Tuesday 15 November 2011

A watering hole in the desert

The wildlife photographer, Abdullah Amrou has captured a rare in-sight into some of the birds crossing the Arabian desert in the passage season.

On September 16th and 17th this year, Abdullah visited Shehatiyah. It is 230 kilometres south of Al Kharj (285 kilometres south of Riyadh). The place is on the edge of the Dahna sand desert. There is a high water tank supplying a watering hole for passing Bedouins. There are also 5 or 6 abandoned houses and a few acacias.

The water and shade are clearly very attractive to birds in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

I feel privileged that Abdullah is allowing me to blog some of his pictures from there.

European nightjar at Shehatiyah

Abdullah has managed to capture a rare picture of a European nightjar on passage. I think he was helped by the fact that the bird didn't have much cover to choose from!  

European nightjar breeds from Portugal in the west all the way to Pakistan and Kazakhstan in the east and everywhere in between. Yet in winter all the available evidence is that they nearly all head for sub-tropical and tropical Africa. Very few winter in the Arabian peninsula and possibly none in India.  So the bird that Abdullah photographed was probably from the east of the breeding range homing in on Africa.

Asian desert warbler at Shehatiyah

Another bird he captured in a photograph was Asian desert warbler. This bird breeds on the north and east side of the Caspian in dry places. It is known to winter throughout the Arabian semi desert areas.


This chiffchaff has also migrated from the north.  It is quite likely to have still been on passage. 

By the way I am fairly confident it is a chiffchaff and not a willow warbler. The legs are dark despite the tricks of the light and the pale eye ring is very strong.

Eastern Orphean warbler

Abdullah also saw a third warbler. It was an eastern Orphean warblerEastern Orphean warbler looks superficially similar to an Arabian warbler but the eye is lighter and the belly is buffer. 

It summers in Turkey and adjacent areas. Most are believed to migrate to Africa and the Helms guide says it is scarce in Arabia. However, I wonder if it is simply under-reported in winter in south west Arabia and west Yemen where very few birders go.

Like the other warblers, it was attracted to a leaking water tap enabling Abdullah Amrou to get his shot.

female blue rock thrush

Blue rock thrush is a well known winter visitor to Arabia in many places including even flat terrain. Of all the birds seen at Shehatiyah, this one and the Asian desert warbler are the most likely to be wintering rather than being on further passage. 

yellow wagtail (flava)

The final bird which Abdullah has sent me from Shehatiyah is a yellow wagtail (flava) sometimes called blue-headed wagtail. It is seen widely on passage in south Arabia and a few winter too.

Once again I am indebted to Abdullah Amrou for his patience, his photography and his results!

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