31 Jul 2018

African Wildcat – Abha area

Whilst out spotlighting in the Abha area recently I came across an African (Arabian) Wildcat where it was seen hunting high up in an area of large boulders. The subspecies of African Wildcat that occurs in Arabia is Felis lybica tristramidistributed from Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan to northern Saudi Arabia. They occur in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, but as far as we are aware has not been previously recorded from the Abha region. They are known to have a broad habitat tolerance from deserts, semi deserts, savannahs, scrub grassland to open forests in hilly and rocky terrain as well as in mixed forests. In some areas of its range it is restricted to mountains and dry watercourses. They have a more upright posture in the sitting position and a different walking form from domestic cat with a background colour ranging from reddish to sandy yellow and is typically marked with faint stripes and spots. Hairs have black tips giving a speckled appearance, their legs are banded with black bars and they have a reddish or rusty-brown tint to the backs of the ears. The long, thin tail ends with two or three black rings and a black tip and there is a line of darker fur down the spine from the shoulder to the base of the tail. The African species distinguishes itself from the European Wildcat by its lighter build, less distinct markings and thin tapering tail. 
African (Arabian) Wildcat

29 Jul 2018

Philby’s Partridge – Abha area

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a good number of Philby’s Partridge Alectoris philbyi.This is a scarce resident of the south-west highlands and is related to the Chukar & Red-legged Partridge and is native to south-western Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It can be easily identified from other partridges by the black cheeks and throat and a narrow white stripe from the bill to behind the eye separating the black from the greyish-blue head. Both sexes look alike, although males may be slightly larger in size and have a tarsal knob. The best sites for locating the species are the terrace fields near Tanoumah, the dry scrub covered hillsides on Jebal Souda plateau and the area around Al Baha. They prefer juniper dominated habitats where rocky knolls & clearings occur and occurs from 1500 – 3000 metre elevations. Numbers have declined significantly in the Jebal Soudah area, probably due to increased human activity in the area and even at locations where birds are seen they are very timid and do not allow close approach. Luckily I got close to a number of birds from the car and managed to take my best photos yet of the species some of which are show below.
Philby’s Partridge

27 Jul 2018

Rock Hyrax – Abha area

Whilst birding the Abha area recently I came across five Rock Hyrax Procavia capensis jayacari sunning themselves on rock boulders, but they appeared very shy and soon disappeared.This animal is diurnal and they live in groups where they occupy a wide range of habitats, from arid deserts to rainforest, occurring from sea level to 4,300 m but are dependent on the presence of suitable refuges in rocky outcrops and mountain cliffs. It requires numerous cavities and crevices that are large enough to shelter in, but small enough to discourage predators. These cavities often face away from prevailing winds, have good visibility of the surrounding habitat, and are close to sunlit areas for basking and suitable foraging areas as it needs easy access to basking spots when it is cold, as well as deep crevices to escape excessive heat. When it emerges from its burrow it often spends one or two hours basking in the sun to warm up before going foraging for food. Their diet comprises a variety of grasses and shrubs, with a predilection for new shoots, buds, fruits and berries. They have a poor ability to regulate their body temperature and a low metabolic rate for their body size. Body temperature is maintained mainly by gregarious huddling, long periods of inactivity, and basking. They are all small to medium-sized herbivores (1.5-5 kg), with short legs, a rudimentary tail, and round ears. Rock hyrax are native to Saudi Arabia the Arabian Peninsula and throughout Africa. In Saudi Arabia it is generally recorded from the west of the country in the mountains. Due to its wide geographical range and high numbers where it is found the species is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. The subspecies found in Saudi Arabia is Procavia capensis jayacariand are distinguished from Procavia capensis capensis of Africa by their relatively pale dorsal spot, which is black in most African subspecies. 
Rock Hyrax

