31 Jan 2016

Wintering Masked Shrike & White-throated Kingfisher and other good birds – Deffi Park, Jubail

Phil and I went to Deffi Park, a large municipal park in Jubail. The park is an area of mature trees and nice grass areas but is popular with locals during the day. As a result we always arrive just before first light and look around and have found a few good birds over the years. The last visit was no exception when we found a White-throated Kingfisher in some trees next to a small stream at one edge of the park. White-throated Kingfisher is a scarce bird to the Eastern Province of the Kingdom although they breed at Al Hair, Riyadh and appear to be coming more common in recent years. This is the first record for the park although birds have been seen at nearby Sabkhat Al Fasl in recent years. Other good birds by the stream included Grey Wagtail, Common Kingfisher, Common Greenshank and Indian Reef Heron. Looking around the trees and grass areas of the park produced a wintering Masked Shrike, and uncommon winter species that are more often seen during passage in the Eastern Province. There were plenty of wintering Chiffchaffs, as is normally the case for this location, as well as a few Water Pipits and plenty of White Wagtails.
Masked Shrike
Masked Shrike
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff

30 Jan 2016

Large numbers of Black Kites and Steppe Eagles in Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv went birding along the road from Tabuk towards the Jordanian boarder and saw a lot of Black Kites and Steppe Eagles. It appears to be a good winter for wintering Steppe Eagles with good numbers of birds also seen in the Rabigh area of the Red Sea coast, where they normally move south by this time of year. We would have been happy to see one Steppe Eagle on our trip north last weekend but alas we could not identify the three eagles we saw due to their distance from us. Viv also saw a few Common Kestrels and mentioned there are still good numbers of Western Cattle Egrets in the spray fields. I have put below a number of photographs Viv took and has kindly allowed me to use on my website. I would like to thank Greg McIvor who pointed out an error in the first photo below that should have been Greater Spotted Eagle rather than Steppe Eagle. I have corrected the mistake now.
Steppe Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Steppe Eagles
Steppe Eagles
Black Kites
Black Kites 
Western Cattle Egrets
Western Cattle Egrets

29 Jan 2016

Few few good birds near Dammam – Bird records by Vinu Mathew

Vinu and his friends have located a good bird-watching site near Dammam that they have visited several times in recent weeks. This was partly due to the fact that many of the good local bird-watching sites are now out of bounds for various reasons and new sites were needed to continue birding. Vinu managed to take a coule of excellent photos of two species seen there. Desert Wheatear is not a common species locally but is resident in the right habitat. They are always good to see and are surprisingly difficult to photograph so Vinu has done well to capture the image below. He also photographed a male Red-spotted Bluethroat, again a bird that is not so easy to photograph well, but a species that is common in the winter months from September to March especially near reed beds and water. Another good bird that was seen was an Eastern Black Redstart, but unfortunately no photographs were obtained of this bird.
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear - male
Red-spotted bluethroat - male
Red-spotted bluethroat - male

28 Jan 2016

First returning Common Shelduck – Sabkhat Al Fasl

A small group of 22 Common Shelduck were seen on the flooded sabkha area of Sabkhat Al Fasl in January, the first birds recorded there this winter for me although Phil saw some a few weeks before. This species occurs here every winter in small numbers although over 300 were seen one winter. In the same area there were seven Greater Spotted Eagles with two birds feeding on a dead bird or something similar. The water levels were very high due to all the rain over the Christmas period and as a result wader numbers were very low. The only waders seen in any numbers were Black-winged Stilts and Common Ringed Plovers. Water Pipits and White Wagtails have been less common than usual this winter but I came across a large mixed flock of them at one point with more than 50 of each species. Other birds seen of interest included Grey-headed Swamphens and at least three Pied Kingfishers including two females and a male.
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagles
Greater Spotted Eagles
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Common Ringed Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Water Pipit
Water Pipit
White Wagtail
White Wagtail
Pied Kingfisher - female
Pied Kingfisher - female
Pied Kingfisher - male
Pied Kingfisher - male
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike

27 Jan 2016

Larks, Pipits and Buntings – Qaryat Al Ulya

Phil and I went for our winter birding trip to the spray fields north of Jubail in the Qaryat Al Ulya area last weekend. We normally go to see if we can find any wintering birds of prey as well as winter larks and buntings. We had three large eagles at some distance but were unable to identify any of them with a few Common Kestrels in the spray fields. Most birds seen were larks, pipits and buntings with plenty of Tawny Pipits and Water Pipits in the fields. We found two Corn Buntings feeding in a short crop field, a not too common species as well as a large flock of 50+ Greater Short-toed Larks with ten Eurasian Skylarks. Larks seen on the edge of the fields included Desert Lark and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark and a single Bar-tailed Lark a species I have seen on only three occasions in Kingdom so a good bird for me.
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Bar-tailed Desert Lark
Bar-tailed Lark
Bar-tailed Desert Lark
Bar-tailed Lark

26 Jan 2016

Hanedh & Jabal Nayriyyah area

Phil and I went for our winter birding trip to the spray fields north of Jubail in the Qaryat Al Ulya area last weekend. We normally go to see if we can find any wintering birds of prey as well as winter larks and buntings but the trip is normally hard work with little return for the effort. We set off at 04:00 hrs to arrive at Hanedh at first light. It was a very cold morning with temperatures at 6 degrees Celsius at 06:00 hrs. We checked a few pivot irrigation fields and found a few birds we do not see so regularly including a Long-legged Buzzard first thing. It flew over the road and luckily landed on a power line pole where we had time to get our cameras and grab a few photographs. This is a species I have seen more regularly in the last year or so although sightings are still few. Some nearby fields held a few Eurasian Skylarks and Tawny Pipits as well as some Stonechats of various types including a nice male NCT Stonechat. A single Souther Grey Shrike was located hunting along the edge of the field using the poles as perches to find food. Along the roadside we found a few Desert Wheatears including a couple of smart adult males. After Hanedh we moved on to Kahfah near Nayriyyah to see if we could find any Hypocolius that have been seen there previously. We failed but did see plenty of Spanish Sparrows and a few Common Chiffchaffs as well as a fly over Pallid Harrier. We then went to Jabal Nayriyyah and saw a few Wheatears including Eastern Mourning and Desert but Deserts Larks that are normally in the area could not be found.
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
NCT Stonechat
NCT Stonechat
Southern Grey Shrike
Southern Grey Shrike
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit
Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear

25 Jan 2016

A quite winter day but plenty of Eurasian Coot – Sabkhat Al Fasl

My last trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl was quite quiet with few birds seen. I did manage to still see eight Greater Spotted Eagles and 28 Western Marsh Harriers but numbers of other species were low. This was possibly because it was a cool and overcast day and sunlight was at a premium, which is unusual in Saudi Arabia. As always a few Grey-headed Swamphens and Squacco Herons were about but wader numbers were very low with a few Dunlin, marsh Sandpipers and Grey Plovers noted along with 38 Common Snipe. The best thing seen was a large group of Eurasian Coot numbering 121 birds, easily the highest count for the location where any double figure counts are noteworthy.
Grey Plover
Greater Spotted Eagle
Eurasian Coots

24 Jan 2016

Rare and unusual birds seen in Saudi Arabia in second half of 2015

Two new species for Saudi Arabia Fulvous Whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor & Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica were found together on Malaki Dam Lake 3 September. Eight Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei were in a large field near Jizan 30 June including at least two males, a species that has not been recorded in Saudi Arabia for many years. Two Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus were well inland at a wetland near Tabuk 25 September and an immature Black Stork Ciconia nigra was present at the same place 16 October. 26 Abdim’s Storks Ciconia abdimii were at Sabya Waste Water Lagoons near Jizan 29-30 June. Three Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia were at Sabkhat Al Fasl 21 August and a Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala was at Sabya Waste Water Lagoons near Jizan 3 September a species now becoming a regular at the location. A flock of a minimum of 250 Western Great Egrets Ardea alba were at Sabkhat Al Fasl 27 November, the highest ever count of this species in the Kingdom. 
Abdim's Stork
Abdim's Stork
A juvenile Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus was at KAUST 25-27 November. A flock of at 46 Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarious were near Tabuk 20 - 27 November the largest flock recorded in the Kingdom in recent years, with another two satellite tagged birds wintering near the Jordon boarder. A moulting adult Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva at Sabkhat Al Fasl 21 August and two juvenile Caspian Plovers Charadrius asiaticus were there 28 August. A male Greater Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis was at Sabya Waste Water Lagoons near Jizan 30 June one of only two know sites for the species in the Kingdom.
Caspian Plover
Caspian Plover
Greater Painted Snipe
Greater Painted Snipe
Three Grey-headed Swamphen Porphyrio poliocephalus were at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, near Jubail 4 September, proving the species still occurs at this new site with others at Dammam second industrial city in Oct indicating the species is extending its range from its core area of Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail. A Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus caeruleus was present at Malaki Dam Lake 3 September the first confirmed record of this African subspecies for the Kingdom, although all previous SW records were assumed to have been this race. Another, of the Asian subspecies Elanus caeruleus vociferous was present at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, near Jubail 4 September only the third record for the Eastern Province all of which have been this subspecies. The first records for the Riyadh region were at Al Hayer early Oct until 18 October at least. A Cinereous Vulture Aegypius manatees was at Rabigh Dam 11 December. At least 17 Greater Spotted Eagles Clanga clanga were at Sabkhat Al Fasl 20 November the highest single day count for the site. A fresh juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila fasciata was at Sabkhat Al Fasl 10 December a vagrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. A male Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius was at Al Atta, near Bani Saad 3 July and was 450 kilometres north of its previous most northerly Saudi Arabian location, extending its breeding range considerably. The highest single count of Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius recorded in Saudi Arabia was 15 at Sabkhat Al Fasl 14 - 28 August in the same place where 13 were seen in August – September 2014. A pair of Plain Nightjar Caprimulgus inornatus were near Taif in the evening of 4 July a rarely recorded summer breeding species, although records have also occurred this summer from Najran northwards to Taif, so appears to be much commoner than previously realised. A White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis was at Sabkhat Al Fasl 14 August to 27 November at least, an unusual date but possibly one of the birds that wintered into 2015 remaining through the summer and another was at Rabigh Dam 11 Dec. Nine Collared Kingfisher Todirhamphus chloris were trapped and ringed in a small area of Al Qahma Mangroves 29 Jun showing the species is locally common within its restricted range and habitat choice. A female Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis was at Sabkhat Al Fasl 23 October with numbers increasing to twelve by 5 December, the largest gathering of the species ever recorded in the Kingdom with at least four staying until the year end and with another female near Dhahran 12 December.
Collared Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Four Blanford’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella blanfordi were at Sallal Al Dahna near Tanoumah 1 September. Two ‘mangrove’ white-eye sp Zosterops (abyssinicus?) sp, an as yet unidentified White-eye, were at Either Mangroves, Jizan Province 26 June, one of which was trapped and ringed with two further birds at Al Qahma Mangroves 28 June. A European Robin Erithacus rubecula was at Sabkhat Al Fasl 1-31 December at least with a second bird there 9 December. A Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia was at Sabkhat Al Fasl 2 October with up to five White-throated Robin Irania gutturalis at KAUST in late August an unusual record from this locality. A Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis was at Al Mefah Park, Tanoumah 1 September a species still regarded as a vagrant to the Kingdom. A number of sightings of the Arabian endemic subspecies of African Pipit Anthus cinnamomeus eximius in the Al Mefah Park, Tanoumah area during June to September are the first Saudi Arabian confirmed records since 1990 of this little known subspecies. Three Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali, two adults and a juvenile, were seen near Bani Saad 3 July until late July with five birds seen at another location close by in late July. A Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla
was at Sabkhat Al Fasl 19 December only the second record for the country.

23 Jan 2016

Pharaoh Eagle Owl & more near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson went out birding around the Tabuk area last weekend and saw a number of good birds including a couple of surprises. He found a Pharaoh Eagle Owl in a tree near his favourite wetland, which was a few kilometres away from where he had seen one a few weeks previously, so could well have been a different bird. Another surprise for Viv was the return of the White-tailed Lapwing flock that spends some winters in the area, with at least eight birds seen together. In the desert Viv found a male Desert Wheatear as well as a few Common Kestrels and also three Griffon Vultures a species not seen so frequently in the Kingdom.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Pharaoh Eagle Owl
White-tailed Lapwing
White-tailed Lapwing
White-tailed Lapwing
White-tailed Lapwing
White-tailed Lapwing
White-tailed Lapwing
Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear