30 Jun 2016

Ringing endemics – Tanoumah

I went to the southwest to try to catch Abyssinian White-eye to get blood samples to compare to the Mangrove White-eye we trapped and ringed last summer. The original plan was to ring at the top of the Raydah Escarpment, or at the farm on the Raydah Escarpment near Abha, but unfortunately we could not obtain permission from the Rangers to ring where we intended. As a result we headed 120 kilometres north and tried our luck in the Tanoumah area a location that holds all the Arabian endemics except Golden-winged Grosbeak and Arabian Accentor (which does not occur in Saudi Arabia at all). We managed to catch a number of endemic species including two Yemen Thrush, one Arabian Serin and a male Arabian Woodpecker. We also caught two (Arabian) Green Bee-eaters a taxon that some people regard as a full species like HBW. Handling these species was a real pleasure as not many people have ringed in Saudi Arabia and Yemen so I obtained some valuable biometric data from the birds. The Arabian Serin photographs below are by Chris Boland and I thank him for allowing me to use them on my website.
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Woodpecker - male
Arabian Woodpecker - male
Arabian Woodpecker - male
Arabian Woodpecker - male

29 Jun 2016

Hamadryas Baboon at Raydah Escarpment - Abha

A number of small troups of Hamadryas Baboon Papio hamadryas were seen whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment near Abha. This species is the northernmost of all the baboons and is distinguished from other baboons by the male’s long, silver-grey shoulder cape (mane and mantle), and the pink or red rather than black face and rump. They are large monkeys with a dog-like face, pronounced brow ridges, relatively long limbs with short digits, rather coarse fur, and a relatively short tail. The male is considerably larger than the female, often twice as large, and has a heavy silvery-grey coat, bushy cheeks, and large canine teeth whilst the juvenile and females are brown, with dark brown skin on the face and rump. Males may have a body measurement of up to 80 cm and weigh 20–30 kg; females weigh 10–15 kg and have a body length of 40–45 cm.  The tail adds a further 40–60 cm to the length, and ends in a small tuft. They occur in north-eastern Africa, mainly in Ethiopia, but also eastern Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and northern Somalia as well as the Arabian Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia and Yemen where it is the only native non-human primate. In Saudi Arabia, they inhabit arid sub-desert, steppe, hilly areas, escarpments at elevations of up to 3,000 metres requiring cliffs for sleeping and finding water. They are primarily terrestrial, but will sleep in trees or on cliffs at night. An opportunistic feeder, it will take a wide variety of foods, including grass, fruit, roots and tubers, seeds, leaves, buds and insects. The female usually gives birth to a single young with the newborn having black fur and pink skin, and is suckled for up to 15 months. Each adult male controls a small group of females (a harem) and their young, and remains bonded with the same females over several years, aggressively ‘herding’ any that wander, and retaining exclusive mating rights over the group. The females will often compete to groom and stay close to the male, and it is the male who dictates the group’s movements. The Hamadryas Baboon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Recent studies have suggested that the population of Hamadryas Baboons in Arabia colonised the peninsula much longer ago than previously thought, and shows a considerable amount of genetic variation compared to the African population.

28 Jun 2016

Extensive woodland area - Wadi Baqra

Whilst driving to Tanoumah via Muhayil we came across a few extensive fenced woodland areas at the base of the escarpment in an area called Wadi Baqra. These look very good for birds but we were very limited on time and were there in the middle of the day, exactly the wrong time for birding. This is an excellent looking area and one I will try to go back to when I am next in the area. Whilst we were there we saw a few White-throated Bee-eaters and Black Scrub Robins as well as a lots of Laughing Doves. I was keeping my eye out for Red-eyed Dove but failed to see anything resembling one. Later in the day when we were at Tanoumah we heard from a couple of bird photographers that they had seen seven Black-crowned Tchagras in the area but the exact location I am unsure of. This is a species I am yet to see in the country. It was possible to enter the wooded areas as the fence is down in a number of places and there are a few tracks to bird along. The trouble is the woodland area is very dense and you cannot see much unless on the tracks. This location has serious potential for good birds and is well worth checking out if in the area.
White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater
Black Scrub Robin
Black Scrub Robin

27 Jun 2016

African Lime Butterfly at Raydah Escarpment - Abha

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment I found plenty of African Lime Butterflies. The species is quite common in the summer months in the southwest of the Kingdom, but much less common elsewhere in the country. 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.

26 Jun 2016

Birding Either Mangroves - Either

Either Mangrove is a potentially very important natural mangrove lagoon west of Sabya in the southwest of the Kingdom on the Red Sea coast. It holds one of the only known populations of ‘Mangrove White-eye’ a little known white-eye that may be part of the Abyssinian White-eye complex or possibly an unknown species? It is also a site where I found Collared Kingfisher last year, so I went back looking for the two species in June 2016. On arrival I saw a pair of Collared Kingfishers sitting in the mangrove trees and occasionally calling as they often do. The birds were not frightened by my presence and flew close by to catch crabs and small fish on a number of occasions. Other birds on the water included Pink-backed Pelicans, with two fishing and four resting on a lagoon creek. A few Striated Herons were also fishing along the coast but little else apart from Indian Reef Herons. The mangroves held calling Mangrove Reed Warblers, Clamorous Reed Warblers and African Collared Doves but little else of note.
Collared Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican

25 Jun 2016

Dideric Cuckoo trapped and ringed at Al Mehfar Park – Tanoumah

Whilst ringing at the Al Mehfar Park area of Tanoumah I heard two Dideric Cuckoos Chrysococcyx caprius calling nearby. The birds were very vocal we soon located it sitting high in a tree but it soon moved off. Luckily the bird was later caught in one of my mist nets where be below photos were taken by Chris Boland. The Diderick Cuckoo is a summer visitor to southwest Saudi Arabia where it parasitizes Rüppell's weaver. They were previously regarded as vagrants to the area, but recently birds have been seen near Tendaha dam 5 July 2010, Abha area 20 July 2010, As Sudah 5 July 2013, Wadi Jaw June 2015 and Taif area July 2015 so are probably a scarce summer visitor to the high mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia. I thank Chris Boland for allowing me to use his photos of the Cuckoo below on my website as I left my camera in the hotel and was too busy to go back and collect it.


24 Jun 2016

Desert Hedgehog in Dhahran – Record by Paul Wells

Whilst in Dhahran Camp Paul Wells found a Desert Hedgehog out in the open in the middle of the day. These animals are nocturnal and are almost always see during the nighttime so this was an unusual occurance and allowed Paul to take the below photo of the animal that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website. The Desert Hedgehog is a species found in northern Africa, from Morocco & Mauritania in the west to Egypt in the east as well as the Middle East including Israel, Jordon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman & Yemen. A typical hedgehog in appearance the Desert Hedgehog has a dense, spiny coat, an elongated snout and the ability to curl into a defensive ball when threatened. Its most distinctive feature is the contrasting dark muzzel and broad white, spineless band across the face, which extends onto the flanks. The ears are relatively short and rounded and like other members of the genus, there is a naked patch on the forehead. The legs are long and dark and the underside is softly furred and is usually a mixture of black, brown and white while the spines on the back are a light colour with two dark bands. The overall colouration is quite variable, with some individuals almost totally white, and others completely dark. It is one of the smallest of hedgehogs being 14 - 28 cms in length and weighing 285 - 510 grams. As its common name suggests, the Desert Hedgehog inhabits dry deserts, dry steppe and other arid terrain and often favours areas such as oasis and vegetated wadis where food is more readily available. It has also been recorded in gardens, cultivated areas, open woodland and parks like the areas it is found in Dhahran Camp. It is active at night, is solitary and forages on the ground for a range of insect and other invertibrate prey, as well as occasionally small vertibrates and even species such as scorpions, spiders and snakes. They enter hibernation between January & February, when the temperatures are cooler and may also become less active during the hottest months and when food is scarce. Breeding begins in March after hibernation has ended with the female giving birth up to six young in a burrow or concealed nest after a gestation period of 30 - 40 days. The young are born deaf and blind and with the pines located just under the skin, to prevent damage to the female during birth. The spines emerge within a few hours of birth and the eyes open after 21 days. The young Desert Hedgehog is weaned after about 40 days and a single litter is born each year.

23 Jun 2016

African Paradise Flycatcher on nest - Tanoumah

The African Paradise Flycatcher is a breeding resident in the Tihamah, Southern Red Sea and wadi bottoms of the Asir as well as the high mountains of the Asir. Most records come from the well watched Abha and Tanoumah areas where birds build a small nest in the fork of a tree and normally lay three eggs. The female does most of the incubating but the male is always in attendance and does some of the work. Birds are not easy to see in Saudi Arabia and finding nests is even more difficult. Some of the local photographers have become very good at finding birds nests in recent years including a number of African Paradise Flycatcher nests. On a recent trip to Tanoumah I was shown a nest by some photographers and took a couple of photos of the bird, shown below, before moving off to leave it in peace.


22 Jun 2016

Good numbers of Eurasian Griffon Vultures - Tanoumah Park

Tanoumah Park is positioned along the edge of the main escarpment of the Asir mountains and has very step cliffs for the vultures to roost on. The birds cab be seen flying over as well as below you at this site and excellent views of many birds in the air together can be had. We had good views of up to thirteen Eurasian Griffon Vultures flying over. This species is declining rapidly, with this location probably the best site in the Kingdom for seeing this species. The species is an uncommon, resident breeder, in the mountains of western Saudi Arabia with a few scarce records elsewhere in the Kingdom. In the Eastern Province where I live it is a vagrant with six records of seven birds but none have been seen in recent years.





21 Jun 2016

Yellow Pansy at Al Mehfar Park - Thanoumah

This Yellow Pansy Butterfly Junonia hierta was photographed at Al Mehfar Park area of Tanoumah. The Yellow Pansy is a species of nymphalid butterfly found in the Paleotropics including Saudi Arabia where the subspecies Junonia hierta cebrene can be found in the drier parts of Africa and Arabia where it is usually seen in open scrub and grassland habitats. The male upperside is bright yellow. The costa of the forewing has a broad triangular jet-black projection downwards at the discocellulars, and the dorsum has a triangular projection upwards near the tornus; this black margin narrows near the middle of the termen and bears on the apex two short transverse preapical white streaks crossed by the black veins. The anterior half and the terminal margin of the hind wing is black, and the dorsum is broadly shaded with brown while the anterior black area has a large brilliant blue spot. The cilia of both fore and hind wings are white alternated with brown. The underside of the forewing is pale yellow. The cellis is crossed by three laterally black-margined orange-yellow bars, beyond that is a short, broad, irregular jet-black oblique band from costa to base of vein 4. The hind wing is greyish yellow, and in the dry-season its form is strongly irrorated with dusky scales. With a prominent transverse brown discal fascia, its margins are highly sinuous. There is a brownish broad shade on the middle of the termen and some obscure lunular marks on the basal area. The antennae is pale, and the head, thorax and abdomen are dark brownish black; beneath that is a dull ochraceous white. The female is similar, although the colours are duller. The cell of the upperside fore wing has a more or less complete transverse black fascia and another at the discocellulars. A blue-centred well-marked ocelli is in interspaces 2 and 5 on the disc of the fore wing, and smaller ocelli in interspaces 2 and 5 on the disc of the hind wing. The fore and hind wings have a fairly well defined pale subterminal line, though the blue spot on the anterior black area on the hind wing is small and ill defined; the rest is as the male. The underside is also as the male, but generally has heavier and more clearly defined markings. I thank Mansur Al Fahad for correcting the identification of the top photos. Mansur mentioned this was in fact a Blue Pansy and not a Yellow Pansy as I thought.
Blue Pansy
Blue Pansy
Yellow Pansy
Yellow Pansy


20 Jun 2016

Indian Silverbills in Dhahran Camp – Bird records by Paul Wells

Paul was birding the old golf course area of Dhahran Camp when he came across a couple of Indian Silverbills. Indian Silverbill is a resident breeder in Dhahran but they are not often seen and occur in very small numbers. They probably colonized the area naturally, although there is a possibility escaped cage birds were originally involved. Birds are most often seen in Dhahran feeding on the seeds of tall grasses around the edges of the scrubby desert area as well as around the golf course. They normally occur in small groups of up to ten birds and are rarely seen singly. Paul has kindly allowed me permission to use his photos on my website two of which are shown below.


19 Jun 2016

Schneider’s Skink at Al Mehfar Park - Thanoumah

Whilst birdwatching the Al Mehfar Park area of Tanoumah in June I came across a Skink on a set of large boulders. I had not seen the species before, and was unaware of its identity, so sent it to Mansur Al Fahad who kindly identified it as a Schneider's Skink Eumeces schneideri. They are also known as Berber skink, is a species of skink endemic to Central Asia, Western Asia, and North Africa. They have 22 to 28 scales round the middle of the body, perfectly smooth, the laterals smallest, those of the two median dorsal series very broad and larger than the ventrals. When pressed against the body, the limbs just meet or fail to meet. The size from snout to vent is 16.5 cm and with tail is 20 cm. They are Olive-grey or brownish above, uniform or with irregular golden-yellow spots or longitudinal streaks; a yellowish lateral streak, extending from below the eye to the hind limb, is constant; lower surfaces yellowish white. They are a diurnal ground-dwelling lizard that usually inhabit areas with good (steppe-like) vegetation cover and scattered rocks and stones. In Saudi Arabia, it is often found in well-vegetated wadis at high altitudes.

18 Jun 2016

Pharaoh Eagle Owl near Jubail – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Whilst birding near Jubail Phil found a juvenile Pharaoh Eagle Owl Bubo ascalaphus sitting on a track. The bird flew along the track and eventually landed right next to Phil’s car where it was too close to focus his camera on at one stage. Presumably as this is quite a young juvenile the birds must breed somewhere close by? The species is a scarce but widespread breeding resident from areas including the Rub’ al-Khali (Empty Quarter), Abqaiq, Hufuf, northern Hejaz, Tabuk, Hail, Riyadh and northern areas such as Harrat al Harrah Reserve. It also appears to be a winter visitor in small numbers to Northern, Eastern and Central areas of Saudi Arabia.  The bird shows all the important features of Pharaoh Eagle Owl of mottled tawny upperparts and head; creamy-white underparts with light black streaks on upper-breast and barred but unstreaked lower-breast, belly and flanks; good dark frame/boarder to the facial disk; small ear tuffs. Phil's photos are shown below for which he has kindly given me permission to use.




17 Jun 2016

Anderson’s Rock Agama at Raydah Escarpment - Abha

Whilst birdwatching the Raydah Escarpment area of Abha I came across an Anderson’s Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus on the side of the road. Anderson’s Rock Agama is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, where it occurs in western and southern Arabia, from Taif in the north to the Yemen boarder. They occur up to an altitude of around 2,000 metres above sea level and are a rock dwelling lizard, mainly present in mountainous areas such as the Mount Souda area of Abha. Populations can be found on vertical rocks, rock steps and amongst boulders, where they mainly frequent large boulders in the vicinity of water. They are often in precipitous wadis surrounded by dense vegetation but are also often found around human habitation. They do not however require water, obtaining moisture from their insect prey.


16 Jun 2016

Ringing Collared Kingfishers at Either Mangroves - Either

Whilst ringing at Either Mangroves to the west of Sabya I trapped and ringed a male and female Collared Kingfisher Todirhamphus chloris. Other birds were seen flying around the ringing site and perching in the trees. The Collared Kingfisher is a common breeding resident of Mangrove stands in the Red Sea coast from Amaq south to Sabya. Birds probably occur further north and south but have not been proved there as of yet. Recently I checked the mangroves at Either, west of Sabya and found at least two pairs of Collared Kingfishers. This is very encouraging as this is a habitat and range restricted species in Saudi Arabia with Either being the southernmost currently know site for the species in the Kingdom. Collared Kingfisher is a common breeding resident in southwest Saudi Arabian Mangrove forests, but has a restricted range and a preference for habitat that is under serious threat in the Kingdom. It is a medium-sized kingfisher with variable plumage pattern with the male showing a white supraloral spot and a black mask extending in a narrow band across hindneck, white collar, greenish-blue crown and upperparts, brighter blue rump, blue wings and tail and white underparts. The upper mandible is grey-black with the lower mandible yellowish-horn with dark brown cutting edges and tip. The female has slightly duller plumage. The birds have a loud, ringing or harsh “kee-kee-kee-kee” call, repeated 3–5 times and can perch for long periods, with little activity, 1–3 metres above the ground. They feed mainly on crustaceans such as crabs but also on small fish. The below photos show a male bird in top four photographs and a female in bottom four photos.








15 Jun 2016

Ringing at Either Mangroves – Either

Abdullah Alsuhaibany and I went ringing for a day at Either Mangroves trying to catch Mangrove White-eye so we could obtain blood samples for analysis. We got to the site at 05:30 when the temperature was already 30 degres Celsius and humidity at 95%. The high tides also made the ground where the nets were to be set very soft and sticky meaning that we had to wade their with bare feet, quite painful with the mangrove roots. We set four nets over a 750 metre long stretch on the mangroves but the high temperature, humidity and distance from net to net made ringing extremely taxing. I know for certain I was more tiered after this ringing session than any other I have done. At the end of the day it took 1.5 hours to take down four nets and process that normally takes twenty minutes. We did have a good day however, with seven Mangrove Warblers, three Mangrove White-eyes, two Collared Kingfishers, one Clamourous Reed Warbler (not the Clamourous (Indian) Reed Warblers we catch in the east of the Kingdom) and one retrapped African Collared Dove. Not many birds for all the hard work but three more samples of the Mangrove White-eye and three more sets of Biometrics to look at.
Mangrove Reed Warbler
Mangrove Reed Warbler
Mangrove Reed Warbler
Mangrove Reed Warbler
Mangrove Reed Warbler
Mangrove Reed Warbler
Mangrove White-eye
Mangrove White-eye
African Collared Dove
African Collared Dove
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler