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.

8th – 10th November Tono, Navrongo & eastwards

The early part of this spell was spent taking care of poor Oppong.  Apparently feeling slightly 'malarial' when at Nazinga, he did what any local would do, and sought medication from a pharmacy.  The result was that he became very unwell, requiring a hospital trip, which ended up in a negative malaria test and much scratching of heads.  Quite what had been wrong with him in the first instance, we don’t know. Once he’d got over the effects of the anti-malarial drugs, he was right as rain.  Apparently, routine testing for malaria once early symptoms are felt is not something made widely available.  If it were, perhaps such scenarios where folk self-diagnose and take some seriously debilitating medicine could be avoided?
In the meantime Rog and Japheth had a rather fruitless wood warbler search in the environs of Tono dam and the irrigation zone. Some small wooded patches offered up no more than Neem, Balanites, Acacia and Teak, and the odd pied flycatcher, common redstart and melodious warbler was the reward for a full day’s effort.  Day 2 over at the disused airstrip between Navrongo and Bolga saw them go further into the bush than the team ventured in 2010, finding a near-dry stream-bed with attendant patchy riparian tree species.  Here they managed to find 3 woodies in some small Annogeissus stands, thus far the most northerly recorded wood warblers on the Ghana side of the Migrants in Africa project!
Flushed with success and with Oppong back on his feet, we followed this up with a journey east, to take us into longitudes not yet explored just over the border in Burkina.  Again, riparian forest patches, accessible from the road, were targeted, the first just 40km east of Bolga.  Interestingly this was the same river traversed in Burkina (there known as the Nazinon), where we found wood warblers on our way south to Nazinga, so we were expecting great things.  No such luck this time though.  Early days, but maybe they haven’t come this far south and east just yet?  From here we continued east and the south to the Gambaga escarpment, and the forest along the east-west flowing White Volta at the confluence with the Red Volta from the north (otherwise known as the Nakambe River as it passes through Burkina).  This was perhaps an even greater disappointment, not least because the forest that we found looked on the whole less than suitable.  That said there were good stands of Annogeissus which elsewhere would easily have been home to a wood warbler or two, if not then at least a willow!  Again, no such luck.  Having to back track (the road ran out at the river crossing!) we decided to try again at the first stop, but on the other side of the river which looked quite wood warbler-friendly. This time, we did get a response to playback, but coming from across the river where we had passed a few hours earlier!  So they are around, just maybe not in any great numbers at this point on the river.
Back, then, to Bolga, and south towards Tamale, with a fruitless stop at a now non-existent wooded valley.  Well, the valley was perhaps never there, just a slight depression in a rather flat landscape, but what trees were there on our aerial photo are now gone, so not much time spent here.  Arriving in Tamale towards dark, and finding our reserved rooms have been given to someone else, a thankfully brief panic-search for four cheap rooms on a Saturday night ends in success.  As well as holding our rooms after we called to reserve them, and after we arrived later than promised (with 6 young men pleading with the receptionist to give them rooms) The Las Hotel (I know we don’t normally, but it needs a mention) also had the most attentive restaurant staff, and the most amazing Chinese food that I’ve had anywhere in Ghana.
Next phase then is to skim through some less-than-promising landscapes east towards Yendi, and then head south east into the Volta Region, to find out whether or not any wood warblers have arrived in their most northerly wintering areas in Ghana.

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