31 Mar 2018

Birding the jebals – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebals of the Jebal Hamrah area with Phil Roberts we relocated the Hooded Wheatear that I had seen the week previously. This may be because the bird has wintered here although alternatively may be a long staying spring migrant or possibly looking for somewhere to breed. A visit during the summer may shed some more light on the species status in the Eastern Province as a possible breeder. A single Blue Rock Thrush was located at the bottom of the escarpment, but did not linger long before flying off. This species is an uncommon passage migrant to the Eastern Province and is generally not seen on the coast, with most birds moving well inland before settling as this bird did. The number of species seen in the jebal areas is normally very low but this area is very good for both White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Lark. More than ten of each of these species were seen, with a few of the Wheatears singing and the larks regularly calling to each other. This area is a less populated and more pleasant area to bird then the Shedgum Escarpment but is further to drive to reach unfortunately.
Hooded Wheatear - female
Hooded Wheatear - female
Hooded Wheatear - female
Hooded Wheatear - female
White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Blue Rock-Thrush - female
Blue Rock-Thrush - female

30 Mar 2018

Painted Lady Butterfly – Dhahran Hills

The first Painted Lady butterfly of the year appear in late March possibly as a result of the very heavy rains. Although the Painted Lady can survive in Saudi Arabia in most years the majority of butterflies are probably migrants. The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world occurring on all continents except Antarctica. It is a large butterfly with a buffy-orange background colour to the upper-wings. The forewings have black tips marked with white spots and the hind-wings have rows of brown or black circular spots. The underside of the wing is pale buff brown than the upper-wing. Newly emerged butterflies are brighter coloured, with the colouring becoming muted with age.
Painted Lady

29 Mar 2018

Bimaculated Larks – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah pivot irrigation fields recently with Phil Roberts, I came across a Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata. The bird was on the edge of the field in with a very large group of around three hundred Greater Short-toed Larks, but flew almost immediately. We moved to where it had landed and refound the bird with two more. After much moving around and trying to relocate the birds to get some photographs to eliminate the chance of any of them being Calandra Larks, a species that has been present in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE this winter, we eventually decided there were eight birds present. The species apparently breeds in the Harrat al Harrah Reserve and is otherwise a scarce or uncommon passage migrant mainly in March and April as well as October and November throughout the Kingdom. Most records are from the Riyadh area with very few from the Eastern Province although Phil and I saw a flock of 40 in a pivot irrigation field near Nayriyyah 14 March 2013.
Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

Bimaculated Lark

28 Mar 2018

Seven species of Wheatear – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah area in March I came across seven species of Wheatear in a single day including Black-eared Wheatear, Hooded Wheatear, White-crowned Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Pied Wheatear and Desert Wheatear. The week previously, I also saw an Eastern Mourning Wheatear, making a total of eight species in a week. The birds were found in varying habitats with the Jebals holding Hooded Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear, the pivot fields holding Northern Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and Pied Wheatear and the surrounding stony desert having both Black-eared Wheatear and Desert Wheatear. This location is proving to be a very good one for wintering birds as well as residents and passage migrants and is certainly worth looking at more regularly from my point of view.
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Hooded Wheatear - female
Hooded Wheatear - female 
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear

27 Mar 2018

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard – Jebal Hamrah

A few days ago I was walking around the flat stoney desert area near Jebal Hamrah when I came across an Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard sunning itself by its hole. It was still quite cool as it was a blue colour. They become yellow when they have heated up. These lizards are relatively common and widespread across Saudi Arabia preferring hard stony ground to excavate their holes. Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx spp.) is a medium to large sized, heavily built lizard with a spiny club like tail, which has been likened to a small living dinosaur. They are ground dwelling and live in some of the most arid regions of the planet including northern Africa, the Middle East, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India. The generic name (Uromastyx) is derived from the Ancient Greek words ourá (οὐρά) meaning "tail" and mastigo (Μαστίχα) meaning "whip" or "scourge", after the thick-spiked tail characteristic of the species. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis is most common in Saudi Arabia and is the one that occurs in the Eastern Province and is generally regarded as a subspecies of the Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia). It is locally known to the Arabs as 'Dhub'.
Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

25 Mar 2018

Trumpeter Finch – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah pivot irrigation fields recently with Phil Roberts we came across a pair of Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus. This species is a locally common widespread resident found in manly arid rocky areas where it is thinly distributed. Birds are seen throughout the year but may become common after good rains with high count of 80+ on 20 August 1990 near Riyadh. In this area they are a common resident at Thumamah and rather less so at Wadi Hanifah. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) states they are a common breeding resident around the Tuwaiq Escarpment but breeds less commonly elsewhere. Flocks disperse after breeding and may then be encountered randomly throughout the region. Birds are not often seen in the Eastern Province but occur where there are escarpments such as Shedgum and Judah. They have been seen in the Empty Quarter but not on the Tihama or Asir except near Najran where they occur on the drier margins of the Hejaz.
Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finch

24 Mar 2018

Common Ground Mantis – Jebal Hamrah

Common Ground Mantis Eremiaphila braueri is a small species of mantis that has adapted for desert life in the harsh middle eastern deserts. It like other members of its genus is a light brown color with a short thorax and abdomen. When stationary it looks like a small stone. It inhabits the arid deserts of the Middle East, scurrying amongst sand and stone. The desert mantis is able to camouflage so well into its habitat that it’s almost impossible to spot, even when it’s right in front of you.
Common Ground Mantis

23 Mar 2018

Eastern Orphean Warbler – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding Jebal Hamrah in early March I saw a male Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris in a small shrub in one of the wide wadies along the bottom of the escarpment near Judah. This species is a scarce passage migrant to all areas, rather common in the west but rare in the Gulf, with mostly single birds seen. Birds are most often recorded in March and April and September to October. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) state it is a spring and autumn passage migrant. Passes from mid-January to early May and again throughout September. Numbers variable but generally uncommon and seen in ones and twos only. The sub-species S. c. belchanica passes through the region. Males have a sharply delimited, well-defined blackish cap and lack the white eye often depicted for the species. The sighting was a good one for me as I seldom see this species in Saudi Arabia and only have one poor photo. Unfortunately for me, the one time it came out into the open the sun was in the wrong direction so my photo was not the best. By the time I moved to have the sun behind me, the bird had disappeared deep into a bush and despite waiting for a very long time it did not come out into the open again. The subspecies we get in Saudi Arabia is Sylvia crassirostris balchanica from SW Caspian Sea region, NE Iraq east to SE Turkmenistan and SE Iran; non breeding in S Iran, S Pakistan and SE Arabia (UAE, Oman). This subspecies has a dark eye.
Eastern Orphean Warbler

Eastern Orphean Warbler

Eastern Orphean Warbler




22 Mar 2018

Blanford's Short-nosed Desert Lizard – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birdwatching at Jebal Hamrah recently I found a Blandford's Short-nosed Desert Lizard or Short-nosed Lizard. It is a small to medium-sized, slightly depressed lizard, with a maximum length of 55 millimetres  Snout distinctly short and nasal areas somewhat swollen. Lower eyelid with a window made of two large, semi-transparent scales of roughly equal size. Dorsal side of tibia covered with smooth scales. Dorsal surfaces pinkish gray, with reddish and light spots, which might form a weak striated pattern; reddish spots are larger on the flanks and sides of tail. This species ranges from Turkey, through much of Syria, eastern Lebanon, and most of Jordan to the northern Arabian Peninsula (northern and eastern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait United Arab Emirates), east to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Punjab, northern India. It occurs from sea-level up to at least 900 m. There is also an isolated population in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt). They are found in a wide variety of arid areas with hard substrates. It can be found on gravelly plains with sparse vegetation, and in coastal areas. It is also known from gravel plains and blown sand areas in wadis. The female lays five clutches of between one and six eggs per year. I thank Mansur Al-Fahad for the identification of this lizard.
Blanford's Short-nosed Desert Lizard

