Days 1 - 2 RIYADH AREA - ABHA - 29th April 2023
You should plan to arrive the day before as we will head out into the desert very early this morning in search of our main target bird - Arabian Lark. Amidst this huge desert landscape we also could find Cream-colored Courser, Asian Desert Warbler, Pied Wheatear, Brown-necked Raven, Temminck’s Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, White-crowned Wheatear, Blackstart, Trumpeter Finch and Striolated Bunting. If our hunt for larks is fruitful we will have time to check out some pools and other wadis where we could pick up a few waterbirds including Ferruginous Duck, as well as species such as Spur-winged Lapwing, Little Bittern, Purple & Squacco Heron, 'Asian' Black-winged Kite, White-throated Kingfisher, Arabian Green Bee-eater, African Collared Dove, Namaqua Dove, Pallid Swift, Long-legged Buzzard, Arabian Great Grey Shrike, Graceful Prinia, Eastern Olivaceoous Warbler and Black Scrub Robin. We will also have a couple of night excursions to look for Pharaoh Eagle-Owl and Desert Owl.. In the afternoon of Day 2 we will take the short flight to Abha in the far south-west of the country, where we will stay for 3 nights.
Days 3 -4 RIYADH - ABHA
We will predominantly be birding amidst the spectacular landscape of the Sarawat Mountains, searching for a number of Arabian endemics and specialities. Our first stop will be at Wadi Atoud Reservoir for Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin and Yemen Linnet. A fine supporting cast includes species such as Hamerkop, Little Owl, Arabian Green Bee- eater, Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, African Stonechat, Arabian Wheatear and 'Arabian' Long-billed Pipit. Moving on to some nearby wadis via a thorough exploration of Al Soudah Creek should get us the much-wanted Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Warbler and Yemen Thrush, and provide further chances of Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin and Yemen Linnet. This area is a fantastic birding site and we also hope to find Arabian Partridge, Arabian Eagle-Owl, Arabian Scops-Owl, Brown Woodland-Warbler and Little Rock Thrush amongst others.
Another great spot not too far away can be checked for Arabian Woodpecker, Arabian Warbler and Arabian Wheatear, whilst Buff-breasted Wheatear will be high on our target list to see. Some 'padders' could also include the buryi race of Scrub Warbler, African Pipit, Rufous-capped Lark and Ruppell's Weaver! Plus, we'll also get further chances of Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin and Yemen Linnet. Nights in Abha.
Days 5 -6 ABHA - RAIDAH PRESERVE
Following a very early morning departure to try for Arabian Scops-Owl and Abyssinian Nightjar before dawn we will enter the premier mountain birding site of the Raidah Preserve. Many of our primary target species reside here such as Philby's Partridge, Arabian Partridge, Arabian Scops-Owl, Arabian Eagle-Eagle, Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Warbler, Yemen Thrush, Buff-breasted Wheatear, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Sunbird, Arabian Serin, Yemen Serin, Arabian Waxbill and Yemen Linnet. Saudi Arabia's only true endemic species, Asir Magpie can also be found here and we will make a concerted effort to find this species here. Additional species we could see here include Olive Pigeon, Dusky Turtle-Dove, White-browed Coucal, African Grey Hornbill, Grey-headed Kingfisher, White-throated Bee-eater, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tchagra, Scrub Warbler (buryi), Brown Woodland-Warbler, Little Rock Thrush, Long-billed Pipit, African Pipit and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Nights in Abha.
Days 7 - 9 TANOMAH - AL BIRK - JAZAN - SABYA - RIYADH
We are going to have a really exciting last 3 days chasing even more exciting species starting from Tanomah, whish is beautifully situated at the edge of the Asir escarpment and ringed by craggy peaks. Maybe we'll still need better views of Philby's Partridge or Asir Magpie, before heading to site for Verreaux's Eagle & Eurasian Griffon. Whatever we still need, we have time and several other sites to try for on this first morning. Possible a pre-dawn visit to try for Desert Owl or Abyssinian Nightjar again if we still need either, whilst Arabian Sunbird can also be quite tricky here in Saudi Arabia. We will also be keeping our eyes open for Barbary Falcon and Gabar Goshawk as we head to an area for the tricky Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. Along the way we could see Shikra, Bonelli's Eagle, Diederik Cuckoo, Bruce's Green-Pigeon, Pale Crag-Martin, Little Swift, Gambaga Flycatcher, Fan-tailed Raven, Tristram's Starling, Violet-backed Starling, Abyssinian White-eye, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting,
We will then head to the coastal hotspots of Al Birk and Jazan for avicenniae “Mangrove Reed Warbler” and “Mangrove White-eye” both highly likely to be upgraded to full species status. Our other major targets along the coast are the stunning Crab-Plover, which we could see at a number of sites relatively easily, as well as White-cheeked Tern and Saunders's Tern! Birding along the coast promises to be exciting and we will also see an amazingly varied and eclectic mix of Arabian, European and African species such as Pink-backed Pelican, Goliath Heron, Brown Booby, Crab-plover, pratincoles, Brown Noddy, White-eyed Gull, Sooty Gull, Saunders’s Tern, Goliath Heron, Collared Kingfisher, Clamorous Reed Warbler and Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark.
Before we head to our final coastal location at Jazan, a little further south, we will try our luck with Arabian Golden Sparrow, a nomadic species that requires a decent amount of luck and some local help to connect with. But we will try our best!
Other great Saudi birding sites that are a 'must-visit are Jazan Dam Lake and Abu Arish where we have high hopes of Plain Nightjar, Nubian Nightjar and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse. But another superb selection of species possible in these areas include Harlequin Quail, Small Buttonquail, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Swamphen, Greater Painted-Snipe, African Openbill, Intermediate Egret, Helmeted Guineafowl, Spotted Thick-knee. Abyssinian Roller, Red-eyed Dove, Gabar Goshawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Bruce’s Green-Pigeon, Arabian Babbler, Singing Busklark, Black Scrub-Robin, Nile Valley Sunbird and Ruppell’s Weaver.
As we head further south it is definitely worth checking out Sabya Farms for further chances of Harlequin & Small Buttonquails, as well as another shot at Arabian Golden Sparrow. Sometimes there's a lingering Hypocolius, as well as Abyssinian Roller, Lesser Whitethroat, Menetries’ Warbler, Nile Valley Sunbird, Black Scrub-Robin and White- browed Coucal. In spring and autumn anything can and does turn up such as a Pied Cuckoo or even a Semi-collared Flycatcher. And it's our back-up site for Nubian Nightjar too.
We will eventually end up at Jazan with further chances of all the coastal birds mentioned earlier such as Lesser Flamingo, Abdim's Stork, Black Heron (rare), Black-headed Heron, Crab-Plover, White-eyed Gull, Saunders’s Tern, White-cheeked Tern, Intermediate Egret, Goliath Heron, “Mangrove Reed Warbler”.
We will fly back to Riyadh during the afternoon of Day 9 (7th May 23) where the tour concludes later that day.
All photos copyright Nick Bray/Zoothera Birding unless otherwise stated