9 Oct 2012

Shaybah - Rub Al Khali

The family travelled on a Saudi Aramco run trip to Shaybah on 4th October. This is a very special trip as this area is basically out of bounds to most people residing in Saudi Arabia, and when you take into account how few foreigners live in Saudi Arabia the number of foreigners who have visited the area is very limited. We went by bus from Saudi Aramco Dhahran camp to the Saudi Aramco section of Damman Airport. Here we boarded a one hour flight that took us to the small landing strip at Shaybah where we disembarked. We were shown around the Shaybah camp and allowed two hours to enjoy the dunes and allow me a bit of time to see if I could see any bird species. The community uses recycled water to water areas and has a number of green sites including a large grass football field. This field was a haven for birds with over 200 House Sparrows, ten Eurasian Hoopoes, seven Yellow Wagtails and a Steppe Grey Shrike present. Other birds seen flying over included Barn Swallow and House Martin and a few Laughing Doves were around the compound. As the site is in the middle of the largest sand desert in the world it was quite amazing to see such a number of birds and shows that birds must be passing over the entire country during migration and can drop down onto suitable sites if found. I assume all birds were migrants with the exception of the Laughing Does and House Sparrows.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Eurasian Hoopoe


Eurasian Hoopoe


Yellow Wagtail


Yellow Wagtail


Yellow Wagtail


 The Rub Al Khali, is the largest desert in the world and has an area of about 650,000 sq km and it remained virtually unexplored until the 1950’s. Rub Al Khali means "Empty Quarter" in Arabic, reflecting the barren and forbidding nature of the southern Arabian desert with considerably more than half the area of the Eastern Province being covered by desert. The terrain is covered with reddish-orange sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains and contains no oasis. Areas of the desert in the south-east, within the Eastern Province, are a vast, lowland, inwardly draining basin, with immense numbers of relatively stable, longitudinal, wind-driven dunes on a level substrate of sabkhas (salt flats) at 80-100 m above sea level. Some desert areas are covered with shifting sand dunes, while others are more stable flat or rippled expanses of sand. Shaped and moved by winds, sand dunes take the form of long ridges or tall hills. Sand, gravel, or bare rock basins lie between the dunes and few plants grow in these arid desert areas. Most of the area is totally waterless and is one of the driest on earth and is classified as ‘hyper-arid’, with typical annual rainfall of less than 30 millimetres and daily maximum temperatures averaging 47 °C but can reach as maximum of 56 °C. It is uninhabited except for a few wandering Bedouin tribes and some Oil exploration camps with the only settlement being the Saudi Aramco Shaybah camp. Even so 49 bird species were recorded during a survey in 1991 including nine proven or probable breeders (six within the sands proper). The most common species were Hoopoe Lark Alaeman alaudipes and Brown-necked Raven Carvus ruficaIlis (resident) and Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti and Desert Warbler Sylvia nana (wintering). A probable breeding site for Moorhen GaIlinula chlarapus was found, and a Crab Plover Dramas ardeala was seen, suggesting an overland passage. Open sandy areas with a good cover of bushes form the habitat used by most species. Extreme aridity and the absence of trees and annual plants are probably the major factors limiting diversity and density of species.

1 comment:

  1. I have recently passed by Rub' al Khali - Empty Quarter and have written the following post about it: http://www.naumankhan.blogspot.com/2013/08/rub-al-khali-empty-quarter-saudi-arabia.html

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