Friday, 28 June 2013

Lou finds a Goliath heron

Birding colleague and friend, Lou Regenmorter was down in Jizan last week for business. He did, however, have Thursday free to go birding. 

He tells me he spent a large amount of his time looking for the elusive spotted thick knee including in the Lake Maliki area. This species has evaded our current close network of birders since we started looking for it over the past year. 

Goliath heron through a spotting scope

Lou had more luck elsewhere at finding new species. He has told me about excellent coastal habitat just north of Jizan's north corniche which he recommends me to visit. However it was further up the coast in an area best approached by going directly west out of Sabya that Lou had his best find.

Here he saw his first Goliath heron (a bird which is missing from my Saudi list by the way).  Lou doesn't normally photograph but he tells me the bird was so well behaved he had chance to improvise.

Goliath heron in the distance

Armed only with a point-and-shoot camera and a spotting scope he managed to "digiscope" the bird. 

Otherwise the photos would all have been like the second picture (which incidentally gives a good indication of habitat).

Congratulations to Lou on his find and thanks to him for providing the information and pictures.

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.


 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Warblers and more on Jebel Lawz

As I have already trailed, Jebel Lawz above about 1800 metres is so temperate that Viv Wilson and I saw several birds which are not know to summer in Saudi Arabia. One of these which we saw was  featured in a previous blog and is black headed bunting.

Garden warbler

Three warblers which we also observed were easily identified. These are blackcap, garden warbler and eastern olivaceous warbler. We strongly suspect that at least blackcap has bred there this summer. We saw 5 of them in a small area. One was an adult male (with black cap) and the other four were either juveniles or female (with brown caps).


Blackcap and garden warbler

A fourth warbler caused more identification difficulties mostly because all the pictures were obscured by twigs. The bird just wouldn't behave for the camera. It is however definitely a lesser whitethroat. Like all the other warblers this species should be further north in June. It's outside its known summer range. 

Of the four warblers, the garden warbler in particular is way south of where it is documented to be. The far north of Turkey is its closest book distribution in summer.

lesser whitethroat obscured by a twig

Ironically, right next to the place where the warblers were concentrated were a flock of sand partridge. Just as the warblers were further south than their supposed range, the sand partridge were towards the highest altitude of their "book range".

male sand partridge

I got the best and most prolonged  views I have had of sand partridge in Saudi Arabia here.

sand partridge climbing

In a near-by wadi we saw our only Sinai rosefinch of the day too. This was another species which we should have more likely seen further down but didn't.

Sinai rosefinch

If there was any disappointment at all with this mountain trip it was a lack of birds of prey towards the top. We had to make do with frequent sightings of fan-tailed raven.  Another black bird, Tristram's starling also made appearances.

Fan-tailed raven

At lower levels, birds were more scarce. The two highlights were three trumpeter finch and a pair of scrub warbler.

Scrub warbler

Otherwise, by far the most frequent birds were desert lark and black crowned wheatear.

Desert lark

One kestrel at low altitude was our only bird of prey seen on Jebel Lawz.

white crowned wheatear

Overall this was an eventful day out. I will be looking for routes to other parts of the mountain range and would like to return to this area in the future.
I am grateful to Viv Wilson for driving there, his company and his photography. All the pictures on this blog are his except the white crowned wheatear

Below is a summary of all the species seen over the weekend:
Jebel Lawz  above 1800m
Jebel Lawz below 1800m
Tabuk city
Duba coast
Tabuk-Duba road
Sand partridge
x
Grey heron
x
Kestrel
x
Moorhen
x
Black winged stilt
x
Spur winged lapwing
x
Common redshank
x
Marsh sandpiper
x
Common greenshank
x
White eyed gull
x
Caspian tern
x
Lesser crested tern
x
Whiskered tern
x
Rock dove
x
x
x
x
Collared dove
x
x
Laughing dove
x
x x
Namaqua dove
x
Pallid swift
x
Little green bee-eater
x
Asian grey shrike (aucheri)
x
Brown necked raven
x
x
x
Fan tailed raven
x
White eared bulbul
x
Yellow vented bulbul
x
Crested lark
x
Desert lark
x
x
x
Pale crag martin
x
Scrub warbler
x
Graceful prinia
x
x
Mangrove reed warbler
x
Eastern olivaceous warbler
x
Blackcap
x
Garden warbler
x
Lesser whitethroat
x




