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.

26th November - mid December

After work in Bia NP on the morning of 26th November, the team moved north and set up camp in the zone where grassy savanna gives way to forest. It very quickly became apparent that this area of thickets and scattered trees within an agricultural landscape was excellent for Nightingales (about 40 located within 2km of the camp) and Melodious Warblers in particular, with reasonable numbers of Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchats too as well as some Pied Flycatchers and Willow Warblers. Only numbers of Garden Warblers were a little disappointing but we managed to tape lure two on our final morning of ringing here. We visited the site where a British-ringed Whinchat was recovered (with a catapult….) a few years ago, discovering a large maize field – with 2-3 Whinchats foraging within it!

Above: Tina (GWS) surveys migrants at the site where a British-ringed Whinchat was recently recovered.

Our next stop, on 4th December in the hills north of Kumasi that form a relatively sharp boundary between the forest to the south and west and the savannas in their rain shadow to the north-east, was intended primarily as a search for sites where the likes of Garden Warbler were more apparent. Garden Warblers were certainly easier to find than to the west – they could often be found feeding around the flowers of the towering leafless Bombax trees, in the company of sunbirds and bulbuls. On one occasion, a single tree held a party of six.
Our next mission was a dash north to check out the Whinchat population of the Daka floodplain, close to the old merchant town of Salaga. This entailed a trip across the Volta in a ferry that had no timetable or guaranteed sailings, a frustrating state of affairs that lead to an overnight stay in the port of Yeji waiting for a chance to cross. When we did reach Salaga we found a slightly strange and run-down place with a cheery sign saying ‘Welcome to Salaga Slave Market!’ next to the baobab tree that slaves were once tied to before being sold on to coastal traders, and a guesthouse called ‘Prison’ – we, however, opted for the alternative ‘Home At Last’. At the floodplain we counted about 50 Whinchats from the road that crosses it. There were also good numbers of waders, especially Wood Sandpipers but also some Common Snipe, Greenshank and one Painted Snipe. We were mesmerised by the brilliant Carmine Bee-eaters that roamed in flocks and lined bushes, trees and overhead cables and enthralled by the diverse avifauna of the surrounding savanna woodlands that provided such treats as White-shouldered Black Tit, African Hobby, African Blue Flycatcher and African Darter.

Time, however, was running short and it was soon time to head south again, our plans to colour-ring Whinchats having been thwarted by a lack of bait for our spring traps. Despite arriving in what should have been plenty of time, we arrived at the port of Makanga on the north side of the Volta to see the ferry leaving the quay on its way back to Yeji! Horrified but wishing to be free of its erratic sailings, we turned straight round and began to the long drive round to Kumasi via Tamale and arrived at our next destination around the middle of the next day (12th December). Here we found an excellent mix of migrants by surveying both forest remnants amongst the farmland and more open habitats and recorded totals of 11 Nightingales, 8 Garden Warblers, 7 Willow Warblers, 5 Melodious Warblers, 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Whinchats and1 Pied Flycatcher in a morning’s surveying.

Keen to make best use of our last four remaining days we then headed to the southern end of the Mampongtin Range to check out a relatively small area that had produced no less than 5 recoveries of BTO-ringed Garden Warblers over the years. The area had high human population density and correspondingly small amounts of semi-natural habitat remnants in the landscape so we were not surprised that the area proved a little disappointing over all but were amazed at the migrants that were sometimes crammed into the tiny patches that remained. The sight of 6 Willow Warblers that could be found throughout an entire morning in a single medium-sized flowering tree was quite enthralling, especially as the birds seemed to be having such a productive time there, hanging from flower clusters, clinging to the bark of the trunk and giving occasional bursts of song.

Moving west towards the forest zone we surveyed both the lowlands and the hill forests before heading to Winneba on the coast for our final morning of work before the Christmas break. A quick look at the lagoon, a RAMSAR site designated for its tern accumulations, in the evening produced good numbers of waders (especially Greenshanks) and terns, the highlight being a Terek Sandpiper – a very scarce visitor to Ghana and West Africa. The team headed back to Accra on 16th December after finding some Nightingales, Whinchats and Melodious Warblers in the scrub and grasslands behind the lagoon next morning and began preparations for our return home.

Above: The ‘Magic Tree’ that held six Willow Warblers and a Spotted Flycatcher.

Above: One of the Bombax trees that towered above the forest im places, covered in reddish flowers but without leaves. These attracted Garden Warblers and Willow Warblers amongst the sunbirds and bulbuls.

14th November - 26th November

The evening of 14th November saw my (Chris Hewson, BTO team co-leader) arrival from the UK for a month’s fieldwork before Christmas. This coincided precisely with the remnants of the existing team (Chris O, Tina and driver Abraham with Mohamed having returned north to Burkina) arriving back in Accra to regroup and have the car repaired before returning to the field. Unfortunately the latter turned into something of a saga – when we took the car to the Toyota dealership on Monday morning we were told that fixing the source of the leaking oil was not a simple task and that although work would begin later that day, the following day was a public holiday so we shouldn’t expect it to be finished until the end of Wednesday. A Thursday morning start didn’t seem too bad a proposition but Wednesday afternoon became Thursday and Thursday became Friday morning before we were told the car was ready for collection. Our patience was tested to the limit upon arriving at Toyota on the morning of Friday 19th to be told that in fact the car wasn’t ready and not only that, its completion required a part that the dealership didn’t have! To cut a long story short, we were promised the car would be ready if we came back after the weekend and Monday afternoon was agreed.

Taking pity on our plight, GWS kindly loaned the team a car for the weekend so we could at last get some fieldwork done and we headed down to Brenu Beach, west of Cape Coast, where we had arranged to meet Justus Deikumah, a PhD candidate from University of Cape Coast, so that he could train us in blood sampling techniques as part of a project looking at chronic stress in birds in forest fragments. Upon arrival the whole area appeared much greener than at even a month earlier the previous year. Despite being rained off on two of the three mornings we tried to ring here, we did catch an array of Afrotropical species as well as two migrants – a Garden Warbler and a Nightingale. A quick look around the hill immediately behind our accommodation produced 3 Nightingales calling, 3 Spotted Flycatchers and about 8 Yellow Wagtails. Other birds in the area included Slender-billed and Orange Weavers (two species restricted to the coastal zone in West Africa - an active colony of the latter with nests hanging from mangroves over a nearby lagoon providing pleasant distraction), Brown-headed Tchagra and a Snowy-crowned Robin-chat seen repeatedly chasing a Spotted Flycatcher from one particular woodland edge – the territorial behaviour of the intra-African migrant has previously been well documented but we were surprised to witness a Spot Fly rather than the expected Nightingale being on the receiving end!

