Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A morning in the diplomatic quarter

On Saturday morning I went to the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh to do some light birding from 9 am until midday. It would have been impossible to do longer in the heat anyway.

black crowned night heron

I made my way down directly to the waste water stream.  This is a heavily landscaped and beautified area. 

Actually its too beautified in some respects. The trees are nearly all palm and most scrub has been removed. The reeds by the water are too tidy! The overall result is probably to restrict bird diversity. 

In winter through its still very good birding. In late spring, summer and early autumn it can be a little disappointing. 

I saw two black crowned night heron, one grey heron and one little egret from the heron family.

grey heron

I am pretty sure I heard (but didn't see) a white throated kingfisher.

the end of the waste water stream is a lake

Common moorhen were plentiful. The one below shot out like a bolt when I flushed it by walking past it. Then just as suddenly it got to the other side and just ambled away very slowly as if it had forgotten it was running away.

common moorhen

One of the few birds which are comfortable with palms is white eared bulbul. Another is rose ringed parakeet which buzzed around them all morning.

white eared bulbul

The white spectacled bulbul won't normally touch palms.

white spectacled bulbul

The only warbler seen was the resident graceful prinia. This species is highly adaptive and has spread throughout Saudi Arabia in the past 20 years.

graceful prinia

In the newly watered compounds in Riyadh and Jeddah black bush robin has also adapted to becoming a common garden bird.

black bush robin

The diplomatic quarter has a high proportion of resident birds which are introductions. These include not only white eared bulbul and rose ringed parakeet already mentioned but also common myna and Indian silverbill which were also seen on Saturday.

common myna

Two other introductions which can be seen but weren't on Saturday are red vented bulbul and bank myna.

Indian silverbill

As I have already noted Indian silverbill here and elsewhere in the Riyadh area look worse for wear at this time of year.

Looking back, I realise the only bird I saw all morning which definitely wasn't resident was a single pallid swift

This weekend I am going for dawn starts to my birding and the two weekends after I am off to the south west including Abha where its going to be much cooler and the birds should be more active.  

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

April walks from work

My walks home from work aren't as good birding as in previous seasons now that the university farm on my route has been mostly dismantled.

However I still visit the remaining gardens once or twice a week.

On Sunday afternoon, I was there when a flock of European bee-eater rested for half an hour. 
European bee-eater 

The Riyadh area including this site is odd because I see more blue-cheeked blue-eater in autumn and more European bee-eater there in spring. In my opinion their routes must be different depending on the season. 

three bee-eater

Until Sunday evening I had thought that passage birds had been really thin on my walk this spring because of the diminished size of the green area.

resident little green bee-eater

The number of sightings of the resident little green bee-eater in the area have decreased too.


During the month I have seen a pair of hoopoe on one occasion and a single on another. There used to be resident hoopoe but I haven't seen any for months until this passage month.

Turkestan shrike

Telling apart the two red tailed shrikes can be difficult. A bird seen at the university farm a week ago was particularly tricky. I believe it is a male Turkestan shrike but its underparts are not as white as average and its supercilium is weaker. Nevertheless its upper parts are quite dark and its crown is distinctly browner than its mantle. Also foxy-red as opposed to orange-red tails are more common in Turkestan shrike. Of course it could easily be an intergrade which is not rare.

willow warbler

Only a solitary warbler has been seen in my visits to the old farm since the beginning of April. This was a willow warbler. The number of warblers is possibly the biggest single difference from previous passage seasons.

The only other passage bird seen on the remnants of the farm was a common quail which I accidentally flushed and failed to relocate.  

white spectacled bulbul

Both white spectacled bulbul and white eared bulbul are hanging on in the more confined apace.

Indian silverbill

The Indian silverbill are roaming and found on the farm only occasionally now. All the silverbills I see in any location near Riyadh look worse for wear at the moment. I am not sure whether this is just moulting or whether it is the heat taking its toil.

crested lark

Spare a thought for the urban crested lark in the area which is now a major building site. Surely they can't take much more and will relocate.

Monday, 28 April 2014

The rest of the day at East Salbukh

From 10 am until I left East Salbukh wetland, it was very hot and bird activity dropped off. 

Nevertheless even in the unrelenting heat, there were some good moments.

