Dinosaur of the week: Desert Lark

IMG_5516 04 desert larks

These two Ammomanes deserti were intensely communicating with each other while I observered them last December in the Sahara near Tamanrasset. The species is classified as least concern on the Red List and apparently under no particular threat. But then, the birds rely on insects during the breeding season, so they’ll soon all be gone.

Thank you to the good people on birdforum.net for their help with the ID.

 

Dinosaur of the week: White-crowned Black Wheatear

white-crowned black wheatear.JPG

Last December on my trip to Tamanrassset I encountered Oenanthe leucopyga fairly regularly. The IUCN Red List classifies it as Least Concern (https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22710238/94240236) – with numbers unknown and in the knowledge that the birds feed mainly on insects. In my opinion, we need to be concerned.

Dinosaur of the week: Red-billed Firefinch

In mid-December 2018, I saw a flock of Lagonosticta senegala in Tamanrasset in the garden of the hotel where my husband and I were staying (http://bois-petrifie.org/en/). The firefinches seemed to be very much at home a big tree and there were about three or four pairs of them. They also seemed to get on well with their neighbours in the tree, the African Silverbills (see last week’s post).

The firefinches were introduced in this region in the middle of last century. For more information I highly recommend http://www.magornitho.org/2017/04/red-billed-firefinch-algeria/.

Algeria – Afilal and Assekrem (Tamanrasset 4/4)

On the third day of our trip to Tamanrasset we went to Assekrem. For foreign tourists, this is the only spot in the area where one can stay overnight outside of Tam because there’s an outpost of the gendarmerie. A permit has to be organized in advance and ours was sorted by the travel agency and our marvellous guide.

The track to Assekrem is marked and leads through a varied landscape. Quite often it appeared moon-like.

We didn’t go to Assekrem immediately but had a stopover with picnic at one of Algeria’s Ramsar wetlands. It’s a pretty odd feeling to have been through parched valleys and hills and then suddenly there’s a river and ponds and plastic bottles and bags.

If you look at the sign you can marvel at its linguistic complexity. Arabic, French, and English are easily recognizable. The signs that look a bit like runes are Tifinagh, the writing system of the Amazigh (Berber) languages. It’s one of the oldest writing systems still in use and because the Amazigh are matriarchal the women are responsible for teaching it (or so I read in my guide book).

With the area being full of water, there was of course lots of wildlife. We saw kestrels and martins, plenty of dragonflies and brilliant grasshoppers with red wings underneath their grey ones. There was a lot of humming in the air.

We arrived in Assekrem in the afternoon. There was ample time to climb from the refuge to the mountain top, from about 2600m to 2800m – and I certainly felt the height and had to stop every few steps to catch my breath. Well, it gave us time to admire the house bunting.

Once we had made it to the top, we were welcomed by the local Catholic priest … yes, you read that correctly. Assekrem is famous because at the beginning of the 20th century a French astronomer, Foucauld, built his hermitage on the mountain to observe the weather and the stars and to possibly do some spying for the French military. He also erected a tiny church which can be visited these days. The priest also told us that we were really lucky because it was a very fine day with great visibility and almost no wind. Really balmy.

We had almost two hours of daylight left and made good use of it. If you’d like more photos, especially the stars of a desert sky, head here: http://chinese-poems.com/blog/?p=1812

We made it down just in time for darkness to cover land and plastic and had dinner followed by some of the coldest hours I’ve ever experienced (I spent a winter on Iceland). And there wasn’t even any wind blowing! I went to sleep dressed with my woolly hat on and crawled under three thick blankets.

In the morning, the whole sky was covered in an orange glow, seeing which was well worth the freezing night, but I didn’t climb up the mountain. We went back to Tam and admired some camels on the way. We also had our last picnic of the trip. The flights to and from Tam are always in the middle of the night so we tried to nap once back in our hotel. It was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Sahara.

Dinosaur of the week: African Silverbill

Having observed Euodice cantans in Tamanrasset in mid-December caused quite a bit of a stir in the world of birding (http://www.magornitho.org/2019/01/african-silverbill-south-algeria/). I had been totally oblivious to the fact that this is a much sought-after species and also that this has been the first record of the species in southern Algeria in about a decade. According to the IUCN the species is least concern but more research is needed (https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22719761/131997328).

Here some facts for birders: I saw the flock of about half a dozen birds in the garden of our hotel in Tam (http://bois-petrifie.org/hotel.php). They seemed to be fairly settled in one of the big trees, moving to the neighbouring garden every now and then, but returning regularly. The hotel has a cafĂ© and I’m pretty sure if customers ask nicely they can enjoy the garden and its inhabitants.

Algeria – Boulders and Birds (Tamanrasset 3/4)

On our second day in Tamanrasset, our fab guide (and the three vehicles of the gendarmerie) took us north-east of the town, passing through fields of plastic rubbish into an area that is best described as boulder country. I don’t know the geological processes which shaped the rock formations to make them look like they do, but it was an awesome place to see.

At some point, our driver stopped near some boulders and we were told to venture in between them and eventually under one of the big stones. There, on the ‘ceiling’ above us, we saw some rock art which is a few thousand years old. I was very tempted to touch it but managed just about to behave myself. I couldn’t resist though feeling in the hole where the old ones must have mixed the paint.

While our guide prepared picnic and tea, we had a look around and admired the landscape and whatever wildlife we could find in it. I was amazed at a fairly vibrant insect life.

Back in the hotel in the afternoon, we spent some time in its garden where we saw more birds. An Egyptian vulture flew by and several silverbills and firefinches had made their home in the garden’s trees and were just lovely to observe. At this point, some thank yous – to the birders on birdforum.net for their help with bird IDs and to our colleague Narimene for making endless phonecalls!

Dinosaur of the week: Brown-necked Raven

I saw this Corvus ruficollis and its partner on my recent trip into the Sahara desert. According to the IUCN website, the population is increasing. However, according to the same website numbers of mature individuals is unknown. Science needs to be based on facts, not wishful thinking. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22706064/118783085#population Many thanks to the excellent birders on birdforum.net for their help with the ID.

Algeria – The World’s Smallest Waterfall (Tamanrasset 2/4)

The world’s presumably smallest waterfall Temekerest is fairly close to Tamanrasset – and it’s not quite as underwhelming as it sounds. Actually, it’s really exciting. Imagine you’ve been driving through parched landscapes for roughly two hours, seeing very little but bare rocks and the odd acacia tree, trees which are usually decorated with plastic bags.

Every now and then you can also see the plant, apple of Sodom, whose sap can make you blind but whose leaves apparently can be cooked and eaten. We didn’t try either of these though.

Then you turn into a wadi which is sandy and sprouts more trees. Not a drop of water is anywhere in sight. Just more plastic. And possibly some travellers.

You get out of your car and walk towards the hills. Make sure to have covered every bit of skin from the sun. Then notice how the smell has suddenly changed. Listen to the tinkle. Appreciate how the vegetation is completely different.

Be also on the lookout for wildlife. Wheatears and dragonflies come very close and you might see a vulture or a raven flying by. You’re unlikely to see gazelles or cheetahs though because they were used for target practice.

Once your adventure has exhausted you, your fabulous guide will have prepared a picnic. Finally, on your way back keep on the lookout for hyrax and other wildlife. You’ll notice the plastic anyway.