How to participate

If you would like to take part in SABAP2 and find out more about what is involved follow the steps outlined below:

   1. Registering as an observer

  2. Obtaining a SABAP2 Starter Kit

  3. Obtaining the relevant maps for field surveys

  4. Conducting a field survey (i.e. atlas protocols)

  5. Capturing and submitting your data

  6. Attending a bird atlas workshop/presentation

Want to get going immediately?   Download Atlasing for dummies - 20 easy steps to submitting your first atlas card


1. Registering as an observer


It is important that you regsiter as an observer as you will require an observer no. in order to submit data to the project.

To register, click here. As soon as you are registered you will receive your Observer Card, Observer No. and a login password

NOTE: If you already have an ADU Observer No. (from CWAC, BIRP, CAR, or NERCS) you can use this for SABAP2. If you require a password click here, complete the fields and click on Send.


2. Obtaining a SABAP2 Starter Kit


The Starter Kit is vital as it contains all the project resources and materials (e.g Instruction Manual, Field Data Sheets, Data Management Software, etc.) you will need to become an atlaser.

It comes in two formats: CD/DVD format or Hardcopy format. When registering on-line you will be asked to select a Download option or to Post the starter Kit to you. The kits will be sent to you within 7-10 working days. The kits are outlined below:


Basic CD/DVD Starter Kit

  • Instruction Manual (Word and PDF)
  • Quick Start Guides - English and Afrikaans (PDF)
  • Field Data Sheets (PDF)
  • Field Record Sheets (Word and PDF)
  • Other documents - national rarity form, incidental reporting form (Word and PDF)
  • SABAP2 Data Management System (software to capture, store, submit and manage your records)
  • Christine GIS and Map Viewer (software to view and print digital maps)
  • Adobe Flash Player (software needed to view maps on the website)
  • Adobe Reader (software to open and print PDF files)
  • Pentad shape files (files used in GIS software that will overlay the pentad grid on digital maps)


 Advanced CD/DVD Starter Kit

  As for the basic starter kit, but includes a selection of 10-20 digital maps of your local area or a requested region.

  Note: The CD/DVD Starter Kits are easy to use and install. Click on the 'sabap2.html' link when you access the drive. 


Hardcopy Starter Kit

  This kit includes paper copies of:

  • Instruction Manual (65 pages)
  • Quick Start Guides - English and Afrikaans (4 pages)
  • Regional Field Data Sheets
  • Field Record Sheets
  • Other documents - national rarity form, incidental reporting form, species verification form



  • The CD/DVD Kit is strongly recommended for atlasers who have a Windows XP/Vista/7 computer, and have email and Internet access, as the main feature of the kit is the Data Management System software that has been designed to capture and submit your records electronically to the ADU.
  • The Quick Start Guide (available in English or Afrikaans) will help you get going almost immediately and contains a list of what equipment you will need and how to survey your 8km x 9km grid cell (referred to as a 'pentad').
  • Although the Quick Start Guide is enough to get you up and running having a copy of the Full Instruction Manual as a reference is recommended.


3. Obtaining the relevant maps for field surveys


Having the correct maps is an important feature when carrying out your atlas surveys as you will need to consider which pentad(s) you are going to survey and the boundaries of each pentad. Access routes and different landscape elements are also vital elements when planning a survey and the maps will help you assess which routes would be most suitable and what landscape elements are present.

The maps that you will need are the 1:50 000 topographical maps and these are available in digital and paper formats.


Paper 1:50 000 maps

Paper maps can be ordered through the Surveys and Mapping office based in Mowbray, Cape Town.

Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping (CDSM)
Department of Land Affairs
Van der Stel Building
Rhodes Avenue
Cape Town
Tel: +27 21 658 4400
Fax: +27 21 686 9884


It is important to bear in mind that each 1:50 000 map contains nine pentads which can be identified by drawing lines across the map at five minute intervals for both latitude and longitude. For digital maps a pentad shape file is provided on the Starter Kit CD which overlays this pentad grid on the digital maps.

Google maps

You can also access digital Google pentad maps from the SABAP2 website. Here are the instructions:

  1. Go to the website (you don't have to login to access the maps but it is useful to do this as you can then check your data and make use of other features on the website). To Login,  enter your email, and password, and click 'Login'.
  3. Click on 'coverage maps'.
  5. Under the Google map, in the 'Search for an address' box type the name of a locality (e.g. Mapungubwe, Pofadder, 12 Jacaranda Avenue), OR zoom into the map to find the area you would like to visit.
  7. Then click on an appropriate pentad (block) - the one you are interested in. The pentad code appears in the 'Selected pentad' box.
  9. Click on 'Submit'. This opens the pentad summary page.
  11. Then click on the 'Google map' link below the graph.
  13. This will open a Google map of the pentad in a new browser window; the red box indicates the boundary of the pentad.
  15. Click on satellite to see landscape features (like in Google Earth) or hybrid to get the map and satellite together (see map below).
  17. Then using your web browser's printing function (or use Ctrl-P), you can print the map.
  19. To save the map you go to File --> Save as, and save the page to a folder on your hard drive. You can then go back and open the map without having to go on-line to open/print it again.

4. Conducting a field survey


Once you have read the instructions, obtained your map(s), planned your routes and have all your necessary equipment (binoculars, GPS (optional), field guides, data sheets, notebooks) you are ready to go out into the field to start collecting data. This is the best way to gain the necessary experience needed to become a seasoned atlaser.

    The standard protocol is as follows:

  • Spend at least two (2) hours recording as many different species in the pentad by visiting all (or as many different) habitats as possible.

    This is known as the initial intensive survey, or grid bash. These surveys will help us get fairly comprehensive bird lists for each grid cell.

  • Record the species in the order that you see and/or hear them. This will help us gauge which are likely to be the more common species in the pentad.
  • Keep a note of the end of each hour during your initial intensive survey. This helps us work out how much effort you put in during each survey and which birds are easier detected than others.
  • The maximum survey period for any one pentad is five (5) days. The initial intensive survey should, where possible, take place on day 1 of the five days and you can then add any new species (in the order that you see them) to the list after the initial intensive survey up until the end of the fifth day.  A new survey or checklist should only be started after each five day period for each pentad. Keep track of how much time you spend (to the nearest hour) adding any new species after your initial intensive survey.


    Extensions to the standard protocol:

    The following additions have been made to the standard protocol in order to maximise data coverage for the project. They are summarized below - more detailed information can be obtained here.   

  • The initial intensive survey period does not have to be continuous (although this is preferred). If you need to exit and re-enter the pentad, or attend a meeting etc. just keep track of each 'hour' of fieldwork.
  • You can add species seen prior to your initial intensive survey, e.g. you arrive at a campsite on the Friday night, make a list of species, but only carry out your grid bash on the Saturday, you can add any species not seen on Saturday but seen on Friday to your overall list. In other words, your intensive survey does not necessarily have to take place on Day 1.

  • It is possible to atlas a pentad using a team of observers. The preferred way of doing this is for each team of observers to conduct their own intensive survey and use the longest list from these teams as the base list. Additional species can then be added using the other lists.
  • Atlasing in suburbs (or complex pentads) can be daunting but this can also be done using a group-effort approach. Decide on a five day period and nominate one person to do the initial intensive survey (covering all or most of the habitats in the pentad). The other observers keep ordered lists during the five days and any new species can then be added to the main list after the survey period.
  • You can also submit ad hoc records. This is where you are unable to spend at least two full hours in the pentad but can make a useful list of species. This includes making an ordered list for five days where no intensive survey can be carried out. You will need to keep track of the hours you spend compiling such a list.


  Guidelines to help you maximise your atlas surveys: 

  • Try and conduct surveys in the morning, as this is when birds are most active
  • Surveys should, where possible, be carried out in favourable weather conditions (strong wind, rain and cold temperatures usually keep many birds inactive during most parts of the day)
  • A fairly good level of bird identification is required so that you are able to maximise the number of records (observations) during your surveys. This is important so that we get the best possible results from the project. Should you want to first improve your bird ID skills many bird clubs run bird identification courses and we encourage you to attend these as often as you can.
  • Another good way to get to grips with bird identification (and atlas protocols) is to accompany an experienced atlaser during their surveys and learn from their knowledge and skills. This hands-on approach will allow you to see the ins and outs of how an atlas survey is conducted and one can always learn handy tips and advice from your 'mentor'.
  • Remember the golden rule: IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT
  • Access to certain areas may be limited or restricted. Try and arrange permission beforehand (if possible) to get into these areas. Please excercise strong birding and environmental ethics during your surveys: e.g. do not enter private property without the landowners permission, or disturb nesting birds or damage sensitive vegetation, etc.
  • Try, where possible, to start your surveys for the same pentad at different points and try and use different routes. This contributes to the species ranking abundance analyses we will do at the end of the project.
  • Please be aware of your saftey and security. Do not enter an area that looks unsafe, atlas in pairs or in small groups in remote areas and always carry a cell phone with you in case of an emergency.
  • Lastly - do the best you can and have fun!


5. Capturing and submitting your data

Once you have completed your field surveys you will need to submit the data to the Animal Demography Unit. You can do this in various ways:

  • Complete a Field Data Sheet (hardcopy form) which can be posted to the ADU. Forms should be mailed to SABAP2, Animal Demography Unit, Dept of Zoology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701. Forms are also available in Afrikaans.
  • Complete a Field Record Sheet (Word file) which can be posted or emailed to the ADU. Forms should be emailed to

    Note: This form can be also be used in the field to record your observations during your survey. Click here to see an example of a completed record sheet.

  • Use the Data Management System (DMS) to capture and submit your records electronically. Click here for a link to download and install the DMS and DMS instruction manual.
  • Capture and submit your checklists directly on line using our on-line data submission process. NOTE: You will need to register and login to the SABAP2 website to do this. If you are not registered click here.

    Click on 'Add a new card', enter the pentad code and date and click on 'Save'. The next screen will take you to the full card where you can add your species. Search for species using the 'search' box and click on 'Add' to add the species to the card. Once you have finished adding all your species, fill in the hourly totals, check all other fields and then click on 'Save to draft' and then click on 'Submit'. 
  • Use the Excel data capture form and submit your records electronically. Click here for a link to download the file and for instructions on how to use the form. It is available in English and Afrikaans. The Excel form can then be uploaded and submitted on-line. Again you will need to register and login to the SABAP2 website to do this.


6. Attending a bird atlas workshop/presentation


To help potential atlasers get to grips with the new protocol and atlas resources and software, bird atlas workshops/presentations are being arranged by the project team at various venues around the country. These are advertised as news items on the website and on our facebook page. Please contact the appropriate workshop/presentation facilitator to make enquiries.

Please consider joining the SABAP2 facebook group if you are a regular facebook user. Here you can keep up with project news and events and read stories from our passionate atlasers.      

We look forward to having you on board as an active participant in SABAP2!


Page served: 18 Feb 2019
design and systems by Michael Brooks
Animal Demography Unit
University of Cape Town