Friday 31 December 2010

highlights of 2010 part 2

On the last day of 2010, this is the second blog looking at the some of the highlights of 2010.  Yesterday we looked at the first half of the year.  I chose 12 photos. I aimed to do the same for today's blog but I really couldn't do it! There are 13 because each tells a unique story.

My first picture shows a yellow wagtail taken in mid July at Jardinah. I believe this is the first time a yellow wagtail has ever been recorded in summer in Libya. It was on a path in a waterlogged alfalfa field on the government farm. These highly watered farms produce wet conditions in summer which have more in common with more northern countries and have thrown up some very special species at different times of the year.  I visited Jardinah farm several times in the summer.

summer yellow wagtail

The second bird I have chosen is a female maghreb wheatear. This bird is resdient in the far north west of the country near the Tunisan border and also as a small community in the Jebel Akhdar near Derna a 1,000 kilometres further east. The pictured bird was at Wadi Al Khalji near Derna.  I had photographed a male from the western population earlier in the year.

female maghreb wheatear

The desert loving white crowned wheatear remained elusive to me in north east Libya (its much more easily reached from Tripoli than Benghazi) until I travelled to Jaghboub Oasis in late November.  I don't believe the bird is anywhere within 7 hours drive (and Libyans can drive a long way in that time) of Benghazi.

white crowned wheatear, Lake Melfa, Jaghboub

I am indebted to other birders and friends in Libya who have contributed news and pictures to the blog in the second half of the year. I have chosen this one shot from Les Edwards in Sirt to represent anyone!  Its a picture of a pharaoh eagle owl. Other possibilities included  Essam Bourass' short toed eagle near Tocra and Sam Dewhurst's house bunting at Ghat. Both those were proof of a bird's presence in an area the guidebooks miss.

Pharaoh eagle owl, Sirt by Les Edwards

The autumn passage brought plenty of material. I have chosen a red-breasted flycatcher snapped near Sultan as the representative of true passage birds. Once again the guide books don't show it in Libya and this is why it gave me so much satisfaction. 

red breasted flycatcher, Sultan

Libya probably has as many birds in winter as in the passage weeks - its just the summer when numbers are lower. There are tens of species I could choice from  - pretty birds like flamingo, waders like common snipe, rarer birds like dotterel  but I have gone for this flock of curlew. I am trying to tell people as best I can to come to Libya to look for slender- billed curlew. We have so many isolated coastal wetlands and the more isolated the more curlew I see.

flock of curlew near Tocra

There is a big group of birds which are known to mostly winter south of the Sahara but some of which winter in Libya. I could have chosen from four different sandpipers for example but in the end a bluethroat picture is my representative. The one below was taken at Jaghboub Oasis but there are plenty which winter on the coast too.

bluethroat, Jaghboub

As I have said in the write-up for the red breasted flycatcher there were plenty of birds I saw this year which aren't in Libya at all according to the bird guidebooks. The best example is probably the  black-crowned night heron. Unlike red breasted flycatcher I'm not sure whether it is just a passage bird or whether the bird over-winters. I have seen it at two different places several hundred kilometres apart. The record below is of a flock of 30 juveniles seen at Wadi Al Khaliji east of Derna.

black crowned night heron, Wadi Al Khalji

There were another but similar category of birds - those which people thought wintered south of the Sahara but some of which I found winter in Libya. The best example is these isabelline wheatear wintering in the steppe habitat east of Ajdabiya.

wintering isabelline wheatear

The list of birds formerly thought to winter just north of the Sahara got longer following my visit in early December to Jalu Oasis. This area has benefitted in recent years from improved private sector water pump systems and public sector water from the man made river project. There is a massive government farm in the desert. These farms produce "green oases".

