Sunday 9 May 2010

Wadi Ghan reservoir

White stork on nest - road to Wadi Ghan reservoir, April 3oth
A stork's nest in Tripolitania!
Saturday 30th April must rank as the best day of bird watching I have yet had in Libya. The journey was to Wadi Ghan reservoir which is in the foothills of the Jebel Nafusa directly north of Gharyan. After turning off the main Tripoli to Gharyan road to the right, we headed up towards to wadi ghan. However way before we got there the 15 kilometres of road to the reservoir held a few real surprises. We found an occupied white stork nest and there was a least one nestling.

A medium size colony of storks is known at Al Marj in the north east of the country. One of two other nests have been reported in the desert towns between Kufra and Benghazi. There have also been reports of occasional nesting attempts in Tripolitania. But to actually see one was breathtaking. It is on the known flight path from Gharyan to east of Tripoli past the airport to Garabolli (where I saw one the week before) and then on to Italy. Well this couple of white storks clearly decided they didn't need to leave Libya. Their nest is close to Wadi Ghan's copious supply of fresh water. April has also been much cooler and wetter than usual so prehaps also contributed to their decision. The nest is clearly new for this year.

Another view of the white stork's nest

Also in this area were groups of trees. Many trees contained a passage migrant or two. The most common bird was spotted flycatcher. The other common migrants were wood warbler and icterine warbler. This was the first time I had seen the latter bird in Libya. Near-by on the ground and on low vantage points where still plenty of whinchat.

spotted flycatcher - road to Wadi Ghan reservoir - April 30th

I had seen no corn bunting until this day. There are documented to winter in Tripolitania but I had not seen any all winter. And yet at this late stage I saw one singing strongly from a high wire. Prehaps they breed here? They certainly do in Cyrenaica near Benghazi. Another bird which I was surprised to see this late on was house martin. Two or three of these were seen flying around here.

Other birds in the area (but in different habitats) were the all the year round species- hoopoe, desert grey shrike, laughing dove, kestrel, spanish sparrow, crested lark, thekla lark, spectacled warbler, fulvous babbler and of course black wheatear. The latter bird is a marker for the Jebel Nafusa and its foothills. You don't see it on the plains. As soon as you reach 200 metres, up it pops.

This area also had summer breeders also. These were bee-eater and more black eared wheatear. Nesting behaviour of a small number of male and female black eared wheatear was obvious.

local black eared wheatear - road to Wadi Ghan reservoir

When we reached Wadi Ghan reservoir the excitement didn't finish. We walked round the left of the reservoir away from the picnicking families. We soon found small green midi wadis (it had rained recently). In the scrub we saw quite a few streaked scrub warbler. These birds are bold. They came within two metres of me.

scrub warbler near wadi ghan reservoir - April 30th

I am fairly confident the sub species here is inquieta NOT saharae as is reported in the guide books and on the net. In my experience, saharae is found west of Tripoli (near Farwa for example) but south and east of Tripoli we get inquieta.

Another common bird in the area is the desert lark. This bird too was bolder than I had expected.

Desert lark- Wadi Ghan reservoir- April 30th
Other birds here included blue rock thrush which is reported as a wintering bird (and I have been seeing it since October onwards) yet I suspect a small number may well breed in this area. There is certainly more access to fresh water than in most of Libya. And it is certainly leaving it late to go.
Other notable birds were a couple of woodchat shrike on the bushes, serin in the cypress trees (at the entrance to the reservoir), plenty of trumpeter finch including some juveniles. One pied flycatcher on passage was seen on a bush and several barn swallow and house martin in the air.

trumpeter finch- wadi ghan reservoir- April 30th

I was loathed to leave the reservoir behind but on the way back we saw a little owl ( a very common bird in Tripoltania), kestrel and a long legged buzzard all north of Azizia on the way back to Tripoli.

little owl - north of Azizia - April 30th

This had been a very special day. The next day I took a short walk in Janzour where I live. My only surprise here was to see two northern wheatear still in the country. Otherwise it was a very ordinary day compared with the day before!

Female northern wheatear - Janzour- May 1st

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Garabolli in Spring

female spectacled warbler on future railway line near Garabolli park

On Saturday 24th April, Ibrahim and I visited Garabolli again. Garabolli is a national park on the coast about 45 kilometres east of Tripoli. We visited the western side near the month of Wadi Ramel.

I normally bird watch on Fridays but Friday 23rd was exceptional hot so we switched days to a much cooler Saturday.

As we approached the park we decided to stop and walk a small section of the future railway line which crosses the road. We immediately saw many different birds - eurasian bee-eater in the air and on wires, sardinian warbler in the bushes, desert grey shrike on also on wires, yellow wagtail in the greener fields and even one or two remaining passage nightingale in the understory next to trees.

But our attention was caught by birds flitting on and off a mulberry bush. Mulberry has berries at the moment and were attracting several different birds. It took me some time to identify a female and male spectacled warbler who were the most frequent visitors (see picture at the top of the blog for the female). I still struggle to quickly identify female warblers! As soon as the male came along it all fitted into place. Both have a rufous side to their wings, yellow- pink legs and spectacles. The male's spectacles look a bit 1980s.

male spectacled warbler on a mulberry bush, near Garabolli- late April
Its a bit ironic really but while we were watching the tree a golden oriole flew over. Reports we have received from collegues and ibrahim's family tell us it's been very common this year on passage. And its favourite landing place is a mulberry bush!

Having solved the identification problem, we moved into the park. More spanish sparrrow, sardinian warbler, hoopoe, serin and fulvous babbler as always there. Rock dove was also seen.

Apart from the residents just named there were plenty of passage birds too. Whinchat were everyway - chockablock. A few tree pipit were lingering in the more shaded places.

Whinchat at Garabolli - late April

There were also several wood warbler and a few late willow warbler also on passage. I chased one round a field to get a good photo. Its below.

Wood warbler- Garabolli- late April

There was one other important passage bird we saw. It was a white stork up in the canopy of a tree in the distance. Not all white storks cross into Europe via the straits of Gibraltar or across the Bosporus. It is known that a lesser number fly though Libya and fly on to southern Italy (oftren via Sicily). the crossing is relatively short. My visitor Paul Bowden in February saw three white stork as he boarded his plane back to the UK. Both his encounter and mine were right on the known route.

We finally reached the wadi valley which was lush with reeds and well shaded. However there was no surface level water except vey close to the sea. In this area I was pleased to see woodchat shrike showing breeding behaviour. And of course there were the resident reed warbler.

We could see the attraction of this area to bee-eater on the far side of the wadi. The fields have many bee hives and there are plenty of sandy banks for bee-eater nests. African honey bees are notoriously aggressive so we were a bit apprenhensive about staying too long near them.

Finally two other local birds were seen. We had a brief glimpse of a stone curlew which we had seen at Garabolli on previous visits and also a pair of linnet who are almost certainly a breeding pair.

All in all a sucessful and cool! day.