22 Feb 2017

Winter visitors and passage migrants – Haradh

Phil Roberts and I went to Haradh recently and found plenty of good birds despite the temperature being 1 degrees Celsius the coldest day for many years in the region as well as a bitingly cold northerly wind. Some birds were winter visitors such as Mallard, Northern Lapwing, Desert Wheatear, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Tawny Pipit whilst others were spring migrants such as Common Redstart, Common Chiffchaff, Mauryan Grey Shirke. We also saw a few interesting resident species such as Long-legged Buzzard, Spur-winged Plovers that appear to have colonized the pivot irrigation and farm areas of Haradh in recent years as well as Spanish Sparrows and Namaqua Doves. A few winter harriers were still present including Marsh Harrier and Pallid Harrier and there were plenty of Common Kestrels as well.
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Mallard
Mallard
Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
Spur-winged Lapwing
Spur-winged Lapwing
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit

21 Feb 2017

Two Great Black-headed Gulls – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area last weekend we came across two Great Black-headed Gulls sitting on a flooded area of sabkha. One bird was an adult in full summer plumage with the other being a second calendar year bird. Jubail has turned out to be a good site to see the species in the last five years with birds seen each winter. The Great Black-headed Gull is an uncommon winter visitor to the Arabian Gulf and southern Red Sea coastal areas that is also rarely seen inland. The first birds are normally not seen until December or January, with March probably the best time to see the species. Apart from Sabkhat Al Fasl the other good location for seeing the species is the causeway to Bahrain where birds can often be seen hanging in the wind over the road and up to ten adult summer birds have been seen on recent crossings.
Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

Great Black-headed Gull

20 Feb 2017

Caspian Stonechat - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I noticed an interesting looking Stonechat in the reed bed edge. Unfortunately it flew off and I could not relocate it. I went back to the location where I had seen the bird at the end of my birding and luckily saw the bird again in the reeds and then on the ground and managed to get a few photos of it. I could see that the bird had a lot of white in the tail when it flicked it, which it did on a regular basis. With a tail pattern like this the bird was obviously a Saxicola maurus hemprichii  or Caspian Stonechat also known as North Caspian Taxon (NCT). The northern population has a very characteristic male plumage with extensive white portions on each side of the inner tail (between half and three-quarters of the outer tail feathers white), not unlike the pattern in many wheatears or male Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio. This can be seen on one of the below photos and can easily be seen on a flying bird, but can be more difficult to confirm on perched birds with closed tails. The amount of white in the tail on males is subject to a subtle cline; at its maximum in the Volga Delta region, becoming slightly more restricted in the south. Both sexes resemble nominate maurus from further east and north in that they have a large unstreaked pale rump patch, buffish when fresh, white when abraded and bleached. In comparison, European Stonechat S. rubicola has a streaked rump with usually limited white. The hemprichii male has a concentrated red-brown chest patch and a large white patch on the neck-sides, again more like nominate maurus and different from most rubicola which again can be seen on the photographs below. The bird remained in the same place for at least two weeks.
Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus

Saxicola torquatus variegatus





19 Feb 2017

Fat Sand Rats near Jubail – Record by Arnold Uy

Arnold Uy took some excellent photos of Fat Sand Rats near Jubail and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website some of which are shown below. The Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus subspecies that lives in Saudi Arabia is P. o. dianae. Arnold mentioned there are a number of birds of prey in the area that appear to be hunting them including Long-legged Buzzard, Greater Spotted Eagle and Steppe Eagle. All these species are regular winter visitors to the Eastern Province of the Kingdom but none are common so to see them all in a small area is very interesting. I am still yet to see the Fat Sand Rat in Saudi Arabia as I obviously bird the wrong areas but will try to see these animals in the near future.
Fat Sand Rat

Fat Sand Rat

Fat Sand Rat

18 Feb 2017

Migratory Locust – Abu Hadriyah

Whilst at Abu Hadriyah I saw a Migratory Locust Locusta migratoria in a small area of vegetation in a vast desert of sand. They are most often seen in pivot irrigation fields where large numbers can be seen but I only noticed one although it was a very small area of vegetation. Normally they occur in small numbers throughout Arabia, but rarely form into swarms. There are two colour forms, brown and green with the green colour forms mainly solitary adult females. Under favourable breeding conditions they can form into vast groups, with young ‘hoppers’ often all marching in the same direction. They are very strong fliers and migratory specimens have been recorded as far away as Great Britain. The migratory locust is the most widespread locust species in the world, and the only species in the genus Locusta. It occurs throughout Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Migratory Locust

17 Feb 2017

Greater Hoopoe-lark at Qaryat Al Ulya – Record by Vinu Mathew

Vinu Mathew took some photos of a Greater Hoopoe-Lark near Qaryat Al Ulya last weekend and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website some of which are shown below. The Greater Hoopoe-lark is a common breeding resident to all sandy desert areas of the Kingdom including the Empty Quarter, the desert regions of the Southern Red Sea and the Tihamah. They are uncommon in the North-west. They are common in the Eastern Province but normally seen in small numbers except in winter when large gatherings can occur near pivot irrigation fields and surrounding desert areas. 
Greater Hoopoe-Lark

Greater Hoopoe-Lark

Greater Hoopoe-Lark

Greater Hoopoe-Lark

16 Feb 2017

Fifteen Oriental Skylarks – Jubail

Phil Roberts and I found a group of fifteen Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula in Jubail 10 February 2017, only the second time we had seen the species in the Kingdom. The birds were discovered on the ground feeding with a few Greater Short-toed Larks and a single Eurasian Skylark but were clearly different to either species and in flight gave a very distinct buzzing flight call and lacked the white trailing edge to the wing. The first records was only discovered in Saudi Arabia in the mid 1980’s when six were found at Dhahran Saudi Aramco camp, percolation pond, 22-23 October 1984, were found at Dhahran BROWN, G. K. & J. PALFREY. 1986. The Small Skylark, a new species for Saudi Arabia. Sandgrouse 7:55-59. Since this date there have been very few records although the species could be overlooked, as it is very similar to Eurasian Skylark save for a distinctive buzzing call, short primary wing projection, and warmer colouration. The other records I know of include one on 1 October 1999 at Thumamah Estate in a big pivot-irrigated field, close to The King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre where the bird gave a buzzing call: ”biz-biz” and had a lack of white trailing edge to the wing. There are also a number of records from the Eastern Province including, twenty five at Abu Ali party on 3 January 1991, Sabkha al-Fasl three on 17 November 1991 increasing to seven on 3 December 1991, three at Abu Hadayah on 6 October 1995, two at Uttayyiq Agricultural Area 2 February 1996, three near Thaj in March 1997 and a party of eighteen from 27 January - 2 March 2000 at Jubail on a landscape lawn and four Sabkhat Al Fasl 11 November 2016. The birds we found may have included the four seen at the same site 11 November 2016 in which case they would have spent the winter here. They were, however, in a different location and we have birded the site regularly in-between the dates without locating them.




15 Feb 2017

Long-legged Buzzard near Al Hassa – Bird record by Praleesh Prasannan

Praleesh Prasannan took the below photographs of Long-legged Buzzard near Al Hassa recently and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website. I also thank Vinu Mathew for getting me permission for there use. In the Eastern Province it is a breeding resident, which is thinly distributed in small numbers. Bird numbers appear to increase I winter so there is either an influx from elsewhere or birds move from their breeding areas to more favourable wintering sites. This winter has been a very good one for the species with birds seen over a wide area of the Eastern Province and more than normal seen in nearby Bahrain and Qatar. 
Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard

14 Feb 2017

Common Starlings - Jubail

Whilst in the Jubail area recently I saw plenty of Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris at local camel pens. These camel pens hold good numbers of livestock and attract large numbers of House Sparrows but also a few Common Starlings in the winter. This winter there appear to be more birds than normal possibly as a result of the cold weather in the north, where Phil Roberts told me there was snow whilst he was in Jordon on 27 January. The species is not easy to photograph in the Kingdom so I was glad to get good views and a couple of photos even though the conditions were not idea as there was a very strong wind and large amounts of dust in the air.  They are a winter visitor that is common in the Eastern Province Gulf but rather uncommon and erratic in Tabuk, Riyadh and Jeddah. I would like to Thank Arnold Uy for letting me know the location of these birds.
Common Starling

Common Starling

13 Feb 2017

Woodchat Shrike at Abu Hadryia – Record by Munzir Khalid Khan

Munzir took some excellent photos of Woodchat Shrike near Abu Hadryia on 8 February, a relatively early date for this uncommon passage migrant. Munzir has kindly allowed me to use them on my website some of which are shown below. Woodchat Shrike is an uncommon passage migrant normally passing in mid-February until mid-May, peaking in April, and again from mid-August to mid-October peaking in September. Variable numbers occur each year with some year’s birds being plentiful and in others uncommon.
Woodchat Shrike

Woodchat Shrike

12 Feb 2017

Twelve Black-throated Thrushes still present – Deffi Park

After finding four Black-throated Thrushes at Deffi Park, Jubail on 20 January I went back a week later to see if I could get better photos and see if anything else had turned up and found 12 birds in the same place. Other photogrpahers have been to the site in between and seen only three birds but when I went back with Phil on 10 February we saw 12 birds again. This suggests the birds move to somewhere else in Jubail for part of the time and use Deffi park at other times. As these birds are extremely rare visitors to Saudi Arabia this is an amazing sight particularly as there are at least 15 Song Thrushes present as well. Photography is difficult as light is poor in the early morning, they generally stay in the shade but occasionally they would come out into more open areas.
Black-throated Thrush

Black-throated Thrush

Black-throated Thrush

Black-throated Thrush

Black-throated Thrush

Black-throated Thrush





11 Feb 2017

Pied Wheatear - Haradh


Whilst birding the Haradh area I found a Pied Wheatear. The bird was very tame suggesting it was a tiered newly arrived migrant and it spent most of its time busily catching insects. There were plenty of other migrants seen in the same area meaning the strong winds and very cod weather may have persuaded a few birds to start their spring migration early. Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka is a common spring migrant that is less common in autumn. Most years birds are recorded in spring between early February and Mid-May, peaking in March and in autumn from late August to mid-November commonest in second half of September. The Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) stated they were a common spring migrant, less common in autumn. Passes early January to early April and again from September to early November. The spring movement peaks during late February and early March then reduces to a trickle. Occasionally recorded in December.
Pied Wheatear

Pied Wheatear

Pied Wheatear

Pied Wheatear

Pied Wheatear

10 Feb 2017

Yellow Wagtails wintering in a field – Haradh

Whilst birdwatching the Haradh area in early a January 2017 I came across up to 30 Yellow Wagtails including some male Black-headed Wagtails feeding in a stubble field. This is a very early date for the birds and they may well have wintered in the area. Mid-February is the start of the spring passage for this species and Black-headed Wagtail feldegg is often the first subspecies to occur. The Black-headed Wagtail is part of the Yellow Wagtail complex a group of birds that are common spring and autumn passage migrants, sometimes in hundreds. Thy pass from mid-February to May and again from early August to mid-November with many races identifiable in the field including feldegg, melanogrisia, lutea, flava, thunbergi and bema. In spring the black-headed yellow wagtail feldegg (considered by some as a separate species) is often the first subspecies to occur with bema, flava and thunbergi following. By April, flocks of more than a hundred birds are regularly recorded in cultivated areas. During the autumn peak passage, in October, numbers are higher with flocks occasionally exceeding 500 birds. Occasionally they are also recorded during summer and winter such as these birds.
Black-headed Wagtail

Black-headed Wagtail

Black-headed Wagtail