Monday 24 June 2013

Riyadh in the heat

On Friday morning, I went out birding in the Riyadh area in the searing heat with first time birder and friend David Dingus. We visited two areas: my local patch at Al Hayer and at Wadi Madeeyah (variant spellings include Wadi Mehdia, Wadi Madayah,  Wadi Mahdia) which is just west of Riyadh.

We birded more in hope than expectation. There was apparently little prospect of adding to my Saudi list at Al Hayer in mid summer. However, there was marginally more prospect with the visit to Wadi Madeeyah. This was part of my continuing search for the "lost Bonelli's eagle" of Riyadh. There will be more about this later.

one of several squacco heron at Al Hayer

Starting at Al Hayer, one of the first birds we saw was a squacco heron.

cattle egret

In the blisteringly hot weather, it was only really the heron family which was  evident in the open. This probably because they like being close to water and the heat exacerbates this tendency. Other birds hide in the shade. The above picture shows three cattle egret very close to where we had seen the first squacco heron of the day.

distant purple heron

Both grey heron and purple heron were also around but they kept their distance.

blurred graceful prinia

Smaller birds were much more difficult to see. Three types of warbler made fleeting visits outside the shade of the Tamarisk bushes and reeds at the water's edge. These were European reed warbler, Eastern olivaceous warbler and graceful prinia. The blurred picture above is the closest I got to photographing any of them and the weather wasn't conducive to long stalking sessions.

Baya weaver nest?

The most interesting observation at Al Hayer was an intriguing weaver's nest next to normal streaked weaver ones. I have only seen streaked weaver and Ruppells weaver in central Arabia however Baya weaver has been reported in the past.

I did some desk research when I returned home. Streaked weaver nests are usually circular and smaller than this. This one is a closer fit to a Baya weaver nest although it lacks a bulge which which their nests usually have part way down the tube.

This has left me wondering whether I have been far too lazy when observing weavers at Al Hayer. Baya weaver females and young birds look similar to streaked weaver (but with a larger bill). However the breeding male in particular  should be distinct. I won't be making this lazy mistake again. Has a potential addition to my Saudi list been on my local patch all along?

black bush robin

There were a few other species around at al Hayer, notably both types of bush robin: the resident black bush robin and the summer breeding rufous bush robin.

rufous bush robin

Most rufous bush robin are passage birds but a few stay the summer to breed.

a row of laughing dove

And of course laughing dove, collared dove and Namaqua dove were omnipresent as usual although mostly keeping in the shade.

On leaving Al Hayer at midday we moved off to Wadi Madeeyah in search of Bonelli's eagle. Al Hayer was getting too hot for walk-based birding and the search for the eagle could mostly be conducted by car.

In the mid 1990s a journal paper was released that proved a pair of Bonelli's eagle had been successfully breeding in Wadi Namar. In 1999 there was the last report I have seen of Bonelli's eagle at Wadi Madeeyah.

Wadi Namar and Wadi Madeeyah are two of a series of wadis which run west-east on the western side of Riyadh. All flow into the north-south Wadi Hanifah. Both these two are under considerable development pressure and the search for the eagle may be too late.

a lake at Wadi Madeeyah

Nevertheless I entered Wadi Madeeyah with David Dungus for the first time for both of us (although I have been to Wadi Namar several times before).

The bad news is that we didn't see any eagle despite searching from one end of the wadi to the other. The slightly better news (although it didn't fully compensate) was the discovery of two major fresh water lakes at the western end.

little ringed plover

The heavy rain in April seems to have left a large legacy here with two beautiful lakes. A check on the bird life at the lake showed black winged stilt and little ringed plover as the only obvious water birds around. These are the same two water birds that can be found in summer in near-by Wadi Namar.

black winged stilt

Otherwise the birds of the wadi included three types of dove (feral rock dove, laughing dove, collared dove) and two types of bulbul (yellow vented bulbul and white eared bulbul). The two small birds were house sparrow and desert lark.

I will continue to look for Bonelli's eagle west of Riyadh. I will start investigating wadis  a little further away from the city. I am still hopeful it isn't extinct in this area.


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