Saturday 15 December 2012

Tricky birds of prey IDs at Al Hayer

A week ago on Friday I visited my "local patch" at Al Hayer.  One of the features of that day was the higher than usual number of birds of prey.

steppe eagle on the ground

I am getting much better at separating steppe eagle from greater spotted eagle and its simply because of practice. However sub adults still cause me identification problems.

The one above was on the ground in a field for a while but a long distance away. The long yellow gape was the only separating factor which I could use and which made me think it was a steppe eagle.

the same steppe eagle in flight

However when the bird flew off I had doubts. So once again I posted pictures to BirdForum for help.

One of the correspondents, Tom Conzemi, on BirdForum gave me great help. He reminded me of another feature I should have seen on the grounded bird and was viewable in flight. Juvenile and sub adult steppe eagle have a big pale nape patch. Indeed I am kicking myself about this because I used it to help identify steppe eagle in Tabuk a few weeks ago.

a third picture of the steppe eagle

Here are some more pointers from Tom " the bold barring on moulted inner primary, the large square hand in the second picture and the heavy bill (and long gape as you said) in the first picture". 

He also added that on close looks or with a scope on landed birds look for "round nostril in Spotted Eagles and filiform in Steppe and other large Eagles"

Fulvescens greater spotted eagle

Another problematic identification from the same day a week ago was a pale coloured eagle. It has proved to be a fulvescens greater spotted eagle. This is the first time I have seen this pale morph in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else for that matter. It's pretty much a one in a hundred variant.

Marsh harrier

It was certainly a day for birds of prey. At least three marsh harrier were patrolling the area.


Kestrel are nearly always seen at Al Hayer but I don't see European sparrowhawk everytime although I do see them sporadically all year round. On this day I did see one and I got clear views although no photos. The bird was brown-grey rather than grey so I put it down as a juvenile. It was larger and full chested. It wasn't a northern goshawk because the barring on this juvenile's chest was crossways not up-down. So I believe the European sparrowhawk was an immature female.

I am learning a lot about birds of prey at Al Hayer even though they aren't my favourite class of birds.

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