Monday, 18 February 2013

Between Jizan and Sabya

Just north of Jizan, the same fields that sociable lapwing (see previous blog) were attracted to last Thursday were popular with many other birds.

Indeed it was seeing the other birds from a distance that persuaded Lou Regenmorter and me to visit it.

three Abyssinian roller

The most apparent birds were cattle egret sitting in large numbers on the pivot bar and following a tractor around as it cut down fodder.

cattle egret

Abyssinian roller were perched on a pivot bar. This was the first time I had heard their call and its very crow-like. 

yellow wagtail

The cut grass was absolutely crawling with yellow wagtail. They out numbered the white wagtail by over 5 to 1.

white wagtail

When I visited these fields in late December with Mansur al Fahad we saw a zitting cisticola. I commented at the time that this is a long way north of the range given in The Birds of the Middle East map.

zitting cisticola

This time Lou and I saw half a dozen of them and I managed to get a picture to prove they are nearly 100 kilometres north of the map's distribution.

I have found it is a common feature of the Jizan area that birds which the maps say stop at or just north of the Yemen border are actually distributed well into south west Saudi Arabia.

Namaqua dove

Three types of dove were in the fields: African collared dove, Namaqua dove and laughing dove. The former bird is apparently resident by the coast according to my observations but vacates the highlands in winter. 

whiskered tern

One of the stranger features of the field that was being cut as we watched, was the presence of large numbers of both white winged black tern and whiskered tern. There was no standing water in sight.

unknown lark

In the area, were both crested lark and singing bush lark. Indeed this is the only place where I have seen the latter bird, both in late December and on this trip. 

I don't like posting birds I haven't identified. However I can't identify a mobile flock seen on the edge of the fields. They looked a little like lesser short toed lark by with a more rufous crown and no breast streaking. The general consensus now which I agree with is that they are either Greater short toed lark or Blanford's short toed lark.

second look at unknown lark

If it is Greater short toed lark then it has a more rufous top than usual particularly this far east of their range. However Blanford's short toed lark is normally a highland bird which is known to come down lower in winter. What I don't know is how far down as these fields are almost at sea level.

News flash - update
Since writing this, Brian Small who illustrated Blanford's lark in the Horn of Africa guide  has corresponded and he is confident the bird is (greater) short toed lark and I trust his judgement. Case solved.

In the next blog I'll look at how we got on visiting mangroves further north.


  1. Interesting, what race would that STL be, is there a different or Wintering race in KSA?

    Laurie -

  2. Laurie, I'm no expert on short toed lark species but I am told the more rufous ones come from "the west of the range". I assume that means Iberia, Italy and France since these are the most westerly countries with breeding populations. We don't get these rufous ones wintering in central Arabia and I am surprised they have made it as far east as they look to have.