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.

Burkina Faso 4 February 2010: Team back in action

Chris Orsman writes: We arrived back in Oursi on the 20th January, to find we had lots of new neighbours next to our camp near the lake. As the dry season continues, the smaller surrounding lakes and watering holes disappear, and with all the crops well and truly finished many people from the surrounding countryside up-sticks and settle nearer to what remains of le Mare d’Oursi. The lake is dwindling, but water is still relatively plentiful and the local livestock numbers are growing.

On our first day we met up with our marvellous local colleagues Aly and Omar, to show Tim Walker (the team's new volunteer ringer) around some of the ringing sites, and we were immediately struck by the presence of sizeable mixed flocks of finches, weavers, queleas and, most abundant, Sudan Golden Sparrows. Their numbers have swollen dramatically, as Tim can testify in his ringing update...

The first forays into the hinterland of the lake uncovered former savannas now reduced to sands and loose chaff of grass and crops, but still managing to attract decent numbers of Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes. Despite the lack of any apparent live ground cover, there are clearly some invertebrates to be found. Amazingly here, as at the lake shore, many more goats and cattle can be found searching for meagre pickings amongst the dust.

The transects began promisingly, with right at the start our first and only Sedge Warbler at Oursi! Aslo, more Subalpine Warblers and Olivaceous Warbler seen on transect 1 than throughout the whole batch of ten transects at the end of November. Bonelli’s Warblers are still numerous, including 20 on one transect. During a 1 hour whole-area search of 500mx500m near to one of our ringing sites, we counted 25 Bonelli’s Warblers, and may well have missed a few more! Also seen during this search were 2 each of Common Redstarts, Olivaceous Warblers and Orphean Warblers. Common Whitethroats have become less discerning and have been recorded on more transects than last visit, but their numbers are still greatest in the more mixed woodland/scrub to the north. Also up north we saw the only Common Chiffchaff of the whole visit. There are more Hoopoes around, the African race boosted by more European birds – I think I’m finally getting to grips with separating them!

Northern Wheatears remain visible on most habitats, but more so on more stable soils, and again the few Black-eared Wheatears were seen in what appears to be the more degraded, but therefore more open habitats.

Aside from the greater number of Turtle Doves being seen again, the lake and it’s environs appear to be pulling in their relatives, with it seems many more Namaqua Doves and African Collared Doves. The latter can be seen by the lake shore early morning stocking up on water before heading back to forage “inland”.

Also of some note has been the apparent increase in the number of local warblers recorded, amongst them the Senegal Eremomela, Grey-backed Camaroptera and Northern Crombec. The latter have been more easily noted as they seem to be readily singing everywhere, but all three have been pretty vocal. Is this a genuine increase, or are they just more obvious? More news will follow our next stint at Nazinga. Not sure what that will bring, but elephants are guaranteed!

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