BioMAPping in Lockdown – Rick Nuttall shares his experience

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

A keen birder since a young age, my passion led me to study ornithology. Following a career in research and management in the museum sector, I now lead birding and nature adventures. I participated in the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP), and have since been involved in a number of similar ‘citizen science’ projects, many since their inception.

While scanning the veld along a rural road while atlasing for the SABAP2 project a number of years ago, I noticed numerous butterflies flitting among the roadside flowering plants. This was the catalyst to get me photographing butterflies and moths and submitting these to the Virtual Museum (VM) – providing not only much enjoyment in learning about a new group of animals, but also a rewarding purpose to enjoying and documenting biodiversity! This piqued my interest in the Odonata, and so I began photographing ‘dragons & damsels’, and submitting these to the VM. Very soon I was totally hooked, and now I photograph almost anything that moves, and therein support the various VM biomapping projects. I so enjoy combining these two passions – biodiversity and photography – to contribute to improving our knowledge of our natural world, and to share this passion and knowledge with others! It has also been very rewarding meeting and getting to know the wonderful biomapping community.

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

Lockdown has provided a wonderful opportunity to spend focused time on biomapping in my garden and surrounds. I was quite frenetic during the initial period of lockdown, hell-bent on photographing almost anything and everything biodiversity-related in the garden. This focused and purposeful activity has continued during lockdown levels 4 and 3, when I have been able to move, and biomap, further afield. What a joy it has been to have this purpose during difficult and uncertain times!

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

My biomapping activities have been limited to our garden and an adjoining small ‘green’ area of natural veld, which during March and April was full of small yellow flowers. These, and the grassland – rank after the excellent late summer rains – provided a treasure trove of butterflies, moths, Odonata and other biodiversity to photograph. Once the lockdown was eased somewhat and we were able to move within a 5 km radius of home, I moved further afield to biomap on the wildlife estate where we live, on the northern outskirts of Bloemfontein.

Again, the sense of purpose provided by biomapping has provided many enjoyable hours out and about, getting to know the local biodiversity far more intimately than I have done previously.

Have you learnt anything new?

It is inevitable that good periods of focused time spent in a particular area will produce all sorts of new things; this has been very true of biomapping during lockdown. One has been forced to spend quality time in the garden, observing and photographing not only those creatures that have always been a primary interest (i.e. birds, Lepidoptera, Odonata), but also all the others, such as spiders, flies, wasps, mantids, etc.

White-bellied Sunbird

Any interesting finds during your lockdown biomapping adventures?

Oh yes – numerous interesting finds! During the initial lockdown period the following:

Birds – An adult Black Stork flying high over our garden; four different sunbird species visiting the flowering wild dagga and Cape honeysuckle plants in the garden – the commonest being White-bellied, then initially a female Malachite, later chased off by an eclipse plumage male that vigourously defended the flowering plants for weeks, until the frost in mid-June burnt away the flowers. A male Amethyst also visited the garden a few times, while the rarest of them all and a new record for my garden – was an eclipse plumage male Dusky Sunbird! An adult Greater Honeyguide was also seen over the course of about a week, visiting what must have been a hive of bees in the roof of the house across the street. Once it was possible to move further away from home, finding Cape Penduline Tits, a pair of Greater Painted Snipe and a way out-of-range Long-crested Eagle was also interesting.

Dusky Sunbird

Butterflies and moths – fortunately there were still a good number of species around during the earlier periods of lockdown, including the regular Painted Lady, Yellow Pansy, African Migrant and Plain Tiger. Irregular visitors that provided wonderful photo opportunities included Citrus Swallowtail, Common Leopard, male and female (the latter of the rare form, alcippoides) Common Diadem, Zebra White, diminutive African Grass Blue, Dotted Blue, Water Bronze and Meadow Blue, Black Pie and the rarer Griqua Pie. Quite a few moths were encountered, including Hummingbird Hawk Moth nectaring in flight, and also a rarely seen mating pair, as well as a stunning, crepuscular Silver-striped Hawk Moth!

Silver-striped Hawk Moth

Odonata – interesting records included female Yellow-veined Widow, Broad Scarlet, Two-striped and Epaulet Skimmers, and a female Friendly Hawker.

Yellow-veined Widow Palpopleura jucunda

Spiders – it was particularly interesting to photograph tiny jumping spiders at close quarters, as well as long-legged spiders among the garden plants.

Mammals – the resident pair of Yellow Mongoose were often seen, while one of our cats brought in a tiny Pygmy Mouse one evening, which I managed to photograph briefly after its release!

Curious little Yellow Mongoose – MammalMAPped

Reptiles – a Striped Grass Snake, juvenile Brown House Snake and a very small Leopard Tortoise (photo below) were among the interesting reptiles encountered during lockdown.

Fungi – a beautiful, pale pinkish purple fungus emerged from some old grass cuttings placed in the garden.

Mantid – although these insects do not have a VM project, it was very interesting to find a stunning little yellow flower mantid (photo below), well camouflaged among small yellow flowers.

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.


  1. Goodness, Rick! I can’t believe you found so many cuties on the very same estate we also once lived! Well done. What keen eyes you have.

  2. I read the inspirational post about Rick Nuttall near Bloemfontein, SA, on lockdown on the opposite side of the planet: Lake Pend Oreille, USA.


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