Taking pity on our plight, GWS kindly loaned the team a car for the weekend so we could at last get some fieldwork done and we headed down to Brenu Beach, west of Cape Coast, where we had arranged to meet Justus Deikumah, a PhD candidate from University of Cape Coast, so that he could train us in blood sampling techniques as part of a project looking at chronic stress in birds in forest fragments. Upon arrival the whole area appeared much greener than at even a month earlier the previous year. Despite being rained off on two of the three mornings we tried to ring here, we did catch an array of Afrotropical species as well as two migrants – a Garden Warbler and a Nightingale. A quick look around the hill immediately behind our accommodation produced 3 Nightingales calling, 3 Spotted Flycatchers and about 8 Yellow Wagtails. Other birds in the area included Slender-billed and Orange Weavers (two species restricted to the coastal zone in West Africa - an active colony of the latter with nests hanging from mangroves over a nearby lagoon providing pleasant distraction), Brown-headed Tchagra and a Snowy-crowned Robin-chat seen repeatedly chasing a Spotted Flycatcher from one particular woodland edge – the territorial behaviour of the intra-African migrant has previously been well documented but we were surprised to witness a Spot Fly rather than the expected Nightingale being on the receiving end!
Given that the Wood Warbler has declined by 61% on the last 13 years alone in Britain and by 26% in 17 years in Europe, it was with hope rather than expectation of finding this species that the team set up camp at New Debiso, at the northern end of Bia NP. The winter habits of this species are not well-known and although they had been reported as fairly common at this site 5-6 years ago, they had not been found by the same team last winter. Our first morning excursion in the forest on 25th reminded us why we knew we would do well to find any, even if they were around: birds of any species are not easy to spot, let alone identify, in the forest canopy. Armed with the knowledge that we were most likely to find Wood Warblers around flowering trees (where like other species they feed on insects attracted to the flowers) we set off looking for clearings from which we could view the canopy. We didn’t find any sign of Wood Warblers at all but did record a good selection of forest-zone birds including Usher’s Flycatcher, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, African Emerald Cuckoo and African Goshawk. Whether Wood Warblers were present and we failed to find them, whether we were too early in the winter or whether they don’t occur in Bia in significant any numbers any more we just didn’t know….