BioMAPping in Lockdown – Corrie du Toit shares her experience

It has been more than 65 days since lockdown began here in South Africa, but that has not stopped citizen scientists from biomapping! We have been overwhelmed by the determination and enthusiasm shown by citizen scientists across the country and continent. Biodiversity data has poured into the Virtual Museum as biomappers refuse to let their love and passion for nature wane in the face of lockdown. Citizen scientists turned their mapping efforts to the confines of their homes and gardens (and even the blue skies up above!) and just kept on biomapping. We will be sharing some of their stories over the next while…

Please tell us a bit about yourself, a paragraph or two, and why do you love biomapping?

I was privileged to grow up in close contact with nature on a farm in the Paardeberg district of Paarl, Western Cape. My mother taught me the beautiful common names of wild flowers that grew on the uncultivated parts of veld, and I loved to slip away from my four younger siblings to enjoy the marvels of nature, which included picking waterblommetjies and sniffing out the wonderfully aromatic fruit of koekemakrankas.

My husband of 54 years, Ben, whom I first met on the slopes of Simonsberg while we were students at Stellenbosch, has always shared my intense love for nature. At this stage we are looking back on a lifetime of adventures and scores of hiking and camping tours with our family of five children through southern Africa as well as Europe and the British Isles. Now we are privileged to spend our golden years of retirement in the beautiful, safe environment of Schonenberg Estate in Somerset West with nature on our doorstep.

Since the early nineties our family has been hooked on birdwatching, and for the past ten years Ben and I  both had cameras to add a new dimension to our birding experience together.  Soon after we moved to Schonenberg some five years ago,  I was looking through our bedroom window one early November day, and noticed a large shimmering blue and green flying jewel patrolling a stretch of vlei outside –  to and fro it flew, swerving and turning with the utmost ease and grace.  I was fascinated.  A new world opened up before me. I am still fascinated beyond measure.

Cape Skimmer OdonataMAPped by Corrie in her garden

As soon as I  learnt how to photograph and identify a dragonfly, I started exploring the numerous green areas and ponds in the estate. I discovered an amazing world of tiny damselflies and butterflies too, and numerous other little creatures: bees, spiders, reptiles to name a few. I stumbled across the Facebook group for dragons and damsels, befriended numerous other odonata-lovers, joined a group on outings to odonata hotspots like Kogelberg and Jonkershoek Nature Reserves, and learnt how to submit every photographic record of whatever living creature to the Virtual Museum.

What has your experience been during lockdown and has biomapping helped you in any way to cope with these new challenges we face?

When lockdown started, we had been planning a tour to join a BioBash at the new dragonfly mecca, Swadini, in Mpumalanga Province and to visit the Kruger National Park. I had a long list of new species that I hoped to find there.

Ben and I understood and shared each other’s intense disappointment. We had to cancel all accommodation reservations.  In an effort to cheer ourselves and each other up, we grabbed our cameras and started working on a lockdown list of birds seen from our small patch of garden and bedroom window overlooking a wetland area.  Common sparrows, wagtails and starlings suddenly reached record status in on BirdPix in the Virtual Museum.

Of course every single insect and other living creature that dared to show itself within reach of my lens was photographed and recorded too, even a rat chased by a cat in the street!

Undoubtedly a shift of focus away from everything we missed and the freedom of movement we had to give up, towards the beauty of the treasures that I could still find around me and in the sky above, played a pivotal role in helping me to cope and to find joy despite the deeply frustrating lockdown restrictions.

A Jackal Buzzard being taunted by a Pied Crow

Where have you been biomapping during lockdown and what has the experience been like for you?

During the first 3 weeks our photographic efforts were confined to our small patch of garden, the paved street outside the low garden wall where birds feasted on the olives fallen from a tree two houses from ours, and the view from our bedroom window over a grassy wetland area, partly obscured by a wild olive tree. I had to stand on a plastic step to be able to maneuver the 400 mm lens at an awkward angle through the opening of a small tilted window.  

Levaillant’s cisticola with a mouthful of Cape Autumn Widow

Despite the challenge I managed to get some decent photo’s of a Jackal buzzard harassed by a crow, a Levaillant’s cisticola catching a Cape Autumn Widow, a Silver-bottom Brown butterfly in the long grass,  a dragonfly sunning itself in the late afternoon sun, and – unbelievably – even a “lifer”: a White-barred Emperor that glided through the air one warm April morning and came to rest right in front of me on the wild olive tree. Each successful photo through that window was a complete triumph that boosted my spirit.

Silver-bottom Brown or Tower-bruintjie Pseudonympha magusLepiMAPped by Corrie

During May the bitou plants all over the estate were in full bloom, and no insect could resist the display of yellow flowers. Neither could I resist the temptation to walk to the nearest shrub a little later than nine in the morning!

Have you learnt anything new?

I have realised anew how resilient human nature is to adapt to adverse circumstances, and how dependent my own physical and spiritual well being is on nature and its wondrous gifts.

Anything interesting finds during your lockdown biomapping adventures?

Just to mention the birds, I was stunned to learn from Karis Daniel that I unwittingly managed to record a long list of first records for the grid cell: first record of European Honey Buzzard; first two records (in March and April) of Greater-Striped Swallow; first record of Peregrine Falcon; first two records (both in April) of Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon; first record of Cape Wagtail; first two records of Cape Sparrow (in April and May); first Great White Pelican; First Spotted Thick-Knee for 2020; first Black-Shouldered (Winged) Kite for 2020!

Surely it gives me great pleasure to find and share the beauty of the diversity of small wonders of nature that can be seen through my camera lens.  At the same time it is very rewarding to know that my humble efforts can contribute towards a better understanding and conservation of the exquisite gifts of our natural world.

A beautiful photo of a honeybee going about its business, blissfully unaware of lockdown
A gorgeous Painted Lady, always a treat to LepiMAP one of these butterflies
Megan Loftie-Eaton
Megan Loftie-Eaton
Megan is our communications, social media and citizen science coordinator. Prior to her work for the BDI, she coordinated OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata. A citizen science project run by the Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town and funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation. She also coordinated LepiMAP, which is the Atlas on African Lepidoptera. Megan is passionate about biodiversity conservation. She is a firm believer in the power of citizen science and getting the public involved in nature conservation.

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