Saturday 18 May 2013

Sabya and two very interesting lifers

On Thursday and Friday I birded in the south west of Saudi Arabia near Jizan with a strong team of Lou Regenmorter, Mansur Al Fahad and me.

I didnt think any birding in Saudi Arabia could beat my experience near Abha two weeks ago but this probably did.

Once again seven new birds were added to my Saudi list which now totals 295. However this time all of them were lifers and some of them haven't featured in many reports before.

We had to work hard it was very hot and humid but we were rewarded.

It all started at Sabya waste water lakes early on Thursday morning.  

 pied cuckoo

Before we even reached the lakes we came across our first pied cuckoo of the weekend (there were more later). This bird is the only Africa to India migrant. It arrives in India just ahead of the monsoons and is closely associated with that weather over there. It parasites babblers and bulbuls. The main regional guide suggests a few of them don't go all the way to India but stop in a small part of Yemen.

Given that the monsoons start in late May in parts of India our timing was very good to be able to see them on passage.

 a family of greater painted snipe

On arriving at the lakes, we soon saw our main target species: greater painted snipe. The regional guide says it is a vagrant to the Arabian peninsula and doesn't offer a map! However Mike Jennings reported it at Sabya about 3 years ago.

I am not sure anyone has ever proved it breeds here (though it is clearly surmised)  but we saw a family.

 second picture of greater painted snipe

Unusually, the male bird is the duller of the two adults.

Incidentally I saw another at Lake Maliki the next day (30 kilometres way) and this supports Brain James's finding there a couple of months ago.

cattle egret colony

There was a wide diversity of birds at this site. One of the most noticeable features was the large colonies of cattle egret on a couple of islands.

 black winged stilt

Black winged stilt buzzed us if we came close to their young.

black-tailed godwit

Other waders included non-breeding black-tailed godwit and ringed plover (breeding status unknown).

 ringed plover

There were also ruff and kentish plover present.

ringed plover and ruff

The two obvious water birds were moorhen (surprisingly tame) and little grebe.


Two types of tern were seen in great numbers. Bother were in breeding plumage. These were white winged black tern and whiskered tern.

 little grebe

A small flock of chestnut bellied sand grouse arrived but were scared off (sadly accidentally probably by us). There were heading for the cleanest of the four lakes furthest away from the water inlet area.

 whiskered tern

As well as cattle egret there were also squacco heron and grey heron. The squacco heron were also nesting there.

 squacco heron

 There were several interesting more land-based birds too.

 spur winged lapwing

Spur winged lapwing probably breeds there although we didnt see any nests or young.

yellow wagtail

I was surprised to see three lingering yellow wagtail (feldegg).

 Rueppells weaver

Rueppells weaver breeds in the coastal areas in winter but also breeds a second time at the moment. The Jizan area only gets reasonably rain in April and early May and it looks like the weavers take advantage of that.

 African collared dove

There were a lot more African collared dove in the Jizan area since the last time I visited. This concurs with reports that although some stay the winter, many migrant a short distance to east Africa. They are back.

white browed coucal

The Sabya area has white browed coucal all the year round.

This was great start to the weekend but more was to come. Three more lifers were had before the morning was out. I'll report on them in the next blog.


  1. Hi Rob

    Great post and very interesting re the Painted Snipes. One thing though isn't that godwit a Black-tailed rather than a Bar-tailed?

    Charlie Moores

  2. Charlie, I was unsure about the godwit. I'll look again


  3. Charlie, I have looked at all my photos of this bird. Now I agree with you and have changed its ID. The bill is unusally short for a black tailed godwit but everything else fits including the tail pattern itself. Rob

  4. I must admit i have only just seen this post so the written correction to the Godwit must be in place but as i scrolled down i just saw BlackT there is no hint of a shorter, slightly upturned, bill.

    You've done well with new spp recently i'm envious as usual.

    Laurie -

    PS - nice to see that Charlie Moores is perusing yr site!