The Lock-down Birding Challenge.

Jason Boyce,
Published 31 March 2020

Laughing Dove - I guess it is time to pay attention to our more common 'everyday' birds.

What is the Lock-down Birding Challenge???

And just like that we are into a period of “lock-down” here in South Africa, something that will absolutely affect many of our lives in a massive way. Without going into too much detail about COVID-19, as I’m sure your news feed is already cluttered with it, I must say that I am certainly proud to be South African in this trying time. It really does seem that our nation is rallying together nicely and realising the seriousness of the situation. I will continue to pray that this will unite us as a people and that we will come out stronger than ever before. Stay safe everyone!

But, what does a birder do during a period of isolation? What do you do when you can’t head out and atlas those exciting pentads around Bronkhorstspruit? Or what about that area in KwaMhlanga that Eduard and I have been targeting for years? Well, you still pick up your binoculars and head out birding of course! Its time to work on those garden lists. 

Naturally, for birders and nature enthusiasts alike, staying home for an extended period of time will bring about a serious case of cabin fever. To counteract the very real and serious birding withdrawal symptoms, the birding community set up a “lock-down birding challenge”. The idea is to record as many species as possible during the lock-down period from your place of residence.


How do I take part in this challenge?

If you have not registered yet, follow this link the Birdlasser website where you can register for the challenge:

Once you have registered for the challenge all you need to do is make sure you have the Birdlasser app, create a trip card and start logging! Birdlasser will automatically pick up your records. It's as simple as that! Remember that you can record anything in and from your garden/place of residence. If you live on a farm or a very large property the "Gentleman's agreement" is that you record only the species that are within a 50m radius around your home (give or take a few meters). This will allow the playing field to be on a similar page. 

To recap:

 - Anyone is welcome to join the challenge, follow the above link to register.
 - Any species that is identified in or from your garden/residence can be recorded.
 - Heard birds may be recorded.
 - The what's app group can be found here: 21-day Lock-down birding challenge what's app group.
 - Thanks to Henk Nel and the Birdlasser team once again!

Day 1, 27 March 2020 - The preparation

I enjoyed a lie-in this morning and by the time I woke up and checked the challenge leaderboard, I noticed I was already 40 species off the pace! Time to get cracking…

As I’ve mentioned before I live in pentad 2550_2810, the Irene, Centurion pentad which knows how to produce the goods. Who can remember the Franklin’s Gull at Centurion lake in 2008, or more recently the popular Rufous-bellied Heron at the 27th wetland in Centurion? Species such as Corn Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Icterine Warbler, Peregrine Falcon and Great Spotted Cuckoo have all been recorded this year. This challenge however was going to be far more challenging than finding measly Corn Crakes and Lesser Moorhens, it called for some drastic birding preparation.

I live on the boundary of an estate overlooking a nice stand of ‘veld’ and scattered vegetation. The problem however is the giant brick wall; I am a tall guy but not that tall. So, I needed to come up with a plan. My dad and I have been chatting about building a permanent birding platform that allows us to look over the wall and enjoy what the veld has to offer. There is no better time than now, so we got to work. We decided on the perfect spot and consequently had to move our pile of home-made compost. A couple of spades and a little bit of “elbow grease” and we had our spot.

Before and after; 
A birding platform was designed, constructed and used within the hour.

Here is the view from the birding platform. The veld is in good condition and the large Bluegum trees are home to both Ovambo and Black Sparrowhawk.


My grandfather, Colin Gerrans a well-known, respected birder and talented bonsai artist keeps many of his bonsai trees at our home. Let’s just say that some of his un-used bonsai tables came in handy. It took some time to get the base level and build a small staircase but before we knew it, we were on top recording the likes of White-winged Widowbird and Southern Fiscal.

Whilst this will certainly be a temporary platform, we think we did a great job and I am surely going to enjoy many hours standing up there, scanning for flybys.

It was certainly a good day in the garden, a total of 59 species of birds to go with 5 species of butterfly. Some of the birding highlights came late in the afternoon: an Ovambo Sparrowhawk (record shot below) was spotted perched high in a dead tree before a Willow Warbler was heard in the garden. Late flyby's included Yellow-billed Duck and African Sacred Ibis. The day ended with Spotted Thick-knee and Fiery-necked Nightjar, both heard calling just after dark. I've also added a photograph of one of the many Garden Acraeas that have desimated our Wild Peach (Kiggelaria africana) this season.

Ovambo Sparrowhawk (Accipiter ovampensis)

Garden Acraea (Acraea horta)

Day 2, 28 March 2020 - Just keep birding!

"Ah man, overcast!" Yes, the weather was certainly "sub-optimal" this morning; cold and gloomy and didn't feel very "birdy". Nevertheless, I made my way into the garden at about 06:30 and spent a good 45 minutes on the birding platform. I added two species this morning, #60 was Grey Go-away-bird and soon after that a single African Darter flew overhead. At one stage today I reckoned that I would be lucky to add anything else but the goodies came late on in the day. Western Cattle Egret was species #62 and the last 45 minutes of day-light produced a Lesser Striped Swallow which I first picked up on call. Greater Honeyguide was also heard calling really late on in the session.

