Sunday 5 February 2012

The surprises at King Fahd Park, Najran

First, a big thanks to the experts on Bird Forum who helped yesterday with the identification of a couple of birds featured in today's blog.

I visited Najran in South West Saudi Arabia on the eastern (and dry) slopes of the Asir mountain range. It's in a fertile valley fed by dammed rain water in the rainy season and from underground aquifers most of the time.

It's a farming district but this blog is about King Fahd Park and Forest which was grown for recreational purposes. A forest below the normal tree line is unnaturally there. However it provides a habitat and eco-system akin to sub Saharan African forest.

oriental honey buzzard

This unusual habitat might explain the presence of a second cycle wintering oriental honey buzzard  An alternative species is  Honey Buzzard but it likes forest and warmth in winter. Its also 600 kilometres north east of where you can start to find them in winter (in north East Africa southward). There are more and more observations of oriental honey buzzard wintering in southern Arabia from Jeddah to Salalah. Najran of course is between these two places.

The plumage features are also a good fit for oriental honey buzzard.

part of the forest

There was a second bird of prey in the forest too. However despite the best endeavours, there was no consensus on Bird Forum as to what it was. This is primarily because I only had one poor quality picture.
unidentified bird of prey

The bird has been narrowed down to a crested honey buzzard, short toed eagle or even a pharaoh eagle owl. We will never know.

Arabian babbler

Before I saw either bird of prey, my first bird on being dropped off to visit the area was an Arabian babbler or more precisely a group of babblers.  Although this is a strictly Middle Eastern bird having babblers around adds to the African feel to the place.

yellow vented bulbul

Of course there is no escaping the more mundane birds too. Plenty of yellow vented bulbul and house sparrow to break any momentary silence.  

laughing dove

One of the strange things was not the presence of laughing dove but the absence of African collared dove. I failed to see any in Najran at all. It was one bird I would have thought guaranteed.

black bush robin

Black bush robin were just as common as in the Riyadh area. I kept a look out for rufous bush robin but I didn't see any. My hunch is still that they are around somewhere.

palestine sunbird

There were two lifers for me in the park. The first was a palestine sunbird which I later discovered is common throughout Najran. The second was Arabian serin which I reported on in yesterday's blog.

Arabian serin

I saw surprisingly few Ruppells weaver but they were in the park nevertheless. 

Ruppells weaver

Finally, there were two birds of note which I failed to photograph. Rose ringed parakeet was present in large numbers screaming as they flew around. A masked shrike was also seen. It winters in small numbers in the Riyadh area and it looks like it winters in Najran too. This is another indication of the under-representation of Saudi Arabia as a wintering ground in the text books.

The next blog looks at the farms of Najran and their birds. 

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