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.

29th – 31st Oct. New sites around Ouaga

The first part of our “roving” actually consisted of staying in Ouaga, seeking any other patches in the wider area that might support wood warblers.  The best looking sites from the available satellite images were the wooded valleys in the Gonsee Forest Reserve to the east of the capital, with the wooded savannahs in between appearing rather sparsely forested and, at the time of the picture being taken, burnt.  Two mornings here were quite a surprise, with several wood warblers appearing after mp3 playback even in the scrubbed over wooded savannah, and 8 in one spot nearer to a wooded valley, and also one in very marginal land fringing a large maize crop.  The other sites selected from the aerial shots appeared to the un-trained eye to be stands of trees that may not have been “forest” as such, and indeed they weren’t.  Nevertheless, a Eucalyptus plantation was still worth surveying, as the tagged birds in the monastery were not averse to using small Eucalyptus trees in otherwise quite open areas.  In the end no birds were sighted here, and nor were they found in 2 other ”forest” patches which were in fact largely scrub, Eucalyptus and mango.  I believe negative data is just as good as positive for the presence/absence model!

Onwards then to sites further afield, as we spend a last week in Burkina before heading back through Ghana to get to Pepease by Nov 15th.

19th – 28th Oct Final week of tracking

The tracking team continued with the regular check-ups on the whereabouts of the tagged birds in the Monastery. Some interesting patterns are again emerging, just like on the study site in Ghana, and we’re gaining an interesting early picture of the home ranges of the birds in this area, along with some measure of how long they spend here.  The final tagged bird was still emitting a signal on the 27th, but with only a projected 2 or 3 days left to run, we decided that a team of 4 would be better occupied surveying new areas for wood warbler presence.  Over the next few days we will explore any areas that look suitable (or even wooded/partially-wooded areas that don’t look suitable!) to see if there are any birds around.
In other news for the period, Aly returned from Tanzania with a view to returning to Oursi with a soon-to-arrive mini-freezer.  Said freezer took another 2 days to land in the country and we had to wrest it from customs so that Aly could speed his way north in time for the Tabaski festival.  I’m pleased to report he made it!  He has subsequently said that the freezer works brilliantly, powered by the battery that’s charged by the newly installed solar panels.  They’re all set to go with the dove Trichomonas parasite sampling.
Another visit to the forest park in Ouaga on the 25th yielded some quite extraordinary figures.  With 52 wood warblers seen last week, a different, wetter section held 79 birds, with a group of 20+ in just one spot.  Truly remarkable!

Thursday 18th Oct. City park visit

We take a long-planned break from tracking this morning.  Aware from previous experience that disturbance can be a bit of an issue on Thursdays with noisy children around the ringing site, we leave for Ouaga forest park early  to check on presence of wood warblers there.
After a quiet start, with a flock of lesser blue-eared starlings overhead and later foraging for berries in some low shrubs, we hear a first nightingale, soon followed by another, and then a couple of melodious warblers.  A willow warbler is seen, but for a while no wood warblers respond to the mp3 playback.  Things pick up a little as the sun rises and mixed Estrilda finches flit around low on and near the path.  At about 0630, we hear our fist wood warbler call.
A stroll around a fair section of the park over the next 3 hours yields an amazing 54 wood warblers, including at one spot over 15 birds – we actually lost count as they kept arriving in response to the playback!  To me this is a truly amazing tally, especially when one considers the total lack of records from Burkina in our first year of surveys – the park was clearly the place to be back then, if perhaps only during October!  It seems hard to believe these birds will remain here once the site begins to dry out, and one would expect them to head south to more-humid zones as the days pass.
After a quick shop for breakfast things and a visit to the office, we head back to attempt tracking again after the difficulties of last night.  We have absolutely no problem whatsoever!  All 3 birds are easily located, so our worries about a hastened departure are assuaged for now.
We’re invited to dinner with Henri this evening.  A very un-African sausage and mash!

