30 Apr 2016

Birds in a Dhahran back garden – Bird records by Paul Wells

Paul Wells a local birdwatcher in Dhahran Saudi Aramco camp sent me a few photographs of birds taken in his back garden. The birds were mainly passage migrants in the form of Common Redstart a species that has been passing through the Eastern Province in large numbers in recent days and can be seen all over the camp at present, as well as Isabelline Wheatear and Whinchat. Whinchat has only just started passing through this spring with my first sighting last weekend whilst Isabelline Wheatear is a common passage migrant and winter visitor and can be seen in small numbers in many areas. Paul also photographed a Red-vented Bulbul a breeding species but one that is much less common than the related White-eared Bulbul that can be seen almost anywhere in the camp. I thank Paul for sending me his photos and for allowing me to use them on my website.
Common Redstart
Common Redstart
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Red-vented Bulbul
Red-vented Bulbul
Whinchat
Whinchat

29 Apr 2016

Arabian Green Bee-eater

The Arabian Green Bee-eater is usually treated as conspecific with M. viridissimus and M. orientalis, but differs from both in its very short stub-ended central tail feathers; bright blue forehead, supercilium and throat, and bluer lower belly; broader, smudgier black breast-bar; marginally larger size and clearly longer tail (minus the tail extensions) than the other taxa. The new species has two proposed subspecies M. c. cyanophrys occurring from southern Israel to western Jordan and west and south Arabian coasts of Saudi Arabia and M. c. muscatensis occurring from central Arabian plateau and east Arabia (E Yemen to Oman and United Arab Emirates). The race najdanus (from Central Arabian plateau) now included within muscatensis. This proposed new species is not difficult to see and can be seen away from the main endemic rich area of the southwest mountains, although it does not reach as far as the Eastern Province stopping around the Riyadh area in central Saudi Arabia. The bottom photograph taken by Phil Roberts and reproduced with kind permission is of an Asian Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis usually treated as conspecific with M. viridissimus and M. cyanophrys and is the endemic subspecies M. o. ceylonicus from Sri Lanka. This is shown to compare the two supposed species together.
Arabian Green Bee-eater Merops cyanophrys
Arabian Green Bee-eater Merops cyanophrys cyanophrys 
Asian Green Bee-eater Merops corientalis ceylonicus

28 Apr 2016

African Lime Butterfly in Dhahran – Record by Vinu Mathew

Whilst out in Dhahran Vinu Mathew found an African Lime Butterfly. The species is not so common on the east coast of the Kingdom as it is on the west coast so was a nice find. Vinu also managed to take some excellent photos of the butterfly, something that os very difficult to do as they are almost always on the move. The African Lime Butterfly is a common and widespread Swallowtail Butterfly that gets its common name from its favoured host plant but unlike most swallowtail butterflies, it does not have a prominent tail. It is also known as the Common Lime Swallowtail, Lemon Butterfly, Lime Swallowtail or Citrus Swallowtail. Apart from being tailless it has a wingspan 80–100 mm and above, the background colour is black. A broad, irregular yellow band is found on the wings above, which is broken in the case of the forewing and also has a large number of irregular spots on the wing. The upper hindwing has a red tornal spot with blue edging around it that can be seen on the second photograph below. The Common Lime Swallowtail is perhaps the most widely distributed swallowtail in the world and can be found in Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar eastwards to Australia and some Pacific Ocean Islands. The widespread range indicates the butterfly's tolerance and adaptation to diverse habitats where it is found in savannahs, fallow land, gardens, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests and shows a preference for stream and riverbeds. I thank Vinu for allowing me to use his photos on my website two of which are shown below.
African Lime Butterfly

African Lime Butterfly

27 Apr 2016

Birds around Dhahran golf course – Bird Records by Paul Wells

Paul Wells has been looking at the birds around the old golf course in Dhahran and seeing some interesting migrants. Some of these birds like Lesser Kestrel, although quite common at the right time of year in the Eastern Province are much scarcer in Dhahran Camp and are not seen every year, with many of those that are seen just flying over. This makes the stunning male bird Paul saw and photographed a very good sighting. Another migrant see irregularly but sometimes in good numbers in Dhahran Camp in certain years is the Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. The Ortolan Buntings seen by Paul some days ago were still present with up to three birds seen in a similar area to where one was seen previously.
Lesser Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel
Ortolan Buntings
Ortolan Buntings
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

