Sunday, 3 March 2013

Larking for "The List" at Zulfi

Last weekend, Lou Regenmorter and I visited the farming community of Zulfi which is 250 kilometres north west of Riyadh.  Zulfi is also the original family home of Mansur Al Fahad who gave us excellent directions for birds.

One of the reasons we went there was to look for two larks which I had not seen near Riyadh and where it was thought we had a better chance near Zulfi. These are thick billed lark and Dunn's lark. The former is probably only a winter visitor whereas the latter is believed to be resident.

I had 270 species on my Saudi list before the weekend and I am having to travel more and more to add to the list. This is still some 65 species short of the highest number I can find in the all time records.

desert lark

Most of our lark birding was done in the semi desert on the Tuwaiq plateau above Zulfi. It is a thankless task. You travel a long time without seeing anything. We spent many hours searching.

Over the weekend we spotted 7 species of lark and none of them were thick billed lark or Dunn's lark.

Temminck's lark

Possibly the most common lark up on top was hoopoe lark We were privileged to see its strange courtship flight and hear its beautiful courtship song.

hoopoe lark

Two sub species of greater short-toed lark were seen. One with very clean white undersides and a greyish mantle. This was flocking in significant numbers. The other was a much browner sub-species (see picture below)  which looked the same sub species as I had seen near Jizan a couple of weeks ago.

greater short-toed lark

Three other species were only seen on the top of the escarpment. These were bar-tailed lark, desert lark and Temminck's lark. They were found in typical terrain. Bar-tailed lark loves flat ground whereas desert lark is invariably found on slopes.

a distant record shot of Bimaculated lark

Crested lark was the only lark seen both on top of the escarpment and on the plain near farms.

And ironically despite all our time in the semi desert the new lark finding was down on the plain in a newly planted grass field. We weren't particularly looking for larks at the time either.

Lou picked it up first with his binoculars and then using his spotting scope, we found about 15 bimaculated lark at the far end of the field hence the poor photograph. Through the scope it was an easy identification of a bird I had last seen in Azerbaijan. The two solid black patches at the side of the neck are diagnostic.

So it was worth going to Zulfi for larks after all. Indeed bimaculated lark only winters in the north of the country so doesn't make it down to Riyadh. I don't know why I hadn't thought to put it on the target list.

List of larks seen near Zulfi:

Bar-tailed lark
Bimaculated lark (species number 271 on my Saudi list)
Crested lark
Desert lark
Greater short-toed lark
Hoopoe lark
Temminck's lark


  1. Rob well done to see this new Lark, unforeseen already!although it commonly generally see the larks especially desert species is very difficult because of the elaborately disguising and it prefers walking or running instead of flying, I often spend hours without to see two species at the most!

  2. Mansur, the bimaculated lark was easy to see because it was in a field which had been newly sown and the grass was very short. The ground was also very flat and even.

    Searching for larks on the escarpment was very difficult partly because the larks couldn't be seen against the pebbly ground. It wasn't easy to take the car over the sharp pebbles either when we tried following any flocks.

    So I agree with you, it was very tough.