16 October 2012

A new birding site - Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm (Fadhili)

Whilst looking on Google Maps last year I saw a large set of Pivot fields in the desert inland from Jubail which looked very interesting. The trouble was I had no idea how to get to them as there did not appear to be any roads there. I spoke to Phil about them and we decided we would go and look one weekend when we were both free, in case we got stuck in the sand or something similar on the way to the fields. I also asked Brain Meadows a birder who lived in the area for ten years in the late 1990’s and he mentioned the same fields but said access was not allowed for a while before he left due to bird flu issues. Last weekend was the first time we have been able to execute our plan to visit the site and we set off on Friday 12th October at 04:00 hrs to try to get to the farm by first light. We found the site relatively easily and I will post details on how to get there in the near future. There is a security gate to the farm which was padlocked but luckily for us a man was walking down the road so I attracted his attention and he turned out to be the guard with the key. We explained we wanted to go onto the site to bird-watch and he let us in. Trying to get out was slightly more difficult with the new guard stopping us and asking what we were doing but after calling the initial guard they let us proceed. This site does not have easy access and should probably only be visited after phoning and asking for permission. Until we can get proper permission to access the site our visits will be very few and far between, which is a shame as it is a truly amazing place with plenty of mixed habitat, including large pivot fields growing crops, plenty of haystack piles, a large wetland area, small reed-beds, extensive scrubby desert, disused and dry pivot fields and quite a few large trees growing along the track edges.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

We spent the entire morning here, as we had to be back for family commitments, but a full day would be much too short to do the area justice. We did, however, see some very good birds including two new Saudi Arabia species for me and a vagrant to the Eastern Province. Just through the main gate we came across a large wetland area to the right of the road. The wetland held quite a number of waders including both my first new Saudi Arabia species of the day. The first was Black-necked Grebe of which we saw two in full breeding plumage associating closely with the ten or so Little Grebes. Not a bad start to the morning which soon became better when we located a Pacific Golden Plover at the back of the area on exposed mud where it stayed all morning and was still present when we left at midday. It was an adult moulting into winter plumage and was quite distant so I did not manage to get any decent photos of it. Pacific Golden Plover was a more regular species in the Eastern Province thirty years ago where it was often seen at the former Dammam Marsh lagoons in winter and on passage between March and April and September and October. Recent records have been very scarce and it is now regarded as a rare passage migrant. There were a lot of other waders on the muddy edges to this wetland including 35 Ruffs, 50+ Black-winged Stilts, 40+ Common Ringed Plovers, 60+ Little Stints, 30+ Common Snipes, 15 Wood Sandpipers, six Kentish Plovers and one Common Redshank. A Great Cormorant was on the water and herons included three Grey Herons, 19 Cattle Egrets and two Indian Reef Herons and hundreds of Barn Swallow and at least 50 Sand Martins were seen hunting over the area, which is the largest concentration of Barn Swallows I have seen in Saudi Arabia so far. Clamorous Reed Warblers and Graceful Prinias were calling from the reed beds. We then drove to the nearest pivot field with crops being grown and saw quite a few birds including hundreds of Namaqua Doves, Laughing Doves, Eurasian Collared Dove, five Isabelline Wheatears, four urasian Hoopoe, ten Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and several Crested Larks. It looked like a good place to try to find an unusual lark such as Bimaculated, but this did not work out as planned and we only managed to find two Short-toed Larks feeding in a pivot field for our efforts, although still nice to see.

Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark

The scrubby desert areas had plenty of shrikes and wheatears with Steppe Grey Shrike being relatively common, one Southern Grey Shrike, three Turkestan Shrikes and six Daurian Shrikes. The most common Wheatear present was Pied Wheatear with most of the 20+ birds seen being immature males, although Isabelline Wheatear was also common. Birds of prey seen included up to seven Common Kestrels, six Western Marsh Harriers one Black Kite and a smart adult male Pallid Harrier which we unfortunately flushed from on the ground under a tree before we saw it. Other good birds seen included two Tawny Pipits, a Desert Warbler feeding in the bushes at the far fence line and two European Bee-eaters on the same wires. We saw 48 species of bird in five hours birding at a single site, which is a good total for our area. Whilst stopping on the way out at the same wetland area as we had seen the Pacific Golden Plover on we found another good bird for the Eastern Province, this one being a vagrant of which I will post details tomorrow.

Isabelline Wheatear