Saturday 3 July 2010

The best birding in Libya is on a farm

waterlogging of a maize field - Jardinah farm - early July

In July, where in the world can you find sodden green fields where plenty of white stork and cattle egret graze,  grey heron perch ernestly in search of a meal, where collared pratincole fly by,  yellow wagtail reside and the odd eagle patrols overhead. I consulted the various maps and I could find two countries which have some places that fit the description  - Spain and Turkey.  But I saw all these birds yesterday in Libya. What is even more startling is that not one of the birds mentioned is even on the distribution map in the recent Collins Guide for the country (for any time of the year) except for yellow wagtail which is down as a passage bird.

Am I annoyed with the Collins guide? - no. If no one has reported in how can it get it right. Libya is grossly underreported.  But this is not the main reason I am not annoyed. It's because much of what I have seen is new. Cattle egret and white stork numbers have been growing steadily in recent years but I suspect the summer resident grey heron and yellow wagtail are completely new - this year or maybe last year.

sodden fields next to sandy flats! - what a unique environment - Jardinah farm - July

I was at Jardinah farm south of Benghazi for the second Friday running.  This is a massive farm covering 54 square kilometres and it is extraordinarily well irrigated.  It opened for business 6 months ago. This Libyan showpiece has produced an unexpected side effect - a micro climate akin to areas 500 miles further north but with more water than those areas!   There is a sister farm to Jardinah a few kilometres away which is just as large, too. So the total area of this new micro-climate is probably 100 square kilometres.

tadpoles - on their way to becoming good grey heron food

Grey heron is supposed to prefer fish but I suspect they can adapt their diet with so many frogs around. The number of Grey Heron appears to be small certainly when compared with the numbers of cattle egret and white stork.

I need a lot more time to bird this area. For example, I am still keen to follow up a fleeting view I thought I had of a possible water pipit last week. But as I said in my last blog, I'm not claiming that one as a genuine sighting. I am more confident of it though since I saw a few of its cousin - the yellow wagtail in the fields yesterday. There is a picture of one below.

yellow wagtail, Jardinah farm - Libya in July

closer picture of yellow wagtail - Jardinah farm - July

As for the sub-species, Is this a female feldegg?  If so it looks like the farm is populated with birds that thought better of finishing their migration to Turkey or the balkans this spring. I would be very interested to know if these are the same birds as are resident at the Nile Delta which is the closest other population.Apart of the birds that shouldn't be there, there were some I might have expected but didn't see last time (see previous blogs for a fuller listing of those I saw).

I might have expected to see goldfinch as this bird is common throughout north east Libya. I did. Once again it was flocking. And once again I saw no adults. However the interesting thing this time was that I saw a mixed flock with linnet. and it did contain two adults from this species (one male and one female). This was the first time I had seen linnet since my move to Benghazi.

Two birds are pictures below. The top one is a young goldfinch and the bottom one is a linnet. The two birds were on the same bush along with others.

young goldfinch - Jardinah farm - July

linnet - Jardinah farm - July

I posted that I saw a flock or two of short toed larks here last time. I was asked to look at the bird again since the photo was perhaps not consistant with this bird.   I am a fair minded person so I did.  However, I am now totally confident in my original identification. I don't want to list all the correct characteristics but I am very comfortable with myself.  I don't have any rarities committee to deal with here!

I have made a mental note to explain that photo over-exposure is a real problem here, the sun is very strong and my camera is only a nikon P100 .  So my photos of mobile flocks that are camera shy at 20 metres are poor to very poor. As for fine detail - no chance.

Nevertheless I prefer it this way. I don't want to end up like many east Asian tourists who get the kick out of the photo.

Any way, the birds were still there and they were still mobile. Here is another poor picture of a short toed lark taken yesterday. I take all comments seriously especially from experts. So I reviewed what I saw against the known picture banks. The birds in Jardinah look very similar to the sub species pictures for Israel ( an overall lighter bird) and not the nominate. Does anyone know what the sub species in Israel is?  

short toed lark - Jardinah - July

The fun didn't stop with the larks. Other noticeable birds included a common kestrel and an eagle. The latter is certainly worth another look. The only reported resident eagle in north east Libya is a golden eagle. This is a bird of hills and Jardinah is on a coastal plain. To be honest I wasn't "tuned in" to raptor identification yesterday. I wasn't expecting an eagle! 

I have just a few comments to make which are well short of an identifaction. Most raptors in Libya are pale sub species (eg long legged buzzard) and even the pharaoh eagle owl is a pale (and smaller) version of the eagle owl. But the eagle I saw was dark. It looked strangely out of place!

I will be back to Jardinah again and again to look for this bird and the many others the farm surely contains. Hopefully I will be back with some of the same friends who joined me yesterday. Here is a photo of them up a watch tower on the farm.

From the left Ed (left), James Abdullah and Wendy

A special thanks to James for giving us permission to visit the farm again. Another friend, Chrissie was walking with me towards another soggy field at the time.

We left the farm at about 1pm to go south. My friends went to the beach and I went further south in search of a white crowned wheatear.   I need to map how far north this bird goes in north east Libya (I've seen it in several places in north west Libya). It's a true desert bird and since the area grades to desert south of Sultan, I had some hopes. Unfortunately I didnt see it. I have possible trip to Brega lined up in September. It will probably have to wait till then.

There was one more observation before the trip finished. The sparrows on the palm trees at the beach were spanish!  This is the first time I had seen spanish sparrow since coming to Benghazi. I had doubted there existence. However we were 100 kilometres south of the city. I have a suspicion this might be the north east edge of their range but time will tell. 

The bird I focussed on kindly bowed his head a few times to make the identification easy.

spanish sparrow - palm on beach near Sultan - July

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