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.

Saturday 26/11/2011 First time wood warbler tracking

0600 sharp and Emmanuel and I are back at the ringing site. Headphones at the ready, we tune our tracking receiver into bird 1.


Not a peep from the receiver. A walk up the road and 100m in every direction, and still nothing. Wondering if the bird has moved on already, we decide to switch to bird 2, hoping for some reassurance that at least the equipment is working! Straight away we get a beep in the headphones. Very quickly we home in on the direction of the strongest signal, and make our way towards the bird.

Amazingly after about 45 minutes we not only pin-point the location of bird 2 about 160m from the ringing site, but we actually spot it, replete with colour rings, foraging a few metres above us in a path-side tree. What an amazing feeling! Yesterday we attached the tag wondering if we’d even get a signal from the birds today, and here were are actually watching one of them!! Brilliant.

Next task was to try again for bird 1. Understanding that the range of the tag is about 500m, up to 1km in the best conditions, we resolved to walk 500m in every direction from the ringing site. Should this fail, we’d expand the search to 1km, and then further if necessary. For the first foray off the main East-West track we head south, listening all the while for any signal from bird 1. An occasional switch to bird 2 shows that we can still detect it from up to 650m away, but 500m S of the ringing site, still no bird 1.

A short walk west along the main track we arrive at the village, and ask for a path northwards. We are pointed in the direction of the river, but are told we need a guide. A quick explanation that the Queen Mother has given us permission, and we’re waved on. About 150m after leaving the village, and bingo, I start to get the faintest signal from bird 1. Continuing on past the river, where it disappears underground and emerges at a sacred waterfall, we’re crossing a grassy, rocky plateau – quite unsuitable for wood warblers it would seem. The valley below is wooded however, and this appears to be where the signal is coming from. We find a path down towards the valley, through some farmland, and then further down to scrub on the edge of the forest. At this point the path runs out, so we take a waypoint and a compass bearing towards the strongest signal. We back-track and seek out other vantage points to take bearings, but back on the plateau we find that we’re heading further away from the signal as it gets weaker, and there seems no other way down to the valley. We decide to head back to the village, and from the road we can “circle” round to the other side of the valley, and maybe get bearings from the opposite ridge.

Above photo: underground river emerging into forested valley

The road runs south-north along the west side of the valley, and the slopes down are farmed and passable via many paths. We find one which takes us to a vantage point overlooking the valley, but still some 500m from where we were on the other side. A good signal from here, and we finally get a good picture from 2 more bearings. Happy with these “fixes”, and with the sun now high in the sky, we head back to our camp on the mountain.

En route through Abetifi we discover a fantastic little canteen in the grounds of the University, amazing value and service, probably cheaper in fact than catering for ourselves! We resolve to take our lunches here, and self-cater for breakfast and our evenings from now on.

After a long morning, we decide that we must move to Pepease tomorrow. This commute is just too long! It will be much more practical for tracking the birds twice daily.

Whilst out tracking the nightingales, Bee and Chas continue to engage with the locals, and the wildlife pin-badges are going down well.

Above photo: Bee with some local kids on their way to help on the farm

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.