No citizen science, no future … BDI interviews Tony Archer

BDI travels to Klerksdorp to talk to an outstanding citizen scientist, Tony Archer. Tony has been involved with the second bird atlas since it started, and it is rare for a month to go by without several checklists being submitted by him. By June 2018, he had also submitted 3,600 photographic records to the Virtual Museum, and this interview is interspersed with a selection of those images.

BDI: How did you become a citizen scientist? What was the catalyst that got you going?

I started birding just at the very end of SABAP1 in 1992. Sam de Beer was a mentor of mine. He was one of the top atlasers for SABAP1 and I was so sorry I had missed this exercise. I therefore could not wait to start SABAP2 when it was announced.

BDI: What has been the highlight for you?

This is extremely difficult to answer. I think there is not just one thing. Every time you go out, there is the possibility (very likely) of finding something new. Humans love collecting things. I collected number plate numbers at one stage – started at 1 and went on to about 900. Used to turn around and chase cars with a number that I thought I needed. So atlasing fills that need completely.

Long-tailed widow,
This exquisite Long-tailed Widow was one of Tony’s earliest submissions to the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum. BirdPix itself was very new at the time; it is record 1524 in BirdPix which currently has more than 55,000 records (

BDI: How has being a citizen scientist changed your view of the world?

I realise more and more how we are destroying it. There are just too many people on earth. In my lifetime I have seen such dramatic changes. I grew up in Cape Town and one could easily go to see “nature”. Now so many of those places are developed (or destroyed by development). The pressure on the Earth has become too much. I can see it in birds that have disappeared from areas where they were common.

BDI: What does the term “citizen scientist” mean to you?

Gives that good feeling, knowing I am doing something for future generations, even in a very small way.

Brown-veined whites,
Tony took this photo of a cluster of Brown-veined Whites on dung in Schweitzer-Reneicke in November 2010. These are the butterflies that undertake massive migrations mainly northeastwards in summers of years of high productivity. There has not been a strong passage of Brown-veined Whites for several summers. (

BDI: What are you still hoping to achieve? This might be in terms of species, coverage, targets …

I have just achieved 2,000 SABAP2 cards which gives me so much pleasure. It has taken 11 years after a very slow start. I am now 70 and realise that by 80 I am most probably not going to be anywhere as active as now. In the ten years to come I want to reach at least 4,000 cards. And improve my ID capabilities to where I stop making those stupid ID mistakes!

2000th checklist
On 26 May this year, Tony submitted his 2000th checklist to the bird atlas project. There are only eight atlasers who have done more than this.

BDI: What resources have been the most helpful? (And how can they be made better?)

Obviously BirdLasser. And the tremendous feedback one can draw from the SABAP2 web site. Google earth is amazing. My low cost 4×4 GWM bakkie. It takes me anywhere and I don’t mind scratching it.

Blue emperor,
Blue Emperors are a nightmare for OdonataMAPpers. This is a species of dragonflies that seldom settles on a perch. Tony has been successful in shooting them in flight, and getting in focus results. This Blue Emperor was flying over a slimes dam near Vaal Reefs (

BDI: How do you react to the statement that “Being a citizen scientist is good for my health, both physical and mental!”?

This is 100% the case. At 70 I wake up every morning with something to do. With passion and even at a cost to me. I have so many friends/clients who are bored to tears sitting in a chair watching TV. There is still so much I want to do from an atlasing point of view. It gets me out, I walk and am being forced to continuously learn. If I imagine myself without atlasing I see a dark, meaningless future.

BDI: What do you see as the role which citizen science plays in biodiversity conservation? What is the link?

Enabling the scientists working in biodiversity conservation to get raw information to work with. The cost for an organisation to have as many people as we are in the field would be astronomical. Now we are doing what we love and at our own cost, if one can call it cost. And getting the raw info for the scientists

It is horrible and disturbing to see animals, snakes and birds which have been killed on the roads. Sometimes, it is simply unsafe to stop and take a photo. Tony Archer has been a consistent recorder of animals killed by traffic. He submitted this photo to MammalMAP of a South African Spring Hare which he encountered in North West Province just a few days ago, on 23 June 2018. (


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