Friday, 23 December 2011

Brown shrike and other birds at Al Hayer

When I was in Libya, I saw over 20 species which the distribution maps in the Collins guide said weren't there. The distribution maps are a function of the under-reporting in the country. This is fast disappearing with a lot of new home grown talent and one or two foreign specialists finding out exciting things.

"Going against the guide" requires self belief and lots of time checking ID features! 

brown shrike

Saudi birding is also under-reported and once again I sometimes need a big ID effort.

Today was a case in point. I went birding with Clive Temple in the Al hayer area, south of Riyadh. While Clive was birding some local fields, I went instead to the edge of the Riyadh river. A shrike caught my attention.

second view of the shrike

It had some similarities to a Turkestan shrike and some similarities to a durian shrike (isabelline shrike). I have seen plenty of these two birds all winter at al Hayer. However it just didn't look right for either. So I followed it around for over 20 minutes before concluding hat it could be a first winter or a female brown shrike

third view of the shrike

The most easterly breeding populations of brown shrike are in western Siberia and winter mostly in India. The eastern Siberian birds winter in Indo-China. It is listed as rare/accidental in Sudan and those birds must come through Saudi Arabia.  The bird at Al Hayer is certainly less of a vagrant than those seen in western Europe!

two birds on a pivot

I had a second encounter with an uncommon bird for central Arabia as well. Though it has been reported more often than a brown shrike. The encounter happened when I was walking towards a white throated kingfisher on pivot. I notice a small brown bird left of the kingfisher. 

meadow pipit

It turned out to be a meadow pipit which is an uncommon bird in central Arabia. You may remember that Clive and  I saw pipits in another fodder field last week which we could pin down to meadow pipit or tree pipit. Well, these pictures definitely show meadow pipit.

second view of a meadow pipit at Al Hayer

The cross bars of the pivot water sprinkler systems were again productive places to see several species. A flock of 8 cattle egret and one squacco heron landed next to the meadow pipit when I was photographing it.

cattle egret

I am afraid I accidentally flushed five common snipe as I approached the sprinklers.


I strongly recommend observing these pivot cross beams especially when the water is on. On another beam I saw a hoopoe. Since arriving in Saudi 3 months ago, I have seen over 30 species on beams.

brown necked raven

The number of northern lapwing in the fields was down to about 30 this week but the number of brown necked raven reached 45, many of which perched on one particular cross beam for a moment or two.

greater spotted eagle

Sometimes one bird has the whole pivot to itself! like when a greater spotted eagle took a rest yesterday.


There are other "man made" perches which yield bird observations. A few months ago there was a fire on the edge of one fieldd and a few trees were burned and left leafless. This chiffchaff was briefly using one yesterday.

little green bee-eater

This is the only picture of  a bird taken yesterday on a purely natural perch. Once again little green bee-eater was around in numbers. They have got long tails but from certain angles you can't see that.  This is relevant to the brown shrike pictures back at the start of the blog. The bird I saw in the field had a long tail which only comes out in the side on pictures.

Finally you need to know that I have a high burden of proof when I add birds to any of my lists. In the end I decided not to add brown shrike to my list. Its a shame I didn't get more pictures from different angles.

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