Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 01/18/2013 - 15:28 -- abc_admin

Karabolli IBA, Tripolitania, Libya

Image Credit: 
Rob Tovey


This area is in the north west of Libya centred on the capital city of Tripoli. It can conveniently be divided into three sub-zones with quite different habits and birds. The zones are Tripolitania’s coastal strip, its inland plain and the Jebel Nafusa hill range further south. These zones are discussed in more detail on the geography page.

There is one IBA in Tripolitania’s narrow coastal strip with its Medditerranean climate. This is at Karabolli which is a park about 30 kilometres east of Tripoli. See the IBA page for more details on this place. There are three other major sites near the coast which are just as interesting for birds. These are:

  • the wetland, scrub and tidal water complex at Farwa Island which is on the border with Tunisia
  • Wadi Kaam reservoir and valley which is near Al Khum and is 100 kilometres east of Tripoli
  • and the Taourgha Springs salt marsh which is much further east between Misratah and Sirt.


Farwa Island

The area around Farwa Island is at the most westerly part of Libya on the border with Tunisia. It is a 2 hour drive on the Tunis road from Tripoli. The area around Farwa Island and Boukammesh is one of the most important coastal wetlands in Libya. There are extensive tidal areas and mudflats in the lagoon south of the island and seagrass on the northern part of the island. This type of habitat is quite common in Tunisia but much rarer in Libya. The lagoon to the south of Farwa Island is very shallow. It is well protected from the elements by the island too.

Fishing boats and tourism cause disturbance. There is a new up-market resort in the middle of the island facing north. Luckily much of bird activity is to the south of the island away from the open sea – and the resort. The disturbance particularly from tourists is less in winter.

Three kilometres south of the lagoon is a large salt pan (Sebkhet) called Abou Kammesh. It is flooded in winter but the degree of flooding varies greatly from year to year.

The surrounding area is equally interesting. There is a thin coastal strip between the lagoon and the main road, the land south of the main road but north of the salt pans, and also inland scrub south east of the lagoon. The inland scrub to the south east of the lagoon is salty semi desert which grades to low level scrub further south east.

Despite disturbance the Island and lagoon still provide good nesting grounds for Little Tern Sterna albifrons and Common Tern Sterna hirundo. This is also the only recorded breeding place for Caspian Tern Sterna caspia in Libya. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus and Common Redshank Tringa totanus almost certainly breed on the mainland coast in side pools.

The lagoon winters large numbers of water birds most of which are émigrés from Europe. The most common are Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, Black- necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Anas ducks, Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus and Dunlin Calidris alpina. There are Common Redshank Tringa totanus and Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia too. In the winter Common Crane Grus grus can occasionally be seen wading or even in the local fields. Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla has also been recorded then. The winter gulls are mostly Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus with some Slender-billed Gulls L. genei and Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus are also present. A few Lesser Crested Terns Sterna bengalensis linger throughout the winter. In autumn there are plenty of Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Little Egret Egretta garzetta and again some stay into the winter.


South of the lagoon, the heathland either side of the Tunis road is a diverse habitat. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis is found all around. The larger thorn bushes house Fulvous Babbler Turdoides fulva. Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala and Streaked Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta are also resident right up to the coast. Little Owl Athene noctua is here too. Each bird has a habitat niche. It is not known whether Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina which is observed in winter is also resident. The heathland gains many wintering species which have come over the sea from Europe or down from the mountains of North Africa. Flocks of Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis are regularly seen in late autumn onwards. Moussier’s Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri are relatively common all winter, large numbers of Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris and even the occasional Song Thrush Turdus philomelos or Eurasian Blackbird T. merula can be seen then too.

Provided Sebkhet (salt pan) Abou Kammesh is flooded it houses up to 1,500 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus (ruber) roseus as well as large numbers of Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna, Little Stint Calidris minuta and Sanderling C. alba. Many White Wagtail Motacilla alba can be found on the mud flats.

The area of low level inland scrub, south east of the lagoon, is very attractive to a variety of Sylvia warblers in winter. These include Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala, Spectacled Warbler S. conspicillata, Blackcap S. atricapilla and Marmora’s Warbler S. sarda. Some of the Sardinian Warblers are resident. Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti is perhaps surprisingly also resident in the salty semi desert. European Serin Serinus serinus and Eurasian Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus both breed near by on the coastal road to the east.


Wadi Kaam Libya. Photo: Rob Tovey

Wadi Kaam

Between Al Khoms and Misratah there is a Wadi called Kaam which can be divided into three distinctly different areas all with interesting birding opportunities. All the areas are relatively green compared with much of the rest of Libya and so encourage wildlife diversity including birds.

