Viv Wilson was out looking at the night sky again recently as on 8 & 9 October there was a fascinating and changing array between three planets, a bright star and a waning crescent moon in the eastern sky. On the morning of 8 October a slender crescent moon — and 5 or 6 degrees to its lower left a dazzling Venus, the queen of the dawn, and the much fainter Regulus, the brightest star of Leo. On the morning of 9 October, a thinner lunar crescent formed an isosceles triangle; the vertex angle is at Mars, while Jupiter and the moon form the base angles with Jupiter to the lower left of the moon. The Mars-Jupiter and Mars-moon sides (the "legs") measure 4 degrees long, while the base formed by Jupiter and the moon measure 6 degrees. Also on 9 October, Venus was in conjunction with Regulus, passing 2.5 degrees south of it, below and to the right, and appears nearly 230 times brighter than the bluish star. Viv has kindly given me permission to use his photos of the event which are shown below. Viv also sent me the following: There are five planets that can be seen during Oct. Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury in the morning and Saturn at Night. My photo has the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Mars. Towards the end of this month, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will meet up to present the closest grouping of planets until Jan 2021. Mars and Jupiter are currently within half a degree of each other, about the moon’s width between them. Venus, Mag -4.6 is the 3rd brightest object in the sky, following the sun, Mag -27 and the full moon, -13. Jupiter Mag-1.8, Mars Mag +1.7 and Mercury Mag -0.9. The star Vega is Mag 0. The brightness is called Magnitude and was a concept developed by the Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, 190-120 BC. By measuring and comparing the brightness of stars he made a catalogue of 850 stars, positions and comparable brightness, with the brightest star being 1 and at that time the faintest being 6. When telescopes came along in the early 1600’s, fainter stars could now be observed, so the Magnitude table required extending. In the 1900’s, the development of visual photo photometer’s, which were instruments to measure Stella intensities. This prompted Astronomers to adopt an international standard for Magnitude. Apparent Magnitude is a visual difference in brightness, Where Absolute Magnitude is the apparent magnitude an object would have, if it were located 10 parsecs from earth. The sun would go from Apparent Magnitude of -27 to Absolute Magnitude of +4.7, about as bright as Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter. Absolute Magnitudes requires lots of math’s to work it out….
31 Oct 2015
30 Oct 2015
Phil found a Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus at Sabkhat Al Fasl whilst birding there last weekend. This is an uncommon breeding resident in all areas of the Kingdom. In the Riyadh area it is a scarce resident as well as a migrant and winter visitor. It has retreated for breeding to remoter areas as urbanisation and farming have expanded. It remains a breeding resident in small numbers and sightings suggest a big increase in the winter population. In the southwest it is regarded as an uncommon resident seen in all months except January. There is one record from the Empty Quarter of a bird coming to drink at an irrigation pipe at GOSP 2. This is an indigenous resident of the Rub al Khali. In the Eastern Province it is a breeding resident, that is thinly distributed and small in numbers. Migrants occur particularly in the autumn that wander over the deserts but are more often seen in the coastal zone from September through November. The bird Phil saw may well have been a migrant as they are not seen very often at this location even though it is probably the best watched site in the Eastern Province. They are not easy to see let alone photograph so Phil’s photos are a good result for his efforts at birdwatching this location. I thank Phil for kindly allowing me to use his photos on my website two of which are shown below.
29 Oct 2015
During our ringing sessions at Sabkhat Al Fasl we catch good numbers of Indian Reed Warblers. In almost two years ringing at the location we have ringed 147 birds. Out of these we have had 27 retraps totaling 19% of the birds ringed. Some of these birds have been retrapped soon after their original capture but others have been caught after a prolonged period. Whilst ringing on 16 October we recaught the very first Indian Reed Warbler we trapped (in fact the first bird we trapped of any species) making it a total of 617 days from original capture to retrap. The weekend previously we recaught a bird ringed on the first days ringing at the site after 610 days. Indian Reed Warblers are meant to be resident but the large number caught at our site combined with the small retrap rate of these birds makes a strong case for birds passing through our location at least during some periods of the year. Obviously the long period between retraps of some of the birds do show they are resident in the trapping area. Many birds probably only move locally but we have had two interesting sightings of ringed birds away from their original ringing locations I different countries (see ringing page tab at top of website for details). As can be seen from the photos below both birds have freshly moulted their flight and tail feathers showing Indian Reed Warblers moult in September and October after the breeding season.
28 Oct 2015
Arnold Uy a bird photographer working in Saudi Arabia has sent me a few of his excellent photos of birds he has seen at Al Asfar Lake on the outskirts of Al Hassa. This is a very good, large inland wetland with plenty of water and extensive reed beds. Arnold has seen some good birds at Al Asfar Lake with the best probably a European nightjar a species not seen regularly at all in the Eastern Province where it is an uncommon passage migrant. He has also seen good numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Turkestan Shrikes, Common Moorhens and Western Marsh Harriers species that are more commonly seen but normally only at large expanses of water (excepting the Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters that can be seen anywhere). Arnold has very kindly allowed me to use his photos on my website some of which are reproduced below.
