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 26/10/2011 Bug-hunting and chief-chasing

Birgitta writes: I really like hot weather and I really like hiking and I love birds so doing a point count survey in Ghana should be just my cup of tea and yes I did enjoy my first morning's work but it was everything else than easy. First of all, there is the wet grass. At 6 am it is relatively cool and pleasant, only downside is the wet grass. Within the first few meters, wading through it, you are soaked from top to bottom, your wet clothes sticking to your skin. Then there is the rest of the vegetation. It is so tall and dense that you have to fight your way through it with the result that once again you are soaked, this time with sweat. Seeds stick to your sweaty throat and make you itch, thorns scratch your legs, pollen makes you sneeze and some tiny insect in the back of your throat is putting up a fight, trying not to be swallowed.

Above photo: transect through Nsoatre countryside

No but seriously, all of this hardship is easily endurable due to the wonderful wildlife you see. If I was out here by myself, I would not make much progress, as there are termites to investigate and butterflies to photograph. Over there the ants are going on patrol, and over here some beetles are having some fun. Not to mention the birds: Western-Grey Plantain-eater, Klaas' and Didric Cuckoo as well as Lanner Falcon were just few of the new ones for me.

Above photo: Bold butterflies

Above photo: Colourful coleoptera

Above photo: Unorthodox orthoptera

Above photo: Ant super-highway

Chris Orsman writes: Our first team transect with Bee, and migrants-wise not too bad at all. Having failed to hear any nightingales yesterday, we picked up on a first, single "croaker" today, some 35m or so from our 3rd point of the morning. Another whinchat made an appearance in a bare tree above a cassava field, then a second nightingale croaked from point 4. This patch last year seemed to have a high density of nightingales. With just 2 recorded today it would seem that they have yet to arrive en masse. We squeeze a third in towards the end of our morning's walk, and also 2 pied flycatchers are recorded on the edge of more mature fallow with taller trees adjacent to arable plots.

Birgitta writes: After a successful survey we went back to our hostel to have some really nice food which our five star chef (and driver, although I much prefer his cooking!) Oppong had prepared for us. Today it was Jollof rice (rice cooked in spicy tomato sauce and red palm oil) and pineapple as dessert, yummy! Full of new energy, showered and dressed neatly we then went in search of the Chief of Nsoatre to introduce ourselves and explain the work we wanted to do. The day before we already had heard that there was no current Chief as the old one had died and the new one hadn‟t been elected yet. We feared the worst case scenario would be having to meet all the candidates, which would probably take all day.

First, we went to an assembly member who was going to take us to the acting Chief's place. As there was not enough room in the car, he jumped onto his bike and cycled up the road leading the way. Then we were all invited into the Chief's house where a group of people sat in a circle. We shook hands with everyone and then were asked to take a seat. As soon as we had sat down everybody else got up and walked past us shaking our hands in return. After that Nick explained why we had come which resulted in a longish discussion between him and the royals. In the end, we were told that the Chief was not present and that we could find him at the Development Chief's house. Hence, our faithful assembly member got onto his bike once more and cycled back down the road to the Development Chief's house with us in tow in the air-conditioned car. Unbelievably, at the DC's house the scene from before repeated itself: two rounds of hand shaking, explanation of our mission and the answer that the Chief wasn't around but back at his place. So our guide got back onto his bike, we got back into the car and... Well to cut a long story short: we did not meet the Chief because by the time we got to his house, he had already left again and neither did we meet him the next day, as he wasn't in either. In the end, the exhausted assembly member on his bike and the rest of the royal family decided that we had tried hard enough and didn't have to meet the Chief after all.

In the evening Oppong rewarded us for our exhausting afternoon of chasing the Chief, cutting net rides and putting up nets by serving fried yam with palava sauce. The sauce is made from cocoyam leaves and looks rather disgusting (it is deep green) but it tasted really nice.
Above photo: Nick and Japheth cutting net rides

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