Sunday, 24 August 2014

Al Hayer Fields, August 23, 2014

Set off before dawn this morning to visit a regular stomping ground at Al Hayer (24 21' 30"N 46 56' 00"E), which is located about 20km to the south of Riyad in Saudi Arabia.  It is a farming area carved out of the desert thanks to water taken from the Riyadh River, a waste water river which originates in the water treatment plants of the city.

Mid August is a hot time of year so my birding sessions are shortish, this one lasting about four and a half hours, during that time temperatures rose from 28C to 42C

Today was a day for flocks of birds with Streaked Weavers, Barn Swallows, Sparrows and Bee Eaters all putting up little displays.  In the case of the swallows they came down to earth a couple of times to give me some closer looks.  I did get a couple of photos of all except the Bee-eaters which were too far off;

Some Sparrows all in a row

A little further along I found these guys;

Barn Swallows clearly just waking up.  I counted 25 on this bush alone and there were about the same already awake overhead getting a bug breakfast.

A little further along the stream I found these guys, apologies for the poor photo, They got me quite excited for a bit;


Never managed to get that close to moorhen before, these young ones can't have listened to mum when the don't hang around strangers story was being told. That said one more step and they were gone.

All along my walk I was accompanied by my little entourage of White Cheeked Bulbul, who made it more than clear to all concerned that I was about;

They were plentiful as always and maintained a watchful guard on my activities at all times.

Climbing the bank at the side of the field so I could get a better view of the reeds beyond I noticed a clump of reeds being given a tough time so I waited to see what appeared, after a while I managed to get a few shots of this guy;

Now I must be honest and say I struggle with warblers at the best of times and had some help with this one (thanks to Rob Tovey). I now think this is a Great Reed Warbler, one of the largest we get around these parts.  As I watched this a Eurasian Hoopoe flew past.

Had a number of close encounters with Purple Heron as I walked along, unfortunately the norm was them seeing me way before I saw them so my best views were of their rear end as they skilfully vanished over the reeds.  However, this guy was a tad more curious;

Perhaps another young one not listening to mum's advice.  Trouble is, in this place, being in the open like that can get you killed.  Too many guns and too few discerning users of them for this kind of thing!  I did come across a pair of Mallard earlier in the walk but you'll have to take my word for it as they definitely were listening.  Other camera shy birds that past by was the Black Bush Robin and a Little Bittern.  The Robin is not normally a shy character but clearly had places to be today.
One other old friend was hanging about on the sprinklers in the early morning;
This White Throated Kingfisher has been around this area for a while and we have seen a couple of others in the area on many occasions.  In this case the distribution map in Helm's Birds of the Middle East and the Wiki online encyclopedia are way off target not showing these in central Arabia at all.
Crossing over into the upper fields I noted that the crop was more than knee high so stuck to the sides of the field and walked up along the rough area beside the pond and river.  The water levels were down and there was evidence of fish being caught high and dry.  Birdlife was all around in the bushes and trees and high on the list of noisemakers was the tiny Prinia;

Looks sedate but the Graceful Prinia is very, very active and noisy for its 11cm stature. Close by in a dead tree I saw my first, Arabian Golden Sparrow.  Been within feet of them on many occasions in the past but never managed to see one until now;
Doing its usual of sticking in the bushes which gives my camera a real bad time trying to get focus but here it is!!  (I know, worker and tools....My excuse and I'm sticking to it).
By this time the temperatures were reaching the 40's which is around body temperature for birds but they were starting to feel it a little, thus the open gape of the next few;
This was one of a dozen Barn Swallows who had come down for a rest on a dead tree by the lake.  Feeding would have been good this morning as there were a considerable number of insects about. I have the bites from some to prove it!!  Overhead Also were a significant number of Namaqua dove some of which look quite young. All were unusually skittish and flushed very easily before I could get close.
Further along I noticed something perched on a Sodhams Apple tree;
A Daurian Shrike standing guard over its domain not seen many of these about recently.
In the fields the sprinklers had been operating and there was the usual collection of Cattle Egret taking advantage of the free shower and catching the odd bite while they were there;
I counted 35 but some more were hidden by the long grass.
I sometimes wonder if these guys stand lookout for each other?
A few meters on in a dry spot was a crested lark enjoying the desert like conditions;
I counted four or five of these in the dry area alongside the crop but heard several more out in the field. Unfortunately they were deep in the plant life and not visible.
Finally for this outing was the bee-eaters come Blue Cheeked and some of the Green variety, in the distance over the reed beds I could see (and Hear) a flock of about 20 feeding at around 300ft up but could not get a close look to see which type they were;

Overall A fun morning's birding. 
Species List for the day:

Laughing Dove
Purple Heron
House Sparrow
Graceful Prinia
Barn Swallow
Eurasian Hoopoe
Black Bush Robin
White Cheeked Bulbul
Crested Lark
White throated Kingfisher
Daurian Shrike
Green Bee Eater
Squacco Heron
Streaked Weaver
Arabian Golden Sparrow
Blue Cheeked Bee Eater
Little Bittern
Cattle Egret
Namaqua Dove
Tree Sparrow
© Bernard Bracken