28 Feb 2015

Some water-birds on a small pond – Dhahran golf course

A trip to Dhahran golf course to see if I could see the Long-tailed Shrike and the three species of Kingfisher that had been present produced neither Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Kingfisher or White-throated Kingfisher but did turn up a few interesting water-birds on the small pond. The female Common Kingfisher was still present hunting from the reed bed and alongside it at one stage was a nice male Little Bittern. There is a good chance the Little Bitterns are nesting at this site as we caught a female Little Bittern at Sabkhat Al Fasl two weeks ago that had a brood patch and probably had eggs as well. Other interesting birds were a few Great Cormorants including one drying it’s wings whilst standing on a concrete fountain built in the pond. Also sitting on this structure as well as fishing in the pond was a white phase juvenile Indian Reef Heron. There were very few other birds of note although a small number of Pallid Swifts were flying overhead. The trip was short as this is a restricted area so the good birds mentioned above may still be present somewhere.
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Pallid Swift
Pallid Swift

27 Feb 2015

A flock of Great Black-headed Gulls – Sabkhat Al Fasl

I saw and adult summer Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus fly over whilst birding Sabkhat Al Fasl and it flew and landed in an area of dry sabkha. It landed with a group of other gulls which turned out to include one further adult summer and seven second calendar year Great Black-headed Gulls. There were also five Steppe Gulls in the group. Sabkhat Al Fasl has turned out to be a good site to see the species in the last four years with birds seen each winter although this group is the largest I have seen so far in Saudi Arabia. The Great Black-headed Gull is an uncommon winter visitor to the Arabian Gulf and southern Red Sea coastal areas that is also rarely seen inland. The first birds are normally not seen until December or January, with March probably the best time to see the species. Apart from Sabkhat Al Fasl the other good location for seeing the species is the causeway to Bahrain where birds can often be seen hanging in the wind over the road.
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - adult summer
Great Black-headed Gull - second calendar year
Great Black-headed Gull - second calendar year

26 Feb 2015

First spring Caspian Reed and Sedge Warblers – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Nicole, Harald and I went ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl for the first time in three weeks as the wind has been too strong recently to ring. We caught mostly the same birds as migration is only just starting but we did catch our first migrant Caspian Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers. Both these species have arrived early this year with the first Caspian Reed Warblers heard in late January. Sedge Warblers normally do not arrive until March so they are here earlier than expected. Both these species should be caught in larger numbers over the next few weeks until they peak in April. Other warblers caught include a few Common Chiffchaffs that will be declining in numbers over the next few weeks to be replaced by Willow Warblers and plenty of resident Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers that are singing in force for various places. Other birds caught included good numbers of Red-spotted Bluethroats, Common Kingfishers, a male Little Bittern, a Water Pipit and a Daurian Shrike. We caught a total of thirty birds during the mornings ringing and if we could work out a way of trapping the White Wagtails and Water Pipits that were around the nets in good number we could catch many more. The last two species can see the nets and fly over or around them and are only ever caught if flushed from close range into the nets and even then they normally avoid the nets.
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male 
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male

25 Feb 2015

Citrine Wagtail – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola was until the last few years a scarce winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, but more birds are now being seen making it an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant. Birds are mainly seen from September until March with some adult birds amongst those seen in early spring. Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl last weekend we found a Citrine Wagtail in fine plumage. As with most Citrine Wagtails the bird was not easy to photograph as it was mainly in an area of cover next to the waters edge. It did show occasionally as it was being chased by a White Wagtail that at ne stage flushed the bird onto the top of the reeds allowing one photographed to be grabbed. Sabkhat Al Fasl is a good place to look for this species in winter and I have seen two different birds in the last two weekends there. They are quite secretive and appear to like shrubs near to the water, such as small Tamarisk bushes.
Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail


24 Feb 2015

Desert Hyacinths – Sabkhat Al Fasl

The Desert Hyacinth (Cistanche tubulosa) is a widely distributed annual that produces a dense pyramid spike of bright yellow flowers topped by maroon-tinted buds. The yellow flowers do not smell very nice and flies are attracted to the smell and carry the pollen on their legs from plant to plant helping with pollination. The many tiny seeds may remain dormant for years until the roots of the host plant are close enough to trigger germination. It is one of the showiest plants of Eastern Arabia with bright yellow, dense column of flowers sometimes approaching one metre in height. It has varying flower colour with the flowers either tightly packed in the spike or loose. They are widespread on sandy or sandy-silty ground and can tolerate saline environments as well as disturbed conditions, so are often seen growing near roads or tracks in the desert or along the shores of the Arabian Gulf. They are parasitic, one of several such plants in Arabia, and live off other plants to gain their nutritional needs, as they have no green parts or leaves to synthesise chlorophyll directly. These photographs were taken at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 24 January 2015 where they were growing on some disturbed soil near my ringing site.


23 Feb 2015

A mix of winter visitors and migrants – Sabkhat Al Fasl

I went birding to Sabkhat Al Fasl as it was too windy for ringing and although we did not see anything out of the ordinary we did see a good mix of winter visitors and migrants. Winter visitors included Greater Spotted Eagles, Common Kingfishers, European Stonechats (although this bird may have been an early migrant) and Red-spotted Bluethroats. Other winter birds included Great Cormorant and Pied Avocet. Most of these birds will be feeding up now to get ready for their long migrations north to their breeding grounds. Migrants included Yellow Wagtail, Barn Swallow and Little Ringed Plover all of which are early migrants through the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. One Barn Swallow had very rufous underparts suggesting it may have been a different subspecies to the ones we normally get. A few of the resident species were also seen with good numbers of Purple Swamphens and Little Grebes in particular. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Common Kingfisher - male
Common Kingfisher - male
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Yellow Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Pied Avocet
Pied Avocet
Purple Swamphen
Purple Swamphen
Little Grebe
Little Grebe
Little Grebe
Little Grebe

22 Feb 2015

A flock of Red-rumped Swallows – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at the weekend I saw a flock of Red-rumped Swallows with a few Barn Swallows mixed in over the power station. The species breeds in the southwest highlands and locally in central Arabia, but is an uncommon migrant elsewhere. They are early spring migrants with birds seen most years in February and numbers peaking in March with the last records in mid-April. Numbers are much reduced in autumn passage with only a few birds seen and rarely flocks like those that occur in spring and birds occurring from August to October. There are a handful of records in the winter months of November, December and January but they are scarce during this period. The birds were the first ones I have seen this spring and numbered about 15 birds. These birds are always difficult to photograph due to their quick flight action and rapid movements but I managed to take a few shots shown below. The flock was still present the next day in the same area but birds like this tend not to stay around very long particularly in the spring.
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow

21 Feb 2015

Nominate subspecies of Pied Kingfisher – Dhahran golf course

The nominate subspecies C. r. rudis that occurs from central and southern Turkey and Israel to Syria, Iraq and southwest Iran as well as northern Egypt, Nile Valley and sub-Saharan Africa is the subspecies present in Dhahran. These are told by their distinctive medium-size and black and white plumage lacking any black spots on the flanks and side of the throat which is shown by the two other nearby subspecies that are also blacker in plumage tones. 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. 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. In non-breeding season, local movements can extend over several hundreds of kilometres and this is probably how birds enter the Eastern Province. The bird in Dhahran spends a lot of time hovering over the water trying to catch fish and occasionally sits on top of acacia trees to rest and is frequenting a small pond with reed fringed edges on Dhahran golf course. The bird may well have been around for most of the winter but as no one birdwatcher the golf course as it is out of bounds the kingfisher remained unfound. Since its discovery on 13 February 2015 it has been seen each day in the same location although does go missing for considerable amounts of time. The bird is a female as it only has a single breast band whereas males have two bands.








20 Feb 2015

Long-tailed Shrike a first for Saudi Arabia – Dhahran golf course

A Long-tailed Shrike was glimpsed briefly on the golf course at Dhahran on 14 February but the view was so brief it was put down as a Daurian Shrike. On 17 February Harald Ris re-found the bird in the same place and confirmed its identification as a Long-tailed Shrike. The grey mantle with no visible rufous and the lack of white-wing patch on my views of the bird from photos on my I-phone led me to wonder if the bird may be a Grey-backed Shrike but on seeing it myself on the 18 February it soon became clear it was a Long-tailed Shrike a new species for the Saudi Arabian list. The subspecies that have occurred in other parts of Arabia are L. s. erythronotus that breeds in southeast Kazakhstan, southern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, southern Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan eastwards to north and north-central India and probably also northeast Iran. This is the most likely subspecies to occur due to its location to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia but the lack of any real rufous on the mantle makes the bird we saw look more like L. s. caniceps that occurs in north-central & peninsular India and N Sri Lanka. To confuse things further the mainland subspecies tend to intergrade with each other. The fact that erythronotus is migratory, wintering from October to March in the Indian plains and caniceps appears to make only local seasonal movements makes it almost certain our bird is in fact L. s. erythronotus. Long-tailed Shrike is a medium-sized shrike with a very long, graduated tail. They have a black facial mask extending as a broad band through the lores and eye to lower nape with the crown to mantle dark grey and the back and rump rufous. They also have the upperwing blackish, tertials edged pale buffish-white and a conspicuous, although small, white patch at base of primaries. The tail is black, tipped white with the outer tail fetahers edged pale buff. The throat is white and the underparts whitish, strongly tinged with rufous on the breast side and flanks. Races differ mainly in size (nominate largest), tail length, and colour of head and upperparts with erythronotus similar to nominate but distinctly smaller, somewhat duller, and with narrower black band on forehead with caniceps paler, with less rufous on upperparts. They favour open country with scrub, light woodland and bushes, mainly in cultivated areas and feed on a wide variety of insects such as grasshoppers and beetles as well as small mammals, lizards and frogs that they hunt from a prominent perch. The bird in Dhahran was always on the move and was quite timid not allowing close approach. 

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike