Monday, 26 March 2012

First stop at Rawdhat Khuraim

Rawdhat Khuraim is large oasis in the desert, 100 kilometres north east of Riyadh. Part of it is royal estate but the rest is normally open to the general public. In total it covers more than 15 square kilometres. The water table must be just below the surface as the area is verdant in many places.

Lou Regenmorter and I birded it for 6 hours on Friday. I came away with 7 new birds on my Saudi birds list. One was a "lifer". 

We started out by birding the area quite close to the entrance to the royal estate. It is a varied mix of grassland, bushes and trees grading into semi-desert.

red-throated pipit

We almost immediately noticed that the ground was thick with pipits. Two darker ones caught our eye. We tracked them and found to our pleasure that they were red-throated pipit. This was the first time I had seen this bird in Saudi Arabia though I knew it well from my days in Libya. 

They will make their way north soon.

view from near the semi desert towards the bushes. 

The vast majority of pipits though were tawny pipit. This not a known breeder in central Arabia so even despite the large numbers they will be moving on up north.

tawny pipit

The terrain here is also very suitable for wheatears at least on passage and in winter. 

pied wheatear

The most common wheatear on the day was pied wheatearThough not as numerous as pied wheatear, the numbers of Isabelline wheatear and northern wheatear were still significant.

Isabelline wheatear

Even with all the practice, I am getting with wheatears, separating some female northern wheatear from some Isabelline wheatear doesn't get any easier. The one above was very tricky. The forebrow looks white and there appears to be an isolated black alula on the wing so Isabelline wheatear it is. 

 northern wheatear

There was another bird foraging on the ground. I didn't recognise it at the time. It was only on return, some book reading and an email to an expert for verification that I was sure it was pale rock sparrow.   It's very blandness was an aid to identification!

There was a small flock of six of them which weren't too shy and allowed me close contact.

pale rock sparrow

This was my one "lifer" of the day and it wasn't even a target species.


As in virtually everywhere I have been in Saudi Arabia in the past few months there were some stonechat. I only photographed this one, a Siberian stonechat  because its head was unusually dark.

Very near to where many people like to picnic was a very high concentration of Arabian babbler. And because they are so used to non-threatening people they were quite tame.

Arabian babbler

We discovered a young Arabian babbler being fed. This fledgling was within a few metres of picnickers.

fledgling Arabian babbler

After a considerable time we walked out of the grassland area into the drier patches. To begin with we had only limited success. It appeared only hoopoe  preferred this area. Then we saw a lark. It stood still and allowed close inspection while others in its group moved around. It was a short-toed lark and the group were first ones I have seen since arriving in Saudi Arabia. The books even say they breed here even though it is further south than nearly all other known sites in the Middle East.

short-toed lark

They aren't as easy to identify here as in Libya because there the sub species has a distinct rufous crown.

frontal view of short-toed lark

In one of the few larger bushes in this drier area was a rufous bush robin.

rufous bush robin

Two extra-ordinarily tame Namaqua dove were a few feet away.

pair of namaqua dove

And then there was one final another pleasant surprise in this area. A group of European bee-eater was making its way through. It was only the day before (at Al Hayer)  that I had seen my first blue-cheeked bee-eater of the season. I wasn't expecting this to be followed up so quickly with a sighting of the other large bee-eater on passage. Furthermore unlike the blue-cheeked bee-eater, I failed to see any European bee-eater on autumn passage. 

European bee-eater

So this was the first time European bee-eater has made it on to my Saudi list of species.

After this final sighting, we headed back to the car to explore a second part of Rawdhat Khuraim. The next blog looks at what we found.

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