Saturday 8 February 2014

35 steppe eagles in the western desert

A week Friday, Bernard Bracken and I headed west down the Mecca Road. I was particularly interested in finding lappet-faced vulture as this remains a target bird for me. Unfortunately as I said in my last blog I failed to see one. Birding isn't always that easy.

You can imagine that I felt I had a chance when Bernard spotted six or seven steppe eagle in the sky 425 kilometres out on our journey and there was a rubbish dump below. Furthermore on closer inspection we counted 35 birds of prey in all.

first winter steppe eagle with older bird

I was fairly confident of the identity of virtual all of the birds. There were just two lighter ones which I was less sure about.

I posted pictures on Birdforum to confirm their identity. Thanks to Tom Conzemi for responding and who often helps out on eagle identification.

first winter steppe eagle perched (left)

He confirmed that the bird in the pictures directly above and below is a second calendar year (first winter) bird. He says it has a typical (long) gape. "It is one of those with reduced white on coverts but with not more than one secondary and maybe inner primary moulted, all others are still juvenile".

second winter and adult steppe eagle

Tom continued that second bird that I asked about is older (see the four photos below) but without a clearer look at the moult wave it is impossible to know the exact age. 

second eagle causing me identification issues

Such a rubbish dump in the western desert might have been expected to attract a vulture.

different aspect of the second eagle

However their is mounting evidence that although lappet-faced vulture breeding numbers are increasing within the Mahazat protected area in the west of western desert, they may be declining in the rest of that desert and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.

the second eagle taking off

The rubbish dump, though 425 kilometres west of Riyadh was still 180 kilometres east of the edge of the protected area. This is a long way from the protected area for a vulture to visit and then return.

the second eagle in the air

For completion, I can add that there were three other species at the site. There were laughing dove, house sparrow and crested lark.

laughing dove at the dump

Unfortunately there was also a dead steppe eagle which somehow had managed to get electrocuted there by flying into some power lines.

My birding trips this weekend, from which I have just returned,  have been much more fortunate. The next two blogs will explain why.

No comments:

Post a Comment