30 Apr 2012

Ringing at Alba Marsh – Bahrain


I went ringing again to Bahrain at the weekend and spent the whole day with Brendan and Nicole. We went to Alba Marsh again early in the morning and set up our normal four nets. There did not appear to be so many birds about as the last couple of weeks although a couple of shrikes, one Daurian and one Turkestan were in the bushes by the ringing site. A spotted Crake and Little Bittern were seen whilst erecting the nets and a few Red-throated Pipits and Yellow Wagtails were flushed from the short cut reeds. As it turned out we caught quite a few birds for our standards and Sedge Warbler was a new ringing species for me and Whinchat was a new ringing species for Nicole so we were very happy with our mornings work.
Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Whinchat

Whinchat

We caught 31 birds of which I ringed 19 and Nicole ringed 12. These include ten different species, 12 Willow Warblers, five House Sparrows, three Calmorous Reed Warblers, two Red-throated Pipits, two Caspian Reed Warblers, one Daurian Shrike, one Chiffchaff, one Whinchat, one Sedge Warbler and one Common Whitethroat. One Clamorous Reed Warbler was a re-trap ringed at the same site the week before. We ringed from 06:00 hrs until 10:30 hrs when the temperature became too hot and the birds stopped moving. This weekend has been the first time the weather has returned to normal temperatures since the summer with daytime highs of 36 degrees Celsius.
Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat

Daurian Shrike

Daurian Shrike


29 Apr 2012

Five species of Shrikes – Dhahran Hills


The ‘patch’ is still alive with shrikes and yesterday I saw five species of shrike. This included an adult Lesser Grey Shrike in the scrub at the side of the spray fields which I assume is the same bird as seen last week. An adult Woodchat Shrike was at the other end of the spray fields and both Turkestan and Daurian Shrikes were present in numbers over ten for each species. A number of the Turkestan Shrikes were the greyish looking ‘karelini’ types (possible hybrid or colour morph) and these are now more common than the typical Turkestan Shrikes in Dhahran. A Masked Shrike showed well in the late evening at the wet corner of the percolation pond making a fine collection of shrieks in a small area of Dhahran.
Lesser Grey Shrike

Daurian Shrike

Turkestan Shrike

Masked Shrike


Shrikes have been quite common this year compared to last year, although I am still awaiting my first Red-backed Shrike of the year which must be coming soon? We trapped a beautiful male Red-backed Shrike in Bahrain on Friday so they are in the general area. This area of the world is a great place to see different types of shrikes and good views can be had of them as well. Presently female Daurian Shrikes are outnumbering males, but male Turkestan Shrikes are currently outnumbering females by about two to one.

28 Apr 2012

Ringing at Alba Marsh - Bahrain


Apart from the Spotted Crake and Ortolan Bunting caught and mentioned in the previous post we also caught 29 other birds which included 13 House Sparrows, nine Willow Warblers, three tree Pipits, three Clamorous Reed Warblers and one Graceful Prinia. We only had two re-traps which were a Clamorous Reed Warbler and a Graceful Prinia both of which were ringed at the same site the week before. Bird numbers appeared to much lower than the previous week, although we caught almost the same number of birds, maybe because the conditions were less windy this weekend?
Clamorous Reed Warbler (juvenile)

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit
A few of the Willow Warblers have very small sizes and approach Chiffchaff in their measurements but are still Willow Warblers on wing point and emarginations to the flight feathers and also have the typical pale leg colour of most Willow Warblers. The short wing gives you the idea they are shorter distance migrants maybe breeding somewhere nearer to us than the typical birds caught with longer wings and larger size?
Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler

A number of birds were caught with brood patches indicating they are breeding including Graceful Prinia and House Sparrow and young juvenile Clamorous Reed Warbler and House Sparrow were caught showing young of some species are already on the wing out here.
Clamorous Reed Warbler - juvenile

