Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Raydah in May

Bernard Bracken and I returned to the Raydah escarpment on Saturday. Once again we birded on foot despite the hard work it entails. The weather started out beautiful and visibility was good.

Our previous visit had been in February and was often shrouded in mist. The sightings of passerines then were dominated by brown woodland warbler, Yemen linnet and Palestine sunbird.

All three were present again with Yemen linnet being omnipresent.

Yemen linnet

However arguably the best passerine seen this time was Yemen warbler. We were lucky enough to see it in three separate places and in two of them it give us prolonged views in the open. 

Yemen warbler

On one occasion we were tracking two Yemen linnet on a dead bush with no leaves when the warbler hopped on.

Another Yemen warbler

The species is a high altitude species and only common in Saudi Arabia in a few places.

It is described as active but can be secretive. However the second time we met it, this time in a pair, one of the pair started singing loudly and openly from a tree top.

Yemen warbler singing

One of the main reasons to come back to Raydah escarpment had nothing to do with passerines but with the dove family. 

Half way terracing a.k.a "Raydah farm"

I was particularly interested in finding African olive pigeon. This bird is only found in Raydah and surrounding areas within Saudi Arabia. I failed to see it during my February visit. 

I had suspected the best chance we had of seeing it was near the only clearing with terracing (sometimes called Raydah farm") next to a verdant wadi part way down. 

I was proved right.  The moment we arrived, two African olive pigeon flew up and off in a flurry. They are such distinctive birds with an overall purple look, large and with prominent yellow feet and bills. It was just as well they are so distinctive since we couldn't trace them again.

However this proved to be a new addition to my Saudi list making 326 using the conservative Clements count.

Dusky turtle dove

Around this clearing was the only place on the escarpment we also saw dusky turtle dove. In contrast we spotted laughing dove throughout albeit in low density.

Laughing dove

A male African paradise flycatcher was also seen next to the terracing.

red rumped swallow

Around the terraced area of "Raydah farm" was the highest concentration of red-rumped swallow although they were seen in low density all along our walk.

Arabian woodpecker

Raydah farm was the lowest point we walked to this time before hiking back up the mountain. However we stayed there for an hour and a half partly because the bird diversity was so good and partly as a place to eat.

We saw our first of two Arabian woodpecker here. While eating three Arabian partridge flew over the top of us.

violet backed starling

It was the only place we observed violet backed starling and hoopoe.


On the way back up, we stopped off at a short track where we nearly bumped into a baboon on the way down. This time there were none to be seen there. Instead we keep very close to a Philby's partridge which nonchalantly walked away into the undergrowth. 

A short track in the juniper forest

This was the same stop off where we found the second Arabian woodpecker and one of the Yemen warbler.


Very few birds of prey were seen. At long range early on we glimpsed two short toed eagle but they weren't seen again all day. However there was one bird of prey that we saw repeatedly. Surprisingly it was a steppe buzzard which we assume was over-summering. 

steppe buzzard

It was not being treated well by its fellow birds. We observed a kestrel attack it for a few minutes in an aerial battle. Later, towards the end of our walk it again came under attack by a fan tailed raven.

male Arabian wheatear

Arabian wheatear is common  through out the Asir highlands and Raydah is no exception. The Clements count still has this as a sub species of Mourning wheatear but unlike the nominate the female is quite different from the male.

female Arabian wheatear

Little rock thrush is another bird seen throughout the highlands too.

little rock thrush

Abyssinian white eye tolerates a much wider set of altitudes. Flocks were seen all day in different places.

Abyssinian white eye

We caught views of a shy pipit on three occasions. Using a set of long range photos we were finally convinced it was long billed pipit.

long billed pipit

We arrived back at the top of the Raydah escarpment a little early so we decided to head down the less steep side for an hour or so and try for Blanford's lark in the stony plateaux below the tree line. 

As is typical in May it started to rain in mid afternoon just like it had the day before which slowed us down. However we could see the first of the stony clearings made by a farmer. From a distance and through the rain we realised there were six Arabian partridge out in the open in the clearing.  

Arabian partridge

As a last move of the day we slowly descended towards them dodging the rain by going tree to tree in places. The partridges allowed us very close and we got good views and photos of some very wet Arabian partridge. Despite the weather it was a fine ending. 

Below are the species seen at the higher elevations of Raydah. No lower areas were visited. 

Philby’s partridge
Willow warbler
Arabian partridge
Yemen warbler
Steppe buzzard
Brown woodland warbler
Short toed eagle
Abyssinian white eye
Tristram’s starling
Laughing dove
Yemen thrush
Dusky turtle dove
African olive pigeon
Violet backed starling
Arabian wheatear
Arabian woodpecker
Little rock thrush
Red backed shrike
Palestine sunbird
African paradise flycatcher
House sparrow
Fan tailed raven
Long billed pipit
White spectacled bulbul
Yemen linnet
Red rumped swallow
Striolated bunting


  1. Wow Rob, amazing birding. I think I'd have had almost 20 lifers if I'd been with you. I'll have to try to come out some time. The shots of the Yemen Linnet and Warbler are terrific. Green with envy.

    I think you should add (South) Arabian Wheatear to your list, by the way. It's certainly a good species.I think the Clements list is a bit behind the times....

    Andrew B

  2. You are more than welcome to join me on a highland expedition. These are much better in the summer months.