25 Mar 2012

Heavy Rain - Sabkaht Al Fasl

I went birding on Saturday as it was a long weekend at Saudi Aramco. As a result I managed to persuade my wife and children a trip to Sabkhat to look at a few colourful birds, Yellow Wagtails of various Subspecies, Shrikes and Greater Flamingos was a good idea. As I was travelling with the family we left later than I normally do and although it was overcast at Dhahran the weather looked like it might be brightening up. This proved wrong because almost as soon as we arrived at Sabkhat Al Fasl it started raining and quite hard at that. This meant our picnic had to be done in the boot of the Landcruiser which was great for the girls but a not so good for Lidia or me. The poor weather meant we had to stay in the car most of the time but there were good birds about including a very confiding dark-throated Eastern Black-eared Wheatear which was catching insects right next to the car. The following photographs are a bit unusual for Saudi Arabia as all the birds are wet, something they and I do not expect.
 Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (2nd calendar year male)
  Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (2nd calendar year male)
  Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (2nd calendar year male)

Yellow Wagtails, mainly Black-headed (feldegg) and Sykes's (beema) were about and caused a lot of nice comments from the car. Several Shrikes of four species were seen including Turkestan, Durian, Mauryan Grey Shrike (palidirostris) and Woodchat many allowing quite close views. The rain caused photography to be difficult and te fact that my two young girls cannot keep quite also made things tricky but some birds still behaved nicely and allowed photographs.
Turkestan Shrike (adult male)

The only species I saw today that I had not seen on my previous visit was Collared Pratincole of which I saw a flock of 21 birds flying about in a flock and also gathered together on the ground. They were one species that did not like the loud noises coming from the car so the photos are not as good as they may have been but they were great to see and this is the largest flock I have seen in Saudi Arabia so far.
 Collared Pratincoles
Collared Pratincole


  1. Interesting - i have never heard of 'Mauryan'and have never seen a 'pallidirostris' altho it is now annual here with one claimed not too far away from me, in Shropshire. I did'nt go and have a look due to access problems and associated distant views. A bit of googling says that 'Maurya' is the Anglo-cised term for the ancient Indian region of Mahajanapada which is where this putative split breeds rather than the more Eastern 'pallidirostris' which is still called the 'Saxaul' Shrike due to the steppe habitat that it too breeds in with Saxaul shrub being a dominant species.Confusingly it is Lanius lahtora rather than a meridionalis to confuse the nomenclature - for me anyway. Asian Grey Shrike appears to be another name, 'lahtora' is derived from the Hindi 'latora' meaning shrike apparantly. Having seen GGShrikes here, Spanin, Portugal and 2 subspp in Morocco i can honestly say that i do'nt have the faintest idea of how many full spp i have seen but i keep looking at them. Martin Garners 'Frontiers of Birding' is an excellent and informative site if you have not visited? He rattles on about 'homeyri' types just to make the brain ache a bit more!

    All good fun - keep your eyes peeled for the 'grey-backed' RBRobin.

    Laurie -

    1. Laurie,

      Thnaks again for a great post and for the details of how the names were derived. I think I have only seen Great Grey Shrike and all the sub-species fall uder this species as does the name Southern Grey Shrike.

      'Mauryan Grey Shrike' (Lanius lahtora) (lahtora, pallidirostris)
      'Arabian Grey Shrike' (Lanius aucheri) (aucheri, buryi)

      I am slighty confused as to what I am seeing out here with the Great (Southern) Grey Shrike complex. Not sure if I am seeing out of range elegans, Lahtora or only pallidirostris?
      If you throw in the possibility of vagrant homeyri as well (Martins site is a goldmine of information) then it is even more problematic. Good views of the spread tail, underwing and spread wing are a must so photographs of the birds about to land are the way to get to grips with what is what. As these shrikes may be 'split' at some time then it will become more important to ID them correctly in the field!