30 Oct 2017

Dark Grass Blue – Tabuk

Whilst birding the large and extensive pivot irrigation fields near Tabuk I came across a huge number of Dark Grass Blue Zizeeria karsandra. Dark Grass Blue is a small butterfly found in the Southern Mediterranean, in a broad band to India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and northern and eastern Australia. It belongs to the Lycaenids or Blues family. Most information does not have the speies range in Saudi Arabia but it has been recorded in the north of the Kingdom from the west side to the east side.
Dark Grass Blue

Dark Grass Blue

28 Oct 2017

Black-eared/Black Kites - Tabuk

Whilst birding the pivot irrigation fields near Tabuk in early October we found hundreds of Black Kites. Many birds will be on passage at this time of year but many more will saty throughout the winter. Some birds looked like typical Black Kites and others like the very similar subspecies Black-eared Kite. The Black Kite is a medium-sized bird of prey that is a widespread species throughout the temperate and tropical parts of Eurasia and parts of Australasia. The two sub-species, European Black Kite & Black-eared Kite are uncommon to rare migrants, mainly in the spring, and winter visitors to Saudi Arabia. European Black Kite Milvus migrans migrans - Breeds Central, Southern and Eastern Europe to Tien Shan and south to NW Pakistan. Winters in sub-Saharan Africa. Black-eared Kite Milvus migrans lineatus - Siberia to Amurland South around Himalaya to Iran, Northern India, Northern Indochina and Southern China; Japan. Northern inland birds migrate to East Persian Gulf coast and South Asia in winter. Recent DNA studies (Jeff A. Johnson, Richard T. Watson and David P. Mindell (2005) Prioritising species conservation: does the Cape Verde kite exist? Proc. R. Soc. B 272:1365–1371) suggests that the Black-eared Kite (M. m. lineatus), is not sufficiently distinctive to justify specific status. As molecular information is much more reliable in this species than in the Red Kite, the Black-eared Kite should be regarded a distinct allopatric subspecies. Another reason why lineatus and migrans are probably distinct sub-species is there is a large interbreeding zone in Central Asia, Siberia & Mongolia. These intergrades may well also occur in Saudi Arabia and as a result the Black Kite situation in Saudi Arabia is very complicated and many birds are often best left as unidentified to sub-species level.
Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite


26 Oct 2017

Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard - Tabuk

Whilst birdwatching near Tabuk I found a Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus opheodurus. Owing to its superficial similarity to its larger congener Acanthodactylus boskianus, the Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard was only described officially in 1980. As its name suggests, this species has a particularly long tail and, in common with other Acanthodactylus species, the toes are fringed with scales adapted for running over loose sand. Like other lacertids, the body is long and cylindrical, and the legs are well developed, with the animal having a basic body colour of grey, with seven dark stripes running down the back and sides and a tail tinged red in immatures. They live in a range of arid habitats, including plains with relatively hard sand cover and low hills covered by dense bushes. It is a diurnal lizard and lives in burrows excavated out of hard sand where it remains concealed for all but a few hours of the day. Their burrows not only act as a shelter from predators but also provide refuge from extreme temperatures. The snake-tailed fringe-toed lizard is currently known from the Arabian Peninsula and several other countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq. I thank Mansur Al Fahad for help with the identification of this record.
Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard

Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard

24 Oct 2017

Steppe Eagles - Tabuk


Whilst in Tabuk in early October, Phil Roberts and I came across a number of Steppe Eagles of various ages. We saw at least five different birds and managed to get good flight views of at least three birds shown below. It is difficult to know if these birds will winter in the area or move south to cross into Africa via the Bab El Mandib straights in Yemen. Steppe Eagle 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. They breed from the Black Sea eastwards across central Asia to Mongolia and migrate to winter south to southern Africa and southern Asia. They pass through the Middle East in large numbers on migration. The juvenile birds shown below have wide even width whitish bands on the trailing edges and centre of the underwings and on the tail tip. They also have a uniformly coloured body and wing-coverts and whitish under-tail coverts. Whitish tips to the greater upperwing coverts and secondaries form bands across, and trailing edges to, the upperwings. They also have whitish uppertail coverts. The adult seen had dark brown underwings with blackish carpal patches with wide dark terminal bands on the flight feathers. They do not have the whitish underwing bands of younger birds. Head, body and under-tail coverts are uniform dark brown.