Two birds now known to winter in Libya (and not go on south of the Sahara) are sub-alpine warbler - plenty seen at Jalu and northern wheatear seen at the government project in a field of wheat.

sub alpine warbler wintering at Jalu

One of the most dramatic moments of the year was when I saw four common crane in a field of alfalfa on the government farm in the middle of the Sahara - at least 1,000 kilometres from its nearest place on the bird guidebook maps. 

common crane on farm near Jalu Oasis

Finally I must write about two other blogging events in the year. First I posted about a mystery heron which produced the highest volume traffic of the year as people came to identify it. Its a shame the bird was probably a stained grey heron. Below is a flock taken last week in Benghazi which looks like it contained the recovering bird.

flock of grey heron at Al Thama, Benghazi

I cant finish without mentioning my non-Libyan birding. I have posted about my trips to Morocco (early in the year) and to Senegal, Jordan and Bulgaria in the second half. Highlights here included a kurdish wheatear at Wadi, Dana Jordan. However the statistics tell me the most interesting find was the land birds at Technopole, Dakar, Senegal. Perhaps its the picture of the rare river prinia which has the most attraction. Here it is. 

river prinia, Dakar, Senegal, August

Next year will almost certainly be more exciting still. More home grown Libyan  birding will take place. There will also be more people will visiting Libya for research and birding - some of them with me. I am sure many more secrets will be unlocked.

Looking forward to a Happy birding New Year for all of us.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Highlights of 2010 - part one

For the next two days I'm reviewing the highlights of my blog since it first appeared in January 2010. Today I look at the first half of the year.  It's been hard making choices and some  exciting birds and moments haven't make the cut. For example it was a wrench not making room for fulvous babbler, a common place bird in Tripolitania but seemingly exotic to many European and American birders.

Today's review is more or less chronological (tomorrow's isn't!).

In my earliest blogs, I published one or two events from late 2009. One such event was a trip to Ghadames which is an Oasis and world heritage centre near both the Algerian and Tunisian borders.

Just south of Nalut we had a picnic en route to Ghadames. It was here I saw my first ever bar-tailed lark, hoopoe lark and maghreb wheatear all within 5 metres of the picnic blanket.  I chose the picture of the maghreb wheatear to represent all this below.

maghreb wheatear, near Nalut, November 2009

In Ghadames were some wintering warblers but my favourite find was collared dove. This bird is very rare in Libya and is possibly slowly colonising from Tunisia in a few places. I have only seen it in one other place since.

collared dove, Ghadames, November 2009

Another early post was not based on my information at all but from a trip by an ex-colleague Jon Bradbeer. He toured the four corners of Libya in December 2009 and although not a birder took a few photos for me. 

Among the places he visited was the remote Uweinat on the border with Egypt and Sudan. He brought back records of both white crowned wheatear which is arguably the hardiest bird in the Sahara.  However what excited me was his record of desert wheatear which despite its name is nowhere near as hardy.
As desert wheatear is there then they must surely be a longer list of species than some had imagined (see my tab on the home page on Uweinat).

desert wheatear, Uweinat, Dec 2009 by Jon Bradbeer

In February British Birders Paul and Diane Bowden visited. There is a trip report as one of the blogs. Plenty of species including two lifers for me - cream coloured courser and moussier's redstart. The latter bird was seen in two different locations tens of kilometres apart. It is clearly more than a scarce winter visitor that had been supposed. By the way I have seen cream coloured courser several times since.

moussiers redstart by Paul Bowden near wadi kaam

Even during Paul and Diane's visit the passage had started (mostly northern wheatear and isabelline wheatear). Soon after it was in earnest.

Below is a selection of passage birds seen mostly in the Tripoli area.

bee-eater, Janzour

Some bee-eater stay for the summer especially near Garabolli but most are on passage. I usually hear them before I see them and its a wonderful sound.

In March and April I often walked along the new (and unfinished railway line in Janzour, Tripoli). each day brought different passage birds. One day a cat flushed two nightingale but another passage bird bravely stood up to it. The cat ran away. It was a great reed warbler. Without the cat I would never have noticed it.

great reed warbler, Janzour

I noticed that nightingales stay three or four weeks before moving on. The one below could be found under the same bush as often as not for three weeks running. Eventually they move on and the morning sounds are worse for it.

I read a website  last week where someone had reported that nightingale in Morocco also similarly stall their migration. 

nightingale in Janzour, March and April

The passage brought many wagtails and pipits but my favourite in spring was red throated pipit. There are plenty to be seen then. A few are supposed to winter in northern Libya but for once I think this maybe over (not under) reporting. I have only seen them in winter at Jaghboub Oasis well south of the coast but I'm still looking.

red throated pipit, Janzour

Another interesting passage bird (not necessarily just passage as I now know - see December's blog) which incidentally crosses northern Libya on a broad front is sub-alpine warbler. The one below was seen in spring between Yefren and Tripoli. 

sub alpine warbler north of  Yefren on the plain

In late May I moved to Benghazi and left summer birding near Tripoli behind but not before i had seen my first rufous tailed bush robin (not pictured).

There are more permenant wetlands on this side of Libya at one near Garyounis, Benghazi I saw a sedge warbler. I still don't know whether this was a late passage bird or a summer resident. it is one of over 45 species that books like Collins don't report in Libya at all so you have to draw your own conclusions. 

sedge warbler, Garyounis near Benghazi

In June I started visiting Jardinah (about 60 kilometres south east of Benghazi). It has a huge government farm project producing farmland in otherwise semi-desert with the help of copious water and urea (fertiliser). It is the mostly northerly of these projects which are so rich in bird life.

On my first visit I saw over 50 white stork - no bad for a bird which isn't even on the Collin's guide map in Libya. This farm and other government projects produced many surprises during the year. I predict they will continue to do so.

white stork (and pallid swift) at Jardinah

In June I explored the Al Thama water complex in Benghazi and came up on breeding colonies of black winged stiltkentish plover and little tern. Many more birds breed in Libya than any guide books say. Trust me.

little tern at Al Thama

Tomorrow we look at the second half of the year that is just finishing.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

A wild goose chase in Bulgaria

Today it was minus 2C on my field trip in northern Bulgaria. Suddenly I began to miss my regular birding in Libya.

I had agreed to join my friend Dimeter Georgiev at 5.30 am to help count geese for the BSPB (Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds) at his watch point.

It was foggy and very cold. As a reward for the early morning count, afterwards he took me a few kilometres north to where the main group of wintering white fronted geese and red-breasted geese were eating. 

red-breasted geese and white-fronted geese eating near Shabla, Bulgaria

At its most dense there were about 750 red-breasted goose and 8,000 white fronted goose in one field. We took great care not to disturb them so all viewing was at long distance and my camera was taken to its limits. I was not very happy that most of the red-breasted geese were at the back of the group on the ground.

the geese disturbed by a white tailed eagle

At one stage (just after we arrived) the birds were frightened by a white tailed eagle in the area but they later settled down.

In fact I was amazed how many birds of prey were around. The most common bird was the common buzzard - as usual in a Bulgarian winter. Its local breeding numbers are hugely swollen by northern birds in winter.  Another very common bird of prey is kestrel.

In the early morning watch for geese we came across a roost for common buzzard from which over 70 birds had come!

kestrel (left) and common buzzard(right) photographed today

However we also saw long legged buzzard and even saker falcon. The latter bird was only seen by me as it disappeared across the horizon. It would be a "lifer" if I decide to count it on the basis of Dimiter's ID. I am wrestling with my conscience.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

A winter's walk near home

Occasionally I blog about countries other than Libya. These are when I'm away from Libya. Even then, I ration these to no more than two or three a week during those times.

Well, I'm at home in Bulgaria and of course I have been doing some bird watching. So here is a blog about a country walk from my village to the next which I took on December 26th. 

