savanna.

    They eat lizards (particularly geckos), frogs, toads and small rodents. Although they are venomous it is not thought to be dangerous to man. The photos shown here are from the ReptileMAP database: record 4512 from KwaZulu-Natal province is on the left and record 2597 from Mpumalanga province is on the right. You can help us to map this cool snake's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at


    2012-08-17 Doug Harebottle 
    20 easy steps to submitting your first atlas card 

    Ever thought that atlasing was difficult, or perhaps you have struggled to submit your first card? Well, with your computer and an internet connection you can now find your pentad, compile a list of birds in the pentad and submit your list all within 24 hrs!

    Ernst Retief, bird atlas coordinator in Gauteng and conservation manager at BirdLife Siourth Africa, has put together a six page guide called "Atlasing for Dummies - 20 easy steps to submit your first atlas card". This guide outlines in twenty easy steps how to find a pentad, print the map, conduct a field survey and submit the list all using your internet browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Safari). As Ernst says, "... you don't need any additional software to submit your lists to SABAP2; all you need is your PC and an internet connection, it's that easy!". 

    The guide is very user friendly, is easy to read and includes screenshots from the website to help people relate to what is being said. It caters strongly for novice birders and new atlasers but will also appeal to seasoned atlasers who may have been struggling with one or two technical issues! Please download the guide and pass on to your birding friends and advertise at your bird club meetings! Everyone can now get involved and make a contribution to the bird atlas.

    A huge thanks to Ernst for putting this together!


    2012-08-17 Richard Sherley 
    Departmental Seminar, Wednesday 22 August: "Flexible moult strategies allow waders to adjust to varying habitats in southern Africa" 

    The next Zoology Departmental Seminar will be presented by Dr Magda Remisiewicz at 13h00 on Wednesday 22 August in the Zoology Museum.

    Magda is a researcher and lecturer in the Avian Ecophysiology Unit at the Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Ecology, University of Gdansk, Poland. Her research focuses on migration strategies of waders and passerines, and involves the use of ringing, molecular analyses and statistical modelling. Magda completed a post-doc at the ADU in 2008-2010, where she focused on the moult strategies of waders that migrate to southern Africa. During that time she undertook extensive fieldwork at Barberspan Bird Sanctuary in NW Province, concentrating on waders. She also invested a great deal of effort in training the reserve's field rangers in bird ringing and atlasing techniques. At the beginning of 2011 she returned to a teaching and research post at the University of Gdansk, but she visits South Africa and the ADU once or twice a year to continue her research.

    The details are below:

    Title: "Flexible moult strategies allow waders to adjust to varying habitats in southern Africa"

    Abstract: Many waders migrate biannually within Africa or between their breeding grounds in Europe and their non-breeding areas in Africa. Two ecological groups are distinguished: waders that migrate to coastal habitats, which provide a rich and predictable food supply, and species that migrate to inland wetlands, which provide varied and unpredictable feeding conditions. Moult of large flight feathers, especially of the primaries, is critical for migrants to complete their journeys. Waders present a variety of strategies for their moult, which must fit in with their breeding and migration, the other main energy-intensive events in their life cycle. Recent applications of the Underhill-Zucchini moult models allowed an ADU-related team to examine moult timing down to individual feathers and to model the effects of environmental factors on moult. I will present inter- and intraspecific strategies that waders apply to their primary moult when they stay in southern Africa, in the context of their migration strategy, the birds’ size,  age and individual condition, and the habitats they use. The flexibility of moult strategies adopted by waders using freshwater habitats suggests that they have mechanisms to adjust their genetically-controlled and hormonally-regulated moult to proximate factors such as feeding conditions. Discovering these mechanisms is one of the challenges for further studies of moult. 

    Speaker: Dr Magda Remisiewicz, Avian Ecophysiology Unit, Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Ecology, University of Gdansk, Poland.

    Date: 22 August 2012.

    Venue: Zoology Museum, 3rd Floor, Department of Zoology, University of Cape Town.

    Time: 13h00 to 14h00.



    2012-08-17 Les Underhill 

    Red Toad G Diedericks FrogMAP 18

    TGIFF – Thank Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY! Our featured species for today is the Red Toad Schismaderma carens. The Red Toad is a moderate to large-sized toad. Males can reach sizes of 88 mm in snout-vent length, and females can reach up to 92 mm. This toad has a less warty back than many toads of the same size. A distinct dorsolateral glandular ridge runs from above the tympanum to the hind leg. The outer part of the dorsolateral ridge is darker on the lower edge. The tympanum itself is large and round, with a diameter approximately equivalent to that of the eye. Parotoid glands are not visible. A tarsal fold is present. Breeding males have vocal sacs, as well as nuptial pads on their first three fingers for amplexus (i.e. the clasping posture of fertilization in frogs and toads).

    The Red Toad's back is characteristically marked by a pair of small dark brown spots on the lower back and another pair of markings on the shoulders. Dorsal colouring is reddish, hence the common name of Red Toad. The ground colour is pale brown and even pinkish at times. The flanks are either pale or very dark. The underside is speckled with grey (Channing and Howell 2006).

    The Red Toad is widespread in savanna and woodland, and readily adapts to human habitation (see the map for its distribution in South Africa). It breeds in fairly deep water bodies, but wanders to forage. They hibernate at a considerable distance from water. They are moderately competent at climbing and may hide under the bark of tree trunks, under the eaves of houses or in similar retreats.

    Help us to map this beautiful toad's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to FrogMAP (formerly known as SAFAP) at The photo shown here is record 18 from the FrogMAP database and was taken in Mpumalanga province.


    2012-08-15 Doug Harebottle 
    Underberg Primary School Eco-Group joins MyBirdPatch 

    When the MyBirdPatch project started just over a year ago, a large focus was made on trying to get ordinary birders to contribute to bird monitoring programmes by making simple lists of birds from small patches that were familiar to them i.e. birding in your comfort zone. Gardens were identified as a good place to start and many observers subsequently signed up to register their gardens and submit lists to MyBirdPatch. Another focal area that was identified was schools. Sportsfields and landscaped areas within school grounds often provide ideal micro-urban and suburban habitats for many species and these would be ideal patches to monitor, especially within the urban conservation context.

    Graham Kletz, who is one of our ardent contributors to MyBirdPatch, started encouraging learners at Underberg Primary School to get involved. This rural Kwazulu-Natal school has an Eco-Group and recently they signed up to take part in MyBirdPatch. With their principal, Mr Mike Corlett, as supervisor, and Graham providing some guidance and expertise, the group has registered their school grounds as a patch and have started monitoring the birds. Mike says he is excited about this initiative and has even registered as a patcher himself. The school also has the honour of being part of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa's (WESSA) eco-school initiative which promotes an eco-friendly and healthy school environment.

    It is great to have schools like Underberg Primary participating in MyBirdPatch. Building bird awareness and providing learners with simple monitoring skills can only bode well for biodiversity conservation into the future. Who knows, perhaps some of our future ornithologists and conservationists might just come from Underberg Primary! The ADU salutes the Underberg Primary Eco-Group and hope that they will enjoy taking part, but most of all have fun recording their birds and submitting their lists. They form another important piece in the bio-diversity conservation puzzle.

    The Underberg Primary School Eco-Group (left to right): Sydney Wilkins, Luke Hayward, Jack Bennett, Charity Dlamini, Mr Mike Corlett (Headmaster), Nadine Conradie, Leah Suchet (Head of Eco-Committee), Celine Cloete, Minenhle Keswa, Rowan Garret, Eirene Flamand (Teacher incharge of Eco-Committee)


    2012-08-15 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Compact Weaver  

    The Compact Weaver is in a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), namely Pachyphantes, this name meaning "thick, weaver", referring to its heavy bill. The bird is stocky and short-tailed, with a heavy bill. The male has a yellow crown and its dark green upperparts distinguish it from other 'masked' weavers. The female is similar but the top of the head is dark, separated from the mask by a broad yellow stripe. Non-breeding adults are brownish. A dull coloured female moulting into bright plumage is unique in the Ploceidae family. The painting (left) shows the first illustration for the species, with a young bird or non-breeding adult above a female in breeding plumage (from Sharpe RB 1890. Catalogue of the Passeriformes, or perching birds, in the collection of the British Museum. Vol. 13.).

    The Compact Weaver occurs singly, in pairs, or in small groups. It feeds on grass seeds and arthropods. It is found in grassland or grassy savanna while breeding, and more wooded areas the rest of the year.

    The Compact Weaver has no subspecies. Its position in the weaver family is uncertain but appears to be most closely related to the Thick-billed Weaver. The Compact Weaver is found in widely disjoint populations across West Africa as far east as Ethiopia and western Kenya, and south to northern Angola (with one record from Zambia).

    The Compact Weaver is monogamous. Its nest is distinctive, with a side entrance, being similar to that of the Thick-billed Weaver. The nest is attached to tall grass stems. This species is not generally colonial and pairs occupy a territory with one nest, but sometimes the male builds a second roosting nest nearby. The male probably narrows the entrance of breeding nests but little has been published about nest building in this species.

    There are no PHOWN records for this species as yet. Please look out for nests of this species, and other weaver species, and submit to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site. PHOWN records for the Compact Weaver will appear here where there is already a species summary with information on eggs and breeding seasons.

    Photo: probably the first illustration of the nest of this species, from Chapin JP. 1917. The classification of the weaverbirds. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 37:243-280.


    PHOWN records for this species             Previous Wedn: Thick-billed Weaver             Full weaver species list


    2012-08-14 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday today focuses on the Karee 

    KareeToday is TREE TUESDAY!! Our featured species for today is the Karee Searsia lancea. Searsia lancea, commonly known as Karee in both English and Afrikaans, is an evergreen, frost hardy, drought resistant tree, which can reach up to 8 m in height with a 5 m spread. It has a graceful, weeping form and dark, fissured bark that contrasts well with its long, thin, dark-green, trifoliate leaves with smooth margins. The small, inconspicuous flowers are presented as much-branched sprays which are greenish-yellow in colour and are produced from June until September. The male and female flowers occur on separate trees. The fruit are small (up to 5 mm in diameter), round, slightly flattened and covered with a thin fleshy layer which is glossy and yellowish to brown when ripe. The fruits are produced from September until January.

    ViTH logoThe Karee occurs naturally in Acacia woodland and along drainage lines, rivers and streams. It is often found growing on lime-rich substrates. The karee occurs from Zambia in the north to the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is found throughout the Free State province and in parts of all the other provinces of South Africa except for KwaZulu-Natal. The Karee is an excellent shade tree especially in hot regions such as the Karoo and Kalahari since it is evergreen and drought resistant. Searsia lancea does not have an aggressive root system and can be used near paving and tarred surfaces. The Karee can adapt well to different soils including those that are poorly drained (which means that it can be planted almost anywhere).

    You can help us to map this tree’s 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the GPS coordinates, to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at



    2012-08-13 Les Underhill 
    Join the African Wildcats to celebrate Mad Mammal Monday 

    African Wildcat MammalMAP Virtual Museum, photos by Trevor Hardaker and John Power

    Tali Hoffman, MammalMAP project coordinator says: "It seems that everyone in the MammalMAP Facebook group is going wild for wildcats…so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and make wildcats Felis silvestris the focus of today's Mad Mammal Monday!

    Most recent genetic analyses suggest that there are at least five subspecies of wildcats, with two subspecies occurring in Africa: the African Wildcat F.s. lybica and the recently described Southern African Wildcat F.s. cafra.

    The African wildcat is the more widespread of the two African subspecies, occurring in all habitats (with the possible exception of closed tropical forests) from the tip of north Africa all the way southward to southern and eastern African countries, and seemingly everywhere in between. In the southern areas of Africa, the African Wildcat is replaced by the Southern African Wildcat – pictured below in the virtual mammal museum photographs submitted by John Power and Trevor Hardaker.

    The African and Southern African Wildcats were long believed to be a single subspecies of wildcat, most likely owing to their incredibly similar appearance. Both are slender, with long tails and long legs. Their high shoulder blades give them a very distinctive walk, similar to that of a cheetah. Their coats range from grey to red, sometimes with dense spotting that forms bars or stripes. All cats seem to retain a characteristic rich red-brown on the backs of their ears. Cats living in dry habitats tend to have paler coats then the darker and more heavily spotted and striped cats of wetter areas.

    All wildcats, including the African subspecies, are classified as Least Concern by the IUCN because they are common and widely distributed. However, in time, hybridisation between wildcats and domestic cats may lead to the re-evaluation of this status.

    Do you have pictures of either of Africa's wildcats? If so, please submit them to the virtual mammal museum at and help us keep cat distribution information updated and current! Right now all of the wildcat records in the virtual museum come from South Africa. Soon, I'll be uploading the first wildcat records from Botswana, thanks to Vivien Kent! But we desperately need more records from more parts of Africa!


    2012-08-12 Doug Harebottle 
    Snake Sunday, 12 August 2012: The Herald Snake 

    Today is SNAKE SUNDAY!! And we are featuring the Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia). The Herald Snake, or Red-lipped Snake, occurs widely throughout the damper parts of the Western Cape province of South Africa and northwards up the eastern coast and inland to Gauteng province (see map). Some specimens of this snake have unmistakable red or orange lips, but often this feature is absent and the lips are cream or white. However, this snake always has black temples and fine white speckles on the brown to grey body. When alarmed, herald snakes will coil into striking position and flatten the head which makes the black temple regions obvious and resulting in the head looking much bigger.

    Herald Snakes have an average length of 45 cm (max. 1 m). This snake prefers to eat frogs, but will take lizards and in adulthood, small rodents. It is normally associated with damp habitats and is sometimes found in urban gardens where there is sufficient moisture to sustain its amphibian prey. It is a back-fanged snake with a mild venom that does not result in significant medical symptoms for humans – they are effectively harmless to humans. They bite readily when first captured, but soon settle.

    You can help us to map this awesome snake's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at The photo featured here is record number 1666 from the ReptileMAP database. The photo was taken by G. Diedericks in Mpumalanga province.


    2012-08-11 Doug Harebottle 
    Saturday Stats: 4-10 August 

    With Les away in the Knersvlakte this will be somewhat of an abridged summary of what has happened in the last week. SABAP2 is currently on 62.66% coverage. A total of 138 checklists were received from 128 pentads totalling 7241 records. No doubt the snow and cold conditions over most parts of the country contributed to a less active week for atlasers but these 'cold' lists will be extremely valuable for the atlas. The map on the left shows the coverage of SABAP2012 which passed the 21% milestone on Friday.    

    The SpringMAP2012 challenge was launched on Wednesday 8 August and will run until the end of November. This will help map the distributions of returning intra-African and Palearctic migrants and will be the only time that we can do this for 2012. So far, 25 observers have submitted 41 cards for SpringMap. All atlasers are encouraged to do repeat surveys of their home pentads so we can track the arrival times of our returning migrant species. The map for the SpringMAP challenge can be seen here  


    In keeping with our "species days" this past week has had a full complement of features - last Sunday, the snake of the day was the Swazi Rock Snake, Mad Mammal Monday featured the African Manatee. The tree for Tree Tuesday was the Marula Tree, and Weaver Wednesday focused on the Thick-billed Weaver. On Threat Thursday, the African Black Oystercatcher was featured as the focal species and Frog Friday highlighted theArgus Reed Frog.

    Thank you for all your amazing contributions.


    2012-08-10 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Frog Friday - the Argus Reed Frog 

    Happy FROG FRIDAY!! Today the spotlight is on the Argus Reed Frog (Hyperolius argus). The Argus Reed Frog is found in eastern South Africa and Mozambique with its range extending further north into Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Somalia. It is more heavily built than other reed frogs reaching sizes of 27-34 mm in length. Males are green or grey with small brown dots on their backs and a yellow lateral band edged with a broad black line from its snout to its flanks. Females are light to dark purple-brown with a horseshoe-shaped yellow to orange band edged in black from eye to eye over the snout; it may continue as a dorsolateral band, often broken into a few asymmetrical dots low on the back. Argus Reed Frogs have white or yellow bellies with a granular texture. 

    Argus Reed Frogs occur in coastal bushveld grassland, at or close to sea level. They breed in temporary, shallow water-filled depressions or coastal pans, favouring those with emergent of floating vegetation.

    Their call is a rapidly repeated cluck, males call from elevated positions on floating vegetation. 


    The photo featured here is record number 14 from the FrogMAP database. The photo was taken by G. Diedericks in Mozambique at the Caia Bridge that crosses the Zambezi river. You can help us to map the Argus Reed Frog's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to FrogMAP at



    2012-08-09 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on the "Near-threatened" African Black Oystercatcher 

    African Black Oystercatcher range change map SABAP1 vs SABAP2

    For today's Threat Thursday, we focus on a bird species that was classified as Near-threatened when the Red Data Book for birds was updated in 2000. This is the African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini. This must be one of the very few species which was put in a threat category which is better off now than it was 12 years ago! The SABAP1 vs SABAP2 range change map shows that a range expansion into the southern parts of KwaZulu-Natal has taken place between the two projects – this is evidenced by the string of BLUE quarter-degree grid cells, where it occurs now but not then. Also striking on this map is the predominance of GREEN along the south coast, from about Cape Point towards the eastern limits of the Eastern Cape, where reporting rates have increased between projects. Along the West Coast, the GREENS and ORANGES (decreased reporting rates now) are more or less in equal numbers. The results of surveys which have counted the numbers of African Black Oystercatchers along sections of the shoreline are providing even stronger evidence of increased numbers than the reporting rates do. For example, along the shoreline of Robben Island, there was an increase in oystercatchers "from 40 in 1977 to 86 in 1980 to 221 in 2003, an increase of 3.88% per year over the 23 years between 1980 and 2003." The population there has continued to increase, and some of the counts made on Robben Island by BSc(Hons) student Jacky Spiby this year, 2012, have been in excess of 400 oystercatchers. This pattern of increased numbers on Robben Island is repeated on most of the offshore islands of South Africa and Namibia and on many (but not all) sections of shoreline.

    African Black OystercatcherIn a chapter in a BCLME report entitled Revision of the conservation status of seabirds and seals breeding in the Benguela Ecosystem, the authors made the recommendation: "The African Black Oystercatcher should be reclassified from "Near-threatened" to "Least concern". It is not often that Threat Thursday can present a good news story. But is not all good news – much of the increase in the size of the African Black Oystercatcher population has been attributed to the invasion of an alien food species, the Mediterranean Mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis. This mussel has invaded much of the coastline of southern Africa, at the expense of the indigenous species, and has been hugely successful, colonizing sections at higher levels of the intertidal zone. This has resulted in greater food availability for oystercatchers because they can feed for longer at each tidal cycle, and has therefore improved breeding success. So although the invasive species has generated a good outcome for the oystercatchers, it is not a good one for the shoreline!


    2012-08-08 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Thick-billed Weaver  

    The Thick-billed Weaver is in a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), namely Amblyospiza, this name meaning "blunt, finch", referring to its amazingly heavy bill. The male has a black bill, white forehead (photo left) and conspicuous white patches in its wings; the rest of its plumage varies racially, from chestnut to black. The sexes are dissimilar, and the female has a yellow bill, brown upperparts, and underparts white heavily striped with sepia. The Thick-billed Weaver was first described in 1831 by Vigors from a specimen from the vicinity of Algoa Bay, Eastern Cape. Read more here about its discovery. It feeds on insects, fruit, and hard-shelled seeds. This species inhabits wetlands when breeding and forest edges when not breeding, and shows some local movements.

    The Thick-billed Weaver has four subspecies. The nominate is found in southern Africa. A. albifrons montana occurs from northern Zimbabwe and Botswana to Kenya. A. a. melanota is found from western Kenya to southern Sudan. A. a. capitalba occurs in West Africa to Angola and DR Congo. A map of its distribution in Africa may be viewed at the species summary.
    This species is expanding its range, especially in the provinces around Gauteng in South Africa, as shown by the blue grids in the map of the eastern part of South Africa - more detail was provided in a post earlier this year (see here).

    Photo above: female Thick-billed Weaver investigating a non-breeding nest, phown 2398, by David Gitau in Tanzania.

    The nest of the Thick-billed Weaver is distinctive. It is compact, woven with thin strips of reeds, slung between upright stems of reeds. The nest is globe-shaped with a side entrance near the top. Initially the entrance is large, and reduced to a narrow opening if used for breeding. Colonies may be small with one male, or larger with several males, in a reed patch. This species is polygynous, the male attempting to attract several females.

    There are 45 PHOWN records, and 37 of these have nest counts. But many more records are needed. So far there are no PHOWN records from central or West Africa. It is a fairly common species locally although nests may be hard to count in reeds. Please look out for nests of this species (see a species summary here and submit to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site. Of particular interest is colonies from the expanding part of its range - see the PHOWN priority for this species.


    PHOWN records for this species             Previous Wedn: Scaly-feathered Finch             Full weaver species list


    2012-08-08 Les Underhill 
    Congratulations, Doug Harebottle 

    Doug Harebottle heard today that he will graduate with a PhD in DecemberIt is a great privilege to be able to proclaim the awesome news that Doug Harebottle received the final and most important letter from UCT's Doctoral Degrees' Board today. The letter stated: "I am pleased to inform you that the Chair of the Doctoral Degrees Board (DDB) has approved your schedule of corrections. On behalf of the DDB, I congratulate you on this achievement. You will be eligible to graduate in December 2012."

    Congratulations, Dr Harebottle, well done, and richly deserved. Doug's PhD thesis is entitled Assessing the conservation value of wetlands and waterbirds with a focus on the winter rainfall region of South Africa. Within the next week or so, we will get the pdf of Doug's thesis onto the ADU website. This relaxed picture of Doug was taken an at ADU "end-of-year" function. He can relax even more this long weekend.

    Thanks also to Dr Tony Williams who co-supervised the research with me. Tony worked for CapeNature for many years, and a large part of the data which Doug processed consisted of waterbird counts made by the staff of CapeNature. The Tygerberg Bird Club undertook monthly counts of the Bot River estuary for several years. And another large component of the data was the regular CWAC half-yearly surveys by the ADU's large team of citizen scientists. Doug had a rich database to analyse! We are grateful to all the people who made contributions.

    But data remains data until it is analysed, and the stories hidden away in the big databases can be told. This turns data into information, and this information can then be used to underpin conservation management decisions. So Doug's research forms an important link the ADU chain of activities: citizen scientists collect the data, our information systems specialists curate the data, and the final critical step is for the researchers to analyse the data, and to process it into information which is relevant to the conservation of biodiversity.


    2012-08-07 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Magpie Mannikin longevity 

    Andrew Pickles started a project in October 2002 to monitor the movement of the Magpie (Pied) Mannikin Spermestes fringilloides between various areas of the KZN coast, using different colour rings for each area. At that time, the estimated population was about 600 birds and their range was from Umtentweni in the south to Anerley in the North (about 8kms) and inland for no more than 2kms. He later started using 3 colour ring combinations to identify individual birds.

    Range expansion of the Magpie Mannikin was observed when he moved to Umzumbe (8km’s north of Anerley) where, within 6 months, a couple of Magpie Mannikins were coming to the feeder. He now has up to 50 or 60 birds at a time. In total 173 birds have been fitted with coloured rings over the past 10 years.

    Last winter a Fork-tailed Drongo began predating the Mannikins that visited the garden (event published in Ornithological Observations here). Andrew recalled one attempt by the Drongo to catch a ringed Magpie Mannikin where the Mannikin managed to escape from the Drongo’s clutches by sacrificing one of its legs, fortunately not the leg with the ring. On the 2nd of August this year, the Drongo once again visited the garden and attacked a ringed, one-legged Magpie Mannikin, possibly the same bird (metal ring AM28492 and 2 colour plastic rings, purple over white). Unfortunately, in its bid to escape, the Mannikin flew into a window and killed itself. The bird was ringed as a code 5 (less than 6 months old) on 13th April 2007 which makes it 5.5 years old, a new longevity record for Andrew. His previous record for this species was +/-4yrs of age.

    Story compiled by Robyn Kadis

    Photo: Magpie Mannikin by Andrew Pickles


    2012-08-07 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Tree Tuesday focuses on the Marula Tree – Common Fiscals are said to "not occur in Marula-dominated savanna"! 

    Marula Tree Michelle van der Bank ViTH 80

    Wow, it is TREE TUESDAY again!! The species in the spotlight for today is a true symbol of Africa – the Marula Tree Sclerocarya birrea caffra. The Marula Tree is a medium to large tree, usually around 9 m tall, but trees of up to 18 m have been recorded. It is single stemmed with a dense, spreading crown and deciduous foliage. The bark is grey and usually peels off in flat, round disks, exposing the underlying light yellow tissue. The Marula is widespread in Africa from Ethiopia in the north to KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. In South Africa it is most dominant in the Phalaborwa area in Limpopo province. It occurs naturally in various types of woodland, on sandy soil or occasionally sandy loam soil.

    ViTH logoInsects pollinate the flowers and elephants, antelope, giraffe, zebra and many others browse the leaves. The fruits of the Marula have a light yellow skin when ripe, with white flesh, and they are rich in vitamin C. Inside is a walnut-sized, thick-walled stone. The seeds have a nutty flavour and are much sought after, especially by small rodents. The fruits of the Marula are used in the commercially available Amarula liqueur.

    The index for The Atlas of Southern African Birds, the output of SABAP1, listed all the species mentioned in the text, including the plants and animals, and not only the birds. There is only one reference in the entire two volumes to the Marula Tree. And it is a negative reference, and not well supported by any data! Common Fiscal "is not found in Marula dominated savanna." Any atlasers have insights into this statement?

    The photo of the marula fruits featured here is record 80 from the ViTH (Virtual Tree Herbarium) database. The photo was taken in Limpopo province by Michelle van der Bank, University of Johannesburg, one of the leaders of the ViTH project.

    You can also help us to map this amazing tree's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to ViTH at


    2012-08-06 Dieter Oschadleus 
    First PHOWN record for Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver  

    Lia Steen, an avid SABAP2 atlasser, visited Kenya in June 2007 and yesterday she uploaded 4 PHOWN records from this trip. One of these records is the first PHOWN record of the Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver (see PHOWN 2646). The colony had 2 nests. Very little is known about the breeding of this species. This species is usually colonial but the only information about colony size is "up to 20 nests in single tree" (see species summary here.

    Birders living in, or viviting, East Africa can contribute to the knowledge of this species by submitting PHOWN records with nest counts!


    2012-08-06 Tali Hoffman 
    Yessss, it's Mad Mammal Monday, and today it is Mad Marine Mammal Monday, with the African Manatee 

    African Manatee OpenCage[dot]infoIt's Mad Mammal Monday, and today we return to the water and meet the African Manatee Trichechus senegalensis.

    A cousin of the dugong (featured on Mad Mammal Monday a few weeks ago), manatees are found along the West African coastline between Angola and Senegal, inhabiting coastal waters and rivers. They are comfortable in both salt and fresh water, but seem to prefer shallow estuaries and swamps. These mega-herbivores feed on huge quantities of aquatic plants – up to 8000 kg/year – so much so that some have proposed that this exceptional feeding ability makes them perfect for the job of Specialised Aquatic Weed Eaters!

    As with many African mammals, humans are their worst enemy and greatest threat. Illegal hunting of manatees for their palatable meat, and for their skin, bones and oil has led to significant declines in numbers in some areas. Manatees sometimes also become accidentally entangled in fishing nets, which compromises their survival, even if they escape. Perhaps worse still is that – because fishing nets may get damaged when manatees are accidentally entrapped – fisherman in some areas conduct manatee hunts to prevent net damage. Manatees also clash with people when, during the rainy season, they roam on land and destroy crops.

    For all of these reasons, manatees are now listed as Vulnerable on CITES, and their populations need to be carefully monitored, managed and protected. Part of achieving this is making sure that we keep track of where they. And that's where MammalMAP – and you! – come in.

    If you've seen manatees anywhere in Africa, please let us know, and please upload your records to the MammalMAP database at Every record counts. Every one is valuable. Every one can make a difference to manatee conservation efforts!


    2012-08-05 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Snake Sunday: Swazi Rock Snake 

    Swazi Rock Snake - Justin Nicolau and T Mol

    Yes, your suspicions are correct, today is SNAKE SUNDAY! The featured species for today is the Swazi Rock Snake Inyoka swazicus. The Swazi Rock Snake is a species of snake in the Colubridae family. It is found in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, and in north-western Swaziland. It was previously grouped in the genus Lamprophis, but in 2011 it was reclassified to its own genus: Inyoka. The Swazi Rock Snake is a very slender snake with a prominent head and bulging eyes, it has 17 scale rows. It is dark red-brown to light beige in colour with a creamy white belly.

    The Swazi Rock Snake is similar in habits and behaviour to the Spotted House Snake Lamprophis guttatus, being nocturnal, sheltering in rock crevices/cracks during the day and feeding on small lizards. They prefer rocky outcrops in savannah habitat.

    Very little is known about this species of snake and it has been recorded in only a few localities. You can help us to conserve this unique snake by building up the its 21st century distribution through submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at The photo on the left was taken in Mpumalanga province by Justin Nicolau and the two smaller inserts on the right are from record 518 in the ReptileMAP database, also from Mpumalanga; the photos are by T. Mol. It is the only photographic record so far of the Swazi Rock Snake in the ReptileMAP database! The remaining 42 records in the database are of specimens and from the literature, virtually all of them are from before 1900s.


    2012-08-05 Les Underhill 
    CAR count completed on Saturday 28 July 

    Stunning day for CAR count Donella Young

    Donella Young, the coordinator of the CAR project writes: "Many thanks to the 750 people who climbed out of a warm bed early last Saturday to count all the big birds on their CAR route! I know some of you, particularly in the Overberg, then had to wait about an hour at your starting point for mist to clear. I do hope the hot tea/coffee lasted the day! Thank you for all your efforts getting in and out of your car every 2 km to scan for birds.

    "Thankfully it was a clear day in most provinces and there wasn't as much snow as last year, but it was still freezing on some routes. Jerome Ainsley put an early message to the CAR Facebook group, saying that the temperature didn’t rise above 5°C on his route up in Gauteng!

    "The counts are being submitted online at an amazing rate! By Monday 25 routes were on MyBirdPatch and by Thursday 63 routes had been captured! There are five complete precincts! I can see that a number of people who didn't enter their data last time are managing fine this count – many thanks for your time assisting in this way.

    "I spoke to Maria Andela, the Beaufort West Precinct Organiser, who was excited about their all time record of 51 Karoo Korhaans on their route. Barbi Forsyth has sent out an email to all her precinct observers with a table of all the Chrissiesmeer results; they were delighted to see 11 Secretarybirds in that precinct. Diane Mason saw 195 Grey Crowned Cranes on her route near Greytown in KZN, while John and Gayle Ellison saw 109 on KU01 near Underberg. Diane saw a pair of Wattled Cranes as well, the owner of the farm regularly sees 12 on a vlei on their farm. Denham's Bustard Allan CollettDown in the Uniondale precinct Oliver and Jean Purcell, Mike and Gill Euston-Brown and Heather Busby counted 238 Blue Cranes and on SW08 Bruce Mackenzie saw 149 Blue Cranes near Kalbaskraal in the Swartland! Sophie du Toit saw 24 Ludwig's Bustards on her route, ES05, near Bracefield in the Eastern Cape. The Humansdorp precinct had incredible Denham's Bustard totals with 61 on Chris and Valda Barratt's route and 86 on Yvonne Craig's route!! Alan Collett took this picture of a Denham's Bustard on a route near the Wildnerness. Duncan and Inés Cooke, who coordinate the Overberg routes, mentioned that many observers noted how intensively cultivated the region was with more wheat than usual. John Carter told me that he even saw wheat in an ostrich camp! I am still checking results and will be for a while. Many thanks to those who have already sent copies of their original roadcount forms to their Precinct Organiser.

