BLPN’s Lockdown Bird Count Challenge

Lockdown Bird Count

27th March – 31st May 2020

(or the end of Level 4 Restrictions whichever comes first)


Days in Lockdown ended on 31 May


Total Bird Species Recorded


Households Counting

Day 1: Friday 27th March 2020

(T-minus 20 and counting)

A successful first day of lockdown with over 20 participants registering for the competition – many urban and some rural – and quite a few images starting to fill the album on Facebook. Some interesting additions like Goliath Heron, Little Sparrowhawk, White-eared barbet and even a Golden-tailed woodpecker from the balcony of a flat. Well done all. The image below shows a portion of the album – to see the full size images and the full album click on the image to be taken to the Facebook Lockdown album.

Photo album on BLPN Facebook group page. Click on the image to see more.

Day 2: Saturday 28th March 2020

(T-minus 19 and counting)

The second day of lockdown started with the exciting sighting of two Peregrine falcons seen by one of our participants and we are starting to gather quite an assemblage of the species seen so far in the photo album. Please add unique species to this – only BLPN members who are participants in the competition. Anyone wishing to join the club should go to the membership page and download an application form using the link below.

Day 5: Tuesday 31st March 2020

(T-minus 16 and counting)

Well, we have reached Day 5 of the lockdown and I hope everyone is well and safely in their lockdown patch. On a personal note it is my Dad’s birthday today and it is terrible not to be able to celebrate together but we do this so we can celebrate later!

We have had an amazing response from our members and have now over 40 people in the lockdown competition. People from far and wide – Harding and Scottburgh in southern KZN to Msiki near Phinda in the north, and through to Underberg in the west, with the central regions well represented with lots of people from Mount Edgecombe, Durban North, Berea, Glenwood, Westville and Kloof. So there is a great spread of locations and property sizes in both the rural and urban categories.

Some amazing records with quite a few raptors – more on this in the weekly report on Friday – as well as many interesting small seedeaters and other songbirds.

Our lockdown album is also growing well with 54 unique species already photographed…some obvious omissions on this page as of today – Red backed & Magpie mannikin, Green-backed camaroptera, Cardinal woodpecker, Cape turtle dove ??? so keep checking what photos you have and what is still missing from the wall.

Please send your weekly list (not just the number of birds) to by Thursday evening so we can keep tally…

If you are keeping a list please enter the competition and send it in weekly as you will not be eligible for a prize if you spring your list on us at the last moment.

Week 1 Detailed report

Day 8: Friday 3rd April 2020

(T-minus 14 and counting)

A review of the first week of BLPN’s Lockdown Bird Count

Well we made it through the first week! Feedback from many of you participating in the challenge has suggested that there have been some pleasant surprises at what can be observed in our own backyards – literally. “Our own back yards” – which is normally a figurative expression meaning “a place close to you” has brought us to the point of exploring whatever space we have available to us in and around our homes. For some of us this is a whole farm while for others it is a flat with a window or perhaps a balcony. Whatever it might be, I think it has taken many of us to thoughts of others who have even less, and are not able to easily practise the social distancing measures available to us. In addition, we have the added benefits many facilities and amusements from TV, to gardens and most importantly birdwatching.

So where are we after a week of keeping an eye on the birds (and for some of us butterflies and dragonflies too!).

How many people are in ?

A total of 55 people entered the Lockdown Bird Count and most of these entrants, bar about six or seven, managed to send in their lists by lunchtime today – remember this keeps you in the competition to be eligible for the prizes so don’t miss Week 2 and Final deadline !

Where are they located ?

People are spread out with most of the entrants in the URBAN category and three people in the RURAL category. You can see where the participants are located with the urban locations in blue and the rural entrants in green in the maps below.

Members are participating from all over KZN
with rural locations including Msiki in the North, to Eston and Harding in the South (green flags).
Urban category birders (blue flags on the map) have joined from all across the metro
from Umhlanga and Mount Edgecombe, to Amanzimtti in the south, through Pinetown and Westville, to Hillcrest and
Gillits and we welcome those even further afield in Scottburgh.

Our Combined list after Week 1…184 species!

A total of 184 species has been seen by the participants after one week. For me quite a surprisingly high total. The average Urban list is 28 species so if you got more than that well done – you are doing something right – either you are out there looking non-stop or you have created a haven for birds. Individual lists varied around this average from 6 through to 56. 56 species is therefore the leading total in the urban category at the moment but remember that totals are still going to be scored or adjusted as a function of property size and individual species scores so this is not the end of the story.

Many of you sent in photos of your birds and some of these are included here – we will try to include as many as we can over the next two weeks in the updates. Please click on the photos to see each as a larger image.

We tend to think of our urban areas as relatively sterile but if we only pause to pay attention like we all doing now, we see things that were not expected…a Peregrine falcon passing overhead in Glenashley or a brightly coloured Collared sunbird, which we never knew we had, using our garden shade. Although we may have expected the urban list to be outstripped by the rural total, for the moment, the number of species in the urban areas is higher with a total of 146 while the rural areas have a total of 112.

Thank you again to all those who are sending their favourite images or interesting species.

A gallery of some more Urban birds

The rural areas list is 112 species with the three participants having 65,64 and 22 and what is apparent from the lists is that there is, as you might expect, a slightly different species composition with species like Eastern Nicator, White-backed vulture and Lazy Cisticola making an appearance.

One of our lockdown members is lucky enough to be in the spectacular setting of northern Zululand – Ken Jarvis
Red-fronted Tinkerbird in full voice – Ken Jarvis

If you would like to download the bird lists I have prepared a Combined, Urban and Rural List and each is available to download using the relevant buttons below.

A fantastic effort by everyone – please keep ticking those birds and please send only the new species seen during week 2 this Thursday. Lets see what we can push the KZN list to during this time.

More urban birds …

Day 12: Tuesday 7th April 2020

(T-minus 10 and counting)

Olive Sunbird – Dave Rimmer

Firstly, thank you to the many members, both those participating and those following the competition, that have written in to express their appreciation and enjoyment. For me personally this has also been an amazing experience as I am so enjoying seeing what members are all logging and feeling during lockdown. Another personal milestone as well for Ticky and I as today is our twins 30th birthday – Olivia in Australia and Murray in Switzerland – so miles rather than the lockdown prevent a get-together. One member expressed her feelings that the lockdown bird count event had made her feel part of a “birding family” which has really got to the heart of what this is all about.

Our Lockdown Album challenge on Facebook also hit a milestone yesterday with photographs of unique species hitting a total of 100 ! Remember contributors to that album will receive a momento at the end for their efforts. Anyone who is a BLPN member and in the competition can post a photo – just remember to check and only post a species which has not been done before. You can look at this album even if you are not on Facebook – just click on the link below. Gorgeous pics of honeyguides, twinspots and hornbills amongst others.

Some highlights already coming in from week 2 include many more Little Sparrowhawk being spotted by members in Amanzimtoti, Kloof and Westville, some great records of Lesser and Scaly-throated honeyguides, a few African Harrier-hawk sightings and even a Pink-throated twinspot from further north.

Here are more pics from Week 1 emailed in by the participants. Note these are pics sent in by participants and are not from the lockdown album.

Keep on birding and look at all the other creatures like the butterflies, dragonflies and others in between the bird sightings.

Week 2 – Detailed Report

Day 14: Friday 11 April 2020

So we reached the two week mark only to find out that we have another two weeks extra after this week to watch our garden birds. There have had many requests to extend the lockdown competition to the end of the lockdown period – currently Thursday 30th April – and this wish has been granted.

At the end of this we will have had 35 days to see what birds we can find.

So where are we now…

To date the list is looking very exciting with some surprising finds and a great reflection of what a small portion of KZN has to offer. The area covered by the participants is around only 100, 000 m2 or 10 hectares and the bird list to date is a grand total of 214 species. This is over 30% of KZN’s birds and we have three weeks to go…

The average number of species seen in the urban properties is currently 33 with a the lowest list having 7 and the highest 65 species. With four households now participating in the rural category things are getting interesting. The lists range from 39 – 90 species but with three weeks to go some changes in the shorter lists are anticipated.

I thought it might be interesting for people to know which were the most common birds being recorded. The list below includes the 8 species which have been recorded on more than 40 participant checklists. At the less common end of the list are 75 species which have only been recorded once.

Most common species being recorded

Common namespecies name
Ibis, Hadeda (Hadada)Bostrychia hagedash
Bulbul, Dark-capped  Pycnonotus tricolor
Barbet, Black-collared  Lybius torquatus
Dove, Red-eyed  Streptopelia semitorquata
Starling, Red-winged  Onychognathus morio
Turaco, Purple-crested  Tauraco porphyreolophus
White-eye, Cape  Zosterops virens
Mannikin, Bronze  Lonchura cucullata

Raptor raptures

There has been a good selection of raptors seen by many people including six eagles African Fish, African Hawk, Crowned, Black-chested Snake, Long-crested and the heaviest of these, Martial. Both Lanner and Peregrine falcon have been recorded as have Black and Little sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. An exciting find was the Eurasian hobby by Zach Simpson.

African fish-eagle pair calling overhead in La Lucia – John & Carol Wilson

Interesting others

Outside of the raptors, all three species of firefinch have been recorded, as have all the mannikins. Let’s try to make it a hat trick with the honeyguides – only Greater honeyguide needed. Some migrants still being recorded with species such as European bee-eater, a few Lesserstriped swallows and Klaas and Diederik cuckoos appearing on a few of the lists. A few lucky people also have sight of waterbodies, so a couple of waterbirds have also made an appearance.

Remember please …

to send your new sightings through on Thursday 16th April 2020. The competition is starting to look interesting. A reminder that it is not the number of species that is the only decided but the birds you have are scored and factored by your property size. Please send any photos you are happy to contribute to the updates anytime during the week.

Day 19: Tuesday 14th April 2020

(T-minus 16 days and counting)

A quick update on the Lockdown Bird Count challenge. The species list continues to grow with additions of Black Saw-wing and Rock martin from Steve Davis and Anneli Mynhardt and a few waterbirds such as Yellow-billed stork rolling in from Zululand and Reed Cormorant in Mount Edgecombe. More than a few people have seen African Harrier-hawk from various places across KZN – Amanzimtoti, Kloof and Umhlanga and more raptors have made an appearance with Black-chested Snake-eagle and Lizard Buzzard being added from Monzi in Zululand.

The lockdown photo album now has 121 unique species posted on the BLPN Facebook group so do visit it if you are on Facebook.

Below a few photos taken by the participants in the challenge. Please email through any photos you have taken for inclusion in these reports.

A real surprise for Umhlanga skies …

Even more astonishing was this video sent through by Ken Jarvis and taken by Jonathan Greenway of a Vulture landing on the Beverly Hills in Umhlanga.

Video from Jonathan Greenway – WOW

Week 3 Report

Day 23: Saturday 18th April 2020

T-minus 12 days and counting

Well the 21 day deadline came and went and with the National Lockdown extended until the end of April the Bird Count challenge continues. I hope members are following this challenge page whether participating or just enjoying keeping track. Please leave a comment at the end if you could – there is a special box which says – Leave a reply – which allows you to do this – feedback is really much needed as it keeps me going.

