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

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