30 Jun 2015

Yemen Tree Aloe – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst travelling down the Raydah Escarpment from the top at 3000 metres to the farm at 1200 metres you come to a zone of Tree Aloe near the bottom. Here a good number of large plants grow by the side of the road and make a spectacular sight. Tree Aloes with a few exceptions are native to Africa or the islands off Africa (such as Madagascar). However, at least one tree aloe is a native of Yemen & southwest Saudi Arabia. Yemen Tree Aloe Aloe sabaea is a curious tree aloe, growing up to about three to four metres tall and having a relatively sparse head of leaves (sometimes only 6-8), most that drape down and bend gracefully. The leaves are thick, wide and gently tapering, fleshy pale green to yellow green and lightly armed with pale teeth along the margins. Stems are markedly thin, making these trees seem inordinately top heavy. There are only a few dead leaves in the skirt below the crown and most of the stem is usually bare. Flowers are multibranched and racemes are extremely open and consist of multicolored flowers of either red or orange and yellow. This unusual plant comes from remote areas of Yemen and southwestern Saudi Arabia where it grows at an intermediate elevation in stony barren soils. The specific epithet 'sabaea' comes from the Roman name for Arabia Felix, the area we now call Yemen. This plant was described and named by Georg Agustus Schweinfurth in 1894 who was a German botanist and ethnologist who travelled throughout East Central Africa and the Saudi Arabian peninsula.
Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

29 Jun 2015

Looking for Blanford’s Short-toed Lark - Azezza

A trip to a stony plateau area of Azezza in the hope of seeing Blanford’s Short-toed Lark, formally Red-capped Lark, provided a few birds but didn’t turn up any larks unfortunately. We were at the location in the late morning which was not the best time to bird as it was very hot and as a result the only birds we saw at the site were several Little Swifts, a Long-billed Pipit and a Short-toed Snake Eagle. The Short-toed Snake Eagle is quite interesting as I saw a similar bird in exactly the same place last year in mid-July, suggesting th bird may be reeding nearby?
Yemen Linnet
Yemen Linnet
Short-toed Snake Eagle
Short-toed Snake Eagle

28 Jun 2015

Some African species - Wadi Jaw

The main wadi at the bottom of the Raydah escarpment has a luxuriant mixture of wild figs and small gardens as well as large acacia tree and- other tall vegetation. The birds in the lusher tropical wadi bottom include a number of uncommon African species some of which are resident and others that are summer visitors. African Grey Hornbill, Violet-backed Starling, Bruce's Green Pigeon and Shining Sunbird were all found in this lush valley. This was the first time I had been down the wadi as I did not realise it was there until recently. Previously we went to the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment and stopped in the first village. The birding in the wadi was excellent with a number of very good birds seen including; Rock Dove, 10 Laughing Doves, White-browed Coucal, two African Grey Hornbills, six Grey-headed Kingfishers, two White-throated Bee-eaters, five Tristram's Starlings, three Violet-backed Starlings, three White-spectacled Bulbuls, five Abyssinian White-eyes, Blackstart, two Little Rock Thrushes, Palestine Sunbird, Shining Sunbird and two African Silverbills.
African Grey Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Rock Dove
Rock Dove
Violet-backed Starling
Violet-backed Starling
White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater

27 Jun 2015

Dideric Cuckoo a new Saudi Arabian species for me – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding with Phil in the farm area at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment I heard a Dideric Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius calling nearby. Luckily I had the window open and knew the call so we stopped the car and started looking for the bird. As it was very vocal we soon located it sitting high in a tree but it soon moved to a more convenient lower bush allowing some good photos to be taken of it. The Diderick Cuckoo is a summer visitor to southwest Saudi Arabia where it parasitizes Rüppell's weaver. They were thought to be vagrants to the area but recently birds have been seen near Tendaha dam 5 July 2010, Abha area 20 July 2010, As Sudah 5 July 2013 and Wadi Jaw June 2015 so are probably a scarce summer visitor to the high mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia. This was a new species for me in Saudi Arabia and this combined with the fact I got some good photographs made for a rewarding sighting.
Dideric Cuckoo

