As promised on last Friday's blog (part one of my jungle adventure), a few more shots below from my trip to Ghana - the winter home of many of the UK's migrant birds. While researching our turtle dove feature for the April issue of Birds, it has really hit home just how many hazards our migrant birds, like this swallow, face.

Having been to the African wintering grounds, I've seen birds like wood warblers, swallows and swifts at both ends of their epic journeys. There's no doubt that looking after birds when they're in the UK, and ensuring they're able to raise young every summer, is vital but what happens on their journey south across the Sahara and subsequently on their wintering grounds is equally important. Our Malta feature in the magazine set the scene for one particularly awful hazard they face - illegal hunting - but how they cross the desert  and fly from the UK to West Africa is beyond me.

This forest scorpion was an exciting sight (Mark Ward)

"Mark, you're getting a bit close to it, Mark it's raising its tail, you're going to get stung, MARK!!!" Even potentially life-saving comments from your companions can fall on deaf ears when it comes to getting "the shot" of amazing creatures like this jungle-dwelling scorpion that I'd actually walked right over. No idea how nasty a sting from it would be; probably best if I don't know.

Now THAT is what I call an antswarm (Mark Ward)

One of the wackiest fungi I have ever seen -  a relative of the stinkhorns here in the UK (Mark Ward)

A spider that is almost as big as your face. Sorry, I should have got my head in there to give you a comparison (Mark Ward)

A bit of reportage photography from the bus - amazing egg-balancing skills from the lady in pink (Mark Ward)

Excited children greeted us at the picathartes site (Mark Ward)

Our visit to a white-necked picathartes colony helped to fund the building of a school for these incredibly smiley kinds who were deperate to get their hands on our empty water bottles! A 45 minute hike took us to the birds' cave-colony where we waited in silence for three hours. Fantastic views of four of these plasticine-like birds hopping around the rocks was one of my all-time wildlife highlights!

So that's it for the holiday snaps, but hopefully my reports from our migrant birds' wintering grounds will set the scene for our migrant-themed issue of Birds next April. we'll be giving you lots of tips of where to see migrant birds and revealing some of the mysteries of migration thanks to the work of people like the RSPB's amazing scientists..

  • I'm sure he would like to have discovered that beauty, but I don't think so!

    Mark has just sent me a reply about the wacky fungi. Enjoy! We have some amazing, and incredibly knowledgable, people working here at the RSPB. Here's what he had to say:

    "That is a stinkhorn Phallus. Our common one, Phallus impudicus, does not have the large net-like veil, but there are number of spectacular tropical species that do.  Yours is looks like Phallus indusiatus; I expect that is what it is, but I do not know whether there are similar species in Africa or how you would tell them apart. Very rarely our Common Stinkhorn has a small veil (=Phallus impudicus var. trogatus), but it is pathetic compared to indusiatus. I do not know what the purpose of the veil is, but stinkhorns usually work in the same way. They start off as an 'egg'. This bursts open and the mushroom grows out. The tip is covered in slime which contains the spores and usually has a vile smell.  Flies are attracted by the smell, land on the slime, pick up the spores, and carry them off.  So the whole thing is there to disperse the spores so the mushroom can colonise new sites.

    The phallic shape has given lots of folklore to stinkhorns. Charles Darwin's grand-daughter describes how her aunt went out gathering stinkhorns and then brought them all back and burned them in secrecy so that the maids would not see them."

  • Does Mr Gurney have any link to the Gurney's Pitta- that the RSPB has been involved with in the past?? It's an unusual surname.

  • Hi Eric.

    Yes, it's a great story with the school. Apparently the picathartes used to be hunted, but now they are treasured and carefully protected by local communities.

    It certainly is an incredibly weird looking fungi, but a beauty to find on the forest floor. I'll ask RSPB Ecologist Mark Gurney - you might have read a feature about him in a recent issue of Birds - what he has to say about it. He's an expert!

  • A superb blog. Nice that some of the money from your birding trip is really helping to make a difference locally.

    Pictures were fab and I'm sure I have seen something like that fungi before but can't put my finger on where I saw it.