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

22 Oct 2017

Baluch Ground Gecko – Jebal Lawz

Whilst birding Jebal Lawz I found a small and well camoflagued gecko on a rock at the end of a wadi. It was a Baluch Ground Gecko Bunopus tuberculatus, a small, ground-dwelling gecko with rather short, straight toes, a long tail, and conspicuous tubercles on the back and flanks. The body is generally tan coloured, giving good camouflage against its sandy habitat, and the tail is barred. As this gecko was living in a mountainous landscape with dark rocks its ground colour was dark to match its surroundings. As in other geckos, the eyelids are fused together, forming a transparent covering to the eye, however, unlike many other geckos, it lacks expanded toe pads, and is therefore unable to climb vertical surfaces. As its common name suggests, it lives on the ground, digging burrows in the sand and also hiding under surface debris. It is likely to be active at night, feeding on a variety of insects, spiders and other small invertebrates but little is known about it lifestyle. They have been reported as abundant and widespread in vegetated sandy plains and in coastal habitats and can also be found in rocky deserts and near farms, but are not seen in homes. They are found in the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula and southwest Asia, from Israel, Jordan and Syria, south into Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman, north to Turkmenistan and east to Pakistan.
Baluch Ground Gecko


20 Oct 2017

Looking for Chukar Partridge – Jebal Lawz

On 7 October Phil Roberts and I went to Jebal Lawz, about 200 kilometres outside Tabuk, to look for Chukar Partridge. We git there before first light and waiting to try to hear any birds calling. The site is very remote and as a result is very quiet so hearing calling birds should have been easy. In reality it was very difficult, made more so by the closed and locked gate across the road preventing access to the top of the mountain where birds had been seen before. We did eventually hear birds calling lower down the road, but they were high up on a rocky mountain. I eventually saw two birds calling from this high cliff face but the distance from the birds was huge and the views poor. We stayed around for almost ten hours trying to hear or see the birds again but without luck. Bird life was very limited in the area and we only saw a few species including White-crowned Wheatear, Montagu’s Harrier, Common Kestrel, Rock Dove, Desert Lark, Tristram’s Starling, Lesser Grey Shrike, Pale Crag Martin, Scrub Warbler and Sinai Rosefinch.
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear 
Streaked Scrub Warbler
Streaked Scrub Warbler
Streaked Scrub Warbler
Streaked Scrub Warbler
Pale Crag Martin
Pale Crag Martin

18 Oct 2017

Jabal al-Lawz

In early October Phil Roberts and I went to Tabuk for the weekend to look at Jabal al-Lawz. This is a mountain located in northwest Saudi Arabia, near the Jordan border, above the Gulf of Aqaba at 2580 metres above sea level. It is Saudi Arabia’s second highest mountain after Jebal Soudah near Abha in the southwest of the Kingdom. Its name means the mountain of almonds, but I certainly did not see any almonds or virtually any other vegetation excepting a few Juniper trees. Geologically it is a light-colored, calc-alkaline granite that is intruded by rhyolite and andesite dikes, which generally trend eastward. Claims have been made by some writers such as Bob Cornuke, Ron Wyatt and Lennart Moller that this is the real biblical Mount Sinai, but these have subsequently been questioned by others. The mountain is very beautiful, but it is not possible to get to the top as a closed security gate prevents access. When we arrived, before first light, signs said not to enter past the gate. We waited until security came and asked permission to enter but were refused, so had to stay on the lower slopes.