The Lockdown Challenge list is growing !

The bird list continues to grow and we are now at a combined total of …

232 species

This is an increase of about 20 species since the Week 2 summary and comprises 1/3 of KZN birds. Not bad considering the listers are locked into only 10 – 20 hectares of KZN.

The average number of birds seen by the Urban Category listers is 35 with the lowest list having 12 and the highest 70 species. The Rural Category is starting to show the diversity we were expecting with high lists of 80 species south of Durban to a high of 102 species in northern Zululand. The lockdown album on Facebook also continues to climb with photos of 134 species now added. Some notable omissions – Sombre Greenbul, Grey Sunbird, and Common Square-tailed Drongo.

Combined Bird List available for download below.

The raptors continue to turn in surprises with David Allen logging a Martial Eagle juvenile over Pinetown. The frequent reporting rate of predators such as African Harrier-hawk, African Goshawk and Little Sparrowhawk is also gratifying.

Hat tricks

The trio of honeyguide species was completed this week with one of our younger members Zach Simpson (rural category) adding Greater Honeyguide – he is also the only participant to have recorded all three honeyguide species – Lesser and Scaly-throated added to the Greater – on his lockdown list. Zach is fortunate to have been able to tempt the honeyguides in with some fresh honeycomb from the farm – orders will be rolling in after Lockdown … 

Rob McLennan-Smith tell me he also put out some honeycomb from his home hive in Westville and he reports that within minutes both Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguides had arrived to partake of the feast.

The wax-eating diet of Honeyguides is unique among the world’s birds and I have included an explanation from Hugh Chittenden on the ability of these birds to find this unique food source – The extraordinary sense of smell possessed by honeyguides is seldom alluded to by ornithologists, so few birders realize how keen and sensitive their sense of smell really is!. If you live in an area where there are honeyguides, you only have to fix a piece of dry honeycomb to a branch in your garden to witness this for yourself.  Honeyguides do monitor and follow the activities of bees, but even when there are no bees associated with the dry beeswax, are soon able to detect the comb (which to humans, isn’t at all strong smelling). Cercophagy (wax eating), is unique to honeyguides. Within hours, or certainly within a day or two, you are likely to have one or more of these bird species feeding on the dry comb.

To a point about identification…

A number of the lockdown lists are coming through with records of Cape Turtle Dove / Ring-necked Dove but with Red-eyed Dove absent. While some of these may be real records this is very likely to be a case of mistaken ID as these two species can look superficially very similar. If you have recorded Cape Turtle / Ring-necked dove on your list take the time to go back and assess whether you are happy with your identification. Below are some images showing the diagnostic red eye and the bare skin wattle of Red-eyed Dove and the dark eye without the bare skin in the Cape Turtle Dove.

In addition the calls of both of very different and the ‘work harder‘ call of the Cape Turtle Dove is very distinctive. If it’s there you will hear it. If you haven’t its very likely not around.

Special mention – Tyron Dall

One of our listers Tyron Dall is worthy of a special mention. He was the first sign up for the challenge and has been an amazing contributor. This despite him being the only person participating from a flat – Tyron is only able to use his 32m2 balcony to view birds and is way above the average species count having managed to log 59 species and contribute 13 photos to our Lockdown Album. Some of his images are profiled below – nothing escapes while Tyron is keeping a lookout – everything from Peregrine Falcons to Pied Wagtails. It shows what can be done with persistence and a love of birds.

It’s not going to be easy but we will get through this lot – so keep birding and stay safe and in contact. This is after all a birding family.

Week 4 Report

Day 31: Sunday 26th April 2020

T-minus 5 days and counting

We have made it to the last week and we are on the downhill run to 30th April – the last day of the official National Lockdown. Only 5 more days to work on those lists and see what you can find.

The stats for the week…

Week 4 ended with us adding even more species to our list and our combined species list now stands at

252 species

Urban Category

The average number of species on our urban lists has now lifted to 42, a really good increase from the week 3 average of 35 species – have a look at your own totals and see where your list is relative to this average. The minimum number recorded is 12 species and the highest lists have over seventy species – there are at least four households over 70 and a few that will get there with a bit of work and luck during the last five-day stretch. Interestingly, the length of the bird list is not completely correlated with property size and speaks very often more to the type of garden, birders skill with calls and amount of time spent outside looking around and up.

Rural Category

The few households in the rural category all have, unsurprisingly, relatively high lists with Ken Jarvis and Trish Jonnson, keeping us drooling over their list which is currently in excess of 110 species and has quite a few of the Zululand specials and other less common species closer to towns such as Pink-throated twinspot, Rudd’s Apalis, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Yellowbilled stork and many others; Patrick and Despi Forbes adding Lizard Buzzard and Black Chested Snake Eagle to the raptor haul; Zach Simpson on a farm in southern KZN working very hard and hopefully reaching 100 species by Thursday evening adding some good species such as Black-winged Kite, a trio of cisticolas with Croaking, Lazy and Levaillants and African Quailfinch as well as the only Greater Honeyguide record on our list; Malcolm Stainbank has handicapped his record by submitting only species he sees so it will be interesting to see his final number.

Most common species

The most common birds recorded on 40 or more household lists are not unexpected species with Hadeda Ibis, Dark-capped Bulbuls and Red-winged Starling in the top three slots with the others very close behind.

