8 Mar 2012

Western Osprey - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday at the percolation pond I saw a new species for me on the 'patch'. I had just arrived at the pond and was trying to count the group of duck sitting on the water, some hiding in the reeds and others out in the open. The duck were Garganey and there were 19 of them including some really smart males. I had just confirmed my count of 19 birds when all of them took to the air and on looking up I saw a Western Osprey flying over. The bird circled around a few times and then came right overhead before flying off over the adjacent camp. Western Osprey has been seen on a number of occasions in Dhahran Hills but not in the time I have been here, so it was an excellent start to the evenings birding.

 Western Osprey

The pond held few birds, excepting the Garganey, although the Western Great Egret was still present. I had a quick look at the wet pools where the crakes had been seen yesterday and saw three Little Crakes and two Spotted Crakes in the same place as the day before. A green Sandpiper was present on its favourite pool and allowed closer than normal approach alongside two Bluethroats. The flock of Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swift were still present as was a single Barn Swallow, but numbers had dropped from the day before to about 25+ of each species.
 Green Sandpiper

I had arranged to meet Phil at the spray fields to try to locate the Corn Buntings that I had seen a week or so before. On the way there I saw a male Daurian Shrike sitting on top of a bush and four Tawny Pipits in the desert area. A walk through the spray fields did not turn up any Corn Buntings but we did see a flock of 25+ Yellow-wagtails flying over including a number of Black-headed Wagtails and flushed four Common Quail as well as hearing a couple of other birds calling from the long grass. Four Skylarks were still present as were a number of Stonechats of different sub-species. A Caspian Stonechat (variegatus) was showing very well alongside the more usual Siberian Stonechat (maurus) and nearby was a European Stonechat (rubicola). A male, showing plumage characteristics of maurus but the tail pattern of variegatus was an odd bird and caused confusion – something to look into later when I have more time. Other good birds seen included at least two Woodchat Shrikes, six Song Thrushes, two Isabelline Wheatears and 30+ Water Pipits.
Daurian Shrike


  1. Nice to see plenty of migration under way - i'm intrigued, what's a 'Western' Osprey? I did'nt know that Palearctic birds could be split - is there a difference?

    Laurie -

  2. Laurie,

    This is a good question. I follow the nomenclature of OSME - The Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. They name the bird Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus. Pandion cristatus — Eastern Osprey is regarded as a different species by some. Christidis and Boles (2008): Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds: Eastern Osprey (Pandion cristatus), however, Clements 5th edition (as published): Pandion haliaetus cristatus.


  3. Thanks for that Jem - that is the first mention i have heard of a Western and Eastern split. If it has been split either at specific or sub-specific level i would be most intrigued on how and if this is discernible in the field. I find it hard to believe it has been done on just biometrics! I mean, how many adult Ospreys get trapped and rung?

    Laurie -

  4. Laurie,

    This is what I have found on the sub-species of Osprey.

    P. h. haliaetus (Linnaeus, 1758), Eurasia.
    P. h. carolinensis (Gmelin, 1788), North America. This form is larger, darker bodied and has a paler breast than nominate haliaetus.
    P. h. ridgwayi (Maynard, 1887), Caribbean islands. This form has a very pale head and breast compared with nominate haliaetus, with only a weak eye mask. It is non-migratory.
    P. h. cristatus (Vieillot, 1816), coastline and some large rivers of Australia and Tasmania. The smallest subspecies, also non-migratory.

  5. Cheers Jem - this clarifies things somewhat.

    With such a large global range it is not surprising that there are splits - i just havent heard of them and it's not as if they are recent either! - I am surprised that the, relatively small, Caribbean archipelago has its' own sub-species. There again i suppose non-migratory forms will be more likely to develop specific characteristics due to the indigenous nature of their populations altho these could, of course, be augmented by migratory birds....

    Thanks again -

    Laurie -