PHOWN caterpillar from Villiers to Harrismith 2013-07-12 (389)
On 30 June 2013 Pieter Cronje drove across the north-eastern Free State, from Villiers to Harrismith, adistance of 155km. He recorded 117 Southern Masked Weaver colonies. The colonies were all in trees or bushes next to the N3.
The photos show that many of the trees were still without leaves, and probably breeding has not started yet. However, these PHOWN records show where males had colonies in the previous breeding season. It also shows that many nests survive for several months through winter (these may be used by other fauna, eg Red-headed Finches.
For 116 of these records Pieter counted the number of nests, being 1-23 with a mean of 6.2 nests/colony, which fits very well with the mean and range of colony sizes for this species.
Note added 13/7/2013 by Pieter:
I drove the same route again today but in the opposite direction. As I was driving it was impossible to take photos.I did not see any male at any of the nest sites between Harrismith and Villiers or any nest buidling activity. I did however see nest activity on the other side of the mountain from Tugela River to Escourt with a few sites having new nests. This is also a strech of the N3 with quite a number of nest sites.
On the way back I also saw that I plotted only about a third of the nest sites on the route between Harrismith and Villiers as I could not see many of the sites driving towards Durban. I did not manage to take pictures of every tree with nests. It is amazing to see so many nest sites on that specific strech of the N3. We thought that the reason for this might be that it is maize farming area, so enough food and there are also lots of trees that were planted along the N3, so enough nesting sites. Most of the area away from the road has no or only a few trees and is mostly grassland or maize fields.