Whilst in the Asir Mountains on 1 April 2017 Phil Roberts and I found two Nubian Ibex Capra nubiana in an area of steep rocky montane hills, altitude of 2000 metres above sea level. The mountains were made of crystalline rock with an average rainfall of +/-370 mm year. The animals appeared to be a female and well-grown young and where only seen for a short period before they disappeared from view and could not be found again despite extensive searching. Despite only seeing them briefly a single photo was obtained by me that is shown below. Very few people have seen this species in the wild in Saudi Arabia and whilst talking to a local farmer we found out that two animals had been seen in the area once in the last year but had not been seen for many years prior to this. This fact is borne out by the latest surveys where only seven where seen on one occasion in the south-west near to where we saw our animals despite helicopter and land surveys being undertaken. In Saudi Arabia, few systematic censuses have been made with most data coming from brief aerial and ground reconnaissance surveys made to locate populations during 1987-1989. Among the 15 sites where ibex were found, major concentrations occur in the western mountains of the Arabian shield, with isolated populations located in the north, north-central and central regions. Only scattered observations have been made in the south. The highest densities appear to be in Jabal Qaraqar, Hemah Fiqrah and Hawtat bani Tamim Ibex Reserve. Ancient rock drawings dating back several thousand years depicting Nubian ibex are to be found throughout Saudi Arabia and testify to man's long association with this species. The distribution of the Nubian ibex in Saudi Arabia spans a wide diversity of habitat types. The relict population found in the central Tuwayq occupies low-altitude, dissected escarpments of sedimentary rock, which are treeless, except in narrow canyons, where precipitation averages 50 mm a year. By contrast, ibex in the south-west of the country occupy juniper-dominated mountain summits with elevations in excess of 2000 m, and where rainfall averages over 350 mm a year. All the sites where they live area characterized by difficult terrain, which tends to limit access to livestock, and the vegetation, in terms of structure and species diversity, has remained relatively intact in these areas. There are no population estimates in the Kingdom, but overall, numbers are believed to be decreasing in areas where ibex are not protected. In contrast, ibex numbers are believed to be increasing in the two protected areas where recruitment is satisfactory and females appear to give birth to twins frequently. In the Hawtat bani Tamim Ibex Reserve, the most recent census (Spring 2007) recorded 400 individuals. The Nubian Ibex is legally protected by a hunting by-law, passed in 1979, which along with gazelles, gives the species total protection. In Saudi Arabia, it occurs in two official reserves at Tubayq Reserve in the north, and the Ibex Reserve in Hawtat bani Tamim in the east-central region. The Nubian Ibex is listed as Vulnerable under the ICUN Red List as it has an estimated population of less than 10,000 mature individuals possibly as few as 2500 mature animals with a continuing decline rate estimated at 10% over two generations (generation length estimated at 8 years). This species occurs in Egypt east of the Nile, north-east Sudan, northern Ethiopia and western Eritrea, Israel, west Jordan, scattered locations in western and central Saudi Arabia, scattered locations in Yemen, and in southern Oman. It is extinct in Lebanon and Syria.
29 Apr 2017
Paul sent me an email yesterday saying he had been seeing Black Kites singly or a pair consistently in the last 10 days or so, but on 28 April he got a few distance shots of four birds together. This is a very high count for this species in the Eastern Province where birds are generally only seen singly, although I have seen 15 together once only. As normal these birds show signs of being Black-eared Kites but this is yet to be proved conclusively. I thank Paul for sending me the photos and allowing me to use them on my website.
28 Apr 2017
Whilst birding the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment in late March I saw up to ten African Grey Hornbills Tockus nasutus. This is a very high number as normally only one or two birds are seen. All birds appeared to be in pairs with loud calling being seen and heard from some birds on a couple of occasions. The birds were located in the large wadi system at the bottom of the escarpment where large trees grow from the bottom of the mainly boulder strewn wadi. The African Grey Hornbill is a small member of the hornbill family being only 45 centimetres long. It is a widespread and common resident breeder in much of Sub-Saharan Africa and into Arabia, where numbers are much less common. In Saudi Arabia, birds can be seen in the southwest of the Kingdom where they are uncommon. Like most Hornbills the species prefers open woodland and savannah. The female lays two to four eggs in a tree hollow, which is blocked off during incubation with a cement made of mud, droppings and fruit pulp. There is only one narrow aperture, just big enough for the male to transfer food to the mother and the chicks. When the chicks and female outgrow the nest, the mother breaks out and rebuilds the wall, after which both parents feed the chicks. The plumage of the male and female is similar but the male has a black bill, whereas the female has red on the mandibles. Immature birds are more uniformly grey and all fly with an undulating flight. They are omnivorous, taking insects, fruit and reptiles.
26 Apr 2017
Whilst birding the Abha area of southwestern Saudi Arabia on 31 March 2017, Phil Roberts and I came across an adult Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii flying along a steep cliff face. The bird remained on view for about five minutes before eventually alighting on the cliff itself. The bird was always distant but it was obvious that this was the species involved and I took several rather poor photos of it. This is only the second time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia and it was a new species for Phil in the Kingdom. Verreaux's Eagle is a large mainly African bird of prey that lives in hilly and mountainous regions of southern and eastern Africa (extending marginally into Chad), and very locally in West Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the southern Middle East. It is one of the most specialized species of accipitrid in the world, with its distribution and life history revolving around its favorite prey species, the rock hyrax that make up 60% of its prey. When hyrax populations decline, the species can survive with mixed success on other prey, such as small antelopes, hares, young baboons, reptiles and other assorted vertebrates. They have an altitudinal distribution from sea level to above 5000m. Adults are sedentary while juveniles and immatures will disperse. The nest is a stick structure, up to 1.8m in diameter, usually located on a cliff ledge or cave, although trees and artificial structures are also used.
24 Apr 2017
Whilst birding the Tanoumah area in April 2017 I came across a King Jird Meriones rex. The animal was making a squeaking sound reminiscent of a bird, so I was looking in a small bush when Phil Roberts who was with me pointed out the Jird on the rocks below where I was looking. It ran along a row of rocks along the edge of a small cultivated field before disappearing into a hole and not reappearing. The King Jird occurs in the highlands of the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, from near Mecca in Saudi Arabia south to near Aden in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia the species has been reported from 1,350 to 2,200 metres above sea level. This jird occurs lives in large burrows amongst bushes, preferring raised areas bordering agricultural land. It is active in the evening and early morning. It lives in burrows which it shares with other rodents and lizards. They are reported as common throughout their range. Although have seen the King Jird on a number of occasions this is the first time I have seen one properly and also the first time I have managed to get a photo of one. Normally they are seen briefly disappearing down their burrows.