Saturday, 4 January 2014

Coastal lakes at Khobar

Yesterday I undertook a long day trip to the east coast centred on Khobar. I had in mind targetting two birds which I don't yet have on my Saudi list. I also more generally wanted to know what was there at this time of year.

My two target birds were great black headed gull and sandwich tern. Despite major efforts I saw neither. Yet I was not disappointed partly because of the variety and numbers of other birds seen but also because I picked up a different addition to my list quite expectedly. I'll explain this in detail in my next blog.

grey plover

When I arrived at Khobar's south corniche, I started out by inspecting the set of lakes which are 100 metres from the sea and separated from it by the corniche road.

Kentish plover

There were plenty of plovers on the lakes' "beaches". Most of them were Kentish plover and common ringed plover. A few were dunlin. two were different. One was grey plover (see photo above). The other was a broad-billed sandpiper. Note the broad bill base and kink in the bill toward the tip as well as head markings consistent with this species.

broad billed sandpiper at the back

There are common in this area on passage and they winter in "coastal Arabia" according to the main regional guide. It looks like at least one has lingered on this part of the Arabian coast though most must move further south.

striated heron

Another bird towards the edge of its range was a striated heron that I flushed as I walked round a lake. The regional guides map doesn't show it this far north on the east coast. The distribution in the map stops at UAE border. This is probably yet again more a function of under-reporting in Saudi Arabia than non-existence.

Unfortunately the bird flew into my direct sunlight so betters pictures weren't possible.

plenty of gulls

The lakes were full of gulls. About 80% were black headed gull with the balance nearly all being slender billed gull. Since I had come to Khobar looking for great black headed gull, I studied the groups intently.

Heuglins gull with black headed gull

There were two larger gulls among the many tens of medium sized gulls. Both of them were immature (probably third winter) white headed gulls and I believe Hueglin's gull because of the black sub terminal band and because the mantle is relatively dark.

another view of the Heuglins gull

Another feature of the lakes were the large number of herons. I came across at least eighteen grey heron.

grey heron

I hadn't realised the western reef heron roost together before though its not surprising. One cluster of bushes held at least fifteen of them of various morphs.

heronry of reef heron

There were also two little egret on site.

dark morph western reef heron

There were relatively few land birds in the adjacent scrub. House sparrow were the most numerous. Graceful prinia were the next.

Daurian shrike

Two Daurian shrike were seen there.

After two recent visits to the east coast in winter, I seen several Daurian shrike and not a single Turkestan shrike whereas in the Riyadh area both types of red tailed shrike winter. 

Finally one bird I didn't see at Khobar was white wagtail though they were easily seen on our stops on the way from Riyadh. Surely this local lack was just an oversight. 

white wagtail

Having finished with the lakes I moved on to looking at the sea and coast. This is where most of the day's action took place and where I got the 317th bird on my Saudi list. I will blog about this next.

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