Tracy Burrows from Latest Sightings chats to Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation at BirdLife South Africa to gain some insight regarding her projects, favourite birding places and more...
TB: What projects are you currently working on, and what are your responsibilities?
CH: I have recently moved into a new position at BirdLife, the Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation. The main focus of my work is on the establishment of a new African penguin colony on the south coast of South Africa. I’m going through a process of selecting the site now, and am looking into the various permitting requirements. This is a very exciting project because although penguins have started new colonies on their own, this will be the first time that humans have attempted to create a new African penguin colony (it has been attempted before in Australia with Little Penguins).
TB: What is your favourite bird and why?
CH: The African Penguin of course! They are very charismatic and interesting birds with loads of personality. They are also good “flagship” species for the rest of the marine environment in South Africa. Things that affect them will also affect many of our other seabird species.
But I also really like the Cape robin chat (also SA’s Favourite Bird) because they’re so engaging and you can see them just about anywhere.
TB: Can you please share an interesting fact about the African penguin?
CH: Each African penguin has a different pattern of black spots on its white chest and belly, which observers use to identify individual animals.
Sadly the population of African penguins in South Africa has decreased by over 80% since the 1950s, due to lack of food, oil spills and predation.
TB: What tip can you share with us regarding spotting an African penguin?
CH: The easiest places to see penguins are at one of the two mainland colonies at Boulders Beach (Simon’s Town) or Stony Point (Betty’s Bay). There are generally penguins around at all times of the year but breeding peaks in winter.
TB: Where is your favourite birding place?
CH: I actually don’t go birding very often (and my bird ID skills are a bit lacking) but I really enjoy just sitting in my indigenous garden watching the local birds like sunbirds, white eyes, and Cape robin chats.
TB: What’s it like working for a bird conservation NGO?
CH: It is incredibly hard work but also immensely rewarding. Every day is different and you have to be willing to step into different roles. It is great working with such a passionate team of people, who really care about what they do. All my colleagues at BirdLife are here because they have the same passion for conservation and that really makes a difference.
TB: Lastly, what drives you?
CH: I’ve always felt a responsibility towards the environment and the fact that our choices will influence future generations (of people and biodiversity). In fact, I’ve known I wanted to work in conservation since I was about 10 years old. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but I also had the benefit of some amazing teachers and role models from a young age.