28 Jul 2014

Old record of Great Knot at Al-Khobar – Bird record by Cliff Peterson

An ex birder from Saudi Arabia, Cliff Peterson, contacted me recently and sent me his impressive list of birds seen in the country during his stay from August 1981 until January 1986. Cliff saw well over 300 species in the country birding mainly the Eastern Province, Riyadh area and a couple of overland trips to Asir province. Cliff mentioned he had a large collection of images taken on Kodacrome 64 with a Novoflex 600 and sent me a photo of two Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris on the south shore of Al-Khobar 28-30 May 1984, with one remaining until 9 June 1984. These were the first records for the country and very few have been seen since with all records I know of from the Eastern Province including One at Jubail lagoons in early April 1991, a flock of 107 in full breeding plumage at Al Awamiyah 9 April 1991, a second calendar year bird 11 May at Rahimah Ras Tanurah 1991 and one at Zur 26 November 1991. Cliff kindly allowed me to use his photo on my website and I have reproduced it below.

27 Jul 2014

Fat Sand Rat near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

The Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus is 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.

26 Jul 2014

Some good summer birds – Sabkaht Al Fasl

The weekend trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl turned up a few good birds, even though it is the middle of summer and birding is generally quiet. The best birds were three Egyptian Nightjars, closely followed by two juvenile Eurasian Spoonbills an uncommon species. This is a species becoming more common in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and these birds may even have bred here. Habitat is suitable and adults were seen regularly in May with juveniles now in July. Other birds that are possibly breeding here are Black-headed Yellow Wagtails and Squacco Herons, both species not regarded as breeding species for the site. The long staying Red-wattled Lapwing and over-summering Greater Spotted Eagle were not seen on this trip so may have moved on? A few waders are already on the move with Common Sandpipers and Green Sandpipers seen in small numbers along with breeding Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers. A very early female Garganey was also seen which was a bit of a surprise. Other good birds included hundreds of Little Terns, White-cheeked Terns and Indian Reef Herons and well over 1000 Greater Flamingos still present. A few Barn Swallows and two Sand Martins were over the reed beds, but little other signs of migration noted.
Yellow Wagtail
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Garganey - female

25 Jul 2014

Deathstalker Scorpion near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

The Deathstalker Leiurus quinquestriatus contains the subspecies Leiurus quinquestriatus quinquestriatus and Leiurus quinquestriatus hebraeus. The species has a wide range from Africa (Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia) to Asia (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sinai, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen). African populations of this species correspond largely to the subspecies L. q. quinquestriatus while those of Asian populations to L. q. hebraeus. The Deathstalker is found upon a wide variety of substrates in arid & semi-arid regions. This species is a retreat generalist and will modify and occupy existing spaces under ground cover and debris. It may also adopt existing burrows of other invertebrates and small vertebrates, as well as excavate shallow burrows under rocks to 20 cm in depth. Adult specimens are 80–110 mm total length and typically have a yellow to orange-yellow colour. The metasomal segment V typically has a dark coloration restricted to the posterior 2/3 of the segment with the amount and intensity of the dark coloration varying among specimens. Older specimens may be darker in overall coloration and the dark coloration of metasomal segment V faded, reduced or indistinct. Reported toxicity levels indicate that this species possesses one of the most toxic venoms described in scorpions. Despite this the majority of stings produce only localized effects in up to 97% of victims which is probably due to the average quantity of venom injected (0.225 mg) being small. However, the venom of this species may be fatal in infants and children due to the effects being weight-dependent but fatalities are uncommon in adults. This scorpion was found by Viv Wilson in the desert near Tabuk and Viv has kindly allowed me permission to use his excellent photos on my website which are shown below.

24 Jul 2014

Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Little Grebes – Dhahran Hills

The ‘patch’ has been neglected a bit of late as I spent a weekend away in the southwest of Saudi Arabia looking for Arabian Endemics and other different birds to those we see in the Eastern Province, and a couple of evenings after work when I would normally have been out catching up on sleep due to long hours in the field looking for owls and Nightjars. It doesn’t, however, look like I may have missed much as things are still very quiet. The only birds to see in good numbers are Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Little Grebes, species that all breed on or very near the camp. I have looked for the Crested Honey Buzzards a couple of times at 04:30 hrs but without luck and the best bird I have seen all week in the area were two Red-vented Bulbuls in my garden. A few Eurasian Hoopoes are still around looking for food for their young and a small group of five Barn Swallows remain over the spray fields but little else has been about worthy of reporting.
Black-winged Stilt - juvenile
Little Grebe