21 Feb 2013

Some desert specialists – Shedgum Escarpment

Phil Roberts and I went to Shedgum Escarpment (see here for site details) early in the morning a few days ago. We went to look for some of the desert specialties that live in this rocky outcrop area and are not easy to see near to Dhahran where we both live. The weather was beautiful with a crisp morning, temperature only 11 degrees Celsius, and clear sky giving conditions that would be good for photography if only we could find some birds. These desert areas have very little in the way of species and bird numbers are also very low but if you can find the birds they are of good quality. We went to the top of the escarpment and got out for a look around. Whilst walking over the desolate rocky areas we head a bird calling and after a short search found a Desert Lark. The light was still too poor for photography so continued our walk around. We then drove down the escarpment and looked under the rocky cliffs in the hope of seeing Trumpeter Finch and White-crowned Wheatear. No Trumpeter Finches were seen, we may have been a bit early as they are meant to breed in the area in March, but there is no data on the birds of this region published in the last thirty years so, so we don’t know. We walked around the base of the cliffs and found a couple of nice areas where water runoff would occur if it rained. These had a few small plants and shrubs growing in them but no birds with the exception of a Rock Dove in a hole in the sheer cliff-face. On the way back to the car we heard and saw a couple more Desert Larks, but they were on the top of the escarpment and we were at the bottom. Just as we got back to the car we heard some more birds calling and went back to investigate and found a couple of Desert Larks. These birds allowed very close approach and were not at all worried by our presence allowing a few decent photographs to be taken. We left the birds in place and travelled further along the base of the escarpment. Here we saw a wheatear fly across the track and land. It was not the expected White-crowned Wheatear but an Eastern Mourning Wheatear, which is a winter visitor to the region favouring these rocky type habitats. Amazingly as we were looking at the Eastern Morning Wheatear a White-crowned Wheatear flew in and landed on a post nearby. This bird was very active and sat a few times on exposed perches singing. This is the first time I have heard White-crowned Wheatear sing and was great to hear. Later on we saw a Steppe Buzzard flying over the escarpment and saw it land on the top. We drove near to the bird and after a short while it flew off, fortunately straight over or heads, allowing good photographic opportunities. We spent four hours at the escarpment and only saw ten species of birds, but Desert Lark, Steppe Buzzard, Eastern Mourning Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear are birds not seen regularly by us and the fact we got a few good photos made the trip highly successful. The other birds seen were Rock Dove, Desert Wheatear, House Sparrow, Pallid Swift, Barn Swallow and Brown-necked Raven.
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Eastern Mourning Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear - singing (Curtesy of Phil Roberts)
White-crowned Wheatear - adult
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard

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