Wednesday 17th Oct. Decoy wood warbler works wonders!

Following last night’s rather stormy weather, we manage to find the tagged birds quite easily; bird “10” is in a surprisingly low bush, happily preening away, and the other two are also quickly located.  We wonder whether the lost tag from the 14th/15th may have made its way down from its suspected lodgings in that tree.  Using the radio receiver, it is very quickly pin-pointed on the ground – once again still attached to a pair of moulted tail feathers.  It does seem odd that these birds should drop their feathers quite so readily.  The Ghana birds, which didn’t arrive on site until well after mid-November last year, retained their tags until we left the site on the 13th of December, which was actually just after the start of moult witnessed in other birds in the area.
Our trapping effort with the mp3 playback is yielding very little, so we decide to try our wood warbler decoy one more time.  Oppong deftly straps it to a “branch” of a small “tree” (a fallen piece of brushwood) and then sticks this vertically in the ground right next to the net with the mp3 song playing.  Not really expecting much, after all the song alone is not working and the decoy has not appeared to work before, we are therefore surprised when 20 minutes alter Japheth returns from a net round with 3 wood warblers.  I’m not even sure I’ve seen 3 wood warblers in a net before – in fact, definitely not!  We colour-ring and fully process these birds, but we won’t be tagging any more birds for now.  We need to move on to other potential wood warbler sites in southern Burkina within the next week.  Ideally we’d like to get some gauge of the importance of the region as a staging post before the birds head further south to the more humid forest zones, in Ghana and beyond.
This evening Roger and Japheth report that one bird has apparently completely disappeared, and the other 2 are getting tricky to find!  Well, this rather brings our potential departure date forward!  The “vanished” bird’s tag was due to last well into next week.  If this is the case, then more exploration for potential wood warbler sites will begin over the weekend – but where should we go?  Time to consult some satellite images, and our colleagues at Naturama!

Tuesday 16th Oct. A storm strikes

A poor morning of ringing, with only 3 birds caught, and no migrants.
Oppong and I head into town this afternoon for a few sundry items, including a dongle to attempt to get some sort of internet connection.  Whilst in the city centre, we notice several market stall holders packing things away somewhat early, and looking skywards.  Is the rain coming, I ask?  No, the wind, they reply.  Sure enough, some seconds later the wind picks up and the visibility drops, as a dust storm hits the city.  With our chores done, Oppong drives us back out of town, struggling to manage the steering at times with the strong gusts swirling around.  Folk on bicycles with large loads are having the worst of it.  We make it back to let Japheth and Roger go tracking, but then as darkness falls and they return – having got a soaking in the field – so the heavens open over Koubri. The high winds and heavy rain are short lived, but enough to cause concern over the survival chances of the tagged birds overnight.
Oppong rustles up another fine batch of red-red,  this time at a reduced cost, seeing as we did get the beans and plantain ourselves!  After those rains though, the temperature has plummeted at Denise’s cafe, and for once, I wish I were wearing another layer – most unusual for this time of year.

Monday 15th Oct. One tag found, another up a tree?

This morning at the monastery we find a third bird has indeed shed its tag by moulting its tail. It happens to be the one of last Thursday’s birds, and the same tag that was dropped after just one day by the bird caught on the 7th.  We also confirm that, after Roger and Japheth’s suspicions yesterday, a fourth tag has fallen, but for some reason we cannot find it.  We were not expecting to find the other dropped tags quite so easily, but seeing as we did, here we begin to think that something is up – and indeed, it is. It appears to be stuck up a tree!  A good shake of those branches that we can reach changes nothing, so for the time being we concede defeat.
Quite by fortune whilst tracking one bird later in the morning, I spot the colour rings of another, and it’s the bird that has shed the tag in the tree, so at least we know it’s still around.
As a solution to our culinary woes, Oppong takes over at his new friend Denise’s Koubri services to rustle up some fried yam, chicken and his tomato salsa.  Very much appreciated, although it appears that we end up paying twice – once for the ingredients, and then again for the finished meal.  We can’t have that happening too often!

Sunday 14th Oct. More radio-tag issues...

Up and out without any hesitation this morning!  Pack my bags and leave the cell that was my room last night, and we’re off into the field by 0500.
Having set a net with a mixed warbler tape playing, the first bird caught (before I’ve even had time to finish opening the net) is a pearl-spotted owlet, right above the mp3 player!  What a cracking bird.

Later we manage just the one migrant, a most welcome first willow warbler of the season.
An extraordinary spectacle during the course of the morning was the procession of people on foot, on bicycles and on motos, heading for the monastery.  A very grand service was clearly about to take place.  After about 2 hours of worship, several of the congregation came to watch our work, or so it appeared, but then we soon realised that we were being ousted from our ringing shelter – another round of songs of praise was about to take place here too!  Not wanting to get in the way, we quickly wrapped up the mornings affairs and left the choir behind.
The evening’s tracking session indicates that there may be a problem with one or two of the 4 tagged birds.  One is static near a shea tree, on two consecutive search attempts, the other is proving difficult to find on the second effort.  We’ll have to have a good scour for any dropped tags tomorrow.
The evening’s meal is at a maquis nearer the lake in Koubri, the same place as one of the accommodation options yesterday.  Despite being quite busy, and with perhaps more atmosphere than the Koubri services, the food is disappointingly poor.  We must seek out some alternatives!
Glad to settle in to the nicer rooms back at Henri’s place tonight.  Much more comfortable!

Saturday 13th Oct. Moving on

Whilst tracking this morning, we hear from Oumar that they’ve arrived in Dori by 0700, and subsequently at 1430 that they’re back in Oursi and that Daniel has passed by Dori, already on his return.  Good going!  We get a message, too, from Danaë, to say that the airline has once again lost her luggage en route to Tanzania. How unlucky can you be?!  Whilst Roger and Japheth continue with tracking, Oppong and I head out to look for new digs.  We can no longer justify commuting from Ouaga to the monastery every day!  Some pokey straw-roofed concrete huts don’t cut the mustard, an alternative in Kombissiri seems too far away and expensive, and the Hotel Bouganvilliea looks a little tired, expensive and even further into the bush than the monastery.  Still, our visit here did yield cracking views of a barn owl.
The final choice of accommodation is at the residence of NGO worker Henri from France.   It’s a lovely spot just outside Koubri, and a few hundred metres from the road, so very peaceful.  This will definitely do.
We clear out of the Ouagadougou hotel somewhat late, and after changing some cash at the airport, we head back to the study site for the evening of tracking.  Having found all the birds without difficulty, and with the light fading, we hear the calls of pearl-spotted owlet, white-faced scops owl, African scops owl AND Greyish eagle owl: a very good day for owls all round!
On arriving at Henri’s place we find that there’s been some confusion, and not all our rooms are available.  Rog and I are going to rough it in two tiny rooms for tonight.  Henri appears with a welcome beer for those that want, then we head out for our first evening meal in Koubri.  A delightful spot in the corner of a garage forecourt, now dubbed Koubri services!  Back at the lodgings, it’s time to put up my mosquito net  - as much as anything to keep the cockroaches from crawling into bed with me!  In the process, the bedstead collapses under my weight, the bed light falls off the wall and shorts the entire electricity supply.  Roger helps with a torch whilst I put the rest of the net up, then attempt to sleep in a baking hut with 2 fans, but neither working!  Will be glad to only have one night here...

Friday 12th Oct. The team departs

Carlo left at 4am this morning, back to Washington DC.  The rest of us have a later-than-usual breakfast before heading to the office.  Thandie and Danaë have a final meeting with Idrissa, Nana and team.  After a quick lesson in, erm,  how to cut up polystyrene boxes (!) for the Oursi chaps (to pack frozen samples in for dispatch to the UK) I head back to the hotel to complete some paperwork before Danaë leaves later.
The afternoon consists of various comings and goings, with Thandie heading back to Accra ahead of the PAO congress in Tanzania, Toby & Roger Jr off to the UK, and Danaë also leaving for Tanzania.  We hear from Oumar that chauffeur Daniel’s paperwork is still not in order, so they will have to stay another night to leave early tomorrow.
Rain begins to fall at about 1730, and just as Roger, Oppong and Japheth arrive from the field, the heavens truly open.  Plans for al fresco dining at the Source du Sahel, a favourite cafe near the Foyer guest house, look truly in jeopardy!  Rain stops by 1900, so we head out for that final meal with the Oursi squad.  Another busy day in Ouaga rounded off nicely.  With all the training done and dusted, it’s now time for those that remain, Roger, Japheth, Oppong and me, to focus on the wood warbler fieldwork.

Thursday 11th Oct. Final day’s filming and training

The tracking and film crews leave early this morning, the latter hoping to get one last shot at a Burkina sunrise out in the bush.  The rest turn up a little later, and Aly and Oumar lead the training whereby the Mauritanian guys themselves undertake the bird count and habitat recording.  This goes extremely well, and the four trainees seem well prepared to take these new skills back home to apply to point-count transects at their local sites.
Roger and Japheth continue a cracking job of plotting the tagged wood warbler locations, taking the odd leaf sample from any unidentified trees.  If properly pressed these should be identifiable later, but with the help of an expert botanist methinks!  With one net up this morning, we manage to catch a further 2 wood warblers, and tag these with the transmitters that have been previously used on other birds, and dropped with the tail moult. One of these should last at least another 7 days, whilst the other was only active for a day before being picked up, so with any luck it should continue transmitting until around the 23rd or 24th Oct.  At the ringing station, though, there’s more attention from the local youth (Thursday again!)
For the afternoon, it’s one final foray in to the bush for Toby and Roger Jr, in search for Fulani herdsmen and their communities, and one final sunset too!
Once Carlo has finished arranging for his feather samples to be shipped back to the US, we head out for the final group meal, at a favourite of ours from previous visits, Dany Ice.  Despite a tiny quibble over the bill (my mistake - apologies to the staff!) the evening was enjoyed by all.

Wednesday 10th Oct. Tag found, habitat training, and Japheth arrives

Roger continues with tracking with Oppong, and having gained access to that walled enclosure, they manage to collect the tag dropped earlier in the week.  In both instances the tags are stopped from emitting a signal with a tiny magnet taped to the outside, to turn off the internal micro switch. These tags can be used again, if we catch any more wood warblers that is.  Only one African paradise flycatcher caught this morning. Meanwhile, the Mauritanian team also head out to the monastery, to learn about habitat recording for the point counts.  Aly and Oumar help out (they’ve done more of this recently than anyone!) but then Aly is whisked off to town to search for his passport, hopefully now ready ahead of his trip on Saturday.  A great session, with lots of interesting points raised about the methods, and all seemed to be happy with the protocol, and confident about doing it themselves on the final day tomorrow.
Japheth finally arrives in Ouaga after a 24 hour bus trip!  We all take lunch at the office, but despite his gruelling journey, Japheth is keen to get out tracking some wood warblers this afternoon.  Whilst Danaë and Thandie chair some more presentations and training in the Naturama meeting room, Bara and I escort Toby and Roger II on some more filming excursions. This includes a spot by the roadside, when suddenly from nowhere distant sirens and flashing lights far down the road announce the arrival at speed of the entire government of Burkina Faso, en route to a military function down south in Pô.  A convoy of at least 100 vehicles, including a military helicopter escort!  Impressive, if a little OTT!
Much more peaceful scenes were to be had off road where a mother and baby collected some water from a communal borehole, and nearby some grand-looking baobabs cut an impressive silhouette in the early evening light.

Tuesday 9th Oct Solar power and point-counts

Now that their ringing training has finished, Pierre and Soumilah manage to head back to Sourou and Higa IBAs this morning, whilst all of the Oursi team remain until we manage to get all the equipment that they need.  Aly is staying in Ouagadougou anyway, as he will be going to the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Tanzania on Saturday.  Danaë will be giving a presentation based on much of the data that they have been gathering from Oursi these past 3 seasons.
Following their arrival yesterday, the Mauritanian team begin their training at the Naturama office, with an introduction to the programme from Thandie and Danaë.  Over the next few days they will learn the field techniques for undertaking point counts of the birds in the various, often degraded, savannah habitats around the wetlands back at their homes in Mauritania.
Some great news from Ghana!  We hear from Japheth that he has set off by bus from Accra, due to arrive tomorrow mid-day in Ouagadougou.
Following another trip into town this afternoon, we collect all the solar power kit, and a few other sundry items for the storage of the samples that will be taken from the doves caught in north Burkina.  Following an internet search, we find what looks like a great option for a battery-powered deep freezer, for sale in the UK and elsewhere.  Back at the Lodge in Sandy, Jo looks into options for getting one such fridge shipped from the UK.
In the late afternoon a large group including the Mauritanian team head out to do some point count exercises in the grounds of the monastery.  Not quite typical of the habitat back home in Mauritania, but if anything trickier as the vegetation is a bit more complex here.  They soon get the hang of it!

Monday 8th Oct Transition day

Today the Burkina guys are due to go back home (but in fact are needed for meetings at the office), and the Mauritanian team arrive.  Bara, Aly and I join Toby and Roger Jr for some more filming of rural scenes, including some tree planting.  We find a spot next to main road that looks appropriate, and we get some assistance from a chap who appears on his bicycle.  [We subsequently discover that he is now guardian of said tree, watering it and protecting it from livestock. We’ll check on it later to see if it’s surviving!]
Meanwhile, Roger S discovers that of the four tagged wood warblers, one has dropped its tail with the tag attached, and it’s the one that we tagged only yesterday!  Surely they’re not starting their winter moult already?  Those birds seen in Ghana last year didn’t start moulting until early December.  Could these earlier arrivals a bit further north be getting a head start?  Roger also has his doubts about another tag.  It appears to have remained in the same spot for a few consecutive fixes now, about 15m away within an inaccessible walled enclosure.  We need permission to get into said enclosure to see if it can be found.
Birds of note on site include pearl-spotted owlet, 4 long-tailed nightjars, Senegal eremomelas, chestnut bellied starling and gabar goshawk
A group of us head to town this pm, to price up the kit needed for solar power supply for the Oursi incubator etc, and look too for a gas freezer.  The latter turns out to be prohibitively expensive, so we will have to have a rethink!

Danaë and the film crew are trying to find suitable action to film around town, and the Mauritanian team arrive in Ouagadougou.

Sunday 7th Oct. Last morning of ringing training

A  4th wood warbler tagged!  This is proving a little too easy.  With Roger’s continued tracking we’re building up a great picture of the species of trees selected by the birds.  In time we’ll get a good idea of the “home range” of each bird, ie the area within which a bird roams around during the course of the 2 weeks or so that the tag lasts. Also caught today were 1 pied flycatcher and 1 common redstart.  Danaë and Carlo consider methods for sampling the invertebrates that are in the various trees being used by the wood warblers.

Aly does a great job with his interview for the film crew, painting a vivid picture of life in Oursi and his hopes for the future of nature conservation back home and across the whole of Burkina.
The p.m. is split between preparing all the gear to be taken by the Oursi team, and a trip into town for some filming of the market. Sadly, there’s not much going on as it’s a Sunday, so the crew resolve to try again when things will inevitably be a lot busier during the week!

Saturday 6th Oct. Path-lab training!

Whilst the rest of the crew stay at the monastery this morning, Bara and I go with Toby and Roger Jr to get footage of various rural scenes, including the activities at the shore of a nearby lake.
A couple of Levaillant’s cuckoos and a grey-headed bush-shrike caught this morning, but no further migrants.
This afternoon we spent a good few hours going carefully through the protocol of the treatment of the swabs that the Oursi team will be collecting.  After 7 days of rest in an incubator, each swab sample then goes through various treatments, before a final sample of the Trichomonas parasite can be labelled and then frozen until dispatch to the UK.  This was all fairly straightforward, but we’d rather overlooked the difficulty of power supply in Oursi, for both the small incubator and a centrifuge, and furthermore the low chances of finding any local freezer space!  A mission to check the viability of solar power was discussed, and deemed possible by those in the know.
Whilst the team headed out to a pizzeria in town, Thandie from BirdLife was on a flight in from Accra, arriving to coordinate the training of a team of four from Mauretania, themselves arriving on Monday.

Friday 5th Oct. Alphonse's farm

Take nets down and put in Alphonse’s patch near the farm.  Doesn’t look great for migrants but we do manage another laughing dove for Aly and Oumar to learn again how to take an oral swab.  A great catch too is a menacing-looking bearded barbet.

With things generally more peaceful here than yesterday (although with a few more birds) the trainee ringers get some good practice at handling and processing one or two birds themselves, under the brilliant tutorship of Aly and Oumar.
En route back to the hotel, Toby and Roger Jr film some of the views of the sprawling suburbs of Ouagadougou, highlighting the degradation of the landscape as the wooded savannahs are replaced by breeze-block and mud-brick buildings with a very few trees allowed to remain for shade, fruit or timber.
The afternoon is spent at the hotel sorting out ring stocks for both the Burkina and Ghana teams, with the Oursi lot having their first read through of the protocol for the various pathological samples that they will need to take.  A full training session for this will take place tomorrow.
Oppong treats us to a meal of “red-red” this evening – a Ghanaian favourite but a first for us in Burkina!

Thursday 4th Oct. A change of ringing site

The 5th and 6th wood warblers caught this morning, and this time both tagged.  This turns out to be the only real highlight of the morning.  The nets otherwise yield very little, and this must be in some large part down to the scores of children that are hanging around the ringing site.  It transpires that as it’s market day, they have no school, and many of them are left to seemingly run amok around the monastery!  We decide to take the nets down with a view to placing them in a new spot later ready for tomorrow’s ringing.  Danaë suggests a great looking patch of forest straddling a stream near to the monastery dairy farm.  A quick call to Alphonse and we get permission to put some nets here in the afternoon.
Arriving at 1530 we set about choosing good net rides, and with minimal clearing of vegetation we manage to put up 5 before we get the sudden command to stop.  It would appear that tomorrow morning a training group from the farm will be here to learn about farming practices, and the group leader, who wasn’t informed of our mission, has taken great umbrage at our large and efficient team busily setting up nets.  No amount of persuasion from Alphonse can change his mind, so the nets must come down.  Instead, Alphonse shows us a nearby fallow arable enclosure of his own, that he kindly allows us to use for the next day’s netting.  Now in the dark, the furled nets will have to stay where they are until the morning.

The Burkina team in some new field kit

Wednesday, 3rd Oct. First morning's ringing

A great start to the training with a few Estrilda finches caught first thing. These are small birds, and a tricky start for the new recruits, so Aly and Oumar ably demonstrate the main techniques used during the ringing programme before the others are later allowed to try handling their first birds.
The ringing team

Meanwhile, Carlo, who’s PhD is centred around identifying birds by using only feathers, begins his fieldwork by carefully removing a single feather from the tail of some of the birds that we catch.  Carlo hopes to use the DNA found in the cells at the base of the feather to formulate techniques and create a database that will enable him to identify otherwise “unseen” birds just from a single feather.  By asking hunters in the Sahel to donate a feather from each bird they catch, he hopes to gain a picture of the impact of this subsistence hunting on the various species that depend on the Sahel, both residents and migrants.

Carlo labelling feather samples
A great start too for the new programme that will trace the fortunes of European turtle doves in the Sahel.  As part of this new project, Aly and Oumar are going to target these birds for ringing, the main reason being to test them for a highly contagious (to doves!) disease which may be affecting their condition and therefore their survival year on year.  To do this, they need to learn some new techniques for taking the samples, and they need to see this demonstrated on doves.  Luckily, a laughing dove obliges this morning (no turtle doves this far south in Burkina) and Danaë carefully shows the team what to do.  The sample is safely stored and will later be placed in an incubator for 7 days – just the start of the protocol that the Oursi boys will have to learn before heading back up north!
And what about the wood warblers?  By 0800hrs we’ve heard the faint “pew” of a bird or two in nearby trees, so we pop a recording on.  Over the next hour we catch four, and we attach a radio-tag to the last one.  Radio-tracking of Burkinabe wood warblers has begun!  With a tag lasting maybe 13 days or more, the GB/Ghana wood warbler team are now committed to staying near Koubri for at least another two weeks.  No hardship that!
In the evening we go back out to Koubri to catch 2 black-capped and 2 brown babbler.  The wood warbler is tracked and is found foraging low in a short mimosa very close to the ringing station.
As a change from the hotel restaurant, and as it's Carlo's birthday, this evening Oppong cooks us a great meal of fried yam, chicken and tomato salsa.   

Tuesday, 2nd Oct. First day of training

After a gentle start with a team breakfast at the lean-to cafe next to the office – omelette in baguette as usual – we have a meeting at Naturama ahead of the start of the programme.  Whilst Danaë rescues our luggage in the afternoon, and meets film crew Toby and Roger (henceforth Roger Jr!) from their flight, others set off to the Monastery at Koubri, scene of last year’s triumphs of wood warbler catching.  We’re given the go-ahead by senior monk Alphonse to set our nets as we did before, and Aly and Oumar take the lead with the net site selection and installation. With nets furled, we’re ready to start early tomorrow.

Monday, 1st Oct, London – Ouagadougou

Just like last year, I am once again woken at 3am for my trip to Heathrow at 4, and, hard to believe, even more luggage than before.  This time we have so many more bits and pieces of essential equipment, to hand over to the team in Burkina for a new phase of our work in the Sahel.  Danaë is at the airport ahead of me having lodged at the Terminal 4 hotel overnight.  A fairly smooth check-in and a relaxed saunter to the departure gate, and it transpires that we’re actually booked in on different flights!  Only a half our apart, we were to meet in Paris and get the same onward flight from there.  With both flights slightly delayed, it was a close call for my later flight to make the connection, but with the latter also delayed we both made it in good time.  6 hours later we get to Ouagadougou via a short stop in Niger’s capital city Niamey, only to find that 5 out of our 7 pieces of luggage are missing!  A little further delay to fill out lost luggage forms, and we spot Aly and Bara waiting to greet us the other side of the glass doors at arrivals.  Before long we’re heading off to the Foyer guest house where some of the team are staying, and there we meet up with Oumar, Idrissa and Hussein, the rest of the Oursi crew.  We also meet Pierre and Soumilah, from Sourou and Higa IBAs, here to learn for the first time about the ringing that takes place at Oursi.  This is truly the start of a Burkina Faso ringing programme, with Aly and Oumar the trainers, Idrissa and Hussein the trainees, and new recruits Pierre and Soumilah. It is great to see the team, especially one so keen to get on with some more training at the start of the new season.  Danaë and I then head on to the Naturama office where we find Oppong and Roger after their marathon road trip north from Accra.  For Roger, a well seasoned traveller and volunteer all over Africa, this is his first visit to Burkina Faso.  Oppong’s first visit too, and with neither of them speaking French they did very well to make it!  After catching up with all in the Naturama office, we head to the hotel to settle in, grab some dinner and a short rest before heading back to the airport to meet PhD scientist Carlo, due in at midnight. We eventually turn in at 01:30.  Quite a long first day!