Wednesday 23 November 2011

The status of red backed shrike in central Arabia

Since starting work in Riyadh in late September, I have seen four species of shrike in the Al Hayer area. They are Turkestan shrike, Isabelline (Durian) shrike, masked shrike and a member of the great grey shrike complex which is most probably steppe grey shrike.

Two other shrikes which are found here at certain times of the year are red backed shrike and lesser grey shrike.

Roy de Guzman Daantos has shown me more of his wildlife photographs and there are pictures of red backed shrike taken near Al Hayer.  He tells me that his photos were all taken in October this year. This species is almost certainly only found on passage here.

So even though I missed seeing any red backed shrike during the passage, one of the other sets of eyes in the area didn't.

red backed shrike taken by Roy

Some of the pictures in October were of juvenile shrikes.  I am used to seeing juvenile red backed shrike in Bulgaria. 

juvenile red backed shrike at Al Hayer in October

However I have to be very careful here because identification of juvenile shrikes is difficult and the options here are considerable for birds seen in the autumn. For example it not easy to separate some young Turkestan shrike from red backed shrike and both are possibilities here. The bird shown has a distinctly redder back than a young Turkestan shrike and its mask is not developed enough for it to be a vagrant brown shrike the so I am confident about its identification as red backed.

second view of a red backed shrike

One of the pictures of a juvenile shrike that Roy sent me doesn't look completely right for red backed shrike. It was taken at the same time as the others and is shown below.

The bird gives an overall impression of grey but doesn't have a red tail. It doesn't easily fit the standard for any of the shrikes. I have looked hard at the Collins and helms guides so I will just leave it as unidentified.

unidentifed juvenile shrike 

I have a tentative picture of the status of shrikes in the central Arabia area which is slowly becoming clearer. Below is my view of the status of the various species. I have taken into account Tom Tarrant's records from the early 1990s, the Helms guide to the Middle East, the local wildlife photographers' snaps and my own observations. 

In general it appears shrikes are more common at more times of the year in central Arabia than the Middle East guide gives credit. here is my latest view:

Red-backed Shrike, Lanius collurio
Relatively common passage bird in March and October often staying for 1 or 2 days before leaving. 

Isabelline Shrike and Turkestan shrike, Lanius isabellinus and Lanius phoenicuroides These two red tailed shrike are the most abundant shrikes here (at least for part of the year). Many are on passage but quite a few winter too.

Lesser Grey Shrike, Lanius minor
Rather less abundant than the previous species but there are fair numbers presumably breeding in the Riyadh area, between May and September.

Steppe Grey Shrike, Lanius pallidirostris present throughout year, some breeding with extra birds present in winter.

Woodchat Shrike, Lanius senator
Rather uncommon passage bird usually in March and September.

Masked Shrike, Lanius nubicus
Uncommon but more abundant than previous species. Birds pass through Riyadh area in April and October. A very few stay the winter.

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