Friday, 14 October 2016

Wadi Hanifah October 1st and another first.

Decided to do an early trip back to Wadi Hanifah to see what is about now the temperatures have dropped a little around the city.  It looked like a perfect day for the job, I had Akram drop me off at the Diplomatic Quarter, the plan being to walk down as far as the flyover or maybe a bit further and see what I could find.  There was evidence of quite a number of BBQs in the area over the previous few days with lots of rubbish lying about the place.  It was just after dawn and the first thing I noticed was a very large number of birds flying over heading west.  Large numbers of Sparrows, Laughing Dove, Ring Necked Parakeets and Myna flew over, I assume heading off from their roosting spot.

I walked around the area a bit but it soon became clear that I had made a fundamental error of photography, I was walking into the rising sun.  I tried to tough it out for a bit but decided it was hopeless as I was only getting silhouettes so I got Akram to drop me at the other end of the road and I walked back up.  Rookie error I know but hey, live and learn!

In every bush were flocks of House Sparrow all chirping merrily away and chasing each other around the sky.
Also scratching around in the rubbish of the BBQs were a fair number of Collared Dove,
along with their cousins the Laughing Dove and a good number of Rock / Feral Pigeons.  The Laughing Dove or Palm dove only appeared in Riyadh in the early 1980's (Stagg) but is now the most common Dove in the city by far.  When I first arrived I had one nest on the ledge of my hotel room and on looking out further I spotted two other nests on the air con coolers on the building opposite.
Mingling among these were a good number of Common Myna, a bird you really cannot ignore as they scream at you.
There were a few Indian Silverbills to be seen by the waterside but I did not see as many as I did last time I visited.
As I assed under a bridge I noticed a strange flash entering a bush and hung around for a bit to see if I could work out what it was.  I was rewarded by a wonderful view of a Masked Shrike, always a lovely sight at this time of the year.
Then I noticed this odd looking crested bird digging vigorously at the base of one of the trees,  Looked like a Bulbul but no white ears?  Yep my first Red Vented Bulbul in Saudi Arabia.  I had seen these once before in Dubai but not here before.

Seeing as I was there, I got a couple of shots that were printable, though I have to say he did not stay still for long.
Another delight for the day was the Black Scrub Robin, which was also not feeling much like being photographed but I managed to get this shot despite his best efforts to avoid it :)
Last but by no means least is our old friend the Little Green Bee-eater which was feeling a little more generous with his time.  In addition to these there was a single Grey Heron which flew over in the distance and a lot of White Cheeked Bulbul.  Near the roundabout I also spotted what I think were a pair of Pale Crag Martins but could not get close enough to be positive. 
Despite the early hour the road along the Wadi was very busy and there were a lot of people about walking and having breakfast.  It is still a nice morning walk for the birder and well worth repeating as I have only been here twice and have had firsts on both occasions.

© Bernard Bracken

Saturday, 8 October 2016

return to Al Hayer 23/9/16

I have been away quite a bit this year so reports here are a little sporadic at the moment.  I was at Al Hayer on the 3rd but only for a short visit as I had a load of other stuff to attend to that weekend.  However I managed to get down for a walk about this weekend (23/9/16).

We arrived on site a little before 6am and immediately noticed a strange phenomena,  the sun hovered above the horizon like a giant red ball.  The haze over the desert prevented the rays from penetrating so it was easy to stand and marvel.  Of course a clever person would have taken a photo or two, but me, well what can I say, I didn't.  I often find that, when faced with the marvels of nature all around, I forget the camera.  Then when the penny eventually drops its too late.  Oh well I am sure you will trust me, it was spectacular.

All that said I did manage to get the odd interesting shot during my walk as detailed below;

It is not that unusual to see one of these gerbils around the place you usually get a fleeting view as they crash down into their burrows.  However in this case he actually sat at the entrance to the burrow and allowed me close enough to get a couple of photos.  They are generally more active at night when its cooler but as the temperatures have dropped it may be that some daylight outings were added to the routine. 
Another creature you normally only get a fleeting view of is the local lizard population.  They are active in daytime but rarely move far from cover as they are among the favourite prey of a lot of birds.

Another rare sighting in the area is this lesser flying Homo sapiens.  Its the first time this guy has been around here as far as I know but after a short flight over the reeds and lower fields he packed up and left.  I wonder if I could use one of those for spotting...... ;)

A distant shot of a small group of Black Crowned Night Herons, this was very early in the morning and they were still roosting I think.  In all there were 5 or 6 all in adult plumage.

From distant to close by, this Little Green Bee-eater was resting in a bush.  If I had to select a name for todays birding it would have to be Little Green Day because I have not seen as many every before as there were today.  I counted 25+ on my walk along the fields.  I think this one may be a fairly young bird.
A single Spotted Flycatcher was watching me as I approached the bush he was hiding in.  I think he hoped I would not spot him but a few paces further on he thought better of it and flew off.

The Brown Necked Raven was one of a pair I saw today, another migrant, though I have seen very few of these this year.

A bird that qualifies as a local, the White Cheeked Bulbul, they are found all around the Riyadh area and many of the surrounding towns including in the centre of the city where most of the other birds you will see on blogs like this never venture.  Strange to think on a few decades ago they did not exist in the country at all.
Back to the migrants again, this is a terrible shot of a Sand Martin but was really the best of a bad lot of photos.  There were a very large number of these (100+) feeding over the fields today along with s dozen or so Barn Swallow.  They are amazing to watch doing their mid air aerobatics chasing bugs, but a terror to try to photograph.

There were a couple of Masked Shrike squabbling in a tree earlier in the morning but they flew off before I could get a photo.  This guy by comparison sat watching me for quite a while before some lorry with no exhaust to speak of roared by and scared off everything.
Another very common bird around the place today was the Common Moorhen.  These three were juveniles but there were also a good number of adults. my rough count came to between 25 and 30 birds and doubtless more in the reeds.
In the middle of the field was a single Turkestan Shrike, the only one I spotted today.  It perched on a low shrub for some time waiting for prey but flew off out into the field as I approached
The Streaked Weavers were all around the reed beds and now in small flocks,  I guess in a week or so they will form into those large flocks we see around at this time of year and then all take off to wherever it is they go to in winter.
Out in the flooded area of the lower field I spotted a couple of Little Egret in the distance and in one of the other pivot fields was a small flock of Cattle Egret.  Unfortunately in that field unobserved approaches are all but impossible.
Perched on the sprinkler was one of three White Throated Kingfishers I spotted today, the other ones were very far off.  I have almost finished a little piece of research on the distribution of these birds across Saudi Arabia and am getting some very interesting results.  More on this anon.
There were also a small number of Namaqua Dove around the place today, this one looks like its molting as did a few others I spotted. Displaying none of that sleek polished look you expect of these guys.  In addition to these were good numbers of Rock and Feral Pigeons and Laughing Dove.  Oh and I guess I should also mention the Graceful Prinia, which are also always about the place, although I only heard them today.
And a half dozen or so Collared Dove.  I was surprised there were not more as ploughed fields usually attract them like a magnet.

There were a couple of Southern Grey Shrike about the place today but I only managed to get this single shot of a young bird in the trees.
There have not been very many Wheatears about this year at all, at least not while I have been looking.  This Desert Wheatear was a nice spot for the day.
There were a few Black Scrub Robins around the place today, always a pleasure to see but not that easy to photograph as they feed around the bottom of bushes and trees making getting a focus quite difficult.
Just as I was about the climb into the car this Common Kestrel soared overhead so I managed to get a quick shot.  There were three Marsh Harriers around the reed beds today, all female from what I could see.  They disappeared for a while when the guy in the parachute was about but made a return later in the day.
An old friend the Crested Lark saw me safely on my way after the days birding, I know some folk get bored of visiting the same place, but this has a special attraction for me as it rarely fails to deliver many exciting finds.  I really enjoyed it today and needless to say will be back.

A quick note to birding friends, I  don't always manage to get the time to write up a blog after every outing as it can take some time to do, however, I do always load the details of my observations into Ebird.  It is important for the long term study of birds that details are recorded and I would urge you guys to detail what you have seen, even if only a few birds, as it would help both with study and possibly conservation efforts also :)

Till next time, happy birding

© Bernard Bracken 2016

Monday, 29 August 2016

First time to Wadi Hanifah

I have been looking around for other local sites to visit in relation to a small project I have been working on and noted Wadi Hanifah coming up in records from time to time I looked it up on the map and it looked like it might have some potential as it part of the Riyadh River, plus it was close to the city.  I decided to take a closer look so set of at 6am on August 27th.  Unfortunately I had injured my back over the weekend so could not do my usual long walks but found some nice stuff nonetheless.

The term Wadi means a dry river bed and at the northern end of my walk it certainly lived up to its name.  The area had a landscaped appearance with trees and some bushes spaced out along the channel where the river would run.  On done side is a fairly busy road and above that a high sandstone cliff and a very high wall with small castle keep like structures dotted along it.  I think this was to keep rocks from the cliff falling on the road.  The cliff at the first location was about 50 meters high and made of a kind of sandstone rock common around here.  It has a layered appearance with vertical cracking which makes it look like a layered cake.  Some of the cracks were quite big and I could not help thinking they would be ideal places for owls and rock dove to nest.  On the opposite side were more high walls behind which were date farms.  I have a feeling that this whole area could get pretty lively when the weather turns and we get rain.

