Eastern Scissortail (Microgomphus nyassicus)

The photo above (by John Wilkinson) can be viewed in OdonataMAP here.

Microgomphus nyassicus, the Eastern Scissortail is a dragonfly in the family Gomphidae.


Medium sized

Length reaches 43mm.

Microgomphus nyassicus is the smallest gomphid species in Southern Africa.

The Eastern Scissortail has the typical yellowish-green and black colouration of many gomphid species. It is best recognised by its small size, and distinctive clasper structure. It also has unusual, thick black, looped markings on the upper thorax.

Within the sub-region, the Eastern Scissortail is most similar to the Spined Fairytail (Lestinogomphus angustus). Both species are close in size and colouration, but Lestinogomphus angustus has a far more slender abdomen and the two have very different clasper structures.

Microgomphus nyassicus – Male
Swadini, Blyde River, Mpumalanga
Photo by Antoinette Snyman
Inset image by Andries DeVries


Recorded from rocky rivers and streams in well-wooded or forested environments. Favours flowing water with large rocks and nearby cover in the form of shady vegetation and reeds.

Habitat – Swadini, Blyde River, Mpumalanga
Photo by Andries DeVries


Highly elusive and easily overlooked. Interestingly larvae, exuvia and adult females are found more often than adult males. The males appear to spend much of their time in the shade of bushes and trees some meters from the river. Active for only a short period during the hottest time of the day, where it sits on sunny boulders and reeds close to the water. Females are found among trees and bushes not too far from the water. Despite its elusiveness, the Eastern Scissortail is fairly tame and confiding.

Status and Conservation

Very little is known about this species. The paucity of records from throughout its range suggests Microgomphus nyassicus is rare, but more data is needed. It is currently listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

An exuvia, believed to belong to this species was found at Oribi Gorge, KwaZulu-Natal in 1988. Another was found near the Komati River, Mpumalanga in 2018.

The first record of an adult in South Africa, was by Antoinette Snyman on the Blyde River, Mpumalanga in May 2019. See the identification image above.


Erratically distributed in South-East Africa. Recorded from Southern DRC, Northern Zambia and Malawi as well as the border region between Zimbabwe and Mozambique and a few scattered locations in South Africa.

In South Africa it has been recorded from the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

There are no maps for this species at present.

Impacts of Rhodes on Biodiversity 1 : Eastern Grey Squirrel

Cecil John Rhodes was a dominating person in the politics of southern Africa for a few decades at the end of the nineteenth century. “One of Rhodes’ guiding principles throughout his life, that underpinned almost all of his actions, was his firm belief that the Englishman was the greatest human specimen in the world and that his rule would be a benefit to all. Rhodes was the ultimate imperialist, he believed, above all else, in the glory of the British Empire and the superiority of the Englishman and British Rule“. Given this passion for all things English, it is impossible to understand why he thought it a great idea to introduce the Eastern Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis to the grounds of his estate in Cape Town.

When Rhodes arrived in Africa in 1870 aged 17, the Eastern Grey Squirrel had not yet been introduced to England. The first introduction to England was in 1876, and there were lots of introductions after that. Within about 20 years, they expanded in their new range to include England and Wales and southern Scotland. They took to their new home like a duck takes to water, or in this case like a squirrel takes to trees. Eastern Grey Squirrels were introduced to England from the eastern USA. In spite of their total un-Englishness, Rhodes apparently decided that it would be nice to have American squirrels jumping around in the oak trees in the gardens of his Groote Schuur estate.

At the time of writing this blog, this was the 78th and most recent Eastern Grey Squirrel uploaded into MammalMAP as a photographic record. The photograph was taken by Heather and Andrew Hodgson on 27 July 2020 at the Groot Constantia Wine Estate. It is record 32972 in MammalMAP, and you can look at it here: http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=MammalMAP-32972

We don’t know exactly in which year Rhodes got his consignment of squirrels from England, but it was about 1900, so in 2020 we can “celebrate” the 220th anniversary of their introduction. They did as well here as they done in England. By 1918, they were put on the official “vermin list” of the Cape Province, and you got paid a bounty for every one you could prove you had shot. Between 1918 and 1922, the government paid out bounties for 11,188 dead squirrel specimens. Rhodes’s squirrels quickly proved an expensive “nice to have”.

During the 1940s, D.H.S. Davis worked in the “Plague Research Laboratory” of the government’s Department of Health in Johannesburg. He made visits to Cape Town, probably in a citizen scientist capacity, and made it his business to uncover the history of the squirrel in Cape Town. He interviewed both “forestry officials and private persons” who were members of the Cape Natural History Society (and therefore also citizen scientists). He wrote a paper, submitted it to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London and it was published in this journal in 1950 (“Notes on the status of the American Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin) in the south-western Cape (South Africa)” – unfortunately, the paper is not “open access”). The paper is a goldmine of carefully researched information. Nothing comparable has been published subsequently! This map, of the area of Greater Cape Town, was published in that paper.

The numbers on the map are important. Groote Schuur, where the squirrels were released is number 1. They reached the nearby suburbs (2–4) in the next few years. Tokai (5) was reached in 1908. They had expanded in the grey area of the Cape Peninsula (1–11) by 1919. Squirrels were recorded at 12 and 13 on the Cape Flats in 1932 and 1930, respectively. But they were already in the Stellenbosch and Paarl districts (14–20, 22, 23) by 1920, and reached Franschhoek (21) in 1942. They had crossed the mountains to reach the Elgin district (24–27) by 1933. The easternmost records were made in the Lebanon State Forest (28), a pine plantation, in 1948. Davis’s view was that the squirrels had not been introduced to these new locations; they dispersed naturally. The dotted area on the map were Davis’s best guess at the limits of the distribution of the Eastern Grey Squirrel when he submitted his paper in 1949.

Amazingly, the distribution remains much like this in the 21st century. Here are three maps that show the exact positions of the photographic records of Eastern Grey Squirrels in MammalMAP. These maps use the coordinates supplied by the observers. The second map zooms in on the first, and the third on the second.

This map shows the same area as Davis’s but with a bit more to the north. The distribution of records is much the same, except that there is a record from Ceres, in the northeast. But there are no records from the Elgin valley in the south. Action Point for Team Virtual Museum: Do any of the other towns in this region have squirrel populations: Villiersdorp, Caledon, Hermanus, Malmesbury, Riviersonderend, Greyton, Swellendam, Worcester, Robertson, …?

Next we zoom in on the Cape Peninsula. Action point for Team Virtual Museum: Are there squirrels south of these records: Kirstenhof, Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Simonstown, etc? Where is the southernmost squirrel on the Cape Peninsula? Davis’s sketch map above suggests a southern limit at Fish Hoek.

And finally we zoom in to the suburbs of Cape Town which have hosted squirrels since within a decade of their introduction. Action point for Team Virtual Museum: When the exact locations are shown at this scale, the map looks pretty sparse. Please help fill in the gaps. If you see a squirrel, please try and get a photograph, and upload it to the MammalMAP section of the Virtual Museum. Please try to get the coordinates as accurate as possible!

Many of the squirrel records in MammalMAP are from the Company’s Gardens (and see here too!), at the mountain end of Adderley Street, the heart of the city’s central business district. There are lots of them! The “famous squirrels” are given as reason number of two (of six reasons) why tourists should visit the Company’s Gardens. When I was a boy, in the 1950s, my dad took me to the Gardens, and we would buy a small packet of peanuts and feed the squirrels. Tourists still do this! Action point for Team Virtual Museum: Where else in the “City Bowl” are there squirrels? Are there squirrels in the suburbs between the Gardens and Table Mountain: Tamboerskloof, Oranjezicht, … ? Are there squirrels at the look-out point on Signal Hill (there are lots of stone pines for them there, see below)?

Davis’s map showed squirrels all the way round Table Mountain, including places like Sea Point, Clifton and Camps Bay. But we don’t have any MammalMAP records for these northwestern suburbs. Action point for Team Virtual Museum: Are there squirrels in the coastal suburbs between the Waterfront and the Cape Town Stadium and Bakoven?

In his 1950 paper, Davis stated that the “chief limiting factor to the spread of grey squirrels is the absence of tall seed-bearing trees.” Oaks and pines (and especially the Stone Pine Pinus pinea) provide ideal food and habitat, but a wide variety of other trees are used. Indigenous trees don’t produce food for squirrels, so they have not expanded their range into fynbos habitats. Biodiversity Explorer says: “Their distribution is patchy and discontinuous being closely associated with oak trees and pine plantations.” Action point for Team Virtual Museum: Let’s get so many records for the Eastern Grey Squirrel that we can see precisely the discontinuous patches where it occurs!

Here are thumbnails of some of the MammalMAP records of Eastern Grey Squirrels to date. Some of the photos are amazing; in some the squirrel is just a blur. That is fine, so long as we can identify that it is an Eastern Grey Squirrel. There are 78 records in total.

The Eastern Grey Squirrel is listed by the IUCN as one of the World’s 100 Worst Invasive Alien Species. But there is no chance of eliminating this rodent from the Western Cape. This very idea would cause an outrage! Their amazing bushy tails and endearing habits are more effective advertisements for their image than could be achieved by any public relations agency!


Itxaso Quintana produced the maps. This is the first time we have ever produced maps of this kind from the data of the Virtual Museum. Thanks to all the MammalMAPpers who have submitted records of squirrels.

Plants need protecting too

South Africa has an amazing diversity of plants and animals.  Many people know and cherish the most visible and charismatic wildlife, such as rhinos, elephants, lions and giraffes. A growing number of people are enjoying South Africa’s beautiful birds, and people are starting to appreciate the reptiles, frogs, and even some of the insects such as butterflies and dragonflies. Few people, however, are quite aware of what might be South Africa’s greatest living treasure; its plant diversity.  South Africa boasts about 25,000 described species of flowering plants, and the Cape Floristic Region, supporting about 9,000 species, is considered one of the world’s six floral kingdoms. South Africa is also the country with the greatest diversity of succulents in the world! It truly is a treasure that warrants effort to protect.

South Africa’s botanical richness is definitely a national treasure, and the diversity of plants are vital to the diversity of animals – all animals depend directly or indirectly on plants.  Plants provide food, medicine (even animals use plants for their medicinal values), shelter and building materials to so many other living things – humans included.  Species that go extinct are irreplaceable. Every species that vanishes will have knock-on effects on other species, to their detriment, and also to the detriment of the habitat in which it occurred.

Erica regia – Elim heath, Elimsheide – Agulhas Plain, Overberg, South Africa – Photo by Bionerds.co.za

The conservation of plants is in many ways different from the conservation of mammals, birds or other animals. The big difference between plants and (most) animals, is that plants cannot move as individuals. On the up side, this makes them easier to work with.  It is not necessary to find a way to capture or restrain a plant; you can just walk up to it (if it is in an accessible place).  You can take photos, you can take a small piece as a sample or a specimen. You can collect seeds if there are any.  There are challenges too, however, if you are in an area where a plant species is known to grow, finding it may be no easy task.  Many plants occur very sparsely, meaning you have to hike for many hours before you’ll find even one, even in its prime range. It can be very hard to spot small plants amidst dense grass or scrub. Some plants are ‘invisible’ for much of the year, with their main parts subterranean (underground), sending out shoots only during the growing season.  Some plants can only be positively identified when in flower, and their flowering periods may be brief; it is easy to miss them unless you go out into their habitat to search for them pretty much every single day.  And some plants grow in difficult-to-access places: on cliffs or steep mountain slopes, in impenetrable, thorny thickets, like some epiphytes high up in the forest canopy.

Vachellia erioloba – Camel Thorn tree – Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve

One of the challenges with some plant species is that they have very small distribution ranges – in some cases, only on a single hill, or a small patch of ground with unique geological and environmental features. It is not always possible to figure out which particular ‘spot’ might host such a uniquely restricted plant species; therefore, seeing as there are many places in South Africa that haven’t been properly explored by botanists, there might be many such ‘range-restricted’ plants still awaiting discovery.  Many plants might have already been driven to extinction because the spots where they grew, have been turned into towns, farms, plantations, mines, or submerged by the building of dams. 