21 Mar 2018

Plenty of White-crowned Wheatear – Jebal Hamrah

A very early morning trip to Jebal Hamrah turned up plenty of White-crowned Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga. The birds preferred areas near to the steep cliff faces and as we arrived at dawn it was not too hot so we had a walk around some likely looking areas seeing quite a few and many more whilst driving along the edge of the escarpment. Their song and calls are very distinctive and makes them relatively easy to find. They are a locally common breeding resident in dry rocky areas of Saudi Arabia and occur from the Hejaz north from Taif, Northern Hejaz, Asir south of Soudah and Najran, Tuwaiq escarpment and locally in the Gulf in areas like Shedgum escarpment and Jebal Hamrah. Also Jauf, Hail and Dawadimi.
White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

20 Mar 2018

Female Hooded Wheatear – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah with Greg Askew recently we came across a wheatear at the bottom of the escarpment in a largish wadi. It looked a little different, so we got out of the car and went and had a look. After a short while we saw the bird again and it turned out to be a female Hooded Wheatear. These birds are quite distinct with their large size and long thin bill and the females have reddish tails with restricted black. They are a rare or scarce but widespread bird throughout the region and are most often encountered in barren, remote stretches such as those between Buwayb and Towqi in the Riyadh area and the Jebal Hamrah and Shedgum Escarpment areas of the Eastern Province. Greg saw a different female in the same general area a couple of weeks earlier and it is unclear if the birds are winter visitors, breeding residents or passage migrants. Further visits to the area may show more clearly their status in the region. They are probably resident however, as I have seen birds in the summer months also. Ealsewhere in Saudi Arabia they are a rare but widespread breeding resident of Central Arabia. Also occurs at Najran, Northern Hejaz as well as the Gulf.
Hooded Wheatear

Hooded Wheatear


19 Mar 2018

Greater Short-toed Larks – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding some pivot irrigation fields near Jebal Hamrah recently I came across very large numbers of Greater Short-toed Larks, totalling several hundred birds. Some of the birds were quite rufous in colour with others much paler and greyer suggesting two sub-species may be present. The trouble with Greater Short-toed Larks is that the geographical variation is clinal in nature becoming paler and greyer towards the east and more rufous and streaked above to the west. The photos below show the difference in colour between the most rufous bird and the other more typical ones. There were probably a hundred Lesser Short-toed Larks in the flock but I did not manage to photograph any.
Greater Short-toed Lark

Greater Short-toed Lark

Greater Short-toed Lark

Greater Short-toed Lark

Greater Short-toed Lark

17 Mar 2018

Spanish Sparrows trapped and ringed – Sabkaht Al Fasl

Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 23 February we trapped and ringed two male and several female Spanish Sparrow. This is only the second time we have ringed the species at the location. Spanish Sparrow has recently (the last five years) started occurring at Sabkhat Al Fasl in the winter with at least two groups regularly seen now. They are not so common in the area where I live but occur much more frequently in the northern areas of the province as well as elsewhere in the north and west.
Spanish Sparrow.

Spanish Sparrow.
Add caption

15 Mar 2018

Pale Crag Martins – Jebale Hamrah

Whilst birding the Judah area (two hours drive towards Riyadh from Dhahran)  known as Jebal Hamrah recently Phil Roberts and I found a few Pale Crag Martins and managed to locate a small cliff where three birds were continually flying around and landing. A fter some time we managed to get in a position to take a few photographs of them, easily the best ones I have manged to take at rest in the Kingdom. Pale Crag Martin is a common breeding resident in all areas wherever there are rock outcrops or cliffs, and have in the past formed flocks in winter of over 300 but there have been no records like this that I am aware of for many years.
Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin