Tuesday 7 May 2013

A farm near Abha

On Friday I birded a farm within walking distance of my hotel in Abha. This was not a researched site but was purely speculative. 

I am happy with the result despite being a rain-interrupted and very cool day.

Arabian woodpecker

Since the farm was so small and I had hours of time on my hands, I changed my more normal birding approach. Instead of moving around rapidly looking for birds, I moved very slowly and indeed stayed still on three or four occasions for 20 minutes or so. If a bird moved off I didn't follow it and it is surprising how often it would return.

This is how I managed to view an Arabian woodpecker so close up for a prolonged period. I didn't find it, it found me.

The farm from the direction of the hotel

Early in the morning in particular there was plenty of warbler activity in the bushes.

Arabian warbler

Arabian warbler is not too common at high altitudes but it is present.

 graceful prinia

The other resident warbler seen was graceful prinia. This species has adapted to a very wide range of habitat and altitude in Saudi Arabia and has expanded greatly in recent years.


However most warblers on the farm were migrants.The most common were blackcap followed by willow warbler. Barred warbler and chiffchaff were also observed.

Yemen thrush

The thrush and chat family was well represented too. I got the best views of Yemen thrush I have ever had. Its normally a skulking bird but perhaps my lack of motion put it at ease.

common redstart

Similarly a female common redstart allowed close approach. I have commented before that I have never been able to do this with a male.

Gambaga flycatcher

Both local Gambaga flycatcher and passage spotted flycatcher were also easily seen. The former bird is extremely common in the Abha area.

golden oriole

After spending considerable time in the early morning looking at these passerines, for some reason I decided to check out a pigeon in the tallest tree in the area at the side of the farm. I had just concluded it was nothing more than a feral pigeon when three male golden oriole landed just above the pigeon towards the top of the tree. They only stayed for a couple of minutes but it was long enough.

I wrote a nemesis bird list on my blog about a month ago. It contained three birds : pharaoh eagle owl, Montagu's harrier and golden oriole since then I have now seen two of them. Golden oriole is an uncommon migrant in the Riyadh area especially in spring. It is relatively more common in the west of the country on passage and so I saw it for the first time in Saudi Arabia. 

Ruepells weaver and nest

Another bright yellow bird in the area is much more common. Ruepells weaver is abundant despite the altitude and the regional guide's view that they are not usual this high. 

There is a big difference in breeding times of the weaver compared with the low lying and coastal birds. Those in Jizan for example breed in December and January but it obvious that those in Abha are breeding now.

yellow vented bulbul

Another common bird as elsewhere in the west is yellow vented bulbul.

Masked shrike

The farm was another place to see masked shrike and red-backed shrike. These are the two latest returning shrikes in the region. Unlike lesser grey shrike (another late shrike) they tend to linger a little on passage and as I said before some masked shrike might be the reminder of those who actually winter in south west Saudi Arabia too.

red backed shrike

There is little overlap in resident species between those in the Riyadh area and those near Abha. Abha is predominantly Afro-tropical.


However three that caught my eye were hoopoe (some passage too), crested lark and little green bee-eater.

crested lark

Crested lark is remarkably adaptive to a very wide variety of terrain and altitude.  Unfortunately I didn't see the far more specialised Blandfords lark.

little green bee-eater

I was a little surprised to see little green bee-eater but after checking the guide it is a well known resident in the Abha area. The little green bee-eater on the right of the picture was being fed by the one on the left.

grey headed kingfisher

The sighting of two grey headed kingfisher at Tanomah was no fluke at that altitude. I saw two more on the farm on Friday.

female violet backed starling

Violet backed starling was common there. This time I tried to photograph the female which is a completely different looking bird from the male and it is reminiscent of a thrush.

hare running away at the farm

Finally just before I got back to the hotel on a piece of disused ground, I came upon two red-breasted wheatear right in the city!

red breasted wheatear

I am going to Bahrain this weekend and hope to do some birding there. 

The weekend after, there is a trip to Jizan where I hope to see some summering Afro-tropical birds. Jizan birding in summer apparently has much in common with East Africa. Lets hope so.

The 57 birds seen during the weekend included 7 additions to my Saudi list (now 288 birds) and 2 were lifers.

S = addition to Saudi list
L = lifer

Grey heron
Eurasian reed warbler
Griffon vulture
Shikra      S
Garden warbler   S
Common whitethroat
Rock dove
Barred warbler
Laughing dove
Abyssinian white eye
Little swift
Arabian warbler
Common myna
Grey headed kingfisher   S
Violet backed starling
European bee-eater
Tristram’s starling
Little green bee-eater
Yemen thrush
Arabian woodpecker
Rufous bush robin
Golden oriole     S
Black bush robin
Masked shrike
Common redstart
Red backed shrike
Red breasted wheatear    S,L
Daurian shrike
Arabian wheatear
Arabian babbler
Little rock thrush
Asir magpie     S,L
Gambaga flycatcher
Brown necked raven
Spotted flycatcher
Fan tailed raven
African paradise flycatcher S
Yellow vented bulbul
Palestine sunbird
Crested lark
House sparrow
European crag martin
Ruppells weaver
Pale crag martin
Red throated pipit
Red rumped swallow
Arabian serin
Barn swallow
Yemen serin
Graceful prinia
Yemen linnet
Willow warbler
Cinnamon breasted bunting

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