30 Dec 2016

Arabian Waxbill

Arabian Waxbill Estrilda rubibarba is a rather scarce resident of the Tihama region where they have beens seen on Jebal Faifa summit and at Jebal Gaha as well as at the Raghadan Forest area of Baha. Birds have also been seen near Tanoumah, Al Baha and as far north as Taif where they can be seen at Wadi Thee Gazelle and several wadis in the town itself. The Arabian Waxbill is endemic to Saudi Arabia and Yemen and occurs in the mesic uplands of the Tihamah foothills, occasionally straying onto the lowland Tihamah proper. The species is described as rare in southern Saudi Arabia and the population is suspected to be in decline due to habitat loss as a result of the increasing use of modern agricultural techniques. They are highly social, and occur from 250-2,500 m in fertile cultivated Wadis, plains, rocky hillsides and terraced slopes, usually with a dense cover of trees and bushes. The species roosts communally in this dense vegetation, and recently fledged juveniles have been recorded in May. It has become closely associated with regularly irrigated agricultural areas with flowing water. It is one of the more difficult of the Arabian Endemics to see.


28 Dec 2016

Arabian Wheatear

Arabian Wheatear Oenanthe lugentoides is a rather scarce resident of the south-west highlands, but is also found in Oman, Palestine and Yemen, mainly in rocky, bushy sites but widespread on the Jebal Souda plateau, Wadi Tale’a, Pipeline Road, near Farshah, Gara’a and Tanumah. In 1987 it was recorded more frequently so the species may have declined slightly, with disturbance not thought likely to be the reason as it is often associated with gardens and regularly breeds near human sites. Also occurs in the Tihama mainly around jebals such as Jebal Aswad and Jebal Gaha. They nest in holes in terrace walls and feed largely on insects. They are common in the upper reaches of the Raghadan Forest and the upper parts of the Golden Tulip valley. As well as around the Wadi Thee Gazelle valley near Taif.


26 Dec 2016

Yemen Thrush

Yemen Thrush Turdus menachensis is a common & widespread resident of the of the south-west highlands, favouring areas of thick bush mainly at Jebal Souda and Al Jarrah as well as the areas around Tanoumah. Birds are relatively common in the Baha area in the middle section of the Goldebn Tulip valley and the Raghadan Forest area. In 1987 it was also common and widespread in the highlands and no apparent change in population seems to have occurred over this period. Also occurs in the Tihama around jebals such as Jebal Aswad and Jebal Gaha. It is a medium-sized (23 cms), plain brown bird with the male being olive-brown above, paler and greyer below, with dark narrow streaks radiating across the buff-grey chin and throat onto the breast. The stout bill is orange-yellow, the legs are flesh-coloured to yellow and, in flight, the orange underwing-coverts can be seen. The female is very similar but paler overall, being buff below, often with dark shaft streaks on the belly and flanks, and with a duller-coloured bill. It has a fluty song, mostly heard at dawn, containing a series of high-pitched phrases and an explosive call ‘chuck-chuck’, from which it is most easily located. It is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List 2006 as its population is likely to be small, 2500 to 9999 birds and declining owing to excessive exploitation and clearance of its montane woodland habitat although in Saudi Arabia its woodland habitat is protected in at least two protected areas: Raydah Reserve and Asir National Park. It is native to the mountains of south-western Saudi Arabia and western Yemen and has a very local distribution. It can be very skulking in nature, remaining motionless for long periods of time. The species is confined to mountainous areas with a dense cover of native trees and shrubs including woodlands, thickets, copses, orchards and large gardens, although adjacent open areas are also frequented. This species occurs from 1,200 to 3,100 m above sea level, mainly above 1,700 m, and at its lowest elevations it is restricted to thick vegetation along watercourses. This small forest bird forages on the ground among dead and rotting vegetation, feeding on terrestrial invertebrates such as snails, and on fruits such as those of Rosa, Juniperus, Olea and Ficus species. The Yemen thrush breeds from March to August, with the nest positioned one to four metres above ground in a bush or tree-fork, usually in dense cover. The nest consists of a firm cup made of dry grass, small twigs, moss and thin bark strips, with a mud interior lined with fine grass and rootlets, into which one to three eggs (usually two) are laid.


25 Dec 2016

Yemen Warbler

Yemen Warbler Sylvia buryi is a common resident of the south-west highlands in bushy areas especially on the Raydah escarpment, and slightly less frequently in similar habitats on the Jebal Souda plateau and areas around Tanoumah and Al Baha as far north as Wadi Thee Gazelle near Taif. The species is local in its occurrence. In 1987 it was recorded more frequently than in 2010, especially on the plateau area. It is native to south-west Saudi Arabia and west Yemen and is a rather plain-looking warbler with a large head, short wings and a long tail. Both sexes are sooty-grey to dark brown above, with a darker head, especially around the eye and a distinctively white iris, contrasting with the dark orbital ring. The dark upperparts are clearly demarcated from the pale underparts, which are white on the throat and buffish on the belly, with a dull apricot patch between the legs. It is classified as vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 and has a population of less than 10,000 mature birds. They have a slow song that is quite loud as well as a thrush like warble and are very active, almost always in pairs where they search for insects in the centre of thick acacias, frequently hanging upside down. Their flight is weak and low, with an upwards swoop when landing on a branch. In Saudi Arabia, this species is found mostly within well-developed Juniperus woodland between 1500 & 2900 metres above sea level. They nest in bushes or trees, normally at a low height and breed from March to July. Their diet consists primarily of insects, but fruits will also be taken when available.

24 Dec 2016

Arabian Woodpecker

Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocopos dorae is an uncommon but widespread resident of the south-west highlands, Jebal Souda plateau on the dry east side as well as at Raydah Farm on the Raydah escarpment and Wadi Jaw at 1350 m are good areas to find the species as Talea Valley near Abha, the areas around Tanoumah and around Al Baha. Birds are usually associated with acacia trees but can be found in a variety of wooded habitats. The species also occurs in the Tihama at Jebal Gaha and Raith. The Arabian Woodpecker is a rather small, olive-brown woodpecker with white bars across its wings and red patch on the rear of the head of a male. Both sexes show a pale red patch down the centre of the belly. It has a distinct call which accelerates and, then descends “kek-kek-kek-kek-kek-kek”. It is the only woodpecker breeding in Arabia, has a typical woodpecker undulating flight, and only drums weekly and infrequently. They occur locally in the Red Sea foothills and western uplands of south-west Arabia, from the Yeman boarder to 26°N in Saudi Arabia. It is generally uncommon to rare where it occurs with approximately 0.1-1.0 mature individuals per km2. The total population is therefore inferred to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and it is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List 2006 as it has a small population of less than 10,000 mature birds, which is likely to be declining as a result of excessive cutting and lopping of trees for charcoal, firewood and fodder. Birds occur in a wide variety of fragmented woodland-types, from sea level up to 3,000 metres on mountain slopes, including: groves of fig Ficus, date-palm Phoenix or pandan Pandanus at lower altitudes; subtropical, evergreen riparian forest; traditional shade-coffee plantations and well-developed succulent shrubland at middle-altitudes; woods, groves and parklands of Acacia, Juniperus, Olea and Dracaena at higher altitudes (often on slopes terraced for agriculture); and old-established orchards in the highlands. Breeding records (February-May) are restricted to the highlands (1,450-2,400 m) with the nest-site being a small hole excavated in the trunk or major branch of a large tree.


22 Dec 2016

Arabian Scops Owl

Arabian Scops Owl Otus pamelae has recently been split as a distinct species from African Scops Owl O. s. senegalensis. Recent work (Pons et al 2013) has shown African Scops Owl, represents a very distinct lineage and is well differentiated phylogenetically, morphologically and vocally from O. s. senegalensis. As a result it has been recommend to elevate it to species status, as Arabian Scops Owl Otus pamelae. The reasons for this are this southern Arabian taxon is highly divergent from African senegalensis (uncorrected-p mitochondrial genetic distance = 4%). The song of pamelae is very different from that of Eurasian Scops Owl O. scops and Pallid Scops Owl O. brucei but more similar to that of African Scops Owl O. senegalensis. It nevertheless differs from the latter’s song in being higher pitched, sounding ‘scratchier’ and having more prolonged notes; the song sounds two-parted, due to the much quieter first note. In terms of biometrics, results clearly suggest that pamelae is longer winged and longer legged than mainland African populations of senegalensis. In comparison with populations of O. senegalensis in continental Africa, Arabian pamelae is distinguished in being paler overall, with less distinct streaking over the underparts and a less obvious whitish line on the scapulars. Arabian Scops Owls possess several diagnostic genetic and phenotypic characters and it is therefore consider the most appropriate taxonomic treatment is to recognize Arabian Scops Owl as a species and not as a subspecies of O. senegalensis as it was originally described based solely on morphological data. This change means that Arabian Scops Owl becomes a new Arabian endemic, found in South-west Saudi Arabia, South-west Yemen and north-east to southern Oman and African Scops Owl is now no longer found in Arabia but instead occurs in parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea & Somalia.

20 Dec 2016

Arabian Partridge

Arabian Partridge Alectoris melanocephala is a common resident of the south-west highlands, especially steep wooded hillsides of the western escarpment of Jebal Souda, the Raydah Protected Area, Tanoumah and the Al Baha area. They prefer juniper dominated habitats where rocky knolls & clearings occur.  It has also been recorded at terraced fields on the Souda Plateau and feeds mainly on plant material, seeds and insects. They are also common in the Tihama region at Jebal Aswad and Jebal Gaha and can be found from 250 – 2800 metres elevation. In 1987 it was a widespread and not uncommon species and there seems to have been little change in its status since then. They are much larger than other Alectoris species with the sexes being similar, although females are slightly smaller. They have a black crown extending down the nape; a broad white band begins in front of the eye and extends to the back of the head. The chin and upper throat are also white and are separated from the white above the eye by a narrow black band that starts at the bill, extends to the cheek and forms a "V" on the neck. The sides of the neck are pastel brown and the rest of the plumage is bluish grey with pronounced barring on the sides.

18 Dec 2016

Phillby’s Partridge

Philby’s Partridge Alectoris philbyi is a rare resident of the south-west highlands. The best sites for locating the species are the terrace fields near Tanoumah, the dry scrub covered hillsides on Jebal Souda plateau and the area around Al Baha. They prefer juniper dominated habitats where rocky knolls & clearings occur and ocurs from 1500 – 3000 metre elevations. Numbers have declined significantly in the Jebal Soudah area, probably due to increased human activity in the area. The Philby’s Partridge is related to the Chukar & Red-legged Partridge and is native to south-western Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It can be easily identified from other partridges by the black cheeks and throat and a narrow white stripe from the bill to behind the eye separating the black from the greyish-blue head. Both sexes look alike, although males may be slightly larger in size and have a tarsal knob.


16 Dec 2016

Winter birding at Al Asfar Lake Al Hassa - Records by Arnold Uy

Arnold went birding at Al Asfar Lake near Al Hassa recently and found a few winter birds including up to six Common Stonechats. He also saw the almost resident Western Osprey along with a Common Kestrel. Two Greater Spotted Eagles were also present and look like they are wintering at the wetland which has not been recorded at the location for a number of years although this is probably more due to the fact not many birders visit the site in winter rather than birds not being there. I thank Arnold for the information and permission to use his photos on my website.
Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey
Western Osprey

15 Dec 2016

A few birds at Khafrah Marsh – Records by Arnold Uy

Arnold went to Khafrah Marsh a large wetland area on the main Abu Hadryiah highway last weekend and saw a few interesting birds. One was a male Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a winter visitor to the Eastern Province, where female/immatures are much commoner than males. Arnold also saw a Greater Spotted Eagle and a few Squacco Herons, a species that is common during the year but with a buildup in numbers during the winter months. Caspian Tern is a regular visitor to wetland areas near the coast but less common as far inland as Khafrah Marsh although they are still regularly seen here.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern

14 Dec 2016

Common Kingfisher at Deffi Park Jubail – Bird records by Vinu Mathew

Vinu Mathew went to Deffi Park last weekend and saw two Common Kingfishers. Birds appear to spend the winter at this site and can often be seen along the small stream that runs along one edge of the park. The bird appears to be a male due to its all black lower mandible. Male Common Kingfishers are much less common than females in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, but are still not that uncommon. I thank Vinu for the information and permission to use his photos on my website.
Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

13 Dec 2016

More Greater Spotted Eagles and Grey-headed Swamphens – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I have been seeing plenty of Greater Spotted Eagles with over ten seen on some occasions. They are often out on the sabkha, on power pylons or sitting on posts or the ground. Western Marsh Harriers are also common and significantly outnumber the eagles with more than 30 harriers seen on each visit. The other species that has been seen in good numbers is Purple Swamphen where birds are congregating together and out in the open more as the cold weather approaches and Greater Flamingos that are building up in numbers and approaching 1000 birds. A small flock of Spanish Sparrows was seen, that were the first ones we have seen this winter. Birds generally stay throughout the winter but move off during the spring and summer months.
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo
Western Marsh Harrier
Western Marsh Harrier
Grey-headed Swamphens
Grey-headed Swamphens

12 Dec 2016

Blue Rock Thrush – Dhahran

Yesterday I found a female Blue Rock Thrush in Dhahran near my office. It was very confiding and allowed close and prolonged views but unfortunately I did not have my camera. It is unusual to see Blue Rock Thrush in December, as they are normally passage migrant birds. This bird only stayed for a day so may have been a late migrant. Blue Rock Thrush is an uncommon passage migrant to the Eastern Province and is not often seen on the coast with most birds moving well inland before settling. I have added a photo of a bird I took in Dhahran a few years ago, as I did not photograph this bird.
Blue Rock Thrush

11 Dec 2016

Common Shelduck return for the winter - Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail recently I came across a few small flocks of Common Shelduck numbering 135 birds. The birds were relatively close to the shore, which is unusual, so I managed to get a few reasonable photos of some of them. The Common Shelduck is an irregular winter visitor to all coastal areas from October to April. In the Eastern Province, it was regarded as an uncommon winter visitor in the 1980’s but large winter gatherings of over 100 birds occurred at Jubail every year from1994 to 2004 with a maximum 2535 in winter 2003. Numbers have decreased in the last decade but birds occur at this site every winter in numbers of up to 100, and 357 were on the flooded sabkhat on 5 January 2012. In the southwest of Saudi Arabia, birds occur on the Red Sea coast from December to February with 50 seen well inland at Malaki Dam Lake 8-9 February 1992. This location is the southern limit of their wintering range. In the Riyadh, area birds are winter visitor in variable numbers, occurring between November and early April with 50 recorded in one flock.
Common Shelduck

Common Shelduck

Common Shelduck

10 Dec 2016

Short-toed Snake Eagle remains in Al Hassa – Bird records by Arnold Uy

Whilst Arnold Uy was birding the Al Asfar Lake area of Al Hassa in late November he saw a Short-toed Snake Eagle. The following weekend he returned to the site and saw and photographed the bird again. This is the first time I know of a bird hanging around the same area for more than a day and it will be interesting to see if it satsy for the winter. 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. I thank Arnold for allowing me to use his photographs shown below on my website.
Short-toed Snake Eagle

Short-toed Snake Eagle

Short-toed Snake Eagle

9 Dec 2016

Whiskered Terns - Jubail

Whilst birding in the Jubail in early December I found a small number of Whiskered Terns Chlidonias hybridus. The Whiskered Tern is an uncommon migrant to all areas of the Kingdom including Riyadh. They have wintered at the Gulf wetlands where the photos below were taken, so it will be interesting to see if they winter this year. Records appear to have become less common over the last few years with the ten seen on 2 December my highest count for the winter. During the 1980’s birds were regularly seen in the Eastern Province between August and March.
Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

8 Dec 2016

Black-necked Grebes back for winter - Jubail

Whilst birding at Jubail on 2 December Phil Roberts and I found two Black-necked Grebes. Both were in winter plumage as would be expected at this time of year. The Black-necked Grebe is an uncommon but regular visitor to the Eastern Province from late August through March but becomes scarce in April and May and rare in the summer. It is usually local in coastal waters but counts of over 40 are not unusual in Half Moon Bay. Small numbers occur inland and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, away from the Eastern Province, birds have occurred in Riyadh, Tabuk and the Red Sea, as well as in the Jizan region. The Jubail area appears to be a regular wintering site for the species with birds seen almost every year.
Black-necked Grebe

7 Dec 2016

Plain Tiger in Dammam – record by Paul Kairouh

Paul Kairouh found and photographed a Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus in Dammam recently and kindly sent me his photos and allowed me to use them on my website. Paul mentioned the photo was taken with his 600mm lens and is a very good photo of the species. The Plain Tiger is a medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of about 7–8 centimetres. The body is black with many white spots and the wings are tawny, the upper side brighter and richer than the underside. Background color and extent of white on the forewings varies somewhat across the wide range. They occur from Africa and southern Europe, eastwards via Sri Lanka, India, and Myanmar to China, Java and Sulawesi. The butterfly is distasteful to predators and therefore flies slowly and leisurely, generally close to the ground and in a straight line giving a would-be predator ample time to recognise and avoid attacking it. They can be seen throughout Saudi Arabia but appear more common in the southwest than the Eastern Province.
Plain Tiger

6 Dec 2016

Water Rail trapped and ringed - Jubail

The Water Rail is an uncommon winter visitor to the Gulf and Red Sea areas as well as Tabuk. In the Eastern Province it is a scarce breeding resident in small numbers in the Gulf Wetlands but a more common winter visitor. At Jubail birds can be heard calling in the early morning and when we last went ringing I mentioned to Nicole it would be great tp catch one as I had heard a few in different areas including birds calling near to a set of our nets. I was more than surprised when I found one in a net that was set on dry land between two reed beds. This was a new ringing species for me and the site and turned out to be an adult female bird. Although birds are regularly heard calling in Jubail they are difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph so trapping one allowed good photos to be taken as well.
Water Rail

Water Rail

Water Rail

Water Rail