Sunday 14 March 2010

The plain

Camels 40 kilometres inland from Zuwia

A naive view of the landscape of Tripolitania is that it is Mediterranean in character as far south as the Jebel Nafusa hills. And that south of the Nafusa is the Sahara. Actually the Mediterranean strip is only 20-30 kilometres wide. Inland from the strip is drier and much of it is flat semi desert well before you reach the hills. The hills are only 60 kilometres directly south from Tripoli but they are 120 kilometres south of the sea further west nearer theTunisian border. So the drier plain which is north of the hills is wedge shaped. On Friday March 12th We birded the thin end of the wedge! - only 50 kilomtres south west of Tripoli.

Ibrahim, Maria who is a friend from work and I had lucky weather. It was often cloudy. The plains can be hot even in March but not last Friday. Our first stop was in an area which was not semi desert. Sometimes the land can be greener in a small area probably because there is underground water or it's in a wadi. The area where we made our first stop was a little greener and had acacia and tamarisk bushes. There were some surprises here. The main bird population were migrants. There were tens of northern wheatears (see second set of pictures below - left). There was also one isabelline wheatear among the migrants. The second most common bird were sub- alpine warblers (see below for two shots of the same bird in a tamarisk). The wheatears were mostly on the ground and the warblers were always in the bushes.

sub alpine warbler in tamarisk

The local birds were mostly crested and thekla larks but amongst them was at least one tawny pipit (see below right). Its longer legs, lack of crest, longer tail, plain grey/brown back immediately separated it from the other birds near it. Thanks to Moshe who posted to my blog that it was a tawny pipit and not a female hoopoe lark as I had orginally posted. In my defence they are confusable and one is much more common here than the other. Please see the entry on hoopoe larks in the new Collins guide for a comparison! There was also a mobile flock of lesser short toed larks. Why doesn't this lark stay still?

northern wheatear(left) tawny pipit(right)

There was also a family or two of fulvous babblers in the bushes. A small number of desert grey shrike were also present.

Then we moved on it was to an area of more typical semi desert. Again the dominant lark was crested. One hoopoe lark was heard calling for about 15 minutes among the other voices. Then suddenly out of the blue it performed its courting flight right in front of Maria and I even though we hadn't seen the bird on the ground. It rose up about 4 metres with its black and white wings outspread. Seconds later it seemed to have nose dived back to earth. We still couldn't find it on the ground. Where even there was any concentration of bushes in this area (by a wadi - for example) there were more fulvous babblers. One bush held a sole willow warbler too.

A babbler on look out duty (left) and a desert wheatear (right)

A wall in the neighbourhood provided accommodation for nesting spanish sparrows and the next wall had a desert wheatear who seemed totally unafraid of us. We also saw one black wheatear during the day. The black wheatear isn't really a bird of the plains in Libya though a few venture down during the cooler part of the year. This is contrary once again to the distribution maps in recent guides which suggest it is resident!

You have to be patient when you bird the plains. The density of birds isnt high and they all seem to look like the earth they are standing on! We were very fortunate to come across cream coloured courser on four occasions and I don't believe it was the same group each time!

A cream coloured courser walking away (above)

There were a few more observations left. A kestrel was seen hovering over the semi desert. It looks like some wintering species are still hanging about. We saw a solitary white wagtail on the one mound in a flat semi desert area.

One final stop was in a less dry area on the way back towards Tripoli. This was quite close to our first stop. There was a flock of wintering skylarks along with crested larks. More fulvous babblers were in the bushes. There we also saw our only long legged buzzard of the day.

Finally I must state that on Friday we saw yet more collared doves as well as laughing doves and pigeons near the settlements . The collared dove is colonising Libya at a rate of knots. One day a distribution map may actually show its in this country - along with cattle egret, moussiers redstart and several others. There may not be huge numbers of birds in Libya but there are a lot more than people think!

Libyan collared doves (left) and a wintering white wagtail (right)


  1. Hi Rob,

    The Hoopoe Lark actully seems to be a Tawny pipit.

  2. Hi Moshe,

    Thanks for reading my blog

    Yes, it looks a lot like a Tawny pipit.It's easily confused with a female hoopoe lark. The two are even put side by side in the new collins guide as very similar (under hoopoe lark). If it were a tawny pipit it would be well away from its normal range. We are not supposed to get them in Libya.

    I'll look at my other pictures from other angles. I'd still plump for a female hoopoe lark
    at the moment but I'll change the text if the other photos convince me. I would actully like it to be a tawny pipit as this would be a big call and possibly the first report of it here.

  3. OK Moshe, I have had a closer look at my other pictures and I now agree with you. I am very very comfortable its a tawny pipit. This is a rarer observation than a female hoopoe lark.

    I'll change the text straightaway.