Monday, 29 March 2010

Tarhunah's Great Man Made River

Rock face on part of the Great Man Made River, west of Tarhunah

On Friday (March 26th) I visited the Tarhunah area of Tripolitania with Ibrahim and a couple of friends, Martin and Alexandra. Tarhuni are the butt of Libyan jokes for their alleged lack of sophistication. I suspect this is because this hilly area is farming country, principally olives, and the young folk historically used to leave school early to earn a living on the farm.

I visited the area as it is one of the few places in Tripolitania which I hadn't been to. Questions such as whether the house bunting is present needed to be answered. It's not present to the east (at Wadi Kaam) but it is to the west (at Gharyan).

The most obvious feature of the area is there are olive groves, everywhere! These are not particularly good for birding. However we discovered the area does have a few birding gems mostly away from the farms. Some of the land is too rocky and/or steep for olives. Here the habitat is much more natural.

Before we climbed up the hills too far we spotted a female kestrel in a field resting and a common raven overhead.

Out first major stop once we had arrived in the hills was to investigate a rocky slope which has a wadi. Yet we saw only four species. Two were crested lark and thekla lark. A third was black wheatear. We glimpsed some other birds sulking in the shrubbery in the wadi. With a lot of patience (on a hot humid day!) we finally got a good view of the other birds. There were at least three nightingale hiding in different places up and down the wadi. Presummably they had made the Saharan crossing and were resting during the day before onward journey. This discovery showed my sighting of a nightingale in Tripoli last week was not a fluke. But these birds had less hospitable surroundings.

Our second stop was to climb a local peak (up to 430 metres). We discovered a fulvous babbler's nest in one of thorn bushes complete with family. Otherwise the climb was uneventful until Ibrahim heard a toy trumpet! Actually he had stopped to rest while the rest of us had kept climbing when a large flock of trumpeter finch just flew past him.

Trumpeter finch, hillside west of Tarhunah

This is the first time I had seen a flock. Before my record was a pair at Ain Tamdit, Jebel Nafusa.

After watching the flock for sometime we tore ourselves away and headed into Tarhunah to look for house buntings. There were none. The town birds consisted of laughing dove, pigeon, turtle dove, barn swallow, desert grey shrike, serin and spanish sparrow.

On the way back we discovered a very interesting area. We turned off the Tarhunah to Tripoli road onto the service road which follows the Great Man Made River. There is a 50 metre corridor on the surface all along the water pipeline which is left flat and undeveloped. In places the rock has been cut to produce large cliffs (see picture at the top of this blog).

Along the route of the service road we saw serin in the nearby cypress trees and a pair of tawny pipit running along the flats.

Tawny pipit along the Great Man Made River, west of Tarhunah

However it was at a cliff face along the route where we had the best birding of the day by far. On the cliff face we saw a pharoah eagle owl fly into its day time roost. There were large flocks of linnet, trumpeter finch and serin all there at the same time in the flat area below the cliff face and on the cliff.

Two linnets below a cliff face on the Great Man Made River, west of Tarhunah

The area's attraction for finches is not just related to the cliff face and the flat land below with a variety of plants and seeds. There is also a row of cypress trees nearby offering wind protection for a citrus grove and there is a small water trough too. The finches and eagle owl were not alone. We also spotted lesser kestrel flying overhead and blue rock thrush on the cliff.

This is quite a magical place which I wish we had found earlier in the day. I have made a mental note to visit more of the route of the water pipeline in other places. I have also decided its time to upgrade my camera. When I first took up bird watching I had a standard digital camera. Last year I bought a bridge camera. But on Friday its limitations were all too apparent. Small birds such as trumpeter finch which refuse to come closer tested me and the camera beyond its limits. I have resolved to buy a digital SLR as soon as I can afford it.

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