Tuesday 1 April 2014

East Salbukh wetland

As I said in the last blog, Bernard Bracken and I visited east Salbukh wetland north of Riyadh on Friday. Thanks are due to Lou Regenmorter for finding this location on google earth.

It is a large wetland fed by cooling water from what looks like a cement factory. We also noticed that some waste water from the city was being dumped by tanker there too. 

The result is a mix of lakes, pools, extensive reed beds and a few mud flats on the edges.

pied wheatear

Almost the first bird we saw when we got out of the car was nothing to do with the wetland. It was a pied wheatear on passage.


As we arrived at the wetland we came to an area of waterlogged tamarisk bushes. These were heaving with chiffchaff.  We came across a group of three common redstart there too. These are passage birds in the Riyadh area.

the wetland

There were also two medium sized birds which we only identified later. I'll tell you what they were later in the blog when we suddenly realised what they had been.

white eared bulbul

This was the only place in the wetland where we saw any white-eared bulbul.

Siberian stonechat face-on

Still in the tamarisk bushes at the start of our walk was a female Siberian stonechat. This was one of those with a broad strong supercilium in front of the ye (becoming much fainted behind it). These birds are often mistaken for a whinchat unless viewed by a variety of angles.

the same Siberian stonechat

Also in the tamarisk were plenty of graceful prinia which incidentally was seen in other types of vegetation all the way round the wetland.

graceful prinia

We decided to walk all the way round the edge of the wetland which was probably a 5 or 6 kilometre walk. On moving on from the tamerisk area, we came across an area where the water spills out of the reeds and produced a muddy and wet grassy area.

 male fledegg yellow wagtail

This was the only place were observed yellow wagtail which was another passage bird.

female yellow wagtail

There were also many house sparrow here. 

house sparrow with food

As we headed round, the terrain changed again with no more grass but an increase in mud flats and in the amount of surface water free from reeds.

male Namaqua dove

Here we met Namaqua dove and then several Kentish plover. The Kentish plover were clearly breeding in this area and we witnessed a bird displaying a distraction ritual to stop us getting close to the scrape. (This was recorded in my last blog)

little ringed plover

A single little ringed plover was seen though part of this area looked ideal for them to breed too. They prefer stonier and drier ground to Kentish plover and there was some of that.

black winged stilt and other waders

In the water were significant numbers of waders. However we had absolutely no cover here when we started to approach them. despite our best endeavours they flew off. Before then I managed to recognise black winged stilt and wood sandpiper among them. 

common snipe

Several common snipe were encountered throughout the walk but flushed easily and as a group on two occasions.

squacco heron

The wetland gently slopes into a hollow. At the bottom of the dip, there are some pools and lush vegetation which wasn't the blanket reeds seen in most of the rest of the wetland. Here were squacco heron, grey heron and moorhen though we could hear moorhen throughout the walk.

Incidentally the reed beds were alive to the sound of Eurasian reed warbler.


A low bush a few metres way from the water's edge we picked out a wryneck. it was then that I realised the two birds we had not identified properly but were in the tamarisk at the start had been wryneck too. Indeed when we returned to the start having walked all the way round we saw one of these wryneck again.

marsh harrier

Two birds of prey were seen. A marsh harrier made appearances all day but unfortunately a sparrowhawk was seen only once. 

woodchat shrike

We spent a small amount of time moving away from the wetland on the way round at various points.  The most common bird in the surrounding area was crested lark though we also came across another Siberian stonechat and a woodchat shrike. This was the first woodchat shrike I had seen in the Riyadh area this spring.

crested lark

I definitely think the wetland is worth further visits and was a very good find. 

In the next blog I will report back on a visit to wadi hanifah north of al Hayer. this is part of the wadi I hadn't visited for over a year and I had almost forgotten how good it can be.

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