22 Feb 2017

Winter visitors and passage migrants – Haradh

Phil Roberts and I went to Haradh recently and found plenty of good birds despite the temperature being 1 degrees Celsius the coldest day for many years in the region as well as a bitingly cold northerly wind. Some birds were winter visitors such as Mallard, Northern Lapwing, Desert Wheatear, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Tawny Pipit whilst others were spring migrants such as Common Redstart, Common Chiffchaff, Mauryan Grey Shirke. We also saw a few interesting resident species such as Long-legged Buzzard, Spur-winged Plovers that appear to have colonized the pivot irrigation and farm areas of Haradh in recent years as well as Spanish Sparrows and Namaqua Doves. A few winter harriers were still present including Marsh Harrier and Pallid Harrier and there were plenty of Common Kestrels as well.
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Mallard
Mallard
Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
Spur-winged Lapwing
Spur-winged Lapwing
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit

21 Feb 2017

Two Great Black-headed Gulls – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area last weekend we came across two Great Black-headed Gulls sitting on a flooded area of sabkha. One bird was an adult in full summer plumage with the other being a second calendar year bird. Jubail has turned out to be a good site to see the species in the last five years with birds seen each winter. The Great Black-headed Gull is an uncommon winter visitor to the Arabian Gulf and southern Red Sea coastal areas that is also rarely seen inland. The first birds are normally not seen until December or January, with March probably the best time to see the species. Apart from Sabkhat Al Fasl the other good location for seeing the species is the causeway to Bahrain where birds can often be seen hanging in the wind over the road and up to ten adult summer birds have been seen on recent crossings.
Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

20 Feb 2017

Caspian Stonechat - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I noticed an interesting looking Stonechat in the reed bed edge. Unfortunately it flew off and I could not relocate it. I went back to the location where I had seen the bird at the end of my birding and luckily saw the bird again in the reeds and then on the ground and managed to get a few photos of it. I could see that the bird had a lot of white in the tail when it flicked it, which it did on a regular basis. With a tail pattern like this the bird was obviously a Saxicola maurus hemprichii  or Caspian Stonechat also known as North Caspian Taxon (NCT). The northern population has a very characteristic male plumage with extensive white portions on each side of the inner tail (between half and three-quarters of the outer tail feathers white), not unlike the pattern in many wheatears or male Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio. This can be seen on one of the below photos and can easily be seen on a flying bird, but can be more difficult to confirm on perched birds with closed tails. The amount of white in the tail on males is subject to a subtle cline; at its maximum in the Volga Delta region, becoming slightly more restricted in the south. Both sexes resemble nominate maurus from further east and north in that they have a large unstreaked pale rump patch, buffish when fresh, white when abraded and bleached. In comparison, European Stonechat S. rubicola has a streaked rump with usually limited white. The hemprichii male has a concentrated red-brown chest patch and a large white patch on the neck-sides, again more like nominate maurus and different from most rubicola which again can be seen on the photographs below. The bird remained in the same place for at least two weeks.
Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus





19 Feb 2017

Fat Sand Rats near Jubail – Record by Arnold Uy

Arnold Uy took some excellent photos of Fat Sand Rats near Jubail and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website some of which are shown below. The Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus subspecies that lives in Saudi Arabia is P. o. dianae. Arnold mentioned there are a number of birds of prey in the area that appear to be hunting them including Long-legged Buzzard, Greater Spotted Eagle and Steppe Eagle. All these species are regular winter visitors to the Eastern Province of the Kingdom but none are common so to see them all in a small area is very interesting. I am still yet to see the Fat Sand Rat in Saudi Arabia as I obviously bird the wrong areas but will try to see these animals in the near future.
Fat Sand Rat

Fat Sand Rat

Fat Sand Rat

18 Feb 2017

Migratory Locust – Abu Hadriyah

Whilst at Abu Hadriyah I saw a Migratory Locust Locusta migratoria in a small area of vegetation in a vast desert of sand. They are most often seen in pivot irrigation fields where large numbers can be seen but I only noticed one although it was a very small area of vegetation. Normally they occur in small numbers throughout Arabia, but rarely form into swarms. There are two colour forms, brown and green with the green colour forms mainly solitary adult females. Under favourable breeding conditions they can form into vast groups, with young ‘hoppers’ often all marching in the same direction. They are very strong fliers and migratory specimens have been recorded as far away as Great Britain. The migratory locust is the most widespread locust species in the world, and the only species in the genus Locusta. It occurs throughout Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Migratory Locust