Sunday 27 June 2010

Where there's water there are birds - Part 2

Watering the fields at Jardinah farm -late June

On the second half of Friday (25th June) we visited a hugh farm just outside Jardinah. Jardinah is about 25 kilometres south of Benghazi and about 15 kilometres in from the coast.

We were invited there by one of the deputy farm managers, James who is an ex-pat friend.

I have wanted to visit one of these "project" farms ever since I found out about them. They use water from "the Man made River"  - a hugh aquifer from the desert and are well irrigated.

They can produce very unLibyan habitats! I have a suspicion that they may house birds not found anywhere else in Libya but that is to be proven.

Each farm varies but this one mostly produces maize, (winter) wheat, alfalfa and barley.

On arrival at the farm the first thing you notice is the hugh noise made by hundreds of house sparrow who nest in the avenue of trees outside the main entrance. They know a good spot when they saw one.

Inside the farm my instant reaction was to be astounded how many white stork I could see. There are only supposed to be about 60-80 in the colony at Al Marj (90 kilometres away).  If this is the only colony (as has been previously reported) then most of them must have taken the long trip here on Friday.

White stork and pallid swift at Jardinah farm - late June

They seemed particularly interested in the fields where alfalfa had been recently cropped. I was euqally surprised to see so many pallid swift. This bird breeds on cliffs and on tall buildings, neither of which can be seen from the farm.  Whether they have come as far as the storks I don't know. There were also many barn swallow which was less surprising.

In the maize fields were plenty of cattle egret. The maize has not grown above about 50 cm yet but will grew to nearly 2 metres tall. It has quite a few weeds which probably provide additional food opportunities for several bird species. Even more helpfully for the birds is that many of the fields are waterlogged in a few places. 

a pool of water in a maize field - Jardinah farm - late June

I didnt really have anywhere near enough time to inspect the farm which has 54 extremely large fields but my initial observations are encouraging my orignal assumption that the mix of birds may be atypical for anywhere else in Libya apart from similar farms.

First I saw my first two calandra lark. These birds were in a field which had been harvested for winter wheat. There was quite a bit of grain left around and this would look like a feast to them. This bird is on the distribution maps for north east Libya but it had evaded my attention until Friday.

Second I saw a large number of larks in the flat sandy area right next to a wet maize field. The birds were also in and out of the field but observation was easier on the sand.  The flock was mixed and the birds were variable. I viewed this flock for at least 45 minutes. I had thought the majority of birds were short toed lark. even though this bird is only recorded as a winter vistior to north east Libya and not a summer resident. However correspondence with experts suggests the ID question is very open.

The birds were highly variable and also in the loose flock . I am pretty sure there were one or two lesser short toed lark which is well documented here.  In the same patch of land were a small number of crested lark but they didn't behave as part of the flock. However for once I spent quite alot of my time in a place where I was doing what my blog says I do - birding for a lark!  It didnt have the numbers or variety of larks that the Mugam Steppe does in Azerbaijan (skylark, oriental skylark, calandra lark, bimaculated lark, crested lark, short toed, lesser short toed, white winged lark and even black lark in a cold year) but it was great renewed practice.

two different members of a lark flock - Jardinah farm - late June

My time here was tantilisingly short. I have come close to making my most exciting call. I thought I saw a water pipit. Certainly the bird winters in the Benghazi area. . It is known to like waterlogged coastal sites among other places and this fits especailly as the environment is artificially more like northern Italy than northern Libya. The bird I saw certainly had a black tail with broad white edges but I didn't get a full view.So I am not going to call it. It will be a spur for me to return the next time we get a cool day this summer.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Where there's water, there are birds - part 1

Sebkha (saltpan) near Gaminis beach - late June
Yesterday, at long last, it was cool (in Libyan terms) on one of my regular Friday day trips out in the countryside. Instead of the 35 to 42C I have suffered on all my recent trips the temperature gauge stayed in the range 25 to 28 C all day. So this was a day to go south.

As usual I went with a couple of work friends. This time it was Wendy and Johnny. The plan was to visit coastal areas first and then go inland to visit another friend James who is the deputy farm manager of one the Government's prestige farms.

Yesterday's theme was water. We sought out coastal watering holes and the farm is extremely well irrigated and as you will see later provides a distinctly unLibyan set of habitats. And I am very excited about this place. But more later.....

I have divided the account of the trip into two blogs because the farm probably deserves a blog to itself.

So lets look at the coast first.

The south coast out of Benghazi looks distinctly different to the north east coast. Whereas the north east coast is garrigue which grades to maquis in places as you go further from the city, the south coast starts off as garrigue but grades rapidly to semi-desert. This change is difficult to see in places because so many new flats are being built just south of the city.

By the time we reached Gaminis which is about 40 kilometres south of Benghazi, the change is virtually complete. We headed out of the town of Gaminis westward on the beach road. On the left just one kilometre from the beach is a sebka (saltpan) which is apparently very large in winter and excellent for water birds - large and small.

I was very pleased to see there is some permanent water all year round (see picture at the top of the blog). Uunfortunately the area has attracted some fly tipping and a pack of wild dogs! Nevertheless it also attracts birds which is what I hoped.

There were a few trees and bushes as well as some lush vegetation. House sparrow was immediately apparent. I have been in Cyrenaica long enough and in enough places to finally have confidence to say that I no longer believe they are any spannish sparrow in north east Libya. I think the maps are wrong again!
The most surprising sight here was yet another flock of goldfinch. There were probably 10 or so. Like in Old Marj (100 kilometres away) I saw NO adults in the flock (not a red face to be seen). I know the locals cage the adult birds but I find it hard to believe so many of the adults are out of circulation. It looks like its a normal phenomeon for young goldfinch to form flocks soon after fledging.

young goldfinch at a sebkha near Gaminis beach - late June

The flock was quite mobile and the birds seem to be enjoying their flight.

young goldfinch in flight- sebkha near Gaminis beach - late June

There were several other species of bird near by. There were many barn swallow attracted by both the water and insects.

I saw another bee-eater on a wire. This adds to the observation in early June of two (one juvenile) on the north eastern coast. Its beginning to look more and more likely that Cyrenaica does support a small number of breeding bee-eaters.

Als on a wire was a great grey shrike (aucheri). This is my most south westerly observation of this sub species yet.

great grey shrike near Gaminis beach - late June

There were also a couple of familiies of turtle dove - adults with fledged young.

Finally the ubiquitous crested lark was present on the fringes of the vegetation and in the semi desert near by.
crested lark -saltpan near gaminis beach - late June
The sebkha didn't hold enough water for any specialist water species such as reed warbler. There was just enough to sustain decent amounts of vegetation.

After leaving the Gaminis area we travelled further south until we reached Altifelel. On the coast there is a massive dry saltpan.
part of Altifelel saltpan - late June
This area is part of a large complex of salt pans which are flooded in winter and known as excellent wintering places for many water birds including flamingoes. In the summer it looks like one of those places they race cars to break the world land speed record!
Well nearly all of it is flat and empty but not quite all. Man has dug a few trenches in two places (see picture below).

water channels in the saltpan near Altifelelel

There are plenty of kentish plover near the water channels. Despite spending half a day searching for water. This was my first water bird.

The next half of the day was spent on a farm where there was an abundance of water. This is the subject of the next blog.

Saturday 19 June 2010

Qasr Libya and Al Marj

two chaffinch near Marj -mid June

The heat yesterday was blistering. It reached 41 C in the shade in Benghazi. But Friday (the first day of the weekend in Libya) is my day to do long distance trips come hell or high water. It makes me sadder to know that on Wednesday this week the forecast high is only 26 C.

Anyway, I set out with two work friends - Wendy and Martin towards Marj and Qasr Libya which are north east of Benghazi at 250 m and 5oo m respectively. Despite the height it didn't seem much cooler in the hills than in the city.

Our first stop was near Marj. We visited here two weeks before but I wanted to get a picture of the local chaffinch (fingella coelebs africana) which I failed to do last time. As I confirmed on this trip but had guessed before, chaffinch is extremely common in Cyrenaica. There is plenty of natural forest and glades of trees based on cypress. These places seem invariably to have chaffinch. This contrasts with Tripolitania where cypress is much less common but is associated with serin.

Sure enough we found an avenue with cypress on either side of a track which was shaded enough for chaffinch to forage on the ground in the heat. However after taking a few shots my camera packed up! At first I thought it was the heat but then I realised I simply hadn't recharged the batteries. So sadly this blog only has pictures of chaffinch but the commentary is the same!

a chaffinch in profile - Marj - mid June

Note this bird is much greener than the nominate sub species especially on its back.

rear view of chaffinch -Marj -mid June

In the same areas around there we also house sparrow. (I still haven't seen a single spanish sparrow in Cyrenaica). Martin drew my attention to an adult goldfinch resting on a barred wire fence. We didn't see this species at Marj last time (though we saw some juveniles near Old Marj about 10 kilometres away).

