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.

8th-10th February: Quiet on the migrant front

In the swing of it now the team is operating smoothly, so four extra nets have been put up to try to catch the Nightingales down the ‘old road’ site which runs parallel to the ‘new’ Ivory Coast road. The last few days’ ringing has been windy making the nets more visible and therefore the catch has dropped off, plus the birds may now realise the nets are there.

The occasional blank net round has still been interesting, however, an acrobatic skink climbing the tree above the ringing table providing entertainment as did a long line of very large and aggressive black ants, which paraded through the table legs to raid a termites nest just beyond, and then returning back triumphantly again.

Saturday was very busy with many villagers out tending to their crops beyond the net rides, motorbikes, and bicycles occasionally passed, fortunately bypassing the nets.

Unfortunately very few migrants have been captured however Palearctics have included: Melodious Warbler, one Nightingale and Whinchat. Afro-trops have included: Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Common Wattle-eye, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Marsh Tchagra, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Shikra, Yellowbill, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Black necked, Vieillot’s Black, and Village Weavers and two species which have yet to have their tentative identification confirmed. One of these resembled a Great Reed Warbler but was nowhere near as massive, its size intermediate between reed and great reed. Based on plumage characteristics and process of elimination using available information on wing formula for similar species it was identified, and later confirmed by those in-the-know, as Greater Swamp Warbler.

Greater Swamp Warbler

A francolin was also caught, though not ringed due to the spur on the leg which may cause the bird discomfort if ringed, and it was confirmed as a juvenile Double Spurred Francolin. The team had the afternoon off on Sunday, catching the final between Bukina Faso and the eventually victorious Nigeria, which pleased Mark who did his PhD in Nigeria.

By Vicky Gilson

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