29 Jun 2018

Barbary Falcon – Western KSA

Whilst birding watching in the west of the Kingdom I came across three juvenile Barbary Falcons Falco pelegrinoides. This is a rare breeding species whose numbers have declined significantly during the last twenty years and is rarely seen in the Kingdom nowadays. Two birds where seen flying high with another one luckily flying lower overhead to allow some reasonable photos to be taken. Although I have seen Barbary Falcon once before, these are the first photographs I have taken of the species in the Kingdom. I sent the photos to Andrea Corso, a renowned bird expert, for confirmation on my identification as Barbary Falcon and Andrea very kindly responded with the following comments: “The darker bird is a more Peregrine-like juvenile, with dark markings on underbody reaching the lower flanks, thigh-feathers, and undertail. The paler birds are more Barbary Falcon like juveniles, with dark markings concentrated on the middle breast/belly, and little or no patterning on undertail coverts, lower flanks and trousers”. 
Barbary Falcon - Falco pelegrinoides

Barbary Falcon - Falco pelegrinoides

Barbary Falcon - Falco pelegrinoides

Barbary Falcon - Falco pelegrinoides

Barbary Falcon - Falco pelegrinoides

Barbary Falcon - Falco pelegrinoides


27 Jun 2018

Could Squacco Heron be breeding? – Jubail

During the last few summer trips to Jubail I have found a few Squacco Herons in full breeding plumage as well as some is less pristine plumage. The species is very common here on spring and autumn migration as well as in the winter but is scarce in summer. Birds do occur here year round and are suspected to breed but I have found no positive evidence yet that they do. These summer records add more circumstantial evidence of breeding with birds seen each summer in breeding plumage since 2014. This species has only been recorded breeding occasionally in the Eastern province previously although they breed commonly in the west of the Kingdom.
Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron


25 Jun 2018

Fat Sand Rat – Near Jubail

I went to an area near Jubail in mid-June where Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus had been seen before as I have not seen them before. I had been there previously but failed to see them so this time left at 03:00 to get to the site by first light. This time it paid off and we saw at least four animals. They were always close to the shrubs digging in the sand or near their burrows. They only stayed out in the open until 05:00 when they all disappeared and were not seen again. The Fat Sand Rat a stocky, gerbil-like rodent, native to desert regions. Its upper parts are reddish-brown, reddish, yellowish or sandy buff and the underparts are yellowish, buffy or whitish. The subspecies that lives in Saudi Arabia is P. o. dianae. The sturdy limbs bear blackish claws and the short, stout tail that is fully haired and has a black terminal tuft. The small, rounded ears are covered with dense whitish to yellowish hair. This species communicates through high-pitched squeaks and by drumming its feet. They have a total length of 25.1 - 35.6 cm with a tail length of 10 - 15.7 cm and weigh 32-43 grams. They are found in North Africa and the Middle East and have been recorded in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They inhabit deserts, semi-desert, rocky habitats and grasslands, provided that succulent shrubs, on which the rat feeds, are present. They live in colonies in complex burrow systems, which have separate areas for nesting and the storage of food. Compared to other members of the Muridae family (the mice, rats and gerbils), the fat sand rat is rather unusual as it is diurnal and wholly herbivorous; most other species in this family are nocturnal and feed primarily on grains. In winter their main activity is during the day, but during the summer months they prefer the shade and can be found inside the burrow or in the shade of the surrounding bushes. Its diet consists of leaves and stems and, unlike high-energy seeds, these foods are rather low in energy. As a result, it has to eat around 80 percent of its body weight in food each day to obtain sufficient energy. The fat sand rat does not need to drink water, a useful adaptation in arid habitats, and instead can get all the water it needs by feeding on the leaves of the saltbush which are up to 90 percent water and licking morning dew. However, this water has an extremely high concentration of salt, and so the fat sand rat must produce very salty, concentrated urine in order to expel the salt from its body.
Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus

Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus

Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus


Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus

Fat Sand Rat - Psammomys obesus


23 Jun 2018

Summertime birding - Jubail

Birding the Jubail area in June gave a few surprising migrants including Whinchat, European Bee-eater, Red-backed Shrike, Barn Swallow and Sand Martin. A Western Cattle Egret was also a surprise as they are a winter species that has normally departed by this time of year. A few summer plumage Squacco Herons were also present showing for the fifth year that they probably breed at the site, although no proof of this has been found yet. White-cheeked and Little Terns are back in large numbers for the breeding season and will remain around until September. Resident Gull-billed and Caspian Terns were also present in much smaller numbers to the previous two tern species. Over 2000 Greater Flamingo remain on one of the large sabkha areas where the first breeding in Saudi Arabia was noted a couple of years ago. Large numbers of singing Caspian Reed Warblers were present in the reed beds singing in competition with Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers. Little Bitterns were seen in flight several times as were a group of twelve Grey Herons.
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Little Bittern
Little Tern
Little Tern 
Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron 
Western Cattle Egret
Western Cattle Egret

21 Jun 2018

Indian Reef Heron - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we came across a good number of Indian Reef Heron Egretta gularis. The species is a common, mostly resident coastal breeder that can be seen in good numbers. Most birds seen are white morph birds but about 10% are of the grey or black morph. They occur on all coasts of the Kingdom but are seldom recorded inland. I have seen nests on offshore islands in the Arabian Gulf where birds breed in the summer months. They often occur with other egrets, mainly Little Egrets and Great Egrets and normally stay close to shore to fish.
Indian Reef Heron - Egretta gularis

Indian Reef Heron - Egretta gularis

Indian Reef Heron - Egretta gularis

19 Jun 2018

Lesser Emperor - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we came across a Lesser Emperor Anax Parthenope sitting still on a large reed stem. The dragonfly allowed close photos to be take the best of which is shown below. Lesser Emperor has a length of approximately 71mm and has a bright blue ‘saddle’ that is very noticeable. The rest of the abdomen is brownish, as is the thorax. The eyes are green. It is a wide-range Palearctic and Indomalayan species that is not threatened on a global scale, although local declines may occur due to habitat destruction and water pollution. Occurs in much of southern and central Europe including most Mediterranean islands, across Asia to Japan including parts of Arabia, Korean Peninsula and China, and North Africa. In the south of its range it can be on the wing in March but is most commonly seen from June to September. They are most often seen patrolling around ponds, lakes and other still water. 
Lesser Emperor - Anax Parthenope

Lesser Emperor - Anax Parthenope


17 Jun 2018

Asir mountains in May

Whilst birding the Asir mountains in May I saw a lot of good birds. This included six endemic bird species including Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Wheatear, Yemen Serin, Arabian Serin and Phiby’s Partridge. I also saw Asir (Arabian) Magpie that is now being considered an endemic species as well. Several other good specialities of the southwest were seen including Shikra, African Pipit, African Stonechat, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and White-spectacled Bulbul. Violet-backed Starling and Gambaga Flycatcher are summer visitors from Africa and were common and another African summer visitor Grey-headed Kingfisher was seen in a couple of places. Laughing Dove was common and there were also plenty of Dusky Turtle Doves a much less common species restricted in range in Saudi Arabia to the southwest. 
Gambaga Flycatcher

African Stonechat

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Palestine Sunbird

15 Jun 2018

Asir (Arabian) Magpie – Tanoumah and An Namas

Whilst in the southwest on the Kingdom in May I saw at least five Asir (Arabian) Magpie at two different locations. Old nests were discovered near Tanoumah and near An Namas with adults and at least one juvenile seen near the nests. These birds remain very difficult to photograph and are constantly on the move looking for food. The taxonomic position of Asir (Arabian) Magpie Pica asirensisis uncertain with some authorities regarding it as a full species such as HBW and others not. Two new papers: Deep Phylogeographic Breaks in Magpie Pica picaAcross the Holarctic: Concordance with Bioacoustics and Phenotypes by Alexey P. Kryukov et aland Complete taxon sampling of the avian genus Pica (magpies) reveals ancient relictual populations and synchronous Late-Pleistocene demographic expansion across the Northern Hemisphere by Gang Song et alboth indicated the birds are a separate species to Eurasian Magpie Pica Pica. Arabian Magpies are sedentary and localised and occur in upland valleys and wadis, of the Asir highlands between 1850–3000 m asl. P. asirensisisis a taxon with a very restricted range, confined to a small region within Saudi Arabia where numbers are decreasing probably because of heavy disturbance by tourism and perhaps changes in climate.
Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis

Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis

Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis

Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis

Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis

Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis

Asir (Arabian) Magpie - Pica asirensisis


13 Jun 2018

Dideric Cuckoo – Tanoumah & An Namas

Whilst birding near An Namas on 26 May, I heard and eventually saw a Dideric Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius. The bird was very vocal but difficult to locate until I eventually saw it sitting high in a tree. I also heard but failed to see another bird near Quraish, close to Tanoumah on 25 May. The Diderick Cuckoo is a summer visitor to southwest Saudi Arabia where it parasitizes Rüppell's weaver. They were previously regarded as vagrants to the area, but recently birds have been seen near Tendaha dam 5 July 2010, Abha area 20 July 2010, As Sudah 5 July 2013, Wadi Jaw June 2015, Taif area July 2015 as well as these sightings so are probably a scarce summer visitor to the high mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia. 
Dideric Cuckoo - Chrysococcyx caprius

11 Jun 2018

Yemen Rock Agama – An Namas

Whilst birdwatching the An Namas area of the Asir Mountains, 150 kms north of Abha, I came across a Yemen Rock Agama Acanthocercus yemensis. The Yemen Rock Agama occurs in northern Yemen and adjacent Saudi Arabia, but the limits of its distribution in Saudi Arabia are currently not well known, although I have seen it as far north as Bani Saad. It occurs from around 2,000 to 3,000 metres above sea level mainly in rocky habitats. They occur both on the ground and climbing rocky surfaces, including stone-walls and human habitations where they are sometimes common. The Agama below is missing part of its tail.
Yemen Rock Agama - Acanthocercus yemensis

9 Jun 2018

Arabian Woodpecker - An Namas

Whilst birding the An Namas area of the Asir mountains, 150 kms north of Abha recently I photographed a pair of Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocopos doraeat their nest hole. The hole was positioned in the trunk or major branch of a large tree about five metres above ground level and comprised of a small freshly drilled hole. The nest was active with both birds of the pair continually bringing food to young hidden in the hole. An interesting interaction occurred with a Violet-backed Starling when I was there with the Starling, that are known to displace woodpeckers from their nest holes and take them over to nest themselves. The starling moved closer and closer to the hole and when within close range was driven from the tree by the male woodpecker. The starling then came back a second time but was drive off this time by the female woodpecker. The Arabian Woodpecker is an uncommon but widespread resident of the south-west highlands, where birds are usually associated with acacia trees but can be found in a variety of wooded habitats. It is classified as near threatened on the IUCN Red List 2018 as it has a population estimate of >10,000 mature individuals, however, the population is still considered to be relatively small and is decline owing to cutting and lopping of trees for charcoal, firewood and fodder, in parts of its range. 
Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

7 Jun 2018

Little Owls – An Namas

Whilst birding the An Namas area of the Asir mountians 150 km north of Abha we came across two Little Owl Athene noctua. This was a new species for me in the Kingdom and both birds were found sitting on dry stone-walls where one bird entered when disturbed. The second bird did not allow close approach and disappeared as we were climbing down a steep incline to get better views of it. The species is not mapped as occurring in the area of Saudi Arabia in the field guide to the region so was a bit of a surprise, with the dark colour of the birds making them likely to be Athene noctua saharae. Two subspecies of Little Owl occur in Saudi Arabia with Athene noctua saharaethat occurs from northern and central Sahara Desert south to the African countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, and east discontinuously into Arabian Peninsula occurring in the Abha area north to central Saudi Arabia. Its range overlaps with race Athene noctua liliththat occurs from Cyprus and inland Middle East from southeast Turkey south to Saudi Arabia where it occurs in central Saudi Arabia. The overlap occurs in central Saudi Arabia at least, with Lilith occurring north to the boarders of Jordon, Iraq and Kuwait in the Kingdom.
Little Owl Athene noctua

Little Owl Athene noctua

Little Owl Athene noctua

Little Owl Athene noctua