Monday 31 March 2014

Kentish plover distraction

I have several blogs and a very large number of pictures to show following birding last weekend. This includes a trip made to a new venue which I am calling east Salbokh wetland.

This site is a large wetland north of Riyadh which is fed clean water from the cooling towers of a factory and dirty water coming by tanker from the city.

The pictures and stories are taking time to compile. In the meantime this blog looks at just one of the birds seen at the wetland.

Benard Bracken was with me on Friday's trip there. At one stage we were walking through a salty flat area next to the wetland when a Kentish plover starting behaving very strangely. 

part of the distraction

We almost immediately realised we had accidentally walked straight into a breeding area. Somewhere very close by must have been the birds scrape. It behaved bizarrely to distract us. It was not really playing injured like many birds in this situation, it was more pure distraction with the oddness of its movements.  At one stage it walked straight towards us.

another phase

We didn't know which way to move to avoid the scrape. In the end we headed further down the wetland rather than taking any steps back. We think we avoided the nest. 

an energetic phase

While I was taking photos, Bernard had the good sense to change his camera to video mode.

the cycle begins again

He has kindly allowed me to post the video on line. The video gets even more interesting as Bernard started to zoom in about half way through.

I hope you enjoy it.

In the next blog, I'll write about the other birds seen at the wetland.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

The hinterland around the Cricket club lake, Riyadh

While Bernard Bracken was studying the little grebe at the Riyadh cricket club lake for his masters degree, I eventually moved off to investigate the hinterland near-by.

This is area is very degraded and probably wouldn't be a natural choice for birding except for it being so close to the lake.

brown-necked raven

The birding wasn't great with one or two exceptions. The first exception was that this is the closest to the metropolitan Riyadh area that I have seen brown necked raven. Four of the made a prolonged visit. The second exception I will come on to later.


Two of the most common birds were blackstart and house sparrow. The former is typically a rural bird and the latter is usually urban or at least in proximity to man. Seeing them both together shown the mixed identity of the area.

another blackstart

Graceful prinia was the other fairly common bird especially where there was any cover. 

graceful prinia

White eared bulbul was present. However, the second exceptional point about this birding was the presence of white spectacled bulbul.  As noted previously on visiting the lake, this is the only place I know on the east side of Riyadh where this bird is present. Indeed it may be the most easterly population (I now believe there is more than one bird so population is right) in Saudi Arabia.

white spectacled bulbul

More predictably there were little green bee-eater although this bird is on the eastern side (but not edge) of its range too.

little green bee-eater

Rock dove as opposed to pigeons seem to find this area hospitable with its hillsides and crags.

rock dove

The spring passage was noticeable too but in minor ways. There was a northern wheatear on a flat plain. A common redstart was hopping from bush to bush on the same piece of land.

northern wheatear

Finally barn swallow were occasionally seen drifting north in ones and twos.

This weekend I am going to investigate what according to google earth looks like a large waste water treatment lake just north of the city. I dont know why its not be noticed before. I'll probably look out for larks in the plains near-by too. 

Monday 24 March 2014

Lakeside views, Riyadh

On Saturday morning I tagged along with Bernard Bracken's trip to the lake near the Riyadh cricket ground. Bernard is taking a masters degree in ornithology and is studying the little grebe population at the lake at the moment.

I spent some time with him at the lake before wandering off into the hinterland to carry on with more general birding.

black winged stilt

The first thing I noticed was that the water level is still lowering. It has been for over a year now since the waste water from the industrial city has been diverted. It used to flow into a near-by field and seeped into the lake through rocks coming out as clean water into the lake. 

little grebe

At the moment, only the moorhen population has deserted the lake. Bernard counted 140 little grebe who so far have stayed on.

the lake

The black winged stilt population is very large currently. Whether this is because numbers are swollen by migrants or because the water levels are actually better for them than previously I don't know.

coot, black winged stilt, little ringed plover

Most birds are very timid and move straight to the far end of the lake as soon as anyone arrives. The coot are based there anyway. The distance was a big test of my camera and binoculars so the pictures aren't that good. Nevertheless I could make out there were plenty of little ringed plover and green sandpiper as well as a lesser number of ruff and common sandpiper at the far end on the mud flats.

little ringed plover, black winged stilt, ruff

The spur winged plover joined them as soon as we arrived even with caution. 

spur winged plover

In the pools at our end of the lakes, two species were a little braver. These were wood sandpiper and common redshank.

wood sandpiper

If you look at the main regional guide, you will see that it does not show common redshank in central Saudi Arabia. The map shows it closer to the coast. However, this is not the first time I have seen it at the lake. 

common redshank

After a while, some of the common sandpiper and green sandpiper drifted back across to us.

common sandpiper

A few other birds were seen over the water. A Siberian stonechat was resting on a metal rod.  Form time to time, barn swallow drifted over.

Siberian stonechat

An other bird was a marsh harrier which was immediately mobbed by black winged stilt and eventually forced off.  the little grebe didn't react at all. We surmise their defence would have been to dive if necessary.

Marsh harrier

While Bernard remained watching the little grebe, I moved off into the adjoining area. I'll blog about what I saw there next.

Sunday 23 March 2014

The southern stretch of the "Riyadh River"

Bernard Bracken and I returned to Al Hayer on Friday.  I still call this my "local patch" although I don't visit it so often these days as in previous years.

Indeed it was my first visit for over 6 weeks.

We spent most of our time following the "Riyadh river" south of the landmark bridge. This decision was made because of so much recent disturbance through earth movement and reed clearances in areas further north.

Eurasian reed warbler

Early on the walk we concentrated on the reeds themselves. I wondered whether my target species of little crake had arrived on passage but none were seen in typical places like where the water spills out from the edge of the reeds.  Elsewhere we saw streaked weaver in reeds to the north and then plenty of reed warbler, house sparrow and graceful prinia to the south of the bridge.

Some of the reed warbler sounds weren't quite right and were too loud and continuous. The mystery was solved when a clamorous reed warbler popped up temporarily into view. This species isn't know conclusively to breed here but is know to disperse outside the breeding season. Know breeding sites near Hofuf are 225 kilometres way. 


Wintering bluethroat were still around, all at the start of the walk (and on return). 

common kingfisher

Remarkably, a common kingfisher seen in November and January was in almost exactly the same place again. Surely it will soon be time for it to travel north out of Saudi Arabia. (Incidentally one of the local white throated kingfisher was seen as we drove off at the end of the session near the bridge.)


After walking past the heavily reeded areas, we continued walking south where the Riyadh river widens out and cover is more sparse.

squacco heron

This was an area of grey heron, purple heron, squacco heron and little egret as well as waders.

grey heron

(Five black crowned night heron had been seen before the walk begin).

black crowned night heron

The waders in the wider river and sparsely vegetated area were very shy, flying off from a great distance out.

green sandpiper

The shyest of all were green sandpiper. Common sandpiper were nearly as timid.

black winged stilt

Black winged stilt were the bravest and allowed a little closer contact.

common snipe

Two common snipe were typically behaved. As ever, if you see them first you have a chance of some approach.

spur winged plover and little egret

Spur winged plover as being increasingly seen at Al Hayer. Three years ago they were only in Kharj to the south. I can say confidently their range is now expanding into the Al Hayer area. 

little ringed plover

By contrast, Little ringed plover has been a long standing summer bird there.

yellow wagtail and white wagtail

Surprisingly, there were only a few signs of passage. One of these was a lone yellow wagtail. It was the first sighting of one by me this season. 

grey wagtail

On the other hand, I have seen more grey wagtail this year than in previous years throughout the country.

local barn swallow 

Barn swallow and a small flock of high flying and non-stopping European bee-eater were other signs of passage.  The barn swallow shown above are not passage birds however. This small group are local breeders who could be seen flying in and out of a small barn with nests once again this year.  

greater spotted eagle

Although the focus of the day was on the southern stretch of the river with waders and birds close to the reeds, there were other interesting observations too.

Two greater spotted eagle were seen.

Turkestan shrike

Turkestan shrike aren't as common as Daurian shrike, but one was observed in the pivot fields near the bridge.

pied wheatear

A single pied wheatear was seen travelling to al Hayer. This my first sighting this spring of this passage bird.

Muscovy duck

Finally but not necessarily least: there was a Muscovy duck swimming free near the bridge. As far as I know there is no duck farming in Saudi Arabia and this bird is almost certainly an escape from a private collection.

As I may have said at some time in previous blogs, I want to match and exceed Pers Bertilsson's list of 336 species seen in Saudi Arabia (see page tab in this blog called "The biggest Saudi list and where"). My total is 321 as recorded on e-bird. However I notice that Pers includes one escaped non-breeder in his list. So to be consistent with Pers, I either increase my list by one to 322 or I decrease Pers list  by one to 335. Either way, I am now 15 species short. I have vowed not to leave Saudi Arabia until this is achieved. 

It could be a long wait.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Still some life at the farm after all

There has been no further dismantling of the university farm on the way to work since last week.

I decided it still worth visiting for birding on my way home. I did this on three evenings this week (Sunday, Monday and Wednesday). I am glad I did.

semi-collared flycatcher on Sunday

On Sunday evening, there was a male semi-collared flycatcher on site. I have seen plenty in the south west of the country but this was my first in the Riyadh area. However Riyadh is on a known migration route.

I didn't see it on Monday evening but I did see a male semi-collared flycatcher again on Wednesday evening. Of course, I can't be entirely sure it was the same bird.

semi-collared flycatcher on Wednesday

Given how small the remaining gardens are on the former farm, tracking the flycatcher(s) as it moved around wasn't difficult.


There were other passage birds in the gardens too. Several chiffchaff were seen especially on Monday evening.

another chiffchaff

That evening a lesser whitethroat and another wryneck were around as well.

lesser whitethroat

The terrain is now inhospitable for little green bee-eater which are seldom seen so far within the city.

little green bee-eater

I am pretty sure it is the temporary storage of so many bee hives which is keeping them anchored to the old farm!

bee hives

On Wednesday evening, a lone rose-ringed parakeet arrived just as I was giving up to go home.

As said before I will keep visiting the gardens occasionally until they are no more.