Monday, 29 December 2014

A visit to the seaside.

Dammam in the rain!

We decided early in the week to head to the coast for the day and started off at 4.30am to go to Dammam.  The final objective for this trip was the Al Kobar Corniche which provided us with some great birding in the past.  However, it turned out to be a little bit of a damp squib as shortly after our arrival there was a thunder storm and heavy rain followed by a lull and then another prolonged one.  However, not to be put off I soldiered on and did get some good birding for my troubles.

white wagtail (Motacilla alba)
On the way there we stopped off at a petrol station and this little guy was just sitting there looking at us.  In the background was about a dozen House Sparrow and a small roost of maybe 25 Feral Pigeons and the odd Bulbul;

white-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)
These petrol stations act as mini oasis for birds in the middle of the desert and as Rob Tovey and I noted on many occasions the more untidy the station is the more the birds seem to like it.  The super clean clinical ones that you find closer to Riyadh are almost not worth stopping at from a birding perspective.

western reef heron (Egretta gularis)
On arrival at the Corniche I set off on foot to the little manmade lake but immediately notices that the scrub area is now completely cleaned off and about 30% of the lake has been filled.  It looks like they are preparing the area for development.  However, this Western Reef Heron patiently posed in a bush while I sorted out my camera before flying off down the lake.  The Western Reef Heron is a polymorphic species having light, intermediate and dark morphs co-existing in broadly the same habitats, this is one of the dark morph;

western reef heron (Egretta gularis) dark morph
This guy was in the middle of a fight with three other slightly smaller birds for a space by the puddle in the foreground.  Not sure what they saw in that particular spot but he was pretty keen to get it and they to defend.
A short distance further along the lake I came across a small flock of 25 Greater Flamingo who were all busily feeding in the lake. 
greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
The adults were in their pink and white plumage and congregated in a loose group together.
greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) Juvenile.

While the juveniles, (5 in total) all congregated about 25 meters away.  I have noticed this pattern on several occasions before where the younger birds stick together some distance from the adult group.

Standing by the shore, apparently completely unfazed by the throng of people walking about very close by was this Grey Plover which very kindly stood while I got some nice pictures.  Unfortunately it had started clouding over very heavily at that point so lighting was not great but I do like this picture.
grey plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

I don't suppose anyone wants to hear my stories about how the Plover family was one of my first projects as a lad at school, I was the princely age of 13 I think!!  No?  Ok, being honest I don't remember much about it anyhow.

Standing close by this lovely Plover was a Common Redshank which also was happy for me to get quite close for some photos.

redshank (Tringa totanus)

A little further along the Corniche was a Grey Heron which happily let me get quite close too.  Of course it had started to rain heavily at that point so I guess I did not want to move unless it absolutely had to.  I got my photo and left it in peace.
grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
On either side of the Corniche there were small groups of 2 or 3 Black Winged Stilt feeding among the debris and bits of foliage. 

black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
And along the side of the lake were a collection of a dozen or so Eurasian Collared Dove a native species from Turkey to Asia which, in recent times has become invasive spreading to as far north as Norway and across the US having been released in Bahamas in the 1970's.   As with most members of the dove / pigeon family they thrive near humans so I suppose where we go they do too.
eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
As ever the seagulls were out in force ;-). This small group of XXX being found swimming around the Flamingos 

black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

While these guys moved out into the bay once the rain started.

slender-billed gull (Chroicocephalus genei)

Another fairly common sight is the Kentish Plover which can be found all over the area,  It had just started to rain when I took this photo and he was hunching down to brave out the weather, he would have run off long before I got close under normal circumstances.

kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Amoung the gulls were this pair of Caspian Tern, the one facing me was being very vocal about something, perhaps the gulls off to the right a little were getting too close or something.  The light had all but gone at this point so the photo is a little dark.

Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia, formerly Sterna caspia)
Ringed Plover were about in small numbers sporting their winter plumage
ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Another Ringed Plover with a couple of Dunlin I think keeping him company;

On every available perch were small congregations of Cormorants preening and drying themselves.  I'm not so sure how clever some of these perches were in a lightening storm though.  Pity the light was so poor.
great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)


A nice days birding even if I got soaked twice in the process and pictures did not turn out great in many cases. 


resting on a pole.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Al Hayer desert November 22nd

On Saturday 22/11/14 I went back to the Al Hayer area I usually frequent but decided on this occasion to take a walk on the desert side of the river which is on the western side.  We arrived around 6am and I headed on the roadway up by the farmyard and immediately noticed the racket being generated by an unusual number of White Cheeked Bulbul.  They are not rare in the region by any means but I do not remember ever seeing this many congregating in the same area.  I decided to spend a little time and count them.  In the little stretch of reeds between the road and the field (about 150 meters) I counted 142 birds.

white-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)

Among these, and an unusual visitor was a single White Spectacled Bulbul.  These are much more common in the south west and as far as I can remember it is only the second or third I have seen in the Riyadh area.

white spectacled bulbul (Pycnonotus erythropthalmos)

white spectacled bulbul (Pycnonotus erythropthalmos)

There were a number of Streaked Weavers about but nothing like the numbers I had seen earlier in the month.  This could, of course, be because they do not like this side of the river as there is little food on the desert side.
streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)

As always there was a little contingent of Little Green Bee Eaters.  There is no shortage of bugs about at the moment so they are very active.

green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)

Further along in the river where it opens up a little breaking free of the strangling reeds there was a small number of Coots.  We get to see these here from time to time but its difficult to know how many there are as there could easily be many more in among the inaccessible area of the reeds. Today I spotted two.

Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)

Much more common in the area are the Moorhen which definitely breed in the area, on this side I only saw 5 but I know that there are a considerable number in the reeds and a small family which stays mostly on the opposite side of the river.

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

There were not very many waders about on the river on this visit, in fact these two XXX are all I saw.  It may be that they were all on the other side. (need to check on these)

The resident Marsh Harriers were patrolling the reeds as usual, this one stopped for a break

Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
A couple of curious White Wagtails popped by to see what I was up to. they ran about a bit looking for bits on the ground before flying off again

white wagtail (Motacilla alba)

A single Turkestan Shrike sat for a while watching the goings on by the river

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroides)

As did a few members of the dove family, the Feral Pigeon showing up in all its finery, its funny how we can overlook these really stunning birds just because they are so common.

Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica),
And of course the Laughing dove, a regular around these parts, although in the context of this walk they are more correctly titled the Palm Dove as these ones spend most of their time feeding among the palm groves which were close by.
laughing dove (Stigmatopelia senegalensis)
Also seen but not photographed was a single Common Kingfisher, a Grey Heron and a Purple Heron.

Species List 
White Eared Bulbul
Turkestan Shrike
Spectacled Bulbul
Feral Pigeon
Little Green Bee Eater
Laughing Dove
Eurasian Coot
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Marsh Harrier
 Streaked Weaver
White Wagtail

Monday, 1 December 2014

Al Hayer but not as we know it. 21/Nov/14

During the early part of last week word came through from one of our birding colleagues that a Pied Kingfisher had been seen in the Al Hayer area and was later photographed upstream in the Wadi Hanifa area, about 5km closer to the city.  Lou Regenmorter and I agreed that we would split up the search area between us, I would look in the Al Hayer area but by the bridge closer to the town and then up towards the Dam.

A tower by the bridge
As it turned out Lou found the bird at Wadi Hanifa at around 9am by which time I was at the Dam and a long way from the car. Oh well maybe another day.  That said I still had a great day out though.

The area I was working in, south of Riyadh. Al Hayer village in the centre.

We arrived at the bridge at about 5:45 and waited for a few minutes while the light improved and started my walk on the town side of the river.  While crossing the bridge I got some really nice views of a Grey Heron and a family of Moorhen but did not get photos of these at that point as the light was not great.  Across the other side of the bridge I entered a palm grove and walked along the edge of this beside the reeds.

The day was had by the White Eared Bulbuls of which there were literally dozens roosting alongside some Laughing Dove and House Sparrow.  However along the pathway there were a number of Eurasian Collared Dove feeding and squabbling.

eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
A familiar face further down the river was the Cattle Egret, however, this is the only one I saw in the area of the bridge that morning.

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)
And among the boulders at the edge of the river was a family of about 14 Common Moorhen feeding.  As ever these guys were pretty skittish and disappeared at the slightest noise.

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

In the trees all about alongside their House cousins were a good number of Spanish Sparrow.  Unusually they were pretty tame allowing good views, I have often found these guys to be a bit skittish in this area.

spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Along the sides of the ravine were dotted small groups of Common Myna searching for food among the scrub.  I had not initially realised how many there were until 15 minutes later when something spooked them and the flock converged.  I counted 32 but I am sure there were more.  

common myna (Acridotheres tristis)
A little later I spotted this odd looking bird which was the same size as the Myna and was hanging with the flock but looked a lot different;
common myna (Acridotheres tristis) and one other?
 I managed to get a couple of pictures a little closer up and it looked even stranger still.  What was noticeable apart from the bald head is the head always appeared hunched down into the body making it seem like even if feathers were there that it would not be the same as a Myna.
common myna (Acridotheres tristis) without head feathers.


I could not find any other record of these birds in the wild molting all of their head feathers at once but there were some records of them doing so in captivity.  However, after researching this and discussing it with a couple of people I have come to the conclusion that this bird has some form of skin disease which is causing feather loss.  It was flying about fine when I saw it, but you can't help but wonder what will become of it.

white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Another fairly common bird around the area was the White-throated Kingfisher of which there were three in the bridge area.  They seem to like sitting on high perches surveying the scene below for long periods.
Across the other side of the ravine high on the cliff I noticed a bird of prey observing its domain.  I took a few photos but at the absolute limit of my cameras abilities and cropped heavily.  Having consulted the oracles on I now think it is a Greater Spotted Eagle.
greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga)
All along the river at fairly regular intervals are the Grey Heron of which I saw 4 on the day.  However due to the height of the reeds there may have been many more I did not see.

grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
After a few hours I moved up in the Direction of the Dam bypassing a short stretch of the ravine which was pretty much inaccessible.  I have never been to the Dam before so was interested to see what was there.

The Dam
On the walk from the road there were a couple of these guys and later out on the plain I came across a small flock of maybe 8 to 10.  The Trumpeter Finch is listed as breeding in the area but is a first for me.  I struggled a bit with the ID on this one at first because the guide book drawings only show colourful breeding plumage but again BirdForum came to the rescue.

trumpeter finch (Bucanetes githagineus)
In one of the dry wadis by the roadside above the village I came across a couple of these Lesser Whitethroats singing to each other.  As always getting a good shot of these warblers is not easy as they are flighty and tend to stick deep in the bushes where getting a bridge camera to focus is nigh on impossible. 

 lesser whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
A pair of Little Green Bee-eaters were also in that wadi, the only two I saw all day, these two were unusually flighty compared with their relatives further down the river.
green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
As I walked across the barren area towards the dam I was accompanied for a time by this Eastern Mourning Wheatear which seemed to be very curious, watching everything I did and flying from perch to perch ahead of me.  This is the first I have seen of these I have seen this season, so far.

mourning wheatear (Oenanthe lugens)
On arrival at the dam I noticed the sounds of a good number of Moorhen in the gorge and saw about 5 or 6 swimming in the river.  There was also another Grey Heron fishing on the deeper side and a Marsh Harrier hunting along the side of the lake.  A group of maybe 5 or 6 Pale Craig Martin flew their crazy patterns along the front of the dam picking up bugs as they went.  
However the most common bird by far was the Rock Pigeon.  I took a long distance photo of some of them drinking from the river, they are one of the few birds that can drink by sucking water through their beaks, most others have to gather up a drink in their beak and tilt their heads back allowing the water to flow in.  Something interesting in even a very common bird!!

 rock dove (Columba livia)
While watching a Grey Heron down in the river a noise attracted my attention and looking up I spotted an impending argument between two raptors which I now think are Greater Spotted Eagles.  The range was in excess of 1000 meters so pictures are not particularly great but I thought I would share it anyway.



I think it is maybe a little early for pair bonding and am assuming this was a fight as opposed to a mating ritual based only on the fact that afterwards they both flew off in different directions, but as with all things in birding, I could be wrong :-).

In all, a new species for me, a new area which I will definitely be revisiting and a rarity in the area (though not seen yet).  Who says birding in a desert is boring!!

Species List

Grey Heron
Common Moorhen
White Cheeked Bulbul
Laughing Dove
House Sparrow
Eurasian Collared Dove
Cattle Egret
Spanish Sparrow
Common Myna
White Throated Kingfisher
Greater Spotted Eagle
Trumpeter Finch
Lesser Whitethroat
Little Green Bee-Eater
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Rock Pigeon
Pale Craig Martin
Marsh Harrier