Conserving threatened birds of Ghana
On the evening of 25th May 2008 we arrive, tired and exhausted from the long drive, at Asumura, a village in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. Suddenly, there appears from nowhere a throng of excited children who welcome us with warm smiles. They greet us with "Akwaaba, Akwaaba", meaning "Welcome! Welcome."
It's amazing to see the sky so clear and blue and the leaves so green. During my stay, the evening sky is always a delight to watch, with thousands of stars scattered across the dark sky.
On the third day we set off for the field at 7am. The journey takes between 30 to 40 minutes depending on the forest location. When we get to our location we split into two or three groups and then our hike begins - between 7km to 15km a day, tracking our way through uneven, hilly terrain with the Global Positioning System (GPS), compass, and sometimes a local guide.
The research work involves nest inspection to find out whether the nests belonging to the rare white-necked rock fowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) are active or not; we look out for signs such as fresh or old lining, the presence of eggs or cobwebs, and whether nests are dilapidated or have been renovated. The next step is ground observation, where we look out for egg shells, snail shells, faecal matter, and anything else which will indicate the presence of the bird.
We also measure rock outcrop, which comprises the total height, width and length of the rock to determine the nature of the rock that the bird selects for its nest. Other activities include vegetation measurement, where we measure the proximity of vegetation to the rock outcrop, and density of vegetation cover.
One interesting thing about the white-necked rock fowl is its selection of breeding sites. It chooses big, overhanging rocks (canopy rocks) in hilly and rough terrain, mostly with thick vegetation cover. This is to avoid predators and for protection from the elements. The bird uses mud to make its nest, using dried leaves to strengthen the foundation. It is a colourful bird which tends to hop, and does not often fly.
After the field work, we take our packed lunch of sandwiches and fruit juice and hike back to join our vehicle. Our driver, Prosper, always welcomes us back with a big smile. Back at camp, we wash down and relax for an hour. By late afternoon the tent is very warm so we grab some chairs and head for nearby cocoa farms to relax under the trees, where a warm breeze is always assured. We even enjoy a cocoa pod if we get lucky!
Later on we gather around a laptop and enter data collected from the field, then, after supper, we settle down for a debriefing session where we evaluate the day's work and share personal life stories.
There are also other activities which we undertake. Thursdays are recreational days because it is traditionally prohibited to enter the forest on such days, so we meet with the chiefs and their elders and give them an update on the project. The day is also a market day and we take the opportunity to stroll through the town to interact with the people. There is also a friendly football match with the local community, and we meet with school children in the Aboum community. Interestingly, the children are well aware of the factors contributing to the disappearance of some bird species and animals in the forest, and they mention hunting, logging and bush fires.
There is a low level of awareness of the value of the white-necked picathartes to the environment and because of this, it is important to increase community understanding of the rock fowl and support for the project. The project team is supporting the formation of community committees who will help to create awareness and serve as information contact points. Environmental clubs can also be formed in schools where the students can spearhead conservation education.
The project was two weeks of learning, fun and experiencing new things. I am grateful for the opportunity to join the project as a volunteer and to contribute my time to the research work. Conservation is really important, as I came to realise on this expedition, and I urge organisations and corporate institutions to support conservation efforts in a sustainable way.
Catherine Avorseh from Newmont Ghana joined Conserving Threatened Birds of Ghana in May 2008.