Monday, 11 March 2013

Raptors at Tabuk

One of the features of my weekend birding near Tabuk was the complete lack of sightings of eagles. However the other raptors more than made up for this as I will explain.

long legged buzzard in the fields

While Viv Wilson and I went into the desert on Thursday we visited the waste water wetlands on Friday which is a completely different habitat of course.

On the way there we spotted several black kite and one long legged buzzard and a single kestrel near the pivot fields.

black kite in the fields

There are several thousand black kite in the Tabuk area during late Autumn which thin out during the winter as many of the birds head further south. In spring the numbers swell but not up to autumn standards as returning birds pass quickly through.

The main excitement concerning birds of prey was not in the pivot fields but at the wetland.

The wetland was at least twice the size since the last time I visited in late November. The big and exceptional winter rain must be a major part of the cause.

There was a new area of low grassland and marsh beyond the pre-existing reed beds and pools.

hen harrier at the wetland

All these areas had a lots of small and medium sized birds and associated harrier activity.

My number two target bird (after Sinai rosefinch)  from my Tabuk visit was hen harrier.

Guides vary over what parts of Saudi Arabia can have hen harrier in winter. The Helms guide of birds of the Middle East says all the northern quarter. Others show a more restricted area but all include the north west corner. So I thought Tabuk was my best bet.

hen harrier hovering

Sure enough, there was a female hen harrier over the wetlands. It can be most easily differentiated from the other ringed tailed harriers by its broader wings. And the wings are so broad it is the only one that has five fingers rather than four.

This was one of the four additions to my Saudi list during the trip and my total is now 275 species (my next blog will talk about the fourth species).

Marsh harrier mobbed by spur winged lapwing

As well as a hen harrier there was also at least one male pallid harrier and eight marsh harrier. One of the marsh harrier was an adult male.

One of the most interesting moments was when several spur winged lapwing mobbed one of the marsh harrier. I have seen crow family members do this but never lapwings.  I thought this was incredibly brave and can only assume they were defending breeding territories. 

There was a second type of lapwing at the wetlands too along with over 45 other species. My next blog will look at them in more depth.

Sincere thanks are due to Viv Wilson who took all the photographs some of which I have severely cropped.

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