23 Sep 2017

Brown Booby at Sharma – Record by Euan Fergusson

Whilst staying at Sharma, on the Red Sea coast of northwest Saudi Arabia, Euan Fergusson saw Brown Booby. Brown Booby is an uncommon resident of the Red Sea, where it mainly occurs offshore. They breed on the Farasan Islands as well as other islands in the Red Sea and wander north to the Gulf of Akaba in winter. S. l. plotus is the subspecies we get in Saudi Arabia and it occurs from the Red Sea and tropical Indian Ocean east to northern Australia and the central Pacific Ocean. The race plotus is the largest and has a blackish head and neck almost concolorous with rest of upperpart. Its iris is grey to yellowish grey with narrower pale yellow outer ring. The bill is yellowish horn to pale horn with bluish or greyish cast, facial skin and gular pouch bluish grey to blue, legs pale greenish yellow. The female has an ivory or pale horn coloured bill, slightly tinged either yellowish or pale greenish. The facial and gular skin are pale greenish yellow, with the legs coloured like the facial skin or slightly more greenish. Birds are strictly marine, feeding mostly in inshore waters. They breed mainly on bare, rocky islands or coral atolls.
Brown Booby

22 Sep 2017

Mediterranean Chameleon near Abha – Record by Arnold Uy

Arnold Uy was birding the Abha area recently and found a Mediterranean Chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon. They occur in Saudi Arabia, mainly down the western side of the country where it can be found from sea level to 1850 metres above sea level in the mountains. The Mediterranean Chameleon, also known as the Common Chameleon, is a diurnal species that usually varies in colour from green to dull brown, tan or grey. It has a remarkable ability to change colour which is done for camouflage, to signal to other chameleons and to regulate its temperature. Whatever its background colour, the Mediterranean chameleon generally has two light stripes along each side of its body, with the stripes often being broken into a series of dashes or spots. They are an arboreal species that have strong, grasping feet with four toes, two on each side for grasping branches and a prehensile tail, used to maintain balance and stability, making it well adapted to living in bushes and trees. It uses its long, sticky tongue to capture passing prey, that when extended, can be twice the length of the body. They have very sharp eyesight and each eyeball is able to move independently of the other and a light crest of scales along its throat, and a crest of small, serrated scales along its back and can measure up to 20 - 40 cm long. They are active during the day and its diet consists mainly of arthropods including grasshoppers, flies, bees, wasps, and ants. Like other chameleons, the Mediterranean Chameleon is slow-moving, often with a slight swaying motion to avoid detection by predators, and is a ‘sit-and-wait’ predator that captures prey with its long, sticky tongue when prey comes within reach. Their range is the broadest of all chameleon species, extending from northern Africa, Arabia to southwest Asia and southern Europe. In North Africa and the Middle East it occurs in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria Iraq and Iran. They are found in a variety of habitats including open pine woodland, shrubland, plantations, gardens and orchards and spends the majority of its time in trees or bushes, preferring dense cover for camouflage. However, this habit changes during the mating season when males move to the ground to find a mate and females descend to a lower level of vegetation.
Mediterranean Chameleon

21 Sep 2017

White-eyed Gull at Sharma – Record by Euan Fergusson

Whilst staying at Sharma, on the Red Sea coast of northwest Saudi Arabia, Euan Fergusson saw White-eyed Gull. This species is almost entirely restricted to the Red Sea with most birds seen in the Jizan area although they are also common in Jeddah. The White-eyed Gull is mostly sedentary although it disperses from its breeding sites in the Red Sea to occur throughout the Red Sea during the non-breeding season. There may also be some southward and eastward movement during this time, when it is reported to become scarce in the northern part of its range. Breeding takes place during the months of June – September where it breeds in loose colonies, on inshore islands, where it occupies bare rock and sand flats, and usually consists of fewer than 25 pairs. During the non-breeding season it is usually found in small groups, but sometimes forms flocks of hundreds or even thousands to forage and often occurs further out to sea at this time. They eat mainly fish, but also crustaceans, molluscs, annelids and offal.
White-eyed Gull

20 Sep 2017

First autumn Ringing tip of year? – Sabkaht Al Fasl

We went ringing for the first time this autumn on 15 September. This is early for us as the temperatures are very high still at this time of year. We caught 39 birds of 11 species including White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian (Caspian) Reed Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Little Bittern, Common Redshank, Graceful Prinia and House Sparrow. Common Redshanks was a new species for us at our ringing site as was White-throated Kingfisher making it a very good ringing trip. It was a very hot and humid day and taking down the nets at the end of the session was far from pleasant but the day was still very enjoyable. We set nets in the same locations each tip with some over water (catching both new ringing species) and other over land in rides between reed beds. We set nine nets this trip (7 x 18 metre and 2 x 15 metre).
Common Redshank
Common Redshank
Little Bittern - male
Little Bittern - male
Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler

19 Sep 2017

Thrush Nightingale at Sharma – Bird record by Euan Ferguson

Euan Ferguson sent me a photograph of Thrush Nightingale that he saw recently at Sharma, and that he has kindly given me permission to use on my website. The Thrush Nightingale is an uncommon passage migrant in the Eastern Province mainly seen from late April to May and from late August to September. I have only seen a few birds on my local ‘patch’ in Dhahran with all records being in April. I also have not managed to photograph the species yet. The species status elsewhere is in Saudi Arabia is similar to that in the Eastern Province with small numbers of records from the entire country. Earliest records are from mid-March and latest records from early-October.
Thrush Nightingale

18 Sep 2017

Ringing White-throated Kingfisher – Sabkaht Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 15 September we trapped and ringed a White-throated Kingfisher. This is a scarce visitor to the Eastern Province although they may have bred in Jubail this year. Since 2012 birds have been seen regularly mainly in the Jubail to Dhahran areas. Sabkhat Al Fasl has had quite a few records recently with three birds wintering at the site in winter 2014-2015. Up until the end of last century it was regarded as a vagrant but its status has changed with more records since 2000. It was a big surprise to see the bird fly into the net whilst we were checking the final nets set over a small area of water. I had seen White-throated Kingfisher in a number of areas around this site over the years but never in this particular spot. This was a first ringing record for us and almost certainly for Saudi Arabia as well. The bird was in wing moult as can be seen from the bottom photo.
White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

17 Sep 2017

Red-necked Phalarope – Jubail

Phil Roberts and I found a winter plumaged Red-necked Phalaropes on some flooded Sabkha in Jubail in early September. Unfortunately, photos were not easy and I only managed to get a single flight shot that turned into a bit of a mystery photo as its head and most of its bill are hidden. This is the fifth year in a row that we have seen the species in Jubail with recent sightings in February, May, June, August, September and October. This area is undoubtedly the best location for seeing the species in the Eastern Province of the country.
Red-necked Phalarope

16 Sep 2017

African Olive Pigeon at the Raydah Escarpment – Bird record by Arnold Uy

Arnold Uy recently went to the Raydah Escarpment near Abha and found a relatively tame African Olive Pigeon Columba arquatrix. This is a scarce to uncommon species although it is a local breeder in the southwest highlands. It is not entirely clear if birds are resident although HBW states it is, as there is only one record from the months of December to February. It is a large pigeon, about the size of a European Woodpigeon and is predominantly dark grey with obvious white speckles on breast and wing-coverts. The females are a bit duller than the males. The iris is pale yellow to light brown, the bare skin around the eye, cere, bill and legs are bright yellow, which is conspicuous and diagnostic even in flight. They feed on fruits of various trees, including Podocarpus, Prunus and Ficus species and are patchily from Eritrea south through eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania to southern South Africa. There are other populations in southwest Saudi Arabia and nearby northern Yemen and west Angola.The species was discovered as a new species for Saudi Arabia in the mid 1980’s. JENNINGS, M. C. 1986. The Olive Pigeon Columba arquatrix on Jebel Suda, Asir Province: a new bird species for Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula. J. Saudi Arab. Nat. Hist. Soc. (2)6:35-36. Arnold did very well to get such a good photo of the bird as they are difficult to see at the best of times. Arnolds photo is shown below and he has kindly given me permission to use it.
African Olive Pigeon

13 Sep 2017

Arabian Woodpecker – Record by Arnold Uy

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment last week, Arnold found and photographed an Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocopos dorae. This 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. Arnold’s photo is shown below and I thank him for allowing me to use it on my website.
Arabian Woodpecker


11 Sep 2017

Nubian Nightjar at Sharma – Bird record by Euan Ferguson

Euan Ferguson was in Saudi Arabia with a couple of other birdwatchers in spring 2017, conducting an environmental survey and found a Nubian Nightjar at Sharma in the far northwest coast of the Red Sea. This species is resident and breeds in the lowlands from the Yemen boarder to the Hijaz in Sadui Arabia where it has been seen northwards to KAUST north of Jeddah. There are, however, no records from as far north in the Kingdom as Sharma and it is interesting to now if this was a migrant of a resident in the area. Hopefully more records will occur in the area and shed more light on the situation. Where it is found it is locally common and favours rocky or stony areas with some vegetation although they have also been seen in sandy areas with vegetation. The best location for seeing the species is in the southwest near Jizan. I thank Euan for sending me the details of this bird and allowing me to use his excellent photo on my website.
Nubian Nightjar

