Saturday 26 November 2011

Winter has arrived in central Arabia

As I have said in the last couple of blogs, one of the main reasons for going out birding on Thursday was to see if the sudden onset of winter had affected the mix of birds in the area.

Temperatures have dipped to afternoon highs of "only" around 18-19C.

Has any new influx of birds from the north occurred or have any birds left for the south?

masked shrike

Some of the obvious candidates to check if they have left for warmer climes are the shrikes. Helms guide says masked shrike winters in small numbers in south west Arabia and by implication not elsewhere in the region. Yet I have being seeing significant numbers here in central Arabia. Have they moved on? Well the short answer is no. 

first winter Isabelline (Durian) shrike

Of course the second candidates to look for were the red tailed shrikes (both species) which have been abundant at Al Hayer until now. This bird is described as scarce in winter in Southern Iran, Iraq and Arabia in the Helms guide to "birds of the Middle East." It is shown as passage only in the map in the Collins guide to "birds of Britain and Europe". 

However, once again this bird is unmoved and still wintering here in numbers.

The bird above is probably an Isabelline shrike not Turkestan shrike. It's difficult to tell the two first winter birds apart but the mask in Isabelline shrike is much lighter than in Turkestan shrike at this age.

steppe grey shrike

The bird in great grey shrike complex which is most probably steppe grey shrike was also still noticeable.

So the group of birds I thought was most vulnerable to a cold snap has not moved on.

mallard at dawn

One bird which has probably been affected is mallard. Duck numbers have definitely increased in the past week. Even though mallard is a summer breeder in small numbers here, tens of mallard seem to have arrived from the north. They are distributed thinly in small groups along the Riyadh river.

The picture above was taken just after dawn by Abdullah Amrou on Thursday.

newly sown field seen last week as bare looking earth

The large flock of northern lapwing seen last week were still in the same area moving between the various fodder fields but homing in on those which are newly planted.  There is currently no incentive these birds to move back north!

part of the northern lapwing flock

The number of osprey in the wadi has increased to three this week. It's difficult to say whether this induced by the weather but it is consistent with it.

osprey in the wadi

Of the larger birds, I saw my first two black winged stilt in central Arabia but Abdullah assures me they are present all year round.

Meanwhile the passerine winterers continue to show.

white wagtail at Al Hayer

I seem to be seeing white wagtail almost everywhere there is a hint of green now.


I am able to pick out stonechat more readily too.They really seem to like being on the pivot water sprinklers in the fields.


The cooler temperatures are encouraging the warblers to be more active throughout the day. In particular chiffchaff can be seen in many more bushes than I have noticed before.

same chiffchaff from the back

I am now very confident that bluethroat is a common wintering bird. Each time I go out I see a number on reeds at the water margins.


The biggest disappointment with the change of weather is that I still haven't seen any grey hypocolius. This is one bird which is known to come south to central Arabia during cold spells. Maybe I have been looking in the wrong habitat?

 clouded butterfly

Finally, on Thursday, I noticed a lot of yellow butterflies which a quick look at google tells me are a type of clouded yellow butterfly. I have good intentions to take up butterfly identification as well as birding maybe this will spur me on.  

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