Wednesday 19 February 2014

Raydah escarpment

On Saturday, Bernard Bracken and I spent the day literally hiking down and up the Raydah escarpment Near Abha, Saudi Arabia.  We started out in dense fog at 2800 metres wondering whether this had been a big mistake.  

We decided to risk walking down the one-in-four road to see if we could get below the cloud line.

Dusky turtle dove seen at 2400 metres

Luckily after half an hour and a drop of 150 metres, we arrived in sunshine though the exact cloud line kept changing all day.

The only birds we saw or heard in the cool, fog bound areas were brown woodland warbler and Yemen linnet. These are clearly hardy birds. Indeed I note that the brown woodland warbler was well above the altitude that the main regional guide says they inhabit.

half way terraces

Bernard and I walked down to 2000 metres and back up again over a period of several hours. Bernard's pocket altitude meter was really useful in all of this.

We found the best birding at around 2400 metres near a clearing in the juniper forest which covered the upper parts of the mountain.

female Palestine sunbird

The flowering plants and bushes in the clearing were covered in Palestine sunbird. A dusky turtle dove hid in a tree near-by.

This was the nearest we got to seeing African olive pigeon which is "probably resident" in the area according to the Helms regional guide. However we birded intensively and I am confident we would have seen it if it had been there.

This week, following our visit, I have been in correspondence with Mike Jennings author of the Atlas of Arabian Breeding Birds about this bird. He said only one source has recorded the bird outside the months of March to November. Take that one source away and we can surmise the bird is only a summer breeder. 

Yemen linnet

Yemen linnet were seen in among the seeding plants.

White spectacled bulbul

Also near-by was a flock of white spectacled bulbul. Briefly two Abyssinian white-eye were seen. Two Tristram's starling flew by.

Short toed eagle

As the temperatures rose after midday, finally some birds of prey were observed. In the far distance away from the escarpment were three steppe eagle. However a little later two short toed eagle flew directly overhead. I don't quite understand why they should be flying over a juniper forest when their main diet is snakes. 

The main regional guide asks whether short toed eagle in southern Arabia are resident. Well I have seen many in different parts of south west Saudi Arabia in winter to answer this as yes. 

long range view of a barbary falcon

The only other bird of prey seen over the escarpment was quite special. It was a barbary falcon. I first saw what I thought was this bird in the late morning flying very high. Two hours later it or another landed about 200 metres way from us. It was right at the extremes of my camera range although clearly seen through binoculars. Note its stocky look and barred breast. I really wanted it to be a peregrine falcon as I haven't seen one in Saudi Arabia but I keep seeing barbary falcon. I must be the only birder in the world who has seen more barbary than peregrine. 

a mob of fan-tailed raven

Like in much of upland, south west Saudi Arabia, fan-tailed raven is prolific. It also mobs birds of prey mercilessly. The increase in rubbish dumps has helped it breed. Its mobbing behaviour must contribute to the decline in so many resident birds of prey in the region over the past 20 years.

One of the last observations of our visit was of three Arabian partridge diving down the mountainside as we hiked up. 


A final reminder that south west Saudi Arabia is in the Afro-tropical eco-zone was the ever presence of baboons during the mid section of our walk.

This was an exhausting but overall worthwhile birding day in habitat far removed from my base in Riyadh.


  1. I'll swap one of your Barbaries with one of my Peregrines!

  2. I'd love to bird this part of Arabia some day. There are some exciting species to be found. I think I'll have to get down to Salalah some time soon to get a feel for birds of the region.