03 November 2012

Raydah Escarpment Reserve - Abha

We went to the Raydah Escarpment in the early morning of 28th November to look for some Arabian Endemic species as well as a few restricted range (in Saudi Arabia) African species. The escarpment is very poorly signed and could only be found with the help of a very friendly local Saudi who showed us the route and even offered to drive to the site and allow us to follow. The best way to get to the top is to drive up the Soudah road and once you see the I’m Hotel on the left turn around. Drive back down the road a couple of hundred metres past the shops, now on the right, and then to a red and blue sign with an arrow on it pointing to a turning to the right. Drive down here for about five kilometres, through some small village, until the road splits and take the left turn signed to the Raydah Escarpment. The tarmac road down is extremely steep and quite dangerous with numerous sharp turns and is not for the faint hearted. There are a number of places to stop off-road to look for birds but the best plan for birding would be to walk down the road birding on the way and then hitch a lift back up with one of the locals who also infrequently use the road. Care would, however, have to be taken as there are plenty of Hamadryas Baboons in the park along with Arabian Wolf. We saw a few good birds on the way down including a party of ten Arabian Partridge which were the first birds of this Arabian endemic species I had seen, making my total seven out of the ten possible. They were located on the edge of the road in a very steep section about a third of the way down the escarpment and were in a place where it was difficult to photograph them as there was nowhere to pull the car off the road. They did, however, give very good views and the very large size of these birds was obvious as was the head pattern. The birds are zoned to reflect the vegetation changes with species seen at the top including temperate species such as the Arabian endemic Yemen Thrush, Yemen Linnet & Yemen Warbler. Other good birds seen here included Brown Woodland Warbler, Dusky Turtle Dove, Tristram's Grackle, Brown-necked Raven, Fan-tailed Raven, Steppe Eagle, Palestinian Sunbird, White-spectacled Bulbul, Abyssinian White-eye and Red-breasted Wheatear. As I was with my family we did not stop too much on the way down as it was very steep and dangerous but at the lower slopes where there is a village with arid acacia we stopped and had a walk and saw a lot of birds including Blackstart, ten Little Green Bee-eaters, several Shining Sunbird, two Cinnamon Breasted Bunting, all new Saudi Arabian species for me, as well as Common Redstart, Black Redstart, Siberian Stonechat and a group of Weaver type birds whose identity I am still trying to work out as they do not look like Ruppell’s Weaver to me. The journey back up the escarpment was also quite daunting but less so than the journey down and our Toyota Corolla found it very difficult to get back up the very steep road, although it was thankfully an automatic making things much easier. 
Red-breasted Wheatear
Raydah Escarpment Reserve - top section
Raydah Escarpment Reserve - lower section with Aloe
Raydah Village - bottom section
Green Bee-eater
Weaver sp
Splendid Sunbird
The Raydah reserve area (estimated at 12 km² is a largely undeveloped section of the western escarpment of Jebal Souda that has been protected to some degree since the 1980s. It is located in the biologically rich Asir Mountains and is also an Important Bird Area. It encompasses strata of highland and foothill habitat from 2800 meters to Wadi Jaw at 1350 meters, including a succession of vegetation from juniper dominated upper regions, with olive Oleo europaea, through to the Afrotropical foothills at Wadi Jaw with Ficus trees and where coffee growing occurs. This is the premier site in Saudi Arabia for trying to find the Arabian Endemic species with ten Arabian endemic bird species recorded in this reserve, as well as the Asir subspecies of the Eurasian Magpie and there are numerous Afrotropical species in the lower altitudes. It is the most densely wooded mountainside in Saudi Arabia and is located 10 Kilometers west of Abha on the Sarawat Escarpment, immediately south of Jebal Souda and is a very steep west-facing slope with crags. The contrast in climate can be tremendous with cool, damp, cloudy and temperate conditions at the top to hot, oppressive tropical conditions at the bottom.