Some plants are sensitive to disturbance. Overgrazing of an area might lead to a decline in grass cover and an increase in dense growth of shrubs, trees, and weedy herbs. Bush encroachment can also happen when regular fires are excluded from an area. Bush encroachment leads to changes in ecological attributes, such as the amount of sunlight reaching the ground level. I have observed this in colonies of highly habitat-specific plants, such as a species of Euphorbia and a population of Lithops: what was initially open grassland, with lots of ‘room’ for these light-loving plants to grow, gets turned into bushland and the plants are ‘shaded out’ and disappear.

Dichrostachys cinerea subsp. africana – Sicklebush – Polokwane Game Reserve, South Africa – Photo by Megan Loftie-Eaton

Human activities have caused major changes to the factors that determine the nature of the vegetation across most of South Africa. Migratory wild mammals have been replaced with fenced-in domestic livestock. Fire regimens are determined largely by human whims, in some places being too frequent relative to the needs of the local flora, and in other places the fire cycle has been suppressed.  

The introduction of invasive alien plant species is also a contentious issue. Some examples of alien invasives include: Hakea and Australian Acacia-species in the fynbos biome, Opuntia prickly-pear cacti in the grassland, savanna and succulent thicket biomes, Lantana camara along rivers, the Kariba weed Salvinia molesta on large bodies of water, and Solanum mauritianum, Bugweed, in forest regions. These plants, once introduced to a region, propagate themselves and easily spread without any further help from humans.  Because they come from different ecosystems in distant places, they typically don’t have any natural predators here. They can reproduce and multiply at a massive rate. They invade natural areas in large numbers, displacing the native plants that used to grow there. These invaders can be very difficult to eradicate; some can be countered by the introduction of their natural pests (bio-control), but others are more resistant and need labor-intensive physical removal methods.

Lantana camara – Cherry Pie – highly invasive alien plant species in South Africa

Plants are able to ‘move’ by means of seed dispersal. They can distribute their seeds over small or large distances, depending on the durability of the seeds and the way they are adapted to dispersal.  Under normal conditions, environments have always been changing, cycling from forest to grassland and sometimes even to desert and then back again. Plants could cope with this, moving to moister places if their own became too dry, to warmer regions if their own became too cold, and vice versa. The difference is that this was a slow process. Most natural changes in climate and factors influencing a particular habitat take place slowly – or at least, took place slowly in the past. The ice ages came and went over thousands of years. Plants, with the distribution mechanisms of their seeds, were able to move around, to get to the places where they were capable of growing and flourishing.  Some did indeed go extinct, as a result of these fluctuations, when they got hemmed in, in places from which they could not easily disperse. But they were replaced by new species that were able to adapt and change to the new conditions. Again, this is because the changes took place fairly slowly, giving them time to adapt and evolve.

Tankwa Karoo, Northern Cape, South Africa

The challenge we face now is that human-created changes to habitats and the environment are happening much faster than the historic natural changes – too fast for many or most plants to cope with. Even where changes are slow, our activities are making it difficult for plants to ‘move’ the way they used to. Natural habitats have become fragmented – they remain as ‘islands’ in a sea of cities, towns and other human settlements, mines, factories and farms. If living conditions in one  such ‘island’ become unfavourable for a certain species, it can’t easily disperse to a new place, because of all the fragmentation. Relocation is often not possible, because the plant’s seeds are adapted for short- or medium-distance rather than long-distance dispersal, leaving a species vulnerable to extinction.

Human-caused climate change is a big threat. Apart from rising sea levels, the major challenge is that the world’s climatic zones will change. Some places will get warmer, some places a lot warmer. Most plant species are specifically adapted to certain temperature ranges. Too cold, or too hot, and it is no longer possible for them to flourish.  Consider a plant that only grows on cool mountain slopes (bearing in mind that, the higher the altitude, the colder the local climate). If the climate gets warmer, the plant can adapt by spreading to higher slopes where it is cool enough, but once the plant has reached the mountain’s peak, there’s nowhere higher and cooler to move to. 

Gibbaeum heathii – Baby Bottoms, Baba Boudjies – Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa – photo by Bionerds.co.za

Hotter climates may favour insect pests and fungal or other diseases, which can ravage plants on a large scale. We know little about this, how to predict it, or how to counter such a problem. 

The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that is the main cause of global warming, also favours the growth of woody plants over grass, and may lead to grasslands converting into forest or shrublands. Many specialized grassland plant (and animal) species might face extinction.

A large change in atmospheric temperatures may seriously alter ocean currents and the circulation of the air across the planet. We cannot predict the full consequences, but certainly, big changes will happen. Imagine a desert region becoming a lot wetter. Under natural conditions, where plants are free to spread, new species will colonize the desert, but with restricted dispersal because of human-made barriers, it may be hard for suitable plants to establish themselves. As it gets wetter, the desert-adapted plants decrease – these plants cannot tolerate wet conditions – and with few or no new plants moving in, the desert could actually become more barren, with heavy rains washing away the soil. 

Kruger National Park in the dry season

Plant cover and plant roots protect the soil surface of the planet. Plants play a role in moderating the climate. The rainforest plants of the Amazon basin, for example, is partly responsible for the moist climate it needs to flourish. Trees release moisture over the canopy that in turn aids the formation of clouds that bring more rain. If you take away the forest – suddenly the local climate becomes drier and more extreme.

South Africa, as a result of global climate change, may end up a lot hotter and perhaps also a lot drier than it is right now.  Plant cover and species diversity is likely to be adversely affected.

In the face of these severe challenges, we might become despondent – but humans are capable of doing incredible things, we just need to put in the work. With plants, this means leg-work.  It is vital that we catalogue our plant diversity.  At the moment we are just scratching the surface; vast parts of our country are still unexplored. We need volunteers, people to go to places and record the plants that are there. We need to know which ones are where, and which ones are rare. Finding a rare species out in the wild is a thrill; plant-seeking excursions are like treasure hunts. We need the knowledge to inform our conservation efforts.  Many threatened plant species could recover and thrive with just a little bit of help from people. Growing plants is generally much easier than breeding mammals or birds. We can help species to relocate; we can boost denuded populations.  So let’s spread the word and get working!

Adenium multiflorum

BDInsight – July 2020

Life in lockdown has become almost normal. I, for one, have lost count of the number of days we’ve been in lockdown here in South Africa. We adapt to the ebb and flow of this strange new reality and life continues. On the BioMAPping front things have been fantastic! Citizen scientists from across Africa have united under the common cause of being ambassadors for Africa’s biodiversity. The global corona virus pandemic has not dampened the spirits of citizen scientists!

BestJuly for the Virtual Museum

We reached BestJuly in the Virtual Museum by more than 1,300 records. BioMAPpers uploaded 8,160 records to the VM for July 2020, compared to the previous BestJuly of 6,805 records. Well done BioMAPpers! It is awesome to see so much enthusiasm for biodiversity.

We added 20% more records to distribution maps in July 2020 than we did in July last year. We both filled in gaps in maps, and we refreshed old records, providing up-to-date evidence of continued occurrence in grid cells. Well done, Team Virtual Museum. July was also memorable for the initiation of the Citizen Scientist Hours and Virtual BioBashes. Watch this space for details of future events. If you missed them live, you can catch up with them on the BDI YouTube channel.

BDI BioBash for Africa

Keeping distribution maps up to date is the key objective of the Virtual Museum. So in July, we held a BDI BioBash for Africa. We encouraged all our citizen scientists to collect data for the Virtual Museum wherever they are on the African continent, and in whatever places they are able to reach. It’s winter here in the southern bit of Africa, so this is the opportunity for citizen scientists in warmer climates to shine. This is from about the Limpopo Valley northwards! We hosted four Virtual BioBashes during the month, on 10, 19, 28 and 31 July. The Virtual BioBashes were held on Zoom, so all you needed to attend was an internet connection.

We gave as many participants as possible the opportunity to show-and-tell us about their BioMAPping adventures: two or three photos to show us where in Africa they BioBashed, and some photos to show us what they discovered and uploaded to the Virtual Museum.

