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 15th March: Some unexpected but welcome good fortune!

With just one bird left to track, and its traceable days numbered, and also nearing the end of the habitat mapping, it was beginning to look like we’d have to bring Roger’s flight forward substantially from the 12th April, as there’d be little possible fieldwork left for him to do! Well we needn’t have worried.

This morning, it was Japheth’s turn to decide where we should set the net for catching, and he and Roger put up two net’s on “bird 3 path”. Meanwhile Nick and I went after bird 7, but not a peep was heard from the bird’s tag. That was it then, the last of the tagged birds was off the radar. After over an hour of searching, a call came through from Roger – at last, they’d caught another wood warbler! Bird number 8 was due to be ringed by Nick, so we marched back in time to find the ringing station set up by Japheth. Nick was smiling from ear to ear as he processed “his” bird. With all measurements recorded, colour-rings added, and various samples taken, we attached the 6th radio tag of the season. With a predicted radio-tag life-span of 13 days, this bird will need to be tracked well after my 22nd March departure, and will give Roger some quality data to record once I’m gone!

Roger volunteered to take the wood warbler back to the area around the net where it had been caught, and to check the nets again. A few minutes later, and quite incredibly he returned with a second wood warbler. The London bus theory instantly sprang to mind – no wood warblers for weeks, then 2 come along at once.

This time Roger processed the bird, and chose the colours of Newcastle United FC for its colour-rings, black on the left, white on the right. Once done, I attached the tag with Nick’s help, whilst Roger and Japheth went to turn off the tapes and close the nets. Moments later they returned with a third wood warbler, and our 10th of the season. It was at this point that we really knew that the team would be very busy for the next couple of weeks (and confirmed the London bus thing too!!). An amazing morning, with 3 newly tagged wood warblers!! Another quick attempt to track bird 7, and another fail, but we’re not down-hearted with 3 birds to look forward to tracking tomorrow...

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