Thursday, 12 January 2017

Salbuk 7/1/17

Decided this weekend to head north of Riyadh to Salbuk which has an area of wetland which is fed by a large cement factory.  I have not visited here for over a year so was interested to see what had changed.  Well the answer is quite a lot.  The water feed from the factory has not been in use for a while and the water lorries continue to take the water so the water levels have shrunk considerably since I was here last.  Large sections of the reeds have dies off and there is evidence of a fire burning all the bushes sometime in the not too distant past.  In any event I took a walk along the side of the area to see if I could spot much.  Almost immediately I spotted three Marsh Harriers sailing off into the distance.  It was still too dark to get photos and I did not see them again.

Speaking of pictures, the first few are a bit washed out because there was not enough light when I first arrived but right by where the car was parked I spotted a couple of Spectacled Bulbul.  Also spotted a pair of these in Al Hayer last week.  Not sure if they are moving about a bit but not really seen that many of these around here before.  Oddly I did not see any White Eared Bulbul here at all today.

An early visitor to he area is this Stonechat.  It was deep in the stubble of the old reed beds so focus was difficult.

There were a small number of Squacco Heron at the site today but there were also a smaller number of locals with shotguns so the birds were very wary.  I did manage to get a photo of them as they flew off as proof :)

I saw about a dozen Common Moorhen on my walk but there were certainly many times more on site as you could hear them in the reeds.  I see these birds on virtually every birding trip I go on, including my recent visit to Cuba but they never fail to impress.

There was a small flock of Little Stint on site, though with the exception of this guy I could not get near enough to get any sort of photo at all.  As I mentioned above there are a lot of shooters in this area so I guess the birds react to that to survive.  They don't know its a camera!

I am going with green sandpiper for this one but will look again in a bit, never been particularly comfortable telling the different sandpipers apart.



The White Wagtails were out in good numbers today with quite a few around the exposed pools and even more spotted flying overhead.

I spotted about a dozen or so Crested Lark around the area they seem to like the areas of wetland bordered by desert.

A pair of Little Egrets flew overhead heading south.  They did not stop in the area.

There were a couple of Daurian Shrike around today but I did not get close views of any of them

Another fleeting view of a bird was this Tree Pipit.  I think there were a few of them about but again I did not get close enough to get any decent views.

The Black Winged Stilt by contrast were not too bothered by me at all.  There was a small flock of 8 or 9 of these about on site.

I was not expecting these Rock Martins (or Pale Crag Martins) today and indeed almost missed seeing them altogether as they were swooping in to an area of sand hills which I would normally not spend much time looking at.  A nice bird to see though a bugger to photograph as the lag on the camera usually means you get a screen full of blue sky!!

I was glad I came to Salbuk today but was sad to see yet another of the small wetland areas going the same way as the cricket club on the other side of Riyadh.  I am not sure why the factory has stopped feeding the site with water but if it is not restarted then this area will return to desert in the not too distant future.


© Bernard Bracken




Sunday, 1 January 2017

Trip to Cuba November / December 2016 Part 1

I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba on vacation with my lovely wife at the end of November 2016 and it proved to be a very interesting couple of weeks.  The first thing that happened was the death of Fidel Castro the day we arrived which impacted somewhat or ability to go anywhere for the 9 days of mourning which were immediately declared.  However I was able to get out and about in the Varadero area.  Almost all of the birds I encountered were new to me so I will add pictures below but in some instances the ID will follow later once I work out what they are.  The report will be in 2 or 3 parts as I have a lot of photos to share.
The first I was delighted to spot was my first wild Hummingbird, the Cuban Emerald.  I had a number of opportunities to get a photo but it was either too dark in the early morning or the little thing was moving way too quick.  Anyhow as I rummaged in the undergrowth one morning this guy perched on a tree beside me and allowed a few photos.
This shot was the best of the rest.  The Cuban Emerald is not exactly endemic to Cuba but almost, its only found there and on some of the islands of the Bahamas.  Its just under 4 inches long with a beautiful emerald green plumage, especially if seen in good light.  The only other hummingbird found in Cuba is the Bee Hummingbird, unfortunately not on this trip!!
Found in large numbers on the islands is our old friend the House Sparrow.  the species was introduced by man and has been rapidly expanding its range ever since.
Greater Antillean Grackle forms largish flocks and can be found pretty much all over the island.  They are noisy and tame birds about the size of a Blackbird with a deep blue plumage which has a fabulous sheen when seen in the right light. 
 This cute little thing is the Common Ground Dove, around the size of a large sparrow they forage endlessly in open areas all over the island.
 Unfortunately a pretty poor distant shot of an American Kestrel, the perch he was on was in an inaccessible place so I could not get any closer.
 A grey Catbird came out of the bushes briefly while I was sitting on the balcony in my room.  A scramble to get the camera ensued and I got a couple of nice photos.  You can only just make out the black skullcap from this photo, similar to a make Blackcap.  Their song is very endearing as they sound very like a cat meowing.
 One afternoon as I walked along the pathway behind the hotel after a fairly heavy rain shower I was joined by this Little Blue Heron which apparently thought the pool of rainwater just off shot might provide a meal.  This is in non breeding plumage, the breeding plumage is very pretty.
On a walk to a nearby headland with my wife we came across a small flock of Kildeer feeding.  Subsequently I was to find these on every walk I made in the area.
 On the same walk we were treated to a flypast by a small flock of a dozen or so Brown Pelican.  These are fairly common around the coast in Cuba.
 We were on a visit to a place south of where we were staying when something flushed from a bush close by.  I managed to get this photo of a West Indian Woodpecker (Cuban Race) just before it vanished into the foliage.
 A distant shot of an Anhinga, if you look closely you can just make out the characteristic yellow trim on the tail, plus of course the long snake like neck.
 These guys get everywhere, the Common Moorhen could be found on virtually all of the waterways around the area.
 Another distant photo but this time of the Magnificent Frigatebird,  I saw quite a few of these while I was in Cuba but could never get any closer than this.
 Ok not so much wild birds this time but a couple of peahen in a farm we visited!
 Another bird that appears to be everywhere I go is the Cattle Egret.  This one was in the fields of said farm but there were hundreds of them about.
 The Turkey Vulture was absolutely everywhere we went.  From mid morning it was possible to see dozens of them soaring around, especially alongside roads looking for road kill I expect.
 I have a few photos of this Red Legged Thrush, some better than this which I will share in due course. what a beautiful thrush though..
 This one I am still researching but I think its a Black Billed Cuckoo but I am not sure as there is no sign of the red eye ring.  I will keep you informed.
These are Cave Swallows I think.  They were spotted in a cave and the photos were taken with a pretty poor flash but the white throat and red patch on the head makes me reasonably sure.

