21 February 2012

A good days birding – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Last weekend I went to Sabkhat Al Fasl as there was no ringing trip to Bahrain as everyone was busy at the weekend. The weather was not very promising with strong winds and overcast sky but I still arrived at first light and as this was Friday I had more time to explore the area, as I did not need to get back to Dhahran so early. It was obvious that there were a lot more birds about this time than last weekend and a few migrants had arrived as one of the first birds I saw was a really smart male Woodchat Shrike. This is the first returning bird I have seen this year, although birds have been seen in Bahrain and Riyadh in the last week so it was not unexpected. As is invariably the case I saw a Greater Spotted eagle on arrival flying away and over the reeds and by the end of the day I had seen at least seven birds, mostly 2nd CY birds but also two adults. One 2nd CY bird was seen on the edge of the path through the reeds, but unfortunately as I was trying to get closer to the bird it flew off. It circled around and landed about 100 metres in front of the car but in a position where I could not photograph it as it was through the frond windscreen. After about one minute it flew again and this time I managed to get a couple of photographs of the bird through the open window in flight.
Greater Spotted Eagle (Second calendar year)

A few Squacco Herons were present in the reed-beds looking for small fish and eight Whiskered Terns were flying about doing likewise. Nine Gadwalls were lurking in the reeds at the back of the main lake behind a flock of 300+ Common Black-headed Gulls and several Water rail were calling from the reed-beds with one seen briefly. At least twenty each of White Wagtails and Water Pipits were on the muddy edges and reed fringes of a large lake and a party of 22 migrant Red-rumped Swallows and six Barn Swallows were hunting the plentiful mosquitos in the same place. Further around the main lake areas I saw a flock of 18 Eurasian Skylarks in the short-grass, and this allowed me some opportunities to study them as they were in view for quite a lot of the time. I was hoping to locate an Oriental Skylark, but unfortunately all I could see was Eurasian Skylarks.
Sqaucco Heron
Eurasian Skylark

Whilst driving around it is possible to see through the reeds into the main water areas if a few places. These are normally areas of flattened or cut reeds that have been prepared for hunters, but allow views into otherwise inaccessible places. Some of these areas have small muddy islands and these are very attractive to waders. I saw three Common Greenshank, two Wood Sandpipers, one Marsh Sandpiper and one Spotted Redshank whilst looking here.
Wood Sandpiper

Additional passerines were seen today compared to my meager sightings last weekend, some of them wintering birds and others migrants. A single Turkestan Shrike, three Daurian Shrikes, two Desert Wheatears (male and female), a single Isabelline Wheatear, two Siberian Stonechats, two Tawny Pipits, 50+ White Wagtails, 50+ Water Pipits, six Common Starling, six Common Chiffchaff and a beautiful adult male Citrine Wagtail that was right beside me but by the time I had stopped looking at it through my binoculars and got the camera it had flown away, which was a real shame. The majority of birds are still winter visitors but the first signs of spring migration are slowly starting to appear.
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Water Pipit (A. s. coutelli)

The flooded sabkha area was completely full of water and held plenty of birds. Black-winged Stilts were present in their hundreds; probably migrants as I have seen very few in the last month. Well over 500 Pied Avocets were present along with 50+ Dunlins, 50+ Little Stints, 11 Common Greenshank, six Grey Plover and three Ruff. Scanning the far distance with the telescope produced six Common Shelducks and well over 50 Northern Shovellers, all of which appeared to be dangerously close to two hunters hidden in their hunting blind. This is the best area to see Western Marsh Harrier and Greater Spotted Eagle, with the Harriers normally seen over the reed-beds and the eagles on the mud flats. A large group of terns was sitting on the only island with 27 Caspian Terns and 66 Little Terns / Saunders Little Terns in amongst 97 Slender-billed Gulls.
Ruff (male)