26 Mar 2012

A good number of migrants - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl over the weekend was quite rewarding with plenty of migrants on offer. The scrubby bushes and trees on the way into the site produced quite a few Daurian Shrikes as well as two Turkestan Shrikes and a single Mauryan Grey Shrike. Wheatears were also plentiful with four Northern Wheatears and six Pied Wheatears in the scrubby desert area. A few Common Chiffchaffs were jumping around the bushes and plenty of Crested Larks were setting up breeding territories in the area. Unfortunately I failed to locate any Rock Thrushes, as both Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and the much scarcer Blue Rock Thrush had been seen at the site in the previous couple of weeks.
Crested Lark

A drive to the back of the site to look at an open area of water was rewarded with six Whiskered Terns, two in full breeding plumage and seven Squacco Herons were hiding in the reeds. This area also held a large mixed flock of White and Yellow Wagtails (see post in the next few days for details). Two Common Starlings were also seen in the reeds, with these being the only ones seen during the day. Most of the birds must have moved off for the summer, although they are never easy to see even though large flocks of several hundred roost in the reed beds in the winter. Whilst birding the reed edges and looking through the few openings in the reeds that have been made by hunters, I located three Wood Sandpipers and a female Ruff (reeve). A couple of Marsh Sandpipers and a number of Little Stint were also seen. Birds of prey seen included two Greater Spotted Eagles and a female Common Kestrel, which was very flighty and would not allow close approach. Kestrels are very timid in this area as the locals often try to catch them. Up to 13 Western Marsh Harriers and a single Western Osprey were also present with the Western Osprey spending most of its time sitting on a metal post surveying the scenery.
 Squacco Heron
 Common Kestrel - female
Common Starling

Sightings of Purple Swamphens have been thin on the ground in recent visits but this time I saw three different adult birds. One adult had two fluffy, newly born, chicks with her which is again proof of successful breeding at one of only two breeding sites for the species in Saudi Arabia. It is now apparent that the reason the sightings of the species has dropped over the last month or so is because they were breeding and keeping a low profile. Whilst watching the Purple Swamphen a nice male White-spotted Bluethroat came out of the reeds and performed well, but distantly.
 Purple Swamphen & Young

Finally I went to the wet flooded sabkha area to look for waders and here it was obvious the number of Greater Flamingoes had decreased from several thousand to only about 200 birds. Waders were still not about in huge numbers but 100+ of Little Stint, Ruff, Common Ringed Plover and Pied Avocet were still present and Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper were also seen in numbers above 10 each. A single Temminck’s Stint was feeding along a muddy pool and close by where two Common Sandpipers and a number of Kentish Plover.
Common Sandpiper


  1. Jem - what race do you think that Crested Lark is?

    I am off to Maroc shortly where there are potentially 4+ according to what i have been reading depending where in the Atlas and at what latitude you are in the country. A lot of people claim the 'long-billed' race but there are others.

    Laurie -

  2. Laurie,

    Your making me do some thinking with your excellent questions. The sub-species that occurs in the area I bird is Galerida cristata tardinata which also occurs in much of southern Arabia. The type specimen was collected in Saudi Arabia near to Dhahran where I birdwatch.

    Galerida cristata brachyura also occurs in northern Saudi Arabia and occurs from north-east Libya to coastal northern Egypt, northern Sinai, northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq.

    There are 35 sub-species of Crested Lark and many of them are very similar to each other. I am only claiming this sub-species on range, and the fact they are resident, as I have no idea what many of the sub-species look like.


  3. I suppose that unless you trap these birds and measure the biometrics the only way 'in the field' is to ID along geographical lines - particularly with birds that are more or less sedentary. 'Tardinata' means slow or sluggish so i do'nt think that is of much help with field id!

    ATB Laurie -