31 Mar 2013

Catching Good Migrants - Ringing at Jasaer (Bahrain)


We arrived at Jasear at 05:45 hrs and set up four of our five nets in their normal places. We moved one net to a location inside some bushes rather than on the edge of them to see if it would yield more results. Migration had been a bit slow in Saudi Arabia over the preceding week so I was not too confident we would have a good catch. As it turned out we caught 36 birds of various species including a number of good birds. Initially we caught quite a few Common Chiffchaffs all of which appeared to be of the sub-species abientinus. A few shrikes were also caught with Daurian, Turkestan and Woodchat Shrikes all being caught including a nice adult male Turkestan Shrike.
Common Chiffchaff
Turkestan Shrike
Woodchat Shrike

The best bird was a female Semi-collared Flycatcher which is an uncommon species in the region with most birds seen being males. Neither of us had ringed this species before so Nicole ringed the bird as she is the most experienced ringer. The typical wing pattern was quite obvious on this bird and rules out the very similar Collared Flycatcher. Other good migrants included two female Menetries’s Warblers and a blythi type Lesser Whitethroat very different to the Hume’s type caught the week before in the same site.
Semi-collared Flycatcher - female
Semi-collared Flycatcher - female
Semi-collared Flycatcher - female
Menetries's Warbler - female
Lesser Whitethroat

We also caught two female Common Redstarts but failed to catch the really smart male samamisicus bird that was seen near the nets all morning. The remainder of the catch was made up of House Sparrows but we had a really good day with a few really good birds.
Common Redstart

30 Mar 2013

White-throated Robin – Ringing at Jasaer (Bahrain)


Another very early morning trip to Jasaer to try to ring some migrants turned out to be very profitable. We had one of our best days ever catching birds and ended up with 36 in total although a number were House Sparrows with most females with brood patches indicating breeding has begun. One bird caught was a ringing ‘tick’ for me and was a male White-throated Robin. It was caught with a worm in a spring trap and was a fine male. These birds are not uncommon on passage through the region but are not caught too regularly and fortunately for me Nicole had ringed one before so I got the chance to ring this bird. They appear quite large in the hand and are really beautiful birds and are the sort of birds we were hoping for when setting out to ring at the site. Abdulla came to visit us at the site and his skill with the spring trap is what allowed the bird to be caught. He caught it in his spring trap but I gave him one of my spring traps to see if he could catch anything with it as he is an expert and we are too busy trying to process birds from the mist nets to allow us to try to catch anything with the spring traps. I am looking forward to seeing his results over the next week or so and to see if my trap will work or not. I know one thing for sure, and that is if Abdulla cannot catch anything with it, I certainly will not be able to.




29 Mar 2013

A thin scattering of good birds - Dhahran Hills


Birding the ‘patch’ over the last few days has produced a few reasonable birds even though the number of migrants seen has remained fairly low. A walk through the spray fields on 25th March produced nice flight views of Jack Snipe, an uncommon species but I am sure one that is overlooked due to its secretive nature and their linking for damp well-vegetated areas. I saw one in a similar spot a month ago so this may have been the same bird?  Although it is equally as likely to be another bird passing through on passage. A few Red-throated Pipits were flushed from the long grass along with a single Tree Pipit. An Ortolan Bunting on the edge of the spray fields was the first record for me of the species this spring and is quite early for our area where they normally occur in early April. A female Black-eared Wheatear was also seen, making this spring a very good year for the species in the Eastern Province. A single Daurian Shrike, one Turkestan Shrike and at least five Woodchat Shrikes were also in the fields and a Western Marsh Harrier was over the fields and the nearby percolation pond.
Turkestan Shrike
Western Marsh Harrier
The pond had 19 Garganey late in the evening, which is a large count for the area and also four Squacco Herons which was also a good count. Nineteen Western Cattle Egrets remain and a single Little Egret was sitting on one of the floating platforms. A Savis Warbler was reeling in the late evening and a couple of Water Rail were also calling. This year appears to have been exceptional for Savis Warbler in our area with a minimum of four birds in Dhahran and three others at least at Sabkhat Al Fasl. The scrubby desert area held a female Pied Wheatear, two Woodchat Shrikes and a Northern Wheatear. Tawny Pipits are still around in small numbers and a male and female Siberian Stonechat were also present. A few Eurasian Hoopoe are now passing through adding to the birds that are resident in Dhahran and a Common Sandpiper, one Green Sandpiper and two Kentish plover were on the settling pond.
Woodchat Shrike
Northern Wheatear

