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.

4- 6 October: Searching for sites

Phil Atkinson writes: One of the main issues facing both people and birds in the Sahel is the issue of habitat degradation. At each of the five study areas in Ghana and Burkina, we aim to sample birds in all major habitat types but also across a degradation gradient from ‘pristine’ to very degraded habitat. In Ghana the situation is quite simple; there are forest reserves which are as near pristine as you get and then there is a gradient of an increasing amount of farmland with consequent tree loss to very intensive farming, or plantations of species like oil palm where the is very little semi natural vegetation or tall trees. Cocoa plantations are in between – the practice of using tall native or introduced trees to shade the cocoa forms a forest-like structure that is probably quite good for some migrant species.

In the Sahel, working out what is degraded is more difficult. Use of trees for fuelwood, overgrazing by livestock (goats mostly) and clearance for agriculture are the greatest causes of degradation. During these days we have been exploring areas surrounding the lake and Alie and Omar were probably getting fed up with Chris and myself incessantly asking ‘Is this very degraded or moderately degraded…’ More often than not we had totally misread the habitat and were told it was natural...! I was really scratching my head when they told us that some of the what I thought were nice, fairly natural, thick acacia bushes was actually moderately degraded habitat. By this time, I was totally confused and finally asked the question we should have asked at the beginning – is there any non-degraded habitat near Oursi!

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