Tuesday 4 February 2014

More than 400 kilometres west of Riyadh

On Friday, Bernard Bracken and I went west up to 450 kilometres from Riyadh. I was looking for a target bird  which I have yet to see in Saudi Arabia, lappet-faced vulture

The vulture can be seen anywhere from the escarpment out of Riyadh called the "edge of the world" all the way to Taif. However seeing it is almost random as they can travel large distances and I wasn't lucky again this time.

Bernard took the opportunity to add to his Saudi list and nevertheless the birding proved quite interesting any way.

I have travelled out west before. This time there was no stop until over 350 kilometres out when we stopped at a wadi on the edge of a town.  It wasn't particularly interesting except for some desert finch in an area otherwise predominant with house sparrow.

There is no doubt desert finch is rapidly expanding its range. This is well west of where the map in the main regional guide says they can be.

Asian desert warbler

Our second stop was at a wide wadi 400 kilometres west of Riyadh. This was far more interesting in terms of birds. 

On a post by the side of the road we were greeted by a brown-necked raven.

As we entered the wadi and walked away from the main road we came across a lone barn swallow making its early migration north. 

another pose of the Asian desert warbler

The traffic on the main road made birding difficult. The noise from the lorries meant we had to rely on sight alone.  However, once we got away from the road, birding became better as we could hear where to go.

One of the first sounds we heard were from desert whitethroat. We saw at least six though failed to photograph these mobile birds. 

A single Asian desert warbler was much more accommodating giving us prolonged views and good photographing opportunities.

tail and mantle of Asian desert warbler

Near-by we spied a large group of Arabian babbler. All three of there species were new to Bernard.

An Arabian babbler on look-out

As is often the case one Arabian babbler acted as a look-out. This one stood on top of n earth mound for sometime.

the rear of an Asian babbler

We elected to walk at the side of the wadi so we get the best of two terrains: flat wadi and wadi sides. Being close to the wadi sides allowed us to also see desert lark which prefers slopes to flat.

desert lark

This may well have been the most numerous bird we saw in the wadi.

desert lark further away

After an hour or so in the wadi we pressed on a further 50 kilometres west which was the furthest away from Riyadh we reached.

hills 450 kilometres west of Riyadh

We stopped at some very large rock outcrops and walked round them anti-clockwise. The south west side we visited first had very little bird life apart from a passing steppe eagle and what looked like a deserted brown-necked raven's nest. This side is clearly more exposed to prevailing winds as shown by sand drifts up the rocks. 

steppe eagle

As we moved round towards the sheltered north east, birding was more variable and diverse. First we encountered two pale crag martin. Then we met three brown-necked raven.

chiffchaff by Bernard Bracken

In a single tree were two warblers. Both Bernard and I saw them from different angles as we surrounded the tree. Even with heavy cropping Bernard's photos are better than mine and he has kindly allowed me to sue them. 

One was a chiffchaff.

lesser whitethroat by Bernard Bracken

The second was a lesser whitethroat. I know a they are known to winter in south Arabia and have seen them in the Jizan area in winter. However this is the first time I have seen one anywhere else in Saudi Arabia in mid winter. 

Incidentally we managed to easily separated from the desert whitethroat we had seen earlier. It was discernibly larger and also greyer on the back. The mask was larger too.

At the same time as we were trying to concentrate on the warblers, a red-tailed wheatear made an appearance on the rocks. It was the only wheatear we saw all day but it was a good one.

Neither of the two red-tailed wheatears, the Kurdistan wheatear nor Persian wheatear is mapped as wintering here but my birding friend Brian has seen a Kurdistan wheatear towards the centre west coast not too far away. Persian wheatear is not uncommon wintering near Riyadh which is an equal distance away. 

I believe it was a Kurdistan wheatear from my short views of it and it's preference for rocky hillsides.

However I won't be able to claim a new addition to my Saudi list because e-bird where I input my data uses the conservative Clement's count. In this the two birds are still seen as sub species of red-tailed wheatear.

In the next blog, I'll describe what we saw at a rubbish dump near-by. There were 35 birds of prey there.


  1. Hi Rob,

    Interesting post as always. Can I just be a pedant and point out the photos of Asian Desert Warbler are wrongly labelled?

  2. Andrew, thanks for visiting again. I welcome any errors being pointed out. I have re-labelled the pictures though the text was right!