Saturday, 16 May 2015

Passing Migrants 24415

Headed back down to Al Hayer this week but planned to cover the other end of the fields for a change.  As ever I wanted to also check on the Barn Swallows as I think this will be the last trip I can make for a month as I will be out of town a lot.
The crops in the fields had all been cut and in the northern fields the farmer had burned the stubble in the fields.  This is a form of clearance I remember was used in the fields around where I grew up but had not seen it in Saudi Arabia before.  The remnants of the flooding of a few weeks earlier also remained so there was a possibility of seeing something interesting along the way.

ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
One unexpected little visitor to lift the mood was this solitary Ruddy Turnstone which stopped off on the way through to get a drink and feed a little.  These are more usually found by the shoreline but must fly over this country on migration.  I think if we could see all the birds that pass over this country in a year we would be truly amazed.

Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
The Spanish Sparrow population has been rising a lot over the past couple of months and I notice today that there were fairly large flocks of them out in the fields.  I caught a photo of a part of one of these flocks,

Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)

I am estimating over 600 birds and there were about the same  in another flock a bit further on.  I know they have been breeding this year in the trees and bushes on the other side of the river and it seems there was a good year.

rock dove (Columba livia)
Another much smaller flock (about 35)I came across on my walk today was this group of Feral/Rock Doves.  They must have been travelling and stopped for a rest as they were very reluctant to take off as I approached.

The other flocking bird about today was the Streaked Weaver which were about in good numbers feeding on the spare grain.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
These guys are really very well camouflaged in the hay, there were about 20 or 30 of them and quite a few more around the area but they were dispersed around the field.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
A slightly better shot of these little guys.  They are not listed as breeding around the area but I am pretty sure they do and have spotted quite a few of what I believe are their nests.   
 laughing dove (Stigmatopelia senegalensis)
As always there were the resident Laughing Dove about the place in their dozens.  They are a pretty bird but a bit of a pain in the backside for the birder as they often spook easily but then make such a racket when making their escape that they scare everything else around too.
hoopoe (Upupa epops)
One bird we have not seen about a lot this year so far is the Hoopoe, there have been one or two about this past week or two but not very common.
black scrub robin (Cercotrichas podobe)

Our old friend the Black Scrub Robin was hopping around his dead bush.  I think this is the third year in a row I have been able to find this guy in this location.
ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana)
Another slightly unusual visitor to the little water hole was the Ortolan Bunting.  It only stopped for a short while but was a nice spot for me as I had never seen one before.  I'm not certain but I think its a first for me, although I think I have had the odd glimpse of one before this was the clearest view I have had to date.
crested lark (Galerida cristata)
Can Ya see me now?? A shot of a Crested Lark in the field.  They really do blend in well to the tilled earth, there were dozens about today but this is the only one I could get a focus on.  My camera does not like camouflage.
curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
Right behind the Turnstone was this little group of Curlew Sandpipers (6 in all) which are another breed we don't see a lot of in Riyadh and another first for me.  It is funny that I was standing quite close to all of these birds and they did not spook.  It struck me that the Turnstone, which was closest, was very relaxed about my presence and seems to have transferred this to the others.  Who knows what goes on in a birds brain eh :).
European bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
Out in the fields were a good number of European Bee Eaters who stopped occasionally to rest on the dead branch of a tree before making way back out into the field.  There were a lot of bugs about at the moment so I guess they were stocking up before the trip north.
red-throated pipit (Anthus cervinus)
Yet another first for me is the Red Throated Pipit which was also pottering about beside the Turnstone and Curlew Sandpipers.  Not a bad day considering it had not looked very promising when I set out on the walk :).

Namaqua dove (Oena capensis) (F)

Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)
At the opposite end of the field were a pair of Namaqua Dove feeding on the ground.  There are usually about 8 or 10 of these around this area but today only this pair, I assume the others were away foraging somewhere else.

little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
A nice pair of Little Green Bee Eaters were spotted in a bush by the roadside but were very skittish and I could not get close enough to get a decent photo, yet another for the record shot box, kinda proves they were there but only just.

common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
One bird that was very much in evidence today was the Common Kestrel there were 5 in a very small area, this one being literally feet away from another 2 all watching the field below for food.  At one point I disturbed a little lizard that scurried across the ground in front of me, in a flash this bird was airborne and heading my way.  The lizard spotted the oncoming danger and vanished beneath a bush but it was amazing how fast the bird reacted, faster at spotting the lizard at my feet than I was.

white-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)
As always the White Eared Bulbul were much in evidence around the area.  I have had some conversations recently with fellow birders about whether this is a white eared, white cheeked, or indeed Himalayan Bulbul and a quick review of the documentation reveals that i need to get some more information on this.  It sounds like a mix of reclassification with a touch of possible hybridisation and range expansion all mixed in but will be fun to track down.  I will keep you informed.
As ever there were a few Shrike about the area, this I think is a Turkestan Shrike but this is another of these birds where often the Daurian can look very similar.  Maybe another project in the offing.

Barn Swallow Update

I visited the site of my breeding Barn Swallows and found that the breeding season is not yet complete with a couple of nests still having maturing young and 2 of the nests having eggs.  I am pretty certain that whatever breeding there was last year it was definitely over well before May. 

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
A photo of a couple of the little guys hiding in the nest.  I have taken a lot more photos and videos of the site but am only sharing a small amount here as I will be putting a proper report together in due course on the Barn Swallows.

All in all this was an amazing visit to Al Hayer.  It started pretty slowly and I thought with the burned out stubble and partially ploughed fields that there was not going to be a lot about.  At the start it appeared like my fears were about to be realised.  However, I decided to go in a different direction, just on a whim and ended up with 3 new species.  Listing is not one of the pursuits I bother with too much, I am quite happy with the usual suspects in an area, as all patch birders are.  But these three certainly did give me a bit of a lift :).




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