Wednesday 29 February 2012

Shrikes and others at al Hayer

I have already blogged about the wheatears, bluethroat, stonechats and menetries warbler seen at Al Hayer last weekend.  Thursday was actually a bumper day when I saw the most species I have seen there in one session since I arrived in Saudi Arabia.

In part,  I have to thank Lou Regenmorter for this. The newly arrived American birder provided a second set of eyes through out the day.

Today's blog highlights many of the other birds seen.  First, let me tell you the passage has definitely started. Common swift was the latest addition to the small but growing list of passage birds seen in the past two weeks. The list contains barn swallow, alpine swift, pied wheatear and woodchat shrike. The menetries warbler could be passage too or it might have been around all winter. Isabelline wheatear and desert wheatear numbers have also swollen. Nevertheless the main passage is still to be looked forward to.

Daurian (Isabelline)shrike

Meanwhile, every time I have visited Al Hayer since I arrived in late September I have seen Isabelline shrike or Turkestan shrike or both. I am much better at separating them though some first winters are still tricky. The bird above, seen on Thursday, is an Isabelline shrike. Overall they are dull and less contrasting that Turkestan shrike. In detail, this one has a very weak supercilium and a weak mask. It has no sign of any white patch on its primaries. Generally it is not a cold enough grey on its back for a Turkestan shrike either. The rufous patch on its crown is also very subdued. So I am quite confident about this one!

probable aucheri shrike

The great grey shrike complex here is arguably more complicated than the red-tailed shrike situation. Partly this is because I can't keep up with which sub species are grouped with others to form so called species. As far as sub species go, I have seen both pallidirostris (sometimes called steppe grey shrike) and aucheri all winter (which I believe is classed as a southern grey shrike).  The one above (seen on Thursday) seems to be aucheri.

One of the two top historical observers in the area says some of both stay all year round.   

wood sandpiper

We didn't visit the best local place for waders last Thursday for lack of time having been very thorough in a small are around the pivot fields. Nevertheless this green sandpiper was out in the open.

tawny pipit

The pivot fields contained three types of wheatear as described in a previous blog. Of course white wagtail was the most numerous passerine in them and a few tawny pipit were still present too.

Of the larger birds in the fields, the large flock of cattle egret was still around. The similar sized flock of northern lapwing which has often been seen in the same field or near-by seems mostly to have finally gone. Though we did see six lingerers. Other people have observed in the past that northern lapwing here seem to leave very early in the passage season.

cattle egret

The week before's sighting of swollen numbers of hoopoe was repeated last Thursday.

My only duck sighting on Thursday was a single ferruginous duck which is a known breeder here. The small number of ducks seen was more a function of where I birded (not much time spent looking at the river) rather than a definitive case for lesser numbers being around.

ferruginous duck

Of course moorhen were abundant but I did snatch a picture of the a much less common coot.


Talking of rarer birds, I hadn't seen a desert finch in the pivot fields at Al Hayer until two weeks ago. I returned to the spot I had seen a single last Thursday. This time there were two.

two desert finch

On the bushes near the same field were a mobile flock of Indian silverbill. I don't see them every week but I have eventually worked out where it is most likely.

Indian silverbill

The usual selection of birds of prey were present. Again the most obvious is kestrel. You are guaranteed to see at least a couple on or over the fields. Fellow birder, Clive Temple managed to see the same day a group of eight lesser kestrel but Lou and I weren't so lucky. I guess his sighting is another element of the early passage.


Just as we were leaving Al Hayer, a beautiful male marsh harrier landed in front of us. Unfortunately it evaded my camera.

sitting greater spotted eagle

That wasn't the end of the sightings of birds of prey though. There was greater spotted eagle sitting near the road back to the town of Al Hayer. Actually I have seen probably the same bird in the same spot three other times during the winter. Sometimes its been the first bird I have seen on my way out. On Thursday it proved to be the last bird on the way back.

flying greater spotted eagle

Apart from the start of the passage there are other tangible signs of spring, many plants are flowering. Unfortunately, I couldn't identify the beautiful one below. 

unknown flower

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