13 February 2012

Plenty of Eagles at Sabkhat Al Fasl

A weekend trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl produced few birds of note but the number of eagles present was spectacular. The commonest eagle seen at the site is Greater Spotted Eagle where birds winter in good numbers and birds are guaranteed to be seen from October until March with the majority of birds being juveniles, although a few adults are also present. Possibly because I arrived at the location later than normal, normally I am there for first light; I saw more eagles than normal. At least 13 Greater Spotted Eagles were seen with three circling on the thermals together and eight birds together on the flooded Sabkha area. This is the largest number I have seen on a single day and it would be very interesting to know how many individual birds use this location during the winter.
Greater Spotted Eagle

Also along with the Greater Spotted Eagles I also saw two 2nd calendar year Eastern Imperial Eagles both circling with or near Greater Spotted Eagles. Eastern Imperial Eagle generally occur in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia from November until March and this is only the third time I have seen the species at this site, although they have been recorded regularly in previous years, with numbers thought to be declining in the region.
Eastern Imperial Eagle

A very interesting paper has recently been published entitled ‘A note on the occurrence at man-made habitats of wintering Greater Spotted Aquila clanga and Eastern Imperial Eagles A. heliaca in the coastal belt of eastern Saudi Arabia’ by Brian Meadows (Sandgrouse 33: 98-101). This paper suggests that Eastern Imperial Eagle numbers declined in the later part of the observation period of September 1984 to April 2004, whilst Greater Spotted Eagle numbers increased, possibly due to the drainage of significant areas of the Iraq marshes following the end of the Gulf war in 1991, which was previously a wintering stronghold for the species.