The trip ended well with a European roller being almost the last bird I saw as I completed the circuit round the wetland.

European roller

This bird was remarkably tame for a roller. At one stage it looked at me and still decided to stay. Normally they fly on the slightest whim.

European roller looking at me

Getting back to other birds, I was still seeing a few waders as I walked round. The most common was Kentish plover followed by little ringed plover and wood sandpiper.

little stint
A single little stint was seen.

curlew sandpiper

I got a distant view of another sandpiper. Looking at its bill with such a  broad base and with an apparent kink at the tip, my first reaction was broad billed sandpiper. However the beginnings of a purple breast cannot be disregarded. This bird was a curlew sandpiper

grey heron

The heron family was represented once again. This week though I didn't see a single squacco heron.  However grey heron were there again and so was my first purple heron at this spot.

purple heron

At one of the lakes at the northern end of wetlands, two little bittern flew across the far side from me twice. Both times they were to quick for my camera.

one of the lakes at Salbukh

In this same area were several common moorhen and a European reed warbler was briefly seen out of cover.

red throated pipit

Only two yellow wagtail were observed on Friday but their regular fellow traveller, red throated pipit numbers were still high.

Towards the end of my walk, I came across a highly mobile flock of sparrows which just would't let me any where near close, not even close enough to positively identify them.  It contained about 100 birds and was closely knit. 

It didn't contain a single adult male house sparrow. I would have been able to pick them out even at long distance.

"sparrows" at great distance

I still don't know for sure whether they were all young house sparrow or a mix of pale rock sparrow with house sparrow dropping in and out of the flock.

I have not witnessed this behaviour in house sparrow before although I have seen something similar in Spanish sparrow flocks.

sparrows on the move

Having finally lost the sparrow flock towards the end of the walk was my first Turkestan shrike of the day and my second barred warbler.

Turkestan shrike

This walk was exhausting as the temperatures rose during the day to nearly 40C. I have vowed this will be my last long walk taking in the afternoon in the Riyadh area until October. It's very early starts for the long sessions from now on.

Having said this, all these long summer walks whether starting early or not keep me as fit as a subscription at Fitnesstime Gyms in Saudi or say a Sprinters Sports Centre in the UK. 

The birds seen at East Salbokh on Firday

Little bittern
European roller
Grey heron
European bee-eater
Purple heron
Barn swallow
Turkestan shrike
Curlew sandpiper
White eared bulbul
Terek sandpiper
Desert lark
Wood sandpiper
Crested lark
Little stint
Graceful prinia
Kentish plover
Willow warbler
Little ringed plover
Barred warbler
Common snipe
Rufous tailed rock thrush
Laughing dove
House sparrow
Collared dove
Yellow wagtail
Namaqua dove
Red throated pipit

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Early morning at East Salbukh

On Friday I returned to East Salbukh wetland for the third time in five weeks. I birded there from 8 am until 3.30pm. It extremely hot and thirsty work but I persevered. However for lengthy birding trips, it will be the last time I start that late and continue that long in the Riyadh area until October.  I will be on my "summer schedule" which is more like 5 am until 11 am.

Indeed I saw as nearly as many birds between 8 am and 10 am as for the rest of the day. Clearly, the birds don't like the heat either.

I am dividing the report into two based on my observations before 10 am and after 10 am. This blog is about the former.

female rufous tailed rock thrush

On leaving the car and walking towards the wetland, I passed a group of desert lark. My next stop was not the wetland however. Instead I saw a dark bird in the distance which I deviated towards.  It proved to be a female rufous tailed rock thrush.  This was my first and probably only one this spring.

After this I made my way to the wetland in an area of tamarisk bushes. A flock of European bee-eater fleetingly halted there before deciding to carry on with their migration.

white eared bulbul

These tamarisk bushes held plenty of chiffchaff and willow warbler on my last two visits. This time I spotted just two willow warbler and a barred warbler as well as several of the resident graceful prinia.  

This spring is much hotter than the last two and I am sure the passage has been faster this year because of it.

The tamarisk bushes are the only place in the wetland where I have seen white eared bulbul.

willow warbler

As I journeyed round the wetland I next came to the area which brims with house sparrow

crested lark

A few metres further away from the water line in the same area were several crested lark as well as Kentish plover.

