30 Apr 2017

Nubian Ibex – Asir Mountains

Whilst in the Asir Mountains on 1 April 2017 Phil Roberts and I found two Nubian Ibex Capra nubiana in an area of steep rocky montane hills, altitude of 2000 metres above sea level. The mountains were made of crystalline rock with an average rainfall of +/-370 mm year. The animals appeared to be a female and well-grown young and where only seen for a short period before they disappeared from view and could not be found again despite extensive searching. Despite only seeing them briefly a single photo was obtained by me that is shown below. Very few people have seen this species in the wild in Saudi Arabia and whilst talking to a local farmer we found out that two animals had been seen in the area once in the last year but had not been seen for many years prior to this. This fact is borne out by the latest surveys where only seven where seen on one occasion in the south-west near to where we saw our animals despite helicopter and land surveys being undertaken. In Saudi Arabia, few systematic censuses have been made with most data coming from brief aerial and ground reconnaissance surveys made to locate populations during 1987-1989. Among the 15 sites where ibex were found, major concentrations occur in the western mountains of the Arabian shield, with isolated populations located in the north, north-central and central regions. Only scattered observations have been made in the south. The highest densities appear to be in Jabal Qaraqar, Hemah Fiqrah and Hawtat bani Tamim Ibex Reserve. Ancient rock drawings dating back several thousand years depicting Nubian ibex are to be found throughout Saudi Arabia and testify to man's long association with this species. The distribution of the Nubian ibex in Saudi Arabia spans a wide diversity of habitat types. The relict population found in the central Tuwayq occupies low-altitude, dissected escarpments of sedimentary rock, which are treeless, except in narrow canyons, where precipitation averages 50 mm a year. By contrast, ibex in the south-west of the country occupy juniper-dominated mountain summits with elevations in excess of 2000 m, and where rainfall averages over 350 mm a year. All the sites where they live area characterized by difficult terrain, which tends to limit access to livestock, and the vegetation, in terms of structure and species diversity, has remained relatively intact in these areas. There are no population estimates in the Kingdom, but overall, numbers are believed to be decreasing in areas where ibex are not protected. In contrast, ibex numbers are believed to be increasing in the two protected areas where recruitment is satisfactory and females appear to give birth to twins frequently. In the Hawtat bani Tamim Ibex Reserve, the most recent census (Spring 2007) recorded 400 individuals. The Nubian Ibex is legally protected by a hunting by-law, passed in 1979, which along with gazelles, gives the species total protection. In Saudi Arabia, it occurs in two official reserves at Tubayq Reserve in the north, and the Ibex Reserve in Hawtat bani Tamim in the east-central region. The Nubian Ibex is listed as Vulnerable under the ICUN Red List as it has an estimated population of less than 10,000 mature individuals possibly as few as 2500 mature animals with a continuing decline rate estimated at 10% over two generations (generation length estimated at 8 years). This species occurs in Egypt east of the Nile, north-east Sudan, northern Ethiopia and western Eritrea, Israel, west Jordan, scattered locations in western and central Saudi Arabia, scattered locations in Yemen, and in southern Oman. It is extinct in Lebanon and Syria.
Nubian Ibex

29 Apr 2017

Black Kites in Dhahran – Bird records by Paul Wells

Paul sent me an email yesterday saying he had been seeing Black Kites singly or a pair consistently in the last 10 days or so, but on 28 April he got a few distance shots of four birds together. This is a very high count for this species in the Eastern Province where birds are generally only seen singly, although I have seen 15 together once only. As normal these birds show signs of being Black-eared Kites but this is yet to be proved conclusively. I thank Paul for sending me the photos and allowing me to use them on my website.
Black Kites

Black Kites

28 Apr 2017

African Grey Hornbill at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment - Abha

Whilst birding the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment in late March I saw up to ten African Grey Hornbills Tockus nasutus. This is a very high number as normally only one or two birds are seen. All birds appeared to be in pairs with loud calling being seen and heard from some birds on a couple of occasions. The birds were located in the large wadi system at the bottom of the escarpment where large trees grow from the bottom of the mainly boulder strewn wadi. The African Grey Hornbill is a small member of the hornbill family being only 45 centimetres long. It is a widespread and common resident breeder in much of Sub-Saharan Africa and into Arabia, where numbers are much less common. In Saudi Arabia, birds can be seen in the southwest of the Kingdom where they are uncommon. Like most Hornbills the species prefers open woodland and savannah. The female lays two to four eggs in a tree hollow, which is blocked off during incubation with a cement made of mud, droppings and fruit pulp. There is only one narrow aperture, just big enough for the male to transfer food to the mother and the chicks. When the chicks and female outgrow the nest, the mother breaks out and rebuilds the wall, after which both parents feed the chicks. The plumage of the male and female is similar but the male has a black bill, whereas the female has red on the mandibles. Immature birds are more uniformly grey and all fly with an undulating flight. They are omnivorous, taking insects, fruit and reptiles.
African Grey Hornbill

African Grey Hornbill

African Grey Hornbill

African Grey Hornbill

African Grey Hornbill

26 Apr 2017

Verreaux's Eagle - Abha

Whilst birding the Abha area of southwestern Saudi Arabia on 31 March 2017, Phil Roberts and I came across an adult Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii flying along a steep cliff face. The bird remained on view for about five minutes before eventually alighting on the cliff itself. The bird was always distant but it was obvious that this was the species involved and I took several rather poor photos of it. This is only the second time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia and it was a new species for Phil in the Kingdom. Verreaux's Eagle is a large mainly African bird of prey that lives in hilly and mountainous regions of southern and eastern Africa (extending marginally into Chad), and very locally in West Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the southern Middle East. It is one of the most specialized species of accipitrid in the world, with its distribution and life history revolving around its favorite prey species, the rock hyrax that make up 60% of its prey. When hyrax populations decline, the species can survive with mixed success on other prey, such as small antelopes, hares, young baboons, reptiles and other assorted vertebrates. They have an altitudinal distribution from sea level to above 5000m. Adults are sedentary while juveniles and immatures will disperse. The nest is a stick structure, up to 1.8m in diameter, usually located on a cliff ledge or cave, although trees and artificial structures are also used.
Verreaux’s Eagle

Verreaux’s Eagle

Verreaux’s Eagle

Verreaux’s Eagle

Verreaux’s Eagle

Verreaux’s Eagle

24 Apr 2017

King Jird near Tanoumah – Asir Mountains

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area in April 2017 I came across a King Jird Meriones rex. The animal was making a squeaking sound reminiscent of a bird, so I was looking in a small bush when Phil Roberts who was with me pointed out the Jird on the rocks below where I was looking. It ran along a row of rocks along the edge of a small cultivated field before disappearing into a hole and not reappearing. The King Jird occurs in the highlands of the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, from near Mecca in Saudi Arabia south to near Aden in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia the species has been reported from 1,350 to 2,200 metres above sea level. This jird occurs lives in large burrows amongst bushes, preferring raised areas bordering agricultural land. It is active in the evening and early morning. It lives in burrows which it shares with other rodents and lizards. They are reported as common throughout their range. Although  have seen the King Jird on a number of occasions this is the first time I have seen one properly and also the first time I have managed to get a photo of one. Normally they are seen briefly disappearing down their burrows.
King Jird Meriones rex

King Jird Meriones rex

22 Apr 2017

Black-crowned Tchagra at the bottom of Raydah Escarpment - Abha

Whilst birding the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment in late March I came across a Black-crowned Tchagra. This was a new species for me in Saudi Arabia and one I was surprised I had not seen before. The bird was at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment an area known to attract several African species and the bird was in relatively dense cover for most of the time. There are a number of subspecies of Black-crowned Tchagra with the one occurring in southwest Saudi Arabia, west and east Yemen and southern Oman T. s. percivali. This subspecies is distinctive, and has its upperparts and underparts uniform dark grey, but chin and throat white. It differs from all other races in lacking any vestige of black or rufous on the scapulars and in having central tail feathers black (not grey-brown) a white supercilium and unpatterened tertials. The species is mainly an African one with the birds in Arabia the only subspecies occurring outside of the African continent. They are an uncommon bird seen only in the southwest of the Kingdom.
Black-crowned Tchagra

Black-crowned Tchagra

Black-crowned Tchagra

20 Apr 2017

Spur-winged Lapwings - Jubail

Whilst biding the Jubail area on 7 April 2017 Phil Roberts and I found two Spur-winged Lapwings along the edge of a flooded sabkha. The species is still scarce in the Eastern Province with all records shown below:
Haradh 24th October 1986
Dhahran 22nd November 1986
Sabkhat Al Fasl 30th October & 6th November 2009
An adult Dhahran Saudi Aramco Camp, percolation pond 12th & 13th May 2011
An adult Dhahran Saudi Aramco Camp, percolation pond 8th August 2012
Dhahran Saudi Aramco Camp, percolation pond 27th September to 2nd October 2012
An adult Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm (Fadhili) 12th October 2012
Two adult were at Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili 31 January 2013
15 birds were at NADEC dairy farm in Haradh 7 February 2013 showing the species is expanding its range eastwards into the Eastern Province
A single bird in a pivot irrigation field next to the NADEC dairy farm 5 February 2016
150 birds NADEC dairy farm 14 October 2016
Ten birds NADEC dairy farm 13 January 2017
Eleven birds NADEC dairy farm 3 February 2017


In Saudi Arabia as a whole, the Spur-winged Lapwing is a common breeder in the southwest from Yemen boarder up the Red Sea coast to near Jeddah as well as the extreme northwest and the area around Riyadh. It has now become established in the Eastern Province in good numbers in the pivot fields of Haradh but birds are only seen occasionally and in small numbers elsewhere in the Eastern Province away from this area.
Spur-winged Lapwing

18 Apr 2017

Immature Eurasian Spoonbill - Jubail

I was birding the Jubail area when I found an immature Eurasian Spoonbill on a wet Sabkha area. The bird was quite some distance away on the ground but flew after a couple of minutes. It circled around but unfortunately did not land again and flew off and away. The status of the species has changed over the years in the Eastern Province, with it being regarded as a rare and irregular visitor usually involving immature birds until the end of the 1980’s. Today it is an uncommon visitor in all months to the province. In Central Saudi Arabia the status of the species has also changed with the List of Birds of Saudi Arabia (Jennings 1981) saying there were no inland records for the country. By the mid 1980’s the Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) stated that prior to 1987 the Spoonbill was a rare autumn visitor. Since then it made frequent appearances along the Riyadh watercourse and became a spasmodic spring and autumn passage migrant and a regular winter visitor in growing numbers. In the late 1990’s the species was not recorded at all by the local birders and is still regarded as a scarce bird in the area. The main stronghold for the species in Saudi Arabia is the Red Sea where it is a common resident breeder. Largest numbers are seen in the southwest near Jizan but birds have been recorded all along the coast to north to Yanbu. Jubail is the best location to see the species in the Eastern Province but it is far from guaranteed here being only see on a few days per year.
Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

16 Apr 2017

Arabian Magpie – Tanoumah

Whilst in the southwest on the Kingdom in March and April I saw Arabian Magpie on a number of occasions. An active nest was discovered with a bird presumably incubating inside and another calling to it from outside. These birds remain very difficult to photograph and are constantly on the move looking for food. The taxonomic position of Arabian Magpie Pica asirensis is uncertain with some authorities regarding it as a full species and others not. Arabian Magpies are sedentary and localised and occur especially in the juniper forest zone, often in well vegetated upland valleys and wadis, of the Asir highlands 1850–3000 m asl. Many of these areas are remote and difficult to access so the exact numbers of birds is difficult to assess but the estimated breeding population from the Atlas of Breeding birds of Arabia, has been noted as a minimum of 135 pairs and maximum 500 pairs. One thing for certain is P. asirensisis is a taxon with a very restricted range, confined to a small region within Saudi Arabia. Numbers are decreasing probably because of heavy disturbance by tourism and perhaps changes in climate with warmer and drier weather experienced in the Asir mountains in the last few decades. The areas where Arabian Magpies have been seen in recent years appear to be restricted to three widely spaced areas, one near Abha with numbers in significant decline, one on the isolated Jebal Gaha where numbers are very low and lastly the main stronghold in the Billasmar, Tanoumah and An Numas areas. Estimating population size in this large and often inaccessible area is difficult, but the small number of recent records of Arabian Magpie and apparent reduction in its already very limited range suggests that the estimated population size of 135–500 pairs is probably too high. Numbers may be significantly less than this estimate with perhaps only 135 pairs or less. The good news is that the species is still breeding in its core area at least, and is found in areas near human habitation, sometimes utilizing waste food.
Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie


15 Apr 2017

Common Cuckoo at Dhahran Hills – Record by Paul Wells

Paul Wells a local birdwatcher in Dhahran found and photographed a Common Cuckoo around the golf course. The Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus is an uncommon passage migrant to all areas of Saudi Arabia and is not easy to see let alone photograph, so the pictures Paul took are even more impressive. Birds are more commonly seen in the spring in April than they are in the autumn although birds can be seen during this period mainly in August and September with some late stragglers seen as late as October. I have only seen a handful of birds in the Eastern Province all in the spring and have only managed to photograph a single bird. I thank Paul for sending me the details and for allowing me to use his photos on my website.
Common Cuckoo

14 Apr 2017

Chats and Shrikes – Jebal Nayyriyah

Whilst birdwatching the Jebal Nayyriyah area a few weeks ago I saw a few good species. I forgot to post these details at the time. There were a good number of Eastern Stonechats around as well a Common Chiffchaffs feeding around the edges of some of the pivot irrigation fields. Shrike numbers had just started arriving with Turkestan Shrike seen in a number of places. The main birds seen along the edges of the pivot fields were European Skylarks and Tawny Pipits with adults and first year birds seen. Some small flocks of Spanish Sparrow were seen near villages and some Desert Wheatears were seen in the open more sparsely vegetated areas.
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff
Eastern Stonechat
Eastern Stonechat 
Eastern Stonechat
Eastern Stonechat
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit
Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear

12 Apr 2017

Spotted Crake – Jubail

Whilst birdwatching the Jubail area I came across a Spotted Crake at the edge of a flooded reed bed area. This is the first Spotted Crake I have seen this spring. Spotted Crake is an uncommon passage migrant with a few birds overwintering in some years. It is probably an overlooked species, due to its skulking nature with birds in spring from late February to mid-May and in autumn occurring from September to December but mainly in October and November. The Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) says they are a spring and autumn passage migrant. Passes late February to mid May with main movement occurring in April. Return passage extends from late August to early November, peaking in October. Sightings have considerably increased with wetland expansion in the region. Up to 30 in a day have been seen in April along the Riyadh watercourse. These numbers are no longer seen in the Riyadh area although birds are still seen quite commonly at the correct time of year.
Spotted Crake

Spotted Crake

10 Apr 2017

Beema Yellow Wagtail – Jubail

Whilst birdwatching the Jubail area recently I came across a very pale headed Sykse's  Yellow Wagtail beema amongst a number of Eastern Black-headed Wagtails. This bird is the palest headed beema I can remember seeing and was very active feeding along the edge of the flooded sabnha. The Yellow Wagtail is a common passage migrant through the whole of Arabia with many thousands passing through the Eastern Province alone. A number of different subspecies occur, often together, with Jubail being a particularly good area for seeing large groups. The first subspecies to occur are Black-headed Wagtails feldegg and these are then followed normally by Eastern Yellow Wagtail melanogrisea and then beema. This year has been no different with the first Black-headed Wagtails occurring in January and the first beema in early March. Numbers should now increase with more and more birds and subspecies occurring. Yellow Wagtails are quite confiding but trying to get really good photos is challenging as they are fast moving and you have to get the light in the correct position as well as try to get some catch-light in their eyes otherwise their dark eyes look ‘dead’. If you can manage this then they make great subjects as they are very beautifully plumaged birds.
beema Yellow Wagtail

beema Yellow Wagtail

beema Yellow Wagtail

8 Apr 2017

Isabelline Wheatear Ringing Recovery - Riyadh

Abdullah recently sent me a ringing recovery of an Isabelline Wheatear that he trapped and ringed in Bahrain in 2014 that was found dead in the Riyadh region of Saudi Arabia in 2017. I would like to thank Abdullah for sending me the details that are shown below.

Isabelline Wheatear
Ring Number: D513406
Ringing date: 23-Sep-2014
Ringing Place: Busaiteen, Muharraq, Bahrain, Bahrain & Qatar (Co-ords: 26deg 16min N 50deg 36min E)
Age: Adult
Ringer: A. A. Alkaabi, 5639
Finding date: 24-Feb-2017
Finding Place: Al Qasab, Riyadh region, Saudi Arabia (Co-ords: 25deg 18min N 45deg 31min E)
Finding Condition: Bird found dead, road casualty.
Duration: 885 days
Distance: 520 km
Direction: 259 deg (W)

Finder: Anonymous

Isabelline Wheatear

6 Apr 2017

European Roller Ringing Recovery - Riyadh

Brendan recently sent me a ringing recovery of a European Roller that he and Abdullah trapped and ringed in Bahrain in 2008 that was found dead in the Riyadh region of Saudi Arabia in 2014. It was a bit of a shame that it was not found on its wintering grounds as we could have found out a bit more about where it went but it is still very interesting. The dates of ringing and finding are very similar so it would be interesting to know if it used a different route for both migrations as they are some distance apart or the route goes through both Riyadh and Bahrain? As the direction between the two points is not on the route for migration then it suggests the bird used a different migration route in 2008 than it did in 2014. I would like to thank Brendan for sending me the details that are shown below.

European Roller
Ring Number: DN76785
Ringing date: 11-Apr-2008
Ringing Place: Badan Farm, West Manama, Bahrain, Bahrain & Qatar (Co-ords: 26deg 7min N 50deg 27min E)
Age: Adult
Ringer: B Kavanagh, 4736
Finding date: 15-Apr-2014
Finding Place: Al Aflaj area, Riyadh region, Saudi Arabia (Co-ords: 22deg 3min N 46deg 34min E)
Finding Condition: Bird found dead
Duration: 2195 days
Distance: 599 km
Direction: 221 deg (SW)

Finder: Anonymous

 European Roller