28 Mar 2013

Another new Saudi Arabian Species - Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm (Fadhili)



Phil and I visited Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm at Fadhili and before entering the site we found a wetland area at the side of the road. We went to check this and found a Greater Hoopoe Lark at the side of the road. The bird sat on a dead stick and started to sing and once carried out its parachuting song flight. A smaller wetland area had Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper as well as two Black-winged Stilts and a singing Clamorous Reed Warbler. After gaining permission from the manager of the farm we went in to do some birding. This site has excellent cover in the form of many large trees as well as several large pivot irrigation fields and some wetland areas making it a truly great birding site. You need permission to enter and have to pass through a locked and guarded gate to get in and out of the site. We checked a stubble field on arrival and found several Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and a Siberian Stonechat in the field. Pied Wheatears were common with about 75 birds seen throughout the morning. A few Northern Wheatears were also present and a single male Spanish Sparrow was seen in the area.
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Siberian Stonechat
Shrikes were plentiful with Daurian and Turkestan being the most common followed by Woodchat and then Mauryan (Steppe) Grey Shrike. The large wetland area had very few birds with a few Greater Cormorants but interestingly two summer plumaged Black-necked Grebes. A few Little Terns were also flying around this area and a Glossy Ibis and four Little Egrets were also present. The only birds of prey seen were two Eurasian Sparrowhawks and an Asian Desert Warbler was seen in the srubby desert. This site is proving to be the most reliable sites for seeing the species in the Eastern Province. A tree line along a track had Common Redstart and a female Semi-collared Flycatcher well hidden in the thick scrub which was a new bird for Saudi Arabia for me. This is an uncommon migrant to the Eastern Province with most birds seen being males and mid-March to April being the peak passage period.
Turkestan Shrike

The pivot irrigation fields further down had plenty of birds including Red-throated Pipits, Tawny Pipits, three Eastern Black-eared Wheatears of the form melanoleuca, Eurasian Skylarks and good numbers of Greater Short-toed Larks. A Common Quail was flushed from the cover and flew off, a Grey Wagtail was on a wet area in one corner of the field and up to 30 Pied Wheatears were also around. A Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin at the edge of the field was only the second one I have seen in Saudi Arabia this year.
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Pied Wheatear - male

A female Blue Rock Thrush was seen perched in a tree on the way to one of the pivot irrigation fields and gave reasonable views. This was a species we were not thinking of seeing at the site, but more amazingly we found a second bird, this time an adult male, in a tree on the way out of the site.
Blue Rock Thrush - male

27 Mar 2013

Short-toed Snake Eagle – Dhahran Hills


Whilst birding the ‘patch’ last night I found a Short-toed Snake Eagle just taking to flight from the large boulders behind the percolation pond. I was in the car with my camera at the time so jumped out of the car and grabbed a few photographs, some of which turned out reasonably well. The species is scarce in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, but I have now had four different sightings of five birds.
A second calendar year 31st March 2011
Two juveniles 22nd October 2011
A second calendar year 19th February 2012
A second calendar year 26th March 2013
The bird was a very pale one on the underside with very few markings typical of a second calendar year but the head pattern and primary pattern were typical.









26 Mar 2013

Menetries’s Warbler (S. m. rubescens) at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Bird records by Phil Roberts


Phil Roberts went to Sabkhat Al Fasl last weekend and took a photograph of a Menetries’s Warbler Sylvia mystacea. The normal sub-species we get passing through the region in the spring is S. m. mystacea breeding eastern Turkey and northern Iran but the bird Phil photographed was a S. m. rubescens breeding south-east Turkey, western Iran and Iraq, along one of the reed beds. Both species are meant to winter in Arabia and also pass through, mainly in spring with autumn records being rare. We only see birds on passage in the Dhahran area of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with all the birds I have seen being S. m. mystacea but this record shows that the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia has both sub-species passing through on migration in spring at least. They are relatively easy to tell apart with S. m. mystacea having a salmon pink to brick red throat and S. m. rubescens having a pale whitish throat with little or no pink tinge in adult male birds. Phil very kindly allowed me to use his photograph on my website and the copyright of this photo remains with Phil. Phil also saw two Eastern Cinereous Buntings at Sabkhat Al Fasl, which is a scarce passage migrant through the region.
Menetries's Warbler (Sylvia mystacea rubescens) - Sabkhat Al Fasl (Saudi Arabia)
Menetries's Warbler (Sylvia mystacea mystacea) - Durat Al Bahrain (Bahrain) March 2012

25 Mar 2013

Eastern Cinereous Bunting – Deffi Park (Jubail)


An early morning trip to Jubail was executed with a visit to Deffi Park the first stop on the agenda. We thought it might be good for passage migrants as the habitat there is open grassy areas surrounded by large mature trees of various species and although known as a good site in winter, little information is available on the place in spring. We got to the site just after first light as bird activity does not really start here until the sun is up. It was obvious a few migrants were about as we saw 50+ Tree Pipits feeding on the wet grassy areas all over the park in small groups. This is the largest number of Tree Pipits I have seen in Saudi Arabia since I have been here and although they are present in the Eastern Province they are never common. Also whilst walking around we saw six Common Redstarts including two fine male samamisicus birds. Whilst looking at the Meadow Pipits we came across a greenish looking bird facing towards us that turned out to be an Eastern Cinereous Bunting. This is sometimes split from Western Cinereous Bunting but as I have never seen either type of Cinereous Bunting in Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else for that matter, I was very pleased. Phil had seen two birds two days previous to this sighting at nearby Sabkhat Al Fasl, so birds are obviously on the move through the Jubail area. The only other birds of note were four very grey tritris type Common Chiffchaffs looking very different to our normal yellow abientinus types and a smart male Eastern Yellow Wagtail type.
Eastern Cinereous Bunting
Eastern Cinereous Bunting
Eastern Cinereous Bunting
Eastern Cinereous Bunting
Eastern Cinereous Bunting
Tree Pipit
Tree Pipit
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - tschutschensis

24 Mar 2013

Painted Lady Invasion – Eastern Province


Whilst birding various sites to the north and west of Jubail we noticed lots of Painted Lady butterflies. At first light around Hanidh we saw a few flying around but had no idea how many we would see during the day. As the day progressed we started seeing more and more with over 1000 seen in an area where some water had spilled onto the ground from a water storage tank. We assumed there must be some sort of salt lick here as there were so many butterflies but after heading to some large spray fields we saw maybe 5000 butterflies in one field. During the day we must have seen over 10,000 butterflies that is a sight I expect I will not see again. We also saw a couple of large blue butterflies some Clouded Yellow butterflies and a number of both red, Seven Spot Ladybirds and Eleven Spot yellow Ladybirds.
Painted Lady
Painted Lady
Painted Lady
Painted Ladies
Blue Butterfly species?
Seven Spot Ladybird

23 Mar 2013

Northern Wheatears Passing Through – Dhahran Hills


The ‘patch’ has been quite slow the last week with only a few migrants seen each day. This was a bit disappointing as the start of migration was good. One species that has been passing through for a couple of weeks but has become more common in the last few days is Northern Wheatear with three birds seen together on a couple of occasions. The birds we get in Saudi Arabia appear to be bigger and brighter than normal birds seen in the UK at least and a study using geolocators (transmitters that can tract the bird if the bird is subsequently re-caught) has identified that the birds mat come from northern Canada which was a big surprise.  At least two and maybe three Squacco Heorns are still about and a Grey Wagtail is still feeding in the wet ditch but very little else. Four Kentish Plovers were running about on the sand, that were migrants and will hopefully stay to breed, as we saw birds with young near Nayriyyah last weekend. Very few Black-headed Wagtails remain and the last Water Pipits can still be seen on the settling ponds but they will have departed in the next few days to areas further north to breed.
Northern Wheatear - male
Northern Wheatear - male
Northern Wheatear - male
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron