Monday 25 November 2013

The western outskirts of Sakaka

Although birding was not my primary purpose for visiting Sakaka in northern Saudi Arabia, I managed to bird on Friday and for a short while on Saturday afternoon.

Most birding was within walking distance of my city centre hotel but some was on the western outskirts of the city. This blog is about the birding on the outskirts which was quite different from that in the urban setting.

white crowned wheatear

Once you move up out of the basin which forms the oasis at Sakaka you are in desert and there doesn't seem to be an transition though there are made-made green areas around. 

In the rocky desert areas, the only obviously common bird is white crowned wheatear. The one shown above was close to the conference centre while the two below were seen near the historic castle.

white crowned wheatear at the castle

The birds in the pictures above and below were calling repeatedly to each other though separated by 30 to 50 metres depending on movements. They may well be related though one bird is an adult and the other (below) is an immature bird moving towards adulthood as shown as the developing white crown.

second white crowned wheatear at the castle

Apart from laughing dove, white-eared bulbul and collared dove in the castle moat, the only other bird of note near the castle was black redstart.

Za'abal castle

There were actually three or four of them near-by. I also saw them in several other places on the edge of the city.

male black redstart

The male above  was in the grounds of the conference centre. The female below was close to the castle.

 female black redstart

The density of black redstart appears to be high in all the areas just outside the city.

male Spanish sparrow

On the edge of the city in any green areas especially the made made ones, Spanish sparrow replaces house sparrow as the predominant sparrow. I saw several flocks along one strip of grass and bushes in the median of a major road leading out of town.

 Siberian stonechat

This is another place in Saudi Arabia where wintering stonechats are common. There were at least three in the gardens of the conference centre.

I believe two of them were Siberian stonechat while one was probably European stonechat. I was restricted on time in the gardens to be absolutely sure. The top one here I am most certain about. It had a pale, almost white, unstreaked rump and very dark back of a female or winter plumage male.

male Siberian stonechat

The second bird is probably a (almost) summer plumage male Siberian stonechat

immature red-backed shrike

The same gardens produced the only hoopoe I saw all weekend and an immature red-backed shrike. The vermiculations on its head mean it can be no other shrike.

I was surprised enough to see a very similar red-backed shriek in Buraidah last weekend. To see another, one week later and much further north has made me completely rethink what I thought I knew about red-backed shrike migration in autumn. I now seems to be an amazingly long season. I have been seeing them travel through for over three months. This is in stark contrast to spring when they are nearly all seen on their way back in late April to the third week of May.

crested lark

I was disappointed that the only lark I saw was crested lark.

laughing dove

I failed to see a namaqua dove which may not even be here though as already said laughing dove and collared dove were common in the city and on the outskirts. 


No bird of prey was seen all weekend though there seems to be food enough.

This week I will try to do some birding on the way to work in Riyadh but at the weekend I will have my first full weekend's worth for four weeks. I am off to Wadi Dawasir for the first time.  I am really looking forward to that.

1 comment:

  1. Nice shots, i shall be re-aquainting myselft with WCBW and others very shortly! I don't know wether the Arabs would refer to it as a 'castle' - that might have distinct Christian/Crusader overtones ;-).........

    Laurie -