For many years, the lakes at the end of the river of treated waste water from Mecca have been recommended for birders to visit. Fatbirder website's review of Saudi Arabia is one source which recommends the place. The Shell Oil company guide I used for directions was another. Both say its a great place for water birds. But I have got news for them. Its no longer there!
little green bee-eater at Wadi Uranah
After a couple of hours searching in the area, I discovered that Mecca's water is now piped (rather than flowing) down the wadi. This year a new waste water treatment plant has been built on the Jeddah-Taif road where it processes the water. The result is that the "grey water" river now starts 25 kilometres further down the wadi. Furthermore, presumably new lakes are being formed 25 kilometres away from the previous lakes.
Wadi Uranah is naturally verdant this year because of the very high rainfall in the last two winters. Actually it may have been the successive years of high rainfall that has caused the Mecca authorities to move the waste water further away from the city.
dry river bed where waste water used to run
Given the radical change to the landscape, I had to radically chance my plans. First, I chose to bird the area north of the Jeddah-Taif road (also called the non-Muslim by-pass) which used to have the lakes for a couple of hours. Then I walked down the wadi south of the Jeddah-Taif road where the new river flows.
nile valley sunbird
The area north of the road was teeming with flocks of little green bee-eater.
Ruppells weaver foraging
There were plenty of Ruppells weaver and African silverbill around. They were often foraging together. Interestingly, I didn't see any male Ruppells weaver in their bright breeding plumage. This is in contrast to the Ruppells weaver in the Sharbatly compound in Jeddah.
Incidentally, there were very many old weavers nests among the bushes.
In the less vegetated areas there were a few wheatears. They all seemed to be Isabelline wheatear. This one above caused me an ID headache (against female northern wheatear) until it landed on the ground when its posture confirmed it was an Isabelline wheatear. Incidentally it was in a pair.
The only bird of prey I saw in the northern area was a black kite. There are resident black kite in south west Arabia and this may have been one of them although the population increases in winter.
On completing a couple of hours in the area north of the road I walked back to the car. On a tree next to the car was a Turkestan shrike.
After taking on lots of drinking water, I decided to follow the new river, south of the main road. This was hampered by the lack of a road and after less than a kilometre by a lack of recognisable footpath.
the new river with reeds which have just started to grow
I followed the river for at least four kilometres south through very difficult walking conditions. It was gruelling. There was no sign that the river was slowing as I moved south. I suspect any new lagoons and lakes are many kilometres down stream. It is doubtful that they are well-established yet but in the coming years I expect them to be exciting bird places. I don't think they will be easily accessible though. At the moment a 4X4 would struggle to drive downstream.
So I didn't see any water birds but the birding was quite different from the other side of the main road. There were very few little green bee-eater. Instead there were many tens if not hundreds of blue-cheeked bee-eater which I believe have found a good wintering site.
In one of the few sandy areas near the river, I saw a flock of sand partridge.
I was surprised to see a stonechat near the river. I shouldn't have been because the Helms guide tells me the area has resident and wintering birds. The white to the sides of the tail indicates this may be an eastern stonechat sub species variegata which breeds around the Caspian.
Other birds in the Wadi included namaqua dove, laughing dove and large numbers of African silverbill.
yellow vented bulbul
There is also a low density of yellow vented bulbul flocks.
kestrel resting on a tree near the new river
Birds of prey were easily seen. I saw a kestrel, two steppe eagle and a steppe buzzard. I'm sure that in years to come and as the vegetation around the river develops there will be many more birds of all types.