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.

9 October: Foxpro

Phil Atkinson writes: Back at Oursi, we had managed to load up the Foxpro with migrant sounds. The Foxpro is marketed as a 'game caller', essentially marketed to the hunting fraternity in the USA. It stores up to 99 audio files and repeatedly plays them over and over again = perfect for ringing. We practice in the camp and tried out a few of the supplied sounds – the lion roars and hyena sounds caused some consternation amongst the resident goats and cattle but not a stampede as we possibly feared! The fact that a game caller had lion and other big Africa game sounds got us thinking about what it could be used for and the image was not pretty.

Electricity is a real issue here – there is no mains electricity so people in the camp rely on solar power to charge mobile phones etc. Unfortunately Chris’s RSPB computer is of the brick variety and so does not charge up. However, the SSG have a generator and are able to charge our mobiles, GPS, computers, batteries etc overnight and we had enough power to load the Foxpro with approx 12 songs of Palaearctic migrants (the Oursi 'mix') the day before. The results were definitely worth the trouble to get it working…

Most days we catch 20-30 birds in 3-5 nets. Although many UK ringers may think this is not a great catch rate, this is ideal for us. Judit is training Alie in ringing and both he and Omar are fantastic students but it takes time to explain how to use the moult of each bird to work out its age. Palearctic migrants are relatively easy (we know what to expect!) but the Afro-tropical species are very much an unknown quantity. Ageing and sexing is a nightmare in thee species – there can be up to 3 generations of feathers in some weaver species and you just have to record it, throw up our hands and just hope it becomes clear at some later date!

Back to the Foxpro, today we caught 15 migrants in c200 feet of netting (4 nets) which was our best yet. If we had more trained ringers we could operate many more nets. The 2 Wrynecks were a complete surprise (Omar and Alie had never seen these in the field) as was the Long-tailed Nightjar that Chris flushed as he was walking around the nets. The Foxpro brought in a variety of species including 1 Nightingale, 3 Bonelli's Warblers, Melodious Warbler and 5 Redstarts and really proved its worth. We took feather samples from every migrant caught as well as feathers from resident African Warblers. The aim is to look at the stable isotopes in the feathers to look at where birds are coming from in Europe.

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