Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Arabian spotted eagle owl in wadi Hanna

Yesterday afternoon, I went up into the hills near Tawi Atair and beyond to Wadi Hanna. I wanted to look for black redstart which is a rare wintering bird this far south and golden winged grosbeck which is an uncommon local breeder.

I saw neither. Indeed the session turned out to be almost entirely about birds of prey and not passerines at all.

The prize sighting in a remote wadi off Wadi Hanna while walking was an Arabian spotted eagle owl.

Arabian spotted eagle owl

This was a lifer for me and was a bird I missed seeing in Saudi Arabia.

Arabian spotted eagle owl looking two ways at once

As I was walking in a lightly wooded area I accidentally flushed the bird from very short distance.

Arabian spotted eagle owl with a bulbul

I would never have seen where it landed if it weren't for the local white spectacled bulbul. They were going frantic and their alarm calls were so loud.

I just followed the noise and found the owl five metres up a tree with bulbuls trying to mob it.

It knew I was there but didn't seem to mind from its vantage point above me.

Eastern Imperial eagle

Only minutes before I had observed two eagles flying over. One was an Eastern Imperial Eagle.

greater spotted eagle

The other was a greater spotted eagle.

fan-tailed raven

For once they weren't being mobbed by the large local population of fan-tailed raven.

Abyssinian white eye

I did manage to see some passerines. The most common were Abyssinian white eye. The others were mostly: white spectacled bulbul, cinnamon-breasted bunting, blackstart, Rueppells weaver and Arabian warbler.


For the most part I can now separate cinnamon-breasted bunting from striolated bunting but first winter birds are still a problem sometimes. I suspect the above bird is a cinnamon-breasted bunting as I don't believe striolated bunting has any dark fringes on the wing coverts at any age.  The head and throat pattern is very deceptive. I am open to suggestions on this one.

The birds of prey didn't stop coming at Wadi Hanna. On the way home but still on the hills and just past Tawi Atair were two more. The first was the palest short toed eagle I have ever seen. It was snow white in places.

pale morph short toed eagle

I took the above photo through the car window when it was close in an attempt to capture it before it flew off.

short toed eagle in flight

It did fly off and was soon mobbed by two fan tailed raven.

short toed eagle from below

The final bird of prey was a harrier seen a few hundred metres later.

pallid harrier

For once the head pattern wasn't conclusive but taken with the pattern on the lower under-wing I can say it is a pallid harrier.

This session turned out very surprisingly.


  1. Amazing! Green with envy.

    As for the bunting, it's hard to say from this angle, but the strength of the face markings does suggest Cinnamon-breasted.

    That Short-toed Snake Eagle is incredibly pale - never seen one remotely like it before.

  2. Oscar's trip report.

  3. Andy, thanks for this. Actually he emailed me yesterday with the link. I could do with three or four UAE guys coming down to spot potential twitches. Its tough being the only regular. Rob