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.

2 October 2009: Oursi and first migrants!

Phil Atkinson writes: We were able to leave Ouaga at 8am on day to to go into the field, less than 12 hours after arriving – quite amazing. A five hour trip to the Mare d’Oursi in the north of Burkina brought me back to a site that 5 months previously was a totally dry dustbowl with 8,000 cattle, sheep, goats, horses, camels, and donkeys scratching around in the middle of the dry lake trying to find remnants of water to drink. Now it was an oasis in comparison, being totally full of water. I had expected open water but it was a mass of grasses, lilies and open water – perfect for the thousands of waterbirds the site holds in winter. Stepping out of the car we met up with the Ghana team (Danae Sheehan (RSPB), Chris Hewson (BTO) and Nat) as well as Georges Oueda who is the Director of Conservation at Naturama. It was good to see them and they were full of what they had seen at Oursi the past day. We also met Alie and Omar, two members of the Site Support Group. The group is made up of locals who are concerned about the Ramsar site and effectively play a guardian role to safeguard the site. The SSG were very keen on the project and the aim is that their members take over the bird monitoring that is done at this site.

Arriving in the middle of the day meant we couldn’t do much because of the heat so we sought shade in the Campement Aounaf which is where we were staying and caught up with the others over cups of bitter Tuareg tea. The first cup is astringent but subsequent cups become more palatable as the the leaves lose their strength.
By 3pm is was cool enough to venture out and a walk around the camp to the lake immediately brought a Spotted Flycatcher and in the Acacia bushes, several Redstarts, Melodious Warblers and an Olivacaous Warbler. As it got dark, large numbers of Turtle Doves came into roost in the Acacias. These roosts are poorly known but some have been recorded in excess of 10,000 birds. This was nowhere near that number (maybe hundreds) but still it was the first time I had seen this phenomenon. I realised that this was actually a year tick – a sad indictment of the very large declines seen in the UK over recent years.

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