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.

Ghana 17 January 2010: Fieldwork starts again

Mark Hulme writes: left Thetford in anticipation at 4:15am on the 17th of January to get the slow bus to Gatwick and meet Paul Watts, the volunteer ringer, in the departure lounge. The flight was delayed by one and a half hours and then a long wait at Tripoli airport but we eventually arrive in Accra around 11:30pm, are met by Nat and Eric and taken to our hotel. Hot and humid but could be much worse, only 30 degrees hotter than snowy England! Met by Nat and Eric again the next morning, Nat having got very little sleep after an earthquake scare spread around Ghana leading to people sleeping outside their homes, it turned out to be a hoax involving rays from Mars, apparently…’s good to be back in Africa! My first impressions of Ghana are all in comparison to my experience of Nigeria, where I did fieldwork for my PhD and enjoyed myself immensely, so far it seems a rather cleaner and less hectic version of the same country. Liking it very much.

Left at 5am on the 19th for the long drive to Damongo, joined this time by Daniel, a Masters student from Accra who is helping out for a couple of weeks. It is always fascinating to travel along a line of latitude in West Africa – it’s such a relatively consistent zone of habitats from the wet, forested south to the dry northern savannas and we experience it all today. Thank goodness for air-conditioning is all I will say….

Arrived at the guest house in time for Ghana vs. Burkina Faso in the African Cup of Nations. Ghana win 1–0 so progress to the quarter finals. I bet Chris Orsman (leader of the field team in Burkina Faso) is gutted! After a comfortable nights sleep in our guest house I headed off with Daniel to start the first transect of point counts along the side of the dam whilst Paul and Nat scoped out the forest edge ringing site, deciding the site is so burnt the previous net positions were not viable and set up nets by the remaining areas of vegetation nearby, returning covered in ash. I got my first experience of the Ghanaian savanna, with plenty of bird species familiar from Nigeria, and am pleasantly surprised with the number of migrants including four Willow Warblers, four Pied Flycatchers and two Olivaceous Warblers on the walk back to the guest house. There has been plenty of burning going on. After an excellent lunch (Eric’s meals are consistently superb!) we checked out the dam ringing site to find it also burnt but, with lower vegetation, perhaps more suitable for continuing with the constant effort net positions.

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