Friday 19 April 2013

Five lone trees in the desert

250 kilometres east of Riyadh on the Dammam road, there is a  "pit stop" for lorry drivers. It consists of a mosque, a toilet block and one other outhouse. There isn't even a shop. Crucially there is a row of 5 small ornamental trees to give some shade. No tree was above 5 metres tall.

We stopped there yesterday morning on the way to Jubail to stretch our legs until I realised the 5 small trees were heaving with migrants. What's more they had no way else to go. All around is complete desert with no other trees or even scrub visible.

It had rained the night before (a rare event in a pure desert area) and there was a big pool of water right next to the trees to add to their attractiveness to birds.

common nightingale

It was a very lucky stop. I was able to see all the migrants close up. The birds weren't all warblers either.  There were three members of the thrush family which excited me most. I have never been so close to a common nightingale for so long before and the trees held two! 

common nightingale looks back at me

After seeing two nightingale, I soon realised there was a thrush nightingale there too.

thrush nightingale in the open

Notice the duller colours and the lack of contrast with the tail and body.

thrush nightingale deep in a tree 

Thrush nightingale also has  mottled grey brown wide sides to its breast. it was very interesting to be able to see the two species side-by side for comparison. 

female white throated robin hiding low

Generally staying lower in the tree was also a female white throated robin. This bird flew off once into the middle distance a couple of hundred metres away, only to return two minutes later when it realised there was no where else for it.

white throated robin with wings drooped

All three birds often droop their wings. I think they look quite different when they don't.

white throated robin without wings drooped

Although the three thrush family members got most of my attention, there were several warblers present too. Willow warbler were the most abundant. There was also at least one female blackcap.

side view of common whitethroat

Both common whitethroat and lesser whitethroat made more appearances at the top of the trees which is where photography was easiest so I concentrated on them.

back view of common whitethroat

Again this allowed me time to compare two similar looking species. The rusty side to the wings and orange-fleshy legs  of common whitethroat make separation very easy when both are seen close up. 

lesser whitethroat

An eastern olivaceous warbler was also present. Its thinner beak is one of the easiest ways to separate it from the superficially similar Upcher's warbler.

eastern olivaceous warbler

Having looked closely at the trees, a short walk around the buildings only revealed tens of  local house sparrow and a single Daurian shrike.

Daurian shrike

As we moved on, I was left to wonder if there is such an array of migrants every morning there during the passage or whether the rainfall had any significance.

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