Tuesday 5 October 2010

The weekend had eagles and harriers too

Last Friday was a very busy day. My ultimate destination was Ras Al Hilal, the "Cape Finisterre" of Cyrenaica, north east Libya's most northern point with its very European look and climate.

En route we travelled progressively eastward from Benghazi, first to coastal Ain Azziana then on to the near-by wetlands at Deryanah. After another 50 kilometres along the coast we turned inland and rose up to the Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) before descending once more back onto the coast and on to Ras Al Hilal.

I have already blogged about the dark heron at Ain Azziana and the ducks at Deryanah. 

These observations were only part of Friday's story. Birds of prey were another. Two species of birds of prey were seen on the journey which are not in the new Collin's guide distribution maps and a third which is on the maps proved illusive! 

short toed eagle, October 1, Shahat

As we started to descend the Jebel Akdar from the ancient site at Cyrene down the mountain road towards the coast, we saw a bird to our right. It was 250 metres up in the air but by pure luck we were at the same height on the road.

My travelling companion thought it looked like a toy aeroplane because it hovered for so long. 

This is how I was lucky enough to photograph a short toed eagle from the side while hovering. This is something which normally needs a light aircraft!

another view of short toed eagle, Shahat, October 1

Once it stopped hovering it went both up and down levels so I managed photos above (see above) and below the bird.

short toed eagle, Shahat, October 1

Its well-known bib is apparent on the above shot and there is some contrast with the light belly which is also typical of this bird.

another underside picture of short toed eagle, Shahat, October 1

After two or three minutes we saw a second short toed eagle!

It almost doesn't need saying but short toed eagle is not on the Collins distribution map for Libya. I knew this was not accurate because I had seen one in spring near Tripoli.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of short toed eagle cross from Europe to Africa on migration at Gibraltar and Istanbul. Two Southern Italian birds are currently being tracked: 

Both birds have taken a massive de tour to avoid crossing the Mediterranean towards Tunisia or Libya! They are heading towards Gibraltar on land.

Likewise Balkan birds including mainland Greek birds are known to divert towards Istanbul. 

So where have the birds I saw come from?

I only have two ideas. They could be birds from Crete. It is almost as short a sea crossing for them to fly to Cyrenaica directly as it is to fly up to Istanbul and the journey is much shorter.

My other idea is that they haven't come from anywhere. They may be local birds!  On October 1st when this sighting was made the Italian birds had barely started their migration (a day before actually) .So it is quite possible that any local Libyan bird would not have migrated yet.

The trouble is I will have to wait until next May to find out.

Marsh harrier, Deryanah, October 1

Even before we saw the short toed eagles, we had seen more marsh harrier. We saw a pair at Deryanah. See my recent blog on "How many marsh harriers stay all year round?" discusses the occurrence of this bird. There were an adult male and female disturbing the newly arrived waders. I suspect tired migrating waders may have been easy prey.

Just to finish my stories about birds of prey, I can tell you we visited Wadi Al Kouf in the Jebel Akhdar on the way (before we saw  short toed eagle and after we had seen marsh harrier).  This was a strong hold of the Egyptian vulture. This is a bird which I believe may no longer present in Libya (ironically it is on the Collins map) in common with its worldwide decline.

Wadi Al Kouf, October 1

I didn't see any vultures but I did find a nest which had been used this year or last (it had feathers inside). I have made a note that I should observe this next spring. Is an Egyptian vulture's nest ? Is there still hope?

nest, Wadi Al Kouf, October 1

Wadi Al Kouf did reveal some birds of prey. I saw one kestrel and a group of eight lesser kestrel but I would have traded them all in for an Egyptian vulture.

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