Friday 25 November 2011

Swifts and martins in the air

The temperature in Riyadh has dropped 10 C in the past week. The central Arabian "winter" is now official. I had hoped that this would bring an extra set of birds down from eastern Syria and central Iraq where it has even been around freezing at night in places.

I also wanted to see if any birds from here had moved on further south.

So with this in mind I went to Al Hayer yesterday.

Soon after I arrived I met up with Abdullah Amrou who is an excellent bird photographer.

Abdullah had been there since 4.30 in the morning whereas I arrived at 7.45. We overlapped our birding for an hour and a half until Abdullah retired home.

In that short time we saw a relatively large number of swifts and martins overhead.

pallid swift over Al Hayer

There are resident pallid swift in the Riyadh area. However many of the more northerly pallid swift in the Middle East are believed to move south for a short winter away if it gets cold. 

(By the way this reminds me of the winter habits of pallid swift in Tripoli, Libya - Collins guide has them as resident but actually they leave in November and come back in February).

We don't normally see Riyadh's own pallid swift flying as high in the air as the birds we saw yesterday. So I wonder if the birds we saw were new migrants brought down south by the weather change. 

I had to admire Abdullah's camera work. Swifts are aptly named and he struggled to capture one on film but he got one in the end!

Rock martin

In with the pallid swift were a few rock martin (alternative name African rock martin).

Incidentally in this case I could only tell they are not crag martin by the lack of contrast between the under-wing covert and the rest of the under-wing.

This bird is not known to migrate and they are a known resident in this area.

Tomorrow I'll look at some of our other observations yesterday particularly in the context of whether the weather change has affected the mix of birds locally.

Finally, please remember to visit Abdullah's flickr account to see more of his pictures at

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