The Virtual Museum (VM) provides the platform for citizen scientists to contribute to biodiversity research and mapping projects. This innovative concept was originally developed by the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2005. It is now managed by the Biodiversity and Development Institute (an independent non-profit company) and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (UCT).
Currently the VM hosts 17 biodiversity projects: BirdPix (bird pictures archive); BOP (odd plumages of birds). PHOWN (photos of weaver nests), and 14 atlases: DungBeetleMAP (dung beetles, Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae). EchinoMAP (African Echinoderms: sea stars, sea urchins and brittle stars), FishMAP (freshwater fish in southern and eastern Africa), FrogMAP (African frogs), LacewingMAP (African Neuroptera and Megaloptera), MushroomMAP (South African mushrooms), OdonataMAP (African Odonata), OrchidMAP (African orchids), LepiMAP (African Lepidoptera), ReptileMAP (African reptiles), ScorpionMAP (African scorpions), SpiderMAP (African spiders), MammalMAP (African mammals), and TreeMAP (South African trees).
The databases in the Virtual Museum are used for multiple purposes. The most common use is to collate all the places where a species has been photographed, and to generate distribution maps for the species. These are available online and serve as conservation and education tools. These maps include Virtual Museum records and sometimes also other distributional records which are contained within the Virtual Museum database.
Virtual Museum records help expand the distribution databases for these taxa; they not only confirm the presence of a species at a particular point in time, but they also provide new distribution records for species and sometimes lead to extensions of the known range of a species. We try hard to “refresh” old records, so the maps are kept up to date.
BDI-style Bird Species Texts
We are aiming to make it easier for beginner birders! Key to this is the production of “BDI-style” species texts on the BDI website. Each of the texts starts with an annotated photograph like this one for the Capped Wheatear:
The BDI-style texts do not only focus on identification but provides all sorts of interesting information; to see the full text for this species, click on Capped Wheatear.
This brings the number of bird species with BDI-style species texts to 80. You can easily find all the texts for species which have been done so far here: Bird Species
Bird ringing remains one of the most important research methods for discovering some of the most important basic information about each species. Conservation initiatives need a lot of information. Two key factors to understand are rates of survival and extent of movement. There is a discussion about the value of ringing here.
From 2-11 September 2023, there was a BDI bird ringing course at New Holme in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The activities of the course were reported in two blogs: Part 1 and Part 2. During the course, one person met all the qualifying requirements for being a bird ringer, and this will be communicated to SAFRING, the overarching authority for bird ringing in South Africa. During the course, we handled 367 birds of 35 species. Part 2 of the blog contains a list of the species. Here are two of the species: Rufous-eared Warbler (left) and Burchell’s Courser (right).
There are three ringing courses planned for 2024. They are:
- 31 January to 6 February at BoTuin, Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape
- 1 to 7 May at Ouberg Private Nature Reserve, Montagu, Western Cape
- 20 to 26 September at New Holme Lodge, near Hanover, Northern Cape.
- More details are here. There is a broad description of the course activities here.
New Biodiversity Observations Papers in September 2023
Biodiversity Observations is an Open Access ejournal which focuses on the publication of descriptive papers which report observations relating to biodiversity. There is a summary of the activities of the journal for the period 2010-2022 here.
The graph below shows that Biodiversity Observations had its third best month ever for number of papers downloaded; 2455 downloads of papers were made.
During September 2023, three papers were published. Click on the title, and it takes you to the page with an abstract, and from which you can download the pdf of the paper itself.
Biometrics and moult of Grey-backed Sparrow-lark Eremopterix verticalis in the Karoo, September 2023 This was a totally unexpected by-product of the bird ringing course at New Holme. We had data on 130 Grey-backed Sparrow-larks. The information about measurements and mass in the hand books are based on far smaller samples!
If you would like to browse through journal, a good starting point is here.
In this section we report published papers which have at least one author with a BDI address.
Scott T, Scoler M, Melville DS, Underhill LG 2023. Timing and duration of primary moult in New Zealand’s Silvereye (tauhou, Zosterops lateralis). Notornis 70: 97–110.
Notornis is the ornithological journal of the New Zealand Ornithological Society. The paper was originally a chapter in Tanya Scott’s PhD thesis. She has pencil drawings, like this one, of the species dealt with in each chapter.
There is a full list of all BDI-linked research papers on the website here.
Dragonfly Species Texts
There is a new way to find all the BDI-style species texts for all the dragonflies and damselflies in the online atlas. Go here to find it! They are laid out in much the same way as the bird species texts. Here, for example is the identification photo for the damselfly now know as Spesbona (and previously called the Ceres Streamjack). The full text for the species is here.
Getting started with birding in Cape Town…
The way we traditionally try to get people started with birding is not as easy as it can be. We have a new strategy. If you live in, say, Cape Town it is possible to see several hundred bird species in a year. So if you want to be a birder in Cape Town, you need to be able to identify about half the species in the bird book. But the reality is that. Probably, 99.5% of the individual birds you see in your daily life belong to a relatively small number of species. Those species are the options that beginner birders should start getting to know. So, starting with the gardens of Cape Town, we have produced identification guides for beginner birds. This is the website from which you download the guide.