    "Look out for the interim winter count report on the CAR webpage in September, under Newsletters.

    "In January the Overberg observers will be conducting the 40th count for this precinct! David Allan, now Curator of Birds at the Durban Museum, initiated CAR counts in the Overberg in July 1993 while at the ADU. Volunteers from the Cape Bird Club assisted David in counting the threatened Blue Crane and Denham's Bustard on that first survey. Currently about 750 volunteers, many of them farmers, bird club members, conservationists and some schools monitor 35 species of large terrestrial birds, 15 of which are Red Data species! There are 40 local Precinct Organisers who play a vital role in keeping this incredible team of observers on track! Huge thanks to you all for contributing to the conservation of biodiversity!"


    2012-08-04 Les Underhill 
    Saturday Stats : 28 July – 3 August 2012 

    Coverage map with adhoc and incidental records

    Overall SABAP2 growth this past week, from Saturday 28 July to Friday 3 August, was 315 checklists (compared to 270 last week). 14824 records were added to the database (compared to 12947 last week). Checklist length averaged 47.1 species (48.0 last week). Even though isolated reports of the return of the intra-African migrants have started to appear on SABirdnet and other list servers, this is not yet translated into the more widespread arrival which will result in an increase in average list length. In midsummer checklists average 58 species in length. 315 checklists in the week is just a handful short of our somewhat optimistic target of 350 checklists per week.

    18241 incidental records were added during the week. These are the records that are not on full-protocol checklists. Especially in the Northern Cape, in Namibia and other countries to the north, incidental records are going to be of critical importance in documenting the basic distributions of species. The map above is something we do not put on display often enough – it shows the normal coverage map, plus the ad hoc cards and the incidental records. So we continue to strongly encourage the submission of incidental records. Please keep them flowing in, and especially from the more poorly atlased areas.

    The total size of the SABAP1 and SABAP2 database is now 11.5 million records. This is one of the largest biodiversity databases of its kind in the world.

    The past week has had a full complement of “species days.” Last Sunday, the snake of the day was the Cape Sand Snake. Mad Mammal Monday featured the Saharan Cheetah. The tree for Tree Tuesday was the Large-leaved Rock Fig, and Weaver Wednesday focused on the Scaly-feathered Finch. On Threat Thursday, we discussed the conservation status of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) in southern Africa and Frog Friday highlighted the Flat Caco.


    2012-08-03 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    FROG FRIDAY – Flat Caco 

    Flat Caco Megan Loftie-Eaton FrogMAP

    TGIFF – Thank Goodness it's FROG FRIDAY! Today we feature the Flat Caco Cacosternum platys. The Flat Caco is restricted to the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is listed as Least Concern, because, even though its Extent of Occurrence is probably less than 20 000 km2, it is a common and adaptable species.

    The Flat Caco is a small frog with a maximum size of 22 mm. It has a narrow head, a wide body and colouration varies from grey to brown to green with dark spots and stripes. A pale vertebral line is sometimes present and a dark band from the eye to base of arm. This species has a smooth underside with small grey to black spots on its belly but not on the throat.

    The Flat Caco's preferred habitat is flooded grassland and seepages, even at sea level. Their call is a series of pulsed chirps, starting slowly and gradually accelerating. Males call from concealed positions among vegetation at the edge of water. You can help us to map the Flat Caco's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos to FrogMAP at The photo featured here is FrogMAP record 397. The photo was taken near Klipheuwel in the Western Cape and is the only photographic record of the Flat Caco in the FrogMAP database!


    2012-08-02 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on the dragonflies and damselflies 

    Cape Thorntail Marienne de Villiers OdonataMAP 453

    12 of South Africa's 160 species of Odonata (that's the dragonflies and damselflies) were placed in IUCN threat categories when they were reviewed by Professor Michael Samways, one of South Africa's leading specialist on this taxon in 2004 (the paper is called "Critical species of Odonata in southern Africa" and it was published in the International Journal of Odonatology 7: 255–262). Three species were classified as "Endangered" and nine as "Vulnerable" and there is one species classified as "Data Deficient." Most of the threatened species are endemic to the Western Cape. The species in the picture is the Cape Thorntail Ceratogomphus triceraticus, endemic to the Western Cape, and one of the "Vulnerable" species. This picture, submitted to the OdonataMAP Virtual Museum by Marienne de Villiers and Andre Fourie, is record 453 in this database.

    Warwick Tarboton is another Odonata expert, and hss written two fieldguides to their identification, one on dragonflies and one on damselflies. If you are interested in obtaining copies, contact him via his website. He says: "The Western Cape is a global hotspot both for endemics and for threatened species. Anyone with a camera and access to mountain streams (where most of these rare species occur) could achieve much by tracking down some of these little-known species, and submitting them to the Virtual Museum. One species, the Ruby Skimmer Orthetum rubens, has not been recorded since 1977. And, as a result of a re-examination of old museum specimens two new species to science, both Presbas, have also come to light in the Western Cape since the publication of the Red List. They'd both be in threat categories if a reassessment was made now and very little is known of their life histories, habitat requirements and population sizes."

    OdonataMAP coverage map 20120802Michael Samsways has also written about the threats to dragonflies: "Riverine alien trees, especially Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii in northern parts of the country and the Long-leaved Wattle A. longifolia in the southwest, are the principal threat to the globally Red-Listed species. These invasives have dense canopies that effectively shade out the habitat. Synergistic impacts include habitat disturbance by cattle that use invasive alien trees for shade. In some cases, there may be possible predation by trout, especially Rainbow Trout Oncorhyncus mykiss. These findings have clear management implications. First, to ensure long-term survival of the irreplaceable endemic South African dragonflies, the prime management option is to remove dense-canopy invasive alien trees, particularly Black and Long-leaved Wattles. Alien trees are not the sole factor adversely affecting these endemic and rare dragonflies, and it is essential to reduce any other synergies. The stream (for most species) or pond (in a few species) must also be free of pollution, including chemical input from alien leaf litter. Streams must also be hydrologically sound, without scouring that may occur when alien trees are removed too rapidly. A further consideration is that there must not be overstocking and excessive damage from domestic livestock, which trample the vegetation, break down the banks and silt the streams." You can download the pdf of this 2004 paper, in the South African Journal of Science, here.

    Odonata Virtual Museum logoOdonataMAP is one of the ADU's Virtual Museum projects. It currently contains 1333 sets of images of dragonflies, submitted by citizen scientists. The coverage map to date is displayed here. Warwick Tarboton has taken responsibility for doing the identification of the species. He is excited by the project, because it is already turning up records of species in unexpected places, and demonstrating that there are many gaps in our knowledge of dragonfly distribution. Please submit all your images of dragonflies and damselflies to the ADU Virtual Museum


    2012-08-01 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Scaly-feathered Finch  

    There are two species in the genus Sporopipes, this name meaning "to look for seeds". They are very small, social weavers of semi-arid parts of Africa. The two species do not overlap in distribution. Both species have moustachial stripes. They are monogamous, and build single nests of straight grass stems. Some courtship behaviour resembles that of species in the waxbill family. The sexes are alike.

    The Scaly-feathered Finch forages on the ground, feeding mainly on small seeds, with insects being fed to their young. They drink when water is available but, remarkably, they can survive for months without drinking as they can produce metabolic water from its diet of dry seeds. This species is found in pairs or flocks of up to 20 birds, and it regularly flocks with waxbills. Scaly-feathered Finches sleep communally in a nest through the year, with up to 12 birds using one nest, to keep warm on icy winter nights. Resting in the nest during the day also enables the birds to avoid the hottest times in summer.

    The Scaly-feathered Finch has no recognised subspecies, although several have been proposed in the past. This species is found through southern Africa and extreme southern parts of Angola and Zambia. There are disjunct populations in the Eastern and Western Cape. In South Africa SABAP2 shows higher reporting rates than SABAP1 (green on map) in the area around Warrenton. In the north-eastern part of its range in South Africa, there is a lower reporting rate in recent years. Is this species becoming more common in the south parts of its range?

    The Scaly-feathered Finch nest is an untidy, rugby-ball shaped mass of grass stems and grass seed heads. The nest is placed in trees or bushes at 1-4 m above the ground. The incubation period is fairly short at 10-12 days, as is found in many passerines in arid areas. Incubation is by the female, while both sexes feed the nestlings. The young continue to sleep in the nest for several weeks.

    See a summary of PHOWN records for the Scaly-feathered Finch here. There are few PHOWN records, so please look out for nests of this species and submit to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site. Look for the birds at the nest to prevent confusion with waxbill nests.
    Photo: Scaly-feathered Finch nest, phown 1542.


    PHOWN records for species             Previous Wedn: Black-capped Social Weaver             Full species list


    2012-07-31 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Roseate Tern Recovery at Richards’s Bay 

    We received an email from Philip du Toit informing us that he found a dead Roseate Tern at the southern breakwater of Richard’s Bay harbour entrance on 17/06/12 and it was ringed with number 4H13993.  Tony Tree ringed the bird as a chick on Bird Island in August 2000 making the bird almost 12 years old.  

    Tony says:  “This is the furthest north recovery from the east coast and one can only wonder if it was returning from Mozambique or Madagascan waters to breed or has totally deserted the Eastern Cape.”

    Tony recaptured the bird in full breeding dress, at 2 years of age (in 2002) at the colony. So far there have been 14 recoveries of dead Roseate Terns out of the 984 ringed during the present study (a 1.42% recovery rate), together with many recaptures. Since 2010, re-sightings of birds wearing engraved rings have been sighted as far as Mauritz Bay on the West Coast (850 km from Bird Island). 

    The recapture rate for the island and the Eastern Cape coast line lies at 23.1% for birds ringed as adults or immatures and 4.65% for birds ringed as chicks. It is suspected that this is due to recruitment into colonies elsewhere, probably in Madagascar.

    Compiled by Robyn Kadis
    Photo: from Wikimedia Commons here (Kirk Rogers/USFWS).



    2012-07-31 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday: Large-leaved Rock Fig Ficus abutilifolia 

    Large-leaved Rock Fig Chloe Reynolds ViTH252Happy TREE TUESDAY! Today we feature the Large-leaved Rock Fig Ficus abutilifolia. Ficus abutilifolia is a small to medium-sized, deciduous to semi-deciduous tree up to 15 m tall, though it seldom exceeds 5 m. The bark is whitish to yellowish white and smooth, powdery or somewhat flaking, and it is this conspicuous bark that is immediately apparent. The trunk is usually twisted or contorted, the branchlets stout and glabrous (lacking hairs) and marked with leaf and stipular scars.

    The large-leaved rock fig is generally encountered on rocky hillsides, rocky outcrops and along streams. The species is always found on or near rock outcrops, and while it is often found on granite, it grows also on sandstones, basalts and ironstone. The attitudinal range is from sea level to around 1 000 m and although able to tolerate light frost, it enjoys lower altitudes and hotter conditions. It is restricted to the African continent and here it has a widespread distribution, occurring in the South African provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and North-West and northward into Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Somalia and westward to Guinea.

    The ability of the roots to reach great depths of up to 60 m and that these may reach sources of underground water, has been recorded. This species is one of a few South African rock-splitting figs which include Ficus cordata, F. glumosa, F. ilicina, F. ingens and F. tettensis. Pollination of flowers within the receptacles is carried out by tiny wasps which enter through the ostiole, a small opening at the tip of the receptacle. ViTH logoTwo wasp species presently known to effect pollination in F. abutilifolia are Elisabethiella comptoni and Nigeriella fusciceps, recorded from Malawi and Nigeria respectively. The tasty fruits are enjoyed by people, and by a host of birds, fruit bats, monkeys and baboons, bushbuck, bushpig, duiker, klipspringer, nyala and warthog.

    The photo shown here is record 252 from the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH). The photo was taken in Limpopo province, South Africa by Chloe Reynolds. You can help us to map this tree's distribution by submitting your photos to ViTH at


    2012-07-30 Doug Harebottle 
    Honouring Stan Madden - an ADU biodiversity ambassador 

    Stan Madden is a name that has long been associated with Marievale Bird Sanctuary, the Blesbokspruit Ramsar Site, CWAC and the ADU. The 2012 winter count at Marievale was held yesterday and represented Stan's final count as site coordinator. Stan has been coordinating counts at this important wetland for the past 20 years!

    Stan's association with the ADU started in 1989 when he was asked by Les Underhill to do a bird count for the Blesbokspruit Wetland Ramsar Site. This turned into the beginning of the Marievale CWAC and Stan's long-standing association with the the Blesbokspruit. He comments "this led to my continued interest in a great absorbing past-time". These counts have proved valuable in terms of assessing the problems that have been associated with mining activities in the area, and have contributed to the ongoing biodiversity monitoring of this internationally important wetland.

    Stan has handed over the coordination of the Marievale CWAC counts to Doug Newman and Gordon King. He says, "At 85, it is now time to pass this on to the younger generation and Doug and Gordon are not only young and energetic but are both well known and knowledgable birders".

    The Marievale counts will continue to be hosted by the Springs-Nigel branch of WESSA which has become a tradition and social occassion every Januray and July.


    At yesterday's count, Stan was presented with a gift from Paul Hardingham of BirdLife President Ridge in honour of his contribution and dedication to Marievale's waterbird counts (photo on left) and his involvement with the Ramsar site. Similary, the ADU salutes and acknowledges Stan for his passion and committment to CWAC and to the Blesbokspruit wetlands over the last twenty years.

    Stan has made an enormous contribution to waterbird monitoring and conservation not only in Gauteng but in South Africa. He is truly a biodiversity ambassador! 

    Since the Blesbokspruit is in his blood, Stan will continue to be involved with counts and conservation activities at Marievale and other wetlands but will now be able to just enjoy taking part!


    2012-07-30 Tali Hoffman 
    Mad Mammal Monday highlights the Saharan Cheetah 

    Saharan Cheetah

    Happy Mad Mammal Monday! Today we feature one of the animals that I mention in every MammalMAP talk that I give: the Saharan Cheetah (also known as the Northwest African Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus hecki. These majestic and sleek animals differ from sub-Saharan cheetahs in the several ways. They're smaller, with coats that are shorter, whiter and have spots that fade from black (around the spine) to brown (around the legs). Their faces have fewer spots, and sometimes lack tear stripes. They have also adapted their behaviour to the incredibly arid and hot Sahara Desert by becoming more nocturnal than their sub-Saharan counterparts.

    Their total population is believed to number 250 individuals, and they are classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. However, this is – at best – a guestimate, and remarkably little is known about these elusive animals. In an attempt to improve knowledge of the numbers, whereabouts and conservation concerns of Saharan Cheetahs, researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Office du Parc National de l’Ahaggar (OPNA) set out a 2800 km2 camera trap survey of the central Sahara. The images that these camera traps have taken have been nothing short of remarkable, and demonstrate how exceptionally useful camera traps can be.

    If you have any images (with corresponding locations) of cheetahs of your own from north or west Africa, please submit them to the Virtual Museum for mammals (, and help us to conserve these magnificent creatures.


    2012-07-29 Les Underhill 
    Snake Sunday: Cape Sand Snake 

    Cape Sand Snake Trevor HardakerToday is Snake Sunday!! The featured species for today is the Cape Sand Snake Psammophis leightoni. The Cape Sand Snake is restricted to the Western Cape and its favoured habitats are renosterveld and fynbos. This species can be identified by its slender body with 17 scale rows, large eyes and strictly diurnal lifestyle. It grows to an average length of 75 cm and a maximum length of 1 m.

    These snakes chase and eat small vertebrates, mainly rodents and lizards, but also take other snakes. They are likely to have an average lifespan of 10 years and although they are venomous they pose no danger to man.

    You can help to protect this beautiful snake by submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at The map shown here is a distribution map of the Cape Sand Snake from the ReptileMAP (formerly SARCA) database. The picture is by Trevor Hardaker


    2012-07-27 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    TGIFF – Thank Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY – the Critically Endangered Table Mountain Ghost Frog 

    Table Mountain Ghost Frog

    Goodness It's FROG FRIDAY!! Today the spotlight is on the Table Mountain Ghost Frog Heleophryne rosei. The Table Mountain Ghost Frog is a critically endangered frog species of the family Heleophrynidae. This species is endemic (restricted) to an area of less than 10 km2 of Table Mountain, situated mainly on the southern and south-eastern slopes above Cape Town, South Africa.

    The Table Mountain Ghost Frog, which reaches a body length of about 50–60 mm, is green with reddish-brown to purple mottling above and a pinkish-white underside. It has webbed toes, with sucker-like pads at the toe and finger tips, enabling it to climb slippery, vertical rock faces in fast-flowing streams. It is similar to other ghost frog species but differs in that is has a prominent thumb-like metacarpal tubercle on the inner finger, and no transverse band through the eye. This species inhabits moist ravines, gorges and valleys in natural forest and fynbos. It breeds in the clean, clear water of mountain streams, and is dependent on perennially flowing streams since ghost frog tadpoles take more than a year to develop into frogs. The adult frogs occur in and around the streams on moss-covered rock faces and in crevices, but also inhabit damp, sheltered habitat away from the streams, including caves.

    Although all its habitat is situated in a protected natural environment, this frog is threatened in places by: erosion – caused by human pedestrian traffic (with exposed hiking trails in steep areas requiring special management); stands of alien vegetation – cause reduced runoff and stream flow; too frequent fires – this leads to streams being clogged with sediment; until recently, overgrazing and trampling by the invasive Himalayan Tahr. Furthermore, alien deciduous trees alongside streams (e.g. poplars) lead to the severe clogging of tadpole habitat with leaf-litter.

    All habitat of this species is protected by being situated within Table Mountain National Park and part of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. SANParks monitors the conservation and management of this species, with monitoring being focused on tadpole populations and habitat threats. You can help to conserve this wonderful ghost frog by submitting your photos to FrogMAP at


    2012-07-26 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on frogs! 

    Giant Bullfrog FrogMAP 351
    When the Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland was published in 2004, there were 115 species of frogs in the region. In the four decades since 1964, this figure had increased by 40 species, and is still increasing.

    In the Atlas and Red Data Book 25 of the 115 frog species were placed in threat categories: four were classified as Critically Endangered (Hewitt's Ghost Frog, Table Mountain Ghost Frog, Mistbelt Moss Frog and Micro Frog), eight as Endangered, eight as Vulnerable, and five as Near-threatened. A further eight species were Data Deficient, implying that the knowledge about these species, and especially their distributions, were inadequate to make a decision on the appropriate category. The balance of 83 were classified as Least Concern. One of the Near-threatened species was the Giant Bullfrog, the species in the picture. This is record 361 in the FrogMAP virtual museum. The photo was taken by Christopher Dyke in Gauteng.

    The Atlas and Red Data Book discussed threats to frogs: Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and degradation; Dams, overgrazing and siltation; Afforestation and alien invasive plants; Pollution; Fire; Road mortalities; Chytridiomycosis, a disease caused by a single-celled fungus, associated with amphibian declines in many parts of the world; Climate change.

    Coverage in the 2004 Atlas and Red Data Book was reasonable, and 88% of the 2005 quarter degree grid cells had some data, the book acknowledges that "much of the western part of the atlas region was not well covered" and that "distribution maps for many species are incomplete." Help complete these distribution, and help to create distribution maps which are based on 21st century records by submitting photographs and recordings of calls to FrogMAP, one of the Virtual Museums of the ADU.


    2012-07-25 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Black-capped Social Weaver  

    There are two species in the genus Pseudonigrita, this name meaning "false waxbill". They are small, social weavers of semi-arid parts in East Africa. The two species are distinguished by having a grey or black cap, on which the English names are based. Both species are monogamous, cooperative breeders, and build single nests of straight grass stems, which are clustered in groups in trees.

    The Black-capped Social Weaver has no recognised subspecies. This species is found through southern Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and northern Tanzania. They forage on the ground, feeding mainly on seeds, and sometimes insects. Non-breeding flocks may be nomadic.

    The Black-capped Social Weaver is colonial, with 7-61 nests in a colony. The nest is bulky, built of thin, dry grass stems and not lined. The protruding ends of the grass stems make it look untidy; sometimes several nests are so close that they merge. Roosting nests have two entrances, and one is closed for breeding nests. Both sexes add material throughout the year. One nest weighed 211 g, and contained about 9300 grass stems. Nests are often at the end of slender branches, in colonies on isolated acacia trees at about 2 m height. lt is not known if both sexes incubate (as is the case in the Grey-headed Social Weaver), but both parents and some helpers, feed the young.

    Photo top: adult Black-capped Social Weaver at nest, phown 714.
    Map: distribution of the Black-capped Social Weaver, with current PHOWN records indicated.

    See a summary of PHOWN records for the Black-capped Social Weaver here. Help us to learn more about wonderful weaver colonies by submitting your photos at Virtual Museum and see the results at PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests).


    2012-07-24 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Forest Fever Tree gets featured on Tree Tuesday today 

    Forest Fever Tree Michelle van der Bank ViTH 87

    It is Tree Tuesday!! And our featured tree is the Forest Fever Tree or Forest Big-leaf Anthocleista grandiflora. The Forest Big-leaf is from the family Gentianaceae (formally classified under Loganiaceae). It is an evergreen tree up to 30 m, with a long stem and rounded crown. The bark is smooth and grey and bears prominent leaf scars on young branches. The leaves are borne at the end of branches, simple, opposite and very large, up to 1500 mm × 450 mm. Leaf pairs are borne with one pair at right angles to the next. The white flowers are borne in branched inflorescences at the tip of the branches turning yellow with age, these are very fragrant. Fuit is oval-shaped and up to 30mm long.

    Elephants browse the leaves and bush pigs, monkeys and birds relish the fruit. It attracts many species of insects and birds when in flower and fruit. Cattle will eat fallen leaves. The tree has a light wood that will not crack when nails are driven in and this has been used for fruit boxes in the past. Extracts of the plant have been used medicinally in the past, notably for malarial treatments but for other ailments, including roundworm and diabetes as well. A scientific basis for these remedies has not been established however.

    The Forest Big-leaf occurs in riverine forest and along forest margins, often in swampy places. It is sporadic in South Africa but occurring further north to Kenya, occurring along perennial rivers and wet areas in forest in humus rich soils. This is a protected tree in South Africa. It gives a lovely tropical feel to a garden with its large, glossy leaves.

    You can help us to protect this wonderful tree by submitting your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at The photo featured here is ViTH record 87 from Limpopo province.


    2012-07-23 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    On this Mad Mammal Monday, the spotlight falls on the Karoo Bush Rat 

    Karoo Bush Rat MammalMAP 488  and 2525

    It's Mad Mammal Monday!! The species in the spotlight today is the Karoo Bush Rat Otomys unisulcatus. The Karoo Bush Rat or Bush Vlei Rat is a species of rodent in the family Muridae; there are six species of rat in the Otomys genus occuring in southern Africa. They have a robust, stocky appearance, short tails, blunt muzzles, rounded ears and grooved upper incisors. The Karoo Bush Rat is usually brown to grey-brown in colour. The only certain way to distinguish between different species is by looking at the distribution maps and by examining the skull and teeth.

    Karoo Bush Rats are found in the south-western parts of South Africa where they occur in arid areas. They are predominantly diurnal and live singly or in small family parties. They construct large stick lodges, often at the base of a tree or shrub. Karoo Bush Rats breed throughout the year in the Karoo and give birth to 2–5 young.

    You can help us to conserve this little mammal by submitting your photos to MammalMAP, the African Mammal Atlas Project, which curates them in the Virtual Museum. The photos featured here are from the MammalMAP Virtual Museum: Record 488 on the right and record 2525 on the left. Both are from the Western Cape province.


    2012-07-23 Richard Sherley 
    Three new juvenile penguins released with PTTs 

    Last week Thursday (19 July 2012), an additional three juvenile penguins were released wearing satellite transmitters. These three birds were all hand-reared at SANCCOB during this year, two having been abandoned by their parents at Boulders Beach and the other having hatched in the new SANCCOB chick-rearing unit. These birds are the ninth, tenth and eleventh juveniles to be equipped with PTTs as part of the Chick Bolstering Project's efforts to understand the dispersal behaviour of juvenile African penguins and the broader efforts to understand how these birds use their ocean habitat when not breeding.

    The latest three juveniles have been dubbed Lewis, Hannah and Goldie by the SANCCOB staff and, as we did before with the hand-reared chicks, they were equipped with the PTTs at the SANCCOB centre a few days before their release. This protocol gives the birds the opportunity to swim a few times with the device attached and the Veterinary team at SANCCOB the opportunity to assess how they respond to the device before they are released. As last year, the hand-reared chicks were released from a boat just offshore of Robben Island, and the three images above (from SANCCOB's facebook page) show them being released. Just as we have seen with all the other releases, these chicks didn't hang around but headed quickly offshore. As you can see in the image to the left, two of them (Lewis, 119181, and Goldie, 119183) followed the apparent trend and travelled to the north-west, but Hannah (119182) seemed to have different ideas. That bird travelled south initially, to a point offshore of Cape Point, before apparently turning to travel with the prevailing current. The image shows the downloaded data from this morning, so these three birds have been at sea for about four days. All three have covered over 100 km already, but Goldie has moved the furthest distance from the release site so far. This bird already passed just to the west of Dassen Island and has also stayed the closest to shore during their initial movements of all the 11 juveniles released so far.

    Meanwhile, the PTTs being carried by Green-foot, Pinky and Blue are still transmitting. After a brief sojourn into Namibia, Green-foot has turned back to the south-east and crossed back into South Africa. Pinky has also turned around and is heading back towards Lambert's Bay, while Blue remains around the area of the Orange River mouth. You can see their latest positions and keep up to date on the whereabouts of all six chicks on Penguin Watch.

    As usual, we wish to express our thanks to all the partners and sponsors of the Chick Bolstering Project for making this research possible. A particular thanks to Bruce Dyer for his help with deploying the three most recent PTTs.


    2012-07-22 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Celebrate Snake Sunday with Bibron's Blind Snake 

    Bibron's Blind Snake B Maritz C Dorse ReptileMAP 2484 and 5575 Today is SNAKE SUNDAY! And our featured species is Bibron's Blind Snake Typhlops bibronii. Bibron's Blind Snake is a species of snake in the Typhlopidae family. It is a stout species with 30 scale rows around the body and a dorsal scale count of more than 300. It varies in colour from uniform brown to olive-brown, with a paler belly.

    Bibron's Blink Snake ReptileMAP distributionBibron's Blind Snakes search underground for the brood chambers of ants and termites, where they feed on vast quantities of eggs and larvae. Their shiny, close-fitting scales protect them from the attacks of soldier ants. The female lays 5–14 thin-walled eggs in late summer (January–March). The young hatch in only 5-6 days. Females may guard the eggs until they hatch.

    Bibron's Blind Snakes prefer highveld and coastal grassland habitats. In South Africa, they range from the northern provinces and southern KwaZulu-Natal to Albany in the Eastern Cape. There is also a relict population in eastern Zimbabwe. The photos featured here are from the ReptileMAP (formerly SARCA) database. To the left is record 2484 which was photographed in Gauteng province and on the right is record 5775 which was found in the Free State. Help us to conserve this amazing species by submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at


    2012-07-20 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Frog Friday features a new species, Branch's Rain Frog 

    Branch's Rain Frog Breviceps branchi

    Happy FROG FRIDAY! Today we feature a very special frog, a new species to be exact, Branch's Rain Frog Breviceps branchi. Alan Channing, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the University of the Western Cape, writes: "Branch's rain frog Breviceps branchi was discovered in the diamond area of Namaqualand, one evening while an MSc student and I were looking for a related species, Breviceps macrops. It was sitting under a bush, camouflaged against the red sands with small stones. At first glance it looked like the widespread Namaqualand Rain Frog Breviceps namaquensis."

    "Back in the lab it was routinely sequenced, and to my amazement it was genetically quite distinct from all other rain frogs. A close look at the specimen revealed some clear-cut morphological differences, particularly in the large number of granules under the hands and feet. As only a single specimen was found, it raises a number of questions, such as: What is the distribution of the species? What is its conservation status? and of course: Are there other unrecognised species out there, waiting to be discovered?"

    The species is named in honour of Dr Bill Branch, herpetologist for several decades at the Port Elizabeth Museum (now called Bayworld), to mark his formal retirement in May 2011.

    The photo was taken by Kirsty Wahlberg. Help us to conserve awesome frog species like this by submitting your frog/toad photos to FrogMAP at


    2012-07-20 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Tygerberg Ringing Unit  

    This month the Tygerberg Ringing Unit celebrates its 20th anniversary. On 4 July 1992 the Tygerberg Ringing Unit held its first ringing session at the Durbanville Nature Reserve with ringers Colin Martin and George Underhill. 44 birds were ringed and the unit continued with regular sessions. Within the first two years Colin had trained Debbie Philogene, Jo Johnson, Margaret McCall and Lee Silks, with many other trainees to follow (Bob Ellis, Mike Ford, Peter Nupen, Brigid Crewe, Sigi Fry). In 2002 the group helped Dr Penn Lloyd with his study of breeding birds at Koeberg - the ringing was intensive, and included colour ringing all the target species - several top quality papers were published from this study. By 2008 the group had ringed over 60000 birds! In 2009 the group found a Barn Swallow roost and ringing there has produced many recaptures from Europe. Margaret writes regular reports for the bird club's newsletter "The Kite" and the ringing group is well supported by the bird club.


    At the monthly evening meeting of the bird club last night, an award was presented to the Tygerberg Ringing Unit by the ADU to acknowledge the amazing role the unit has played in collecting ringing data. Lee Silks and Margaret McCall (photo above), who have been leasding the group for many years and were there from the start, received the ADU certificate.

    There was also an opportunity to hand out SABAP2 certificates: John Fincham (photo left) has submitted 50 atlas cards and Deona Andrag (photo right) has submitted 100 cards - this represents a minimum of 100 and 200 hours of atlassing respectively (and not including travel time, etc!).

    Well done to these citizen scientists!



    2012-07-19 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday: Geometry does not favour the Geometric Tortoise, classified as Critically Endangered 

    Geometric tortoise: ReptileMAP 382 Tony RebeloThe Geometric Tortoise Psammobates geometricus has a total remaining "area of occupancy" estimated at 22 km2. This was calculated geometrically from the area of remaining available Geometric Tortoise habitat. It has only ever occurred in the southwestern part of the Western Cape, predominantly in the Renosterveld Bioregion of the Fynbos Biome. The vegetation types in which it occurs are also classified as Critically Endangered and Endangered: Alluvium Fynbos, Sand Fynbos, Shale Fynbos, Shale Renosterveld, Granite Renosterveld and Silcrete Renosterveld. It favours in low-lying, undulating plains, and avoids rocky terrain, with a low to medium-high shrub layer, a strong restiod and ericoid presence, and an essentially annual, herbaceous understorey with perennial grasses.

    Historically, the species occurred from around Eendekuil and Piketberg in the north, southwards through the Swartland (Porterville, Hermon, Wellington, Paarl) to the Strand-Gordons Bay area in the south, and eastwards, in the Upper Breede River Valley, from Tulbagh in the north to just west of Worcester, as well as in the Ceres Valley in the northeast. Isolated populations can now be found in the Paarl district, north of Wellington towards Porterville, between Tulbagh, Wolseley and Worcester, and in the Ceres Valley.

    Geometric tortoise distribution, ReptileMAPThe new atlas map shows that it only occurs in seven quarter degree grid cells. So it is not a surprise that the latest classification of the threat status is "Critically Endangered." There are currently only two Virtual Museum records (turquoise circles on the map), both of which are within the known range, shown by the orange squares – this is the range as determined by the museum records which go back to the beginning of the 20th century. The two virtual museum records are record 382 and record 3865. These are shown in the two photographs.

    Three records are shown as unreliable in the distribution map, with red question marks. The most southerly record is from De Kelders, east of Hermanus. Thus is an approximately 2000 year old archaeological record and indications are that this shell was carried there at the time by the indigenous people of the region. The two records on the coast north of Cape Town are from Darling, Geometric tortoise: ReptileMAP 3865museum specimens collected in March and April 1905. Darling lies within the historic distribution of Granite and Shale Renosterveld and it is therefore likely that this species occurred here on the western extreme of its range. The other record is from within the Koeberg Nature Reserve which consists of Dune Strandveld and Sand Fynbos, two habitats not occupied by this species, so there is a question mark over this record.

    The recent conservation assessment, shortly to be published recommends the following conservation measures: "Continue research into aspects of conservation biology, in order to inform conservation measures. Prioritize conservation stewardship of remaining lowland habitats by landowners. Include more remaining habitat into more formal conservation arrangements. Develop a Species Management Plan."

    Please help construct the 21st century distribution maps for all reptiles by submitting your photographs to the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum.


    2012-07-18 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver  

    There are two species in the genus Bubalornis, although they have been considered as one species in the past. Both species are dark plumaged with females being duller, and the species differ in bill colour, as indicated by their names: White-billed and Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver. The Red-billed is found in southern and East Africa, and the White-billed in West Africa - there is a small zone of overlap in East Africa. They are found in savanna, thornveld and dry woodland. Buffalo-Weavers are unique among weavers (and most birds) in that they have a solid phalloid organ on the belly in front of the cloaca. The organ is larger in males than females (see photo here) - the function of this organ during their prolonged copulation is not entirely certain. Buffalo-Weavers do not normally associate with buffalo but by a twist of chance, Andrew Smith (who first described the Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver) first saw this species associating with buffalo in North West Province (read more here).

    The Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver is divided into two subspecies, the nominate in southern Africa (red on the map above), and B. niger intermedius in East Africa (green). There have probably not been any major range changes for this species in historical times, but it is probably more common where it can choose man-made nest sites within its range. It feeds mainly on insects, particularly grasshoppers and caterpillars, but also takes seeds and fruit.

    This species is usually polygynous, with one male and several females occupying a nest. Sometimes two males form a coalition to defend a group of nests and both will help feed the chicks in the different chambers. The male usually builds the nest, collecting twigs up to 1 km away. The nest is an untidy mass of thorny twigs, with several nest chambers inside as illustrated in the photo (left) of a sign board at the Skukuza nursery In Kruger NP. Nests are built on large trees, often baobabs. Nests are also built on man-made structures, including windmills and electricity pylons. One particularly unusual site that has not been documented in the literature is a radio mast - see photo (right) from phown 2495.

    The female incubates the eggs. Nests may be infested with mites and other invertebrates. Raptors sometimes nest on top of buffalo-weaver nests and a variety of smaller birds, especially Red-headed Finches, may take over a nest chamber, eg. phown 196. If you find nest associations, please submit a record to PHOWN with appropriate notes.

    The number of nest chambers cannot be counted easily and for this species PHOWN aims to collect breeding distribution data, nest site information, and longevity of nest sites by recording annual repeats, rather than colony sizes. Of particular interest are nests built on power structures, as these may cause flash-overs and power outages. Julia Amukwa is a student studying this problem, and will use the PHOWN database to supplement her data - please submit any records of weavers nesting on power structures to help her!

    See a summary of PHOWN records and breeding information for the Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver here.


    2012-07-17 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Good morning everyone. It is Tree Tuesday and our featured tree for today is the Cape Chestnut  

    Cape Chestnut Calodendrum capense Michelle van der Bank ViTH58

    Good morning everyone. Today is Tree Tuesday! Our featured tree for today is the Cape Chestnut Calodendrum capense. The Calodendrum capense, meaning beautiful tree from the Cape, is an African tree which was first studied in the Western Cape region of South Africa and cultivated widely for its prolific flower display. It occurs along the south and east coast of southern Africa from around Swellendam in the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Gauteng, North West and Northern Province and into tropical Africa as far north as Tanzania and Ethiopia, and grows mainly in forests and kloofs (ravines/gorges), but occasionally in scrub and riverine bush, from sea-level to 2000 m. When in bloom, the whole canopy turns pink.

    The tree can reach 20 m in height in a forest, but in cultivation it is more likely to reach 10 m, with a spreading canopy. The trunk is smooth and grey and the leaves are ovate, and up to 22 cm long and 10 cm wide. The large pink flowers are produced in terminal panicles and cover the tree canopy in the early summer. The tree obtained the common name of "Cape Chestnut" because explorer William Burchell saw a resemblance to Horse Chestnut in terms of flowers and fruits. However, it is not closely related.

    ViTH logoBirds do not find the nectar-filled flowers inviting, but butterflies do feed on them. Samango and Vervet Monkeys, and Rameron and Olive Pigeons, Cinnamon Doves and Cape Parrots eat the seeds. The larvae of several butterfly species, including the Orange Dog Papilio demodocus which also uses other citrus family trees, breed on the foliage.

    Help us to conserve these lovely trees by submitting your photos to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) at The photos featured here are of ViTH record 58, the photo was taken in Limpopo Province, by Professor Michelle van der Bank, University of Johannesburg.


    2012-07-17 Richard Sherley 
    Update on the PTT fledglings: Green-foot enters Namibia 

    All three of the satellite transmitters fitted to juvenile penguins in June are still sending back information on the whereabouts of the young penguins. Since the last update on 12 July, all three birds have moved further north.

    After a fairly prolonged stay just south of the Orange River mouth, Green-foot crossed into Namibian waters on 14 June and reached a point just 5 km south of the southern most important seabird breeding island in Namibia, Sinclair Island. The bird appears to have subsequently moved about 30km south again, but this could be associated with satellite fix error. Blue and Pinky have also moved quite far to the north in the last week, the former having covered around 250 km and the latter about 160 km. Blue has moved from the Hondeklip Bay area on 12 July to a position just 40 km south of the Orange River Mouth while Pinky is now more or less exactly where Blue was last week, 50 km south-west of Hondeklip Bay.

    You can keep up to date with their movements and read more about the release of these fledglings and the background to the project on Penguin Watch.

    These deployments form part of the African Penguin Chick Bolstering Project (APCBP) and have been carried out with approval from the Animal Experimentation Committee at the University of Cape Town, CapeNature and the Department of Environmental Affairs. The APCBP is a collaboration between SANCCOB, the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, the Animal Demography Unit (University of Cape Town), the Department of Environmental Affairs (Oceans and Coasts Branch), CapeNature, Robben Island Museum and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).


    2012-07-16 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
    Mad Mammal Monday features the Mauritian Tomb Bat Taphozous mauritianus 

    Mauritian Tomb Bat G Diedericks MammalMAP19

    Hi everyone. It is Mad Mammal Monday again!! Today we feature the The Mauritian Tomb Bat is a species of sac-winged bat in the family Emballonuridae that is found in central and southern Africa and Madagascar. It was discovered in 1818 by Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and is characterized by an all-white ventral surface, grizzled dorsal colouration, and a conical face. Mauritian Tomb Bats help control pest populations, including insects that carry human diseases. These bats tend to be nocturnal hunters and their normal prey consists of moths, butterflies, and termites. They are not prone to large scale roosting, and are most often spotted on the sides of buildings or on tree trunks in groups of around five individuals. Tomb bats breed and give birth to a single young during the summer months, twins are occasionally reported.

    The Mauritian Tomb Bat is distinguished from other species of bat by a completely white ventral area. Its dorsal surface is a mottled colour consisting of several shades of brown, gray, and white, which creates a grizzled "salt and pepper" appearance. Its fur is sleek and short, and the wing membranes are beige and primarily translucent. The wings are long, narrow, and shorten when not in flight in a way that facilitates crawling, a trait unique to this genus. Sexes are similar in colour and size. They have large eyes and triangular-shaped, erect, ears. The inner margins of the ear lack papillae, which is the inner sensory surface of the bat's ear. Mauritian tomb bats are one of the larger species in the Microchiroptera suborder, fully grown adults weigh anywhere from 25–36 g, with its forearm measuring 58–64 mm. The total length is from 100–110 mm.

    The photo featured here is from the MammalMAP, the African Mammal Atlas Project. You can have a look at this record in the MammalMAP Virtual Museum, where it is record 19. The photo was taken 23 km north of Malelane in the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga Province. You can help us to conserve this amazing bat species by submitting your photos to the Virtual Museum for MammalMAP at


    2012-07-15 Les Underhill 
    New paper: Dealing with "errors due to imperfect detection" = "I don't see everything"  

    Red-backed Shrike

    This new paper might look, at first glance, pretty esoteric to most of the ADU's citizen scientists. But there is a key phrase in the abstract "errors due to imperfect detection" which resonates with every participant in ADU projects: "I don't see everything. I miss some species." So this paper, of which ADU postdoc Fitsum Abadi Gebreselassie is first author, develops the statistical approach for dealing with this problem. Fitsum is currently in France, taking up an opportunity there to learn more statistical theory, and returns to continue his postdoc next year, supported by the Claude Leon Foundation.

    Here is the full reference to the paper. Abadi F, Gimenezb O, Jakobere H, Stauberf W, Arlettaza R, Schaub M 2012. Estimating the strength of density dependence in the presence of observation errors using integrated population models. Ecological Modelling 242: 1–9.

    ABSTRACT: Assessing the strength of density dependence is crucial for understanding population dynamics, but its estimation is difficult. Because estimates of population size and demographic parameters usually include errors due to imperfect detection, estimations of the strength of density dependence will be biased if obtained with conventional methods and lack statistical power to detect density dependence. We propose a Bayesian integrated population model to study density dependence. The model allows assessing the effect of density both on the population growth rate as well as the demographic parameters while accounting for imperfect detection. We studied the performance of this model using simulation and illustrate its use with data on Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio. Our simulation results showed that the strength of density dependence is identifiable and it was estimated with higher precision using the integrated population model than the conventional regression model. As expected, the conventional regression model tended to overestimate density dependence at the population level whereas underestimates at the demographic level, but the bias was small. The analysis of the Red-backed Shrike data revealed negative density dependence at the population level most likely mediated by a density-dependent decline in adult survival. This work highlights the potential of integrated population models in assessing density dependence and its practical application in population studies.

    This paper is part of a series of papers in Statistical Ecology that Fitsum has co-authored, and have featured in previous ADU news items: Population dynamics of Hoopoes and Wrynecks and Improving farmland biodiversity in vineyards.


    2012-07-15 Les Underhill 
    Snake Sunday with the Eastern Tiger Snake 

    Eastern Tiger Snake ReptileMap 3416 and 5463

    Happy Snake Sunday!!! Today we feature the Eastern Tiger Snake Telescopus semiannulatus semiannulatus. The Eastern Tiger Snake can be identified by the following features and behaviours: a head which is distinct from the body, large eyes (with vertical pupils), an orange-yellow colouration, its highly aggressive nature when threatened, between 20 and 50 dark blotches down its length and its strictly nocturnal lifestyle. This snake has an average length of 80 cm but can reach a length of 1 m.

    Eastern Tiger Snake ReptileMAP distribution mapBeyond the distribution in South Africa shown on this map from the reptile atlas, it is found throughout southern and central Mozambique, Zimbabwe, most of Botswana and northeastern Namibia. Its favoured habitats include lowland forest and moist and arid savanna. It preys on lizards (particularly geckos), fledgling birds, bats and small rodents like mice. The Eastern Tiger Snake is oviparous (egg laying), and lays between 3 and 20 eggs in the summer months. The venom of this snake is very weak and has little or no effect on humans.

    The photos featured here are from the ReptileMAP database. On the left is record number 3416 which was found in Limpopo Province and record number 5463 on the right was photographed in North West Province. Help us build 21st century distribution maps and help to conserve this awesome snake by submitting your photos to ReptileMAP at


    2012-07-15 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Eggs of Angolan weavers  

    In June 2008 a team spent two weeks in Lubango, Angolo, cataloguing the bird collection at Instituto Superior de Ciências da Educação there - see trip report here. At the time I also photographed the egg collection of weavers in the museum. The collection consisted of 145 records, having a card with details for each clutch. There are 18 weaver species represented in the egg collection. The details on the cards were recently computerised by Linah Maqashu and the card text in Portuguese has been translated. These records have been added to PHOWN.

    The Portuguese headers included on the cards are:
    Ser. no - the card number (individual eggs were numbered separately)
    Sp - scientific species name
    Loc - locality, sometimes including province
    Colec - the collector
    Data - date
    No. de Ovos - clutch size
    Incubacao - incubation state, some common categories are: early, fresh, rotten
    Identificacao - species identification, eg seen, known, doubtful
    Ninho - nest, ie notes about the nest site
    Obs - observations, or additional notes
    Most coordinates for the localities were provided by Richard Dean (a few were found on google maps). Coordinates must be considered as approximate.

    Three species appear in PHOWN for the first time: Long-tailed Widowbird (photo above), Black-winged Bishop, and Fan-tailed Widowbird.

    There are currently 154 PHOWN records from Angola. This includes some photographic records of weaver nests from our trip to Lubango Museum in 2008. The PHOWN summary page for Angola shows records per species, a map, thumbnails of the most recent photographic records, and a list of all records. Click on a map marker, or thumbnail, or phown number to see details of a particular record. On a record page, click on Large photos to see the details on the card image.
    See a summary of PHOWN records for Angola here.


    2012-07-15 Les Underhill 
    New paper: Review of Cape Fur Seal population sizes between 1972 and 2009 – the centre of gravity moves north 

    Aerial census of Cape Fur Seal colonyStephen Kirkman was awarded his PhD for a thesis entitled Ecology of the Cape Fur Seal in southern Africa in December 2010, and the chapters of his thesis are steadily being published as papers. The paper now published is one of the cornerstone chapters of his thesis, and provides the most up-to-date review of the overall size of seal population over the four decades since 1972. It shows that the total population of the Cape Fur Seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus in South Africa, Namibia and Angola has been more or less stable since the early 1990s. It also demonstrates how the centre of gravity of the population has moved northwards over the past few decades. The underlying dataset is based on counts of seals made from aerial photographs taken above the colonies. This picture was taken during one of these surveys.

    The full reference is Kirkman SP, Yemane D, Oosthuizen WH, Meÿer MA, Kotze PGH, Skrypzeck H, Vaz Velho F, Underhill LG 2012. Spatio-temporal shifts of the dynamic Cape Fur Seal population in southern Africa, based on aerial censuses (1972–2009). Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2012.00584.x

    ABSTRACT: A time series of aerial censuses of Cape Fur Seal colonies, spanning four decades (1972–2009) and three countries (South Africa, Namibia, and Angola), was analyzed to assess spatio-temporal changes in population numbers. A weighted quantile regression approach was used to estimate trends in pup counts that were used as proxies for numbers of older animals at breeding colonies. There was a 74% increase in the number of breeding colonies over the study period, from 23 in 1973 to 40 in 2009. There was also a significant northward shift in the distribution of the breeding population. This was largely attributable to events in the northern part of the population's range coinciding with Namibia, where seal numbers declined at most colonies in the south of Namibia while several new breeding colonies developed in the northern part of Namibia and one in southern Angola. Despite range expansion and the development of new colonies, the overall size of the population in 2009 was similar to that of the early 1990s, according to the pup count models. Potential mechanisms for the observed changes, and their management implications, are discussed.

    Steve Kirkman is a researcher at the Oceans and Coasts Branch of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, and has recently been appointed an Honorary Research Associate of UCT, linked to the Animal Demography Unit.


    2012-07-14 Les Underhill 
    Saturday Stats 7–13 July 2012 

    Before we review the past week, we look forward to one event next week. There is a SABAP2/MyBirdPatch workshop at Parys next Saturday. The full details are at here – if you are anywhere within striking distance of Parys, please consider attending.

    Yesterday 13 July, the total size of the combined SABAP1 and SABAP2 datasets grew to 11435431 records. That’s 11.4 million records of bird distribution, one of the largest databases of its kind on the planet.

    The SABAP2 growth this past week was 14699 records, on 312 checklists. Checklist length averaged 47.1 records. 312 checklists is pretty good, but a little short of the target of 350 checklists per week.

    38 pentads were atlased for the first time ever, with 12 in North-West Province and 12 in the Northern Cape. The number of pentads with two or more checklists grew by 14, so the rate at which YELLOW pentads were created far exceeded the rate at which YELLOW pentads were promoted to ORANGE or darker.

    Rinkhals M Witberg et al ReptileMAP 1622For SABAP2012, which counts the number of pentads actually visited in 2012, the increase was from 3281 to 3360 pentads, so 79 pentads were visited this week which had not been visited earlier in the year. Another 104 pentads need to be visited to get SABAP2012 coverage to 20%, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to achieve this before next Friday.

    358 sets of images were added to the various ADU Virtual Museums. The most notable landmark of the week was the butterfly virtual museum reaching 25000 records. Record number 25000 can be viewed here.

    We had a complete set of ADU "days" this past week. Last Sunday, the snake of the day was the Rinkhals, featured here. Mad Mammal Monday returned to the sea, and celebrated the Dugong. Tree Tuesday did the Sweet Thorn, and Weaver Wednesday focused on the Seychelles Fody. On Threat Thursday, we contemplated the "Vulnerable" Blue Crane and Frog Friday featured the Bubbling Kassina.

    The number of people who have "liked" the ADU's page on Facebook grew to 488. This is rapidly becoming the best consolidated source of ADU news. The page is at


    2012-07-13 Les Underhill 
    Frog Friday – Bubbling Kasina 

    Bubbling Kassina Steve Evans FrogMAP382

    Happy Frog Friday everyone!! Today's feature is the Bubbling Kassina Kassina senegalensis. The frog occurs throughout almost all of sub-Saharan Africa. It is found in suitable habitats at both low and high altitudes, from Senegal to Somalia and southward to South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. There are 11 species in the genus Kassina and it is endemic to Africa.

    The Bubbling Kassina is a distinctive-looking frog, with an olive-green skin colour, which can look almost gold. Populations from the Taita Hills in Kenya are covered with regular black spots, each of which has a white ring around it, while other populations have stripes on the back.

    The toes and fingertips are expanded into small disks. Both males and females range from about 33–40 mm in snout-vent length. This species is common in savanna, grassland, and shrubland in coastal lowlands at elevations up to 2000 m. It tolerates some degree of habitat alteration and may be found in agricultural areas. The map shows the distribution of this Kassina in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Within its range, it is one of the most common frog species.

    Most of the information above is from the Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, edited by Les Minter and team. This book was the culmination of SAFAP, the Southern African Frog Atlas Project. The book was published in 2004 by the Smithsonian Institute and the ADU, and the pdf is available online. The book was based on a database of 42 335 records. This database is now being added to through the ADU's FrogMAP Virtual Museum. The photo featured here is FrogMAP record 382. This picture was taken by Steve Evans in Mpumalanga. Help us to conserve this wonderful frog (and all other frogs) by submitting your photos and recordings of calls to FrogMAP at


    2012-07-12 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on the "Vulnerable" Blue Crane 

    Blue CranesOf the 15 species of crane on the planet, only four are classified as "Least Concern." The other 11, including today's focus species, are threatened, making the cranes one of the families with the largest proportion of species in threat categories: one is "Critically Endangered", three are "Endangered" and seven, including the Blue Crane, are "Vulnerable." All Blue Cranes, except a tiny relict population in northern Namibia and a few birds in Swaziland, are in South Africa. The other two crane species which occur in southern Africa are also in threat categories: Grey-crowned Crane is "Endangered," and Wattled Crane is "Vulnerable."

    The justification for the listing of the Blue Crane as Vulnerable is provided in the BirdLife International species fact sheet: "The Blue Crane has declined rapidly, largely owing to direct poisoning, power-line collisions and loss of its grassland breeding habitat owing to afforestation, mining, agriculture and development. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable. Although probably stable at present, a variety of threats including power line collisions, wind farms, mining, climate change affecting the agricultural landscape, and capture for trade could easily trigger future declines unless appropriate conservation measures are implemented."

    Blue Crane SABAP1 vs SABAP2 range change map 12 July 2012The SABAP1 vs SABAP2 range-change map portrays graphically the mixed fortunes of this species over the past two decades. (The colours on this range change map are explained in the SABAP1 vs SABAP2 maps interpretation note.)

    This range change map shows that the decreases in the Grassland Biome have been sustained since SABAP1. David Allan, author of the Blue Crane species account in the first atlas wrote: "The grassland biome was the ancestral stronghold, but it has decreased by c. 90% in this region [ie by 1997]. The SABAP1 map shows a fragmented distribution and low reporting rates in the grassland biome and shows an almost total absence from Transkei and Lesotho, probably resulting from high human population densities. In the grassland biome the main threats are poisoning (prompted by birds feeding in agricultural fields), collisions with overhead transmission lines, and loss of habitat to afforestation, urbanization and crop farming." The new range change map is alarmingly RED across the Free State, North-West Province, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga; this means that it was recorded here in SABAP1, but not yet in SABAP2. The map is predominantly ORANGE across KwaZulu-Natal.

    In the wheat-growing area of the Western Cape, both the Overberg and the Swartland, the almost wall-to-wall GREEN shows that increases in reporting rates have been widespread, and in the Swartland these increases have been massive. David Allan noted: "In the fynbos biome it inhabits cereal croplands and cultivated pastures and avoids natural vegetation." In pristine times, the Blue Crane was absent from the Western Cape. Now this region is the stronghold of the species, and the birds are dependent on the present patterns of agricultural land use.

    The third area in which the Blue Crane historically occurred was the Karoo. The range change map here is also predominantly GREEN suggesting that the Blue Crane is holding its own in the Karoo.

    In the 2011 volume of the ejournal Ornithological Observations there is a paper which describes an expansion even farther north, into Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. These birds were recorded on cereal fields close to farmlands, suggesting that this range expansion, like that in the Western Cape, is associated with the changes in landuse associated with agriculture.

    The BirdLife "species fact sheet" makes the statement that the species is "probably stable at present" – this depends on whether the losses in the RED/ORANGE areas are balanced by the gains in the GREEN/BLUE areas of the range-change map. The good news comes from Sally Hofmeyr's PhD thesis; Sally has devised a "national index" for the Blue Crane population in South Africa. It is based on the data from the ADU's CAR project and it provides an annual value for the index. This new time series shows that the gains more than offset the losses. However, whether this pattern continues into the future depends crucially on the farmers in the Overberg and Swartland regions of the Western Cape – it depends on whether the complex agricultural systems currently followed in these areas are maintained into the future. These farmers currently show enormous goodwill towards the Blue Cranes on their lands. But climate change and market pressures loom large as factors that govern agricultural practices. So there is no guarantee that the present upward trend in overall numbers, in spite of losses in the traditional core range, will be maintained.


    2012-07-11 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Seychelles Fody  

    There are six or seven fody species, genus Foudia, depending on your taxonomic view: (Madagascar) Red Fody, Forest Fody, Seychelles Fody, Rodrigues Fody, Mauritius Fody, Red-headed or Comores Fody, and the Aldabra Fody. This group is native to the islands of the western lndian Ocean (Madagascar, Comoros, Aldabra, the Mascarenes and the Seychelles). Most of the species occur in forest and woodland, which were the original habitats on their islands. All fody species are sexually dimorphic with adult males exhibiting brightly coloured plumage in shades of deep red, orange or bright yellow at least during the breeding season.

    The Seychelles Fody, locally known as toc-toc due to its calls, is the least coloured fody species. Adult male toc-tocs (photo right) are mostly olive-grey with the back and wings slightly darker and streaked. The forehead, crown and throat are dull yellow, to a varying extent. The male has a faded black eye-stripe rather than a well-defined one typical of other fodies. Adult female (photo left) and juvenile toc-tocs are mostly olive-grey in colour with a slightly darker back and wings. An unusual feature in this species is the variable number of white primary coverts in many males and some females (see photos here).

    The Seychelles Fody is present on six islands: Cousin, Cousine, Frégate, Aride (reintroduced in 2002), d'Arros (introduced in 1965) and Denis (introduced 2004). The map above shows some of these islands circled in red; d'Arros is far to the left off the map, and Denis far to the north. Before European settlement it was probably widely distributed in the Seychelles, but only confirmed from Marianne, Cousin, Cousine and Frégate. By the 1940s it was extinct on Marianne. The increase in the Cousin lsland population, and successful reintroduction to Aride and Denis lslands resulted in the fody being downlisted from Vulnerable to Near threatened.

    The toc-toc is mainly insectivorous but also feeds on seed, fruit and nectar. It may be unique among weavers in its habit of rarely feeding on the eggs of seabirds. The oldest known Seychelles Fody is at least 9 years old (see here).

    It is a socially monogamous weaver. The peak breeding season, between May and October, coincides with the southeast monsoon or dry season but toc-tocs may breeding all year round. One, but more often two eggs are laid in a globular, enclosed, woven nest (photo left) and incubation is done entirely by the female. Both sexes participate in nest building, nestling and fledgling care. After fledging, parents attend their young for an average of 12 weeks, much longer than in other weavers.
    An interesting study found post-fledging brood division between the sexes on Cousin, i.e. the parent male feeds male fledglings and the parent female feeding male fledglings; single fledglings are cared for only by the female parent; in the few observed broods with 2 female offspring, the male parent cares for one of them.

    See a video clip of the antics of a pair of Seychelles Fodies collecting nest material here.

    See a summary of PHOWN records for the Seychelles Fody here.


    2012-07-11 Doug Harebottle 
    Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site atlasing weekend 14-16 September 

    Here is a message from Alan Lee about an atlasing expedition to the Baviaanskloof. Alan is busy with a post-doc project on climate change and Fynbos birds and has been cycling through large areas of the Fynbos biome in the Eastern Cape collecting bird data in the region. You can read more about his adventures on his blog site.

    "The Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) is happy to invite atlasers to improve SABAP2 coverage in the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site for the weekend 14 - 16  September 2012.

    Reserve management has kindly offered the free entry and use of Geelhoutbos as a base, as well as field ranger support and safety briefings. This is a chance to for some adventurous atlasers to see parts of the Baviaanskloof normally closed to the public and to meet other atlasers, key ECPTA staff and the Friends of Baviaankloof Wilderness Area. There are also opportunities to altas areas outside of the Baviaanskloof, but those interested in this will need to make their own arrangements.

    Access to the core area requires 4x4. To get to Geelhoutbos, participants will need a vehicle with high ground clearance (4x4 is preferable, although not essential).

    Facilities at Geelhoutbos are very basic, so participants would need to be self-sufficient in terms of food and camping equipment. There is plenty of space to camp and there is also an unfurnished wood cabin that can be used.

    Entrance fees are waived for birders involved in the survey and for partners. Any other participants will have to pay normal entry fee. Group size is limited to 30.

    Please send your statement of interest before 20 August 2012."

    We hope that many atlasers - particularly those in the Eastern Cape - will be able to take up this opportunity and join Alan in what promises to be an exciting and fun-filled atlasing bash in the wilderness landscapes of the Baviaanskloof.


    2012-07-10 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday: Sweet Thorn – Soetdoring – Acacia karroo 

    Acacia karroo ViTH16 Renier BaltViTH logoThere are two records of Acacia karroo in the Virtual Tree Herbarium of the Virtual Museum of the ADU. The Sweet Thorn (Soetdoring) occurs to the west and south of the Drakensberg in nearly every type of habitat – from desert-type to temperate – except where the soils are acidic and where it is cold and wet during winter. In heavier, deep clay soils it resembles a shrub-like tree, otherwise it can reach heights of up to 15 m – mostly it grows to between 3–5 m tall. In drier areas it is found along water courses and it is considered as a good indicator of where water can be found in the the arid parts of southern Africa. In typical savanna it is associated with the "rooigras" (Themeda triandra). It prefers alkaline soils with a high calcium content and is found from Zambia and Angola in the north to the Western Cape in the south. These trees are considered to be good indicators of sweet veld and good grazing for livestock and game.

    The Sweet Thorn is evergreen with thorns in pairs on the branches. Leaves are compound with 2–3 pairs of pinnae. The pinnae bear 5–15 pairs of oblong leaflets. Inflorescences are most striking from October to February and are in the form of small yellow balls in groups of 1–7. Acacia karroo ViTH16 Renier Balt It is not borne amongst the leaves, but at the ends of stems on short branchlets. The flowers consist of 34–100 bisexual flowers with a few male flowers amongst them. The flowers have a distinctive sweet smell. The seed pods are curved to a form a sickle and have constrictions between the 8–10 seeds borne in the pod.

    Livestock and game graze on the leaves and flowers, while the pods make an excellent fodder. The leaves, young shoots and thorns are the larval food for a host of butterfly species. The trees have an abundance of pollen and nectar – bees make a very distinctive tasting, light-coloured honey when the trees flower. It attracts lots of insects and insectivorous birds. Birds are fond of nesting in the thorny branches as this keeps away predators. Bark is used in tanning of leather and the reddish to golden-yellow gum from the trees is edible. Strong rope can be twisted from the the inner bark.

    We need lots of citizen scientists to collect photos of this and other tree species and submit it to the Virtual Tree Herbarium. Both photos for today's tree were taken from ViTH record 16.


    2012-07-09 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weekly weaver series  

    1. Weaver Wednesday is a new series started in June 2012 to describe each weaver species on a weekly basis, focusing on distribution, subspecies, and breeding records. This is part of the Animal Demography Unit daily series to describe species biodiversity. On the ADU home page you can read a story daily in this series, as follows: Weaver Wednesday, Threat Thursday (a threatened species), Stats Saturday, Frog Friday, Snake Sunday, Mad Mammal Monday, and Tree Tuesday.

    If you missed the previous Weaver Wednesday items, find a listing on the Weaver Species page: click in the last column to see the news item for those species already covered - the WW number shows the sequence in which the species was covered.

    Species featured thus far are:
    [1]: Red-headed Weaver
    [2]: White-browed Sparrow-Weaver
    [3]: Yellow-crowned Bishop

    2. Weekly Weaver Paper will provide details about an interesting paper featuring weavers. This has been an irregular news item, but will now run regularly on Mondays. It will feature a recently published paper, or else a key paper published in the past. It may also be a book or field guide in which weavers are listed. An abstract and/or comments will be provided. If you have recently published a paper about weavers, please let me know! See previous announcements of weaver literature here.

    Other than Mondays and Wednesdays, there will be other interesting news items to read on the weavers home page, so be sure to bookmark this page!


    2012-07-09 Tali Hoffman 
    Happy MAD MAMMAL MONDAY: it is the turn of the DUGONG 

    ARKive photo - Dugong feedingHappy MAD MAMMAL MONDAY! Today we return to the sea and meet the only marine mammal that is an exclusive plant-eater: the dugong (Dugong dugon; IUCN status: Vulnerable). This seagrass feeder, also commonly called the 'sea cow' favours shallow and protected coastal waters in tropical areas.

    Both dugongs and their close freshwater relative – manatees (to be featured in the Mad Mammal Monday series soon) – have pectoral mammary glands that closely resemble (closely enough, anyway) human breasts. These features, as well as the animals nursing behaviour, may have caused sailors to liken them to mermaids or sirens; hence the name of the order to which they belong: 'Sirenia.'

    Dugongs can be extremely long-lived, reaching ages of 70 years or more.

    Group sizes appear to be flexible with animals living alone, in pairs or in large groups; however the most stable and long-lasting groups are mother and calf pairs. The dugong has a wide range throughout the Indo-Pacific region, from the east coast of Africa to islands of the western Pacific, such as Vanuatu. However, many populations are severely depleted or almost extinct. The majority are found off the coast of northern Australia.

    For more information and more fantastic pictures of dugongs, follow this link to ARKive.

    Dugongs are part of MammalMAP, the Mammal Atlas of Africa. We'd love everyone to upload their photos of this and every other mammal species anywhere in Africa to the MammalMAP Virtual Museum. There is an active MammalMAP Facebook group. Do become part of it.


    2012-07-09 Les Underhill 
    Three new papers in Ornithological Observations: one of them is "Weaver nests as death traps"  

    Ornithological Observations logoThree papers were added to the electronic journal, Ornithological Observations, OO for short, today:

    De Swardt, DH 2012. Bird species captured in Protea roupelliae woodland and their association with Protea habitats. Ornithological Observations 2012 3:29–37.

    Oschadleus, HD 2012. Trapped! Weaver nests as death traps. Ornithological Observations 3: 38–43.

    Koeslag A 2012. Black Sparrowhawk lost battle against Egyptian Geese. Ornithological Observations 3:44–45.

    Dawie de Swardt's paper provides valuable background information to last weeks Latest News item entitled Gurney's Sugardbird: this is not a sweet story. Ann Koeslag's note describes an amazing incident in which a Black Sparrowhawk was killed by a pair of Egyptian Geese protecting their brood of goslings.

    Dieter Oschadleus's paper provides a review of weaver nests as death traps. Mostly, the incidents are of weavers getting entangled in both natural nest material, and unnatural nest material (eg threads of cotton). Non weavers which got entangled were species that are closely associated with weavers: Diederick Cuckoos and Pygmy Falcons. He also had a record of a dead chameleon. The paper is liberally illustrated with colour pictures, which is eminently feasible in an electronic journal. This paper is not suitable for sensitive viwers.

    Ornithological Observations accepts papers and short notes containing information about birds. This includes descriptions of distribution, behaviour, breeding, foraging, food, movement, measurements, habitat and plumage. It will also consider for publication a variety of other interesting or relevant ornithological material: reports of projects and conferences, annotated checklists for a site or region, specialist bibliographies, book reviews and any other interesting or relevant material. Further details are on the website and here are the guidelines to authors. You start your paper by downloading a Word "template" from the website, and that helps you to get the style right from the very beginning of your paper. You finish your paper by submitting it to the Editor of OO, Arnold van der Westhuizen. OO is published jointly by the Animal Demography Unit and BirdLife South Africa.


    2012-07-08 Les Underhill 
    Snake Sunday: Rinkhals 

    Rinkhals G Diedericks ReptileMAP1622This week, Snake Sunday has chosen the Rinkhals Hemachatus haemachatus. This is a venomous species of snake, endemic to southern Africa. It is closely related to the cobras, which are classified as the genus Naja. The Rinkhals is the only species in the genus Hemachatus. The scales of a Rinkhals differ from those of true cobras in that they are ridged and keel-like. Unlike the cobras it is ovoviviparous, which means the eggs are retained in the body, and the female gives birth to about 20-35 young. The Naja cobras lay eggs.

    Rinkhals M Witberg et al ReptileMAP 1622The length of an adult Rinkhals is typically about 90–110 cm. Details of colour vary, but some key characteristics are a dark belly and one or two pale bands across the throat. Some individuals have a mostly black body, while others are striped. The diet consists mainly of amphibians and it also eats small mammals and other reptiles. The venom of the rinkhals is neurotoxic. When distressed, the rinkhals spreads its hood, showing its distinctive, striped neck. It can spray its venom up to 2.5 m. It spits by rearing up and flinging its body forward to spray its venom. When confronted by a human, it generally aims its venom at the face. If the venom enters the eyes, it is really painful.

    Distribution map for Rinkhals ReptileMAPRinkhals generally occurs in grassland habitats, at rocky outcrops and along the margins of wetlands. In places it is a common snake, even in peri-urban areas. This distribution map is generated from the 714 records in the ReptileMAP database. The map shows that it occurs from sea level in the Western Cape, through the Cape Fold Mountains into the Eastern Cape, northwards along the Escarpment, through KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State grasslands into Gauteng, eastern North West Province, Mpumalanga and western Swaziland. The records in the Sutherland and Beaufort West regions of the Karoo appear to be isolated and this region needs to be investigated more closely. There are historical records in the northwestern regions of the Western Cape, but these have not been confirmed in recent years. Beyond the area shown on this map, there is population in the Inyanga Highlands area of eastern Zimbabwe.

    On this ReptileMAP distribution map, only 42 out of 714 records have been made since 2000. The other records are mostly from the literature and from specimens, and go back a century and more. These two pictures are selected from the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. The photo on the right was submitted by G. Diedericks and is ReptileMAP 1622 and the photo on the left was submitted by M. Witberg and team and is ReptileMAP 5293. Please help build the 21st century distribution map for this, and all other reptiles, by submitting your photographs to ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. Up to date distribution maps are critical for species conservation.


    2012-07-07 Les Underhill 
    Cameras installed at Verreaux's Eagle nest  

    Megan Murgatroyd and Mark Cowan

    Meg Murgatroyd is an ADU PhD student, researching Verreaux's Eagles. One of the comparisons she is making is between eagles breeding in the Cederberg (a wilderness area about 250 km north of Cape Town in the Western Cape), and those breeding in the adjacent agricultural areas of the Sandveld. She keeps us up to date with progress with her project through her blog, The Black Eagle Project. (Verreaux's Eagles are still known exclusively as Black Eagles by the communities in the areas in which Meg works!).

    Now that her study pairs have firmly settled down to their incubation routine, it was time to get cameras trained on six nests, three in the Cederberg and three in the Sandveld. These will enable the provisioning rates to be determined without anyone actually monitoring the nests, a minimal disturbance approach. Meg writes in her blog: "On Tuesday evening we picked up Mark Cowan in Clanwilliam to drive out to the Sandveld ready for the first camera deployment on Wednesday. Mark is a freelance climber with a wealth of experience ranging from putting up the latest whale skeletons at the Iziko Museum to abseiling to raptor nests for chick ringing studies. We were excited to meet and to finally get on with the daunting challenge we had – to put up six nest cameras at Black Eagle nests... " Darling Brew Slow Beer The story continues on her blog. (If you ever need a freelance climber, Mark's phone number is 079 321 7775!).

    All six nest cameras have been sponsored by Darling Brew Slow Beer, which represents a fantastic contribution to her research. Meg's bursary is awarded to her by the Cape Leopard Trust, with which she is closely associated. Her blog has a page called "sponsorship" and it acknowledges all the assistance she has received for this project from a variety of sources. It also has a table which lists her remaining funding needs for 2012.


    2012-07-07 Les Underhill 
    Saturday Stats 

    This is the Saturday Stats quick update on weekly progress. The week is Saturday 30 June to Friday 6 July.

    SABAP2 completed five years of fieldwork on 30 June, and started its sixth year on 1 July. This project has been so effective at monitoring birds in both space and time that it is unthinkable to stop. The 5P Celebratory Challenge starts today, 7 July. The details are here. Please report your progress on the SABAP2 Facebook group! If you are not yet part of this, do join, because lots of interesting interchanges between atlases take place there.

    During the past week, 384 checklists were submitted. Wow, that is more than 50 checklists a day. It would be fantastic if we could keep this level of momentum going. For 2012 so far, we have averaged 46 checklists per day.

    The number of records added was 16803. So the average length of this week's checklists was 44. In midsummer, when all the migrants are with us, checklists average 58 species. We cannot underline enough how important these winter checklists are, wherever you are in the atlas region. They document the absence of species, and provide the baseline against which the timing of the return of migrants can be measured.

    SABAP2 coverage map 6 July 2012An impressive 41 pentads were atlased for the first time. 19 of these were in the Northern Cape, and the remainder spread around the remaining regions fairly evenly. 24 pentads got their second checklist (and changed from YELLOW to ORANGE on the coverage map). 35.3% of all pentads are ORANGE or darker. With overall coverage at 62.0%, subtraction tells us that 26.7% of pentads have exactly one checklist. 12 pentads got their fourth checklist (and changed from ORANGE to LIGHT GREEN). 20.5% of all pentads are GREEN or darker. Turning the 26.7% of YELLOW pentads to ORANGE, and then moving them on to LIGHT GREEN is an important new goal for the project. Let's GREEN this coverage map.

    SABAP2012 was also a winner of the week. 120 pentads were added. These are pentads which had not been atlased earlier in 2012 (41 were new to the project, and 79 had been atlased in previous years but which were visited for the first time in 2012!). SABAP2012 is on 18.95%, with an initial goal of overtaking SABAP2011, which reached 31.5%.

    SABAP2 in Namibia reached 1% coverage. Each 1% increase in coverage in Namibia needs another 106 pentads to be atlased, so it is a huge challenge. We will get a "gap analysis" on the website for Namibia soon, but as Holger Kolberg, who is leading SABAP2 in Namibia says: "1% coverage means that 99% has yet to be covered so at the moment we have more gaps than non-gap." All atlasers visiting Namibia are encouraged to atlas, and it is clear that "incidendental records" and "ad hoc lists" are going to be even more important in Namibia than they are in the remaining SABAP2 region.


    2012-07-06 Doug Harebottle 
    The 5P anniversary challenge 

    To mark five years of SABAP2, the 5P Celebratory Challenge kicks off tomorrow. This challenge will encompass 5Ps - Peaks, Ponds, Parks, People and Pentads. The 5P Celebratory Challenge aims to get atlasers to cover a whole set of attributes over a five week period from 7 July-12 August.

    Basically what we would like atlasers to do is five P-things each week:

    Peak - atlas the high ground of a pentad - especially the parts that are a bit off-road, and need to be reached on foot

    Pond - atlas a pentad that includes any water, from a farm dam to that biggest pond of all, the ocean

    Park - atlas a pentad that includes a protected area, or an IBA

    People - take along someone who has never atlased before, and train them up so that they get involved

    Pentad - atlas a priority pentad, one that is brand new, or one which is YELLOW (one checklist only) or ORANGE (two or three checklists) on the coverage map.

    Tell the world about your progress via Facebook, SABirdnet, the regional birdnets. The SABAP2 group on Facebook is at --- join the 466 people who already belong. Take this opportunity to tell as many people as possible about SABAP2 and your involvement.

    There is thus a potential of getting 25 lists over the five weeks - five pentads with mountains, five pentads that include a wetland, five pentads that include a protected area or IBA, five pentads with a new recruit, and five new (or nearly new) pentads. You can combine surveys, so that you can atlas a new pentad with a new observer and this will count for two Ps, or a new pentad with a new observer in a reserve would 'count' as three Ps.

    During the five weeks please consider doing a sixth P - take Pictures of mammals, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies, weaver nests and trees while you are out atlasing and upload these to the Virtual Museum ( --- your email/password login enables you to upload photos to the various ADU Virtual Museums).This is a good opportunity to collect as much biodiversity information as possible.

    This is truly an exciting, all-encompasing challenge to motivate, encourage and inspire you to cover some new habitats, recruit a birding friend or two to join you and introduce them to atlasing and visit some of our protected areas, including Important Bird Areas (IBAs). It's a great way to celebrate five years of SABAP2 and to start the next five years.

    This is a fun challenge. There will be no points and no running tally, just personal satisfaction and bragging rights for those who like a challenge...and ultimately celebrate citizen science in action. 


    2012-07-06 Les Underhill 
    TGIFF – Thank Goodness Its Frog Friday! – Cape Mountain Rain Frog 

    Cape Mountain Rain Frog Breviceps montanus Trevor HardakerAs far as frogs go, there is no group anywhere in the world that looks as sad and grumpy as the rain frogs (the genus Breviceps). These frogs, with their down-turned ends to their mouths, are popular photographic subjects as well, just because they look so different to the "conventional" frogs. The Cape Mountain Rain Frog Breviceps montanus is one member of this group that inhabits the tops and slopes of mountains. Although it is generally associated with montane fynbos, it can also occasionally be found in altered habitats such as pine plantations. The high-pitched whistle-like call that it gives is a well-known sound to many people who might walk along any mountain chain in the Western Cape. It is a burrowing species that does not inhabit water nor, in fact, needs to be associated with water in any way.

    Cape Mountain Rain Frog Breviceps montanus FrogMAP distributionWith its squat, rotund body and short and stumpy limbs, it is quite a comical looking character. The colour on the upper side is of variable shades of brown and/or grey, with light patches running down the back that are fused into a scalloped band with ridged edges. There is a broad dark line running from the eye to the region of the arm. The underside colouring is light brown or grey with scattered dark flecks but the throat area is generally dark. When disturbed, these frogs have the ability to inflate their bodies dramatically as a defence mechanism to deter predators.

    Little is known about the breeding of this species. It calls, both day and night, mainly in winter and spring, but has also been recorded calling in January. These advertisement calls of the males are generally associated with damp conditions caused by rain or heavy mist. Besides calling from ground level positions, breeding males also call from elevated positions in vegetation. The Cape Mountain Rain Frog is endemic to the Western Cape within which it has a relatively wide distribution. This extends through the Cape Fold Mountains from the Cederberg area in the northwest to the Outeniqua Mountains (above Knysna) in the southeast, and also includes the Cape Peninsula Mountains. Currently, its conservation status is considered to be not threatened.

    The "frog atlas" says: "Breviceps montanus occurs in relatively inaccessible mountain areas not surveyed during the atlas period. The eastern limits of its distribution, in particular, are not yet certain." Please help us build the 21st century distribution for this, and all other, species of frog by submitting your photos (and your recordings of calls) to the FrogMAP Virtual Museum.

    Trevor Hardaker chose the Cape Mountain Rain Frog as the species for today's Frog Friday, and the photograph at the top is also one of his. Thanks, Trevor.


    2012-07-05 Les Underhill 
    Threat Thursday, focusing on the "Endangered" Bank Cormorant 

    Bank Cormorants on the short arm on Robben Island

    Bank Cormorants 1The Bank Cormorant is one of South Africa's most threatened seabirds. It breeds only in South Africa and Namibia. Along with the African Penguin, it is classified as "Endangered" – these are the two "Endangered" seabirds breeding in this area. But cormorants are not as charismatic and glamorous as penguins, so they don't have the same appeal. But the Bank Cormorant has the most beautiful eye of almost any bird species – however, you have to be really close up to see it and appreciate that this is not just another uninteresting dull black species!

    The Bank Cormorant is one of ADU postdoc Katta Ludynia's study species. She says: "The global population size has decreased from around 9000 breeding pairs in the late 1970s to around 3000 pairs currently. Of these 2500 are in Namibia and only 500 in South Africa. In other words, Bank Cormorants have decreased in numbers by 67% in the last 40 years. Mercury Island currently holds almost 70% of the world's population and is by far the largest breeding colony. The reasons for the dramatic population decline on Ichaboe Island, previously the main breeding locality besides Mercury Island, are not understood well. We need to understand why certain populations are doing relatively well (like Robben Island and Mercury Island) whereas numbers of birds at other colonies continue to decrease. Food availability, climatic effects as well as breeding habitat may be key issues. We also need a better knowledge about movements of birds between colonies."

    Corlia setting up cameras on Robben IslandBesides Katta, three other members of the ADU are focused on research to understand the reasons for the decrease in Bank Cormorant numbers: Richard Sherley is a postdoc, and Corlia Meyer and Philna Botha are MSc students. The top picture shows the study site on Robben Island under surveillance, and the picture alongside shows Corlia setting up one of the cameras. Richard's PhD thesis has a chapter on factors that impact the breeding success of Bank Cormorants on Robben Island; it was published late last year as a paper: "Storms and heat limit the nest success of Bank Cormorants: implications of climate change." The ADU Latest News announcing this is here.


    2012-07-04 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Weaver Wednesday: Yellow-crowned Bishop  

    Today's weaver is the Yellow-crowned Bishop, one of 17 species in the genus Euplectes. The genus consists of the bishops and widows and they are part of the true weavers subfamily since they also weave their nests (unlike sparrow-weavers and buffalo weavers). Male bishops and widows are black or black with coloured patches of red, orange or yellow. In some species males have long tails. Females, and males in the non-breeding plumage, are dull coloured.

    Bishops and widows are polygnous and the female incubates the eggs and feeds the chicks. The nest is oval or ball-shaped with a side entrance and is usually well hidden.

    The Yellow-crowned Bishop feeds mainly on grass seeds and often shows local nomadic movements. It is small with a short tail. The male in breeding plumage is black with golden upperparts other than a black nape band. The width of the nape band and the amount of yellow on the sides of the neck varies in the different subspecies.

    The Yellow-crowned Bishop has a patchy distribution spread across sub-Saharan Africa. There are three subspecies:
    Euplectes afer afer is found in western Africa (light blue on map);
    E a strictus is found in Ethiopia (green on map);
    E a taha is found in southern to eastern Africa (red on map).
    In southern Africa a comparison of SABAP1 and SABAP2 shows many new records for this species around the edge of its range. In particular, there seems to be a range expansion into the Western Cape.

    Displaying males are attractive as they fluff out the yellow feathers on the back while flying over their territories. The nest is an oval ball, built of grass strips and lined with grass seedheads. The nest is supported by vertical grass stalks with a side entrance near the top. The nest is built by the male - the female lines the nest. Nests are well hidden in a tuft of grass, sometimes in bushes, or in rushes and sedges. Nests are usually in waterlogged or flooded areas, <1 m above the ground or water surface. The clutch size is 2-4 (mean 3).

    There is currently one PHOWN record for this species, showing a typical nest (phown 22). The challenge for PHOWNers is to find nests of the Yellow-crowned Bishop, and of other bishop and widow species. Patience is needed, but nest finding is greatly rewarding. Needless to say, care needs to be taken to not disturb nests nor to damage nests while searching for them.

    See a summary of breeding information for the Yellow-crowned Bishop here.


    2012-07-04 Les Underhill 
    Congratulations to Lauren Waller on her appointment as Regional Ecologist within CapeNature 

    Lauren Waller Cape Nature Regional Ecologist Congratulations to Lauren Waller on her appointment by CapeNature to the position of Regional Ecologist for the Breede Region of the Western Cape. Lauren graduated with a PhD The African Penguin Spheniscus demersus: conservation and management issues in December last year. She has worked for CapeNature in a variety of capacities since 2001, starting off by leading clearing programmes for invasive alien plants. So she has a broad range of experiences within the organisation.

    CapeNature's Regional Ecologists, one for each of its regions, are at the cutting edge of decisions relating to biodiversity conservation, so this is a position that carries big responsibilities.

    Lauren maintains a strong link with the ADU, because she is cosupervisor of the MSc project of Yolo Galada. Yolo is helping to maintain the African Penguin monitoring on Dyer Island that was a critical component of Lauren's PhD research.


    2012-07-04 Les Underhill 
    Poster: Dangerous Snakes of South Africa 

    Johan Marais Poster Dangerous SnakesAll fieldwork involves some risks. One of the smallest risks, but nonetheless a real one, is the risk of being bitten by a venomous snake. There are more than 130 snake species in South Africa. 12 of these have caused human fatalities. Although snake bite is rare, it is of utmost importance to follow the right procedures in the event of an emergency.

    Johan Marais is a well-known herpetologist. He was chair of the Steering Committee for the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA). He is also the author of the Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He runs snake awareness courses! Johan has recently developed an A3-size poster Dangerous snakes of South Africa, a small version of which is shown here. This illustrates the dozen snakes of South Africa which have resulted in human deaths. Johan says "I am providing this poster free within South Africa, excluding postage and packaging. I already have over 1000 orders – please email me if you would like a copy." Johan's email address is You can also download the A3 poster from his website


    2012-07-03 Les Underhill 
    Tree Tuesday: Kokerboom Aloe dichotoma 

    Quiver Tree Kokerboom Aloe dichotoma Arnold van der WesthuizenQuiver Tree Kokerboom Aloe dichotoma Arnold van der WesthuizenToday's plant for Tree Tuesday is not a tree in the real sense of the word – it is a succulent, but in vernacular it is known as the Quiver Tree, and in Afrikaans as Kokerboom. Aloe dichotoma is arguably the best known of the Aloe species of southern Africa where it is an indigenous plant. It can reach up to 7 m in height, is extremely hardy and can attain an age of 80 years or more. In South Africa it is found in the Northern Cape in Namaqualand and Bushmanland and in Namibia it is found all across the south of the country northwards to about 21°S along the central escarpment. Its IUCN threat status is "Vulnerable."

    When the plants flower large numbers of sunbirds feed on the nectar produced in the inflorescences. Sociable Weavers use the trees to build their communal nests (see here for an example of a Kokerboom almost overwhelmed by a nest!). With the virtually unscalable trunk, this tree provides a safe haven from predators. The bark on the trunk peels off in flat "sheets" and forms interesting patterns. The edges of these scales can be razor sharp.

    Quiver Tree Kokerboom Aloe dichotoma Arnold van der WesthuizenThe branches of this distinctive tree are covered with a fine white powder to reflect the rays of the sun. Short, fat, lance-shaped leaves are born in rosettes on the tips of the thick forked branches (hence the specific name – dichotoma means "forked"). Bright yellow flowers can be seen from early to late winter, after which the thick fleshy seed pods are formed. The young flower buds can be eaten – they have the taste of asparagus.

    In the past the indigenous San-people used hollowed out branches to form a quiver in which their poisoned arrows were transported. ViTH logoThis use of the branches gave the plant it English vernacular names. The thick trunk of dead trees can be hollowed out to from a "natural cooler" to keep perishables cool in summer.

    Help us to map the distribution of this, and all other species of, tree by contributing photos with their geographical coordinates to the Virtual Tree Herbarium (ViTH) – a project of the ADU in collaboration with Professor Michelle van der Bank and her team at the University of Johannesburg.


    2012-07-03 Dieter Oschadleus 
    European Cuckoo migration 

    In 2011 the BTO attached satellite-tracking devices to Cuckoos from Norfolk to find out more about their important stop-over sites and wintering destinations on the way to and from Africa. Now in 2012 they have expanded this to include tagged birds from Wales and Scotland. Many things have been learned from the 2011 data about Early departure dates, Variety of routes south, etc - read more here.

    The current batch of cuckoos have started their journey south - track them here.





    2012-07-03 Dieter Oschadleus 
    Sociable Weaver range expansion 

    While atlasing last week Doug Harebottle and Arnold van der Westhuizen found a slight range expansion in the Sociable Weaver. Doug wrote the following:

    "Arnold and I spent last week near Springbok doing some wind farm assessment work and we came across six Sociable Weaver nests/colonies. The farmers said that the birds only moved in in the last five or so years. Checking SABAP2 and PHOWN records shows that these are quite westerly records for South Africa and show definite range expansion since SABAP1. Four colonies are using Kokerbome (Quiver Trees), one using a telephone pole and one using a dead tree. Only two colonies (on the same farm) had birds entering or leaving chambers."

    The two active colonies are phown 2516 (left) and phown 2524 (right). To view all the colonies from Doug and Arnold's trip, see here.

    The Sociable Weaver is expected to expand its range as climate change results in the arid region in southern Africa becoming larger (see also Most southerly colony). You can contribute to tracking the changes in the weaver's breeding range. Every time you travel into the range of the Sociable Weaver, record the first colony you find and submit to PHOWN. To see all current Sociable Weaver records, and its range, see species summary.


    2012-07-02 Dieter Oschadleus 
    First PHOWN record from Sudan  

    The first PHOWN record from Sudan has been submitted by Noon Eltahir. The record is of a male Village Weaver building a new nest near the capital Khartoum. Nikolaus (1987 Distribution atlas of Sudan's birds with notes on habitat and status) recorded 44 weaver species from Sudan, although some of these were rare records. One additional species has been recorded: Slender-billed Weaver. The more common (at least locally) weaver species are: Thick-billed Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop, White-winged Widowbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Yellow Bishop, Northern Red Bishop, Black-winged Bishop, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Red-headed Malimbe, Cinnamon Weaver (endemic), Village Weaver, Rüppell's Weaver, Brown-capped Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Little Weaver, Black-billed Weaver, Vieillot's Black Weaver, Compact Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, White-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, Grey-headed Social-weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Black-headed Weaver, Northern Masked Weaver.

    East Africa is well represented in PHOWN by the number of countries that have weaver nest records: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania. There are no PHOWN records from Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi yet.

    Photo: Village Weaver nest in Sudan (N Eltahir), Phown 2498.


    2012-07-02 Les Underhill 
    Happy Mad Mammal Monday : today's mammal is the Bush Pig 

    Bush Pig : John Power North West Prov GovtHappy Mad Mammal Monday! Today we return to the larger mammals and introduce a critter sometimes confused with a warthog. The Bush Pig Potamochoerus larvatus is a strong, stocky animal that is as powerful as it is cunning. Its upper tusks are barely visible, but the razor sharp lower tusks can be up to 7 cm long. The power of this pig combined with its size (its weight can exceed 100 kg), the sharpness of its tusk, and its predilection for becoming aggressive when threatened, surprised or cornered, make this an animal worth viewing from afar. One difference between Warthogs and Bush Pigs: Warthogs run with their tails up; BushPigs run with their tails down!

    Bush Pig : D Kamffer MammalMAP369Humans and bushpigs frequently come into contact. This is because this root, tuber and fruit loving pig has cleverly learnt where the richest and most concentrated food sources are – on farms. Naturally, this makes the relationship between farmers and bushpigs tenuous to say the least. Bush pigs are found in southern and east Africa, with some expansions in their range being attributed to their adaptable diet, and the decline of their most common predator – the leopard. There are very few photographs of these animals in the wild – but we already have eight in the MammalMAP Virtual Museum, and two of these are on display here. John Power (North West Province) submitted the delightful camera trap picture above (MammalMAP 2252) and the photo on the left was submitted by D. Kamffer (MammalMAP 369). Please help us to clarify exactly where these animals live today by submitting your bushpig records (photo and location) to the MammalMAP Virtual Museum.


    2012-07-01 Les Underhill 
    ... it all adds up to Snake Sunday, with the Cape Berg Adder  

    ReptileMAP distribution from ReptileMAP

    The snake we focus on this week is the Cape Berg Adder Bitis atropos. The range of lengths of an adult is mostly 30–40 cm, occasionally reaching 50 cm. Its venom is neurotoxic, but the amount injected when it strikes is not enough to kill a person, and no human fatalities have been recorded. Its diet is mostly lizards and amphibians.

    Cape Berg Adder SARCA1150 J Theron G DiederikcsThe reptile atlas demonstrates that there are three geographically distinct populations of Cape Berg Adders in South Africa: the first in the Cape Fold Mountains in the Western and Eastern Cape, a second in the Drakensberg in Lesotho and adjacent parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Eastern Cape, and a third in Mpumalanga and the Limpopo escarpment. There is a fourth population in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and adjacent Mozambique. It is thus endemic to southern Africa: it only occurs in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It was not placed in a threat category. Currently, there are no subspecies recognized. Given the isolation of the four populations, it seems a good suggestion for research to undertake a molecular analysis on the four geographically isolated populations to see if they are also distinct genetically. For many species of reptiles, these isolated populations appear similar, but the genetic analyses reveal that they are distinct. These are known as "cryptic species."

    Cape Berg Adder SARCA582 JC ElsCape Berg Adders occur in the Grassland and Fynbos Biomes. They are found on mountain slopes and summits where the vegetation is grass or restios. When disturbed it takes refuge under rock slabs and tussocks of grass. In Zimbabwe, it occurs at altitudes between 1500 m and 3000 m but in the Western and Eastern Cape it occurs down to sea level.

    The distribution map above is based on 658 distribution records, and they occurred in 121 quarter degree grid cells. 644 records were of specimens, mostly in museums, and these date back over decades, to the start of the 20th century. These are the orange squares in the map above. Three specimen records were deemed uncertain or unreliable, and these are shown with question marks in the distribution map. Only 14 of these records are "Virtual Museum" records (torquoise circles in the map above), and the photographs associated with two of these are featured here: number 582 by JC Els, and number 1150, by J Theron and G Diedericks. One of the virtual museum records, number 1391, is a photograph by Res Altwegg which extended the known range into the quarter degree grid cell 3319DC in the Western Cape. Please help fill in the gaps in reptile distribution by submitting photos to the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum, and help build up the 21st century distribution maps of reptiles, which are vital to conservation.


    2012-06-30 Les Underhill 
    Farewell, Jorinde Prokosch, our Norwegian master's student for the first half of 2012 

    Jorinde Prokosch on the rock face

    In the early days of January this year, we welcomed Jorinde Prokosch to the ADU. Jorinde is an MSc student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim, Norway, and she has been part of the ADU for the first half of the year undertaking a final project before completing her degree in Mathematics. For this project she completed a magnificent analysis of the dataset which Steve Piper diligently compiled during his multi-year Long-tailed Wagtail monitoring in the Palmiet River valley in Westville, KwaZulu-Natal. Jorinde did this analysis in collaboration with ADU Honorary Research Associate Res Altwegg.

    Jorinde's time in Cape Town was a kaleidascopic blend of work and fun – the picture above is strong evidence of the latter. She writes: "I have learned a lot in Cape Town! First of all the project at the ADU was very new for me. It was interesting working with real data and to apply the mathematical theory I have learnt. I'm also very happy that I joined TeachOut where I taught mathematics to learners in a township once a week. That was a nice way to get to know different cultures in Cape Town.

    "I also got the opportunity to join the UCT Mountain and Ski Club and to go hiking and climbing. Cape Town gave me my first experience to climb outdoors and I enjoyed it a lot! I will try to continue climbing here in Norway.

    "I feel that I used my time in Cape Town very well by combining the project at the ADU with meeting friends and outdoor activity. I'm also really happy that I got the opportunity to travel a little bit around South Africa and Lesotho. I definitely want to come back to Cape Town, either for staying for a longer period or for a visit.

    "Thank you very, very much for letting me be a part of ADU! I had such a good time."

    The ADU has a long track record of providing MSc students from European universities with the opportunities to do the final project for their degrees. Two of them have returned to do PhDs, and we hope that Jorinde will be the third.


    2012-06-30 Les Underhill 
    Book launch: Philip Theron's The Untold Adventures of Howard the African Hadeda – The Valley of Bones 

    Howard signature

    Philip Theron Howard the Hadeda launchAuthor Philip Theron tells the adventures of Howard the Hadeda. He invited the Animal Demography Unit to the booklaunch and I volunteered to do a talk about Hadedas and the ADU's research into this iconic African bird. Here is Philip doing what authors love to do at a launch: reading a couple of paragraphs from the book: "Howard wrote this story for children, to read to their disbelieving parents."

    One reviewer says: "Both the young and the young at heart can be eternally thankful that these adventures didn't remain untold. Quirky, funny and determined, Howard the Hadeda is an intriguing creation and a storyteller of note – the perfect companion if you want to let your imagination take wing. So fly away, and see what is beyond the horizon."

    Wire sculpture of Howard auctionedHoward the Hadeda even has a blog; you find it at

    A delightful wire sculpture of Howard was auctioned during the launch, and the proceeds were donated to the ADU. The link to the ADU was fostered by the ADU's Hadeda Ibis Project, which generated the data for Greg Duckworth's MSc, which was awarded with distinction last year in December. Greg's research helped explain why the Hadeda has been able to expand its range so rapidly.

    Howard the Hadeda is published by Hibbard Publishers, in Pretoria, and if you are interested in buying a copy, the email address is

    The launch took place at the The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cape Town, which proved an excellent venue for the function.


    2012-06-30 Les Underhill 
    BOP, the Virtual Museum for Birds with Odd Plumages is about to score a yellow-form Crimson-breasted Shrike 

    Yellow form of Crimson-breasted Shrike, by Elsa Bussiere

    Two of the ADU's postgraduate students, Elsa Bussiere and