9 Sep 2017

Harlequin Quail – Near Jizan

Whilst birding the area just north of Jizan on 7-8 July 2017 I saw at least six Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei with many other birds calling. This species had not been recorded in Saudi Arabia for many years, until I found some in the same area in 2015. On the 6 July Phil Roberts and I flushed a male and female bird and got very good flight views as they flew a long distance across a field. We were there at around midday when it was very hot and no calling birds were heard. The next day we went back first thing in the morning to see if birds were calling and heard a minimum of ten calling birds out of which we managed to see six including five males and a female. They would run very quickly from one area of cover to another but luckily one male ran, stopped in a slightly open area, called a couple of times, and ran off again. This brief stop to call allowed me to get a couple of photographs of it that are shown below. As far as I am aware, these are the first photographs of the species ever taken in Saudi Arabia. This is even more important as the race that occurs in southwest Saudi Arabia is C. d. Arabica and only occurs in SW Saudi Arabia and Yemen and the records are outside the migration season for this species. This subspecies is slightly paler than other races but is thought by some to possibly not be a valid subspecies, although is recorded as one by the IOC and in the Handbook of Birds of the World (HBW). HBW states, however, “race arabica, only slightly paler than others, possibly not valid, as most records in its range considered probably migrants from Africa; further study needed”. The male has a very distinctive head pattern being a combination of black-and-white, black breast and chestnut flanks with the female being similar to Common Quail although the size of the birds is slightly smaller. They favour open grassland with scattered bush cover and cultivated areas and have apparently been recorded in all months in southwest Saudi Arabia, mainly in the late 1900’s, where they are assumed to be resident.
Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei

Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei

Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei

7 Sep 2017

Sooty Gulls – Jizan Fish Market

As I am very interested in gulls, we stopped at the fish market in Jizan where we knew from past experience that photography was possible. We only managed to get there late one evening and again in the early afternoon but saw plenty of gulls at both times. Many wait around on the ground for fish waste to be thrown out and then a huge melee breaks out as all the gulls go for the waste at the same time. Sooty Gulls present were almost entirely adult birds. The species is a partial migrant or nomad with most populations undergoing southern post-breeding dispersal movements in September-November. The species breeds in the summer and usually nests colonially but forages alone. The species inhabits coasts and inshore islands and is hardly ever seen inland or at freshwater. It is found at harbours and ports, and forages inshore, in intertidal zones up to 10 km beyond reefs. It nests on coastal or inshore coral islands preferring smaller outer islands of old coral that are sparsely vegetated, rocky and sandy, preferably protected from the ocean by live reef. They feed mainly on dead fish and fishermen's offal, as well as tern eggs and chicks turtle hatchlings prawns and small fish.
Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

6 Sep 2017

Arabian Toad-headed Agama – Record by Vinu Mathew

Vinu kindly sent me a photo of an Arabian Toad-headed Agama that he took near Al Kharj and has allowed me to use on my website. The Arabian toad-headed agama Phrynocephalus arabicus, locally known as Sabahbah is also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. These lizards are also known as the chameleons of the Old World due to their striking ability to change their body colour. They typically have a wide, strong, flattened body, covered in rough skin with overlapping scales, and a long, flattened tail which is rounded at the base. The Arabian toad-headed agama is a fairly small lizard that is highly adapted to life on loose sand. It has no external ear openings and fringes of long scales around the eyes keep out sand grains. The head is short and broad with a deep forehead and snub nose. It is highly variable in colour with various patterns of black, white and reddish markings, and it tends to match the colour of its background. As such, lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those lizards on red, inland sands. All variations, however, retain a black tip on the underside of the tail which, when raised, is used in visual signals. Scurrying across the sand, seeking out its insect prey, the Arabian toad-headed agama is active in all but the hottest hours of the day. During the hottest periods, it will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. It may remain dormant during cold winter day. The Arabian toad-headed agama is able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. This species ranges from southeastern Jordan into the Arabian Peninsula, including much of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman (except the mountainous areas) and Iran (known only from the Mesopotamian Plain in the vicinity of Ahvaz). It is not known from Iraq. It occurs from sea level to around 1,000 m asl. They live in desert regions and are found in areas of soft, wind-blown sand but can also occur on harder and drier substrates with sparse vegetation. It is not found in rural agricultural areas.
Arabian Toad-headed Agama

