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.

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!

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