30 Apr 2015

Great Spotted Cuckoo east of Zulfi – Bird record by Mohammad al Mohatrish

I am very grateful to Mansur Al Fahad and Mohammad al Mohatrish who have sent me details and photographs of a Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius seen on 26 April east of Zulfi in north Central Saudi Arabia. Mohammad al Mohatrish took the photographs with the details supplied by Mansur and they have very kindly given me permission to use the details on my website. Great Spotted Cuckoo is a scarce passage migrant through Central Arabia, with Mansur knowing of three records in Zulfi in the last three years mostly in spring. A bird was also seen in January 2015 west of Hail with Mansur hearing of a number of additional records in the central area of the Kingdom. Elsewhere in the Kingdom it is an uncommon passage migrant in Western Saudi Arabia becoming less common as you travel eastwards where it is a vagrant in the Eastern Province. There has been some suggestion that the species may winter in Saudi Arabia but they are very early migrants often occurring on passage in January so this obscures the picture slightly and they are almost certainly just passage migrants in the Kingdom.


29 Apr 2015

Last couple of weeks near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv has been out birding the Tabuk area the last couple of Weekends and has sent a few photos of his trips. This area is in the northwest of the Kingdom and is very good for both migrants as well as resident species. Viv normally either goes to the desert areas where there are plenty of rock formations or to the large Tabuk wetlands. He takes photos of quite a number of species that are either absent or extremely difficult to see in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I live and bird so the photos are always interesting to look at. This selection include Scrub Warbler and Tristram’s Starling that do not occur in the Eastern Province and Pale Crag martin that does occur but is only seen near the escarpments in the desert in areas like Shedgum. The main passage migrants seen by Viv cross the country in broad fronts so are seen throughout the Kingdom at the right time of year and these include Barn Swallows, Eurasian Blackcaps, Eurasian Hoopoes, Northern Wheatears and Ortolan Buntings with Common Kestrel being a resident in the area. Viv has kindly allowed me to use some of his photos on my website that are shown below.
Tristram's Starling
Tristram's Starling
Scrub Warbler
Scrub Warbler
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Common Blackcap
Common Blackcap
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Pale Crag Martin
Pale Crag Martin

28 Apr 2015

Hundreds of Bee-eaters - Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm

Whilst birding Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm recently we were surprised by the number of Bee-eaters present. We have seen European Bee-eaters before at the location in small numbers but this trip there were several hundred European Bee-eaters and well over ten Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Good numbers of European Bee-eaters have been passing through a wide area of the Eastern Province in the last few weeks but these were the first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters either Phil or I had seen. Apart from the Bee-eaters that were all migrants several other migrants were seen. One was a smart male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush on a stump by the side of the road but unfortunately it was always into the sun so the photo is not the best. Several other good birds were my first European Turtle Doves of the year when two were seen in a dead tree and two Ortolan Buntings in a spray field. Ne spray field had over 100 Greater Short-toed Larks and another plenty of Yellow Wagtails of several different races including lutea, beema and thunbergi. Another filed had eleven Lesser Kestrels sitting on the spray bars as well as flying over the field. Several other good birds were seen including good numbers of Spanish Sparrows, four Pied Wheatears, one Northern Wheatear, one Whinchat and two calling Common Quail. The pond had a Western Osprey plus several Little Terns and Barn Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were flying over. Although there was nothing really good on the farm we saw plenty of interesting species and it is always a good place to bird. Now we have written permission to enter the location from the farm manager it is also a lot easier to access.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
European Turtle Dove
European Turtle Dove
Lesser Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel
Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
Yellow Wagtail - lutea
Yellow Wagtail - lutea

