Sunday, 13 May 2012

Wadi Arar

There are probably two main reasons very little birding has ever taken place in Arar, northern borders, KSA.

The first is perceived lack of accessibility. Its in the proverbial middle of nowhere. And yet its easy and cheap to fly in from Riyadh or Jeddah.

The second is the lack of rain and the presumption that there is very little water on the ground and associated vegetation.

Arar averages only 14mm of rain a year which even compares unfavourably with 95mm in Riyadh.  This seems to support the case.

However, the presumption of no water and lack of vegetation is wrong. The city is well watered and so trees and greenery grows in the urban areas. More importantly and perhaps the most exciting development is the new city waste water treatment plant.

purple heron

The cleaned up waste water is diverted into wadi Arar north of the city. Here it goes into the first of four lakes which are connected by streams. The lakes cascade down the wadi.  Reeds and bushes are springing up all around the new lakes. And because its in the middle of a very dry area for a hundred or more kilometres, it acts as a magnet for birds.

wadi Arar

I was only there for four and a half hours on Thursday but I identified 29 species.  Three were new to me in Saudi Arabia. Two of them were warblers and I am going to write about warblers separately in the next blog.

water inlet pipe from the treatment plant

The biggest birds were mostly from the heron family. There were purple heron, several squacco heron, little bittern and one little egret on the day. My guess is their population will grow with the reed beds. Until then they are vulnerable to hunters.

squacco heron

There are shallow sides and wetland at several points along the lakes. These were supporting some waders.

common sandpiper

I observed three types of sandpiper: common sandpiper, wood sandpiper and green sandpiper.

wood sandpiper and common snipe

Next to one of the wood sandpiper I was extremely surprised to see a common snipe. It has been at least a month since the last one left the Riyadh area but of course Arar is a long way further north.  

ringed plover

Two other waders there were ringed plover and black winged stilt.

yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail were attracted to the wetlands. I failed to see a feldegg among them even though this is the breeding sub species in most of the middle East. This is in accord with historical recorders in Saudi Arabia who also noticed that feldegg is an earlier returner than most other yellow wagtail sub species.

tawny pipit

Tawny pipit was also present. Once again they have already left the Riyadh area.

woodchat shrike  

Three types of shrike were in the area. One was woodchat shrike which is an early passage bird . Another was red-backed shrike which is a late passage bird. I can only assume the woodchat shrike seen are lingering because they are close to their target breeding area a few hundred kilometres to the north.

red-backed shrike

The third one was Turkestan shrike. I have no idea whether it winters in Arar or whether these are all passage birds. 

spotted flycatcher

Like red backed shrike, spotted flycatcher is a late spring passage bird.

black-eared wheatear

There were several northern wheatear in the area but no Isabelline wheatear were seen all weekend. The only other wheatear was a single bird above. I had trouble deciding between Finsch's wheatear and black-eared wheatear. However the tail pattern fits black-eared wheatear


As in the city itself, a few whinchat were seen.  

namaqua dove

Apart from the warblers which I will report on in the next blog, the other species in the wadi were barn swallow, rufous bush robin, namaqua dove, house sparrow, a beautiful if flighty European roller and a pair of trumpeter finch.

house sparrow

The trumpeter finch were exceptional because they weren't seen at the waters edge but in the hinterland among some building rubble. This was the first time I had seen this bird in Saudi Arabia and was a welcome addition to my Saudi list.

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