Establishing a long-term bird ringing site. Part 2: some birds

Part 1 of this series described the bird ringing site at Fynbos Estate. This property, partly wine farm and partly nature reserve, is in the northwestern corner of the Paardeberg. The closest town is Malmesbury, in the Swartland region of the Western Cape, north of Cape Town.

The bird atlas grid cell into which Fynbos Estate falls is called pentad 3330_1845. 14 checklists have been made for this pentad and a total of 134 species have been recorded, between 2008 and 2019. If you go to you get a map of the area with the pentad highlighted. To see the full list of species, click on “Species list” below the map. The 14th bird atlas checklist was compiled during the pioneering expedition and listed 79 species. Four of the overall list of 134 species are only recorded because they were mistnetted and included in the 14th checklist! These species had evaded the previous 13 atlasers.

One of the characteristics of bird ringing is that there is usually a small number of species that constitute about two-thirds of the sample, and then there is a long list of species that are mistnetted in small numbers. The ones featured below are an arbitrary selection of a handful of the 27 species which were ringed on the pioneering expedition (19–28 February 2019). The list starts with two of the common species, and after that the choice is fairly idiosyncratic,  but includes the four that were not in the bird atlas!

This Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis has been ringed and is ready for release. The biscuit-coloured eye is diagnostic of a male. This was the most ringed species at Fynbos Estate, so it is a key study species. The late Sir Clive Elliott did his PhD on the Cape Weaver in 1973 and a couple of the chapters in Dr Dieter Oschadleus’s PhD deal with its primary moult patterns. There is rather little else of substance published about the Cape Weaver! But there are lots of research ideas from the two theses to follow up on. For example, Dieter’s PhD showed variability in the annual timing of moult, and how this related to the local timing of rainfall. This has a climate change theme.

The bird atlas map shows that the Cape Weaver is endemic to South Africa and Lesotho. The areas shaded dark blue, where the reporting rate is highest, are in the two major agricultural areas of the Western Cape, the Overberg (east of Cape Town) and the Swartland (to the north). Fynbos Estate lies within the core of the distribution in the Swartland. Cape Weavers breed in large colonies, in trees or reeds over water. In the non-breeding season, they roost in large numbers in reed beds. Most mistnetting of Cape Weavers at Fynbos Estate is done at sunrise near these roosts.

Another species that has obvious potential as a study species at Fynbos Estate is the Cape Robin-Chat. It is trapped (and retrapped) regularly. It is a candidate species for intensive colour-ringing study of the home ranges of individual birds and of seasonal survival rates. A comprehensive literature review of the species is quick and easy. There are two papers, one by Bunty Rowan published in 1969, and one by Digby Cyrus in 1989. Terry Oatley wrote a comprehensive essay on the species in his 1998 book “Robins of Africa.” That is just about it! A common species, but nevertheless poorly studied.

The Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica which migrate to South Africa for the southern summer breed in Europe and Asia. They breed all the way from Ireland across Britain and continental Europe to a long way east of the Ural Mountains in Asia. The “composition” across South Africa varies. Swallows in the Western Cape are a mix from the entire breeding area. So when this Barn Swallow sets off in migration, it could be heading for Ireland, or Siberia, or anywhere in between. In contrast, the vast majority of swallows in Gauteng go to the eastern half of Europe. Swallows in KwaZulu-Natal are mainly from Asia and the eastern half of Europe. Barn Swallows do their primary moult in South Africa, and the timing of moult is slowly changing with the earlier arrival of spring in Europe. Long-term monitoring helps us discover whether the birds are keeping pace with climate change.

The Southern Boubou Laniarius ferrugineus has an uneven distribution in the northern arm of the Western Cape. Its preferred habitat is dense, tangled undergrowth, which becomes increasingly patchy. It is near the edge of its range at Fynbos Estate, and this was one of the species which mistnetting added to  bird atlas species list for the pentad. In fact, we ringed three at Fynbos Estate during the expedition. The wheatfields of the Swartland start a kilometre or two to the west, and from here to the sea there is little habitat suitable for Southern Boubous. From here, the distribution extends northwards in the increasingly isolated forest patches along the mountain chain, through the Cederberg to the mountains. The last of these patches is immediately east of Vanrhynsdorp, and that is the northern limit of the species.

An uncommon but attractive species at Fynbos Estate is the African Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis. In the Western Cape it is a migrant, absent from May to September. It arrives quickly in September, and breeding activity peaks in November and December. Departure is dragged out, with individual birds leaving anytime between January and April. Where do they go? This bird, a female because of the short tail, might be the first from the Western Cape to be “recovered” and tell us exactly where they migrate to. We think the non-breeding range of the paradise-flycatchers of the Western Cape is mainly northern KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. But there are no ring recoveries to confirm this.