It has been relatively warm this winter in Bulgaria compared with normal and its in ironic contrast to the harsh conditions in western Europe.

part of a flock of goldfinch, north of Varna

It was plus 10C but there was a small amount of snow left in places. The birds were busy feeding as this warm spell was clearly a lull not the permanent winter situation!

There were two types of mobile flock I saw on the walk. The first was the predictable Spanish sparrow.  The second was a more exciting (and large) flock of goldfinch.

friends Jonathan English and Joseph Stec inspecting the snow

There were flying from tree to tree along the avenue of trees linking the two villages.

more of that goldfinch flock

They were not the only finches about. I saw a couple (and not a flock) of chaffinch. They look quite different from the ones in Libya (which has sub species africana) although a few European chaffinch appear in winter.

chaffinch north of Varna

There were two birds of prey easily seen in the fields near the road. There were common buzzard and hen harrier. There appear to be less common buzzard this winter than last but I suspect a colder spell further north could easily push more into the area.

common buzzard on a telephone wire

I hadn't seen a buzzard or a harrier balance on a telephone wire before. The one above is a common buzzard. I am not an expert on two birds which rarely come to Libya (though they both do) so my identification came after it flew off. This brown bird had no white ring tail unlike a hen harrier I had seen minutes earlier in the opposite field.

greater spotted woodpecker

Bird ID is always more difficult outside your main patch. To my shame I don't know the locality round my home that well yet. By comparison,  I know the jizz of most birds in Libya very well and can recognise a strange one.

There are no woodpeckers in Libya so the one above was not instantly identified by me. Back in the warmth of my home I now know it is definitely a greater spotted woodpecker (I had to make sure it wasnt a syrian woodpecker). In Bulgaria if I understand it correctly syrian woodpecker is usually a bird of settlements but this was open country. Syrian was always my second choice because of this but the sight of the black straps reaching the back of the neck confirmed my guess. 

great grey shrike

In summer I had seen many lesser grey shrike around my village. Yet in winter it is obvious great grey shrike arrive from the north. One is pictured above. I know this species well in Libya although the sub species  different. It did feel a bit like meeting an old friend though.

Tomorrow I am going in search of red breasted geese and the weather forecast says it will be much colder than the walk just described. 

Monday 27 December 2010

Green sandpiper at Al Marj

The last of three places I re-visited last Wednesday (my last stop before I left Libya for my Christmas break)  was the run-off stream from Al Marj. Unlike the other two it has been a month a two since I last went there.

There are two birds I saw last time which i really wanted to record by photograph but which evaded me last time. These were moorhen and green sandpiper.

I was pretty sure the moorhen is resident and that a green sandpiper or two would be still around simply because it their apparently favoured habitat of smelly slowly flowing water (sic).

green sandpiper, Al Marj

Both birds were still present but the moorhen was again too fast even though he got tangled up for a moment in an acacia bush. I was really, really pleased to finally spot a green sandpiper before it spotted me. I am beginning to understand the habits of this bird which always makes spotting easier. 

One new bird I saw this time was grey wagtail among the more abundant white wagtail.  Grey wagtail like flowing water and there is not that much in Libya so it was hardly surprising they gravitated to this place.

the run-off stream (or open sewer meets natural ground water!) at Al Marj 

This area is classic territory for cattle egret particularly because at one point there is a rubbish tip too. 

some of the cattle egret at Al Marj run -off stream

I was a little surprised to see one little egret among the cattle egret. This bird is more fussy about its environment.

little egret, Al Marj

On previous occasions at this site I have seen hoopoe. I can confirm I saw it once again and its fairly obvious that it is resident  here. Hoopoe in Libya are usually associated with wet or watered ground such as a farm or watered lawns or (in this case) near a run off stream. The reason is probably because these areas produce more worms and grubs than the more normal sandy ground elsewhere.

Sunday 26 December 2010

More news from Sirt

Les Edwards has sent me some more pictures of birds in the Sirt area. I am very grateful to all those who contribute to this blog and Les is proving how much can be done.

Here are four pictures Les took on December 20th and December 21st.

kentish plover

Les tells me that the best place to find birds is on the local farms. His observation is mirrored by me in all the drier parts of the country. In fact birding is often easier in the drier places because you know exactly where to go!

little owl

I am amazed how widespread in Libya that little owl is. It almost looks camouflaged. 

desert grey shrike

Les' picture proves that the grey shrike in Sirt is desert grey shrike algeriensis. This a great picture to see how much white there is in the wing.

crested lark

No gallery of Libyan birds would be complete without a crested lark.

I am always looking for contributions to the blog. if you have a story and pictures I'll happily post them. I want this to become a communal blog celebrating Libyan birds from all quarters.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas to all my readers

Wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers.

I don't have a picture of a turkey so this one of a chukar taken in Jordan on holiday will have to do!

By the way I am not advising people to eat partridges ;-)

chukar, Wadi Dana, Jordan

Blogs will continue throughout the holiday period so please don't go away!

I have extended my work contract in Libya until mid 2012 so next year I will blog on more places and birds in Libya as normal. I expect to have a very big trip report in March when a friend and real expert birder (unlike me) comes over. 

As you know I like to visit a couple of other countries each year for birding holidays.  I hope to visit Kurdistan in May and am still undecided about where to visit in August but it will be somewhere I can travel to easily from Libya and doesn't give me visa hassle. Any ideas?

Finally, a special thanks to people from the following countries which were the top ten in order of visits to my website (and if your country isn't there - there is always next year)

United Kingdom          
United States   

Kind regards
Birding Rob at home in Bulgaria

Friday 24 December 2010

More surprises at Deryanah

Wednesday was a day of returns to places I have visited before. I went to Deryanah only five days after my first visit. I felt lucky. 

My first observation was the water levels were lower. Remember the west part used to take the town's dirty water until two weeks ago when new pipes re-directed it. 

My second thought was there were almost no ducks. Well I can explain that one later.

There were still plenty of dunlin. Sometimes seeing many of them is useful because they can act as some kind of marker which you can evaluate other birds from. What I mean is that if you see other birds you can measure their size and look relative to a dunlin. This was possible on Wednesday. In the middle of a dunlin group was one slightly bigger bird with a longer, thinner and straighter bill than them. it was also taller. It was a marsh sandpiper.

marsh sandpiper

Like the other sandpipers, this one can be found in Libya in winter although most birds go south of the Sahara. Its not on the guidebook maps as a winterer here so once again you have to trust your own judgement. I was happy because it was my first picture of a wintering marsh sandpiper which is a less common winterer in north east Libya than green, wood or common.

long legs noticeable

Above is a picture of the same bird at the edge of the water. Note its long legs.


Some of the dunlin are shown above.

If you read this week's blog on Deryanah you might remember that I said that it had become apparent to me that in Libya common snipe are very common and that they seem to be in loose flocks.  

One of the reasons to come back to Deryanah was to record this. I think I succeeded. See below, there are four common snipe right next to another wader. 

four snipe and a wader

I confess when I took the photo I only saw two snipe, can you imagine my surprise when I got home and looked on the computer and found there were four.

another common snipe

In fact Deryanah is crawling with common snipe. Here is another one near where the dunlin were feeding.

I want ot return to my first observation that there were very few duck compared with all my recent visits. In fact all I saw was one ferruginous duck.

ferruginous duck

The reason is that illegal hunters are trying to shoot them. This is very disappointing. I took photos of their decoys.  I would be very upset if I thought this blog was being used by them to identify places to hunt.

duck decoys planted by illegal hunters

If I find any evidence this blog is being used then I will stop naming the location of any ducks. 

Finally I want to tell you I photographed the bluethroat I saw earlier in the week. They are much more confiding than their cousin the robin.


I have tried to impress through this blog how easy it is to see bluethroat in Libya in winter despite its non-appearance on the guidebook maps.