Greetings from Oklahoma!

Hi everyone.

I would like to share with you some of the absolutely amazing experiences I have had this previous week while attending the AOU/COS meeting 2015 at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Although the venue attracted fewer participants than last year’s meeting in the Rockies, the campus here in Oklahoma has its own beauty. Red brick buildings in green surroundings delineate the campus, which has been nominated as being one of the prettiest campuses in the United States. Furthermore, the University hosts two impressive museums, the Fred Jones Art Gallery and the Sam Noble Natural History Museum, not to mention a giant Stadium and the National Weather Center, which serves as the primary information hub on severe weather events occurring throughout the States.


University of Oklahoma – the ‘humble’ Stadium

The AOUCOS2015 proved to be a successful meeting. The whole thing was kicked off with a two-day special workshop on how to analyze geolocator data. Led by Nat Seavy and Eli Bridge, the exclusive group of around 25 people including myself, was introduced to the R-package Geolight as well as some brand new Bayesian approaches to deal with geolocator data. Simeon Lisovski presented the SGAT (pronounced: ‘TAGS backwards’) package and Eldar Rakhimberdiev presented his new package FlightR. Both packages are characterized by their abilities to include prior knowledge of the species’ ecology to inform the movement model, thus enabling us to make the most of our data to assess migration stopovers and routes. Furthermore, they provide the opportunity to incorporate uncertainty metrics of the location estimates. I am convinced that these packages will become important tools for future geolocator studies.

Besides the interesting workshop on geolocators, AOUCOS2015 also provided an exciting scientific program from a migration perspective. Two daylong symposia were devoted to migration studies, many of the talks included new insight from radar studies. I especially noticed a focus on combining different approaches with results from radar studies, such as automated acoustic monitoring of night flight calls, radio telemetry and ground surveys. These combinations may help us in identifying migrant songbird species, understanding reverse migration patterns and stopover duration.

Some other interesting highlights from the meeting:

  • Henry Streby gave an entertaining talk on the highly debated paper from Current Biology on tornadic storm avoidance by Golden-winged Warblers. Apparently, they have deployed 450 geolocators this breeding season on Golden-winged Warblers from several populations across the breeding range.
  • David Winkler has used geolocators to confirm that a recently developed Argentinian breeding population of barn swallows (breeding at the southern edge of the former wintering area since the 1980s) now exhibit short-distance northward migration behavior as other southern-hemisphere migrants.
  • Henning Heldbjerg gave a nice talk on how the decline of starlings in western parts of Europe might be related to changes in agricultural practices (e.g. loss of grazers). He has used the Pinpoint tags from Biotrack with great success.
  • E-bird data, the Breeding Bird Survey and the value of citizen science in general received a lot of attention at the meeting. Among others, there was an interesting approach to combine e-bird data and stable isotopes to estimate migratory connectivity in conspicuous species such as Rails.

The meeting was packed with social activities including a trip to Oklahoma City to watch the roosting behavior of the local colony of an estimated 125,000 Purple Martins. A truly impressive sight!


Purple Martin colony about to settle for the night in just two trees in Oklahoma City

The meeting also included a keynote talk by the famous journalist and author David Quammen on ‘Ebola and other scary viruses in a globalized world’, as well as a sneak preview screening of the new documentary by Su Rynard ‘The Messenger’. The film gives an honest picture of how we as scientists do research on birds across the globe while addressing the major challenges faced by migratory songbirds worldwide. I was truly impressed by this film and it was fun to see many familiar faces on the screen.

Finally, I ended the meeting with a field excursion to the nearby Wichita Mountains. Here we got to see many cool bird species such as the Painted Bunting, Black-capped Vireo, Downy Woodpecker, Blue-chinned Hummingbird and the Red-tailed Hawk. In addition, we had the opportunity to get extremely close to a herd of Bison. I will leave you with these two pictures which should give an impression of the fantastic time that I have had in Oklahoma.


Bisons grazing around the Wichita Mountains (which are actually not mountains but hills)


The famous Bird Jam and Poetry Slam event where meeting delegates show their creative skills


PhD project on seasonal interactions in migratory songbirds

I am excited to announce that I have just started my PhD project on seasonal interactions in migratory songbirds at the BML. Supervised by Anders Tøttrup and Kasper Thorup, I will investigate how small migratory songbirds respond to the variation in habitat conditions that they encounter throughout the annual cycle. Furthermore, I will explore the spatio-temporal migration patterns of different populations within the same migration system and across species in different migration systems. To address these issues, I will use data retrieved from direct tracking tools such as geolocators and radio transmitters as well as satellite based vegetation indices.

I did my MSc degree here as part of the BML, studying the link between non-breeding ground conditions and breeding success in a population of red-backed shrikes breeding in Denmark. Results from this study suggest that conditions in Africa affect the timing of migration and potentially even carry over to affect breeding success. I am looking forward to extend this study to include several populations and species.

I have previous experience in working with geolocators, mainly from the study on red-backed shrikes and manual radio tracking of songbirds in West Africa. Furthermore, I have worked with stable isotopes as an indicator of local habitat conditions and the application of this tool in determining migratory connectivity.

I am currently preparing to leave for fieldwork in South Africa. The focus of this fieldtrip will be on finding suitable sites in the non-breeding range to study red-backed shrikes and spotted flycatchers. More news and pictures on this exciting excursion will follow when I return.

Best regards

Lykke Pedersen



New PhD studen Katherine Snell: Physiology of orientation of migrant passerines

The focus of my research here is investigating physiological regulatory mechanisms of long-range migration and orientation in small passerines. I will be using tracking technologies to determine movements for free ranging birds during seasonal migration episodes and the interrelationship with key regulators of activity, body composition, development of sensory organs related to navigation and seasonality.  My previous research has included tracking equipment to understand life history events in birds and seals, investigating metabolic processes governing functional energy portioning, appetite and activity and I have worked in remote locations from Antarctica to Greenland.

kat bbo

International Users Conference on Argos Wildlife Applications, November 18 – 20, 2014, Baltimore, USA

BML also attended this conference where representatives of many corporations (*) working within the Argos system as Collecte Localisation Satellite (CLS), a key subsidiary of Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  gathered together with many Argos users to catch up with cutting-edge research under development or recently published. Also getting to know in person the different members of the system and their users, who are both usually behind the on line interface, was a good motivation for attendance.

The conference was opened by Bill Woodward, Vice President of Environmental monitoring CLS America followed by Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES, giving a historical view of the Argos system that started in 1978 when the first satellite for wildlife, pollution, climate change, fisheries and forecast studies was launched.

The National Aquarium, where the venue took place, is located at  Baltimore harbour (center of the picture)

The venue took place in Baltimore National Aquarium located at the harbour

Special attention was centred on satellite tracking studies of marine fauna – but also terrestrial – and environmental patterns to understand habitat use, migration ecology and distribution, in some cases projected to future global change and always with a conservation perspective.

Barbara Block from Hopkins Marine Station and Stanford showed that up-to-date biologging technology contributes to understand the ecology and physiology of tunas, sharks and billfishes. They used tracking data to map preferred habitats with climate and oil spill layers. They suggested that population segregation is maintained in Atlantic bluefin tuna, supported by DNA and tracking analysis that gave evidence of breeding site fidelity. After mapping the distributions, the legal protection of spawning areas was achieved.

Bernd Meyburg from World Working Group of Birds of Prey gave an overview on the satellite tracking of amur falcon (Falco amurensis) and hobby (Falco subbuteo). Amur falcons perform the longest raptor migration, a 5 days non-stop spring migration from S Africa to E Asia across the Indic Ocean instead of migrating, as previously thought, over the Arabian Peninsula. Possible reasons for this route are linked to the monsoon season. While waiting for the fall migration data they believe that these tiny falcons take a more southern route back to the winter ground.

Main finding of the amur falcon satellite tracking

Main finding of the amur falcon satellite tracking

Most striking data on the hobby migration centre on the spring migration since they fly over W Africa. They are currently studying the factors related to this extensive migration loop northwards.

Hobby fitted with a PTT

Female hobby fitted with a PTT

David H. Johnson from University of Idaho and Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit explained that long term banding, light-level and satellite tracking studies are used for understanding the ecology of burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) in west US. This particular owl, who ‘borrows’ abandoned burrows for breeding, is partially migrant. A proportion of adult males winters few hundred kilometers north of their breeding sites. They suggest that, despite habitat lost, prey availability in these northern areas is higher compared to the more distant traditional wintering areas in southwest US.

Burrowing owl fitted with a lifted satellite tag

Burrowing owl fitted with a lifted satellite tag to avoid feathers on  solar panel

Nylon-coated stainless steel cable destroid by burrowing owl

Nylon-coated stainless steel cable destroyed by burrowing owl. After this experiment, they changed to teflon as harness material

Dave Douglas at the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center focused on bird satellite tracking for conservation of key areas showing that red-throated (Gavia stellata) and yellow-billed loons (Gavia adamsii) share winter areas that are split into two: one in Asia and another in western US. In Alaska, red-throated loons breed in N and W areas but yellow-billed breed only in a more northern site.

Meenakshi Nagendran from United States Fish and Wildlife Service showed satellite tracks of red-breasted geese (Branta rufficollis) from wintering areas in Bulgaria and stated that hunting presure is an important threat since the species is hunted in protected areas. Mixed flocks with white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) contribute to this conservation problem.

Red-breasted Geese migration routes

Red-breasted geese migration routes

Finally, important improvements in satellite positioning will be available next year for Argos users. Rémy Lopez from CLS France showed that these changes are focused on the error minimization of the satellite messages.

Rémy Lopez and team from CLS had an important participation in the conference presenting two talks and posters

Rémy Lopez and team from CLS had an important participation in the conference presenting two talks and posters

Marta representing BML in the conference with Rémy Lopez

Rémy Lopez with Marta L. Vega on behalf of BML


(*) Argos environmental studies started more than 30 years ago from the cooperation between CNES, NOAA and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Later on it was joined with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and now with European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment (EUMETSAT) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

ICARUS Russia Scientific Kick-off

IMAGE_283WIN_20141121_084350IMAGE_268WIN_20141121_151333IMAGE_294 Currently attending the ICARUS Russia Scientific Kick-off meeting at the Russian Academy of Sciencies in Moscow, where Russian scientists present the various projects selected to run using ICARUS in the ICARUS Russia contest. Kasper is member of the ICARUS Executive Board that evaluated the projects.

ICARUS launch is scheduled for early 2016. The system should be operational shortly after, starting with a 5-g GPS tag which hopefully will be decreasing in size considerably.

Among the exciting projects were studies on tiger prey movements (boars), wader migration routes and orientation, saiga antelope movement, navigation in songbirds and disease spread by gerbils,

A few comments/ideas: (a) at Rybachy they catch 10-20 common cuckoos of which more than half are juveniles, (b) White’s thrush is the largest long-distance migrating songbird.

IMAGE_298 IMAGE_292 IMG_6258


The Faroese Bird Migration Atlas

Our Faroese Bird Migration Atlas is now officially released. The event was celebrated at a reception in Tórshavn on Oct 9 where a full lecture hall containing almost 100 people attended the presentation. At this time of the year, the islands are almost devoid of birds but we finished off duly with a yellow-browed warbler in the city cemetery.

Færø-atlas-præsentationThe atlas provides status for ringing at the Faroes 1912-2009 with accounts of 90 species based on 100.000 ringings and 5.100 recoveries. In all, the result of a unique collaboration among scientists, volunteers and the public, made possible by a generous grant from Aage V Jensen Naturfond!

First author, Sjurdur Hammer, presented the Atlas and Kasper Thorup talked about the perspectives of ringing and bird conservation research in the Faroes.

A few insights gained from the Atlas work:

  1. Faroese storm petrels and arctic terns explore southern African waters in winter, 10-11,000 kilometers each way
  2. Puffins hatched in the Faroes largely return to their natal hatching site to breed with only limited exchange among colonies
  3. Fulmars foraging in Faroese waters apparently return to specific waters year after year
  4. Several species stay close to the Faroe Islands all year round, including shag, eider, common snipe, black guillemot, rock dove, wren, raven, house sparrow and probably starling.
  5. Many Faroese guillemots migrate northeast to the Norwegian coast in autumn to winter with some continuing further south in the North Sea and Skagerrak
  6. Assessment of origins of the seabirds in Faroese waters so that the effects of oil spills can be better assessed
  7. Faroese kittiwakes travel to waters off Greenland and Newfoundland outside the breeding season and those staying in Faroese waters in winter include birds from breeding colonies in Britain, Norway, Russia, Iceland and Canada
  8. Turnstones visiting the Faroes during migration include breeders from northeastern Canada
  9. Willow warblers visiting the Faroes in autumn are far off course but can get back on track on their migration to Africa – two bird ringed in the Faroes were found a few days later in Shetland and Sussex, England
  10. The great tit is a vagrant to the Faroes; it may come from as far away as Denmark, 1,250 km from the Faroe Islands
  11. Robin migration in the Faroes peak in late April in the spring and in late October the autumn


After the presentation of the Atlas we went to Svinø and Fuglø to scout for potential places for working with migrants. A few impressions from this:

The migrant trap at Svinø from the plateau at 450 m. Fuglø is behind the hill
The migrant trap at Svinø from the plateau at 450 m. Fuglø is behind the hill







The Svinø migrant trap from the chopter
The Svinø migrant trap from the chopter



The natural juniper plateau on Svinø looking west

The natural juniper plateau on Svinø looking west

AOU/COS/SOC meeting 2014, Estes Park, CO


Hi folks,


Morning view from the lodge

An update from the joint AOU/COS/SOC meeting in Estes Park, Colorado. Main points in order of importance 🙂


View from the meeting hall

Absolutely amazing setting! Surrounded by scenic Rocky Mountain peaks, elk and deer in the compound area and nice birds around (and yes Franklin’s gull). Good walking (but miss skating!)Many good friends including during a nice bird band jam sampling plenty of local beer. Greetings from Emily and Jess by the way!

American yellow-billed cuckoo migration researchers were happy to collaborate, they had already gotten geolocators back and had now deployed pinpoint GPS! Discussed setting-up of a rarity tracking study there similar to the one on the Faroes. Also well suited for physiological studies; maybe sabbatical!?

BML cuckoo poster with very little text

BML cuckoo poster with very little text

My poster has an absolutely minimal amount of text; those interested got a personal introduction.

The scientific program included 2 hours of speed talks by early carrier scientists; four minutes forty seconds presentations with automatic advancing slides, so no extension possible; the best session so far, super enthusiastic presenters and very engaging!

AY Badyaev presented a thought provoking plenary, discussing how early non-avian acquisitions constrain the evolution of birds…

Lots of high quality presentations with migration well represented. Many talks focused on primary productivity as driver of migration patterns. eBird data was used many times to infer phenology, etc.

Main take-home message from AOU (R Diehl): we will soon have complete knowledge so that we don’t need to understand what the birds are doing to predict; instead we will know in real-time what they are doing, analogous to meteorology and weather forecasting!

Some highlights:

  • Impressive work on Avian flu from Asia/China. Migratory birds are both victims and vectors of Avian Influenza, In East Asia, outbreaks not correlated with occurrence of migratory birds (but poultry); In Central Asia, they are (Choi CY)
  • Shorebirds assess habitat quality at the landscape scale; fewer birds stop over in bad years but fly further north (Gillespie CR)
  • Capture-mark-recapture studies can know deal with changes in state of residents and transients (Ruiz-Gutierrez V). Also, be careful with including trends in survival estimates (they are confounded by recovery probability and remember to mark many adults when you want to estimate juvenile survival (Arnold TW)
  • Many studies dealing with migration ecology: food deprivation causes later departure, no extension of home-ranges but increased fat deposition traded off against lower muscle mass (Cooper NW), shorter-distance migrants had higher winter mortality but lower migration mortality than longer-distance migrants(Olsen BJ), Floaters affect survival in territorial individuals negatively (Peele AM)
  • Migration and genes: no correlation with candidate genes, ADCYAP1 and CLOCK in painted buntings (Contina AJ), gene expression/RNA-sequencing in Swainson’s thrush more promising (Johnston RA)
  • Mosquito spatio-temporal dynamics are complex and almost unstudied! (Sehgal RN)
  • Coffee plantations in Kenya: Insectivores are missing both in shade and sun farms. However, insects in general are missing in contrast to the Neotropics. They use exotic shade trees in Africa again in contrast to the Neotropics (Milligan M).
  • E Cohen presented a metric on migratory connectivity. Probably useful in the future!
  • Long sea-crossings can be identified in geolocator data from lack of feather covering (Heckscher CM)
  • Moult detour in painted buntings can be modelled based on EVI and EVI change (Bridge E)




















Sound impressions:





26th International Ornithological Congress, Tokyo, August 18 – 25, 2014

The bird migration lab attended, this year in Japan, the oldest and most popular congress for ornithologists, the IOC, founded in 1884 in Vienna.

Research institutions from many different countries were represented by enthusiastic senior and young scientists who shared their work in plenary talks, symposia, round tables, and poster sessions. Participation was absolutely astonishing with more than a thousand scientific talks and posters presented and organized in 5 parallel sessions every day. Biogeography and paleontology, evolution and behavioral adaptations, life history, physiology, inmunoecology, social communication, community ecology, reproductive behavior, avian brood parasitism, invasive species, dispersal, migration, bird-human interactions, global change, and conservation were among the main big themes included in the symposia.

The active participation of our lab in the IOC was stricking. Anders P. Tøttrup and Knud A. Jønsson organized a symposium on avian dispersal and implications for speciation, comunity build-up, and migration where Kasper Thorup, Ran Nathan, Knud A. Jønsson, and Flavio Monti presentated their work.

Anders P. Tøttrup and Knud A. Jønsson organized a symposium on dispersal where Kasper Thorup, Ran Nathan, Knud A. Jønsson, and Flavio Monti gave a speech.

Anders P. Tøttrup presenting the symposium on avian dispersal

Ran Nathan gave a talk on dispersal movements in vultures and bats using telemetry

Ran Nathan gave a talk on dispersal using telemetry

Kasper Thorup gave a talk on the response of trans-equatorial migrants to seasonal variation on regional resources across continents

Kasper Thorup showed how migrants follow seasonal changes in resources across continents

Knud A. Jønsson gave on overview on how the knowledge we have nowadays help to understand the dynamics of dispersal and migration

Knud A. Jønsson gave on overview on how the tools available nowadays help to understand the dynamics of dispersal and migration

Other talks given by members of BML and CMEC were on migration and displacements of common cuckoo followed with satellite telemetry by Mikkel Willemoes; how population-specific variation in spatio-temporal migration patterns influence dispersal in migrants by Anders P. Tøttrup, and richness patterns in New World passerine species with latitude by Jon D. Kennedy.


Other interesting symposium was chaired by Bart Kampenaers from Max Planck Institute of Ornithology about the effect of artificial light in bird behavior and ecology.

Bart Kampenaers presented the symposium on artificial light effect on birds

Bart Kampenaers presented the symposium on artificial light effect on birds

The BML also attended the round table on monitoring of landbirds in eastern Asia and presented the Migrant Landbird Study Group (MLSG). Our purpose in this round table was to promote the MLSG and involve researchers from Asia into this platform for knowledge sharing. We also distributed informative flyers on the MLSG.

One of the aims of the round table on monitoring of landbirds in eastern Asia was to develop standarized methods into the bird monitoring programs

One of the aims of the round table on monitoring of landbirds in eastern Asia was to develop standarized methods for bird monitoring programs

Along the IOC four rooms were used to exhibit posters on research about the themes of the symposia. CMEC and BML were represented once more with two posters on the migration programme in common cuckoo and the wintering area of the red-backed shrike.

Marta L. Vega presented part of her PhD project on the innate component of migration by using satellite telemetry

Marta L. Vega presented the first tracks of young cuckoos followed with satellite telemetry

Lykke Pedersen preseted her work on the red-backed shrike wintering area by using  light level loggers and isotopes in feathers

Lykke Pedersen showed the red-backed shrike wintering area using light-level loggers and isotopes in feather samples

Finally, I would say goodbye for now with some very interesting birds seen during this fantastic trip.


Tufted puffin, Fratercula cirrhata

Blakiston's fish owl, Bubo blakistoni

Blakiston’s fish owl, Bubo blakistoni

Bluethroat field work in Sierra de Béjar, west Spain – Spring 2014

This time we went to Sierra de Béjar mountains for a study on the wintering area of the bluethroat Luscinia svecica with the use of light-level loggers. The area, at ca. 2000 m.a.s.l., constitutes one important breeding site for the subspecies azuricollis. There are ten subspecies that breed across different places in Eurasia and winter in Africa, Mediterranean basin, and probably in the Indian subcontinent. With the use of light-level loggers we aim to describe the spatio-temporal distribution of the Spanish bluethroat population and point out where they winter.

Bluethroat male

Bluethroat male

Bluethroat female

Bluethroat female

The use of light-level loggers requires the recapture of the tagged individuals in subsequent seasons to get the data recorded from the loggers. Therefore, it is useful to previously study the returning rates of the population breeding in specific sites. Since we already have insight of relatively high returning rates of bluethroats breeding in Sierra de Béjar area from 2009, we chose this as study site. Future plans are to come back next breeding seasons to recapture the tagged birds. With the devices back in the lab, we will calculate the positions where the birds were and ultimately delineate their annual range.

Bluethroat fitted with light-level logger

Bluethroat fitted with light-level logger

Bluethroat fitted with light-level logger

Bluethroat fitted with light-level logger

This research is a collaborative project between the University of Copenhagen and Aranzadi Society, Spain. The field work was organized at the outset of the breeding season (May 1st – 3rd) with three members of the group. We worked in two nearby field sites in the area where the bluethroat activity was moderate. We captured fifteen males and four females, fitting with loggers only the males since we believe that they may have higher returning rates. Two of the males were recaptures ringed in 2012 which were good news.

Bluethroat breeding site at ca. 1900 m.a.s.l.

Bluethroat breeding site 1 at ca. 1900 m.a.s.l.

Bluethroat breeding site at ca. 2000 m.a.s.l.

Bluethroat breeding site 2 at ca. 2000 m.a.s.l.

Old bluethroat nest embeded in Cytisus oromediterraneus shrub

Old bluethroat nest embeded in Cytisus oromediterraneus shrub

The main capturing method was with mesh traps baited with mealworms. Some mist nets were also set. Playback was used for attracting the birds at both traps and nets. Between 9 and 12 mesh traps were constantly set along the day changing locations every 20-30 minutes.

Bluethroat caught in trap

Bluethroat caught in trap

Two traps set on site

Two traps set on site

Elements for catching bluethroat: trap, playback, and mealworm, camouflaged with shrub sticks

Elements for catching bluethroat: trap, playback, and mealworm, camouflaged with shrub sticks

Setting more traps at bluethroat display site

Setting more traps in bluethroat display site. Skiing resort at the background.

Mist nets set at breeding site 1

Mist nets set at breeding site 1 in the center of the picture.

The highest breeding site in the area (1990 m.a.s.l.), which is considered the optimal site in terms of density of bluethroat breeding pairs, is next to a skiing resort.

The bluethroat breeding habitat in Sierra de Béjar is composed mainly by Cytisus oromediterraneus which develops dense shrubby patches up to 1 meter height.

The bluethroat breeding habitat in Sierra de Béjar is composed mainly by Cytisus oromediterraneus which develops dense shrubby patches up to 1 meter height.

Other birds seen in the area were water pipit Anthus spinoletta, common whitethroat Sylvia communis, northern wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, ortolan bunting Emberiza hortulana, stonechat Saxicola torquata, dunnock Prunela modularis, skylark Alauda arvensis, common raven Corvus corax, and blackbird Turdus merula. Among the raptors, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, short-toed eagle Circaetus Gallicus, booted eagle Aquila pennata, black kite Milvus migrans, and common kestrel Falco tinnunculus were spotted over the site.

Ortolan bunting

Ortolan bunting

Common whitethroat

Common whitethroat

Returned from field work in Sierra Leone

We took off from Denmark the 20th of January and arrived at Lungi airport in the evening. The airport is located on the other side of an estuary and we had to sail to reach Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Arriving at the lively city in complete darkness was quite a surprise; only one road in the city center has street lights.

Morning view over Freetown

Morning view over Freetown

The first day we spent mainly on meetings with Sama Monde head of Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and Kate Garnett Director of Forestry and Head of the their Conservation and Wildlife Management Unit. Momoh Bai-Sesay from CSSL was going to join us the first ten days in the field. Together with him we took off in the afternoon to Makeni, halfway to Outamba-Kilimi National Park (OKNP) where we were going to set up the project. After a stop in Makeni to discuss the project with Alhaji Siaka the Conservation Site Manager of OKNP we continued to Outamba by the extreme dirt roads of the North and had to cross the Mongo River by raft before reaching our goal.

Getting on the pram to cross the Mongo River

Getting on the pram to cross the Mongo River

To choose our sites we had used counts of Willow warblers and yellow wagtails from RSPB’s Esmerald starling project from the year before so we did not expect to find many willow warblers in Outamba, which is a lush area. However, we were more optimistic about Kilimi, a dry savanna forest quite similar to areas where we had previously carried out studies of willow warblers in Ghana. We searched the next day from morning until evening and only spotted six willow warblers. We therefore decided to move on to Kilimi on the following day.

Kasper Thorup and Troels Eske Ortvad waiting for the rest of the team to cross the river in canoes

Kasper Thorup and Troels Eske Ortvad in Outamba waiting for the rest of the team to cross the river in canoes

The expectations were high and Senegal Eremomelas, which often co-occur with willow warblers, were abundant in the area. We searched inside and around the national park. However, despite our effort and the fact that we went to the exact same points that RSPB had spotted them in the year before in late February we only found one during the first days. We had to realize that the focus on both open land and forest species was not possible. Yellow wagtails were abundant in an open area inside the National Park.

Openland inside Kilimi National Park where yellow wagtails was really abundant

Openland site inside Kilimi National Park where yellow wagtails were abundant

To be able to determine an effect of human impact on habitat quality we had to find an area outside the National Park as well. Fortunately, we found a place nearby on some community land affected by slash and burn activities, cattle grazing and low intensity farming.


In this part of the country the cattle are owned by the nomadic Fullah people

During the following days we caught 14 yellow wagtails, 7 whinchats and a tree pipit and tagged them with radio transmitters. We tracked the birds from morning until evening for the next 3 weeks. The temperatures were pleasant compared to what we had been used to in Ghana; the mornings were chilly and at midday it was around thirty degrees. It also seemed that especially the yellow wagtails were active throughout the day. The yellow wagtails were using a much larger area than the whinchats and at dawn they flew off to a roosting site.

One of the yellow wagtails caught inside the National Park

We had observed them flying off in a westerly direction and we went to an open area west of our study site to search for them. When we went, there was not a single yellow wagtail within sight. However, after having searched through the whole area we heard a signal from one of our birds and within the next few minutes we had birds flying over from both sites continuing further west towards Guinea.

Lykke Pedersen are teaching Sheka Bangura, assistant site manager of Kilimi National Park to radio track

Lykke Pedersen are teaching Sheka Bangura, assistant site manager of Kilimi National Park, to radio track

When we come back next year we will strive to find the roosting site to reveal if yellow wagtails from several sites roost at the same place and how this site may differ from the sites where they are active during the day. Much more is waiting to be revealed! So far we have brought home a lot of data that is just waiting to be analyzed.