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.

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

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