Tuesday 24 September 2013

Up and down Wadi Rabigh

Wadi Rabigh is one of the relatively few places in Saudi Arabia with permanent fresh water. It's been known to the small Saudi-based birding community for many years.

However it has recently undergone significant change as a new dam has been built upstream. There is now less water and greenery downstream though there are still some pockets of permanent water and associated wetland.

black crowned night heron at the dam

Brian James and I visited the dam itself on Thursday afternoon and then moved downstream towards the small pockets of wetland.

It's obvious that the amount of water contained in the new lake behind the dam is huge.  What we don't know is what the back waters look like. Are they rocky or is there a hinterland wetland?  Google earth doesn't help as its map is for the area is out of date and we don't now how to access the area using any other tool. However, it is an intriguing prospect because if there is vegetation at the back the birding would be very good indeed.

Wadi Rabigh dam

At the dam itself, we saw only five species. These included a flock of about 32 garganey swimming in the middle of the lake. The others were a few little grebe, a single black crowned night heron perched on a pipe, a couple of European bee-eater and some white winged black tern. However, this paucity of species tells us nothing about the back waters.

a close group of garganey

Moving down the wadi was not a bad experience that I feared!

We didn't spend long in the acacias on either side of the valley though birds such as little green bee-eater and white spectacled bulbul were much in evidence there. Instead we concentrated on the pockets of wetland.

adult female honey buzzard

There was a small passage of birds of prey seeming to consist mostly of honey buzzard and steppe buzzard. The former seemed to be attracted to water to drink.

Two honey buzzard dropped down and drink about 50 metres from each other. One was an adult female while the other was an immature. 

immature honey buzzard

As I understand it, male birds have dark orangey-yellow eyes whereas females and immatures have yellow eyes. Furthermore, immatures have barred fronts so I have identified the two birds using those features.

yellow billed kite

At the time Brian and I assumed the small number of kites in the air were migrants from the north too. Indeed in previous winters the population of black kite near Rabigh can build up to well over 1000. However on returning home and looking closely at the pictures it is apparent these birds were yellow billed kite

They don't come from the north and its quite possible there is small resident population which is dwarfed in winter and not noticed.

black crowned sparrow lark

Apart from the ubiquitous (for this time of year on Saudi wetlands) yellow wagtail, other birds included three types of lark: black crowned sparrow lark, crested lark and greater short toed lark.

greater short toed lark

The full list of birds from here and elsewhere on my trip to Thuwal will be given in the next blog.

On the way back to Thuwal we passed a wheatear which caused me a few identification problems but is now clearly a first year black eared wheatear. The white fringes are only seen on young birds.

first winter black eared wheatear

The final blog in the series will recount what we did either side of midday on Friday with the temperature reaching 43C. We actually saw many and varied birds in quite a lucky but clever way.

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