28 Feb 2013

Brown Boobies the Farasan Banks – Bird records by Claudia Buholzer Nassier

I received a message from Claudia Buholzer Nassier who is living in Jeddah and has just come back from a dive trip to the Farasan Banks on a boat. She mentioned that one afternoon she visited a little uninhabited island on the Farasan Banks and discovered a kind of a shelter with lovely birds. These birds turned out to be breeding Brown Boobies that breed on islands in the Red Sea but not elsewhere in Saudi Arabia. Claudia managed to take some great photos of the birds that were breeding and very kindly allowed me to use them on my website. All photographs remain copyright of Claudia Buholzer Nassier. Brown Booby has an extended breeding season with a winter breeding schedule and a summer one so birds are on eggs or with young for much of the year. I have not seen Brown Booby in Saudi Arabia yet as I live on the other coast to where these pictures were taken.







27 Feb 2013

Peregrine Falcon – Dhahran Main Camp


Whilst driving along the main road from Dhahran Hills into Dhahran Main Camp, I saw a group of very fast flying and agitated Rose-ringed Parakeets. The birds were not flying in their normal manner, following each other in a small group, but were rather going in all directions making a lot of noise. It was then I saw an adult Peregrine Falcon flash through the group, but luckily for the Rose-ringed Parakeets without success. Fortunately, as I carry my binoculars with me in the car at all times, I was able to get some good views of the bird before it departed. This is the first time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia and better still for me the first time I have seen one on the ‘patch’. A ‘patch’ to birders is an area that is close to home, where one goes bird-watching as much as possible, in my case almost every day. Peregrine Falcon is a widespread but uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia which is more likely to be seen near the coast than inland. The sub-species we are likely to get on passage in Eastern Saudi Arabia is Falco peregrinus calidus (Latham 1790), which was formerly called leucogenys and includes caeruleiceps. It breeds in the Arctic tundra of Eurasia and is completely migratory travelling south in winter as far as southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is paler than peregrinus, especially on the crown and is a large sub-species.

26 Feb 2013

Ducks – Dhahran Hills


There were plenty of ducks on the percolation pond yesterday with the eight Gadwall still around. These birds have been on the pond for most of the winter and comprise three males and five females. Eurasian Wigeon have also been present for a few weeks but numbers vary widely from single birds to a group of almost 30, with nine present this time. Northern Shoveler are often very common but numbers have been less this winter even though it has been a very good winter for duck. Five birds were present with the other duck. I thought this was a good count, but just as I was leaving eight Eurasian Teal flew and joined the gathering. Eurasian Coot numbers appear to be increasing but common Moorhen numbers remain low.
Gadwall
Eurasian Wigeons
Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler

25 Feb 2013

A good catch – Ringing at Alba Marsh


A very early trip to Alba Marsh in Bahrain to ring with Nicole proved to be very productive with plenty of birds caught. It was one of our best catches at the site and although the birds species were all typical winter visitors / residents a few Common Chiffchaffs were a sign of spring. We set up four nets including one in a new place across a semi open area with tamarisk and this net proved quite successful and caught a good number of birds. We will be using this new net ride again over the next few weeks. Overall we caught 31 birds with plenty of re-trapped Clamorous Reed Warblers along with four new un-ringed birds. Two new Common Kingfishers were a surprise as we had not caught Common Kingfisher at this site until earlier in the winter and we have now caught eight different birds. Other birds caught included a Graceful Prinia that was the first bird of this species we have caught for a few months even though they are common at the site. A coutelli race Water Pipit and three female Bluethroats were also caught along with two adult male House Sparrows which typically had aggressive natures when in the hand.
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Common Kingfisher - female
Common Kingfisher - female
Bluethroat - female
House Sparrow - male
House Sparrow - male
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff

24 Feb 2013

White-spotted Bluethroat – Dhahran Hills


A very early morning walk around the percolation pond looking for migrants turned up a few birds but nothing too spectacular. The best bird seen was an adult male White-spotted Bluethroat that is a scarce passage migrant through the area. This may possible be due to the fact that it is only safe to identify adult male birds in breeding plumage and these are normally only in full breeding plumage in the spring.  This is the second one I have seen this spring with another at the other end of the pond a couple of weeks ago, although there is a chance this may have been the same bird? Other migrants seen included ten Common Chiffchaffs, two Pallid Swifts and four Barn Swallows. A Lesser W hitethroat may well have been a migrant also, but a few birds winter in the area also. A Turkestan Shrike was a migrant as was its close relative the Daurian Shrike . Apart from these birds there was little else of note to be seen.
White-spotted Bluethroat
Common Chiffchaff
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike

23 Feb 2013

Green Sandpiper – Dhahran Hills


Wader numbers have decreased over the last couple of weeks with only three Black-winged Stilts and one Green Sandpiper seen. The Green Sandpiper has been seen all over the place from the settling pond to the percolation pond, the wet ditches and finally on a large lake formed by all the water being pumped onto the spray fields. The photograph below was taken when it was on the spray fields. Other birds seen recently in the spray fields include up to ten Water Pipits, three Siberian Stonechats, one Caspian Stonechat, one Common Stonechat and three Graceful Prinias in full song. An Arabian Grey Shrike (Southern Grey Shrike) was seen between the jebals and the hobby farm on a couple of occasions last week and 12 Pale Rock Finch were in a small flock in the same area which are the first ones I have seen this winter. Eurasian Hoopoe numbers are also increasing slightly, which is a bird that is always nice to see, no matter how common they are and Great Cormorant numbers are also increasing daily.
Green Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Great Cormorant

22 Feb 2013

Gull numbers increasing – Abqaiq Landfill


On the way back from Shedgum Escarpment we called into the Abqaiq Landfill site in the hope of seeing an unusual gull or two. The number of birds had built up since my last visit and now number approximately 5000 birds. As we arrived at about 10:30 hrs the majority of birds were sitting in their favoured resting area, which unfortunately you cannot get close enough to, to photograph them at. The area is viewable with a telescope and although there were thousands of birds we could not find anything out of the usual. We did locate an extremely dark bird which was back on and looked like it maybe a Baltic Gull but when it turned around slightly it was a dark Heuglin’s Gull. Despite all the searching of gulls in the local area I have still not found a Baltic Gull yet. The majority of the Large White-headed Gulls were Steppe Gull (70%) with Caspian Gull (15%) and Heuglin’s Gull (15%). Hundreds of Common Black-headed Gulls were also present. The only other bird of note was a fly over Black-crowned Sparrow Lark.
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Heuglin's Gull

21 Feb 2013

Some desert specialists – Shedgum Escarpment

Phil Roberts and I went to Shedgum Escarpment (see here for site details) early in the morning a few days ago. We went to look for some of the desert specialties that live in this rocky outcrop area and are not easy to see near to Dhahran where we both live. The weather was beautiful with a crisp morning, temperature only 11 degrees Celsius, and clear sky giving conditions that would be good for photography if only we could find some birds. These desert areas have very little in the way of species and bird numbers are also very low but if you can find the birds they are of good quality. We went to the top of the escarpment and got out for a look around. Whilst walking over the desolate rocky areas we head a bird calling and after a short search found a Desert Lark. The light was still too poor for photography so continued our walk around. We then drove down the escarpment and looked under the rocky cliffs in the hope of seeing Trumpeter Finch and White-crowned Wheatear. No Trumpeter Finches were seen, we may have been a bit early as they are meant to breed in the area in March, but there is no data on the birds of this region published in the last thirty years so, so we don’t know. We walked around the base of the cliffs and found a couple of nice areas where water runoff would occur if it rained. These had a few small plants and shrubs growing in them but no birds with the exception of a Rock Dove in a hole in the sheer cliff-face. On the way back to the car we heard and saw a couple more Desert Larks, but they were on the top of the escarpment and we were at the bottom. Just as we got back to the car we heard some more birds calling and went back to investigate and found a couple of Desert Larks. These birds allowed very close approach and were not at all worried by our presence allowing a few decent photographs to be taken. We left the birds in place and travelled further along the base of the escarpment. Here we saw a wheatear fly across the track and land. It was not the expected White-crowned Wheatear but an Eastern Mourning Wheatear, which is a winter visitor to the region favouring these rocky type habitats. Amazingly as we were looking at the Eastern Morning Wheatear a White-crowned Wheatear flew in and landed on a post nearby. This bird was very active and sat a few times on exposed perches singing. This is the first time I have heard White-crowned Wheatear sing and was great to hear. Later on we saw a Steppe Buzzard flying over the escarpment and saw it land on the top. We drove near to the bird and after a short while it flew off, fortunately straight over or heads, allowing good photographic opportunities. We spent four hours at the escarpment and only saw ten species of birds, but Desert Lark, Steppe Buzzard, Eastern Mourning Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear are birds not seen regularly by us and the fact we got a few good photos made the trip highly successful. The other birds seen were Rock Dove, Desert Wheatear, House Sparrow, Pallid Swift, Barn Swallow and Brown-necked Raven.
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Eastern Mourning Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear - singing (Curtesy of Phil Roberts)
White-crowned Wheatear - adult
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard

20 Feb 2013

Large White-headed Gulls - Al-Khobar Corniche


A return to the Al-Khobar Corniche after a few weeks was met by the fact that the area used by the roosting gulls had been made into a building site. Luckily the birds had only moved a short distance to an area of scrubby desert and some were using the new street lighting to rest on. Most bids seen here were Heuglin’s Gulls with a few Caspian and Steppe Gulls intermixed. 50+ Common Black-headed Gulls were also with the LWG flock and a single House Crow was also seen. This site affords the best viewing of the LWG I have found so far, and although the numbers are significantly lower than those seen on Abqaiq Landfill, the views and photographic opportunities are much better at the Corniche.
Heuglin's Gull
Heuglin's Gull
Steppe Gull
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull (left) Steppe Gull (right)
Mixed Gull Flock, Heuglin's, Steppe & Caspian Gull