Sunday, 25 December 2011

Still finding new birds at Al Hayer

The list of species seen by me at Al Hayer, south of Riyadh is still increasing. On Friday I saw five more, though only one was first for me in Saudi Arabia. That one gave me great pleasure. More about that later.

Al Hayer was the first stop on Friday on a full day's birding with Abdullah Amrou and Clive Temple. This time we stayed close to the river banks throughout.

common snipe snapped at Al Hayer where it is common in winter

The first new bird on my Al Hayer list was a black redstart. Thanks are due to Clive for spotting it. Historical observers in the area have said its a scarce winterer here.

black redstart

The second new bird for me in the area is cormorant. Three flew over and one had a Tilapia fish in its month. Like the black redstart, previous observers say it is rare there.


Reportedly, the most common winter wader in the central region is little stint. However the four I saw at Al Hayer on Friday was the first time I had seen them next to the "river". 

little stint

There were, of course, many of the usual cast present. I have made a few more observations about them though. For example, of the two red tailed shrike, I am now reasonably confident there are proportionately more Turkestan shrike than Durian shrike there in winter.

Turkestan shrike

Another observation is that great white egret may not be as scarce in winter as previously thought. 

It is quite possible on a good viewing day to see all the European heron family except bittern.

Purple heron

Greater spotted eagle seems to be the most common large bird of prey in winter outside of the passage seasons.

spotted eagle

As Abdullah drives a four-wheeled drive car we had a chance to move downstream and explore part of the wadi that Clive and I hadn't visited before. Before we left my more usual haunt, we had good views of another white throated kingfisher.

white throated kingfisher

The river downstream has recently been re-channelled but so far the fauna seems relatively unaffected. This might indicate that some water is still feeding the old channels.

new course of the Riyadh river

Near the new channel we saw two mourning wheatear. This was the fourth new bird of the day for me in the Al Hayer area though I have seen it previously at the near-by farming district of Dirab.

mourning wheatear

A little further downstream still and in a new place I hadn't been to before, was arguably the best sighting of the day. There were three black stork in the air! So black stork became the five new addition to my Al Hayer list. It was also the first time I had seen the bird in Saudi Arabia.

Black stork had been reported as wintering in Wadi Hannifah by Tom Tarrant in the early 1990s and by Per Anders Bertilsson ten year's later. It now looks very likely they still winter there. It seems I just hadn't been looking in the right place.

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