As it was the start of the weekend yesterday here in Saudi Arabia Phil Roberts and I went to Sabkhat Al Fasl early in the morning to arrive there just after first light. We saw a Glossy Ibis flying over the road at the new breeding site for Purple Swamphen on the way to Sabkhat Al Fasl and the first bird we saw nearing the main site was a Palid Harrier. Birds of prey were subsequently seen in good numbers with another immature Palid Harrier, 10 Marsh Harrier, one Common Kestrel, two Steppe Buzzard and an immature Greater Spotted Eagle. Waders were plentiful as we found a new flooded wetland area with hundreds of birds on. One Temminck's Stint was the first time I had seen the species at this site, six Common Ringed Plover, 20+ Marsh Sandpiper, five Common Redshanks, 250+ Dunlin, 250+ Little Stint, 20+ Kentish Plover, 10+ Common Snipe, 148 Pied Avocet and a single White-tailed Lapwing, which was the first time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia although this site is a good place to see them. Other good birds included three Great Reed Warbler, one Clamorous Reed Warbler, one Greater Short-toed Lark, 10+ Yellow Wagtail, two Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, 10+ Barn Swallow, 40 Purple Swamphen, two Gull-billed Tern, two White-winged Tern, 172 Caspian Tern which is an exceptional number in a single place in Saudi Arabia, two Purple Heron and 209 Grey Heron another exceptional count in a single place.
Yesterday at the bachelor accommodation gardens there were quite a few Yellow Wagtails and I managed to get one photograph before the light became too poor. Photography in the evening after work is getting more and more difficult as the light is fading fast and it is dark by 17:45 and by 16:30 the light is too poor for photography. The spray fields only had a single Isabelline Wheatear and the percolation pond had three Little Egret, one Purple Heron (immature), six Grey Heron, one grey morph Indian Reef Heron, 10 Garganey, two Eurasian Teal, 24 Northern Shoveller, one Wood Sandpiper, two Green Sandpiper, six Balck-winged Stilt, 20+ Yellow Wagtail coming in to roost in the reeds, one Clamorous Reed Warbler, one Spotted Flycatcher and one Rufous Tailed Scrub Robin. I saw an immature Crested Honey-Buzzard flying over and resting in the trees by the pond and assume it was the same bird that Phil saw yesterday.
No birdwatching today as I was at a conference in Bahrain, but Phil Roberts had a Crested Honey Buzzard, the first returning bird of the year for us down here and nine Purple Heron in Dhahran Camp yesterday. I have posted details from at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 22nd September where I saw a Hooded Malpolon (Malpolon moilensis) that had been captured by a local man and was safely inside an empty water bottle. I said hello to him as he drove past in his car and he stopped and asked if I would like to see a snake, of which I jumped at the chance. He said he was releasing the snake as a good luck charm when someone dies in his village. He took the sake out of the water bottle and quickly grabbed it by the head to show me and then released it in the area by the main pool. I was able to take quite a few photographs of it as a result - a lucky encounter for me.
The Hooded Malpolon is named for its unusual, cobra-like defensive behaviour, in which it lifts the front third of its body off the ground, holds it at a 45° angle, dilates the neck into a ‘hood’, and hisses. Despite the cobra-like defensive posture, which also gives rise to the alternative name of ‘False Cobra’, they are not related to Cobras. They have poison sacs and one or two large grooved fangs situated just behind the eye but are only very mildly venomous, and not considered dangerous to humans. The head is rather elongated, and clearly distinct from the neck, with a convex forehead and a pointed snout, which protrudes over the mouth. The body ranges in colour from yellowish to sandy grey or reddish yellow, with irregular and indistinct dark spots on the back and sides giving it a chequered pattern, and a cream or white underside, sometimes with reddish speckles. The head bears one or two large dark bars on each side, and the large eyes have a conspicuous red or orange iris and a round black pupil. Although sometimes growing to 1.5 metres in length, this snake more usually measures 70 to 90 centimetres, with the female being larger than the male, but having a proportionately shorter tail. More information on the Hooded Malpolon can be found under the Wildlife tab at the top of the page
Yesterday at the 'patch' I found a first year Daurian Shrike in the spray fields sitting on top of a dead reed stem looking for something tasty to eat. There is a small area of Phragmites reeds in one corner of the spray field and the bird was spending most of its time in this area. There was not much else about in the spray fields apart from two Isabelline Wheatear but the percolation pond as always had a few birds. These included 11 Garganey, one Eurasian Teal, one Northern Shoveller, six Marsh Sandpiper, one Common Ringed Plover, 13 Black-winged Stilt, four Grey Heron, one Little Egret, 10+ Barn Swallow, eight Sand Martin, one Citrine Wagtail and eight Yellow Wagtail. A juvenile White-winged Tern was hunting over the pond and is the first returning bird I have seen on the 'patch' although I have seen quite a few at Sabkhat Al Fasl over the last few weeks. Birds seen around the edge of the pond included a juvenile European Roller, 12 European Bee-eater, one Spotted Flycatcher and the best bird of the day a juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle that flew over the scrubby desert and landed on one of the jebels in the military base.
Things are still quite slow this autumn with only one Isabelline Wheatear and a couple of Crested Lark on the spray fields. The water level in the percolation pond is now high with no real areas for waders although a few were still flying over looking for somewhere to land including a Green Sandpiper, five Kentish Plover and four Common Redshank. There were 15 Grey Heron, one immature Purple Heron and a Little Egret. The only other birds were a few ducks including 11 Garganey, two Eurasian Teal and one Northern Shoveller. Three European Bee-eater, five Barn Swallow, two Sand Martin and 18 Yellow Wagtail were the only other good birds.
Yesterday I got an extra day off work as the day before was Saudi Arabian National Day. As a result I was able to go back to Bahrain again for another afternoon ringing session this time at the Refinery Pond. We had to cut a new ride in the reeds and when we got there we found that the water was much too deep for setting nets. As a result we were only able to cut one ride and it was not in an optimal position. Abdulla set another net between the acacia trees to see if we could catch anything there as we had seen eight Ortolan Bunting in the trees as we drove into the site. We did not catch many birds but saw about 50 Yellow Wagtail coming into roost in the late evening. Abdulla caught a Spotted Flycatcher and let me ring it as I had not ringed this species before (Nicole ringed the bird yesterday as she had not ringed one either) and the new net through the reeds caught two (Caspian) Reed Warbler both of which I ringed. The Spotted Flycatcher looked quite different in plumage to the bird caught yesterday.
A group of five Alpine Swift were seen flying over the Dammam Airport Pools in the early morning of Thursday 22nd September. This is a very unusual record as this species is rarely recorded in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and has only been seen singly in the past. The birds were seen well by Nicole Proven and Jason Hale and described accurately.
Yesterday in the drainage channel at the bck of our house I saw a first year Bluethroat feeding in the cover at the edge. It was the first returning bird I have seen in Dhahran this autumn but I saw two last weekend at Jubail. They are quite regular visitors in Dhahran with a few spending the winter here, mainly at the percolation pond and surrounding wet areas.
Yesterday at Tubli Bay Magroves we saw a Pied Avocet which is a very unusual bird in Bahrain. Brenden said it was only his second record in seven years of birdwatching Bahrain. The bird was a worn adult and always kept to the back of the mangroves and did not allow photographs to be taken of it. Otherwise there were the normal waders present but only three Lesser Sand Plover remained and three Eurasian Teal were also seen. Other good birds included a Cattle Egret and three Palid Harriers in the south of Bahrain at the ringing site at Ras Al Bar.
Abdulla discovered a new site, Durrat Al Bahrain, with some fresh water, that has overflowed from some tanks near to a desalination plant that as a result has a few tamerisk trees. The site is a small one with only a few birds at any one time but with no other trees or bushes within sight and the coast nearby it is a real magnet for whatever is in the locality. It is located in southern Bahrain near Ras Al Bar and is only really big enough to erect one 12 meter net. We only caught five birds but they were good ones and came in the shape of a Spotted Flycatcher, an Eastern Orphean Warbler, a Durian Shrike and two Menetries's Warbler. I ringed the Durian Shrike and managed to get away without any damage to myself as well as the Eastern Orphean Warbler and one of the Menetries's Warblers and Nicole ringed the other birds. Abdulla skilfully extracted the Durian Shrike from the net without injury to the bird or himself.
At Sabkhat Al Fasl yesterday I saw a couple of good reptiles including this Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard and managed to get a few good shots of it. It was quite docile as it was out of its burrow early in the morning and had not heated up properly to allow it to move quickly due to the slight mist that was about. It was not the largest Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard I have seen but was still about a 75 cm long. For more information on this species please click on the Wildlife tab at the top of the page.
Yesterday at Sabkhat Al Fasl I had confirmed evidence of Great Reed Warbler Breeding. They have been recorded breeding at this site before but this is the first evidence I have had myself. I saw a juvenile bird begging food from its parents in the reeds at the edge of the main lake. Shooting was not very prevalent today which was a bonus but birding was a bit slow. Good birds seen included my first returning Marsh Harrier of the autumn although Phil saw one here a couple of weeks ago and an Osprey perched on a post on the way into the site. Two Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, one juvenile Red-backed Shrike and 15 Yellow Wagtail were noted as was a Common Kingfisher in the reeds which is my first proper sight record of the species although in the last couple of weeks I have had very brief flight views of this species. Waders were very thin on the ground with four Dunlin, one Curlew Sandpiper, 25 Little Stint, three Common Ringed Plover, 12 Kentish Plover, two Black-winged Stilt and a number of Snipe sp seen in flight of which one looked good for Pin-tailed Snipe but views were brief so I am not conclusively claiming it. There was a large group of Sand Martin (150+) over the main lake and a Common Whitethroat in the scrub beside this lake.
Yesterday on the 'patch' there was a Spotted Redshank which was a new 'Patch' bird for me. There was not much else about apart from a single Common Redshank, one Green Sandpiper, 24 Wood Sandpiper, two Little Ringed Plover, two Black-winged Stilt, one Black-tailed Godwit, 12 Common Ringed Plover, five Ruff, 33 Little Stint, 28 Kentish Plover, one Little Egret, two Cattle Egret and seven Grey Heron. One Northern Shoveller was on the pond and about 75 - 100 Yellow Wagtail were running about and coming into roost in the reed bed. Five Barn Swallow and 25+ Sand Martin were also present.
Yesterday in Dhahran I was not able to go to the 'patch' but birding near the house produced the first returning Masked Shrike of the year. As a result I am posting details from last weekend at the Dammam – Al Khobar Wader Roost where I arrived at the wrong state of tide as this was the only time I could get there. There were very few waders as the tide was far out but there were two large gulls. The adult appeared to be a Steppe Gull Larus barabensis to me but as Yoav Perlman mentioned to me pers comm separating this from Armenian Gull Larus armenicus is not easy. Yoav has been exteremely helpful to me in my steep learning curve on birds of the region since I have been here and he mentioned the bill proportions and shape appeared to fit Steppe Gull better, with the bird having a long, strong bill with prominent gonys, and the head appeared too elongated for Armenian Gull which should also have more black on the primaries and a smaller mirror on P10. The second bird was a first calendar year (1 cy) bird, which are very difficult to identify but this is probably also a barabensis, based mainly on bill proportions. Yoav has complied two excellent large gull identification guides which can be located by clicking on these links Large Gull Identification Guide 1 ;Large Gull Identification Guide 2
I found two new local 'patch' species for myself at the percolation pond last night in the shape of a Temminck's Stint and two Pin-tailed Snipe. They were feeding around the muddy edges of the pond with about 35 Little Stint, one Marsh Sandpiper, two Common Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwit, one Little Ringed Plover, 27 Kentish Plover, one Ruff and six Common Ringed Plover. It looks like Pintail Snipe may be fairly regular in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia at the right time of year and it is fairly common in Bahrain which is only about 40 kilometres away. The spray fields held one Woodchat Shrike, two Steppe Grey Shrike and two Isabelline Wheatear. A flock of 33 European Bee-eater were catching insects over the back of the pond and 60+ Sand Martin and two Barn Swallow were over the pond and at least 60 Yellow Wagtail were feeding on the insects at the edge of the pond. A single 1st year Citrine Wagtail was also feeding about the edge of the pond but was not associating with the Yellow Wagtails. The largest number of Grey Heron see together by me were on the pond with 13 birds alonside two Western Cattle Egret.
I was not able to go birding yesterday due to family commitments and the fact I was doing a talk for the Arabian Natural History Society entitled "Dhahran a Birdwatching Hotspot" on the birding year in Dhahran Camp. As a result I thought I would post a photograph of Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard I saw sitting just outside its hole at about 16:30 hrs basking in the evening sun a couple of days ago. I came upon it after driving up a very steep bank in my 4WD Landcruiser and it did not expect anyone to come that way and was oblivious to my presence. After about ten minutes of watching it at close quarters it was frightened into its burrow by a noise from somewhere. When they move they do so very rapidly and disappear straight down their burrows which they never venture too far from.
An early morning trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl to get there for first light on Thursday produced a number of good birds. As we approaching the site Phil said to me that he often saw Greater Spotted Eagle perched on the telegraph poles in the winter here. No sooner had he said this that I saw an eagle on one of the posts and as we approached it turned out to be a juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle. I got a couple of record shots of it but the light was poor so I have not posted them here. This was a good start to the day. Shooting was much less today which also helped although there were quite a few dead birds around including Grey and Purple Heron. Warblers were in evidence today with the first Sedge Warblers of the autumn (at least two), 10+ Clamorous Reed Warbler and four Caspian Reed Warbler. A couple of Bluethroat were seen creeping around the bottom of the reed beds and hundreds of Yellow Wagtail where present. A Daurian Shrike was hunting from the top of the reed stems, a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was sitting on a dead tree and Barn Swallow and Sand Martin were flying over the reed beds hunting for insects. Three White-winged Tern, eight Caspian Tern and 15 Slender-billed Gull were seen. As already posted two Pintail Snipe, one Common Snipe were seen along with a number of waders including one Broad-billed Sandpiper, one Wood Sandpiper, 10 Common Ringed Plover, 13 Pied Avocet, two Common Greenshank, four Common Redshank and a few Little Stint and Kentish Plover. A group of 13 Grey Heron flew over and about 10 Greater Flamingo where on one of the large pools.
I went over to Bahrain in the afternoon yesterday with Nicole to go ringing with Brendan, but unfortunately the wind was quite strong and not promising for ringing. Brendan said we should set up three nets to give us practice setting up things and hope to catch something. We only managed to catch two Graceful Prinia, one of which was ringed in the same place two weeks ago by Nicole.