Above: Tina (GWS) juggling yams on our way to Bia NP.

The team returned to Accra and finally collected the car late on the afternoon of Monday 22nd. With tyre changing / balancing / wheel alignment still to come, as well as packing our equipment and doing our food shopping, it wasn’t until Tuesday late-morning that we left Accra behind and were off on the next phase of our field mission. We made good progress along the coast but wouldn’t make our destination that day. However, after refuelling and resting overnight in Takoradi, on Wednesday morning the team headed on to the Bia NP with only one thing on their minds: Phylloscopus sibilitrix.
Given that the Wood Warbler has declined by 61% on the last 13 years alone in Britain and by 26% in 17 years in Europe, it was with hope rather than expectation of finding this species that the team set up camp at New Debiso, at the northern end of Bia NP. The winter habits of this species are not well-known and although they had been reported as fairly common at this site 5-6 years ago, they had not been found by the same team last winter. Our first morning excursion in the forest on 25th reminded us why we knew we would do well to find any, even if they were around: birds of any species are not easy to spot, let alone identify, in the forest canopy. Armed with the knowledge that we were most likely to find Wood Warblers around flowering trees (where like other species they feed on insects attracted to the flowers) we set off looking for clearings from which we could view the canopy. We didn’t find any sign of Wood Warblers at all but did record a good selection of forest-zone birds including Usher’s Flycatcher, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, African Emerald Cuckoo and African Goshawk. Whether Wood Warblers were present and we failed to find them, whether we were too early in the winter or whether they don’t occur in Bia in significant any numbers any more we just didn’t know….

6th - 14th November 2010 - roving fieldwork continues. From Wechiau to Bui

6th November - Chris Orsman writes: After 24 hrs more rest than was planned at the Catholic Guesthouse in Wa (one team member a little under the weather, i.e me), at mid-day we headed off towards Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary in our continuing hunt for migrants. The town of Wechiau is itself just over 40 km from Wa, and here is where one finds the information centre for the sanctuary. Upon arrival, the place looked decidedly closed, but a man soon came bounding along to open up to tell us all about the reservation, and the fees to stay. After explaining the purpose of our visit (and of our hopes to get a discount) he called in the manager. A few minutes later he arrived, agreed on a small reduction in the price, and arranged for a guide to accompany us to the accommodation. By the time we were back in the car, our guide had sailed past on his bicycle, pedalling his way the 18km further to reach the sanctuary boundary.
The sanctuary lodgings were just on the fringes of a scattered array of buildings, making up Talawna, the last settlement before the reserve, and set in very open but largely un-grazed short grassland. With the tents set up, Abraham and Tina cooked and we all ate with the lodge caretaker, Yusuf, and our guide, Joshua.
The sanctuary is a community based project, protecting about 40km of the Black Volta along Ghana’s western border with Burkina Faso. Although there are about 50 hippos here, we didn’t have our hopes up of seeing any. Water levels were so high after exceptional rains, so the hippos had plenty of places to hide out. Besides, we were there for the birds!

Wechiau grasslands

7th November - Chris Orsman writes: For our first timed species count, Joshua took us from the lodge, down to the river, and aiming for a walk along the riverside, assuming any riparian forest, like Gbele, would perhaps have the best habitat for migrants. On the walk to the start we had Tree Pipit, a couple of Sun Larks, and some other typical Northern savannah sp, such as Vinaceous Doves, Black-billed Wood Doves, Pale Flycatcher and Bush Petronia (all very familiar to me from working in Burkina Faso’s Nazinga Ranch last winter). 20 minutes later we reached the boundary of the “protected” zone, a 1km buffer along the riverbank, within which no human activity, save fishing, takes place. We decided to start the count here. The walk through this open wooded savannah produced just 1 Willow Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher on the migrant front, but amongst the local residents, we spotted a colour-ringed Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. No metal ring, but yellow left leg, green right, should anyone be missing one from their caged collection!! A half hour later, and we were into the riparian woodland. Heading south with the river, amongst the Violet Turacos, African Thrushes, Grey-backed Camaropteras and single Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, we came across a further 10 Pied Flycatchers, 4 Willow Warblers, and a single Melodious Warbler in song. Joshua then led us through the dense grass away from the river, to find a footpath and a shortcut back to the camp.
At lunch we were entertained by a Zitting Cisticola, which was clearly holding territory in the grass next to the camp. Every few minutes it was up and overhead, quite high but also so small that you could barely see it against the bright blue mid-day sky. A short rest later, and Tina, Mohammed and I set off to check on other possible areas for survey the next day. Following a track through otherwise un-promising grassland, we encountered 3 Whinchats all within 100m or so of each other. Information on a board within the sanctuary does mention that it is an important area for them. This, combined with our eventual discovery of a wooded stream (maybe good for Willow and Melodious Warblers?), led us to conclude that this route would be worth pursuing the following day.

