2 Mar 2015

Scorpion near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

Viv was out in the desert a few weeks ago and had an ultra violet light so went looking for scorpions. He found one and took a few photographs of it and sent them to me to use on my website. Viv mentioned it was fun looking for the scorpion at night and the one he found could not have been much more than 30 centimeters long and was very small. If anyone has any idea of what typ of scorpion it is please could they leave a comment or contact me by e-mail.




1 Mar 2015

tristis and abietinus Chiffchaffs caught and ringed – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 23 January 2015 we caught three Chiffchaffs with two appearing to be the normal abietinus types we catch, and one a rather duller paler looking bird recalling Siberian Chiffchaff tristis, that has just been elevated to full species status in the latest OSME regional list ORL version 3.0 and IOC4.1 list repurposes splitting. The Siberian Chiffchaff is shown below in the top photograph and shows a bird with a brown component to the plumage that is critical in the identification process as the upperparts often have a somewhat ‘tan’ appearance. The bird showed the right shade of brown in the upperparts and the buff wash on the breast and flanks with slight ‘additional’ yellow and olive compatible with ‘fulvescens’, generally treated as a western form of tristis, though it remains to be fully determined whether or not it’s appearance results from limited introgression of abietinus genes (Alan Dean pers comm). The main criteria for identification of Siberian Chiffchaff are as follows: Absence of olive in the crown and mantle with a grey-brown or pale brown hue in the upperparts. There is an absence of yellow away from the underwing with warm buff in the supercilium and ear-coverts and some buff at the breast-sides/flanks. The bill and legs often appear very black but this feature is variable. If the bird calls the most distinct call is a thin, piping monosyllabic ‘peep’. The Siberian Chiffchaff is a vagrant to Saudi Arabia with this bird being the first properly documented record for the Country. Records are rare from Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE but they are regular wintering birds in Oman. The second photo shows an abietinus type applying that designation in its broader sense. Identity of Chiffchaffs in the Middle East is very complicated with Mountain Chiffchaffs nearby, which look quite like tristis, and a series of taxa with intriguing combinations of abietinus or intermediate plumage but tristis-like calls (the brevirostris/caucasicus/menzbieri group), diagnosing Chiffchaffs can be a demanding exercise. I sent these photos to Alan Dean who is an expert on many things including Chiffchaffs and he agreed with my identifications and I would like to thank Alan for his very helpful comments on these birds.
Siberian Chiffchaff - tristis
Siberian Chiffchaff - tristis
Common Chiffchaff - abietinus
Common Chiffchaff - abietinus

28 Feb 2015

Some water-birds on a small pond – Dhahran golf course

A trip to Dhahran golf course to see if I could see the Long-tailed Shrike and the three species of Kingfisher that had been present produced neither Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Kingfisher or White-throated Kingfisher but did turn up a few interesting water-birds on the small pond. The female Common Kingfisher was still present hunting from the reed bed and alongside it at one stage was a nice male Little Bittern. There is a good chance the Little Bitterns are nesting at this site as we caught a female Little Bittern at Sabkhat Al Fasl two weeks ago that had a brood patch and probably had eggs as well. Other interesting birds were a few Great Cormorants including one drying it’s wings whilst standing on a concrete fountain built in the pond. Also sitting on this structure as well as fishing in the pond was a white phase juvenile Indian Reef Heron. There were very few other birds of note although a small number of Pallid Swifts were flying overhead. The trip was short as this is a restricted area so the good birds mentioned above may still be present somewhere.
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Pallid Swift
Pallid Swift

27 Feb 2015

A flock of Great Black-headed Gulls – Sabkhat Al Fasl

I saw and adult summer Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus fly over whilst birding Sabkhat Al Fasl and it flew and landed in an area of dry sabkha. It landed with a group of other gulls which turned out to include one further adult summer and seven second calendar year Great Black-headed Gulls. There were also five Steppe Gulls in the group. Sabkhat Al Fasl has turned out to be a good site to see the species in the last four years with birds seen each winter although this group is the largest I have seen so far in Saudi Arabia. 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.
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - second calendar year
Great Black-headed Gull - second calendar year

26 Feb 2015

First spring Caspian Reed and Sedge Warblers – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Nicole, Harald and I went ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl for the first time in three weeks as the wind has been too strong recently to ring. We caught mostly the same birds as migration is only just starting but we did catch our first migrant Caspian Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers. Both these species have arrived early this year with the first Caspian Reed Warblers heard in late January. Sedge Warblers normally do not arrive until March so they are here earlier than expected. Both these species should be caught in larger numbers over the next few weeks until they peak in April. Other warblers caught include a few Common Chiffchaffs that will be declining in numbers over the next few weeks to be replaced by Willow Warblers and plenty of resident Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers that are singing in force for various places. Other birds caught included good numbers of Red-spotted Bluethroats, Common Kingfishers, a male Little Bittern, a Water Pipit and a Daurian Shrike. We caught a total of thirty birds during the mornings ringing and if we could work out a way of trapping the White Wagtails and Water Pipits that were around the nets in good number we could catch many more. The last two species can see the nets and fly over or around them and are only ever caught if flushed from close range into the nets and even then they normally avoid the nets.
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male 
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male