06 April 2013

Hybrid Spotted Eagle? – Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm (Fadhili)

On 31st January 2013 Phil Roberts and I found an unusual spotted eagle sitting in a tree at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm (Fadhili). The bird looked like a Greater Spotted Eagle but it was at some distance so we got the telescopes out to look at the bird. Once the scopes were on the bird it became obvious this was not a standard Greater Spotted Eagle as it had a different colouration to the normal dark brown Greater Spotted Eagles we normally see in the area. This bird was a lighter chocolate brown colour on the head and body and the possibility of it being a Lesser Spotted Eagle was discussed. Unfortunately the eye colour could not be seen due to the range. Lesser Spotted Eagle is a vagrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with only two records. A sub-adult at Haradh 21 November 1980 and a bird Phil saw a few years ago. As this was potentially a very good bird we tried to drive closer as we were still a great distance from it. Unfortunately if flew off with us still a long way away and was lost to sight. In flight the bird again looked like a Spotted Eagle but no details of the under-wing could be obtained. We drove around to the area where the bird was lost to sight behind a row of trees and quietly drove along the tree line hoping the bird may have landed there. When we got to a gap in the trees I saw an Eagle flying, again at some distance. This time I was ready with the camera and tried to get a few flight shots to see if I could see the under-wing pattern properly. Although the shots are of poor quality, when lightened up slightly you can make out the commas on the under-wing. They did not give the typical double comma of Lesser Spotted Eagle, more the single comma associated with Greater Spotted Eagle and the flight silhouette also looked typical of Greater Spotted Eagle, but something did not look right about the bird and the original colour when perched had us scratching our heads. I sent the photos to Dick Forsman for his expert advice and he said the following “This bird looks like an adult Greater Spotted Eagle in structure and plumage, at least there is nothing contradicting that identification. Excluding Lesser Spotted Eagle could prove difficult, and naturally it would be impossible to exclude a hybrid Lesser x Greater. The very light head and rather fine bill could actually indicate some Lesser influence, but could also be within the variation of Greater Spotted Eagle. I thank Dick very much for his kind help on a number of tricky birds of prey I have seen in Saudi Arabia over the last three years.