Dideric Cuckoo

Dideric Cuckoo

Dideric Cuckoo

Dideric Cuckoo

26 Jun 2015

Raydah Escarpment - Abha

The Raydah Escarpment is a first class site 15 kilometres from Abha signposted off the Al Souda road on the Sarawat escarpment and has been protected to some degree since the 1980’s. The site is a very steep west-facing slope with crags. The escarpment, approximately nine square kilometres in size, supports a more or less intact forest of mainly Juniperus excelsa with Olea europa on the uppermost slopes. Here the cloud woodland has many juniper trees draped with lichens and is one of the most densly wooded mountainsides in Saudi Arabia. Lush more deciduous vegetation occurs on the lower slopes. In the foothills below 1,500 m vegetation becomes much more Afrotropical with numerous Ficus trees and genera such as Commiphora, Aloe, Ceropegia and Caralluma being well represented. These lusher habitats of the foothills soon give way on the tihama to arid sandy deserts interspersed with very fertile irrigated fields where water runoff from the highlands can be controlled or where water is close to the surface. It is located in the biologically rich Asir Mountains and is also an Important Bird Area encompassing strata of highland and foothill habitat from 2800 meters to Wadi Jaw at 1350 meters, including a succession of vegetation from juniper dominated upper regions, with olive Oleo europaea, through to the Afrotropical foothills at Wadi Jaw with Ficus trees and where coffee growing occurs. This reserve also holds several excellent mammal species including African small-spotted Genet, Caracal, Red Fox, Hamadryas Baboon and Arabian Wolf. Indian Crested Porcupine and Rock Hyrax can also be seen here. We saw many good birds here including 13 Arabian Partridges, six Dusky Turtle Doves, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Dideric Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, two Grey-headed Kingfishers, four White-throated Bee-eaters, five Fan Tailed Ravens, five Tristram's Starlings, Yemen Thrush, Pale Crag Martin, 10 Red-rumped Swallows, two Brown Woodland Warblers, Yemen Warbler, five Abyssinian White-eyes, Arabian Wheatear, two Blackstarts, three Little Rock Thrushes, 20 Palestine Sunbird, Shining Sunbird, two African Silverbills, Arabian Serin, 50 Yemen Linnets and a Cinammon-breasted Bunting.
White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush 
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Dusky Turtle Dove
Dusky Turtle Dove
Cinamon-breasted Bunting
Cinamon-breasted Bunting

25 Jun 2015

The Desert Fritillary – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birdwatching at the village at the bottom of the Raydah Escaprment I found a number of Fritillary butterflys. I had no idea what species they were but checked in the butterfly book to Arabia and found they were Desert Fritillary Melitaea deserticola. This is a truly desert species, found only in the hottest driest places of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt), Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It closely resembles the spotted fritillary M. didyma but has more orange and with reduced upperside black markings. The antennae are orange beneath extending from the club to at least a third the way down the shaft, compared to black with just an orange tip in didyma and the underside of the abdomen is orange, compared to white. They fly from March into the summer depending on seasonal conditions where they like very hot dry rocky slopes and gullies with sparse vegetation. The Desert Fritillary is a butterfly of the Nymphalidae family with the subspecies found in southwest Saudi Arabia being Melitaea deserticola macromaculata (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan & western Saudi Arabia).
Desert Fritillary

24 Jun 2015

Plain Nightjar in Asir Mountains – Bird records by Ali Al Qarni & Mansur Al Fahad

I received an e-mail a couple of days ago from Mansur Al Fahad an active local birdwatcher from Riyadh. He mentioned his birding friend Ali Al Qarni who lives in the southwest of  the country between Al Baha and Abha , sent to him some photos he had taken of Plain Nightjar found near the village he lives in. After several observations and comparisons between Ali  Khalifa (from UAE) and Mansur, we agree the species is plain nightjar. Ali heard birds song like European Nightjar  and we saw some pictures from BNHM from Najran near the Yemen boarder that look very similar. It is great news that Ali is an active birder from an area where I know of few birders and his records will certainly add to the knowledge we have on Saudi Arabian birds as can be seen from this record. Plain Nightjar is a scarce breeding summer visitor to thorn scrub on the fringes of the Asir mountains and the Tihamah. I would like to thank Manusr for supplying me with the information and to Ali for allowing me to use his photos.
Plain Nightjar

