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.

Tuesdays 16-22/11/2011 The nightingale week

Chris Orsman writes: Once back amongst the nightingales the first thing to be determined was what, exactly, might have happened to our first tagged bird. With no signal received at two attempts just before our departure on the 12th it was thought the tag had failed – mainly because the weight of the bird suggested that it couldn’t have suddenly headed off any great distance overnight.

It wasn’t long before a signal was received, and the bird re-discovered some 250m or so from the capture site. Not all that far, but with these birds rather hugging the ground the signal can be easily lost. Later tracking forays showed that the bird was moving gradually further away again, and eventually appeared to settle about 600m from where it was originally caught.

Meanwhile the race was on to catch more, with just 3 so far and 7 more tags to use. We weren’t short of birds, as every now and again a new voice would appear, and fill in a gap amongst the thicket. An awful lot of effort by the team went into selecting suitable sites to place the nets to maximise our chances, such that our particular target bird would at some point catch itself without recourse to any tape-lures! By necessity this meant we were catching a lot of other birds, including a whole host of other migrants using the same habitat, such as garden warblers, melodious warblers, reed warblers, whinchat, spotted and pied flycatchers. All of these were providing us with invaluable information about timing of arrival, condition and moult, but also give some clues as to the overall value of this region and its habitats for a wide range of migrant passerines.
Above photo: Pied flycatcher

Above photo: Whinchat
Above photo: moulting wing of melodious warbler

Whilst attempting to tag more nightingales the tracking continued, and with the number of tagged birds gradually rising, of course the tracking became a longer job! Most interestingly though aside from some slight “jostling” most of the birds seemed to be settling into their own particular patch. The winter territories are being well and truly established! And amidst all of this Chas and Chris managed to train me in how to fix the tag to the tail. Important to get this right here, but also essential before I attempt the same with a smaller tag on a wood warbler later on. Should we catch any of course...

Above photo: placing tag on nightingale tail
Above photo: tagged nightingale (you can just see the antenna)
Above photo: Bee tracking and taking GPS coordinates

There have been other distractions this past week. Aside from some splendid resident birds caught...

Above photo: female marsh tchagra

...others less splendid have proved quite tricky to identify!

Above photo: black-winged red bishops and red-headed quelea

Some spectacular invertebrates have dazzled and distracted...

Above photo: large moth - any ideas?
Above photo: enormous beetle

...and suggesting perhaps that some may not be working hard enough an impromptu Ghana V England football match took place in the front yard of the guest house. Needless to say England were trounced!

Above photo: Ghana v England football match

Sadly the 8 strong team was reduced to 5 on the 18th when Chris H needed to return to Accra for his flight back to the UK. With Nicholas’s exams looming he too departed for some serious studying. Chauffeured by Emmanuel, unfortunately the car decided to fall part just as they approached Accra. Chris managed to get his flight, but the car was impounded for repairs until able to return on the 21st.

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