Saturday, 14 January 2012

One among many

I had planned to visit Najran in south west Saudi Arabia this weekend but this has now been postponed until early February.

So at short notice I birded locally. I chose a new stretch of the Riyadh river. Actually it is the part closest to Al Hayer town and the missing link between the Al Hayer dam area and the new quarry pool area which I have birded extensively.

lone yellow vented bulbul

My expectations weren't particularly high but at least I thought I would be filling a gap in the birding map of the area.

Actually I got off to a very good start. There is a group of large trees near the water's edge which seem to be a bulbul roost. In fact when I first arrived in the early morning there were over 70 white cheeked bulbul in them.

But one was different. Its always useful to look hard at a large flock of birds to seek out exceptions. This time the different one was a yellow-vented bulbul.

bulbul roost

They are not uncommon in some of the residential compounds in the city. Though they are never as common as white cheeked bulbul.  

In central Arabia, this is the first time I have seen a yellow vented bulbul outside the city.

yellow vented bulbul with white cheeked bulbul

There were large numbers of common myna and laughing dove in the same place.

a dozen common myna

This is the only part of the river where laughing dove is more common than collared dove. There are date plantations around and laughing dove is living up to its alternative name of palm dove.

part of the Ryadh river

I was pleasantly surprised to see a white throated kingfisher. I never expected it so far upstream. Other water birds seen were purple heron and moorhen.

white throated kingfisher

I may have solved the mystery of why there were no blackstart when I visited the dam area last week. This area, which is about 2 kilometres further downstream, had them a plenty in and around the acacia trees.

blackstart on a tree

The more I look at them the more they seem to behave like wheatears.

The trees also had spanish sparrow which once again proved to be common at this time of year in yet another stretch of the river.

blackstart on the ground

Looking at the other small birds, there were several desert lesser whitethroat in the natural scrub next to the river and between the date plantations. The reeds and adjacent areas had a few bluethroat and chffchaff. However both the reeds and scrub were thronging with graceful prinia. There are very common here.

little green bee-eater

Arguably it is here where I have seen that the highest density of little green bee-eater in central Arabia.


Just two stonechat were seen but there appeared to be a coupled male and female. I have noticed this pairing up before. When I was in Libya I saw pairs form just before they migrated away in early spring. By the way I have no idea whether these relationships survive the migration!

laughing dove

Most of the laughing dove seemed to be paired or pairing up too. 

greater spotted eagle with kestrel

As the temperatures began to warm up the birds of prey became active. A kestrel chose to circle with a greater spotted eagle at one stage. It was completely dwarfed!

greater spotted eagle

You can one hundred percent guarantee you will see eagles in Wadi Hanifah in winter in the afternoon. It's just a question of which ones.  As I have said before, Greater spotted eagle appears most common. On the other hand, Steppe eagle seems more common in the farming area of Kharaj 30 kilometres further south. However on Thursday I saw one at Al Hayer too.

steppe eagle

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