Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A still flooded Al Hayer

Bernard Bracken and I visited Al Hayer late Friday morning after leaving the lake near Riyadh cricket club.

Some of Al Hayer's pivot fields were still flooded following the rains from three weeks before.

One of my wintering favourite birds at Al Hayer is bluethroat and they were not shy on Friday. 


Two of them gave fearless displays out in the open.

Same bluethroat from a different angle

I find they come out of their cover on cooler days.

A second  bluethroat

Time was quite short so Bernard and I paid particular attention to the parts of the fields that had been flooded as this is unusual habitat in this part of the world.

The fields were still flooded in place

This was the area where the white wagtail had gravitated to.

white wagtail

And not surprisingly three common snipe were also seen.

common snipe

Four members of the heron family were seen. These were purple heronsquacco herongrey heron and a single little egret.

purple heron

Squacco heron are invariably present all year round and are the most common sight in summer.

squacco heron

Of course it is impossible to know if the squacco heron we saw were resident or wintering.

little egret

The resident white-throated kingfisher are joined by wintering common kingfisher for about 5 months every year.

white throated kingfisher

I still haven't seen a pied kingfisher in Saudi Arabia but they aren't unheard of at Al Hayer. One day...

common kingfisher

One strange feature of this time of year is the disappearance of most of the sparrows and finches from the fields. Only very small numbers of Spanish sparrow and house sparrow were seen and no streaked weaver at all. I very much doubt any of these species  migrate but must keep well sheltered. The only family member easily seen on Friday were Indian silverbill

Indian silverbill

One of the most interesting sightings of the day was a lesser kestrel perched on a pivot bar in one of the flooded fields.  They are most common in the passage seasons and absent in summer.

Lesser kestrel

In the early afternoon as air temperatures reached their highest four eagles arrived. They were both greater spotted eagle and steppe eagle

steppe eagle

The one above is a steppe eagle which I only identified by blowing up the picture and seeing the distinctive barring in the under-wing. The gape size which is another identifier was ambiguous.

Daurian shrike

This shrike identification was also tricky. Indeed most red-tailed shrike identifications are tricky. This bird is has a light mantle and wings. It also has a creamy under-side. So the contrast between the undersides and uppersides is small. The supercilium is weak and no hint of white. This all strongly suggests a Daurian shrike. However there is the vaguest hint of brown in the crown which is a counter indication. The tail colour is obscured too.


The inclement weather didn't put off hoopoe from staying in the area. 

Isabelline wheatear

Finally I can report a relative dearth of wintering wheatears in the farming areas  in stark contrast with wadi Dawasar last weekend.  

On Saturday I had to go to the Taibeh district of Madinah for work but managed a small amount of birding near the hotel. I'll write about this in my next blog.

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