20 March 2014

Plenty of Gulls & Shrikes – Sabkhat Al Fasl

My weekend trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl with Phil Roberts produced a few good birds but nothing exceptional. Great Black-headed Gulls have been seen more regularly at the site this winter than in previous years and we saw a small group with one adult summer and five second calendar year birds in the concrete bunded area of the location. We managed to get quite close to them by driving down a bund but unfortunately the sun was in the wrong direction for better photos. Other Large White-headed Gulls seen included Caspian Gulls, Steppe Gulls and a single Hueglin’s Gull. The largest gathering of Black-headed Gulls I have seen in Saudi Arabia were also present with 2000+ present, mainly adults in full breeding plumage. Despite extensive searching, nothing unusual could be located amongst them. Apart from the gulls the next most obvious birds were shrikes. There were tens of Turkestan Shrikes and a few less Daurian Shrikes but also a single Arabian (Southern) Grey Shrike and two Mauryan (Steppe) Grey Shrikes. A very smart ‘keralini’ type Turkestan shrike was also seen but the couple of photos I took only show the front and none of the real features, a second much less well defined bird was also seen in a different part of the location.
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - second calendar year
Caspian Gull
Daurian Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Mauryan Grey Shrike
A few other migrants seen were a couple of Common Chiffchaffs, three Barn Swallows, one House Martin and good numbers of Yellow Wagtails including Black-headed and Blue-headed types. A really smart male Citrine Wagtail was also seen with one group but evaded having his picture taken. A singling male Red-spotted Bluethroat was a nice bird to see and the first time I have seen one singing in Saudi Arabia and a White-spotted Male Bluethroat was also located later feeding along the bottom of the reeds at the track edge. A single Savi’s Warbler was heard reeling and plenty of Eurasian Reed Warblers were also heard amongst the many Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers. A small group of Meadow Pipits was slightly unusual and three Tawny Pipits were also seen all in the scrubby desert area of the site.
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Winter visitors were much reduced with only a single Greater Spotted Eagle although Western Marsh Harriers were still around with more than ten seen during the day. There were many less White Wagtails and Water Pipits and the Greater Flamingo flock had reduced to about 1000 birds. A group of 114 Pied Avocets were about the only unusual waders seen and two Brown-necked Ravens were also slightly unusual at the site, although they are resident and reasonably common in their favoured habitat of jebals in the desert. As always several Purple Swamphens were also very visible around the edges of the wet areas.
Purple Swamphen
Purple Swamphen