Working for birds in Africa

Important Bird Areas

Fri, 01/18/2013 - 15:17 -- abc_admin
Streaked_Scrub_Warbler_Libya

Streaked Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta, Wadi Ghan Reservoir, Libya

Image Credit: 
Rob Tovey
Desert_Grey_Shrike_Libya

Desert Grey Shrike Lanius (meridionalis) elegans, Karabolli Libya

Image Credit: 
Paul Bowden
Woodchat_Shrike_Libya

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator, Cyrene, Libya

Image Credit: 
Rob Tovey
White_crowned_Black_Wheatear

White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga, Mizdah, Libya

Image Credit: 
Paul Bowden

No species of restricted range are known but there are a number of species which are restricted to two particular biomes. The Mediterranean North Africa biome extends in a narrow strip along the Libyan coast and holds 12 of 17 species restricted to this biome. The area in the north-west of the country within this biome is often called Tripolitania. The area in the north-east in this biome is commonly called Cyrenaica.  The Sahara-Sindian biome covers the rest of the country and holds 14 of the 22 species of this biome. This area is usually called the Fezzan.

A total of 8 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been identified covering 2,865 km2. This low total reflects the lack of available ornithological data. 4 of the IBAs have protected area status, one is partially protected and 3 are unprotected. However, protection is not always fully observed.

North-west Libya (Tripolitania)

2 IBAs are in the north-west of the country, Nefhusa (Jebel Nafusa) and Karabolli. These hold Mediterranean North Africa biome species such as Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara (very common) and Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala (breeds at Karabolli).

Nefusa is the name of the hill range inland and south of Tripoli. The Nefusa IBA straddles the lower slopes as well as the higher plateau of the eastern part of the range. The IBA is in the wettest part of the hill range though even here the annual rainfall is only 300-325 mm. This IBA is much better protected than Karabolli probably because there is no commercial pressure for development.

The Nefusa IBA is easiest to approach by taking the main Gharyan road south out of Tripoli and turning off either left OR right onto smaller roads just before the Gharyan road rises up to the town.

This IBA is a good place to see wheatears – Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura and Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta all year round, Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica in the summer, Magreb Wheatear Oenanthe (lugens) halophilia in winter and Northern Oenanthe oenanthe and Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina on passage.

There are three reservoirs in or near the IBA. These are based on Wadi Zaret, Wadi Ghan and Wadi Mejenin. They attract some water birds in winter such as Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata , Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus and Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca. A few Moussier’s Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri winter here and are sometimes found near the reservoirs but are more likely to be in more remote sloping wadi valleys. Wadi Ghan is one of the easiest places in the country to see Streaked Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta and Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus.

Karabolli, is a coastal park 30 kilometres east of Tripoli which mostly consists of garrigue but has some citrus and olive groves as well as cypress woods. It is only 2 kilometres north of the main Tripoli - Misratah road. This is a stretch of the main west-east coast road which crosses the whole country. The park at Karabolli is under some development pressure particularly for recreational use. It is very accessible to day trippers from Tripoli.

Despite its developmental pressure, with a little effort, it is possible to walk or drive away from the haunts of the day trippers. It is still an excellent place to see European passerine winter migrants as well as spring and autumn passage birds such as redstarts, warblers, chats and nightingales.

Like much of the north west coast there are plenty of resident Eurasian Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus, Hoopoe Upupa epops, Desert Grey Shrike Lanius (meridionalis) elegans and Fulvous Babbler Turdiodes fulva. It is one of the best spots to see breeding Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator and European Bee-eater Merops apiaster in the summer too. The semi-permanent wadis in the park have resident Reed Warbler which recent research from other parts of Libya suggests are probably African Reed Warbler Acrocephalus baeticatus.

North-east Libya (Cyrenaica)

The largest city in this area is Benghazi and it is usually the start point for bird watching expeditions in Cyrenaica. There are four IBAs in this region and one of them is only 15 kilometres from the city centre. This IBA is called “Benghazi” but this is a bit of a misnomer. It is actually Ain Zayanah. There are other birding sites within the city for which the name Benghazi would be more appropriate. The IBA can easily be seen on the left when you take the main coast road out of Benghazi towards the north-east.

Benghazi IBA is an inlet from the sea which is also fed by fresh water aquifers under the ground. Like other IBAs it is under development pressure. On the positive side, there are still no buildings close to the inlet but on the negative side, the natural banks have been replaced by concrete (albeit discretely). Despite all this, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus and Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola breed here in significant numbers. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus probably breeds here too and can be seen all year round.

Although there is significant breeding activity, the site is primarliy a winter birding site which is very important for wintering and passage waterbirds. In winter, there are very large numbers of Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, Little Stint Calidris minuta and Dunlin Calidris alpina. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus (ruber) roseus are nearly always present in the winter in varying numbers. There can also be dozens of Slender-billed Gull Larus genei and Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata. Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna, Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, three types of egret, Grey Plover Pluvianus squatorola, Common Redshank Tringa totanus and Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia are also possible. Among non-water birds Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus are a common sighting in the fields nearby.

Possibly the most surprising sight in winter though is the presence of Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. This is one of two sites in eastern Libya where they are known to over-winter. Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis have also been reported to over winter here in small numbers.

Unusually Geziret Garah IBA is designated an IBA on the strength of just one bird - Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis. The site is an island 125 kilometres south-west of Benghazi, 12 km offshore in the Gulf of Sirt, some 20 km west-south-west of the town of Azzuwaytinah (Zuwaytinah). It is thought to hold 90% of the breeding population of all Lesser Crested Terns in the Mediterranean. Another 5% are at other sites on the north-east Libyan coast. Only one other bird, Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans is believed to breed on the island.

The third IBA in Cyrenaica is Jabal al Akhdar (Green Mountain in English). The Jebel Akhdar is a hill range centred on the town of Al Bayda. It  also contains the town of Shahat which in ancient times was called Cyrene. The highest point of the range is 850m. The range is north and east of Benghazi. Al Bayda itself is about 150 km north-east of Benghazi but the hill range covers over 100 km2. The area gets the highest rainfall in Libya. For example, Shahat at a height of 625 m receives 570 mm which is approximately twice that of Tripoli and Benghazi.

The area is mainly dense highland maquis and Cypress trees are very common. However there is also a major gorge called Wadi Al Kouf  and this is protected. There is also a narrow coastal section next to the hills with sandy beaches interspersed with rocky outcrops and coastal cliffs. On this coast there are two main salt marshes called Sebkhet Ashagiga and Sebkhet Azzarga.

The area with its temperate climate and relatively high rainfall has more in common with southern Europe than anywhere else in Libya and its bird life reflects this. Possibly the most common bird is Chaffinch Fringilla (coelebs) africana. Even the most amateur birdwatcher who is visiting the ancient site at Cyrene as a cultural tourist will notice this bird. There are smaller numbers of Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina and in winter there are European Serin Serinus serinus too. European Goldfinch C. carduelis breed here and are especially common around Qasr Libya which is another tourist site. Jebel Ahkdar is also the only place in Libya where you can find African Blue Tit Parus (caeruleus) cyrenaicae.

Adding to the Southern European feel, Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala is a common resident in the less densely vegetated areas. It’s the only place in Libya where the Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator is the most abundant shrike.

As is typical for upland areas, Jebel Akhdar attracts birds of prey. There are healthy populations of Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni and it is the only part of the country with breeding Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. In contrast to the health of other birds of prey, Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus is now a very rare bird in this area. Common Raven Corvus corax is a common bird.

In the drier, more eastern, parts of the range Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara, different sandgrouse species and Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata breed. The brackish lagoons on the coast are important in winter for herons, ducks and waders as well as Black Stork Ciconia nigra and White Stork Ciconia ciconia.

The final and most easterly IBA in Cyrenaica is Geziret al Elba-Ayn al Ghazalah Bay. It is situated in the south of the Gulf of Bumbah (Bomba), between the towns of Darnah (annual rainfall is 277mm) and Tubruq (annual rainfall is 117 mm). It is a small island just off the coast. Both the island and the nearby coast have salt marshes. For its size the island has a wide vaiety of habitat. As well as salt marsh there is some raised ground with garrigue leading to small cliffs.

The island is important for a large number and type of breeding birds. The following birds are known to breed there: Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara, Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta, Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis, Little Tern S. albifrons, Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus  and Crested Lark Galerida cristata.

However the rarest birds (for the region) which can be found on the island are Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus and Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii.

Central and Southern Libya (Fezzan)

There are two IBAs in the desert areas. These are Zallaf – a string of oases in the centre of the country and Ghat oases is in the far south-west. Like most places in the southern and western desert, the entry point for most people is to fly to Sebha (the largest town in the Libyan Sahara) and then travel on from there. For Zallaf this is usually by road to Brak which is a relatively simple journey. Brak is at the start of the Zallaf chain of oases. In the case of Ghat oases most people undertake a land trek which takes at least two days or they can fly using an infrequent local plane service.

Both Zallaf and Ghat oases contain many of the resident Sahara-Sindian biome species including Sooty Falcon Falco concolor, Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus, Greater Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon alaudipes, Pale Crag Martin Hirundo (fuligula) obsoleta, White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga and Desert Sparrow Passer simplex. Many migrant birds stop over at the oases to rest. A few stay all winter.

White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga is possibly the most common bird of the Libyan Sahara. It also doesn’t inhabit areas away from the desert. So you know you are in the Sahara when you see this bird.

In the Zallaf area most of the observations have been close to the town of Brak. In addition to the species mentioned above Fulvous Babbler Turdoides fulva, Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis, Desert Grey Shrike Lanius (meridionalis) elegans and Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis are all resident and Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica breeds. Close to the water, populations of African Reed Warbler (probably) Acrocephalus baeticatus Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca and Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus are resident .Several of these birds may have populations reinforced in winter with migrants.

Wintering birds include Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala, Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, White Wagtail Motacilla alba and Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago.

Ghat oases has relatively few breeding birds. Most are mentioned in the list above of Sahara-Sindian residents of Zallaf and Ghat. Two other Saharan-Sindian birds which are resident at Ghat are Bar-tailed Desert Lark Ammomanes cinctura and Desert Lark A. deserti.

This IBA is the least reported of the eight IBAs in Libya. The best birding is at the time of passage: Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, Tristram’s Warbler Sylvia deserticola and Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator has been observed then but they almost certainly represent only a small proportion of the number and variety of passage birds.

For further details, download the country IBAs from BirdLife International.

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