I had literally just arrived and was stepping out of the car when I spotted a red beak in trees.  On closer inspection I found a Rose Necked Parakeet perched on a branch and within moments had spotted another 5.  Wonderful birds though, as with their cousins in the South of England, not natives to Saudi Arabia.  As with a number of birds here they originate from cages from which they were either released or escaped.  In any event they appear to be doing well, who knows  maybe in ten years or so there will be ten thousand of them like there are in London.

This site is certainly one for Hoopoe viewing.  I spotted at least 10 along the length of the wadi.  Most looked like relatively young birds and they allowed fairly close approach by comparison with those at Al Hayer.  I think I saw more of these today than I have over the past three years.

Lurking about the place were a small number of Collared Doves.  You do see quite a few of these around Riyadh but never in large numbers.

Another very common sight along the Wadi was the Common Myna which were everywhere.  I can't remember the count exactly but there were 40+ in the couple of miles I travelled today.

This weaved nest in interesting and is similar to a couple I saw in a tree about 60 meters away.  They were similar but hanging by a string of grass from the branch.  There are definitely some weavers breeding about the area and not the usual Streaked Weavers we see at Al Hayer.  This is an altogether different type of nest.

As I approached the flyover I spotted a number of birds feeding on the seeds of the long grass stems.  They all flushed but thankfully stopped in a tree only a short distance away.  A nice little flock of Indian Silverbills.

As is always the case when your birding, you go on one side of the river the birds are all on the other side!  I noticed this guy having a dust bath and watched for a while.  A very nice Rufous-Tailed Scrub Robin.

I flushed this Squacco Heron from the trees by the side of the Wadi.  Only got a fleeting photo before he disappeared
As always there was a good number of White Eared Bulbul about the area.

and large numbers of House Sparrow.

This is my first trip to the area and certainly will not be my last as there are a number of things I want to follow up, like the owner of those nests for a start.  There is a lot more of the Wadi than the bit I managed to navigate today so will be back!  :)

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Return to the Patch

After a couple of months absence I finally got to return to Al Hayer on August 20th to see how things were going there.  I was excited to see what had changed around the place.  The very first think I noticed is the virtual silence, when I was here during the breeding season there was noise everywhere, Birds singing, defending territory and all the accompanying racket.  Now all is still with the exception of the Kingfisher screeching across the lake and Moorhen noisily diving for cover.  In any event there was a nice selection of birds about the area.

As you will soon see, dear reader, I was experimenting with camera settings and well, the odd one worked but...

On the lake there were a couple of Moorhen feeding and keeping away from me.  This adult and juvenile headed straight out for deeper water as soon as they spotted me.

while in the quarry on the other side of the embankment was a pool covered in algae with what turned out to be almost 50 Moorhen (the tiny black dots).  As I got closer they did make a din as they scattered for the cover of the reeds.

In the distance were a couple of Grey Heron just perched lazily on a dead tree.  There were not very many of these about today.

Today was the day of the Squacco!!  I lost count at 40 around the place.  all over the lake in every available perch there was one or two.  Safety in numbers was not in vogue though as I could not get close to any of them.

The surprise of the day for me was the White Throated Kingfisher.  On a normal day you might see one or two around the area while on your walk but today I am certain I saw 6 (or maybe 8, not sure if two were double counts).  This is certainly the most I have seen here at one time.

There were a dozen or so Little Grebe on the lake spread out in two's or threes.  As ever they were quite shy and retiring.

Another little surprise was this Yellow Wagtail.  I did not expect to see any of these for some time yet but here he was feeding at the waters edge.

Green Sandpiper? Need to check, will get back to you on this.

Nearby were a couple of Little Green Bee Eaters making occasional lunges into the sky to capture the unwary bug.

And a small number of Namaqua Dove.  I am not very well up on the behaviour of these birds but I could have sworn this pair were courting, do they breed this late in the year I wonder?

A pair of Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron were perched on a branch in the middle of a small pool, they did not seem too bothered by my presence, though I could not get close as there is a 30m cliff by the edge of the pool.  This definitely being a place where nobody will hear you scream, I decided to put up with a distant shot.

Duck in the Distance!, Pretty sure it is a Mallard

There were a considerable number of feral and Rock Dove flying about the place and a small umber of Collared Dove.

I have not seen very many Wheatears around this area for a long time, maybe they are stopping over in different areas of the farms but anyway it was nice to see this one, I think its an Isabelline Wheatear.
As I made my way back I came across this Grey Shrike in the trees, Its a little difficult to see properly but I think it was a Lesser Grey Shrik

As I mentioned, not many will hear you scream if you fall foul in this place, a proper stark lunar landscape.

In addition to the above there was a flypast of 25 or so Cattle Egret and 5 Black Winged Stilts.  There were also a good number of Barn Swallow zipping about the place and both White Eared Bulbul and Crested Lark to be seen around the site.

After about 4 hours I had to abandon my walk as the heat was taking its toll, over the past two months, I have become a soft northerner again lol.  A really enjoyable tour all the same :)