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.

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