Clamorous Reed Warbler - juvenile


27 Apr 2012

Some very tired migrants – Dhahran Hills

Migrants are still passing through Dhahran in small numbers and yesterday there were large numbers of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows. Some of the Barn Swallows were tired and were sitting on the ground in an exhausted state allowing close approach. At least 100 Sand Martins and 250 BARN Swallows were present and 25+ Pallid Swift were also around making quite a spectacle as many of the birds were in the air together over the pond. Trying to pick out a Brown-throated Martin from all the Sand Martins was a very difficult task and one I failed to achieve, which was not too surprising as this would be a major rarity in the region, but worth looking for.
Barn Swallow
Water levels in the percolation pond are still very high with very few muddy edges exposed so wader numbers have remained low during the spring migration period so far. One consolation is that there are a number of wet areas outside the pond fence, due to water overflow from the pond, where birds are congregating. I saw three different Spotted Crakes on one of these wet areas all of which were on show at the same time. A fine male Black-headed Yellow Wagtail was also in the same area along with three Wood Sandpipers and two Black-winged Stilts. The pond itself is still relatively poor for bird although the reed beds are now growing back quite strongly and at least two pairs of Clamorous Reed Warblers are singing from them. A Purple Heron was feeding along the edge of the reed beds and is the first bird I have seen this spring and the White-winged Tern was still about in its fine summer plumage, although is proving extremely difficult to photograph. A single Great Cormorant is all that is left of the 2500 birds that roosted at the site in the winter.
Spotted Crake
Purple Heron
Purple Heron

The trees around the pond held good numbers of Willow Warblers and three Spotted Flycatchers as well as a couple of Turkestan Shrikes, two Daurian Shrikes and seven Bee-eaters. Many of these birds were flitting between the trees and the wire fence of the pond and allowed some good views to be had. Three Eastern Olivaceous Warblers are holding territories in this area as well, which is a much lower number than last year so let’s hope more arrive in the next week or so.
European Bee-eater

The spray fields had three Turkestan Shrikes, three Daurian Shrikes and a fine male Woodchat Shrike, which is the first one I have seen for almost a month. Red-throated Pipits were present in small numbers and only three Ortolan Buntings were seen. Four male Whinchats were showing well in their really bright colours and a female Marsh Harrier was sitting in the grass of the main spray field, which is not a common sight for Dhahran. A single Isabelline Wheatear was also the first one I have seen for a few weeks and it was in the vicinity of two Northern Wheatears and a male and female Common Redstart which were sending most of their time hiding in the bushes at the edge of the field.
Northern Wheatear
Common Redstart

26 Apr 2012

New ringing ticks – Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

I went ringing again on Friday at Alba Marshes and we set up our normal four nets. We changed the place of the back net as a Black-winged Stilt had decided to lay eggs at the edge of the ride we normally use so did not want to disturb them. Brendan flushed a crake off the path and it flew into the bottom shelf of the net but as it was a large bird it started walking along the net towards the end where it would have been able to escape. The bird was too large to get caught up in the net but Brendan used his speed and skill to catch the bird before it got loose. This was a new bird for Brendan and for the ringing scheme in Bahrain so it meant Brendan ringed the bird. This did allow me more time to look at it in the hand and take photographs than normal but I would love to catch another one to ring myself. The bird was a first year male and was a beautiful bird to handle.

Spotted Crake - second calendar year male

Spotted Crake - second calendar year male

Spotted Crake - second calendar year male

Spotted Crake - second calendar year male

Spotted Crake - second calendar year male
 We had quite a good days ringing with the Spotted Cake being the first bird caught and virtually the last bird caught was a new ringing species for me. This was a first year female Ortolan Bunting and was again a very nice bird to see in the hand. Numbers of the species have been building up over the last couple of weeks and quite a few were seen in the reed edges and short cut reed areas but it took quite a few hours until one flew into the net.
Ortolan Bunting - second calendar year female

Ortolan Bunting - second calendar year female

Ortolan Bunting - second calendar year female

Ortolan Bunting - second calendar year female

Ortolan Bunting - second calendar year female


25 Apr 2012

Lesser Grey Shrike - Dhahran Hills

A few new birds are still trickling into Dhahran with a new species for the year being virtually the last bird I saw late in the evening. This bird was an adult Lesser Grey Shrike and looked slightly out of place amongst the many Daurian and Turkestan Shrikes. There appeared to be at least ‘karelini’ type hybrid shrikes present around the spray fields as well making it a good day for shrikes in general. I am still, however, awaiting my first Red-backed Shrike of the year, which did not turn up until the 1st May last year. The few small trees at one end of the spray fields had a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin feeding around out in the open which gave great views and allowed time to study the odd behavior of these birds with wings and tail being flicked in a regular manner.
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

The area around the spray fields also held seven Ortolan Buntings, one Northern Wheatear, six Red-throated Pipits, four Willow Warblers but not much else excepting the Turkestan and Daurian Shrikes. The Black-winged Kite appears to have left the area as I have not seen it on my last two trips to the area. Large numbers of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows, totaling over 75 of each species were hawking insects over the fields and 30+ Pallid Swift were also flying over.
Turkestan Shrike
 The percolation pond is still relatively quiet, although a superb adult White-winged Tern was present for its second day on the pond. A Squacco Heron was feeding along one of the edges but apart from Eurasian Coot, Common Moorhen and Little Grebe there was little on the pond itself. The trees surrounding the pond had Eastern Olivaceous Warblers getting ready to start breeding as well as two Spotted Flycatchers, one female Common Redstart and a group of seven European Bee-eaters perched on the fence and flying about over the water. Waders included three Black-winged Stilts, one Green Sandpiper and 13 Wood Sandpipers feeding on the pools outside the fence of the pond itself.
European Bee-eater

Squacco Heron

Wood Sandpipers


24 Apr 2012

Common Cuckoo - Dhahran Hills

Bird numbers have picked up slightly in Dhahran over the past few days and a few new birds for the year have arrived, but the best birds, for me at least were two adult Common Cuckoos which were new 'patch' ticks for me and takes my 'patch' list to 177 species, which is comming along quite nicely. I get more pleasure out of seeing a new bird on my local 'patch' than I do seeing a new bird for Saudi Arabia so all in all I was very pleased with the Common Cuckoos.
Common Cuckoo


There are quite a few other migrants passing through including new species for the spring for me in the form of Spotted Flycatcher and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. The Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes were in the scrubby desert area and one was an adult male and the other a young male. The Spotted Flycather was living up to its name and catching flys from the fence surrounding the Percolation Pond. The pond itself remains very quiet with the only good birds being a whte phase Indian Reef Heron and two Wood Sandpipers. There were 75+ Pallid Swifts flying over the pond with 20+ Sand Martins and a couple of European Bee-eaters were aslo flying around catching insects.

Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush

Spotted Flycatcher

The Black-winged Kite was still about in its normal place with the only other bird of prey seen being a female Pallid Harrier. A few Wheatears made an appearance for the frst time in a week and included two Northern Wheatears and two Pied Wheatears including one fine male. The spray fields still held 25+ Red-throated Pipits, two Whinchats, six Turkestan Shrikes, five Daurian Shrikes and seven Ortolan Buntings.

Black-winged Kite
Ortolan Bunting

23 Apr 2012

Black-winged Kite – Dhahran Hills

The Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) is still present in Dhahran and has now been present for almost a month. It tends to use the same stand of trees for sitting on each day and hunts mainly over the spray fields looking for birds and rodents. This bird  is of the eastern sub-species Elanus caeruleus  as it had very dark under-wing markings on the secondaries unlike the more western race Elanus caeruleus caeruleus. This is the first record of this sub-species for Saudi Arabia and shows it comes from Pakistan or eastwards. In Europe the Black-winged Kite is rare and local with increasing breeding only in southern Portugal, central and southern Spain & south-west France. They also breed in North Africa in parts of Morocco, coastal Algeria & Tunisia, and the Nile Valley. Numbers are increasing in Egypt but declining in northwest Africa. South of the Sahara it is a common and widespread species from Senegal to Ethiopia and south to the Cape including Madagascar. In Asia they breed in the south-west of the Arabian Peninsula and from Pakistan, through the Indian Subcontinent, south-east Asia and the Philippines south to Sumatra, Borneo, and Sulawasi as well as in central and eastern New Guinea. They are mainly resident over much of their range but some undergo erratic movements. Recorded as a vagrant in a number of European Countries as well as being recorded in Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, and the Middle East, with birds to these areas presumably coming from north-east Africa.
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus vociferus - adult

Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus vociferus - adult

Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus vociferus - adult

There are four subspecies in the world with only two likely to reach Saudi Arabia, Elanus caeruleus caeruleus South-western Iberian Peninsula, Africa and south-western Arabia, E.c.vociferus Pakistan to eastern China, Indochina & Malay Peninsula. The birds seen in the south-west of Saudi Arabia are from the E.c.caerileus sub-species but the bird we saw was of the C.e.vociferus sub-species as it had very dark under-wing markings on the secondaries unlike the more western race E.c.caerileus. See the difference between our bird above and one from Andalucia, Spain below. The excellent photos below were taken by Stephen Daly and are used with his kind permission.


Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus caerileus - adult (Adalusia, Spain)
Photographed by Stephen Daly & used with kind permission


Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus caerileus - adult (Adalusia, Spain)
Photographed by Stephen Daly & used with kind permission