Kentish plover

I have to be very careful where I walk around here. Once again I was subjected to distraction displays for Kentish plover trying to lead me away from their nests an young birds.

Terek sandpiper

Carrying on round the wetland, I came across one of the more surprising sights of the day.

There were two Terek sandpiper feeding and resting at the water's edge in a sandy area.  They allowed close approach which I put down to tiredness. Despite this they looked well fed.

Two Terek sandpiper

Although I have seen Terek sandpiper this far inland before on passage, it is not a common sight.  They were lucky to pick out this wetland in a sea of semi desert.

profile of a Terek sandpiper

Near-by near some bushes was a more common migrant. It was a spotted flycatcher.

spotted flycatcher

It was seen just before 10 am. I'll blog about what was seen after 10 am next and I'll also include a full list of birds seen throughout the day.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The river banks at Al Hayer

On Saturday morning, I made one of my irregular visits to the pivot field area south of Al Hayer. In my first two years in Riyadh I visited this area about twice each month.   In a sense it could be seen as my "local patch". However in the past year, the frequency has dropped to about twice every three months as I travel more.

Nevertheless it was a welcome return. There has been a lot of development recently and the Riyadh river seems to be continually changing course as reeds are burnt and earth moved.

I decided to concentrate on the edge of the water rather than spend too much time in the pivot fields themselves.

common kingfisher

A early surprise was the sight of a common kingfisher. One or two are known to winter near the fields every year but I wasn't expecting one to still be around on April 19th. 

purple heron

The birding had started well but before seeing it, a purple heron rose up at the very start as I walked along a new stretch of the river.

rufous-tailed bush robin

Near-by, on some scrub land between the river and the nearest field I witnessed my first rufous tailed bush robin of spring.

European collared dove

I only ventured into the near-by field trying to follow a streaked weaver. During my very short stay in  there I only saw crested lark and European collared dove.

new course of the river

As I returned to the river, I accidentally flushed three common snipe.  Further along near the river's edge were several red-throated pipit.

red-throated pipit

From the river I could see five cattle egret resting on the pivot bar in the middle of the field. While watching these, a black crowned night heron flew past me.

cattle egret

There was much more streaked weaver activity in the reeds at the far side of the river.  I saw 4 nests close together and i am sure there were plenty more out of sight.

male streaked weaver

Unfortunately this was a place where four fishermen were fishing. Sadly two hours later they had produced a barbeque which made the reeds catch fire and a very large area of reeds and tamarisk were burnt down almost certainly destroying all the nests. At least 50 black crowned night heron which I hadn't previously seen flew up into the air to avoid the smoke and fire.

I saw two similar fires last spring. This act made me angry and sad in equal measure. 

female streaked weaver

Further up stream I came across more weavers' nests so at least the whole population wasn't wiped out. The picture of the female above is from that different group.

squacco heron

In the same area were three squacco heron who like the ones in Jubail the day before were in complete summer plumage.

graceful prinia

There are lots of tamarisk and other bushes in this section but I failed to see many warblers who must be passing through at the moment. I can only think that the high temperatures are forcing them deep into cover during the day. Nevertheless the local graceful prinia were braving the heat and I also briefing saw my first barred warbler of the spring.

red avadavat

I have noted before that the exotic birds such as streaked weaver and red avadavat almost disappear from this area in winter only to reappear in spring. I believe they find more densely bushed areas up stream. Both are back in numbers. Red avadavat was easy to see. The males have started to gain some of their breeding plumage since my last sighting two weeks ago but they have a long way to go. However you can start to see why one alternative name is strawberry munia.

young moorhen

In contrast moorhen have been busy breeding since late January.

Turkestan shrike

As the heat steadily rose towards midday, fewer and few birds were disclosing themselves. Turkestan shrike perch out in all heat so one of these could be seen. A black bush robin was seen fleetingly.

grey heron

Something must have disturbed a grey heron which rose up unexpectedly. This was one of the last birds I saw before ending around 11.30 with temperatures still rising.

Strangely I didn't see a single bird of prey all the time at al Hayer. This must be a first.

kestrel at the Riyadh cricket club lake

The only one I saw was at the lake near Riyadh cricket club on the way out towards Al Hayer when I had travelled out with Bernard Bracken who spent the day there.