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: 20 November. Transects looking better!

After struggling to see a migrant on the transect counts in the previous round in October, Chris Hewson says the mood of the team is looking up. He emails "Things looking up on the migrant front here - 5 Melodious and 4 Willow Warblers, 1 Whinchat, 1 Tree Pipit seen on 1st transect - 2 Willow, 1 Melodious and 1 Whinchat actually on points which makes a pleasant change!"

A note from Chris Orsman in Burkina Faso says they were struggling to find Melodious Warblers further north, whereas they were the commonest migrant in October. Melodious Warblers were in the last stages of moulting their feathers in the Sahel when the team arrived in October. Now they have finished they are filtering down further south. We suspected this might happen but it is great to actually observe these patterns - Phil Atkinson

Ghana: 20 November. Ringing at Damongo

Text message received from Ian Dillon reads: Pretty good catch of migrants this morning during the CES session - caught 13 Willow Warblers, 3 Melodious Warblers, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whinchat, 1 Pied Flycatcher and 5 resident African species.

Ghana: 15-18 November. Accra, goodbye to Mick, hello to Ian!

Danaƫ Sheehan writes: The team is back in Accra for a couple of nights before heading back to Damongo. The last few days have been tough going - Nat having been in hospital with a bout of malaria (a real problem in these parts), and both Emmanuel and Mick with malarial symptoms. Having worked extremely hard for the last month, Mick has now come to the end of his stint and flies back to the UK, to a comfortable bed and a well earned rest! In his place is Ian Dillon, who has taken a break from his usual work at the RSPB for a months sabbatical to work with the team. As with Mick's arrival, Ian only gets a few hours rest from his flight before the team again heads north for the second round of counts.

Burkina Faso: 17 November. Start of the second visit to Oursi

Chris Orsman writes: We've managed to find the only cyber pc in Gorom-Gorom, the nearest town to our camp! Briefly, we've completed day 3 of our second visit to Oursi, and with Rosemary's help have managed to put up more nets, at least at site 1 (east of the Le Mare d'Oursi). On day one they caught 103 birds, but there were a lot of Quelea amongst those. Site two hasn't been expanded as there is less scope to do so, but this morning they still managed to catch 54 birds. There aren't huge numbers of migrants in the catches, but there are lots of unidentifiable juvenile weaver types which are having to be released "sans bague". Migrants present at the moment include plenty of Olivaceous, Subalpine and Bonelli's Warblers, more Orphean Warblers and Yellow Wagtails than before, but fewer Redstarts than last month, and no Whitethroats or Melodious Warblers (that we know of!). The transects are producing very few Wheatears in the more open plains than was hoped for, in fact they're rather barren of birds at all now that most of the resident species appear to have finished breeding. No hirundines have yet been seen on any of the transects this time round, although we have seen a few about otherwise. The crops are now largely in and the grass is now being grazed heavily since the livestock are more free to roam. This also means that the ringing team have to take extra vigilance at the nets as there are no warning signs that livestock are approaching as there was before!

Sleeping arrangements are much as before - a mozzie net on a wooden platform is all that is needed!