25 Jun 2018

Fat Sand Rat – Near Jubail

I went to an area near Jubail in mid-June where Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus had been seen before as I have not seen them before. I had been there previously but failed to see them so this time left at 03:00 to get to the site by first light. This time it paid off and we saw at least four animals. They were always close to the shrubs digging in the sand or near their burrows. They only stayed out in the open until 05:00 when they all disappeared and were not seen again. The Fat Sand Rat a stocky, gerbil-like rodent, native to desert regions. Its upper parts are reddish-brown, reddish, yellowish or sandy buff and the underparts are yellowish, buffy or whitish. The subspecies that lives in Saudi Arabia is P. o. dianae. The sturdy limbs bear blackish claws and the short, stout tail that is fully haired and has a black terminal tuft. The small, rounded ears are covered with dense whitish to yellowish hair. This species communicates through high-pitched squeaks and by drumming its feet. They have a total length of 25.1 - 35.6 cm with a tail length of 10 - 15.7 cm and weigh 32-43 grams. They are found in North Africa and the Middle East and have been recorded in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They inhabit deserts, semi-desert, rocky habitats and grasslands, provided that succulent shrubs, on which the rat feeds, are present. They live in colonies in complex burrow systems, which have separate areas for nesting and the storage of food. Compared to other members of the Muridae family (the mice, rats and gerbils), the fat sand rat is rather unusual as it is diurnal and wholly herbivorous; most other species in this family are nocturnal and feed primarily on grains. In winter their main activity is during the day, but during the summer months they prefer the shade and can be found inside the burrow or in the shade of the surrounding bushes. Its diet consists of leaves and stems and, unlike high-energy seeds, these foods are rather low in energy. As a result, it has to eat around 80 percent of its body weight in food each day to obtain sufficient energy. The fat sand rat does not need to drink water, a useful adaptation in arid habitats, and instead can get all the water it needs by feeding on the leaves of the saltbush which are up to 90 percent water and licking morning dew. However, this water has an extremely high concentration of salt, and so the fat sand rat must produce very salty, concentrated urine in order to expel the salt from its body.
Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus

Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus

Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus


Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus

Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus


23 Jun 2018

Summertime birding - Jubail

Birding the Jubail area in June gave a few surprising migrants including Whinchat, European Bee-eater, Red-backed Shrike, Barn Swallow and Sand Martin. A Western Cattle Egret was also a surprise as they are a winter species that has normally departed by this time of year. A few summer plumage Squacco Herons were also present showing for the fifth year that they probably breed at the site, although no proof of this has been found yet. White-cheeked and Little Terns are back in large numbers for the breeding season and will remain around until September. Resident Gull-billed and Caspian Terns were also present in much smaller numbers to the previous two tern species. Over 2000 Greater Flamingo remain on one of the large sabkha areas where the first breeding in Saudi Arabia was noted a couple of years ago. Large numbers of singing Caspian Reed Warblers were present in the reed beds singing in competition with Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers. Little Bitterns were seen in flight several times as were a group of twelve Grey Herons.
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Little Tern
Little Tern 
Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron 
Western Cattle Egret
Western Cattle Egret

21 Jun 2018

Indian Reef Heron - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we came across a good number of Indian Reef Heron Egretta gularis. The species is a common, mostly resident coastal breeder that can be seen in good numbers. Most birds seen are white morph birds but about 10% are of the grey or black morph. They occur on all coasts of the Kingdom but are seldom recorded inland. I have seen nests on offshore islands in the Arabian Gulf where birds breed in the summer months. They often occur with other egrets, mainly Little Egrets and Great Egrets and normally stay close to shore to fish.
Indian Reef Heron - Egretta gularis

Indian Reef Heron - Egretta gularis

Indian Reef Heron - Egretta gularis

19 Jun 2018

Lesser Emperor - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we came across a Lesser Emperor Anax Parthenope sitting still on a large reed stem. The dragonfly allowed close photos to be take the best of which is shown below. Lesser Emperor has a length of approximately 71mm and has a bright blue ‘saddle’ that is very noticeable. The rest of the abdomen is brownish, as is the thorax. The eyes are green. It is a wide-range Palearctic and Indomalayan species that is not threatened on a global scale, although local declines may occur due to habitat destruction and water pollution. Occurs in much of southern and central Europe including most Mediterranean islands, across Asia to Japan including parts of Arabia, Korean Peninsula and China, and North Africa. In the south of its range it can be on the wing in March but is most commonly seen from June to September. They are most often seen patrolling around ponds, lakes and other still water. 
Lesser Emperor - Anax Parthenope

Lesser Emperor - Anax Parthenope


17 Jun 2018

Asir mountains in May

Whilst birding the Asir mountains in May I saw a lot of good birds. This included six endemic bird species including Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Wheatear, Yemen Serin, Arabian Serin and Phiby’s Partridge. I also saw Asir (Arabian) Magpie that is now being considered an endemic species as well. Several other good specialities of the southwest were seen including Shikra, African Pipit, African Stonechat, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and White-spectacled Bulbul. Violet-backed Starling and Gambaga Flycatcher are summer visitors from Africa and were common and another African summer visitor Grey-headed Kingfisher was seen in a couple of places. Laughing Dove was common and there were also plenty of Dusky Turtle Doves a much less common species restricted in range in Saudi Arabia to the southwest. 
Gambaga Flycatcher

African Stonechat

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Palestine Sunbird