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.

Sat 3rd March: From the "office"

Currently compiling all the data from the point-count transects done during the last few weeks, so that the team back in the UK can refine the presence-absence model. Also, am sifting through GPS data for last year’s tracked birds 1-3, as we need to revisit these spots to get the same habitat data as for the new birds. And we need to do it soon, as the villagers are starting to head to their farms en masse now that the first rains have arrived. Bit by bit, shrubby fallows are being cleared, and larger wood warbler-friendly trees are felled for timber, firewood and charcoal, and to create new arable spaces.

Having claimed since January (and I still do!) that the birds will be easier to entice to the net once they finish their moult and start vocalising, I recently started to doubt my memory of when the calling and singing started last spring. I thought last year we were hearing the first faint “pews” from around the 21st February, but this year as yet, the birds here (or indeed last week in the Volta region) have remained silent. A quick check of the data, and our records show that at every site where we saw wood warblers from the 23rd February, there were birds (though not all) calling or singing. Now almost 10 days later than that, the birds are still silent. Add to this the fact that we know some birds are still finishing moult, could it be that last year they finished sooner? Did they arrive on the final wintering grounds later this year than last? Certainly the numbers seen in the Sudan savannahs of Burkina well into October may hint that wetter than normal (and perhaps therefore more favourable?) conditions to the North could have held the birds for longer than last year. With no comparative arrival-date information, we can but guess for the moment. Next season we will have a better idea, but for now I remain confident that they will call and sing, and we will catch the 3 more that we have radio-tags for. Oh dear, famous last words!

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