Friday 7 December 2012

The picnic area at Al Hayer

My next trip birding away from Riyadh has now been fixed for the end of December. I'm off to Jizan. In the meantime, I am being a little more creative with local sites if I can.  

So when I visited my local patch at Al Hayer yesterday,  I didn't head straight to the pivot fields as usual. Instead I stopped off at picnic areas about 3 kilometres north and I birded early before any picnickers had turned up.

Ruppells weaver at Al Hayer

One of the first birds seen was Ruppells weaver. Its nowhere near as common as streaked weaver in central Arabia but it is here. This is contrary to the map in the helms guide "Birds of the Middle East" which has it no closer than 650 kilometres west.

part of the picnic area

I now know two places to find it. The other one at Mansouriyah is about 25 kilometres north and the two small populations are probably isolated from each other.

Who knows whether these populations are natural range expansion or escapes but I have been seeing them consistently if rarely because I don't visit the areas very regularly. 

desert lesser whitethroat

There were three warblers in the trees and bushes. These were  graceful prinia, chiffchaff and desert lesser whitethroat. The latter two are winter visitors.

two from a flock of hoopoe

We have a small number of breeding hoopoe in the area but the flock of 7 that I saw here were behaving like typical wintering birds - loosely associated and not staying or returning to one spot.

Eastern mourning wheatear

Eastern mourning wheatear isn't found in or next to the pivot fields. I usually see them in drier places and now it appears they can be found next to the wooded picnic areas too.  

Other notable birds were black bush robin, collared dove and little green bee-eater.

Spanish sparrow

Spanish sparrow were also present. It used to be written (for example in the first edition of Collins - Birds of Britain and Europe) that it is often impossible to tell female and juvenile Spanish sparrow from house sparrow.  The latest edition of the Helms guide points out two differences - firstly the supercilium in Spanish sparrow is often much longer and often curves round, second the breast is often lightly streaked. I find I can separate them quite easily these days. There again I get a lot of practice here. We have both types all year round.

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