22 Jul 2014

Sightings of Red Sea Cetaceans – Details supplied by Peter Rudolph

Peter Rudolph contacted me regarding my records of Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins Tursiops aduncus offshore Farasan Islands and is looking for details of any cetacean sightings from the Red Sea as he is part of a team working on a new checklist of the whales and dolphins of the Red Sea. If anyone has details of cetacean sightings from this area could they please contact me via my e-mail (see contact me tab at top of website), and your records may/will be cited in the new checklist.  Peter is now sure, that the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin can be found in all coastal areas of the Red Sea. The holotype of Tursiops aduncus was found in Belhosse Island, Dahlak Archipelago, just “opposite” the Farasan Islands. Distinguishing the two Bottlenose Dolphin species in the Red Sea is not easy and to be 100% certain, you should know if the dolphins have spots on their belly. Peter says that all other information we have on my Farasan Islands sightings (water depth, group size, shape of the dorsal fin) clearly speaks for Tursiops aduncus and the sighting is 99.9% certain.
Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphins
Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphin

21 Jul 2014

Blanford’s Short-toed Lark - Azezza

A trip to a stony plateaux area of Azezza in the hope of seeing Blanford’s Short-toed Lark, formally Red-capped Lark, provided few birds but did turn up a flock of about 40 larks. They were incredibly flighty and very difficult to photograph and as a result I only ended up with a single photo of one bird. We were at the location in the late morning which was not the best time to bird there as it was very hot and we did not want to disturb the birds too much by chasing them around. As a result I will go back to this area again when in Abha to try to get better photographs at a later date. The subspecies seen was Calandrella blanfordi eremica which is restricted to southwest Saudi Arabia and Yemen with other subspecies occurring in Africa in Eritrea and Somalia. Blanford’s Sort-toed Lark is an uncommon breeding resident at high altitudes in the Hejaz and Asir mountains where its preferred habitat appears to be open stony summits with scattered juniper bushes. I would like to thank Lou Regenmorter for putting me onto this site as he had seen birds here in summer 2013. The directions did not have a way point for the exact site but with Phil Roberts navigation skills we managed to work out how to get there. The only other birds we saw at the site were several Little Swifts, one Alpine Swift, five Common Swift and a Short-toed Snake Eagle.
Blanford's Short-toed Lark

20 Jul 2014

African Paradise Flycatchers - Raydah Escarpment

On the way back to the airport in Abha from Tanoumah area we stopped at the Raydah Escarpment for a few hours. The ranger station gate was open so we go into the reserve easily and drove down to the disused farm. The farm now has a new locked gate blocking access for vehicles along the small track but as we always walked there was no issue as it was easy to get around the outside of the gate. As we were at the location around midday it was relatively quiet but we still saw some good birds including two Arabian Waxbills. This was only the second time we had seen the species with the first in the reed beds at Malaki Dam near Jizan in April 2014. These two birds were perched in the low scrub of a large tree, very different habitat from the previous sighting. Two African Paradise Flycatchers were also seen here including a fantastic male with extra long tail streamers. Little Rock Thrush, Yemen Thrush, Yemen Linnet and Abyssinian White-eye were also common here. With a few Fan-tailed Ravens flying over.
African Paradise Flycatcher - female
African Paradise Flycatcher - male
Yemen Linnet

We then slowly made our way down the incredibly steep road to the small village at the bottom where the first bird I saw when getting out of the car was a Grey-headed Kingfisher. An African Grey Hornbill was sitting quietly in a large tree and a couple of Bruce’s Green Pigeons flew over. Violet-backed Starlings and Gambaga Flycatchers were also seen. Arabian Partridge could be heard calling from the steep cliffs but remained unseen. This was our tenth out of twelve Saudi Arabia Arabian endemics in a two day trip – a good result for two full days birding with virtually no sleep due to looking for owls and nightjars in the dark.  After Raydah we had a hour left so went to the top of Mount Soudah where there were plenty of Fan-tailed Ravens  as always and two Yemen Serins on the rocks at the top.
Gambaga Flycatcher
Violet-backed Starlings
Yemen Serin

19 Jul 2014

Plenty of Arabian Endemics at Al Mehfar Park – Tanoumah

During the weekend of 11-12 July, Phil Roberts and I went to the southwest of Saudi Arabia for a birding trip. This was a very busy and long weekend with little sleep as we were birding on foot all day and then looking for owls and nightjars all night. We birded the Al Mehfar Park area and I have already posted details of some of the bird we saw but we had a brilliant time at this new site. We spent the entire day there on the first day and most of the morning the second day and saw plenty of good birds including eight of the twelve Arabian Endemics that occur in Saudi Arabia including: Philby’s Partridge Alectoris philbyi, Arabian Scops Owl Otus pamelae, Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocopos dorae, Yemen Warbler Sylvia buryi, Yemen Thrush Turdus menachensis, Arabian Wheatear Oenanthe lugentoides, Yemen Serin Serinus menachensis & Yemen Linnet Carduelis yemenensis. The ones we failed to see were: Arabian Partridge Alectoris melanocephala, Arabian Waxbill Estrilda rubibarba, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali & Arabian Serin Serinus rothschildi. We arrived at about 03:00 hrs and immediately started looking for Owls without success although located two Montane Nightjars on the road and in flight. As it started getting light we went to the more bare area of the site with large boulders in the hope of seeing Philby’s Partridge an Arabian endemic Phil had not previously see. We heard birds calling briefly but despite extensive searching failed to locate any. We did, however, see four Arabian Magpie Pica pica asirensis an endemic subspecies of Eurasian Magpie sometimes treated as a separate species and with population in danger of extinction with probably less than 500 birds left? Soon after this we found Yemen Warbler in the trees along with a drumming male Arabian Woodpecker, a species we would see three more of during our birding here. The most common species seen were Yemen Serin, a species we had previously not seen before, and Palestine Sunbird with over 100 of each seen. Gambaga Flycatcher was also common as was Yemen Linnet. A few Arabian Wheatears were located along the road along with Red-breasted Wheatears and Long-billed Pipits were also seen in this area in good numbers. Other interesting species seen included Violet-backed Starlings, Abyssinian White-eyes, Common Kestrel, Fan-tailed Ravens and a Barbary Falcon, another new species for me in Saudi Arabia. Two Dusky Turtle Doves were in the wooded areas but little else was seen here. In the late afternoon we returned to look for Philby’s Partridge and saw three birds on the cliff edge. We then located and photographed Arabian Scops Owl in the nighttime (see previous post) and the next morning we returned and saw four more Philby’s Partridges a little further along the cliff top although they remained at distance. All in all we had a great time here and I will certainly be returning to this area again, as it the best birding site in the area that I know off.
Arabian Magpie
Philby's Partridge
Yemen Warbler
Yemen Serin
Yemen Linnet - male
Palestinian Sunbird
Palestinian Sunbird
Violet-backed Starling
Common Kestrel
Abyssinian White-eye
Gambaga Flycatcher
Long-billed Pipit

18 Jul 2014

Flocks of Yemen Serins at Al Mehfar Park – Tanoumah

Yemen Serin Serinus menachensis is a scarce, but locally common resident breeder in the southwest of Saudi Arabia. It is restricted to highlands of the Asir from the Abha area north to As Shafa escarpment. This was one of my last two southwest Arabian endemics to see along with Arabian Scops Owl and despite extensive searching I had not managed to see one on my previous trips to the area. This trip turned out very differently with birds seen in good numbers at two different sites. The first birds seen were a group of more than thirty birds seen drinking water from a leaking water tank in the early morning of 11 July 2014. These birds then flew down into some nearby stony fields and were joined by more with at least 51 birds present. These birds were reasonably tame and allowed close approach even on foot, allowing some good photographs to be taken. Amazingly we saw another flock of 50 birds in another area of Al Mehfar Park and the next day 57 in a completely different area. We have made a conservative estimate that we saw 100 birds at this location. The location of Al Mehfar Park has plenty of the species favourite habitat of stony hillsides, rocky outcrops, cultivated fields and flat waste ground with scrub. Habitat and its flocking tendency are two ways of separating Yemen Serin form the similar Arabian Serin.