In slightly more open terrain we saw both woodchat shrike and great grey shrike. In any terrain with trees we saw the trio of laughing dove, pigeon and turtle dove. There was also hoopoe in the fields.

We moved on towards Qasr Libya but before we had gone 3 kilometres out of Marj we saw a white stork nest on top of a fairly low pylon complete with two adults and two young. I sorely missed my camera at this moment. While we stopped to view the nest, a long legged buzzard landed on a near-by telegraph pole and a cattle egret flew by.

After these sightings we moved on and up to Qasr Libya. Qasr Libya is the site of byzantine churches bult in 539 AD. There are at the top of the hills overlooking the neighbouring countryside. The mosaics in the museum and the two churches are very moving.

When we got there it was the middle of the day and things were sweltering. Nevertheless it would appear that the gardens around the churches have more birds than most other places nearby. This is probably because of the variety of native trees and bushes. There is more shade including some in the churches which birds can access to by flying in through gaps.

The gardens had more house sparrow (nesting in the churches) and chaffinch. As well as the usual dove duo there were some genuine rock dove. The shrike here was great grey shrike (aucheri). Much of this information is well known as this place has been well monitored before by tourists who are also bird watchers.

After viewing the churches we moved on down towards the coast. We took the scenic route which follows wadi kouf gorge for part of the way. We stopped a couple of times on the way down but there was very little noticeable bird activy in the heat. I did see a couple of juvenile chaffinch. The most interesting observation were the swifts. The only document resident swift in Libya is pallid swift but to me these birds looked like common swift. There were darker and thinner. I will certainly look more carefully next time.

Once again on one of the Friday trips my friends chose the beach option at the coast while I birded the coastal heath. I saw one kentish plover on the beach before I left them to it for an hour or so. Barn swallow was also near-by.

When you walk away from the beach it grades quickly from garrigue to maquis. In the garrigue I saw crested lark and in both the garrigue and maquis were plenty of sardinian warbler. In the maquis I was able to have a prolonged view of a family of chaffinch, a male, female and two fledglings. Near the one local dwelling were house sporrow again.

On the way back home we saw three common raven as we climbed back into the hills. Yet I still haven't seen any egyptian vulture or golden eagle which are reported in the Jebel Akhdar. I suspect if these birds are still in Cyrenaica then the best bet to see them is a little further east from Qasr Libya where it is slightly higher and wilder.

Friday 18 June 2010

Buduzeera park, Benghazi

Buduzeera lake- Benghazi - mid June

Buduzeera is a natural semi-salty lake on the north eastern edge of Benghazi. I have no idea where the water comes from but is presummably from an underground aquifer. I wonder if the aquifer may be linked to the sea and whether the bedrock filters out the salt. I have made a mental note to find out.

Anyway, the lake has been landscaped and is surrounded by holiday chalets. The landscaping is more environmentally sound than is normal in Libya. The lake is surrounded by tall reeds.

Naturally it has some interesting bird life. It has the ubiquitous house sparrow around the chalets. There are also laughing dove and pigeon. On the grass hoopoe graze. On several vantage points are great grey shrike (aucheri). As elsewhere in the city there is no sign of aucheri's cousin the desert grey shrike elegans.

The lake is teeming with fish and the lesser crested tern and little tern make good use of this. This is also the place I have seen my first yellow legged gull since arriving in Cyrenaica three weeks ago. Though I only saw three. The lake is popular with barn swallow too.

However the big attraction for me is the large breeding colony of cattle egret. Their colony is in the tall reeds closest to the main road. Clearly the noise of traffic doesn't disturb them. My guess why they chose this corner is because the reed banks are widest here.

a glimpse through the reeds at the cattle egret colony- Buduzeera - mid June

At a conservative estimate there are 80 breeding adults at the colony. Not bad for a bird which doesn't even feature on the maps as being in Libya. A couple of recent commentators have said this bird is rapidly expanding in Libya and I wouldn't disagree.

Apparently the city's big waste dump near Ganfonda (15 kilometres south of the city and at least 20 kilometres from this colony)is a big draw for them. I have yet to visit there. I prefer to visit the more attractive sights first!

