Whilst ringing in Jubail we caught a Grey-headed Swamphen in a mist net. This is quite a feat as they are large and heavy birds that seldom fly. It was feeding near to the net when I arrived to check if anything had been trapped and the bird flew and landed in the bottom shelf where I extracted it quickly. This is the fourth Grey-headed Swamphen we have trapped and ringed at the site and they are always good to handle. The splitting of Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio into five species means that Grey-headed Swamphen P. poliocephalus is by far the commonest species in the Region, comprising the nominate, caspius and seistanicus, though the validity of the last two is still debated. Swamphens from Saudi Arabia now comprise both breeding Grey-headed Swamphens in the Eastern Province and African Swamphen P. madagascariensis which is a vagrant with two records. A record of an adult at KAUST near Jeddah in September 2013 remained for at least three weeks before being killed by a car and two together at Dhahran percolation pond in December 2014 for several days. The fact these birds have been recorded breeding at this site and the records from birders and ringers (where DNA samples were collected from a feather, for correct identification) has helped protect the site from development and partly encouraged the protection of it as a reserve.
23 May 2017
22 May 2017
Whilst in the southwest of the Kingdom in April, Phil Roberts and I came across a group of eight mainly second calendar year Steppe Eagles. The birds appeared to be migrating along the escarpment edge. It is diffuclt to know if these birds were wintering birds from the region moving north or birds from Africa that had crossed into Arabia via the Bab El Mandib straights in Yemen (although most do not do this in spring but move north through Egypt and Israel. Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis is a common migrant and winter visitor to the south-west, northern Hejaz and Central Arabia where up to 1000 birds have been recorded in a small area. It is an uncommon winter visitor to other regions. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) states it is a common winter visitor arriving in early September and departing in late March with stragglers lingering into April. In earlier years mainly found in proximity to waste disposal sites. Now with the advent of extensive farming activity over much of the region there are fewer large concentrations and a tendency for small groups to take up winter territories on pivot irrigated fields. In early autumn when the ground is prepared for the sowing of winter wheat shambling groups following the plough have been observed. In the Eastern Province birds pass south-west from September through November regular from October through March on the northern plains from Nayriyyah westwards to Dibdibah and south to around Hanidh. Once over 60 on the steppe area and in October 1984 there were 66 at Haradh. Elsewhere scarce and irregular. Wintering birds in the Eastern Province are almost always dark sub-adults. In April a small passage has been noted across the northern steppe consisting of predominantly pale first-year birds. Winters to the west in good numbers around Riyadh, Al-Kharj and the plains of the north-central Najd.
21 May 2017
Whilst birding the large pivot irrigation fields at Haradh Phil and I came across a small number of thin flying insects that looked a little like Damselflys or Lacewings. Myrmeleon is an ant-lion genus in the subfamily Myrmeleontinae and this insect appears to be Myrmeleon hyalinus. Species in the genus feed on ants. Insect follows Myrmeleontidae family, and Neuroptera order. It is dark brown in colour with yellow sides and is about 20-30 milimetres long. Nymphs are small, without wings and make traps in sand to catch insects especially ants. The larvae actively prefer shady sites and often relocate to shady areas when exposed to the sun. This behaviour may constitute a life-saving strategy in desert environments. Adults have clear membranes wings and body is thin and long. The below photo was taken by Phil Roberts and I thank him for sending it to me and for allowing me to use it on my website
20 May 2017
The Talea’a Valley near Abha is in the Asir mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia and is a large upland wadi with stony ground and acacia trees growing in the bottom. The valley is hot and dry and any area of water attracts a steady stream of birds in the summer coming down to drink so are worth looking at if found so a small wet area near a dam looked promising especially as we had seen Blandfords Lark in this area last year. After a little searching we managed to located about twenty birds feeding in the stony areas and song flighting as well. We were there at just after midday so the light was very harsh making photography difficult but I took a few reasonable photos of this difficult to see species.
19 May 2017
Whilst birding the Haradh area of Saudi Arabia I came across the below plant. As mentioned previously, due to my general inability to identify plants I sent the below photos to Irene Linning who is a plant expert who used to live in Dhahran, and thankfully is kind enough to help me with plant identifications. She responded saying the pant is Tribulus pentandrus and has the Arabic name Shersir. There is a slight possibility that it is Tribulus terrestris given the locality, but its leaves tend not to have hairs on the upper side and this one clearly does. So almost certain that it is T. pentrandrus. It is a perennial with stems branching from the base, prostate or spreading up to 40 centimetre high and covered with shOrt white hairs. The leaves are paired with 8-14 leaflets. The flowers are solitary, yellow and on a stalk up to 0.5 centimetres high and it flowers throughout the year. It is a common and widespread plant in sand, sand plains and valleys.