Wednesday 23 October 2013

Tabuk farms in October

On Friday around midday onwards, Lou Regenmorter and I visited a few farms north of the city of Tabuk.

We spent most of our time close to where we had seen sociable lapwing last winter though we weren't expecting any this early in the season.

As well as a more general inspection, we were looking out particularly for pin-tailed sandgrouse which have been previously recorded in the area.

Despite a thorough search none were found.

However there were some interesting observations. Top of these was finding in field with no less than 23 cream-coloured courser.

cream-coloured courser through the heat haze

This is more than three times the number of these birds I have ever seen in one place before.

Seven out of 23 cream-coloured courser in the same field

Another large concentration of a species was of desert finch in another near-by field. Desert finch were flocking almost like sparrows. Indeed a small number of Spanish sparrow were mixing with them. 

desert finch

Spanish sparrow have been very common and numerous every time I have visited Tabuk's farms even in summer.

desert finch with one Spanish sparrow

In both Haql and Tabuk there was clearly a migratory wave of northern wheatear going through while we were there.

female northern wheatear

There seemed to be equal numbers of both sexes.

male northern wheatear

However red-backed shrike was arguably the most numerous passage migrant of all. it was certainly present in the widest variety of habitat.

red-backed shrike

Tabuk's farms house many chiffchaff in winter but at the moment willow warbler is the most abundant migratory warbler.

first winter willow warbler

Graceful prinia the most common of all but it is a resident.

rear of willow warbler

Last time I was in Tabuk, I reported seeing white-cheeked bulbul in what is a fairly recent range expansion.

white-cheeked bulbul

This expansion is not recorded in the main regional guide.

spur-winged lapwing

Spur-winged lapwing is present up most of western Saudi Arabia as well as some central districts. Apart from Haradh it seems to be missing from eastern province.


Common kestrel was another exceptional numerous bird. We saw twelve in one field. We checked them out for lesser kestrel but none were seen. It's a common resident but these numbers can only be explained by migrants adding to the total.

steppe buzzard

Two steppe buzzard were observed and once again they were very dark birds. Last time one was photographed I presented it to BirdForum with the question whether it could be a nominate common buzzard. The experts felt not.  Quite frankly I nearly have the confidence to disagree with them. I can't believe so many steppe buzzard are seen here and they are always dark!  Tabuk and the far north of Saudi Arabia has different bird life which is not truly reflected yet by distribution maps.

possible greater spotted eagle in flight

No eagles were seen on the farms close to Tabuk. However we also travelled speculatively 20 kilometres past the main cluster of farms north of Tabuk on the north road towards Jordan. 

Here we noticed several steppe eagle, a greater spotted eagle and many brown necked raven circling in the air.

close up of steppe eagle

We guessed correctly that there was a dumped animal carcass below.

steppe eagles and food

The steppe eagle were tired birds and allowed very close access. 

This was another fascinating look at Tabuk's farms but it was the waste water wetland in another part of town that generated the best birding locally and two final additions from the trip to my Saudi list.  I'll blog about that next.

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