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.

18 -23 February: Three is the magic number

The wind on week three has become stronger, making it more difficult to catch the birds, and we are getting up earlier with the increasing day length to make sure the first couple of net rounds are as productive as possible. Early starts are meaning early nights, and a 9.00pm bed time is becoming the norm now. Monday on the south side was quiet but had two afro-trop rarities for this ringing site –African Moustached Warbler and Greater Honeyguide plus a Garden Warbler originally ringed in Holland.

The weather this week is exceptionally hot and humid, fifteen minutes after a cold shower you feel like having another. In the shade of the plantains the group had a good day on Tuesday for migrants with ten new birds, including a new Nightingale and three retraps, and a more moderate Wednesday session with four new Reed Warblers, a Pied Flycatcher and a retrap Garden Warbler. Local birds included two retrap Common Wattle-eyes, one from October 2011 and one from earlier in our trip. The slower session allowed us to pack up the south east nets and put up the the north east nets again, speedily in time for Mark’s birthday celebrations. Vicky had planned some birthday surprises with the expert help of Eric – (now a mixologist as well as a chef) who made home-made pina-colada with fresh pineapple and coconut, mixed, of course with some rum as a present, a homemade card and traditional spice bowl and grinder. Many happy returns Mark!

Celebrating Marks birthday (Vicky Gilson)

The next day brought a new Lizard Buzzard and our success with catching migrants continued with two Pied Flycatchers, Reed Warblers and Garden Warblers.

Lizard Buzzard and Vicky (John Black)

In the afternoon amidst oppressive conditions and under mountainous clouds the south nets were taken down and placed back on the north west side as more Nightingales were singing there. With the temperature and humidity rising we were very relieved when rain fell later, albeit very briefly the clouds soon rolling away as if nothing had ever happened, and had a magic effect on the humidity so we were able to get some proper sleep for the first time in several nights. Friday was a brilliant bird day for variety with Garden, Reed, and Grasshopper Warblers, Wryneck, and a retrap of a Nightingale ringed by us in the first week here, showing it is a resident bird. African Pygmy Kingfishers and a Yellow-crowned Gonolek which had not been caught before at this site added a splash of colour to the otherwise brown/grey bird day.

Grasshopper Warbler and Wryneck (Mark Hulme)
African Pygmy Kingfishers (Vicky Gilson)

Yellow-crowned Gonolek (Mark Hulme)

Amazingly in the morning John extracted a control Reed Warbler from the north west nets, our second control, and from Holland again! Obviously on a winning streak having extracted both the controls we are hoping John will make it third time lucky for us with another.

Above Garden and European Reed Warbler controls from Holland

A Lizard Buzzard rounded off the day, when chatting at the table during a blank net round a Lizard Buzzard came hurtling from the sky, and hit the ground with a thud next to our ringing base. Concerned it had been shot at first John leapt up to see what it was, the inanimate bird suddenly got up and flew off, a lucky agama lizard scurrying into the bushes just having escaped its talons. We are learning to always expect the unexpected here! Wildlife is even following us indoors, praying mantis attracted to the light, giant wasps looking for places to nest, large and intimidating flat spiders lurking in between the gaps of the skirting boards, and recently discovered colony of termites currently eating Vicky’s bedroom door.

Following the usual raucous Nsoatre Friday night from the energetic locals (for we are now fast becoming grumpy stop-ins owing to the early mornings) a sleepy team again assembled for ringing on the north side. There was a horrible smell by the north east ride which was later discovered by John to be small mongoose that had died at some point after being caught around its arm and head in a spring loaded snare. These cruel traps are widely used throughout the local area and indiscriminately used for hunting bush meat, we have seen snakes and ground squirrels trapped in them also. We all hope that the use of these inhumane devices is stopped.

On a more positive note, our efforts were rewarded with 17 migrant birds captured, including five Nightingales. Three of these were new birds without rings, and one of the retraps was a bird that had been fitted with a tail mounted radio tag in January 2012 (the tag has long since dropped off) and to our delight the remaining retrap provided our third Geolocator recovery! This bird is suspected to have already been on passage when the device was fitted in 2012 and was carrying the most fat of any Nightingale trapped this month, indicating the journey northward is underway. We are looking forward to discovering if the data from this individual tells a different story to the two devices already recovered from Nightingales that were known to over-winter locally.

John, Vicky and Mark with two Nightingales, the one on the right is the third caught with a geolocator (Nick Aduse-Gyan)

Feathers parted to reveal the geolocator device in-situ (Mark Hulme)

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