I snuck in for dinner and at around 19h00 thinking that I would call it a day at 63 species. During dinner we heard the call of Spotted Eagle-Owl on the neighbors roof and as I sat down to write todays account, the eerie but awesome call of Western Barn Owl was also heard. Boom, both of my Owl targets were now ticked off! 

So I ended up adding 7 species today and now need another 9 to reach my goal of 75 species! Make sure to catch day 3 of the blog, I will be chatting a lot about targets and setting a personal goal. 

Our birding platform allows for some mammal spotting too. Yellow Mongoose is seen most days from the platform.



Day 3, 30 March 2020 - Targets

Here’s an important question, have you set yourself a target number of species to get during this lockdown challenge?

Its obvious that a suburban garden in Johannesburg is not going to come out tops in terms of species numbers when compared to a lowveld plot or a garden in Polokwane. So, why not set yourself a goal – something to aim at to keep yourself motivated! 

“A good rule of thumb is to always aim 5-10% higher than what you think you can get.”

When day 1 rolled in, I set myself the goal of 75 species. It seems that once again I was a little too conservative with my goal setting as I am already on 72 species after day 3. I have needed to revise that number and I think I am now going to set the ambitious goal of 85. To get 13 more species over the course of 18 days I will need to put together a proper target list.  

My target list is taken from the SABAP2 data for my home pentad 2550_2810 and adjusted with a personal code that I have given each species. The code system is fairly simple, code 1 is given to those species that I am sure I will get during lockdown, code 2 is given to birds that I should get and code 3 is given to birds that I have a fair chance but certainly not expecting. I then have code 4 and 5 birds too (which I have left off here), these are the rarities and megas for my garden species which I have no right to “target”.

So, behold my target list: (Use landscape mode on mobile device)

Common Name                            RR%                       JB CODE

Swainson's Spurfowl                       35.8                            1

Rock Dove                                          75.9                           2

Reed Cormorant                              44.4                          2

Black-headed Heron                       57.6                           3

Rock Martin                                       55.7                           3

White-faced Duck                           46.3                           3

Fiscal Flycatcher                              45.1                            3

Black-shouldered Kite                    41.6                            3

Glossy Ibis                                          39.1                             3

Kurrichane Thrush                          37.1                             3

Rufous-naped Lark                         36.9                            3    

Pin-tailed Whydah                          36.1                             3

Red-collared Widowbird               30.5                            3

Mountain Wheatear                       30.2                            3

African Olive-pigeon                      29.8                            3

Grey Heron                                        29.3                             3

Burchell's Coucal                             22.3                             3

Fork-tailed Drongo                         20.3                             3

African Paradise-flycatcher          19.4                              3

Red-billed Quelea                           15.8                              3

Jameson's Firefinch                        14.5                             3

Cardinal Woodpecker                     14.5                             3

Bokmakierie                                      13.5                             3

Brown-crowned Tchagra               12.0                             3

Spur-winged Goose                        10.1                              3

Little Sparrowhawk                         9.4                              3

Brown-hooded Kingfisher            7.1                                3

Cape Weaver                                     5.4                              3

Purple Indigobird                            4.5                              3

Honourary Code 4 Mentions: 

African Harrier-hawk                     6.8                               4

African Quailfinch                           6.1                                4

Long-crested Eagle                        4.9                               4

Common House-martin                3.9                               4

African Fish-Eagle                           3.3                               4

Village Weaver                                  2.4                               4

Horus Swift                                        2.2                               4

I will keep track as to how many of these I will eventually get but I need 12 species from this list to reach my goal of 85 species. Wish me luck!

What is everyone else targeting?

Here is what the madding crowd of "garden birders" had to say about their targets and goals... (as of 29 March 2020)

“I am currently on 39, slow going here but I will hopefully get to 50.”
- Martin Benadie, West Rand

“My personal goal is to get to 65+ species here”  
- Thomas Hohls, Centurion 

“My goal is to add three more species to my garden list, already added White-bellied Sunbird to my garden list”  
- Johan Viljoen, Potchefstroom 

Proud “Saffa” living abroad Francois Du Plessis (not former Protea’s skipper) gave some bold predictions for a few friends, knowing where they live:

Matt Axelrod: 73  

JB: 69 

Dylan Vasapolli (Ie: The Oracle): 63 

Errol de Beer: 48  

“35 would be a good number here in Hermanus, but I think it is possible to record 30% of the overall number of species that you have seen in the whole pentad (assuming you have done 30+ cards and spent many hours). According to the above, we should be able to get 48.”  
Revised to 50. 
Revised to 60!
- Pieter Verster, Hermanus 

“With some luck, 60. I will add though, that initially I was only expecting 50 but seeing as I just hit 48 I am sure I will pass 50.”
- Cameron Crole, East Rand 
“My goal is to make sure I get at least ONE seabird properly visible in the spotting scope from the balcony before the end of Lock-down. There are hundreds of Terns flying by but I could not Identify one with certainty.”
- Janelle Verster, Hermanus 
“I’m hoping for some waterfowl and Heron/Egret flybys, then stuff like Familiar Chat, Cape and Thick-billed Weaver, Groundscraper Thrush, Pin-tailed Whydah and Mountain Wheatear. Then I’m hoping to hear some of the things from the golf course such as Lapwings, Guineafowl, Spurfowl and some Cisticolas. And, I’m hoping for 70, wait maybe 75. "
- Jordan Ralph, Pretoria East 
“Probably 75!”
- Tristin Spurway, Pretoria 
“24 species so far, very tough target of 50!”
- Mike Piper, Johannesburg 
“Im currently sitting on 36 species, I think 44 would be a reasonable goal? Or do you think I’m shooting too low? Ok, 50 it is!”
- Dale Kretzinger, Johannesburg 

Day 5, 31 March 2020 - Champions of the Flyway from my garden!

What a day’s garden birding, what a day for migrating birds and what a day for birders all around the globe! As many of you know, today was going to be the Champions of the Flyway (COTF) bird race for conservation in Southern Israel, a race I competed in back in 2015 and 2016. With travel bans and lockdowns in many countries the race sadly had to be canceled this year. Of course, being birders, we still go birding and the COTF community did just that! So, I spent today birding for the South African Lockdown Challenge but more importantly as part of my support to this years COTF.

Israel is one of the main flyway corridors for migrating birds and thus much focus is on migrants that move through the country in both spring and autumn. This year, past and present COTF birders spent time birding their gardens and local patches in solidarity but were most certainly ‘united by the birds’.


A quick report on my #COTF20 birding:

    Morning session, 06h00 – 11h00:

A slow start with White-breasted Cormorant and Sacred Ibis Flybys. Jameson’s Firefinch calling was a nice surprise, a species which only comes by periodically. I also finally connected with Swainson’s Spurfowl and Yellow-fronted Canary, both which were new to my challenge list. I ended the morning session on 51 species after picking up Ovambo Sparrowhawk and European Bee-eater.

eBird List can be seen here.

    Afternoon Session, 16h20 – 18h40:

Amethyst Sunbird and Cape Wagtail were hanging about when I got up to my famous birding platform. The previous evening at 18h00, I had a possible Eurasian Hobby cruise by, but I was not able to confirm it. I hoped that it would return but no such luck. I ended the day on 61 species after picking up Spotted Eagle-Owl, Spotted Thick-knee and the resounding call of Fiery-necked Nightjar!

eBird List can be seen here.

A fantastic day of #BirdingAtHome! 

What did the COTF family have to say?

“Today solidarity teams from around the world, from the safety of their homes, are joining the #COTF20. From our own corners we are all united by the magic of birds and the wonder of migration. Nature is showing us the path for healing. Socially distant but connected by birds.”
 - Patricia Zurita 

“It was an outstanding migration all day over Israel for raptors, storks and pelicans. Probably hundreds of thousands of Steppe Buzzards, over 10000 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 5000+ Pelicans and 50000 White Stork. Not bad.”
- Dan Alon, Israel 

“Eilat Bird Sanctuary Zeiss Team, Sam and Noam, summary is 127 species. We missed some ridiculous stuff but got a Brown Booby, Oriental Honey Buzzards and a great day of birding.”
 - Noam Weiss, Eilat, Israel 

“Just reached 183 species in Hwange NP, Zimbabwe”
 - Jean Blake, Zimbabwe

“Little Swift was my last bird before sunset. still hoping to add Barn and Tawny Owls, that will bring my total to 60 species mainly from garden. Keep on birding everybody. Go Champions !!” 
 - Nadav Israeli 

“12 hours of birding from my town house here in South Wales, Uk. I managed to see 20 species Peregrine, Magpie, Starling etc I will be donating £1 per species. Well done everyone 🦅”
- Rob Jones, Wales 

Lockdown birding challenge Stats

Day 1 Stats 

As of 21h00 on the 27th of March, 610 observers have registered for the challenge and logged at least one species. 225 observers have logged 20 species or more and 33 observers have logged 40 species or more. A total of 425 species have been recorded accross the country. 

I estimate that I spent 4 hours of birding today

Day 2 Stats

As of 20h00 on the 28th of March, 737 observers have logged at least one species. 402 observers have logged 20 species or more and 103 observers have logged 40 species or more. Joe Grosel from Limpopo was the first observer to crack the 100 species mark - well done Joe! 

I estimate that I spent 3 hours of birding today.

Day 3 Stats

As of 21h00 on the 29th of March, 836 observers have logged at least 1 species. 532 observers have logged 20 species or more and 179 observers have logged 40 species or more. 48 observers have now logged 60 species or more, good going everyone!

I estimate that I spent 2 hours of birding today.

Day 5 Stats

As of 21h00 on the 31st of March, 923 observers have logged at least 1 species. 675 observers have logged 20 species or more and 294 observers have logged 40 species or more. 97 observers have now logged 60 species or more!

I estimate that I spent 6 hours of birding today.

My Progress





% of target


Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Birding!

Thanks for taking time to read this story.  As I like to say, "there are always more birds (and many an unexpected flyby)!"
Jason Boyce

© All Photographs Copyright 2020 Jason Boyce


South Africa


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