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 26/01/12 Further afield and more forest

Had some success with the web last night and early this morning before departure. It meant getting up at 03:00 though! Have managed to discern decent enough roads or tracks to take us – hopefully – to two more sites after we have re-done yesterday’s. Arriving in good time at 0700 at our target, we again split and take two separate transects. Some good looking forest here, but again in “ribbons” near dried watercourses, and rather large areas of tree-cleared and burnt grassland and shrubland. After an hour Nick and I think we’ve heard a wood warbler, but it was faint and distant so we’re not 100% convinced, and so we continue. Soon after though we get a call from Roger and Japheth – they’re heading back to the car, as they’ve seen one, and then on the walk back they see another two. In all at this site we had 5 melodious, 4 willow and 1 garden warbler, one each of spotted and pied flycatchers, 1 nightingale and 1 whinchat, plus support from a few brown-necked parrots (new for me!), and hundreds of mostly village weavers and orange-cheeked waxbills in the most recently and severely burnt (formerly) grassy areas. Job done, a quick march back to meet up at the car and we’re soon heading off to the next site.

Now, the internet appeared to show a track leading well off this “main” road and towards another highlighted area for us to check. Well, the track did exist, but came to an abrupt end at a village, some 5km from where we wanted to be. We’re assured by a villager that we can continue on foot, but we have no real way of telling if we’ll end up where we need to be, so we opt to head for another site where we are a little more confident that the road passes close by. I hope!

It’s almost 11am by the time we approach the next area, again predicted to hold wood warblers. It’s an area of cocoa production, and the crops are mixed under a canopy of some seriously big trees. We feel that wood warblers should be here, but will we spot them high up in these trees? Taking a track off the road that weaves through some plantations, it soon deteriorates to impassable so we park up and set off from here to start the point counts. Japheth and Roger go on up the bad track, whilst Nick and I walk back to the wooded plantain plantation, aiming to take our transect along the road. At our first point we spot rufous-crowned eremomelas, a collared sunbird and a little grey flycatcher, and then the survey comes to an abrupt end when a wood warbler appears in the same tree. Once again – job done! Having come this far we can’t resist the opportunity to “bird” a little more, and we all take Roger and Japheth’s route away from the road. We walk for just 30 minutes but get to see another 2 wood warblers way up in a 40m+ tree beside the track. It's otherwise quiet this late in the morning, but we have clearly entered a patch of pretty decent forest, with no sign of a cocoa plantation anywhere. If only this place, with this excellent track access, was a little nearer to our base! Some curious small creatures seen on the walk back, I’ll try to post some pics as soon as the internet lets me!

We pass through the town of Begoro and stop off for a bite, (Emma's groundnut soup can keep until we get back later), and then press on to our third site of the day. A site where wood warblers are predicted to occur, the plan is not to survey this late in the day, but to check for access. It’s at the base of the Atewa ridge, a forest reserve very well known to most birders on a visit to Ghana. We ourselves passed by here last season, sampling the east side and a route over the top from the town of Kibi. Today we’re at Kwabeng, and drive through the town several times until we get decent directions off the main road to reach the edge of town at the foot of the hills. Parking the car at the last house, the first part of the path which we then followed cut through farmland, but the remaining trees look familiar, and potentially wood warbler friendly. Soon the path enters denser forest, and begins to thin and look less well-worn. A few small streams are crossed with freshly cut hardwood planks, and at one such bridge we meet a team of men coming the other way in the late afternoon. Greeting us warmly, they do not stop, and so we continue on. Not much further though, and we discover what they were most likely up to in this part of the forest. A small clearing next to a muddy and diverted stream, tubs of chemicals, and the ground all over riddled with very deep man-sized holes, it becomes clear that we’ve stumbled upon the workplace and "mineshafts" of gold prospectors. Unsure of the safety of continuing to explore, when some of the holes are seriously deep, others with not very pleasant looking water at the bottom, and as some of this activity may not even be legal, we retrace our steps and resolve to walk a different route when we return to survey. However, on our return we just happen to spot a wood warbler at the forest edge. Presence, then, is confirmed. Relieved that we need not come back to any potential danger, a shame though as this site too looks as though the birding would be great!!

An even later return home, but just in time to unfortunately see Burkina Faso get beaten, and therefore knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations. Commiserations to our colleagues north of the Ghana border!

Chris O

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