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.

Wednesday 18/01/12 Exploring new ground, and finding one of our birds!

We try another leap-frogging netting session this morning, where we have seen birds recently and where we tried with Chas and co in December. Zilch. Well, one little greenbul and a grey-backed camaroptera. It’s really beginning to look like we’re going to struggle. On top of the failures to catch wood warblers, it has to be said that most of the birds we’re seeing are in various stages of tail moult, not a good sign for the tagging. A few more attempts I think before our time will undoubtedly be better spent considering a different aspect of the fieldwork. More of that later on I suspect.

Meanwhile, after giving up on the netting we head of to explore in the direction of the “best-looking” area of habitat as indicated on the satellite image. It seems the image is at least in part correct. There are progressively more trees, and taller, as we move into the hinterland. There are also more mature palm plantations – are these possibly not differentiated on the image? We walk a 1.5km route, and encounter 13 birds, all of them within a 700m stretch of the path. Pretty good “densities” I reckon. We will definitely be back here to attempt to catch. After some deliberation with the UK crew, we resolve to stretch the present study block of 2kmx2km to encompass another 4km² in this direction.

In the afternoon we explore yet more paths in the new patch, mapping them with the gps as we go. The route brings us to the spot where bird 4 was caught last month. Japheth spots a wood warbler here and Roger immediately adds that it’s colour-ringed. It’s only bird 4! No more than 15m from where the net was placed to catch it, some 40 days ago. It appears that the tail is still in moult, but with just the outer-most one or two pairs still growing. It’s quite amazing to see it again. We decide to spend more time looking for the other 3 birds from last year.

Chris O

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