Monday 6 May 2013

South of Tanomah

On Thursday, Mansur Al Fahad and I travelled north on route 15 out of Abha up into the "fog zone" and its associated valleys.

All our birding was carried out at 2500-2700 metres. It was seriously good. I added five species to my Saudi list. 

We headed to a valley recommended by Brian James and Lou Regenmorter where they had seen Asir magpie and African paradise flycatcher a few weeks before.

We stopped briefly on the way in a random dry wadi where I saw my first ever red-breasted wheatear.

grey headed kingfisher

On arrival in the recommended valley, we almost immediately saw a grey headed kingfisher and indeed kept seeing one of a pair all day long. This finding is another example of the altitude data in the main regional guide being wrong. It says this species is normally found at 400-1500 metres but the valley was at 2700 metres above sea level.  The next day I saw two more on the outskirts of Abha (at 2500 metres).

Grey headed kingfisher was new for me in Saudi Arabia although I had previously seen it in Africa.

waterfall south of Tanomah

We spent much of the day in the area looking for Asir magpie but it wasn't until late afternoon that we finally observed a pair. Since they arrived from over the hill, it looked like they were returning from another valley.

Asir magpie

In the meantime we observed an African paradise flycatcher on a couple of occasions.

magpie nest

The new additions to my Saudi list were coming fast and furious here. A shikra was seen three times in different parts of the valley. The map in the guide only has this species on the border with Yemen which is over 250 kilometres further south. So it was a shock.


Meanwhile in the air for much of the afternoon, griffon vulture would appear and disappear often in the company of fan-tailed raven.

griffon vulture

There didn't seem to be any attempt by the ravens to mob the vultures as they do with many birds of prey. Perhaps they realise that griffon vulture are too large and can fly too high for them to intimidate.

fan-tailed raven

There were several interesting birds on the ground as well. Male violet-backed starling are extremely attractive and also seemingly quite common in the Abha area including in these upland valleys.

violet backed starling

The Arabian babbler there are tamer than in other parts of Saudi Arabia and allow close approach.

Arabian babbler

Only two cinnamon breasted bunting were seen all weekend but that was in the same valley as the grey headed kingfisher.

Cinnamon breasted bunting

In contrast, little rock thrush was very common.

little rock thrush

I had a good chance during the day to look at the gender and age differences for Arabian wheatear. The male looks almost exactly like a male eastern mourning wheatear.

The female is earthy brown with a buff front and an orange vent (vent like the male).

female Arabian wheatear

However the juveniles are different again. They vaguely resemble the females but without an orange vent and the front is whiter with grey-black streaks.

juvenile Arabian wheatear

No such major variation with red breasted wheatear but the juveniles have a less pronounced grey-black crown than the adults.

red-breasted wheatear

After leaving the recommended valley to head back towards Abha we stopped off about 10 kilometres south to look at another, wider, valley taking advantage of the remaining daylight. Here  we saw two more Asir magpie. The first of these was seen within two minutes of our arrival.

red-throated pipit

This valley contained many similar species to the previous valley however it was more waterlogged and red throated pipit were plentiful. 

We arrived back in Abha after dark, both of us satisfied with an excellent trip's birding which had yielded 5 new birds on my Saudi list bringing it up to 287.

In the next blog, I report on Friday's birding on a farm very close to the city of  Abha. This I did alone. I was more than satisfied there too.

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