Thursday 22 April 2010

Mid April - The passage in full flight

Fodder field just south of Janzour which attracted many migrants - mid April

I'm a bit behind with my blogs! This is an update on what was happening in Tripolitania around mid April. It covers two locations. I visited an area just south of Janzour on a couple of occasions which was farmed for fodder(see picture above). On Friday 16th I also went with Ibrahim and a fellow teacher, Penny for a day trip to the Al Urban area which was a new area for me - mid way between Tarhunah and Gharyan (some 60 kilometres south- south- eastof Tripoli).

Let's look at the farming area near Janzour first. The fodder was being cut down in stages. The area which was most recently cut attracted tens of yellow wagtail. Only about 70% of them were flava sub species. The second most common were feldegg.

two male yellow wagtails (flava on the left, feldegg on the right)

Tripolitania was starting to be inudated with whinchat and this part of Janzour was no exception. The fields next to the fodder had large numbers. The picture below shows one on top of a water tap right in the middle of the folder field.

Whinchat just south of Janzour- mid April

In amongst the yellow wagtails were a small number of red throated pipit. Some of these birds are meant to over -winter in Libya but most come on passage. However, I didn't see any red throated pipits in the winter but have seen plenty during the passage. I suspect very few really do over-winter.

Red throated pipit - south of Janzour- mid April

In the adjacent fields there were a few remaining tree pipit and the odd tawny pipit too. In the tamarisk bushes I saw several willow warbler and wood warbler. For once the local spanish sparrow did not have these bushes to themselves. A few warblers were difficult to separate- wood or willow- for identification purposes! The one below I decided in the end was a willow warbler.

willow warbler- south of Janzour- mid April
Finally I saw woodchat shrike and desert grey shrike in the same field as the warblers. In the picture below you have to ask who is looking at whom.

Woodchat shrike- south of Janzour - Mid April

The visit to the Al Urban area midway between Tarhunah and Gharyan was very successful. We saw about 30 different species. Most of our time was spent along the great man made river (a cleared corridor above a hige water pipeline) but we also went further up into the hills. As soon as we turned off the main road along the pipeline (at Birr Trfas) we immediately saw barbary partridge, fulvous babbler, spanish sparrow and pigeon. As we travelled slowly along the track we added crested lark, thekla lark, barn swallow, laughing dove, turtle dove and desert grey shrike. The observation of turtle dove was interesting as it confirms that they are summer residents much further in land than the distribution maps say.

Passage birds were also very much in evidence. The area had a big concentration, everywhere you looked, of whinchat just like in Tripoli.

I was surprised to see a few northern wheatear too. Some of these birds was first seen in mid february. Clearly they have a prolonged migration period or stay in Libya for quite a while before moving on.

male northern wheatear at Bir Trfas (between Tarhunah and Gharyan)- Mid April

Northern wheatear were not the only type of wheatear seen in this area. One late isabelline wheatear was seen as well. But the biggest excitement was caused by seeing my first black eared wheatear. Actually we saw quite a few and they were of both sub- species ( hispanica and melanoleuca). We saw both pale throated and black throated males of meanoleuca and males of hispanica. Some were presumably on passage and some were part of the known summer breeding population. It was not until a trip two weeks later to a near-by area (see a later blog!) that I determined that the local breeders are the eastern race (melanoleuca). This sub species is in the records as breeding from southern Italy eastwards.

male black-eared wheatear - Bir Trfas -mid April

Further along the pipeline corridor two other passage birds were noticed- yellow wagtail in local fields and pied flycatcher in bushes. Woodchat shrike were also seen, some of which may breed there. House martin were flying over-head. I don't know yet whether this bird breeds in Tripolitania or was also on passage. A highlight of the trip was the sight of two adult stone curlew with a nestling. This bird is very common in Tripolitania and also breeds further inland than the distribution maps give it credit. Finally two other residint birds made an appearance- little owl and hoopoe.

After we left the corridor of the great man made river we rose further up into the hills near Al urban. Right on cue we saw our first black wheatear. In Libya this bird is an upland bird especially of the Jebel Nafusa. The area was a mixture of rocky hills and a slightly lower sandy plateau. In the rocky hills we saw trumpeter finch in its typical terrain and more crested lark. We had lunch at the pinnacle of one of these hills.

Down below we could hear and the see bee-eater. My suspicion is that they are local breeders. Certainly the sandy landscape was ideal for them.

Bee-eater - near Al urban- mid April

As we headed down through this sandy area there was a kestrel on a wire (see picture).

Kestrel near Al urban- mid April

Other sightings in this area were desert grey shrike, more northern wheatear and whinchat. Further down were pallid swift flying and a wryneck (on passage) in a solitary tree which unfortunately flew off just as my camera was poised. You win some, you lose some.

Monday 12 April 2010

The passage in Tripoli

Bee-eater, Seraj, Tripoli. early April

Hot on the heals of seeing many bee-eater in Jadu, plenty have started to arrive in metropolitan Tripoli at least in the semi-rural areas. Some will stay in the country but many will fly on to Europe. As previously blogged, tree pipit is another wave of migrant which has been very noticeable. They started to arrive around April 1st, peaked at April 7th but there seem to be only a few left now.

Tree pipit, Janzour, Tripoli. Early April.

But the nightingale is still very much in evidence. It started to arrive earlier than tree pipit but has stayed much longer. The nightingale I photographed nearly two weeks ago is still easily seen (once you know where to look!) under the same bush, morning after morning. I am beginning to wonder whether some of them actually breed here in the most irrigated orchards. There is no previous record of this though.

Woodchat shrike. Seraj, Tripoli. Early April

Another similarity with Jadu is that there have been sightings of woodchat shrike though not in the numbers seen there. Some of these will stay locally but like with bee-eater most move on to Europe.

Great Reed Warbler. Janzour, Tripoli. Early April

One of luckiest sighting of a migrant was of a great reed warbler. One early morning, I was walking down the railway line when I noticed a cat taking an unhealthy interest in a hedge. Two nightingales fled but up popped a great reed warbler (see photographs above) which stood its ground making a great noise with some harsh sounds. This time the cat backed off.

Part of a stone curlew gathering. Seraj, Tripoli, early April

I thought I had seen the last of the gatherings of migrant stone curlew but two days ago I walked to Seraj and saw another one. This group was 5 kilometres from the place where I had seen the other gatherings.

The last week in Tripoli has not all been about passage migrants. I was surprised to see greenfinch as late as April 6th west of Janzour. This bird is documented as a winter visitor. The location where I saw it is a bit special. One farmer (or his family through the years) has kept a pristine cypress wood with about 200 hundred trees. The wood is probably many tens of years old. As far as I know this is the largest native woodland left in Tripolitania. It is cool and shaded. I suspect it will be the last place from which winter woodland visitors leave. It is the same place by the way that I had seen my only blackbird since coming to Libya. It's a long shot but it just possible greenfinch may stay.

pristine cypress woodland west of Janzour, Tripoli

Greenfinch on the edge of pristine cypress woodland, near Janzour. early April

Meanwhile the resident birds have been getting on with life. There are many young desert grey shrike screaming for food. It is a bit disconcerting to see adults carrying off young (live) sparrows to their young. However I have seen this twice in the last two days.

Young and adult desert grey shrike, Janzour. Early April

The turtle dove population is settled and the sardinian warbler is breeding.

local turtle dove and sardinian warbler. Janzour, Tripoli. Early April

Another local bird strongly in evidence and in breeding plumage now is cattle egret. This bird is not even acknowledged as present in Libya according to some recent guides. They forgot to tell the birds! The serious issue is that there is undoubtably underreporting of many bird species in Libya.

For several birds, I now look at the distribution in south east Tunisia and use that as my working assumption.

A group of cattle egret, Janzour, Tripoli. Early April

Barn swallow is very numerous this year too.

Barn swallow. Janzour, Tripoli. Early April

And the barbary partridge are still running away from me!

Barbary partridge. Janzour, Tripoli. Early April

Saturday 10 April 2010

Passage time at Jadu

Jadu Springs, Jebel Nafusa

On Friday I took a long trip to the Jadu area of the Jebel Nafusa. This is further west than most of my day trips from Tripoli. I made this trip to try to find some of the rarer larks such as dupont's lark and to see more mahreb wheatears which are restricted in Libya to the west of the Jebel Nafusa.

The temperatures were ideal for bird watching. It was very cool for this time of year so the birds were active all day.

