Monday, 18 January 2010

Into the desert

This blog is a desert flashback. It was late November and end of term so I took a break in Ghadames, a town in the north west Libyan sahara. It is famous for its world heritage old berber town. It is 8 hours' sensible drive from Tripoli. Most Libyans do it in 6 hours. The scenic route drives south from Tripoli onto the Jebel Nefusa hill range. Then west for ages on the plateau towards Nalut. Then south off the plateau into the desert for approximately for ever with only the odd camel, electricity pylon and mobile phone mast for extra company.

On the plateau towards Nalut you would have to have your eyes closed and wear an iPod continually NOT to see groups of brown necked ravens. We saw them.

This trip was a compromise. I wanted to bird watch with a smidgin of culture thrown in, the others wanted culture. So we didn't stop to bird watch seriously for the first 3 hours or so. We had lunch off road 12 kilometres south of Nalut. I never did get to eat my food. We weren't even meant to be bird watching but within 5 metres of the picnic blanket I saw and photographed without moving (see below) a hoopoe lark(upper left) , and a bar tailed lark(lower left) and a mourning wheatear. Wow. The moral is get lucky!

The books seem to spend a lot of sentences explaining the differences between a desert lark and bar tailed lark. But in the field its easy even to an amateur like me. The bar tailed lark behaves like a little stint on steroids. The desert lark is as cool as a cucumber. Also one likes slopes, the other likes the flat.

When we arrived in Ghadames we were based in the modern Ghadames Hotel. Its very smart in design and decor. The garden plants are attractive. Shame they planted eucalyptus round the perimeter of the gardens. They might as well have planted plastic trees for the number of birds these attract.

Here I am with friends (below left) at the hotel after a hard day's birding and "being cultural".

The locals are strangely attractive in their traditional costumes (see photograph above right). The old town is certainly attractive. All the area is fed by little water channels in the paths. These come from the springs which are the reason there is a town in the first place.

Now these water channels supply allotments (see photograph below) right next to the old town. And the allotments are great places for birds. In fact they are the greenest area for 250 kilometres in any direction.

Some allotments are maintained. Some are not. This increases the habitat types. The most obvious birds are laughing doves in the palms and white crowned wheatears (see right photograph) everywhere else. You bump into this bird every where in the Libyan desert. Among the laughing doves are a smaller number of eurasian collared doves (see left photograph). This is another bird the books say is not in Libya. It's expanding its range and has certainly reached Ghadames (though not Tripoli).

In the undergrowth at the allotments are many spanish sparrows and wintering chiffchaffs(below left). This area is worth a more serious look particularly during the passage seasons when the locals say there is a huge influx of birds.

The town has a bit of municipal pride. In a few places they have planted grass and it is well watered. These places are also popular with wintering white wagtails (above right) particularly in early morning and early evening.

Ghadames is well worth a visit. The sighting of collared doves shows just what surprises birding can bring.

1 comment:

  1. interesting post about Ghadames with Lovely Photos.
    Loves your Post and your Photos.
    Well,Photographer`s my First Interest.
    Good luck