Monday, 9 January 2012

Birding the DQ (Diplomatic Quarter)

Thanks to an invitation by friends Martin and Alexandra I was able to bird in the Diplomatic Quarter, Riyadh on Friday.

Martin and Alexandra taught English with me in Libya and occasionally bird watched with me there. It was great to see them both again. The birding was good too!

little green bee-eater

In the Diplomatic Quarter or DQ as ex-pats call it, it is necessary to be discrete when birding. The central area contains many embassies. Their gardens are lush and inviting. They are obviously a good habitat for birds but it is not sensible or realistic to bird them.   We didn't.

However the DQ also has parks and walking trails away from the embassies. We birded one such area on the northern edge of the DQ.

water at north edge

The northern side of the DQ has a water course. This is probably the treated water stream from the buildings there. Most of the birding done was close to the 1.5 kilometre course of the stream.

hypocolius drinking

Until last weekend, I had only seen hypocolius at the Intercontinental hotel where we are sure they roost. Yet on Thursday I saw them at Wadi Hanifah and on Friday there were 15 or so in a corner of the DQ near the water course. I suspect they have dispersed since their first arrive in the Riyadh area for the winter. Or maybe they all emanate from the Intercontinental roosts.

white cheeked bulbul

The most obvious bird once again was white-cheeked bulbul. Martin has seen a red vented bulbul while doing his daily cycling exercise during the week. However I didn't see any on the day.

common myna

Common myna is also very common there. When we walked through the central area on the way to the walking trail it was the most vocal of the birds around the embassy gardens. 

House sparrow was also unsurprisingly numerous but I didn't see any spanish sparrow this time.


The watercourse held several moorhen and old nests were seen. It is quiet enough for two purple heron to be present too. The only other water bird observed was green sandpiper.

hole near waterway

One of the most productive places near the water course was actually a large hole (see above) where tamarisk and other bushes have grown. This wild spot was a haven for birds. At least two bluethroat kept making appearances out of the undergrowth.


White cheek bulbul darted in and out. A black bush robin has the area as a base.

black bush robin in the "hole"

The picture of the little green bee-eater at the top of the blog was taken on a bush growing in the hole.

However, the best bird for me who was around the whole was a black redstart. It was of the sub species semirufus. It has a beautiful red front. This was my first ever sighting of this sub species although it was unsurprising as they are well-known to winter in Arabia.

chiffchaff by Martin

Two of the most eventful moments actually came at the beginning and the very end of my birding day in the DQ.

The very first bird which caught our interest - even before we arrived at the water course (in the central area) was a bright-coloured warbler. It looked very clean and yellowish underneath and was singing and sitting in exposed positions. It was not flitting around like a normal winter warbler

At the time I thought it might have been an escaped caged bird. My identification abilities were also impaired because my camera was not ready. Lucky Martin had a compact camera with him and took a very decent picture with it.

I am now confident, after research including listening and watching youtube video that it was a chiffchaff in brightest colours appealing for a mate.

The bird is 800 kilometres south and 2 months early of where this should have been happening! However the lush DQ gardens and temperatures must have fooled it.


The second incident happened at the very end of my birding at about 2pm. I was walking back towards Martin and Alexandra's flat (they left me to bird alone earlier). Suddenly a larger large, strong hawk appeared. Before I could photograph it is disappeared into some far off trees. It was a goshawk.

However 10 minutes later as I walked closer to home, it re-appeared briefly before flying off into the sun. I only got one silhouette shot. 

feathers under a tree

This time I decided to head towards where I thought it had landed. I never did see it. However I found a pile of feathers under a tree close to its apparent landing position. This is consistent with a goshawk perch (they often return to favourite perches apparently) though I'm not claiming it definitely was where it landed. 

The DQ has many pigeon, laughing dove and collared dove which can feed a wintering goshawk.

I have looked up the records and goshawk is an uncommon but not unknown winter visitor to the central Arabian area. I am left wondering if I have missed a rare chance to get a good picture of one here.

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