30 Nov 2011

Bahrain - Ringing Waders at Alba Marshes

A lot of waders were present at Alba Marshes when we went ringing there last weekend and as a result we decided to put up a single 15 metre mist net across a small area of water to try to catch some of these birds. The tide was high and had probably pushed a number of these birds onto the marsh with Common Redshank, Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt being the most common birds. We set the net just before dark to catch the waders and immediately caught a Grey Plover and a Little Stint. We later also caught eight further Little Stint and a Jack Snipe making a good total for a single net. I had not ringed Little Stint before and Brendan had not ringed Grey Plover or Jack Snipe with Nicole ringing four Little Stint and me the remaining five.
 Jack Snipe (adult)
  Jack Snipe (adult)
 Grey Plover
 Grey Plover
 Little Stint (juvenile)
 Little Stint (juvenile)
Little Stint (juvenile)

29 Nov 2011

Western Black Redstart - Dhahran Hills

Birding on the 'patch' yesterday was good even though the percolation pond has no water. Large amounts of water is being sprayed onto the spray fields at the moment with a single Isabelline Wheatear, one Turkestan Shrike and six Water Pipit present. The Western Great Egret now has no water to feed in on the 'patch' but still occasionally fly's over the drained percolation pond to look to see if things have improved. A white morph Indian Reef Heron and two Grey Herons were looking for food on the dry pond and two Eursian Sparrowhawks put on a nice aerial display playing tumbling games with each other. The trees, scrub and stony area around the pond held three Western Black Redstarts, a new 'patch' bird for me and a single Lesser Whitethroat. A Desert Wheatear was seen at the Jabals area and up to ten Tawny Pipit also in the area but not much else. Some rain has fallen in the last few days so hopefully plants will start flowering and attract a few additional species inside Dhahran Camp.
 Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit

 Western Great Egret
Western Great Egret

28 Nov 2011

Bahrain - Ringing at Alba Marshes

Brendan, Nicole and I went ringing at Alba Marshes at the weekend. When we got there, a number of reed cutters were present cutting the reeds for their livestock, but luckily, although they were close to our ringing area they were not disturbing it too much. It was still a little bit windy but luckily not as windy as the day before when it would have been very difficult to put the nets up. We decided to put up three 18 metre nets in the reed beds and whilst putting up the nets it was obvious a lot of birds were present, especially Bluethroat and Water Pipit, with numerous Water Rail calling. We caught quite a few birds in the mist nets including one White Wagtail, one Daurian Shrike that we had seen sitting in a nearby small Tamarisk, two Graceful Prinia, three Bluethroat and three Clamorous Reed Warbler. The first year male Bluethroat had a very dark (almost black) band on the throat that was darker than any of us had seen before. Other birds seen included six Black-crowned Night Heron, one Little Bittern, one Jack Snipe, two Western Marsh Harrier including one dark phase male and one Gull-billed Tern. I had never ringed White Wagtail before so ringed this bird and all the others excepting one Graceful Prinia and one Bluethroat which Nicole ringed. Brendan has now caught more than 15 Clamorous Reed Warbler in this small area of reed beds and has not had a re-trap yet showing how many individual birds of this species occur in the reeds here.
 Graceful Prinia
 Graceful Prinia
 Graceful Prinia
 Bluethroat (1st year male)
 Bluethroat (1st year male)
 Bluethroat (1st year male)
 Bluethroat (1st year male)
 Clamorous Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler

27 Nov 2011

European Golden Plover - Sabkhat Al Fasl

At Sabkhat Al Fasl on Thursday 24th November at the end of our mornings birding we could not get to the end of our normal track due to the very high water levels. This meant we had to stop about two thirds of the way down the track as the path was soft and full of water and we did not want to get the car stuck in the mud. I had a quick scan of the waders that where gathered on the water's edge and saw a Golden Plover type. Pacific Golden Plover is the most common Golden Plover to occur in Saudi Arabia, but even that is scarce with very few recent records, so I got my telescope out to have a look as it was quite distant. Eventually we decided to walk down the track to see if we could get better views of the bird and if possible take some photographs. As luck would have it we got close and got a few reasonable pictures and from close range and also in flight it became apparent the bird was a European Golden Plover. The white auxiliaries are obvious from a couple of the photographs. The only records of European Golden Plover in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia are three birds said to be this species at Dhahran Airport present from November through to February 1973-74. One in partial summer plumage in Al Khobar on 29th April 1978 and one at Qatif 17th November 1981. I also saw an adult in summer plumage at Saihat on 29th July 2011 and am yet to see a Pacific Golden Plover although Phil has seen one in the spring in summer plumage at Sabkhat Al Fasl a couple of years ago. The species is rare throughout the Arabian Peninsula with the following records noted. It is interesting to see that Qatar had their first records the day before we saw our bird (Qatar is +/- 500 hundred kilometres south of Jubail).
Qatar - Two birds on 23rd November 2011
Bahrain - Rare visitor December to March
Oman - Rare migrant & winter visitor
UAE - Former vagrant, now considered rare winter visitor late September to April
Kuwait - Vagrant (8 records - all since 2007)







