Sunday, 10 February 2013

Two important birds in one magical morning

Those who follow my blog will know that hooded wheatear  has been my nemesis bird. Along with two owls, Dunn's lark and a very small number of others it has been one of a dwindling group of confirmed residents in Riyadh province which I hadn't seen.

male hooded wheatear

I have spent many hours looking for it either as the sole purpose of birding or as part of a birding session.

So on Friday morning when Lou Regenmorter said he wanted to spend the morning revisiting the griffon vulture site to get better looks at them, I asked if I could join him to search for hooded wheatear which like similar terrain to where we saw the vultures two weeks ago.

area for hooded wheatear

This time we stayed on top of the escarpment in the same area. In a desolate area with hardly another bird around almost incredibly we spotted a pair of wheatears - a black and white male and a grey female. They had perched on new protected fencing put up in large sections of the escarpment to stop erosion through human use and to prevent human injury.  

The birds were very easy to see on the fence although they flew off as we got in close.

second photo of hooded wheatear

I refused to call their identification with absolute certainty without a very close look and photographs so as Lou went off in search of griffon vulture I returned to the wheatear zone.

This was a magic five minutes. Lou phoned me to say he had great views of four griffon vulture while I had just caught up with the male wheatear. As he continued viewing griffon vulture a mile away I confirmed that these birds were indeed hooded wheatear.

first view of griffon vulture

After 15 minutes or so Lou returned to my area to get good views of the wheatear.  

Then just to add to the wonder of the morning, the four griffon vulture reappeared this time overhead.

one of four griffon vulture soaring

They were soaring along with four steppe eagle which quite frankly they dwarfed. Rarely can steppe eagle have looked so small. As the vultures saw us they soared higher and higher. Remember we were already on a plateau.

griffon vulture flying very high

One of the griffon vulture had lost some feathers. Since this may have been a shot wound we will not be telling people the exact location of these sightings.

another griffon vulture

Griffon vulture is clearly surviving if not breeding and thriving near Riyadh and lets hope it stays that way.

The list of birds seen in this location has again been compiled by Lou and it is necessarily small:

Eurasian Griffon Vulture
Steppe Eagle
Rock pigeon
Pallid swift
Desert lark
Pale crag martin
Hooded wheatear
Blue rock thrush
House sparrow


  1. We tracked a s griffon into central Saudi from the Caucasus McGrady, M. J. and Gavashelishvili, A. 2006. Radiotracking vultures into Iran. Podoces 1 (1): 21-26.

  2. Mike, very interesting info. We will have to wait a few months before we know if the birds we are seeing are resident. We could also talk to the Bedouins who appear to be systematically feeding them.


  3. Glad you finally 'nailed' the Grail, Rob - i had a similiar scenario in Maroc with 'Mahgreb' until an obliging Male flew in from of me......Interesting re: the Bedouin feeding the Griffs are they feeding them because they are scarce in KSA or what?

    Laurie -

  4. Laurie,

    Congratulations on Magreb wheatear. I got that one in Libya. As for the hooded wheatear, it gave me real pleasure.

    I dont know why the Bedouin on the plain put their camel carcasses in a certain place and the ones at the top put their dead sheep in a certain other place near the cliff edge either. I am surmising they know that the carcasses will be cleared up quickly. I doubt they are doing it to be nice to the vultures but that is pure conjecture.

  5. hello rob,
    i think i saw the same kind of vulture exactly last year feb.10, 2012 at the edge of the world escarpment, i'd like to send you the images if you dont mind to check if they were the same pair.


  6. Wannabee, we saw 4 birds.

    They were acting often as a 3 and as a single but sometimes together. I dont want to comment on the exact location but I have little doubt from what you say that your birds were griffon vulture and possibly some of the same birds.

    Glad to see you pix. My email is Look forward to seeing them and I'll tell you more privately. Rob