When travelling to a birding site in the very early morning, when it was still completely dark I found an Egyptian Nightjar sitting under a line of trees. The bird flew a short distance and landed where I took a couple of photos of the bird using a flashgun before it flew again a short distance and I left it in peace. Egyptian Nightjar is an uncommon visitor to Saudi Arabia with most birds seen in the months of August and September where they are often seen during the day. Winter birds are also occasionally seen mostly in the Eastern Province but they are generally seen as single birds like the one I saw rather than in small groups as occur in the summer months.
29 Feb 2016
28 Feb 2016
Phil Roberts and I found two winter plumaged Red-necked Phalaropes on some flooded Sabkha in Jubail on 26 February. This is the first time I have seen the species in winter plumage in the Kingdom and appears to be the earliest ever record for the Eastern Province. These two birds were behaving in typical Phalarope manner by spinning around at the same spot feeding. They kept quite close to the muddy edge of the flooded sabkha allowing a few photographs to be taken. Red-necked Phalarope is an uncommon bird in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, although Sabkhat Al Fasl is the best place in the Province to see them. Bundy’s ‘Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia’ published in October 1989 states that they are regular in varying numbers on marshy pools in spring but very scarce and irregular in autumn. Records are regular in Kuwait to the north but from the Eastern Province are limited with one record from March, scare in April and regular in May with the peak inland count being 150 birds at Abqaiq in May 1976. As shown they were regular in years gone by but have become increasingly scarce, although in the last four years birds have been seen each year. Recent sightings have been in May, June, August and September.
27 Feb 2016
Phil Roberts and I were birding the Jubail area on 26 February when I came across a small flock of sparrows along some reed bed edges. They flew a short distance and kept in a tight flock so I assumed they would be Spanish Sparrows that occur in winter in the area and do a similar thing. I looked at one of the birds and was more than surprised to see it was a male Dead Sea Sparrow as species neither Phil nor I had seen before. I alerted Phil and we saw a couple of females and then saw more males and females together and counted at least eleven birds in total and were of the nominate subspecies Passer moabiticus moabiticus as they showed grey instead of yellowish underparts. The flock was very mobile and did not allow any reasonable views or photos to be taken but it was clear they were Dead Sea Sparrows a species only recorded once before in the country. We followed the flock up and down the reed edge and eventually managed to get a few reasonable photos. The previous record of Dead Sea Sparrow was also in the same area when a flock of 60 – 70 birds were seen at Jubail Golf Course on 13 November 1991. These birds were assigned to the nominate subspecies Passer moabiticus moabiticus which breeds in southern Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, western Jordan, northern Syria and central Iraq eastwards to south-west Iran. The second subspecies yatii occurs in the Seistan region, on the borders of eastern Iran and south-western Afghanistan. The species is partially migratory, leaving its breeding areas in autumn. They appear to move south in Israel with vagrants seen in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (two records), Bahrain (one record) and the United Arab Emirates (two records) with no records from Qatar or Oman.
26 Feb 2016
The mantids in the Saudi Arabia include both praying mantids and ground mantids, with a total of 46 species are known from Arabia and many are likely to occur in Saudi Arabia. One of the best known is the beautiful green and white Lappet Mantis Blepharopsis mendica nuda, found on vegetation such as Euphorbia larica or, in the case of the male insects, attracted to lights at night. Another common species is the cryptically coloured Ground Mantis Eremiaphila baueri also known as the Desert Mantis. I would like to thank Mansur Al Fahad for identifying the insect for me.
25 Feb 2016
Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl we saw a Western Marsh Harrier trying to pick up what looked like a dead fish from the side of the flooded sabkha. This spectacle was very interesting so we stopped and took a few photos of the proceedings. As the bird was interested in the prey it was less wary of us than is normal allowing us to take a few nice photographs of it as it flew around and whilst it was trying to pick up and retrieve the item on the mud. As we watched it became clear that the item of food was not a dead fish as first suspected but a dead Little Grebe and the bird made several attempts to collect and move the Little Grebe but the dead bird was a little too heavy for the Western Marsh Harrier and after about ten minutes it left the bird and flew off. As a result of the action and the closeness to the bird a good series of photographs was taken and some are shown below.
24 Feb 2016
Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl recently I have been seeing a number of Purple Herons. This species is not common in winter at the site but has been common this winter. In the Eastern Province the Purple Heron is a locally common passage migrant and winter visitor seen from August through April with the majority in the coastal zone and close to the littoral. Occurrences away from the coast occur only regularly during August to October suggesting a southerly passage over the desert. It is scarce away from the coastal zone after November and there is no evidence of overland passage in spring. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) mentions the species is a passage migrant and winter visitor but has been recorded in all months of the year. Some birds transit through the region, others remain forming a winter population that peaks in late November/early December and remains relatively static thereafter until the spring movement commences in March. Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia it is a common migrant and winter visitor to all coasts and coastal wetlands and occurs inland in areas such as Riyadh and Tabuk.
23 Feb 2016
Whilst birdwatching a wetland area in Jubail I found a very well-marked male Black-winged Stilt. The bird had extensive black markings on the head making it look superficially like an American subspecies Black-necked Stilt. The bird was significantly different to all other Black-winged Stilts present but a drawing in Handbook of birds of the World (HBW) shows and male variant Black-winged Stilt looking very similar to the bird I saw. Black-winged Stilt is a common passage migrants and occasional breeder in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with passage birds increasing the numbers in March as they combine with wintering birds. Elsewhere in the Kingdom they are also common passage migrants with smaller numbers wintering around all coasts.
22 Feb 2016
Whilst birdwatching the Jubail area I came across a very smart looking male Black-headed Wagtail feeding along a dirt track. It was not at all afraid of the car and allowed very close approach as it busily feed on insects. Mid-February is the start of the spring passage for this species and Black-headed Wagtail feldegg is often the first subspecies to occur. The Black-headed Wagtail is part of the Yellow Wagtail complex a group of birds that are common spring and autumn passage migrants, sometimes in hundreds. Thy pass from mid-February to May and again from early August to mid-November with many races identifiable in the field including feldegg, melanogrisia, lutea, flava, thunbergi and bema. In spring the black-headed yellow wagtail feldegg (considered by some as a separate species) is often the first subspecies to occur with bema, flava and thunbergi following. By April, flocks of more than a hundred birds are regularly recorded in cultivated areas. During the autumn peak passage, in October, numbers are higher with flocks occasionally exceeding 500 birds. Occasionally they are also recorded during summer and winter.
21 Feb 2016
Vinu found and photographed a couple of Painted Lady at a site near Dammam in January 2016. This is a common butterfly at times but as Saudi Arabia has a mostly desert environment it is often difficult to persuade people that wildlife can be abundant at certain times in the region. The Painted Lady is a migrant species and their survival strategy is based on mobility and the endless search for conditions where they can breed. The Painted Lady is the world's most cosmopolitan butterfly and when it has a successful breeding season; individual butterflies can fly in any direction with some travelling thousands of kilometres. Thus if some habitat in Arabia is suddenly blessed with an abundance of rain, some Painted Lady will almost certainly find it, breed and lay their eggs. Their progeny will then almost certainly leave the area, so if the area is not suitable for breeding again for many years, it won't matter; the progeny will have found still other places to breed. Obviously many butterflies die in such a process as this nomadic life is harsh, but the species will survive. The Painted Lady and other migrant butterflies are less specialized in their choice of food plant and habitat than most of the sedentary species. This is because they can't be as fussy to survive and as a result can live in harsher environments. If winter rains have been good and flora has flourished the number of Painted Lady recorded increases significantly. As a result of our recent rains there is a strong probability that a good number of these butterflies will be seen this year.
20 Feb 2016
The weekend of 12 February Phil and I saw four Pied Kingfishers perched together in the reed-beds. There were two groups of two with three being females and a single male. These birds are wintering at the site and have been present from 23 October 2015, when a single bird was found with numbers increasing to twelve by 5 December 2015. These birds were part of a significant influx of Pied Kingfishers into the eastern part of Arabia in late October and early November 2015.