30 Sep 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse (Super Moon) – Details by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me some of his excellent photos of the recent total lunar Eclipse that occurred 28 September. It was the largest super moon of the year, meaning the moon was the closest to the earth it will be in the whole of 2015. It was a full moon that is called the Harvest Moon and it also was an eclipse a combination that last occurred about 30 years ago and happens again in 2033 so are a fairly rare event. I thank Viv for allowing me to use his photos on my website.
Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse

29 Sep 2015

Solar Flares from Tabuk – Photographs by Viv Wilson

Viv sent me some photographs of the sun taken from Tabuk in northwest Saudi Arabia that appear to show some solar flares. A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released causing a sudden, rapid, and intense variation in brightness. As the magnetic energy is being released, particles, including electrons, protons, and heavy nuclei, are heated and accelerated in the solar atmosphere. This energy release is ten million times greater than the energy released from a volcanic explosion but is less than one-tenth of the total energy emitted by the Sun every second. Solar flares extend out to the layer of the Sun called the corona. The corona is the outermost atmosphere of the Sun, consisting of highly rarefied gas. This gas normally has a temperature of a few million degrees Kelvin. Inside a flare, the temperature typically reaches 10 or 20 million degrees Kelvin, and can be as high as 100 million degrees Kelvin.
solar flares



28 Sep 2015

Grey-headed Swamphens still present - Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm

The Grey-headed Swamphen is a common resident breeder at Sabkhat Al Fasl and has recently (August 2011) expanded its breeding range to Khafrah Marsh a wetland site 30 kilometres south-west of Sabkhat where six adults and a yound bird were found. 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. The range expansion appears to be quite quick as the first record for Saudi Arabia was on 8th August 2003 at Sabkhat Al Fasl core area 2 with breeding confirmed in 2007 and numbers increasing each year since this date. 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 with two birds there in December 2014 and a sighting of one and possibly two birds at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili 31st January 2013. Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm is located approximately 40 kilometres due west of Sabkhat Al Fasl and although in the desert has an area of Phragmites australis reed-beds in which the bird was located. The most recent records are three adult birds at the same site 4 September 2015 showing a very high likelihood of breeding here as well. It appears that the rapid population increase observed at Sabkhat al Fasl over the past five years has created pressures on territories and prompted some birds to move to alternative suitable habitats within the Eastern Province and thereby expand its range.

27 Sep 2015

More migrants at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Bird records by Mohammed Al-Ruqaya

Mohammed Al-Ruqaya sent me a few more photos of his last trips to Sabkhat Al Fasl where he photographed a number of passage migrants. Probably the best bird was an Egyptian Nightjar a species that has been seen in high numbers at the site this year with the largest single count for the Kingdom of 15 recorded in August. Other good birds included European Roller, a species that has had a very good autumn passage this year with many more birds than normal being seen throughout the northern part of the country at least. Woodchat Shrike is another species where much larger numbers than normal have been seen this autumn again throughout most of the north of the country. Passage waders have been slowly increasing I numbers of the last few weeks and Mohammed photographed a Ruddy Turnstone, one of the least common of the waders but still seen in small numbers of ten or so on most visits during the autumn migration season. Hirundine numbers have also been increasing with mixed flocks of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows seen around the location with Mohammed amazing photo of a banking Sand Martin showing a barn Swallow in the background to emphasise the point. Squacco Heron numbers on the other hand have been decreasing since their very large numbers of late July and early August but there are still plenty of adult and juvenile birds around.
Egyptian Nightjar
Egyptian Nightjar
European Roller
European Roller
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone
Sand Martin & Barn Swallow
Sand Martin & Barn Swallow
Squacco Herron
Squacco Herron

26 Sep 2015

Purple Swamhens in Saudi Arabia

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio has been split into five species by IOC 5.3 largely in accordance with Sangster 1998 and Garcia & Trewick 2015 into 5 species. These splits will be followed by OSME and means that Grey-headed Swamphen P. poliocephalus is by far the main species in the Region, comprising the nominate, caspius and seistanicus, though the validity of the last two is still debated. Swamphens from Saudi Arabia now comprise both breeding Grey-headed Swamphens in the Eastern Province and African Swamphen P. madagascariensis which is a Vvgrant with two records. A record of an adult at KAUST near Jeddah in September 2013 remained for at least three weeks before being killed by a car and two together at Dhahran percolation pond in December 2014 for several days.

References
Garcia-Ramirez, JC and SA Trewick. 2015. Dispersal and speciation in purple swamphens (Rallidae: Porphyrio). Auk 132: 140-155.

Sangster, G. 1998. Purple Swamp-hen is a complex of species. Dutch Birding 20:13-22.
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen - DNA sample analysed to confirm the subspecies

25 Sep 2015

Desert Hedgehog near Zulfi – Record by Mansur Al Fahad

Mansur recently sent me an e-mail saying he had found an Ethiopian Hedgehog around his house in Al Thweer village in Zulfi area. Mansur is extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife of the region and is a person I ask regularly to help me out on reptiles I have seen that I have no idea about the identity. Mansur said that the hedgehogs are common around farms and houses on the edge of town as well as in some oasis. The original arabic name was Qonfod with the local name in Zulfi as well as maybe some other areas of central Saudi Arabia is Doalaj. The more common English name for the Ethiopian Hedgehog is the Desert Hedgehog and they are mainly active at night. They are a solitary species that forage on the ground for a range of insect and other invertebrate prey, as well as occasional small vertebrates. The species is widely distributed across northern Africa, from Morocco and Mauritania in the west, to Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east. It also occurs in the Middle East and across most of the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia.



24 Sep 2015

Indian Reef Herons and Gull-billed Terns – Al Khobar Wader Roost South

A trip to the al Khobar Wader Roost South at the weekend was not very successful as the tide was about as far out as it could be. My timing was limited as I had to drop the family off at friends and this was the only time I could visit. There were still a few birds in close, but all the waders were right out on the tideline. Plenty of Greater Flamingo’s were out there as well as terns but they were very distant. The only close birds were some Indian Reef Herons feeding at the inlet and several Gull-billed Terns flying over. The entire area of the wader roosts in Al Khobar / Dhahran are being altered by construction work but it is still possible to visit them and see birds at relatively close range as long as the tide is in.
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Indian Reef Heron
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern

23 Sep 2015

Carmine Darter - Taif

Whilst birding in Taif I found a bright red colour dragonfly flying over and perched near a small flowing stream. The Carmine Darter Crocothemis erythraea is a common and numerous dragonfly throughout the Middle East, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman. The adult male has a bright orange red to carmine red, widened abdomen, and small yellowish-amber patches at the bases of the hind wings. Pterostigma are yellow. The male is carmine red, while the female is a significantly drabber yellow-buff colour with two paler marks on top of the thorax. It is a medium-sized dragonfly approximately 52mm in length. The abdomen is wider than other members of the family, flattened and tapering to the end. It is widespread in the Arabian Peninsula where it prefers a habitat of rocky areas and dry watercourses as well as shallow, still, eutrophic waters such as small ponds, paddy fields, and desert pools, but it avoids oases. Adults only live for up to two months. Adults spend much of their time perched on vegetation although they have a fast, darting flight and hover frequently.

22 Sep 2015

More migrants arriving in Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

It has been a very good autumn migration through northern and eastern Saudi Arabia this year with large numbers of many species occurring. Interestingly most of the good numbers of birds I have recorded in the Eastern Province Viv has also recorded in large numbers in Tabuk in the northwest of the Kingdom. The good migration is still continuing in the Tabuk area with high numbers of European Rollers and Montagu’s Harriers in particular. Bee-eaters are still continuing their extended migration with both Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters seen with smaller numbers of Spotted Flycatchers and Isabelline Wheatears seen. The wetland areas are still holding good numbers of Glossy Ibis and various small waders and shrikes are still passing through in good numbers including Masked Shrike and Red-backed Shrikes.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
European Roller
European Roller
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Masked Shrike
Masked Shrike
Montagu's Harrier - male
Montagu's Harrier - male
Montagu's Harrier - juvenile
Montagu's Harrier - juvenile
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher

21 Sep 2015

Common Kingfisher at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Bird records by Mohammed Al-ruqaya

The Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis is an uncommon passage migrant arriving in August and September and winter visitor to all coasts of the Kingdom, leaving in March or April. Inland birds have been seen regularly in Tabuk and Riyadh as well as at Harrat al Harrah Reserve but are generally absent elsewhere. Birds are relatively common at Sabkhat Al Fasl where these phots were taken and I have trapped and ringed twenty different birds in two winters ringing there. In the hand they are extremely gentle birds and if you sit them on their backs on your pen palm they will stay there ans not fly off. Interestingly most birds are females with only four males caught and the bird photographed by Mohammed is also a female. I thank him for sending me his excellent photos and for allowing me to use them on my website.
Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

20 Sep 2015

Plenty of waders – Dhahran Expro Wader Roost

A trip to the Dhahran Expro Wader Roost produced plenty of waders of a good variety of species. The tide was not ideal but plenty of birds were along the edges including both Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers in small numbers. Curlew Sandpipers, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins had the largest number of birds with lesser numbers of Ruddy Turnstones, Common Redshanks and Common Greenshanks. There were much smaller numbers of Green Sandpipers, Terek Sandpipers and Grey Plovers. Other birds seen included very large numbers of Slender-billed Gulls with many first calendar year birds along with adults indicating a good breeding season. Several Indian Reef Herons of both black and white morphs were present as well as lots of Gull-billed Terns and two Caspian Terns. The only passerines of note seen were several Isabelline Wheatears hiding from the sun under the small bushes long the edge of the wet areas.

Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Bar-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Common Greenshank
Common Greenshank
Common Redshank
Common Redshank
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Eurasian Curlew
Eurasian Curlew
  Lesser Sand Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Green Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone
Terek Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper