“The Sociable Weaver Project started in 1993thanks to the efforts of Mark Anderson, now CEO of Birdlife South Africa and at the time Ornithologist working for Northern Cape Nature Conservation.
Mark started capturing sociable weaver colonies at Benfontein Reserve, near Kimberley (Northern Cape). He was interested in finding out more about the demography and movements of sociable weavers, and also in bringing people out to the field to show them what bird ringing was about. Mark captured these colonies regularly for five years building an important data-set which provided the basis for the future research conducted on this population.
I first came to Benfontein at the end of May 1998 to start the fieldwork for a PhD that would be investigating cooperative breeding behaviour in this species under the supervision of Morné du Plessis. The plan for the first field trip was to capture all the individuals in the study colonies, to make sure all immigrants and new recruits were ringed. I arrived late in the evening with Morné and a field assistant, and Mark met us before dawn the next morning to lead us to one of the colonies and show us how to set up the nets for the captures. It was both strange and exciting to arrive and be led to the colonies in the dark, not knowing exactly where I was and what to expect. After setting up the nets in the chilly winter morning and warming my hands around a cup of coffee I saw the daylight slowly rising over the beautiful savannah that was going to become such a central part of my life for the decades to come.
I spent four happy years doing my PhD research on the sociable weavers, having had the bonus of being joined by my friend and long-term-collaborator-to-be Claire Doutrelant. Claire came to visit Benfontein to explore possibilities for a post-doc project after a planned project on red-billed woodhoepoes failed because of exceptional climactic conditions. She ended up staying at Benfontein and we initiated our long-term collaboration that lasts to this day.
I left Benfontein for work on the Gulf of Guinea islands at the end of my PhD in 2002, but the sociable weaver system and the Benfontein set-up were too good to leave aside and, together with Claire, we returned to re-launch the study in 2008. We have continued the yearly captures and detailed monitoring of our 12-15 study colonies since 2010.”