Zooming BioMAPpers having fun at this evening’s BDI Virtual BioBash. What a treat to see all the wonderful biodiversity across Africa, from Kenya to Cape Town.

We had BioMAPpers from all over Africa joining in: Somalia, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and many other countries. It has been great to connect with so many enthusiastic people across the continent.

You can catch up on all the wonderful July BioBash presentations here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiP0CQKPs5gNOg82dExM_OxvByKzrqYwq

Citizen Scientist Hours

During July we have also been hosting Citizen Scientist Hours on Zoom. It has been great fun and very informative. These “Hours” have been a great opportunity for the citizen scientist community in Africa to come together and learn from each other.

The second BDI Citizen Scientist Hour was held on Sunday evening, 5 July. It was a Zoom event, so people could participate without travelling. The presenters for the evening were:

  • PC Ferreira – Why is it a good idea to submit lots of records to the Virtual Museum AND visit the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve?
  • Taylyn Risi – Are you able to help me with data collection for my MSc project?
  • John Wilkinson – How did I get passionate about dragonflies and damselflies?
  • Sidney Shema – What has the bird atlas project in Kenya achieved?

Once upon a time PC was just a sheep farmer in the Karoo; now he is working out how to do sheep AND biodiversity. Taylyn is an MSc student at UCT, researching moult in as many of the world’s oystercatcher species as feasible. She also sings the songs she writes. John sends tons of grapefruit, lemons and oranges all over the world from Tshipese in Limpopo. Ten years after his first encounter with a dragonfly he heads the OdonataMAP expert panel. Sidney is based in Nairobi at the Ornithology Section of the National Museums of Kenya. He is the coordinator of the Kenya Bird Map project.

The third BDI Citizen Scientist Hour was held on Wednesday evening, 15 July. The three presenters for the evening were:

  • Clara Cassell – Liberian Bird Atlas Project
  • Rio Button – on the exciting Wildcards.world initiative
  • Steve Woodhall – how an industrial polymers specialist came to write the definitive butterfly guide for South Africa!

If you would like to be part of these events, please email Itxaso Quintana (itxaso@thebdi.org) or me (megan@thebdi.org). We need your name and email address, and we will send you the details of how to attend a day or so beforehand. We plan to do many more Citizen Science Hours and Virtual BioBashes.

BDInsight – June 2020

Another month has flown by, here in South Africa we are still under lockdown, but that has not deterred BioMAPpers from uploading all sorts of wonderful and interesting records to the Virtual Museum. We also held our first two Virtual BioBashes via Zoom and Microsoft Teams and our first BDI Citizen Scientist Hour.

BestJune for the Virtual Museum

We have reached the middle of 2020, and are still building distribution maps. But we need to keep those maps up-to-date, so they remain relevant to conservation planning and priority setting. The RED line (graph below) shows that, for the first three months this year, totals were a bit above last year’s totals. April and May came close. But June has put us ahead again. The number of records for June (8,516) was 10% above June last year (7,734).

The total for the year-so-far is 58,601, just a little bit ahead of the total at the end of June last year (56,852). That’s 3% ahead. Given the circumstances of 2020, a 3% increase is remarkable. Please keep an eye open for the advertizing for BDI Citizen Scientist Hours and Virtual BioBashes! Thanks, Team VM, for your support.

BDI Citizen Scientist Hour

The first BDI Citizen Scientist Hour was held on Tuesday evening, 30 June, from 19:30 to 20:30 South African time. It was Zoom event, and 34 people attended from all across Africa. We had four awesome presentations:

  • Karis Daniel: Why is BirdPix important right now?
  • Magda Remisiewicz: What was it like doing bird ringing in Hel during lockdown?
  • Sam Ivande: Why has participation by citizen scientists in the Nigerian Bird Atlas Project exceeded expectations?
  • Kate Braun: What’s interesting about moths?

Karis is an MSc student at the University of Cape Town. Magda was a postdoc at UCT for three years a decade ago, and is an Associate Professor at the University of Gdansk, Poland, heading up the Bird Migration Research Station. Sam is at the University of Jos in Nigeria, linked onto the A.P Leventis Ornithological Research Institute. Kate leads several biodiversity initiatives in eSwatini (Swaziland).

