As I wrote in my last article, my birding has mostly been in countries off the beaten track. In the past five years, my work has taken me to Azerbaijan, Libya and now Saudi Arabia. As a consequence much of my birding has been in these countries. The truth is that I get enjoyment from venturing into less well-charted birding areas. Indeed it’s a fair question to ask whether I am now picking my work place at least partly on the basis of birding prospects.
This wanderlust for poorly charted birding places goes further than my choice of country. I actively seek out new places within the countries which may not have been birded before.
So at the beginning of this month I visited Baha in south west Saudi Arabia. The few birders who have visited this part of world have mostly gone to Abha a further 225 kilometres south. My logic for going to Baha was that its geography looked promising. Its altitude (at over 2000 metres in places) and rainfall are similar to Abha.
I picked out the only international hotel in the area that I saw advertised, booked a room in advance for a weekend stay, and took an internal flight from Riyadh to Baha.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The hotel is on one of the highest points in the city and there is a 300 metre drop directly behind it. On arrival, I noticed there was a wide wadi right next to the hotel which starts at 2,100 metres and descends into the city. It is lightly forested but I could see some cultivation further down.
I had a hunch that I didn’t need to go far to have good birding. I decided to bird the wadi before setting off for any “normal” birding venues.
I never left the wadi all weekend.
I walked and birded within two kilometres of the hotel all my time there. I saw 42 species, 10 of them were lifers and there were 6 Arabian endemics there too. I am sure the diversity of birds was because the wadi is an uncommonly diverse habitat itself.
Ironically possibly the most prized sighting of six Philby’s partridge was less than 300 metres away from a large supermarket’s car park.
There are other stories behind several of the birds which were a mix of residents and European wintering species. For example I nearly missed the dusky turtle dove as “just another pigeon”.
A Male and female Arabian woodpecker stuck out like sore thumbs on the only large dead tree in the middle of the valley. Little rock thrush stuck out for a different reason, it is so brightly (and attractively) coloured.
I visit a new part of Saudi Arabia once a month as a treat. Next up is Jizan on the south west coast near the Yemen border. It has been visited before. I’m staying with a friend who works there and I am hoping local knowledge might just lead to something or some place a bit different.
If you want to find out more details on my Baha trip, its presented atwww.birdingforalark.blogspot.com
List of species seen at Baha
Dusky turtle dove
African rock martin
Red rumped swallow
Long billed pipit
Yellow vented bulbul
South Arabian wheatear
Little rock thrush
Blue rock thrush
White breasted white-eye
Brown woodland warbler
Fan- tailed raven