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.

7 October: Degraded or non degraded?

Phil Atkinson writes: It all became clear today! Alie and Omar had told us the day before that ‘les vieux’, the elders in the village, talked about how habitats have changed in living memory. My original impression of degradation just being fewer, smaller trees was simplistic. Although there are not many species of woody vegetation in the Sahel, the areas around the lake and village have a very limited species list – lots of one or two species of Acacia and a few Balanites, succulent spiny bush. In fact spines, some 1-2 inches long and pin sharp, was the common feature amongst the majority of trees we had seen. Alie and Omar explained that 40 years ago there had been many trees present “sans pins”, ie many non-spiny trees had been present but because they were good for making poles (used in construction), firewood and making prayer boards the additional pressure of thousands of goats preferentially eating the non spiny vegetation had caused it all to disappear leaving the spiny trees alone in the landscape.

We set off to an area 15km to the north where there was a large area of non-degraded vegetation. Feeling we were about to crack this problem, we set off at 6am to the north.

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