Thursday 23 August 2012

SW Saudi Arabia trip report part 1 - SE of Taif

As trailed in my last blog, Brian James and I undertook a four day birding trip in south west Saudi Arabia. Here is a bit more detail and a solid look at one of the areas visited. Later blogs will cover the other areas and a full species list will be provided.


Saturday 18/8
Met at Saptco bus station Taif at 8am (B)

In the morning, drove south east on route 205 visiting a watercourse near al Fatat (C) and three other stops including a juniper region heading on route 205 towards Baha.

In the afternoon continued our journey towards Baha on route 205 taking opportunities to bird roads off but passed through Doos (D) without stopping.

Stayed the night in Baha.

Sunday 19/8

Started out from the hotel at 6am. Birded a wadi on the edge of Baha (E)before heading south on route 15 (towards Abha). Visited the isolated upland village of al Farah before turning round and heading back towards Baha. Stopped on the edge of Buljurashi in late afternoon to bird before the light faded. 

Monday 20/8

Started out from hotel at 6am.  Birded new places in Baha in the early morning including a wide valley with mixed juniper and acacia noticed the day before in the Raghdan district (near Raghdan park which is an amusement centre for families). Headed north on the same route as we came down (205). This time we stopped at Doos (D) which is in a valley and then two more upland villages for contrast.

Stayed the night in Taif.

Tuesday 21/8

Another 6 am start. Birdied the very high Ash Shafa area (A) extensively in the morning followed by a return to the al Fatat area (C) in the afternoon including a second (and briefly a third visit to the water course). Stayed the night in Taif 

Wednesday 22/8

Returned to Riyadh.

Note the weather was generally very pleasant. Typically the day time high was around 29C depending mostly on altitude. It rained four times and two storms were heavy. During one of these temperature dropped briefly to 16C. Fog is a hazard in the south at the top of seaward facing valleys.

map of the four day trip (adapted from google maps)

Today's blog looks at the area south east of Taif which includes a water course near al Fatat. This area was visited on the morning of 18 August as we headed south and on the afternoon of 21 August when we birded out of Tiaf.

glossy ibis and little stint

Almost the first bird seen having left Taif was a lifer. Before we had got 10 kilometres out of town, I saw my first ever striolated bunting. It proved to be quite common all along our route and a later blog will include a picture. Little swift were flying overhead providing a second lifer in the space of a few minutes.

Near al Fatat, we stopped speculatively at a low lying bridge without immediately realising that there was a dammed water course near-by. This turned out to be a fruitful decision.  The water provided a glossy ibis which although not a lifer was a welcome addition to my Saudi list. It was still there when we returned three days later. So were a number of little stint, common sandpiper, green sandpiper and wood sandpiper and a single black-winged stilt though we had no way of knowing if they were the same birds.

female garganey

Some birds had clearly changed. On the Saturday there was a female garganey presumably on passage, a greenshank, a little egret and a whiskered tern. None of these were around by Tuesday.

little egret

On Saturday we saw two collared pratincole but on Tuesday no less than 31 arrived as the afternoon wore on.

little stint, collared pratincole and black winged stilt

New arrivals on Tuesday were six squacco heron, a ruddy turnstone and a couple of little ringed plover.

five of six squacco heron present

At this time of year, I am sure the bird list will change everyday with migrants coming and going.

ruddy turnstone

wood sandpiper

Migrants with less affinity to water were to be seen at the stream (as opposed to the dammed area). I got very good views of a tame first year semi-collared flycatcher here. This species was encountered in several places on the trip and is clearly a common autumn migrant here.

semi-collared flycatcher

A cuckoo was seen late on Monday night when we were travelling back from Baha  and were not intent on birding this area extensively. It was a few kilometres further south of the water course. Another was seen on Tuesday afternoon on a tree over-looking the stream.

common cuckoo

A grey wagtail was also present on the water. This was the second one of the trip. The other was seen nearer Baha. Some grey wagtail are known to winter in the mountains.

grey wagtail

Another migrant seen (this time on Saturday) was eastern olivaceous warbler which later proved common throughout the trip. It was not as common as white throated robin which were very numerous throughout the trip including a couple here on Tuesday.

pale rock finch

Migrating barn swallow were numerous on both days.

The last migrant seen south east of Taif were two pale rock finch on a wire some kilometres from the water course.

Arabian babbler

Residents included arabian babbler, little green bee-eater, laughing dove, rock dove and namaqua dove. Namaqua dove seemed to be quite common in the Taif region but strangely absent further south near Baha.

Namaqua dove

Although black bush robin was present here and at other places further south, it was not at all common. 

black bush robin

Other resident birds seen a little further south east were african silverbill, palestine sunbird and arabian wheatear

long legged buzzard

Also seen further south east down route 205 were two birds of prey - kestrel and long legged buzzard. Indeed these were the most commonly seen birds of prey for the whole trip.  

As we were watching the long legged buzzard, out in the wilderness, on Tuesday, a couple of waves of European bee-eater and blue-cheeked bee-eater passed.

The proportion of Afro-tropical and Arabian endemic birds was least in the area looked at today. The other areas had more and we will look at one of these next. The next blog will look at the area north of Baha particularly but by no means exclusively near Doos.


  1. Nice stuff - good to see you are back birding in a region where i've heard of the species! Is the Striolated Bunting the same as the House Buntings i see in Maroc or are they the 'split' ones?

    Just booked 2 weeks from Nov 20th - fly Manchester-Marrakesh then over the Atlas to the desert for a week then right over to the coast for he second half.

    Looking forward to the rest of the report.

    ATB Laurie -

  2. Laurie, good to hear from you again. Striolated bunting is a split from house bunting. Having seen both, its a split I agree with!

    Enjoy Morocco.