Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl 27 March 2015 we trapped and ringed a Common Grasshopper Warbler a species that is a rare passage migrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where they occur on passage from early March to April and again in September. Common Grasshopper Warbler was not mentioned by Symens & Suhaibani 1996 in their list of birds seen at this location and appears to be a first record for the site. The subspecies we trapped was one of the western races, either nominate Locustella naevia naevia or Locustella naevia obscurior due to the wing length of 64 with eastern birds having wing lengths of less than 60. It was also a very well marked bird with plenty of obvious streaks down the flank making it superficially look a little like a Lanceolate Warbler. Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia naevia breeds in Europe from southern Scandinavia and southern Finland south to Britain and Ireland, northwest Iberia, east to western European Russia and Ukraine and winters in west Africa whilst Locustella naevia obscurior breeds Caucasus mountains south to northeast Turkey and Armenia with non-breeding birds moving to northeast Africa. These birds have a darker colour than eastern birds that have a distinctly paler and more olive-grey ground-colour with L. n. obscurior differing from nominate naevia by being slightly more olive with heavier, blacker, and more contrasting spots on upperparts; feather-fringes more olive, less brown, sandy-grey rather than olive-brown when worn; flank more tinged rusty-cream. Birds are difficult to positively assign to race due to individual variation. This is only the third time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia with the first a bird on my local patch at Dhahran on 1 April 2012 and the second one in a pivot irrigation field near Nayriyyah 14 March 2013.
31 Mar 2015
30 Mar 2015
There has been hundreds of European Bee-eaters passing over Dhahran the last few days with many of them trying to find places to roost in the trees in the early evening. They have been widespread in the area from KFUPM campus all through Dhahran camp. Mats Ris has noticed them too with his first on Wednesday 25 March. Mats also mentioned he had seen a Common Kestrel a species he does not see too often as well as three Barn Swallow, five, Pallid Swift and a few herons on the golf course pond including the long staying Western Great Egret, a Squacco Heron for its third weekend, two Indian Reef Heron, Grey Heron, Common Kingfisher and a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron. Mats also mentioned it was his first weekend without seeing any Western Cattle Egrets which have presumably returned bak to their breeding areas. Mats kindly sent me a few of his photos of the birds he has been seeing which are shown below.
|Black-crowned Night Heron - juvenile|
|Western Great Egret|
29 Mar 2015
Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl we caught a new ringing species for Saudi Arabia for our site as well as for me. The bird was caught in a mist net place in a relatively open area inform of a small reed bed and over a small area of water made larger by the overnight rain. To say it was a surprise would be an understatement as catching terns in mist nets is not common. The bird was identified as a Little tern by the white area above the eye extending behind the eye, saunder’s Tern stops in front of the eye. The grey rump of Saunder’s Tern is quite extensive, and this bird had an almost white rump again indicating Little Tern. The outer two primaries were dark another Little Tern feature with Saunders have three outer primaries dark. Both these species are seen in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia but most birds seen at Sabkhat Al Fasl by me at least are Little Terns with this one fitting the pattern nicely. Little Tern was the 29 species trapped and ringed at Sabkhat Al Fasl since we started ringing at the location in February 2014. This total does not include Siberian Chiffchaff and White-spotted Bluethroat two birds that are sometimes treated as species but more commonly as subspecies of Common Chiffchaff and Red-spotted Bluethroat respectively.
28 Mar 2015
As mentioned 13 March we caught and ringed a number of Turkestan and Daurian Shrikes. The same happened the following weekend when we caught two Turkestan Shrikes including a male and a single Daurina Shrike. This made six birds, three Turkestan and three Daurian in two weeks which equaled the total amount caught at nearby Alba Marsh in Bahrain where we ringed for three years prior to gaining permission to ring in Saudi Arabia. Although great birds to see in the hand they are troublesome to remove from the nets as try to bite any piece of skin that they see so the fingers are fair game and invariably get bitten and regularly they draw blood. As a result there is a mixture of happiness and trepidation when you see a shrike in the net. Daurian Shrikes will be moving out in the next week or so but Turkestan Shrikes continue to be seen for another month and they are soon joined by a big wave of Red-backed Shrikes. I was fairly certain with the identification of the birds but asked Tim Worfolk for help with confirmation of which he kindly provided me with his identification that agreed with my original thoughts. I am very grateful to Tim for his help. The shrikes we caught appeared to be a straightforward Turkestan with nice contrast between the darkish upperparts and whitish underparts, with the dark scalloping on throat and breast appearing to be dark. The second bird was slightly more problematic; appearing to be a similar tone on the upperparts, but slightly greyer to the first bird but was much more buffy coloured on the supercilium, throat and breast so is probably a well-marked Daurian.
