Saturday, 25 September 2010

Arrivals and Transit in Cyrenaica

spotted flycatcher on passage, on coast just east of Benghazi, September 

On Thursday, I quietly celebrated working in Libya for one year. 

I have now seen all the birding seasons here. Autumn is in full swing. Libya is a huge net gainer at this time of year. We lose a very few summer breeders but we gain much larger numbers of wintering birds. Meanwhile many birds are "in transit" heading south through Libya on passage.  

I can't properly compare the spring and autumn passage because I was in Tripoli for spring and am now 1,000 kilometres further east for the autumn. Also, we mustn't forget that the passage isn't over yet.

I can make few general observations simply because there is limit to what you can see over 5 or 6 weekends each passage. Nevertheless this blog looks at what I have noticed about some non-water birds (you might want to look at the earlier posts "Pipits among the melons" and "migrant wheatears and more". I'll look at water birds another time.

Since returning after Ramadan, I have travelled to several coastal spots, and done some urban birding near my work and home. There is a big gap here! - I haven't visited the inland plains and hills.

One of the most obvious birds all around has been spotted flycatcher on passage. It seems to be as common here going south in autumn as it was in Tripolitania heading north in spring. The one photographed above was seen on Tamarisk bushes on the coast but I have seen them in the well watered gardens of Benghazi Hospital where I work and in the trees when I walk home.     

The hospital gardens are the only place I have seen nightingale on passage sulking in the bushes. 

Some of the best habitat I have found for many passage birds have been Tamarisk and other bushes close to the coast. They certainly act as migrant traps for non-ground loving migrants.

bushes near Ain Azziana, east of Benghazi

However I have found the very best migrant traps are bushes next to spring water close to the coast. They are few and far between but the eastern coast has several hidden away. The one below is just east of Daryanah.  These are a gold mine for migrants.

This one cost me a lot of blood as the flies and mosquitoes bit me mercilessly  (note for future - wear a long sleeved shirt).

Needless to say, there were spotted flycatcher getting fat.

bushes in water near Daryanah - the classic migrant trap

The bushes were good for phylloscopus warblers (birds I had commonly seen in Tripolitania on spring passage by the way). It was great practice at separating willow warbler, chiffchaff and wood warbler. All three were present at the same time. 

willow warbler, Daryanah (this bird has got light legs - honestly - beware of the shadow!)

Most chiffchaff stay in Libya for the winter. A very few willow warbler stay and no wood warbler.

chiffchaff, Daryanah

Which is worse, a bird which stays still and then flies off 100 metres when you get too close or a bird which never stays still in the same locality. Well all the warblers were in the later category. They gave me the run-around.

wood warbler, Daryanah

One bird I was particularly pleased to see was red-backed shrike. This is not found in Tripolitania but is a known passage bird here. Sure enough there was one among the bushes.

red-backed shrike, Daryanah

I thought my most surprising sighting was a flock of starling which appeared for a few seconds before flying off. I know they come to Libya for the winter but I hadn't expected them so soon.

starling, Daryanah

I could probably have seen much more but the bites were getting too much.I am itching just thinking about it.

One of the most surprising things is I have not seen or heard any bee-eater (seen in spring). Roller are supposed to pass this way too.  Perhaps I should try my luck further east.

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