Thursday, 22 November 2012

The other birds in the pivot fields in Tabuk

The pivot fields near Tabuk are north and south east of the city.  Lou Regensmorter and I spent Thursday morning and Friday afternoon in among them. On Friday we met up with Viv Wilson, a local birder and our very hospitable guide for much of the day.

There was more to the fields than  the flock of sociable lapwing that I have already blogged about. They are rich in passerines and birds of prey. The passerines include one which doesn't breed anywhere else in Saudi Arabia.

desert finch

We started birding just after daybreak on Thursday in the northerly set of fields. One of the early sightings was a flock of desert finch which are more numerous in this area than near Riyadh.

white eared bulbul

However two birds which are found in Riyadh were a real surprise here. Looking at the map in the 2011 edition of "Birds of the Middle East", white eared bulbul is not supposed to be within 250 kilometres of Tabuk. The closest place in KSA is meant to be Al Jouf.

The map on common myna is even more inaccurate. Its supposed to stop 450 kilometres south near Yanbu. Either the area has not been birded much or the birds are moving north and west rapidly or more likely both statements are true.

common myna

Another bird probably at one of the edges of its range is Namaqua dove. All three species were seen within an hour of starting birding in the early morning.

Namaqua dove

Both Laughing dove and particularly collared dove were common.

Spanish sparrow and corn bunting

One of the target birds which we expected to see was corn bunting. This was picked up quickly. There were several in a mixed group with Spanish sparrow. Late in the day we saw a large free standing flock too. 

Corn bunting was another addition to my Saudi list. Actually I miscounted in a previous blog. My additions numbered 6 during the weekend not 5 as previously reported.


Some target birds never materialised. No wintering sylvia warbler such as Cyprus warbler were observed. Two of the warblers  which were seen in the fields were chiffchaff which was abundant and graceful prinia

Graceful prinia

Two wheatears were also seen in the area (not forgetting the Finsch's wheatear seen on the uplands on Thursday afternoon). These were northern wheatear and mourning wheatear. The former was a bit of a surprise because it doesn't really winter near Riyadh so why were so many seen further north at Tabuk? 

Northern wheatear

Stonechat was everywhere with proportionately fewer Siberian stonechat and more European stonechat than in the Riyadh area.


Viv Wilson told us the black kite arrived 6 weeks before in huge numbers. Since then they have been dwindling. Nevertheless there were almost certainly a few hundred left in the district.

black kite

Very close to a field with many black kite was a single blue cheeked bee-eater on a wire. This was a seriously late migrant. 

a late blue cheeked bee-eater

As sun started to go down on Friday night, the number of birds started to increase again to similar numbers seen early on Thursday morning. The birding was interesting to the end.


Bluethroat started to come out of the reed stands between the fields.


I finally got a good view of a goldfinch which had been tantalising me with glimpses all afternoon. Had I seen one for sure or not? In the end one stayed still enough for me to be certain. I finally added it to my Saudi list in the only place (the Tabuk pivot fields) in the whole of KSA where it is resident. This  meant alot to me. I really didn't want to go all that way and miss it. 

red throated pipit

As the sun went down , the pivot bars started to crowd with pipits. They must have been in the fields all the time. All the ones we saw were red throated pipit. This must be a good wintering place for them.  

The next blog will look at Friday morning when Viv showed us round his local patch which is the city's waste water lake and wetlands. He is lucky to have such a good venue.

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