Saturday, 19 May 2012

It was worth the heat at al Hair

When I left for al Hair at 6.45am yesterday morning it was already 33C. Furthermore I had low expectations because nearly all the passage season is over. A gruelling time in the heat without many birds was my expectation. 

I was wrong.

I decided to keep close to the Riyadh river at all times assuming correctly that birds would gravitate there. By the time I quit at 11.30 because the temperature had reached 43C, I had seen 25 species including one a new one for me in Saudi Arabia.

Let me explain further: in one of the pivot fields which border the Riyadh river,  I observed a pratincole. It was my first sight of one in Saudi Arabia but virtually my last sighting on Friday before the heat forced me to end birding. 


Given that all the pratincoles recorded by the two main historic observers in central Arabia were collared pratincole and my bird gave this overall impression then my instant reaction was also collared pratincole.

second view of pratincole

On reflection, I concluded it didn't look like a typical collared pratincole. I posted pictures on BirdForum.  Experts concluded, using measurements,  the legs are much longer than the average and are the length expected for the black winged pratincole. Also the wings are longer than the tail which is feature of black winged pratincole. However critically this is also possible in worn-tailed collared pratincole.

The balance of opinion after much debate is that my bird is indeed a collared pratincole but some of the features are close to black winged pratincole. I can only speculate why this is the case.

It is surprising that more black winged pratincole are not seen in the Middle east on passage. First, black winged pratincole breeds in south east Russia and adjacent areas. It winters south of the sahara. The birds must fly through the Middle East! Surely it must be that the observations are scarce not the birds. 

Indeed, one of the two historic recorders saw several birds which he convinced himself were collared pratincole even though they had features of black winged pratincole. Was he swayed by the scarcity argument? I will need to be extra vigilant before I automatically assign any more pratincoles I see.

squacco heron in full breeding plumage

Before all the excitement of the pratincole observation in a pivot field, nearly all the birding action on Friday was on or at the edge of the water. Squacco heron in full breeding plumage were seen in three different places. Other heron family members seen were little bittern and purple heron. I also saw two black crowned night heron - my first since late October. and in stark contrast I didn't see any grey heron for the first time since then.

second squacco heron

Wader activity has dropped off (pratincole excluded).  Apart from numerous little ringed plover which is a known breeder, the only other wader seen was a single wood sandpiper.

little ringed plover

Several of the little ringed plover were clearly juveniles.

wood sandpiper

Three of the few warblers which breed in central Arabia were in evidence along the river bank. Graceful prinia was the most obvious. Reed warbler made the most noise though a small number were also seen. The less common eastern olivaceous warbler came to the water's edge right next to me and I snapped it before it flew off.

eastern olivaceous warbler

It really does look like a washed out and greyer version of reed warbler. Very close by a flock of five desert finch kept coming back to drink.

namaqua dove

The water's edge was also the best place to see namaqua dove.

laughing dove taking off

Even closeness to water doesn't stop laughing dove and collared dove from being ultra alert. They fly off as soon a person is seen. 

rose ringed parakeet

My final comment on today's blog concerns the sighting of a rose ringed parakeet. This bird is very common in the larger residential compounds in the city but I hadn't seen it outside the city before. I wonder if the damaged tail feathers are connected to the reason why its moved way from its normal habitat.

full list of birds seen on Friday
squacco heron
purple heron
little bittern
black crowned night heron
namaqua dove
rock pigeon
laughing dove
collared dove
wood sandpiper
little ringed plover
collared or black winged pratincole 
little green bee-eater
rose ringed parakeet
rufous bush robin
black bush robin
crested lark
brown necked raven
graceful prinia
reed warbler
eastern olivaceous warbler
streaked weaver
white cheeked bulbul
house sparrow
spanish sparrow

1 comment:

  1. Let's hope the 'prat' situation resolves itself. It's a good exercise in the variability of certain so-called 'diagnostic' features. With regard to distribution - birds are recorded where there are birdwatchers, always expect the unexpected after all they do have......wings! Never seen BWP and have only seen 1 CP in Britain altho plenty elsewhere. Also to my eternal annoyance i turned down a long weekend with a mate of mine at a bungalow near Minsmere over 25 years ago. Whilst he was birding he flushed a Pratincole which he put down as turned up further down the coast and he was credited with finding Britains firs Oriental!!!

    ATB - Laurie