30 Sep 2017

Only one Egyptian Nightjar remaining – Jubail

Egyptian Nightjars are now an easily seen species during the summer months in the Jubail area and one bird has been seen regularly sitting under the same bush for a couple of months now. It was still present in its same location on 22 September making this the latest record for the summer birds as they have all gone by mid-September. All the other birds seen this simmer, that totalled at least 15 have now departed. The status and timing of this species is still changing and we are trying to work out when they arrive and when they depart as well as if they breed. This year has recorded the earliest arrival date and the latest arrival date but unfortunately not proof of breeding.
Egyptian Nightjar

28 Sep 2017

Some spring migrants in northwest Saudi Arabia – 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 number of good birds and many migrants in the northwest if the Kingdom at Sharma on the Red Sea coast and further inland at Dumat. The survey team added a lot of knowledge to the birds seen in the area showing how valuable environmental surveys can be. Euan sent me a number of his photos and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website some of which are shown below.
Bluethroat
Bluethroat
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Green Bee-eater
Green Bee-eater
Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Common Quail
Common Quail 
Savi's Warbler
Savi's Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher 
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Wryneck
Wryneck
Black-headed Wagtail
Black-headed Wagtail

26 Sep 2017

Migrants returning - Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail in September the first real return of migrants was seen. Obvious migrants included European Bee-eaters and shrikes including Red-backed, Turkestan, Daurian and Woodchat. Other migrants seen were Northern Shoveller and Isabelline Wheatear with plenty of Red-throated Pipits flying over. The injured Greater Spotted Eagle is still present so hopefully, its wing is mending and it will soon be fit to fly. It has been around for some months now and looks fit and healthy apart from its wing. Unfortunately, it could not be caught for treatment. We also saw an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron an unusual species at the location.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Northern Shoveler
Turkestan Shrike
Turkestan Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike

24 Sep 2017

Decreasing numbers of Egyptian Nightjar - Jubail

The number of Egyptian Nightjars have decreased from the high of 15 birds to one through the summer months of June to September. This is the regular case in recent years when all birds leave by mid-September at the latest and sometimes early September. In 2017 The Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius was first seen on 16 June with numbers increasing quickly until mid-July and then staying stable until late August and dropping into September. The species remains uncommon in Saudi Arabia but can be seen in summer at both Jubail and Al Hassa as well as at Khafra Marsh.
Egyptian Nightjar

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