17 Nov 2011

Macqueen's Bustard, Jubail Area – Bird Records by Sander Willems

On Friday 11 November Sander Willems went for a drive with a Saudi falconer friend. Among other things he wanted to look for ‘karawan’ (Eurasian Stone-curlew) and ‘houbara’ (Macqueen's Bustard). First we drove (too quickly) through Al Fasl where besides the usual birds I saw a Common Redshank, a Common Kingfisher, Daurian Shrike, Marsh Harriers, Great Spotted Eagle and a small falcon, perched in the plains, with an unusual creamy-buff belly, making me believe it was a Lesser Kestrel. But I didn't get to see its back. Afterwards we drove north along the electricity masts (3 parallel rows) where we spotted an eagle which turned out to be an Eastern Imperial Eagle. We stopped at a couple of the tiny tents in the sabkhats where people try to trap falcons with a pigeon on a wire. We continued to a tiny fishing settlement north of Jubail, where we had coffee & tea with the local police and I saw cormorants and tens of large white-headed gulls. About half of them light grey, and the others darker grey. On the way back to the highway I spotted a Steppe Grey Shrike on top of a dry bush in a bleak landscape. We then started our search for karawan south-west of highway 85 (right next to the highway) in a fenced-off area where they had been spotted earlier that day. The area had demolished buildings with one building still standing, for the rest piles of rubble but also areas with shrubs in the lower areas. We weren't lucky with the Eurasian Stone-curlew, although I may have seen one speeding off, but it couldn't be relocated. However while searching through the shrubs I saw many Tawny Pipits, and on the piles of rubble Isabelline Wheatear, Pied Wheatear and then suddenly a striking Eastern Mourning Wheatear (lugens). After lunch in a beduin settlement where I saw two caged Brown-necked Ravens we drove to an area south of Jubail where a day earlier a Macqueen's Bustard was tracked down and caught by a Gyr Falcon. The Macqueen's Bustard was caught alive and the falconers used it again, which was a sad thing to witness, to train their falcons. Apparently nowadays up to SAR10,000 is sometimes awarded to the finder of a ‘houbara’. It was a beautiful male Macqueen's Bustard, which defended himself as well as he could (considering it's partly taped up wings), pumping up its tail, neck and head feathers to scare off several of the falcons, even hitting with the inside of its wing which apparently has a claw, and kicking the falcons. I was told that the ‘houbaras’ sometimes kill a falcon. I ended up having dinner in a tent camp close by where the guys kept three more ‘houbaras’ in a cage (2 male, 1 female) as well as some Common Quails.

Macqueen's Bustard - Tail
Macqueen's Bustard - Tracks
Macqueen's Bustard - Captive
Saudi Arabian Falconer
All the above photographs were taken by Sander Willems and are used with kind permission of the photographer.

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