Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Baha, a path less trodden

I am a contributing writer to the wild life website, "Focusing on wild life", ( I am reprinting an article I wrote for it last week. This one is about my birding trip to under-explored Baha in south west Saudi Arabia. I hope you enjoy it and visit the website to see articles by other writers. The website is relatively new and yet has already reached the top 40 in Fatbirders list.

My next article will come out at the beginning of April.  

As I wrote in my last article, my birding has mostly been in countries off the beaten track. In the past five years, my work has taken me to Azerbaijan, Libya and now Saudi Arabia. As a consequence much of my birding has been in these countries.  The truth is that I get enjoyment from venturing into less well-charted birding areas. Indeed it’s a fair question to ask whether I am now picking my work place at least partly on the basis of birding prospects.

This wanderlust for poorly charted birding places goes further than my choice of country. I actively seek out new places within the countries which may not have been birded before.
So at the beginning of this month I visited Baha in south west Saudi Arabia. The few birders who have visited this part of world have mostly gone to Abha a further 225 kilometres south. My logic for going to Baha was that its geography looked promising. Its altitude (at over 2000 metres in places) and rainfall are similar to Abha.
Philby's partridge
Rare Philby's partridge so close to the city
I picked out the only international hotel in the area that I saw advertised, booked a room in advance for a weekend stay, and took an internal flight from Riyadh to Baha.
Here’s where it gets interesting.  The hotel is on one of the highest points in the city and there is a 300 metre drop directly behind it.  On arrival, I noticed there was a wide wadi right next to the hotel which starts at 2,100 metres and descends into the city. It is lightly forested but I could see some cultivation further down.
I had a hunch that I didn’t need to go far to have good birding. I decided to bird the wadi before setting off for any “normal” birding venues.
I never left the wadi all weekend.
Dusky turtle dove
Dusky turtle dove
I walked and birded within two kilometres of the hotel all my time there. I saw 42 species, 10 of them were lifers and there were 6 Arabian endemics there too. I am sure the diversity of birds was because the wadi is an uncommonly diverse habitat itself.
Ironically possibly the most prized sighting of six Philby’s partridge was less than 300 metres away from a large supermarket’s car park.
There are other stories behind several of the birds which were a mix of residents and European wintering species.  For example I nearly missed the dusky turtle dove as “just another pigeon”.
Little rock thrushLittle rock thrush
A Male and female Arabian woodpecker stuck out like sore thumbs on the only large dead tree in the middle of the valley. Little rock thrush stuck out for a different reason, it is so brightly (and attractively) coloured.

I visit a new part of Saudi Arabia once a month as a treat. Next up is Jizan on the south west coast near the Yemen border.  It has been visited before. I’m staying with a friend who works there and I am hoping local knowledge might just lead to something or some place a bit different.

List of species seen at Baha
Philby’s partridge
Arabian partridge
Rock pigeon
Dusky turtle dove
Laughing dove
Namaqua dove
Alpine swift
Arabian woodpecker
African rock martin
Barn swallow
Red rumped swallow
House martin
Long billed pipit
Tawny pipit
White wagtail
Yellow vented bulbul
Black redstart
Isabelline wheatear
Pied wheatear
South Arabian wheatear
Little rock thrush
Yemen thrush
Blue rock thrush
Song thrush
Graceful prinia
Scrub warbler
White breasted white-eye
Brown woodland warbler
Willow warbler
Palestine sunbird
Turkestan shrike
Brown-necked raven
Fan- tailed raven
Tristram’s grackle
House sparrow
Ruppell’s weaver
Yemen linnet

No comments:

Post a Comment