Sunday 30 September 2012

Pharaoh eagle owl in a wadi near Heet

Following on from yesterday's post about a wadi at Heet, Mansur Al Fahad has kindly sent me a recent picture of a pharaoh eagle owl that lives there.

It's bird I have yet to see in Saudi Arabia although I know it from Libya. However I now know where to go in the early morning or late afternoon to see one.

Screen capture of a pharaoh eagle owl from video by Mansur Al Fahad

Finding owls is always tricky and I am grateful for any tip-offs.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Warblers in a wadi at Heet

Yesterday, Lou and I meet up with Mansur al Fahad for the first time. Mansur is a proficient Saudi birder who birds throughout KSA but especially in the Riyadh area.

He kindly showed us two or three new spots which didn't know about before. 

One of the spots was a wadi near Heet where a pharaoh eagle owl lives. We visited it in the middle of the day when the owl was almost certainly asleep (and was not seen) however we look forward to visiting there in early morning or late evening when it is active.

Nevertheless, the wadi turned out to be very interesting for another reason. The few scattered trees were full of warblers on passage.

A male blackcap

The first two warblers we identified were a male blackcap and a lesser whitethroat.

A second male blackcap

That tree only had two warblers in it but we then noticed that some trees had many more. I counted 35 blackcap all together. The maximum was 21 in a single tree.

Rather strangely there were 5 times more males than females.

many blackcap in one tree

I was very pleased to see three barred warbler travelling with them. This is the first time I had seen barred warbler in KSA. It makes number 228 on my Saudi list.

barred warbler

We reckon there were also at least three lesser whitethroat in the wadi and an Upcher's warbler but the vast majority were blackcap.

first year ortolan bunting

 A single ortolan bunting was also seen. It was easy to approach and was probably very tired. I am proud to say I resisted the temptation to get too close and it was not disturbed off its resting perch.

blue rock thrush

The final bird of this wadi was a blue rock thrush, the first I have seen this season. it flew up the wadi's hill side towards where we believe a pharoah eagle owl was sleeping.

Many thanks to Mansur al Fahad for showing us this new site.

Sunday 23 September 2012

A harrier disturbs the peace

On September 21st, I celebrated one year in Saudi Arabia. The plan this year is to bird a little less frequently but to visit a higher number of new places. It will obviously mean more travel. 

Nevertheless, this didn't stop me visiting my local patch at al Hayer yesterday.

I went with first time birders, Dr Manssour Habbash and his brother Mohammed.  They have assured me they enjoyed it! and I must say it was an interesting day for me too.

adult black crowned night heron

We spend most of our time in the pivot fields. There was no time to investigate the wooded areas or much of the water course. However, we still managed 24 species and I got another addition to my Saudi list. More about this later.

Before we got to the pivot fields, I spotted some cattle egret en route in a tree. We stopped off and found not only 4 cattle egret in one tree but 4 black crowned night heron in two neighbouring trees. 

juvenile black crowned night heron

One of the black crowned night heron was a juvenile. The night heron were a lucky find. They are much shyer than cattle egret and often well hidden. I have also usually found them difficult to approach.

cattle egret

We made a second stop on the way to the pivot fields. This time on the banks of the water course.  This yielded a dispersed group of about ten moorhen, and also three little ringed plover, little green bee-eater, a black bush robin and assorted doves. The most interesting sightings were a flying flock over the reed beds of about 30 little egret and a separate flock of ten grey heron. 

barn swallow, sand martin and pale crag martin

When we finally arrived at the fields, the most immediate and obvious birding feature was the presence of many hirundines hawking for insects the over the fields. A big majority were barn swallow. However on close inspection there were sand martin and the odd pale crag martin among them too.

This was the first time I had positively identified sand martin since my arrival in Saudi Arabia. It becomes number 227 on my Saudi list and shows I can still add to the list through birding my local patch though this is getting harder and harder. 

yellow wagtail

In among the crops were large numbers of yellow wagtail. This once again showed that many more yellow wagtail head south in autumn through central Arabia than head north that way in spring.

more yellow wagtail

Suddenly a large number of yellow wagtail went into the air flying in all direction. And it wasn't us or a near-by kestrel which caused the panic. 

pallid harrier - top side view

Out of nowhere a harrier swooped down on the loose flock. I don't know how it failed to take a wagtail but it did. I suppose it was still to young to hunt properly but it really should have scored. 

pallid harrier - underside view

Thanks to the members of bird forum who helped me identify the bird as a pallid harrier. I couldn't separate it from Montagu's harrier in the field.

pallid harrier side on view

The broad pale collar and brown neck of a juvenile pallid harrier is apparently the easiest way to distinguish between them.

greater short toed lark

Once the calm had been restored, I took a closer look at the wagtails and noticed that there was a second species in amongst them.

There were at least three greater short toed lark. This was the first time had seen them at al Hayer even though my guide book has them as summer breeders.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Adding to the diversity, on the pivot bars two blue cheeked bee-eater were seen. In another moment two collared pratincole flew up before rapidly landing in another part of the field and out of sight.  

house sparrow

As well as flocks of yellow wagtail, flocks of house sparrow were roving the fields.

streaked weaver

With care you could notice that the odd streaked weaver was associating with them.

Turkestan shrike

For the sake of completeness the other birds seen yesterday were Turkestan shrike, laughing dove, pigeon and collared dove. Not a single warbler was seen but that was probably because we chose the fields to watch.

Finally, a special thanks to Manssour for driving me out to al Hayer.

Friday 7 September 2012

The heat at Al Hair

Last Friday, having finished birding at Wadi Namar earlier than expected Lou Regenmorter and I moved on to al Hair.

