The changing distribution of birds in Southern Africa

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth

    Default The changing distribution of birds in Southern Africa

    Please read to the end of this mail before you decide to stop or delete.

    Distribution of birds changes constantly around our country and the world. This could be due to climate changes, habitat changes (lost and expansion), introduction of species, pollution or others. The change in bird population and distribution is also a powerful indicator of the health of our planet. One of the most important projects to monitor these changes in the world is the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2) ( )

    The 2 attached images indicate how the distribution have changed for Southern Greyheaded Sparrows and Common Mynas in South Africa.


    SABAP2 is a follow-up project to SABAP1 which ran from 1987–1991. SABAP1 provided a ‘snapshot’ of the distribution and relative abundance of birds in southern Africa. It involved a large number of lay people as ‘citizen scientists’ who collect the field data and culminated in the publication in 1997 of two volumes on the distribution and relative abundance of southern African birds.

    SABAP2 plans to build on the results of SABAP1 in order to produce an improved atlas and contribute in a greater way to biodiversity conservation. The database will provide for assessing and planning the conservation of avian biodiversity in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

    SABAP2 has the following primary objectives:
    · To measure the impact of environmental and climate change on southern African birds; and
    · To provide a basis for increasing public participation in biodiversity data collection through large-scale mobilization of citizen scientists; and
    · To provide information to determine changes in the distribution and abundance of birds since SABAP1.

    And I can also add the project is a leader in the use of modern GPS technology in the recording of data and in the feedback to the general public regarding data collected. Within five minutes of submitting your data electronically you will be able to view it on the website already.

    How can especially 4x4 enthusiasts assist the SABAP2 project?

    A big part of the country is not easily accessible to people with ‘platkarre’. Driving a 4x4 and owning a GPS is sometimes required to reach these areas. Most 4x4 nature enthusiast are also likely to visit secluded and inaccessible “wild” places. Without the assistance of the broader 4x4 community it would be impossible to reach all these areas and gather sufficient information for the rural areas of our country.

    So if you are interested in nature, birds, use of modern technology in data collection or the SABAP2 projects please subscribe to this tread and learn more about the project and data collection in follow-up emails.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth

    Default SABAP2 -part 1

    How does it work?

    In simple terms atlasing will require filling in a checklist of species for a particular defined area, for a particular period of time.

    The Geograpahic area and geographical sampling unit

    The atlas region for SABAP2 includes the countries of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. For SABAP2 the geographical sampling unit is pentad grid cells (or pentads); these cover 5 minutes of latitude by 5 minutes of longitude (5’ × 5’). A 1:50 000 map ( as the ones you used in the Army) is 15’ × 15’ is thus made up of nine pentads. Each pentad is approximately 8 × 7.6 km. There are 17 444 pentads covering South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

    Maps or a GPS is going to be important tools when doing field surveys for SABAP2, as you will need to define the boundaries of each pentad and see what habitats fall within the pentad.

    Determining and coding pentad grid cells
    For SABAP2, each grid cell will be coded by the coordinates of the north-west (or top left-hand) corner of the cell, e.g. 2920_2935 refers to the pentad that has the coordinates of 29°20’ south and 29°35’ east. This is illustrated in the diagram attached. The pentad code is:
    Pentad code for grid A = 2920_2935 (29°20’South, 29°35’East).
    Pentad code for grid B = 2935_2945 (29°35’South, 29°45’East).

    To determine the boundaries of each pentad you will need to use either a map and/or a GPS. Atlasing in pentads that have uniform habitat and limited landscape features (e.g. in the Karoo or Kalahari) or that are unfamiliar may present problems if you are using maps. The main disadvantage of using a GPS only is that you may not be aware of the spread of habitats in a pentad which you usually get from a map. For example, there might be a wetland within the pentad, which is easy to determine from the map. Therefore try to use both if possiblecombination

    Pentad GPS Tracks for South Africa
    Do you have a GPS (like most Garmin) that can upload tracks?
    If your answers is "yes" then the following GPS tracks of all pentads in South Africa might be of benefit to you. When uploaded to your GPS you will be able to see, while atlasing, exactly where you are in relation to the boundaries of the pentad.

    There are three files in three formats that can be downloaded from

    The file formats are:
    • .gdb files for Garmin
    • .plt files for Ozzi
    • .gpx files for General Exchange.
    However, if you have a Garmin GPS than cannot download the GPS tracks you can use it with Mapsource, a program that comes with your Garmin GPS. ( Please note that some GPS models can only load a maximum of 500 points - if you have a model like that please download the Eastern and Western files - they contain less than 500 points. The split is a few pentads east of PE.)

    Determining pentad boundaries using a GPS (without the tracks)
    Although most people who own a GPS know how to use it, we have provided the following guidelines for those who are not familiar with reading the pentad codes for your GPS position. The coordinates need to be displayed as degrees, minutes (and preferably decimals of a minute, the so called DD MM.MMM format).
    Look at the degrees. The degrees of latitude (south) and longitude (east) are easy, and become part of the pentad code. In South Africa, the numbers for the degrees always have two digits, and so we call them DD.
    Look at the minutes. What is the multiple of five that is just smaller than the minutes? If the minutes read 13.784, then the multiple of five which is smaller than this is 10. If the minutes read 59.432, then the multiple of five is 55. If the minutes read 02.241, then the multiple of five is written as 00.
    The pentad code has pattern DD MM DD MM, where the first DD stands for degrees south and the second DD for degrees east. These digits come directly from the GPS. The MMs stand for the minutes; these will always be numbers that are multiples of five, worked out using the method in the paragraph above.
    If your GPS reads 25°20.861’S 30°16.191’E, then the pentad code is 25 20_30 15. The first DD is 25 and the second DD is 30. The first MM is worked out from 20.861; the multiple of five just smaller than this is 20. The second MM is worked out from 16.191; the multiple of five just smaller than this is 15.

    Next post will be on "The Time Period"
    Full instructions can be downloaded from
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by Gerrie_Horn; 2010/08/25 at 10:14 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth

    Default SABAP2 -part 2

    The time period
    To complete a”full protocol card or checklist” the minimum observation time period has been set to two (2) hours. The two-hour minimum is motivated by the concept that two hours in a pentad with uniform habitat in low-diversity areas is probably enough to locate most species. For pentads with more varied habitats and in high-diversity areas the minimum time could take as long as five (5) – six (6) hours to cover all the different habitats in a complex grid cell.
    The minimum time period is known as the period of initial intensive survey. (IIS)
    The maximum time period will be five (5) days. This means that after the initial minimum observation time has been reached any additional species can be added per card up to a period of five days. A new survey for each pentad should then only be started five days after the start of the previous survey. So, if you started your survey on a Monday for a particular pentad, then a new survey for that pentad should only be started on the Saturday, etc.

    For SABAP2, we would like you to make a special effort to try and cover all the different habitats in each pentad. This will maximize information on species diversity in each cell and will ensure that each field data sheet that is submitted represents a thorough search for all species in the different habitats.
    We have now looked a particular defined area as well as a particular period of time. Before continuing with the carrying out an atlas survey we will briefly look at what admin is required before submitting data.

    In order for you to start atlasing you will need to register as a SABAP2 observer and acquire a Starter Kit. You can register by logging onto the SABAP2 website ( and completing the online registration form ( , or by contacting Michael Brooks at the ADU (Tel. 021 – 650 4998, email [email protected]) giving your name, postal address, telephone number, fax number, email address and bird club membership details (if applicable). Once registered you will be given an observer number (also known as your ADU number) and issued with a SABAP2 Observer Card.

    The starter kit can be obtained in the following ways, either (a) on a CD/DVD, (b) or as downloads from the SABAP2 website.
    Starter Kits will vary depending on the way in which you intend capturing and submitting your data. If you plan to capture your data electronically and submit it using email then you will need the CD/DVD (computer-based). The CD/DVD contains the data management software (DMS), GIS software (Christine), all manuals, copies of the field sheets, as well as a set of local maps of your area. Please note that as from 15 January 2010 all electronic starter kits will be made available on DVD and not CD. We can no longer get CDs from our suppliers. If you DO NOT have a DVD drive on your computer we do have limited stock of CDs but please send an email to Doug Harebottle ([email protected]) requesting a CD rather than a DVD.

    Also note that data can also be faxed or posted to SABAP2. For this a different starter kit is required but I will not go into the detail as I presume all are computer literate.

    A set of 6 DVDs with digital 1:50 000 maps of South Africa. (Cost: R 60.00 (incl P&P)) can also be ordered at the bottom of the registration page. More details of the map DVD can be viewed at

    Minimum Equipment Required
    Binoculars/Scope and Bird field guide
    Notebook with pen/PDA/ Dictaphone to record the data
    Watch/ Cellphone to record the time
    Map(s) or GPS ( Knowledge of Pentad extend)

    Next post will be on “Carrying out an Atlas Survey"
    Full instructions can be downloaded from

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2008



    This is very interesting, but I had a different idea, but similiar if you may.

    As you may know, some higher end camera's can fit GPS devices to them and this info is captured in the "exif" info of the photograph.
    This info will be unquestionable as it shows the picture and the exact location/ date etc when pic was taken.

    Not sure if your system can work with this info but worth a look at.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth

    Default SABAP2 - part 3

    Carrying out an Atlas Survey

    Having determined which pentad(s) you are going to survey, and having acquired the appropriate maps (or GPS), decided on routes to take and habitats to cover, you will need to carry out your field survey. There is 3 different ways that you can record the data of your bird sightings. They are a ‘full protocol card’, ‘ad hoc card’ and an individual sighting.
    The SABAP2 project can benefit the most from ‘full protocol card’ but the other 2 methods is just as important.

    Full Protocol Card:

    1. Spend at least two (2) hours recording as many different species in the pentad by visiting all (or as many different) habitats as possible
    This is known as the initial intensive survey, or grid bash. During this initial intensive survey you should try to visit as many different habitats to record as many different species as possible within the minimum time period. It may not be possible to visit all habitats in the pentad, we would only require you to cover areas or habitats that are accessible in the pentad as best you can. If you did not cover all habitats during the survey period, this will need to be indicated on the Field data Sheet. Basically, we would like you to make a reasonable effort to try and cover as much of the pentad as possible in the minimum time period, so that you are reasonably satisfied that the list of species is comprehensive and represents a fairly accurate list of the species in the grid cell.

    2. Record the species in the order you observe (SEE or HEAR) them.
    This means you will need to write down the species in the sequence you see or hear them. You can record species in the field using any of the following methods:
    (a) Using a notebook
    (b) Using ‘Cybertracker’ or other GPS based data collection software (more on this software later)
    (c) Using a dictaphone or other digital recording device
    (d) Using a SABAP2 Field Data Sheet
    (e) Using a SABAP2 Field Record Sheet
    (The forms for the last two options can be downloaded from or is available on the ‘starter CD’. I would suggest that you stick to the first 4 methods.)

    · If you come across a large group of species simultaneously, try and record the most abundant species first.
    · Remember the golden rule: IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT! Please do not guess. Record only species which you can identify with 100% certainty.

    3 Keep a note of the number of new species recorded at the end of each hour during your initial intensive survey.
    This helps the project work out how much effort you put in during each survey and which birds are easier detected than others.
    This means that during your field surveys you will need to indicate when the first hour is completed, when the second hour is completed, when the third hour is completed, etc……... for as long as the minimum time period lasts. Please note: DO NOT start a new list after every hour but continuously add new species seen every hour. So if you have seen a Cape Wagtail in the first hour, do not record it if you see one in the second hour again

    4. Record any additional species seen for a period up to and including five (5) days.
    Once you feel satisfied that you have covered all habitats initially, additional species can be added to the overall list for up to a period of five days. If you feel you have covered the pentad thoroughly in less than five days then submit that list, but remember that a new field data sheet for each pentad can ONLY be started five days after the start of a previous field data sheet.
    Record the total number of hours ACTUALLY spent observing during the five days. Thus, even if you submitted a data sheet covering five days (=120 hours) but you,only observed for 20 hours during the five days then you need to write 20 hours on the Field Data Sheet or capture this within the Data Management System.

    Ad Hoc Card:

    If you are not able to do the initial intensive survey/ grid bash for at least 2 hour, then you can submit your data as a ‘Ad hoc’ card. You still record the species in the order seen/heard over a five day period within a pentad.

    Use this when travelling or if you spent a short period visiting or if you just want to do relaxed birding within an area.

    Incidental record:

    This can be used if you want to submit single of sightings of birds. This is mostly used when travelling and works best if you use a GPS.

    Additional Information

    The following additional information can be collected for submission
    A. Breeding
    B. Roosting
    C. Behavioural
    D. Abundance
    E. Alien species
    F. Habitat
    G. Other

    I have attached a PDF that summarizes the complete process. Looking at that you can see that the protocol is not that difficult.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth



    Yes, it would be able to use it as an incidental sighting.

    I will still explain how you can export sightings you have recorded onto a PDA/smartphone into Excel and then 'paste' it into the database. If you are able to download the information from your camera into excel, you would also be able to transfer the data easily.

