Sunday 26 January 2014

Flooded fields at Al Hayer

As I was warned by a birding colleague in the week, the Al Hayer area south of Riyadh has taken a battering. The stretch of the river north of pivot fields is being developed presumably as a large scale park and picnic area.

However the construction has created problems. All the reeds have been removed there and so the water flow has increased downstream. The recent rain has lead to an enormous flood despite the upstream dam. This looks like it came as tidal wave uprooting trees and removing huge earthworks in its path. 

Only 40% of the trees and bushes remain near the fields and the bridge barely survived.

However the still flooded fields have interesting birding and the river appears to be several kilometres longer than before. There will more about the river downstream in the next blog. This one looks at the birding in the flooded fields.

common snipe

The  field Bernard Bracken and I started birding in was waterlogged down one side. The most commonly seen bird there was common snipe which gives you an indication how wet it was.  

five common snipe cropped from a photo by Bernard Bracken

We counted twelve of them in all. For once they were easy to see because of the mostly flat terrain. However it was very difficult to get close to them because of a lack of cover.

Squacco heron and little egret

On different edges of the field we saw one each of a cattle egret, grey heron, squacco heron and little egret.

white throated kingfisher

On another edge was a white throated kingfisher.

black crowned night heron in flight

While we were slowly making our way round the field, suddenly 80 black crowned night heron appeared in the air over the near-by main reed bed before settling for a few minutes and re-taking off several times. They didn't seem to be able to rest cosily.

resting black crowned night heron

I last saw a flock of this number of black crowned night heron at Al Hayer almost exactly eleven months ago and in almost the same spot.  I don't think they stay in such large numbers all winter. Al Hayer may be a staging post on their return.

little green bee-eater

So many bushes have been uprooted that cover and perches for many passerines are limited now. Indeed we didn't see many passerines near the fields at all.  There were two bluethroat and a single black bush robin and white eared bulbul

Little green bee-eater found the few remaining small trees.

Daurian shrike

Other birds were making do with man-made perches. A Daurian shrike was seen on a post.


A kestrel perched on a sign. 

northern lapwing in a field

This is the third winter running that a large flock of northern lapwing have stayed at Al Hayer. These sodden fields  are well-liked by them. On the day, they had a strong preference for one particular field which had been recently cut and is next to the river.

northern lapwing flock

It was so wet in one area that a lake had formed in the field. The lake held four common teal

common teal

Needless to say the fields were full of white wagtail which I have photographed so many times this winter. However I took another photo simply because one of them allowed me much closer than usual and so the photo is very sharp.

white wagtail

As the morning wore on, the larger birds of prey came out. Two marsh harrier were first. 

Greater spotted eagle

Then came two Greater spotted eagle and a young Eastern Imperial Eagle.

Eastern imperial eagle

As a general rule in central Arabia, greater spotted eagle are seen over farmland and steppe eagle over more natural surroundings although there is some overlap.

Under an Eastern Imperial eagle

After finishing with the pivot fields, Bernard Bracken and I decided to walk downstream, south of the fields to see what the floods had done to the terrain and the birds there. I'll blog about that next.

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