Plain Nightjar

23 Jun 2015

Doubleday’s Acraea – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birdwatching at the bottom of the Raydah escarpment in the southwest of the Kingdom I came across a very bright butterfly with orange-red upperwings but much paler underwings and a distinctive white abdomen. The butterfly would settle and immediately close its wings so I could only photograph the underwing. This butterfly turned out to be a Doubleday’s Acraea Acraea doubledayi a butterfly in the Nymphalidae family that are the largest family of butterflies with about 6,000 species distributed throughout most of the world. Many hold their colourful wings flat when resting and are also called brush-footed butterflies or four-footed butterflies, this is because they are known to stand on only four legs which often have a brush-like set of hairs. Many species are brightly colored and include the emperors, Monarch butterfly, admirals, tortoiseshells, and fritillaries. However, the underwings are in contrast often dull or much paler, producing a cryptic effect that helps the butterfly disappear into its surroundings. The larvae feed on Adenia species a genus of flowering plants in the passionflower family distributed in the Old World tropics and subtropics. The genus name Adenia comes from the Greek aden "gland", and is inspired by the prominent leaf glands of most species. It is found in Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen with the subspecies azvaki found only in southwest Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Doubleday’s Acraea

22 Jun 2015

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin in a garden in Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas galactotes is an uncommon migrant and widespread breeding summer visitor with birds arriving in March and staying until October. They appear to be most common during the first week of May, with more than 10 recorded in one day. Birds of the Riyadh Region by Stagg (1994); mentions the species is a common breeding summer visitor, widespread throughout the region. Numbers have increased significantly in recent years in the wake of expanding cultivation. Arrives late March and departs mid to late September. The species has been seen in the huge desert of the Empty Quarter with one at Sabkha 40 on two days in suitable breeding habitat although this individual was more likely to have been a migrant as no song was heard. Not previously recorded in this part of the Rub al Khali. The photos below were taken in the garden of Viv Wilson in Tabuk and he has kindly given me permission to use them on my website.
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

21 Jun 2015

Acredula type Willow Warbler – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 7 June 2015 I caught an unusual looking Willow Warbler. The bird did not look like the typical birds we get in Saudi Arabia where we catch what appears to be two types of birds. Birds resembling nominate trochilus and acredula/yakutensis types with the former being much more common. This bird did not appear to be like nominate trochilus as it was too brown and white and the measurements were small compared to the acredula/yakutensis types we catch. The trouble with this group is that only the extremes can be separated with any degree of confidence i.e. the most obviously yellow- and olive-tinged trochilus in the west and the paler grey-brown and white yakutensis in the extreme east, which lack olive and yellow almost entirely. Between these two the form acredula appears to be very variable in appearance and, even in a given area, there is a lot of variation. Among acredula, the more ‘brown and white’ types have been referred to as ‘eversmanni’ but such birds are known to occur alongside more typical acredula and ‘eversmanni’ is not deemed to have any taxonomic validity. Svensson indicates that some acredula (presumably ‘eversmanni’ types) and yakutensis ‘can look just the same’. The form yakutensis is rather larger on average but your measurements of wing and tail fit quite comfortably with acredula and do not hint at yakutensis. I would like to thank Alan Dean for valuable comments on this odd looking Willow Warbler (for us in Saudi Arabia at least).


20 Jun 2015

Yellow-bellied House Gecko – Dhahran Hills

My daughter Julianna found this Gecko on the mosquito netting on the house sliding door and took the following photos of it as well. I sent the photos to Mansur Al Fahad who is excellent at identification of most living things for identification and he kindly replied with the following. “The fingers show a Hemidactylus species, we have two on the eastern cost of our country all found in houses and buildings, H  flaviviridis and H persicus, the first one its more widespread and bigger than another. Your photos show some marks on the back which H flaviviridis has”. As a result this Gecko is a Yellow Bellied House Gecko a species I have seen before in the property. An interesting thing about this Gecko is that it appears to be shedding its skin something young Geckos do. The small size of this individual supports the identification as a juvenile of the species.