I had forgotten how how much adult cattle egret change in the breeding season. Several adults had almost red beaks and orange tops to their head (see below).

breeding cattle egret -Buduzeera - mid June

By contrast the nestlings can't even muster a yellow beak. But I was pleased to see so many there!

cattle egret nestling- Buduzeera- mid June

In some ways I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't see some other birds. Given the number of fish in the lake, it looked like a good spot for Herons but prehaps the reed beds are just not private enough for them or maybe the park keepers don't want such sucessful fish eaters. I could also not detect any reed warblers or any warbler for that matter. My thoughts here are that the place just isn't wild enough. Or prehap it was just too hot and I didn't look hard enough. This is yet another place on my list for a visit on a cooler day if we get one! This summer has been hotter than usual so far.

Thursday 17 June 2010

The mysterious shrikes of Libya

Great grey shrike , Benghazi (top) and desert grey shrike, near Tripoli (bottom)

I have commented before that the shrike found in the city of Benghazi doesn't look anything like the desert grey shrike elegans which most maps suggest should be here. On the left above is a typical dark shrike found in the city and the surrounding north east Libyan countryside. This one was photographed at Buduzeera park last week. In every way it is darker than the known desert grey shike. It has less white on the wings, its back is a slate grey (with a hint of brown!) and it has no white over the top of the eye. It's underside is not white, it is grey. But it doesn't take a detailed description to see the difference. In the field it is obvious.

It looks more like great grey shrike aucheri. There is now some real debate whether aucheri extends from Sinai (where it is known for sure) through northern Egypt to Libya. From my angle it looks certain that the old maps which suggest only elegans in north east Libya are wrong unless the bird has a remarkable geographical variation in colour!

probable elegans north east of Benghazi

Outside the city, the apparent distribution is about 50% elegans, 35% darker bird (aucheri?) and 15% which look in between. But even the apparent elegans found here is darker than in Tripolitania (compare the one above with the one at the top of this blog).

Even in Tripolitania (north west Libya) elegans does not have the place to itself. There are about 20% algeriensis (not pictured). And in mid winter (and only in winter) we can see a few birds with pink bellies. These look like Iberian grey shrike. Again the maps don't hint that it strays that far from its summer residence. However I have seen Tunisan trip reports which also record it.

probable Iberian grey shrike, Tripolitania in winter

I know that the experts on the great grey shrike complex are keen to find the truth. It looks like only DNA work will finally solve all these mysteries.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Tulmaythah (Ptolemais)

crested lark - Tolmaythah coast - mid June

On Friday 12th I went to the Tolmaythah area (Ptolemais) area. While my friends spent most of the day on the beach I travelled around bird watching. I really don't understand the attraction of sitting on a pile of sand for hours on end and occasionally dowsing yourself in salty water!

The secuded beach is on the narrow coastal plain, north east of Benghazi. The plain gets narrower and narrower as you go futher north east. Much of it is characterised by classic garrigue. There is an order of magnitude more natural garrigue here than in Tripolitania. In cooler conditions I look forward to a thorough search of this area.

Sadly it was another hot day. This seriously reduces bird activity in this part of the world. Near the beach the most obvious birds were house sparrow (near buildings) and crested lark on the less scrubby ground. Among one group of sparrows on a wire were two young linnet. Near or in coastal gorse and other garrigue is, of course, a natural place to see them.

I could hear that the scrub contained sardinian warbler. Indeed most of the garrigue along the coast for several kilometres seems to contain this bird. In the heat it was elusive and I only have one poor photograph at this stage.

sardinian warbler - garrigue in coastal plain near Tolymaythah - mid June

It was a pleasant surprise to see a flock of white stork in the air here. These were almost certainly part of the colony at Al Marj out on a day trip, 30 kilometres or so to the west of their base.

Other common birds along the coast are barn swallow and hoopoe. The only bird of prey I saw this time was a kestrel.

As I said in my last blog I want to comment more on the great grey shrike and desert grey shrike found commonly in this area and south to Benghazi.

In the city of Benghazi I have only seen a dark great grey shrike which seems to be aucheri. In the countryside there appears to be about 50% desert grey shrike elegans, 35 % great grey shrike aucheri and the rest look intermediate. Below is a picture of an elegans taken near Tolmaythah

desert grey shrike near Tolmaythah- June 12th

Note the white over the eye and the overall light appearance. However even this bird is slightly darker than some elegans in Tripolitania. In the next blog I will show a possible aucheri in Benghazi. In the past, books have said that aucheri does not extend much further west than the Red Sea but I understand that now some top experts have some similar ideas to me on a probable more westernly distribution.