River Volta at Wechiau
Where a Melodious Warbler was singing at Wechiau

8th November - Chris Orsman writes: No Whinchats! Maybe we were just a little too early to find them in the same grassland as yesterday, as there was a slight mist which left everything cool and damp. This did eventually burn off but by then we were heading into slightly more wooded savannah areas. Here the grass was home to Northern Red Bishops, Yellow-mantled Widowbirds, Orange-cheeked Waxbills and Bronze Mannikins. We did hear in the distance a Willow Warbler singing, and a further 3 were seen before arriving at the stream. Full of hope we diverted off the track to follow the stream. It’s sparse ribbon of short trees and shrubs yielded but 1 Pied Flycatcher. Perhaps not surprisingly another 3 were seen in the last half hour of the survey, by which time the stream had arrived at the main river, and the associated open forest habitat was more suitable.
That evening we went in search of yet more options for surveying. Joshua took us some 7 km further along the morning’s track, south along the reserve boundary, to the next but one village. Although Joshua didn’t know the area well himself, he told us that another of the guides (sadly absent on a computing course in Accra) was a real local bird expert, and that he would take groups to this area for birding. I volunteered to drive, as Abraham was busy preparing the evening meal. My first bit of “off-roading” in Ghana! The drive along the tram-lined track was fine to begin with, but in places it was a pretty rough and overgrown, so much so that I barely noticed when we began to cut through someone’s maize field! Assured by the farmer (who came to give us directions) that we were still on the track, we continued on, with further occasional stops for confirmation from passers-by that we were on the right road. It came to an end where a group of folk were sat under a large baobab. After exchanging pleasantries, our mission was explained, and the local chief was summoned (for a change! Normally we’d be summoned to him!). It turned out he was the sanctuary ranger for that stretch of the river, and wanted to guide us along the path to it. So off we went, on a short hike that took us through a few crops and eventually the 1km buffer to the river’s edge. Some of what we saw habitat-wise looked promising, and we thought it would be worth going straight in to this section of the river with a point count transect, perhaps after point counts at the first river section (visited yesterday). A walk back in the half light to the baobab (tip-toing at speed along a 15m stretch of path covered in small but very bitey ants), our thanks were given to the ranger, and of course hi-fives to the local kids, then headed back (in the near-dark on that same track!) for a another delicious meal from Abraham, this time boiled yam and a fish & tomato sauce.
9th & 10th November - Chris Orsman writes: Having already spent 2 mornings at Wechiau, we were fairly confident that we were unlikely to encounter any other migrant species, and that we weren’t missing any skulkers that could be found by setting up nets for a morning’s ringing. We might have been wrong of course, but the next 2 days of point count transects further confirmed that the area was being used by Willow Warblers, Melodious Warblers and Pied Flycatchers (plus the Whinchats of course) and probably not much else on the migrant front – at least not at this time of year. Also, there was no obvious place to put the nets within the buffer zone without the need for a lot of vegetation clearance, likely to be a big no-no. On the plus side, on the point counts, including the “new” section we explored on the 8th, were new species - for me at least - such as Oriole Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike.
With one eye on the time that was left before having to return to Accra, we packed up camp on the 10th, and after our goodbyes to Joshua and Yusuf, we headed back to Wechiau town itself in order to pay our bill at the visitor centre. An unusally quick exchange of cash and receipt, and we were back on board the 4x4 and heading for Wa. The journey, as always, took longer than expected.
The latest tip from the ever-helpful Augustus for somewhere to check for migrants was the shrublands on the banks of Lake Volta in the vicinity of Buipe, on the border of Northern and Brong-Ahafo regions. We didn’t expect to get quite that far, and as it was we could only manage to get as far as Damongo. We stopped at the same guest house as last year’s team, when they were in the area for a week each month for transects and ringing. After some difficulty finding a place to eat (to give Abraham a night off the catering duties!) we settled on Palace View restaurant - perfectly reasonable – and then back to what by now, under fluorescent lights, were our bug-infested lodgings.

11th November - Chris Orsman writes: This morning I tried in vain to get my own computer working. It is what I’ve been mostly using for data entry and email, and Tina has been using the other. However, for some reason my own blew a fuse with the car charger, and now I can’t even charge by the mains. Need to get this sorted in Accra. Having established it’s un-useable, I gave Juliet a quick call for an update on everything else, and spoke to Chris H just ahead of his arrival in Accra on the 14th. So it was after mid-day by the time we set off towards Buipe. Upon arrival, we set about investigating the suitability of the habitat on the lake shore for our work, but when crossing the bridge south from Buipe to take a look, we soon realised that the water levels were extremely high. Many of the lakeside buildings had been completely swamped, with just the rooftops visible. Uncertain as to whether it would be practical to survey the flooded scrublands, we next paid a visit to the District Coordinator’s office, where we had been told we could find out what permission was needed to work on the lake shore. Speaking to the coordinator’s deputy, it transpired that there is a dispute between local chiefs as to the ownership of land, and after a phone-call to the DC himself, he suggested that in his absence we best forego any work until such time as he could be around to fix things for us.
Thus with time marching on, we decided to cut our losses and instead make for Bui National Park, which meant a trip south from Buipe to find a place to overnight en route. Kintampo looked like a sensible spot, and we reached it just before dusk, in time to have a quick look round for a cheap hotel (and spot my first African Pied Wagtail!), a quick bite, and an early bed with a view to setting off early the following day.

Buipe floods...

12th November - Chris Orsman writes: Set off this morning from the Life Hotel in Kintampo at 5am. For a full morning’s fieldwork an earlier start might have been in order, but we realised that we still had to get permission to do any work from the Wildlife Office at the park itself. Driving what appeared on the map to be poor roads, we were pleased to find that the journey took just under 2 hours. The second half of the road as far as Bui town itself was very good, and we guessed this was new due to a new dam being built at the southern end of the park. I did in fact wonder whether we’d be allowed to do any research here at all, as although protected, the park is clearly not protected enough if a dam can be built which will swamp all of the riparian forest. Would our research be treated with suspicion? I was gearing up to underplay our significance (not easy!!) when explaining our work to the Wildlife Office. I needn’t have worried.
Beyond Bui town we rolled up to the community which surrounds the park admin centre, a small collection of large wooden huts, some homes, some noisy classrooms, and some offices, stopping at the latter to find someone to ask for permission for our work. We first met a young woman, who wasn’t quite sure what to suggest. Then a young chap rode by on his bike and thought he knew who to ask, so we jumped back in the car and followed him a short distance to the other side of the “camp”, where an elderly gentleman greeted us and seemed happy to see us. He then vanished, and returned with a young chap dressed in park ranger gear. He too welcomed us, but it still wasn’t clear how we were to get permission. Eventually, we were taken to the home of the park manager, who agreed quite cheerily to meet us back at the first office to discuss our plans. At our meeting, Paul, the said manager, was absolutely delighted that we had come, in particular to study birds. It turns out that he spent some time birdwatching during his training and absolutely loved the experience, only wishing that he could do more. So we were staying! Next, Paul called upon Peter, who had a pretty good knowledge of local birds, to be our guide. We ventured on in the 4WD to reach the edge of the park (another 2km or so on some pretty rough track) with a view to trying at least part of a survey that morning. What we weren’t expecting was to find the track passed right through a last small community at the park boundary. Following another friendly greeting from a few of the locals, I wondered whether in this idyllic setting it would be possible to pitch our tents, and save the rather rocky road back and forth to the camp. Yet again we were surprised when we were guided through the heart of the village, and invited to set up camp right in the middle of someone’s front yard! Delighted with this location, but hesitant because of the apparent imposition, we politely accepted, adn in order to make the most of the rest of the morning, we left Abraham to set the tents whilst Peter took us into the park.
The route from the village took us once again through wooded grasslands, but on the whole with more trees and shrubs than was evident at Wechiau. Crossing into the park immediately you were in denser savannah woodland, and denser still as we dropped down towards the Black Volta. As we walked we had to duck frequently to avoid spider webs which were invariably at face height, and home to some particularly ferocious looking beasts! En route were a few new species, including Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Green-headed Sunbird and Green Turaco. Also we disturbed a Pearl Spotted Owlet, the first that I’d seen, even though I heard them almost daily during our visits to Nazinga last year. Despite the late start, we still encountered a Willow Warbler and a total of 5 Pied Flycatchers.
Returning to camp we found the tents set and our lunch ready, and looking on were the some of the village children, wondering who we were and what we were up to. Tina soon had the children entranced, with her story-telling, singing and games, but was quite firm when it was time for us to eat, and the kids obligingly vanished. After our early start, and in the heat of the afternoon, some rest was in order, before a walk late afternoon to look for another route for the next day. On this stroll a White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike was a new find.
Later that evening even more children turned up to be entertained (by Tina), and remained until well past the team’s bedtime! Once again they had to be sent packing. It was a Friday night so they were in no hurry to get to bed with no school the next day. We chatted for a while with one of the community leaders, Maxwell, Peter’s brother. He is a lonely voice in the community (and even in the group of communities) that will be displaced when the Bui Dam is constructed and the valley flooded. In spite of the impending displacement, Maxwell’s deepest concerns are for the hippo population in the Volta, and he fears that the flooding will render useless the habitat for the hippos, and feels he hasn’t had sufficient reassurances that they will be relocated to safe and suitable ares downstream Without this, he believes they will either perish locally, or become bush meat as they wander in search of better habitat up-river in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.

