Friday, August 1, 2014

Azadi Park, Sulaimani

On the morning of July 25th, I started my birding in Kurdistan. The start was low key with a visit to the local park in Sulaimani called Azadi. It's actually quite large but still being developed.

In this introduction to Kurdistan birding, only 10 species were seen but it gave me a first feel of what to expect in the region.


One of the most surprising finds for me was a greenfinch. According to my regional guide's map there is an isolated community of this northern bird around Sulaimani. It seems I found it. 

Eastern olivaeous warbler

Before that I spent some time trying to identify the relatively large number of warblers in the park. It didn't take me too long to wok out that they were all of two types. 

Eastern olivaceous warbler was extremely common. 

Menetries's warbler

Menetries's warbler was restricted to areas with low bushes. However this was still the most concentrated group of them I have ever seen. Unlike the more northerly sub species this one is quite bland especially the females. 

second view of Menetries's warbler

I had been told that white wagtail could be found at the park and so it proved. I came across a family of 2 adults and 2 juveniles next to one of the three artifical lakes. The adults were very worn.

White wagtail

The juveniles were still young enough to be begging for food. White wagtail doesn't breed much further south than this.

juvenile white wagtail

Incidentally the lakes attracted a few hawking barn swallow.

collared dove

The park's most obvious residents are the doves: collared dove, laughing dove and feral pigeon. Unfortunately there was no sign of turtle dove. The latter bird is in serious trouble throughout its range.

Laughing dove

The main problem with birding in Kurdistan at this time of year is the temperature. It reached 42C on July 26th. Birding became increasingly difficult after 9am as we walked round the park. 


House sparrow was everywhere as expected. Hoopoe was the only other bird seen.

house sparrow

Thanks are due to my non-birding friend Steve Kaplysz who lives and works in Kuridstan and who came out on this visit with me.

After returning to Steve's place mid morning, at 4pm as the temperatures began to drop, I resumed birding in another part of the city. Still with low key birding, another seven species were added to my embryonic Kurdistan list including a lifer.

Species seen in Azadi park
Feral pigeon
Collared dove
Laughing dove
Barn swallow
Eastern olivaceous warbler
Menetries’s warbler
House sparrow
White wagtail

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Istanbul stopover

I was in Kurdistan visiting a friend for a few days this week.  I managed to get some birding in as well as sight seeing. I'll produce a series of blogs to report on this.

However because of poor airline connections, I had a stop over in Istanbul on July 23th.

I took the opportunity to bird around the Topkapi area (in Gulane park) which is within walking distance of my hotel. I have done this before but at different times of year. 

adult great tit bathing

The park is too well tended in a sense. There are very few bushes and low trees but lots of tall ones providing welcome shade for walkers. This configuration favours birds large birds including parakeets as against passerines. 

Nevertheless a few passerrines thrive. The most obvious is great tit which is helped by nest boxes being placed out part way up the tall trees. 

young great tit

There was plenty of evidence of young birds and so a succesful breeding season.

young great tit bathing

I struggled to find any warblers. However in one corner of the park there are smaller trees and sure enough I came across some noisy Eastern olivaceous warbler.

Eastern olivaeous warbler

It was difficult to get a straight and prolonged view.

Eastern olivaeous warbler in the sun

Other smaller birds were limtied to house sparrowcommon starling and common myna.This was the first time I had seen this latter bird in Istanbul as this pest moves closer to the rest of Europe.

common starling

The park is mostly the playground of larger birds. I didn't see Alexandrine parakeet this time but rose ringed parakeet were easily seen.

house crow

Hooded crow is certainly the most common larger bird at least at this time of year.


Numbers of magpie were much more limited.

Laughing dove

Like common myna, the range of laughing dove is still expanding. They reached Tbilisi, Baku and Istanbul over 25 years ago and its difficult to believe they wont colise southern Europe more genrally.

adult yellow legged gull

Gulane park is only 100 metres from the sea at its closest so its not surpising that yellow legged gull makle it into the park.

young yellow legged gull

The fledgling yellow legged gull above was incredibly tame.


Over the road from the park on the coast, a single cormorant stood on a lamp post.

The visit to Gulane park was short and light relief. Ironically the first place I visited in Kurdistan was a park in central Sulaimani. That is the subject of the next blog.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Last birding for a lark in Saudi Arabia

Yesterday was highly likely the last birding I will do in Saudi Arabia for a while.  My three year stint here is over this week and I will be in Salalah, Oman from September.

I thought it appropriate for several reasons to go birding for larks as my last event. One reason is that it is the name of the blog and a good second reason is that in the fierce heat of the central Arabian summer its one of the best options to actually see anything.

I visited the Buwaib escarpment, 100 kilometres north of Riyadh and birded both below it and on top of it in the early morning. There were just two stops and I walked around each for a long time. All birding was complete by 9.15 am when it was roasting.

thick billed lark

At the top, I came across two thick-billed lark, about 3 kilometres from where I had seen one in February. Lou Regenmorter and Brian James saw juveniles in spring. I haven't asked them the exact location but it is presumably in the same area. 

In February I had assumed the bird was wintering but evidence is piling up that at least some of these birds are resident.

thick billed lark with female trumpeter finch

My location was a grassy wadi within a stony terrain right next to the escarpment drop. The wadi was busy with birds. Most were trumpeter finch.

female and male trumpeter finch

I assume that the one non-adult male bird was an adult female as it has a slight rose colour to the bill not seen in juveniles. However I am not an expert with this bird.

trumpeter finch

The only other lark seen around the wadi was desert lark.

desert lark

The other species seen at the wadi were pale crag martin, little green bee-eater, house sparrow, blackstart, white crowned wheatear and a single namaqua dove.


The wadi at the top of the escarpment was actually the second stop. My first stop starting at about 5.45am was a flat extremely large field below the escarpment. This field is very green with lush but short grass in winter and spring and is a favourite picnic spot then. At the time of year it is a dried out plain but I could see hundreds of seeds.

the picnickers' plain in summer

Camels and cars are banned from going on the field but sadly the camel ban is ignored and was so even when I was there. Nevertheless I viewed the prospects for larks as high.

hoopoe lark

The lark density was indeed high. I came across hoopoe lark first.

second view of a hoopoe lark

Crested lark was not unexpected.

crested lark

The third species of lark was desert lark. the only one seen in both places. I was a little surprised at seeing it on the flat plain. I would have though the terrain was more accommodating for bar-tailed lark but it was not to be.

desert lark on the plain

The larks were sharing the plain with many tens of feral pigeon and a few laughing dove and collared dove. A single white crowned wheatear was also observed.

desert rat (gerbil)

There are several mounds in the plain. I suspect all have been created by gerbils.

I have enjoyed birding throughout Saudi Arabia and have seen 331 species even using the conservative Clements count. I will be back. There is still much to see.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Muhayil road, Abha

On Saturday, Bernard Bracken and I went out of Abha about 20 kilometres on the Muhayil road north west of the city. 

Here the wadis are flatter than Azizah which was visited on Friday. The terrain on average looks a little drier too. This was probably because the altitude was a little lower at around 2250 metres.

Many of the birds were the same. However the proportions were different and we did see four species not seen the day before.

We got better views of Arabian wheatear including a family group with two adults and two juveniles. The adults kept calling the juveniles which were venturing away. 

juvenile Arabian wheatear

Clements and e-bird database still counts this bird as a sub species of mourning wheatear though the sexes are dimorphic unlike mourning wheatear and the juveniles different too.

male Arabian wheatear

The density of Arabian babbler was the highest I have seen anywhere. 

Arabian babbler

White spectacled bulbul were also present.

white spectacled bulbul

Both bulbuls and babblers are nest-parasitised by pied cuckoo. Nevertheless I didn't expect to see any. However there were two in one of the farmed wadis.

pied cuckoo

Convention wisdom has it that they winter in Africa and fly to India just ahead of the monsoon season. The main regional guide shows that a few breed in a small part of Yemen not bothering to undertake the journey.

In the past two summers, observers in Saudi Arabia including me have seen them in the Jizan and Sabya areas throughout the summer. These are low lying areas (less than 1000 metres) which the guide says is where you can see them, implying on scarce passage.

However these birds were at 2250 metres  and its getting a little late for passage even to monsoonal India.  As we "join up the dots" it beginning to look like this bird is more widespread in south west Arabia and for longer than conventionally thought.


Hoopoe, like Arabian babbler was an at incredibly high density and in the same wadi. 

Arabian warbler

Arabian warbler was common too. We actually sat under a tree in the shade before realising the tree contained a nest with very young birds being fed.

This is another bird which the regional guide struggles with the altitude it can be found. I have commented before that I have seen very many above the "1500 metres where it is usual"

I am beginning to wonder if the issue on altitude is that the guide covers all Middle East and many species which are found in Asir, Saudi Arabia are also found in Dhofar, Oman but at lower altitude.

long billed pipit

More observations were made on long billed pipit which was also seen the day before. I can now conclude, despite being a ground user,  it perches on trees more than any other pipit I know other than tree pipit.

little green bee-eater

Two species seen on Saturday on the Muhayil road but not at Azizah were little green bee-eater and desert lark.

We spotted a row of about 12 bee-hives near-by where clearly commercial honey making is taking place. It looks like this is enough to entice little green bee-eater to the area.

desert lark

We spent a lot of time out of the wadis on the rocky hillsides looking for Blanford's lark. We failed. it's a true nemesis bird for me.  Indeed, all day we only saw one crested lark and one desert lark.

Palestine sunbird

We crossed over the main road late on to see if the terrain was any different.

It looks similar but the bird composition wasn't. We met our first palestine sunbird of the day.

female Yemen linnet

One small area was swarming with Yemen linnet. They were clearly very attracted to a filed of thistles and another of some sort of seeding herb.

Short toed eagle

Near the end of our birding time we spotted the only bird of prey seen all day. It was a short toed eagle. It was well worth waiting for.

Overall the trip to Abha was successful and pleasant. The Asir mountains are probably the only part of Saudi Arabia where you can bird all day at this time of year.

The species seen off the Muhayil road, Abha are listed below:

Short toed eagle
Arabian warbler
Feral pigeon
Arabian babbler
Dusky turtle dove
Gambaga flycatcher
Laughing dove
Pied cuckoo
Bruce’s green pigeon
Arabian wheatear
Eurasian hoopoe
Red breasted wheatear
Little green bee-eater
Yemen thrush
Crested lark
Palestine sunbird
Desert lark
Long billed pipit
Pale crag martin
Cinnamon breasted bunting
White spectacled bulbul
Yemen linnet
Brown woodland warbler
House sparrow
Graceful prinia
Rueppell’s weaver