|Turkestan Shrike - male|
|Turkestan Shrike - male|
27 Mar 2015
Mats Ris a local birdwatcher saw a Crested Honey Buzzard 21 March and managed to get a couple of photos of the bird over Dhahran Hills. This bird has been around for the entire winter as it or another has done in the same place for the last four years. Mats photos that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website look like two different birds but Mats is sure it was a single bird and the photos are of the same individual. The best place for seeing the bird is very early morning, just after first light, as it flys from its roosting area on the golf course. Unfortunately we have never found where it spends the rest of the day so may move out of the camp to feed? Crested Honey Buzzard is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor to the Kingdom and this winter apart from two birds in Dhahran another has been seen in Jeddah earlier in 2015. Mats also saw Western Great Egret and a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron at the pool on the golf course. The Western Great Egret has been around for the last two months at least and the Black-crowned Night heron has been see a few times in the last month as well.
|Crested Honey Buzzard|
|Crested Honey Buzzard|
|Black-crowned Night Heron (left) & Western Great Egret (right)|
26 Mar 2015
Last weekend ringing we caught three Red-spotted Bluethroats and a single White-spotted Bluethroat. I had heard a number of Bluethroats calling from the reeds and scrub but towards the end of the ringing session we had not caught any and then on the last net round we caught four birds in a single round. One of these birds was a re-trap from 14 February 2014 that was also re-trapped on 31 January 2015. This shows the bird is site faithful for its wintering area and was caught in exactly the same place all three times. One Red-spotted Bluethroat was a new bird and the other another retrap originally caught the week before. The White-spotted Bluethroat was only the second of this subspecies we have caught in Saudi Arabia with the first being the weekend before. Bluethroats will start to move out very soon so it will be interesting to see if we catch any next weekend, if the wind stays calm enough for ringing. Care has to be taken when identifying White-spotted Bluethroats as a few of the Red-spotted Bluethroats appear to be White-spotted until the breast feathers are blown revealing some faint red colouration at the base of the white breast spot feathers.
25 Mar 2015
Previously the status of Savi’s Warbler in Saudi Arabia was thought to be a rare passage migrant but records from our ringing site at Sabkhat Al Fasl have indicated that it is an uncommon passage migrant from late February until May and from August to October. Some birds stay in the same area for a few weeks in spring but there are no indications of birds breeding. The earliest singing bird was heard on 6 March 2015 with one caught and ringed 20 March 2015 in a different location. The latest spring bird trapped was caught and ringed 18 April 2014, between a small reed patch and the main reedbeds. In the autumn two were caught in the main reed patch 26 September and 24 October 2014. The October record was late for the species as most birds are seen in September. The subspecies of Savi’s Warbler that occurs in the region is Locustella luscinoides fusca which is more olive brown with paler under-parts and more obvious white tips to the under-tail coverts than the nominate European form L l luscinodes making it look more like a River Warbler L fluviatilis although the white tips to the undertail coverts are narrower and less contrasting than this species. L l fusca breeds in Turkey & Jordon eastwards to central Asia including north and south Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, north-east Iran and probably north-west Afghanistan. They winter in northeast Africa principally in Sudan & Ethiopia.
24 Mar 2015
The number of Western Cattle Egrets around the camp seems to dropping from a high point of about 100 birds. Good views can still be had of the birds as they feed along the roadside grass verges finding insects in the soft ground after the grass has been watered. The birds spend the evening roosting in the pharagmites reed-beds of the percolation pond where they arrive just before dark and leave just after first light. It was previously a scarce species in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia but since the 2000’s good numbers of birds were seen that have increased to toady’s numbers slowly over the last ten years. The photographs below were taken on the grass area next to the skate and BMX park close to the golf course where good views of the birds can be had particularly in the late afternoon when the grass has been watered.
