26 Feb 2014

Lesser Spotted Eagle and more – Sabkhat Al Fasl

As it was meant to be windy on Friday Phil and I went to our normal weekend birding spot of Sabkhat Al Fasl. A Red-wattled Lapwing had been found there by Lou and Brian, who had come down the previous weekend from Riyadh and Kaust, for a long weekends birding. Red-wattled Lapwing is an uncommon bird for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and was a very good find. Unfortunately we could not relocate the bird so went back to our regular birding. Things were very slow at the site with few birds being seen except the regulars. This is probably because a number of the wintering birds are moving off and the spring migrants have not really arrived yet. The few remaining wintering species included Water Pipit and White Wagtail in reasonable numbers as well as the wintering birds of prey such as Western Marsh Harrier and Greater Spotted Eagles, of which we saw at least five, photos of which I will post later. Resident birds seen included Purple Swamphen, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Graceful Prinia and a few of the herons such as Squacco Heron which is now resident at the site and Indian Reef Heron. There were a few signs of migration with plenty of Barn Swallows, two Pallid Swifts, six Daurian Shrikes and a group of seven Marsh Terns that all appeared to be winter plumaged White-winged Terns. The resident Caspian Terns and Gull-billed Terns were also seen in the same area as the White-winged Terns. Not much else of note was seen except a few Great White Egrets and three Great Black-headed Gulls, two immatures and a fine adult summer.
Indian Reef Heron
Greater Flamingo
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Purple Swamphen
Western Marsh Harrier
White Wagtail
White-winged Tern
The day was salvaged towards the end when we were about to leave the site and I saw an unusual looking bird of prey sitting on the edge of a raised bank. It did not give the usual impression of a Great Spotted Eagle and had a stance like the Western Marsh Harriers that often sit in this area as well as a large rounded head with no crest, shaggy feathers on the back of the head are a typical feature of the Greater Spotted Eagles we see in winter at this site. Unfortunately if flew off before we cold get the cameras and telescope on it, but when it did Phil immediately mentioned the two toned upperwing pattern. The wing shape looked slightly different to the Greater Spotted Eagles we had just seen but the bird flew out of view. We drove down to where it had disappeared and relocated it on an earth mound but at a long distance, where we could see it had drainpipe like leg feathers not shaggy ones like the Greater Spotted Eagles and when it flew again it allowed me to grab a couple of very poor images. The photos appeared to show the double carpal comma and the seventh primary was not fingered, a feature we could also see in the field, or if it was it was very short. This combination of features, combined with the obvious two toned upperparts visible even at range, appeared to point to Lesser Spotted Eagle which would be a new species for me for the Eastern Province as well as for Saudi Arabia as a whole. As a result I sent the photos to Andrea Corso to check our identification and Andrea said although the photos were poor it indeed seemed to be a Lesser Spotted Eagle. Lesser Spotted Eagle is a vagrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with one record of a Sub-adult at Haradh 21 November 1980 and another seen by Phil to the north of Jubail. The first record for Saudi Arabia was not until the early 1980’s and there have been very few records since.
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Lesser Spotted Eagle

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