|Western Marsh Harrier|
|Western Marsh Harrier|
27 Oct 2015
Nicole and I went ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl 16 October and although we caught a few birds the numbers were well down on the previous weekend. The weather was extremely humid, so maybe this affected the bird numbers? We caught the typical wetland birds we normally catch with plenty of Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers and Common Kingfishers. We also caught several Great Reed Warblers, a juvenile Caspian (European) Reed Warbler, several Graceful Prinias and Barn Swallows. Two Little Bitterns were trapped along with a Turkestan Shrike and the first Bluethroat of the autumn, an immature female bird. It was quite hard work ringing in the high humidity but we ended up with 28 birds trapped and ringed in total so not too bad. Numbers decreased markedly around 09:00 hrs so we ended up getting home earlier than normal to cool off.
|Indian Reed Warbler|
|Great Reed Warbler|
|Great Reed Warbler|
|Caspian (European) Reed Warbler|
|Common Kingfisher - female|
|Common Kingfisher - male|
26 Oct 2015
Viv Wilson sent me an e-mail this week showing Rose-ringed Parakeets Psittacula krameri he saw in Tabuk. The species is a locally common resident in larger cities in Saudi Arabia. This species is relatively common in Riyadh but outside the capital it is less frequent and rather scarce in the southwest. They are also a common resident to towns and villages of the Gulf, including my local patch of Dhahran and in Jeddah. They are probably an introduced species that have become a self-sustaining resident breeder.
25 Oct 2015
Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl 23 October 2015 I found a Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis flying around near one of the nets. Pied Kingfisher is a scarce winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with most records from the Eastern Province. On 25 February 1999 there were six birds present at Sabkhat Al Fasl (Jubail) and an inland record of one at an old disused dairy farm at Thumamah 14-22 October 1999. A record from the northwest of Saudi Arabia was one at Lake Yanbu al Medina 14 April 1999. A few singles have been seen since then often at Sabkhat Al Fasl but it remains a scarce bird for the country and a good bird to find. Pied Kingfishers generally use small and large lakes, large rivers, estuaries, coastal lagoons, mangroves and sandy and rocky coasts and require waterside perches such as trees, reeds, fences and posts. They eat predominantly fish and regularly hover particularly so in windy conditions with the bird seen at Sabkhat Al Fasl regularly hovering and calling. Birds fly low over the water with steady wing beats and then rise 2–10 metres in the air, with body held nearly vertical, bill held down and wings beating rapidly; they then dive down into the water and if successful swallow prey on the wing without beating on branch or something similar. Birds are generally sedentary, however, in the non-breeding season, local movements can extend over several hundreds of kilometres and this is probably how birds enter the Eastern Province.
24 Oct 2015
Viv Wilson sent me some photos of a Black Stork Ciconia nigra he found in Tabuk on 16 October 2015 and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website. This was the first time he had seen the species in Tabuk and is a good record for the area. Black Stork is an uncommon migrant and winter visitor to western regions of Saudi Arabia including the Red Sea coast, especially the extreme southwest. The species, however has a very different status in the Eastern Province where it is a vagrant with its status in central Arabia and the Riyadh area a scarce visitor. There were no records from Riyadh prior to 1988 but in that year there were sightings of 2 on 27 and 28 October, I on 25 December and perhaps the same bird again on 31 December. Since then records have become more common with all sightings coming from the Riyadh watercourse. Birds appear to use the Red Sea cast to migrate down and are often seen in the Jeddah area and the Jizan region where they are almost always associated with water bodies. Birds are mainly seen singly bit in the west and southwest flocks of over ten birds are occasionally seen.
23 Oct 2015
Viv mentioned they have stopped the water flows to the old area where he did his birdwatching, and have also done a lot of burning there but there are still quite a few birds present. Viv has found a new wetland area where they are pumping the water to, but it is not as good as the old area for birds although he has been seeing good birds there as well. In the last week Viv has seen Pied Avocet amongst the commoner waders. This species is known to occur occasionally well inland from the coast in areas such as Tabuk. Other interesting wetland birds seen have included Black-crowned Night Heron and White-winged Terns with Pallid harriers and Black Kites being seen in good numbers in the area as well.
|Black-crowned Night Heron|
22 Oct 2015
Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 9 October 2015 we caught 44 birds which is the highest number we have caught in a single day. We set nine 18 metre nets in our normal locations in the reed bed site and apart from the Citrine Wagtail and Savi’s Warblers posted about earlier we also caught a few other species, some of which are commonly trapped and others not so. Species that we do not often catch but that we caught this time included Barn Swallow. We had only caught two previous birds but caught nine this time possibly as we had the nets up well before first light and the birds were caught leaving their roost site in the reeds? Another species we caught that we had only caught one of previously was a Yellow Wagtail. Although the species is common at the location and birds are often seen near the nets they are rarely caught as they can see the nets and skillfully avoid them. We caught both Graceful Prinias, Little Bitterns and Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers three common resident species as well as passage migrant birds that we also regularly catch such as Great Reed Warblers, Eurasian Reed Warbler and Turkestan Shrike. The last species we caught was the winter visitor Common Kingfisher. Normally we catch females at this location but this time we caught two females and a single male, allowing photos to be taken of both male and female together in the hand at the same time.
|Common Kingfishers - male|
|Common Kingfishers - male (left) & female (right)|
|Great Reed Warbler|
|Great Reed Warbler|