30 Nov 2016

Short-toed Snake Eagle Al Asfar Lake – Records by Arnold Uy

Whilst Arnold Uy was birding the Al Asfar Lake area of Al Hassa he saw a Short-toed Snake Eagle. The bird was seen hovering and later perched on some power lines. This is a good record as in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia the species is a scarce migrant and winter visitor and has only been recorded since 1979 although birds have been seen in all months of the year except July and August. Most records have occurred in March and October & November suggesting most birds just pass through the area although single records in December to February show some birds may winter here. Birds have been seen from the Dibdibah, Nariya and Manifa in the north to Haradh and Jawb on the edge of the Rub’ al-Khali in the south. I have seen a few birds whilst being in Saudi Arabia in the Eastern Province including a second calendar year, Dhahran Hills, 31st March 2011, two juveniles, Dhahran Hills, 22nd October 2011, a second calendar year, Dhahran Hills, 11th February 2012 and a second calendar year, Dhahran Hills, 26th March 2013 and one Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, near Jubail on 11 September 2015. I thank Arnold for allowing me to use his photographs shown below on my website.
Short-toed Snake Eagle

Short-toed Snake Eagle

29 Nov 2016

Ringing Grey-headed Swamphen - Jubail

Whilst ringing in Jubail we caught a Grey-headed Swamphen in a mist net. This is quite a feat as they are large and heavy birds that seldom fly. It had managed to fly into the net and was caught in the bottom shelf but as we place these shelves well above the water to stop and incidences of heavy birds getting wet when caught in the bottom shelf all was well. This is the third Grey-headed Swamphen we have trapped and ringed at the site and they are always good to handle. The splitting of Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio into five species means that Grey-headed Swamphen P. poliocephalus is by far the main species in the Region, comprising the nominate, caspius and seistanicus, though the validity of the last two is still debated. Swamphens from Saudi Arabia now comprise both breeding Grey-headed Swamphens in the Eastern Province and African Swamphen P. madagascariensis which is a vagrant with two records. A record of an adult at KAUST near Jeddah in September 2013 remained for at least three weeks before being killed by a car and two together at Dhahran percolation pond in December 2014 for several days.
Grey-headed Swamphen

28 Nov 2016

Fieldfare near Zulfi - Record by Mohammad Al Mohatresh

Whilst birding the local farms at Zulfi on 21 November Mohammad Al Mohatresh found a Fieldfare Turdus pilaris and managed to get a couple of photos of it which he has very kindly allowed me to use on my website. Fieldfare is a rare winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with the following records the only ones I know of: In the north of Saudi Arabia they have been seen at Harrat al Harrah Reserve a winter visitor in November. In the northwest one was in a small park in Yanbu 16 December 1988 and two 6 January to 23 February 1989. One was in a small park in Yanbu 29 March 1990 and one was seen near Tabuk. In the Eastern Province one was at Dhahran 23 November until 19 December 1973 one 23 January 1976 and two 5 March 1976. One was at Jubail near the Holiday Inn on 3 December 1991. One Dhahran Hills spray fields 26-27 April 2014. The timing of Mohammad’s record fits in nicely with those from at Harrat al Harrah Reserve so it appears that November in the north of the Kingdom is the best bet for finding the species although records have been so few it will probably take someone looking a long time to turn one up? I thank Mansur Al Fahad for sending me the details and for getting permission from Mohammad to use his photos. Mansur and Mohammad are turning up some very good birds in their area showing that if you put in the effort and have the knowledge you can find good birds throughout the Kingdom – well done guys.
Fieldfare

Fieldfare

27 Nov 2016

Pharaoh Eagle Owl near Jeddah – Records by Ajmal Thaha

Ajmal Thaha saw and photographed a Pharaoh Eagle Owl on 11 November. It is uncommon in the Saudi Arabian deserts but they Ajmal went to the Hejazi desert  around 50 km from Jeddah and found one. The Pharaoh Eagle Owl is distributed throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, with two recognised subspecies. The subspecies Bubo ascalaphus ascalaphus occupies the northern part of the species range, being found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, northern Egypt and Israel east to western Iraq. By contrast, the smaller, paler and sandier coloured Bubo ascalaphus desertorum can be found in the Sahara Desert south to Mauritania & Niger and from Western Sahara, east, to Sudan, as well as in Eritrea, Ethiopia and much of the Arabian Peninsula, as far south as northern Oman and as far east as southern Iraq. They are found in arid habitats, including open desert plains, rocky outcrops and broken escarpments and jabals, mountain cliffs and wadis. Most records from Saudi Arabia have been attributed to the pale B. a. desertorum but there appear to be many birds resembling the sub-species B. a. ascalaphus. I thank Ajmal for allowing me to use his photograph on my website which is shown below.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl


26 Nov 2016

Eurasian Griffon Vulture near Zulfi – Records by Mohammed Al Mohatresh

Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus is an uncommon breeding resident Hejaz, Asir and the Tihama that is scarce or rare in other regions. There is a small breeding colony near Riyadh. There are only six records for the Eastern Province and a few other birds wintering near Taif. Numbers elsewhere in Saudi Arabia have declined markedly over the last decade, in particular breeding birds in the southwest of the Kingdom. Mansur Al Fahad sent me details of four birds record by Suliman Al Mohatresh, about 30 km east of Zulfi in early November. This is a good record as numbers are in significant decline. Mohammed Al Mohatresh gave me permission through Mansur to use his excellent photo of a juvenile bird shown below on my website.
Eurasian Griffon Vulture

25 Nov 2016

Rose-ringed Parakeets in King Fahd Park Dammam – Bird records by Paul Kairouh

Paul Kairouh sent me an e-mail this week showing Rose-ringed Parakeets Psittacula krameri he saw in King Fahd Park in Dammam. The species is a locally common resident in larger cities in Saudi Arabia. They are relatively common in Riyadh but outside the capital it is less frequent and rather scarce in the southwest. They are also a common resident to towns and villages of the Gulf, including my local patch of Dhahran and in Jeddah. They are probably an introduced species that have become a self-sustaining resident breeder although this is unclear as record keeping on birds of the region has not been so good over the years. I would like to thank Paul for sending me the details and for allowing me to use his photos on my website. Even though I see the species almost every day I have never had the chance to photograph them properly so these photos make a welcome addition to my website.
Rose-ringed Parakeet

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Rose-ringed Parakeet

24 Nov 2016

An influx of Eurasian Bitterns – Records by Mohammed Al Mohatresh and Mansur Al Fahad

Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris is a scarce migrant and winter visitor to Saudi Arabia. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) – Status uncertain but probably a rare visitor often overlooked because of its secretive nature and fondness of dense reedbeds. First confirmed record was of a single bird seen on four occasions between 10 and 22 November 1987 with the next sighting again in winter on 10 November 1989: this was followed by a spring record on 13 April 1990 and an autumn sighting on 15 September 1990. One in a fodder field at Al Hayer 12 April 2013 was a very unusual record for central Saudi Arabia. In the Eastern Province Bundy regarded it as a Vagrant: Hofuf Lakes 21 May 1976, Dhahran 24 November 1978, Jawb on the northern edge of the Rub’ al-Khali 25 September 1980, Abqaiq 11-17 December 1982, three Abqaiq 19-20 October 1983 and one 14-21 December 1984. I know of no other records from the East of the Kingdom. As a result I was very surprised when I received an e-mail from Mansur Al Fahad saying numbers had been seen to the north of Riyadh in November this year including fifteen 30 kilometers east of Zulfi 8 November, six together 40 kilometers north of Zulfi 11 November and 40 at Sakaka near Al Jouf 6 – 12 Nov. A single has also ben seen in KAUST in early November a first record for the location. I thank Mansur for sending me details and for obtaining me permission to use Mohammed Mohatresh amazing photos of some of the birds. I also thank Mohammed for allowing me to use his photo shown below. Mansur said to me that birds are regularly seen in good numbers in this are of Saudi Arabia in the winter, a phenomenon that has not been published elsewhere as far as I am aware.  
Eurasian Bittern

23 Nov 2016

Western Osprey at Al Asfar Lake – Records by Arnoly Uy

Arnold Uy was birding at Al Asfar Lake near Al Hassa when he came across a Western Osprey. Birds are most often seen near the ocast but this record was well inland. Western Osprey is uncommon at the location and is a regular passage migrant as well as resident breeding species in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Birds breed on islands and all coasts of the Kingdom where they are also a migrant sometimes occurring far inland. Birds of the Riyadh Region by Stagg 1994 mentions it is a passage migrant and winter visitor, in small numbers, that passes from March to April then again in September and October.


22 Nov 2016

Winter is here – Jubail

I went birding to Jubail in mid-November and came across a number of winter visitors most of which I failed to photograph. I saw hundreds of Greater Cormorants of a flood sabkha area. This species was previously uncommon in Jubail but the last few years thousands of birds winter here and on the coast. Other winter visitors seen for the first time this winter included small numbers of Eurasian Starlings, Black Redstart (a first for the site for me), Eastern Stonechat and Water Pipits. Wintering Great White Egrets are building in numbers with over a hundred birds seen in various areas and this combined with Pied Kingfisher, Greater Spotted Eagles, Greater Flamingos, Western Marsh Harriers and a European Robin seen by Mohammed AlRuqaya, but unfortunately not me, all made for a wintery feel especially as the temperature did not get above 14 degrees Centigrade all morning. As always at this site a few Grey-headed Swamphens were seen some giving very good views.
Great Cormorants
Great Cormorants
Western Great Egrets
Western Great Egrets
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingos
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingos
Greater Flamingos
Eastern Stonechat
Eastern Stonechat
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen


21 Nov 2016

Eurasian Skylarks returning for winter - Jubail

The Eurasian Skylark is an uncommon winter visitor north of a line from Medina, Riyadh, Dhahran. Most records come from the large pivot irrigation fields in the north of the Kingdom but occasionally and especially on passage thy can be seen in rougher desert areas and spray fields or similar wet plant laden areas. I have seen them many times in Dhahran and a few times in Jubail but mostly in mid-winter. Last week in Jubail. I found a small flock of about twelve birds feeding about in a small weedy desert patch and managed to get a few photos of them, which is not easy as they are always partly hidden by plants. Although birds are not uncommon they are seldom seen as the farms are generally of limits to birdwatchers and those that can be seen have long vegetation and birds on the ground can seldom be seen.
Eurasian Skylark

Eurasian Skylark

Eurasian Skylark

Eurasian Skylark

20 Nov 2016

Four Oriental Skylarks – Jubail

I went birding to Jubail on 11 November and came across four small larks in a rough area of ground with plentiful plants. The birds at first glance gave the impression of Short-toed Larks but on a quick look through the binoculars turned out to be Skylarks. I grabbed my camera and the birds flew off calling with a very strange call unlike that of Eurasian Skylark making me think of Oriental Skylark. I managed to jump out of the car and get a few flight shots of a couple of birds and these showed a sandy and not whit trailing edge to the wing. A very useful discussion with Yoav Perlman who mentioned the small bill, lack of white trailing edge but rather thin sandy trailing edge, overall sandy appearance, less striking head pattern, short primary projection and call all make for the identification of the birds Oriental Skylark. The Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula looks smaller and squatter, with a noticeably shorter tail, wings and primary projection, with an obvious rusty tone to the ear-coverts and wings, and sandy outer tail feathers. Its bill is comparatively long and thin. In flight, it has a sandy, not white, trailing edge to the wings, which seem short and rounded, and its tail looks rather short. It differs from Short-toed Calandrella bmchydaclyla and Lesser Short-toed Larks C. rufescens in its longer and narrower bill and its more prominent breast streaking. Its buzzing call is different from that of any other lark and is very distinctive and was the way I originally located the birds.
Oriental Skylark

Oriental Skylark

Oriental Skylark

19 Nov 2016

A few Waders – Jubail

A reasonable number of waders are still around the wetland areas of Jubail with good numbers of the common species and a few less common winter birds such as Greater Sand Plovers, Grey Plovers, Pied Avocets and Marsh Sandpipers. The majority of birds seen were Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Little Stints and Dunlins. I also saw a single Green Sandpiper at the edge of a wet area and two Common Greenshanks. The below photos show three different Greater Sand Plovers.
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover (left) & Common Ringed Plover (right)
Greater Sand Plover (left) & Common Ringed Plover (right)
Grey Plover
Grey Plover
Marsh Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper

18 Nov 2016

Some birds from Al Asfar Lake – Records by Arnoly Uy

Arnold sent me some photos of birds taken in the Eastern Province at Al Asfar Lake near Al Hassa. He saw a flock of duck in flight that looked like Eurasian Teal as well as a few Pallid Swifts. He also found lots of Western Marsh Harriers that have come back to spend the winter in the region as well as a Western Osprey catching fish and two Common Kestrels. A less common species seen was a Greater Spotted Eagle although this is perfect habitat for them and they are common in winter at Sabkhat Al Fasl a similar site a few hundred kilometers away on the coast. I thank Arnold for sending me the details and photos and for allowing me to use them on my website.
Eurasian Teal
Eurasian Teal
Pallid Swift
Pallid Swift
Western Marsh Harrier
Western Marsh Harrier
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle

17 Nov 2016

Wintering Greater Spotted Eagles – near Jubail

At least seven Greater Spotted Eagles Clanga clanga were recorded at a wetland site near Jubail in mid-November. Birds winter at a number of sites in Saudi Arabia with the Jubail area the best for the species in the Eastern province. In winter birds are almost always near wetland areas with large areas where they can hunt undisturbed. They occupy a fragmented range, breeding mainly in Estonia, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, mainland China and Mongolia. Passage or wintering birds occur in small numbers over a vast area, including central and eastern Europe, North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, the Arabian peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, south Asia and South-East Asia. The Greater Spotted Eagle is suspected to have undergone at least a moderately rapid decline over the last three generations as a result of habitat loss and degradation throughout its breeding and wintering ranges, together with the effects of disturbance, persecution and competition with other predators. The species is listed on the Red Data list as Vulnerable as the species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.
Greater Spotted Eagle

16 Nov 2016

At least four Pied Kingfishers wintering – Jubail

On 11 November I saw four Pied Kingfishers together in the reed-beds. These birds appear to be wintering again at the site as they did last year. The bird I photographed is a a female as it only has a single breast band whereas males have two bands, although the second lower band is very thin compared to the much thicker upper band. The nominate subspecies C. r. rudis that occurs from central and southern Turkey and Israel to Syria, Iraq and southwest Iran as well as northern Egypt, Nile Valley and sub-Saharan Africa is the subspecies present in Jubail. These are told by their distinctive medium-size and black and white plumage lacking any black spots on the flanks and side of the throat which is shown by the two other nearby subspecies that are also blacker in plumage tones. Pied Kingfishers generally use small and large lakes, large rivers, estuaries, coastal lagoons, mangroves and sandy and rocky coasts and require waterside perches such as trees, reeds, fences and posts. They eat predominantly fish and regularly hover particularly so in windy conditions. Birds fly low over the water with steady wing beats and then rise 2–10 metres in the air, with body held nearly vertical, bill held down and wings beating rapidly; they then dive down into the water and if successful swallow prey on the wing without beating on branch or something similar. Birds are generally sedentary. In non-breeding season, local movements can extend over several hundreds of kilometres and this is probably how birds enter the Eastern Province. Most records from the Eastern Province have been females although a bird seen and photographed in Riyadh in recent years was a male as was at least one in Jubail last year.


15 Nov 2016

Supermoon - Dhahran

The 14 November supermoon, a term used to describe a full moon is at its perigee, or closest point to Earth during the lunar orbit — will be the biggest and brightest supermoon to rise in almost 69 years. In fact, the full moon won't come this close to Earth again until 25 November 2034. The moon orbits our planet in an oval shape so sometimes it comes closer to us than at other times. This supermoon will appear 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than usual.
supermoon

14 Nov 2016

Birds at the Al Khobar Corniche – Paul Kairouh

Paul Kairouh went birding to the Al Khobar Corniche recently and took a few photos of a number of local species. Isabelline Wheatear and Pied Wheatear are regular passage migrants through the Eastern Province at this time of year. Paul also saw a number of birds on the seafront including Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel and Greater Flamingo all of which are passage migrants and winter visitors with Greater Flamingo common and the other two uncommon.
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Crested Lark
Crested Lark
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone
Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo