BDInsight – January 2020

Happy New Year and Century! We hope you all had a lovely festive season and that 2020 will be a fantastic year. Why not kick-start the year by joining us at our Citizen Science Conference in the Karoo in February? It is an event not to miss!Come and join the Biodiversity and Development Institute at New Holme Guest Farm (Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve) for our Citizen Science Conference. The core period is Friday evening, 14 February, to lunch time on Sunday, 16 February 2020. We encourage you to stay a few nights extra before and/or after the event too. The extra nights will also be at a discount rate. The theme for the conference is “Citizen Scientists: Ambassadors for Awareness”

The Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve is half way between Cape Town and Johannesburg on the N1 between Colesberg and Hanover. It truly is a wonderful place in the heart of the Karoo.

We will kick-start the conference on Friday evening with some awesome presentations. The early morning programme will consist of BioMAPping and bird ringing. This will be followed by brunch and then the programme of presentations and discussions until mid afternoon on the Saturday and until midday on the Sunday. And lots of free time too to enjoy the serenity of the Karoo.

Free night drives to go look for the illusive Shy Five (Aardwolf, Aardvark, Black-footed Cat, Porcupine and Bat-eared Fox) — only 9 spots available for the night drives each night so make sure to book your spot! We encourage you to stay an extra night to not miss out on this special opportunity.

Conference fee: R250 pp (excluding accommodation)

Accommodation options (PLEASE NOTE all rates include breakfast and dinner):
1) Luxury rooms (R660 pp per night during the core weekend period and R600 pp per night for week days before/after core conference period)
2) Tented rooms (R525 pp per night during the core weekend period and R480 pp per night for week days before/after core conference period)
3) Self-camping (R395 pp per night during the core weekend period and R360 pp per night for week days before/after core conference period)

Please book your dates and accommodation with Megan Loftie-Eaton at

African Black Oystercatcher Monitoring 

Is the timing of the breeding season of African Black Oystercatchers changing through time? Is this climate change related? Careful monitoring of the breeding of the oystercatchers on Robben Island started in the breeding season of 2001/02, and has been done in most subsequent summers. There’s a team of three people doing the monitoring this summer, and two of us hike the 10 km round the island every six days. The sixth trip was done on 28 December, and the number of nests discovered so far is 85!

Here is Itxaso measuring an egg. From the measurements we can reconstruct the fresh weight. An egg loses about 17% of its mass during incubation, so from the weight at the time we find the nest, we can estimate how many days it has been incubated for. This enables us to do pretty accurate statistics on the timing of breeding each year. The answers to the questions at the start of the first paragraph are both “Yes”, but the details are still in progress.

We are grateful for the support of the Robben Island Museum. The research is done with the appropriate permits.

Virtual Museum

The Virtual Museum reached a wonderful milestone for 2019, with 100,000 records on African biodiversity submitted through the VM website portal. We also reached the amazing total of more than half a million records submitted via the VM. Thank you to all the awesome citizen scientists out there for your continued efforts and enthusiasm.


For the Christmas Shoot The Dragons Week OdonataMAPpers snapped and mapped an incredible 1999 dragonflies and damselflies from nine African countries (Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe). The species most often recorded over the holiday season was the Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis arteriosa with 116 records submitted to OdonataMAP. There were also lots of records for many others including Tropical Bluetails, Broad Scarlets and Common Citrils.

Diana Russell was the Dragon Mapping Queen for the Week with an amazing 239 records! Followed by Pieter La Grange on 159 and Gert Bensch and Juan-Pierre Antunes with 141.

The fifth Shoot The Dragons Week ran from 11 to 19 January 2020. OdonataMAPpers managed to snap and map 870 dragonflies and damselflies from five countries (Ivory Coast, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia), like this stunning Bluebolt Cyanothemis simpsoni (below) mapped by Russell Tate in San Pedro, Ivory Coast:

Bluebolt Cyanothemis simpsoni

Andries and Joey de Vries mapped the most dragonflies and damselflies with 79 records, followed by Corrie du Toit (68 records) and Jean Hirons (63 records). Absolutely fantastic!

Thank you to each and everyone of you that uploaded records to OdonataMAP over the Christmas and New Years Shoot The Dragons Weeks. You are awesome! 


The BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum is taking on an unexpected importance. We are using the data to do “species distribution modelling”, i.e. the application of statistical methods to try to model the “full distribution” of each species from the somewhat scattered records generated by the Virtual Museum. We are trying to find methods which replicate the “true” distributions which are obtained by the bird atlas. If we can get it right for birds, we can then we can use these methods to generate “full distributions” for dragonflies, butterflies, frogs, reptiles, etc, from the Virtual Museum records.

Right now, we are working hard to boost the size of the BirdPix database. BirdPixers have added 30,000 records in 2019. At current submission rates, the database is about three weeks away from 100,000 records.

This is the BirdPix coverage map for Limpopo. The number in each quarter degree grid cell is the species richness for that grid cell. Please help boost these numbers. Every grid cell here must be home to at least 100 species. Many grid cells in Limpopo ought to have more than 200 species. Opportunities abound almost everywhere.

It is not difficult to find the code for a specific quarter degree grid cell. The degree squares are outlined with thicker lines. Go the top-left corner (north-west!) of the degree square to find the digits for the degree square. The first two digits are in the left hand margin of the map the the third and fourth digits are at the bottom. There are then 16 quarter degree grid cells in the degree square, and each one is given two letters according to the pattern in the insert.

The grid cell with the most species in Limpopo has 137 species. It is the bright red grid cell on the eastern edge in the Kruger National Park. This grid cell is in the 2331 degree square. It is in the fourth row and third column, the DC position in the little diagram, so its six-digit code is 2331DC. To get the species list, and to see a map of the grid cell, go to It includes the Letaba Rest Camp. To find the list and the map for for any other grid cell, all you need to do is to change the code for the “locus=” at the end of the URL.

Please upload your photos of birds to the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, and help us get way beyond 100,000 records as fast as possible!

Bird Ringing

Following a successful 10 day BDI bird ringing expedition earlier in 2019, another was held at Fynbos Estate in December. It was hot and windy but the days were long, and the birds plentiful!

Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer

The top species was Cape Weaver, followed by Southern Red Bishop and Southern Masked Weaver. The large numbers caught were due to large numbers of juveniles foraging in flocks. These were usually caught in small flocks of 20-30 birds at a time. Most of the weavers had completed breeding, but for the Southern Masked Weaver two nests were found with chicks large enough to ring.

The adult weavers had started primary moult, and males were moulting into non-breeding plumage. Recent juveniles had not started moult, while some older juveniles were starting their post-juvenile moult.

For the full ringing report see: