Sunday, 25 November 2012

Literally birding for larks

On Friday Lou Regensmorter, Mansur Al Fahad and I literally went birding for larks. Once again Mansur showed us wonderful local knowledge by taking us to  arguably the best place for larks in central Arabia.

The area is known locally as Ormah and it is north of Thumamah with the small town of Rumah to the east.

 Desert lark
Some of you will notice the first picture is the same bird as the header to my blog. It is a desert lark. Actually its not common in Urmah because the terrain is mostly flat. In rocky parts and on slopes though it can be found.

 Bar tailed lark

The superficially similar bar tailed lark was much more common. They were mostly seen in mobile (by running) flocks even in what looked like pure flat desert.

 Crested lark
For once, crested lark was not the most numerous. It was seen mostly in the slightly more vegetated areas.

 Hoopoe lark

 Hoopoe lark seems to tolerate all the various terrains except the most hilly.

 Temminck's lark

With these species being seen so readily we spent a long time searching for the tougher ones. Dunn's lark and Temminck's lark are apparently less common and so it proved. We visited 4 or 5 sites where Mansur had seen Temminck's lark in the past before finally seeing 3 of them. As is always the case, from then on, we observed them regularly. Unfortunately Dunn's lark evaded us - this time.
 Greater short toed lark

Towards the end of the day in one of the greener areas we spotted a single greater short toed lark too.

Of all the larks, the sighting of Temminck's lark gave me the most pleasure. This is because it was a new one for me in Saudi Arabia though I knew it from Libya. It was my 245th species here. Finding new ones is getting tougher.

Theoretically on Friday we could have seen 4 more lark species (over and above Dunn's lark) in the area or near to it. These are lesser short toed lark, thick billed lark, skylark and even oriental skylark. In summer there are black crowned sparrow lark too. Indeed I have seen them a few kilometres south at Thumamah.

 Desert wheatear

Wheatears were the other main type of bird in the area. Desert wheatear was probably the most common followed by mourning wheatear. Both are winter visitors from a few hundred kilometres north.
 Mourning wheatear

Wintering Mourning wheatear in central Arabia come mostly from Iraq and Iran where the more continental weather means cool winters which drive them down. In contrast, many mourning wheatear from north west Saudi Arabia apparently stay up north.

White crowned wheatear from behind

An Isabelline wheatear was seen and several northern wheatear. Northern wheatear don't normally stay the winter but several were in the area. Furthermore we saw a few at Tabuk a week before. I know September and October were very mild in eastern Europe and central Asia. I now suspect this has kept northern wheatear in the area longer this year.

Desert warbler

The only warbler spotted was desert warbler which was found easily in the few places with knee high bushes.
 five trumpeter finch

The last species seen right next to the escarpment as we headed south was trumpeter finch. This was another bird I knew from Libya and I had only seen a single bird in KSA at Al Jowf before Friday. I wish we had had as much luck looking for their cousin the Sinai rosefinch the week before in Tabuk.

 closer shots of trumpeter finch

We wouldn't have seen them at all if we hadn't stopped to view a steppe eagle on an escarpment.

 steppe eagle

We will certainly like to visit this area again not least to find Dunn's lark but also I have read it is where Egyptian vulture and hooded wheatear breed. Both birds have eluded me so far despite a lot of attention.


 The full list. Thanks as always to Lou Regensmorter
Long Legged Buzzard

Steppe Eagle
Rock dove (wild and domesticated)

Eurasian Collared Dove

Laughing Dove
Little Green Bee-eater
Southern Grey Shrike
Brown Necked Raven
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Crested Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Desert Lark
Bar-tailed Lark
Temminck's Lark
Pale Crag Martin
Asian Desert Warbler
Northern Wheatear
Isabelline wheatear
Desert Wheatear

Eastern Mourning Wheatear
White Crowned Wheatear
House Sparrow
Trumpeter Finch

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