Friday, 2 December 2011

Two mysteries in Wadi Hanifah

My plans for birding on Friday unfortunately needed to be changed at the last minute. I had to quickly develop a new plan which didn't require too much travel.

So it turned out that I birded the upper reaches of the "Riyadh river" near the water treatment works for the first time. This part of Wadi Hanifah is quite industrial and in parts unattractive.

My expectations weren't high but in the end I was satisfied. I was left with a couple of mysteries - one of which I solved quickly and another after help from a fellow birder. 

Indian silverbill

The most numerous birds were house sparrow, Indian silverbill and towards dusk, white wagtail. I saw over 75 of each species in a 1.5 kilometre stretch of the water. I was a little surprised that the Indian silverbill penetrate so far into the city. 

an urban stretch of the Riyadh river

I also saw 10 little egret, 2 squacco heron and one black crowned night heron in this stretch of water.

initially unidentified bird

The river here is crossed by three major roads. Under one of these roads I saw  a couple of pairs of common myna which were numerous birds along this part of the river. 

However there was another bird under the flyover. I got one picture before I lost it. It didn't look like juvenile common myna

Thoughts that went through my mind included: was the bird associated with common myna or was it unrelated? 

Stop press - Saturday - on sleeping on it I decided it was a thrush and I opened the blog to see Tom Jenner's comment that it is a blue rock thrush. Thanks are due to Tom. I haven't realised until now (after five minutes research) that they can be found in urban environments especially ones such as flyovers which mimic boulders and escarpments.

common myna nests under a flyover

All along the river, there was evidence of a flash flood caused by the heavy rains earlier in the week. The banks were thick with mud and there were tens of beached and dead fish.

one of many washed up Tilapia fish

This was my second mystery of the day. I wanted to know what this fish was. On return I have re-read the 2004 Sandgrouse magazine article "breeding birds of Central Arabia 1978-2003". The article notes the presence of many large catfish and laments the decrease in Tilapia fish numbers. From what I have seen there is no need to worry. There are still very large numbers of them left although they are heavily hunted by the catfish. I can understand why there has been concern about Tilapia because must be a major component of the local herons' diet.

urban little egret

Further downstream the landscape gradually becomes more attractive and there were many Saudi families having picnics along the wadi. 

little green bee-eater

Here I saw a few extra bird species - little green bee-eaterwhite cheeked bulbul and graceful prinia.

two white cheeked bulbul


  1. Hi Rob
    The unidentified bird looks to me like a Blue Rock Thrush.


  2. Tom, I have just come down to breakfast and was going to alter the blog (having slept on it to say the bird looks like a thrush. I think I was put off the scent by its location. However I have spent 5 mins researching and it looks like blue rock thrush do sometimes visit man made structures. I didn't really appreciate this before! Thanks for your help