Monday, 10 February 2014

Beneath the Buwaib escarpment

On Friday morning after a stop on the way I birded the area north of Thumamah directly below the Buwaib escarpment. This was a new place for me.

One of my objectives was to search for Dunn's lark and thick-billed lark which would have been lifers as well as additions to my Saudi list. 

Thick-billed lark 

As I was just finishing my visit, I actually came across a thick-billed lark as I was walking back to the car.

Thick-billed lark facing me

This caused me as much excitement as almost any bird sighting in Saudi Arabia. It is a difficult bird to see, summering in the north of the country with some (or most?) heading south in the winter. They usually winter in poorly accessible gravelly areas with limited vegetation. This one was no exception. See the picture below for the landscape.

Thick-billed lark is the 321st bird on my Saudi list using the conservative Clements and e-bird database count. It is number 328 on the OSME count.

The gravel below the escarpment

This sighting was culmination of a very good morning's birding when for the most part I had been looking up at the escarpment rather than down in the plain. Whether I was looking up or down, I stayed in virtually the same place for 90 minutes.

The escarpment looking up

Earlier I had seen two Egyptian vulture which were apparently mating.

Before this, I had only seen one Egyptian vulture in Saudi Arabia at Wadi Rabigh on the west coast and I failed to photograph it.

two Egyptian vultures apparently mating

There are plenty of records of Egyptian vulture in this area near Thumamah from the 1990s and early 2000s . However, in recent years, none of the local birders have seen any.

Egyptian vulture in flight

This may well be because it not as straightforward to get permission to visit King Khalid's wildlife park as in the past. Much of this particular escarpment, east of where I saw the two Egyptian vulture, is only easily accessible from the park.

pale morph long legged buzzard

The vultures were seen at 10.30am when the air was getting warmer and bird of prey activity for the day was growing. At nearly the same time I observed a long-legged buzzard and an Eastern Imperial eagle.

 Eastern Imperial  eagle

The brown-necked raven had been flying all morning but also became more active at the same time as the birds of prey. Though this could have been because mobbing was their intent. Incidentally while I was looking up at the birds of prey I spotted a lone common swift on passage.

rock doves with a pigeon

The rock face itself also held a few species. I noticed that a single feral pigeon had joined the genuine rock dove.

desert lark

As normally expected on rocky slopes in Saudi Arabia there were desert lark around.

trumpeter finch

A sound like a toy trumpet alerted me to the presence of Trumpeter finch too. I saw two. One was being fed by the other. Unfortunately the picture of the finch is obscured.

white crowned wheatear

Hooded wheatear has been recorded near here in the past. However the two wheatears I saw saw were white-crowned wheatear and Eastern mourning wheatear.

Eastern mourning wheatear

I finally left the area well-satisfied just before midday.  On the way back towards Riyadh I spent some time in the Banban area which had historically been very good for larks including Dunn's lark.

crested lark

I also understand Dunn's lark was fairly common then. However I believe it is now rare in Saudi Arabia outside protected areas. Indeed only a few of the current birders have ever seen it and certainly not in numbers. Overgrazing by camels and goats is one possible reason. At Banban the only lark I saw was crested lark.  Banban's problem for birding is not over-grazing like many other places but it is quarrying. The coarse sand which used to be the top surface has been removed in many places.

Lou Regenmorter and I returned to Buwaib escarpment on Saturday morning but this time there were no thick-billed lark or Egyptian vulture to be seen. Such is the luck of birding. Indeed birding was thin. Despite the thinness, we did see two birds not seen the day before. These were two male blue rock thrush on the hillside and a flock of eight bar-tailed lark down in the plain

bar-tailed lark

I shall return to this area again but in the meanwhile I have a weekend trip to Abha coming up.


  1. Congratulations on the Thick-billed, Rob. I'm very envious! This species is sometimes seen in Kuwait and has bred there but I never managed to bump into them.

  2. Andrew, I couldn't believe my eyes. They are so well camouflaged among the pebbles and quite rare done this way as well.

  3. Great record .. We want to visit the bird we are birders from kuwait please e-mail me :