Sunday 27 October 2013

Now a yellow browed warbler at Yanbu

Brain James and I met up in Yanbu from our respected bases in Thuwal and Riyadh last weekend. We started out on Friday morning with a trip to Yanbu dump and waste water lakes. 

This is one of the most unsavoury birding locations in the kingdom. It is also one of the best. 

There is always a variety of both land birds and shore birds. It is major stopping off point for migrants too.

yellow browed warbler at Yanbu

The biggest discovery was another yellow browed warbler. Lou Regenmorter and I saw one east of Haql, 500 kilometres north of Yanbu the week before. Brian James and I saw one at the dump. We both got excellent views and photographs. This bird is not even mentioned as a vagrant in the kingdom in the main regional guide.

Like so many birds the reason for its lack of its presence on distribution maps is a lack of Saudi-based bird watchers particularly outside the three big cities. At least twenty species I know have much wider distribution than the guide's maps. On the other hand, a smaller number of others are said to breed which don't (anymore).

Yanbu dump

There was much more to the Yanbu dump site than this warbler although other warblers weren't particularly varied. Willow warbler was however abundant and presumably on passage.

willow warbler

The only other warbler here was graceful prinia.

common redstart

An excellent cross section of migrants was very much in evidence from small to large. Common redstart was in virtually every large bush and tree.

Daurian shrike

Red-backed shrike was common on top of bushes with at least one Daurian shrike also present.

spotted flycatcher

A small number of spotted flycatcher were also observed.

red-throated pipit

Like Tabuk the weekend before, there were no yellow wagtail still up there. However there were plenty of their frequent travelling partner: red-throated pipit. There were an equal number of tree pipit too. I suppose some red-throated pipit may winter there but it needs a mid-winter visit to be sure. White wagtail wintering numbers were higher than in Tabuk.

tree pipit

Whinchat were common as is usually the case in coastal areas on autumn passage. A single stonechat was also there.


A nightjar was accidentally flushed but landed close-by. It was a European nightjar but not a sub species I have seen before. It was a unwini. This bird breeds in Iraq and Iran and is described as rare. It is much lighter than the nominate sub-species and on colour more closely resembles Nubian and Egyptian nightjars.

The long white moustache and pearls of white on the wing help define it as a European nightjar though.

European nightjar (unwini sub species)

When the bird flew initially there was no white flash underneath making it a female or an immature.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Another interesting medium-sized migrant was blue-cheeked bee-eater. Four were seen on site.

There is evidence that the general passage in the Middle East is late this year and this was one sign.

female garganey

Unlike Libya where I used to bird, some garganey actually stay all winter. I am not sure they do so as far "north' as Yanbu. At least three were present along with a pintail and several mallard.

two female garganey and a female pintail

Both passage northern wheatear and probable wintering desert wheatear were around in the drier parts of the dump.

desert wheatear

I don't believe there are any fish in the lakes. 

little egret

This is a restriction on the attraction of the area to the heron family though grey heron, squacco heron, purple heron, little egret and a single black crowned night heron (immature) were seen.

little egret with grey heron

Marsh harrier were trying to prey on small birds.

marsh harrier

A very pale headed bird of prey was also present that I couldn't identify. I now know it is a steppe buzzard thanks to BirdForum. It is certainly the palest headed one I have seen though I know they are very variable.

pale headed steppe buzzard

Miscellaneous other medium birds included hoopoe and moorhen.


Moorhen is extremely common. We spent twenty minutes or so near them looking for crakes without any success though some habitat looks ideal.


In the wetter areas, there was a large variety of waders. Spur winged lapwing were the most obvious and vocal.


Ruff are also abundant and some were in breeding plumage though this doesn't necessarily mean local breeding.

common ringed plover and little stint

The most numerous smaller waders were little stint and common ringed plover.  Dunlin were less numerous. One was still in summer plumage. A couple of lesser sand plover were also seen. Green sandpiper and a single wood sandpiper were observed though I don't recall any common sandpiper.

black winged stilt

Some of the many black winged stilt actually managed to stay clean.

Indian silverbill

One final observation which doesn't fit into the narrative anywhere else, the silverbill here are Indian silverbill despite it being on the west coast.

This was an excellent start to our weekend. We then moved on inland to do some speculative birding in areas where I hadn't found any previous reports. I'll blog on these next.


  1. YBW - nice find, there was over 300 on the Shetlands at one stage this Autumn!

    Laurie -

  2. Do you have other pictures of the shrike? I suspected isabelline

  3. Kerem, I believe you are right. I will change the caption. I aim to blog very fast and occasionally slip up. Rob

  4. Congratulations on the 2nd YBW! About the pale-headed raptor, I'm really not sure. Have you tried putting it on Bird Forum?

  5. Dreamliner, it takes time to put stuff forward to BirdForum. If I post one isolated picture I am getting some weird responses. I need to put a group of pictures up and I have got about 20 to sift through. Rob

  6. For your next birdwatching visit, consider visiting the Cove in Yanbu. Lots of wild birds.