    Last edited by Gerrie_Horn; 2010/08/31 at 02:53 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth

    Default SABAP2 - part 4

    Extensions to the standard protocol:

    The following additions have been made to the standard protocol in order to maximise data coverage for the project.
    • The initial intensive survey period does not have to be continuous (although this is preferred). If you need to exit and re-enter the pentad, or attend a meeting etc. just keep track of each 'hour' of fieldwork.
    • You can add species seen prior to your initial intensive survey, e.g. you arrive at a campsite on the Friday night, make a list of species, but only carry out your grid bash on the Saturday, you can add any species not seen on Saturday but seen on Friday to your overall list. In other words, your intensive survey does not necessarily have to take place on Day 1 of the 5 day period. Add it to the list after the birds seen during the grid bash.
    • It is possible to atlas a pentad using a team of observers. The preferred way of doing this is for each team of observers to conduct their own intensive survey and use the longest list from these teams as the base list. Additional species can then be added using the other lists.
    • Atlasing in suburbs (or complex pentads) can be daunting but this can also be done using a group-effort approach. Decide on a five day period and nominate one person to do the initial intensive survey (covering all or most of the habitats in the pentad). The other observers keep ordered lists during the five days and any new species can then be added to the main list after the survey period.

    Guidelines to help you maximise your atlas surveys:
    • Try and conduct surveys in the morning, as this is when birds are most active
    • Surveys should, where possible, be carried out in favourable weather conditions (strong wind, rain and cold temperatures usually keep many birds inactive during most parts of the day)
    • A fairly good level of bird identification is required so that you are able to maximise the number of records (observations) during your surveys. This is important so that we get the best possible results from the project. Should you want to first improve your bird ID skills many bird clubs run bird identification courses and we encourage you to attend these as often as you can.
    • Another good way to get to grips with bird identification (and atlas protocols) is to accompany an experienced atlaser during their surveys and learn from their knowledge and skills. This hands-on approach will allow you to see the ins and outs of how an atlas survey is conducted and one can always learn handy tips and advice from your 'mentor'.
    • Remember the golden rule: IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT
    • Access to certain areas may be limited or restricted. Try and arrange permission beforehand (if possible) to get into these areas. Please excercise strong birding and environmental ethics during your surveys: e.g. do not enter private property without the landowners permission, or disturb nesting birds or damage sensitive vegetation, etc.
    • Try, where possible, to start your surveys for the same pentad at different points and try and use different routes. This contributes to the species ranking abundance analyses we will do at the end of the project.
    • Please be aware of your saftey and security. Do not enter an area that looks unsafe, atlas in pairs or in small groups in remote areas and always carry a cell phone with you in case of an emergency.
    • Lastly - do the best you can and have fun!
    Please visit the SABAP2 website at and browse around to discover some of the interesting features.

    If you are interested to join somebody in your area to experience atlassing first hand please sent me an email @ [email protected]

    Before we move on to how to submit the data we will next look at some electronic data collection software. Note that you can use this software to suite your own purpose to collect any data you whish. For example you can write it to collect point data on mammals that will give you the point data on 'Virtual earth' to view all your sightings. (see sample attached)
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Port Elizabeth

    Default Electronic point data collection – “Cybertracker” Free Software

    CyberTracker is considered by some the most efficient method of gps field data collection.

    ‘CyberTracker Conservation’ is a South African non-profit company that develops handheld data capture solutions. Their flagship product is called CyberTracker 3 and can be downloaded free from the CyberTracker website.

    The software itself was first developed as a way to allow non-literate animal trackers to communicate their environmental observations. It has since evolved to become a powerful general purpose data capture and visualization system.

    CyberTracker software can be used on smart phones and handheld computers with GPS to record observations of any level of complexity. It allows anyone, regardless of their field of interest, to customize a series of screen interfaces specifically adapted to their own data collection needs.
    CyberTracker's unique design allows users to display icons, text or both, which makes data collection faster. The CyberTracker PC Version 3 downloads data from a handheld computer onto a desktop or laptop Personal Computer, where data can be viewed in tables and maps and exported for analysis. The unique icon and text interface design makes data capture very efficient and even allows non-literate users (like expert trackers) to capture very complex data.

    My original intension was to write an introduction myself about ‘Cybertracker’, it’s advantages, software and hardware, and how to write your own ‘sequence’. But after going through their online info, I thought just providing a link to their web-page would be sufficient to start with.

    Also visit to learn more.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Cape Town

    Default Tracking the Wild

    If you are keen to contribute to SABAP2, the Tracking the Wild website, iPhone and Android apps now pug into the Animal Demography Unit (and therefore SABAP2) so whatever you post will be submitted to ADU. You can also add your ADU User ID to your Tracking the Wild profile and all your sightings will be credited to your ADU account.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Somerset West


    Subscibed. But I must first read the loooong posts.

    Hilux 3.0 D4D "Goldilocks" - Rigged for overlanding
    ORRA Callsign: X130
    Passionate about alternative energy

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