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.

Thursday 24/11/2011 Finding our first “farmland” wood warbler

Full of the aforementioned tea, bread and bananas, we head out at 5am in search of wood warblers – for the 4th time of trying! Will they have arrived?

The start of the transect route suggests not. Today’s mission is not to carry out a complete point count survey, but to determine, including with the aid of playback, whether or not any wood warblers are here at all. Remembering the locations (including the same trees) of the wood warblers from last year, we cover as much ground as possible, using short bursts of song and call from the mp3 player. From 0600 until 0930 we see and hear nothing wood warbler like and are more than a little disappointed, until at last at 0945 we hear a faint “pew” from behind. Turning back, we locate our first study-site wood warbler, in a broad-leaved tree next to the roadside and a cassava field. It moved off a short hop to a different tree, so to get a closer look we find a newly cut path through some scrub on the edge of the field. Quite ironically, the path leads to a felled tree, creating a small clearing in the scrub. With nothing to lose, and considering December is looming and tagging time running out, we decide to attempt to catch this first bird at this first opportunity. The perfect though somewhat regrettable ready-made net ride serves a purpose, comfortably accommodating a 9 metre long net.

Above photo: felled tree creating a perfect net ride

With the mp3 on we retrace our steps to the car, and watch. Sure enough, the bird responds as before, pewing continually, and seemingly getting closer and closer. It then dropped down towards the net! Its call, however, continued, so we guessed it unlikely that it was in the net. Finally it resurfaced back up into te tree where we first saw it, still calling, but now just foraging and no longer attracted towards the net. At this point we decide to close up and turn off the tape, and resolve to come back to the same spot at first light the next day.

Before going back to camp, we stop in Pepease to see if there are any guest houses at all. We are directed towards one, which looks ok, so depending on our success/ failure rates over the next day or so, we at least have some lodgings closer to the study area that we can move to.

Meanwhile, Bee and Chas are continuing in their efforts to catch further nightingales for tagging. As a result they managed to get hold of this fine individual!

Above photo: sulphur-breasted bush-shrike

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