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.

30th-31st March

Mark Hulme writes: After some valuable data had been collected at our most productive site we headed north to Bui National Park once more. We were hoping to see if reports that Bui might be an important passage site for migrants on the move in late March were true this year. Bui is currently undergoing some changes as a large Chinese-funded hydroelectric dam is being built down-river, one advantage of this is that roads leading to Bui are now excellent so we made good time! On the way into the park we also saw a splendid male Patas monkey, one of the few monkey species to thrive in the dry savannas. After securing the services of a guard we headed in to the village where we set up camp amongst a large group of curious children and hungry sheep and goats. There was no electricity so the football friendly between England and Ghana had to be followed by noting the reaction of people listening to their radios. It was pretty obvious when Asamoah Gyan scored a last-minute equaliser for Ghana by the spontaneous round of applause!

The following morning we split into two groups with Alex and I taking one route and Nat and Tina the other. We had limited success, with quite a number of Pied Flycatchers and not much else migrant-wise but Nat and Tina also had some Willow Warblers and a Garden Warbler or two. No Wood Warblers, unfortunately. It was interesting to see the variety of species in the riverine forests though, including Leaflove, Square-Tailed Drongo, Puvel’s Illodopsis and African Finfoot (seen by the guard, not by me unfortunately!) as well as White-headed Lapwing on the sandbanks. In the afternoon we decided to have a closer look at the forest bordering the river by taking canoes up the Black Volta into the park. No passerine migrants were detected but there were a number of Common Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers along the river and plenty of kingfisher species, egrets, herons and Sengal Thick-knees to keep us interested. Oh, and the hippos……8 seen in total including one right where the fishermen keep their canoes. The fishermen told us that they have to leave the village to be re-housed in a purpose-build “new town” in May, and the park manager informed us that the water would start rising in June in preparation for the dam to become operational in 2013. This will inundate the riparian forest and flood much of the grazing land the hippos depend on, presumably reducing their population considerably, which currently stands at around 500, by far the largest population in Ghana. If the forests do ultimately provide passage habitat for species such as Garden Warbler and Wood Warbler this may also affect migration routes as well, but that would be extremely difficult to quantify. We just hope that the effect on the park ecosystem will be less extreme than we fear as there is no turning back now. After one more night in the village we left this beautiful place wondering what the future would bring.

Tina and Nat getting a lift back from their survey, Bui

Checking out the riverside forest, Bui National Park

Hippos unaware that their habitat is soon to be flooded by a new dam, Bui National Park

25th -29th March

Mark Hulme writes: Once Chris had sadly left us for some well-deserved rest before starting on the RSPB breeding wood warbler project in Wales I spent a couple of days in Accra catching up on some data-entry and the Ghanaian team members spent a bit of time catching up on other work and with family and friends. We headed north to Nsuatre again with a new team member, my girlfriend Alex, just arrived from the UK. We secured rooms in our now-regular hotel and set about repeating transects close to the old road where we had had so much success before. There were still good numbers of migrants around, although very few Nightingales now and no Wood Warblers or Blackcaps this time. Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers, Pied Flycatchers, Melodious Warblers, Reed Warblers, Tree Pipits, Barn Swallows and Garden Warblers were all still in evidence. One last ringing session in Nsuatre on the 29th was, once more, very productive for Garden Warblers, this late in the season we wondered if they would still be present in numbers but 8 were caught on a busy morning as well as a Nightingale retrapped from our most recent ringing session, packed with fat. A Spotted Flycatcher, to some a surprisingly beautiful bird in the hand, was also caught alongside a number of resident birds such as Common Waxbill (not very common in Ghana), Marsh Tchagra, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Tambourine Dove, exciting for Alex’s first African ringing on her first trip to Africa.

