Bulletin 36 November 1988: Das Island -- A Summary of Bird Recordings 1985-1988
Das Island -- A Summary of Bird Recordings 1985-1988



Das Island -- A Summary of Bird Recordings 1985-1988

by L. Reaney

Das Island is located in UAE waters towards the southern end of the Arabian Gulf, about 165 km northwest of Abu Dhabi town and 135 km east of Doha. Geologically it was formed from a salt plug and is rocky at the north end. The prevailing north to northwest winds have deposited coral sand and eroded detritus in the lee of the low rocky hills, creating an island about 3 km by 1 km, flat in the south with sandy beaches, higher in the north with a rocky shoreline. Its original form has been severely modified by heavy industrialisation, leaving little natural vegetation although amenity trees and shrubs along with some small gardens have been introduced largely into the flat southern half. There is no natural fresh water but plenty is now available due to human activity.

During my stay on Das from 9th November 1985 to 2nd February 1988 I kept daily records of species and bird numbers when not on leave. The limited number of suitable locations for 'land' birds to feed and rest means the records are quite comprehensive as usually more than one visit to each of these locations was made each day. Observations of sea birds are more erratic and depend largely on weather, boat trips to nearby offshore structures and security considerations. The offshore structures provide roosts which are preferred by most seabird species except during cool, windy conditions when they come to land.



This article considers the ornithology of Das Island based primarily on personal records and where appropriate compares and contrasts them with records from other areas of the Gulf. There are no resident populations on the island apart from feral pigeons, so observations are of short or long distance migrants and winter visitors. As to be expected, most birds recorded are regular Gulf residents or visitors but also, being an island distant from the nearest mainland, Das appears to have a funnelling effect particularly for tired, disoriented vagrants. It therefore seems to attract a greater proportion of rarities than would be expected amongst the limited number of birds that stop by.

Herons, Egrets and associates

Apart from occasional winter grey heron Ardea cinerea and reef heron Egretta gularis, there were small numbers of migrant herons and egrets, mainly in autumn and especially September. Most stopped no longer than one day. Exceptional among these were flocks of 16 purple heron A.purpurea, 14 cattle egret Bubulcus ibis (possibly the largest flock recorded for UAE) and 9 night heron Nycticorax nycticorax. Great white egret E. alba, little egret E. garzetta, squacco heron Ardeola ralloides and glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus were not seen but have been recorded in the past. Single little bittern Ixobrychus minutus were seen twice.

There are a few autumn records of flamingoes Phoenicopterus ruber, mainly juveniles. The small number on Das suggests that the normal large movement down the Gulf to their winter quarters is usually coastal.

White stork Ciconia ciconia are scarce in the Gulf, usually occurring singly or in very small numbers, but on 13th September 1984 several hundred overflew Das from the northwest, appearing at Abu Dhabi airport later in the day and remaining in decreasing numbers until January 1985. In October 1982 I had seen a flock of 70+ in Eastern Saudi Arabia. It seems possible that autumn flocks heading for western Arabia and their normal migration routes to Africa occasionally become displaced down the Gulf. A spotted crake Porzana porzana, the only Das record, was seen disputing territory with a cat; after a spirited standoff by the crake, the cat eventually slunk off to find an easier meal.

Ducks

Surprisingly only one duck (unidentified) was seen and the scattered bird records for the past 25 years again indicate a distinct lack of ducks. Despite unsuitable feeding grounds, if ducks overflew the open sea to arrive at their southern Gulf wintering grounds, some would be expected to be seen resting on or around Das. As with flamingoes, it seems likely that their migration path is mainly coastal or overland.

Although relatively scarce on mainland UAE, the same comments apply to moorhen Gallinula chloropus and coot Fulica atra, each of which were seen once only, the moorhen being washed up freshly dead and the coot exhausted.