Common myna
x
Tristrams starling
x
White crowned wheatear
x
x
x
House sparrow
x
x
x
Trumpeter finch
x
Sinai rosefinch
x
Striolated bunting
x
Black headed bunting
x



Sunday, 16 June 2013

Duba: mangroves, coast and journey

On Friday, I drove from Tabuk to Duba which is 200 kilometres south west on the Red Sea coast. Local birder, Viv Wilson didn't accompany me on this trip and this was my first time in this area. Without local birding knowledge, the birding was necessarily quite speculative.

The route from Tabuk cuts through semi desert uplands until arriving in a narrow coastal strip.

Without any real predetermined preference, I decided to bird the coastline from the northern edge of Duba town towards Duba sea port.

The coast immediately north of the corniche is quite barren and I hardly saw a bird at all. Then, just as I was beginning to regret heading north out of Duba, I arrived at the southern side of Wadi Al Gal and I came across a sea inlet which was surrounded by mangroves.

Mangrove reed warbler

This proved a good site for birds. It is well protected and seemingly natural and in good environmental condition. A grey heron flew out of cover just as I arrived. 

However it was within the mangroves themselves that I had the best find. As soon as I started walking by them, I could hear the sound of reed warblers and being mangroves I knew they were mangrove reed warbler.   I have never found them as shy as European reed warbler and once again I got good views and photographs.

As far as I know this is a new find and it is certainly much further north than the sites shown on the distribution map in the regional guide. My suspicion is that this is furthest north that mangrove reed warbler can be found on the east side of the Red Sea.


Mangroves at Wadi al Gal

The only wader I observed at the inlet was a solitary non-breeding common redshank.

common redshank

Collared dove, laughing dove and collared dove were easily seen in the taller bushes. Yellow vented bulbul was also present.

laughing dove

After leaving the mangroves, I continued along the coast northward. I soon spotted several white-eyed gull.  In general white-eyed gull is more numerous in the northern Red Sea while the closely related sooty gull becomes increasingly more numerous the further south. However there is much overlap. This time I saw no sooty gull.

white-eyed gull

Near-by were several lesser crested tern and a single Caspian tern.


Caspian tern with lesser crested tern

Like in the mangroves there was a solitary wader left behind on migration for whatever reason. This one was a marsh sandpiper.

Marsh sandpiper

The coastal strip was uneventful for land birds except it is noticeable that the bulbul here is yellow vented bulbul whereas on the other side of the hills in Tabuk it is white eared bulbul.

yellow vented bulbul

The route back had its fair share of desert lark, crested lark and white crowned wheatear.  Unlike in the higher locations (away from the road) where the raven is fan tailed, here brown necked raven was common.

brown necked raven

One Asian grey shrike in poor condition was also seen when I stopped for a break.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

I was bit disappointed not to see any birds of prey en route to and from Tabuk. Sometimes Viv has reported some special birds travelling to the coast and back. However travelling through these desolate areas can be hit and miss.


Lake on Duba road, Tabuk 

Just before the Duba road reaches Tabuk there is a lake. I stopped off there in the early evening before heading off to the airport.

Black winged stilt and spur winged plover gave me a noisy welcome (note though that the photo below is of a spur winged plover seen at my hotel).


spur winged lapwing

The lake was the only place I saw moorhen at the weekend.

flock of house sparrow at the lake

There were two marsh tern fishing over the lake. They were non-breeding and so quite difficult to identify but I believe they were whiskered tern.

non breeding whiskered tern

This was an interesting addition at the end of the trip.

In the next blog, I will return to what was seen on the top of Jebel Lawz on Thursday. I have now researched the identity of a couple of the birds and I am in a better position to report back. What can tell you now is that it confirmed that several of the birds were much further south than their normally recognised summer distribution.

The next blog will also have a full list of birds seen over the weekend and where.