18 Dec 2014

Old Al Ula town – Al Ula

Old Al Ula is the ancient trading town comprising 1032 houses with narrow lanes passing in front of them. The town houses consisted of two levels, the first built of stones carried from the ancient site of al-Khuraybah was allocated for receiving guests and storage and the second floor built out of mud brick, was used for the living area with some of the lanes roofed to increase the area of the upper floors of the houses. The town was designed in a way that made it easy to defend with all houses joined to each other forming a fortification around the city and the fort was placed high above the centre of town, on a jabal, for added protection. There were 14 gates to the city, known locally as aswar, that were opened in the morning and closed in the evening. A wide route passes through the town where camel caravans passed and here a number of shops and other trading posts were placed. The town houses were built around an elevated area away from the valley, keeping it safe from torrential rain, streams and floodwater. The town is now disused and has fallen into disrepair but is a very interesting place to visit and is currently being renovated in parts with information boards to tell the visitor about some of the towns history. The famous traveller Ibn Battutah mentioned Al Ula as he visited there saying “Al Ula is a large and fine village with orchards, date palms and water. The pilgrimage caravans stay there for four days to resupply and wash. Pilgrims leave with the villagers any excess belongings they have as they are known for their trustworthiness and only take with them what they need for the journey”.





Taken by Julianna Babbington (Age 6)
Taken by Kerensa Babbington (Age 6)

17 Dec 2014

Gadwalls, Mallards, Northern Shovellers, Garganey, Ferruginous Ducks and Grebes – Dhahran Hills

The percolation pond was full of ducks a week ago but then they almost all disappeared. On 12 December a few ducks had returned but they were very different in composition to the ones that had been there previously. I counted 40 Gadwalls which is the highest count by far I have had on the ‘patch’ of this species. Also with them were three Garganey, three Ferruginous Ducks and two Northern Shovellers. Also with the duck were a large number of Little Grebes and five Black-necked Grebes, the largest count of this species I have seen on the patch as well. It looks like winter may prove to be good this year after a slightly disappointing autumn. I also saw four Little Egrets and a Squacco Heron on the pond but these have been around for several weeks along with two Western Marsh Harriers and a Gull-billed Tern. As it was the weekend I got to the pond when the light was reasonable and therefore managed to get a few photos of them.
Gadwall
Gadwall
Gadwall, Northern Shoveller & Garganey
Gadwall, Northern Shoveller & Garganey
Gadwall & Garganey
Gadwall & Garganey
Gadwall
Gadwall
Gadwall
Gadwall
Gadwall
Gadwall
Mallard
Mallard
Little Grebe
Little Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe

16 Dec 2014

Al Ula city & surrounding area

Al Ula is a city 380 km north of Medina in northwestern Saudi Arabia and is the closest city to Madain Saleh and was part of the ancient incense route. Prior to the Nabataeans of Madain Saleh the area was ruled by the Lihyanites who left inscriptions on the many rock faces near the city. Ancient history is divided into several phases. The Dedanite kingdom spans to the seventh and sixth century BC, with Dedan mentioned in the "Harran Inscriptions". Here it is told how Nabonidus the king of Babylonia made a military campaign to northern Arabia in 552 BC or somewhat the region. The next four hundred years, until around 100 BC, were the time of the Kingdom of Lihyan. The Nabataeans ruled the region until at least until 106 AD when the Romans conquered their capital Petra. The Nabataeans made Hegra, the modern Madain Saleh their second capital situated 22 kilometres to the north of Al Ula. In the 13th century the old city of Al Ula was built and many stones of the old Dedanite and Lihyanite ruins were reused. A railway station was built for the Hejaz Railway in 1901-08. The railway line was built through the western part of Al-Khuraiba some twelve kilometers to the north of the old medieval town which is believed to be the site of the old Dedanite and Lihyanite town. In the 20th century the new town center was established beside the old town and eventually the people left the old buildings with the last family said to have left in 1983. Both the ruins of the medieval town and the site of the Liyhanite settlement now lay within the limits of the modern city. Many inscriptions, rock paintings and Nabataean wells can be found in the area that is now served by a new airport built in 20012 with flights to Riyadh twice a week in 2014 (Thursday and Saturday). The Al Ula Arac Resort is the best hotel in town to stay at and they can organize tours and tour guides of the area and Madain Sale and obtain you permits to visit Madain Saleh if you send them copies of your Iqamas.








15 Dec 2014

Few birds – Deffi Park


A visit to Deffi Park was conducted early on Friday morning, as we were unable to enter the farm that was our first option for birding for the day. As a result we went to inner city Jubail and visited the well-kept Deffi Park in the hope of see some good wintering birds. Kuwait has had some good birds such as Brambling, Fieldfare, Eurasian Greenfinch and Goldcrest all of which are potential visitors to the park as the habitat is suitable. Unfortunately we saw very little there with the exception of plenty of Common Chiffchaffs. The only other noteworthy bird seen was a juvenile masked Shrike with few birds seen in general with the exception of large numbers of White Wagtails. This park does look excellent for birds in particular thrushes so we will be visiting again before the winter in finished.

14 Dec 2014

A dark White-winged Tern – Sabkhat Al Fasl


When birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl, Phil and I found a very dark White-winged Tern. We see many White-winged Terns during the year at this site, including a number on the same day as this one, but none of them have approached this bird for darkness. The dark colouration made the bird look superficially like a Black Tern but many of the features of Black Tern where not present such as the normally obvious breast patch. Structurally the bird looked like a White-winged Tern but it’s wing length looked shorter and rounder compared to a nearby White-winged Tern but this may have been due to the dark colouration? Other features pointing towards White-winged Tern included square-tipped tail with paler outer tail feathers, head pattern and a short bill in comparison to Black Tern. We left the site happy the bird was a White-winged Tern, but I did not have any Tern guides with me in Saudi Arabia so I sent the photos to Jan Jorgensen for confirmation and would like to thank him for his comments on this bird.