Raptors

Islands are not noted for good numbers of migrating raptors as most stay overland gaining height for migration from thermals which are absent over the sea. Traditional migration routes therefore follow the shortest sea crossings. It is surprising that 12 and possibly 14 different raptor species were seen. Migrating and winter kestrel Falco tinnunculus and sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, although not common were the most regular, whilst osprey Pandion haliaetus were semi-resident and attempted breeding, but failed. September 1986 was a particularly good month with small numbers or singles of buzzard Buteo buteo, booted eagle Hieraeetus pennatus, pallid harrier Circus macrourus, hobby Falco subbuteo and lesser kestrel F. naumanni. Spotted eagle Aquila clanga and marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus are regular in winter in suitable coastal areas of the Gulf but only one spotted eagle was seen on Das and no marsh harriers. Other raptors were peregrine Falco peregrinus, a black kite Milvus migrans and an escaped juvenile lanner Falco biarmicus. Sooty falcon Falco concolor have been reported breeding on nearby islands so it is perhaps surprising that none have been seen on Das.

Waders

Most of the more usual waders for the area were seen. August was the peak month for numbers and variety of species. The usual pattern was for them to arrive from the northwest in small parties mid-morning to early afternoon, landing on the first undisturbed beach they came across. This suggests they were probably coming from northern Qatar, leaving there after dawn. By mid-afternoon they were usually gone, heading low over the sea south or south-east towards the islands of Qarnayn or Zirku. The lack of mud flats or suitable feeding grounds does not encourage them to remain long on Das.

Sightings of more unusual waders were avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, two dotterel Eudromias morinellus, white-tailed plover Vanellus leucurus and great snipe Gallinago media. Stone curlew Burhinus oedicnemus were seen in fair numbers in late autumn and spring with 11 present in late March 1987 grounded after a storm. A total of 5 cream-co loured coursers Cursorius cursor in spring and autumn suggests some local movement of this species.

Wintering waders in small numbers were greater sand plover Charadrius leschenaultii, kentish plover C. alexandrinus, common sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos, occasional turnstone Arenaria ihterpres and grey plover Pluvialis squatarola. It seems surprising that only one snipe Gallihago gallinago and only two dunlin Calidris alpina were seen. These are regular winter visitors to Gulf coasts. Perhaps having reached the northern Gulf from their northern breeding grounds they tend to straggle down the coasts to the southern Gulf rather than press on rapidly as do many of the migrant waders that also winter further south.

Waders possibly expected but not seen were black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa, black-winged stilt Himahtopus himantopus, spotted redshank Tringa erythropus and marsh sandpiper T. stagnatilis. These have a preference for fresh water which may account for their absence.

Gulls

The usual 6 species of Larus Gulf gulls were recorded, black-headed L. ribundus and herring L. argentatus being extremely common in winter, both leaving by the end of April. Sooty gull L. hemprichii were numerous for most of the year and breed on nearby islands. This is a southern Gulf gull and is rare in northern waters. L. fuscus fuscus, the black-backed race of lesser black-back gull were present in very small numbers in winter whilst slender-billed gull L. genei were scarce compared with the large winter flocks on the mainland. The magnificent great black-headed gull L. ichthyaetus was a winter visitor peaking in early March. Most of the large winter gull population was supported by food scraps disposed of in the trash dump and old records from 1963 (before such easy availability of food) refer to few gulls. Despite regular winter checks of the large gull population none of the rarer Gulf species was seen.

Terns

Eight species were seen. Notable exceptions were the Chlidonias marsh terns and caspian tern Sterna caspia while only one little tern species S. albifrons and one gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica was seen. These species are possibly more coastal than pelagic as large numbers of the other regular Sterna terns were seen in the appropriate season. Swift S. bergii, lesser-crested S. bengalensis, bridled S. anaethetus and white-cheeked tern S. repressa all breed on nearby islands with white-cheeked tern also breeding on adjacent redundant oil-loading platforms and similar structures. Sandwich tern S. sandvicensis were common in winter and common tern S. hirundo a regular autumn migrant.

