Sunday, 3 November 2013

The quest for crakes at Al Hayer

By 9 am on Friday, I left the pivot fields and headed south down the west bank of "Riyadh river" towards where Lou Regenmorter had seen a little crake 6 days before.

It's quite a long walk so I did some other birding on the way.

white-throated kingfisher

Almost immediately I had good views of one of the white-throated kingfisher which appear to be getting more and more common.

streaked weaver

Though streaked weaver spend much of there time in the pivot fields in summer, I find them much more commonly on this stretch of the river at this time of year. 

I am ever hopeful of seeing a Baya weaver which has been reported here in the past and whose evacuated nests I believe I saw a few months ago. As yet I have had no luck. I may need to wait until January when weavers breed here. This is because a Baya weaver in non-breeding plumage looks very much like a sparrow and we have many hundreds of them here.

common snipe into the sun

I finally arrived at the zone where Lou had seen a little crake after about 20 minutes walk and spent nearly two hours patiently looking and listening for one.

The area looked ideal with water from the reeds spilling out into pools with some low cover around them.

Unfortunately I had no luck though several moorhen made appearances and common snipe were hunkered down in terrain also ideal for them too. I didn't follow them to get better photographic angles as I didn't want to move for fear of frightening any crake. So my photos of common snipe are all into the sun.

White wagtail were also common in this area.

immature steppe eagle

While I was waiting some birds also flew overhead. At about 10.30 am two steppe eagle were seen as the air temperatures had risen.

steppe eagle

A single mallard and more interestingly a single great cormorant also flew by both at great speed.

great cormorant

I left the area after near two hours believing I had given it my best shot and starting walking slowly back to the car. 


On the way I noticed the three first chiffchaff of the winter in a river side tree. The one pictured has a surprisingly long supercilium though I can't make it into any other bird.

side view of chiffchaff

About half way back I stopped at another area where the water spills out of the reed. I waited there even though I knew this wasn't where Lou had seen his bird. The moorhen immediately ran for cover.


While I waited I saw a bluethroat hop out and wander around. A green sandpiper arrived at the waters edge and I watched it.

green sandpiper

I decided to scan the edge of the reeds near it just as I had done in Lou's area. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a crake half hidden there.

spotted crake in the reeds

If you look carefully in the first photo you can see its body but also its long leaf green legs and its head facing backward and to the right with a red eye showing.

second view of spotted crake in the reeds

It clambered through the reeds towards the right and came out into the open for barely  3 seconds before carrying on rightward into more reeds. However it wasn't a little crake. It was a spotted crake. Note the light green legs, the spotted as well as barred underside . If your screen is big enough you can see the bold black and white stripes on its vent. 

I have mixed emotions about this sighting. I am proud I went specifically looking for crake that morning and actually found one but also a little upset it was a spotted crake

Now Lou has seen two crake at Al Hayer and both have been little crake. Whereas I have seen two over the past 2 or so years and both have been spotted crake.


Although I didn't have much cover to watch this area, I found that  staying perfectly still compensated. For example the moorhen all reappeared without seemingly noticing me.

tawny pipit

After this, there was only one other notable moment of birding before getting back to the car. A couple of pipit on a high wire looked remarkably featureless. In the end I put them down as tawny pipit but once again it was a lesson in how important the sun is here in identification. 

On Saturday, Lou and I went birding together in a new area near Riyadh. We tried out Wadi Nisah. I'll write about that next.

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