31 Jan 2015

Three White-throated Kingfishers - Sabkhat Al Fasl

There have been two White-throated Kingfishers at Sabkhat Al Fasl this winter with the first birds seen in early January 2015. On 24 January we increased this number to three birds. This is the highest count of birds at this site for many years but as they breed as near as Riyadh, 400 kilometres away, and this is an excellent wetland area then there is a possibility they will breed here in the near future. The species was treated as a vagrant to the Eastern Province but is now clearly a scarce winter visitor. The below photos are all of a single bird seen along the main track of the location where they have now become easier to see due to the eradication of fishermen at the location due to the strong policing of the site by the Saudi Wildlife Authority. This has created a much less disturbed habitat that most of the species including White-throated Kingfisher appear to like.
White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher




30 Jan 2015

European Honey Buzzard – Deffi Park

The European Honey-Buzzard occurs in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia along with Crested Honey-Buzzard and most of the records of Honey-Buzzards refer to Crested Honey-Buzzard. The two species are difficult to identify unless good views of the underwing and flight feathers can be seen. The Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia by Bundy, Connor & Harrison (published in August 1989) has only six records of Honey-Buzzard, Dhahran 4 March 1976, 6 October 1978, over Rub al Khali at Jawb 23 March 1980, Dhahran 27 October 1980, at Qatif 19 October 1891 and Dhahran 13 March 1983 and is classed as a vagrant. Since I have been in Saudi Arabia I have seen European Honey Buzzards as follows, adult female 4 May 2011, adult male 6 May 2011, adult female - 2 June 2011 and a female at Deffi Park, Jubail 24 January 2015. The species is a scarce passage migrant seen in small numbers mainly in spring and autumn with the main movement of birds well to the west of the Eastern Province. Winter records are rare in Saudi Arabia but interestingly Brian James found two winter birds at KAUST golf course in November 2014 and along with the bird from Deffi Park, Jubail it appears at least some winter here. The bird at Deffi Park was seen very briefly in the very early morning flying up from the ground and disappeared into the trees. It did not appear to fly far and I was lucky to refind it in the trees again. I took a couple of photos of the bird and it flew off again and was lost. No details of the underwing were seen and as it was a winter record I assumed it would be a Crested Honey Buzzard. When I looked at the photos better at home a few days later it looked a bit different to perched Crested Honey Buzzards I had seen before and was a female/immature as it had a yellow eye. I suspected the bird may be a European Honey Buzzard but was not sure so sent it to Andrea Corso for his valuable advice. Andrea said the bird was a European Honey Buzzard making the record another winter one for the species and this time on the east coast of the Kingdom.




29 Jan 2015

Common Blackbird – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 23 January 2015 at Sabkhat Al Fasl we caught an adult male Common Blackbird Turdus merula. They are regarded as vagrants to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with most records referring to first year males and most occurring at Dhahran including two during January to February 1974, one 4 February 1975 with two 9-15 April 1975, one 2 March 1979, a female 3-5 January 1980 one 14 December 1982, one at Dhahran Saudi Aramco main camp in some Acacias on 11th Street 10 January 1984 with probably the same bird 8-21 February 1984 and one 15 November 1984. One was also at Abqaiq 21 December 1979. Birds are relatively common in Jordon so it is surprising that more have not been seen in the northwest and around Tabuk but they remain a rare bird in Saudi Arabia. Other records from the Kingdom include a bird at Tabuk and one at NADEC farm in the north 15 February 2009. Interestingly Dave Bishop sent me an e-mail on 17 January 2015 saying he had seen Qatar’s 3rd record at Al Shamal Park, so it looks like the cold weather in Jordon, Lebanon and the Tabuk area of Saudi Arabia, where snow has fallen in recent weeks, may have displaced some birds to the south of their normal range. The Common Blackbird at Sabkhat Al Fasl was in very good condition with a healthy weight so will, hopefully, stay around in the same area for some time. I looked for the bird the next day after it was ringed without success but there is a lot of cover at the location and it could still easily be about.



