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!

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