Monday, 6 February 2012

Farms of Najran

I spent two sessions walking around some farms in Najran. It should have been easy as they can be reached by walking out of my hotel straight onto a country lane. However the second session, on Friday morning was complicated by  a very thick sand storm which cut visibility down.  It also made photography difficult. You can probably tell which shots were taken on Friday by the quality!

Nevertheless the birding was seriously good.

African silverbill next to the hotel

Straight out of the hotel and turning right, I had to walk barely 20 metres to come across a flock of African silverbill.

forts in the sand storm

The silverbills were there on Thursday when the weather was good, at dusk and on Friday when the dust storm brewed. I wondered if they ever move far.

Talking of the dusk storm, on Firday morning it was serious. Most people stayed in doors. Those who ventured out wore masks.  My birding was probably a bit foolish but I continued anyway!

laughing dove

In the farming areas, there are very large numbers of laughing dove almost everywhere. However, I said in the previous blog, I failed to see even one African collared dove!  

Namaqua dove

In the sandstorm, I managed to pick out a few Namaqua dove though.

a couple of common myna

Another bird which didn't seem frightened by the sand was common myna. They may officially be a pest but they have lots of character.

little green bee-eater

Just like in the Riyadh area, little green bee-eater is common in the greener places. 

Rose ringed parakeet

In Riyadh we also get rose ringed parakeet but only in the artificial parks and residential compounds. However in Najran it is widespread in natural and man-made habitats. I saw it everywhere almost I looked. 


The only other medium and large sized birds I saw on the farms were pigeon, a couple of hoopoe and a small flock of cattle egret flying overhead. There was also one noisy kestrel.

Otherwise the farms belonged to the passerines. If you were attentive, especially required in a sand storm, there was plenty to see. 

Crested lark

The melancholic sound of crested lark was commonplace and once heard easy to see.
Graceful prinia

However the prizes for the most common birds went to house sparrow and graceful prinia. The latter bird was so common even I managed to get a good photograph of them on several occasions.


Apart from graceful prinia the other warbler I saw was a wintering chiffchaff. He allowed me close access and seemed very reluctant to leave his tree. The sand must have been more daunting than me.

palestine sunbird

Two types of sunbird reminded me that I was in an exotic place.  Palestine sunbird was the more common but I did come across one male Nile Valley sunbird and it was in eclipse plumage.

Nile valley sunbird

I found this most interesting because my first edition of Helms guide to Birds of the Middle East says both are in summer plumage from December until July. Yet, in Najran at least, I can clearly see that one (Palestine sunbird) moves into summer plumage ahead of the other (Nile Valley sunbird).

female Ruppells weaver

The one or two tourist web pages I have found for Najran while researching this trip had all shown Ruppells weaver's nests. I suppose this gave me an impression there would be hundreds of them around such is the power of advertising. However they were certainly outnumbered by house sparrow, yellow vented bulbul and graceful prinia.

male Ruppells weaver

Some fields contained many white wagtail but it's a mystery to me why I didn't see any pipits or any yellow wagtail. If the farms at Kharj (south of Riyadh) have small numbers of yellow wagtail in winter I thought that Najran being much further south would certainly have them. I am sure they must have been around somewhere but not where I visited.

I did see a few members of the chat family. There were a small number of both male and female stonechat.  Both resident and wintering birds are known in South West Saudi Arabia. I didn't study them well enough to decide which I had seen.


One winter chat which I did discover the sub species of was a beautiful male semi-rufus black redstart. Unfortunately it evaded my camera.

Isabelline wheatear

One of the last birds I met before heading off to the airport was a wheatear. I am confident it is an Isabelline wheatear but tried very hard to convince myself it was the similar looking red-breasted wheatear. Both stand bolt upright and have similar colouration. However red-breasted wheatear has adarker crown and a more distinct supercilium. Furthermore, according to books, it's not supposed to come down to 1200 metres (Najran's altitude).

Nevertheless the last bird I saw before I finished was a second Arabian serin of the trip. Its also not meant to come down this low but as yesterday's blog testifies with a picture, it does.

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