Philip Roberts reports on a recent trip to pivot fields in Saudi Arabia…
On January 26th, Jem Babbington and I set out from Dhahran at 3:00am to drive the 300km south to Haradh for a day’s bird watching. In addition to desert, Haradh has large areas of modified habitat created by pivot irrigation fields, growing primarily fodder crops, to feed the NADEC Company’s large dairy herd. In both the winters of 2016 and 2017 Jem and I found wintering Sociable Lapwings. Our primary objective for this visit was to see if we could once again find any flocks.
We began the day by exploring a series of pivot fields along the road to Al Kharj. Here we saw a number of interesting species, including a small flock of Northern Lapwing, around 150 Kentish Plover, Pallid Harrier and Common Kestrel. Tawny pipits, Isabelline and Desert Wheatear were common.
We then drove to a second area of pivot fields where we had previously seen the Sociable Lapwings. Here we again found interesting birds, including larger flocks of Northern Lapwing, though not as large as the flocks seen in previous years, a wintering female Montagu’s Harrier, a solitary Short-toed Snake Eagle (an unusual winter record), a male Pallid Harrier, 500+ Greater Short-toed Lark, 7 Steppe Grey Shrike and a large flock of Mallard.
Looking for the Sociable Lapwing, we once again focused our attention on recently ploughed fields and soon found a flock of 20+ Spur-winged Lapwing. While searching through the flock with binoculars, the birds took off as one. As they flew Jem was able to identify 2 Sociable Lapwing within the main group of Spur-winged Lapwings. We continued to search for the birds in an effort to see them on the ground – this is quite challenging as they blend in with the pivot fields and also walk along the bottom of the ploughed furrows. We were eventually successful finding the birds on the opposite side of one of the ploughed fields, giving clear but distant views. Unfortunately they were too far away to photograph.
This is now the third successive year that Jem and I have found Sociable Lapwings in this location, leading us to conclude that Haradh has become established as a new wintering location for this Critically Endangered species.