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.

15th-27th Jan: Into the forest zone....

After an unavoidable 2 nights in Accra to obtain our permit to work in the forest reserves, we head west along the Cape Coast road. The first bout of roving takes in Kakum national park and adjacent forest and farmland, and 4 other forest blocks in a transect south to north. We have moderate success finding wood warblers in degraded forest edges, but in the closed canopy within Kakum for example, we find none.  Without the playback this would come as no great surprise perhaps, but the output from the playback device is pretty powerful, and we’re fairly sure that we should have had some response if the birds were up there. Do they really not like the forest interior?

Further north near to Lake Bosumtwe we barely touch proper forest, our path taking us through farms within the forest reserve, and timber plantations that are perfectly normal practice in these reserves of resource, rather than those of biodiversity such as the national parks.  Here we detect double figures of wood warblers, with a minimum of 6 calling from within the rather regimented plantation. Again, more questions are raised as to the preferred habitat of wood warblers in Ghana!

Roger & Japheth listen out for wood warblers in plantation within Bowumtwi forest reserve

We return to the study site in Kwahu for a site survey, producing similar numbers of birds to our previous count 2 weeks ago, and also reminding us of just how good the wooded farmland is here with higher densities than all of the 6 sites we traversed in the previous week. With an up-coming visit from Dr Danaë Sheehan and several other luminaries from the UK, Denmark and Poland, we can expect plenty of discussion as to how to progress and answer many of the questions that we are left pondering.

Sunday 6th –Mon 14th Jan 2013 Back to Ghana, and a visit from the experts!

The New Year is underway, and the Ghana wood warbler team is augmented by the arrival from the UK of project manager Danaë Sheehan and head of species recovery Norbert Schaffer from the RSPB’s International department, and Franz Bairlein, from the Institute of Avian Research in Germany and one of the world’s foremost bird migration experts, all here to visit the study site and formulate a programme of fieldwork for the remainder of this season and for those to come.

After a brief visit to Ghana Wildlife Society HQ, we set off for the study site, the old team feeling a little anxious as to what first impressions the ‘new’ members will get from the wooded farmland at Pepease.  For our first morning in the field we walk the usual transect route that we follow to do the regular wood warbler survey.  Our own first impressions are that the vegetation has not dried out anything near as much as it had done by January of last year.  The air is dry, suggesting the harmattan may be just starting, but very little burning has taken place.  Thankfully we’re able to find a few wood warblers for the visitors, but here in the eastern section of the site, where no wood warblers were ringed last month, no colour ringed birds are spotted.  The following morning we head for the western side, where last month we caught and colour-ringed 11 birds.  This time we spot 4 of these, and a decent number of unringed individuals too.  Of note was the number of birds that could be seen with incomplete tails, demonstrating nicely that they are well into their winter moult.  All in all a great introduction to the site, and aside from the field visits some very interesting discussions about the future directions for the fieldwork were had.

Danaë, Norbert and Franz continued their Ghana visit with a trip to the lowland forest zone, whilst over the next 3 days we undertook a full site survey, with additional waypoints through a site extension encompassing the area inhabited by Black Star, our second tagged bird from last November. We then tackled the issue of some habitat recording for the areas occupied by the three tagged birds from November and December, and also spent time dissecting some of the whole-site habitat survey from the end of last season, before we embark on mapping any changes in late March.  Throughout this period we note that after the dry air of the 7th and 8th of January, the humidity levels have risen again.  There really is no sign of the harmattan yet....

Our study-site tasks completed, we then planned our own foray into the forest zone.  With the local wood warblers in moult rendering them near un-taggable, and after our experience last season of failing to catch any in January and early February (save the one tail-less individual!), our next job is to visit as many of the forest blocks in the south as possible. The aim is as last season – to prove or otherwise the presence of wood warblers in the forests that we have not yet visited, to improve the model that will help to predict the presence or absence of wood warblers elsewhere.  On top of this, we will attempt to measure wood warbler densities in the varying forest types and qualities, and where time permits, the adjacent farmland.  Should prove pretty interesting!!