31 Aug 2016

Birding the Talea’a Valley - Abha

The Talea’a Valley near Abha is in the Asir mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia and is a large upland wadi with stony ground and acacia trees growing in the bottom. It has had some good birds seen in it in recent years including Arabian Magpie, although this species has not been seen there for many years. Recently Blandfords Lark has been seen there and on our last visit we also found the scarce African Pipit. A bird was seen song flighting over a rough area of short grass and stones and is some distance from any other sighting of the species. Other good birds seen in the area included very good numbers of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. The valley is hot and dry and any area of water attracts a steady stream of birds in the summer coming down to dry so are worth looking at if found. Small numbers of the endemic Arabian Wheatear and Arabian Woodpecker have also been seen regularly in this valley making it an excellent birding site. Ruppell's Weaver is a common resident of this valley and can always been seen in good numbers at any time of year.
African Pipit
African Pipit
African Pipit
African Pipit
African Pipit
African Pipit 

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
Ruppell's Weaver
Ruppell's Weaver

30 Aug 2016

Common Zebra Blue - Talea'a Valley


Whilst birdwaching the Talea’a Valley near Abha in the Asir mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia Phil Roberts and I came across a large number of small butterflies using the damp areas near a large pool.  These butterflies appear to be Common Zebra Blue Leptotes pirithous is a butterfly of the family Lycaenidae. It is also called Lang's Short-tailed Blue. It is a small butterfly with a wingspan of 21–29 mm in males and 24–30 mm in females. The uppersides of the wings are purple bluish in males, bluish-brown in female. The undersides are dark beige striped with white lines. The hindwings show marginal orange and black spots and two small tails. These butterflies fly from February to November depending on the location and are regular migrants.


29 Aug 2016

Summer breeding warblers – Jubail

The middle of summer is the slowest time for birdwatching in Saudi Arabia but it is always worth going out and seeing what you can see and different things or unusual occurrences can occur at any time of year. Jubail ha many reed bed areas that hold a number of breeding warblers with the commonest birds being Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler, Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler and Graceful Prinia. I managed to photograph all these species recently on a trip there and although all three are common breeding species they are not so easy to photograph. Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler is the most difficult to photograph so I was quite please with my result shown below.
Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler
Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler
Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler
Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler
Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler
Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler
Indian Reed Warbler
Indian Reed Warbler
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia

28 Aug 2016

Plain Tiger - Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching near Tanoumah in summer this year I photographed the below Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus. The Plain Tiger was first depicted in an Egyptian tomb 3,500 years ago, making it the first ever butterfly to be recorded in history. Its striking tawny-orange colouration serves as a warning to predators that this species is distasteful, which ultimately deters predators from attacking. Male butterflies are slightly smaller than females with the males identified by the presence of a black scent-producing pouch located in the lower-centre of the hind wing; on the underside of the wing it appears as a white-centred black patch. In addition, the males have a pair of brush-like organs hidden within the abdomen, which are used in reproduction. The Plain Tiger has an extensive range and can be found throughout the Old World tropics, from Africa to Southeast Asia as well as Australasia. Recently it has been discovered that there are three subspecies; Danaus chrysippus chrysippus is found in Asia and tropical Africa, Danaus chrysippus alcippus ranges from the Cape Verde Islands, across Africa to Oman and Saudi Arabia, and Danaus chrysippus orientis is predominantly found in tropical Africa and the surrounding islands including Madagascar and the Seychelles. They inhabit open, fairly arid areas and unlike other members of the Danaus genus, the Plain Tiger often flies in open sunlight, even at the hottest point of the day.

27 Aug 2016

Egyptian Nightjars still around in good numbers - Jubail

The Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius is an uncommon bird in Arabia although since 2006 additional birds have been located in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia near Jubail in August with the highest count being ten birds together on 22 August 2008. Birds have been seen every year in August near Jubail since 2006 with birds also seen in July from 2011 to date with the earliest record on the 27 June 2014. On 1 July 2016, in the desert near Jubail, Phil Roberts and I found 14 birds in two groups at different sites. Six were at the first site and eight at the second. This is the second highest count of the species for the country as 15 were seen in August 2015. The birds are normally seen sitting in the shade under small bushes but some of the ones we saw were alongside a track and out in the open. Many of these birds have remained in the area until late July at least. Below are a number of photos of some of the birds, many of which were in wing moult, possibly a reason for them being around?









