Monday 19 July 2010

Culture without Vulture

The glorious Greco-Roman city of Cyrene

On Friday 9th July, I visited the ancient city of Cyrene near the modern town of Shahat. This was a day when bird watching was combined with culture. Cyrene is a must-see place before anyone self-respecting world traveller dies. It is perched up on the escarpment of the Jebel Ahkdar (Green Mountain) at 625 metres overlooking the sea.

It was the coolest day of the summer - only 28C in Benghazi and 23C at Cyrene. This was bliss to those of us:  Wendy, Ed and I who have laboured in the North African summer and chose this day out together.

We set out early, giving us time to visit make the long trip up the Al Marj plain and on to the Jebel Akhdar.  The hill range is the most temperate in Libya and has the most rainfall. It has more in common with southern Europe than with the rest of Libya.

We took a break for mid morning tea between Qasr Libya and Cyrene. While the others drank, I ventured. I didn't have to venture far. The hedgerow (itself a novelty) contained at least three African Blue Tit. This was my first observation of them in Libya. they only live in the Jebel Akhdar. Before I had only seen them in Morocco.  Although they weren't shy, they refused to move out of the sun.

African Blue Tit on the road from Qasr Libya to Cyrene - July

Near-by I saw plenty of sardinian warbler without any effort, as well as turtle dove, great grey shrike (ssp aucheri), chaffinch (ssp africana) and woodchat shrike.

As we got closer to Cyrene we stopped the car to look up in the air at one and then a short distance later a second golden eagle. I really haven't got the knack yet of taking pictures of birds of prey. Even when I get them in the crosswires the colours don't come out true. Here's a shot of the eagle:

golden eagle - Jebel Akhdar - July

Having seen eagles here (and again) later at Cyrene I lament the fact I haven't seen an Egyptian Vulture since I arrived in Libya. I didn't see them at wadi Al Kouf on the way which is where they were last reported. Just what is happening to this bird?

One of many arches - Cyrene - July

The top half of the Cyrene site is surrounded by an ancient cypress forest.  The chaffinch have probably been there as long as the forest. There were a few house sparrow and the odd hoopoe in the open too.

The lower half of the site is right next to the escarpment. it is very steep on the way down. It is an ideal place for birds of prey to practice their use of the thermals.  They seemed to be queueing up! First I saw a common raven.  Then I saw a group of five lesser kestrel and finally two more golden eagle. All this activity was within half an hour.

lesser kestrel - Cyrene - July

In the fields adjacent to the site, I started to play the game of chase the chaffinch. I wanted a better shot than the one I snapped at Al Marj a few weeks before. I failed but as compensation I got close to a compliant woodchat shrike. Jebel Akhdar is the only part of Libya where this shrike out-numbers the great grey shrike complex. Once again showing the area's similarity with southern Europe.

woodchat shrike - Cyrene - July

After this it was off to the Temple of Zeus. This building is truely imposing and radiates a real sense of history.

the Temple of Zeus near Shahat

I saw two of my students at this site. What a coinicidence. Its a long way from Benghazi.

There was time for a team photograph and for me to chase some more chaffinch.

From left to right: Wendy, me and Ed

Given that they are everywhere around the Jebel Akhdar hill range, its no surprise I finally collared a chaffinch and snapped away. I'll get an adult male next time.

chaffinch - Temple of Zeus, Shahat - July
another photo of a chaffinch - Temple of Zeus - Shahat - July


  1. That's so beautiful, I had toke a first look,but I intended to get back as soon as possible..
    Fatima A

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  3. Natural beauty combine with a gorgeous human spirt that's searching for what's kind of authenticity and uniqueness !!I can't say how is that meant to me..I'm in love with my country!
    Thank you so much for giving us this ride to get knowing much more about the beauty of Libya.
    a friend of Fatima A.