Wednesday 1 December 2010

Flamingoes and curlews in the saltpans

Following the heavy rains in Cyrenaica two weeks ago, the inland wadis have filled and several saltmarshes on the coast have become winter lakes. Obviously it will need to rain again this winter to keep them like this and none is yet forecast. Nevertheless I have been enjoying the birding at these newly exciting locations.

One big lake is just south of Tocra. I'm never sure about names taken from the UN winter water bird count but this might be what they call Sebkhet al Kouz. Either way no water was there 15 days ago and now there is.

Last Friday we were speeding on the main coast road towards our target location (an inland wadi) when Abdullah noticed some big white birds in the distance to our left. by the way, he should have been watching the road.

We parked up and I walked about a kilometre across progressively more waterlogged fields until I reached the side of the lake.

flock of curlew, Sebkhet Al Kouz

I will come to the white birds later but meanwhile as I arrived at the lake I saw a single curlew flying. I diverted my attention and headed stealthily towards where it landed.

I am always game to look at curlew in Libya. There are certainly very many in winter. I am pretty sure the UN survey underestimates this bird because it will often settle in smaller more remote sebkhets which aren't all visited by the UN team. I genuinely believe it's worth checking them all for the elusive slender billed curlew though I don't necessarily go along with the theory that (if the bird is still around) it mixes with curlew.

second picture of flock of curlew, Sebkhet Al Kouz

Unfortunately I heard something that sounds like a gun shot and the flock took to the air. Although hunting is banned in Libya it still goes on at a low level. Luckily I didn't hear any more but I lost sight of the curlew round the other side of the lake. 

The flock contained about 70 birds.

a view of sebkhet al kouz from the shore

Having lost the chance to inspect 70 curlew I turned my attention back to the "white birds"

flock of flamingo,  sebkhet al kouz

These were all young flamingo. All were either first or second winter birds.  Inspection of rings by scientists has showed that young flamingo don't travel as far in winter as older birds. This would explain the lack of adults in this case.

closer view of flamingo

As I started walking back to the car I disturbed a group of common redshank ahead of me. This surprised me a little because they normally like to be close to water and all I could see was meadow ahead of me. When i got close to where they had been I saw that the waterlogging there was deeper and there was patchy surface water. 

It was here I saw a small number of water pipit along with the ubiquitous meadow pipit

water pipit, sebkhet al kouz

This observation supported my idea (expressed in previous blogs) that there are probably plenty of wintering water pipit in Libya but I haven't been able to access them because of the terrain they winter on.

I know that ideally they like to stay beside rivers but thy are in short supply here but meadow pools in waterlogged meadows seem to be a good second choice.

male black redstart

As I headed close to the car , now on dry ground with rocks, I saw one final bird in the area.  This gave me grief and  re-enforced the view that there is no substitute for experience in the field.

The bird appeared a beautiful deep blue from the back and behaved like a chat. I chased it around to try to get a good picture. I got the one above and similar ones. I glimpsed some red in the tail.  Only later was it pointed out to me it was only a male black redstart.  

Now I have seen many black redstart this winter. But as I said in a previous  blog (on Wadi Dana in Jordan) we seem to get proportionately more females. Second, the males have been more "wintery-looking" than this bird. In certain a light, this bird appeared in bright attractive colours and I missed its ID.  I wont make that mistake again. 

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