Sunday, 13 November 2016

Buraydah for the day

Decided to head north for a day (11/11/16) to see what I could find, the weather has been a lot cooler these past few weeks so I am better able to spend time out in it.  We set off around 4:15 and arrived on site a little before 8am.  The place I started out was one I had visited with Rob Tovey a couple of years ago, just on the Riyadh side of the city ring road this is an outflow river which creates a swamp like area, when there is enough water.  There was not so much water today as its been a long dry summer.  There have been a lot of changes here since we first visited.  The swampy area is almost completely choked by reeds, so much so that you cannot get very far into it at all.  But there is still a dirt road along the side of it so I was able to use this as a vantage point to see what was about.

As it turned out this visit was to reinforce my belief that with birding, especially in Saudi Arabia, you should stick to your plan and not give up.  Doing this brought me back to a spot I had been hours earlier and where I got a lifer;

A small group of 4 White Tailed Lapwing flew over my head as I walked back to the car and landed about 50 meters away.  A bit difficult to photograph among the bushes, but they let me get a bit closer to improve things a bit.  A lovely bird and even more impressive to look at in flight, with strongly contrasting white and black patches on their wings.  These birds are seen during migration but usually a bit further north around Tabuk.  A delight to watch.

Many of the other birds seen today were pretty run of the mill but you can never discount birds here for spectacular looks.  This Blue Cheeked Bee-eater is a beautiful addition to any birders day and this one spent quite some time poised on this stick watching me.  There were perhaps two dozen of these around the swamp area.

I only got some distant views of this Kestrel and this shot high up on the pylon was as close as I got.  That said I am now pretty sure it is a Lesser Kestrel as its toe nails are light coloured rather than dark (thanks Rob for the second opinion there).  Earlier in the day there were two Marsh Harriers coasting along over the reeds but they never came close enough for photos. 

As always the Crested Lark were out in force with about 10 to 12 seen on the day.  I am not sure if they are engaging in territorial battles at the moment but there seems to be quite a lot of arguments going on between these guys at the moment.

A good number of House Sparrows were to be seen in the area and some Spanish Sparrow, although not nearly as many.

I spotted a single Common Sandpiper on my walk today, a little unusual as you normally see a few together but who knows.

There were several Turkestan Shrike around the place all of whom seemed happy to pose for photographs.

The White Eared Bulbul were about in large numbers all over the area.  If my memory serves these were nowhere near as common the last time we visited this area a few years back.  They have been expanding their range in Saudi Arabia at an increasing rate over the past few years.

In all I spotter about a dozen White Wagtails feeding in the mud at the side of the river.  I have not seen many of these at all this year around Riyadh, perhaps they find the more northerly route more to their liking.

Our old friend the Little Green Bee Eater was present along the side of the river although only in small numbers, its cousin the Blue Cheeked Bee Eater was far more numerous on the day, I thin I only saw 3 of these and mostly on the western side of the main highway.

There was a small flock of Cattle and Little Egret on site and I had some nice views of them from a distance as I walked east along the river.  Unfortunately as I got closer there was some clown with a gun randomly taking pot shots which scared them off.  I saw the guy walking away a bit later with his shotgun, it appears he made a lot of noise but did not manage to hit anything!!

There were about 8 to 10 Stonechat along the stretch of river I walked today, they were not very keen to have photos taken so I only got some bad pics.

As always there were quite a selection of Pigeons about and a few Collared Dove.  The Namaqua dove were a little more scarce.  I think in all I spotted maybe 4 whereas Pigeons numbered maybe 60+.  

This is one of those shots I took thinking it was another picture of a bird I had photographed several times before during the day, but in truth it was not, a nice Spotted Flycatcher, I believe.

I moved to the opposite side of the Highway for an hour or so to see if I could see anything else and almost immediately spotted this lone Spur Winged Lapwing and a Collared Dove close by.  The area behind some factories was very overgrown and hard to navigate but had a lot of White Eared Bulbul,  Spanish Sparrow and a few more Little Green Bee Eater.  I disturbed a Hoopoe and a small flock of Cattle Egret. 
We returned to Riyadh at about 2pm.  I very enjoyable day and a lifer to boot, hard to get better than that :)

© Bernard Bracken

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

AsSaad ah East of Al Kharj

Headed south to Al Kharj to see what I could find and decided to look up river from my usual spot near the Livestock Market.  As it was a new spot for me I was not at all sure what I would find but that's part of the fun of it I guess.  The area is to the east of AlKharj and I selected a spot that was at the edge of a small built up area called AsSaad where the wastewater stream passed. On one side of the road there was the river, or to be more precise the reed bed, as very little open water remains that way for long in this region.  There was a small drain immediately adjacent to the road which was partially wet and attracted a number of birds. On the opposite side of the road was pure desert, a good deal of which was powder sand as opposed to the rocky type desert which is more common around this region.  Overhead there were a good number of Barn Swallow taking advantage of the insect life in the area.

I am not really an architecture buff but AlKharj has a pretty impressive building on the main road from Riyadh. This the famous water reservoir tower which is a major landmark in the town.  It is called "Burj Alhkarj" which means Kharj tower. It has four levels in the upper part of the tower for: operations and maintenance equipment for the reservoir, another for clerks desks and administration and the other two for visitors sight seeing with small shops and one level is a rotating restaurant covering the sites around it.  Pretty amazing I think you'll agree.

The area to the east of my location looked like this for miles with vegetation disappearing as you look further east.  Walking on this stuff was hard work and anyhow there were very few birds on that side of the road. 

Streaked Weavers were about in small numbers on site but only in small groups of 3 or 4.

A rather poor shot of the Graceful Prinia, perched in a bush by the roadside.

Very active around the area were a flock of a dozen or so White Wagtails.  When I arrived they were chasing each other around a small group of bushes and occasionally catching bugs.  A very noisy little group.
In a wet area close to the road was a pair of Black Winged Stilts, unfortunately I could not get close enough for a clear photo but at least there is a record :)

Sandpiper by the edge of a little stream, again I could not get close enough for a better shot.

All over the site were small groups of Little Green Bee-eaters shooting up into the sky to catch bugs then gracefully gliding back to their perch.  

Another distance shot of a pair of Spur Winged Plover and a Black Winged Stilt in the background.  Trouble with this spot is here are few places with enough cover to allow you to approach closely.

So as we are on a roll with long distance shots, this is the only member of the Heron family I saw all day.  I think it is a Purple Heron gliding off into the mist but I guess It could be a Grey either.

As with many areas around the Kingdom, the White Eared Bulbul was much in evidence.

A couple of quick shots of one of the Reed Warblers, I am not sure which one as its not a very clear photo in either case but maybe someone out there is reader land will recognise i.

Another shot facing the other way, if only the bush was not in the way.

A bit of a size comparison, the Indian Silverbill is a good deal smaller than its neighbour the Laughing Dove.  There were quite a few of both about the place and I spent some time watching a small group of Silverbills feeding in a clump of long grass.  Fascinating to watch.

Mallard making a run for it!!

Namaqua Dove, again there were a few about but not as many as the Pigeon and Laughing Dove.

I was delighted to see this Trumpeter Finch perched on a branch.  I think he was alone, which is a little unusual but at least I spotted him as I have not seen one of these for a while.

A closer shot of a Crested Lark, it was weird because this guy flew up close to where I was standing and perched on a branch looking at me. He stayed there for some time.  Had an issue getting the camera to focus as the bridge cameras struggle with anything that small and that close, but got it in the end.

I spotted this bird and its partner about 2km away when I was at the far end of my walk and originally thought it was a pair of Marsh Harriers, they disappeared, but then I spotted one in a tree when I was making my way back and grabbed a couple of photos, there was clearly no head markings and a white base to its tail, so its no Marsh Harrier.  A Greater Spotted Eagle, sub adult is my considered opinion.

This comes into the not a clue bracket.  I am thinking another White Wagtail is an odd light but I am not sure.  I only got one photo before it flew off so still not certain.

Thought it was about time I featured my accomplice on all of these trips. Akram is a great guy and quite knowledgeable about birding locations for a non birder.

Another great days birding overall.  I was disappointed not o see a kingfisher, but there was never a great likelihood that they are in the area anyhow.

©  Bernard Bracken.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Wadi Hanifah October 1st and another first.

Decided to do an early trip back to Wadi Hanifah to see what is about now the temperatures have dropped a little around the city.  It looked like a perfect day for the job, I had Akram drop me off at the Diplomatic Quarter, the plan being to walk down as far as the flyover or maybe a bit further and see what I could find.  There was evidence of quite a number of BBQs in the area over the previous few days with lots of rubbish lying about the place.  It was just after dawn and the first thing I noticed was a very large number of birds flying over heading west.  Large numbers of Sparrows, Laughing Dove, Ring Necked Parakeets and Myna flew over, I assume heading off from their roosting spot.

I walked around the area a bit but it soon became clear that I had made a fundamental error of photography, I was walking into the rising sun.  I tried to tough it out for a bit but decided it was hopeless as I was only getting silhouettes so I got Akram to drop me at the other end of the road and I walked back up.  Rookie error I know but hey, live and learn!

In every bush were flocks of House Sparrow all chirping merrily away and chasing each other around the sky.
Also scratching around in the rubbish of the BBQs were a fair number of Collared Dove,
along with their cousins the Laughing Dove and a good number of Rock / Feral Pigeons.  The Laughing Dove or Palm dove only appeared in Riyadh in the early 1980's (Stagg) but is now the most common Dove in the city by far.  When I first arrived I had one nest on the ledge of my hotel room and on looking out further I spotted two other nests on the air con coolers on the building opposite.
Mingling among these were a good number of Common Myna, a bird you really cannot ignore as they scream at you.
There were a few Indian Silverbills to be seen by the waterside but I did not see as many as I did last time I visited.
As I assed under a bridge I noticed a strange flash entering a bush and hung around for a bit to see if I could work out what it was.  I was rewarded by a wonderful view of a Masked Shrike, always a lovely sight at this time of the year.
Then I noticed this odd looking crested bird digging vigorously at the base of one of the trees,  Looked like a Bulbul but no white ears?  Yep my first Red Vented Bulbul in Saudi Arabia.  I had seen these once before in Dubai but not here before.

Seeing as I was there, I got a couple of shots that were printable, though I have to say he did not stay still for long.
Another delight for the day was the Black Scrub Robin, which was also not feeling much like being photographed but I managed to get this shot despite his best efforts to avoid it :)
Last but by no means least is our old friend the Little Green Bee-eater which was feeling a little more generous with his time.  In addition to these there was a single Grey Heron which flew over in the distance and a lot of White Cheeked Bulbul.  Near the roundabout I also spotted what I think were a pair of Pale Crag Martins but could not get close enough to be positive. 
Despite the early hour the road along the Wadi was very busy and there were a lot of people about walking and having breakfast.  It is still a nice morning walk for the birder and well worth repeating as I have only been here twice and have had firsts on both occasions.

© Bernard Bracken

Saturday, 8 October 2016

return to Al Hayer 23/9/16

I have been away quite a bit this year so reports here are a little sporadic at the moment.  I was at Al Hayer on the 3rd but only for a short visit as I had a load of other stuff to attend to that weekend.  However I managed to get down for a walk about this weekend (23/9/16).

We arrived on site a little before 6am and immediately noticed a strange phenomena,  the sun hovered above the horizon like a giant red ball.  The haze over the desert prevented the rays from penetrating so it was easy to stand and marvel.  Of course a clever person would have taken a photo or two, but me, well what can I say, I didn't.  I often find that, when faced with the marvels of nature all around, I forget the camera.  Then when the penny eventually drops its too late.  Oh well I am sure you will trust me, it was spectacular.

All that said I did manage to get the odd interesting shot during my walk as detailed below;

It is not that unusual to see one of these gerbils around the place you usually get a fleeting view as they crash down into their burrows.  However in this case he actually sat at the entrance to the burrow and allowed me close enough to get a couple of photos.  They are generally more active at night when its cooler but as the temperatures have dropped it may be that some daylight outings were added to the routine. 
Another creature you normally only get a fleeting view of is the local lizard population.  They are active in daytime but rarely move far from cover as they are among the favourite prey of a lot of birds.

