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.

3 October: A blitz of migrants

Phil Atkinson writes: A morning walk on the north side of the lake in the Acacia bushes and then out into cropping land and grassland brought a whole load of new migrant species. Wood, Green, and Common Sandpipers, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stints and Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers were all present. Moving away from the lake brought Woodchat Shrikes, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Northern Wheatears in the bare bits, Barn Swallows, a solitary Whitethroat, House Martins, Yellow Wagtails as well as the ever present Melodious and Olivaceous Warblers. Melodious Warblers, which I have tended to think of as birds that winter further south were the commonest migrant and were singing vigorously at the top of seemingly every bush.

Moving through the Acacia we came across a plantation of Prosopis, an introduced shrub that for some reason the goats and sheep do not seem to graze. The Ghana team had had a Nightingale singing in this the day before and sure enough 2 birds were doing a quiet subsong that was unmistakeably Nightingale-like. Having spent so much time looking at the ecology of this species in the UK and collaborating on a major European project to track these birds using dataloggers, it was great to see them in the field. Chris H thought is was very similar to habitats Nightingales occurred in the UK – large bushes which came down to the ground and had a fairly open interior. Migrants selecting similar habitats in summer and winter was a theme we would come back to later on in the trip.

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