26 Nov 2011

Qaryat Al Ulya Pivot Fields - Location Details

Continue on the main road past Jabal Nayriyyah towards Sadawi. After a police check point take a U-turn and head back a few hundred metres until you see the sign to Qarat Al Ulya, route 75 on the right. Turn down this road and after about five kilometres there are numerous pivot fields on both sides of the road. You can drive into most of the fields and drive around the edges to view the birds. Any of these fields are worth looking at including the stubble fields.


Jabal Nayriyyah - Location Details

To get to the Jabal Nayriyyah site take the highway from Dhahran/Dammam/Al Khobar towards Jubail and Khafji. At the Sabkhat Al Fasl turnoff in Jubail continue straight on towards the Kuwait border. After 66 kms turn left towards Nayriyyah on route 85 and continue past Nayriyyah and after about 20 kilometres you will see the jabals off to the right. Just after passing the closest jabal to the road turn right and drive down here until you get to a fenced off area with a large gate. Turn right just before here and head to the small jabal on the left of the road. This is where the Pharaoh Eagle Owl was seen as well as Mourning Wheatear and Desert Lark. If you continue down this road and take the right just before the fenced off area on the left then you go through some good desert habitat and can get back on the main road again.


25 Nov 2011

Eastern Imperial Eagle - North of Jabal Nayriyyah

Whilst looking for birds of prey on our trip north of Dhahran on 17th November we saw three Eastern Imperial Eagles from the car sitting on the side of the road. They had some sort of food to keep them busy and as they were next to a busy road they were not unduly disturbed by our car, which was lucky as we drove past them as I only saw them at the last minute. We turned the car around and went back to get better views and photographs and two birds were adult types and one a juvenile. Apart from these three birds we also saw a fourth bird at a slightly further distance from the road making four in this location and five for the day when the bird at Jabal Nariyyah is included.





The Eastern Imperial Eagle is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN Red List as the species has a small global population, and is likely to be undergoing continuing declines, primarily as a result of habitat loss and degradation, adult mortality through persecution and collison with powerlines, nest robbing and prey depletion. The Eastern Imperial Eagle is found from southern Europe to southern Russia, as well as northwest India and central Siberia. In winter it migrates to the Middle East, east Africa as far south as Tanzania, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and south as well as east Asia. The majority of the world population, which has an estimated size of 5200-16800 individuals, breeds in Russia (total 900-1000 pairs) and Kazakhstan (750-800 pairs).

24 Nov 2011

Grey Plover - Dhahran Hills

At the 'patch' yesterday, which is looking very sad as all the reeds have now been grubbed out and the water level is just a small pool, there were still quite a few birds including a Western Great Egret enjoying the ease of catching fish as they have all been concentrated in the small pool. Two Indian Reef Heron, one white phase and one grey phase were also enjoying the fish along with a juvenile Purple Heron which is the first record of this species for me in over a month. A Little Ringed Plover, two Green Sandpipers, 13 Black-winged Stilts along with a single juvenile Grey Plover were on the dried up pool or muddy edge. This is only the second Grey Plover I have seen on the 'patch' with the first being a fly over record in the spring, so I was happy to see this bird today. Amazingly as there is almost no water left there were still ducks on what is left of the percolation pond and these included one Northern Shoveller, one Eurasian Wigeon and 39 Eurasian Teal. 13 Common Moorhen were also still present although not for much longer I presume? 136 Great Cormorant came in to roost which was half the number of a couple of days ago. A very nice sight as the light was fading was a Ruppell's Fox that I saw running along the track between the pond fence and the trees. I got excellent views of the fox as I was sitting in the car scoping the birds as all the cover (reeds) have been removed from the pond and the weather was quite cold and windy and I did not want to spook the birds. As a result the fox did not see me until it was quite close but unfortunately the light was so poor no photographs were possible.
Little Ringed Plover

23 Nov 2011

Steppe Eagle - Qaryat Al Ulya Pivot Fields

On our journey north of Dammam last weekend in search of birds of prey we went to Qaryat Al Urya Pivot Fields where we visited a number of very large pivot fields in search of eagles and other species. Many of the pivot fields had just been cultivated and so had very young, short, crops growing on them. Birds were not very numerous but large numbers of Crested Lark and a flock of 45 Eurasian Skylarks were seen, although on separate pivot fields. There were three Northern Wheatear and four Isabelline Wheatear on one of the fields and a 1st year male Pied Wheatear on the desert to the side. Other interesting birds seen were a single European Stonechat, one Tawny Pipit, four Common Kestrels and a Northern Lapwing. Ten White Wagtails where feeding on the muddy edge of a stubble field with a flock of about 100 House Sparrow. The best birds, however, were two first year Steppe Eagles drinking from a puddle at the edge of one of the large pivot fields. One of the birds flew off before we got close but one stayed and allowed some photographs to be taken, although the sun was not in a good position for really good photos. Another Steppe Eagle was seen by the side of a second pivot field but only distant views were obtained of this bird. These pivot fields look like they should hold a good number of birds during the spring migration period and a trip ‘up north’ looks like it should be undertaken in the spring sometime.

 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Steppe Eagle (juvenile)
 Eurasian Skylark

22 Nov 2011

Common Moorhen & Eurasian Wigeon - Dhahran Hills

The percolation pond on the 'patch' has now been almost totally destroyed with only about one tenth of the reed beds remaining and this only still there because the caterpillar tractor got stuck in the mud. There is only a very small section of water left but it is still very attractive to birds with still 12 Common Moorhen about at the moment probably because there is nowhere else to hide. The muddy waters edge also held a single Common Redshank and a single Green Sandpiper along with one Western Great Egret, two Little Egrets, two Cattle Egrets and two Grey Herons. 250 Great Cormorants made a nice sight flying in to roost in the trees surrounding the pond which was a surprise as the first returning bird was only seen a week ago. A few flights of duck were also seen in the late evening including eight Mallard, ten Northern Shoveller, 75+ Eurasian Teal and three Eurasian Wigeon that landed on the water with a few Eurasian Teal. Eurasian Wigeon is a new 'patch' species for me so I was very happy with my evening birding. Six Common Chiffchaffs were calling in the bushes surrounding the pond with eight Water Pipit and six White Wagtail on the muddy edge to what was left of the pond.
Common Morehen

21 Nov 2011

Pharaoh Eagle Owl - Jabal Nayriyyah

On Thursday 17th November Phil Roberts and I went very early morning (04:00 hrs) to Jabal Nayriyyah to look for some desert species. I saw a Mourning Wheatear at the base of a jabal and went out to see if I could get better views. As I was walking around the base of the jabal I flushed an Owl that flew of around the jabal but did not allow positive identification although both Phil, who also saw the bird and I thought that it could be a Pharaoh Eagle Owl due to the size and habitat. We then walked further around the jabal trying to relocate the bird but did not see anything until we flushed a second bird, which luckily flew down and landed on the tarmac road in an area where it was out in the open and where I got these photos. This is a new location for this species but it is probably more widely distributed than currently thought in the Eastern Province.

 Pharaoh Eagle Owl
 Pharaoh Eagle Owl
 Pharaoh Eagle Owl in flight
Jabal Nayriyyah

Pharaoh Eagle Owl is one of the smaller eagle-owl species, and has large orange-yellow eyes and mottled plumage. The head and upperparts are tawny and densely marked with black and creamy-white streaks and blotches, and are crowned with small ear tufts. The under-parts are pale creamy-white, with black streaks on the upper breast and fine reddish-brown vermiculation’s on the lower breast and belly. They are distributed throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, with two recognised subspecies. The subspecies Bubo ascalaphus ascalaphus occupies the northern part of the species range, being found in north-west Africa and northern Egypt, east to western Iraq. By contrast, the smaller, paler and sandier coloured Bubo ascalaphus desertorum can be found in the Sahara Desert, from Western Sahara, east, to Sudan, as well as in Eritrea, Ethiopia and much of the Arabian Peninsula, as far south as northern Oman. They are found in arid habitats, including open desert plains, rocky outcrops and broken escarpments and jabals, mountain cliffs and wadis. The species has a widespread distribution, although they are very inconspicuous and secretive in nature, and this combined with an apparent abundance in many areas suggests that it is not currently at risk.