23 Mar 2015
Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl we caught and ringed the normal fare but in greater numbers than normal. We caught 44 birds which was the highest number we have caught in a single ringing session either in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia so we were happy with the results. We set eight 18 metre five panel nets, two 15 metre five panel nets and two 12 metre two panel nets making a total of 198 metre of nets. We caught two re-trapped Red-spotted Bluethroats from early January and a re-trapped Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler from November 2014 all of which were ringed by us at the same site. The birds were a selection of resident, wintering and migrants and included resident Graceful Prinia, House Sparrows and Indian Reed Warblers, wintering Red-spotted Bluthroats, Water Pipits and Common Kingfishers and passage migrants such as Caspian (Eurasian) Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers. Sedge Warblers are true passage migrants whilst Caspian Reed Warblers stay through the summer to breed. Most Common Kingfishers we catch are females as was the case this time but we did catch a single male bird as well. The Bluethroats as well as the Water Pipits are coming into nice spring plumage at the moment and hopefully they will stay for a few more weeks until they are in really good plumage.
|House Sparrow - male|
|Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler|
|Common Kingfisher - male|
|Caspian (Eurasian) Reed Warbler|
22 Mar 2015
A brief trip to the golf course area allowed me to see a few good migrants that are not always easy to see in Dhahran. The first was a Rufous-tailed scrub Robin feeding around in the bottom of a small shrub. The bird was actively feeding and being quite showy for the species so I assume it has just arrived in the area. This species is a passage migrant and scarce breeder with birds normally arriving in March and staying until September. Another good bird was an adult male Common Redstart but this was altogether more nervous and difficult to see. Good numbers of Pallid Swifts have been passing over in recent days trying to keep ahead of the storm clouds and bursts of rain, so they have been flying straight on through rather than staying and feeding. There are still a few shrikes of both Daurian and Turkestan species around with most being adult males.
|Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin|
21 Mar 2015
As I have mentioned in a previous post the status of Daurian and Turkestan Shrikes in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is not well documented but there seems to be a distinction between the arrival dates and occurrence of the two species. Daurian Shrike is a passage migrant and winter visitor with the first autumn passage birds seen in September some of which over-winter and remain until March. In late February and early March a good number of passage birds join the smaller number of wintering birds making sightings common in parks, and wetland areas with reed beds. Turkestan Shrike is less common than Daurian Shrike and is a passage migrant from September to October and from early March until May. As a result there are only a couple of months when both species can be seen together in the area with these being March, September and October. As a result our ringing trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl in mid-March allowed us to catch both species in the same ringing session allowing close comparison of the adult males of the species. We do not catch many shrikes in Saudi Arabia but have caught a couple of wintering Daurian before, so it was a surprise to catch two Daurian and one Turkestan even though the month was ideal for seeing both shrikes together. The differences in upperpart colours were obvious with Durian being much greyer and Turkestan much browner. The underparts colour of Daurian is normally less white than the bird we caught with Turkestan always showing whitish underparts in males.
|Turkestan Shrike (left) & Daurian Shrike (right)|
20 Mar 2015
Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl on Friday 13 March we caught a male White-spotted Bluethroat Luscinia svecica cyanecula which is a scarce passage migrant to the region, unlike the Red-spotted Bluethroat Luscinia svecica svecica which winters in good numbers. This is the first time we have caught this subspecies in Saudi Arabia. The White-spotted Bluethroat breeds locally in central & southern Europe wintering mainly in west & central Africa with a few in the Middle East (mainly Israel) and north-east Africa. Identification of the Bluethroat sub-species is very difficult unless you see a male in breeding plumage. As a result many birds seen in the winter months are indeterminate as to sub-species so unless you re-catch a bird in the spring that was caught in the winter it is not generally possible to tell if White-spotted Bluethroats winter in Saudi Arabia. We did catch a White-spotted Bluethroat in Bahrain in March that had originally been caught in the winter showing that bird at least did winter in Bahrain that year and it will be interesting to see if we can prove they winter in Saudi Arabia as well as we re-catch a few Bluethroats each winter that winter at the site and re-caught on this year that wqs originally ringed by us in winter 2013-14.