30 Sep 2014

Male Hamadryas Baboon – Raydah Escarpment (Abha)

The Hamadryas Baboon Papio hamadryas is common in the Abha / Tanoumah area of the Asir Mountains with large groups seen all along the escarpments. It is the northernmost of all the baboons and is distinguished from other baboons by the male’s long, silver-grey shoulder cape (mane and mantle), and the pink or red rather than black face and rump. They are large monkeys with a dog-like face, pronounced brow ridges, relatively long limbs with short digits, rather coarse fur, and a relatively short tail. The male is considerably larger than the female, often twice as large, and has a heavy silvery-grey coat, bushy cheeks, and large canine teeth whilst the juvenile and females are brown, with dark brown skin on the face and rump. Males may have a body measurement of up to 80 cm and weigh 20–30 kg; females weigh 10–15 kg and have a body length of 40–45 cm. The tail adds a further 40–60 cm to the length, and ends in a small tuft. They occur from north-eastern Africa, mainly in Ethiopia, but also eastern Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and northern Somalia as well as the Arabian Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia and Yemen where it is the only native non-human primate. In Saudi Arabia they inhabit arid sub-desert, steppe, hilly areas, escarpments at elevations of up to 3,000 metres requiring cliffs for sleeping and finding water. They are primarily terrestrial, but will sleep in trees or on cliffs at night. An opportunistic feeder, it will take a wide variety of foods, including grass, fruit, roots and tubers, seeds, leaves, buds and insects. The female usually gives birth to a single young with the new-born having black fur and pink skin, and is suckled for up to 15 months. Each adult male controls a small group of females (a harem) and their young, and remains bonded with the same females over several years, aggressively ‘herding’ any that wander, and retaining exclusive mating rights over the group. The females will often compete to groom and stay close to the male, and it is the male who dictates the group’s movements. The Hamadryas Baboon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Recent studies have suggested that the population of Hamadryas Baboons in Arabia colonised the peninsula much longer ago than previously thought, and shows a considerable amount of genetic variation compared to the African population.



29 Sep 2014

Waders still passing through – Dhahran Hills

Although migrants are still passing through the numbers are small, that is with the exception of waders. Wader numbers have been very good this autumn and the last few days have been no exception. All the normal wet places have had good waders on them and wet ditch has been particularly good. Here there has been Common Redshank, Temminck’s Stint, plenty of Little Stints, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper. Views and photographic opportunities are good on the ditch as can be seen from the photos below. The percolation pond has also had some good wading birds with two Marsh Sandpipers, four Common Greenshanks and plenty of Little Stints and Wood Sandpipers. The other favourite place for waders is the settling pond where there have been up to eight Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, ten Kentish Plovers, two Temminck’s Stints, two Dunlin, one Curlew Sandpiper and 15 Little Stints. A group of 15 Black-winged Stilts were also seen flying over one night. Other interesting birds seen in these same areas this week have been a juvenile Little Crake on the wet ditch, and four White-winged Terns on the percolation pond.
Temminck's Stint
Little Stint
Temminck's Stint & Little Stint
Wood Sandpiper

28 Sep 2014

Arabian Toad-headed Agama – Record by Mansur Al-Fahad

Mansur Al Fahad kindly sent me a photo of an Arabian Toad-headed Agama that he has allowed me to use on my website. The Arabian toad-headed agama Phrynocephalus arabicus, locally known as Sabahbah is a member of the Agamidae family, also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. These lizards are also known as the chameleons of the Old World due to their striking ability to change their body colour. They typically have a wide, strong, flattened body, covered in rough skin with overlapping scales, and a long, flattened tail which is rounded at the base. The Arabian toad-headed agama is a fairly small lizard that is highly adapted to life on loose sand. It has no external ear openings and fringes of long scales around the eyes keep out sand grains. The head is short and broad with a deep forehead and snub nose. It is highly variable in colour with various patterns of black, white and reddish markings, and it tends to match the colour of its background. As such, lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those lizards on red, inland sands. All variations, however, retain a black tip on the underside of the tail which, when raised, is used in visual signals. Scurrying across the sand, seeking out its insect prey, the Arabian toad-headed agama is active in all but the hottest hours of the day. During the hottest periods, it will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. It may remain dormant during cold winter day. The Arabian toad-headed agama is able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. This species ranges from southeastern Jordan into the Arabian Peninsula, including much of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman (except the mountainous areas) and Iran (known only from the Mesopotamian Plain in the vicinity of Ahvaz). It is not known from Iraq. It occurs from sea level to around 1,000 m asl. They live in desert regions and are found in areas of soft, wind-blown sand but can also occur on harder and drier substrates with sparse vegetation. It is not found in rural agricultural areas. Much of the information above is taken from Arkive.org