Arabian Toad-headed Agama

5 Sep 2017

Waders and Terns – Jizan Corniche

Whilst birding the southwest of Saudi Arabia in July I spent a few hours looking at Jizan Corniche. This is an excellent area for birding and has a fantastic small inlet which waders and other water birds get pushed up at high tide. Good views of the birds can also be had here and we saw plenty of species including Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Terek Sandpiper, Eurasian Spoonbills some in breeding plumage and Pink-backed Pelican. The commonest birds seen here were Crab Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits although a few Ruddy Turnstones and Greater Sand Plovers were also present. Indian Reef Herons were along the shore and a couple of Striated Herons were also present. A few gulls were also seen with Baltic Gull, Sooty Gull and White-eyed Gull being commonest. A Western Osprey was on a post out at sea, several Saunder’s Terns and one or two Gull-billed Terns were also out to sea.
African Collared Dove
Crab Plover
Crab Plover
Crab Plover
Crab Plover
Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican

4 Sep 2017

Eastern (Sandfish) Skink – Record by Vinu Mathew

The below photo was sent to me by Vinu who has kindly allowed me to use it on my website. Vinu found the Eastern Skink Scincus mitranus near Al Kharj and it is a lizard from the skink family that grows to a length of 20 centimetres. The Arabic and local name for this lizard is Sqnkor. They have an orange-brown or sand-coloured back, and a white underside and on the side they have a line or spots in a light colour, and the back and legs have vague dark bands. The snout is shaped like a bill, and the legs and tail are short. The Eastern Skink can run quickly, or slide over the sand and dig itself in quickly when it is in danger. Its food consists of several kinds of arthropods, especially Centipedes and beetles and although the ear openings are small, these skinks have excellent hearing, which enables them to detect insect prey moving below the surface. This species is found in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia and western Iran and they live in dry and warm open areas, particularly in sand deserts. It is widely distributed in the Arabian Peninsula, east of the Asir Mountains and is found from sea level up to around 1000 metres above sea level. Its habitat consists of loose sand dune habitats and hilly landscapes with occasional dense bushes and rocky patches to hide in. Owing to their remarkable ability to seemingly ‘swim’ through sand, they are often known as sandfish. The physical adaptations that allow these lizards to move with speed below the sand surface include a streamlined body, highly polished skin, strongly developed limbs, a chisel-shaped snout, and reduced ear openings.
Eastern (Sandfish) Skink

Eastern (Sandfish) Skink

3 Sep 2017

Singing Bush Larks near Sabya – Phil’s Fields

Whilst birding the Sabya area I found a good number of Singling Bush Larks in a large set of pivot irrigation fields know as Phil’s Fields. This set of fields is an almost guaranteed place to see the species in the Kingdom. The subspecies we get in southwest Saudi Arabia is M. c. simplex that occurs in southwest Saudi Arabia, Yemen and western Oman and has upperparts somewhat warmer and browner than the nominate subspecies. The bird is a small, compact lark with shortish, stubby bill. Singing Bush Lark is an uncommon resident of the extreme southwest of Saudi Arabia and does not occur anywhere else in the country. They are often common in the very local areas where they occur and apart from the area around Sabya birds have also been seen near Shuqayri, near Jizan and at Malaki Dam Lake where they frequent fairly short grassland and cultivated land, provided that crops are short and dense enough to provide cover.
Singling Bush Lark

Singling Bush Lark

Singling Bush Lark

Singling Bush Lark

Singling Bush Lark

Singling Bush Lark

Singling Bush Lark

2 Sep 2017

Phillby’s Partridge - Tanoumah

Philby’s Partridge Alectoris philbyi is a scarce 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 area of Tanoumah seems to be the best place in the Kingdom for seeing the species but birds are very flighty and will not allow close approach. 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.
Philby’s Partridge

Philby’s Partridge


1 Sep 2017

Blue-spotted Arab - Sabya Waste Water Lagoons

Whilst birding the Sabya Waste Water Lagoons I cam across a gathering of butterflies that included a number of Blue-spotted Arab Colotis phisis. The Blue-spotted Arab ia a small butterfly occurring from Africa to India. They favour arid regions and many butterflies of the same and different Coltis species may fly in the same place, as was the case with this butterfly that was also seen with Blue-spotted Arab Colotis phisis, all Orange Tip Colotis evagore evagore and Yellow Spendour Colotis protomedia.
Blue-spotted Arab Colotis phisis

31 Aug 2017

Good numbers of Eurasian Griffon Vultures - Tanoumah Park

Tanoumah Park in southwest Saudi Arabia is positioned along the edge of the main escarpment of the Asir mountains and has very step cliffs for the Eurasian Griffon Vultures to roost on and to fly along. The birds can be seen flying over, below you as well as at eye level at this site and excellent views of many birds in the air together can be had. We had good views of up to ten 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.
Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures

Eurasian Griffon Vultures