31 Jul 2015

Arabian Partridge – Al Mehfar Park

Whilst looking for Philby’s Partridge at Al Mehfar Park, Tanoumah, Phil spotted an unusual Partridge with a pale throat. It was a long way away on a hill top and looked superficially like a Chukar a bird that occrs much further north in the Kingdom near Tabuk but a species neither Phil nor I had seen. Philby’s Partridge has a black chin, cheeks and throat that differentiate it from all other members of genus, including Arabian Partridge which is mainly found at lower elevations. Philby’s Partridge also has a bright red bill and facial skin and rose-red legs and is otherwise very similar to Chukar including the presence of rufous in tail. Juvenile birds are overall dull brown, initially lacking face pattern that then appears as dusky, not black, with finely barred upperparts and duller legs. As a result the bird turned out to be an Arabian Partridge rather than a Chukar. Arabian Partridge occurs in arid rocky areas in montane regions and occurs on slopes with less bush cover than Philby's Partridge. 
Arabian Partridge

Arabian Partridge

30 Jul 2015

Anderson's Rock Agama - Tanoumah

Whilst birding in the Tanoumah area in June 2015 I saw many Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus most of which were sitting on top of boulders and rocks showing off their incredible blue colouration. They allow close approach and are very photogenic with the below photos taken in the Tanoumah Cliff area just to the north of the city. The species is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, where it is found in west and south Arabia, from Taif (Saudi Arabia) in the north to Dhofar (Oman) in the east. Its range includes Oman, Yemen, and south western Saudi Arabia and is the most common species of Agama in Yemen. It is also common in Saudi Arabia where it occurs on rocks in mountainous areas and is found to around 2,000 metres above sea level. Populations can be found on vertical rocks, rock steps and amongst boulders often in the vicinity of water. They can occur in precipitous wadis surrounded by dense vegetation, with the animals usually seen on the top of boulders. They do not however require water, obtaining moisture from their insect prey.
Anderson's Rock Agama

Anderson's Rock Agama

Anderson's Rock Agama

Anderson's Rock Agama

29 Jul 2015

Details of Crab Plover breeding behaviour - Farasan Islands

Mohammed Shobrak sent me a paper recently with some very interesting information about breeding Crab Plovers on the Frarasan Island. The details below are taken from the paper Almalki, M, Shobrak, M, AlRashidi, M, dos Remedios, N & Székely, T. (2014). Sex differences and breeding ecology of a burrow-breeding shorebird, the Crab Plover Dromas ardeola. Wader Study Group Bulletin 121(3): 169 – 176. The Crab Plover Dromas ardeola is endemic to the Indian Ocean basin and breeds on islands around the Arabian Peninsula. Unique among shorebirds, it nests in an underground burrow where it lays a single white egg and feeds one chick. Molecular sexing of DNA samples of 66 adult Crab Plovers indicated that 26 were males and 40 were females. Males had significantly longer bill, wing and tarsus lengths than females, confirming previously published reports on sexual size dimorphism in Eritrea. Observations of molecular-sexed adults at four nests showed that both parents fed the chicks; however, females brought food to the nest-burrow more often than males (67.6% of all cases). The temperature inside active nesting burrows was relatively stable at 35.0 +/- 0.18°C (n = 11 nests) regardless of ambient temperature just outside the burrows. This suggests that burrows serve a purpose in incubation as well as in defence from predation. In the colony, adults were seen to prevent chicks from multiple burrows from leaving the nest when their own parents had left the colony, confirming a helper breeding system. Also interesting was the day/night cycles in chick feeding routines, with higher provisioning rates during the daytime than at night.


28 Jul 2015

Common Myna – Dhahran Hills

The Common Myna Acridotheres tristis is an introduced species that is common in many areas of the Kingdom and breeds in many large towns. They first appeared in the Riyadh area in1984 and in the Eastern Province after 1990 but are now very common including in Dhahran where birds can be seen in large groups and also breed feely. Birds have slowly spread northwards and can now be seen throughout the country. There is one other type of Myna present in the Kingdom and that is the Bank Myna Acridotheres ginginianus that was also introduced and can be seen in Saudi Arabia almost exclusively in the Riyadh area. The photograph below was taken in Dhahran Hills on my local patch where they are plentiful and can be seen daily.
Common Myna

27 Jul 2015

Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst in Taif Phil and I went to Wadi Thee Gazal. We were going to spend longer there but got delayed by the good birding at Wadi Waj. We thus arrived at about midday the worst time to arrive as the temperature rises quite high here even though it is in the mountains. Wadi Thee Gazal has excellent cover and good birds are regularly seen here. We saw only a few decent species but these included both Shining and Nile Valley Sunbirds as well as Arabian Warblers and Yemen Thrushes. Quite a number of Arabian Wheatears and Black Bush Robins were about and a few Namaqua Doves were flying around. This was another locality where we saw good numbers of Arabian Serins and they could often be located by their loud contact calls.
Black Bush Robin
Black Bush Robin
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Nile Valley Sunbird
Nile Valley Sunbird
Shining Sunbird
Shining Sunbird

26 Jul 2015

Both sub-species of Arabian Babbler – Sabya

Whilst birding the Sabya area in summer 2015 I came across Arabian Babblers in nearby areas with different bill colours. In the filed guide to the region it says these are different subspeics with the yellow-billed birds the Yemen race. HBW, however, does not mention bill colour as a distinguishing feature between the races, so I do not know which is correct. The bird with the dark bill was seen at Phil’s Fields and the one with the yellow bill at Sabya Waste Water Lagoons only about ten kilometres away.


25 Jul 2015

Plenty of Terns of various species – Sabkhat Al Fasl

The summer is an excellent time to see terns of various species at Sabkhat Al Fasl. The most common tern in the summer at the location is White-cheeked Tern with hundreds of birds seen daily. Caspian Tern is also seen on every visit and is resident but the numbers seen rarely exceed ten although late in the summer, around September numbers can exceed 150 birds mainly out on the flooded sabkha. Little Terns also appear in good numbers in the summer and must breed somewhere nearby, although I have never found any nest anywhere. Again later in the summer birds can be seen feeding juveniles on the edge of the flooded sabkha. Very small numbers of Gull-billed Terns and White-winged Terns also occur although it is rare to see either in numbers greater than ten birds. As mentioned previously the site is a good place to try to photograph terns and the below photos are some of my efforts over the last few weeks.
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-winged Tern
White-winged Tern

24 Jul 2015

Plain Nightjar an addition to my Saudi Arabian list - Taif

Whilst birding in Taif for the weekend of 3-4 July 2015, Phil and I were sitting in the car eating Iftar when a Nightjar flew across in front of the car and appear to land on some stony ground nearby. We did not want to disturb the bird so waited for it to get completely dark and went looking for the bird by torchlight to see if we could see its eye shine. Unfortunately we could not locate the bird so decided to try a short blast of Plain Nightjar call. Immediately two birds responded and flew around our heads for a minute or so giving amazing views in the torchlight indicating they were Plain Nightjars and this combined with plumage details confirmed the identification. They then flew off and landed out of sight. There was no possibility of photographing the birds as despite an hour or searching we could not see the birds on the ground although did see them on three more occasions in flight. The photograph below was taken in Saudi Arabia by Ali Al Qarni who has kindly allowed me to use it on my website. This is an under recorded species in Saudi Arabia, and an addition to my Saudi Arabian list and is probably a breeding summer visitor to the southwest from Taif south to the Yemen border. The Plain Nightjar occurs from southern Mauritania and northern Senegal east to Eritrea, northwest Somalia and northwest Kenya, and southwest Saudi Arabia south into Yemen. They Winter from Senegal and Liberia across to southwest South Sudan and possibly southwest Ethiopia and Tanzania. The male has white spot on four outermost primaries and broad white tips to two outermost tail feathers whilst the female has tawny wing spots and lacks white in tail. Their preferred habitat is mainly barren lowlands inland of Asir Mountains, but also rocky terrain at higher altitudes where they have been recorded from sea-level to 1800 metres.

23 Jul 2015

Arabian Waxbill & Arabian Serin - Wadi Waj

Phil and I were taken to Wadi Waj, a site near the center of Taif, by a local birder Ali. He very kindly showed us the site and drove us around it in his four-wheel drive car, as our hire car could not make it. This site is a wastewater runoff stream that permanently flows and has good growth of reeds and sedges nearby. It is a place where Ali regularly sees Arabian Waxbill and Arabian Serin, two species that Phil and I were still trying to get decent photographs of. We saw the Waxbills almost as soon as we arrived but they were high in the tall trees and only average photos were obtained. We later saw them again when returned in the evening but again high in the trees. We did, however, get good views of Arabian Serin on several occasions. There were plenty of other birds about including Nile Valley Sunbirds, Graceful Prinias, Black Scrub Robins and plenty of Green Bee-eaters. An unusual bird seen almost immediately on arrival was a Scaly-breasted Munia, a species that Ali had not seen here before, but this may have been an escape from somewhere? A few wetland birds were seen as well including three Squacco Herons and a Green Sandpiper. On our return visit and as it was getting sark we located a Bruce’s Green Pigeon in a tall tree rounding off a good selection of birds at a good local site.
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Waxbill
Arabian Waxbill
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Nile Valley Sunbird
Nile Valley Sunbird
Scaly-breasted Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron

22 Jul 2015

Arabian Serin – Taif National Park

A visit to Taif National Park, a highland area with acacia scrubland and rocky hillsides allowed us good views of Arabian Serin a species that differs from Yemen Serin by having a less obviously streaked crown, darker cheeks, no dark moustachial stripe, greenish (not brown) rump, slightly darker underparts and a less sharply pointed bill without contrastingly paler lower mandible. They occur in dry, open rocky hillsides and mountain tops with trees, bushes and shrubs, as well as in areas of sparse vegetation, scattered shrubs, bushes or well-wooded areas and edges of cultivation manly from 1000 – 2800 metres. The mainly feed on seeds and Acacia pods and often forage on ground and in vegetation where they are often seen in pairs or small groups, possibly family parties. Other good birds seen in the National Park included Blackstart, Desert Lark and Arabian Babbler.
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Blackstart
Blackstart

21 Jul 2015

Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - Maysaan

Whilst birding in the Taif area for the weekend of 3-4 Junly 2015 Phil Roberts and I went to the Maysaan area about 130 kilometres south of Taif. There are a few good looking valleys with fields and trees in this area and around Bani Saad and this was good looking habitat for Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. Although we had seen the species on our previous visit to Taif in January 2015 we did not get good views and no photographs were taken so we particularly wanted to see this species again. As a result we got to Bani Saad before it was properly light and spent most of the day checking suitable areas of habitat looking for the species. We managed to find a number of good looking valleys with fields and trees and one of these we were lucky enough to find three Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks. At least one was an adult and one a juvenile with the adult seen feeding the youngster on a few occasions. The birds were quite flighty and moved a number of times and never allowed close views but a few photographs were obtained that although small in the picture were sharp and usable. The birds were initially located by their odd contact calls and stayed high in the trees, occasionally out of sight completely. They moved up the valley often flying some distance between trees, following an adult that was searching for food for the juvenile. Plenty of other species were seen in this valley including Long-billed Pipits, Arabian Wheatears, Little Rock Thrushes, Little Swift, Red-breasted Wheatear and three Bruce’s Green Pigeons.
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - adult & juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - adult & juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - juvenile
Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak - juvenile
Cinamon-breasted Bunting
Cinamon-breasted Bunting
Little Rock Thrush
Little Rock Thrush
Long-billed Pipit
Long-billed Pipit

20 Jul 2015

Extreme northerly record of Dideric Cuckoo – Al Atta

Whilst birding in the Taif area for the weekend of 3-4 Junly 2015 Phil Roberts and I went to Al Atta where we heard a Dideric Cuckoo calling and saw the bird perched in a tree as well as flying around the valley. This is an extreme northerly record in Saudi Arabia with the previous most northerly record I know of being near Abha some 450 kilometres to the south. The species is currently regarded as a vagrant to Saudi Arabia although this is not the case as quite a few records have occurred in recent years including one Phil and I saw at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment near Abha two weeks previously. This species is obviously a scarce breeding summer visitor extending its breeding range from Oman and Yemen into southwest Saudi Arabia. Male birds are normally located by the clear emphatic whistle that rises in pitch, “dee-dee-dee-diederik” such as this individual. They prefer semi-arid thorn scrub and acacia savanna and are found in the highlands of the Asir Mountains in Saudi Arabia from 1500 – 3000 metres above sea level.
Dideric Cuckoo
Dideric Cuckoo
Dideric Cuckoo
Dideric Cuckoo


19 Jul 2015

No Arabian Golden-winged Grobeaks again - Al Atta

Whilst birding in the Taif area for the weekend of 3-4 Junly 2015 Phil Roberts and I went to Al Atta. The location is basically a set of fields where roses are grown with a few overhead power lines where the Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks were seen perched previously. There is also a wooded valley with relatively steep sides and tracks running up both sides. Despite spending many hours here we did not see or hear the Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks and to be truthful the site does not look too promising with much better looking areas nearby. This location is a good birding site with plenty of Arabian Wheatears and Yemen Linnets. Philby’s Partridge was heard and plenty of Tristram’s Starlings were flying around calling. Other good birds seen included a single Brown Woodland Warbler, Arabian Warbler, Little Rock Thrushes, Long-billed Pipits, Red-rumped Swallows, Pale Crag Martins, Little Swifts and Palestine Sunbirds. Although we did not see the Grosbeaks birding here was much more pleasant than when I came previously in January 2015 when the low cloud made birding extremely difficult. At least this time the sun was shining and you could see more than a few metres so birds could be seen and located. A dark phase Long-legged Buzzard was also seen on the way to the site just after Bani Saad.
Arabian Wheatear
Arabian Wheatear
Arabian Wheatear
Arabian Wheatear
Gambaga Flycatcher
Gambaga Flycatcher
Little Swift
Little Swift
Little Swift
Little Swift
Little Swift
Little Swift
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Long-legged Buzzard - dark phase
Long-legged Buzzard - dark phase