27 Sep 2014

Migration now in full swing – Sabkhat Al Fasl

As we had a long holiday prior to Saudi National Day on 23 September I was able to visit Sabkhat Al Fasl on Tuesday 22 September. As it was a midweek visit there were no fishermen and only one hunter that made the visit very pleasant. There were plenty of migrants around of a good number of species although numbers of most of them were low. Terns as always at this time of year were plentiful with good numbers of White-winged Terns, Caspian Terns and Little Terns. Wheatears were also seen in small numbers with most being Northern Wheatears and Isabelline Wheatears but I also saw my first returning Pied Wheatear of the autumn that was a nice first year male. Barn Swallows and Sand Martin numbers were high with more than 100 of each species and plenty of Spotted Flycatchers were also around. A single Daurian Shrike and several Eurasian Hoopoes were also located along the edge of the reed beds. Eight Western Marsh Harriers, mostly immatures and females were seen but there was also an adult male and one Pallid Harrier also flew over the scrape area. As always there were plenty of Purple Swamphens around and several Squacco Herons and Grey Herons.
White-winged Tern
Caspian Terns
Northern Wheatear
Pied Wheatear - first year male
Pied Wheatear - first year male
Barn Swallow
Marsh Harrier - male
Pallid Harrier
Purple Swamphen

26 Sep 2014

Eastern (Sandfish) Skink – Record by Mansur Al-Fahad

The below photo was sent to me by Mansur Al Fahad who has kindly allowed me to use it on my website. Mansur is an expert in reptiles of Saudi Arabia and has provided me with much information for my blog on reptiles and birds for which I thank him greatly. This lizard is an Eastern Skink Scincus mitranus is a lizard from the skink family that grows to a length of 20 centimetres. The Arabic and local name for this lizard is Sqnkor. They have an orange-brown or sand-coloured back, and a white underside and on the side they have a line or spots in a light colour, and the back and legs have vague dark bands. The snout is shaped like a bill, and the legs and tail are short. The Eastern Skink can run quickly, or slide over the sand and dig itself in quickly when it is in danger. Its food consists of several kinds of arthropods, especially Centipedes and beetles and although the ear openings are small, these skinks have excellent hearing, which enables them to detect insect prey moving below the surface. This species is found in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia and western Iran and they live in dry and warm open areas, particularly in sand deserts. It is widely distributed in the Arabian Peninsula, east of the Asir Mountains and is found from sea level up to around 1000 metres above sea level. Its habitat consists of loose sand dune habitats and hilly landscapes with occasional dense bushes and rocky patches to hide in. Owing to their remarkable ability to seemingly ‘swim’ through sand, they are often known as sandfish. The physical adaptations that allow these lizards to move with speed below the sand surface include a streamlined body, highly polished skin, strongly developed limbs, a chisel-shaped snout, and reduced ear openings.

25 Sep 2014

Several species of migrants – Dhahran Hills

Bird numbers remain quite low this autumn but there are now several different species of migrants about the camp. The percolation pond still has 23 Ferruginous Ducks, the highest count ever for the ‘patch’ but they remain distant unless they fly around after being disturbed when they, with luck, fly overhead as was the case last night. The pond also had good numbers of waders with four Common Greenshank, 25 Little Stints, one Marsh Sandpiper, three Wood Sandpipers, two Green Sandpipers and a Ruff. The settling pond had a few different waders with four Common Snipe and several Ruff and Wood Sandpipers. The Wet ditch also had a few waders with single Temminck’s Stint, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper. Other migrants around the spray fields and scrubby desert included several Ortolan Buntings, 25+ Sand Martins, seven Barn Swallows, one Isabelline Wheatear and a Southern Grey Shrike. Just as it was getting dark and I was about to leave, a commotion in the spray fields caught my attention and a female/immature Pallid Harrier flew through chasing a few birds on the way., a nice way to end the evenings birding.
Ferruginous Duck
Wood Sandpiper 
Little Stint
Temminck's Stint
Sand Martin
Arabian Grey Shrike

