Thursday 26 September 2013

Lots of colour in the fields at Al Hayer

I visited Al Hayer on the Saudi National Day holiday this Monday. The fishermen arrived nearly as early as me which caused me to spend most of my time away from the water as the disturbance is significant.

There are large roaming mixed flocks of finch-family birds at the moment on the pivot fields. My enforced absence from the water lead to me to inspect them more closely than of late.

two young streaked weaver

The two largest components of the flocks are Spanish sparrow and streaked weaver including many young bids such the ones shown above.

Male Arabian golden sparrow

However there are also often small numbers of Indian silverbill, house sparrow and red avadavat.

Two weeks ago fellow birder Ahmed Al Kassim alerted me to the fact that Arabian golden sparrow had joined the flocks. Indeed there numbers have grown steady over the past year from nothing. 

I saw my first one the weekend before last and on Monday I looked very hard and prolonged at the flocks. I was surprised to see they actually make up 5-10%!

The big issue for me is whether they will survive the cooler winters than in their natural habitat near Jizan. The red avadavat do it by keeping in the dried tall reeds at night, dawn and dusk when its cold.

An unfortunate dyed female house sparrow

Arabian golden sparrow almost certainly came from escapes. Indeed a pink sparrow among the the flock is a pink dyed female house sparrow which was also probably a caged bird sold as a fake exotic. She too found her way to the large flocks at Al Hayer.

blue cheeked bee-eater

More colour was provided by small numbers of blue-cheeked bee-eater which is far more common than European bee-eater in autumn (and in stark contrast to spring).

a second blue-cheeked bee-eater

Their numbers though were down on the week before and there are signs that the overall passage is levelling off.

Marsh warbler

I saw relatively few passage warblers. For example I observed only one common whitethroat and eastern olivaceous warbler. By way of compensation, a marsh warbler gave me very good views in a field right as I arrived at dawn. 

Marsh warbler from another angle

Notice that it has generally lighter bill and legs than the very similar reed warbler. It is also generally a plumper bird. It's underparts were paler and brighter too though this doesn't come out well in these photos (taken in poor light).

Habitat is another useful indicators in these matters. This bird chose a damp field with tall grass over the extensive reed beds just 15 metres way!

Northern wheatear

Northern wheatear and Isabelline wheatear are still coming through. Some of the latter stay all winter in the area but northern wheatear don't.

white throated kingfisher

White-throated kingfisher started out as as a winter visitor according to old records but it stays all year round now and breeds. 

A common kingfisher was seen which was the first this winter but it was too quick for me to photograph. i am sure there will be more chances this winter.

a row of barn swallow

There are still lots of barn swallow passing through. No barn swallow stay all winter (unlike Benghazi where I used to bird) but we get some spring breeders who breed in February. Indeed the Helms regional guide wrongly says red rumped swallow breed here but in fact its the other swallow!  

grey heron

Other activity at Al Hayer on Monday included lots of movement by the heron family in the early morning. Clearly where grey heron and purple heron roost and where they go in daytime are quite different. Likewise black crowned night heron must be active at night in different places to where they roost in the day. All three birds can be seen moving around at about 7 am.

I don't see so much movement at that time with cattle egret and squacco heron but on the other hand they can be readily seen in the fields anyway.

hoopoe at Al Hayer

Among the other notable birds was a single tree pipit.

tree pipit
Shrikes were a bit scarce too. 

lesser grey shrike

Only two species were seen: lesser grey shrike which is a passage bird and three or four Daurian shrike which is passage and wintering.

Daurian shrike

Desert wheatear is another wintering bird and their numbers are just starting to build. Indeed the story of the next few weeks at Al Hayer is going to be increasingly about winter birds building up and not so much about passage which feels it might just be on the wane.

desert wheatear

When I finished at Al Hayer, I decided to take a detour back through Dirab just as I had the weekend before.

Dirab is a more traditional farming area where the water comes from natural sources. The area can attract birds which are tolerant of drier conditions than at Al Hayer. For example its the best place locally to see white crowned wheatear.

white crowned black wheatear

The young bird above hasn't developed its white crown yet though.

Another bird tolerant of dry conditions is blackstart and this was seen too.  

greater short toed lark at Dirab

A flock of greater short toed lark provided the last sight before I finished for the day.

I have just been told that Arabian golden sparrow has been present for several years even though I haven't seen it until recently. I can only assume it has had a bumper breeding season!

List of 46 species seen at Al Hayer (H) and Dirab (D)

Mallard    H
Crested lark   H,D
Common quail    H
Greater short toed lark   D
Black crowned night heron   H
Barn swallow   H,D
Squacco heron    H
Sand martin    H
Grey heron    H
Pale crag martin   H
Purple heron    H
Graceful prinia   H,D
Cattle egret    H
Marsh warbler    H
Marsh harrier    H
Eastern olivaceous warbler    H
Montagu’s harrier    H
Common whitethroat    H
Moorhen    H
Common myna    H
Rock pigeon    H,D
Black bush robin    H,D
Collared dove    H,D
Isabelline wheatear    H,D
Laughing dove    H,D
Northern wheatear    H
Namaqua dove    H
Desert wheatear    H
Hoopoe    H,D
White crowned wheatear   D
White throated kingfisher    H
Blackstart    D
Common kingfisher    H
House sparrow   H,D
Blue cheeked bee-eater    H
Spanish sparrow    H
Little green bee-eater   H,D
Arabian golden sparrow    H
Daurian shrike   H
Indian silverbill    H
Lesser grey shrike   H
Red avadavat    H
Brown necked raven   D
Yellow wagtail    H,D
White eared bulbul   H,D
Tree pipit    H

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