Bui parkOne of the Bui spiders!....

The local youth at Bui
13th November - Chris Orsman writes: A full morning search in the Bui forest yielded Blue-bellied Roller, Splendid Sunbird and Tropical Boubou in a list of just 29 species, and disappointing numbers of migrants – just 4 Pied Flycatchers. Piping Hornbill was new. Our final afternoon in the field before heading to Accra was spent catching up on all our notes for the previous few days. A rather sad handover from Mohammed of the bits of equipment he’d been using preceded his departure for Burkina the next day.

14th November - Chris Orsman writes: Following a quick breakfast and to the cheery waves of what appeared to be the whole village, we left Bui on the Sunday morning, and made for Terchiman and the bus station for Mohammed’s return north. A large, loud and rude man barked nonsense at us about how long the bus would take, so I wasn’t that confident in the service we were paying for, but fortuneately French-speaking Mohammed found another Burkinabe to sit with for the journey, and he promised that he’d get to Ouagadougou!! Waving farewll once more, Tina, Abraham and I hit the road to Accra. We dropped Tina at bus station on the outskirts so she could get home west of Accra, whilst Abraham and I went on to the GWS office to unload, and prepare the car for its service the next day. Returned to the Pink Hostel and Abraham headed home, and later Augustus kindly dropped me at the airport to meet up with Chris Hewson. Chris appeared through arrivals at 22:20, and both a little wiped out we retired, agreeing to wait til the next day to discuss the next phase!

The Gbele Resource Reserve, Ghana 29th October to 3rd November 2010

Tina Mensah-Pebi writes: The Gbele Resource Reserve is located at Walembele in the Sisala district of the Upper East region of Ghana. It is under the protection of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission and has two base camps, one in the north and a second in the south. The research team settled at the Wahabu Rangers’ camp.

River and riparian forest at Gbele

The early morning of Saturday, 30th October looked promising for Gbele reserve to accommodate large numbers of migrants, with the team recording about 10 Willow Warblers and 4 Pied Flycatchers. The Kawlpaw River that runs through the reserve served as an important place for diverse birds in the reserve. Taking a walk in the afternoon across the bridge in the reserve revealed splendid numbers of Willow Warblers and Pied Flycatchers happily moving from one plant to another - we even saw the amazing sight of five Willow Warblers on one small shrub in the middle of the river and two Pied Flycatchers moving-to-and-fro on a fruiting tree on the bank of the river close to the bridge.
Five Willow Warblers in one bush!
A second day’s search for Palaearctic migrants in the reserve still proved promising for both Willow Warblers and Pied Flycatchers, with a count of 16 and 11 respectively during one timed species count.
Mohammed and Tina habitat recording at Gbele

The team carried out point count transcets at Gbele on 1st November 2010. Out of the ten points counted, 7 Willow Warblers and 5 Pied Flycatchers were recorded.

Another point count transect was undertaken the following day (five minutes of counting every 200 metres). This recorded 4 Willow Warblers and 12 Pied Flycatchers on the points, with a further 5 Willow Warblers and 7 Pied Flycatchers between points.

Ringing followed early morning of Wednesday 3rd November 2010 and the first and only (for this site) Pied Flycatcher was caught on the first round of net inspection after opening at 6:00 prompt. A total of 63 birds were ringed, with a total of 10 Willow Warblers amongst a good number of Afro-tropical species, including the Snowy-crowned Robin Chat, Northern Puff-back, African Thrush, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Black-necked Weaver, Village Weaver, Common Wattle-eye, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Yellow White-eye, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Blackcap Babbler, Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Black-winged (red) Bishop.
African Pygmy Kingfisher (above) and Common Wattle-eye (below)
We can thoroughly recommend the Gbele reserve to birders who visit Ghana - you will see an incredible diversity of species here, such as violet turaco, western grey plantain-eater, African golden oriole, giant kingfisher, pied kingfisher, lead coloured flycatcher, northern black flycatcher, yellow fronted tinkerbird, Senegal eremomela, African paradise flycatcher, wire-tailed swallow, vieillot’s barbet, brown babbler, red throated bee-eater, pin-tailed whydah, exclamatory paradise whydah, pygmy and scarlet-chested sunbirds, grey wood pecker, red shouldered cuckoo-shrike, lavender waxbill, common sandpiper, white-headed lapwing, green-backed heron, many egret species, Senegal coucal, Senegal parrot, Abyssinian roller, rose-ringed parakeet, bruce’s green pigeon, yellow-crowned gonolek, laughing, vinaceous and red-eyed doves, black-billed wood doves, black-headed tchagra, common bulbul, red-billed and African-grey horn bills, long-tailed, greater blue-eared and purple glossy starlings, cinnamon-rock bunting, bush petronia, red-winged pytilia, grey-backed camaroptera, Bataleur, village indigo bird, bronze manikin, northern red bishop, klaas’s cuckoo, double-spurred francolin, yellow-billed shrike, fork-tailed drongo,, and many more.

At Tono Dam and the irrigation project sites, Ghana 24th to 29th October 2010

Tina Mensah-Pebi writes: Seeking permission from the traditional authority of Navro-Pio and permission from the Irrigation Company of Upper Region (ICOUR) Management, the project team were offered use of the dam area and a camping space at the Tono Guest house. On the first day of arrival the team visited the dam, noting that the habitat around the area looked promising for migrants. Three days of time species counts were carried out in the early mornings for about four hours. Day one recorded one Willow Warbler and a Reed Warbler, day two another Willow Warbler and a Common Sandpiper and day three a Spotted Flycatcher and a Willow Warbler. Among the surrounding reeds were Tawny-flanked Prinias always calling and Eurasian Marsh Harrier in flight. Willow Warblers were found foraging in fresh looking Madrax Thorns, both with and without flowers. The Reed Warbler’s call was heard in the reeds at the bank of the dam. The Common Sandpiper was seen at the fishpond area located in the Southwest of Tono. One silent Spotted Flycatcher was spotted between two trees of about 11m tall with a great cover of forbs underneath. A Levaillant’s Cuckoo was also seen on the 27th during the timed species count. On 28th, the search was carried out on a semi-natural agricultural area and migrants encountered were a Willow Warbler, a Yellow Wagtail (calling in flight), and the Eurasian Marsh Harrier. Unfortunately the numbers of migrants found in the good looking and promising area of Tono was not encouraging and so no ringing was undertaken.
Photos - 1) surveying from the top of Tono Dam, 2) the agricultural mosaic near the dam and 3) a rather bird-poor plantation near Tono

At the airstrip, Kulbia, Ghana 20th to 24th October 2010

Tina Mensah-Pebi writes: Searching in a range of habitats the Ghana team started roving fieldwork, beginning in the northern parts of Ghana, and then heading southwards, with the purpose of getting some idea about how migrant occurrence varies away from the sites that were studied last year. Habitats that we will be looking at include areas such as stream courses, forest edges, patches of semi-natural habitat in agricultural lands, forest edges, open areas, patches of dense herbage and grasses as well as fruiting and flowering plants which are appealing areas for birds (as well as man!) to spend their time.

Grassland habitat near Navrongo

Driving between Navrongo and Bolgatanga in the Upper East region we headed to a disused airstrip, which served as the first camping area for the Ghana team (with permission from the local chief and elders of the nearby village of Kulbia).

The airstrip campsite near Kulbia (above) and meeting the local chief (below)

After four days stay, four migrants were recorded including three Willow Warblers, one Pied Flycatcher and one Hoopoe. This area covered a broad vegetation of Grassland and Opened woodland. Willow Warblers were found on a flowering tree along a stream on 22nd October during a time species count.

One of the Willow Warblers (above) and Tina extracting a captured bird (below)

One Pied Flycatcher was recorded out of 29 birds ringed at one site. The terrible experience on the airstrip was the inaccessibility to portable water, intensive hot temperature and insect bites.

Activities at Ouagadougou from 15th to 20th October 2010

Tina Mensah-Pebi writes: Muhammed from Naturama, and Oumar and Ali from the Oursi Site Support Group joined the group from Accra on a five-day activity in Burkina Faso which included meetings on fieldwork methodology for the second phase of the migrant project, birding and two days of ringing. The lowest number so far captured in one mornings fieldwork was recorded at Gonse, with three birds; a Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, a Black-rumped Waxbill and a Long-tailed Glossy Starling from five mist nets in an opened wooded savannah on the 16th of October. A good looking vegetation still looked promising for a second trial of ringing at the same site on the second day and two birds; Grey-backed Camaroptera and a Common Redstart were trapped. Juliet left Burkina Faso for London shortly afterwards with her enthusiastic and encouraging effort.

The Nature Park at Ouagadougou housed interesting, melodious, chanting, diverse bird species such as the Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Vinaceous Dove, Laughing Dove, Village Indigo Bird, Little Bee-eater, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Yellow-billed Shrike, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Common Bulbul, Double-spurred Francolin, African Paradise Flycatcher, Pied Kingfisher, Senegal Coucal, Hamerkop, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Northern Puffback and numerous species of sunbirds and weavers. Walking through the tumultuous path of birds, an attentive ear heard the calls of the Common Nightingale and the Western Bonelli’s Warbler.

The field team - Chris, Aly, Tina, Oumar, Mohammed and Abraham

Thanks to technology, Chris kept to his explicit leadership role and soon got both teams set for work in their respective places in Burkina Faso (Aly and Oumar) and Ghana (Chris, Tina, Mohammed and Abraham) by Wednesday the 20th of October.

The new field season has started!

Juliet Vickery writes: Field season two for the Migrants in Africa team is underway – though 80% of the first 5 days was either in a car or an office. I am joining the team for the first week to help with setting things up, before heading back to the UK.

12 October 2010 - Chris Orsman (the RSPB field team leader) and I spend all day with our colleagues at the Ghana Wildlife Society, agreeing contracts , sorting insurance and licensing for the vehicle and driver to cross the border into Burkina Faso and arranging permits for the team to work in Forest Reserves and National Parks. We also had the task of inspecting equipment that had been stored in Accra since it was last used back in March – some sleeping bags were in serious need of airing!

13 October 2010 - The team leaves Accra before dawn to avoid the traffic, setting off on a 12-hour drive north to Tamale - a distance of almost 800km. Although good progress can be made on some roads, with surprisingly good tarmac, others needed more care with depressingly bad pot holes being very common. It's one way to see a lot of Ghana - albeit in a very narrow strip! The ‘team’ comprises Tina (who was with the team last years) and the driver Abraham who will be with Chris for the first month of roving field work (along with a Naturama field worker who we will pick up in Burkina Faso)

14 October 2010 – Crossing the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso at Paga. Having spent 12 hours in the caryesterday, we mae sure we made a few stops during the journey today, particularly as we crossed water bodies. We saw our first Palearctic migrants - a male Pied Flycatcher at Nasia and a few kilometres further north a group of juvenile Barn Swallows at Kukubila. A quick stop at Paga (minutes from the border) for rice and beans - a bargain at 2 cedis (just under £1). Paga is relatively famous for its pools of 'sacred crocodiles' - you can buy a sacrificial chicken to feed to them - this will apparently bring you good fortune. Perhaps more good fortune for the chicken salesmen than the chicken! It was all we could do to concentrate on our rice and beans - forget scrounging dogs and cats, we ate lunch with a large crocodile (ca 4 metres long) sitting motionless with a gaping jaw and a fixed stare just yards from our table.

