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.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting blog. Cool to see all the birds! Thank yoiu for sharing...