Thursday, 3 May 2012

Birding in the heat

For much of today's birding there were thin pickings. I can't always have superb days.

Events conspired against me. First my current visa situation means I can't really travel and pick the best places. I had planned to go to Khobar on the east coast.  Hopefully this will be resolved by next weekend. I do find this irritating though! Second the weather was hot today. It was 33C by 7.30am and 40 C by 1.00pm.

Despite everything there were at least a couple of highlights.  

I chose to start birding the Mansouriyah area on the edge of the city where I have been a three or four times before on my way to al Hayer.  

pale rock sparrow

The heat meant the number of active birds was limited. However one of the highlights was a pale rock sparrow resting on a wire. This is the first time I have seen this bird south of Riyadh. I presume it either wintered here or is on passage. Either way it should be heading north.

Actually one of the features of today's birding was a lack of passage birds with honourable exceptions. I think the main passage is drawing to a close in central Arabia.

crested lark

As the passage birds go, the land is left to the locals like this crested lark which was on the same wire as the pale rock sparrow.

The common myna, laughing dove, namaqua dove, collared dove, house sparrow and little green bee-eater were other local birds much in evidence and attracted from time to time to the water channels to drink in a couple of fields here.

A few barn swallow were hawking for insects over the same wet fields.

black bush robin

If you stay by the water channels for a few minutes there is also a good chance of seeing black bush robin making an appearance.

Ruppells weaver

Remember that these fields are one of only two places I know in central Arabia where you can see Ruppells weaver and again I saw one today. I am not convinced though that they are successfully breeding here. None of the weaved nests seems to be occupied.

two very young house sparrow

Clearly and obviously many house sparrow have already produced one brood this spring. I don't think these two young birds are fledged. They were fearless with me even on close approach and just stood there for ages, presumably waiting to be fed.

Apart from the pale rock sparrow, the only other passage birds in the area were two Turkestan shrike. This is well down on the density seen there in recent weeks.

a flooded area next to the Riyadh river

In my desire to see more birds and despite the heat, I wandered further south of the fields than before, only to find that the area connected to another place I used to visit when I first arrived in Saudi Arabia.

This is a stretch of the Riyadh river which is over-landscaped (in my opinion) for picnickers.

Ironically nature has fought back and some of it was flooded presumably the accumulated effect of last month's exception rainfall.

house sparrow and little ringed plover

The flooded patches have acted as a magnet for little ringed plover. I saw at least six.

tree which had housed a European roller

It was now 12.30 pm and the temperature had risen to 39C. I decided to press on a little further down the landscaped wadi with a view to ending at 1pm. 

Then the second major highlight of the day occurred. Out of the tree above flew a European roller. I knew they were a late and not very common passage species. I had been keeping an eye out for one all day. However I had assumed the wires were the best place. In fact I almost walked past this one who was shading itself in a small tree presumably because of the heat.

I then spent 30 fruitless minutes looking for it. It flew into a private palm plantation, 50 metres to the west. After a thorough scan and a walk round the back of the plantation in scorching heat, I finally called it a day.

This sighting is the 205th bird on my Saudi list according to ebird's count.  To get many more I will need to travel more to the south west, the far north and to the east coast.  I hope to go to Arar in the far north next weekend, visa permitting. It should be cooler and the birding should be a bit different.

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