Tuesday 22 October 2013

Two major rarities at Haql

Lou Regenmorter and I arrived at Haql, Saudi Arabia just south of Aqaba, Jordan before midday on Thursday 17th.

As far as I know it has not been significantly birded before though there is a recent reference to house crow by Mike Jennings.

We found the area to be rich with migrants in many of the isolated green patches, both in and around the town.

We found two very rare birds among the migrants. I managed to photograph one of them. The quality isn't the greatest but the bird was more important!

yellow browed warbler

This was a yellow browed warbler seen on the way back about 60 kilometres east of the town.

side view of yellow browed warbler

Yellow browed warbler breeds just west of the Urals eastward through southern Siberia and far northern China. Most birds winter in south east Asia but increasingly the western birds are being recorded heading west (not east) towards south west Europe. However I can't find any sensible data on exactly where the winter other than its further south than the UK.

Eitherway, the bird we saw is almost certainly still on passage heading west.

third view of yellow browed warbler

This sighting was after arguably an even better one in the town. Here we saw a vagrant little bunting just inside the woodland below. Though we could get good views I couldn't photograph it because of both backlighting and small twigs in the way. When it flew off we failed to see it land. However I am certain of its identification.

wood containing little bunting

These two sightings were obviously very exciting but the rest of the birding in the town was not dull. There is a lot more to its bird life, at least in October, than resident house crow.

house crow

Not sure whether Spanish sparrow are resident but they vastly out numbered any house sparrow.

Spanish sparrow

Namaqua dove and laughing dove are resident but true to the map in Porter and Aspinall's guide no collared dove were seen.

Namaqua dove

It was the migrant birds though they gave the variety.

European bee-eater

A single European bee-eater was observed in very small farming area in the town. Here and elsewhere red-backed shrike of all genders and ages were present.

young red-backed shrike

This small farming area was also the place we first saw white wagtail that day.

white wagtail

Alongside red-backed shrike, spotted flycatcher was the other most common migrant seen in many places with a bit of shade and a perch.

spotted flycatcher

I have observed that in Saudi Arabia whinchat are broad front migrants in spring but very few migrate inland in autumn. Haql being on the coast had them.


Near the whinchat shown above was a marsh warbler using the shade.

The other warblers seen in the town were willow warbler and a single sardinian warbler. The latter bird was in a palm tree before dropping down into an ornamental bush. Ordinarily we would have continued tracking it but it did this right next to a police check point.

Sardinian warbler is regularly reported in Aqaba 18 kilometres north so this was a target bird. The yellow browed warbler, Sardinian warbler and little bunting brought my Saudi list total up to 310.

common kingfisher

The coast itself was strangely disappointing. For example not a single gull was observed and I thought this was my best chance so far to yellow legged gull in Saudi Arabia.

Sightings were restricted to a common kingfisher on the corniche itself, a little egret and one Caspian tern.

little egret

The afternoon of Thursday 17th must rank among the best birding sessions I have yet had in Saudi Arabia. 

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