Southern African Specific
Nature Journaling Resources
The content on this page can also be downloaded from here:
You can find birds everywhere, even inside shops! This makes birding a rewarding hobby. Birds are a great focus for nature journaling. In fact, nature journaling is recommended by expert birders from South Africa and abroad. Birders refer to it as keeping a field notebook. In "Basic Bird ID for Southern Africa" a field notebook is listed as one of four essential pieces of equipment.
South African birding authority, Faansie Peacock, emphasises the purpose and benefits of field notes for birders:
“The aim of taking notes is not only to represent what you see in the field but ultimately also
to develop more effective observation skills and
to force you to look at birds in more detail and
remember details better.
Keeping a notebook is undoubtedly the fastest (and arguably also the most satisfying) way to improve your birding skills.”
p 24 "Chamberlain’s LBJ’s: The definitive guide to Southern Africa’s Little Brown Jobs"
Many expert birders agree that keeping a field notebook with sketches, words and numbers is vital to birding. This advice is given by:
David Allen Sibley
Cornell Bird Academy (All About Birds)
British Trust of Ornithology
It applies equally to casual birders as it does to researchers, and to both new and experienced birders.
Birding involves hearing or seeing birds, or finding evidence of birds. At a general level, there is nothing place-specific about how to bird, or about nature journaling with birds as your focus. However, identification of species, by sight or sound, changes within the country and across the Southern African region. What species of birds can you expect to find? Where might you find them? When? And what changes might you come across at different places and times of year? For example, typical bird sounds of one species change within one province. Appearances may change across the Southern African region.
The relationship between people and birds in Southern Africa has a long history. There are a variety of ways of people knowing about and relating to birds. The history of different groups and the interactions between groups is complex. Insights into our understanding of these relationships and ways of knowing are highlighted in these books:
“Birders of Africa: History of a Network” by Nancy J Jacobs, 2016 Yale University.
The scientific knowledge that is contained in the field guides, books and resources below has a complex history. “By distilling the interactions between European science and African vernacular knowledge, this stunningly illustrated work offers a fascinating examination of the colonial and postcolonial politics of the expertise about nature.” From the front inside cover flap.
“Zulu Bird Names and Bird Lore” by Adrian Koopman
The author describes the complex relationship between birds, the Zulu language and Zulu culture including in praise poetry, proverbs, riddles and children’s games. It also presents the Zulu Bird Name Project a series of workshops held with Zulu-speaking bird guides to establish a list of species-specific names for all birds in the Zulu-speaking region.
Most Southern African birding books use the scientific names of birds. They also provide the English and/or Afrikaans common names. Common bird names in other Southern African languages are not usually included in more recent standard birding field guides. Here are a few books that are multi-lingual:
The beginners' nature book series "The My First book of ..." with information in field note style. Each book has text in four Southern African languages:
There are three books in the series just on birds:
“My First Book of Southern African Birds: Volumes 1 and 2” by Erroll Cuthbert, illustrator
Jennifer Schaum. Volume 1 had information on 56 species. Volume 2 has information on 58 species.
"My First Book of East African Birds" by Dave Richards, Illustrator Jennifer Schaum
The series also includes birds in other titles such as “My First Book of Southern African … Wildlife, Tracks. Most titles in the series are available through the library.
While not a book, Roberts VII Names Database Version 2005.10.3 has common names of birds in languages commonly spoken in Southern Africa. People are invited to share names or languages which may be missing.
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Zulu Names Zulu
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Xhosa Names Xhosa
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Tswana Names Tswana
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & South Sotho Names SouthSotho
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & North Sotho Names NorthSotho
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Swazi Names Swazi
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Tsonga Names Tsonga
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Shona Names Shona
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Kwangali Names Kwangali
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & German Names SciEngAfrGer
Roberts VII Scientific, German, Portuguese & French Names SciGerPorFre
Standard Field Guide-Style Books
“Faansie’s Bird Book: a fully-fledged field guide …for kids” is written for children
but also loved and used by adults. It contains 722 species found only in South Africa. It is also available in Afrikaans “Faansie se Voëlboek ‘n volledige veldgids … vir kinders”.
In association with this book, he developed Bird Nerd Game, which he’s linked to his website. It is a variation of the standard bird list – with extra points for rare or difficult to locate birds. Print outs available for A4, A3 (with instructions on how to fold into pocket size) and an Excel version.
"Basic Bird ID for Southern Africa" by Peter Ginn and Geoff McIlleron
"Sasol Birds of Southern Africa 4th edition" by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick
Tarboton and Peter Ryan, 2015 Struik. The 4th edition adds introductions to bird groups and sonograms for identifying some birds. Available in English and Afrikaans.
“Newman's Birds of Southern Africa: Commemorative Edition" Ken Newman,
New Holland. Vanessa Newman, Ken's daughter, revised his last book to produce this commemorative edition. It incorporates the latest taxonomic changes.
"Roberts Bird Guide Second Edition" by Hugh Chittenden, 2016,
John Voelcker Bird Book Fund. Based on the first field guide version of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa VIIth Edition, the book covers over 950 species including all the recent splits. Being translated into Afrikaans.
"Geographic Variation of Southern African Birds"
by Hugh Chittenden, David Allan and Ingrid Weiersbye, an illustrated version of aspects dealt with under the subject of Geographic Variation in the large handbook tome Roberts - Birds of Southern Africa 7th ed. Worldwide, this is the first field guide to attempt to comprehensively illustrate the varied plumages that are exhibited by the region's birds." Errata noted on promotion page:
1: African Goshawk p50. Blue and green colours on map to be transposed.
2: Garden Warbler Plate 75. p185. Names on plate to be transposed."
"Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, Second edition" by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan,
New Holland. This highly respected publication covers over 2,129 species of African birds in a single volume. Revised to reflect the latest changes in taxonomy.
A Different take on Identification
"Newman’s Birds by Colour” by Kenneth Newman in association with Irene Bredenkamp
and Phoebus Perdikis, updated by Vanessa Newman. Many new birders first notice colour. However, many experts discourage using colour as the starting point in bird identification. This book is a welcome addition to getting to grips with identifying birds.
"Complete Photographic Guide to Birds of Southern Africa" by Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan
"A Field Guide to the Tracks & Signs of Southern, Central & East African Wildlife"
by Chris & Mathilde Stuart, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-77584-692-5 published by Struik Nature, contains "detailed coverage of tracks, droppings, bird pellets, nests, shelters and feeding signs, not only for mammals but also for birds, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates."
Specialised Groups of Birds
"Chamberlain’s LBJ’s: The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa’s Little Brown Jobs"
by Faansie Peacock, 2012. Has extensive information on five groups: honeyguides & honeybirds; larks & pipits; chats, scrub robins and flycatchers; warblers & cisticolas; and seed-eaters.
"LBJs made Simple" by Doug Newman and Gordon King, 2011 presents and applies the
authors' identification system based on first separating families, then within each family further separating into a visual groups, and finally in the third step of identifying to species level based on colour-coded, weighted characteristic features within the visual group. Includes a CD with calls for each of the birds in the book. ISBN: 9781770077997
"Pipits of Southern Africa: The Complete Guide to Africa's Ultimate LBJ's"
by Faansie Peacock, 2006. Privately published by the author, unfortunately, it is no longer in print, but Faansie writes on his website:
"Because I’m such a nice guy, I’ve placed a whole lot of free downloadable pdfs from the pipits book here…enjoy! I’ve also included some background information on the book, and the story behind it."
Check out his list of downloadable pdfs here.
"Chamberlain's Waders: The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa's Shorebirds”
by Faansie Peacock, 2016
"Field Guide to Shorebirds of South Africa" by Roy Cowgill & Stephen Davis, 2013
"Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa" by Peter Ryan 2017 Struik Nature
"African Raptors" by Bill Clark, 2018
"Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa: Guineafowls, Francolins, Spurfowls, Quails,
Sandgrouse & Snipes" by Robert Little, 2017 Helm Field Guides, Bloomsbury
Birding by Ear
"Bird Calls for Beginners" by Doug Newman 2008 Book with CD contain calls and other
information on 60 common Southern African birds. ISBN: 9781770076785
"More Bird Calls for Beginners" by Doug Newman 2009 Book with CD contain calls and
other information on an additional 99 mostly common with a few rare Southern African birds. ISBN: 9781770078000
"500 Common Bird Calls in Southern Africa" Doug Newman 2013 Book and CD with
best-known sound or call of each species with helpful notes on similar-sounding species. ISBN: 9781431701209
Comprehensive Reference Books
"Roberts VII: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa" 2005. Also available in Afrikaans as
"Roberts Voëlgids". The most authoritative reference on birds in Southern Africa.
Robert’s Multi-media Birds of Southern Africa CD companion to the book is available from SA Birding - Guy Gibbons Roberts Multimedia DVD and Pda Software You have to buy it and have a smartphone or computer to use it. Sound identification uses filters to provide a shortlist of possible birds. The filters are very helpful especially for length and pitch which give timing and kHz measurements. You can use the sound characteristic filters as a framework for listening to and describing sounds.
"The Ultimate Companion: For Birding in Southern Africa" by Peter Ginn and Geoff
McIlleron, highly praised by Southern African birding authorities, this two-volume set has over 1,400 photos of all 960 bird species recorded in the region. Free app available with the purchase of the books.
Where to Find Birds
"The Southern African Birdfinder: Where to find 1400 bird species in southern Africa" by Cohen & Spottiswoode, assisted by J Rossouw, New Holland, 2006. Covers over 300 birding sites with what to expect, includes a foldout map.
“Sasol Birding Map of Southern Africa”, Ian Sinclair and Trevor Hardaker, Struik, 2002.
Includes over 200 birding sites in southern Africa, as well as many game and nature reserves, towns, and routes.
SABAP2 – South African Bird Atlas Project website of the second South African Bird Atlas Project, run by the Animal Demography Unit, UCT, in collaboration with SANBI and BirdLife SA.
Explore birds with the local birding community. They have expertise to share about local birds and birding spots. Local conservancies and nature reserves often offer bird and nature walks.
Simply Birding Forum hosts a wide variety of topics organised in sub-topics.
BirdLife South Africa is the largest birding organisation in South Africa. There many local bird clubs in 8 of the 9 provinces which are affiliated with the national organisation. Check here for the one closest to you.
They produce checklists and organise events. They publish a range of scientific and member-focused publications, reports, newsletters, and magazines. They are active in policy and advocacy, and conservation. Their online resources on conservation include:
A printable poster on South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.
Province specific brochures on Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)
BirdLife South Africa also has resources on sustainable birding tourism for South Africa,
Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia:
Support of community guides
birder-friendly tour operators
BirdLife South Africa work through community projects with young birders, and encourage donations of surplus field guides and binoculars for birders in rural areas or who have limited resources.
They have guidelines on:
Bird-friendly burning & grazing best-practice for grasslands English, Afrikaans & Zulu
Bird-friendly: Habitat management guidelines for the endemic birds of the Fynbos Biome in support of the eight Fynbos endemic bird species.
Floating Wetlands to promote waterbird habitat rehabilitation and watercourse conservation and management for farm dams and other agricultural water sources.
Guide to access avian data for EIA Reports BirdLife South Africa registers, on a regular basis, as an Interested and Affected Party for developments that might affect areas which are important for birds. Although some Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports contain sufficient information, most EIA reports do not provide an accurate reflection of the avifauna that occurs in the proposed area of development.
Effect of Wind Energy and Birds
"We encourage you as birders to take responsibility for your actions when visiting birding sites and act in a manner that will have a positive impact upon the communities and environments that you visit. Support local community and conservation initiatives, pay fair prices and leave only your footprints behind. Click here to download the Birders Code of Conduct (pdf)"
Astronomy - Where in the Universe are We?
We live on the planet Earth. It is one of eight planets orbiting our Sun.
Our Sun is one of about 200 billion suns in our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Our galaxy is one of two trillion (2,000 billion) galaxies in the observable Universe.
The Universe is all of space and time, all their contents, and all other forms of matter and energy.
Amateur astronomers who study the sky separate it into two types:
The shallow sky is the Earth’s atmosphere plus space within our Solar System.
The deep sky is what can be seen with the naked eye or telescopes. What can be seen of the deep sky is different in the northern hemisphere than it is in the Southern Hemisphere.
You can learn more about what can be viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, how and when from these sources.
“100 Things to See in the Southern Night Sky: From Planets and Satellites to Meteors and Constellations, Your Guide to Stargazing – A Field Guide to the Galaxy” by Dean Regas, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-5072-0780-2.
“Guide to Night Skies of Southern Africa” by Peter Mack, 2012, ISBN 9781770078598.
“Star Maps for Southern Africa – An Easy Guide to the Night Skies” by Albert Jansen, 2017,
ISBN 9781775842873. The book has 96-star maps divided into 12 sets, the maps for the eight views of the sky for each month of the year.
“Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa's Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars” by Sarah Wild, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1431404728, ISBN-10: 1431404721.
“Astronomy of Timbuktu” by Rodney Thebe Medupe, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0521169769, ISBN-10: 0521169763.
“First field guide to skywatching in Southern Africa” by Cliff Turk, 2015, ISBN 9781775843894.
“Venus Rising: South African Astronomical Beliefs, Customs and Observations”, PG Alcock, 2014, ISBN 978-1-919966-04-5. Also available as a free download on this page.
For this and other print books, ask your local library to order these books. That way they can be available to more people.
The ASSA (The Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) website hosts brilliant resources to develop your understanding and skills.
Start with these resources for nature journaling the night sky.
“Deep-Sky Observer’s Companion: Observing Tutorial” Version 13", November 2008 Compiled by Auke Slotegraaf. Distributed under an Attribution-Non-commercial 2.5 Creative Commons license. This 47-page booklet includes guidance for the beginner on
How to observe
Looking and seeing
What and how to record including
How to make sketches of night sky observations (pages 15-17).
Discover! Naked Eye Constellation Workbook v.3.0. Discover! An observing project of the Deep-Sky Observing Section, Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. The workbook is a free downloadable document with:
Sample deep-sky observation sheet
Sample observation log
Sample record sheet
Plus 25-star charts
The ASSA website contains information and tools such as:
An introduction to stargazing and amateur astronomy here
The Solar System (Shallow Sky) with information, updates, and towards the end of the page - observation guides
The Deep-Sky – an introduction to observing the Deep-Sky
ASSA came up with a fun way to get started in astronomy - “The Big Five of the African Sky”. Following the widely known “Big Five” of wildlife safaris, they chose the Big Five celestial objects of the Southern African sky:
the Southern Pleaides - an open star cluster
Omega Centauri - a globular cluster
the eta Carinae Nebula - a bright nebula
the Coal Sack - a dark nebula
the Milky Way - our galaxy
The website also has a page on African ethnoastronomy
You can stay up-to-date with:
ASSA’s official journal MNASSA (Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa).
Listen to The Cosmic Savannah a podcast about astronomy research and technology in Africa.
Nature and Wildlife
Books on Nature in Zulu
"Isilulu Solwazi Lwemvelo, Umqulu-1" (Reservoir of knowledge on wildlife and culture)
by Mlindeli Gcumisa and Magqubu Ntombela, Shuter & Shooter, Pietermaritzburg, 1993
"Buyisela Imvelo Engadini" by Charles noJulia Botha, Imidwebo Eve Gibbs, WESSA, 2003
Books on Nature with Zulu Vocabulary or about Nature and Zulu Language and Culture
"Zulu Bird Names and Bird Lore" by Adrian Koopman, UKZN Press 2019,
ISBN: 978 1 86914 425 8, eISBN: 978 1 86914 426 5
"Zulu Plant Names" by Adrian Koopman, UKZN Press 2015, ISBN: 1869142810, 9781869142810
Many libraries have the beginners' nature book "The My First book Series"
which in each book combines text in four Southern African languages:
1,2. "My First Book of Southern African Birds volumes 1 and 2 by Erroll Cuthbert,
Illustrator Jennifer Schaum
3. "My First Book of East African Birds" by Dave Richards, Illustrator Jennifer Schaum
4. "My First Book of Southern African Wildlife" by Erroll Cuthbert
5. "My First Book of Southern African Ocean Life" by Roberta Griffiths, Illustrator Judy Maré
6. "My First Book of Southern African Seashore Life" by Roberta Griffiths, Illustrator Judy Maré
7. "My first book of Southern African Creepy-Crawlies" by Charmaine Uys, Illustrator Sally MacLarty
8. "My First Book of Southern African Insects" by Charmaine Uys, Illustrator Sally MacLarty
9. "My First Book of Southern African Frogs" by Jeanne Tarrant, Illustrator Sally MacLarty
10. "My First Book of Southern African Snakes and other Reptiles" by Bill Branch, Illustrator Sally MacLarty
11. "My First Book of Southern African Mammals" by Peter Apps, Illustrator Jennifer Schaum
12. My First Book of Southern African Animal Tracks by Chris and Mathilde Stuart