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.

3rd-5th February: Welcome back to Ghana

A new expedition for the BTO nightingale out of Africa project. This year the experienced team, Dr Mark Hulme BTO research ecologist (Ghana 2010 and 2011), Vicky Gilson and John Black BTO volunteer bird ringers (Ghana 2012), Nick Aduse-Gyan an intern from Ghana Wildlife Society (Ghana 2011, and 2012), and Eric Cudjoe our chef and driver (Ghana 2010) have a new goal: Return to Nsoatre study site and retrap as many of the 12 Nightingales that were fitted with geolocators by the team in 2012 as possible.

The first couple of days after having arriving in Ghana involved preparing for the field, picking up essential supplies, organising permits and acclimatising to the heat and new surroundings. Following the mostly hassle-free acquisition of the research permit and picking up the ringing kit held at Ghana Wildlife Society offices, the group drove to Nsoatre, stopping en route for such culinary delights as red red beans with plantain, the sometimes feared by those with delicate tummies-okra stew with banku, and picking up delicious plantain crisps from the toll station sellers who crowd the queuing cars making it hard to resist these tasty treats. Whilst not distracted by food the group spotted a few birds as the car headed north west of Accra towards Ivory Coast: Shikra, Laughing Dove, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Hooded Vulture, Senegal Coucal, Common Fiscal, Pied Crow, Palm Swift, Yellow-billed Kite, Woodland Kingfisher and also of enjoyed a lot of very large Straw Coloured Fruit Bats putting on an aerobatic display for us during daylight in Accra.

Once arrived the team decided on a plan to catch the 12 Nightingales. It is hoped they are all resident overwintering birds, which return each year to the same spot, and remain in that area until spring migration, however, it is also possible that they were caught when they were just passage migrants passing through on their way to other areas, in which case the chance of catching those Nightingales would be slim as the routes may change, and their stay at Nsoatre may only be brief. The team has decided to target the north west and south west sides of the Ivory Coast road first to target eight Nightingales that had geolocators put on them at those areas last year in the hope that they are creatures of habit.

By Vicky Gilson  

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