Other Seabirds

Socotra cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis was present in small numbers all year round with some spectacular large scale movements of thousands of birds, particularly in early spring. They breed on nearby islands but recent disturbance to traditional nesting sites since the expansion of oil-related activities has probably seriously reduced numbers. Two great cormorant P. carbo wintered in 1985/86 but none have been seen since although they are common in winter along the mainland coast.

Red-billed tropic bird Phaethon aethereus nest on nearby islands (especially Qarnayn) and have been seen in winter apparently prospecting for likely nest sites in the low cliffs at the north end of Das where they perhaps used to breed prior to the period of industrialisation. They are strictly an island-nesting southern Gulf species rarely seen further north and rarely near mainland coasts.

Wilson's storm petrel Oceanites oceanicus is a pelagic bird of the Southern Oceans 'wintering' in the Gulf in the northern summer. Two were seen from a boat some 2 km from Das in the summer of 1987.

Doves

Only the migrant turtle dove Streptopelia turtur was common. Palm dove S. senegalensis, so common in Abu Dhabi, was only recorded a few times. Collared dove S. decaocto, which together with palm dove is undergoing a range extension, was even less frequent. Neither are expected to colonise Das because of competition from feral pigeons, lack of nest sites and the polluted industrial atmosphere. A single vagrant rufous turtle dove S. orientalis was seen in October 1986.

Owls

Two species of migrant owls, the short-eared Asio flammeus in late autumn and early winter, and Scops Otus scops in spring were seen. One of the scops owls hitched a lift on a Dash-7 aircraft from Abu Dhabi in the underwing housing where the wheels retract in flight but seemed none the worse for its faster than normal migration. Emirates Air Service pilots have also reported incidents of owls (possibly scops) roosting overnight on the tails and rear wings of small aircraft at Abu Dhabi Airport. Barn owls Tyto alba and a little owl Athene noctua were also recorded previous to my stay on the island. These are scarce but widespread in Arabia.

Hirundines and Allies

Apart from the swallow Hirundo rustica which was seen every month and was the year's first migrant in 1987 (Feb.1st) the others in this group were scarce or rare. House martin Delichon urbica was the first migrant in 1986 (Jan.25th) with an occasional small flock of red-rumped swallow Hirundo daurica from mid-February. There were 5 records of crag martIn Pytonoprogne rupestris and a few sand martin Riparia riparia in spring and autumn. Only 3 pallid swift Apus pallidus and one swift A. apus was a surprise after recording good numbers in eastern Saudi Arabia. A vagrant little swift A. affinis was an even greater surprise when, together with 2 pallid swift, it became the first migrant of 1988 (Jan.24th) and was possibly the first UAE record since 1980. The relative lack of food over the sea for these insect eaters must make coastal migration more attractive.

Larks

None of the 8 lark species seen was common and usually moved on within a few days of arrival. Only one each of desert lark Ammomanes deserti and hoopoe lark Alaemon alaudipes were seen despite their relative abundance on the mainland. Short-toed lark Calandrella brachydactyla and lesser short-toed lark C. rufescens were most frequent with small numbers of the former in spring and autumn and the latter through the winter. Even crested lark Galerida cristata was only seen singly or in small numbers intermittently throughout the year. 5 records in spring and autumn of black-crowned finch larks Eremopterix nigriceps may indicate a local migration pattern. Two bimaculated larks Melanocorypha bimaculata seen in November 1987 were vagrants to this area although they are regular but scarce winter visitors to eastern Saudi Arabia. There were also winter records of skylark Alauda arvensis.

Pipits and Wagtails

Seven species of pipit were recorded including the usual ones for the area at the appropriate seasons. Of particular interest were a wintering Richard's pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae in 1987 to 1988 with a second one joining it in January 1988, a long-billed pipit A. similis wintering in the scrapyard and surrounding rocks in 1986/87 and a very early water pipit A. spinoletta in August 1987. Low vegetation is sparse on the island and herbs and shrubs which have the audacity to grow where they have not specifically been planted are ruthlessly purged by the local "Parks and Gardens Department". This makes the terrain less hospitable for ground feeders than it could be, limiting the wintering potential.

Small numbers of white wagtail Motacilla alba stay through the winter feeding mainly in the scrapyard or on insects on sea-washed rocks. The only citrine wagtail M. citreola recorded was through January 1988 when it fed with the white wagtails on the rocks. The various races of yellow wagtail M. flava were common migrants with the black-headed M. f. feldegg usually the first to pass through in spring. Grey wagtail M. cinerea were rather scarce. Neither grey nor yellow wagtails wintered.

Shrikes

All the 6 Palaearctic shrikes were seen but only isabelline Lanius isabellinus was recorded wintering. Shrikes were most plentiful in spring, generally coinciding with falls of warblers but all species were also seen in autumn. There was a particularly large influx of lesser grey L. minor, red-backed L. collurio and isabelline shrikes in late April 1986 creating havoc among the associated fall of warblers. Bits of warblers were dangling from wire fences and trees everywhere and a rare icterine warbler Hippolais icterina just missed the same fate when I intervened between it and a pursuing lesser grey shrike.

Warblers

Migrating warblers were most plentiful in spring with lesser numbers and species in autumn, and only 4 species recorded over-wintering. April in particular saw large falls of warblers, usually governed by weather conditions. Most falls occurred apparently overnight when migrating flocks hit unsuitable flying weather during their night-time movements. Sometimes the falls were predictable such as when caused by stormy or cloudy weather at night but others occurred without obvious reason from our ground level observation point. Birds sometimes stayed a while or would be gone during the following night. No daytime warbler migration was noted.

Notable amongst the rarer warblers observed were a grasshopper Locustella naevi a seen for several days creeping around mouselike in greenery at the base of some date palms, two savi's warblers L. luscinioides together tail-cocking with one giving snatches of its reeling song, a fall of about 20 marsh warblers Acrocephalus palustris in late May 1987, several great reed warblers A. arundinaceus in spring and autumn and small numbers of sedge warblers A. schoenobaenus. Hippolais warblers included the rare icterine warbler H. icterina with possibly only one other record from UAE and very few from other Gulf states and which almost met an early end as a lesser grey shrike's evening meal, small numbers of upcher's warbler H. languida with their characteristic vigorous sideways tail wag distinguishing them from the up and down tail action of the more common olivaceous warbler H. pallida. Scarce Sylvia warblers were a single male orphean warbler S. hortensis, several barred warbler S. nisoria, small numbers of menetries warbler S. mystacea and 8 records of garden warbler S. borin. Desert warbler S. nana wintered in small numbers but kept very well hidden among the salt scrub (mostly Salsola baryosma) when approached. Whitethroat S. communis and lesser whitethroat S. curruca were common migrants with a few desert lesser whitethroat S. c. minula in winter.

Phylloscopus warblers were represented by large numbers of willow warblers P. trochilus particularIy in spring. These were preceded by chiffchaffs P. collybita some weeks earlier. Small numbers of chiffchaff also wintered. One of the most surprising records on Das was a total of between 8 and 10 yellow-browed warblers P. inornatus mainly in late autumn with one wintering from December to March. Their double wing bars and call similar to but louder than chiffchaffs were quite distinctive and it was this call that usually led to their initial discovery. This remarkable number probably accounts for about a third of all Gulf records which possibly suggests they are overlooked elsewhere among the similar chiffchaffs. Four September records of wood warbler P. sibilatrix also account for a significant proportion of all Gulf records. Two other Phylloscopus species were seen and heard but not specifically identified.

Flycatchers

As expected spotted flycatcher Musclcapa striata was the most common, usually seen sitting prominently on posts, fences or tree tops during April and May, darting off for passing prey and returning to the same lookout characteristically wing-flicking. By contrast the smaller, scarce red-breasted flycatcher Ficedula parva occurred in late October and November and usually chose less prominent lookouts on lower branches of their favoured acacia. A few semi-collared flycatchers F. semltorquata were seen, including an injured female in the hand, and they also seemed to prefer more discreet observation locations. A vagrant male pied flycatcher F. hypoleuca seen in April 1986 is one of only 3 Gulf records, the other two being seen in Saffa Park, Dubai.

Wheatears

7 species of wheatear were recorded including UAE's only record of the mainly sedentary white-crowned black wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga in April 1987. These are not uncommon on jebels in eastern Saudi Arabia but appear to be replaced by hume's wheatear O. alboniger in similar locations in UAE (although this species was not recorded on Das). Good numbers of various wheatear species were regular in the scrapyard during both migration periods. Black-eared O. hispanica was the scarcest of the migrants but both pale and dark forms and white and black-throated forms were seen in spring only. In contrast the scarce red-tailed wheatear O. xanthoprymna was only seen in autumn, mainly November. Small numbers of desert wheatear O. deserti wintered with good numbers on passage. The remaining 3 wheatears, northern O. oenanthe, pied O. pleschanka and isabelline O. isabellina were all common in spring and autumn but it was slightly surprising that no isabellines overwintered.

Chats and Redstarts

Stonechat Saxicola torauata were the most prominent of the chats both in number and their lofty lookout sites. Small numbers wintered, often remaining in pairs, with larger influxes of passage birds. Whinchat S. rubetra were less common, preferring scrubby locations. They also tended to occur later than the migrating spring stonechats. Rufous bushchat Cercotrichas galactotes with its large rufous cocking tail and ground feeding habits is a "chat" in name only with totally different habits to the true chats. It was to be found around the base of palms and shrubs, usually singly on passage but sometimes stopping a week or more.

Amongst the redstart Phoenicurus clan undoubtedly the most exciting sighting was of a male eversmann's redstart P. erythronotus in November 1986 which stayed just a few hours. Redstart P. phoenicurus, as in the rest of the Gulf, were common in spring but scarce in the autumn migration. This follows the general pattern of warbler migration and itis unclear whether migration routes differ in different seasons or whether birds rush through in autumn with the generally fine weather and prevailing winds reducing their need to stop and feed. (If this is the case it raises the question as to why migrating waders are seen predominantly in August). Black redstart P. ochruros was recorded in about equal numbers in both seasons and was also a scarce winter visitor. It was noticeable with both commoner redstarts that the peak male spring passage was generally one to two weeks earlier than that of the female in order to establish territory. A similar situation was also noted with wheatear species and ortolan Emberiza hortulana and may apply to other species where gender is more difficult to distinguish.

Thrushes

Of the Turdus thrushes only song thrush T. philomelos could be considered regular with small numbers in wInter. However, it was interesting to record several other members of this group.

A vagrant male blackbird T. merula, one of only 5 UAE records, surprised a few people in January 1988, whilst ring ouzel T. torquatus was UAE' s first record despite several in eastern Saudi Arabia. It occurred on the same day as the eversmann's redstart and it seemed very strange to have one bird at the eastern extreme and one at the western extreme of their respective ranges on a small island so far from the mainland at the same time. Another unusual find was a mistle thrush T. viscivorus for several days in November 1985 whilst black-throated thrush T. ruficollis occurred, one in October and one in November 1987. All these Turdus thrushes seemed to prefer what could be considered decorative garden areas with trees rather than the few more natural localities.

Next to song thrush, rock thrush Monticola saxatilis were the least rare and these were seen regularly in spring and autumn. The male of this species is a magnificent sight when seen in the evening sun with shimmering blue head and bright orange underparts. Less frequent were blue rock thrush M. solitarius which seemed to prefer the unattractive habitats within the Production Plant or scrapyard.

Buntings

The island proved to be a good bunting hunting ground with 8 and possibly 9 species. It is surprising that in view of the sparse ground vegetation some found enough feed to encourage them to stay for extended periods. Pride of place must go to what is probably the Gulf's first recorded yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella, a magnificent male specimen sporting the characteristic head pattern and bright chestnut rump, seen in March 1987. This was closely followed in rarity value by a vagrant rustic bunting E. rustica, which stayed for 7 days in December 1985, one of only about 4 Gulf records and a first for the UAE. Another major surprise was a total of 5 little bunting E. pusilla with 3 together on 1st November 1987. Previously there had been only 1, and possibly 2, other Gulf sightings. These recordings highlight the drawing power of remote islands near major migration routes to vagrants.

Ortolan E. hortulana and black-headed bunting E. melanocephala were the most frequently recorded buntings, the latter being mainly females or juveniles in autumn but with two fine males seen one April. A male and female of the scarce cinereous bunting E. cineracea of the Iranian race semenowi were seen in spring. Contrary to normal northerly spring migration this species was probably heading east or southeast from their Syrian and Iraqi wintering quarters to breed in Iran. Normally house buntings E. striolata are sedentary, mainly mountain birds but one appeared for several days early in 1986.* There some confusion over identification of the middle east race of male house and rock buntings E.cia. A bird initially thought to be a male rock bunting which stayed five weeks in early 1987 is now known to be a male house bunting.

Finches

Finches are not common in the Gulf so it was good fortune to record 5 species on Das. Although scarce, common rose finch Carpodacus erythrinus appears to be a regular autumn migrant through the Gulf and the maximum recorded together on Das was 5. One was also recorded wintering in early 1987. Most seen were females or juveniles but several males with their extensive red plumage were jewels among the palms. Several finches have a normal winter range in the extreme northern Gulf and would therefore be expected as scarce or rare winter visitors in this area. These include brambling Fringilla montifringilla with a total of 6 birds which doubles the number of previous UAE records, siskin Carduelis spinus, two birds and chaffinch F. coelebs with a female wintering early in 1987 and a male passing through in March the same year. The two chaffinch records may be the first for UAE and several which were reported from Bahrain and Qatar the same winter (the first for those countries), and some in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, indicate a minor influx in 1986/87. Linnet Acanthis cannabina have wintering and breeding ranges in Iran so it is perhaps surprising that UAE records are so few. A female in November 1987 is the only Das record.

Sparrows

House sparrows Passer domesticus are not resident on the island and only a few were seen in winter and none in summer. This was perhaps fortunate as any sparrow species seen was not "yet another house sparrow" and warranted closer investigation. Yellow-throated sparrow Petronia xanthocollis turned out to be the most regular sparrow showing a spring and autumn migration pattern with up to 12 birds in a flock. Where these birds were migrating from and to is unknown but it may be that they are often overlooked and are more common in the southern Gulf than generally appreciated. Two tree sparrows Passer montanus together with two recorded in Dubai are the only Gulf records. They are present in parts of Iran, but not the Gulf coast, and so would seem to be vagrants, rather than regularly overlooked amongst the otherwise ubiquitous house sparrows. There were * occasional small influxes of up to 30 migrating rock sparrows Petronia brachydactyla in spring but these were irregular.

Other Landbirds

Quail Coturnix coturnix, the only migratory game bird of the region, were seen 5 times, on 4 occasions in autumn. Houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata populations have been drastically reduced by hunting this century throughout Arabia. One in December 1986 plus two previously reported in November 1974 plus winter records in UAE suggest some migratory movement. There was also a June 1982 record for Das. Cuckoo Cuculus canorus are not too common in the area and only 2 were seen on almost identical dates in September 1986 and 1987. Night jar Caprimulgus europaeus do not somehow conjure up images of migrating over water but nonetheless 8 were recorded plus another which was captured (not by the author) but which refused to be force fed with miscellaneous dead insects and eventually succumbed.

Both bee-eater Merops apiaster and blue-cheeked bee-eater M. supercillosus were regular but scarce migrants with singles or small flocks and not the larger flocks seen on the mainland. A single March record of Indian roller Coracias benghalensis together with a previous January 1977 and a few winter records in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia indicate some winter movement from their Iranian and UAE east coast breeding areas. Rollers C. garrulus were scarce, passing through in approximately equal numbers in spring and autumn compared with the eastern province of Saudi Arabia where they were predominantly an early autumn migrant.

Individuals or small numbers of ring-neck. parakeets Psittacula krameri were present for most of the year but flocks of 23 in April 1986 and 18 in February 1987 overflew going north, thus indicating there is movement of this species around the Gulf. Despite many hours spent rooting around the island birding, I never saw a kingfisher Alcedo atthis although several other people have spotted this well-known bird around the coast of Das. Another colourful and distinctive species, hoopoe Upupa epops were common migrants. None wintered but they were to be found from late January probing around ants nests with their long slender bills. Wryneck Jynx torquilla was a regular though scarce migrant often seen feeding on ants around the base of the few date palms on the island. An unexpected bird was a male grey hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus in April 1987, possibly passing through from eastern Saudi Arabia, where they winter in small numbers, to its Iranian breeding ground.

The only thing missing from a Christmas card scene was the snow I when a robin Erithacus rubecula overwintered in 1985/86. There was also at least one other in November 1985. They were very wary and easily missed, unlike those in UK. A few skulking bluethroats Luscinia svecica passed through with one wintering through January 1988. The neat and attractive male white-throated robin Irania gutturalis with its orange underparts, steel grey upper parts and distinctive head pattern was seen three times in spring.

Rose-coloured starling Sturnus roseus were more numerous than its winter visiting cousin the starling, S. vulgaris. Most were flocks of juveniles in early autumn but a few adults were also seen in spring and autumn. Despite their bright colour, migrant golden oriole Oriolus oriolus were often difficult to spot, being remarkably well-camouflaged amongst the palms and other exotic trees. They were occasionally seen feeding on prickly pear fruits. Indian house crow Corvus splendens are not noted for wandering far from their breeding localities but one did appear, staying only two days in April 1987. This is a species slowly colonising suitable locations throughout the Gulf so it was particularly interesting to note this, albeit small, sign of movement.

Escapes

The potential for escaped birds, particularly from shipping, is high so it was not too surprising to see a very tame barbary dove Streptopelia risoria quite at home among the feral pigeons throughout August 1986. A scaly-breasted munia Lonchura punctulata was also an obvious escape but the credentials of a male streaked weaver Ploceus manyar, staying from June to September 1987, is open to doubt. The plumage of the bird when it first arrived looked in very good condition and it was very wary so it might just have been truly wild. The western edge of its range in West Pakistan is not really so far away.

Male Arabian subspecies house bunting recorded on Das from 7 January to 17 February 1987


Feeding on seeds on ground in small patches of rough grass. No call. About 5.5" long, horizontal stance and medium build. Excellent views, bird very confiding. Most characteristic features were strongly contrasting black & white head stripes, grey breast & 'collar' contrasting with orange/brown underparts & rufous/brown wings. The only likely bird this resembles is male rock bunting but there are differences from those shown in field guides: lower mandible orange yellow instead of grey; crown not bordered by black; ear coverts not completely bordered by black; grey-brown slightly streaked rump instead of unstreaked chestnut; extra black 'moustache' stripe; a little small.

Conclusion: An unknown (i) vagrant Asiatic bunting sp., or (ii) an escape. More likely it is a male rock bunting (the eastern races of which may not be as in the available guides?) N.B. Ian Foxall recorded 2 rock bunting on Qarneyn on 30/9/84. They are not on Saudi Arabia Eastern Province list (Dec.1984).

(For further details of Das recordings please refer to the author's article in Bulletin 30, pp.2-9 -Ed.)

L.Reaney, 67 Bigby High Road, Brigg, S.Humberside DN20 9HB, UK.

* pale (rock sparrows)



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