28 Jan 2015

Finally the bird – Taif Euphorbia Forest

As mentioned in a previous post, Phil Roberts and I went to the Taif area in the mountains in western Saudi Arabia to look for Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. This was the last regional endemic species for us both o see in the country and as it had been seen in the area a few times in the last couple of years including in November 2014 we thought we would have a look. We were unsuccessful at the location where they had been seen most recently possibly due to the inclement weather of strong winds and low cloud cover and also failed to see them at Wadi Thee Ghazal where a bird had been photographed by a camera trap set for Arabian Leopard in 2012. Lou Regenmorter had mentioned to me that he had found a Euphorbia Forest near to Taif with mature Euphorbia’s so we went to look here. We found the site that had a hillside with many mature Euphorbia’s, a tree especially liked by Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. The trouble was the trees were growing up a steep hillside and this meant we had to climb up the hillside to get good views of a wider range of the trees. A look from the raod could not locate any birds so we moved up the hill when Phil saw a bird near the ground below a Euphorbia. I then saw a second bird nearby but the distance was too far for photography and soon the birds flew off. The species in unmistakable and the golden patches in the wing very clear, but the views were brief and distant. Despite a long search of the area we could not relocate the birds meaning we have already set up another trip to the area to look again in the summer of 2015. One good point is this is a new location for the species so it looks like they cover a wide area around Taif, although are scarce and difficult to see. We worked very hard in the field from dawn to dusk with only a brief view of the birds as a reward but at least we did finally see the species in the Kingdom. Birds in nearby Oman appear relatively easy to photograph when seen and Lou got a few photos of the ones he saw in Saudi Arabia last year so we are hoping on the next trip we will have better weather and are able to get a few photos. We also saw a few other good birds including the regional endemic Yemen Serin and Yemen Linnet.
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Yemen Serin
Yemen Serin

27 Jan 2015

Sallal al-Dahna near Tanoumah Southwest Saudi Arabia – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Whilst in the southwest of Saudi Arabia Phil visited Sallal al-Dahna a upland valley at 1955 metres above sea level on the outskirts of Tanoumah 11 December 2014. This is a favoured location to see Arabian (Asir) Magpie that is generally regarded as a sub-species of Eurasian Magpie but sometimes treated as a separate species. They are becoming increasingly rare with the total population estimated to be between 135-500 birds. The valley holds mature acacia and Juniper trees and has a permanent water supply at one end. Here Phil managed to see and photograph te following species: Arabian Magpie, Little Rock Thrush and Song Thrush. A very unusual record was a Steppe Eagle was taken along the road from Tanoumah to Abha around 30km from Tanoumah. This species is a passage migrant to the country and is particularly common in this region on migration but is not a winter visitor. As this record was mid-December it appears to have decided to winter in the area rather than continue its migration onwards to Africa.
Arabian Magpie
Arabian Magpie
Arabian Magpie
Arabian Magpie
Little Rock Thrush
Little Rock Thrush
Song Thrush
Song Thrush
Steppe Eagle
Steppe Eagle

26 Jan 2015

Schmidt’s Fringe-toed Lizard near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me the below photograph of a Schmidt’s Fringe-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus schmidti taken near Tabuk in September. It is one of the more common and abundant species in the genus Acanthodactylus and has ‘fringes’ of elongated scales along the sides of each toe that provide better traction on loose sand, allowing it to move much more efficiently across the desert. The scales on the head are generally larger than on the rest of the long, cylindrical body, and the smooth, rectangular scales on the belly are arranged in well-defined rows. They are typically coffee-coloured, with a pattern of small, oval-shaped, pale or white spots. They rely heavily on ants as prey and are probably diurnal digging burrows among the roots of shrubs in sandy plains, dunes and sabkahs (salt flats). This species ranges from southern and eastern Jordan and southeastern Iraq and southwestern Iran into the Arabian Peninsula where it has been recorded in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. It has been recorded from 200m asl, to 1,000 m asl.




