Sunday 26 August 2012

SW Saudi Arabia trip report part 3 - Baha

On the trip to the south west mountains of Saudi Arabia,  most of our birding in the Baha area took place in wadis and hillsides in the Raghdan district and on the morning of Monday 20th August.

This district is well-sign posted with brown culture-and-tourism signs to Raghdan forest which is a tourist centre complete with children's amusements. We chose not to visit there but did visit adjacent areas.

A couple of wide and not-too-steep wadis were found to be very interesting.

Both Arabian serin and Yemen serin were present. Both are Arabian endemics. The latter was a lifer.

Arabian serin

I found it difficult to tell them apart. Generally Yemen serin are darker grey than Arabian serin but this is probably not a sufficient way to separate them. The above bird was as dark as many Yemen serin but clearly has an olive rump which is characteristic of Arabian serin (indeed its alternative name is olive-rumped serin). Unfortunately the rump is not always visible.

Daurian shrike

A good example of a female Daurian shrike was seen showing a dull dark brown tail (not really red-tailed at all!). One of four red-backed shrike seen on the trip was in the area too.

male Arabian wheatear

The only wheatear seen  in the district was Arabian wheatear. We got good views of both a male and female.

female Arabian wheatear

The wadis appeared to be migrant traps. White-throated robin were remarkably numerous. East Africa is the main recorded wintering grounds but I wonder if some or many spend the winter here.

white throated robin

Lesser whitethroat were also easily noticed.

lesser whitethroat

There were other warblers too. This was the only place on the trip that we saw a chiffchaff. Resident scrub warbler was also present.

Marsh warbler

However arguably the most interesting passage warblers seen were acrocephalus. A very tired marsh warbler allowed close contact such that we could differentiate it from the very similar reed warbler. The pale legs, cleaner look below and hint of olive on the mantle and head helped us make the determination.

second view of marsh warbler

In two trees I also saw a small number of other acrocephalus warblers occasionally darting between one tree and the other. Unfortunately I couldn't see them fully enough to decide between marsh warbler and reed warbler.

unidentified acrocephalus warbler

The situation was a little confused by a flock of Abyssinian white eye which used the same trees from time to time.

second view of unidentified warbler

Virtually the last bird I spotted before we left one valley was another lifer. This was my first Arabian waxbill

In another wadi we saw two thrush family members: common nightingale and the endemic yemen thrush. I'll update you on my list of Arabian endemics in the next blog but its safe to say my target list is now very small!

Arabian waxbill

As well as the wadis we spent a few minutes higher up in the same district.

 steppe buzzard

In the sky we spotted a steppe buzzard which turned out to be the only migrant bird of prey species seen (we saw another one later in the trip).

fan-tailed raven

Fan-tailed raven proved once again common here as else where in the mountains.

Finally on the high slopes we saw the only redstart of the trip and it turned out to be a common redstart. It may have been too early to have expected any wintering black redstart.

In part 4 of the trip report I will look at the area south of Baha off route 15 on the way to Abha. They were two more lifers there and they were Afro-tropical species.

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