This was our first “public” Zoom event. We plan to do more Citizen Science Hours, and we are also planning at least one Virtual BioBash for July 2020.

The second BDI Citizen Scientist Hour is planned for Sunday evening, 5 July, 19:30 to 20:30, Central African Time. It is a Zoom event, so you can participate without travelling. There will be an opportunity to ask questions, but we will try hard to stick within the hour:

• PC Ferreira: Why is it a good idea to submit lots of records to the Virtual Museum AND visit the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve?
• Taylyn Risi: Are you able to help me with data collection for my MSc project?
• John Wilkinson: How did I get passionate about dragonflies and damselflies?
• Sidney Shema: What has the bird atlas project in Kenya achieved?

Once upon a time PC was just a sheep farmer in the Karoo; now he is working out how to do sheep AND biodiversity. Taylyn is an MSc student at UCT, researching moult in as many of the world’s oystercatcher species as feasible. She also sings the songs she writes. John sends tons of grapefruit, lemons and oranges all over the world from Tshipise in Limpopo. Ten years after his first encounter with a dragonfly he heads the OdonataMAP expert panel. Sidney is based in Nairobi at the Ornithology Section of the National Museums of Kenya. He is the coordinator of the Kenya Bird Map project.

Our Zoom licence is for 100 people attending an event. If you would like to be part of this, please email Itxaso Quintana itxaso@thebdi.org. She needs your name and email address. We will send you the details of how to attend a day beforehand. We plan to do more Citizen Science Hours, and we are also doing an African Virtual BioBash this month, July. The video from the First BDI Citizen Scientist Hour will go onto YouTube next week.

The Plight of the African Penguin

It has been 20 years since the “Treasure”, an iron-ore carrier, sank between Dassen Island and Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town. These penguins were ashore on Robben Island the next day (photo below). The bad news is that we can never have an oil spill on this scale again. There are simply not enough African Penguins. From around 2003 onwards, the penguin population in the Western Cape decreased. Plummeted is a better description. The problem seems to be food-related (i.e. it is not about oil). The food problem could be fishery-related or climate-change-related, or most likely a combination of both. And this makes it hard to solve. The conservation of African Penguins in their natural habitat is going to be a tough challenge.

BioMAPping in Lockdown – Derek Solomon shares his experience

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

I am a wildlife sound recordist, safari guide and enthusiastic amateur wildlife photographer. Biomapping gives another dimension to all of the data I collect, making it available to others whether professional or amateur.

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

Biomapping during lockdown has helped to focus attention to the smaller creatures and plants. A large Euphorbia cooperi in our garden (photo below) has been flowering for much of lockdown and producing copious amounts of nectar that in turn is attracting a wide variety of insects, spiders and small predators such as lizards. I have been able to photograph and learn about over 50 species of insects, most of which are new to me – a unique opportunity that has provided hours of pleasure and entertainment each day.

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

My biomapping has exclusively been on our home plot in Raptors View Wildlife Estate in Hoedspruit, Limpopo Province. Under level 4 of the lockdown period I, along with several friends, have been keeping busy surveying the birds of the estate. Rather than visually recording species, most of my records have been from sounds picked up by microphones and recorders placed at two points around the house allowing me to include many species of diurnal and nocturnal birds without having to venture outside at inconvenient times. Of course this means many hours in front of a computer analysing the many sounds, both mammal and bird sounds that have been captured. Lockdown days have therefore been very busy.

Recording the sounds of the local wildlife – Raptors View Wildlife Estate

Have you learnt anything new?

Yes, macro photography which has been neglected in the past. New sounds made by birds, mammals and insects.

A spider hunting wasp enjoying some Euphorbia nectar

Anything interesting finds during your lockdown biomapping adventures?

A wide series of vocalisations by two families of Lesser Bushbabies Galago moholi living in different parts of the thatch roof of our house. An anxiety or alarm call by a Common Duiker that came early morning on various occasions and reacted to my presence with my sound equipment. There is no record of this call in the literature as far as I know.

A baby Lesser Bushbaby that fell from its nest….luckily the parents were quick to rescue it