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.

Wednesday 19th Oct 2011 - Meeting the Queen Mother

Chris Orsman writes: Nicholas rustled up a great dinner last night; plain rice and a rich and spicy fish-and-tomato sauce. His title is now officially Top Chef, as coined by Japheth.
So, head torches on we’re up and out at 04:30, setting a line of 6 nets in the same ready-made ride as we used last season (still this year of course – back in March).
Photo above: Our nets mid-morning, catching a little too much sun and not enough birds
Not having seen any wood warblers yet, we’re not too hopeful of any success with our mp3 playback, as we had in Burkina. And we were right - not a sign! However 19 birds caught, including retraps of a little greenbul, green hylia, and a brown-chested alethe. New birds were 7 little greenbuls (mostly juveniles), 2 olive-green sunbirds, 2 white-tailed alethes, and singles of red-bellied paradise flycatcher, Sharpe’s apalis, collared sunbird, another brown-chested alethe, and a red-tailed greenbul – though this was the green-tailed race!
Photo above: Green-tailed variety of red-tailed greenbul
After lunch Japheth, Nicholas and I head to Pepease and on towards the spot we hope to find wood warblers this season. This is a mosaic of scattered arable and plantation, shrubland and remnant forest. We speak to the villagers who’s property lies closest to the transect, and then on to the next, larger town to speak the local authorities. There we meet 2 local assembly members, and are led to the local chief’s palace, but as he is out we have a meeting with the Queen Mother. In some places a ceremonial position, the Queen Mother is sometimes known as the King Maker, as she decides who will become chief when the time arises. The chief holds the power once in position, but here the Queen Mother is able to make decisions in his absence. The meeting is traditional yet cheerful, with now three younger members of the local assembly, and a very jolly elderly gentleman who is the palace official interpreter or messenger. We are all sat in an arc in the shade within the palace courtyard. After shaking hands with everyone twice, and an official welcome from one of the assembly members, Japheth speaks for the group to explain our hopes to work in the surrounding farmland and hinterland. His message is relayed to the Queen Mother (not translated as such – one just doesn’t address the Queen Mother or the Chief directly) by the messenger. He tells us that he Queen welcomes us and says that she finds our mission agreeable – that our desire to care for the environment is to be commended and supported. Of course for the meeting to conclude there is more shaking of hands, and a rather embarrassed request from the interpreter for a gift to the palace and the community. As is tradition, we should have come armed with some local homebrew, and failing that, a cash alternative. Patting my pockets I realise that I may not have enough cash for such a gift. Japheth, Nicholas and I excuse ourselves from the palace and rather protractedly discuss how much we should give. Once decided what would be affordable without being insulting, we re-enter the palace to hand over our gift in an “envelope” hastily prepared from a sheet of notepaper. The Queen Mother assures us that by the time we arrive to start our work tomorrow, the community will have been made aware who we are, should they see us out and about on the farmland. More shaking of hands and well-wishes from the dignitaries, and we are on our way.
With an hour to spare, we stop off in Pepease to seek access to the forest that Jonathan in Mpraeso spoke about. Finding the Director of Education’s residence (as Jonathan suggested) we asked nearby about the forest. It appears that this forest is in fact right next to some of the mixed habitats that we have already been looking at close by. Our new-found local guide shows us the path that leads down from the hilltop towards the forest, and to us it appears that with the number of trees and shrubs on this rocky un-farmable slope, that it will be well worth coming back for a morning’s search for migrants.

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