12 August 2013

Wadi Juwwah

Wadi Juwwah (16 56.75N, 43 01.80E) is alternatively written as Wadi Jawa or even Wadi Giwa and is a rare north-south wadi in south-west Saudi Arabia as most of the wadis are west-east. It took us a bit of time to find the site but it is easily located if you drive out of Abu Arish and continue on the road until the check point. Go through the check point for about two kilometres and then you will see a turn to the right onto a tarmac road, which goes to Wadi Juwwah and a dirt track to the left which goes to Malaki Lake. The wadi has one of the highest diversities of breeding species known in Arabia including Helmeted Guineafowl  Numida meleagris. This is the single most important site in Saudi Arabia for the species with over 1,000 breeding birds in 1990, which is due to the protection of the local Emir and people of the valley. We managed to see two of these birds feeding under a thick acacia tree belt. Wadi Jawwah lies at an altitude of 100-300 metres in the foothills east of Abu Arish and south of al-Arida, inland from Jizan. It consists of a sandy and clay bed surrounded by often steep volcanic rocky slopes. Scattered Dobera and Ficus trees dominate the landscape and there are many remnant patches of Acacia and Salvadora scrub. The rocky outcrops and bordering slopes are only sparsely vegetated with Acacia and succulents but can have a surprising cover of grasses after heavy rain. The wadi is densely populated and most of it is cultivated with sorghum and millet. The best way to bird the site is to walk down the wadis themselves or drive slowly along the road looking at all the interesting places you see. Walking is certainly the best way to go but in summer it is extremely hot and humid in this area. 
Abyssinian Roller
We bird-watched the area twice, once on 1 July, our first afternoon, after first looking at the Malaki Dam area and the second time on 3 July, two days later, when we arrived at the location at about ten o’clock again after having birded the Malaki Dam area. The first day in Wadi Juwwah we saw a superb Abyssinian Roller as well as an African Grey Hornbill, both new species for me in Saudi Arabia. Other interesting birds seen included two Nile Valley Sunbirds, six Black Bush Robins, Zitting Cisticola was heard only, 20+ Ruppell’s Weavers, two Arabian Babblers, 10+ Laughing Doves, 15+ Namaqua Doves, one Desert Lark, one Graceful Prinia and two Blackstarts. A number of White-throated Bee-eaters were present in the larger trees surrounding this site with one giving very good views along the side of a back road. 
White-throated Bee-eater
Nile Valley Sunbird
Black Bush Robin
On the 3 July we saw more birds than the previous visit and were concentrating on Helmeted Guineafowl. We found a single bird under some acacia trees and when a goat herder walked past and the bird was disturbed it was joined by a second bird. Both ran away up the basalt cliffs and disappeared from view and despite some searching could not be relocated. The best way to find the Guineafowls is to walk down the wadies and listen for calls, although the birds we saw were silent. A strange call from a large tree attracted out attention and after walking to the place where the sound was coming from a Gabar Goshawk flew out with a large snake held in its talons. A lucky stop at a large tree found a minimum of 13 Violet-backed Stralings present including a very young juvenile bird. Three Abyssinian Rollers were seen as well as five White-throated Bee-eaters, one Green Bee-eater and five White-spectacled Bulbuls. 
Helmeted Guineafowl
Violet-backed Starling - male