Crossing the border was an expensive and rather protracted battle, with recent changes in visa charges meaning we faced a cost of 94,000 CFAs per visa (rather than the expected 10,000). With the alternative being to drive back to Accra and buy one cheaper there, we swallowed our frustration and delved into our pockets for the extra cash. This is where you are hit with the double whammy - the money changers at the border have an absolutely captive audience - stranded in no mans land between Ghana and Burkina, the nearest bank or cash point 200km away – they can set their price. We finally entered Burkina 3 hours later and ca £280.00 worse off! From here onwards the savannah landscape becomes more open and dusty - Acacias scattered across bare ground with farmed patches of millet and sorghum before reaching the outskirts of Ouagadougou (Ouaga for short) and being hit by the flood and buzz of a multitude of mopeds and bicycles. The end of another 12 hour journey.

15 October 2010 - Another day of negotiating contracts, this time with Naturama, our partner in Burkina Faso. Also, more equipment sorting, with the able help of Mohammed (our Naturama team member), Omar and Aly (members of the Oursi Site Support Group - the northern most site we worked at last winter). Sadly, and following FCO advice, our site at Oursi is now out of bounds to our UK project staff as there are risks from terrorist activity in Mali and Niger spilling over the border. In order to continue the work there, we are employing Aly and Omar to undertake a full schedule of ringing and point counts at Oursi, allowing the project to continue to collect data from the site. Through there work with Naturama and others in the past, and having worked and trained with the project team last winter, they are both highly competent and we are extremely thankful to have them on the team again.

16 October 2010 - An early start to set up a few nets in farmland at Gonsa, ca 15km west of Ouaga. Almost 80m of net and 3 hours of ringing yielded only 3 birds - the first bird of the 2010/2011 field season being a Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, closely followed by a Black-rumped Waxbill and a magnificent Long-tailed Glossy Starling. Late in the evening Chris and the team drop me off at the airport - I must say goodbye here and return to the UK. It's been a hectic few days...

17 October 2010 – Sitting at Casablanca airport waiting for my flight connection and I receive a text from Chris Orsman - the first bird of the day in the net - a Common Redstart!

13th October 2010: starting the season - a team members perspective

Tina Mensah-Pebi writes: The second phase of the study of Palaearctic migrants over-wintering Africa; Burkina Faso and Ghana with partners from RSPB and BTO commenced on the early morning of Wednesday, 13th of October, 2010. Driving on an even and alternating jagged road from Accra, a team of four including the driver (Chris Orsman; Juliet Vickery, both RSPB and Ernestina Mensah-Pebi ; Abraham Dotche, both Ghana Wildlife Society) travelled 700 kilometres and passed the night in Tamale. The journey to Burkina Faso continued the following morning till the team decided to stop for birding upon the sight of a busy vegetation cover around the Nasia Bridge on the Sisim River. The first migrant bird for the season was spotted on a tree at the bank of the river close to the bridge – a Pied Flycatcher. Soon the team arrived at Ouagadougou and at NATURAMA office and we were warmly welcomed by the staff and management Dr. George Oueda and Mr. Idrissa Zeba.
Naturama head office in Ouagadougou
Initial meeting of the season

Burkina Faso: last ringing update of the first field season

Tim Walker writes: This, my final Ringing Report from Nazinga, is actually being written from the comfort of my own home. We have been back almost a week now and I am just about refocused on matters local. No longer am I woken by Laughing and Vinaceous Doves cooing their monotonous repertoires, but more by the harsh tones of the local Song Thrush. Exchange daily walk pasts through our camp by massive Elephants with the occasional slink across the lawn by the local moggie then you can appreciate the substantial lowering of the tone with regard immediate environment! However, I am grateful to return to 'normal' temperatures as it was becoming intolerably hot towards the end of our stay, not only for us Brits but also for the locals. Our stalwart trainees from the north, Aly and Omar, were suffering the humidity as they are used to a more dry heat.

On the ringing front, I've calculated that we did 10 sessions spending 36.5 hours with nets open, which averages out at 3.65 hours per session. This may not seem a lot, but one has to take into account the rapidly rising temperatures during the morning and the necessity to close nets before it gets too hot. The four sub sites each had the scheduled eight sessions between them plus the Village site had an extra session thrown in due to logistics with transect surveying. Having completed the ninth session, we were rather surprised to have only processed 227 new birds and 18 retraps. Furthermore, this total included but one new Redstart (the same as the previous visit), so we were scratching our heads as to where were all the migrants? Reports from the transects indicated that migrant numbers were still good, with more sightings in the latter few days.

So, more in blind faith, we set five nets at a new location for the final morning's session. This was on a promontory bisecting a small barrage (reservoir). Thirty minutes after unfurling the nets we undertook the first round and were rewarded with good numbers of birds, including two new Willow Warblers, a species that Chris had noticed an increase of on his transect work. Most birders will know of Sunbirds, which are an integral part of African fauna. Well this catch yielded what I suspect might be a record catch of one particular species, the Scarlet-chested Sunbird in one round. We caught an unlikely 56 individuals as well as 7 Beautiful and 2 Pygmy Sunbirds! (74% of the catch) Other gems included a sprinkling of Yellow White-eyes, 2 Senegal Batis, a Lead-coloured Flycatcher, and 2 Red-faced Cisticola.

Prior to this last session, we were entreated to some wonderful local species eg. a retrap Shikra, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Greater Honeyguide, Yellow-billed Shrike, Red-throated Bee-eaters, a Rufous-crowned Roller and an Abyssinian Roller, both from the same net at the same time about 2 feet apart!

Rufous-crowned Roller (top) and Abyssinian Roller (lower)

Other delightful local resident species were Brubru, Bronze Mannikins, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Pale Flycatcher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, African Blue Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Brown-rumped Bunting, White-shouldered Black Tit, Lavender Waxbill, and Brown Babbler to name but a few!

African Blue Flycatcher - certainly stands out more than Spotted Flycatcher!

And a trio of Grey-headed Kingfishers....