24 Sep 2014

Eurasian Wryneck & Spotted Flycatcher at Udhailiyah – Bird records by Nishan Xavier

Nishan Xavier sent me a coupe of photos he took in September 2014 in Udhailiyah Heights, Saudi Aramco camp and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website. The Eurasian Wryneck is not a common species in the Eastern Province and in Dhahran I have only had a few records with most sightings being in the spray fields area. Spotted Flycatcher is a common passage migrant with birds seen daily during the migration season both in spring and autumn.
Eurasian Wryneck
Spotted Flycatcher

23 Sep 2014

Temminck’s Stint on wet ditch – Dhahran Hills

The wet ditch has been producing a number of good birds over the last few weeks after months of having nothing on it. On 17 September there was a nice Temminck’s Stint there. The species is a passage migrant and winter visitor that is a regular migrant in small numbers almost always away from the coast. It occurs in April and May and again from September to November. Some birds do winter in very small numbers at some suitable inland sites such as Sabkhat Al Fasl near Jubail. They are seen quite regularly on the ‘patch’ but normally are seen at some distance on the settling pond or percolation pond although I have seen them before on the wet ditch in previous years. Other birds seen on the ditch at the same time were Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Little Stint. A group of European Bee-eaters flew over whilst I was there and a Tawny Pipit was feeding nearby.
Temminck's Stint
Temminck's Stint
Temminck's Stint
Temminck's Stint
Wood Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Little Stint

22 Sep 2014

Cretzcshmar’s Bunting and more at Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent photos form his weekend birding at Tabuk, which he has kindly allowed me to use on my website, and it included a surprise with photo of a male Cretzcshmar’s Bunting. This is a rare bird in most of Saudi Arabia although where Viv lives in the northwest they are uncommon migrants with some occasionally overwintering. This is a bird I would truly love to find on my local ‘patch’ but the chances are very small as there have only been a couple of records from the Eastern Province. I would not mind seeing it anywhere in Saudi Arabia if the truth was told, as I have never seen one anywhere. Other birds Viv photographed on his outing included Glossy Ibis, European Bee-eaters, Spotted Flycathcers, Western Marsh Harriers and Purple Heron.
Cretzschmar's Bunting - male
European Bee-eaters
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Purple Heron

21 Sep 2014

Plenty of Terns – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Last weekend there were plenty of terns still around. Some of these birds are summer breeders, others passage migrants and others still residents. The most numerous of the terns were White-cheeked Terns that are summer visitors and breed on the offshore Arabian Gulf coral islands. Most of the birds that remain are juveniles although a few adults are also still present. Most of these birds will have departed in the next couple of weeks to their wintering areas to the southwest of Saudi Arabia. At least six White-winged Terns were also present including two moulting adults and four juveniles. Sabkhat Al Fasl is probably the best place in the Eastern Province for finding this migrant species and occasionally good views can be obtained. Gull-billed and Caspian Terns are resident and are also still around in good numbers mainly on the flooded Sabkha area as are plenty of Little Terns.
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-winged Tern
White-winged Tern
Gull-billed Tern

20 Sep 2014

A few more visitors – Dhahran Hills

The last few days on the ‘patch’ have produced a few more unusual birds and the trickle of migrants appears to be increasing slightly. I have seen a few new species for me this autumn with one being a European Roller. Most other birders in the area have seen the species already this autumn but so far I had failed but this changed on the 15th September when I saw one in the trees near the percolation pond. The pond still had 21 Ferruginous Ducks, seven Garganey and three northern Shovellers as well as two juvenile White-winged Terns. Two Purple Herons were also seen in the reeds of the pond along with a Grey Heron on one evening. Other new migrants included my first Tawny Pipit for the autumn, several Isabelline Wheatears and Spotted Flycatchers including an extremely well marked bird. A small influx of Little Ringed Plovers occurred and other waders included both Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank (see earlier post), Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Stint and Kentish Plover. Large numbers of Sand Martin are now feeding each evening over the pond and several small flocks of European Bee-eaters are passing over at regular intervals. An immature Western Marsh Harrier and female Pallid Harrier passed over late one evening but otherwise it is still very quiet for birds of prey. The only shrike seen was a Turkestan Shrike in the spray fields.
European Roller
Purple Heron
Isabelline Wheatear
Wood Sandpiper
Turkestan Shrike