Saturday, 26 May 2012

The local patch in summer

Birding in central Arabia at this time of year is like birding inside an oven. So when Lou and I went birding on Friday in the al Hair area, starting early, we expected the worse.

The good news is that it was less hot than usual for this time of year. The bad news is it still reached 37C by mid afternoon.

Most birding in the centre winds down for June to mid August. Furthermore, the main reason while people brave mid August is because the autumn passage begins. 

red-backed shrike

The spring passage is virtually over now. However, we saw three very late passage birds. One was the female red-backed shrike (above) which was perched on a water pivot arm. 

little stint

The second was a lone little stint gingerly walking and eating on a mud crust over the Riyadh river.

The third was a willow warbler deep in a group of tamarisk bushes.

male streaked weaver

One of the most obvious activities of the birds which are staying was nest building. The streaked weaver are in the process of building their nests. I hope they have more success than last year when a fire destroyed many of them.

one of two nesting sites we saw for streaked weaver

We saw two nesting sites both in reeds next to water.

female streaked weaver

Although I saw a huge flock of spanish sparrow in late April which looked like they were preparing to migrate north, its obvious a very large number stay in the area to breed.

spanish sparrow with food

In one area, also close to the water, there are tens if not hundreds of spanish sparrow nests being built. 

spanish sparrow nests

The spanish sparrow are sharing some of the bushes with white cheeked bulbul. A small minority of the nests have a top cover with a hole in the side.I can't find any reference to either spanish sparrow or white cheeked bulbul making nests like this.

spanish sparrow 

This must be one of the furthest south locations for spanish sparrow breeding in the world and frequent trips are made to the water to cool off.

Other local breeders include purple heron, squacco heron, black crowned night heron, little bittern and probably cattle egret and grey heron. All these species were seen yesterday.

eastern olivaceous wabler

Among the breeding warblers eastern olivaceous warbler, European reed warbler and graceful prinia were clearly heard and seen in numbers.

graceful prinia

We searched long and hard for sedge warbler and moustached warbler but saw neither. Both look good prospects for breeding locally. One difficulty for them and us is the amount of disturbance to the short reeds and sedge created by Friday fishermen.

two of the many moorhen

Other definite breeders are the hundreds of moorhen which line the river along its whole course. Of the other water birds, one mallard was also seen flying over.

little ringed plover

The only wader which definitely breeds at al Hair is little ringed plover. We saw nothing on Friday to change  that understanding.

white throated kingfisher

It was good to see a white throated kingfisher again. They are here all round and were photographed with young last summer by local photographers. The place I thought there would breed from this summer has turned out not to be. I haven't found this year's spot (s). However there numbers are still small and successful breeding again this year would help consolidate their position.

brown necked raven

We didn't notice a single bird of prey on Friday not even the normally ubiquitous kestrel. However a flock of brown necked raven came onto a pivot field seemingly to take their place.

rufous bush robin

Of the other birds there were rufous bush robin, black bush robin, laughing dove and collared dove in several places. We were on the look out for turtle dove but once again failed to see any. It is clearly in serious decline here as in many other places through the world. My old, first edition of "Birds of the Middle East" has it breeding here. I doubt it does now. 


  1. Rob - with regard to your Pratincole....The latest page on Martin Garners site has some interesting pictures and notes concerning 3 birds seen this Spring around Eilat.

    I have copied and pasted the link.

    Laurie -

  2. Laurie,

    This all looks very interesting especially bird 3 with its long legs. My bird is like a lighter version of that. I am getting more and more of the feeling that inter breeding between these species is responsible. In my case I don't see any oriental or afro-tropical features so I wish someone would do a study of the fertility and products of known black winged-collared F1 crosses.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.