Both Aly and Omar worked incredibly hard and were quick to learn. They are both well on the road to mastering extraction from mist nets and processing techniques and we look forward to working with them again next season. During the final days of our stay it seemed like perhaps more migrants still were beginning to filter through into the area from further south, so next year the project may continue fieldwork well into April. Six days after returning to the UK I have had my first Swallow north in the local water meadows. However, I am far from impressed by the most un-spring like weather and am having to wear gloves on the dog walk!

18th March, Brenu Beach - Fieldwork drawing to a close

Mark Hulme writes: We are into the last couple of days of fieldwork in Ghana for this winter season and I walked the last transect this morning so thought I’d post an update of the results of the last few weeks transects since Damongo before it all gets a bit hectic with preparations to leave back to the UK on the 22nd of March.

Kogyae was very interesting with a little more mud on the terrible road and a little more burning having gone on since we last visited, particularly in the reserve, which was blamed on poachers who had been subsequently arrested, opening up the understory of the dense woodland there. Much of the previously burnt ground was regenerating as in Damongo further North. 24 Pied Flycatchers were seen or heard compared to 15 on the previous visit, perhaps indicating that numbers have increased slightly or the birds have become more detectable, possibly some birds had moved into the more recently burnt woodland from elsewhere. 12 Melodious Warblers were recorded, 6 of them singing, as was also common in Melodious Warblers in Damongo, compared to 8 recorded with one singing last time. Five Tree Pipits were seen, whereas none were recorded last time and 6 Whinchats (looking rather grand in fresh breeding plumage) compared with 12 last time, which may indicate a decrease but the numbers were small enough to be unsure of this. Some points with Whinchats recorded previously did not yield any this time but a snap-shot point count does not necessarily mean all birds in the vicinity were recorded! Interestingly, though, slightly fewer Whinchats were also recorded in Damongo. 12 European Bee Eaters had turned up since last visit, 8 House Martins were on transects with a flock of 30 plus also seen near camp and, most strikingly of all, 58 Willow Warblers recorded, most of them singing, compared to 30 last time when no song was heard at all. One transect on the penultimate day produced 21 Willow Warblers in open scrub and teak with scattered large trees, compared to 8 last time. Surely this is either indicative of either a recent influx of new individuals or higher detectability due to increased frequency of vocalisations, in either case it seemed like they were preparing for an imminent journey. Some extra bonus migrants in Kogyae included a female Short-Toed Snake Eagle, an immature Peregrine Falcon and a single Barn Swallow.

Ringing at Kogyae was also very interesting with 20 new migrant birds caught and 3 retrapped from previous visits, all at the one ringing site outside the reserve, compared with around five migrants caught at the same site in February. Ringing effort was higher this time due to two ringers being present, with 3 mornings compared with 2 last time and 2 afternoon sessions catching one migrant each, but it does seem that relative catches of migrants were up. In total 8 new Melodious Warblers were caught, suggesting that the transects in the Kogyae habitat underestimate their numbers, with one retrapped from January. 6 new Willow Warblers were caught, some using a tape-lure, as well as 3 new Pied Flycatchers, 1 carrying a lot of fat, and one from December. 1 new Nightingale and 1 from December with much fat, 1 new Spotted Flycatcher and 1 new Garden Warbler rounded off the migrant captures.

Melodious Warbler, Kogyae

Pied Flycatcher, Kogyae

Nat recording habitat data on a point count, Kogyae

Charcoal burning - a common occurrence in Kogyae

After a day or two in the capital, Accra, we were off to Kakum again, in the forest zone about 25 km inland from the city of Cape Coast. There had been slim pickings previously as far as migrants go on the five transects here and not a huge amount had changed this time, though a few Barn Swallows had been joined by a small number of European Bee Eaters over the plantations on the edge of the National Park, common swifts were not seen in contrast to 32 seen flying (of course) on the previous visit. One transect did throw up a couple of House Martins, a foraging Willow Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher flycatching what must have been a stick insect, it isn’t nesting here like Chris O’s turtle dove is it? I very much doubt it. Otherwise a Melodious Warbler seen at the new ringing site was the only other migrant confirmed. Still no definite Wood Warblers, sadly. No migrants were caught over 3 mornings ringing, 2 at a brand-new site since the CES site has mostly been cleared to make way for a new plantation, despite close to 200 birds being caught in total. Some of the highlights of those caught included Western Bluebills, White-Tailed Alethes and a White-Crested Hornbill with a tail almost as long as Steve is Tall……

Plantation and forest at the edge of the National Park

Clearing net rides in the rain forest is hard work!

The Ringing Base at the new Kakum site - Tina, Steve and Rachel

Blue-Billed Malimbe, Kakum

Beautiful Brenu Beach (where I’m again very happy to be writing this blog from) has revealed 3 Spotted Flycatchers on one transect in rather open scrubby habitat a little inland, compared to one seen off-transect in a cassava field last time. Have they been here all along and switched habitat later in the winter as other habitat became unsuitable or have they moved in from elsewhere in the past month? It seems a little dryer here than last time. One Whinchat was viewed on transect and one off-transect, two were also recorded previously. No Garden Warblers or Nightingales have been recorded on transects but one of each have so far been caught during mist-netting, the Garden Warbler with little fat and the Nightingale seemingly fattening up for migration, as well as one Melodious Warbler, so very recent reports further North of possible passage of Nightingales and Melodious Warblers may well be true but not all have yet moved on.

Tourism on the coast is developing at break-neck speed and some coastal scrub has already been cleared even since our last visit. A nice-looking patch of scrub next to our constant-effort ringing site has been ear-marked for a new resort so this valuable habitat for Nightingales and Garden Warblers is certainly under threat at the moment, making it all the more important that we find out soon how habitat change may affect declining populations of wintering migrants. It’s been a pleasure to have been in Ghana working on this project over the last 10 weeks or so and I’m looking forward to looking at the whole dataset for these last two visits. The thanks, of course, must go to Chris Hewson for becoming a father leaving me to step into his fieldwork shoes (not literally you understand) – congratulations Chris!

