20 Feb 2012

A Great Evenings Birding on the ‘Patch’ – Dhahran Hills

Yesterday I spent the evening after work on the ‘patch’. The weather had been quite overcast and windy the previous few days and although the wind had dropped there was still a lot of dust in the air and conditions did not look too good. I drove across the scrubby desert area on the way to the percolation pond and did not see much of interest with the exception of two Tawny Pipits. This is a wintering species and they will be moving off in the next couple of months. When I got to the pond there did not seem to be too many birds about as it was too early for the Great Cormorants to arrive and the gull numbers were significantly down on previous days. There was, however, one really obvious bird sitting amongst the smaller Common Black-headed Gulls and that was an adult Great Black-headed Gull in full summer plumage. This is an unusual bird inland and although Dhahran is only ten kilometres from the coast it is far enough to make the species very rare here, although I was lucky enough to see an adult in full summer plumage in March 2011 at the same site. The bird seemed quite unsettled and continually took to the air and circled around settling on the pond only briefly before flying again. After only five minutes the bird flew off over the base towards the sea and I did not see it again. You can see from the last two photographs on the bird sitting on the water how much bigger than Common Black-headed Gull the Great Black-headed Gull is.

 Great Black-headed Gull (adult summer plumage)
 Great Black-headed Gull (adult summer plumage)
 Great Black-headed Gull (adult summer plumage)
 Great Black-headed Gull (adult summer plumage)
Great Black-headed Gull (adult summer plumage)

The pond also held four Common Pochards including one adult male. This is a species that was previously common on the pond but is now uncommon with my last sighting in December last year. The four birds looked like they were quite happy on the pond and were still there at last light. This pond is one of the only really safe habitats for birds as no hunting is possible in the camp is it is very well protected and guarded by security, so it is always nice to see duck here as they will not be shot.
Common Pochard (adult male centre)

After spending an hour looking at the pond where there was little else out of the ordinary, with the exception of six Common Morehens which have reappeared after being missing for several weeks, I went for a walk around the pond looking to see if any migrants may have arrived. At the main wet corner outside the pond I was surprised to see that a fall of migrants had occurred and the Tamarisk trees and bushes were full of warblers. I saw 55 Common Chiffchaff, one Lesser Whitethroat and one Desert Whitethroat here as well with two Bluethroats were flitting around the wet area. After spending at least thirty minutes looking at all the warblers I moved on to see if birds were present elsewhere and Common Chiffchaffs were thinly spread around the whole pond edge in the trees. I counted 105 birds in total during the walk, but that will be a minimum as others were calling which I did not count as I did not see all of them. Whilst walking around after looking at the warblers, I saw a large bird of prey flying along the tree edge at the far side of the pond. This is where I had seen Crested Honey Buzzard before and the bird appeared to be large with well barred under-wings but the views were brief and into the setting sun. The bird appeared to land as I did not see it come out of the end of the trees so I walked around to see if I could get better views. As I was walking I flushed a large Eurasian Sparrowhawk from the trees. The bird flew across the pond and landed in a tree on the far side close to where the other bird of prey had landed. The next bird I saw was a Common Kestrel flying away that landed in the top of the only large tree in the scrubby desert area. There seemed to be birds everywhere as I walked to look for the birds of prey and I got good views of a Moustached Warbler sitting out in the open. This is only the second time I have seen the species in Dhahran with the last time being March 2011. After looking at a few more Common Chiffchaffs I saw the large bird of prey sitting in a tree, but unfortunately the bird also saw me a flew a short distance into the scrubby desert area. This time the bird did not look like a buzzard and I was slightly confused as to what it was. The Eurasian Sparrowhawk then took to the air and flushed the larger bird of prey from the scrubby desert area and I could see it better even though it was flying into the setting sun. It was a second calendar year Short-toed Snake Eagle and I managed to get a couple of poor shots as it flew off. This is a very scarce bird for the area although I have now had three different sightings in the same location in less than a year, one second calendar year 31st March 2011 and two juvenile birds together 22nd October 2011.
 Short-toed Snake Eagle (second calendar year)
 Short-toed Snake Eagle (second calendar year) 

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