Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Muhayil road, Abha

On Saturday, Bernard Bracken and I went out of Abha about 20 kilometres on the Muhayil road north west of the city. 

Here the wadis are flatter than Azizah which was visited on Friday. The terrain on average looks a little drier too. This was probably because the altitude was a little lower at around 2250 metres.

Many of the birds were the same. However the proportions were different and we did see four species not seen the day before.

We got better views of Arabian wheatear including a family group with two adults and two juveniles. The adults kept calling the juveniles which were venturing away. 

juvenile Arabian wheatear

Clements and e-bird database still counts this bird as a sub species of mourning wheatear though the sexes are dimorphic unlike mourning wheatear and the juveniles different too.

male Arabian wheatear

The density of Arabian babbler was the highest I have seen anywhere. 

Arabian babbler

White spectacled bulbul were also present.

white spectacled bulbul

Both bulbuls and babblers are nest-parasitised by pied cuckoo. Nevertheless I didn't expect to see any. However there were two in one of the farmed wadis.

pied cuckoo

Convention wisdom has it that they winter in Africa and fly to India just ahead of the monsoon season. The main regional guide shows that a few breed in a small part of Yemen not bothering to undertake the journey.

In the past two summers, observers in Saudi Arabia including me have seen them in the Jizan and Sabya areas throughout the summer. These are low lying areas (less than 1000 metres) which the guide says is where you can see them, implying on scarce passage.

However these birds were at 2250 metres  and its getting a little late for passage even to monsoonal India.  As we "join up the dots" it beginning to look like this bird is more widespread in south west Arabia and for longer than conventionally thought.


Hoopoe, like Arabian babbler was an at incredibly high density and in the same wadi. 

Arabian warbler

Arabian warbler was common too. We actually sat under a tree in the shade before realising the tree contained a nest with very young birds being fed.

This is another bird which the regional guide struggles with the altitude it can be found. I have commented before that I have seen very many above the "1500 metres where it is usual"

I am beginning to wonder if the issue on altitude is that the guide covers all Middle East and many species which are found in Asir, Saudi Arabia are also found in Dhofar, Oman but at lower altitude.

long billed pipit

More observations were made on long billed pipit which was also seen the day before. I can now conclude, despite being a ground user,  it perches on trees more than any other pipit I know other than tree pipit.

little green bee-eater

Two species seen on Saturday on the Muhayil road but not at Azizah were little green bee-eater and desert lark.

We spotted a row of about 12 bee-hives near-by where clearly commercial honey making is taking place. It looks like this is enough to entice little green bee-eater to the area.

desert lark

We spent a lot of time out of the wadis on the rocky hillsides looking for Blanford's lark. We failed. it's a true nemesis bird for me.  Indeed, all day we only saw one crested lark and one desert lark.

Palestine sunbird

We crossed over the main road late on to see if the terrain was any different.

It looks similar but the bird composition wasn't. We met our first palestine sunbird of the day.

female Yemen linnet

One small area was swarming with Yemen linnet. They were clearly very attracted to a filed of thistles and another of some sort of seeding herb.

Short toed eagle

Near the end of our birding time we spotted the only bird of prey seen all day. It was a short toed eagle. It was well worth waiting for.

Overall the trip to Abha was successful and pleasant. The Asir mountains are probably the only part of Saudi Arabia where you can bird all day at this time of year.

The species seen off the Muhayil road, Abha are listed below:

Short toed eagle
Arabian warbler
Feral pigeon
Arabian babbler
Dusky turtle dove
Gambaga flycatcher
Laughing dove
Pied cuckoo
Bruce’s green pigeon
Arabian wheatear
Eurasian hoopoe
Red breasted wheatear
Little green bee-eater
Yemen thrush
Crested lark
Palestine sunbird
Desert lark
Long billed pipit
Pale crag martin
Cinnamon breasted bunting
White spectacled bulbul
Yemen linnet
Brown woodland warbler
House sparrow
Graceful prinia
Rueppell’s weaver

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