Tina with a Pied Crow, Brenu

The Transect Team - Nat, Tina and Mark

Burkina Faso: Update from Chris, Tim, Mohammed and Daniel 5th March 2010

Chris Orsman writes: Even after just 2 weeks since we were last here, there’s a perceptible change in the lakeshore landscape. With water levels slowly dwindling, what remains of the grass near the lake is drying out, and receiving ever greater pressure from livestock. In places the former shoreline and dry hollows resemble the dune expanses of the “machair” of parts of Scotland, but without the greenery, and a lot more dung!
Danae and Phil at the lake in October 2009:

...And the same spot 4 months later in February 2010:

There hasn’t been any great change in the mix of migrants present, but a notable change in numbers (or detectability!) of some species. Whilst the ringing team caught a few Subalpine Warblers, the transect surveys struggled to pin many down, and only 2 were noted, compared with 30 last time! Despite the fact that these birds are about to head off to breed, those that were spotted and watched outside of the transects were largely silent, whereas many were calling or singing in January. Are they less concerned with winter territoriality at this stage?
Bonelli’s Warblers are again vocal, but their numbers appear to have dropped. It may be a measure of the further desiccation of shrublands away from the lake, where we continued to record these birds last time, but largely absent in February.

Bonelli's Warbler:

Olivaceous Warblers were almost absent during transects this time around, but the odd territorial bird was noted during the visit, including one during the whole-area-search on 3rd March. No Orphean Warblers on transects at all this time, and local warbler species not as evident either. However, a Desert Cisticola to the north on the 28th Feb was a welcome new species for the project.

Although more Barn Swallows and Red-chested Swallows were seen during the stay, very few were recorded during the transects. Away from the transects, however, “flava” wagtails have been seen in small flocks of up to 50. Hoopoe numbers have dropped, and whilst Woodchat Shrikes have remained stable, some of them have shifted habitat slightly. More of them are venturing into the denser wooded areas nearer the lake, and can also be found hunting amongst the lakeshore livestock.

Woodchat Shrike:

Also on the shoreline, and on several transects, a more than decent representation of Northern Wheatears once again, despite hearing the first early reports of some arriving back in the UK! Some of the males are looking really smart pre-breeding, and challenging the few Black-eared Wheatears for the “Top-Chat” title. Having said that, the male Common Redstarts take a lot of beating, and although few were seen on transects, our whole area search around the east ringing site yielded 7, with 4 practically together, one of them unsurprisingly ringed, and no less than 10 days earlier!

Common Redstart outside our accomodation in Oursi:

The most dramatic change has been the rise in Turtle Dove numbers, and suggestions that these latish European arrivals may actually be on the move. Whereas on previous visits they were relatively abundant in favoured roost habitat, they are now much more widespread, and have been seen on all but one transect. They’ve even been in the driest habitats some kilometres to the north, and the occasional flock of 100+ have been seen moving north from the lake during the evening. Further to this, these supposedly silent birds have at times been heard calling. During the whole area search, a single Turtle Dove was flushed from a lone acacia shrub, and amazingly a nest with egg was spotted. Perhaps coincidence that another dove species was nesting there, and I know not what a Laughing Dove nest looks like, but how I wish I’d taken a picture of said nest for others to see! When we went back at the end of the survey there was no bird to be seen. Conditions for feeding here appear to be favourable, but is it actually possible that a Turtle Dove could nest in Burkina? Fantastic news comes in the form of our ever helpful Oursi colleagues, Aly and Omar, who are going to be able to join us at Nazinga for our final 2 weeks. Extra help for us (maybe more nets to catch a few more migrants than last time?), but also fantastic training and experience for them we all hope! Once again, it has to be said the elephants will play their part, as they will be new species for the lads. Can’t wait!
Sunrise at the start of a transect in Oursi:

Burkina Faso: Ringing Report from Oursi 21 Feb - 3 March

Tim Walker writes: We were in situ again from 21 February and ringed every morning until 3 March. The four major sites each had 2 consecutive sessions and at the end we tried a new site which was effectively a fruit orchard (growing a sweet tasting fruit called gib gib?). A line of 4 60’s and a 40 kind of reminded me of Icklesham in East Sussex (though obviously on a much smaller scale). We had to work hard here to keep up with catches - 119 (+1 retrap) in 2 hours on the first morning and 141 (+1 retrap) in just under 3 hours on the second (3rd March). This latter site could be one for the future.

Mohammed setting a net at the 'Oursi north' site

The 4 main sites yielded 299 birds (+43 retraps) over 8 sessions, which is a decrease on our earlier visit. However it has to be borne in mind that average net opening times were diminished due to rising temperatures. There is no cloud cover here and it is already hot by 08h30 or thereabouts.

87 (+12 retrap) migrants were trapped over the period comprising 14 species. Most numerous were Common Redstart with 19 (+3 retraps) with interestingly, all but two of these being males of varying age. So do females winter in different areas? Bonelli’s Warblers with 17 (+1 retrap), and Common Whitethroat with 15 (+1 retrap) were the next and the only other migrants to reach double figures. A pleasing total of 8 (+1 retrap) Woodchat Shrikes were trapped, as well as 8 (+1 retrap) Olivaceous Warblers. Some work needs to be done on the latter as more than one race is involved - we have various biometrics to scrutinise at a later stage! Other species included just singles of Chiffchaff and on the final morning, a male Willow Warbler. Reed Warblers started to appear with 4 caught in the last few days. Exotics (from a British point of view!) were 3 (+2 retrap) Hoopoe; 5 Subalpine Warblers; 4 (+2 retrap) Orphean Warblers; a male Blue-headed Wagtail, and a cracking full adult male Black-eared Wheatear.

A further example of site fidelity involves the only Wryneck caught to date this year. Ringed on the 24th Jan, it was retrapped the following day from the same net. Amazingly it was caught again in the same net on the 22nd Feb when it was 2 grams heavier than previous captures.

I shall close on another raptorial note! A Gabar Goshawk is one thing, but an immature female Dark Chanting Goshawk is quite another. Hopefully the photo will give an impression of its formidable size. The wing length was 308 mm and the weight an astonishing 670 grams!

I should also mention that the lake at Oursi is a Mecca for waterfowl, with White-faced Whistling Duck and Knob-billed Ducks being the predominate species. But that is not to say that species such as Garganey are not also abundant, and to see upwards of 100 birds in a day was not an unusual sight. Being interested in waders as I am, I was keen to find Black-tailed Godwits, and the highlight must have been the 107 birds on the 23rd Feb (though these numbers had reduced to just 8 birds by the 4th March). These are of the nominate Dutch Limosa limosa race, but, try as I might, I could not track down a single colour marked individual. I also scanned the many Glossy Ibis, again in vain, for colour rings. Sacred Ibis, 3 Black-Crowned Cranes and many many Wood and Green Sandpipers, Ruff, and the odd Marsh Sandpiper were also notable.

On Sunday we head back to Nazinga for our final session. Hopefully we can improve on the solitary Redstart we caught last time. The final Nazinga report may well be written back in the UK!