Thursday 4 April 2013

Three more eagle owls near Zulfi

A nemesis bird is one which you should have seen given the effort but haven't. Though the exact birds change from time to time, I have a list of three such birds in Saudi Arabia. Actually, I have seen them all outside Saudi Arabia but not within and not without considerable effort. My current ones are: golden oriole, Montagu's harrier and pharaoh eagle owl.  

 Eagle owl at Umm Fayoum

So when Mansur al Fahad told me had had seen pharaoh eagle owl again near Zulfi, I was envious. Actually he saw three.

There is quite a story surrounded the findings.

Last Thursday which was Mansur's last day in Zulfi during his break it had rained during the previous night. This helped him visit a remote place where he had seen a pharaoh eagle owl some ten years before.  The area is called Umm Fayoum  which is 40 km north of Zulfi and about 10 km west of his family's village. The area is sand dunes and difficult to reach him even by 4x4. However the overnight rain helped make the journey possible. 

At 9 am Mansur found a very annoyed eagle owl close to where he had observed one had been 10 years previously.  but it was very annoyed at my presence so I watched it not only a few minutes. The bird looked like it could become aggressive so he stayed only a few minutes.

 The landscape at Umm Fayoum

The name Umm Fayoum is highly significant. Umm in Arabic means "mother" but when used in place names it often means " the land of".

Fayoum is the local dialect word for eagle owl! So the place name means "Land of the eagle owl". Mansur tells me it has had this name for over 100 years.

 Same eagle owl at Umm Fayoum

At midday, Mansur travelled 30 kms west of Zulfi.  The behaviour of a fox helped find a pair of pharaoh eagle owl in much easier terrain than Umm Fayoum. The area is called Mostawi which can be translated as  flatland.

 Another eagle owl at Mostawi

Interestingly, these birds were much lighter and closer to the textbook description of the desertorum sub species which is the one more usually ascribed to Arabia.

 eagle owl in flight

However the bird at Umm Fayoum is much darker and looks more like the nominate sub-species ascalaphus to me. This is the sub-species I know from my time in Libya. If anything this bird is even darker than any ascalaphus I saw there.  I checked the identification with BirdForum where the consensus was that the dark bird was bubo ascalaphus ascalaphus and the light bird was bubo ascalaphus desertorum.  i.e both sub species of pharaoh eagle owl.

 The landscape at Mostawi

However in the BirdForum debate bubo bubo interpositus was suggested at one point as a possible alternative for the dark bird. 

I still have a very small lingering doubt it isn't indeed a Eurasian eagle owl  (or Byzantine eagle owl) as the interpositus sub species is often called. In the counter argument, a lot was made of the size of the ear tufts of the dark bird at Zulfi being too small for a Eurasian eagle owl. However interpositus has smaller tufts than most other Eurasian eagle owls.

Of course if it were a Eurasian eagle owl it would be 500 kilometres south of its known range. But in Saudi birding such things happen.

I would be interested in the views of people who live and bird within the range of the Byzantine eagle owl or people who have seen pharaoh eagle owl this dark.

Thanks once again to Mansur Al Fahad for providing such interesting information and pictures.

No comments:

Post a Comment