30 Nov 2015

A few birds from Bahrain - Bird records by Jehad AlAmmadi

Jehad AlAmmadi is a birdwatcher from Bahrain and he occasionally sends me details of birds he has seen in Bahrain. Recently Jehad sent a number of photographs of birds he has seen in the last couple of weeks including photos of female Northern Pintail, a species that has also been seen in the nearby Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in recent weeks. Other birds photographed included a female/immature Pallid Harrier and a couple of Stonechats including what appears to be a European Stonechat and a Northern Caspian. The latest data on the Stonechat Saxicola torquatus has found convincing reasons for recognising three species: European Stonechat S. rubicola, Eastern Stonechat S. Maurus and African Stonechat S. torqatus. The taxa breeding in the Caspian region, both of which winter in Saudi Arabia, were revisited and after studying the type description and various museum specimens it was concluded that the name variegatus should not be applied to the taxon breeding north of the Caucasus but rather to the population in eastern Turkey and Transcaucasia presently named armenicus. This means the former variegatus, northern Caspian population, needed a new name with hemprichii being the oldest available and valid name for the population. The paper also called hemprichii (formerly variegatus) North Caspian Taxon (NCT) and variegatus (formerly armenicus) South Caspian Taxon (SCT). The northern population NCT has a very characteristic male plumage with white portions on each side of the outer tail extending to half to three-quarters of the tail feather length, similar to many Wheatears and Red-backed Shrike. This can be seen easily when perched birds spread their tail or when birds fly but on perched birds with tails closed it can often not be seen. NCT also has a large unstreaked pale rump patch, buffish when fresh becoming white when abraded. In comparison European Stonechat has a streaked rump with usually limited white.





29 Nov 2015

White-winged Terns – Sabkhat Al Fasl

When birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl 20 November 2015 with visiting birder Edward Pollard we found a very dark White-winged Tern. I see many White-winged Terns during the year at this site, including a number on the same day as this one, but this one was particularly dark. The dark colouration made the bird look like a Black Tern and its active flight made it difficult to get any real features on. I managed to grab a few photos as the bird flew quickly past and it can be seen from these that the bird lacked many of the features of Black Tern such as the normally obvious breast patch. Other features pointing towards White-winged Tern included square-tipped tail with paler outer tail feathers, head pattern and a short bill in comparison to Black Tern. This is the second dark White-winged Tern I have seen at this site now and both were juveniles in late autumn/winter. The identification of this bird was made possible by taking some poor photos, showing the benefit of having a camera when out birding.




28 Nov 2015

Western Marsh Harriers Al Asfar Lake, Hofuf – Bird records by Arnold Uy

Arnold Uy went to Al Asfar Lake near to Hufuf last weekend and although he did not see too much he did manage to see a number of Western Marsh Harriers as he usually does. This time he managed to get a better set of photographs than last time he visited so was happy with his trip. I have included a couple of Arnolds excellent photos below which he has given me permission to use and which remain his copyright. The Western Marsh Harrier is a winter visitor to Saudi Arabia and they always occur in areas of extensive reed beds and open water. Birds turn up in September and depart abut March or April each year with the best sites in the Eastern Province being Sabkhat Al Fasl and Al Asfar Lake.
Western Marsh Harrier

Western Marsh Harrier

27 Nov 2015

Highest site count of Greater Spotted Eagles - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Last weekends birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl produced a good number of winter visitors including the largest number of wintering Greater Spotted Eagles recorded at the site when 17 were seen in one morning. Birds normally arrive in September and stay until April or early May. Western Marsh Harrier is another wintering raptor seen regularly at the site with a minimum of twenty but probably many more seen each winter. They also occur and depart around the same time as Greater Spotted Eagles but tend to turn up a week or two earlier. The eagles were seen almost everywhere including five together sitting on the edge of the main flooded sabkha area. This area is also is now holding large numbers of wintering Greater Flamingos with well over a thousand birds present. Wintering passerines included large numbers of White Wagtail, smaller numbers of Water Pipits, twenty Eurasian Skylarks and three Daurian Shrikes.
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle 
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Western Marsh Harrier
Western Marsh Harrier
Western Marsh Harrier
Western Marsh Harrier
Greater Flamingos
Greater Flamingos
Water Pipit
Water Pipit
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark 
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike

26 Nov 2015

Large flock of Sociable Lapwing near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson photographed a flock of 46 Sociable Lapwing near Tabuk 20 November, this being the largest flock seen in the Kingdom for many years. Some photographs of the flock are shown below as Viv has kindly allowed me to use it on my website. Sociable Lapwing is listed as Critically Endangered because its population has undergone a very rapid reduction, for reasons that are poorly understood. This decline is projected to continue and increase in the future. Fieldwork in Kazakhstan (and counts in Turkey and the Middle East) has shown the population to be substantially larger than previously feared, but recent demographic studies have found low adult survival, possibly largely driven by hunting pressure along the migration routes and wintering grounds. Important wintering areas have been identified in Saudi Arabia in the northwest and southwest of the Kingdom from satellite tracked birds. Birdwatchers have also added data with some relatively large flocks of 30 birds seen in recent years in both the wintering areas.





25 Nov 2015

Some good birds - Sabkhat Al Fasl

A days birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl rather than ringing, as the ringing was canclled due to strong winds, produced a number of good birds. A few interesting waders were seen but numbers were quite low. Dunlin was probably the most common with some birds feeding on small wetland pools well away from the main flooded sabkhat area. Little Stints were also seen in reasonable numbers with Marsh Sandpipers and Grey Plovers in single figures. Resident birds seen included Grey-headed Swamphens, a species that is guaranteed at this location but at no other in the Kingdom and Long-legged Buzzard a breeding resident that is rarely seen at the site. There has been one seen hanging around for the last few weeks with the bird I saw presumably the same bird. European Stonechats were seen in a couple of places with plenty of Western Great Egrets on the main flooded sabkha. A male Northern Pintail was seen but soon disappeared with plenty of Squacco Herons also in the wet areas where the Northern Pintail was seen. I also saw a couple of small flocks of 20+ Spanish Sparrows, birds that have started occurring in small groups in the winter at this site in the last three years.
Dunlin
Dunlin
Little Stint
Little Stint
Marsh Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper
Grey Plover
Grey Plover
Grey-Headed Swamphen
Grey-Headed Swamphen
Northern Pintail - male
Northern Pintail - male
Western Great Egret
Western Great Egret
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

24 Nov 2015

Short-toed Snake Eagle at Shubaily in Al Khobar – Bird records by Cenen Mendoza

I received an e-mail from Cenen Mendoza who is a photographer from Al Khobar. He often goes out with his friends to photograph birds at the weekend and this year he has bought a new telephoto lens (Tamron 150-600) that allows him to capture more details of birds especially those in flight. Whilst out on 13 November 2015 at Shubaily in Al Khobar he photographed a bird he had not seen before and took some photographs of it from directly underneath. The bird turned out the be a Short-toed Snake Eagle. This is a good record as in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia the species is a scarce migrant and winter visitor and has only been recorded since 1979 although birds have been seen in all months of the year except July and August. Most records have occurred in March and October & November suggesting most birds just pass through the area although single records in December to February show some birds may winter here. I have seen a few birds whilst being in Saudi Arabia in the Eastern Province with the last one at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, near Jubail on 11 September 2015. Cenen has kindly allowed me to use his photographs on my website some of which are shown below.
Short-toed Snake Eagle

Short-toed Snake Eagle






23 Nov 2015

Waders at low tide - Al Khobar Sea Front

I had a couple of spare hours between dropping the family off and picking them up again in town so went to the Al Khobar Sea Front. This area allows views over the tidal mud flats and when the tide is in can hold thousands of birds. The tide was completely out when I went which is not an ideal time but I did see a number of waders, mainly plovers, feeding around in small wet pools left by the retreating tide. A few Black-winged Stilt were seen on wet pools behind the sea front but the rest of the waders were seen on the tidal mud flats. Numbers were quite small but 50+ Dunlin were seen feeding energetically about close to the shoreline. Greater Sand Plover were quite common, with much smaller numbers of Lesser Sand Plover scattered in amongst them. Kentish Plover, which is normally the commonest wader seen were only seen in a few places and two Grey Plovers were also located. Whilst looking at the waders I also noticed a Western Osprey sitting on a pole out on the mud flats but apart from this little else of note was seen.
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Dunlin
Dunlin
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Grey Plover
Grey Plover
Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover




22 Nov 2015

Steppe Eagles in Tabuk – Records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me an e-mail saying he had seen Hundreds of eagles along the road to Jordan, and mentioned he had never seen so many there before. Viv also said how glorious it was to see and watch so many, including one that was quite friendly that allowed close contact. This is very good news as Steppe Eagle has just been reclassified as Endangered as it has undergone extremely rapid population decline within its European range. The majority of its range lies outside Europe where it was not thought to be declining at a sufficiently rapid rate to approach the threshold for Vulnerable. However recent information suggests that the population outside Europe may be exposed to greater threats than was previously thought and has also undergone very rapid recent declines across much of the range. It has therefore been classified as Endangered. The population is declining owing to habitat destruction (especially conversion of steppe into agricultural land), persecution, and collisions with power lines. Locally populations are declining owing to heavy predation of chicks. In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 80% or more in 49.8 years (three generations) however the European population represents only a small proportion of the global population. Combined totals from across the species range suggest a decline of 58.6% between 1997-2011 and 2013-2015. I thank Viv for sending me and allowing me to use two of his photos that are shown below.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle