Catherine Simmons - observer

At ease in the field, Catherine's birding experience was gleaned whilst working with Rob in Namibia from an early age, and later in South Africa where she has shown herself to be adaptable and efficient.

She is a dedicated observer, works well solo or part of a team and has extensive off-road 4WD experience.

Birds & Bats Unlimited offer rapid and intensive surveys with an emphasis on rare, threatened, endemic and collision-prone species. 

In a collaborative move, Marlei and Rob joined forces with Stephanie Dippenaar (bat specialist) and Tania Anderson (ecologist) in order to expand the services they offer.

Collaborating with these knowledgeable specialists and deploying state-of-the-art satellite-tags allows us to  follow cryptic, wide-ranging species and gain statistical data that can be used in risk-modelling.

Brian Vanderwalt - observer

Brian has run a bird watching tour company for the past 15 years as well as being involved with bird and bat monitoring teams since 2011. He has exceptional bird identification skills which he has been honing for the last 40 years. Brian has worked with our team in some of the most rugged terrain and always comes home with a smile as long as his species list. Brian is semi-retired and the Honorary President of Tygerberg Bird Club. 

James Harrison - collaborator (bat research)

We collaborate with James as a bat specialist. His specialities are vertebrate zoology and ecology, environmental impact assessment, bird and bat monitoring, and scientific editing. James has an M.Sc. in Nature Conservation from the University of Stellenbosch, and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. James operates primarily in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. 

Kirsten Retief - observer

Kirsten has a masters degree in conservation biology from the University of Cape Town and has helped bird monitoring studies in several of our Karoo sites. She has also done some independent research on habitat selection by foraging raptors.  She has good bird identification skills and great stamina and enthusiasm for covering lengthy transects in mountainous terrain. Kirsten has since branched into assessing cycad conservation in Cape Town. 

  • LinkedIn Reflection

Julia Simmons - observer

Julia helps us out on an irregular basis and her sharp eyes miss nothing. Recently, at an operational wind farm, she was tasked with searching turbines for birds or bats that may have been killed beneath them - an important aspect of data collection. In six days Julia walked 33 turbines and found previously undiscovered raptors. Her ability to drive 4WD was invaluable to our work.

  • LinkedIn Reflection

Observers and Collaborators

With a background in animal rehabilitation (avifaunal and terrestrial mammals), Marlei joined Rob in 2010 and led EIA trips to the Western, Eastern and rugged Northern Cape sites before jointly launching Birds Unlimited in 2011. An accomplished biologist, Marlei has exceptional organisational skills, is a dedicated conservationist and a specialist on baboon behaviour. She has decades of experience with seabird rescue and rehabilitation, particularly African Penguins. She was chosen as part of an elite 5-person team to work with oiled Rockhopper Penguins and Endangered Tristan Albatrosses on the remote island of Tristan da Cunha in 2011. Marlei makes herself available to teams that require an energetic, reliable and enthusiastic observer.

Stephanie was involved in some of the first bat impact assessments related to wind energy in South Africa. She started her consultancy career in 2011 managing pre- and post construction bat monitoring programmes. She has completed courses in bat analysis software systems and bat handling as well as environmental assessment, veld management and biodiversity, and has the ability to provide an integrated approach to environmental issues. She worked at The University of Limpopo before joining the CSIR’s Environmental Management Services group in 2004. There she was involved in environmental management projects, focusing amongst others, on renewable energy developments. She is involved in management plans for the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre and Elephant Management Plans at Camp Jabulani, Kapama Game Reserve. She teaches a post graduate course in environmental management at the University of Stellenbosch and  has been a professional member of the South African Institute for Ecologists and Environmental Scientists since 2002.

Tania undertakes ecological surveys with emphasis on rare and threatened species, as well as intensive botanical surveys including detail on sensitive or threatened habitats and ecosystems, and plant species of conservation concern.​She has undertaken ecological and botanical specialist studies since 1995 to raise funds for research whilst she was employed at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, Northern Cape.  She is involved in a variety of environmental management projects, from mines and quarries and renewable energy facilities to biodiversity offsets and biodiversity surveys for conservation areas.  She has a Masters degree in Environmental Management, is registered as a Professional Natural Scientist with SACNASP and has been consulting independently since 2013. Ongoing projects include long-term vegetation monitoring at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in the southern Kalahari, and various conservation projects with BirdLife South Africa in a voluntary capacity. She also designs and assists with the development of sustainable ecological gardens in urban landscapes to mimic the local natural habitats and encourage water conservation.

Rob has 30 years research experience in Namibia, South Africa, Angola, Sweden and Papua New Guinea; as well as birding experience throughout Canada and the UK. He holds a position at UCT’s FitzPatrick Institute’s Centre of Excellence as a Research Associate. Formerly employed in the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) as the country's state ornithologist, Rob has worked throughout Namibia as a wetlands biologist and ornithologist on shorebirds, flamingos, terns and its special endemic species. He is the lead author on the Red Data book of Namibia's threatened birds.

Rob was schooled in England, Canada and South Africa. He has undertaken specialised collaborative studies with Cambridge, Oxford, Uppsala, Stanford, Edinburgh and Sheffield Universities. He has authored and co-authored 100 papers and 60 popular articles, contributed to nine books or proceedings, and written an Oxford–published book on raptors in 2000. He has 20 years of EIA experience and is on the advisory board for the EWT/Birdlife SA’s Birds and Renewable Energy Specialist Group (BARESG), and was nominated Birdlife South Africa's Species Guardian for the Black Harrier.

Please reload

  • LinkedIn Reflection

Shobana Makhubu - observer

A Lesotho national, Shobana has years of avian experience and is a member of the Bearded Vulture Group. Keen eyesight and intimate knowledge of the extreme Lesotho terrain means that Shobana is at home in harsh landscapes and all weather conditions where he undertakes observations and searches for roost-sites of endangered species. Skilled at 4x4 driving and able to communicate with the locals makes him a valuable asset to our team.