Sunday, 6 July 2014

Azizah before nine

I visited the Abha area once again with Bernard Bracken over the weekend. Its one of the few places where birding is still a pleasant activity in summer in Saudi Arabia.  This is because it is at around 2450 metres and so a lot cooler than most of the rest of the country.

We birded a new area for us on Friday. This is Azizah, a long and wide valley a few kilometres north west of Wadi Talea which we have visited twice in the past with some considerable success.

We birded from 5.45 am until 3.30 pm along the valley at Azizah. The trip was so long I have divided the report into two blogs. This one reports on what we saw before 9 am.

We started out in the village of Azizah and elected to walk downstream.

male African stonechat

One piece of good news was that we came across several African stonechat which is a new species for me in Saudi Arabia. This is my 331st species in Saudi Arabia using the conservative Clements count.

It turned out to be locally common especially in the lushest areas near the few small corn fields in the very bottom of the valley.

The male is markedly different looking than European and Siberian stonechats which we get in Saudi Arabia in winter. Its mantle and face are almost jet black. Its undersides are pure white with a small orange-red bib.

female African stonechat

The female is also dark on the mantle but the undersides are mostly rusty orange. It looks vaguely similar to male European and Siberian stonechats. 

juvenile African stonechat

There was plenty of evidence of breeding. Several juveniles were seen and in one case a female was observed feeding a young bird.

a view from the bottom of Azizah valley

The bottom of the valley was teeming with other birds too. There were many Ruepell's weaver nests and it was clearly part of the breeding season.

Ruepell's weaver

In some parts of the valley, Yemen linnet was also common. 

young Yemen linnet

We found Gambaga flycatcher is extremely common in summer.

Gambaga flycatcher

Cinnamon breasted bunting was mostly found on the rocky slopes at the side of this wide valley. It was heard more often than seen too, However at least two made it down to the bottom for us to get close views. 

Cinnamon breasted bunting

I can never see too many little rock thrush but it was as abundant here as anywhere I have been in the south west.

Little rock thrush

There is a mix of terracing and flat short grassland either side of the pit of the valley in many places. Both south Arabian wheatear and red breasted wheatear were easily seen here. The former is more common.

Red breasted wheatear

On the  flat short grassland, I was surprised to see so many long billed pipit

Long billed pipit

I find their grey backs and pinky yellow legs are two of the easiest features to help recognise them.

Violet backed starling

Four violet backed starling were observed. As with the sightings in Wadi Talea in May. they are well above the altitude that the main regional guides suggests they can usually be found. Actually the inaccuracy of the altitude data in the guide is a recurring theme for so many birds. Generally the book underestimates how high a given species can regularly be found. In this case the guide says mainly between 500 and 2000 metres. We spent the day between 2450 and 2550 metres.

Bruce's green pigeon

The valley was full of doves. The most abundant was probably Bruce's green pigeon. Plenty of fig trees which is its favourite food were growing here.

Dusky turtle dove

Dusky turtle dove and laughing dove were the other doves. Once again, like Wadi Talea in May no African collared dove was seen.

Laughing dove

The next blog looks mostly at what was seen after nine a.m.  While most of the species spotted in the early morning were seen again, there were some interesting extras. Some other species were also seen before nine but are reported in the next blog as there was more opportunity to look at them then or simply because I didn't get a photo until later.

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