Thursday, 8 December 2011

Hypocolius and the Intercontinental hotel

Today, I had the pleasure of birding for the first time with Clive Temple. He is an accomplished birder who has very recently moved from UAE to Riyadh.

We spent the day from mid morning onward in the gardens of the Intercontinental hotel, Riyadh.  The gardens are large and help provide the landscape for a nine hole golf course. There are also three lakes.

The Intercontinental is almost certainly the best place in Saudi Arabia to see grey hypocolius in winter.

male hypocolius in the garden of the Intercontinental hotel.

During the day we kept seeing ones, twos and threes of the bird. However,as the afternoon waned the numbers grew dramatically as birds seemed to be returning from other parts of the city to two places in the gardens. These are most probably a pair of night roosts. On a conservative count there were at least 220 birds in the garden by four pm.

a view of part of the garden

At first it looked like the birds were shy, keeping to the inner parts of trees but as time progressed they were more and more confiding.

part of one flock of hypocolius

Only about a quarter of the birds were adult males with their characteristic face masks.

female hypocolius

Though I don't know for sure, the assumption must be that first winter birds look similar to females. This would explain the apparent low proportion of males.

possible first winter bird

It has been said that male grey hypocolius look like slim versions of shrikes. We were lucky enough to see a wintering masked shrike in the gardens to check this comparison!

masked shrike

The gardens were thronging with bulbul. Once again, and like most of central Arabia, the predominant bulbul was white cheeked bulbul.

white cheeked bulbul

However the Intercontinental hotel is the first place I have seen yellow vented bulbul (white spectacled bulbul) in central Arabia. It is a common bird on the west coast (for example in Jeddah) but not inland. Here it was probably outnumbered 8 to 1 by white cheeked bulbul.

yellow vented bulbul

There was also a third species of bulbul present in lower numbers - red vented bulbul. I have only seen a single bird before at Al Waha compound. 

red vented bulbul

Like all the residential compounds in Riyadh that I have visited before, black bush robin was present and relatively tame. I consider it to be a garden bird in Riyadh.

black bush robin

Again like the other compounds I have visited there were common myna. The  rule of thumb that larger compounds house ring necked parakeet was kept.

common myna

Last week I was surprised to see Indian silverbill penetrate into the city up the upper reaches of the "Riyadh river". Today we saw a flock in the hotel gardens. This is the first residential environment that I have seen them in within Riyadh. 

Indian silverbill

Rivalling the observation of so many grey hypocolius were two unexpected sightings.

African rock martin

There are two pairs of stone pavilions on the golf course. In one of them there was an African rock martin which seemed to be practising building a nest in readiness for spring (under the internal roof) and then alternately resting. The picture above captured him resting. 

grey wagtail

Just before we left the gardens for the day, a wagtail was spotted on the place where the water from one of the lakes cascades down half a metre or so into the another. This small spot mimics a fast moving stream and a grey wagtail has picked this place out among all the dry wilderness of central Arabia!

This was my first sighting of a grey wagtail in Saudi Arabia and totally unexpected. It rounded off an excellent day.


  1. Tommy,

    Can you imagine how excited we were to see so many hypocolius!