28 Feb 2014

Plenty of Rock Thrushes – Dhahran Hills

Yesterday I went back to the rocky area where I had seen the male Blue Rock Thrush the day before, as I have not seen too many of these on the ‘patch’ and wanted to get more views of the bird. When I got to the first section of boulders I saw a Rock Thrush sitting on top of a rock. This bird looked a little different from a distance and when I put my binoculars on the bird it became obvious it was a female and not the male from yesterday. I watched the bird for a while and when some runners came past the bird flew further down to the boulders where I had seen the bird the day before. There it settled with the male Blue Rock Thrush and as I was watching them both I saw a male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush on a bank behind them. This bird also flew across the track and landed near the two Blue Rock Thrushes. This was unprecedented for me in the camp and I was very happy made more so when another male joined them and started singing to a second female making four Blue Rock Thrushes in total. I stayed watching these birds for over an hour and as it was getting dark a fine male Hen Harrier flew over the jebals and off. Unfortunately as it was getting late I had put the camera in the car and the views although close and good were too quick to allow me to get back to the car, collect the camera and take a photo. Hen Harrier is a new bird on the ‘patch’ for me making it two within a week. It is only the second time I have seen Hen Harrier in Saudi Arabia with the first a male at Jebel Nayriyah in the winter two years ago.
Blue Rock Thrush - female
Blue Rock Thrush - female
Blue Rock Thrush - second female
Blue Rock Thrush - male
Blue Rock Thrush - male
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush - male
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush - male

27 Feb 2014

Male Blue Rock Thrush – Dhahran Hills

A visit to the ‘patch’ last night produced a male Blue Rock Thrush, a good species for the camp. I have seen two birds before on the ‘patch’, both last winter with a female on 11 February 2013 and a Male 28 February 2013. This male was found on a group of boulders only a few hundred metres away from where the previous two birds were seen showing they favour this area and habitat. The large boulders where it was seen is the same place the Red-tailed Wheatear has been present, with the bird still there yesterday. The Blue Rock Thrush and Red-Tailed Wheatear were seen almost together at one stage. Blue Rock Thrush is an uncommon passage migrant to the Eastern Province and is not often seen on the coast with most birds moving well inland before settling. The bird was quite confiding and allowed reasonably close approach even on foot, but was quite active moving around continually in search of food. Things have started picking up bird wise now and a few migrants are passing through, hopefully indicating a good spring to follow.






26 Feb 2014

Lesser Spotted Eagle and more – Sabkhat Al Fasl

As it was meant to be windy on Friday Phil and I went to our normal weekend birding spot of Sabkhat Al Fasl. A Red-wattled Lapwing had been found there by Lou and Brian, who had come down the previous weekend from Riyadh and Kaust, for a long weekends birding. Red-wattled Lapwing is an uncommon bird for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and was a very good find. Unfortunately we could not relocate the bird so went back to our regular birding. Things were very slow at the site with few birds being seen except the regulars. This is probably because a number of the wintering birds are moving off and the spring migrants have not really arrived yet. The few remaining wintering species included Water Pipit and White Wagtail in reasonable numbers as well as the wintering birds of prey such as Western Marsh Harrier and Greater Spotted Eagles, of which we saw at least five, photos of which I will post later. Resident birds seen included Purple Swamphen, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Graceful Prinia and a few of the herons such as Squacco Heron which is now resident at the site and Indian Reef Heron. There were a few signs of migration with plenty of Barn Swallows, two Pallid Swifts, six Daurian Shrikes and a group of seven Marsh Terns that all appeared to be winter plumaged White-winged Terns. The resident Caspian Terns and Gull-billed Terns were also seen in the same area as the White-winged Terns. Not much else of note was seen except a few Great White Egrets and three Great Black-headed Gulls, two immatures and a fine adult summer.
Indian Reef Heron
Greater Flamingo
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Purple Swamphen
Western Marsh Harrier
White Wagtail
White-winged Tern
The day was salvaged towards the end when we were about to leave the site and I saw an unusual looking bird of prey sitting on the edge of a raised bank. It did not give the usual impression of a Great Spotted Eagle and had a stance like the Western Marsh Harriers that often sit in this area as well as a large rounded head with no crest, shaggy feathers on the back of the head are a typical feature of the Greater Spotted Eagles we see in winter at this site. Unfortunately if flew off before we cold get the cameras and telescope on it, but when it did Phil immediately mentioned the two toned upperwing pattern. The wing shape looked slightly different to the Greater Spotted Eagles we had just seen but the bird flew out of view. We drove down to where it had disappeared and relocated it on an earth mound but at a long distance, where we could see it had drainpipe like leg feathers not shaggy ones like the Greater Spotted Eagles and when it flew again it allowed me to grab a couple of very poor images. The photos appeared to show the double carpal comma and the seventh primary was not fingered, a feature we could also see in the field, or if it was it was very short. This combination of features, combined with the obvious two toned upperparts visible even at range, appeared to point to Lesser Spotted Eagle which would be a new species for me for the Eastern Province as well as for Saudi Arabia as a whole. As a result I sent the photos to Andrea Corso to check our identification and Andrea said although the photos were poor it indeed seemed to be a Lesser Spotted Eagle. Lesser Spotted Eagle is a vagrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with one record of a Sub-adult at Haradh 21 November 1980 and another seen by Phil to the north of Jubail. The first record for Saudi Arabia was not until the early 1980’s and there have been very few records since.
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Lesser Spotted Eagle

25 Feb 2014

Lesser Sand Plovers – Dammam / Al Khobar Wader Roost South

Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus comprises five subspecies: pamirensis, atrifrons and schaeferi (collectively known as the ‘atrifrons group’) traditionally characterised by jet-black forehead in breeding plumage, and mongolus and stegmanni (together forming the ‘mongolus group’) with white on forehead, in which respect they resemble Greater Sand Plover. Even in breeding plumage, subspecific identification of Lesser Sand Plover requires great caution, as wide variation occurs within populations and intermediates are frequent. While atrifrons and pamirensis are separable from the others as a group, within that group variation from typical atrifrons to typical pamirensis is clinal and some specimens from wintering grounds are therefore hard to assign to one or the other. The sub-species of Lesser Sand Plover occurring in the Eastern Province and Arabian Gulf is the subspecies C. m. pamirensis . This subspecies is a larger, paler, short-billed race birds from the Pamirs and neighbouring parts of Wakhan, Lahul, Ladakh and Kashmir, as well as from the western Kun Lun, eastern Alai and Tien Shan in the western part of the range of the ‘atrifrons group’. The photographs below were taken at Damman / Al Khobar wader roost south where well over two hundred birds were seen. Many were using the small pieces of vegetation as wind breaks and although most were in winter plumage a few were starting to gain summer plumage. The lack of full breeding plumage makes the birds difficult to assign to sub-species but they are probably of the ‘altifrons’ group.





24 Feb 2014

A smart male svecica Red-spotted Bluethroat – Ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl

Nicole and I went ringing again at Sabkhat Al Fasl. This was our second visit after obtaining permission to ring in the Kingdom and we were hoping for a good catch. We have never caught many birds in our ringing trips in Bahrain, but this site looks like it will produce more birds than our regular site of Alba Marsh in Bahrain. We set five nets and although things were quite slow we ended up with fifteen birds caught although two Common Kingfishers and a Graceful Prinia could not be ringed, as we do not currently have the correct ring sizes for these two species. We did take all measurements before releasing them as these add to the knowledge of the birds of the site. As with last week the most commonly caught species was Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers although we also caught Common Chiffchaff, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail and Red-spotted Bluethroats. Two Indian Reed Warblers and a Bluethroat were trapped that had been ringed last week otherwise all the birds were new. A really smart Lucinia svecica svecica Red-spotted Bluethroat was trapped which is the subspecies from northern Eurasia and can only be identified from male birds in full breeding plumage as this one. They are common passage migrants and winter visitors to reed beds and humid thickets and are more often herd than seen. Plenty of White Wagtails and Water Pipits were around the nets but their amazing eyesight meant that hey could see the nets and flew over or around them.
Red-spotted Bluethroat - svecica
Red-spotted Bluethroat - svecica
Common Kingfisher
White Wagtail
House sparrow - male
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler

23 Feb 2014

White-tailed Lapwings a new ‘patch’ species – Dhahran Hills

On Saturday Phil gave me a call to say he had found three White-tailed Lapwings Vanellus leucurus on the flooded section of the spray fields. My plan to watch the girls swimming with the coaches was soon abandoned and I headed to the fields as this was a new species for me on the ‘patch’, although a not totally unexpected one. Luckily the birds were still in the same place and I got some reasonable views although the light was poor and the spray heads were spraying water make photographing the birds difficult. We decided to try to move to a new location to get the sun in abetter place but unfortunately a group of dog walkers allowed their dogs to chase the birds on the fields scaring them all into flight. I managed to stop the car and grab a couple of flight shots before the birds flew out of sight, although they appeared to be descending towards the percolation pond. We moved to the pond but there was no sign of the birds and so decided to go back to the spray fields to see if we could find them back where they had originally been. On the way back we passed a flooded area of tamerisk trees and the three birds were happily feeding around there. This allowed us a better opportunity to photograph them and they remained there until we left them in peace. All my bad thoughts about inconsiderate dog walkers who allow their dogs to chase birds disappeared and I was glad they had moved the birds to a better location. The birds appeared quite active but the relatively close approach they allowed suggested they might have been tiered migrants. This is only the second record I know of for the camp although there have been quite a few records for the Eastern Province.










22 Feb 2014

Migration slowly picking up – Dhahran Hills

The migration season starts very early in Saudi Arabia compared to my home country of England. In KSA the first migrants seen are in January with the most obvious being Pallid Swift. House Martins, Barn Swallows and occasionally in February Red-rumped Swallows all join the large flocks of swifts. The first passerines are difficult to tell as some birds of the early movers also winter here such as Daurian Shrike and Common Chiffchaff but numbers of these birds build up slowly throughout February with plenty of Common chiffchaff now on the ‘patch’. I have also see two Lesser Whitethroats but again I am not certain these are really migrants. Three birds that have wintered here and also occur, as migrants are the Crested Honey Buzzards that have been seen over the golf course and were seen again last weekend. I also saw an adult male in the trees of the percolation pond 19 February that was new to the area. The pond itself held a few new birds with the first Eurasian Coot returning for the first time since the pond was drained many months ago. Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe have also both returned to the pond, which is encouraging but there are no calls or song of Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers yet even though this is the peak time for hearing song. A bird that was certainly a migrant was a Pied Wheatear that I saw in close proximity to the wintering Red-tailed Wheatear, until they decided they did not like each other and the Red-tailed Wheatear drove the Pied Wheatear off. Other spring migrants I have seen recently were two Yellow Wagtails, one a male Black-headed Wagtail and a Little Crake at Sabkhat Al Fasl. Large numbers of gulls are again using the pond for washing mainly Black-headed Gulls although plenty of Large White-headed Gulls have also been arriving in the last week. These are mainly Steppe Gulls with a few Caspian Gulls and one or two Hueglin’s Gulls but they normally remain in the middle of the pond and not easy to photograph.
Pallid Swift
Pallid Swift
Daurian Shrike
Eurasian Coot
Pied Wheatear
Red-tailed Wheatear
Steppe Gull