19 April 2014

Yellow-billed Kite & more – Malaki Dam Lake

Malaki Dam (also known as Malakiyah, Wadi Jizan Dam or Hakima Dam) is probably the largest and most variable expanse of freshwater habitats in the southwestern provinces of Saudi Arabia. This area is a large lake (17 04.72N, 42 97.88E) at the edge of the Asir foothills, 15km east of Abu Arish and is regarded by many of the birders who have bird-watched Saudi Arabia as the best single site in the entire country. It is fed by four main wadis and at high water levels the lake spreads to over ten square kilometres and has a large catchment area extending south into Yemen. The reservoir is bordered to the north by basaltic lava plains and to the south several rocky outcrops which form the edge of Wadi Juwwah, another excellent birding area. The surrounding acacia and salvadora scrubland is interspersed with Tamarix where the hills are grazed and cultivated with some areas with shallow water, the dead remains of flooded trees forming ideal roost sites for herons and egrets. The Lake is on a main migration route and its surrounding area has one of the highest diversities of breeding birds in Arabia with many species being of Afro-tropical origin accounting for the large number of species recorded. We bird-watched a small arm of the lake on 5 April that is less disturbed and has easier access than the other areas. This site is excellent for the endemic Arabian Waxbill in the winter and spring, when flocks can be seen in the reeds and other vegetation near to the water. We managed to find this species after several hours with a number of birds seen flying over calling from one reed bed area to another. Three birds seen well included two adults and a juvenile, but we never got views that allowed photographs to be taken. This was a new species for me in Saudi Arabia and is an Arabian endemic, leaving me two more Endemics to see of the eleven species occurring, Yemen Serin and Arabian Scops Owl. The lake itself held a good amount of water and therefor had good numbers of water birds. Waders included Black-tailed Godwits, Spur-winged Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Kentish Plovers, Common Greenshanks, Common Redshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Temminck’s Stints and Black-winged Stilts. Seven Eurasian Spoonbill,three Hammerkops, with several Glossy Ibis, Grey Herons, Western Cattle Egrets & Squacco Herons were present. Other water birds included Whiskered Little Terns, Common Moorhens and plenty of Little Grebes. Non water birds included African Collared Doves, Zitting Cisticolas, Graceful Prinias, Ruppells Weavers, Laughing Doves, Namaqua Doves and Arabian Babbler. A few swifts were seen including 10+ Common Swifts, 10+ African Palm Swifts, two Alpine Swifts and a Little Swift hunting insects low over the water. We also had two White-browed Coucals, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, Nile Valley Sunbird, three White-spectacled Bulbul and three Black Scrub Robins. Migrants included eight Barred Warblers in a very small area of acacia along with a female Eurasian Blackcap and several Common Chiffchaffs and two Willow Warblers.
Alpine Swift
Barred Warbler
Spotted Redshank
Spotted Redshank

 We also saw several birds of prey including a second calendar year Greater Spotted Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier and a Yellow-Billed Kite. The status of this species/sub-species within the genus of Black Kite Milvus migrans is still imperfectly understood. Up until the mid-1990’s the yellow-billed African breeding populations, aegyptius and parasitus (including tenebrosus) were generally maintained as a subspecies of Black Kite. However, recent work based on DNA shows that the yellow-billed race is significantly distinct from the Black Kite elevating it to full species status Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius. In the field, the Yellow-billed Kite is distinguished from the Black Kite based on several characters, the most obvious being its all-yellow bill.
Yellow-billed Kite