Another rare sighting in the area is this lesser flying Homo sapiens.  Its the first time this guy has been around here as far as I know but after a short flight over the reeds and lower fields he packed up and left.  I wonder if I could use one of those for spotting...... ;)

A distant shot of a small group of Black Crowned Night Herons, this was very early in the morning and they were still roosting I think.  In all there were 5 or 6 all in adult plumage.

From distant to close by, this Little Green Bee-eater was resting in a bush.  If I had to select a name for todays birding it would have to be Little Green Day because I have not seen as many every before as there were today.  I counted 25+ on my walk along the fields.  I think this one may be a fairly young bird.
A single Spotted Flycatcher was watching me as I approached the bush he was hiding in.  I think he hoped I would not spot him but a few paces further on he thought better of it and flew off.

The Brown Necked Raven was one of a pair I saw today, another migrant, though I have seen very few of these this year.

A bird that qualifies as a local, the White Cheeked Bulbul, they are found all around the Riyadh area and many of the surrounding towns including in the centre of the city where most of the other birds you will see on blogs like this never venture.  Strange to think on a few decades ago they did not exist in the country at all.
Back to the migrants again, this is a terrible shot of a Sand Martin but was really the best of a bad lot of photos.  There were a very large number of these (100+) feeding over the fields today along with s dozen or so Barn Swallow.  They are amazing to watch doing their mid air aerobatics chasing bugs, but a terror to try to photograph.

There were a couple of Masked Shrike squabbling in a tree earlier in the morning but they flew off before I could get a photo.  This guy by comparison sat watching me for quite a while before some lorry with no exhaust to speak of roared by and scared off everything.
Another very common bird around the place today was the Common Moorhen.  These three were juveniles but there were also a good number of adults. my rough count came to between 25 and 30 birds and doubtless more in the reeds.
In the middle of the field was a single Turkestan Shrike, the only one I spotted today.  It perched on a low shrub for some time waiting for prey but flew off out into the field as I approached
The Streaked Weavers were all around the reed beds and now in small flocks,  I guess in a week or so they will form into those large flocks we see around at this time of year and then all take off to wherever it is they go to in winter.
Out in the flooded area of the lower field I spotted a couple of Little Egret in the distance and in one of the other pivot fields was a small flock of Cattle Egret.  Unfortunately in that field unobserved approaches are all but impossible.
Perched on the sprinkler was one of three White Throated Kingfishers I spotted today, the other ones were very far off.  I have almost finished a little piece of research on the distribution of these birds across Saudi Arabia and am getting some very interesting results.  More on this anon.
There were also a small number of Namaqua Dove around the place today, this one looks like its molting as did a few others I spotted. Displaying none of that sleek polished look you expect of these guys.  In addition to these were good numbers of Rock and Feral Pigeons and Laughing Dove.  Oh and I guess I should also mention the Graceful Prinia, which are also always about the place, although I only heard them today.
And a half dozen or so Collared Dove.  I was surprised there were not more as ploughed fields usually attract them like a magnet.

There were a couple of Southern Grey Shrike about the place today but I only managed to get this single shot of a young bird in the trees.
There have not been very many Wheatears about this year at all, at least not while I have been looking.  This Desert Wheatear was a nice spot for the day.
There were a few Black Scrub Robins around the place today, always a pleasure to see but not that easy to photograph as they feed around the bottom of bushes and trees making getting a focus quite difficult.
Just as I was about the climb into the car this Common Kestrel soared overhead so I managed to get a quick shot.  There were three Marsh Harriers around the reed beds today, all female from what I could see.  They disappeared for a while when the guy in the parachute was about but made a return later in the day.
An old friend the Crested Lark saw me safely on my way after the days birding, I know some folk get bored of visiting the same place, but this has a special attraction for me as it rarely fails to deliver many exciting finds.  I really enjoyed it today and needless to say will be back.

A quick note to birding friends, I  don't always manage to get the time to write up a blog after every outing as it can take some time to do, however, I do always load the details of my observations into Ebird.  It is important for the long term study of birds that details are recorded and I would urge you guys to detail what you have seen, even if only a few birds, as it would help both with study and possibly conservation efforts also :)

Till next time, happy birding

© Bernard Bracken 2016