Citizen Science

South African Bird Atlas Project 2 – (SABAP2: Species search)

We’re rather proud of our Citizen Science projects in this country. One of the more, dare I say it, relevant projects & I say relevant for selfish reasons only, is the South African Bird Atlas Project 2 or by its acronym – SABAP2; a joint venture between Birdlife South Africa, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town.

SABAP2 aims to map the distribution & abundance of birds in the sub-region & follows on from, as you might have guessed, the recently dubbed SABAP1; the region’s first atlas project which concluded in 1991.

The field-data is collected by volunteers or Citizen Scientists who gather data, in their own time & at their own expense and within strict parameters. The unit of collection is the PENTAD, a square of roughly 9 kilometers per side or 5 minutes each of latitude & longitude. Species recorded within the PENTAD are collated & submitted to the database. To date some 90000 of these checklists have been submitted by volunteers; something to crow about, no doubt..

I must admit we’ve been somewhat lax ourselves on submissions to SABAP2 for no particular reason other than complacency. Off the point & for what it’s worth & in our defence, Alisha & I contribute more regularly to The South African Bird Ringing Unit or SAFRING, a bird-ringing (banding) project for qualified / trained banders (ringers) who collect & submit biometric (morphological) data to a database. We intend to be more diligent in our submissions to both projects & others, although almost certainly only after the conclusion of our 800 Challenge given current time constraints.

Bird feeders & nectar bottles = a ‘bird-friendly’ neighbourhood.

As we progress it becomes more difficult to add new species to our Challenge list, particularly during the periods when obligation keeps us at home. It’s during these quiet periods & whenever possible, that we steal away for a few hours & attempt a ‘mop-up‘ of the species we’ve yet to record.

One such species we hadn’t recorded, until now, was the African Rock Pipit. Although we’d seen this pipit in years past, relatively close to home, we thought we’d stack the deck, improve our chances of success & sneak a peak at the SABAP2 database.

One of the PENTADS which records the African Rock Pipit fairly regularly (11.11% of cards / checklists submitted) is 2640_2845; a 9×9 square of hillside & grassland off the R23, behind Greylingstad, in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. Although a good hour’s drive from home & a little further afield than some of the other PENTADS, which also recorded the bird, we thought we’d go where neither of us had been before… & why not? To pay for this service we’d atlas (record & submit a checklist) the PENTAD ourselves.

Interesting residents – Greylingstad’s ‘Mr Cool!’

Greylingstad is not, with respect to its many interesting residents, a town renown for its aesthetic appeal. This is beetle-brow country; folks are suspiciously tough & the dogs bite.. It was a surprise, therefore, to find a committed, bird-friendly resident who not only tends his / her garden in a manner conducive to attracting birds but who also tends the strip across the street with the same diligence & attention. Bird feeders hang in bunches.

Orange River Francolin – one of the pentad’s 2 Scleroptila francolin

For the record we submitted a winter checklist of well over 50 species, noted in a very short time; testament to the country’s birding appeal & perhaps more so, the birding potential of the many off-beat & as yet unexplored parts of this country.

The pipit revealed itself not long after a short walk up the nearest text-book-like ‘boulder-strewn hillside.’ We enjoyed a successful morning aided & abetted, in no small measure, by the Citizen Scientists who had gone before & who, in giving of their time, had made our task less onerous than it might have been. I

It’s also a tacit reminder to dig in pockets & give back whenever possible. Others may walk this way tomorrow.




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