Before this expedition, neither Acacia Pied Barbets (top) Tricholaema leucomelas nor Lesser Honeyguide Indicator minor (bottom) had been recorded in the Fynbos Estate pentad. The honeyguides are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nest of their barbet hosts. We mistnetted a Lesser Honeyguide on the first full day of ringing.  we had neither seen nor heard the barbet which hosts their eggs. If the parasite is present, the host surely cannot be far way. So it was no surprise when we mistnetted two Acacia Pied Barbets a few days later. The powerful bills of the barbets caused the bird ringers some pain! They use these sharp bills to excavate holes in dead trees and nest in them. The breeding system of the Lesser Honeyguide is complex. The two birds of the pair work together. The male honeyguide distracts the incubating barbet away from the nest, so that the female can sneak in and lay an egg in the barbet’s nest.

Cinderella bird! The Brimstone Canary Serinus sulphuratus has a range which extends from the southern tip of Africa to as far north as Kenya. But it is a totally neglected species. No one has done a PhD thesis on it. No one has done a paper in a journal. It gets even worse: no one has written a “short note” about any aspect of the biology of the Brimstone Canary! This Brimstone Canary, mistnetted at Fynbos Estate, was the first record of the species in the pentad!

That’s a selection of eight of the 27 species which we ringed at Fynbos Estate during the pioneering expedition in February 2019.  You will find a description of the ringing site here.  Our objective is firstly to turn this into a long-term bird ringing site and ultimately into a full-scale bird observatory. In fact, this could become a biodiversity observatory. We invite you to become part of the history of bird ringing in South Africa.

Details of how to get involved in future expeditions are on the website of the Biodiversity and Development Institute, in the section called African Ringing Expeditions. Up to date information will be on the Facebook page.

Establishing a long-term bird ringing site. Part 1: the place

Bird ringers in Europe and bird banders in North America will both be familiar with the concept of a “bird observatory”. The concept even has an article in Wikipedia; no bird observatories in Africa are listed. That is the gap that the Biodiversity and Development Institute aims to fill. But for the time being, we are just going to talk about a long-term bird ringing site.

The BDI bird ringing site is on the farm Fynbos Estate, an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. This “cottage”, called Black Eagle, is the base for action. It is hardly a cottage (see below). It provides comfortable accommodation for up to 10 people. On the pioneer expedition in February 2019 we were a group of five bird ringers. The setting is stunning, overlooking a valley of vineyards with a ridge of fynbos beyond. The pattern on the skyline above Black Eagle gives the mountain the name Dragon Ridge.

This first expedition established that the Black Eagle will provide superbly practical and comfortable accommodation for the BDI ringing expeditions. The front half is an enormous double-volume space which serves as kitchen, dining area, lounge and data-office. There are four bedrooms, each with two beds and three of them have en-suite bathrooms. One of the rooms can be turned into a dormitory with four beds. The accommodation is also eco-friendly – the electricity and the hot water are both solar (and there is lots of both!).

The Fynbos Estate property has two sections. The lower section is agricultural, mostly vineyards, and a small  grove of olives. The farm uses no pesticides or herbicides (and the birdlife is amazing). The accommodation at Black Eagle is the closest white roof on the right hand side. On the left is the track that leads to the top of the Paardeberg, to the upper section of the property,  known as …

… the Simson-Simons Nature Reserve. It consists of marvellous, and quite poorly studied, fynbos on the slopes and summit of the Paardeberg. There are lots of opportunities for cutting-edge biodiversity studies here. You can see what part of the summit looks like in this blogpost from last year:

Fynbos Estate produces wines under the label Dragonridge. The winery is artisanal, and the wines are made using time-honoured methods that are too slow and risky for most modern winemakers. The sparkling wine is made using the same methods that French winemakers used in 1700, and the target date for other wines is to use the methods of 1900. This means no sulphur is used. The sulphite content of the Dragonridge wines is below the limits of detection, but the authorities insist that there must be some, so the label says “low sulphites”!

When they die, the skeletons of the old trees get left standing on Fynbos Estate. The trees decay slowly, develop cavities, and attract hole-nesting bird species, like woodpeckers and barbets. We have mistnetted Cardinal Woodpeckers and Acacia Pied Barbets here, and also Lesser Honeyguide, which is a brood parasite of the barbet.

From the perspective of the bird ringer, there is massive plus at Fynbos Estate. There are lots and lots of distinct ringing sites, in a variety of habitats, and we have not yet found them all. Here is the BDI team scouting out a new site for the next morning, where they planned to mistnet a sample of weavers and bishops. The mistnets were erected, and then “furled” so they could not catch birds. They were opened early in the morning, at first light.

The outcome. Four busy bird ringers on a misty morning at Fynbos Estate.

We don’t only ring at Fynbos Estate. During the pioneering expedition we teamed up twice with the ringers of the Tygerberg Ringing Group. On one of these joint events, we ringed at the confluence of the Diep and Mosselbank Rivers, on the farm Goedeontmoeting. We mistnetted excellent numbers of weavers and bishops, most of which were in moult. There were also four Malachite Kingfishers!

Bird ringing has been undertaken on the farm Goedeontmoeting since the 1990s, so there is a track history of records stretching back nearly 30 years. The level of intensity has varied. Several of the birds mistnetted here were retraps, and had originally been caught during previous ringing sessions over the years. The oldest of these was a Southern Masked Weaver, which had been ringed by the Tygerberg Ringing Group on 28 July 2010, which is 3,129 days before the date of retrap, on 20 February 2019. That is 8.6 years. Once we have a hundred or more retraps for a species, we can use the data to fit models which estimate the annual survival rate. For a Southern Masked Weaver, surviving 8.6 years is exceptional. This illustrates the value of having long-term bird ringing sites. Note the arrival of celebratory cake!

In total, the pioneering expedition processed a total of 375 birds of 27 species at Fynbos Estate itself. 136 birds were ringed at the two satellite ringing sites. We collected lots of valuable data on moult. This Southern Masked Weaver is a great example of a bird in quite an advanced stage of primary moult. Part 2 of this series describes eight of the 27 species ringed on this expedition.

The nearest small wetland to Fynbos Estate is about 3 km away, a farm dam at Welgemeend. We observed 12 waterbird species. Egyptian Goose – 400 of them, and smaller numbers of South African Shelduck, Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Spur-winged Goose, African Sacred Ibis, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing and African Spoonbill.

A final photo of the awesome accommodation which we will use for our bird ringing expeditions to Fynbos Estate. The members of the pioneering team said: “We absolutely loved our stay here at Fynbos Estate.”

Details of how to get involved are on the website of the Biodiversity and Development Institute, in the section called African Ringing Expeditions. Help us achieve our dream of turning this first into a long-term bird ringing site and then into a bird observatory. In fact, this could become a biodiversity observatory. Become part of the history of bird ringing in South Africa. We will keep the Facebook page for the BDI African Ringing Expeditions up to date with news.

Dwarf Blue refreshed after 142 years

What are all these citizen scientists focused on? The temperature in the Robertson Valley is a warm 32°C. It is 1pm on 2 March 2019.

They are taking photographs of South Africa’s tiniest butterfly, the Dwarf Blue Oraidium barbera. It’s inside here, sitting on a little yellow flower! At the bottom of this blog, there is a hint if you can’t find it!

Here it is close up. The flower it is sitting on has a diameter of 10mm. This photo was taken by Fanie Rautenbach. In the LepiMAP section of the Virtual Museum you find this record at

Here is the Virtual Museum distribution map from LepiMAP for the Dwarf Blue before the trip. The grid cells for which there are Virtual Museum records have turquoise circles. These are the records with photographs. The orange squares are specimen records dating back to the year dot, assembled with great love and care from museums and other collections during the Butterfly Atlas Project, SABCA. There is an orange square in grid cell 3319DD Robertson (in the centre of the red circle), the which one we visited. This means that the records here are based by one or more specimen records.

Checking the LepiMAP database shows that two specimens were collected in this grid cell. The details of one of them are shown above! They were collected in January 1876, and are curated by the Natural History Museum in London. The specimens are still there, carefully preserved by generations of museum staff! These are the only records ever made of Dwarf Blue in this grid cell! In the Virtual Museum, the information is stored electronically (and accessibly!) at

And here is the new distribution map, updated to show the turquoise circle! Awesomely well done, citizen scientist Basil Boer, on finding the Dwarf Blue. This record is the ultimate “refreshment” of an almost prehistoric record, made 142 years ago.

The team also added two species to the list for the grid cell: Tinktinkie Blue Brephidium metophis and Dwarf Sandman Spialia nanus. The list of Lepidoptera recorded in grid cell 3319DD Robertson since 1980 now totals 36 species. For an up-to-date list, click on At present the median date of the “Last recorded dates” lies in 2008. In words, what this statistic means is that half of the species in this grid cell have not been recorded for 10 or more years! They badly need to be “refreshed.” Do they still occur here? To achieve this will take a series of trips, to different habitats within the grid cell, and at different times of the year.

The citizen scientists who were part of the 2 March 2019 trip to the Robertson District (N1 to Worcester, then the R60 towards Robertson) were Fanie Rautenbach, Wilna Steenkamp, Corrie du Toit, Basil Boer and myself. Besides butterflies, we had a good selection of dragonflies and damselflies to submit to OdonataMAP and a carnivore scat full of hair for MammalMAP (


The HINT follows!

HINT: Did you battle to  find the Dwarf Blue in this photo? Here is the hint. there are three minute yellow flowers a bit below the centre. They form a triangle. The Dwarf Blue is sitting on the flower at the top right of the triangle.

Did you find the butterfly? Here is a close up of the three yellow flowers. They form a triangle. The Dwarf Blue is sitting on the flower at the top right of the triangle, near the top edge of the picture.


