Thursday, 7 October 2010

Finches and friends near Ras Al Hilal

Last Saturday was the second day of our trip east out of Benghazi. We stayed the night at Ras Al Hilal before visiting the city of Derna and near-by Wadi Derna with its waterfall. Then it was the long haul back to Benghazi making a cultural stop at Apollonia to see the ruins.

This blog is about this trip but concentrating on the resident birds since the migrants were reported in my last blog. 

On last Saturday morning I got up very early and walked around Ras Al Hilal before many people were awake.

waterfall, Wadi Derna

It was immediately apparent that the area with its cypress woodlands was thronging with chaffinch (ssp fringilla coelebs africana). I did see one nominate chaffinch too. This must be a wintering bird from Europe.

Chaffinch, Ras Al Hilal

The area is rich in finches all round. The second finch I saw was goldfinch. They were nowhere near as plentiful as chaffinch but nevertheless quite common.

goldfinch, Ras Al Hilal

And to round off my sightings of finches I came across a larger flock of linnet on the wires very close to the coast. I hadn't realised before how melodious a flock of linnet can sound particularly in the silence of the early morning.

linnet, Ras Al Hilal

Once again I didn't see any serin. I have yet to see a serin in Cyrenaica. If it is a breeder in Cyrenaica it must be in a very limited geography. I await the next few weeks to know how many winter.

linnets, Ras Al Hilal

The lack of serin is in stark contrast to Tripolitania where they are widespread and common all year round.  Ironically guide books which normally under-report birds in Cyrenaica show the bird as a fairly widespread resident.

sardinian warbler, Ras Al Hilal

I was really pleased to photograph a sardinian warbler which is another resident here. They are easy to photograph in spring when the male acts brave and sits on top of bushes. But after breeding, they become shy.  

crested lark, Ras Al Hilal

Once again crested lark were in evidence. I cannot get away from this bird. 

After breakfast at Ras Al Hilal we moved on to Derna which has a certain charm and up Wadi Derna (see the top of the blog for a picture of its main waterfall).   

Italian sparrow, Wadi Derna

Wadi Derna held a few secrets. First, the sparrows are Italian sparrow rather than house sparrow. I had only seen Italian sparrow in urban Tripoli before. I can only speculate on why there is a population here? They are certainly a house sparrow/spanish sparrow hybrid but the chocolate head and dusky rather than white cheeks mark them out as different from the "classic" Italian sparrow ?

The second secret of Wadi Derna is that it is home to moorhen.  They are documented breeders in some of the southern oasis towns. I also saw them with Paul Bowden in February (and he photographed them at Wadi Kaam near Tripoli). However, Collins guide does not show them in Libya at all. This is more under-reporting to give headaches to guide writers.

The third secret is that there are kingfisher there too. I assume these are wintering birds but this observation is some 100 kilometres further east than I have seen them before suggesting a wide distribution in winter.

amphitheatre at Apollonia

In the afternoon we had to make the long trip back to Benghazi. We broke the journey with a look round Apollonia which was the ancient Greek and Roman port supporting the larger city of Cyrene.

chaffinch at Apollonia

The herds of goats within the complex had eaten almost all the vegetation so unlike Sabratha and Leptis Magna in Tripolitania the bird watching prospects were poor!  There have been some stunning observations by culture tourists at these other places.

little egrets on an island off Apollonia

Nevertheless,I saw one chaffinch which I snapped and one grey heron standing on the top of some ruins. Out to sea on a same island were yet more little egret which are very common up and down the coast at present. Will they move on south or stay the winter? Time will tell.

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