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-Saturday 05-12/11/2011 Nightingale tracking starts

Chris Orsman writes: Multiple excursions into the bush over this period began with mapping all the possible routes that can be walked, and all of the locations of nightingales, whether seen or singing, croaking or “heeting”. Compared to our last time here a week ago, the numbers have risen quite markedly. We’ve covered a smaller area than did the transects, but have “in-filled” this smaller patch and found a few more good pockets of nightingale activity. More than 45 have been encountered. On the non-migrant front, the best find was confirmation of a red-collared widowbird which we saw on the 25th October. Only glimpsed briefly last time, on this occasion the male was in display flight over the arable mosaic. Our field guide indicates that it is pretty scarce in Ghana, but that this area may be one of the better spots for finding them. Good views were had by all, although I wish I’d had my longer lens with me at the time!

Above photo: Adult male red-collared widowbird (although no red collar on this race!)

Above photo: Male black-winged red bishop flies over red-collared widowbird

The next few days were spent at one of the very-hot-spots to catch as many nightingales as possible. Various configurations of nets were tried, and the first two mornings produced one bird each. Chris H and Chas demonstrated the application of the radio-tags onto the nightingales, and subsequently the methods for using the tracking equipment. Also caught was a single male blackcap, the first to be ringed in Ghana – by this project at least!! Not a common visitor this far south.
Above photo: The project's first Ghana-caught blackcap

The radio-tracking proved to be more difficult than expected, due to the birds moving around a fair bit, and also possibly the density of the vegetation, and probable dips and troughs where the birds could lie undetected

Above photo: Chas and Japheth tracking down some radio-tagged nightingales

On the last two days the first bird in fact disappeared altogether, and we wondered whether it had moved on further south. Surely this couldn’t have happened? When caught it was very light, carrying no fat reserves. In order to move on it would have needed far longer to fatten and strengthen to cover any great distance. Reluctantly we surmised that it could have perished or that the tag could have failed. With time short on the afternoon of the 12th we took Chris and Chas to the wood warbler zone, once again with our fingers crossed.

Bee writes: Despite our hard work we did have fun too. Every day something amusing happened: either it was Chris H telling another one of his stories, or it was the frog in the toilet, or Chris O’s MP3 Player (which should have played nightingale) suddenly blasting an 80’s power ballad over the fields, or the people we met. One morning we came upon a woman farming her plantain plantation. She was very friendly and not shy at all and as soon as she had greeted us she called all of her children to come and have a look. Obviously, she had not told them what was awaiting them. It was so funny to watch their little faces when they spotted us “obruni” standing in the middle of their plantain field. They looked as if they had seen Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny at the same time.

Above photo: Bee and Chris meet the farming family

Oh yes and then there was the day I became a proper Ghanaian, the day I made and even ate (!!!) Fufu with Groundnut sauce. To be fair, Oppong and Emanuel did most of the pounding and everybody else tried the Fufu as well, and Chas even liked it like me. I don’t think I will miss Fufu terribly when I am back at home but it is definitely not as horrible as all the obruni make it out to be. Yes it is rather gooey and you do eat it with your fingers but I quite enjoyed the unusual sensation.
Above photo: Cassava + plantain = fufu

Above photo: Oppong and Emmanuel pounding the mixture

Above photo: Bee lends a hand

Above photo: the finished product

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