19 Jun 2015

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl near Al Baha – Bird records by Khalifah Al Dhaheri

Khalifah Al Dhaheri sent me details of his trip last weekend to the Abha area where he managed to see an Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl. This is an endemic species to southwestern Arabia and although not rare is difficult to locate. Khalifah was given help by a local birdwatcher to see the bird and he then managed to get a few excellent photos of the bird that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website. Birds are resident near the Red Sea coast north to Jeddah and can be seen in the Tihamah and Asir areas including Najran and Hejaz north to Taif. Other birds have been seen in a wooded wadi eight kilometres east of Wadi Juwwah in April near Tanumah at various times of year. I have still to see this species but am going looking again in a couple of weeks time so will, hopefully, have better luck this time.
Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

18 Jun 2015

Last of the migrants – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Last weekend I went birding to Sabkhat Al Fasl rather than ringing and although there were a lot of birds about there were only a few true migrants. The best was an adult male Red-backed Shrike a species that is known as a late migrant to the region but there were also a few Barn Swallows flying around in small numbers. The other birds seen where mainly breeding species, either resident breeders such as Little Bitterns, Graceful Prinias and Indian Reef Herons or summer breeders such as Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Squacco Herons. We do not have positive proof of Squacco Herons breeding at this location but birds are around all summer in reasonable numbers, I saw at least 20 birds this trip. Also in August we see hundreds of juveniles, but are uncertain if these are bred at the site or migrants from elsewhere. I suspect birds breed here in reasonable numbers but in an area away from my eyes so I cannot be certain. Other birds seen included over 1000 Greater Flamingos, a species that could breed if disturbance was less and the fact that this is now happening due to patrolling by the SWA means that we may have breeding burds at this site in the near future. There were not many waders although two Pied Avocets were seen and apart from numerous terns that I will post about later there were three Slender-billed Gulls. Purple Swamphens and Common Moorhens were around in most places and singing Indian (Clamorous) and European (Caspian) Reed Warblers were heard but very little else was seen.
Red-backed Shrike - male
Red-backed Shrike - male
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Pied Avocet
Pied Avocet
Slender-billed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Slender-billed Gull

17 Jun 2015

Al Mehfar Park near Tanoumah – Bird records by Khalifah Al Dhaheri

Al Mehfar Park area is a location near to Tanoumah where we saw a lot of very good birds last year. Khalifah spent some time here and also one evening where he located Arabian Scops Owl just as we had done the year previously. Khaliufah managed to photograph the two Plain Nightjars which is something we failed to do last year, although we did see Montane Nightjar and also saw or heard seven Arabian Scops Owls as well as hearing Philby's Partridge and Arabian Partridge. Also seen were Eurasian Griffon, two Little Swifts, three Green Bee-eaters, five Pale Crag-Martins, two Yemen Warblers, two Gambaga Flycatchers, two Yemen Thrushes, eight Tristram's Starlings, three Palestine Sunbird, Long-billed Pipit, seven Yemen Linnets, two Yemen Serins, five House Sparrows and five Rueppell's Weavers. Khalifa has very kindly allow me to reproduce some of his excellent photos below.
Plain Nightjar
Montane Nightjar
Yemen Warbler
Yemen Warbler
Yemen Warbler
Yemen Warbler

16 Jun 2015

Lots of breeding warblers – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing last weekend we caught a lot of breeding warblers. It was a good days ringing even though it was summer and the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius. We caught 43 birds but only five species were involved and out of those five, two species only had a single bird, Red-backed Shrike and Willow Warbler. Most birds were Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers and Caspian (European) Reed Warblers with a number of birds having brood patches indicating they are sitting on eggs. The other species was Graceful Prinia, where a couple of birds also had brood patches. As it was hot and we needed to check the nets very frequently we only set seven out of out twelve nets but still managed a very good total of birds for us. This will be the last mist netting session we have until late August to early September as the temperature becomes too high to safety trap birds. Hopefully we will be able to go out a couple of times to try to trap some specifically identified species but this will depend on conditions and the birds themselves being present.
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Caspian Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia