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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.