Sunday, 17 October 2010

The road to Brega

Last Friday, I went to Brega. It's an oil town 235 kilometres south west of Benghazi. The idea was to see if the bird life changed with distance, hotter climate, further west and lesser rainfall. I hesitate to say we went into the desert because Brega is on the coast and is only semi-desert.

The trip is divided into two blogs. This one is about the journey there. The second one about what we found when we got there will be published soon!

common restart, small farm near Sultan

We made two major stops en route. The first was planned, the second was fortuitous.

spotted flycatcher, saltmarsh, Gamines

The first stop was at a Sebkha (which roughly translates as salt marsh although there are often nearly fresh in the winter and some cease to exist in the summer). The sebkha was on the road to Gamines beach. I had visited there in June and it still had water and plenty of bird life. 

Sadly it was dry and the rains we have had in Benghazi clearly never happened  50 kilometres south at Gamines. 

The bird list was still OK. There were still plenty of barn swallow and laughing dove. The turtle dove have departed south. No sign either of the goldfinch I saw last time.

Everywhere in Libya that I visit has spotted flycatcher at the moment and this place was no exception (see photo above)

meadow pipit, salt marsh, Gamines

The other set of birds at the sebkha were wagtails and pipits. The wagtails were mostly passage yellow wagtail and the pipits were mostly wintering meadow pipit. The latter bird must be banking on rain soon because the vegetation is a bit thin.

It's difficult to believe that in 3 or 4 months time this sebkha should be larger than two football pitches.

irrigation on small farm near Sultan

With my best hope for good birds behind me we travelled on south. By pure luck as we hurtled down the main highway, I spotted a large water tower by the side of the road servicing a small holding. This proved to be a much better spot than the natural sebkha. The water tower is used to irrigate. It provides a small stream of crystal clear water to a small copse of trees and some olive bushes. This is every passage birds dream. It is also quite popular with residents too. 

willow warbler on small farm near Sultan 

It was here that I saw and photographed the red-breasted flycatcher which I blogged about yesterday.  Other passage birds seen included a common redstart (see top of the blog) and a few willow warbler.

Common redstart is now really looking common on autumn passage in Cyrenaica. Friends in Tripoli have reported seeing it there as well. I wonder why I didnt see it on spring passage?

spotted flycatcher on small farm near Sultan

Needless to say there a one or two spotted flycatcher here too. It is literally everywhere!

desert grey shrike on small farm near Sultan

Of course, there local birds as well as passage birds. In the copse there was a large flock of house sparrow (checked to see they weren't Spanish sparrow).

The shrike was a pure desert grey shrike. No sign of an aucheri bloodline here. When you see a pure light-coloured bird like this you don't need DNA analysis to know the birds  on the north east coast are very different.

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