Monday 15 April 2013

Eurasian bittern at al Hayer

Eurasian bittern is missing from the distribution maps of central Saudi Arabia (for example in the Helms guide to Birds of the Middle East)and I haven't found any record of it here. (please see the comments below for an update on status)

So you can imagine my surprise when I was walking along the edge of a tall fodder field at al Hayer when a Eurasian bittern was flushed about 2 metres in front of me. By the time I got my camera on it, it was a long way away. Nevertheless I got two record shots.

Bittern in flight

Not only was the bird in the "wrong" geography it was in unusual habitat too.

more distant shot of the bittern

This was not a first for me in Saudi Arabia though because I had seen one at Lake Maliki near Jizan during the winter.

grey heron

I also saw a little bittern near-by. Little bittern is a summer breeder at Al Hayer and there is some doubt whether any over-winter too. There are no such doubts about grey heron which is present in varying numbers all year round.

purple heron

The same goes for purple heron as well.

cattle egret with squacco herons

The most common member of the heron family for the past month or so at al Hayer has been squacco heron which also here all year round but seems to be here in largest numbers currently.

Incidentally the field above is the same one that contained the Eurasian bittern. About 3 hours after I saw the bittern the farmer decided to start cutting the field. It always amazes me how quickly cattle egret home in on a field as it is being cut. Some times they even follow the cutting machine round.

little ringed plover

Other water birds in the area included four types of wader and a single spur winged lapwing. One of the waders was little ringed plover. This is a local breeder which goes away in the winter.

common sandpiper

Common sandpiper and green sandpiper can be seen most months except in high summer. The other wader seen was black winged stilt.


Of course the most common water bird of all is moorhen. There are many young chicks around.

In the next blog, I will be looking at more of Mansur al Fahad's trip to Zulfi. The focus will be on swallows and martins.


  1. Rob,

    Excellent record of the Eurasian Bittern, and even more anzing you have now seen two in Saudi Arabia. They are bound to be more common than records suggest due to their secretive nature but sightings remain very scare or rare in the country, so well done.


  2. Jem,

    Thanks for the compliment. No one could be more shocked than me.

  3. rob
    I got some information from (BIRDS OF RIYADH REGION An Annotated Checklist 2d Ed 1994)by Arthur Stagg , under Bittern page 14 he wrote (status uncertain but probably a rare visitor often overlooked because of its secretive nature and fondness of dense reedbeds.First confirmed record was of a single bird seen on 4 occasions between 10 and 22 Nov 1989 this was followed by a spring record on 13 April 1990 and an autumn sighting on 15 Sep 1990 .)I quoted literally.

  4. Mansur, very useful. So there have been at least 3 birds before. I think that means we can make a case for a map change! By the way you will have noticed my bird wasn't in reed beds at all :-)