Sunday 14 April 2013

At last a Montagu's harrier among the raptors

A few days ago, I listed my three current Saudi nemesis birds. That is to say ones which I really ought to have seen in the kingdom because of the effort expended on them but I hadn't seen them. One of these was Montagu's harrier.

On Friday at Al Hayer there were eight different harriers. Four were pallid harrier, three were marsh harrier and at last one of them was a Montagu's harrier.

Montagu's harrier is on average a later spring migrant than pallid harrier and most are seen in April in central Arabia. So I knew this period was my best chance.

This bird had me walking two or three hundred metres tracking it before it landed on a rocky mound beyond the pivot fields.

Montagu's harrier at al Hayer

I wasn't sure it was the right species until I returned home and checked the pictures. Notice the different face pattern from a pallid harrier I saw in one of the pivot fields.

pallid harrier at al Hayer

In flight male Montagu's harrier are easily distinguished by the black stripe that goes down the pale wing on the upper and  lower sides.

Montagu's harrier in flight

Its also present in female and juvenile birds but is less easily seen against the dark upper plumage and is weaker underneath than in male birds. However it is clearly noticeable in the flight picture.

juvenile greater spotted eagle

Harriers weren't the only birds of prey around. Apart from the regular sighting of kestrel there were still two eagles there. One was obviously a greater spotted eagle and I suppose it is possible that it is the same bird that I saw the previous weekend.

a second juvenile greater spotted eagle

It was keeping aerial company with another eagle which I had more trouble identifying. The upper parts of the under wings are relatively dark with some white streaking. Also the barring in the paler parts is compact. I am told that these features also point to a juvenile greater spotted eagle rather than steppe eagle. Either way, I would not expect to see them much longer.

The Montagu's harrier was the 280th bird on my Saudi list.

 In the next blog, I'll look at some more large birds seen on Friday.


  1. Congratulations, indeed a special day for birds of prey, though I was on field no. 8 on zone c and I have never seen any of them !

  2. Mansur,

    Nice touch that you are using our new code words for the zones!