Sand

grouse

18

(1)

The birds Saudi

of Thumamah,

Central

Province,

Arabia
FRANK RIETKERK AND TIM W ACHER
A total of 227 species were recorded on the Thumamah Estate between 1988 and 1994, including Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetoruht, a new species for Saudi Arabia. 33 species bred, including Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla, the first record in Saudi Arabia. Basra Reed Warbler Acrocepahlus griseldis was identified at Thumamah in autumn 1991, and in 1993 and 1994 up to 1000-2000 were estimated in the alfalfa fields; a major concentration of this localised Middle Eastern bird. Other species new to the Riyadh area were Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Eversmann's Redstart Phoenicurus erythronotus, Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus and Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea. A few species recorded in an unpublished 1984-85 checklist are considered

INTRODUCTION T HIS PAPER PROVIDES new information on the birds of the Central Province of Saudi Arabia, adding to the data collected in the Riyadh area by Stagg (1987).It is a summary of field observations made over a period of seven years (October 1988March 1992by FER and 1993-94by TW) on the Thumamah Estate (25° 30'N, 49° 30'E), approximately 70 km north of Riyadh. Both authors were working at the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre (KKWRC), based at Thumamah and managed by the Zoological Society of London for the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD). During the first three and a half years a small number of records were contributed by other KKWRC staff members, in particular Nick Lindsay and Dr. Douglas Williamson, while Peter Symens of the NCWCD visited Thumamah several times and organised a small bird ringing project on the dairy farm in autumn 1991. His data are incorporated in this report. Between April 1992 and October 1993 numerous visits to Thumamah were also made by Tom Tarrant, then working in Riyadh. We have included his most significant records. Thumamah is the former estate of the late King Khalid bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud. It covers a narrow strip of 156 km2 between the Riyadh-Majma'ah road and the Buwayb Escarpment. Within its fenced boundaries, the Thumamah Estate contains a variety of natural desert habitats as well as a number which are man-made. The presence of the latter, which were created and maintained with large amounts of water pumped up from deep aquifers, has had an enormous impact on the local avifauna. Permanently available fresh water, green crops and tamarisk windbreaks are not unique to Thumamah, but are becoming a common feature throughout large parts of the Kingdom. The avifauna of Thumamah is therefore typical of both the natural desert and the much more recent agricultural developments in the country .Access to the estate is limited, and despite fairly intense grazing by the few herds of camel and sheep on the estate,much of the original vegetation was intact at the time of writing. Thumamah has the same climate as the rest of the Central Province of Saudi Arabia. Summer lasts from late April to late September and is extremely hot and arid, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 40°C and a humidity of less than 5%. Winter from December to early March can be very cold with frequent night frosts; this season also brings most rain. Occasional showers occur in spring, which is short and relatively humid. Autumn is dry and warm. The winter of 1988/89 was unusually dry
24
Frank Rietkerk & Tim Wacher

Sand grouse 18 (1)

Plate

1. Vegetation

at the foot of Buwayb

Escarpment

(Saudi Arabia),

after spring

rain. (Frank Rietkerk)

Plate

2. Low desert

norh-east

of Buwayb

Escarpment

(Saudi Arabia).

(Frank Rietkerk)

intersected by runnels and a few large wadis. Steep cliffs rise from the terrace to a height of 300 metres. Much of the escarpment is inaccessible, but just north of KKWRC a road leads into the hills to a wide wadi with stands of acaciasand a prolific spring vegetation of mainly annual species. The west side of the escarpment is intersected by steep-sided, narrow canyons, many of which are vegetated to the base of the escarpment. A few depressions at the base of the escarpment often retain water for several weeks to even months after the rains.
26 Frank Rietkerk & Tim Wacher

Sandgrouse 18 (1) Black Vulture Aegypius monachus (V) Rare winter December 1991. visitor. Two adults on the dairy farm on 6

Plate 3. BlackVultures Aegypiusmonachus, Thumamah dairy farm (SaudiArabia),December1991.(FrankRietkerk) Short-toed 10 September Eagle Circaetus gallicus

Plate 4. ImperialEa91es Aquila heliaca,adult and first year, Thumamah dairyfarm (SaudiArabia),winter 1991/92. (FrankRietkerk) migrant. An adult along the main road on

(V) Rare autumn

1991.

Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus(M/S) Uncommon but regular autumn migrant between late August (earliest 29 August) and October, with one November record (9 November 1990). The majority of records were in September. Four spring records: a male from 31 March-4 April 1989, a male on 19 March 1990, a bird of unknown sex on 25 March 1991 and a female moving north along the escarpment on 11 May 1994, as well as a single summer record of a female on 4 June 1991. It was difficult to estimate numbers, as some birds appeared to stay for long periods, but were not observed daily. Probably birds stayed in the area (mainly on the dairy farm) for extended periods in autumn, roaming widely. The possibility of a steady passage in small numbers cannot be excluded. Males were less common than females.
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (V) Rare autumn visitor.An November 1990. adult male on the dairy farm from 18-19

Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus (M/W) Uncommon/common migrant and winter visitor. Earliest autumn record 31 August 1990, latest spring record 16 April 1990. Most frequent in September. All spring records were in 1990 and 1993. Maximum: three on 10 September 1990. Six November-February records, all single males. Some birds lingered for several days, but as with other harriers total numbers were difficult to assess.Most records were from the dairy farm, but occasionally seen in the alfalfa fields, the gazelle enclosure or along the main road. Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus (M) Uncommon autumn migrant between late August (earliest 28 August) and late September (lateSt 30 September). Four spring records, earliest 5 April and latest 2 May. Two records of two females together, all others of singles, mostly on the dairy farm but sometimes in the alfalfa fields or by the main road. Less common than Pallid Harrier. Ring-tailed harriers Circus sp. were frequently observed during August-October (16 records) and March-April (ten records), with three November-December records. Goshawk Accipiter gentilis (W) Scarce winter visitor. A total of nine records between late October (earliest 29 October) and mid-April (latest 13 April). Records possibly relate to only three birds, which lingered in the alfalfa fields, but were only rarely seen. Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus (M/W) Scarce/uncommon migrant and winter visitor from midSeptember (earliest 14 September) to late April (latest 28 April). As with Goshawk, the total number of records (40) probably reflects only a limited number of individuals which lingered in the alfalfa fields. Occasionally seen elsewhere. Always singles and only one adult male.
30 Frank Rietkerk & Tim Wacher

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