Real-life Pokémon GO for birders

7 Mar 2019 - 14:45

There’s heavy competition as UCT’s avid birdwatching community compete for a spot on the leader board.

It’s not a return of the Pokémon GO craze; it’s the University of Cape Town (UCT) Birding Club’s Isomi Challenge that has avid birdwatchers racing around to “catch ‘em all” – and in the first week they recorded more than 100 species in just a five-kilometre radius of the campus.

This impressive tally – for a relatively small and largely urban area – was the work of 21 participants who have been jostling for a spot on the leader board following the challenge launch last week at the club’s annual Meet and Tweet event.

Southern Africa is home to about 900 species of birds, and birders keep meticulous lists of the ones they’ve seen, making dedicated trips to new areas and habitats to tick off species. The Isomi (isiXhosa for Red-winged Starling) Challenge is named for the UCT club’s mascot, and probably the most well-known bird on campus.

Southern Africa is home to about 900 species of birds, and birders keep meticulous lists of the ones they’ve seen

Citizen scientists

The challenge is set to run throughout the first semester, until 15 July, with birdwatchers competing to log the highest number of species within the fixed area. They can log and plot their sightings on the app Birdlasser, while also contributing to valuable citizen science data for the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP).

Already in the first week, a handful of birders managed to find a Cardinal Woodpecker on campus, a rare record for the area.

 

“It is well known that birdwatching, and the accompanying exposure to nature and the outdoors, has an array of health benefits like increased physical activity, stress reduction and overall improvement to mental health.”

The club’s Jessleena Suri said the interactive nature of the challenge, still in its infancy, has been exciting, prompting competitors to pay more attention to their surroundings and to share knowledge.

“With a birding challenge like Isomi, the benefits are even greater [than with Pokémon GO]. It is well known that birdwatching, and the accompanying exposure to nature and the outdoors, has an array of health benefits like increased physical activity, stress reduction and overall improvement to mental health.”

Plans for the future of the challenge are that after the first semester prizegiving, they will widen the challenge to a larger playing field in the second half of the year.

Anyone can take part, but only club members are eligible for prizes.

Story:  Jessleena Suri

Photo:  Taylin Risi

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