27 Apr 2015

Western Osprey & more at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Phil Roberts was birding Sabkhta Al Fasl the other weekend when he came across a Western Osprey siting on the tarmac road near the power station. The bird flew before he could get too close but luckily flew around and came back right overhead before flying off. Western Osprey is uncommon at the location and is a regular passage migrant as well as resident breeding species in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Birds breed on islands and all coasts of the Kingdom where they are also a migrant sometimes occurring far inland. Birds of the Riyadh Region by Stagg 1994 mentions it is a passage migrant and winter visitor, in small numbers, that passes from March to April then again in September and October. Phil also saw eight European Bee-eaters, one White-throated Robin (his first record for the site), one Northern Wheatear, five Common Redstarts, one late Daurian Shrike, two Turkestan Shrikes, one Common Quail, 41 Tree Pipits, seven Red-throated Pipits, two Western Ospreys, four Common Snipes, 35 Little Terns, 14 White-winged Terns, one Whinchat, one Western Cattle Egret and an Arabian Red Fox a species that is not commonly seen at the location. Phil kindly sent me a few of his photos taken whilst there and has allowed me to use them on my website.
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
White-throated Robin
White-throated Robin
Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
White Wagtail
White Wagtail
Little Grebe
Little Grebe

26 Apr 2015

A good catch on a windy day – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Ringing at the weekend provided a good catch of birds, particularly taking into account the relatively strong wind that was blowing. We set all our nets before first light and were rewarded for our persistence with 42 birds of 13 species caught that included the following:
1 Bluethroat L. s. magna
1 European Bee-eater
4 Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers
15 Caspian Reed Warblers
5 Sedge Warblers
1 Common Blackcap
4 Willow Warblers
1 Eurasian Wryneck
5 Tree Pipits
1 Barn Swallow
1 Turkestan Shrike
2 Great Reed Warblers
1 Common Redstart

Most birds, totaling 19, were caught on the first net round just after first light and showed the value of putting the nets up early. We then caught steadily until around lunchtime when the wind became too strong and we had to take all the nets down. We now have set places for our nets and are subsequently catching more birds each trip as we have, hopefully, identified the best locations for them. The weather has not been good for ringing this year with unusually strong winds preventing setting nets on quite a few days already this year. Soon the temperatures will be getting too hot to ring as well so ringing will stop for the summer by the end of next month.
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Common Blackcap
Common Blackcap - male 
Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler 
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler

25 Apr 2015

Wolf Spider in Riyadh – Record by Mansur Al Fahad

Mansur Al Fahd a local birdwatcher who is very knowledgeable on all living things sent me a couple of his photographs of a Wolf Spider he found in his parking area a few weeks ago. Mansur has kindly allowed me to use the photographs on my website. He mentioned the spider was big at around ten centimeters in length, but exactly what type of Wolf Spider it is, is uncertain. Wolf spiders don’t spin webs and they were probably given their name because they stalk and hunt their prey, just like wolves do and have a Latin name Lycosidae which is Greek for ‘wolf’. Wolf Spiders are hairy, brown to gray in color with various markings or lines and are venomous but not typically aggressive. They are widespread in the Northern Hemisphere and hunt for their food on the ground as they do not build webs to catch their prey. They eat a wide variety of insects, including crickets, beetles, meal worms and cockroaches. Like other spiders, the Wolf spider has eight eyes but unlike many other spiders it has keen eyesight, relying on its vision and not on vibration to capture their prey. Their eyes comprise three rows; the first row has four small eyes; the second row has two larger eyes and the third row has two medium-sized eyes.
Wolf spider

Wolf spider

Wolf spider

24 Apr 2015

Male Montagu’s Harrier - Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm

The Montagu’s Harrier is a uncommon but regular passage migrant throughout Saudi Arabia, with the majority of birds seen being immatures or females. Whilst birding Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm last weekend Phil Roberts and I saw an adult male Monatgu’s Harrier over one of the spray fields. The bird flew off but we later saw it perched on the ground but before we could get in position to photograph it the bird flew, luckily right over us and then off. I managed to grab a few quick shots from the car that are shown below that was good as this was the first time I have seen an adult male in the Kingdom. Birds are uncommon passage migrants in the Eastern Province mainly from April to May and from September to October with a few birds apparently wintering and up to eight seen in a day at Haradh in September. Birds of the Riyadh Region by Stagg 1994, says they are a common passage migrant and increasingly frequent winter visitor that passes March and again late August to mid-October. Since 1988, winter visitors have taken up residence around alfalfa fields south of Riyadh during December and January. Other records have come from all areas from the southwest to the northeast of the Kingdom although the species is not common anywhere.
Montagu’s Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier

23 Apr 2015

Karelini type shrike? – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 17 April with Phil Roberts and Mike Jennings I saw an interesting shrike that I put the others onto and managed to grab a single photo before it flew off and was lost to sight.  The shrike was an unusual Turkestan Shrike type but had a ‘grey’ mantle and crown colour, rather than the browner colour of classic Turkestan Shrikes. This bird fitted a 'karelini' type bird which I mentioned to the others. I was convinced of its nature but asked Alan Dean his opinion and he kindly replied saying the following “The underparts are catching the light but if they were truly as white as they appear in the photo (which they were in the field) then, in conjunction with the rather grey upperparts and no rufous in crown (thus crown matching mantle) then, yes, it's a karelini type. A classic karelini as depicted in Bogdanov's painting of the 'type' and has purer grey upperpartss - almost like a 'grey shrike' - but birds like yours are usually labelled as karelini (e.g. Tim Worfolk's painting in his Dutch Birding paper is like this). There are some thoughts that karelini may be a colour morph of Turkestan Shrike whilst others think it is a hybrid of Turkestan Shrike phoenicuroides and Red-backed Shrike collurio (Panov, Sandgrouse 31, 2009). Classic karelini birds normally have a uniformly pale grey crown and pure grey upper-parts resembelling a ‘grey shrike’ with the mantle of such individuals being like neither Red-backed Shrike nor typical Turkestan Shrike, nor is it intermediate between them. Karelini is a shrike with a ‘grey shrike’ hue (in quite fresh plumage) which in combination with clean white under-parts, with perhaps a pink/peach suffusion confined to upper and rear flanks, results is an appearance which is very distinctive, as much so as in any of the other forms. These classic type karelini add credence to the possibility they are colour morphs of Turkestan Shrike and not hybrids. Wear and bleaching of typical Daurian Shrikes also needs to be taken into account if faced with a grey looking karelini type shrike. The problem with this type is that many people appear to assign to karelini any Turkestan Shrike type which lacks a contrastingly rufous crown. Yet many of these individuals are in almost all other respects quite ‘typical’ phoenicuroides, with an evident brown component in the mantle colour any of which may be hybrids such as those identified by Panov? Evegeniy Panov regards karelini as a relatively stable hybrid form (The True Shrikes of the World, published by Pensoft) and includes two series of specimens to back up his argument. The first series has the first bird as a classic male Red-backed Shrike and the last a classic male Turkestan Shrike with the other eight various hybrid forms including karelini, showing karelini fits into this series of hybrid forms in his opinion. The second series contains 20 specimens which he claims illustrate a gradual transition between specimen 1, a classic male Turkestan Shrike and specimen 20, which he claims is ‘indistinguishable from the type specimen of karelini’. Although there is an increasing greyness to the upper-parts, the key feature appears to be a ‘decreasing rufous tinge to the head’. He also mentions that karelini occurs most frequently (though by no means exclusively) where the ranges of Turkestan Shrike and Red-backed Shrike approach or overlap. Whether karelini is a morph of Turkestan Shrike or a relatively stable hybrid form is certainly a controversial question currently.

NOTE: There have been some comments by very experienced birders suggesting this bird may in fact be an Isabelline Shrike and not a Karalini. Alan originally suggested this to me as the underparts are underexposed on the photo but I am as sure as I can be that they were white. It is certainly and interesting bird and if it is an Isabelline Shrike would be a late record for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where they have all passed through by the first week of April. I have a lot to learn about a lot of things including shrikes.

22 Apr 2015

White-crowned Wheatears near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson photographed some White-crowned Wheatears Oenanthe leucopyga  playing or fighting on the jebals near to Tabuk. Viv sent me the photos and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website. White-crowned Wheatears is au uncommon resident in areas where it is found, normally associated with granite and sandstone jebals and other rocky areas although it status in the southern part of the Kingdom is unclear. Birds of the Riyadh Region (1984) said they were locally common breeding resident with some movement within the region post-breeding and during the winter months. Jennings Birds of Saudi Arabia (1981) said they were a locally common breeding resident in dry rocky areas. Occurs Hejaz north from Taif, Northern Hejaz, Asir south of Soudah and Najran, Tuwaiq escarpment and locally in the Gulf. Also Jauf, Hail and Dawadimi. In my area of the Eastern Province they are only commonly seen in the Shedgum Escarpment area as far as I am aware.
White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear