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.

The new field season has started!

Juliet Vickery writes: Field season two for the Migrants in Africa team is underway – though 80% of the first 5 days was either in a car or an office. I am joining the team for the first week to help with setting things up, before heading back to the UK.

12 October 2010 - Chris Orsman (the RSPB field team leader) and I spend all day with our colleagues at the Ghana Wildlife Society, agreeing contracts , sorting insurance and licensing for the vehicle and driver to cross the border into Burkina Faso and arranging permits for the team to work in Forest Reserves and National Parks. We also had the task of inspecting equipment that had been stored in Accra since it was last used back in March – some sleeping bags were in serious need of airing!

13 October 2010 - The team leaves Accra before dawn to avoid the traffic, setting off on a 12-hour drive north to Tamale - a distance of almost 800km. Although good progress can be made on some roads, with surprisingly good tarmac, others needed more care with depressingly bad pot holes being very common. It's one way to see a lot of Ghana - albeit in a very narrow strip! The ‘team’ comprises Tina (who was with the team last years) and the driver Abraham who will be with Chris for the first month of roving field work (along with a Naturama field worker who we will pick up in Burkina Faso)

14 October 2010 – Crossing the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso at Paga. Having spent 12 hours in the caryesterday, we mae sure we made a few stops during the journey today, particularly as we crossed water bodies. We saw our first Palearctic migrants - a male Pied Flycatcher at Nasia and a few kilometres further north a group of juvenile Barn Swallows at Kukubila. A quick stop at Paga (minutes from the border) for rice and beans - a bargain at 2 cedis (just under £1). Paga is relatively famous for its pools of 'sacred crocodiles' - you can buy a sacrificial chicken to feed to them - this will apparently bring you good fortune. Perhaps more good fortune for the chicken salesmen than the chicken! It was all we could do to concentrate on our rice and beans - forget scrounging dogs and cats, we ate lunch with a large crocodile (ca 4 metres long) sitting motionless with a gaping jaw and a fixed stare just yards from our table.

Crossing the border was an expensive and rather protracted battle, with recent changes in visa charges meaning we faced a cost of 94,000 CFAs per visa (rather than the expected 10,000). With the alternative being to drive back to Accra and buy one cheaper there, we swallowed our frustration and delved into our pockets for the extra cash. This is where you are hit with the double whammy - the money changers at the border have an absolutely captive audience - stranded in no mans land between Ghana and Burkina, the nearest bank or cash point 200km away – they can set their price. We finally entered Burkina 3 hours later and ca £280.00 worse off! From here onwards the savannah landscape becomes more open and dusty - Acacias scattered across bare ground with farmed patches of millet and sorghum before reaching the outskirts of Ouagadougou (Ouaga for short) and being hit by the flood and buzz of a multitude of mopeds and bicycles. The end of another 12 hour journey.

15 October 2010 - Another day of negotiating contracts, this time with Naturama, our partner in Burkina Faso. Also, more equipment sorting, with the able help of Mohammed (our Naturama team member), Omar and Aly (members of the Oursi Site Support Group - the northern most site we worked at last winter). Sadly, and following FCO advice, our site at Oursi is now out of bounds to our UK project staff as there are risks from terrorist activity in Mali and Niger spilling over the border. In order to continue the work there, we are employing Aly and Omar to undertake a full schedule of ringing and point counts at Oursi, allowing the project to continue to collect data from the site. Through there work with Naturama and others in the past, and having worked and trained with the project team last winter, they are both highly competent and we are extremely thankful to have them on the team again.

16 October 2010 - An early start to set up a few nets in farmland at Gonsa, ca 15km west of Ouaga. Almost 80m of net and 3 hours of ringing yielded only 3 birds - the first bird of the 2010/2011 field season being a Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, closely followed by a Black-rumped Waxbill and a magnificent Long-tailed Glossy Starling. Late in the evening Chris and the team drop me off at the airport - I must say goodbye here and return to the UK. It's been a hectic few days...

17 October 2010 – Sitting at Casablanca airport waiting for my flight connection and I receive a text from Chris Orsman - the first bird of the day in the net - a Common Redstart!

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