Monday, 20 February 2012

A late look at the wintering birds

In contrast to Thursday's windy and sandy weather, Friday was a gloriously sunny day. I returned to my local patch which is Wadi Hanifah near Al Hayer. Here I met up with Clive Temple, the other main expat birder in the region.

Also unlike Thursday, the birds were very active and I probably saw a record number of species for one session in this area.

I want to dedicate this blog to all the wintering birds I saw on the day and throughout the winter. Many will be leaving in the next month.

Turkestan shrike

One of the first wintering birds I saw on Friday was a Turkestan shrike. Both Turkestan shrike and Daurian shrike winter at Al Hayer. Steppe grey shrike and small numbers of masked shrike winter here too though I didn't see either on Friday.

black stork

The skies were active with birds of prey from the large wintering greater spotted eagle to the much smaller resident kestrel. It was while I was looking up at what I initially thought was a bird of prey that I finally got my best sighting of a black stork this winter. A small but loyal group of black stork have been reported to come to the area every winter in the past 20 years.

marsh harrier

Marsh harrier is known to breed in central Arabia so I would expect the birds that have been here all winter to depart sooner or later. The one above allowed closer contact than usual as Clive and I approached it under cover of reeds. The strange moulting pattern made it look a bit like an osprey which I have also seen here in the past few months.


Turning to the smaller birds, one of the most common wintering birds is bluethroat. It's clicking sound has been an ever present in any cover near the water for months. 

female eastern stonechat

Another common one has been stonechat. This bird is often seen a little away from the water on any vantage point whether it is a bush or a pivot arm or simple a mound. 

My observations and those before me have been that eastern stonechat provides more than half the total winter population though European stonechat are not uncommon. I have learned to differentiate them by the greater amount of white/light colour on the lower front, on the upper tail and on the collar. In some cases the females even have an strong, light eyebrow like the one above.  I am still not completely confident in my identifications but this winter has given me lots of practice.

In the past I only looked at the collar size and made many mistakes.

another eastern stonechat

Above I believe is another eastern stonechat. The upper tail has no pattern and its front is very light.

desert wheatear

Two types of wheatears have been around the fields all winter in this area. They are desert wheatear and isabelline wheatear. There numbers seem to be swollen at moment probably with migrants from further south. Its hard to believe they will leave. Don't forget there are also a few mourning wheatear in the drier areas near-by who apparently will also go.

Isabelline wheatear

Very large numbers of white wagtail stay the winter at Al Hayer. A smaller number of tawny pipit are often seen in similar places though they tolerate drier conditions better. 

tawny pipit

It has been a treat to see a small number of citrine wagtail (though none seen on friday)in my local patch too. Strangely I haven't seen a single yellow wagtail in the area all winter even though a few winter in the farms at Kharj some 40 kilometres further south.

white wagtail

It's not long before the cast will change and these birds will be gone for another year.

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