Top 10 – most common species (recorded on 40 or more lists)
Ibis, Hadeda
Bulbul, Dark-capped  
Starling, Red-winged  
Dove, Red-eyed  
Barbet, Black-collared  
Mannikin, Bronze  
White-eye, Cape  
Turaco, Purple-crested  
Mousebird, Speckled  
Tinkerbird, Yellow-rumped  

Lockdown photo album

The lockdown photo album on Facebook has amazed me – we now have photographs of just over 60% of the total species list represented in 146 photos. If you are on Facebook please link with both the official BLPN Facebook Page and the BLPN Facebook Group.

Some exciting, uncommon and unusual species!

Roger Hogg reported a Grey Cuckooshrike from his lockdown in Westville while Dave Rimmer was visited by a Red-necked Spurfowl at his garden in Hillcrest.

Jane Morris submitted a photo showing the size difference between Bronze and Magpie Mannikins when the long-awaited Magpies finally put in an appearance this past week in her garden.

A few people have recorded all three species of mannikin during the lockdown and photos of each are included below. Keep a lookout as these mannikins will be visiting garden feeders more often as we move into winter.

Not so isolated

A few people have sent in pictures and video of the close encounters with birds during our social distancing period. Geoffrey and Iris Sear have a family who have locked down rather closely with them.

Antony and Ros Humphris had a close encounter with two Violet-backed Starlings which they helped to recover and return to the wider world, getting really great views as the birds rested.

Jenny Stead in Durban North hosted a bed & breakfast stopover for a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird which was assumed to have hit a window. After a good night’s rest at the Stead’s residence it was served a sumptuous breakfast of grapes and Trema orientalis (Pigeonwood) fruits and happily went on its way.

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird having breakfast with Jenny Stead

Nearly over?

Worth considering is the message put out a few hours ago by the KZN Provincial Government which seems to suggest more stringent levels of lockdown for eThekwini than the rest of the country.

This seems to suggest that many of us will still be locked down after the 30th April deadline for the Level 5 National lockdown. This means our Lockdown Bird Count which is scheduled to end with the National Lockdown will end on Thursday this week. If you would like it to continue please just drop a note at the bottom of this page in the Leave a Reply block.

Day 33: Tuesday 28th April 2020

T-minus 3 days and counting

Well the end of the official national lockdown is now only 3 days away and the rain is making the birding slower – not that we should ever complain about rain ! However, the news that eThekwini is likely to remain at Level 5 has increased in frequency but we will await the official confirmation. On that point I have had a lot of feedback from members asking for the competition to be extended beyond Thursday so if lockdown is extended we will continue !

In the meantime enjoy some of the pictures sent in by the challengers…

Thanks to those of you who are participating and following the challenge so enthusiastically. There is a new surprise coming up on Friday – a quiz to test and expand your birding knowledge. Look out for the notices and the link to do the quiz.

Week 5 Report

Day 40: Tuesday 5th May 2020

T-plus 40 days and counting up…

Lockdown and the bird count challenge

A slightly later report for Week 5 due to some unavoidable tasks and other matters which meant the lists could not be compiled before today. Thus this summarises our week 5 of lockdown which was to have been our last week of isolation and the bird count challenge. The indelible impression left by the coronavirus which has infected 3.5 Million people globally and led to 252 000 deaths has meant that our government decided to continue with a cautious approach and on the 1st May we went into Level 4 lockdown. While this relaxes some of the restrictions for most people it still means a mostly Shelter-in-Place situation. As a result of this many members asked us to continue the lockdown challenge through to the end of Level 4. This means that you continue with the same rules in place through May or whenever we move to level 3. Do not add birds to your list that you see while you perambulate through your 5km radius area !

Where are we with our list ?

I keep expecting this bird species curve to start flattening but it just keeps on going up…

We now have a combined list from urban and rural participants of

268 species

Urban birders

The urban lists range widely still but the higher checklists are still only marginally under 80 species. The total number of species seen in the urban areas is a fantastic 200 species. The average hasn’t changed much going up by one to 44 and this means urban birders should be able to achieve at least 40 species in an urban patch over a month of listing. A number of participants managed to reach or get above a half century this week – 50 species – well done EJ Bartlett, Adam Cruickshank, Shane Cuthbertson, Steve Davis, Mike du Trevou, Antony & Ros Humphris, Mike & Jane Roseblade, Hazel Nevin, Jenny Pahl & Mark Ward Able, Mike Richmond, David Rimmer, Jenny Stead, Philip & Jenny Symons and Noleen Turner. Some others are almost there so keep a sharp eye and keen ear open this week.

Antony & Ros Humphris sent us this picture of their lockdown patio view complete with Brown-hooded Kingfisher.

Pin-tailed Whydah – eclipse male or juvenile Geoff Sear

Rural Birders

The rural birders have shifted along nicely with a combined list of 212 species. Some nice high lists in this category and the average in this group should be around 85 – 95 species. If you are below this – work harder!

Unusual and interesting

What is interesting is that we reached 150 photographed species on the Facebook Group Lockdown Album – Mike Du Trevou’s submission of an African Openbill filled the slot. We are now rapidly approaching 175 species – a fantastic effort by the photographers participating. Any BLPN members who are participants in the competition can submit photographs of unique species so check what has been submitted and see if you can add a species. Everyone who submits a photo will get a lockdown memento from this task.

Ken Jarvis sent in some pictures of a Yellow-bellied Greenbul they observed interacting with a Kudu bull at their lockdown location. These forest birds forage for food in the lower levels of their usually dense vegetated habitats feeding mainly on fruit, flowers and seeds. It is also however, along with other species such as Eastern Nicator, known to eat ticks and other parasites off various antelope species.

An interesting addition to the list this past week was the Gabar Goshawk from Ansie Coetser who was given this identification on the LBJ Facebook group. It is not easy from the photograph but perhaps someone can offer confirmation or alternative identification.

Thank you so much to those of you who have shared your photos and some of these are included here because again they showcase the wonderful birds that keep us company each and every day.

So as we are part way through Week 6 I hope you are all well, safe and managing with the strange world we are now in. It looks like whatever happens we are heading for a new normal and we can only hope that it is one that makes us tread more carefully on this earth.

Week 6 Report

Day 45: Sunday 10th May 2020

T-plus 45 days and counting up…

The Lockdown Bird Count Challenge continued into Week 6 despite the slight change in restrictions as the country moved from Level 5 to Level 6 on the 1st May. Although some of you are now able to go back to work and others are able to go venture out a little further from your lockdown patch, for many of our members there is very little change in the daily routine. Whatever you are doing stay safe and aware.

The list continues upwards !

We now have a combined list of

275 species

This comprises 42% of KZN’s total list – a really decent total – lets hope we can get to 300 by the end of Level 4. For those of you who are interested please download the combined bird list to see what has been logged and perhaps you can find a few of the missing ones.

Remember there are four possible prizes at the end of this lockdown challenge but the main point of this has been to keep us all talking as a club and also make people aware of what is in their own patches. I think both of these have been achieved.

BLPN members – Whats App group

At the same time as we initiated the Lockdown Bird Count the club launched an additional mode of communication – a BLPN Whats App group. Many members have already joined and it has been really great to see the questions, photos and sightings coming through. If you are a BLPN member and are not yet on the group please send an email to asking to be added with your phone number included. Note the group is strictly controlled for spam and also unecessary sharing of second hand information or photos. Anyone who does not follow the group rules will be removed to ensure that it is a pleasant and valuable communication tool for everyone.

Please keep sending your photos and your Week 7 list is due on Thursday 14th May. Keep looking up and finding those birds.

Week 7 Report

Day 52: Sunday 17th May 2020

Seven weeks and still at least two weeks more likely…

As we move through what remains of Level 4 Lockdown the Autumn weather in Durban lives up to expectations with many lovely sunny, clear and calm days rolling past. The majority of the participants are still adding species to their lists even if it is only between 1 and 7 species this week. An understandable slow down in the checklist additions given that we have been keeping a a close eye on our gardens and immediate surrounds for 50 days now. It is such a pleasure to see people’s reactions to be reaching towards a total of 60 birds when they never expected to get to 50 ! Keep going Hazel !!

Lockdown Combined Bird List!

The list total increases are slowing down but still going up – we have reached a total of

281 species !!

Even more remarkable the average number of species for URBAN category has now reached 50 ! This means that on average our Durban gardens are able to deliver us at least 50 species over a two month period and this is likely to be even higher if it is in summer. If this is not likely in your garden start looking at it more critically to see what you could do to provide a habitat for more species. Individual lists are ranging between a minimum of 20 species with a few people over 80 species.

The RURAL listers in the Lockdown challenge have some great lists on the go and the competition is now neck and neck with three of these listers having crested 100 species and the leaders within one species of each other.

Interesting records still to be resolved

Noleen Turner’s picture of a raptor which was posted to the BLPN Whats App group started some intriguing debate. Noleen initially assumed the bird was a sub-adult African Harrier Hawk which was picked up by David Allan as an intriguing possibility – after much editing of photos and discussion amongst some participants of the group and some outside parties it was agreed that David’s assessment of the bird as a Kite was correct but the jury is still out on whether this was a second year individual juvenile Black kite or Yellow-billed Kite. Either way the bird is a real out of season individual and it generated a great ID discussion with some great tips and tricks revealed along the way. The birds are pictured below and I will leave everyone to decide what you think it may have been.

Two records of Grey Tit-flycatcher have also been put forward as part of the challenge from La Lucia and Glenwood. If confirmed these records would be very far south of this species’ usual range. Hopefully this can be resolved to provide us all with the final answer. Not as unusual but still uncommon Oscar van Eyssen reported a Bearded Woodpecker from the Gillits area.

Lastly a comment left by David Allan at the end of last weeks report caught my eye and I believe was worth repeating here. David notes that the photo of Black-collared Barbets submitted by Anne Robinson last week is interesting as it shows a juvenile barbet on the right which shows only a little red on the head. Don’t often see photos of the juveniles.

Two wonderful outcomes from this Lockdown Challenge continue to be firstly the raised awareness of people to the subtleties of bird ID including the calls as secondly the potential value of our garden habitats for birds and wildlife and how to improve them. I suggest you all follow the links to the upcoming Leopards Echo – Kloof Conservancy magazine when it is released as this is one of the themes which will be covered by the bird and butterfly articles. Its about more than simply planting indigenous…

Keep looking up as we go through Week 8 – the challenge will likely wrap up at the end of May so get all the birds onto your lists while you can. With the seasons changing now there may be some additional species visiting your garden which you never knew you had.

Week 8 Report

Day 59: Sunday 24th May 2020 – The End is in Sight

We will keep this to a short report for Week 8 as we are starting to try to consolidate for the end of May in the hope that Level 4 Lockdown will be lifted ending the Lockdown Bird Count Competition. What we do know, is that if Level 3 is announced, it still will not mean our lives will be any closer to our usual ‘normal’ as we fear the COVID-19 Pandemic is still on the rise rather than abating.

So for now some photos submitted by the competitors during their Week 8 birding.


Day 66: Sunday 31st May 2020

The Last Day of Level 4 Lockdown Restrictions finally arrived.

Moving forward into the future!
Spectacled Weaver on a mission (Noleen Turner)

As the final report this summarises the entire BLPN Lockdown Bird Count Challenge from the start to the end of the Level 4 restrictions.

When, Where and Who?

The Beginning: South Africa goes into National Lockdown in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic…

Level 5 restriction were initiated at midnight on the 27th March 2020 and resulted in us all being confined to our chosen Lockdown Patches with limited excursions out to shop for essentials. This was a situation which remained, despite Level 4 restrictions being implemented from the 1st May through to the 31st May 2020.

This put us in a situation where we were all suddenly able to slow down and look more carefully at our immediate surroundings. In general we had 66 days to do this and a total of 60 households (generally with two BLPN members in each) began the Lockdown Bird Count Challenge. It was difficult to know how to feel about the fact that only about 20% of the club’s members decided to participate but the majority that did stick it out and around 50 households submitting data, observations and feelings each week right through to the end.

Facts and Figures…

The number of bird species seen over the 66 days challenge period surprised all of us – in the end a total of

286 species

was recorded during the challenge period – a total of 66 days.

This is a whopping 44% of the potential 650 species which can be seen throughout the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

This list is even more remarkable as the households were concentrated in the urban suburbs of the eThekwini Municipality although some significant additions to the list came from the five rural households situated on the North Coast, Zululand and southern KZN. Understandably the highest individual totals were recorded in rural situations away from major urban areas by Ken Jarvis at Mziki (127). Mike O’Donoghue at Brettonwood (122) and Zach Simpson at their farm near Harding (109).  

The urban lists were again surprisingly not too far behind with at least 12 individual lists with over 70 species and even one with 91 (but more about this later) and a remarkable average of almost 60 species. This means that most people could have a garden list of around 60 species easily.

We are able to look at the species diversity of the area by looking at the Species Accumulation Curve (graph below) and what this shows us remarkably is that 2/3 or 66% of the species (184) were recorded by the participants in the first week of the lockdown challenge (blue block shaded area) – isn’t that remarkable? Even more remarkable if you look at the graph below is that 80% of the species had been recorded by the end of Week 3 (area covered by the turquoise block). The graph indicates how the total species number rapidly increased during the first week and then more slowly as the less common birds were sought out. The more people looked the more species were added with over 95% of the total number of species list having been seen by the end of Week 7.

Species Accumulation Curve through Lockdown

The stars of the show – The Birds!

The list of 286 species had many of the birds that might be expected occurring commonly and the top 5 most common species in the table below were found on over 50 lists.

The Total and Averages

Most common species recorded on total combined list (urban and rural)

1Bulbul, Dark-capped  
2Starling, Red-winged  
3Dove, Red-eyed  
4Ibis, Hadeda (Hadada)
5Barbet, Black-collared  

The totals for the urban and rural lists were slightly different and the average number of species highlighted the chances of a higher list over a larger area and with potentially more habitat diversity.

Total number of species286217234
Average number of species on list635698
Range of list totals20 – 12225 – 9162 – 122
ERF sizes (average, minimum and maximum)n/a
110 – 6 000
110 – 4600

4 000 – 6 000
Final Number of households that submitted for 9 weeks56515

Cape White-eye – Steve Davis, Cape Starling – Roger Hogg & Rock dove – Hazel Nevin

Unusual Species

Naturally there were also unusual species spotted in both the urban and rural habitats as people were concentrating on building their lists and perhaps looking more closely at their own patches than under normal circumstances. The prizes awarded for the records of the most unusual bird in the urban and rural category are covered later but in general there is a number of species which if not winners of this gong are worthy of a mention.

Quite remarkable as garden species records in the urban areas, and recorded by three households or fewer, were species such as; Wahlberg’s Eagle (3), Grey Cuckooshrike (2), African Black duck (2), Mountain Wagtail (2), African Openbill (1), a potential Gabar Goshawk (1), Half-collared Kingfisher (1), an unseasonal unresolved record for a Yellow-billed Kite or Black-kite (1), Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow (1), Red-necked Spurfowl (1), Blue Waxbill (1), Grey Waxbill (1) and Martial Eagle (1).

In the rural category some of the more localised or unusual species included Cape Vulture, Pink-throated Twinspot, Swee Waxbill, Southern Yellow White-eye, Green Malkoha, Eastern Nicator, Lizard Buzzard, European Honey Buzzard, Forest Canary, Rudds Apalis and Lemon Dove.

The other stars of the show – The Participants!

The people, the contact and the club.

For me personally this side of the Lockdown Bird Count Challenge provided the most benefit. Firstly it got people to look more closely at their own patches and start to appreciate what was in our own backyards. The feedback from many of the participants was the other really wonderful part of running this challenge – so many members added comments when submitting their lists which indicated just how much the club and this activity meant to them – comments included

“Thank you so much for all the work in keeping this challenge going during Lockdown, I certainly believe it kept me sane!”, “Thanks again for this wonderful initiative, kept us sane when all was going mad around us”, “Thanks for the fun and the club’s tireless efforts to keep us sane!!!!”, “I actually made it to a total of 60 – very excited!”, “Cheers and thank you for a lovely competition”, “Thanks for all your hard work in keeping this going – its been great fun”, “Thank you again for organising this bird count – my list is not impressive but I have really been stimulated to take more notice of the birdlife around me”, “How very enjoyable this challenge has been. Thank you so very much for making lockdown not just bearable but interesting, educational and fun.”, “It’s been a lot of fun so many thanks for organising it”, “Thank you and your team for your vision and hard work”, “Thank you so much for your teams effort and keeping us all focussed over the last 9 weeks – well done, “Thanks for making lockdown bearable with a fun initiative” , “So thrilled to reach my 50th bird”

… and possibly for me one of my favourite comments from Hazel Nevin because it encapsulates the whole point of the bird club and this challenge in a nutshell…

“I live alone and this competition has made me feel part of a birding family. It has also made me look at my own patch in more detail. I have now started to learn about butterflies,insects,spiders etc. and appreciate everything around me more than ever. I have also become even more aware of how much I have compared to others“.

Getting to know you, sharing and learning

This also touches on something else that this did for me personally and those who have joined the various club communication platforms. I have only been in the Chair of the club since February 2019 (a total of 16 months). The challenge combined with my work on the membership and the setting up of the WhatsApp group has resulted in my getting to know many, many more members than previously – a strange result considering we have been ‘cut off’ from each other during the final 4 and a bit months. This trend has been extended to the whole club with far more members getting to know each other because of the increased communication during this time. The other huge benefit is that learning opportunities have been maximised. Bird identification mistakes became obvious during the lockdown challenge and the weekly reports provided an opportunity to expand on these and provide input to members. Members have also begun helping each other even more via the WhatsApp group and Facebook Group page.

Please note that the WhatsApp chat group is for Club members only so anyone wishing to join just needs to send an email to requesting they be added – please include your cell number when you send this request.

The Leading Lights

Its not what you have but what you do with it…

What was very apparent from the Lockdown Bird Count is that those people who had a garden that was predominantly indigenous were very likely to be amongst the higher checklist totals. There were also other factors that definitely pushed up urban lists – being adjacent to a reserve/green space or having a river or aquatic habitat were two obvious factors.

It did become apparent that size doesn’t always count – so a smaller indigenous garden could really hold its own against a manicured, sterile larger garden. The point here is to look at the structure of your patch (or hopefully lack of structure) and inspire you to increase diversity locally and make an impact globally. Another aspect was the amount of observation was directly related to checklist total. One of our participants in the smallest starting patch, an apartment patio, unfortunately didn’t continue with the challenge beyond week 5. He did however show us all in the early weeks of the competition just what could be done if you just spent the time looking. With a checklist total of 70 species and a huge handicap he was in the upper species list totals.

Magpie mannikins – Mike Du Trevou

We are all winners – just some are more ahead than others!

Each personal checklist totals gave people their own satisfaction and sense of achievement. Many participants commented that they hadn’t expected to reach the totals that they eventually realised, with many also having original targets of 50 species that quickly got raised to 60 and 70 as the challenge developed. How lucky we all are to have these animals sharing our space!

A number of participants also had either full Lifers or Garden Lifers during Lockdown. As nobody’s patch would have changed significantly over the duration of the lockdown period, and if people had been living in their patch for some time this begs the question – why had they not seen these species before? This would be another example of a different method of bird watching currently being employed during our club Sit-ins or Nature Journaling sessions both of which approach birding by choosing a good spot, and then having a really good look at what is around us and waiting for shy species to show themselves rather than chasing around, in the hope of seeing more species.

And so looking at everyone’s totals (download the full spreadsheet by clicking on the button below to see whose garden you would like to visit) we are all winners…

And the winners are …

In March the Bird Count Challenge was advertised with prizes for the HIGHEST SCORE (not checklist total) and the most UNUSUAL SPECIES in each category – Rural and Urban. It was clear from the outset that the playing fields had to be levelled in some way so that anybody living on a large plot with a bewildering variety of habitats, adjoining a nature reserve with an additional diversity of habitats would not be a shoo-in when it came to a total count.  Accordingly a bird rarity score (after Faansie Peacock’s bird brain score) was assigned and plot/lockdown patch size was also used to come up with a final score.  Therefore the HIGHEST SCORE rather than simply the highest number of species would be the decider for the one set of prizes. However, the remarkable checklist totals received resulted in a decision to award an additional two consolation prizes for the highest checklist in each category as well. The totals achieved by both Roger and Mike were quite remarkable given their location with Mike almost straddling both urban and rural categories.

categoryHighest scoreMOST unusualhighest species list
UrbanGeoffrey & Iris Sear

David Allan
Martial Eagle (juvenile)

Dave Rimmer
Red-Necked Spurfowl

Roger Hogg

91 spp

Ken Jarvis & Trish Johnnson
Zach Simpson
Eurasian Hobby

Mike O’Donoghue
Brettenwood Estate

122 spp

The winners in each category each receive

a new PVC edition SASOL Field Guide


a year subscription to African BirdLife Magazine (hardcopy or digital).

Your choice!

Final Comment

Firstly thank you to all the members who participated and all the spectators who participated in some way by sending messages or comments. It really was great to have you all providing the sort of information which has been generated for our local area. There is very likely going to be two articles that result from this and your contributions were really valued. You shared your thoughts, feeling and photographs and it was appreciated.

If the competition has generated questions about how you could improve the bird value of your patch it will have achieved a major goal…

This does relate to some degree to a one time comment from Bruce Fordyce: “if you want to be a world class marathon runner (or presumably anything else) you need to be able to choose your parents”. The relevance of this is your starting point, or building blocks. What might also be considered laying the table, i.e. providing appropriate habitat.  Larger plot size is obviously useful but hectares of lawn on a large plot is not going to help.  The rules specifically allowed for acceptance of fly-by’s and calls.  Both of these come down to the development of recognition of flight and calls and generally heightened awareness.  We have had Black Breasted Snake-eagles, Walhberg’s Eagles, Long Crested Eagles and Booted Eagles over Durban North while Long-crested and Crowned Eagles over Westville and Kloof are not unusual.  African Harrier-hawks and Palm-nut Vultures are other regular visitors.  Recognition of species in flight is not the same as recognizing the same species perched in a tree.  A regular glance up at the sky or a tall tree can reveal all manner of goodies and justify some time relaxing in the shade while indulging in citizen science. A feature of the early stages in the lockdown was a reduction in the amount of traffic noise. This would have enhanced the possibility of hearing more bird calls with a greater opportunity for becoming familiar with the more skulking species not always amenable to visual recording.  

Copyright: All Information contained in this report remains with the author, Nicolette Forbes, and BirdLife Port Natal

32 Comments Add yours

  1. David Allan says:

    Is Week 9’s photo of an “Ashy Flycatcher” not actually a Dusky Flycatcher?

    1. Yes indeed David – you are completely correct and the photo caption has been corrected. Thank you for your input.

  2. Ansie says:

    Has the Olive Bushshrike been logged as yet? I found this little gem this morning on my early daily walk.

    1. No not yet Ansie – just remember that the lockdown challenge is just your original lockdown area though…Great find though

  3. David Allan says:

    The Black-collared Barbet on the right in Anne Robinson’s photo from Week 6 is interesting as it’s a juvenile and shows little red on the head. Don’t often see photos of the juveniles.

  4. Hazel Nevin says:

    Still loving this competition and learning from others.The outdoors has never been sweeter. Thank you, Nikki.

  5. Brian Hirst says:

    Hi Nicky, once again thank you for this wonderful initiative, it has been a mega positive distraction from the lock down.
    My request re the last day being Thursday of this week, what about a tally of the last 5 weeks and then a newly started list for the forthcoming unknown at this stage, length of the stage 4 lock down? It appears at this stage Durban and surrounds may be treated differently. Kind regards and stay safe.

  6. Jenny Rix says:

    Well done everybody. I love reading on the news and the photos were fantastic

    1. Thanks Jenny

  7. Nick says:

    From a novice, I say many thanks for organizing the bird count but for me it has been frustrating not being able to identify the birds quickly.
    Unfortunately I need to photograph the bird and then identify by checking it with pics in bird books. But, it was fun.

    1. Jenny Stead says:

      Would love to continue because the coral tree is not going to flower before the end of the month and when it does the parakeets and others should be back! It is not like we have anything else to do 😊

      1. Thanks for your input Jenny

    2. That is a great way to learn!

  8. Hazel Nevin says:

    Would love the competition to continue. As an over 70 year old, I will not be going anywhere any time soon. Birding is my greatest pleasure and I hope to reach 50 (now on 48) before the end of lockdown. Thanks again, Nikki, for making lockdown so much fun.

    1. Thank you for your enthusiasm and input Hazel – we are so pleased you joined the club !

  9. DIANNE LYALL says:

    Have thoroughly enjoyed looking through your ‘album’. Thank you. At this rate we can make our own calendar! There are some spectacular photos. Enjoying my camera, including insects but am not competing. Thank you again. Dianne

  10. Ann Gibson says:

    I haven’t taken part in this wonderful bird count which was silly as I have counted 26 different birds in our small garden in Le Domaine. However I have so enjoyed reading about this challenge and have also learned a lot. Thank you Nicky and all the contestants for enriching my time during lockdown.

    1. Thank you for your comments Ann and as a long standing and loyal member you are most welcome to join us. Send me your list by email !

  11. Jenny Pahl says:

    We are thoroughly enjoying the listing and have added a honeyguide to our ongoing home list – probably due to the amount of time on the balcony. We also have neighbours doing more birding and sending through comments and queries – so yes, seems like everyone here will have a greater appreciation for what is on our doorstep. Thanks for initiating and running this Nicki!!!

    1. Thanks Jenny and Mark and pleased the word is spreading to the neighbours too ! I have so enjoyed hearing from the members that it has been a two-way benefit. Envious of the honeyguide!

    2. Steve Woodhall says:

      If we have to go on with the lockdown into May, let’s carry on with the count!

  12. David Allan says:

    Hi Nicky – If I can echo Steve’s comments and thank you for organizing this. Helping significantly to keep us all sane! Your comments on Red-eyed Dove vs Cape Turtle (Ring-necked) Dove are right on point. In the 20 years we’ve lived in our Padfield Park (Pinetown) garden we’ve never had a Cape Turtle Dove, while Red-eyeds are permanent and common residents. Note also the difference in the tail when they fly off and land: tip all dull grey in Red-eyeds but with glaringly white outer tail feathers in Cape Turtle Dove. I’m also still fruitlessly trying to get a photo of Sombre Greenbul in our garden . . .

    1. Thank you David – lots of learning going on because of this I think and the doves are just a part of that. Keep trying for that Sombre – race is on between you and Anne…

  13. Hazel Nevin says:

    Not sure if it is just my iPad, but the photographs are on top of the text in weeks two and three.
    Thanks again for this amazing project,Nikki. Aside from the Interesting information, the camaraderie is great and it gets me up early to witness our glorious sunrises. Thanks again,

    1. Thanks Hazel for the input – I don’t have the same issue with the text and photos on my computer or iPad. Perhaps just give it some time to load and then scroll again…? If anyone else sees this comment and has the same issue please let me know.

  14. Janet Levy says:

    Really do enjoy reading all the info, and the pics are good too! Well done all entrants.

    1. Thank you Janet ! Stay safe and healthy please.

  15. Steve Davis says:

    Hi Nicky. Well done on putting this together – it is a great idea and great fun. I hope that lots of people are learning what is actually in their area. By the way, Common Fiscal is in the Album – number 22. Best regards, Steve and Anneli

    1. Thanks Steve – common fiscal entry noted yes – sorry my mistake. Hopefully this will give people a greater appreciation of what is in their own backyards and also encourage indigenous planting!

  16. Anne says:

    Nicky, I have heard the Sombre Greenbul almost daily but do you think he will show himself? A real challenge for me!

    1. They are good at that Anne – cryptic they are ! Keep on perservering.

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