23 May 2017

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 was feeding near to the net when I arrived to check if anything had been trapped and the bird flew and landed in the bottom shelf where I extracted it quickly. This is the fourth 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 commonest 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. The fact these birds have been recorded breeding at this site and the records from birders and ringers (where DNA samples were collected from a feather, for correct identification) has helped protect the site from development and partly encouraged the protection of it as a reserve.
Grey-headed Swamphen

22 May 2017

Steppe Eagles – Tanoumah to Abha road

Whilst in the southwest of the Kingdom in April, Phil Roberts and I came across a group of eight mainly second calendar year Steppe Eagles. The birds appeared to be migrating along the escarpment edge. It is diffuclt to know if these birds were wintering birds from the region moving north or birds from Africa that had crossed into Arabia via the Bab El Mandib straights in Yemen (although most do not do this in spring but move north through Egypt and Israel. Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis is a common migrant and winter visitor to the south-west, northern Hejaz and Central Arabia where up to 1000 birds have been recorded in a small area. It is an uncommon winter visitor to other regions. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) states it is a common winter visitor arriving in early September and departing in late March with stragglers lingering into April. In earlier years mainly found in proximity to waste disposal sites. Now with the advent of extensive farming activity over much of the region there are fewer large concentrations and a tendency for small groups to take up winter territories on pivot irrigated fields. In early autumn when the ground is prepared for the sowing of winter wheat shambling groups following the plough have been observed. In the Eastern Province birds pass south-west from September through November regular from October through March on the northern plains from Nayriyyah westwards to Dibdibah and south to around Hanidh. Once over 60 on the steppe area and in October 1984 there were 66 at Haradh. Elsewhere scarce and irregular. Wintering birds in the Eastern Province are almost always dark sub-adults. In April a small passage has been noted across the northern steppe consisting of predominantly pale first-year birds. Winters to the west in good numbers around Riyadh, Al-Kharj and the plains of the north-central Najd.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

21 May 2017

Myrmeleon hyalinus - Haradh

Whilst birding the large pivot irrigation fields at Haradh Phil and I came across a small number of thin flying insects that looked a little like Damselflys or Lacewings. Myrmeleon is an ant-lion genus in the subfamily Myrmeleontinae and this insect appears to be Myrmeleon hyalinus. Species in the genus feed on ants. Insect follows Myrmeleontidae family, and Neuroptera order. It is dark brown in colour with yellow sides and  is about 20-30 milimetres long. Nymphs are small, without wings and make traps in sand to catch insects especially ants. The larvae actively prefer shady sites and often relocate to shady areas when exposed to the sun. This behaviour may constitute a life-saving strategy in desert environments. Adults have clear membranes wings and body is thin and long. The below photo was taken by Phil Roberts and I thank him for sending it to me and for allowing me to use it on my website
Myrmeleon hyalinus

20 May 2017

Blandford's Lark in 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. The valley is hot and dry and any area of water attracts a steady stream of birds in the summer coming down to drink so are worth looking at if found so a small wet area near a dam looked promising especially as we had seen Blandfords Lark in this area last year. After a little searching we managed to located about twenty birds feeding in the stony areas and song flighting as well. We were there at just after midday so the light was very harsh making photography difficult but I took a few reasonable photos of this difficult to see species.
Blandfords Lark

Blandfords Lark

Blandfords Lark

Blandfords Lark

19 May 2017

Tribulus pentandrus - Haradh

Whilst birding the Haradh area of Saudi Arabia I came across the below plant. As mentioned previously, due to my general inability to identify plants I sent the below photos to Irene Linning who is a plant expert who used to live in Dhahran, and thankfully is kind enough to help me with plant identifications. She responded saying the pant is Tribulus pentandrus and has the Arabic name Shersir. There is a slight possibility that it is Tribulus terrestris given the locality, but its leaves tend not to have hairs on the upper side and this one clearly does. So almost certain that it is T. pentrandrus. It is a perennial with stems branching from the base, prostate or spreading up to 40 centimetre high and covered with shOrt white hairs. The leaves are paired with 8-14 leaflets. The flowers are solitary, yellow and on a stalk up to 0.5 centimetres high and it flowers throughout the year. It is a common and widespread plant in sand, sand plains and valleys.
Tribulus pentandrus

Tribulus pentandrus



18 May 2017

See-see Partridge in Al Jawf Province – Records by Euan Ferguson

Euan Ferguson and three other UK birders who were working in Saudi Arabia on two wind-farm projects found See-see Partridge. They were working at a remote desert site a couple of hours drive from Sakaka in Al Jawf province. On 23 April Euan photographed what he assumed was a Sand Partridge in a wadi, but looking closer at the photo realised it had a black forehead and supercilium, so was a See-see Partridge Ammoperdix griseogularis. The bird was a calling male and was together with three other birds. The other birders who have worked on site have also seen several, although they again did not look closely and assumed they were Sand Partridge. See-see Partridge has been seen in northern Saudi Arabia before in the 1990's but there have been few other more recent records although birds have been seen in Harrat al-Harrah and areas to the west of there. It is not clear if these birds were wanderers from their recognised breeding areas in Iraq or they have spread south into northern KSA. Euan’s records certainly add weight to the fact birds may now be resident in northern Saudi Arabia. These areas are very seldom birded by the very few birdwatchers in Kingdom so have probably gone unnoticed over the years. This is a great record of a rarely recorded species in the Kingdom and I thank Euan for sending me the details and for allowing me to use them on my website.
See-see Partridge

See-see Partridge

See-see Partridge

17 May 2017

Zygophyllum simplex - Haradh

Due to my general inability to identify plants I sent the below photos to Irene Linning who is a plant expert who used to live in Dhahran, and thankfully is kind enough to help me with plant identifications. She responded syaing “This does look like Zygophyllum simplex, although one of the distinguishing features is that it has 10 stamens and I count more than ten in some of the flowers. There are faint possibilities that it is a different species, very faint”. The generic name is derived from Greek Zygon meaning ‘yoke’ and phyllon meaning ‘leaf’. This refers to the leaves that have two leaflets. They occur in arid and semi arid areas of the Mediterranean, Arica, Central Asia and Australia.
Zygophyllum simplex

16 May 2017

Ringing Crested Lark - Jubail

The Crested Lark Galerida cristata is a very common breeding resident in all areas of Saudi Arabia from sea level to 3000 metres. In the Eastern Province it is also common and seen on every trip out birding but trying to trap and ring them is more difficult as we ring in a reed-bed area where are much less common. We did manage to trap on last time we were ringing, a new ringing species for me, and in the hand the tail pattern with brownish outer tail feathers and the warm brownish underwing was obvious.
Crested Lark

Crested Lark

Crested Lark

15 May 2017

Commicarpus grandifloras - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Asir mountains of the Tanoumah area in southwest Saudi Arabia, I came across a plant I could not identify. I was not able to identify the plant so asked Irene Linning who is a plant expert and who previously lived in Saudi Arabia if she could identify it for me. Irene said it was Commicarpus grandifloras that grows at high altitude and to about 60 centimetres tall with flowers about 6 mm wide and sticky leaves. They occur in Africa as well as Saudi Arabia (NW-Saudi Arabia: Hejaz, SW-Saudi Arabia: Asir) the Sinai peninsula (Southern Sinai) and Yemen (N-Inner Yemen, W-Yemen). Commicarpus are usually perennial herbs or subshrubs. Stems slender, prostrate, scrambling or ascending, branching; often woody toward the base; glabrous or pubescent. Sometimes large and small shrubs with woody stems. Leaves opposite, petiolate, simple. Distinctive glandular-pubescence and stickiness of C. grandiflorus separates it from most other Commicarpus species.
Commicarpus grandifloras

14 May 2017

African birds at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment - Abha

Whilst birding the lower areas of the Raydah Escarpment in late March I saw a number of African species. Birds seen included African Grey Hornbill, Violet-backed Starling, Black-crowned Tchagra, Bruce’s Green Pigeon and White-browed Coucal. Bruce’s Green Pigeon is an interesting species as it only eats the fruit of a single type of fig tree. No White-throated Bee-eaters or Grey-headed Kingfishers were located so maybe we were too early for these birds to have arrived back from Africa. A few passerine migrants were also seen including a number of Common Blackcap. Resident species seen included Blackstart as well as Arabian Green Bee-eater and endemics recorded included the scarce Arabian Waxbill and the commoner Arabian Serin.
White-browed Coucal
White-browed Coucal
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Bruce Green Pigeon
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff
Tristrams Starling
Tristrams Starling 
Blackstart
Blackstart

12 May 2017

Arabian Skittering Frog – Salal Al Dahna

Whilst birdwatching Salal Al Dahna valley, at 1900 metres in the Asir mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia I found a large pool of water with several Arabian Skittering Frogs. The frogs were adults rather than the small young individuals I have seen previously. This is only the third time I have seen this frog in Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Skittering Frog or Arabian Five-fingered Frog Euphlyctis ehrenbergii a species of frog in the Dicroglossidae family found in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It has previously been treated as a subspecies of the Skittering Frog Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis, but is now considered as a valid species. The frog is restricted to areas of permanent and temporary water in the Red Sea coastal region of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. An aquatic species, it can also be present in irrigated area where it is extremely common or abundant. It has an altitudinal range from sea level to 2,400 metres above sea level and lays its eggs in water. The species may aestivate during the dry season, meaning it spends the hot or dry period in a prolonged state of torpor or dormancy.
Arabian Skittering Frogs

Arabian Skittering Frogs

10 May 2017

Some interesting birds - Haradh

Phil Roberts and I went to Haradh in late April to look for migrants and other birds. We set off at 03:00 hrs and arrived at 06:00 hrs. Birding was not exactly stunning but a few good birds were seen in our day out. Birds we do not see often in the Eastern Province included three Black-crowned Night Herons. A Spur-winged Lapwing appeared to be defending a territory aggressively from other birds suggesting it might be breeding. This species has not been recorded breeding in the Eastern Province before. We also saw four more Spur-winged Lapwings in another area of Haradh. A small group of Common Swift were over a large pivot irrigation field and a small group of five Collared Pratincole were in another field. A single Pallid Harrier was seen but no other birds of prey. The most common birds were Namaqua Doves and Crested Larks.
Black-crowned Night Herons
Black-crowned Night Herons
Black-crowned Night Herons
Black-crowned Night Herons
Spur-winged Lapwing
Spur-winged Lapwing 
Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole
Common Swift
Common Swift
Crested Lark
Crested Lark
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Rock Dove
Rock Dove

9 May 2017

Early morning down the Raydah Escarpment – Abha

Whilst in the Asir Mountains recently I went down the Raydah Escarpment early in the morning. This is the best place and best time to try to locate Arabian Partridge and as normal I was not disappointed with a number of birds calling and a couple seen on the roadside. A stop at the disused farm was relatively good with good views of Abyssinian White-eye and plenty of other resident species. Further down I had a party of four Arabian Waxbills an Arabian endemic species that is far from easy to see and several Laughing Doves.
Arabian Partridge
Arabian Partridge
Arabian Waxbill
Arabian Waxbill
Abyssinian White-eye
Abyssinian White-eye
Laughing Dove
Laughing Dove