As I mentioned I have rather a lot of photos from the trip and will share more when I sort them out.  I also have some nice pics from visits to my patch at Al Hayer last weekend to share, should you get bored of the Cuban ones :)

© Bernard Bracken


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Buraydah for the day

Decided to head north for a day (11/11/16) to see what I could find, the weather has been a lot cooler these past few weeks so I am better able to spend time out in it.  We set off around 4:15 and arrived on site a little before 8am.  The place I started out was one I had visited with Rob Tovey a couple of years ago, just on the Riyadh side of the city ring road this is an outflow river which creates a swamp like area, when there is enough water.  There was not so much water today as its been a long dry summer.  There have been a lot of changes here since we first visited.  The swampy area is almost completely choked by reeds, so much so that you cannot get very far into it at all.  But there is still a dirt road along the side of it so I was able to use this as a vantage point to see what was about.


As it turned out this visit was to reinforce my belief that with birding, especially in Saudi Arabia, you should stick to your plan and not give up.  Doing this brought me back to a spot I had been hours earlier and where I got a lifer;






A small group of 4 White Tailed Lapwing flew over my head as I walked back to the car and landed about 50 meters away.  A bit difficult to photograph among the bushes, but they let me get a bit closer to improve things a bit.  A lovely bird and even more impressive to look at in flight, with strongly contrasting white and black patches on their wings.  These birds are seen during migration but usually a bit further north around Tabuk.  A delight to watch.


Many of the other birds seen today were pretty run of the mill but you can never discount birds here for spectacular looks.  This Blue Cheeked Bee-eater is a beautiful addition to any birders day and this one spent quite some time poised on this stick watching me.  There were perhaps two dozen of these around the swamp area.


I only got some distant views of this Kestrel and this shot high up on the pylon was as close as I got.  That said I am now pretty sure it is a Lesser Kestrel as its toe nails are light coloured rather than dark (thanks Rob for the second opinion there).  Earlier in the day there were two Marsh Harriers coasting along over the reeds but they never came close enough for photos. 






As always the Crested Lark were out in force with about 10 to 12 seen on the day.  I am not sure if they are engaging in territorial battles at the moment but there seems to be quite a lot of arguments going on between these guys at the moment.

A good number of House Sparrows were to be seen in the area and some Spanish Sparrow, although not nearly as many.

I spotted a single Common Sandpiper on my walk today, a little unusual as you normally see a few together but who knows.

There were several Turkestan Shrike around the place all of whom seemed happy to pose for photographs.

The White Eared Bulbul were about in large numbers all over the area.  If my memory serves these were nowhere near as common the last time we visited this area a few years back.  They have been expanding their range in Saudi Arabia at an increasing rate over the past few years.

In all I spotter about a dozen White Wagtails feeding in the mud at the side of the river.  I have not seen many of these at all this year around Riyadh, perhaps they find the more northerly route more to their liking.



Our old friend the Little Green Bee Eater was present along the side of the river although only in small numbers, its cousin the Blue Cheeked Bee Eater was far more numerous on the day, I thin I only saw 3 of these and mostly on the western side of the main highway.

There was a small flock of Cattle and Little Egret on site and I had some nice views of them from a distance as I walked east along the river.  Unfortunately as I got closer there was some clown with a gun randomly taking pot shots which scared them off.  I saw the guy walking away a bit later with his shotgun, it appears he made a lot of noise but did not manage to hit anything!!



