Al Kharj is a farming town 75 kilometres south of Riyadh. The water is provided by underground wells which are showing signs of running low and some farms have sadly closed. Nevertheless, the fish farm is going strong.
I visited it with Dennis Cox who has just moved to Riyadh after 27 years working in Yemen (and enjoying their birds).
Both Dennis and I are grateful to Abdullah Amrou who got permission for us to enter this commercial concern and who joined us for the birding.
I can safely say this birding was extraordinary! Next to the fish farm is a grass turf growing area which is part of the same farm. The turf is grown to sell to clients such as football clubs. This area of short cropped meadow was well watered (waterlogged in places) and contained at least 8 types of wader as well as other birds. The birding in this area will be reported in the next blog. I can promise the findings were exciting.
In the meantime this blog only looks at the fish farming side of the area.
first winter whiskered tern
The fish farm was divided into holding areas for different sized fish. Of course this means it can cater for different types of birds!
One of the first birds we saw was a resting whiskered tern. I actually thought it might be ill because it allowed such close contact but now I think it was just full and all the birds there seemed very tame. The local workers just ignore the birds as they go about their work and I am sure the birds feel comfortable with people.
We saw three whiskered tern in total hawking for food over the water. The Helms guide mentions that some whiskered tern winter in eastern Arabia but there is no mention of central Arabia.
a view of part of the fish farm
As I have come to expect with any water course in central Arabia, there were moorhen. Actually there were plenty of moorhen and all were tame.
some of the moorhen at Al Kharj fish farm
The other most noticeable birds were little egret and squacco heron. There was a mobile flock of little egret settling most often in a hedge of tall tamarisk trees near-by.The squacco heron were very keen on keeping near to one particular holding pool.
a couple of squacco heron
We counted a least 9 squacco heron which is a high density for a small area.
Abdullah told us that in winter there are often duck there but we saw only one and it was a northern shoveller, a known winterer to these parts. Maybe its still a little early for many ducks to make it to this region for winter.
common mynah bird
Between the fish ponds and the grass turf meadows is a well watered lawn. This seemed to be a meeting place for the local common mynah flock and for a few white wagtail.
However one of the birds in the flock was not a common mynah. It was a rosy starling. Rosy starling nearly all winter in India but this one has clearly got lost but found a distant relative to flock with.
The Helms guide describes it as a vagrant in this area but Tom Tarrant also saw 4 in his time in the Riyadh area in the early 1990s. I wonder if it is better categoried as rare?
a lone rosy starling at Al Kharj
The next blog looks at what we found in another part of the farm - the grass turf area. Plenty of surprising waders, two types of lapwing and more.