Common Waxbill, Nsuatre

Moulting Spotted Flycatcher, Nsuatre

24th March

Chris Orsman writes: Sadly, the final day in Ghana for me, for this time at least! This morning worked on the GPS software to ensure that all the waypoint data from all the handsets were saved. The various files need consolidating/rationalising somehow! Meanwhile, Abraham had the car cleaned inside and out, and also had the spare tyre properly checked after our blow-out heading for Burkina! He picked us up to get to the office, and after a quick lunch he was to take his leave – his turn to get some well-earned rest before returning to the field with the team on the 27th. Tina was just finishing off entering ringing and habitat data, and Augustus was present too having recently returned from the US. Great to see him again, albeit just for the afternoon! After sorting through equipment lists and data files, we wrapped up and once again fond farewells were exchanged with Tina and Augustus. A final “last supper” at Tip Top in Accra, before a last beer at Yoko’s, and I waved goodbye to Mark and took my taxi to the airport. Sad to leave of course, especially with Mark continuing with another week or so of further roving! A very successful winter of fieldwork, and with such a brilliant team I sincerely hope I’ll be able to join them next season. In the meantime, I’m heading back to the UK to prepare to greet our migrants when they return in a few weeks. Best of luck to Abes, Alex, Mark, Nat and Tina for the last few days in the field. Have fun guys!!

22nd 23rd March

Chris Orsman writes: Two pretty interesting days. First we repeated the transects that we last followed about a month ago. Most of the migrant species seen were still present in roughly the same areas. On day two we attempted some ringing on the hillside, with the hope of catching a Wood Warbler or two. Once we’d located the first bird, we set up a single net at the roadside. After quite a wait it seemed the bird either wasn’t interested or that the net and song-playback just weren’t close enough to its patch. We moved the net nearer, stood back, and after about 10 minutes a Wood Warbler popped into the net. Tina sprang into action and ably extracted the bird. After ringing we recorded that it wasn’t carrying all that much fat, so we felt that this individual would be staying around for a few more days before starting any long northward journey.

Tina rings a captured wood warbler

Nat and captured wood warbler

Further attempts were made to catch another, with the net moved twice more, but to no avail. It would appear that even when we find a good spot for Wood Warblers, it isn’t easy to catch them! Nevertheless, this was a fine end to my last day of fieldwork.
So with my return to the UK looming we headed back to Accra, with me waving goodbye to Nat at the bus station as he headed home for some well-earned rest! Mark and I went back to our usual Accra hostelry, as Abraham returned all the equipment to the office before he and Tina headed homewards.

20th & 21st March

Chris Orsman writes: In the event we had two mornings of ringing, largely because on day 1 Mark’s new net caught 8 out of a total 12 new Garden Warblers – a great result. Adding an extra net to the first on morning two we caught a further 8 new Garden Warblers, one retrap from the previous day, and 2 new Nightingales. Of the Garden Warblers a few were still in moult and not carrying much in the way of fat reserves, so not yet ready to head far north. The two Nightingales were well loaded with fat deposits, suggesting they had been around a while, and getting ready for a big push northwards.

A (young?) male Collared Sunbird at Nsuatre

An adult male Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Nsuatre

With lots of very interesting data to pore over, it got us thinking that a re-visit to the wooded Mampongtin hills might show signs of some passage too, so we headed south east.

19th March

Chris Orsman writes: Today for the first time we split into three groups, so that we could cover all three transects that were closest to the town. This meant that Tina and Nat were to do one transect together. My route uncovered far fewer Nightingales than the last time, with just 2 of these singing, and Mark, Tina and Nat had similar experiences. Were there fewer males around than before, having started to move North ahead of the females? Also noted were reasonable numbers of Garden Warblers, with Mark finding a particularly busy patch of thicket with several Garden Warblers singing at once! A handful of Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats, Melodious and a couple of Reed and Willow Warblers also recorded, but perhaps most interestingly, Nat and Tina had TWO Wood Warblers on their transect! Incredible! One was amongst trees near to a patch of cocoa, the other in a wooded area on the edge of a cemetery closer to town, so not entirely unsuitable habitat. However, it’s probably not where they’d been all winter, more likely signs again that this species is on the move. An interesting day for Tina and Nat was made even more so with a female Blackcap, not a common bird in Ghana at any time of year.

Tina putting up nets for Garden Warblers

Encouraged by this morning’s sightings and our previous ringing efforts here, we went at dusk to set some nets up, to be closed and ready to start early the next day. Quite a large area of very overgrown thicket, i.e. old fallow, has been recently cleared and burned, reducing somewhat the available cover for our target species. This is the time of year when new areas are prepared for crops, just before the rains arrive. A Woodchat Shrike was hunting around this newly burnt patch, and a couple of Tree Pipits were disturbed as we passed. The net sites thankfully remained intact, and Mark thought it would be good to try a new net a short walk away where he had the Garden Warblers this morning.

