Tuesday 8 October 2013

Black winged pratincole and more in Riyadh

On Saturday, an early morning trip to some new places west of the city had to be aborted due to car troubles. So I improvised. 

It meant a late start because it took time to rearrange. Furthermore, if you go birding after about 10 am at this time of year, then its best to choose an area close to water. 

One of my choices was the lake near Riyadh cricket club south east of the city. 

Here were the usual resident collection of of ferruginous duck, mallard duck, coot, moorhen and spur winged lapwing along with a few local waders. 

The local birds are always very nervous but visiting migrants are different. They tolerate closer approach and once again there were significant numbers of these. 

In particular a large mixed group were on an island where I could get good views. Many of the birds were wood sandpiper.

However, two of the birds there were quite special.  

black winged pratincole stretching wings

One was a black-winged pratincole which is exceptionally rarely reported in the Riyadh area although I saw five much further north near Buraydah in spring.

This bird conveniently stretched its wings to show black underneath and no white trailing edge. Before this moment, I already had my suspicions that it wasn't the much more common collared pratincole

For a start, it was 3 weeks later than the last collared pratincole seen in the area and it was alone.

black winged pratincole with short streamers

The streamers are very small and short compared with the tail unlike with a collared pratincole where the streamers are usually the same length as the tail.  

black winged pratincole at rest

The amount of red in the bill is less than for a typical collared pratincole though I find this a relatively poor way of distinguishing between the two birds.

black tailed godwit

My initial attention was actually drawn to this mixed group by another bird altogether but which is nearly as rare in this area. A black-tailed godwit was standing head and shoulders taller than the other birds in the group dwarfing even the three ruff present.

The other birds in the group but not already mentioned were little ringed plover.

Kentish plover

The main local plover is Kentish plover.

black winged stilt

Black winged stilt is the other main local wader though I have little doubt that there are visitors during passage and the winter.

The lake near the cricket club was not my first stop on Saturday. I started out at Al Hair but I found that only two birds were active in the midday heat. One was barn swallow hawking over the fields but even many of them were resting.

barn swallow

The second was yellow wagtail. I saw more there on Saturday than ever before in Saudi Arabia.

yellow wagtail

Although many tens were in the near-by fields large numbers were also resting near the waters edge.  The picture below shows 40 such birds.

tens of yellow wagtail

Almost all other bird activity had ground to a halt presumably until late afternoon. Of the finch members normally seen in large numbers in the fields, only a few Indian silverbill were out at times. The others kept almost totally to the shade. 

Indian silverbill

A few other birds were observed and all were reluctant to move so as not to waste energy. For example, the squacco heron below allowed close contact.

Squacco heron

Very close by, I accidentally flushed a little bittern and more predictably several moorhen.

After an hour or so in this heat I began my journey back towards Riyadh which ended with the visit to the Cricket club lake already described.

In between times, I did an hour's "bush bashing", walking around Acacia bushes in the Al Hair area away from the pivot fields. I was looking for red-breasted flycatcher which is a rare migrant through these parts but early to mid October is a good time to look.

little green bee-eater

I didn't succeed in finding it. Birding isn't usually that easy! In fact once again most birds were still deep in the shade. Even the little green bee-eater were resting.  I did manage to find yet another wryneck though. 


It's been a bumper season in the Riyadh area for them this year.

Until I saw the black winged pratincole and black tailed godwit it had been the highlight of my day. But they obviously bettered it by some distance.


  1. Oh wow looks like you had a great days birding :)

  2. Bernard, its ironic that none of it was planned. It was forced by the car problems. I couldn't believe my luck at the Cricket Club Lake. Rob

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