19 Sep 2014

A scattering of Shrikes – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Last weekend there were a few more signs of migration occurring and one of the signs were the few shrikes that had started to appear. A nice male Woodchat Shrike was my first one of the autumn and I also saw a Lesser Grey Shrike, a male Red-backed Shrike and a Daurian Shrike. Great Reed Warblers were seen in a few places, as were the resident Indian Reed Warblers but apart from this the only other warbler seen was a Common Whitethroat. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Yellow Wagtails, Greater Short-toed Larks, Spotted Flycatchers, Barn Swallows, Sand Martins were also seen as was my first Western Marsh Harrier of the year, with both males and females seen and a total of at least five birds. A dark raptor flew over and away but my views were poor, although it may have been a Booted Eagle, but I am not claiming it. A Tree Pipit was also seen along the edge of the reed-beds and was my first one of the autumn. Wader numbers were still quite high with good numbers of Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Ruff and Lesser Sand Plover and lesser numbers of Pied Avocet, Greater Sand Plover, Ruddy Turnstones, Common Redshank and Marsh Sandpiper. Good numbers of herons were also about with lots of Squacco Herons instead of the one or two the week before and plenty of Purple Herons and Grey Herons. There were hundreds of Indian Reef Herons on the sabkha and good numbers of Greater Flamingo have returned for the winter.
Lesser Grey Shrike
Indian Reed Warbler
Yellow Wagtail
Little Grebes
Common Ringed Plover
Indian Reef Herons

Squacco Heron

18 Sep 2014

Western Marsh Harriers return to Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson has been out birding his local area of Tabuk and sent me a number of good photos of Western Marsh Harrier taken at the weekend. This species is a common winter visitor to marshes and wetlands throughout Saudi Arabia and can also be seen elsewhere on migration in September and October and April and May. Viv’s local wetland area in Tabuk is an excellent location for seeing the species, as is Sabkhat Al Fasl in the Eastern Province. Even though birds are common in winter they are not easy to take photos of due to their cautious nature so viv has done well to capture so many good photos.

17 Sep 2014

A good afternoons birding on the ‘patch’ – Dhahran Hills

On Friday I took my girls out for an afternoons birding and we had a great time and saw a few good birds. We have started taking out the new Collins bird guide on the I-Pad, which is great as the girls can find and see the birds that we are looking at. We went to the percolation pond as this is a good area for seeing birds through the telescope but before we got there a group of noisy motocross bikes scared all the birds into flight. This included an amazing 19 Purple Herons, easily the highest count I have had on the ‘patch’ for this species with the previous highest being 13. Also flushed were a few ducks including at least six Ferruginous Ducks, two Garganey and ten Northern Shovellers. Whilst walking around the pond we found four Ortolan Buntings including a really smart male and a 1st year (Eastern) Black-eared Wheatear, that allowed very close approach and full frame photos. This species is seen each year on the camp but in very small numbers so this was  a good experience. Other migrants included a Squacco Heron and a juvenile white morph Indian Reef Heron along with a large group of 30+ Sand Martins. A Blue-cheeked Bee-eater added some colour and a Southern Grey Shrike eating some sort of prey in a thorn bush was educational for the girls. Waders included a few Ruff, Kentish Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Little Ringed Plovers, Little Stints, Wood Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts and a single Temminck’s Stint and Green Sandpiper.
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - 1st Year
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - 1st Year
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - 1st Year
Southern Grey Shrike
Ortolan Bunting
Green Sandpiper

16 Sep 2014

Spotted Redshank and Common Redshank on wet ditch – Dhahran Hills

Both Spotted Redshank and Common Redshank are uncommon on the ‘patch’ with Spotted Redshank scarce. I had only seen the species a couple of times before and Phil only saw his first for Dhahran a few weeks ago. Most birds seen have been on the Percolation Pond where they are often quite distant so finding one on the wet ditch was a very pleasant surprise. This happened yesterday the day after I had seen a Common Redshank on the same wet ditch. This was the first time I had seen either species on the ditch showing wader passage is still in full swing. In the Eastern Province Common Redshank is a common passage migrant and winter visitor along the coast from August until March but is generally scarce from mid-march to mid-June. From July to October they are also common on pools away from the coast presumable concerning birds on migration. Spotted Redshank is an uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor, seen on migration from March to May and again from August to November. They are normally seen on pools away from the coast but are never common.
Spotted Redshank
Spotted Redshank
Spotted Redshank
Spotted Redshank
Common Redshank
Common Redshank

15 Sep 2014

Arabian Grey Shrike - Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the ‘patch’ last week I found a Shrike on top of a dead date palm in the disused spray fields. The Grey shrikes in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia are very confusing and there is often healthy debate between the birders of the region over what species, and subspecies, individual birds are. This is partly caused by most of the sub-species being clinal in nature and more than one subspecies occurring in Arabia, but I think the bird below is an Arabian (Southern) Grey Shrike Lanius m. aucheri. This is due to the bill being deeper based than a typical Mauryan (Steppe) Grey Shrike Lanius m. pallidirostris. The dark lores appear too dark for pallidirostris, which normally show a slightly paler mask, the bill, however, is not really jet black like typical aucheri. The mask of this bird extends over the bill a typical character of aucheri and although it can be seen on occasional palidirostris it is not normally this obvious. The grey mantle colour is difficult to judge on this bird. The wings are sooty black which is a character of aucheri rather than pallidirostris.The amount of white in the closed secondaries is less on the Arabian Grey Shrike compared to the Mauryan Grey Shrike and this bird, although only seen flying once appeared to have the white almost entirely restricted to the primaries.