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.

Friday 21st Oct 2011 - Migrants still in Burkina Faso?

Chris Orsman writes: I wake grumpier than I usually am. The other guys suffered a bit too I think - they’re quite used to background noise but without earplugs even they found that loud! After bread, jam, bananas and tea for breakfast, we then aim for Pepease to investigate the forest.
The walk down from the Director of Education’s residence yields some familiar species: pied crows, common bulbuls, northern grey-headed sparrow, tawny-flanked prinias, Senegal coucal. Above us a grey kestrel glides and sits steadily into the wind, and as we drop further and more forest approaches, grey longbill and grey-headed negrofinch are heard. 3 pied flycatchers in all are heard but just one of them seen, olive sunbirds are regular, and a first pair of buff-throated sunbirds forages beneath the “canopy” of a cassava crop. As we walk the farmland margin, Ahanta francolins call from deep within the forest. Sadly, though, no wood warblers, nor any further migrants detected by mid-morning, so we retrace our steps back to the car, and move on to investigate the real nightingale and melodious warbler hotspot that we discovered last season.
This rocky un-cultivated plateau is largely shrubby grassland, cattle-grazed, but otherwise un-managed save for the usual seasonal burning come January. Even post-fires last time out the remaining shrubs were still home to migrants found there in December. This early, however, there was no sign. 2 spotted flycatchers were seen in the more open areas, but this early on there was no croak or song of a nightingale, and no melodious warbling. We can expect both these species to be still in Burkina, so it will be interesting to see when exactly they arrive here for the larger part of the “winter”.
On our return to camp we ask the caretaker if we can set some nets in some ready-made rides alongside some footpaths. The benefit compared to the track-side spot we used on the 19th is that the paths are completely in the shade. On Wednesday the sun struck the nets rather early so the catch dropped off from 08:00. Later we put up 2 short lines of just 5 nets, with a view to using playback of one or other of the migrant flycatchers, depending what’s around in the morning.

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