Expedition site

The Fynbos Estate property has two sections. The lower section is agricultural, and they produce wines under the label Dragonridge. The winery is artisanal, and the wines are made using time-honoured methods that are too slow for modern winemakers. The farm uses no chemicals (and the birdlife is amazing). The upper section of the property is the Simson-Simons Nature Reserve, and consists of marvelous, and quite poorly studied fynbos on the slopes and summit of the Paardeberg. (For more information see

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The expedition starts

The Biodiversity and Development Institute is setting up a long term bird ringing site on Fynbos Estate (@fynbosestate), an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. This cottage, the Black Eagle cottage, is the base for action. It provides comfortable accommodation for a dozen people. On this pioneer expedition we are a group of five ringers. For more information see

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How to submit records to the Virtual Museum

Do you love all things biodiversity? Do you love photography? Do you love exploring new places? And do you love nature and the great outdoors? Then you are a key candidate to become a BioMAPper (and a generally awesome person). So, how do you go about becoming a BioMAPper? In this blog I will explain step-by-step how you can make your photos count for biodiversity conservation in Africa.

Step 1: Register (or check if you are registered) as a BioMAPper

Step 2: Once you are registered, you can login to the Virtual Museums website at, click on the “LOGIN” tab on the left-hand side of your screen and login with the email that you registered with and the password that you created for yourself (if, after registration, you get a message on your screen that tells you to wait for an email, please ignore this, your registration is instant and you can login to the Virtual Museum right away).

Step 3: On the left-hand side of your screen click on “Data Upload” (see photo below), a form appears. It is a two page form. The first page collects the information, and the second page uploads the photos.

Step 3: click on “Data upload”

Step 4: Fill in data capture form (see photo below). All areas of the data capture that are marked with * are required fields. These are: Year, Month, Day, Country, Closest Town, Locality, Latitude, Longitude, and the Source of your GPS coordinates. If you do not have the GPS coordinates you can use the interactive Google Map provided and pinpoint the area where you took the photo(s) (i.e. find the general area, zoom in repeatedly, and click on the map to place a marker on the map, trying to be as accurate as possible). If you use the Google Map, the operation of clicking on the map will automatically provide the coordinates at the bottom of the data capture form. After completing this form click on “Save” at the bottom to save all the location information, and to move onto the second form. (Handy Tip: you can save locations that you visit often as a “Gazetteer”. You do this by filling in all the necessary location details as normal and then creating a name for your gazetteer in the field labeled “Gazetteer locality name” and then clicking on “Save”… time you upload photos you can just select the gazetteer locality name from your saved list)

Step 4: the data capture form
If you did not take the GPS coordinates while out in the field, you can use the interactive Google Map in the data capture form to pinpoint your record(s)

Step 5: Select the project to which you want to submit your photo/photos. Upload your photos and click on “Submit” at the bottom of the form. After your photo(s) have finished uploading to the database, you will receive a confirmation on screen of the submission. You can load up to three photos per record (please note that one species = one record). The form makes provision for three records at the site described on the first form (If you just have one record to submit then you just skip over the provision for records two and three right down to the bottom of the form, and click on “submit”). If you have more than three records to submit for the sam location then you can select the little block at the bottom of the form that says “add more”. Once your record is submitted, confirmation of its arrival in the Virtual Museum database is provided by the appearance of a thumbnail version of your photo, and the basic details of your record on screen.

Step 5: select the project you are submitting to and upload your photos

Well done! You’ve successfully submitted your first record to the Virtual Museum. You are now a qualified citizen scientist BioMAPper and an Ambassador for Biodiversity! The drill is the same for all the projects in the Virtual Museum.

You can view this step-by-step guide on SlideShare as well:

Year of the Dragon – OdonataMAP records of note for 2018 – PART THREE

Blue Basker

John Wilkinson, one of the most hard working members on the OdonataMAP expert panel, has put together a terrific summary of the best OdonataMAP records for 2018 for each province of South Africa. It was a year that delivered many interesting and spectacular damselfly and dragonfly records. The records mentioned in part three of the below report are records that are either range extensions, new records of species that haven’t been recorded for several years, or new species for a province or for South Africa. Part one of the report is available here, followed by part two which can be viewed here

North West

North West Province

For the North West Province, there were eight species that were recorded only once during 2018, with the Clubbed Talontail Crenigomphus hartmanni being a first for the province

  • A Black Emperor Anax tristis was mapped by Lance Robinson on 07 November 2018 at Sediba Game Lodge near Brits (2527BC). It is the first ever record for the North West Province!
  • Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans snapped and mapped a Sailing Bluet Azuragrion nigridorsum at Dikhololo Resort near Brits on 29 April 2018 VM. It was the second Virtual Museum record for the North West.
Sailing Bluet – photo by John Wilkinson
  • OdonataMAP record 44494 of a Common Thorntail Ceratogomphus pictus was the fifth Virtual Museum record for the province. It was mapped by Jaco Botes on 28 January 2018.
  • On the fourth of February 2018, Lance Robinson mapped a Horned Rockdweller Bradinopyga cornuta at Dikhololo near Brits. This was the third ever record for the North West!
  • A Portia Widow Palpopleura portia OdonataMAPped by Graham Barr on 24April 2018 was the only record for the North West for the year. He photographed this awesome dragonfly near Groot Marico (2526CB).
  • Jaco Botes recorded a Highland Dropwing Trithemis dorsalis, the fifth Virtual Museum record for the province, on 28 January 2018 at Boskopdam near Potchefstroom.
  • OdonataMAP record 46171 of a Ringed Cascader Zygonyx torridus was the second ever record for the North West. Niall Perrins snapped and mapped it on 18 February 2018 in Borakalalo National Park.
  • Niall Perrins OdonataMAPped a Clubbed Talontail Crenigomphus hartmanni, the first ever record for the province, on 19 February 2018 in Borakalalo National Park (2527BB).
Clubbed Talontail – photo by Niall Perrins

Northern Cape

Northern Cape Province

For the Northern Cape, five species were recorded only once during 2018 with one being recorded for the first time. All these records were submitted by none other than Altha Liebenberg

  • Altha recorded the third Northern Cape record of a Clubbed Talontail Crenigomphus hartmanni (photo below) on 04 January 2018. She OdonataMAPped it on the Vaal River near Douglas.
Clubbed Talontail – photo by Altha Liebenberg
  • A Phantom Flutterer Rhyothemis semihyalina was snapped and mapped on 04 January 2018 near Smitsdrif, this was the second record ever for the Northern Cape.
  • Altha recorded a Red Basker Urothemis assignata  on 26 December 2018 near Douglas (2923BB). This was the second record ever for the Northern Cape, with the only other record mapped in Hartswater in December 2017 by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans.
  • OdonataMAP record 62870 of a Blue Basker Urothemis edwardsii, was the third record for the Northern Cape, mapped on the banks of the Vaal River in Douglas on 26 December 2018.
  • Altha also mapped a Ferruginous Glider Tramea limbata, the very first record for the province, on 04 January 2018 in the Smitsdrif district (2824CA).
Ferruginous Glider – photo by Sharon Stanton

Western Cape

Western Cape Province

In the Western Cape, six species were recorded only once during 2018 with a Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum recorded for the first time. A Red Basker Urothemis assignata was recorded for the first time as well, with a number of records found thereafter

  • Andrew and Heather Hodgson recorded an Elusive Skimmer Orthetrum rubens in the Cederberg Wilderness Area near Citrusdal on 15 December 2018 (3219AC). It was the first Virtual Museum record and the first record since December 2015 for the Western Cape.
Elusive Skimmer – photo by Andrew & Heather Hodgson
  • Jean Hirons mapped a Dancing Jewel Platycypha caligata, the second Virtual Museum record and the first record since 2011 for the Western Cape, on 12 March 2018 at the Keurbooms River near Kammanassie Nature Reserve (3323CC).
  • OdonataMAP record 46263 of a Mahogany Presba Syncordulia venator was mapped by Andre Marais on 22 February 2018 at Jubilee Creek in Knysna (3322DD). It was the only record for the year for the Western Cape.
  • Amanda Walden snapped and mapped a Darting Cruiser Phyllomacromia picta in the Saasveld Forest near George on 20 December 2018. It was the third record for the province and the first record since 2009!
  • OdonataMAP record 48386 of a Black-splashed Elf Tetrathemis polleni was the first Virtual Museum record and the second ever record for the Western Cape. Jean Hirons recorded it on 01 April 2018 at the Hoogekraal River crossing in Sedgefield (3322DD).
Black-splashed Elf – photo by Desire Darling
  • Jean Hirons mapped a Red Basker Urothemis assignata on 06 February 2018, the first Virtual Museum record for the province, at the Karatara River crossing near Sedgefield (3322DD).
  • A Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum recorded by Pieter Le Grange on 04 May 2018 was the first ever record for the Western Cape! He mapped it in Nature’s Valley (3323DC).

John Wilkinson’s pick for 2018 RECORD OF THE YEAR is the Mastigogomphus exuviae found by Gerhard Diedericks. Mastigogomphus is a genus in the family Gomphidae and is represented by 3 species in Africa:

  1. M. chapini from Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon.
  2. M. pinheyi from Kenya
  3. M. dissimilis from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The exuviae that Gerhard found is most likely that of M. dissimilis or it might even be a species new to science! Credit for information on Mastigogomphus: Dijkstra, K.-D.B (editor). African Dragonflies and Damselflies Online. [2019-01-20].

Year of the Dragon – OdonataMAP records of note for 2018 – PART TWO

John Wilkinson, one of the most hard working members on the OdonataMAP expert panel, has put together a terrific summary of the best records for 2018 for each province of South Africa. This is part two of the report. Part one is available here.


KwaZulu-Natal Province

KwaZulu-Natal is very well surveyed and an area with high biodiversity, therefore it comes as no surprise that quite a number of great records came from this province for 2018. There were seven species that were recorded only once during the year, one of which was recorded for the first time!

  • A Black Emperor Anax tristis recorded by Richard Johnstone on 14 January 2018, OdonataMAP 43152, was the only record of this species for the in KwaZulu-Natal for the year. Richard photographed it at Intaba Ingwe Game Farm near Heatonville.
Black Emperor – photo by Katharina Reddig
  • The only record for 2018 of an Eastern Duskhawker Gynacantha usambarica was recorded by Richard Johnstone on 02 April 2018 in Nseleni Nature Reserve near Richards Bay (2831DB). OdonataMAP record 48419.
  • Steve Woodhall recorded the one and only Friendly Hawker Zosteraeschna minuscula record for 2018 in Dlinza Forest near Eshowe on 25 November 2018.
  • The only Springwater Sprite Pseudagrion caffrum record for the year was mapped by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 04 March 2018 in the Royal Natal National Park near Bergville (2828DB).
Springwater Sprite – photo by Alan Manson
  • Alan Mason submitted the only record of a Deceptive Widow Palpopleura deceptor for the year on 01 April 2018. He mapped it in the Weenen Game Reserve (2829DD). There are only eight records of this dragonfly for KwaZulu-Natal in total.
  • The Russet Dropwing Trithemis pluvialis record submitted by Ryan Tippett on 01 June 2018 was the sixth OdonataMAP record for the province. Ryan mapped it on the banks of the Mkuze River in Amakhosi Game Reserve (2731DA).
  • Lappies Labuschagne recorded the first ever Zambezi Siphontail Neurogomphus zambeziensis record for KZN on 05 March 2018 in Ndumu Game Reserve.


Limpopo Province

For Limpopo Province, six species were recorded only once in 2018 and two species were recorded for the first time.

  • A Little Duskhawker Gynacantha manderica recorded by Antoinette Snyman on 22 May 2018 was only the second record to date for the province. She mapped it at the ATKV Eiland Spa near Letsitele (2330DA).
  • John Wilkinson recorded a Suave Citril Ceriagrion suave on 24 February 2018 near Tshipise. It was the first record for the province, the closest other record of this species is from Chikwarakwara in Zimbabwe, recorded in 1974 by F.C. de Moor!
Suave Citril – photo by John Wilkinson
  • Vladek Van Rooyen recorded the only Yellowjack Notogomphus praetorius for the year on 28 December 2018 at the Debengeni Falls near Tzaneen.
  • A Great Hooktail Paragomphus magnus was snapped and mapped by Niall Perrins on 16 March 2018 near Pafuri. It was the fifth OdonataMAP Virtual Museum record for the province.
  • A Little Wisp Agriocnemis exilis recorded by John Wilkinson on 08 September 2018 was the first 21st Century record and the fourth for the province.
  • Coen Van den Berg (with fellow observers Ignat Van den Berg, Chantel Ferreia and Charmaine Van den Berg) mapped a Brown Duskhawker Gynacantha villosa on 07 September 2018 in Phalaborwa. It is the first ever record for the province!
Brown Duskhawker – photo by Coen Van den Berg


Mpumalanga Province

In Mpumalanga Province, six species were recorded only once during 2018 and all of them were either the first, second or third record for OdonataMAP. One of these record is the first ever record for South Africa.

  • Gert Bensch mapped the first photo record of a Black Emperor Anax tristis on 09 December 2018 near White River. The closest other record is from Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, mapped in 2008 by Warwick and Michele Tarboton.
  • A Peak Bluet Africallagma sinuatum snapped and mapped by Alf Taylor and Hiliary Harrison on 15 March 2018 is the first photographic record for OdonataMAP (2430DD). The identification of this awesome damselfly was based on the shape of the terminal end of the abdomen of a young male (photo below).
Peak Bluet – photo by Alf Taylor
  • Gerhard Diedericks recorded a Harlequin Sprite Pseudagrion newtoni on 13 January 2018 near Pilgrems Rest (2430DC). It was the third photo record for the province. There are only eight records of this species in Mpumalanga.
  • OdonataMAP record 51802 of a Guinea Skimmer Orthetrum guineense, recorded by Ralph Jordan on 05 May 2018 in Mabusa Nature Reserve, was the second for the Virtual Museum. This species was last recorded in 2013.
  • OdonataMAP record 63965 of a Two-banded Cruiser Phyllomacromia contumax was the third photo record for OdonataMAP (there are only 13 records of this species for Mpumalanga). Snapped and mapped by Gert Bensch and Juan-Pierre Antunes on 29 December 2018.
  • To crown it all, Gerhard Diedericks submitted the first ever record for South Africa of a Snorkeltail Mastigogomphus exuviae on 31 July 2018 (photo below)! He mapped it in the Komati River near Tjakastad (2630BB).
Mastigogomphus exuviae – photo by Gerhard Diedericks

…..Part three to follow soon…..

Year of the Dragon – OdonataMAP records of note for 2018 – PART ONE

John Wilkinson, one of the most hard working members on the OdonataMAP expert panel, has put together a terrific summary of the best records for 2018 for each province of South Africa. It was a year that delivered many interesting and spectacular damselfly and dragonfly records. The records mentioned in part one of the below report are records that are either range extensions, new records of species that haven’t been recorded for several years, or new species for a province or for South Africa.

Eastern Cape

Eastern Cape Province

For the Eastern Cape, there were eight species that were recorded only once during 2018. And for seven of them there are only 5 or fewer records in OdonataMAP for the province or South Africa (including historical data):

  • OdonataMAP record 46473 of a Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger submitted by Alf Taylor is only the fifth record ever for the Eastern Cape. It was recorded on 27 February 2018 (grid cell 3325DC) near Uitenhage.
  • OdonataMAP record 44614 of a Round-winged Bluet Proischnura rotundipennis is only the third record ever for the Easter Cape. It was recorded by Alan Manson on 27 January 2018.
Round-winged Bluet – photo by Alan Manson
  • OdonataMAP record 46108 of a Springwater Sprite Pseudagrion caffrum was recorded by Alf Taylor and Hillary Harrison on 17 February 2018 (3226DB) in the Hogsback Garden Park.
  • OdonataMAP record 44578 of a Lined Claspertail Onychogomphus supinus is the second ever record for the Eastern Cape. Recorded by Alan Manson on 27 January 2018. Alan writes: “many males were seen on the rocks (they were the dominant dragonfly species), about ten individuals in a 50 m stretch of the river”.
Lined Claspertail – photo by Alan Manson
  • OdonataMAP record 62911 of a Pallid Spreadwing Lestes pallidus is the second record for Eastern Cape, submitted by Alf Taylor and Hiliary Harrison on 25 December 2018.
  • A Keyhole Glider Tramea basilaris recorded by Riëtte Griesel on 15 February 2018 is the fourth record for the Eastern Cape. It is OdonataMAP record 45848.
  • A Red Basker Urothemis assignata recorded by Alf Taylor on 05 January 2018 is the fourth record in total for Eastern Cape. It is OdonataMAP record 34383.
  • OdonataMAP record 49034 of a Two-banded Cruiser Phyllomacromia contumax is only the second record for the Eastern Cape. It was recorded by Alf Taylor and Hiliary Harrison on 24 March 2018.

Free State

Free State Province

For the Free State, there were four species of note, and they were all recorded only once during 2018:

  • A Powder-faced Sprite Pseudagrion kersteni (OdonataMAP 57134) recorded by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 10 August 2018 was the fourth Virtual Museum record for the Free State.
  • OdonataMAP record 46318 of a Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum recorded by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 25  February 2018 is the fifth record for the Free State.
Cherry-eye Sprite – photo by Ryan Tippett
  • A Pallid Spreadwing Lestes pallidus recorded by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 21 January 2018 (OdonataMAP 44094) was the only record of this species in the Free State for the year.
  • OdonataMAP record 61999 of a Bottletail Olpogastra lugubris is the second record ever for the Free State! It was photographed and uploaded to OdonataMAP by Evert Kleynhans on 15 December 2018.


Gauteng Province

Two species were recorded in Gauteng for the first time during 2018:

Great Sprite – photo by Juan-Pierre Antunes
  • OdonataMAP record 43968, a Goldtail Allocnemis leucosticta recorded by Keanu Canto on 13 January 2018 at the Amanzintaba Resort, Wilge River Valley (2529CA). Keanu writes: “A fairly large population was observed in the forested kloof/gorge of Amanzintaba Resort. Many mating pairs were seen. They were seen along the small stream running through this kloof/gorge, which is lined with rocky stream banks and many ferns”.

….. PART TWO follows here …..

… and now for something a little bit different … BOPping birds …

Since it started in March 2012, 450 records have been uploaded to the BOP section of the  Virtual Museum. BOP stands for Birds with Odd Plumage. The BOP logo conveys the concept of “odd plumage”. This blog reviews a few of the records in BOP.

BOP logo
The logo for BOP – Birds with Odd Plumage

The Virtual Museum website describes BOP this way: “Birds with all sorts of unusual plumage variations are observed from time to time. Nowadays, with digital photography, pictures of these birds are frequently available. BOP (Birds with Odd Plumage) aims to provide a place where the photographs can be curated into one database. Any bird with any unusual plumage characteristic qualifies for inclusion in the Virtual Museum. This will provide the opportunity to look for patterns. Do certain species have abnormal plumage more frequently than others? Do unusual plumage patterns occur more in some places than in others?” The BOP section of the Virtual Museum has also become a curation place for photos of birds with deformities, especially of the bill, and also of hybrids.

Collage of BOP records

Here is a collage of thumbnails of the 13 African Penguins Spheniscus demersus uploaded to BOP. The most commonly encountered plumage abnormality is a double throat band, similar to that of Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus.  Every year there are twitchers who believe they have made the first African record of the Magellanic Penguin.

But take a good look at the two photos of penguins at the left ends of the first and second rows. They are both more or less black in front, and they have white patches in the same places. They look like photos of the same penguin. Here they are, side by side!

African Penguins in Birds with Odd Plumage

The left photo, BOP002, was taken on Robben Island on 21 May 2004 (curated at The right photo, BOP013, was taken by Jessica Kemper on Halifax Island, Namibia, on 1 June 2008 (curated at Movements of African Penguins between the the Namibian islands and the penguin colonies of the Western Cape have been recorded, but are quite unusual. Alas, we do not have a match. Jessica and I have agreed that, even though the general patterns of these two birds are quite similar, the details are very different. For example, the penguin on the right has a small throatband, the one on the left does not (the patterns stay identical moult after moult). Nevertheless, it is amazing that essentially the same colour morph, the “black-fronted African Penguin” has occurred in two colonies so far apart.

There are two more African Penguins with extremely odd plumages.

African Penguin with mysterious logo on its back

This bizarre bird looks like it has been branded as penguin number 100. It was photographed on 3 June 2010 by penguin research Lorien Pichegru on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay, a little east of Port Elizabeth. Lorien comments “This bird was seen again on St Croix Island, at the same spot in March 2013” (see

Almost albino African Penguin

And this “Dalmation”-style penguin was photographed in the penguin colony at The Boulders, in Simonstown, by Andre Coetzer on 17 February 2017. The white back would be a useful climate change adaptation, because the normal black back is a poor choice of colour when lying on nests incubating eggs. Black absorbs heat, white reflects it. (See

The next case study is totally different to the records for all the other species in BOP. We do not for a moment believe that the feathers of the Cattle Egrets actually grew to be pink and blue, just like we don’t believe that the blue ones are boys and the pink ones are girls.

Multicoloured Cattle Egrets in Birds with Odd Plumage

We have absolutely no idea what happened to dye these Cattle Egrets blue or pink. They were solitary coloured birds in flocks. The blue egret on the left was photographed by Grant Egen at Mkombo Dam, Mpumalanga, on 18 January 2015 (see The photographs on the right were taken by Suzanne van Maltitz on a farm in the Northern Cape just south of Spitskop Dam. The top photo was taken on 22 January 2012, and the bottom photo three years later on 13 February 2015 (see and Explanations welcome.

King Myna in Birds with Odd Plumage

This bizarre abnormality is fairly frequent! It’s a bald Common Myna, featherless head, and a bright yellow skin, simply known as a “bald-headed myna”.  They are sometimes also referred to as “King Mynas”, as in this blog from the Seychelles where there is another, almost identical, photograph. Wherever Common Mynas occur, both in their native range and also in the multiple areas where they have been introduced, bald-headed mynas are observed occasionally. Chris Feare, co-author of a book called Starlings and Mynas, is particularly interested in this abnormality. He says: “It is remarkable that such an obvious and widespread variant has received little mention in myna literature. The causation of this strange condition remains pure speculation. We are not even close to understanding what is going on with bald-headed mynas.” Chris was involved in a myna eradication campaign in the Seychelles.  “We don’t have enough data to uncover any seasonal effects, and we killed all the birds we caught during eradication programmes so we can’t say whether they remain in the condition for life, or recover a full head of feathers at some stage.” So here is a challenge for everyone who lives with mynas. If you have a bald-headed myna in your neighbourhood, try to watch it, and see if the baldness is permanent, or whether it sprouts new feathers after a few weeks or months! The photo above, by Doreen Wood, was submitted by Grant Egen, and is curated at

The Common Myna is an alien species in South Africa.

Common Myna with bald head in BOP

It can’t get much worse than this for a myna. Johan van Rensburg took this photo west of Delmas in Mpumalanga on 18 May 2014. He comments: “A rather bizarre combination of two rare, unrelated plumage conditions, bald-headed as well as leucistic. One in a million?” Curated at

If you want to have a look at more of the weird and wonderful plumages uploaded by citizen scientists, and curated in Birds with Odd Plumage, head over to the Virtual Museum at Select BOP as your project, and then click on either of the “Search” buttons without choosing anything specific to search for. The next page will display the first 30 records. At the top  of this page, you can click on “Display thumb-nails only”, and you will get small versions of the first 250 records in BOP. Click on any of the thumb-nails, and you will get a display of the record.

If you have photos to contribute to BOP, please do upload them! If you are new to the Virtual Museum, and want to get involved, please make contact.