25 Jan 2015

Some Arabian Endemics near Taif – Wadi Thee Ghazal

On Saturday 17 January Phil Roberts and I went to Wadi Thee Ghazal near Taif. This is a well-vegetated wadi with large mature Juniper trees and other large plants and was a site where Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak had been filmed by a camera trap in 2009 set to look for Arabian Leopard by the Saudi Wildlife Authority. As we were trying to see the species it was an obvious choice to bird and as it turned out the birding was excellent here. We failed again to see the Grosbeak but located Arabian Wheatear with both males and females seen, Yemen Linnet and Yemen Serin of the Arabian regional endemics. Other good birds included Arabian Warbler, Scrub Warbler, Song Thrushes, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Abyssinian White-eye, Eastern Black Redstarts, Tristram’s Starlings, Palestinian Sunbirds, Brown-woodland Warblers and Pale Crag Martins. The number of Song Thrushes was very high with about 50 birds seen during the day possibly due to the cold weather further north where snow fell in Jordan, Lebanon and northern Saudi Arabia a few days before. This is an excellent site for birding with a lot of birds present although the species total was low. The location where the Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak was seen was 21.0795N, 40.3435E that is approximately 2000 metres above sea level.
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - female
Arabian Wheatear - female
Arabian Warbler
Arabian Warbler
Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling

24 Jan 2015

Phil’s Fields near Sabya Southwest Saudi Arabia – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Phil Roberts went on a birding trip for a few days to the southwest of the Kingdom in December 2014 and saw a number of good birds. Phil also managed to photograph a few and has sent them to me and allowed me to reproduce them on my website. On the 10 December he went to Phil’s Fields a site that has produced good birds over the last few years including seven Sociable Lapwings and Small Buttonquail to name but two. This site is also a great place to see Singing Bush Lark and Zitting Cisticola both of which Phil saw. He took photogrpahs of the following species there: Singing Bush Lark, White Spectacled Bulbul, African Silverbill, Red-throated Pipit, Long-legged Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite and Western Cattle Egret
Singing Bush Lark
Singing Bush Lark
African Silverbill
African Silverbill
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit 
Western Cattle Egret
Western Cattle Egret
White-spectacled Bulbul
White-spectacled Bulbul

Yellow-billed Kite
Yellow-billed Kite

23 Jan 2015

Comet Lovejoy photographed near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

Comet Lovejoy is a gassy comet with a short tail appearing green proably due to the presence of two gases – cyanogen (CN)2 and diatomic carbon (C2) – which glow green when their molecules are ionised. Ionisation causes electrons within the molecules to gain energy and when the electrons drop back down to their normal state, they give off light of a certain wavelength. For these molecules they emit green light and since they are very strong emitters, their green colour dominates the comet.  The evening sky remains free of moonlight for excellent views until about January 23rd or 24th, when the waxing Moon will brighten the sky further each night. Lovejoy passed closest by Earth on January 7th, at a distance of 70 million kilometers. Although the comet is now receding from us, its intrinsic brightness is still increasing slightly. That's because it doesn't reach its closest to the Sun, until January 30th although by this date the comet will be fading from Earth's point of view and the Moon will be brightening. The comet covers 3° per day at its peak, meaning it will move noticeably in a single observing session. Amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy discovered this object on August 17, 2014, from Brisbane, Australia. Comets that first light up the deep southern sky tend to have orbits inclined steeply to the solar system’s plane, a characteristic that often carries them well north after they wheel around the Sun. The below photographs were taken 16 January 2015, in the desert near to Tabuk in north-west Saudi Arabia by Viv Wilson who has kindly allowed me to use them on my website.






22 Jan 2015

Streaked Scrub Warbler at Wadi Thee Ghazal - Taif

Whilst birding at Wadi Thee Ghazal near Taif I saw and photographed a Streaked Scrub Warbler that looked different to Scrub Warblers that I saw in southwest Saudi Arabia near Abha previously. As a result I looked into what subspecies occurs in the region. Geographical variation is marked between some subspecies mainly involving the body ground-colour and the amount and size of streaking on the head and chest. Nominate inquieta Egypt, Israel and northrn Arabia has pale sandy-brown upperparts with the forehead and crown with sharp black-brown shaft-streaks 0·5–1 mm wide, extending as faint dull brown streaking onto the mantle. The supercilium is a similar in colour to the ground-colour of the upperparts and does not contrast much. S. i. theresae from south-west Morocco, western Sahara and Mauritania is very dark, quite different from nominate inquieta; The upperparts are a cold sooty-brown, slightly tinged rufous when fresh, heavily streaked black on crown and hindneck; front part of supercilium and cheek cinnamon-rufous, contrasting markedly with black loral stripe and grey rear of head; chin to chest cream-white, rather heavily streaked greyish-black, remainder of underparts contrastingly deep pink-brown. grisea from western Saudi Arabia, eastern Yemen and Oman that has also been noted from the Mecca and Jeddah areas of Saudi Arabia are dark, near theresae, but the upperparts are more grey-brown and streaks on the crown and chin to chest are slightly less heavy. They are, however, far more heavily streaked than nominate inquieta. The bill of this and other eastern races are heavier than in theresae and saharae. S. i. buryi from south-west Saudi Arabia and western Yemen are even darker and more heavily streaked than theserae with the upperparts dark sooty-brown, flank and belly rufous-cinnamon or red-brown. As a result it appears the birds I saw were similar to grisea due to less heavy streaking on the head and breast and slightly less dark colour compared to buryi.
Streaked Scrub Warbler

Streaked Scrub Warbler

21 Jan 2015

Satellite Tagged Lesser Spotted Eagle in Saudi Arabia in 2010 – Details Bernd-U Meyberg

Proof that Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina has occurred in Saudi Arabia came from a second calendar year bird fitted with a GPS-PTT (94739) in July 2009 by Bernd-U Meyberg. The bird wintered in Tanzania and migrated to Ukraine in spring 2010 via the Caucasus mountains east of the Black Sea. In autumn it migrated south on almost the same route and passed through eastern Syria into Saudi Arabia 28 September 2010 at 12:00 hrs GMT and was last recorded in Saudi Arabia 5 October at 08:00 hrs GMT. One hour later at 09:00 hrs GMT 5 October the bird was in Yemen and on 9 October 2010 at 09:00 hrs GMT it crossed the Bab-el-Mandeb into Africa see map below. This is the first record of a satellite tracked Lesser Spotted Eagle using this route, although it is a well-known route of Steppe Eagles and follows the eastern coast of the Red Sea to Bab-el-Mandeb and confirms the Lesser Spotted Eagles occurrence in Saudi Arabia. The details were supplied by Bernd and I am very grateful to him for them as well as the route the bird took,

20 Jan 2015

Euphorbia ammak - Taif

Euphorbia ammak grows in Yemen and Saudi Arabia in an altitude range covering 1000 to 2000 and possibly as high as 2500 metres above sea level. It grows in rockier areas in planes and on steep hillsides and thorny bush-lands where it has now become scarce, particularly in Saudi Arabia and South Yemen, although it remains common in places in North Yemen. Euphorbia ammak is a striking Euphorbia of massive stature that is a large, tree-like Euphorbia growing up to 10 metres tall with a short trunk and is superficially similar to some new world Cacti. They have stout stems about 10-15 centimeters wide with branches starting at about 60 centimeters that arch upwards that have thick ribs that are undulate and are usually four-winged. They are covered with spines about one centimeter long. They occasionally produce leaves near the top of each branch as well as yellow-green flowers. These large examples were part of what we have called the Euphorbia Forest near Taif where hundreds of Euphorbias grow n the steep hillsides with a number being very large tree like examples and others just single stands. This plant is a favourite for Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak with this area looking particularly good for the species.
Euphorbia ammak

Euphorbia ammak