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.

13th – 24th Feb: The (almost) 12 days of transects

A pretty gruelling trip of roving this time around!  Started off very well with a stop-over at the BTO team’s place (no time to visit the study site itself or help with fieldwork sadly, but great to see everyone) in Nsoatre.  An absolutely mind-blowing creation of various dishes was unveiled by Eric for our dinner.  Never eaten so well in Ghana – thanks Eric!

The next 11 mornings took in a loop from Asukese/Bia Tano and  Ayum forest reserves in SW Brong Ahafo Region, through Western Region’s Krokosua, Dadiaso, Boin River, Fure River and (slight hiccup in the loop here, with a puncture and a missing bridge meaning we couldn’t reach our intended destination of Samremboi, and had to divert some distance and do Fure River first, and then went on to…) Tano Nimiri.
Oppong & Japheth sort out a slight problem with the tyre....

....and find a solution to the missing bridge!

The usual pattern continued with, generally speaking, more wood warblers outside the forests than inside, although the farmland sampled at Krokosua was “thungya” plantain plantation inside the forest, where several wood warblers were located.  This “thungya” system is where plots within a forest can be farmed, provided all of the trees above a certain height are left in place.  In completely ruins the habitat for true forest specialists, as there is no natural understorey, and no mid-level canopy.  However, if sufficient trees of the right species mix are left to thrive then it would seem that wood warblers can be supported in reasonable numbers, just like any reasonably well-wooded farmland outside the forest.
There was mixed success when locating 1km transects at 5, 7 & 10km from the nearest forest, although we were surprisingly lucky in many instances to find good roads leading to good farm tracks that were within exactly the right distance band.  The presence/absence of wood warblers did not always follow the expected pattern however!  Some of the closer-to-forest transects held none, whilst one transect that we reached, at a full 15km from the nearest forest at the Dadieso site, did have a bird.  At this site we also had a bird at 7km, but none at 10km or 5km.  We hope that overall some patterns will emerge!  All of the ground covered is going to greatly improve the model for predicting wood warbler presence and absence in Ghana, ground-truthing for which was a large part of last season’s work.

As if the puncture and search for new tyre weren’t enough, though, a major car crisis emerged on day 7, when all sorts of horrid noises were coming from the clutch.  After a visit to a local garage and a few phone calls to the experts made by Japheth, and the prognosis was not going to be good if we continued to drive the car.  Thus it was decided that Oppong and I would take it gently to the garage at Tarkwa, whilst Roger and Japheth continued with the fieldwork without the car – but with taxis instead!

2 days in Tarkwa for two of us, then, during which a pricey car-job is undertaken. Once sorted, we head north again to meet the other two.  In the meantime, Rog and Japheth have managed to do a taxi-recce from Asenkagrua into the forest at Totua Shelterebelt, taxi to survey their chosen spot the next day, taxi on to Diaso, find accommodation, recce the farmed forest at Upper Wassaw, survey that the next morning, and taxi to and get accommodation at Bibiani.  Such a dedicated team we have that, despite the car being off the road, there’s been no break in the programme of fieldwork (and taxis much cheaper than car-hire too!) Absolutely sterling work chaps!

The final 2 mornings take in Asenanyo and Tano Offin forests in Ashanti Region.  Wood warblers are still present in all areas, but at the latter, a particularly degraded patch of forest, we get more of them inside the forest than outside.  The numbers are pretty small here though, so difficult to draw any conclusions, and the final 10km distance transect, getting pretty close now to Ghana's second city of Kumasi, finds no wood warblers at all.
A solitary Ceiba tree, occupied by a lone wood warbler

With lots of ground covered and little time to spare over the past 11 days, in 11 towns and 11 different guest houses and twice as many chop-bars, we’re looking forward to getting back to base at the study site get some data entered, count “our” birds, and get stuck into the radio-tracking once again. (oh, and wash some clothes!!!)
Prestea, and one of the nicer guest houses visited

Roger on one of the many rickety bridges crossed

Japheth, Roger & Oppong, in perhaps the smallest restaurant in Ghana!

Heading back to Pepease, we are only too aware of the change that is afoot over the next few days. Oppong, our driver, cook and companion over the last 2 seasons, is leaving us for pastures new. Soon after our arrival back at base, his good friend and replacement Derek arrives, to learn the ropes from Oppong before he departs on the 27th. Fingers crossed Derek can cook at least as well as Oppong!!

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