25 Oct 2014

KFUPM update – Bird records by Lorna Mackenzie

I received an update on the birds of KFUPM, next to Dhahran Saudi Aramco camp from Lorna. She mentioned there was not much news actually, quite a quiet week for migrants but a couple of nice birds during the week or so past. Small numbers of Swifts and Swallows this week, a few this morning flying around me at street level. A couple of Shrikes on Saturday, both Isabelline one female and one 1st winter. Also of 1st winter birds I've had a stunning Great Reed Warbler this week, in fact I saw it first a couple of weeks ago but was somewhat mystified by just a glimpse of quite a rich red-brown colouring. I caught a brief sight of the reddish colouring a couple of times and then on Friday was rewarded at the same location by it's rather bolder appearance in more open view. Impressive, and beautifully lit in early morning sunshine. Also a couple of Spotted Flycatchers again this week, and a Lesser Whitethroat. There has not been too much more on the camp over this period showing that things are quiet over a large area pf the Eastern Province at least.
Spotted Flycatcher

24 Oct 2014

Spotted Toad-headed Agama at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Record by Andre Marais

Andre Marais sent me a photograph of a Spotted Toad-headed Agama, identified due to its colouration, size and shape, transverse bars on the body and tail and the fact it was in Sabkha habitat rather than sandy habitat. Andre has kindly allowed me to use his photo om my website. The Spotted Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus maculatus), also called the Blacktail Toad-headed Agama, is a member of the Agamidae family, and has a body colour that is highly variable, but typically has distinct brown bars across the body and tail. It also tends to match the colour of its background and lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those on red, inland sands. The agamid lizards are also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. The head is short and broad, with a deep forehead and snub nose, and the flattened body is wide and strong and covered in rough skin with overlapping scales. The long, flattened tail is rounded at the base and has a black tip on the underside which, when raised, is used in visual signals. The spotted toad-headed agama is known from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Oman, northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The species inhabits harder sandy surfaces where it is often associated with coastal salt flats known as ‘sabkhas’ ad rocky islands. The Arabian Toad-headed Agama prefers sandy desert areas. They are active in all but the hottest hours of the day looking for insect prey and during the hottest periods, they will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. They are able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. They lay eggs, producing a clutch of one to seven which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow.

Two species of Toad-headed Agama live in the region with Arabian Toad-headed Agama (P. arabicus) being the second species. The species are relatively easy to identify by the relatively longer tail compared to snout-vent length in P. maculatus of 130-160%, as opposed to 100-125% in P. arabicus. The two species can also be told apart by their shape, colour & number of scales present between the eye and lip. P. arabicus is short-bodied dark grey above with creamy white spots and the upper-side of the tail paler than the body and lacking the spots. The ventral body parts were white with the under-side of the tail orange from the vent to the dark tail band and the species has three to four scales between the eye and lip. P. maculatus is relatively slim and long-bodied and appears larger than P. arabicus and has five to six scales between the eye and lip. The upper-side of the body is sandy grey with five broad dark brown cross bars, with the bars continuing on the tail from vent to the end of the tail with a longer dark terminal tail band, about 20% of the tail length (Al Sirhan & Brown 2010).

23 Oct 2014

A few warblers – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 17 October we caught a two Great Reed Warblers and three Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers as well as a few other birds including Common Kingfisher, Little Bittern, Graceful Prinia and Bluethroat. It was a little windy and we were limited on time so set out at 03:30 to allow us to reach the site and set the nets before first light. We put up five nets in our usual positions although the wind made moving one to a less windy position necessary after about one hour. All the nets caught birds but it was quite slow. Sabkhat Al Fasl is proving to be a much better ringing location than Alba Marsh, and although we do not catch too many birds the numbers are significantly higher than Alba. On the 17 October we caught eleven birds of six species whilst at a similar time of year last year at Alba we caught three birds all of which were Great Reed Warblers. The subspecies of Great Reed Warbler we get is zarudnyii which is the eastern breeding race and is generally lighter in colour with more olive, less rufous brown upperparts than nominate arundinaceus. Acrocephalus arundinaceus zarudnyiis sometimes treated as an eastern subspecies of Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus and sometimes as conspecific with A. a. arundinaceus. A. a. arundinaceus occurs from Europe east to the Volga River and A. a. zarudnyi occurs from the Volga River east to southern central Siberia, although birds resembling zarudnyi occur in western European populations of arundinaceus. It has thus been suggested that they are actually colour morphs with darker birds in the west and paler ones in the east.
Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Common Kingfisher

22 Oct 2014

Duck numbers increasing – Dhahran Hills

Although migration is slow this autumn the number of ducks have increased over the last few weeks. Common Pochard is scarce on the ‘patch’ with one being present for the last week. On 19 October there were seven with three males and four females. Northern Shoveler numbers have increased to 27 with a mixture of males and females along with six Garganey. Other migrants seen were mainly wheatears with both Pied Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear present with most Pied Wheatears being first year males. A few Barn Swallows were new in with ten plus over the spray fields and percolation pond in the evening. There was a small group of waders present on the settling pond including two Marsh Sandpipers, two Little Stints, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint. Otherwise the only other interesting birds were a single Grey Heron and 21 Western Cattle Egrets.
Northern Shoveller
Pied Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear

21 Oct 2014

Adult male Montagu’s Harrier near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me some nice photos of an adult male Montagu’s Harrier near Tabuk taken in early October 2014 that he has kindly allowed me to use. This is a scarce passage migrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where they are seen in April, September and October with up to eight seen in a day at Haradh in September. The only birds I have seen on my local ‘patch’ were a second calendar year female and second calendar year male over the spray fields on 22 April 2103. In the Riyadh area they are scarce but regular passage migrant that passes in March and again in late August to mid-October that since 1988 have taken up residence around alfalfa fields south of Riyadh during December and January. In the north where this bird was photographed they have been seen at Harrat al Harrah Reserve where they are a passage migrant mainly in April and September but have also been seen in December. The species has been recorded rarely throughout the rest of Saudi Arabia all the way down to the Yemen boarder near Jizan.