Friday 12 April 2013

Cinereous bunting - a lifer in the city

On Wednesday my walk to work not only gave me an addition to my Saudi list but it was a lifer too.  I spotted a yellowish green bird in the tomato patch of the university's experimental farm. I recognised it immediately as a male Eastern cinereous bunting.

cinereous bunting - number 279 on my Saudi list

To add to my joy, it moved out of the tomato patch and onto the path in front of me affording very good views.

a second view of cinereous bunting

All those early morning starts and afternoons lingering on the way home have paid off.

Eastern cinereous bunting breeds in south eastern Turkey and south west Iran. It apparently winters mostly in Eritrea and Yemen so Riyadh is an obvious candidate place to see it on passage though I have failed in previous seasons.   

Interestingly this near-threatened bird has been seen by Jem Babbington and Phil Roberts on the eastern coast and by Lou Regenmorter and Brian James in south west Saudi Arabia in late March this year. I know that for at least three of them this was the first time seen in Saudi Arabia. I thought I was going to be left out despite being on a more direct passage route. This seems to be the year to see it. Three sightings were singles and one was of a pair.

the first whinchat in the tomato patch

I don't often visit the tomato patch area but I was following two whinchat  and photographing them when the bunting popped up.

The two main historical observers in Saudi Arabia who published detailed records have described whinchat as either "scarce" in one case or "uncommon" migrants in the other. Based on my observations until this spring I had agreed with them. Furthermore, I had thought they were more common on the coastal routes than inland. 

However that's all changed. Having seen four in the past two weeks on the farm including two on Wednesday, my new view is that it is a regular migrant on a broad front at least in spring. This view has been reinforced by Jem reporting seeing four near Dammam. 

the second whinchat

On Wednesday evening after work, I was joined by birder and friend Mansur Al Fahad. 

In a different part of the farm with scattered medium height bushes we spotted an Upcher's warbler. This the seventh type of warbler I have seen on the farm.

Upchers warbler

It was heading towards dusk and the light was failing however we got good views for over 10 minutes.

Upchers warbler in another bush

Near-by, I saw a second white throated robin on the farm. The first one a few days ago was male but this one was female.

female white throated robin

In other news, at least two of the three wryneck were still present and still behaving very tamely. 


Common redstart were still scattered around the more shaded places. Rufous bush robin were still around too.

male common redstart

Only one tree pipit remained. 

tree pipit

On Thursday, which is normally a weekend day here, unusually I had work commitments. So today (Friday) will be bumper day at Al Hayer to try to make up for lost birding time.    

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