Saturday, 6 February 2010

Crested,Thekla,Crested .... (I think)

This Friday I ventured up the Jebel Nafusa again. This time to the Yafran area.

The idea was to do a "recce" that is to say a reconnissance. I wanted to generally find out what the area has to offer. And in my dreams I wanted to find new places that have moussiers redstart and duponts lark.

OK, there were some good sightings which I write about later in this blog. However not for the first time I got side tracked for quite some time trying to work out if I had seen a particular thelka or crested lark. In the end I decided the new bird (large photo above) is a crested lark but it deceived me at first. The one which is above right is for comparison is also a more typical crested lark. I had seen this one (smaller photo above) weeks before in another part of the Jebel Nafusa.

This bird did not oblige by flying overhead so my identification was based on seeing it on the ground.

Breast streaking is a clue. If the streaking on the breast is diffuse then it is crested but often the streaking is not. It still doesn't mean you have a thekla. I tend to trust the bill shape then. If the bill looks like a recently sharpened pencil then its crested (smaller photo above), if its blunter - like the bird's bill has been used to write a few essays then (large photo above) its probably a thekla. So just as I believed it was a thekla I saw it from a different angle. The pointy punk crest changed all my ideas. It's a crested lark after all.

Back to Yafran. Yafran is in the middle of the Jebel Nafusa. It has a deserted old city (below) and roman ruins (further below). The new town is still part deserted particularly in winter. Many locals have a house in Tripoli and the family home here. In summer the slightly lower temperatures have an attraction particularly at weekends.

In the immediate Yafran locality, it seemed strange to see four brown necked ravens fly straight through the town. On the ground, the battle for town supermacy is still being won by house buntings (further below) over spanish sparrows (below) though both are present in large numbers. In fact the other most obvious bird, except in very centre of the town, is the black wheatear.

The most interesting sighting for me in this area was a Iberian Great Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis right next to the roman ruins. I didn't realise any of these migrated to North Africa. I suspect the poor weather this winter in Iberia and further north may have persuaded it to make the short trip. It's pinkish front stood out like a sore thumb. What a shame my camera was away at the time.

If you really want to see black wheatears by the tens then Bir Tamdit is the place (see below). Its just the sort of place bird holiday companies take people to "guarentee" a bird. Bir ("well" in arabic) Tamdit is a spring in the hill side at 450 metres off the old road from Tripoli via Aziziyah to Yafran.

Laughing doves and spanish sparrows are the other inhibitants of the Bir. Its probably worth a visit first thing in the morning to see if there are any birds drinking.
Watching from the top of a 20 metre high palm stump was a long legged buzzard (see two photos below) . This bird is very common all over the Jebel Nafusa.

It's worth a short stop at Bir Tamdit if only for the black wheatears. However the prize for the most interesting area for me is Wadi Khourdjet. Its unspolit (apart from 500 year old stone terracing - see below), has cool air and is relatively clean and a bonus for the birds - it is quiet. Unfortunately we visited it in the early afternoon when the birding is less likely to be rewarding.
There were plenty of larks singing on the wadi sides but I had had enough of larks that day. A sardinian warbler was heard and then seen. The strangest sight was yet another flock of greenfinches (one shown below). The locals (Ibrahim's family) say they have been common this year. The distribution maps show them on the narrow coastal strip within 5 kilometres of the sea. They are not supposed to be 80 kilometres from the coast as the crow flies (or as the raven flies since there are no crows in Libya). I shall certainly visit Wadi Khourdjet again preferrably in early morning. I know it is going to be very interesting.

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