There were about 8 to 10 Stonechat along the stretch of river I walked today, they were not very keen to have photos taken so I only got some bad pics.

As always there were quite a selection of Pigeons about and a few Collared Dove.  The Namaqua dove were a little more scarce.  I think in all I spotted maybe 4 whereas Pigeons numbered maybe 60+.  

This is one of those shots I took thinking it was another picture of a bird I had photographed several times before during the day, but in truth it was not, a nice Spotted Flycatcher, I believe.








I moved to the opposite side of the Highway for an hour or so to see if I could see anything else and almost immediately spotted this lone Spur Winged Lapwing and a Collared Dove close by.  The area behind some factories was very overgrown and hard to navigate but had a lot of White Eared Bulbul,  Spanish Sparrow and a few more Little Green Bee Eater.  I disturbed a Hoopoe and a small flock of Cattle Egret. 
We returned to Riyadh at about 2pm.  I very enjoyable day and a lifer to boot, hard to get better than that :)

© Bernard Bracken







Tuesday, 1 November 2016

AsSaad ah East of Al Kharj

Headed south to Al Kharj to see what I could find and decided to look up river from my usual spot near the Livestock Market.  As it was a new spot for me I was not at all sure what I would find but that's part of the fun of it I guess.  The area is to the east of AlKharj and I selected a spot that was at the edge of a small built up area called AsSaad where the wastewater stream passed. On one side of the road there was the river, or to be more precise the reed bed, as very little open water remains that way for long in this region.  There was a small drain immediately adjacent to the road which was partially wet and attracted a number of birds. On the opposite side of the road was pure desert, a good deal of which was powder sand as opposed to the rocky type desert which is more common around this region.  Overhead there were a good number of Barn Swallow taking advantage of the insect life in the area.

I am not really an architecture buff but AlKharj has a pretty impressive building on the main road from Riyadh. This the famous water reservoir tower which is a major landmark in the town.  It is called "Burj Alhkarj" which means Kharj tower. It has four levels in the upper part of the tower for: operations and maintenance equipment for the reservoir, another for clerks desks and administration and the other two for visitors sight seeing with small shops and one level is a rotating restaurant covering the sites around it.  Pretty amazing I think you'll agree.

The area to the east of my location looked like this for miles with vegetation disappearing as you look further east.  Walking on this stuff was hard work and anyhow there were very few birds on that side of the road. 



Streaked Weavers were about in small numbers on site but only in small groups of 3 or 4.



A rather poor shot of the Graceful Prinia, perched in a bush by the roadside.




Very active around the area were a flock of a dozen or so White Wagtails.  When I arrived they were chasing each other around a small group of bushes and occasionally catching bugs.  A very noisy little group.
In a wet area close to the road was a pair of Black Winged Stilts, unfortunately I could not get close enough for a clear photo but at least there is a record :)


Sandpiper by the edge of a little stream, again I could not get close enough for a better shot.

All over the site were small groups of Little Green Bee-eaters shooting up into the sky to catch bugs then gracefully gliding back to their perch.  

Another distance shot of a pair of Spur Winged Plover and a Black Winged Stilt in the background.  Trouble with this spot is here are few places with enough cover to allow you to approach closely.

So as we are on a roll with long distance shots, this is the only member of the Heron family I saw all day.  I think it is a Purple Heron gliding off into the mist but I guess It could be a Grey either.

As with many areas around the Kingdom, the White Eared Bulbul was much in evidence.

A couple of quick shots of one of the Reed Warblers, I am not sure which one as its not a very clear photo in either case but maybe someone out there is reader land will recognise i.

Another shot facing the other way, if only the bush was not in the way.

A bit of a size comparison, the Indian Silverbill is a good deal smaller than its neighbour the Laughing Dove.  There were quite a few of both about the place and I spent some time watching a small group of Silverbills feeding in a clump of long grass.  Fascinating to watch.

Mallard making a run for it!!



Namaqua Dove, again there were a few about but not as many as the Pigeon and Laughing Dove.

I was delighted to see this Trumpeter Finch perched on a branch.  I think he was alone, which is a little unusual but at least I spotted him as I have not seen one of these for a while.


A closer shot of a Crested Lark, it was weird because this guy flew up close to where I was standing and perched on a branch looking at me. He stayed there for some time.  Had an issue getting the camera to focus as the bridge cameras struggle with anything that small and that close, but got it in the end.

I spotted this bird and its partner about 2km away when I was at the far end of my walk and originally thought it was a pair of Marsh Harriers, they disappeared, but then I spotted one in a tree when I was making my way back and grabbed a couple of photos, there was clearly no head markings and a white base to its tail, so its no Marsh Harrier.  A Greater Spotted Eagle, sub adult is my considered opinion.

This comes into the not a clue bracket.  I am thinking another White Wagtail is an odd light but I am not sure.  I only got one photo before it flew off so still not certain.

Thought it was about time I featured my accomplice on all of these trips. Akram is a great guy and quite knowledgeable about birding locations for a non birder.


Another great days birding overall.  I was disappointed not o see a kingfisher, but there was never a great likelihood that they are in the area anyhow.

©  Bernard Bracken.