Saturday, 28 February 2015

Valentines Day at Al Hayer a very special day out!!!

On Feb 14th I headed off down to my patch at Al Hayer for a couple of hours to do a little birding and to look into a longer term project I had set myself over a year ago.  There were other things that needed doing on the day so it was going to be a flying visit but as ever there were some of the old favourites waiting.

 house sparrow (Passer domesticus)
A lot of House Sparrows were about as always, the males chirping away to try to get themselves noticed.  I have heard birders describe these as trash birds, something most birders in the UK would not do seeing as their numbers are crashing at an alarming rate.  I recently read a well known monograph on these and to be honest they are truly fascinating.  Still I suppose one man's trash is another mans gold eh!

 purple heron (Ardea purpurea)
The Purple Herons were up and at it early today, heading north again shortly after sun up.  I really must see if I can work out where they are going one of these days

bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
Pretty active around the reeds today were a fair number of Bluethroats , I only saw one of these here last week and maybe 10 or 12 this time, I guess the throng of migrants is starting to flow through.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)
Love was in the air again this week with the Graceful Prinia singing loudly as always.  I am sure I have mentioned it before but its amazing how something so tiny can make so much noise.  The good old double voicebox coming in handy.

Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
In the Palm trees were a small group of Eurasian Collared Dove, I counted 7 but I think there were a good few more in the date palms.
Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Another member of the sparrow family were also quite prevalent around the reeds, the Spanish Sparrow is much more distinctly marked than the House Sparrow and had a chocolate coloured head.

 little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
The Little Green Bee Eaters were also out in smallish numbers, today I saw 5 or 6 about.

Daurian shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
A Daurian Shrike was also about in the bushes looking for food.

Clamorous reed-warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus)
A lucky one off shot caught me this Clamarous Reed Warbler or perhaps one of the Chiffchaffs I will consult and get back to you on this. These guys are bloody difficult to tell apart, at least for normal mortals like me.

First Confirmed evidence of Barn Swallows breeding in Central Arabia

The exciting thing this week followed on from spotting a couple of Barn Swallows feeding over the fields last week.  The full story of this goes back to one of my first visits to the area in late 2013.  Rob Tovey and I were exploring the south side of the reed beds when we came across some empty nests in an outhouse.  It was clear that the mud nests were from some one of the Swallow or Martin family but we were not sure which at that point. I set myself the task of looking again in April /May 2014 but found the nests still empty.
In November 2014 I looked again in passing and found a number of the nests had been destroyed but decided to look again in Spring.

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
This week I entered the building again and all the nests on one side were destroyed but one appeared to be in the process of rebuilding. 

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

 However on the other side there were some birds completing the final stages of the nest

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
and on three nests the birds were already sitting.  I had been around the outhouse for some 25 to 30 minutes so decided at that point I would disturb them no longer for now and left.

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
One building project did catch my eye as I left as I thought it looked unusual.  These birds usually build close to the ceiling or roof and by the side of the wall.  However, this one had decided to build on a length of cable hanging from the ceiling. There was no shortage of wall space available, yet he decided to build here?  Making a mental note to check on this next week I left.

This finding is exciting as current records show that the Barn Swallow does not breed in this area.  I discussed this briefly with Mike Jennings in 2014 and he had, at that time, not seen any proof that they did, he thought the nests might be Martins nests.  Could this be the proof we need?  Visits over the next few weeks will tell, but I think this is very persuasive.

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