Newly burnt scrubby fallow – no longer any Nightingales, but a Woodchat Shrike moved in!

18th March

With Jez vanishing early on errands to Tamale, Nat and Tina rejoined the MiA fold, and with a full car once more we headed back to Nsuatre and the spot where we had good Nightingale and Garden Warbler numbers 2 weeks ago. Finding the previous lodgings free, we settled in with the good news that it was now safe to go back into the field.

17th March

Chris Orsman writes: St Patrick’s day had to be a little bit whacky! We left Ouaga with Aly, Oumar and Mohammed for the short hop to Po, for the wedding of the year. Tim & Sophie’s that is. We pulled in at the town hall just in time. Tim looked smart in his cream suit, Sophie gorgeous in white, several very smartly dressed guests and, although I hate to say it, the ceremony was mercifully short. All done by 10am! All then headed back to a friend’s restaurant for the wedding breakfast, of chicken and couscous, salad and chips. Great to see the happy couple again (such a coincidence we could make it). And amazing what can happen when you volunteer for the BTO and RSPB!! Congratulations and all the very best to Tim and Sophie.

Tim and Sophie exchange rings at their wedding in Po

The 2010 Burkina team, from left to right, Mohammed, Oumar, Aly, Tim and Chris

Lots of thanks, best wishes and goodbyes later, Aly, Oumar and Mohammed headed for the bus station (they have important work to do back in Oursi!) Mark, Abraham and I headed to the frontier, and onwards back to Damongo, arriving late afternoon.
Good news from Jez and co – they caught two Pied Flycatchers this morning! Everything crossed for even greater success with future efforts, Jez!

16th March

Chris Orsman writes: I forgot not just how hot Ouaga can get, but how dry and dusty that heat can be here. You feel totally desiccated in no time! Sun-block on straight away with the sun barely up, we arrived at the park, and were immediately greeted by a small flock of Lavender Waxbills, and just inside a group of unusually-silent White Helmet-shrikes. Not far in and after a couple of Little Green Bee-eaters flew over we heard the first of a few Olivaceous Warblers, in pretty much the same patch as I had seen some with Tim at the end of last year’s season, plus a single Reed Warbler. Yellow-crowned Gonoleks everywhere as before, Northern Black Flycatchers singing, and more Squacco Herons than you can shake a ‘scope at! Plus the first Nile crocodile that I’ve seen in the park, basking on a weedy bank, and also several Black Crakes, African Jacanas, and a single Black-crowned Night Heron roosting close by. Walking back to meet Abraham, Aly spotted a Bonelli’s Warbler, but sadly not seen at all well by the rest of us!
After a 10p cuppa and an omelette sandwich (I do love those Ouaga-style greasy-spoon cafes!), we popped across town to the Naturama office. A few new and familiar friendly faces were there, including our Mohammed’s. Georges was all smiles, and busy as always! The day passed quickly with various exchanges of data and photos. Mark and I had a chat with Idrissa, keeping him informed of the project’s progress in both Burkina and Ghana, and later we talked with Georges of hopes for continued collaboration in Burkina in seasons to come. A very useful and productive day.

Little green bee-eater in Ouaga

15th March

After a top-notch and very cheap stay in Tamale (couldn’t possibly name the place as everyone will want to go there!) we didn’t get very far before a rear tyre popped. Fairly easy to replace with the spare, but we had to get this repaired at the next opportunity in case of another puncture. A bit of a wait to get this done in the very next town, but soon we were ploughing on towards and across the Burkina border. We stopped for a VERY long spell at a bank in Po to change a bit of cash, and with the queue barely moving we had to give up and try in Ouaga. A newly-surfaced road gave us hope of an early arrival, but then suddenly it stopped 20km short! The last bit into the Burkina capital was terrible, but at least this is in the throes of repair too. 6pm at our lodgings, and Aly and Oumar were already there. Fantastic to see them again, as I greeted them clumsily with my yet-again rusty French, and expressed our amazement and delight at Mr Walker’s impending nuptials.
Over dinner we planned to spend the next day exchanging data, and a few meetings with Georges and Idrissa. We decided that we could afford a team- building visit to the Ouagadougou Forest Park, especially too as Mark was new to the city!

14th March

Chris Orsman writes: Abes dropped us off this morning a couple of kms outside of town, and Mark led the team on a walk off-road into the well-wooded surrounds. Finding a shady spot for the ringing site, passing a couple of calling Pied Flycatchers on the way, we then set up three nets, scattered around the edge of an open area. Playback of the calls was started at two of the net sites, and we set up the office and waited.
We hadn’t waited long before the quite unexpected happened – a Wood Warbler was singing nearby! Quickly we arranged my mp3 and a small amp to try and entice this fella (for surely he was a male!) down from the canopy and into the net. Well, we tried. And failed!!

Nat stylishly covering up against the Damongo sweat-bees

A long and very sweat-bee-infested morning eventually produced one African Paradise Flycatcher – the wrong species but very lovely nonetheless! No Pied Flycatchers (or Wood Warblers) this time, but Jez was far from discouraged, and was looking forward to trying again in a different spot in a couple of days time.
With Tina very helpfully deciding to stay in Damongo to assist Nat and Jez with some transect work, for Abraham, Mark and me, it was time to pack up again and head to Burkina.

13th March

Chris Orsman writes: Abraham drove Mark through the forest reserve to the village to find Francis, to be led into some of the reserve hinterland. Tina and I walked out from the guesthouse, and very soon heard our first Willow Warbler, close to where we had the bird yesterday. Another two followed, as well as a small surprise in a Wryneck alighting in a small tree next to our path. Very good views indeed! Further on and more good-looking scrub and forest edge, we were beginning to think that something was up. It was almost as quiet bird-wise as it had been late yesterday. With our hopes seemingly dashed, we entered the denser parts of the forest. Even passing a couple of clearings failed to produce what we had hoped for, and besides a few African Grey Hornbills and the odd Green Hylia, no further birds were noted. Very odd!
With time still left to spare we exited the forest back towards our lodgings, and then marched out along a track into the farmland. Collared, Olive-bellied and Green-headed Sunbirds were recorded, plus African Golden Oriole, and Green Turaco. Two Melodious Warblers were heard, and about 20 European Bee-eaters appeared to be heading north in a mix with 50 or so of their White-throated cousins.

Cashew crop in farmland outside the monkey sanctuary

Despite Mark seeing a handful willow warblers, pied and spotted flycatchers, considering the low numbers of migrants seen we could see no point in staying here another day, and we decided that now was the time to head up towards Burkina, with a view to Mark and I getting our passports stamped again, but also to fetch some more data from Aly and Oumar in Ouagadougou. A quick call to the guys and we had assurances from them that they could get to Ouaga for Wednesday night.
By an amazing coincidence, I heard news today that Tim Walker, our fabulous volunteer ringer from last year, was also in Burkina, and due to wed his Burkinabe fiancée Sophie on the morning of the 17th. Surely we had to attend?!
En route we were to stop at Damongo to help out with new arrival Jez from Cardiff University, here to study Pied Flycatchers. We arrived late PM at the lodgings, and were greeted by Jez and our long-lost team-mate Nat, who had accompanied Jez from Accra. A big group dinner was prepared by Abraham, and over a cold beer we discussed Jez’s mission and planned a Pied Fly-catching session for the next morning.

12th March

Chris Orsman writes: This morning we drove with flask in hand for a roadside breakfast before marching across the local farmland. Not a bad spot, though ultimately fewer or less-well established thickets than at Nsoatre. Splitting into two teams as usual, we followed paths and tracks off the main dirt road, recording all species encountered. My first hour or so wasn’t too bad for migrants, with one Whinchat, a Willow, a Reed and two Melodious Warblers, and two Spotted Flycatchers. Three Great Spotted Cuckoos flew noisily overhead, and several Red-faced and Whistling Cisticolas sang from the rank herbage.
Deciding that we weren’t on the best patch, we re-grouped and moved further along the road to find more routes into the farmland. This time I was met at the start by a group of local children, who were very curious as to what I was up to, with clipboard, binoculars and camera in hand! They were especially keen on my mp3 player (a new “must” for me in the field, with quick access to all the local bird calls to aid identification!). I soon encountered a melodious warbler singing, and I told the youngsters to listen (they were chattering amongst themselves a bit!). Then I played back the song of the same species on the mp3, and their faces lit up. They soon cottoned on as to what I was up to. One migrant duly noted, the next one seen was a whinchat, perched atop a dead tree in the middle of some freshly cleared land, ready for ploughing and planting. This I showed them through the binoculars with mixed success I suspect! No matter, for at the very next cleared area, one of the boys shouted and pointed at some movement that I’d not picked up on. Sure enough, another Whinchat was silhouetted against a bright sky in the branches of another leafless tree. Well spotted! After that, every crow and pigeon that moved was the target for one pointing finger or another, as they all tried to out-help each other. Finally, a nightingale singing fluidly from some low scrub drew my ear, and again I played back the song for my assistants to hear. With that, some gown-up farmers passed, also curious as to my mission. The kids explained (not in English, but with lots of gesticulating at my mp3, clipboard and binoculars), and a quick playback of the nightingale, with the bird still singing in the scrub, drew smiles of understanding, if not still a little bemusement. A short while later, and approaching their village, the morning’s survey was over, and I said goodbye and thank you to my team of new fieldworkers! In total 5 Whinchat, 2 each of Melodious, Garden and Reed Warbler, 2 Nightingale, a Spotted Flycatcher and 3 Barn Swallow, with Blue-billed Firefinch and Orange-cheeked Waxbill part of the resident mix, with a similar mix of species being seen by Mark and Tina.

My helpers in the field near Techiman

Meeting back up with Abraham we made off towards The Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. Here, we read, was a small patch of forest protected by the local communities for the sacred Campbell’s Mona and Geoffrey’s Colobus monkeys, that now thrive there. Our guide Francis gave us a quick tour so we could establish where would be best to survey for migrants the following morning. We had very close encounters with both monkey species, but we were aware how quiet it was bird-wise. We did hear one Willow Warbler in a patch on the edge of the forest, just before the permitted farmland starts. We decided that Mark would explore more of this “buffer” habitat the next day, whilst Tina and I would retrace our steps on the forest edge and interior. Some of the more open areas within looked like easy birding and we were hopeful of perhaps one Wood Warbler, stopping by on its way northwards.

Mona Money after food at Boabeng-Fiema

Geoffrey’s Pied Colobus monkeys at Boameng-Fiema

10 -11 March

A second visit to our ringing site on the 10th of March was much more bearable weather-wise but not as exciting bird-wise, although we caught one each of Garden Warbler (another in late moult) and European Reed Warbler (with some singing in the shrubs later in the morning). My bird of the day was the rather drab-looking but little-known Baumann’s Greenbul, a skulking species which frequents understory and scrub across a wide area in West Africa, but with a very patchy distribution, whose vocalisations have only been described relatively recently. As ever with our site visits in Ghana the success we have is tempered by concern over the habitat and a large swathe of fallow scrub had been cleared next to the ringing site in the days since we arrived leaving us to wonder how long this at first rather unpromising-looking habitat will last.

Above: The until recently little-known Baumann’s Greenbul, Nsuatre

After scouting out more possible survey sites without much luck it came to our attention that the recent death of a local sub-chief had raised some tensions in the town over his successor and we were advised not to venture into the agricultural land until the funeral had taken place over the weekend, so we decided five mornings fieldwork had already given us a wealth of information and we are now off to look for other transition zone sites. Into the home stretch now with only a few short days and weeks left of roving but with the team on a high now we are raring to go. Until the next update.........

11th March

Chris Orsman writes: After a pretty productive past few days – including the British-ringed Garden Warbler – today was an enforced day of ‘rest’, as we were informed late last night that it might cause problems if we went into the field. The demise of a local chief appeared to have left a power vacuum and disputes over land. Was this why the army and UN troops were in town last night?! We suspect that they actually stopped by on their way to more serious issues at the Cote d’Ivoire border...
We instead headed east to spend some time in search of some more of the same thicket-y habitat that the Nightingales and Garden Warblers seem to like. We found some potential areas some way south of Techiman. Mainly farmland but with some promising looking scrubby patches, and the same kind of woody herbs as at the good site, creating a dense tangle 2-3 metres high.
Late for camping, our bed for the night was in Nkinkaso, at the only guest house there. Like our last place, again very cheap, but the difference here was this one really looked it! Just one night though thankfully!

8 March

Mark Hulme writes: On the morning of the 8th of March we opened mist nets close to our old camp site in the thickets and on the first round we were blown away when Tina took a Garden Warbler out of a bird bag, looked at the ring and innocently mentioned “this bird is from London!” Chris and I both knew what this meant, given that we use rings from the Ghanaian Ringing Scheme, and, sure enough, there was the British Natural History Museum address that indicates British rings and, presumably, birds ringed in the UK! There have been more than a dozen recoveries of rings on dead birds across the transition zone but this was, to our knowledge, the first British-ringed Garden Warbler captured and released alive in Ghana. The well-oiled BTO machine was put on the case straight away and we discovered that the bird was ringed on the Suffolk coast on the 25th of August by a now very happy ringer. This means it could be a bird that originally hatched in the UK but it could also be one that was caught on passage from continental Europe.

This highlight apart, the rest of a hot and busy morning’s ringing saw us catch three more Garden Warblers, one just finishing wing moult, and four European Reed Warblers. Afro-tropical bird(s) of the day were a family party of Red-cheeked Wattle-eyes, stunning little birds with a distinctive green-blue wattle around the eyes, particularly impressive in the adult male. We also had good catches of, amongst others, greenbuls, Green Crombecs and Cameropteras, a beautiful Yellow-browed Cameroptera making a change from the ubiquitous Grey-backed Cameroptera.

Above: Garden Warbler with some of the Nsuatre thickets in the background

Above: A stunning adult male Red-cheeked Wattle-eye, Nsuatre

Above: Yellow-browed Cameroptera, Nsuatre

After an exciting, but exhausting morning’s ringing we just about managed to summon the energy to scout for other areas to survey, choosing a more wooded area to the south west, which turned out to be good for Pied Flycatchers, some nice males in breeding plumage now, and OK for some other migrants but nothing that special, or are we now just spoilt?

2 - 5 March

Mark Hulme: On the 2nd of March we packed up reluctantly and said farewell to our scenic camp in the hills and set off for another repeat visit in the hills further to the north near Mampong. Our previous camp, in the grounds of a guest house, had to wait as we arrived a little late so we treated ourselves to rooms for a night before repeating point counts nearby. Chris and Tina confirmed that the vegetation had changed since they were there in December with a lot more farming activity going on now in preparation for the rains. Migrants were present, including Spotted Flycatcher, a male Pied Flycatcher still moulting into breeding plumage, indicating that it may be around for a little while yet, a number of Melodious and Garden Warblers also. Both Chris and I heard Garden Warblers singing, something I’m not used to in Africa. Some migrants, such as Nightingales, sing throughout the winter but Garden Warblers and many other migrant species can be heard singing in late winter once breeding hormones kick in. Unfortunately our visit coincided with another big Ashanti funeral so the guest house was to fill up and we decided that, with the season ticking on, we would head into Kumasi to prepare to visit the thickets of the transition zone to the north west of the city where the project had a lot of success last year.

After the compulsory trawl through Kumasi for a habitable (and affordable) hotel we ended up at one close to Tina’s old University, which proved to be very comfortable, and a Woodland Kingfisher bathing in a nearby swimming pool added some avian interest as well.

On the 5th of March, well rested and with clean, but still slightly damp, clothes, we headed north west towards Sunyani with a stop on the way to explore Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary, a nice, if small, forest reserve protecting a dam which used to provide all of Kumasi’s drinking water and now also provides habitat for a number of water birds, including some sandpipers which failed to yield to our binocular-aided efforts to ID them. The forest around the dam is a potential future survey site. As we headed into the transition zone we stopped for a very late lunch at Sunyani before arriving at Nsuatre in the late afternoon. After some negotiations we failed to obtain permission to erect our tents in the grounds of the local hotel but got a very good deal on some basic rooms, which was a relief given the current heat and the exposed nature of our previous campsite. Just before the light went completely we visited the thickets that the team worked on last year and found them jumping with Garden Warblers and enough Nightingales that I even got an excellent view of one! Encouraged we retired to plan our repeat work on this area with such potential.

We spent the first two mornings repeating the point counts that Chris, Chris and Tina had surveyed last November and December. The first morning, on Ghana Independence Day, was slightly disappointing Nightingale-wise but that was made up for with good numbers of Garden Warblers, many singing - are some already starting to move north? A fair few Spotted Flycatchers and the odd Pied Flycatcher was seen alongside Melodious Warblers and a Whinchat or two. This was my first visit to the area and the difference in habitat to other areas we had visited was quite stark in places with many more fallow thickets than you usually see alongside cassava, plantain, maize and small teak plantations. The second morning of point counts saw Tina and I head west a little whilst Chris stayed closer to Nsuatre. We had some luck with Nightingales on the first few points before the habitat opened up a little, Melodious Warblers, as ever, were present, as well as a couple of Whinchats close to where there had been a recovery in the past of a UK ringed birds. The birds I saw weren’t ringed, unfortunately! I also has the first singing European Reed Warbler that I’ve heard in Ghana. It was interesting to hear the song in dry grassland rather than the wet habitats we are used to in Europe – Reed Warbler is far from tied to wetlands outside the breeding season. Whilst I was enjoying these sightings and discussing what I was doing with the children heading to the farm on this national holiday Chris was having a Nightingale bonanza at Nsuatre with singing and, mostly, croaking birds common on his point transect, more even than his survey there at the end of last year. Nightingale is another species preparing to migrate and many of the birds we detected here are probably already on the move.

24 Feb – 1 March

Mark Hulme writes: After a couple of days catching up on some rest, office work and (for Chris) blog-writting we resumed our search for migrant hot-spots. The town being invaded by a huge number of mourners for a typically grand funeral (for a lady who’s importance and productivity was obvious from the number of attendees) accelerated our decision to get back to fieldwork and find somewhere else to stay. We happened upon a very nice campsite on top of a rather heavily-forested hill with wonderful views over the lowlands to the West, and some TV towers that Alec Eiffel would have been proud of. We could even just-about see one of the Atewa sites we’d visited a few days earlier. We then embarked on some repeats of sites visited last year and a few other areas were also sampled, including our hill, which turned out to be rather good for forest birds with the the hither-to-unrecorded-by-this-project Sabine’s Puffback and the range-restricted Sharpe’s Apalis both being common, although, as ever, encroachment on the forest habitat made us wonder whether these birds would remain here for long. A couple of attempts at ringing were also made close to our camp, picking up some dastardly-difficult Andropadus greenbuls which seemed to be evenly split between Little Greenbul and Cameroon Sombre Greenbul, hard enough in the hand this is one of the more difficult ID challenges in the field. We also caught a Brown-chested Alethe, a new bird for Chris, and some more common forest under-storey species but no migrants were attracted down by our trusty playback equipment.

Above: Tina with Nkawkaw below her

Above: Some Forest/farmland mosaic habitat in the Mampongtin Range

Brown-chested Alethe

Any suggestions moth fans?

Whilst the fieldwork continued apace so too, it seemed, did the early onset of the rainy season, with more stormy weather hitting us whilst we were camping, very dramatic looking out over the clouds building across the escarpment but we weren’t worried this time, we’d learnt our lesson from Kogyae and the tents remained dry.
After a successful stay on the hill we decided to try some more lowland habitat and were directed by the helpful folk at the forestry office to a partially-protected area near Nkawkaw where there is a 40-year cycle of legal logging, which results in a fairly open forest reserve where there is active logging but still plenty of forest-interior species which are rare outside protected areas. It was interesting doing fieldwork whilst a group of loggers went by on their gigantic contraptions but we were encouraged by the presence of birds such as Red-billed Helmet Shrike and parrots (most likely Red-Fronted). Some European Bee-eaters were also spotted along with a large flock of Barn Swallows drinking from pools left by the recent rain, perhaps larger numbers than I’ve seen since our visit to the forests at Ankasa, south west Ghana, in March 2010.

A (legal) logging team off to work in a lowland forest reserve