Monday, 30 March 2015

And then the rains came!

Went out to my usual haunt at Al Hayer last Saturday (21/3/15) to see what impact the rains during the past week had had on the area.  By UK standards the rain was nothing spectacular but desert regions are not really able to deal with rain very well so the first thing I noticed as we travelled down was the level of flooding in all of my usual walking areas. The Riyadh river had broken its banks in several places and had flooded large areas of the farmers fields and roadside areas.  I started birding around 6:50am and while it was an enjoyable day as usual the humidity levels were high which made it heavy going, as did the almost constant walking in knee deep water, but ever your intrepid reporter I soldiered on!!

A view of the lower field with a small flock of Cattle Egret feeding in the flooded area.

And the road up to the farm.  This does not really do it justice as the river was not just flooding the area but actively flowing through it.  Farm Hands were all about as there was nothing much they could do until the waters receded.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)

The water did not bother the Graceful Prinia one little bit and they were out in force today singing to the world.

laughing dove (Stigmatopelia senegalensis)
As always there were a great number of Laughing Dove in the area.  These are lovely birds but very skittish.  Not a problem in itself but they make such a racket flying off that they frighten all the other birds around too.  Now that does not make me happy at all!!

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)

Another very common sight at the moment is the Streaked Weaver which are in just about every bush and tree in the place.

little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)

After an hour or so walking about the area I sat for a bit to take in the tranquility of the place.  I must have been sitting very quietly because this Little Bee Eater landed right beside me and just sat there watching me for a few moments.

black scrub-robin (Cercotrichas podobe)

Moments after the Bee Eater left this Black Scrub Robin landed on the same bush and proceeded to sit there and watch me too.  Don't know what it was I was doing but I think I got it right today, whatever it was!

bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
On a mound of dirt this male Bluethroat was bouncing about, there were a fair few of these about today though I sense the numbers are going down a little on the past few weeks.  This is a member of the red spotted race (L. svecica svecica ) the other race has a white spot in the blue throat instead of the rusty red on this one.

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Taking full advantage of the wet conditions was the Common Moorhen, presumably enjoying a drink of Sprite.  Such a shame really that this country is treated like a rubbish tip by many of its residents.

Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
In all of the bushes there were vast numbers of Spanish Sparrow, which were clearly breeding in good numbers at the moment.  Some trees have as many as 20/30 nests and as you approach the noise is deafening, at least till you get very close when everything goes really quiet. 

house sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Closer to the farm buildings are a good number of House Sparrows also breeding around the area is good numbers.

Indian silverbill (Lonchura malabarica)
Indian Silverbill, a few about but not huge numbers

white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Also enjoying the expanded watercourse was a pair of White Throated Kingfishers, these were chasing each other among the trees and bushes by the roadside and I am not sure if they were a pair or squabbling over a piece of territory.

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
The local Barn Swallows were still busy gathering lining for their nests, more on this a little later.

turkestan shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
Surveying his little patch was this Turkestan Shrike watching for a passing meal.

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Also enjoying the new wetlands was this Cattle Egret.  These guys are around here most of the time and are commonly seen in the fields when the sprinklers are operating.  I counted 69 of them in a small area in the lower field today.  There was also a Little Egret wandering around among these guys but I was not able to get a decent photo of it.

wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Taking advantage of the protection of the flock of Egrets were about a dozen Wood Sandpipers, these were remarkably relaxed about my presence only occasionally glancing in my direction to see where I was.

black-winged stilt, (Himantopus himantopus)
Joining the throng were a couple of Black Winged Stilt.  I could only see two but the grass was long so there may have been a few more about.  I am not sure if these are breeding in the area, I have spotted a small number of them almost every week for the past month or so.  I did see them breeding at the Cricket Club last year and maybe as that has now almost totally dried up, they may have moved here instead.

chiffchaff, (Phylloscopus collybita)
In one particular area the Chiffchaff appeared to be literally dripping from the trees.  I can only assume that its a small flock that are making their way north. It was difficult to count as they flitted in and out of the trees but I guess there were at least 20 in the same small area.

greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga),
This shot is unfortunately at a bit of a distance and I could not get any closer but I am pretty sure it is a Greater Spotted Eagle which I have seen in the distance around here on a number of of occasions recently.

marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
As always the Marsh Harrier was about, this one coming down for a drink in the flooded fields.

I'm checking on this one

Barn Swallow Update.

Continuing my little vigil at the site of the Barn Swallow nests I found this week that the chicks from two of the nests had fledged but probably over the last day or so as they were all still hanging around.  In one case I noticed what looked to me like the parents trying to chase them off as they kept coming back to the nest, in one case making several sneaky approaches through a slightly open window close to the nest.  In all from these two nests I am pretty sure there were 8 fledglings.  There is plenty of food about at the moment with bugs everywhere so there is more than enough to keep them going as long as they can steer clear of the array of predators about the place. 

In two of the other nests one or two of the eggs had hatched but by the look of them they had only just done so, the remainder of the nests still had eggs being attended by the parents. 

What will be interesting over the next few weeks is whether any of the pairs try a second brood.  I know, from being around this nest site slightly later in previous years, that they are generally empty by the end of March so we will see.  It may be that they do not like the heat later in the month as it is climbing rapidly now as we approach summer and keeping nests cool may be an issue for them (34 to 36 degrees C and climbing at the moment).

As a little sidebar, the laughing dove which had taken over one of the old nests was sitting all through my visit.  I guess there must be an imminent arrival there soon.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

New born and a new species

This weeks trip to Al Hayer was exciting for a number of reasons which will  become apparent as the blog progresses.  I set out at 6:30am and headed south as usual.  It should have been 6am but the guy who drives me was in Mecca for the latter part of the week and overslept, as it happens it put me at a point in my walk where there happened to be a pair of Desert Finches just lounging about on a power cable. (March 14th weather dry and sunny)

desert finch (Rhodospiza obsoleta),
My Helm Guide does list them as breeders in the area, although maybe a little further south, but this was the first time I saw them here.
desert finch (Rhodospiza obsoleta),
Beautiful little birds with those powerful looking beaks and the little pink shafts along the side of the wings.  The area is ideal for these birds being primarily desert with water available only at the river.  These guys sat around for about 15 minutes I think, from the distance I thought the were a pair of laughing dove but soon noticed the differences.  A new species for me and a nice piece of luck 

white-cheeked bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)
As always my trip was followed closely by the local White Cheeked Bulbul community which are just about everywhere and seem to follow you as you walk

bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
In the undergrowth this little Bluethroat darted in and out onto the clearing beyond the reeds hopping along searching for food.  At this time of year there are always a good number of Bluethroat about in the reeds.
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
At the other side of the small Lake there were a pair of Moorhen,  I did not see any chicks with these guys and am hoping that they are still alive (there were definitely at least 2 chicks last week)

Common Moorhen Chick (Gallinula chloropus)
Further along on my walk I came across this guy in a pool by the side of the field.  He only noticed me a few seconds after I took this shot and his siblings were long gone.  His parents, however, certainly did see me and I could hear them loudly barking to him to get hell out of here you idiot!!  I hope he takes heed in future, I love to get photos but doing that will shorten his potential lifespan a lot.

little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Also in the lake was a pair of Dabchick, or Little Grebe.  This was the best photo I could get as they are very nervous and vanish very quickly into the undergrowth when they see you.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)

As ever the bushes were alive with the sounds of the tiny Graceful Prinia which punches way above its weight in the sound department..

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)

Shrikes were as always present in good numbers and this Turkestan Shrike was happy enough to sit around for some photos.
hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Back in town for the past couple of weeks is the Hoopoe.  Looking a bit untidy as I caught it in the middle of a morning preen, nonetheless a beautiful bird and always lovely to see on my walks.

black scrub-robin (Cercotrichas podobe)

A bit of a distant shot of this Black Scrub Robin.  He has been perched on top of this tree for the past week or so but when I get anywhere near he disappears into the undergrowth below it and does not emerge again for a long time.  A bit anti-social I call it :-)

The Marsh Harrier was about again, in fact I think thee are 3 or 4 individuals in the area and they regularly patrol the reeds looking for prey.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
As was the case last week the Streaked Weavers were out in force in the reeds.  You could hear dozens of them but I only managed to get a useful shot of this male.  They are in breeding plumage and judging by their behaviour over the past week or two will be breeding here.  The Helm guide has these as mainly escapes and not shown in most of Saudi Arabia at all, however, from earlier posts on here it is clear they are here in very large numbers and I have no doubt are breeding too.

rock pigeon (Columba livia)

The Rock Pigeons are outnumbered here by both the Laughing Dove and often the Namaqua Dove.  I think they find life easier closer to the city and around the various dumps rather than in the open farmland. 
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

OK, I think this is commonly called a "record shot", so called because it kinda proves I saw them but the photo is absolutely rubbish, anyway this pair of Black Winged Stilts are based in the area and I think there are also a few more that are resident further along the river.

common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
This Common Kestrel has been seen regularly around the lower field quite a lot lately, always a joy to see.
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)
Poking his head out of the long grass was this Squacco Heron.  More or less in the same place as last week and just as difficult to approach but nice to see him again

white wagtail (Motacilla alba)
A regular visitor to the area at this time of year is the White Wagtail, there were not co many to be seen on today's walk.

crested lark (Galerida cristata)

Standing proud in the short grass was this Crested Lark, you can here literally dozens of these singing in the longer grass behind but rarely get to see them.

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

The farmer was cutting his crop in the field close to the main farmhouse and this brought the Cattle Egret out in force,  I have taken a few wider photos to try to get an accurate count and on this occasion counted 35 birds

little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
As always out Little Green Bee Eaters provided a splash of colour to the days outing, this one had just captured a bug.

Also seen during the walk were a pair of Brown Necked Ravens and about 4 or 5 Pale Crag Martin which were flying around the farm building with the swallows.


barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Ah well, I think the picture speaks for itself really lol.  This nest and another close by have both 4 chicks and they all look to be in good health and growing rapidly.  There are a total of 13 nests in the building at the moment, 4 of which are not being used.  two, as the one above have chicks not too far from fledging, 6 have eggs (4 in each) and the final one is being build by a newly arrived pair.  There is a very good supply of flies of a number of different types.  Hopefully by the time I arrive next weekend there will be more hatched and these guys will have fledged.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Al Hayer in March

Took a walk along my usual route on March 7th and had some interesting encounters along the way.
 I did make one small adjustment though, before I entered the lower field I went a bit further down the road and found a small lake just off the road a bit,  Surrounded by some bushes and trees it was a perfect site for birding.  I spotted about 5 or 6 Little Grebe and a couple of Mallard on the lake

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

and 4 Moorhen, one with some very young chicks which she was clucking away at as I walked by. 

white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
A little further along I heard the tell tale squawk of a White Throated Kingfisher but where was he?  Eventually I spotted him high in a tree living up to his family traits as one of the Tree Kingfishers and singing his early morning song to all who would listen.

house sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Another group of early risers were the House Sparrows of which there were a goodly number about.

grey heron (Ardea cinerea),

And overhead flew a lone Grey Heron.  Thee were surprisingly few herons about today, but a nice selection as you will see shortly.

greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga)
The Greater Spotted Eagle was also up fairly early but then I suppose the temperatures are rising now so they are not having to fly quite as much.  Every now and then they just sail through the air checking out whats going on below.  The local Marsh Harriers were about too but I could not get a good view of them over the reeds

Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)
Namaqua doves and Laughing doves were about in large numbers this week, I think thee were more Namaqua Doves than usual but it may be because I was in a newish area for part of the walk.

little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
Our old friends the Little Green Bee Eaters were out in good numbers too, I think this was a fairly young one or had just fluffed up its feathers for preening or whatever.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)
And apologies for the slightly fuzzy picture but got sight of this Graceful Prinia with lunch jumping from branch to branch in the undergrowth.  This is the best photo I could capture on the day.

In addition to our regulars thee were a good number of migrant visitors about the place;

bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
There were a good number of Bluethroat about the area both males and females, this one photo I picked out as he was particularly well dressed for his visit to our beautiful site.

grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Another particularly well dressed visitor to the site was this male Grey Wagtail, I'm not sure if I have see one quite so brightly marked before.  Only one was spotted today but what a spot eh!

white wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Another common visitor to the area is the White Wagtail.  there were a few about this week but not as many as a couple of weeks back.

hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Then as I rounded the corner of my walk entering the fields of my usual trail I spotted a little chap I had not seen about these parts for quite some time.  The Hoopoe is a gorgeous bird with its long bill and crest and black and while markings.  There were actually quite a few about today as others were spotted further along the walk.

Now for a couple of warblers I spotted.  I will tell you honestly that my heart almost sinks these days when I get photos of many of these as I really cannot get to grips with identifying them, its even worse when you go on birdforum and someone just whacks in an id making it sound obvious. Anyway moan over, here goes, do feel free to correct my efforts.

common chiffchaff, (Phylloscopus collybita)

A Chiffchaff I believe, heading north for the summer.

This one we believe is a Reed Warbler but not too sure which one.  Maybe some clever person out there can be a bit more precise.

Turkestan Shrike, (Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroides)
Turkestan Shrike striking a pose, his sleek form and light brown head differentiate him from his close cousin the Daurian.  There were a good few of both birds about today but I think that may be due to my adding a new element to my walk.

Daurian shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
Daurian Shrike with his slightly dumpier appearance and grey head.  I did try to get a better picture of this guy but he was having none of it.

Siberian stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
I am opting for a Siberian Stonechat female here.  I find it difficult to tell these apart and am going on the warm sandy breast and underparts with a slight twinge of a supercilium.  But this one is not making life easy, well for me anyhow.  Corrections or advice from the floor gratefully received!!

Siberian stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
A more mature female Siberian, I think.
Siberian stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
Siberian Stonechat male, I think i am on slightly safer ground with this one.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
Streaked Weaver Male and oh yes they are really in the mood for love.  There were dozens about and this was a very quick one off shot as they are tearing about the place right now chasing off other males.  Honestly the bushes are a hive of activity.
streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
Streaked Weaver Female, watching the action with interest!!

squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides)
A Squacco Heron feeding at the edge of the crop, I only saw one of these today and its a little unsual for them to come out into the open when feeding in fields like this,  either way the photo is a longish range one as between me and him was nothing but open ground.  Nice to see though.
 cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Cattle Egret were here in small numbers today, there had been a little rain overnight so the sprinklers were not on today.  I expect I would have seen more had the sprinkler been operating.

little egret (Egretta garzetta)
Our old friend the Little Egret was also perched in his favourite place watching the world go by.  I only saw one of these at a bit of a distance today.

Barn Swallow Update

As you may be aware I have been monitoring a small community of Barn Swallows which have set up nests in an old farm building about 20km south of Riyadh. 

Over the past two weeks there have been more eggs laid and the number of nests has increased by 2 there are now 9, 2 of which are not being used.  5 have eggs and sitting parents and from what I can see each have 4 eggs.  Fingers crossed for some chicks appearing over the next few weeks.