9 May 2012
Purple Swamphens – Sabkhat Al Fasl
There are only two places in Saudi Arabia where Purple Swamphens breed and the main site and first place to record breeding birds is Sabkhat Al Fasl. The species was first recorded in the country on 8th August 2003 at Sabkhat Al Fasl with the first breeding record for Saudi Arabia occurring as recently as 2007 at the same site where there are now numerous pairs.There was, however, very little visibility of birds during the winter months as they were hiding in the reeds breeding but now there are quite a few birds out in the open again giving very good views. A few pairs are being followed by one or two fluffy black chicks so successful breeding has again occurred at the site. Last year Phil Robert and I found a new breeding site for the species 25 kilometres south of Jubail on the main road (N26 49 26 E49 34 38).
The Purple Swamphen that occurs in Saudi Arabia is of one of the grey headed eastern / Asian subspecies from the Porphyrio porphyrio poliocephalus group and are either Porphyrio porphyrio caspius or Porphyrio porphyrio seistanicus. P. p. poliocephalus is found from India and Sri Lanka to south China and north Thailand. It has cerulean blue scapulars, face throat and breast. P. p. caspius is from the Caspian Sea area, and is like poliocephalus, but is larger whereas P. p. seistanicus occurs from Iraq to Pakistan, and is like poliocephalus, but larger although smaller than caspius. A number of birds have been identified as P. p. seistanicus in Kuwait, UAE and Qatar but unless a bird is captured and measurements taken it is best, in my opinion, to leave these birds as either P. p. seistanicus or P. p. caspius.