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: Ringing update from Oursi 22 Jan-2 Feb 2010

Tim Walker writes: The first sessions of two at Oursi are complete. Following the same net plans as used in 2009; we completed the required 8 daily sessions between the 4 sub-sites. We also managed an extra session at Oursi East and an additional 2 sessions at a new site labelled Oursi Lake (between Oursi Camp and Oursi East) that used fewer nets in order to reduce catch size. The reason being to enable more time given over to training local ringers (difficult when catching many birds and priority is speed of processing).

The total of 11 sessions yielded 932 captures of which 866 were new and 66 were retraps. Within these figures, Western Palearctic migrants account for 88 new and 29 retraps. The most prolific of these were Western Bonelli’s Warbler (25 + 2 retraps); Common Whitethroat (17 + 7 retraps); Western Olivaceous Warbler (10 + 2 retraps); Orphean Warbler (pictured below, 7 + 3 retraps); Common Redstart (3 + 7 retraps); Subalpine Warbler 7; and Chiffchaff 5.

Smaller numbers of Hoopoe (both European and African races); Woodchat Shrike; Wryneck; Northern Wheatear; Black-eared Wheatear; and Turtle Dove were trapped and ringed, often revealing interesting moult sequences. None of the afore-mentioned species showed any significant fat scores. We were surprised not to catch any Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler, Flycatchers, or Tree Pipit.

Of immediate interest are the retraps for Common Redstart and Common Whitethroat, most of which were ringed at their respective sites pre Christmas 2009. This indicates winter site fidelity for at least these two species.

Of course we also trapped and ringed substantial numbers of Afro tropical species (including the striking Yellow-crowned Gonolek, pictured below). The most numerous of these by far were the delightful Sudan Golden Sparrows, the males of which remind me of a miniature version of male Yellowhammers. Our first session at Oursi North caught a wealth of these, as we had not accounted for an overnight mixed roost of this species and Red-billed Queleas in the surrounding vegetation. The roost exit was dramatic as wave after wave headed off SE, probably in excess of 5000 birds. Inevitably we had to furl whilst we processed this first round catch! We have seemingly ringed 474 Sudan Golden Sparrows, which leaves a balance of 304 for other Afro species.

However, I have to say, that the prize so far goes to the Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling that I processed. I can honestly say this is the most stunning bird I have ever handled, check it out on the internet. A close second was an immaculate adult Gabar Goshawk, pictured here with Aly.

We now head for the southern site at Nazinga...

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