This is the fourth time I have tried this marathon and there is usually a reward for the effort. Indeed this time I added a new bird to my Saudi list which I'll write about in the next blog.
However first I am going to write about the birds seen on the Riyadh road to the east coast. The birding at these stops can be just as good as the birding at the coast itself and do a lot more than just break up the journey.
The first stop was at a large service station 145 kilometres east of Riyadh.
At the back, there were two areas of dirty water with reeds, lots of waste and several trees.
I arrived soon after dawn and some of the birds were just waking up.
As a very good start, at one of the water holes with reeds, a grey hypocolius stood at the top of a reed and looked around for two minutes giving me fine views.
grey hypocolius turns head
This was my first sighting of a hypocolius this winter and it is unusual to see a single.
The reeds were absolutely thronging with chiffchaff which may well spend all winter there.
Right next to the grey hypocolius was a "red-tailed" shrike. In the orangey light of early morning I failed to decide whether it was a Turkestan shrike or Daurian shrike. Only the males are easily separated anyway.
The bird was dark on top which supports Turkestan shrike but the undersides appeared deep buff and had a dark unicoloured tail which supports Daurian shrike.
Generally I can tell a non-adult male Turkestan shrike by the greater contrast between a darker upperside versus a lighter underside.
Wintering Spanish sparrow were also flying in and out of the reeds.
Despite this service station being surrounded by almost pure desert, there was a water-liking bluethroat next to the reeds in the water run-off area.
As well as Spanish sparrow there were plenty of house sparrow in the less natural areas.
Among the debris were several white wagtail and two desert wheatear feeding off the flies and other insects.
There were plenty of doves. The collared dove were particularly skittish and I could only get reasonable photographs of the calmer laughing dove.
Although there were crested lark as expected, I was surprised to see three Eurasian skylark in such dry conditions.
Two more Eurasian skylark
After the service station we stopped again a few kilometres on at a pit stop which has been good birding in the passage seasons because of a few shaded trees in the middle of nowhere.
In winter it looks like it is less rewarding. The only visitor among the doves and sparrows was a single Daurian shrike recognised by its pale sandy upperparts and creamy undersides in sunlight much better than less than an hour earlier.
No other stops were made on the way out.
On the ways back in late afternoon, I stopped briefly at an isolated farm some 100 kilometres west of Dammam where I had stopped on my last trip to the east coast a couple of months ago.
This farm is also surrounded by near desert habitat and I was interested in seeing what it had attracted.
Superficially I wasn't impressed by the birds seen. Again doves and sparrows were common but other wise I could initially only pick up two wheatears. One was an Isabelline wheatear and the other was a Northern wheatear.
Then I noticed a mobile flock of about 25 birds which turned out to be water pipit.
water pipit in fading light
In Riyadh we are right on the south western edge of meadow pipit distribution in winter. Indeed I have only seen one in over two years. The distribution map in the regional guide shows them mostly further north and east. So I had originally thought they were meadow pipit. However the dark legs suggest water pipit.
The main birding of the day was actually at Sebkhet al Fasl at Jubail. It was excellent not least because I added to my Saudi list which is getting increasingly difficult. I will write next about this additional bird.