23 August 2013

Tale’a Valley

At just over 3000 m Jebal Souda is the highest peak in Saudi Arabia and includes the Raydah protected area on its western escarpment, and is surrounded by a plateau, mostly over 2500 m. The juniper Juniperus procera forests in the highlands are probably the most extensive anywhere in Arabia and there are also some thickly wooded acacia valleys. The road to Mount Soudah is in very good condition up to the top, although a little steep, and is well signposted from the city of Abha. There are several car parks and picnic areas to stop at and have a look around as you approach the summit, many of which are good for birds. We did not bird this area this trip as it was holiday season and the traffic going to the top of Mount Souda was ridiculous with gridlock each afternoon. We did bird the Tale’a Valley, situated off the main road from Abha to Mount Soudah. The road goes through some good farmland with cultivated fields and ravines or wadis with acacia trees growing in them. This has previously been a good site for the endemic Arabian Woodpecker and Arabian Wheatear and the Asir race of the European Magpie has also been seen here. 
Ruppell's Weaver
We birded this site in the early afternoon of 5 July and did so by driving down the road until we saw some nice areas of acacia trees. The primary species we were looking for at this site was Arabian Woodpecker whose preferred habitat is acacia woodland with the occasional dead tree interspersed. We found a nice looking wadi full of big trees and the occasional dead one and set about trying to locate the woodpecker. We failed here but found 20+ Gambaga Flycatchers, five White-spectacled Bulbuls, five Ruppell’s Warblers, ten House Sparrows, one Scrub Warbler, five Little Rock Thrush, one Cinnamon Breasted Bunting, five Arabian Warblers, five Arabian Babblers, ten Ruppell’s Weavers, two Dusky Turtle Doves and several Laughing Doves. Three Red-breasted Wheatears were hopping about the rocks and one Arabian Wheatear was also present.
Little Rock Thrush
Gambaga Flycatcher
 After failing at the first site we started driving back to an area where Lou had seen birds previously. On the way we found another good-looking area of trees and stopped again to look. Here we found a female Arabian Woodpecker that flew out of a dead tree and into some green trees where it started finding food. Females lack the red patch on the head of males. This was one of my three missing endemics and I was very pleased to find one, even if it did not give great views.
Arabian Woodpecker