Saturday, 9 June 2012

Kharj in summer

On Thursday despite the intense heat which reached 46C in the shade, Lou and I went birding. For the first time in a while we visited the Kharj farming district, 60 kilometres south of Riyadh. In particular we visited the area a little  south east of the city. Here is a waste water treatment plant which gives rise to a river and lagoons. Parallel to the river in the next wadi is a large seemingly natural lake.

The river, lagoons and lake were all visited.

purple heron at Kharj

Once again Lou and I searched hard for moustached warbler and turtle dove which the guide books say breed in central Arabia. Once again we failed to see or hear any. We have finally concluded that the data is out of date and they really don't breed here any more. We certainly couldn't have put in more effort over the weeks in trying to find them in appropriate habitat.

Nevertheless the river did have a wide diversity of bird species. Purple heron, black crowned night heron and squacco heron were seen.

black crowned night heron

In our search for moustached warbler, we kept coming across European reed warbler in the reeds and less frequently eastern olivaceous warbler in the bushes. Graceful prinia was in both places.

little green bee-eater

There was a high density of little green bee-eater with many young ones among them.

Indian silverbill

Indian silverbill were seen in numbers along with the ubiquitous house sparrow.  However we didn't see any spanish sparrow unlike in my "local patch" at al Hair.

Namaqua dove

Collared dove, laughing dove and namaqua dove were also present and obvious. I find that namaqua dove is more willing to come out of the shade than the others but equally you often see it drinking.

camel wallowing

At one point in our walk along the river we came across a very tame group of camels. This female gladly continued wallowing in the water right next to us without a care.

lagoon end of the waste water river

We drove to the far end of the river where it opens out into lagoons and where the reeds finally subside.

spur winged lapwing

Here the birding was quite different. Spur winged lapwing were present. This lapwing is unique to Khraj. I have never seen it at al Hayer or indeed anywhere close to Riyadh.

Kentish plover

Another difference with al Hair is the default breeding small plover is Kentish plover rather than little ringed plover. This probably tells us that the water bodies are more saline at Kharj. Kentish plover was present in the lagoons.

There were also a small number of black winged stilt there.

black winged stilt

After moving on from the lagoons and we temperatures till rising, our last stop was a lake near the middle section of the river in the parallel wadi. Here black winged stilt was very numerous and noisy.

black winged stilt in flight

Several of them kept flying over us as we walked round. I have seen this before in other countries and have always put it down to protecting young.

young black winged stilt

Sure enough a young stilt was seen but I believe others were around but hidden. 

The shores were heavy with Kentish plover. However it was the rarer birds which excited.

whiskered tern drinking

A single whiskered tern was present. It looks like it is over-summering a long way south of where most such tern in the Middle east spend their summer. It was in non-breeding plumage.  Kharj was the only place I saw one in central Arabia in winter too.

whiskered tern in flight

Lou spotted a single sandgrouse drinking. I had time to view it briefly just as it flew off. My best guess is that it was chestnut bellied sandgrouse. This is the same species that Clive, Abdullah and I had seen in Kharj during December.

Finally to add to the species list, one little grebe made a short appearance before hiding.

Overall the variety of birds made the extra journey and the effort in the heat very worthwhile.

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