Sunday, 11 March 2012

The local patch changes

It was back to local patch birding on Thursday and for a second time I went round with Lou Regenmorter who now works locally.

Proving that two sets of eyes are better than one we saw 47 species in the Al Hayer area. Three were new to my Saudi list of which two were passage birds.

Indeed the birding scene is very complicated at the moment with plenty of movement as some birds are on the move while many wintering birds are still here. 

woodchat shrike

One of the very first passage birds seen this spring was woodchat shrike and it wasn't difficult to find another one on Thursday.

common redstart

As Lou will testify, I spent a good ten minutes trying to photograph an extremely shy female common redstart around 3 or 4 trees without any success. Luckily we bumped into a male about two hours later. He was much more relaxed and approachable.

second view of common redstart

I hadn't seen a common redstart all winter and suddenly I see two. I assume these were passage birds possibly from Yemen where they are known to winter. This male has a white wing panel typical of the samamisicus sub-species. This means its ultimate destination is likely to be Turkey or the Caucasus.

grey wagtail

There was a similar situation with two grey wagtail. Although I have seen one next to the running water feature in the grounds of the Intercontinental hotel, these two were the first at Al Hayer where the water doesn't look such a good wintering habitat. I assume too that these two were on passage.

tawny pipit

There was another group of birds which have been wintering here but I can't rule out that the birds we saw weren't passage ones supplementing their numbers. One example is tawny pipit which can still be seen on or near some of the fields with low vegetation. Incidentally there is still no sign of a yellow wagtail influx but I would bet the house that there will be some around by next weekend.

Daurian shrike

Not a good picture to judge I think this red-tailed shrike is Daurian shrike. All Turkestan shrike at this time of year should have a prominent white supercilium. Both winter here and both come through from further south west on passage.


Likewise with bluethroat, there are some passage and some wintering. However this one was in the small spot as one I have been seeing for the past 3 months. Either way its going to get too hot for him soon. He will be heading for northern Europe.

grey heron

Grey heron is another winter visitor. No one has yet proved any stay and it breed here unlike other herons such as purple heron and squacco heron.

Once again its a similar situation with cattle egret. There are plenty here in winter and we saw them heading to  their roost in late afternoon. However it is still uncertain whether any stay and breed. Actually, it was a good day for spotting the heron family. We saw purple heron, grey heron, squacco heron, little bittern, little egret and cattle egret.

part of a large flock of cattle egret

Warblers as ever proved troublesome. We spent a good 20 minutes looking at warblers in a row of trees. Unfortunately they weren't showing themselves well despite our earnest efforts to follow them. We made out that several were chiffchaff with a few willow warbler and a couple of Menetries' warbler. The chiffchaff and Menetries' warbler could be winterers or passage but the willow warbler were almost certainly passage birds.

I have been hearing Eurasian reed warbler along the banks of the wadi for the past three weeks but Thursday was the first time I glimpsed one even though they are making a big noise.

chiffchaff poking through the foliage

Very near the row of trees was a single bank myna on a water pivot bar. I have only ever seen a single one and he mixes with common myna. I wonder if the small population of bank myna reported to be here in the early 2000s is now at dangerously low levels?

Bank myna

Like the bank myna, other resident birds were going about their business. Namaqua dove was an obvious presence and all the males were in bright breeding plumage. Most of them were in pairs.

namaqua dove

Southern grey shrike will remain behind when the red-tailed shrike and others have left.

southern grey shrike

Finally there are a small number of species which arrive here for the summer but have wintered further south. One such example is little ringed plover and another is probably Eurasian reed warbler already mentioned. The plover is a known breeder here but I have not seen any around since early November. Suddenly we saw three or four on Thursday. They may winter here but if so they have remained well-hidden.

little ringed plover

The next blog looks at the rapidly changing wheatear situation here in the meantime Lou has prepared a list of the birds we saw.

Full list of birds seen thanks to Lou Regenmorter
Cattle egret
Little egret
Great egret
Purple heron 
Gray heron
Squacco heron
Littler bittern
Rock pigeon
Collared dove
Laughing dove
Namaqua dove
Black eared wheatear (first time seen in Saudi Arabia)
Pied wheatear
Isabelline wheatear
Northern wheatear
Stonechat (both European and Siberian)
Turkestan shrike
Southern Gray Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Crested lark
Black bush robin
Common redstart (first time seen in Saudi Arabia)
Graceful prinia
Willow warbler
Menetries' warbler
Eurasian reed warbler (first time seen in Saudi Arabia)
House sparrow
Indian silverbill
Common snipe
Little ringed plover
Green sandpiper
Tawny pipit
White wagtail
Gray wagtail
Little green bee-eater
White throated kingfisher 
Common myna
Bank myna
White cheek bulbul
Marsh harrier
Desert finch

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