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 25/01/12 Our first search beyond the study site

We set off at our usual time this morning, east towards the nearest of the highlighted areas for us to survey, a cluster of 1km squares where wood warblers should occur. We drive through our study site along the dirt track to the next town, and according to the internet there’s a road east of here which will take us close to the spot in question.

The road isn’t the best, and progress is slower than hoped. It soon transpires that the road also skirts some distance around the preferred spot. As we appear to be driving further away, and the morning too is slipping by, we decide to stop and survey a 1km² which according to our GIS map has the same level of probability for wood warbler presence as the target area. Splitting into two teams to maximise coverage, we set off from the roadside into the bush. It’s a fairly similar farmland mosaic to our study area, although perhaps with larger areas which have been cleared of trees. However the pockets where trees remain look promising.

In total we encounter 5 nightingales, 5 willow, 5 garden and 4 melodious warblers, 3 spotted flycatchers and the same number of whinchats, as well as non-migrants such as yellowbill, African cuckoo hawk, lead-coloured flycatcher and red-shouldered cuckooshrike.

After almost 2 hours, we spot a wood warbler, in the usual species of tree where we tend to find them back at base. This record means that the site scores a confirmed “presence”, and as such we can move on to the next site. However, it is already after 10am, so we decide to do a “recce” on the next site so that were’ better prepared for the next morning.

Continuing east along worsening roads we keep a look out for any potential track that will lead us up to the next site, but none appears. Also, the road as described by Google is quite wrong anyway! Seeing as things aren’t going too well so far, we decide to head back to re-evaluate these methods of attack. On the way, we take a different route back west, and discover that this route passes right through the site we were aiming for in the first place this morning. As this is the nearest site to our base, we simply have to do this site properly if we know we can get to it! We will return tomorrow.

Despite a lack of any real legwork this morning, we’re all shattered after so many slow hours on bad roads, and after a very late lunch there’s very little else to do but sleep! Besides, the planning for tomorrow is best sorted when the internet works properly much later on.

Chris O

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