Friday, 31 August 2012

Let migration begin...

It's my first weekend back in the land of sand since the summer holidays and the temperatures in Riyadh don't seem quite so fierce in late August. However we are at altitude here so it's a bit deceptive although lack of humidity compared to Dubai certainly helps keep the perceived heat down.

Today I took the well trod path south to Ha'ir pivot fields which is my not so local patch but the nearest decent birding area to the city.

I arrived a bit late at 7.00 a.m. It's probably advisable top get there about 5.00 this time of year as by 11.00 it was about 42 c and a bit too hot to slog around the fields.

Within two minutes of arriving I found two new KSA birds for my list. A great reed warbler skulking around the tree line to the pivot field was a good find. Not overly common on passage in the UAE and I'm not really sure of the status of the species here although it's demeanor and location suggested it was a migrant.

Second new bird for the country was one of several blue-cheeked bee-eater, a locally common summer visitor in the UAE but one that I'd had trouble finding on two previous visits to Ha'ir over this summer.

The next migrant that caught my attention was a common cuckoo being mobbed by common myna as it flew along the irrigation pipes.

I then walked the length of the riverside reed beds and soon flushed an adult little bittern that had left the cover of vegetation.

A new bird for me at the site was a whiskered tern. They frequent irrigated fields throughout Arabia but it was the first tern or gull species I've seen in the Riyadh area. I saw a second bird later in the morning. Both were lazily hawking insects over the fields. Also overhead for the first couple of hours at least were large numbers of barn swallow and sand martin (the latter giving a good count of c. 150) with four collared pratincole gliding higher above them.

Southern grey shrike

Three species of shrike were present in the fields, several southern grey shrike, two lesser grey shrike and a single adult red backed shrike, the latter two species certainly passing through on migration.

On the sandy edges of the irrigated areas five isabelline wheatear were recent arrivals among the more common crested lark.

The fields at Ha'ir are irrigated by water pumped out of the nearby river which is a run off of waste water from Riyadh. Faulty irrigation motors can lead to areas being over watered and in one field was a large marshy area that held five wood sandpiper and single common snipe and kentish plover. Also in the damp area were the first migrant yellow wagtail of the autumn. The last pivot field still held two adult feldegg ssp. yellow wagtail which I think probably bred there. There were several young near them but no proof that they weren't migrants too.

After birding the fields I took a breather in the car and drove a mile or so west to where the river side can be accessed. There wasn't much in the way of birds except common moorhen but I did manage to photograph a couple of dragonflies perched by the waters edge.

Black pennant

Black pennant

A full list of the 39 species of bird seen can be found HERE on e-Bird.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Mount Tampa, Romania

Looming above Brasov in Romania is Mount Tampa. The top is easily reached by cable car and it's a pleasant if steep, walk back dow the mountain through deciduous woodland. On my recent trip through Europe I had a spare half day and decided to walk the path in the hope of some of the more unsual woodpeckers and woodland birds.

A woodpecker was one of the first birds I saw, unfortunately it was only a great spotted woodpecker, a common bird back in England. The leaf cover was heavy at this time of the summer so birding wasn't easy as the post breeding birds are also somewhat quiet.

There were plenty of marsh tit calling with their diagnostic pichuuu call and several more common birds such as blackbird and robin feeding young. On top of the mountain the tree cover thinned out onto a grassy slope to the north, three common raven flew over and then one, probably two, juvenile goshawk flew out of the lower woodland, this was a lifer for me and they were clearly larger than the related sparrowhawk.

Almost at the base of the mountain I came across a recently fledged flycatcher sitting on a low branch chirping like a house sparrow in the hope of food from it's parent birds. It was so young I couldn't ID it but was probably a collared flycatcher. Two colourful nuthatch creeping down the oak trunks was also a welcome find.

A full list of the 12 species seen can be found HERE on e-Bird.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Way out west

It's Ramadan, the month of fasting here in Saudi Arabia and I headed west out of the heat of Riyadh to Ta'if, some 100 kms from Mekkah at the western end of the Azir mountains.

I caught the first flight and arrived shortly after dawn, picked up a hire car at the airport and headed out onto the airport road. I had no specific plans other than to chart the area for potential birding spots. The problem (or is it an advantage?) of birding a relatively unknown country such as Saudi Arabia is actually finding decent locations in the first place.

The temperature in Ta'if was a little less than Riyadh but still well into the 30's and my first impressions were of a hot, arrid high level plateau. Much the same as the area around Najran further to the south east. The vegetation was scrub interspersed with the odd acacia tree and no water to be seen. Not particularly promising at first sight.

I eventually found some water in the form of a seasonal river at A on the map below.

The river was a small sandy stream that had been there long enough to provide plenty of cover but was still running across the tarmac road.

The surrounding scrub held the usual black scrub robin and several green bee-eater hawking for insects in the breeze in their rather scruffy moult plumage. The commonest bird apart from house sparrow was probably nile valley sunbird several still with their elongated tails as they too went through their annual moult.

Green bee--eater

Nearer to the stream perched on a prominent branch was a female (or young) woodchat shrike, the first of two I saw. Fairly common on migration through the UAE these colourful shrikes are unusual there in August and two birds this far south this early in the autumn sugeests the temperate climate tempted them to them to breed. A feldegg sub-species yellow wagtail further along the stream was another possible breeder in this more temperate region.

There were several species of wader in the muddy fringes, common sandpiper, spur-winged plover and a couple of ruff. The biggest surprise however was a noisy flock of 22 collared pratincole that I flushed from the river bank. They are much more at home on river banks in Africa but I tend to see them on migration in irrigated fields in this part of the world.

As I drove back towards the airport I saw another flock of collared pratincole wheeling above a damp field by the motorway (point B on the map above). This time they numbered 92, the biggest flock I've ever seen and possibly the largest flock recorded in Saudi.

Overall Ta'if was a bit disappointing for birds but I suspect with the addition of winter visitors and raptors it's probably worth having another look at the area in a few months time.

Black scrub robin

On my second day in the area, given the lack of birds around Ta'if I drove down to Jeddah. On the way I came across several packs of Hamadryas baboon by the roadside on the western slopes of the azir Mountains.

Hamadryas baboon family

A big alpha male

Unfortunately there was a similar lack of birds on the Jeddah Corniche. Still a bit early in the year for any great movement although there was the odd sooty gull, white-eyed gull and a single spur-winged plover showing well as it picked insects from the grass.

White-eyed gull

Spur-winged plover

A full list of the 29 species of bird seen around Ta'if can be found HERE