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.

Monday- Sunday 5th – 11th March: The wood warblers start to sing

On their return from the field on Saturday, Roger and Japheth reported that during their trapping efforts the playback induced the first snippets of song from a couple of wood warblers, but unfortunately the birds just didn’t want to play ball, and avoided dropping close to the net. Whilst heading out to track bird 7 on the morning of the 6th, the first bird encountered was in fact bird 3, seen for the first time since 13th December, and in a small tree right next to where it was caught back on the 29th November.

Over the next few days we continued with the tracking of our two tagged birds and a short spell each morning with unsuccessful netting efforts. The rest of the time we embarked on the mammoth task of mapping the habitat of the study site, walking the boundaries of all fields and blocks of fallow, scrub and forest, and noted the alarming extent to which new fields were being cleared in readiness for the rainy season. Some of these plots are formerly-farmed fallow, but others have been untouched for years judging by the age of the trees being felled. We hope to discover the exact extent of newly-active farmland in relation to forest and wooded fallow when the habitat map is complete.

Tracking was rendered a little difficult on a couple of occasions due to a string of late afternoon downpours, with Nick, Japheth and Roger having to abandon one session in order to save the tracking equipment, and to avoid the obvious hazards of carrying a metal radio antenna in a thunderstorm. The guys got a good drenching but we otherwise fine! After some torrential rain on the evening of the 9th, we thought that bird 7’s tag had failed. On the morning of the 10th there was no signal from it from well within range of where the bird had been. Eventually a very faint “blip” in the headphones indicated that the tag was still active, but it transpired that we were directly below the bird. Somehow the signal had dropped right off, and we thought that the tag probably wouldn’t last much longer. However, the signal was clear enough for us to find it again twice that same day, and 3 times the next.

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