Since time was short we elected to bird a couple of the pivot fields including the one where we saw so many collared pratincole the week before. We also explored the southern part of the east bank of the river a short distance because this has rarely been visited by us.

great reed warbler

Almost on arrival Lou spotted a large warbler in one of the near-by trees which turned out to be another great reed warbler (we had seen one in another part of al Hayer the week before). This was good start.

yellow wagtail

In one pivot field we saw more yellow wagtail on the day than during the whole of the spring migration. Conversely the number of warblers is much lower, so far. 

kentish plover with yellow wagtail and little ringed plover

We headed straight to the water in the field where we had seen so many pratincole and ruff the week before. Things had changed. the fodder in the field was much taller, the water was no longer clear. There were no collared pratincole.

However there was a small flock of kentish plover, presumably on migration alongside two little ringed plover which is a breeding bird at al Hair. Two wood sandpiper were in a neighbouring pool.

Just as we were leaving the fields we bumped into Clive Temple, a fellow birder who had also braved the heat. Where we met there was an Upcher's warbler in an isolated bush. This is the first time I have seen one in central Arabia though they were common enough two weeks before in the mountainous south west.

After visiting the fields we moved downstream on the east side. The area near-by has been quarried out and the water is deeper here in a few places. We spotted a single little egret in the water and some graceful prinia in the bank side bushes.

a dozen green sandpiper

It was here that we stumbled upon some ponds at the bottom of the most quarried out area. Lou's scope once again proved valuable since no approach had any cover.  There were at least 20 green sandpiper, and 2 common sandpiper, a ruff and 3 or 4 little ringed plover.

closer view of green sandpiper

The sightings of collared pratincole continued. In amongst the waders was a solitary bird.

collared pratincole

I was preparing to get closer to check it was definitely a collared pratincole rather than black-winged (much less common in these parts) when a heavy lorry movement disturbed many of the birds. The pratincole flew up.

collared pratincole in flight

I really dont understand why so many people say to me "did you see the white trailing edge?" Its supposed to be diagnostic in flight but its never helped me.   I find an identification tip from my birding friend Brian James is more helpful. He says that the two coloured (black and red ) underwing is much the easiest way to tell a collared pratincole from a black winged pratincole and I agree with him. When this one flew up it was obvious which bird it was.

It was an interesting end to the morning's birding.

List of birds seen on Friday at Wadi Namar and al Hayer compiled by Lou Regenmorter

Bee-eater, Little Green
Bittern, Little
Bubul, White-eared
Bulbul, White-spectacled
Dove, Collared
Dove, Laughing
Dove, Namagua
Heron, Little
Kingfisher, White Throated
Lark, Crested
Lark, Desert
Myna, Common
Pigeon, Rock
Plover, Kentish
Plover, Little Ringed
Pratincole, Collared
Raptor, Kestrel
Raven, Brown Necked
Shrike, Southern Gray
Sparrow, House
Sparrow, Spanish
Swallow, Barn
Thrush, Black Bush Robin
Thrush, Rufus Bush Robin
Wader, Common Sandpiper
Wader, Green Sandpiper
Wader, Little Stint
Wader, Ruff
Wader, Wood sandpiper
Wagtail, Gray
Wagtail, Yellow
Warbler, Common Whitethroat
Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous
Warbler, Graceful Prinia
Warbler, Great Reed
Warbler, Upcher's
Wheatear, Isabelline
Wheatear, White Crowned

Sunday 2 September 2012

Wadi Namar revisited

Lou Regenmorter and I visited Wadi Namar south west of Riyadh early on Friday morning. This is a wadi with almost permanent natural water flow.

The emphasis is on the word almost!  Although the dammed section at the bottom of the wadi held water, further up the valley there were only a few muddy pools. August and September are probably the only time of year when the water runs dry.

The bottom end is heavily landscaped for picnickers and  has too much human disturbance.

All in all, we struggled to have a good birding experience. There were a few highlights though.

juvenile moorhen

Clearly, moorhen manage to thrive in  remaining waters. We saw several juvenile birds and they had yet to adopt the shyness of their parents.

A little bittern was seen at the largest pool up the wadi and a rufous bush robin was near-by. 

There was a strange assortment of birds at a collection of muddy watering holes. 

white-throated kingfisher

A white throated kingfisher was diving into 10cms of water. Presumably it was straying from the species normal local haunt of wadi Hanifah which links up with wadi Namar about 5 kilometres way from where this bird was seen.

A small flock of about 6 green sandpiper were also present along side a couple of little ringed plover. Feral rock pigeon and laughing dove were also present. Two Isabelline wheatear were  near-by.  A resident white crowned wheatear was clearly not happy with these visitors. He aggressively chased away the other wheatears and even had a go the green sandpiper.

grey wagtail

In another close but smaller pool, two grey wagtail were hanging around. Still water is not grey wagtail's preferred habitat but that is what they chose that day.

In the drier areas of the wadi we mostly only saw crested lark and desert lark.

We decided to leave the wadi early but on our way down and out of the wadi we stopped at a green strip down one of the escarpments. We concluded that it had probably been created by a leaky pipe system. what ever the reason for its existence the birding was reasonable here.

The few trees at the bottom of the strip held house sparrow, white spectacled bulbul and white eared bulbul.  This sighting once again proved that wadi Namar is in the overlap zone where the city-based white eared bulbul meet the white spectacled bulbul of the more natural wadis to the south west of the city.

common whitethroat

The green strip also held the only warblers seen on the visit. A single eastern olivaceous warbler scrambled rapidly up the hill side on our approach while a common whitethroat moved only a short distance and gave better views.

second view of common whitethroat

While eastern oliveaceous warbler could be a summer breeder the common whitethroat was certainly a migrant.

After this relative success, we decided there was still time to try our luck at al Hayer before we got roasted by the heat of the day. The next blog reports on what we saw.