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.

27 - 28 February: Last ringing session

The last ringing session for the group in Nsoatre. It was with sadness and trepidation that we arrived at the ringing site to check how the nets had fared (furled) in the storm. Despite the gale force winds everything was fine (all credit to the ringing kit!) making the last session a pleasant one.

We had our last Nightingale of the trip, four Reed Warblers and a Melodious Warbler. The final bird ringed was a fetching African Pygmy Kingfisher. The trip total for Palearctic migrants were as follows: 28 Nightingales, including three geolocators recovered and three other retraps from previous years, 48 Reed warblers, including one Dutch-ringed bird and four retraps from previous years, 49 Garden Warblers, including one Dutch-ringed bird and five retraps from previous years, 9 Melodious Warblers, 9 Whinchats, 8 Pied Flycatchers, 5 Grasshopper Warblers, 5 Willow Warblers, 4 Great Reed Warblers, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Wryneck and 1 Red-necked Nightjar, 168 migrants ringed in total.

Nightingale number 28 (Vicky Gilson)

After packing up the kit, we rushed back to pack more stuff at the guesthouse and were on the road in record time. A few hours down the road we were smugly sitting in the car watching Ghana fly past the window when the taxi we were following started to emit a foul burning smell. After overtaking, however, the smell continued and it became it clear as it got worse it was our car. Eric sensibly pulled over after there was a clatter when part of the car became detached. Under-bonnet investigations revealed a broken idler pulley and shredded fan belt. Three hours later after a spell amongst a whole village of mechanics we continued our journey a little oilier and hungrier than before. We finally arrived in time for a much needed dinner with the RSPB team, and met Derek, RSPB’s new driver and chef.

The following morning before heading to the airport to return home, gluttons for punishment, we had an early start to try to catch a glimpse of Standard-winged Nightjar. The bird failed to show although Long-tailed Nightjars were very evident, but the group had a pleasant ringing session nonetheless in a much changed Alice’s Triangle, the remnant rain forest we visited last year changed to a more open area dominated by cassava and plantain cultivation.

Thanks to the RSPB team Chris O, Roger, Japheth and Derek for their hospitality and good company! After some exchange of equipment the BTO team then headed off to the airport back to the UK. The team helped to achieve the objectives of the trip in retrieving Nightingale geolocators, the data held within them to be analysed back at BTO HQ to reveal the secrets of the Nightingales’ Journeys across Africa to their European breeding grounds, and hopefully their movements during the winter as well. The ringing project, through retraps and the analysis of samples, will help provide yet more information on Palearctic bird distributions in Ghana, and their movements from the country, as one Garden Warbler did, captured several times over-wintering in Ghana then recaught in the breeding season in the UK in Kent and then this year Ghana again within metres of its original capture location.

It is hoped funding can be found to support the next few years of the BTO side of the project which has so far provided much information on migrant birds in Africa, and which is helping to inform their conservation.

The hard-working BTO and RSPB teams Chris, Nick, John, Mark, Eric, Roger and Japheth (Vicky Gilson)

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