30 Jan 2015

European Honey Buzzard – Deffi Park

The European Honey-Buzzard occurs in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia along with Crested Honey-Buzzard and most of the records of Honey-Buzzards refer to Crested Honey-Buzzard. The two species are difficult to identify unless good views of the underwing and flight feathers can be seen. The Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia by Bundy, Connor & Harrison (published in August 1989) has only six records of Honey-Buzzard, Dhahran 4 March 1976, 6 October 1978, over Rub al Khali at Jawb 23 March 1980, Dhahran 27 October 1980, at Qatif 19 October 1891 and Dhahran 13 March 1983 and is classed as a vagrant. Since I have been in Saudi Arabia I have seen European Honey Buzzards as follows, adult female 4 May 2011, adult male 6 May 2011, adult female - 2 June 2011 and a female at Deffi Park, Jubail 24 January 2015. The species is a scarce passage migrant seen in small numbers mainly in spring and autumn with the main movement of birds well to the west of the Eastern Province. Winter records are rare in Saudi Arabia but interestingly Brian James found two winter birds at KAUST golf course in November 2014 and along with the bird from Deffi Park, Jubail it appears at least some winter here. The bird at Deffi Park was seen very briefly in the very early morning flying up from the ground and disappeared into the trees. It did not appear to fly far and I was lucky to refind it in the trees again. I took a couple of photos of the bird and it flew off again and was lost. No details of the underwing were seen and as it was a winter record I assumed it would be a Crested Honey Buzzard. When I looked at the photos better at home a few days later it looked a bit different to perched Crested Honey Buzzards I had seen before and was a female/immature as it had a yellow eye. I suspected the bird may be a European Honey Buzzard but was not sure so sent it to Andrea Corso for his valuable advice. Andrea said the bird was a European Honey Buzzard making the record another winter one for the species and this time on the east coast of the Kingdom.




29 Jan 2015

Common Blackbird – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 23 January 2015 at Sabkhat Al Fasl we caught an adult male Common Blackbird Turdus merula. They are regarded as vagrants to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with most records referring to first year males and most occurring at Dhahran including two during January to February 1974, one 4 February 1975 with two 9-15 April 1975, one 2 March 1979, a female 3-5 January 1980 one 14 December 1982, one at Dhahran Saudi Aramco main camp in some Acacias on 11th Street 10 January 1984 with probably the same bird 8-21 February 1984 and one 15 November 1984. One was also at Abqaiq 21 December 1979. Birds are relatively common in Jordon so it is surprising that more have not been seen in the northwest and around Tabuk but they remain a rare bird in Saudi Arabia. Other records from the Kingdom include a bird at Tabuk and one at NADEC farm in the north 15 February 2009. Interestingly Dave Bishop sent me an e-mail on 17 January 2015 saying he had seen Qatar’s 3rd record at Al Shamal Park, so it looks like the cold weather in Jordon, Lebanon and the Tabuk area of Saudi Arabia, where snow has fallen in recent weeks, may have displaced some birds to the south of their normal range. The Common Blackbird at Sabkhat Al Fasl was in very good condition with a healthy weight so will, hopefully, stay around in the same area for some time. I looked for the bird the next day after it was ringed without success but there is a lot of cover at the location and it could still easily be about.



28 Jan 2015

Finally the bird – Taif Euphorbia Forest

As mentioned in a previous post, Phil Roberts and I went to the Taif area in the mountains in western Saudi Arabia to look for Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. This was the last regional endemic species for us both o see in the country and as it had been seen in the area a few times in the last couple of years including in November 2014 we thought we would have a look. We were unsuccessful at the location where they had been seen most recently possibly due to the inclement weather of strong winds and low cloud cover and also failed to see them at Wadi Thee Ghazal where a bird had been photographed by a camera trap set for Arabian Leopard in 2012. Lou Regenmorter had mentioned to me that he had found a Euphorbia Forest near to Taif with mature Euphorbia’s so we went to look here. We found the site that had a hillside with many mature Euphorbia’s, a tree especially liked by Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. The trouble was the trees were growing up a steep hillside and this meant we had to climb up the hillside to get good views of a wider range of the trees. A look from the raod could not locate any birds so we moved up the hill when Phil saw a bird near the ground below a Euphorbia. I then saw a second bird nearby but the distance was too far for photography and soon the birds flew off. The species in unmistakable and the golden patches in the wing very clear, but the views were brief and distant. Despite a long search of the area we could not relocate the birds meaning we have already set up another trip to the area to look again in the summer of 2015. One good point is this is a new location for the species so it looks like they cover a wide area around Taif, although are scarce and difficult to see. We worked very hard in the field from dawn to dusk with only a brief view of the birds as a reward but at least we did finally see the species in the Kingdom. Birds in nearby Oman appear relatively easy to photograph when seen and Lou got a few photos of the ones he saw in Saudi Arabia last year so we are hoping on the next trip we will have better weather and are able to get a few photos. We also saw a few other good birds including the regional endemic Yemen Serin and Yemen Linnet.
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Yemen Serin
Yemen Serin

27 Jan 2015

Sallal al-Dahna near Tanoumah Southwest Saudi Arabia – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Whilst in the southwest of Saudi Arabia Phil visited Sallal al-Dahna a upland valley at 1955 metres above sea level on the outskirts of Tanoumah 11 December 2014. This is a favoured location to see Arabian (Asir) Magpie that is generally regarded as a sub-species of Eurasian Magpie but sometimes treated as a separate species. They are becoming increasingly rare with the total population estimated to be between 135-500 birds. The valley holds mature acacia and Juniper trees and has a permanent water supply at one end. Here Phil managed to see and photograph te following species: Arabian Magpie, Little Rock Thrush and Song Thrush. A very unusual record was a Steppe Eagle was taken along the road from Tanoumah to Abha around 30km from Tanoumah. This species is a passage migrant to the country and is particularly common in this region on migration but is not a winter visitor. As this record was mid-December it appears to have decided to winter in the area rather than continue its migration onwards to Africa.
Arabian Magpie
Arabian Magpie
Arabian Magpie
Arabian Magpie
Little Rock Thrush
Little Rock Thrush
Song Thrush
Song Thrush
Steppe Eagle
Steppe Eagle

26 Jan 2015

Schmidt’s Fringe-toed Lizard near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me the below photograph of a Schmidt’s Fringe-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus schmidti taken near Tabuk in September. It is one of the more common and abundant species in the genus Acanthodactylus and has ‘fringes’ of elongated scales along the sides of each toe that provide better traction on loose sand, allowing it to move much more efficiently across the desert. The scales on the head are generally larger than on the rest of the long, cylindrical body, and the smooth, rectangular scales on the belly are arranged in well-defined rows. They are typically coffee-coloured, with a pattern of small, oval-shaped, pale or white spots. They rely heavily on ants as prey and are probably diurnal digging burrows among the roots of shrubs in sandy plains, dunes and sabkahs (salt flats). This species ranges from southern and eastern Jordan and southeastern Iraq and southwestern Iran into the Arabian Peninsula where it has been recorded in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. It has been recorded from 200m asl, to 1,000 m asl.