Saturday, 23 January 2010

Far out at Farwa

Last Friday, I visited Farwa. Farwa is in the far north west corner of Libya on the border with Tunisia. It's special. The island offers a very big lagoon with 90% protection from the sea. The lagoon is never deeper than one metre and its very,very big. It doesn't get polluted because it is connected to the sea at two narrow points north and south of the island. Curlews, spoonbill and a very large variety of other waders love it in winter. Whatever the height of their legs there is a space for a wading bird at Farwa.

But that isn't all. Inland and south of Farwa is a saltpan called Boukamesh. In winter this can be enormous (it goes into Tunisia) when full. And when it has water, hundreds of Flamingo move down from Jerba to their preferred winter holiday resort. Beware though, if it hasn't rained heavily the saltpan will be empty. Sadly it was virtually totally so on Friday! However as slight compensation two flamingos were seen at Farwa lagoon (see photo at the top).

That still isn't all. As well as a lagoon, island, and sporadically flooded saltpan, there is prime coastal garrigue and some maquis. In fact with the sand flats next to the saltpan the majority of the habitats of Libya are present in one place.

Twice now when we have visited Farwa we have not been able to avoid the temptation to stop at the Zuwarah- Al Mantoub saltpan which is en route. It can be seen from the main road. As we drove passed we saw that there were the usual large number of gulls. We reversed immediately. Closer inspection shown although a majority were Black Backed Gulls and Lesser Black Headed there were a few YellowLegged and Mediterranean Gulls. The prize sighting were three Caspian Terns among them. Below left you can see Martin and Ibrahim working out how to get a decent photograph of them. We got a bit of a hazy one in the end (see right below). The Caspian Tern is the one with the red bill.

These Caspian Terns could easily be the laziest ones in the world. The most southerly breeding colony is at Farwa. If these are from there they have flown 30 kilometres this winter. Most of their cousins fly from the Baltic or Caspian to the sub Sahara. This is roughly 100 times as far!

When we finally arrived at Farwa we chose to go to the salt pan first. To our collective embarrassment we were fooled by a mirage (honestly) to think there was plenty of water in it. We detoured to the south bank of it to get better light only to find the saltpan was nearly empty. Not only the saltpan has been affected by the abnormally very warm and dry winter. Even the almond trees are in blossom 6 weeks early.

Obviously a local farmer thought they would be more birds near the salt pan then we found. See his scarecrow below. But has nobody told him there are no crows in Libya?

As already mentioned the Farwa area is not short of birding options. You can lose on the saltpan swing and win on the lagoon and heathland roundabouts. We won on both roundabouts.

The heathland between the saltpan and the coast varies between almost desert (near the saltpan) though semi-desert to garrigue and even a few trees all in the space of 5 miles. We saw a desert wheatear, a flock of babblers (see one below left) and a Sardinian Warbler (the blurred picture below left) and many singular Stonechats (see the rather nice right photo ).

My favourite sighting in this area though was a mixed flock of local Goldfinches with immigrant Greenfinches (see below).

The Greenfinches scared more easily than the goldfinches. When I approached too close the flock separated by species! The Greenfinches flew straight to a tree which conveniently had few leaves.

On finally leaving the hinterland we had far too little time left for the coastal lagoon. On the fields next to it was a Kestral at rest (below left). But the lagoon did not disappoint. There were Spoonbill shifting the waters, dozens of Curlew in the water, and many other types of waders. See Turnstones and friends busily eating (below right).

And finally there is a blow up of the first photo of this blog showing the flamingos so large you might just be able to recognise them rather than take my word for it.


  1. i love your photos ,Nice To meet you.

  2. Thank you Hb.

    Actually my camera is not that brilliant but I try my best.

    Because of your comment and of others I am using larger photographs from now on.

    The latest blog on Kufra has larger photos. However they are not mine but from a friend!

  3. Dear Rob
    Its nice to start such blog, I am a birdwatcher to but now in the UK for PhD.
    I have just returned from Libya where we finished the 6th midwinter census of water birds, my friend Hichem wrote to you about it.
    Anyway good start, keep it and it will develop well soon

    A. HAMZA

  4. Abdulmaula,

    Actually we have spoken before. Your name is the ABC contact. I wrote to you when I first arrived in Libya. And you told me that you were at Hull. I have read the last winter survey on the internet. Its a fantastic resource. I hope we can meet up the next time you are back