However the day was mostly stolen by passage birds. Perhaps the reasons were obvious. It's peak time for migration. And the wind had been northerly for two or three days (which is why the weather was cool) which may well have caused a backing -up of migrants.

Sam and Jane, Ibrahim and I travelled on the plains road to Shasluk. We made a couple of short walks into the plain just north of Shasluk. We were not rewarded richly. Fulvous babbler were in the thorn bushes and crested lark in the the fields. A few kilometres further on we sighted several red rumped wheatear and northern wheatear. The latter were on passage. I was surprised that they were still around since I had seen the first ones in Tripolitania on February 19th.

Finally, we took the road up onto the Jebel Nafusa plateau through Shasluk which is part way up the mountain side. Here we saw spanish sparrow, house bunting and black wheatear. The latter birds are only found on the Jebel Nafusa.

When we reached the top at the edge of Jadu town we soon saw several woodchat shrike. A few of these breed in the coastal strip of the country but the vast majority of them are passage birds. In many places during the day near Jadu we saw large numbers.

Woodchat shrike (female) left and (male) right near Jadu

The brief stop at the edge of the town also revealed turtle dove and hoopoe. Although these birds are summer breeders and residents respectively closer to the coast, the ones seen were almost certainly migrants.

Next, we headed straight to Jadu springs (see main photo at the top of the blog). This is a large natural permenant spring with a shaded and wooded valley. Although it was busy with people, it is undoubtably a migrant trap and has its fair share of resident birds too.

house bunting, Jadu springs - April

Residents include house bunting (see photo below), crested lark, thekla lark, rock dove, laughing dove, spanish sparrow, black wheatear and cattle egret!

collared flycatcher on passage in April at Jadu Spring

The passage migrants which were seen on Friday were: common whitethroat, nightingale, willow warbler in the trees and shrubs, house martin, common swift in the air, and a collared flycatcher right next to the path seemingly unconcerned about all the people passing by.

Having had lunch in the shaded valley, we headed about 6 kilometres south west of Jadu Spring. This was the furthest west that we went and our best chance of seeing mahreb wheatear. Unfortunately we saw none. However the fields had an excellent mix of passage migrants and local residents. First we noticed there were many eurasian bee-eater about in the fields and on the wires.

Eurasian bee-eater. South West of Jadu in April

In this area we saw a big surprise - a male montagu's harrier. The bird is documented to fly through Tunisia but not 100 kilometres inside Libya. It was in no hurry to leave as it was hunting locally at its leisure. This bird was not an exception. We saw a male and female pair 20 kilometres further east an hour later.

male montagu's harrier southwest of Jadu. April (above and below)

In this area there was one stony field with several different species. There were two stone curlew who judging by their behaviour were resident. There was also large flocks of trumpeter finch and spanish sparrow, a single yellow wagtail and two willow warbler. Near-by in different fields were a cream coloured courser,little owl, crested lark and more woodchat shrike.

trumpeter finch and little owl seen south west of Jadu. April

We finally turned back towards Tripoli but stopped after only about 20 minutes just east of Jadu. Off the main road we saw local brown necked raven, another cream coloured courser, black wheatear and a kestrel and more passage bee-eater, woodchat shrike and a single sub alpine warbler.

One final stop in the Jadu area was just west of Zintan. We visited a place which I had visited before in February looking for rare larks but had found none. This time we were luckier. I saw my first temminck's lark in Libya. So although I didn't see a dupont's lark, at least I added to my list of Libyan resident species seen.

This area had been full of various types of wheatear then but now we could only see passage northern wheatear. Perhaps the local birds were taking a siesta? The northern wheatear (see picture below) looked very buff all down its front. It might be Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa the sub species from Greenland.

temminck's lark (left) and northern wheatear (right) east of Jadu
This is the place we where wev saw the second (and third) montagu's harrier mentioned earlier . Other migrants were a yellow wagtail, a pied flycatcher (see picture below) and yet more woodchat shrike and eurasian bee-eater. The resident birds seen were crested lark, kestrel and desert grey shrike.

Pied flycatcher. April. Just west of Zintan

Finally we zoomed back towards Tripoli as the light was fading, seeing a long legged buzzard and many hoopoe betweeen Ifran and Gharyan.

We arrived back in the dark after 13 hours of intense birding.