Monday, 5 January 2015

Al Hayer in the lead up to Christmas 2014

Travelled to Al Hayer again on December 12th to do my little home patch walk once again.  As ever we started out around 5.30am and arrived after 6 not long after the dawn.  Temperatures were a cool 11 degrees C and the sprinklers had been active in the lower field so it was going to be a wet start.  In addition we have had rain in the area a week or so ago, pools and the river were swollen and some areas where I would normally sit and watch for a while were inaccessible.  That said, as ever, the area never fails to bring something of interest.

purple heron (Ardea purpurea)

There were the usual selection of herons about with the Purple Heron being the most common at the moment, in all I saw 8 flying over the river heading north.  That's not to say that their cousins the Grey Heron were not present, they were and always are but in much smaller numbers.

grey heron (Ardea cinerea),

This was the only one I saw all day.  Its curious how one type can be seen in largish numbers in an area while the other is not.

 little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)
A third member of the clan, the Little Bittern is fairly secretive generally speaking but this character is very much so.  We have spotted him once or twice in the past but only fleeting views.  Apologies for the pic but he was hiding in the bush, believe it or not was peeking through the bush watching to see if I was still there. I did hang around for a while to see if I could get a better view but he was not in a show off mood.

At the other end of the pool there were the family of Moorhen feeding in the shallows;

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

I have been watching these since the summer and the younger ones are gradually starting to take on the darker plumage and redder bill.  This family numbered 11 or 12 earlier in the year though recently I have only noticed 8 at any one time, maybe the others remain out of sight?

All along the path our regular winter visitor the White Wagtail was evident, though especially so in the middle field which had recently been ploughed where there at least 40 of them that I saw and probably a lot more

 white wagtail (Motacilla alba)

Also enjoying the ploughed area was a small group of Northern Lapwing.

northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus),

Apologies for the poor photo but with wide open fields trying to get close to these guys is very difficult.

By far the most common birds around this weekend were the pigeons and doves (the family Columbidae) , I took this distant shot to give you an idea of the way the entire field was when I visited;

a few of the family Columbidae
There are about 45 birds in this view and his could easily have been replicated over a large portion of the ploughed area.  The mix was about 50% Laughing Dove, 30% Eurasian Collared  Dove and 20% Feral / Rock Pigeon.  They were very skittish though mainly because there were a couple of Marsh Harriers and Eagles about on the day.

Staying withe the Dove family I also came across the smaller version in the Sodoms Apple bush at the other side of the field.  They did not seem at all interested in the ploughed field.

Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)
The Namaqua Dove is probably my favorite of all the family.  They are quite tiny and always looked as if dressed for a dinner party.  This little group comprised two males and one female.  A fourth male was on the ground behind the tree.

The Warbler family were out and about today too with numerous Bluethroat about in the bushes and feeding one the verges of the fields.

bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
These guys gave me quite a start on several occasions as I walked along because of their habit of staying put until the very last moment.  They the fly off in a mad flurry to the nearby bushes leaving you to replace your heart in your chest.  This happened several times during my walk today.

I noted about 4 or 5 visiting Chiffchaff in the trees during the walk too, but did not manage to get any photos. I don't expect they will be about much longer as they have places to go.

The Graceful Prinia was also around in abundance as ever.  These guys are resident here all year round and you can hear them all through the day with their grinding call which honestly makes you think there is a huge bird in there somewhere. 

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)
When you actually see the little devil at only marginally larger that the Wren your left wondering how something so small could be so noisy.  But noisy they are, however seeing them is not that easy as, like almost all Warblers, they prefer to be in bushes rather than on them.

This is in complete contrast to the Shrikes who are very much into perching on bushes, trees, posts and any other upright that gives them a view around the area.
Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
The Turkestan Shrike is fairly common around the area and is resident all year round from what I can see.

Daurian shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
A close relative is the Durian Shrike which is also fairly common in the area all year round.

green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
Common residents in the area are the Little Green Bee Eater which can be seen on pretty much every visit.  They are active in the middle part of the day when the bugs are most active, you can sometimes see them in the early morning but they really come out in numbers at around 11am.  All that said this was only one of 2 I saw for the day, they do seem to become less common during the winter so maybe there is part of the population that migrates, maybe to more southerly areas.  Will have to look that up.

common myna (Acridotheres tristis),
A little more common here of late too is the Common Myna which have been about a lot more recently.  I only saw this guy today but I know there is a small flock in the area and much larger flocks a little further north along the Riyadh River (see Al Hayer but not as we know it report).

isabelline wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

I have not noticed very many Wheatears at all this year and definitely no where near as many as last year.  This Isabelline Wheatear was one of two I saw today.

Spanish sparrow or willow sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Not so evident today were the sparrows of both the house and Spanish variety.  I did see a few but nowhere near as many as I have seen in the past.  It may be that they were out in the fields feeding and being so small they were difficult to identify.  Anyhow this Spanish Sparrow did stop to pose for a photo

Finally for something a tiny bit different, there are other things around the fields too, I mentioned an invasion of crickets which were in the fields a couple of weeks back following the harvest which attracted masses of birds.  Butterflies too are fairly common at most times of the year.  I don't know what this one is called but it is pretty. (if you do know why not drop me a line and I'll add it in) 
Anyhow another great days birding and some really interesting sights to report.  It will be a couple of weeks before I will be here again as I am heading to the UK for a few days and have some manic house moving and stuff to do but will be back here early in the new year with more annals of Al Hayer and other interesting spots around Riyadh.
Purple Heron
Laughing Dove
Grey Heron
Feral Pigeon
Little Bittern
Namaqua Dove
Northern Lapwing
Graceful Prinia
White Wagtail
Turkestan Shrike
Eurasian Collared Dove
Daurian Shrike
Little Green Bee Eater
Common Myna
Isabelline Wheatear
Spanish Sparrow
House Sparrow