For a short time, I ventured up into the closest hills (250 metres altitude) near Tolmaythah. The cross section of birds was similar to the caostal plain below though woodchat shrike was also quite common there.

woodchat shrike - in the hills near Tolmaythah - June 12th

This bird is clearly more widespread in Cyrenaica than in Tripolitania.

Finally I want to comment on doves. I saw plenty of pigeon, turtle dove and laughing dove in the Tolmaythah area. I got my first half decent photo of a turtle dove here to evidence their presence. When I first arrived in north east Libya I doubted their widespread presence because they don't seem to be in the immediate Benghazi area. Like most bird watching further observation brought better clarity. Here's to more observations!

turtle dove -near Tolmaythah - June 12th

Monday 14 June 2010

White storks and other birds at Al Marj

white stork feeding in a field near Al Marj, early June

On Friday June 4th, I ventured out of Benghazi for the first time since moving to Cyrenaica. The main target area was Al Marj - 80 kilometres out of the city. The Al Marj plain is on a flat plateau at roughly 300 metres. It is north east of Benghazi and is half way from Benghazi towards the Jebel Akhdar (green mountain). It shares some of the characteristics of both places. Its higher, wetter and greener than Benghazi but not as high, wet and green as Jebel Akhdar. It is a little further inland from the mediterranean sea than Jebel Akhdar but even here the coastal plain below the Al Marj plain is barely 6 kilometres wide.

There are records of a sizeable white stork colony at Al Marj though once again its presence fails to make the distribution maps of major recent guides. We (my new teaching colleague Wendy and my older colleague Martin who has been on several trips with me in Tripolitania) didn't find it difficult to confirm the white stork presence. Eagle eyed Martin spotted seven or eight in a single field just east of the town.

two white stork in a field near Al Marj, early June

It was a blistering hot day though thankfully not as hot as in Benghazi. But beggars can't be choosers. If I am going to chronicle all Libya's birds in the two year period of my teaching placement here then I have to make full use of the summers.

Not far from the field of storks, we found a beautiful shaded cypress avenue of trees down one of the side roads out of town. Near-by was a good mix of other vegetation including olive trees. This mixed habitat was clearly a draw for a good cross section of birds who seemed to be taking some sanctuary in the shade. In the cypress trees were not only house sparrow but also chaffinch. Once again on this trip I failed to see any spanish sparrow but house sparrow were plentiful (the reverse of Tripolitania). I saw more chaffinch in this one spot in one hour than in eight months in Tripolitania. It is rare there (only around wadi Kaam) but my suspicion it is is much more common in north east Libya especially once I get to see Jebel Akhdar.

The chaffinch were all africana with the males having a beautiful green back. Sadly, I failed to get a good picture but I am sure there will be more chances.

In the same area we also saw woodchat shrike, laughing dove and turtle dove. The latter bird is missing from the immediate Benghazi area but is relatively common north and east of there. Great great shrike was also present.

We moved on through old Marj. This formerly very attractive ex-Italian town was destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1960s.We went through it trying to find a way up to some higher hills which form the south western edge of the Jebel Akhdar. We didn't succeed. Nevertheless we managed to find some shade for lunch under an olive tree. Near-by in a small cluster of cypress trees I spotted a flock which turned out to be totally made up of juvenile goldfinch.

juvenile goldfinch, near old Marj -early June

There is something surreal in me running round trees in boiling weather at midday trying to photograph a mobile flock when most sensible people would be having a siesta.

I didn't find identification easy. I am still no good with juveniles. It was more a case of guessing and looking it up in the collins guide I always carry with me as a comfort.

After lunch we made our way down to the coast which was a little bit cooler. On the slopes on the way down towards Tulmaythah (Ptolemis), a common raven was spotted.

The coast itself also held one or two surprises. The first surprise was a sighting of two bee-eater. I think they were juveniles since there colours were so washed out. This fact and the late time of year suggests to me that there is probably a small breeding population of bee-eater in Cyrenaica.

bee-eater near Tulmaythah, early June

There were more sightings of great grey shrike. Many of them do not look like desert grey shrike elegans. Many are a darker bird which looks to me like great grey shrike aucheri. My current view is that both birds co-exist in Cyrenaica just as they do in southern Israel and in Sinai. I know that top orinthologists are currently looking hard at this issue.

great grey shrike - near Tokrah, early June

Apart from the odd pigeon near settlements there were three other new birds (for the day) seen along the coast. Crested lark was relatively common.

