Thursday, 3 February 2011

Short eared owl in Libya

You may re-call I saw and photographed a short-eared owl at Garyounis, South Benghazi in early November.

This is one of only two records of the bird in northern Libya in recent years. The other was by the UN wetlands winter count team near Shahat (also in Cyrenaica) four years ago.

Well I have just read an interesting paper given to me by Jens Herring over the New Year which helps us understand a lot more about this bird in Libya.  

short eared owl at Garyounis, early November (my photograph)

The paper is called Zum Vorkommen der Sumpfohreule Asio flammeus in Libyen (Occurence of the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus in Libya) by Stefan Brehme, Jens Hering and Elmar Fuchs. It is in Vogelwelt 130:189-194 (2009)

The paper tells us that there are several old records of sighting of the bird all along the northern coast including near Tripoli and Sirt. All sightings have been in winter. I think its safe to infer it is an uncommon or rare winter visitor almost anywhere along the northern coast. There is no evidence yet of any summer residency.

Short eared owl near Makusa project centre by Jens Hering

However it's the papers information on short eared owl in the south of the country which I found most interesting.

The historical records are once again all between October and April. Short eared owl is one of the most widespread birds in the world but only in the Caribbean and north east South America is it found to breed outside the temperate zone so its no surprise that all southern records so far have been outside summer. The records in southern Libya are thinly spread across the Oases such as Ghat, Brak, Kufra and Jalo.

short eared owl at day time roost 5 km south of Maknusa centre by Jens Hering

The really exciting information is the clusters of birds Jens Hering and his co-workers found near two government farm projects (and also at Waw el Kebir Oasis). 

Day time roost for short eared owl at Wadi Berdjuj project by Jens Hering

He found between 3 and 8 birds in late March at different roosts near two government farm projects. These were at Wadi Berdjuj and Wadi Maknusa in the south west of the country - in the middle of the Sahara.

Day time roost for short eared owl 5km south of Makusa project by Jens Hering

There are several articles on this blog where I have tried to stress the importance of the string of Libyan government farms in the desert and their profound effects on migration (eg change of routes, increased survival rates) and wintering birds.

The presence of so many short-eared owl near two of them is another example of how they attract new migrants, winterers and residents.

Has the birding world really woken up to the impact of these projects yet?


  1. Some of these big farming projects in desert regions are going to have a big impact on local bird populations. I recently visited one of the biggest farms in Sudan (Alwaha, which I wrote up on my blog I was amazed at the bird life present, which outnumbered what I had been seeing along the Nile. prior to this I had been assuming that the edges of the Nile would be the where all the birds are, but clearly modern advances in farming are going to open up lots of new habitats in the region. Of course there is a cost to this, as the original habitats are being lost. However, in most cases the lost habitat would have carried very few birds and these are generally widespread and common habitats. One bird I saw at Alwaha was a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle, which is listed by Birdlife as Vulnerable. This appears to be an extension to the known range, so these new habitats may turn out to be important for some important species.
    Areas such as these farms in Libya warrant further study.


  2. Has that last picture been photoshopped? That can't possibly be in Libya.. there is no trash anywhere!

  3. ^^^ lol, funny and sad at the same time.

  4. Tom, I agree with every word you say about new farms in desert areas. The birding is the best! I know of a couple scientific papers which are in production which are quite remarkable and should wake very one up!


    Good to hear from you. I understand what you say about rubbish. However this picture is genuine! There is no rubbish because the place is a long long way from human habitation.


  5. Oh Rob.... Libya is such a beautiful place when you get away from the people... :)

    We're having a ton of rain here in Tripoli - the wildflowers are starting to bloom. I'd love for you to come this spring and do a feature of the bird life on my farm and in the nearby area.