Sunday 12 February 2012

Field and river, Al Hayer

Having blogged on passage birds and on birds of prey over the past two days, I still have something left to write about from Thursday's visit to Al Hayer.

The cast of wintering and resident birds also provided good birding.

For a start, I am still finding new resident (or at most short distant migrant) birds.  This time I saw my first desert finch in the Wadi Hanifah corridor. I had only seen it in Kharj farming district before.

desert finch

Once again, looking hard at the birds on the pivot cross beams paid dividends.

squacco heron

In another field there was a small flock of squacco heron superficially behaving similarly to have I normally see cattle egret. Indeed in previous weeks I have seen cattle egret in the very same field. The squacco heron were grazing as a loose group. I have just looked up what they eat and it appears that larval insects are an important part of their diet. That would explain their presence in a mature field where insects have had time to grow large in the larval stage.

part of a larger group of squacco heron

At the far end of the field and still easily spooked were the large flock of northern lapwing who have stayed in the area all winter.

northern lapwing

Historical records suggest that the Al Hayer area doesn't receive a flock of northern lapwing every winter but this year a hundred or so have been faithful to the pivot fields. 

steppe grey shrike

Every winter there are a number of steppe grey shrike and one of the two main historical observers for the area suggests that they stay all summer too.

painted lady butterfly

After visiting the pivot fields, I moved on to the river side south of there. On the country lane between the two areas, I spied a painted lady butterfly. I understand this butterfly is not native to Saudi Arabia but the newer man-made environments must look attractive.


The previous twice I have visited this part of the river, I have seen something new. However every time there is the ubiquitous moorhen

little grebe

On the two other occasions there have been a selection of ducks, this time I didn't see any but there were a couple of little grebe.  I think I mentioned it in a blog sometime ago that there had been fears that the catfish had polished off the resident little grebe population but this looks untrue.

graceful prinia

Once again graceful prinia and bluethroat were evident by voice and sight. The graceful prinia are taking up more exposed poses at the moment and singing strongly, a sure sign that they want to pair off for spring.

citrine wagtail

Further down stream, the river course has been altered recently and the vegetation near the river is much less. There are lots of sand flats. Its starting to attract waders. I saw three green sandpiper and a flock of unknown waders which unfortunately flew off before I could identify them. The problem for me was the lack of cover!

Among the white wagtail in the area was a least one citrine wagtail. This is the second place along wadi hanifah I have seen one this winter. There were also several in a Kharj farm about 40 kilometres south east. Its clearly not that rare a winter visitor.

close up of citrine wagtail

Finally I have to remind myself every now and again that some of the most obvious birds for many first timers along the river are the grey heron and purple heron, usually seen in flight unless you are cautious. Its very easy to get complacent about them.

purple heron


  1. Hi Robert,

    certainly a nice place to explore! You can never see enough Citrine Wagtails. I noticed a small typo in the blog, the flying heron is an adult Purple Heron as I am sure you know.

    regards and keep up the blog!

    pim wolf, the Netherlands.

  2. Pim, Good to see you are still visiting my blog. I'll change the caption on the heron.