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: 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!