26 Apr 2016

Arabian Partridge – Asir Mountains

I have recently done a couple of trips to the Asir mountains and seen plenty of Arabian Partridges including good numbers on the Raydah Escarpment. The Arabian Partridge is an endemic to Arabia and occurs mainly in the Asir Mountains. The subspecies occurring in Saudi Arabia is A. m. melanocephala from Madinah in northern Hejaz south to the Yemen boarder. They also occur in Yemen and  western Oman east to Dhofar. Differs from other Alectoris including Philby’s Partridge by larger size (including longer tail and deeper belly), grey tail feathers (visible in flight), much broader white supercilium and black crown. They occur in stony and somewhat better-vegetated ground in hills, mountains and upland plains, from near sea level to 3000 m, including montane juniper forest where they are locally common. They feed mainly on vegetable matter, seeds and invertebrates where they forage and drink in the morning and evening in small groups.





25 Apr 2016

Late Greater Spotted Eagle - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area on 22 April I cam across a late second calendar year Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga sitting on a pylon. The species is uncommon throughout the world and is on the IUCN Red List where it is classed as vulnerable. The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is an excellent place to see it in the winter months when birds are almost always associated with freshwater. It is a regular passage migrant and winter visitor to the Arabian peninsula, with most records coming from the better recorded countries of the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The number of sightings of the species in winter is increasing in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia suggesting the wintering population is increasing, with more than ten birds wintering each year in the jubail area in the last few years. Birds are generally present from late September until late April with the birds recorded in late April being quite late for migrants but Dick Forsman (pers comm) mentioned young birds often linger in spring unlike adults, and late April is not too late for juvenile Great Spotted Eagles to be seen on their wintering grounds. It can be assumed that this bird will be one of the last remaining wintering birds rather than a bird that is planning on staying through the summer, although s few birds in the last five years have been noted in mid-summer.

24 Apr 2016

Desert Larks – Shedgum Escarpment

Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti is a common resident in rocky deserts and outcrops of all areas except the juniper summits of the Hejaz and Asir and probably the sand seas of the Empty Quarter and Nafud Desert. The best place to see the species close to Dhahran where I live is the Shedgum Escarpment so I went to look there after birding Nada Dairy Farm in Hofuf. The escarpment is accessed just off the main road near the Shedgum cement factory and the birds are best seen in the rocky areas at the bottom of the main limestone escarpment. The subspecies here is azizi the palest form of all the subspecies and matches almost perfectly with the limestone rocks and scree of the escarpment. They prefer arid hills, stony or rocky slopes with sparse vegetation and can often be located by the constant calling. Numbers are not large at Shedgum Escarpment and some looking is normally required, but I have managed to see the species on every visit.
Desert Lark

Desert Lark

Desert Lark

23 Apr 2016

Breeding Little Ringed Plover - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I found a calling Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius a common migrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Apart from being a passage migrant some birds are also seen in the winter. The species is an early migrant with small numbers seen from January through to early May, breeders remaining through the summer and more migrants in August and September. A few birds stay until November and exceptionally December and they often occur on pools and lagoons sometimes well away from the coast. Some birds have been recorded breeding at freshwater wetlands so I looked around carefully and found two very young chicks. The young birds were feeding along the edge of a small pool on the sabkha and were being carefully looked after by the adult. This is the first time I have seen young birds but have seen adult birds pretending to have broken wings to distract you away from their nest or young so birds breed here every year it would appear.
Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

22 Apr 2016

Plenty of migrants – Jubail

Whilst birdwatching the Jubail area last weekend it became clear that a large number of migrants were about. Good numbers of Willow Warblers were seen flitting about in most areas of cover and shrikes were about in good numbers with twenty Turkestan Shrikes, five Daurian Shrikes and a single stunning male Red-backed Shrike. The Red-backed Shrike was very early as they normally do not occur until 1 May. Double figure counts of Common Redstarts, Yellow Wagtais, including an amazingly bright lutea, unfortunately too close to photograph and Red-throated Pipits were present also. Smaller numbers of Tree Pipits and Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins were seen as were two Whinchats the first of the year. A Spotted Crake was at the edge of a flooded pool on the sabkha and several summer-plumaged Wood Sandpipers were also seen. Other waders included some summer plumage Curlew Sandpipers and plenty of Ruff and Little Stints. Squacco Herons were plentiful with many in full breeding plumage. Winter birds remained in small numbers with several White Wagtails and two Greater Spotted Eagles. Up to eight Western Marsh Harriers were still around and plenty of Little Egrets and Greater Flamingos. As always Grey-headed Swamphens were seen in good numbers although one had met an untimely end in the mouth of an Arabian Red Fox. Lastly a single Pied Kingfisher was seen flying over but too quickly for any photographs to be taken of it.
Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Common Redstart
Common Redstart
Common Redstart
Common Redstart
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Whinchat
Whinchat
Whinchat
Whinchat
Wood Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Little Egret
Little Egret
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen

21 Apr 2016

Some common migrants in Dhahran – Bird records by Mats Ris

Mats Ris a local birdwatcher in Saudi Aramco camp took a good tour around Dhahran Hills on 16 April and saw a few common migrants including Common Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers, one Little Tern at the pond on the golf course, approximately 15 Yellow Wagtails and a Sand Martin. Mats did mention he failed to see any Western Cattle Egrets this weekend so possibly they have all left for the summer. I saw a few Tree Pipits around the grassy areas and Mats saw quite a few on the golf course earlier in the month. I thank Mats for sending me his sightings and allowing me to use his photos on my website which are reproduced below. I took the bottom photo of the Tree Pipit recently in the camp.
Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Tree Pipit
Tree Pipit

20 Apr 2016

Arabian Red fox with cubs in Dhahran – Record by Vinu Mathew

Whilst in Dhahran Vinu Mathew found and photographed an Arabian Red Fox with cubs. They were on an area of fenced off land and were happily playing together. I have also been seeing quite a few Arabian Red Foxes in Dhahran Camp nearby also with cubs so presumably the animals breed in the cooler months of the winter so by full summer the young are well grown and more able to look after themselves. The species is a common animal although not see so often as they spend a lot of time hunting in the cool of the night. Sometimes when they become used to people like on Dhahran camp they can become quite confident and allow close approach. You can see clearly from Vinu's excellent photographs how large the ears are on this subspecies of Red Fox, useful for hearing but also dissipating heat from the animal. I thank Vinu for sending me the details and for allowing me permission to use his photos on my website which are shown below.
Arabian Red Fox

Arabian Red Fox

Arabian Red Fox

Arabian Red Fox

Arabian Red Fox

Arabian Red Fox



19 Apr 2016

Male Semi-collared Flycatcher – Dhahran main camp.

A male Semi-collared Flycatcher Ficedula semitorquata was found by Chris Boland in Dhahran Main Camp on 15 April and he sent me a text message to inform me. I was birding in Jubail but was very interested in seeing the species, as it is a scare and irregular spring and autumn passage migrant to all areas of Saudi Arabia. They occur from March to Mid-April and again in September with more birds are seen in the spring than the autumn. I have only seen three Semi-collared Flycatchers in my time in Saudi Arabia and all of them had been females and Chris’s comments the bird was showing well was added incentive and as soon as I got back to Dhahran I went to look for it. The bird was not visible when I arrived but after about ten minutes I saw it on the ground in the middle of a small park. The bird was indeed very confiding and allowed close approach but it was not easy to get good photos due to its black and white colouration. After staying and photographing the bird for some time I left the bird in peace perched in a hedge and looking quite content. I thank Chris for informing me of the presence of this bird, which I would not have seen without his message.
Semi-collared Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher