Sunday 7 April 2013

Thursday morning at Al Hayer

In my first year in Saudi Arabia, I visited the al Hayer area over 50 times. I call it my local patch. This year I have been there barely one tenth as often. This is not because the birding is bad, far from  it. Its just that there is a lot more of Saudi Arabia to see.

However I cannot turn down going there during the peak of the passage which is probably around now. So I went there on Thursday morning starting very early and then again on Friday until it got too hot. All in all I saw 53 species including tens of migrant species.

This blog is about Thursday morning.

greater spotted eagle

Arriving in the area around 6am, I was surprised that the bird to catch my eye was an eagle. I had thought they had all left the region until next autumn. However this young greater spotted eagle was still around.

lesser grey shrike

The next bird of interest was spotted once I had started walking near the pivot fields. This proved a tricky identification. The lack of any supercilium, no white fringes on the wings and general plainness are typically lesser grey shrike and that's what I tentatively believe it is rather than aucheri Asian grey shrike

However its mask isn't fully developed and its front is grey-pink rather than pink but many first calender year lesser grey shrike are like this.

My other doubt is created by the fact is that  most of these pass through central Arabia (and indeed all Saudi Arabia) in late April or early May.

Daurian shrike

There were plenty of Daurian shrike and Turkestan shrike around, more than in winter as their numbers are swollen by migrants which didn't winter here.
Turkestan shrike (karelini)

In my opinion, the bird above is an intergrade called karelini. It has a white supercilium intermediate in size between the two species, and full mask and cleaner underparts of a Turkestan shrike but not a rufous head.


I spent considerable time looking in the tamarisk bushes near the water looking for warblers.Though I spent much more time with more success looking in bushes on Friday. I'll report much more in depth about the warblers seen in that blog.

Suffice to say, there were plenty of European reed warbler, chiffchaff and willow warbler about. The summer breeding European reed warbler tend to keep to the reeds and hold territories so I assume the ones in the tamarisk were mostly or all passage birds.

ortolan bunting

A dry and cut fodder field contained several ortolan bunting on passage.

squacco heron flying directly at me

In contrast the adjacent field had high fodder and was very wet in places. This attracted 17 squacco heron.

red avadavat

Despite all the passage activity there were plenty of active resident birds around too.

white eared bulbul

The pictures are all of Indo-Malay birds which have colonised this part of central Arabia: red avadavat, white eared bulbul and Indian silverbill. The latter two are still expanding westward and I hear that Indian silverbill has reached Egypt now.

Indian silverbill

I had to leave early on Thursday as I had to work on Thursday afternoon. I returned to Al Hayer on Friday when I had a longer period in the field and visited a wider cross section of Al Hayer habitat. The birding was consequently better. More species were seen especially warblers and thrush family members. I'll blog about this next.

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