If you travel out of Riyadh on the Mecca road, its not too long, 30 kilometres or so, before you see brown recreational road signs to Kararah lake.
Lou Regensmorter, first time birder George Darley-Doran, and I headed out that way on Thursday morning.
Of course we knew the “lake” and the near-by “waterfall” would probably only have water directly after the infrequent rain of these parts. And so it proved, the lake was dry and we never found a waterfall. Nevertheless we calculated that the area must have a relatively high water table within the desert area and this also proved true.
There was a farm with a few accessible fields.
The most common bird was crested lark which only really flocks in mid winter and that’s what it was doing on our visit. Large flocks of them were all over both the fields we viewed. A pair of hoopoe were perched on one of the pivots.
Collared dove and laughing dove were also numerous. Pale rock martin were hawking for insects over both fields. The wheatear family were represented by wintering desert wheatear and mourning wheatear. The latter was more common.
House sparrow were found near the outhouses as would be expected. Two other birds in the neighbourhood were desert lark and three little green bee-eater.
A single kestrel was seen hovering over the second pivot field and that was the only bird of prey seen for the first hour but that all changed as the air got warmer and the morning wore on.
At first we saw a single adult steppe eagle over the field and then a juvenile as we made our way back towards the main road.
On the way, we met a large flock of pallid swift moving in the other direction. I thought it was a strange sight to see what looked like a passage group. The local pallid swift are resident but these looked like they were on the move. It reminded me of Tripoli, Libya when I observed they left only between mid November and early February. In fact their winter away was so short that the Collins guide to European and birds erroneously maps them as resident.
Minutes later we came across an entirely different type of flock. 15 steppe eagle were circling around the area near the dry lake. It was nearly 10 am and the air was getting warmer. One idea we have is that they had arisen from a local roost and took to the air with the rising temperatures. Either way it was quite a sight.
Having prised ourselves away from such a large group (for central Arabia) of eagles, we headed back towards Riyadh before turning north, staying below the Tuwaiq escarpment but following it from the plain below. We were searching, among other birds, once again for those elusive hooded wheatear and Egyptian vulture. These birds are apparently seen albeit very rarely near the western edge of the Tuwaiq escarpment and we have spend a lot of time in the past few weeks looking for them with no success.
In my opinion, what we actually saw was better still. I’ll explain in the next blog.