Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Al Birk

On Friday, Shane Nghere and I made the journey from Muhayil to Al Birk on the Red Sea coast thanks to some of his students who acted as guides.

The road is subject to major works so the journey was slow. The birding on the way was mostly uneventful apart from where we saw 5 eagles eating a carcass. Unfortunately we notice them late. We stopped late and too close to them so they flew off. Nevertheless I am quite confident they were a mix of tawny eagle, steppe eagle and one booted eagle.

This area is within the know residential range of tawny eagle and I regret missing the chance to see them up close. 

Pink backed pelican

This was my first time at Al Birk and its quite a remarkable place. There are the most extensive mangroves in the whole of Saudi Arabia. 

Not knowing how to tackle the terrain we started at the southern end of the mangroves and moved north. Views were not always good and the tide was out. 

Despite these hardships, we saw a good selection of birds. Pink backed pelican were glimpsed from time to time. Both grey heron and purple heron were easily seen though sadly goliath heron was not. 

Goliath heron is a known resident here. 

grey heron

Waders were plentiful. Whimbrel was abundant in front of the mangroves on the landward side but most waders were seen either in the mangroves or in gaps in the mangroves next to the sea.  In the mangroves themselves mangrove reed warbler was spotted on more than one occasion. It was heard almost continually.

common redshank

Common redshank was arguably the commonest wader.

green sandpiper with a common redshank

A Green sandpiper group was seen resting. Some of the birds were asleep. 

Terek sandpiper

One Terek sandpiper was observed. This bird is easy to pick out from a group of mixed waders.

curlew sandpiper

Other noticeable waders included a flock of five curlew sandpiper. Some were just starting to produce their purple bellies.

lesser sand plover

Ringed plover, Kentish plover and lesser sand plover were all observed but no greater sand plover were seen. 

grey plover

Grey plover was the other plover in the area.

sooty gull

Unlike during my Yanbu visit (much further north on the Red Sea coast) three weeks before, only one large white headed gull was spotted all day. This was probably a Caspian gull. In contrast, many tens of sooty gull were present. They proved very tame and were coming very close to people picnicking in the beach areas.

lesser crested tern

Surprisingly only one tern was seen and it proved to be a lesser crested tern.


Three osprey were seen as a single and later a pair. 

hoopoe lark

Once again on the red sea coast I observed hoopoe lark very close to the sea in saline scrub. We saw the well-known courtship diving flight on three occasions.

Singles of three different wheatears were also observed: black-eared wheatear, northern wheatear and desert wheatear.


While the eagles mentioned earlier were the highlight of the travel to and from Al Birk there were some other interesting observations.

Among them, on the way out, was a hamerkop sighting where the road crossed a stream at Wadi Tadba.

brown necked raven

Much later near the place the eagles were seen were brown necked raven and a long legged buzzard.

long legged buzzard

On the way back just before dusk, we came across four Bruce's green pigeon perched on a wire.

Bruce's green pigeon

The regional guide says it is chiefly found from 500 to 2400 metres but we were at 300 metres. Furthermore I have never seen them on wires before but usually deep in trees.

The guide does say they are partial migrants and this location and behaviour is consistent with that. I suspect these were summer returners from Africa. 

An interesting end to a very full day.

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