04 February 2012

Al-Asfar Lake – Al Hasa

On Thursday we went on a family trip to Al-Hofouf and called into Al-Asfar Lake to have a picnic and see what birds were present. Al-Asfar Lake is situated 13 kilometres east of Al-Hassa and is one of the most important shallow wetland lakes in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Al-Hassa is the largest oasis in the world, being approximately 20,000 hectares in size, as well as being one of the largest and oldest agriculatural centres in Saudi Arabia. An irrigation system was put in place in 1971 and delivers 328,000,000 cubic metres of spring water to about 22,000 farms, with additional water supplied by treated wastewater from Al-Hofouf sewage station. The excess drainage water is collected by a drainage network and discharged into two evaporation lakes which are called Al-Asfar & Al-Uyoun. The lake has good wetlands, sabkhas and sand dunes as well as large expanses of open water. Salt tolerant vegetation is present in some of the sabkha areas and huge stands of Phragmites reeds occur around much of the lake. The habitat is very important for wildlife and birds in particular and is not something you would expect to find in a large desert.
 Lake Al-Asfar
Lake Al-Asfar

The first bird I saw was a lone Pied Avocet feeding on a small muddy spit jutting out into the main expanse of water and there is a possibility this area is suitable for breeding for the species as they have attempted to breed in Qbqaiq which has similar but smaller habitat. Other waders that were present with the bird included at least 50 Kentish Plover with many of the males in full breeding plumage. Two Little Stints were also present. Birds of prey included three Western Marsh Harriers and two adult Greater Spotted Eagles.
Kentish Plover (male)

The only duck we saw were five Common Pochards, which is not such a common bird in the Eastern Province and the ones that are present are very timid as they are hunted along with all other species of duck. At least two hunters were present at this site whilst we were there. Other water-birds included seven Great Cormorants, five Little Grebes and a single Squacco Heron. A quick look around the sabkha area produced five Isabelline Wheatears, one male Desert Wheatear, eight White Wagtails and seven Water Pipits.