But two birds of prey were seen. One was kestrel. The other was much more exciting. It was a short-toed eagle. This was a lifer for me.

short toed eagle, near Tokrah, early June

Once again I lack confidence with birds of prey. It is thanks to correspondence in Surf Forum that I identified this bird.

One advantage of summer birding is that it is improving my identification skills with birds of prey.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Al Thane, Benghazi

breeding little tern on an island in "big lake" Al Thane, Benghazi - late May

Towards the north east of Benghazi about 2 kilometres south of the coastal corniche road is Al Thane. It is two lakes. Like many places in Benghazi it seems to go by several names. In the best selling but old map the complex is just referred to as "big lake" and "little" lake.

I made a short trip there on May 29th. When I arrived there I was more than a little depressed. All the surrounding vegetation has been removed by diggers. It had been a lush wetland.

However a birder who is also a ministry employee told me a few days later that the situation is actually more complicated. Although the surrounding vegetation has been removed, the wetland had been badly polluted with fly tipping of household and other waste. The new landscaping would provide man made islands which will be great for birds.

So on reflection a more balanced view is that the habitat may have radically changed but there will probably be winners and losers among the bird species.

A narrow causeway allows access to the largest of the man made islands. Here I saw three breeding bird species. These were little tern, black winged stilt and kentish plover. The island had large colonies of the first two birds. Several juvenile kentish plover were seen along with a few little tern chicks.

juvenile kentish plover on an island in "big lake" , Al Thane, Benghazi - late May

male black winged stilt on an island in "big lake", Al Thane, Benghazi - late May
There were two other birds of note at Al Thane. There were several coot on the water. Its almostly certainly too late for this bird to be on passage. I can safely say coot must be a summer resident in Libya although I didn't see any young.

coot in "big lake", Al Thane, Benghazi - late May

I am less certain whether the little egret I saw are also resident. It is still possible that these birds were on passage as they return to Europe later than coot.

little egret, "big lake" Al Thane, Benghazi - late May

June should be quite a revealing time over whether some of birds I have seen are summer residents or passage birds.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Juliana, Benghazi

sedge warbler - Juliana, Benghazi - late May

My first lengthy bird watching trip since moving to Benghazi was on May 28th. The date is important because I saw several birds which are reported as passage birds but which may actually be summer breeders too. It is getting very late in spring and the longer I see them locally the more chance there is that they are not moving on.

My first trip was to the southern edge of the Juliana wetlands. These are centred on about 3 kilometres south west of the city centre near the coast. Like everywhere in Benghazi they seem to have at least two names. On the best local map in English (which is still poor!) they are described as "Western Lakes". The map shows them as permanent water with an outlet to the sea. It would appear though that they are now three separated marsh lands with thick vegetation which may get flooded in the winter. Its possible that they swell enough to meet the sea but I don't know yet. They are under tremendous development pressure but are still very interesting.

I visited the southern most wetland which is also by far the smallest.

I approached it on foot walking up the coast for one kilometre fr0m Gar Younis tourist village. Around the tourist village there are plenty of sparrows. Unlike in Tripolitania there are house sparrow. In Tripolitania (north west Libya) I didn't see a single house sparrow in 8 months. There were spanish and italian sparrow but no house. In Cyrenaica (north east Libya) I have yet to see a spanish sparrow (or italian) and that includes trips out into the country side which will be blogged later.

house sparrow - Gar Younis tourist village - Late May

This observation is once again at variance with the distribution maps in recent guides. There were plenty of pigeon and laughing dove. Both are common in the city. Turtle dove is a little less common than in Tripolitania and is not found within the city. The tourist village has a few resident hoopoe near by. This bird appears to be as common as in Tripolitania. I don't know whether it is also resident like there. I will have to wait til the winter.

a pair of laughing dove -Gar Younis tourist village - late May

There are plenty of barn swallow and pallid swift in this area too. There are also great grey shrike in the rest of the city and surrounding countryside. This bird is darker than the desert grey shrike found near Tripoli and I will say more about this in a later blog!

After leaving the tourist village and heading to the Juliana wetlands where I was very happy with the variety and number of wetland birds I found. On the short walk there. I notice a cattle egret and several barn swallow flying overhead. The coast had one or two lesser crested tern flying down it.

When I arrived at the Juliana wetlands, one very bold bird I saw is shown at the top of the blog. It is a sedge warbler - an acrocephelus warbler. There has been a report of breeding aquatic warbler (another acrocephelus) in Cyrenaica which is hundreds of kilometres away from it other breeding ranges. But the bird I saw (photo at the top of the blog) is definitely a sedge warbler which has been reported previously as a passage bird. Its breeding range is a lot closer than that of aquatic warbler! It was very late in the passage season. I have to wonder if the sedge warbler breeds here.
On the sands between the wetland and the coast several kentish plover were running around.

kentish plover- Juliana wetlands - late May

The kentish plover and black winged stilt I saw are probably local breeders. Also present in large numbers were little egret and a few squacco heron. I also saw one purple heron. This is the first time I had seen either bird in Libya. I presume they were all late passage birds since I also saw two flocks flying north east. One flock was just little egret. The other had one squacco heron in with the little egret.

squacco heron (left) little egret (right) - Juliana wetlands -late May

The number of late passage birds continued to surprise me. I saw four grey plover. None had their breeding plummage yet.

grey plover - Juliana wetlands - late May

All in all this was very satisfactory start to my bird watching in north east Libya. But before I finish I want to document that I had done a small amount of bird watching the day before (May 27th) at Al Bosco - the local name for the city park and zoo. Here I first saw the dark great grey shrike and realised that like in Tripoli (and contrary to many dsitribution maps) hoopoe is a common bird. I also saw laughing dove, barn swallow, house sparrow and pleasingly pallid swift. The latter appears to be fundamentallly an urban bird here though if I sight it later in the countryside I'll change my view.

I'm looking forward to more local birding.

Sunday 6 June 2010

A short visit home to Bulgaria

one of the valleys at my Bulgarian home - May

I have a home in a Bulgarian village just north of Varna in the hills and overlooking the sea. This is where I spend most of high summer and Christmas. I went there for a short break after term finished in Tripoli and before my move to Benghazi. I was there from May 13th until May 20th.

I bought an improved camera in Varna which I had promised myself so my shots in Libya should be better in future.

I had the opportunity to do a little bit of local bird watching and to try out the new camera.

My swimming pool attracts barn swallow and there are nesting house sparrow in or on my house. Around the village are also flocks of spanish sparrow. I heard many nightingdale in the village. This is a sound I am familiar with because of the very large numbers who migrant through Tripolitania. Although they were much more vocal now in Bulgaria here they breed.

The fields have many breeding skylark. I wondered whether any of them had joined the large flocks which winter in Libya. The valleys had several bee-eater.

And on the wires I saw lesser grey shrike.

lesser grey shrike - village north of Varna - May

On a walk to another local village I spotted a few of the other local summer breeding shrike -the red backed shrike.

female red backed shrike - north of Varna - May

male red backed shrike - north of Varna - May

While I was experimenting with camera I took several photos of this common shrike. I wonder if I will see them on passage this autumn around Benghazi?

male (right) and female red backed shrike - north of Varna - May

On my walks in the surrounding countryside there were very many corn bunting. They were very common on bush tops.

two pictures of corn bunting - north of Varna - May

I also saw a smaller number of its cousin - yellowhammer. One of the birds was particularly difficult for me to identify (right hand bird below). I guess it is a juvenile. My experience of yellow hammer was limited to Azerbaijan in winter. It is strange to bird a different area. It takes time to adjust. I can never be a "twitcher". I dont like the idea of counting the number of species you have seen. I prefer to "get to know" my birds. If you go on a holiday to Venezula for 3 weeks and collect 400 new birds presented by spotters - so what. Are you a better bird watcher than someone who knows their region backwards but doesn't count numbers. I don't think so.

yellow hammer adult -left and juvenile- right

I am told the yellow throat on the juvenile is diagnostic. But I am no expert!

There were two other birds of note which I saw locally. One was golden oriole. I saw this bird fleetingly twice on passage near Tripoli but it is a common breeder near my village. But this time it avoided my photographic attention.

Finally I saw a kestrel and its nest. I was surprised that spanish sparrow seemed to be nesting directly below it.

I wish I had had more time to bird watch but domestic arrangements and my short break didn't allow for it. Next time will be different.