Sunday 5 May 2013

Abha dam

Very early on Thursday morning I started my birding in the Abha area with a visit to Abha dam. The idea was to spend a couple of hours there before Mansur Al Fahad  joined me (flying out from Riyadh)  for a day trip out of the city.

I hadn't seen hamerkop in Saudi Arabia and it had been reported at Abha dam in the past so I thought this would be an easy addition to my Saudi list and a good start to the weekend. Alas, hamerkop was nowhere to be seen.

Palestine sunbird at Abha dam

Indeed the only water birds were a couple of Eurasian coot and grey heron.

Abha dam and lake

With two hours to fill, I set about looking in the land next to the lake. This turned out to be fortuitous.

European reed warbler

In a small group of tamarisk next to the water's edge were several warblers. Given I had so much time on my hands I observed these bushes very intently. They contained a European reed warbler who gave me good views and certainly was behaving like a passage bird rather than a local one.

Garden warbler

However it was another slightly larger warbler in the same bushes which was the real prize. It too allowed me good views. It was featureless, the ultimate LBJ (Little brown job).

Garden warbler from the side

On posting to Birdforum it was identified as a garden warbler.  I double checked this with Tommy Pederson, the e-bird moderator for the Middle East who confirmed it.

close up of the face of a garden warbler

The Helms guide to "Birds of the Middle East" describes it as a scarce passage migrant in Arabia and doesn't even show it on the map in south west Saudi Arabia.  Research has shown that some of the Turkish breeding population migrate through Arabia and I suspect the Caucasus population must do too since this bird winters in Africa not India. I further suspect it probably isn't  really that rare but it is very nondescript and usually skulking so easily overlooked.

Either way it was a new addition to my Saudi list as bird number 282.

willow warbler

The most common warbler in the bushes was willow warbler followed by resident graceful prinia.

masked shrike

In the fields were two types of shrike: masked shrike and red-backed shrike. The latter bird is definitely on passage but some masked shrike are known to winter in south west Saudi Arabia as well as come through on passage.

red backed shrike

There was a mobile flock of Arabian serin eating seeds through out my two hours there. I find Arabian serin very difficult to separate from Yemen serin. The olive rump of the former bird is the easiest way I find to differentiate if you can get yourself in a position to see it.

Arabian serin

The guide says Yemen serin is generally found at high altitudes (the dam is at 2500 metres) and is a flocking, ground based bird like these birds. By contrast Arabian serin is said to be usually paired and in trees. However, I don't find the pictures and description in the main field guide very helpful! Although these birds were mostly ground based and at high altitude, I now believe they are Arabian serin through consultation with colleagues.  

Indeed the altitude data in the guide is very wrong for many species as I will discuss in later blogs.

black bush robin

There were both rufous bush robin and black bush robin in the area. The local sub species of black bush robin isn't really black at all. It is more of a dull brown.

Gambaga flycatcher

Other local birds included Gambaga flycatcher but I also saw two spotted flycatcher there too. In the air were both passage barn swallow and local little swift. European bee-eater were also heard in the air long before I saw them.

Ruepells weaver

In the south west and west of Saudi Arabia Ruepells weaver is ubiquitous. However unlike in Jizan when it breeds in January, up in Abha April and May is the breeding season. There is more about this in following blogs.

In the next blog I will recount Mansur Al Fahad's and my trip out towards Tanomah. This was very eventful, particularly as I added 5 birds to my Saudi list. It was one of the most productive and interesting day's birding for me in Saudi Arabia.

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