Friday 29 January 2010

Kufra and the deep south

Photo courtesy of J.Bradbeer, Uweinat December 2009

Just how do you know when you are in the Sahara desert? Scientists tell you that it is the area where the rainfall is less than 100mm per annum. I propose a different, more practical, way of knowing. And it works in Libya. ...... It's where you find white crowned wheatears. If you see them you are in a desert area. If you don't see them you're not. It's that simple (well very nearly).

So I see distribution maps showing white crowned wheatears all over the Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian desert but the same maps put big blanks in large areas of Libyan desert. I have no idea why. But I can assure you they there in every wadi, town, village and oasis (or at least everywhere I or my friends have visited).

The photo at the top is a white crowned wheatear at Uweinat in the deep south east corner of the country. It was taken (like all of them in this blog) by a friend, Jon, who travelled into the far south east of Libya last month. Not many birds have been photographed down there. In fact I cannot find any records never mind photographs.

The "base" for anyone travelling in south east Libya is usually Kufra. Kufra is best described as one of the driest places on the planet two or three hundred kilometres from anywhere else.

Until last year, the only references to birds I had ever found for the settlement at Kufra is that there are resident little grebes at the waterholes. Well we can now add white crowned wheatears which were observed by Jon and also kestrels (see below left) and laughing doves (see below right).

Photos courtesy of J. Bradbeer. Kufra settlement. December 2009

Pioneering work by Jens Hering and other German co-workers showed that the Libyan government's greening the desert projects are producing some major effects for birds. These projects have planted dozens of green circles of citrus groves, palm plantations and fodder fields deep in the desert. The biggest scheme is just south of Kufra. They saw dozens of White Storks in Winter and very late Spring. There also saw kestrels. Kestrels were seen again by Jon (look closely at the photo below of a crop circle).

Photograph courtesy of J. Bradbeer. South of Kufra. December 2009

What ever you think of the environmental impact of these projects it is certain the birds are gaining at present. Several places where the effective rainfall is 1000mm per annum in the desert has got to be a plus for them on migration. Or in the case of storks they can decide why migrate any further. Let's stay here.

There were other birds there too. Can any one tell me what the silhouette is?

Photograph courtesy of J. Bradbeer. South of Kufra. December 2009

Jon travelled towards the corner of Libya which has both Sudan and Egypt as near neighbours. Uweinat is a highland area with a wadi. Don't forget the white crowned wheatear at the top of the blog came from here.

The wadi at Uweinat

Photograph courtesy of J. Bradbeer. Uweinat. December 2009

Not to be outdone by their cousins, desert wheatears were also fairly common. Below is one standing like a soldier and another one (two small photos at the bottom) in the same tree as the white crowned wheatear. I really wish I had been there with Jon!

Photograph courtesy of J. Bradbeer. Uweinat. December 2009

Photographs courtesy of J. Bradbeer. Uweinat. December 2009

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