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.

6th- 7th: A flying start

First few days in the field at Nsoatre for the group have gone well. After the excellent breakfasts setting the group up for the day courtesy of Eric, our cook and driver (five star culinary inventions cooked over a basic 2 hob gas bottle stove and a do-it yourself barbecue), the group have been preparing the ringing sites and putting up the mist nets on the north side and south sides of the Ivory Coast road to maximise the possibility of retrapping the Nightingales with geolocators.

As before the group are prioritising Palearctic migrants, taking biometrics, moult, age, feather, faecal and blood samples. The Palearctic are being colour ringed with light plastic rings of various colour combinations to increase resighting opportunities in the field. The Afro-tropical species are being ringed if possible and biometrics taken provided there is time, the data collected providing information on many species which have been seldom studied before.

Before ringing at the south side a few logistical matters became apparent when the nets could not be erected there due to lack of anchor points such as trees and vegetation to tie the net guys to. A quick raid of the hotels grounds for carpark edging blocks solved the problem, allowing a clear passage past the nets.

The last few days’ ringing efforts have resulted in Palearctics: Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Willow Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, and Whinchat. The most unexpected capture was Grasshopper Warbler, which is a species not thought to over-winter in this part of Ghana but was also recorded by the team in 2012.

Two new Nightingales and two retraps from previously years were also caught, one much to our astonishment and delight complete with a geolocator! Amazingly this Nightingale was originally ringed by Mark on 21/03/2011, retrapped by John 09/02/2012 when the geolocator was fitted, then finally processed by Vicky on the 07/02/13. The tiny device should be able to improve our knowledge of Nightingale migratory behaviour and identify the summer breeding grounds of this individual. The device was removed from the bird and the data will be retrieved on return to UK. There are eleven more geolocators out there so the group will continue to target the birds at Nsoatre throughout February.

Nightingale retrapped with geolocator

The Geolocator

Other interesting retraps on the 7th included: another Nightingale, originally ringed 31st October 2011, retrapped 17th November 2011, a Reed Warbler originally ringed on the 31st January 2012 and retrapped 23rd February 2012, a Great Reed Warbler from 23rd February 2012 and finally a Melodious Warbler from 18th January 2012.

Some Afro-tropical species also captured included Grey-backed Cameroptera, Red-faced Cisticola, Yellow- white Eye, Senegal Coucal, a variety of sunbirds including Splendid, Collared, Olive-bellied, Olive and Copper. The team celebrated with a few beers watching the Ghana v Bukina Faso match, the occasional power cuts adding to the suspense, a few shocking penalties lost Ghana the match but the Nightingale geolocator ensured the team went to bed feeling happy.

By Vicky Gilson

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