The southern most part is a dammed reservoir. This has created a large lake which is sometimes vast. It has a theoretical capacity of 111 million cubic metres. Most of the water comes from wadis connecting into Wadi Kaam in the upland (300m) Tarhunah area.

The second section of the valley is directly north. This section is mostly turned over to agriculture but it is not supplied from the reservoir but by underground water which comes closer and closer to the surface.

Further north still, the water meets the surface creating a wetland with an “Ain” or springs surrounded by reeds. This stretch is called Ain Kaam. This section is a 1 to 2 kilometres long river and estuary. The water is provided by the springs and incoming tide. The estuary flows thorough a sandy beach.

Travel from Tripoli towards Misratah on the main road and you reach a turn off left for the tourist world renowned attraction Leptis Magna after about 120 kilometres.  This is at Al Khoms. Carry on the main road for 18 kilometres. Turn right towards the reservoir which is a further 18 kilometres up this side road or turn left towards the coast and Ain Kaam.

At the reservoir, resident birds include European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis, Fulvous Babbler Turdoides fulva and Thekla Lark Galeria theklae. In the scrub adjacent to the lake, Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura is resident. This is near the eastern extremity of its range in Libya.

In the winter the reservoir supports a very large variety of water birds. Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Great Crested Grebe P. cristatus, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, large numbers of Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata and Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo are found on the water. Eurasian Coot Fulica atra are found in smaller numbers. Occasionally Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis can be spotted. Long- legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus roam the area. Many non water bird migrants are present. European Robin Erithacus rubecula is plentiful. Others include Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus, Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, White Wagtail Motacilla alba on mud flats and Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros. Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis can be seen flying over. Little Egretta garzetta and Great Egret E. alba are common passage birds.

In the area immediately below (north of) the dam, Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti can be seen on the slopes. In the more vegetated “mini” wadis cascading down to the main wadi valley there are Streaked Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta all year round and Moussier’s Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius and Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus in the winter. Further down (north) the valley widens out. There are plenty of Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara. The meadows house Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis. European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis and local European Serin Serinus serinus are noticeable. As elsewhere on this coast, Desert Grey Shrike Lanius (meridionalis) elegans frequent many local vantage points all year round. Occasionally you will see a Little Owl Athene noctua too. This is the only place in Tripolitania where you can see local race of Chaffinch Fringella (coelebs) africana. In winter it is outnumbered by nominate migrants from Europe. Flocks of Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris of huge size also roam and Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis is recorded regularly in the meadows.

There are resident breeding warblers in Ain Kaam. These are Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis, Reed Warbler which is probably African Reed Warbler Acrocephalus baeticatus (as suggested by research on reed warblers elsewhere in Libya) and Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus breed here too. Several Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus fly all round. In winter the warbler population is reinforced at Wadi Kaam by large numbers of Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita which can be found in all sections of the wadi. Occasionally a Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta can be seen at Ain Kaam too. In the winter, the river (Ain Kaam) typically has smaller numbers of Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis, Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis and the occasional Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca.

The mud flats and beach at the Wadi mouth support a few waders in winter. Typically you might see the occasional Dunlin Calidris alpina, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatorola, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia or Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula.

Taourgha Springs

South east of Misratah and on the western side of the Gulf of Sirt is an extremely large tract of salt marshes. These are centred on Taourgha Springs. The turning to Taourgha Springs is left off the main trans-country coast road which runs nearly 2000 kilometres from the Tunisian to the Egyptian border. The turning is half way between the cities of Misratah and Sirt. It is over 200 kilometres east of Tripoli.

The salt marshes are much more numerous and larger in winter. This area is relatively little investigated because it is so remote. However it is known that Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus winter every year along with Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus (ruber) roseus and Common Crane Grus grus. It is a confirmed wintering location for small numbers of Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris.Little Stint Calidris minuta and Dunlin C. alpina are common in winter. Significant numbers of Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus and large flocks of Skylark Alauda arvensis can be found at the same time. Residents include White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Common Quail Coturnix coturnix, Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta, Desert Wheatear O. deserti, Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto and Little Owl Athene noctua. The White Stork Ciconia ciconia population is swollen in winter by migrants.


Jadu Spring, Jebel Nafusa, Libya. Photo: Rob Tovey

Jadu Spring

The second sub zone in Tripolitania is the Jebel Nafusa. It is a hill range which runs west to east 70 kilometres south of Tripoli. The eastern section near Gharyan is an IBA called “Nefhusa IBA”.  It is particularly important for wheatears all year round and for water birds at its reservoirs in winter. See the IBA page for more information. However there are other interesting hotspots on the Jebel Nafusa apart from the IBA. The best is probably Jadu Spring (Ain Jadu) towards the west of the hill range.

Jadu Spring is a permanent fresh water spring and lake on the western side of the Nefusa plateau between Yefren and Nalut. It is a classic migrant trap. In spring, it is the first fresh water many birds will see. In autumn it is the last water before a long Saharan crossing. In spring a typical cross section of migrants near the water includes: European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis, Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca and Common House Martin Delichon urbicum.  Resident birds include House Bunting Emberiza (striolata) sahari and Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura. It is not known whether the Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis which can be seen is a short distance migrant or resident.

The spring is a good base to visit the surrounding area. Migrants seen within a few kilometres include Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator, European Bee-eater Merops apiaster and Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus as well as more flycatchers. The land south of Jadu Spring towards Zintan grades to semi-desert. Residents here include Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor, Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta, Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus, Eurasian Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus and at least three types of lark – Thekla Lark Galerida theklae, Crested Lark Galerida cristata and Temminck’s Lark Eremophilia bilopha.

Zuwia to Yefren road

The third sub zone of Tripolitania is inland plain. It is semi desert and lies between the coastal strip and Jebel Nafusa hill range. It is flat.and quite homogeneous.  The density of birds is understandably low so patience and alertness are required. The best area to bird is probably close to the Zuwia to Yefren road. The main reason for choosing this part of inland plain is because it is the most accessible part from Tripoli.

Near the Zuwia to Yefren road, as well as Crested Lark Galerida cristata and Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti which might be expected there is a large population of Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor. This is one of the best places in Libya to see this bird. Near the settlements the Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto is rapidly colonising this area. Otherwise this is still a rare bird in the country. They join the resident Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis and Feral Pigeon Columba livia. Contrary to some guide books Black Wheatear cannot be seen in this area. However, the flat plains are ideal terrain for White Wagtail Motacilla alba to winter. Although there are large waves of migrants passing through Libya in Spring and Autumn not many chose to stop here. However, you can see large numbers of Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris and Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans. The first and second can be seen mostly on the ground, the last in the few greener areas with bushes.


There are four IBAs. These are at Ain Zayanah – a sea inlet near Benghazi, Jebel Akhdar – a hill range 150 kilometres north east of Benghazi, Geziret Garah – an island in the Gulf of Sirt, 120 kilometres south of Benghazi and Geziret al Elba-Ayn – an island and its nearby coast 200 kilometres north east of the city. For more details on these locations see the IBA page.

There are four other places in Cyrenaica which are arguably just as interesting for birds. These are the Juliana wetlands in the city, the Al Marj plain, the farm at Jardinah south of the city and the Keroura saltpan 100 kilometres south of Benghazi on the coast.

Juliana wetlands

This is the largest permanent wetland in Libya though it is surpassed in size by a few other sites in winter. It is very close to the centre of the city of Benghazi and is suffering from intense development pressure. It can probably best be reached by taking a taxi to Gar Younis tourist resort and then walking up the beach for 600 metres. The south west corner of the wetlands is there. It is sometimes called Benghazi lagoon possibly because it can link to the sea when the water levels are high.

Breeding birds include Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus and Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus. These birds are found all year round. Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus probably breeds here too. Summer records are few and almost certainly many other birds breed there. Little Egret Egretta garzetta  and Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides have been seen in numbers in late May. It is possible that they are among the breeders.

Winter records are much more systematic. It is still an excellent place to see ducks. Very large numbers of Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, Common Pochard Aythya ferina and Eurasian Coot Fulica atra winter here. Other birds include Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus (ruber) roseus, Dunlin Calidris alpina, Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres and Little Stint Calidris minuta. Remarkably there have been a few wintering Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida and Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. Some Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola stay here until the end of May.

On the drier land, Meadow Pipit Anthus pratenis, Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus and White Wagtail Motacilla alba can be found all winter.


White Stork Ciconia ciconia at Al Marj, Libya. Photo: Rob Tovey

Al Marj plain

This area is directly east of Benghazi. It is a plateau at 300 metres and can be reached in two ways from Benghazi. Either drive north east up the coast road and turn inland after 70 kilometres at Tulmaythah or take the airport road out of Benghazi, drive past the airport and on up to the plain. It is prime farming country.

The Al Marj plain is worth visiting for the colonies of breeding White Stork Ciconia ciconia alone. There are two main clusters known. One is near Old Al Marj and the other is near Al Abyar. A small number of Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola also breed near Old Al Marj.

The tree cover also encourages Chaffinch Fringella (coelebs) africana. House Sparrow Passer domesticus and European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis are common. The area has many Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis and Feral Pigeon Columba livia all year round and European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur in the summer.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus and Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus are the main birds of prey. Common Raven Corvus corax can be seen on the plateau’s slopes towards the sea.

There are also Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis (probably aucheri), Desert Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis elegans all year round and Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator in the summer. Hoopoe Upupa epops is also resident. Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala is found on the coastal edges of the plateau.

Jardinah farm

The farm at Jardinah is massive and has only been in operation since January 2010. It is watered from the great man made river project. It is one of a dozen or so similar projects throughout the country. These highly irrigated farms are all on marginal land or have desert locations. Research and observations have shown that all of them have a rich variety and number of birds, many of which are not found elsewhere in their surrounding area or sometimes even elsewhere in the country.


Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava have been found in Libya in summer at Jardinah. Photo: Rob Tovey

Jardinah farm is the most accessible of these projects. It is 40 kilometres south of Benghazi. Permission for access must be obtained.

Outside the farm in the tree avenue on the approach there are literally hundreds of House Sparrow Passer domesticus. There are also Hoopoe Upupa epops and Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis (probably aucheri).

Inside the farm there are many larks. There are Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens, Greater Short-toed Lark C. brachydactyla, Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra and Crested Lark Galerida cristata but not surprisingly none of the desert species. However round the edge of the farm you can spot Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor .

The fields are always full of White Stork Ciconia ciconia which presumably have flown from the Al Marj plain because the pickings are richer here. There are also usually plenty of Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis.This appears to be the only place where Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava have been found in Libya in summer.

The abundance of small birds and water life particularly frogs have attracted birds of prey. You can at least see Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus and Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus all year round.

Sebkhet Keroura

This is a fairly accessible but largely undisturbed and extensive coastal saltpan which is filled by winter rains. It is 100 kilometres south of Benghazi and can be reached by turning off the main trans-country (runs from the Egyptian to Tunisian border) coastal road.

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus breed and are present all year round at Keroura. However this is a winter birding place. Dunlin Calidris alpina is commonly seen. Occasionally very large flocks of Ruff Philomachus pugnax and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres can be seen at the same time of year. Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii and a few Caspian Gull L. cachinnans cachinnans also winter here. This is another site where there is an excellent chance of seeing Common Crane Grus grus from October until March.


Germa lakes

There are two IBAs in this area, Zallaf and Ghat oases. They are both based on oases. They are described in detail on the IBA page. The Germa lakes which are a string of oases south west of Sebha are equally interesting. They are also on most tourist itineraries when they visit the Libyan desert and so are more accessible than the relatively close Zallaf IBA.

On the Germa lakes, three types of sparrow can be found all year round. Desert Sparrow Passer simplex is locally common but nomadic. Small flocks of Italian Sparrow P. (domesticus) italiae live permanently at Germa in Wadi al Hayat. Spanish Sparrow P. hispaniolensis also breeds widely near the lakes. White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga and Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura are widespread residents too. Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus can be seen at Mavo Lake all year and probably at other lakes too. Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis is a common resident at Germa and Ubari lakes. Fulvous Babbler Turdoides fulva is found resident close to man including in the grounds of Germa Hotel. Desert Grey Shrike Lanius (meridionalis) elegans can be seen all along the Germa Lakes corridor as far west as the middle of wadi Mathkendoosh.

The Germa lakes are very important as a trans-Saharan migrant stop. This seems to be more important in spring than in autumn. While there is more information on breeding birds for the Zallaf IBA, there is a little bit more information on the Germa Lakes than Zallaf concerning migration.

Hundreds of Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica and Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava which are both diurnal migrants can be found at the Germa lakes in spring taking advantage of huge numbers of brine flies and their larvae. These birds are not present during the autumn migration presumably because there are many fewer insects. Smaller numbers of Common House Martin Delichon urbicum, Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica and Common Sand Martin Riparia riparia are found mixed with Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica in the spring. Several Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos have been seen at Germa in April on the sandy borders of Gabron Lake feeding presumably on migration. A Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus has been seen at Wadi Mathkendoosh in the same month. There are almost certainly many more species which stop off at the lakes on migration but they have gone unreported.

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