#Sweesmustfall brings birding to life

UCT Birding Club members from left Jessleena Suri, Nick Fordyce, Andrew de Blocq and Garth Shaw,

UCT birding enthusiasts rejuvenated the birding scene on campus by forming the UCT Birding Club earlier this year.

Founder and chairman Andrew de Blocq said the club was formed to fill a gap in the local birding community at the university.

The local birding scene, he said, was missing a space for young adult birders to meet, share stories, better their skills, and engage with the community.

“I experienced this personally when attending a talk at a local bird club. I was the youngest audience member by 30 years, the next youngest being my father who had around another 10 years on the next person.

“I knew that other young people were birders too, but there were none to be seen. All of my contact with other young birders was limited to splintered WhatsApp groups, and there was very little communication about what birds were around and how people’s trips had gone,” he said.

Mr De Blocq championed the cause and as the head of the UCT Biological Society, roped in a few other keen student birders and formed a committee.

“We went on trial with UCT in January, and were granted our official society status for 2017 in November,” he explained.

Fellow member, Jessleena Suri, has been elected as the vice-chairwoman for 2017.

The club has amassed close to 100 members on its Facebook group and hopes to attract more than 100 official members next year when it signs its first cohort as a UCT society.

The club hosts outings or talks once or twice a week, although these activities took a back seat during the #FeesMustFall protests that brought the campus to a grinding halt.

“Our Facebook page regularly has content posted by both the committee and its members, and serves as a way for people to engage others, ask questions, carpool for trips, and learn about birds,” said Mr De Blocq.

The team recently took part in the annual Birding Big Day on Saturday November 26, which pits teams from all over the country against each other to see who can record the most bird species on the day.

The team ticked off a monumental 201 species placing them first in the Western Cape.

“Without doubt we were one of the most successful teams on the day,” Mr De Blocq said. “Overall, we came a respectable 24th in the country out of 300 teams, but that is misleading. Teams further north have a diversity of species available that we can’t rival in the Cape, and they will inevitably occupy the top spots on the ladder.”

They entered the competition with the team name #UCTsweesmustfall. “There’s something of a tradition on Birding Big Days to come up with witty team names, often involving a bird pun, some good examples being the Rolling Stonechats, the Bird Storkers, and the Counting Crows. Being UCT students and working in the Cape Town area, we wanted that reflected in our name. We came up with a light-hearted reference to the slogan of the recent university protests, substituting ‘swees’ (referring to the swee waxbill – a common bird species) for fees.”

He said bird watching is a great way for people to reconnect with nature and refresh.

“Birds are all around us, whether we are in big cities or nature reserves. They are a constant reminder that our lives are inextricably linked and dependent on nature. A pair of binoculars and a field guide is a good way to get a better idea of exactly what you’re looking at, but otherwise you can just sit back and watch them go about their days. They are endlessly fascinating, full of quirky personality, and are often just as curious about us as we are about them. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes, which means that there is always something new to see or something new to learn about them,” he said.

Mr De Blocq said South Africa hosted 102 bird species threatened with extinction – about 7 percent of threatened birds globally.

“In particular, African vultures are suffering a collapse, with three South African species being rated as critically endangered. The threat to birds is, unfortunately, symptomatic of environmental destruction on a global scale,” he said.

To get involved or for more information about the club email Mr De Blocq at adeblocq@gmail.com