31 Aug 2015

Eurasian Spoonbills – Sabkhat Al Fasl

A trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail on 21 August produced three Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia on the flooded sabkha. The soecies is not known to breed in the area, but the increasing number of records indicates they may do soon as they breed in nearby Kuwait on the Bubiyan and Warba Islands, to the north. The status of the species has changed over the years in the Eastern Province, with it being regarded as a rare and irregular visitor usually involving immature birds until the end of the 1980’s. Now it is considered to be an uncommon passage migrant in the Eastern Province. The main stronghold for the species in Saudi Arabia is the Red Sea where it is a common resident breeder. Largest numbers are seen in the southwest near Jizan but birds have been recorded all along the coast to north on Yanbu.


30 Aug 2015

Saudi Arabia review of first half of 2015

The below reports show the best birds seen in Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2015. These birds were seen by many different birdwatchers and information sent to me. There will be other good birds seen by other birders of which I am unaware that are not recorded here I am sure.

Twenty plus Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor were at South Jizan wastewater treatment wetlands 7 February to 4 March with fifty plus Abdim’s Storks Ciconia abdimii at the same site on the same date. A Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala was at South Jizan wastewater treatment wetlands 6 February with twelve at Sabya wastewater treatment wetlands 7 February. A female European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus was at Deffi Park, Jubail 24 January an unusual winter occurrence. Two female Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus remained together at Dhahran Hills until the 19 January with one remaining until 22 April with another female at Jeddah 10 February. A Southern Shkira Accipiter (badius/brevipes) sphenurus was at Wadi Thee Ghazal 2 May. A country high count of Grey-headed Swamphen Porphyrio (porphyrio) poliocephalus occurred at Sabkhat Al Fasl totaling 73 birds on 29 May and an adult Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata was at the same site 22 May a first record for the Kingdom. Two Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus were at Gulf of Salwa 21 April with a flock of at least 30 Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarious in a field just south of Tabuk 20 February with another satellite tagged bird wintering near the Jordon boarder. A Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus was unusual at KAUST 21 March. A Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni was 120 km east of Madinah 10 April with another at KAUST golf course 17 April. At least four Little Terns Sternula albifrons were on or around KAUST beach 8 - 15 May an unusual occurrence on the west coast of the Kingdom. An adult Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustuswas at Sabkhat Al Fasl 29 May only the second documented record for the Eastern Province. A Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius was south of Jizan 7 February to 4 March and a Bruce’s Green Pigeon Treron waalia at KAUST golf course 24 April was well north of its normal range. Three White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis were at Sabkhat Al Fasl 2 January until 13 February one on a small pond at Dhahran Hills golf course 13 -18 February and one in the Madina area 11 April. A Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis was at Dhahran Hills golf course pond 13 - 18 February. A Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegalus was at Wadi Thee Ghazal, near Taif 30 Aprilil, a northerly record for this species. An adult Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach was at Dhahran golf course 14 February – 4 April a new addition to the Saudi Arabian list. Four Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus were at SAF 5 December 2014 with two more at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili 27 Marchch. A probable breeding pair of Thick-billed Larks Ramphocoris clotbey was in the Riyadh area 1 May. The first breeding Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica for Arabia were found near Al Hayer, near Riyadh in February totaling 13 nests. A Siberian Chiffchaff Phyloscopus tristis was trapped and ringed at SAF 23 January, the first well documented record of the super-species for the country and a Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia was trapped and ringed at SAF 27 Marchch. A Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala was at Haql 23 February. An adult male Common Blackbird Tudus merula was trapped and ringed at SAF 23 January and remained until 20 February with another present at the same site 31 January. A male Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis was near Tabuk 11 Aprilil a rare vagrant to western Saudi Arabia. An immature White-crowned Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga at KAUST 16 May was unusual as they are not normally seen on the coast and both Kurdistan Wheatear Oenanthe xanthoprymna and Red-tailed Wheatear Oenanthe chrysopygia were at Wadi Rabigh 23 January. Two Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali were seen near Taif 11 January and a single Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus was on a farm just south of Tabuk 22 February.
Common Blackbird
Common Blackbird
Common Grasshopper Warbler
Common Grasshopper Warbler
Long-tailed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike

29 Aug 2015

Eurasian Scops Owl a new Saudi species for me – Dhahran Hills

Whilst coming out of my house at lunchtime on 26 August I flushed a small owl from under our hedge. The bird flew up and into our large tree that grows in the front of the house and although my binoculars were in the car I could still see the bird was a Scops Owl. We have two Scops Owls in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabian, European Scops Owl and Pallid Scops Owl. Both are seldom seen with Eurasian Scops Owl being an uncommon passage migrant and Pallid Scops Owl being a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor. I quickly got my binoculars, found the bird again and could see it was a Eurasian Scops Owl, but it was quite nervous and would not stay in one place for long. I got my camera but then could not relocate the bird so as I needed to go back to work I put the camera back in the house. Then on the way back out I saw the owl again in the same tree but had not time to try to photograph it. I could not see the bird again despite looking each, morning, evening and night for it but there is a small chance it may still be about. Eurasian Scops Owl was a new species for me in Saudi Arabia and thus for my 'patch' as well, a lucky sighting in my garden. As a result of the above I failed to photograph the bird so am using an excellent photo of the species taken in Saudi Arabia by Mansur Al Fahad, who kindly gave me permission to use the photo some time ago when he saw the species himself.

28 Aug 2015

Trying to trap Egyptian Nightjars – Sabkhat Al Fasl

As Phil and I found the highest number of Egyptian Nightjars ever seen in Saudi Arabia very close to my ringing site I thought we could have a chance of catching one or two. Unfortunately we failed to catch any birds even though they were close to the nets at times but always flew along the nets or flew around them as it was obvious they could see the nets without problem. We did not keep the nets up for long as we did not want to disturb the birds as they use the ringing area at present for roosting so caught very little except a juvenile Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler that was growing new feathers and looked a little bit worst for wear. We also caught two Graceful Prinias but nothing else.
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia


27 Aug 2015

Streaked Weaver in Bahrain – Records by Jehad Alammadi

Jehad Alammadi sent me a photo of a Streaked Weaver that he took at Hamala. Jehad said he thought the bird had escaped but had seen lots of them, so presumably they have a self-sustaining population there now? This species is not seen in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I birdwatch although birds are recorded in the Riyadh area in central Saudi Arabia. Jehad has very kindly allowed me to use his photograph on my website but the copyright of it remains with Jehad.

26 Aug 2015

Moulting adult Pacific Golden Plover – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding Sabkhat Al Fasl on 21 August I found a moulting adult Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva. It was on the edge of a wet area and appeared quite timid. This is my first record of this species for the site, although Phil has seen one previously in full summer plumage. The species is an uncommon migrant and winter visitor to the Eastern Province that is seen in very small numbers. The species was regularly observed at the former Dammam Marsh lagoons with at least four wintering there in 1980-81. Up until the mid-1980’s adults in summer plumage were seen in May & June with a maximum count of up to 30 birds in April, September and October. Most of the records away from Dammam were in the coastal zone from March to April and from September to October with inland records at Abqaiq in September. The species appears to have become scarcer with the only recent records being one seen at Zur Bay on 18 November 1991, one individual seen outside Dammam 6th April 1999, one at Sabkhat Al Fasl 31 October 2008, one at Ash Shargiyah Development Company farm 12th October 2012, one Dhahran Hills 2 November 2013 and one Dhahran Hills 23 August 2014. Records have also occurred on the Red Sea coast as well as inland at Malaki Dam Lake near Jizan and regular sightings have occurred recently in the Riyadh area.
Pacific Golden Plover

Pacific Golden Plover

25 Aug 2015

Migrants in the Tabuk area – bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv was out in last weekend in the Tabuk area and managed to see and photograph a number of migrants that have just started passing. Viv mentioned he went birding for a while one morning before it got too hot as he has no a/c in his car. This summer has been very hot in Saudi Arabia with temperatures in excess of 50 degrees Celsius on occasions. During Viv’s trip he saw three different European Rollers at the wetlands and one up at the farm area. The morning was overcast so the light was not all that good but Viv took a few decent photos of a few good migrant birds including Montagu’s Harrier, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Red-backed Shrike. Plenty of residents were also on view including Namaqua Dove, Graceful Prinia and Black-Bush Robin. He has kindly allowed me to use them on my website and some are reproduced below.
Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier 
Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
European Roller
European Roller
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Black Scrub Robin
Black Bush Robin
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove

24 Aug 2015

A summer White-throated Kingfisher – Sabkaht Al Fasl

White-throated Kingfisher has recently been classed as a vagrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (Bundy et al 1989) with two records one at Dhahran 4-5 October 1984 and one overwintering at the Dhahran Hills percolation pond early November 1985 until March 1986. Since then there have two records at Sabkhat Al Fasl, one in November 2006 and one 21 August, 4 September & 18 September 2009. At Sabkhat Al Fasl the species was seen at each visit in August 2006 with probably 10-15 birds present with breeding thought likely to be confirmed at the site in due course (Jennings 2010). One was in Dhahran in December 2008 with other records from Dhahran Hills Park. After this date records the species become rare in the Eastern Province but since 2012 birds have again been seen regularly mainly in the Jubail to Dhahran areas. Sabkhat Al Fasl has had quite a few records recently with three birds wintering at the site in winter 2014-2015 but finding a bird in the summer is much more unusual. I found a single bird on 14 August along the reed fringed edge of the site but it did not stay long before flying off calling. It is possible that this bird may have been one of the wintering birds from last winter but may have been a new bird also. It would be great to think birds are now staying here all year around and may soon start to breed as they do in the Riaydh area, but we will have to wait and see.
White-throated Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher

23 Aug 2015

Waders returning – Sabkhat Al Fasl

A birdwatching trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl with Phil on 14 August produced a limited number of bird species but some evidence of autumn migration including good numbers of a few species of returning waders. Most waders seen were Black-winged Stilts with plenty of juveniles indicating a good breeding season. The next most common wader seen was Little Stint with several hundred scattered over various wet areas of the site followed by Little Ringed Plover with adults and juveniles seen but juveniles predominating. Smaller numbers of Curlew Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and Ruddy Turnstone were all present. Water levels have dropped considerably over the summer leaving good muddy areas for the waders to feed and, hopefully, over the next few weeks wader numbers will build as the location looks good for attracting them.
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Common Ringed Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Little Stint
Little Stint
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone


22 Aug 2015

First real signs of passage – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Migrants are now starting to pass through in small numbers with a few passerines seen as well as an ever-increasing number of waders. Migrants seen recently include Eurasian Hoopoes in reasonable numbers, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Black-headed Yellow Wagtail, Barn Swallows in small numbers and Egyptian Nightjars. Very large numbers of Squacco Herons were seen including many juveniles, but these are difficult to decide if they are migrants or birds bred at the location, however, positive proof of breeding has never been found. Other herons seen included Little Bittern, Grey Heron, Indian Reef Heron and Little Egrets. Very few other birds were seen although a few of the breeding warblers were showing including Caspian Reed Warbler, Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers and Graceful Prinias. Large numbers of both Greater Flamingos and Greater Cormorants were seen on the wet sabkhat areas, early dates for both species. The newly split Grey-headed Swamphen was ever present with a few reasonably well grown young also see showing breeding has again taken place at the site.
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
Egyptian Nightjar
Egyptian Nightjar

21 Aug 2015

Returning waders at Dhahran Expro Wader Roost – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Phil Roberts went down to the coast last Saturday to the Dhahran Expro Wader Roost and although there was not much water on the right hand side of the wader roost there were hundreds of sand plovers (Greater and Lesser) on the mud at the back together with over 50 Gull-billed Terns and other assorted waders including Black-winged Stilts.  On the other side the tide was right in but I did see three Whimbrel, Terek Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones along the shoreline. 
Black-winged Stilt

20 Aug 2015

In memory of Ali Al-Qarni (1991-2015)

This is a short note on Ali Al-Qarni who died 18 August 2015. Ali was a very keen birdwatcher from the southwest of the Kingdom who found a lot of good birds and broadened the knowledge of bird distribution with his observations. Although I never met Ali he kindly allowed me to use some of his photographs on my website and his knowledge on birds was obvious. He will be missed greatly in the small birdwatching community in Saudi Arabia as well as further afield. Below is a write up by his friend Mansur Al Fahad.

Ali Al-Qarni (1991-2015) was from Sabt Al alaya, a town between Al Baha and Abha. He was born in Bisha, as this is where his father was working, but after a few years his family returned to their origin village on the edge of Sabt Al alaya . He finished his education in his home town and then completed his university education in Qassim. Last year he graduated from the university, and this year obtained a job as a teacher in the Najran area, but very unfortunately when he was on the way to his new job he met with an accident. Ali was a lover of photography from a young age as can be seen from the below items.
        A member of the Asir photography club.
        A member of the photographers group of the Balgarn area.
        A member of the  bird photographers group in the KSA.
        A member of the wildlife  photographers group in Saudi Arabia.
        A member of the Arabian Peninsula birders group.
        A member of Arab World Birds photography.
        He participated in four photographic exhibitions in the Asir Area.
        He covered many events, celebrations and festivals in the region.
        He competed in the contest, Saudi Arabia colors, and reached the semi-final.

Through my meeting with him, he told me a lot about his life with birds. He had only been birdwatching less than two years and was introduced to it by a Nightjar being brought to his attention. After this he went to watch and photograph birds with his favorites being birds of prey, Owls and Nightjars. In addition to his participation in several birds groups (see above) he made a major effort in less than two years, seeing more than 180 birds in the Asir and Jizan area. Ali also discover several new sites for rarely seen species such as Arabian Scops Owl, Arabian Spotted Owl, three species of Nightjars breeding in the SW, two Quail species at Jizan, Blanford's Lark, Olive Pigeon, Asir Magpie, Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Serin , Verreaux's Eagle, Black-crowned Tchagra, Pied and Dideric Cuckoo and much more.

He was very welcoming and received many birders, both local and from the Arabian Gulf countries, as well as local photographers and helped them whilst they were in the region. Ali was going to start ringing and take a number of trips across Saudi Arabia looking and photographing birds. He was also a strong advocate for the environment and wildlife, and regularly voiced his concern on these issues to local officials. One success was his role in saving wild olive trees in his local area that the municipality intended to remove. For me, I met him almost two months ago and accompanied him on a five day trip. This trip was like a dream, as he was a smiling man, kind, generous and with extensive knowledge. I would say Ali was the most active and best local birder in the region and had a promising future. I could see myself in him when I was the same age. His departure from us is a huge loss. Ali had an account on Instagram under (A.ibrahim) his nickname and as well as being a lover of birds was also very interested in butterflies. The below photographs of Ali were taken by a friend of his and sent to Mansur who obtained permission for their use on my website.




19 Aug 2015

Beekeeping in Arabia – mainly Taif, Baha, and Asir mountain regions

Following on from yesterdays post I found a very interesting paper on Beekeeping in Saudi Arabia - Alqarni, A.S, Hannan, M.A, Owayss, A.A & Engel, M.S (2011). The indigenous honey bees of Saudi Arabia (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Apis mellifera jemenitica Ruttner): Their natural history and role in beekeeping. The below information is taken directly from this paper that is frrely available on the internet for download. Early Arabic literature reveals that Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula recognized and kept bees for honey production. They called beehives “kawarah”, which means a habitation made of stalks, mud, or a wooden cavity. They also named apiaries as “masane’a”, meaning “factories”, which were kept at isolated sites away from human habitation. The Arabs also recognized the individual castes of the colony such as the queen (termed “the prince”) and drones (“the biggest and darkest ones that stay in the nest, eat honey, and not produce it”. In addition, they made detailed descriptions of swarming behavior and the various developmental stages such as eggs and larvae as well as recognizing bee plants such as Schanginia hortensis, Blepharis ciliaris, Lavandula spp., Ziziphus spp. and Acacia asak. Faith and interest in honey and honey bees increased greatly in the Arabian Peninsula after one chapter in The Holy Quran was entitled “Al-Nahl – The Bees”, in which honey was mentioned as “a curative for mankind”. Since this time there have been many advances in bee-keeping that are employed widely in Saudi Arabia, although many traditional and often ancient bee-keeping practices are simultaneously in widespread use. Beekeeping in Saudi Arabia is a growing industry. The estimated numbers of beekeepers and bee hives are 4000 and 700,000, respectively, and they produce collectively about 3500 tons of honey per year, or about 26% of the required demand. Taif, Baha, and Asir mountain regions in the Southwest of the Kingdom are the most suitable areas for keeping bees in Saudi Arabia. These areas comprise 762,474 acres of forests with an altitude of 900–3700 metres. Temperatures in summer and winter in these regions range from 20°–28° C and 9°–14° C, respectively. During winter, beekeepers take their bees down to Tihama, a warm coastal region harbouring several rich pollen plants that help beekeepers to increase the number of their hives through uncontrolled swarming. Since beekeepers follow traditional beekeeping methods, swarming is allowed to occur freely and more than one swarm normally leaves the hive. Unfilled traditional hives (hollow logs) marked with beeswax are distributed in the vicinity to attract swarms. Other swarms are captured from trees and placed in empty hives. Most beekeepers in the Southwest perform traditional beekeeping methods, whereas Langstroth hives are used in other parts of the country.
Honey Bee
Honey Bee - Photo by Viv Wilson

18 Aug 2015

Honey Bee from Tabuk - record by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson photographed a Honey Bee in Tabuk and sent me the photos for use on my website. I am not sure what Honey Bee it is but Apis mellifera jemenitica has been used in apiculture throughout the Arabian Peninsula since at least 2000 BC. Existing literature demonstrates that these populations are well adapted for the harsh extremes of the region with populations of A. m. jemenitica native to Saudi Arabia far more heat tolerant than the standard races often imported from Europe. Central Saudi Arabia has the highest summer temperatures for the Arabian Peninsula, and it is in this region where only A. m. jemenitica survives, while other subspecies fail to persist. The indigenous race of Saudi Arabia differs from other subspecies in the region in some morphological, biological, and behavioural characteristics. Further taxonomic investigation, as well as molecular studies, is needed in order to confirm whether the Saudi indigenous bee populations represent a race distinct from A. m. jemenitica, or merely an ecotype of this subspecies.
Honey Bee

17 Aug 2015

Highest ever count of Egyptian Nightjars in Saudi Arabia – Sabkhat Al Fasl

On 14 August whilst birding Sabkhat Al Fasl I located a single Egyptian Nightjar under a small bush at some distance on a sabkha area. This was in the same are where Phil and I had seen 13 birds in August 2014. We got out of the car and had a walk around the area and located a total of 15 birds, accidentally flushing a couple we had not seen during counting. The birds when flushed only flew a short distance and landed again, normally then walking a short distance to rest in the shade under a nearby bush. This is the highest count ever for Saudi Arabia and adds to the possibility that birds breed nearby, although we have never had positive proof of breeding. We will keep looking in this area and given the breeding birds in nearby Bahrain and the egg laying dates of late April/early May, we will look very carefully next year to see if these birds are breeding at this site.
Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

16 Aug 2015

Breeding Egyptian Nightjars in Bahrain – Records by Jehad Alammadi

Jehad Alammandi a birdwatcher from Bahrain sent me details recently of breeding Egyptian Nightjars in Bahrain. This is the second year running the species has bred in the country and these are the first breeding records for Arabia although they have also been suspected of breeding in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. These are also probably the first photos of a chick from Arabia also. The photo of the egg and chick were taken in May and the chick alone in June showing that breeding occurs from late April/early May onwards. Jehad has very kindly allowed me to use his photographs on my website but the copyright of them remains with Jehad.



15 Aug 2015

Puprle Swamphens - Sabkhat Al Fasl


The Purple Swamphen is a locally common resident breeder at Sabkhat Al Fasl with a few pairs maximum breeding at nearby Khafrah Marsh. The first record for Saudi Arabia was at Sabkhat Al Fasl core area on 8 August 2003 but numbers have expanded rapidly with 73 birds seen in May 2015. The species favoured habitat is large Phragmites australis reed-beds with associated water which is available at all the sites the species has been seen at in Saudi Arabia. Breeding was confirmed at Sabkhat Al Fasl in 2007 with numbers increasing each year since this date. A new breeding site for the species was found in August 2011 at Khafrah Marsh where six adults and a juvenile were seen. This site is located 30 kilometres southwest of Sabkhat Al Fasl. Other signs of the species expanding its range include a record from Dhahran percolation pond, 130 kilometres to the south of Sabkhat Al Fasl in October 2009 a recent sighting of one and possible two birds at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili 31st January 2013 and two further birds at Dhahran percolation pond in winter 2015. The Purple Swamphen that occurs in Saudi Arabia is of one of the grey headed eastern / Asian subspecies from the Porphyrio porphyrio poliocephalus group which are either Porphyrio porphyrio caspius or Porphyrio porphyrio seistanicus. P. p. poliocephalus is found from India and Sri Lanka to south China and north Thailand. It has cerulean blue scapulars, face throat and breast. P. p. caspius is from the Caspian Sea area, and is like P. p. poliocephalus, but is larger whereas P. p. seistanicus occurs from Iraq to Pakistan, and is like P. p. poliocephalus, but larger although smaller than P.p caspius. As mentioned previously DNA evidence from two Saudi Arabian birds I trapped and ringed indicate they are Grey-headed Swamphens P. p. poliocephalus and further samples have just been sent from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for DNA analysis that may throw some more light on the situation here.
Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen