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.

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.

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