Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The wetland at Tabuk

On Friday morning, local birder Viv Wilson and I visited the waste water wetland. I noted in my last blog that it had expanded greatly over the winter. The reed beds and small lakes had added new grassland and marshland furthest away from the treatment works.

It was this new habitat which had the greatest diversity of birds.

One thing both parts of the wetland complex had was large numbers of spur winged lapwing - noticeably more than on my last visit.  In my last blog on the raptors at Tabuk I shown them mobbing a marsh harrier. They consider this is their territory!

white tailed lapwing (all photos by Viv Wilson)

However they weren't the only type of lapwing present. Viv reported white tailed lapwing for several weeks during the autumn but they seem to have vanished for the winter. However we saw three on Friday in the new grassland area. That now makes three places (and in one place twice) along the west coast I have seen them in the past three months. 

Yet the Helms guide map doesn't show them in western Saudi Arabia at all.

red throated pipit

There was quite a diversity of wagtails and pipits. There were at least three types of pipit: water pipit, tawny pipit and red throated pipit. If time had allowed I suspect we would have found more. 

yellow wagtail (fledegg)

While white wagtail were more common, there was a fair splattering of yellow wagtail.

white wagtail

Waders were in evidence as well. There were green sandpiper on almost every water margin. Ringed plover and Kentish plover were seen on the more sandy edges. Common sandpiper were around in flocks which must clearly mean they are passing through.

common sandpiper

The thin white wing stripe and lack of obvious white rump helps easy differentiation from green sandpiper in flight.

common snipe

There were plenty of common snipe in the grassland and marsh land. However one of the  highlights of the whole weekend was a jack snipe. While walking in a grassy margin I nearly trod on a bird before it flushed. It flew low (at about 60 cm off the ground) and landed about 20 metres away. This was not before I saw its two yellow stripes on either side of its back. Despite a close search by both me and Viv we failed to see it again.

This was my first jack snipe in Saudi Arabia. Its quite rarely seen here but I note that my friend Brian James saw one last week at Thuwal, 700 km further down the coast last week.


The main chat in the area was bluethroat though there were a few stonechat also present.


Only three warblers were seen at the wetland. The tamarisk held many chiffchaff. The scrub contained many graceful prinia and the reedbeds were alive with the sound of European reed warbler. Both Viv and I managed to see some too with patience.

crested lark

The only lark in the immediate vicinity of the wetland was crested lark. A small number of hoopoe were taking advantage of the grubs in the grassland. However the picture below was of one seen on the way to the wetland in a pivot field.


Only two individual shrikes were observed. One Asian grey shrike (aucheri) and one Daurian shrike.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

Just as pale crag martin were our constant companions on the desert trip, another bird was constantly hawking for insects over the marshes. This time it was common swift.

common swift

Not all the action on Friday was in the wetland. The pivot fields held many collared dove and spur winged lapwing.

single Spanish sparrow

One phenomenon stood out at the pivot fields though. On our way out and on the way back from the wetland we could see extremely large flocks of Spanish sparrow massing for migration north.

flock of Spanish sparrow

Spring is in the air.

Sincere thanks once again to Viv Wilson for allowing me to post his photographs. 

List of birds seen over the weekend near Tabuk

S = new addition to Saudi list
L = lifer

Squacco heron
Crested lark
Black kite
Desert lark
Marsh harrier
Hoopoe lark
Pallid harrier
Pale crag martin
Hen harrier      S
Barn swallow
Long legged buzzard
Streaked scrub warbler
Graceful prinia
Spur winged lapwing
European reed warbler
White tailed lapwing
Kentish plover
Lesser whitethroat
Common ringed plover
Ruppells warbler     S,L
Jack snipe      S
Common myna
Common snipe
Green sandpiper
Common sandpiper
Isabelline wheatear
Rock dove
Pied wheatear
Laughing dove
Eastern mourning wheatear
Collared dove
House sparrow
Namaqua dove
Spanish sparrow
Common swift
White wagtail
Yellow wagtail
Little green bee-eater
Tawny pipit
Woodchat shrike
Red throated pipit
Asian grey shrike (aucheri)
Water pipit
Daurian shrike
Desert finch
Brown necked raven
Sinai rosefinch    S,L
White eared bulbul


  1. Rob - the series 'Wild Arabia', a 3-parter, has just finished on BBC2.

    A nice insight into the region, particularly part 3 in Dhofar. I don't know what your access is but here is the BBC iplayer link below......


    Laurie -

  2. Laurie, thanks for this.

    I can access the BBC very easily. Incidentally I believe most of the passage birds that come through Riyadh originate in Dhofar.

    Those wintering in Yemen use the western coastal route north. From Muscat area they use the eastern coastal route back but from western Oman (Dhofar) its too big a detour to go round the coast. So a route through Riyadh works for them. Rob

  3. IPlayer itself might not be available but it's probably available somewhere (YouTube) - a fascinating area, i would love to visit at some stage but i do like a beer after a days birding. We've just about cracked Maroc by carrying it with us to be sure (just like a Camel)............

    The first LRP's and Sand Martins are in the Midlands - the weather is unbeievably crap but should pick up towards the weekend.

    A couple of Hoopoes on the Scillies and Wheatears at coastal sites so i'm hoping for a migrant that is'nt a Wintering ChiffChaff or Blackcap within a week!

    Laurie -

  4. Here are YT links for Ep 2 and 3, the only Ep 1 i can find has not been encoded correctly.

    That's if 'The Kingdom' allows YT access........



    Laurie -

  5. Laurie,

    Thanks again. Good luck with the migrants