The project

Our knowledge of ecology of migrants in their wintering grounds is extremely poor and severely hampers our ability to explain these declines and conserve this group of species. We lack even basic information about when birds arrive, the habitats they use and how they move around Africa.

The aim is to understand how Palearctic-African migrants use and move around the different vegetation zones found in West Africa, ranging from the semi-desert Sahelian region in Burkina Faso to the lush tropical rainforest in southern Ghana, and whether habitat change may impact them on their wintering grounds.

During the temperate winter of 2009/2010, using point count methodology and mist-netting, we recorded migrants along a degradation gradient at five different stations on a north-south transect. In 2010/2011 we plan to re-visit these sites as well as roving further afield to get a broader picture of migrant habitat use.

Ghana: 28-30 September. Heading north

Danaë Sheehan writes: Chris Hewson (BTO lead of the fieldwork team in Ghana until the end of December) arrived in Accra late Monday night to join me in the final stages of the project set up. Having been met at the airport by Eric and myself, we whisked him off to the guest house, only to find that there was no power, everywhere was dark and that the room he had been allocated was immediately adjacent to the emergency generator! Never mind, I said, we only have 6 hours anyway before we need to set off to the north! Chris described his first night in Ghana as something akin to trying to sleep in a warm oven next to a lorry with it's engine running. I think he was quite glad when Eric picked us up at 4.30am....

We then spent the best part of the next 48 hours sat in the Hilux whilst the West African countryside whizzed quickly by, punctuated only briefly by a few hours sleep in Bolgatanga and a border crossing at Paga. We needed to head up to the northernmost site in Burkina Faso to meet up with the other field team and drop off some field kit for them before the start of fieldwork. We had been joined for this trip by Nat Annorbah, who would be the GWS lead on the project and would work with the field team in Ghana. Whilst it's never nice being sat in a fast moving car for hours on end, it nevertheless gave both Chris and Nat a chance to see how dramatically the habitat changes as you follow a northwards transect from the moist forests in the south, right through to the Sahel in the north. Our schedule was so tight that it was frustrating not being able to stop and look at any birds, although we did manage a Whinchat during one of our 'comfort' breaks......

Having picked up Georges Oueda (the Director of Conservation at Naturama) in Ouagadougou, we finally arrived at Oursi in the dark, passing through both torrential rain and a dust storm along the worst section of road. The surface water was so widespread that at times it had seemed like we were driving across the surface of a lake. Recent unseasonal flooding had been a problem across huge swathes of West Africa only a month earlier, and despite the fact that we were now supposed to be in the 'dry' season, the region clearly hadn't seen the last of the rains. However, it was dry by the time we neared Oursi, and we were lucky enough to see several Nightjars on the road, though unable to see what species they were. On arriving at the camp in Oursi, we dined outside before retiring to bamboo sleeping platforms under the stars. Thankfully these were blessed with mosquito nets as the creatures were relentless and very, very abundant!

Ghana: 26-27 September. Atewa and Kakum

Danaë Sheehan writes: Augustus and myself head out of Accra before first light to reach the Atewa Range Forest Reserve which lie just west of the main Accra-Kumasi road. We had come here to have a look at an area that we had hoped to include in the project, but for which there was now a few concerns. It had transpired that there was a great deal of illegal logging in the area, and because of this it would be difficult to guarantee that either the fieldworkers, or their camp, would be safe. After a few hours looking around the area and walking into the forest at a few points, it was clear that our concerns had been justified, and so with regret, we left the area and headed off to search for an alternative. We had decided that the area around Kakum National Park would provide the best options, and headed down in that direction. Kakum National Park is less than an hour north of Cape Coast – west of Accra. It protects some of the most extensive rainforest habitat in Ghana, being predominantly moist semi-deciduous forest – with lots of rainfall! Having spent a good few hours exploring possibilities for transects, ringing sites and camp sites, we were confident that it would make a great team base for our southern-most Ghanaian site. An area of coastal scrub just west of Cape Coast added to the diversity in the general area, meaning that the team would also fairly easily be able to gather data from this interesting and important habitat too.

Ghana: 24-25 September. Equipment, meetings, meetings, equipment...

Danaë Sheehan writes: Plenty to organise and several meetings to attend – a busy two days. Aside from the huger amount of equipment that we had sent out already, and that I had brought with me on the plane, there is still lots of bits and pieces to buy locally. First however, I am introduced to the brand new project field vehicle – a lovely shiny Toyota Hilux (it won't stay so clean for long...). I am introduced to Eric Kudjoe, the driver who is going to be working with the field team in Ghana – he is obviously very proud to have such a lovely new truck! We fix the project partner logos to the vehicle doors and head out into Accra to source the last few bits of field equipment – primarily camping gear that the team working in Ghana will need when they work in the forests. We also have a hard top fitted to the back of the truck so that the equipment is well covered (and secure!), protecting it from all the dusty roads. A power cut considerably delays this process, but the resourceful mechanics persevere with the help of a hacksaw and finally manage to fit it just before it gets dark. All this frenetic activity is interspersed with meetings with GWS, Legon University, the Ghana Ringing Scheme and the Wildlife Division, sorting out staff and budgeting issues, bird rings, and Government Research permissions. More and more loose ends getting tied up and the project really coming together.

Ghana: 23 September. Back in West Africa

Danaë Sheehan (RSPB project lead) writes: After months of project planning, the time is finally here and I find myself once again in Ghana, this time to finalise all the ground arrangements in readiness for the field teams arrival at the beginning of October. I am met at the airport by a smiling Emmanuel – always good to see a friendly face when arriving at a busy West African airport at night! Along with Augustus Asamoah, Emmanuel had accompanied Phil Atkinson (BTO project lead) and myself when we visited in May for a project scoping visit - both work for the Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS). He helps me with the 3 enormous bags of equipment that I have with me and we head in the dark to the GWS head office to drop them off before I finally retire for the night. It's been a long day, but only the start of many.....