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 25 January: First impressions...

Mark Hulme writes: Over the course of the first four transects I regularly picked up migrants on or between points, mostly Pied Flycatchers in the open, burnt woodland and Willow Warblers in the canopies. The Pied Flycatchers seem to like the open woodland with burnt understory, perhaps the burning makes the habitat more suitable for them? There were also a handful of Whinchats in maize fields and other open areas. There were a number of Whinchats in the same field last year as I saw two in this year, I know from Nigeria that they can be quite site-specific and often stick to the same territory the whole winter, they certainly like the large stubble-fields. Daniel, who usually works on smaller taxa, is a very good worker and tirelessly helpful.

Paul had a quiet first two days numbers-wise but two Pied Flycatchers on the last net round of the first day made up for it and getting to grips with an entirely new set of species has kept him busy. Seems pie-flies are certainly around in higher numbers here than last year. The one days ringing at the dam ringing site did not produce any migrants, though there were Pied Flycatchers and Willow Warblers around, the sparcity of lower vegetation seems to make trapping the birds quite difficult.

I am still delighted on my transects by views of White Helmet-shrikes and the mechanical song of the Fork-tailed Drongo. Long may that last. Paul tried out an area search method to see if it is more efficient than the points and transect used for surveying so far, this is a pilot year after all and we want to try out the possibilities, and records similar numbers of migrants as I discovered in the same areas. It may need a bit of tweaking but certainly has potential, we will see if it is adopted in subsequent years.

I am currently looking forward to starting work in Mole National Park, an area which has not escaped the bush burning we’ve witnessed throughout the whole area, and neither has the campsite! There is virtually no shade for the tents and cooking area so the decision was made to stay in Damongo and drive to the park every day. This morning we did a game drive with Zack, a park ranger who will be helping us with fieldwork and who, wonderfully, knows his birds! The heat was intense but we managed good views of Elephants and a variety of antelope species. It’s a pity large carnivores are so rare in West Africa, the smart money is on the resident Lion population having died out but there’s still a chance some might survive. Our ringing site is a bit exposed to both tourists and animals, and it also burnt, so we will scope out an alternative site tomorrow. Oh yes, and Ghana won again – into the semis!

All in all a good start and I feel like we are gathering some very interesting data on migrant movements and habitat requirements which will be very useful in working out the reasons for the declines in so many migrant populations witnessed in Europe, thank you to all of you who have contributed to the Out of Africa appeal!

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