26 Aug 2016

Painted Lady - Tanoumah


Whist birdwatching in the Tanoumah area of southwest Saudi Arabia I came across a Painted Lady Butterfly. I have seen these hundreds of times in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I live but have not seen them on my many visits to the southwest until this trip. Painted Lady butterflies which is one of no less than 130 species of butterfly that occur in the Arabian region. The majority of these butterflies live in the mountainous regions of south-west Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, but even the desert regions have their permanent and semi-permanent residents. The Painted Lady belongs to a group of butterflies which have not specialized, yet also survive. They are a migrant species and their survival strategy is based on mobility and the endless search for conditions where they can breed. 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.

25 Aug 2016

Montane Nightjar - Tanoumah

Whilst looking for Nightjars and Owls near Tanoumah Phil Roberts and I located a minimum of two Montane Nightjars Caprimulgus poliocephalus flying around just after dark. We observed the birds continually flying around and landing on a lamppost for at least three hours after dark. The birds remained silent but one one occassio I heard a bird calling from some distance briefly. Mountain Nightjar was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1982 and has since been observed in every month of the year at the Raydah Escarpment indicating it is resident. Increased singing has been noted in March to May with birds seen between 2000-3000 metres although down to 1200 in cold winters. They only appear to occur along the western slopes and highlands of the Asir mountains from the Yemen boarder in the south through Al Baha to Al Shafa near Taif in the north. Where they occur they appear to be locally common.




24 Aug 2016

Small Copper - Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching in Tanoumah 100 kilometres north of Abha in the Asir mountains in the west of the Kingdom I came across a Small Copper butterfly Lycaena phlaeas shima. The Small Copper is a fast flying butterfly that, once settled, is unmistakable with its bright copper-coloured forewings. The upperside forewings are a bright orange with a dark outside edge border and with eight or nine black spots. The hindwings are dark with an orange border. The undersides are patterned in a similar way but are paler. The black spots on the forewings are outlined in yellow and the dark colouring is replaced by a pale brownish, gray. The hindwings are the same brown/grey colour with small black dots and a narrow orange border. It is widespread and common across Europe, Asia, and North America, and also found in North Africa south through to Ethiopia.

23 Aug 2016

Migrants appearing in Al Hassa – Records by Arnold Uy

Whilst birdwatching in the Al Hassa area Arnold Uy saw a few good birds including a number of migrants. The Egyptian Nightjars that Arnold saw a few weeks ago are still present with at least five birds seen. This site, like the one in Jubail, seems to hold Egyptian Nightjars throughout the summer now indicating birds may be breeding somewhere nearby. Migrants also included the first Lesser Grey Shrikes of the autumn as well as Isabelline Wheatears. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler may have been a migrant or possibly a still present breeding bird. I thank Arnold for sending me the details of his trip and for allowing me to use his photos on my website.
Egyptian Nightjar
Egyptian Nightjar
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Lesser Grey Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear

22 Aug 2016

Doubleday’s Acraea – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birdwatching at the bottom of the Raydah escarpment in the southwest of the Kingdom I came across a very bright butterfly with orange-red upperwings but much paler underwings and a distinctive white abdomen. This butterfly turned out to be a Doubleday’s Acraea Acraea doubledayi a butterfly in the Nymphalidae family that are the largest family of butterflies with about 6,000 species distributed throughout most of the world. Many hold their colourful wings flat when resting and are also called brush-footed butterflies or four-footed butterflies, this is because they are known to stand on only four legs which often have a brush-like set of hairs. Many species are brightly colored and include the emperors, Monarch butterfly, admirals, tortoiseshells, and fritillaries. However, the underwings are in contrast often dull or much paler, producing a cryptic effect that helps the butterfly disappear into its surroundings. The larvae feed on Adenia species a genus of flowering plants in the passionflower family distributed in the Old World tropics and subtropics. The genus name Adenia comes from the Greek aden "gland", and is inspired by the prominent leaf glands of most species. It is found in Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen with the subspecies azvaki found only in southwest Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

21 Aug 2016

Ringing terns - Al Jarrim Island south (Bahrain)

On Friday 15 July I set off at 02:45 hrs to go to Bahrain to ring terns. I met up with Phil, Nicole, Brendan, Ali, Mahmood, Ahmed and Abdulqader to go out to the island at 04:00 to ring tern chicks. We went a few weeks later than normal due to Ramadan so the terns were larger than we normally handle but we had no problems with this. This is one of the best days ringing of the year for me and it is amazing to be on an island full of breeding terns. We arrived at the island at 06:00 hrs and set about first ringing Bridled Tern chicks. They nest under cover of the vegetation and are incredibly well camouflaged and sit tight so good eyesight and a lot of help are required. We do these first as it is extremely hard work and want to do it in the coolest part of the day before temperatures rise into the 40’s Celsius. There were four ringers and we ringed well over a hundred Bridled Tern chicks that was slightly less than normal.  After this we set up our corral to catch Lesser Crested Tern Chicks that are all gathered together in large crèches of baby terns with hundreds of adults looking after them. As they are all in large groups we walk the birds down into our corral and transfer them to large baskets for processing. We catch lots of birds in a short time and process them as quickly as possible so they can return to their normal activities. We keep the birds in covered baskets with a wet towel on top to keep them cool. We ringed 1000 Lesser Crested Tern chicks and ran out of rings, this being the biggest number of birds we have ringed in a single day since we started going to the islands. We finished earlier than normal due to the good number of ringers present and were back in Bahrain by 14:00 hrs. There were quite a few dead terns on the island with many young and some adults of both Bridled and Lesser Crested Terns. This indicates that the breeding season has not been as good as normal and although there were several hundred Bridled Terns and four to five thousand Lesser Crested Terns the numbers were down on previous years. We are uncertain as to why there were so many dead birds.
Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern
Lesser Crested Tern

20 Aug 2016

Crimson-speckled Footman near Zulfi - Record by Mansur Al Fahad

Mansur Al Fahad kindly sent me a photo of a Crimson-speckled Footman Utetheisa pulchella taken by him near Zulfi. The Crimson-speckled Footman is a small, day flying moth measuring approximately 30-40mm in length. They are mostly white, speckled with black and crimson and have characteristic black eyes. The legs are white in colour and the antennae are black. The moth is found from Africa to southern Europe, throughout the Middle East, central & southern Asia and Australia. They are migratory moths but I assume the ones I have been seeing in the last few days are residents? They are seen every year in Dhahran in February and March and are not very easy to see until you flush one from its resting place and it flies to its new location. They very rarely, if ever, land with their wings spread and almost always end up in a position similar to that in the photograph above.

19 Aug 2016

Birding the Abha Area

Whilst birding the Abha area recently we went to Azeeza to look for Blandford’s Short-toed Larks as birds had been seen here by us in previous years. The area has had some building and construction work done in the last couple of years and despite quite extensive searching we failed to find any birds. Very little occurs in this relatively barren and stony area, with Long-billed Pipit and Common Kestrel the only birds of note seen. Luckily we found a new site for Blandford’s Lark (see earlier post) so were not so disappointed with our failure. After this we went to look for Olive Pigeon in a step sided valley where birds had been seen some years previously by local birders but again our luck was out. We did see some good birds here including Arabian Woodpecker and Arabian Serin. Other good birds included Dusky Turtle Dove and adult and Juvenile Red-rumped Swallow that clearly breed nearby.
Common Kestrel
Arabian Woodpeckers
Arabian Serin
Red-rumped Swallow - juvenile
Red-rumped Swallow - adult