Friday, 12 November 2010

Wintering Isabelline wheatear

Last Saturday morning we set off on the "desert road" as the locals call it out of Ajdabiya. It goes all the way to Tobruk with only a couple of "proper" roads intersecting over its whole 400 kilometre distance. It's like a scene out of the wild west. A long straight road with the number of houses thinning out soon after leaving Ajdabiya. Its not a place where you want to break down.

Isabelline wheatear, 35 kilometres east of Ajdabiya

Once you travel about 15 kilometres inland the area the landscape is distinctly steppe for a further 30 kilometres.   It reminded me of my birding days in Azerbaijan. It clearly also reminds Isabelline wheatear (which are common summer breeders in Azerbaijan) of this too. We saw a small number,mostly standing up like soldiers in characteristic posture, near the side of the road which we stopped to investigate.

I am very confident these are wintering birds. The main passage took place in September. Also it is well-recorded that a number of Isabelline wheatear winter in similar steppe 200 kilometres directly east (towards the far end of this same desert road). There is no steppe (just desert and semi-desert) between these two places because the Jebel Akhdar hill range to the north creates a rain shadow area.

Incidentally while the easterly steppe area is on the Collins guide map for wintering Isabelline wheatear, the western area where we saw our birds is not.

black redstart, 35 kilometres east of Ajdabiya

The Isabelline wheatear do not have their wintering grounds to themselves. I saw a black redstart. Two Isabelline wheatear worked together to chase him off their turf. 

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