Friday, 16 December 2011

A day in the fields

Thursday was a long day in the field. Clive Temple and I spent eight hours birding the fodder fields south of Al Hayer. This was an intensive effort to unlock more of the secrets of this habitat in the Riyadh area.

tawny pipit

One of our goals today was to look closely at the pipits in the fields. Certainly the most common pipit was tawny pipit. We counted seeing 70 birds during the day. However we saw 4 birds which could easily have been long billed pipit.

candidate for long billed pipit

The general look of the birds were not like "typical" tawny pipit. The legs are shorter, the white supercilium is longer and the breast has some streaking.

second view of probable long billed pipit

A new set of records by Per Anders Bertilsson of Sweden who was in the Riyadh area from 1998-2001 has just been released. It is excellent.

Per has some interesting comments on long billed pipit. He says At Thumamah (farm north of Riyadh) , "in December 1999 and March 2000, I saw and heard 2-3 individuals that resembled Long-billed Pipits, but they were never positively identified".  We have reached a similar position today!

white wagtail

We also saw two birds which were either tree pipit or meadow pipit. Meadow pipit is a known but previously designated rare winterer in central Arabia.

However three water pipit were definitely identified in a sodden field. This bird was been recorded as a rare winterer here too.

White wagtail was the other member of the wagtail and pipit family seen.

crested lark

Crested lark was the other small bird seen in great numbers on the fields.

Of the larger birds, northern lapwing and collared dove were still numerous.

brown necked raven

A little more excitingly, a flock of at least 12 brown necked raven also came into one field.

raven mobbing a marsh harrier

At one stage several of the raven mobbed a marsh harrier which wasn't allowed in "their" field.

greater spotted eagle

Marsh harrier wasn't the only bird of prey on the fodder fields. Two greater spotted eagle made an appearance.

kestrel on a pivot sprinkler

Kestrel were ever present and briefly we saw a ring tailed harrier. With some many birds of prey near-by, the smaller birds (and even the lapwings) were regularly panicked into flying off.

desert wheatear

On the areas adjacent to the watered fields were both desert wheatear and Isabelline wheatear as usual.

Asian desert warbler

However there were also several Asian desert warbler which I had over-looked before and a small number of desert lesser whitethroat. I confess that desert warbler is a lifer for me. Desert lesser whitethroat is a noisy rattling bird which gives its presence away all the time!

grey heron in a field

Even though we weren't birding the near-by Riyadh river on Thursday, there were a few water birds in the fields. Three grey heron were seen.

black winged stilt

A couple of the fields are so close to the river that they sometimes become waterlogged by it. On Thursday, one of the waterlogged places held two black winged stilt

However by far the most numerous "water bird" seen in the fields were common snipe. I had seen very few in the Al Hayer area but I have been looking in the wet fringes of the river. It hadn't occurred to me that they could be so numerous in the fields.

female stonechat

Towards the end of the afternoon, we saw more stonechat although we had been picking up ones and twos all day.

spanish sparrow

Also late in the afternoon we met a very large mixed flock of spanish sparrow, house sparrow and streaked weaver. The spanish sparrow pre-dominated. I knew that historical observers in the area had said spanish sparrow is at least a winter visitor but this was the first time I had proof positive.

part of the flock

The last birding I did as the light began to fail was to follow a large weaver I glimpsed for a moment. It was not a streaked weaver which is the common weaver in the area!


Although I lost sight of the weaver, I noticed a bluethroat foraging on the ground. It was so interested in food that it let me get much closer than usual. This was a fitting end to a great day.

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