Rock Hyrax

Rock Hyrax

25 Jul 2018

Arabian Partridge – Abha area

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a pair of Arabian Partridge Alectoris melanocephala. Thisis a common resident of the south-west highlands, especially steep wooded hillsides of the western escarpment of Jebal Souda, the Raydah Protected Area, Tanoumah and the Al Baha area. They prefer juniper dominated habitats where rocky knolls & clearings occur.  It has also been recorded at terraced fields on the Souda Plateau and feeds mainly on plant material, seeds and insects. They are also common in the Tihama region at Jebal Aswad and Jebal Gaha and can be found from 250 – 2800 metres elevation. They are much larger than other Alectoris species with the sexes being similar, although females are slightly smaller. They have a black crown extending down the nape; a broad white band begins in front of the eye and extends to the back of the head. The chin and upper throat are also white and are separated from the white above the eye by a narrow black band that starts at the bill, extends to the cheek and forms a "V" on the neck. The sides of the neck are pastel brown and the rest of the plumage is bluish grey with pronounced barring on the sides. 

Arabian Partridge

24 Jul 2018

Yemen Rock Agama - Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching the Tanoumah area of the Asir Mountains, 120 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. 
Yemen Rock Agama - Acanthocercus yemensis

Yemen Rock Agama - Acanthocercus yemensis

Yemen Rock Agama - Acanthocercus yemensis

Yemen Rock Agama - Acanthocercus yemensis

23 Jul 2018

Indigofera spinose - Abha

Whilst birding the Abha area I came across some Indigofera spinose in dry wadi bottoms with scattered acacia tress in the mountains. Indigofera spinoseis a dwarf shrub that is widely distributed in arid areas and tolerates heavy defoliation and drought. The normally occur in semi-desert grassland, where they are often common as well as drier Acacia deciduous bushland with 150–600 mm of rainfall. They are an intricate shrub growing up to 50 centimetres tall with the young stems densely covered with stiff appressed white hairs and the older stems glabrescent and often corky at the base.
Indigofera spinose

Indigofera spinose

Indigofera spinose

21 Jul 2018

Arabian Wheatear – Abha area

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a few Arabian Wheatear Oenanthe lugentoides where birds were most often perched on areas of boulders with slightly more males recorded than females.This is a rather scarce resident of the south-west highlands, but is also found in Oman, Palestine and Yemen, mainly in rocky, bushy sites. It is widespread on the Jebal Souda plateau, Wadi Tale’a and Tanoumah. They also occur in the Tihama mainly around jebals such as Jebal Aswad and Jebal Gaha and have been recorded as far north as Taif where they are common around Wadi Thee Gazelle. 
Arabian Wheatear

19 Jul 2018

Desert Rose – Abha

Whilst birding the Abha area I came across a Desert Rose Adenium obesumin a crack in some boulders. Adenium obesum is a species of flowering plant in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, that is native to the Sahel regions, south of the Sahara (from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan), and tropical and subtropical eastern and southern Africa and Arabia. It is an evergreen or drought-deciduous succulent shrub (which can also lose its leaves during cold spells. It can grow to 1–3 metres in height, with pachycaul stems and a stout, swollen basal caudex. The leaves are spirally arranged, clustered toward the tips of the shoots, simple entire, leathery in texture, 5–15 cm long and 1–8 cm broad. The flowers are tubular, 2–5 cm long, with the outer portion 4–6 cm diameter with five petals. The flowers tend to red and pink, often with a whitish blush outward of the throat.
Desert Rose

Desert Rose

17 Jul 2018

Arabian Serin – Abha area

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a few endemic Arabian Serin Serinus rothschildi.This is a rather scarce resident of the south-west highlands occurring in scrubland and acacia sites, where they have been seen regularly on Raydah escarpment at Raydah Farm and at the farm at the bottom of the escarpment by the village. Birds have also been seen at Tanoumah as well as in the Raghadan Forest area of Al Baha and further north to Taif, where good numbers can be seen at certain times. They also occur in the lower elevation Tihama around Jebal Gaha where a few have been seen. In 1980’s it was recorded more frequently than now, suggesting a possible decline in numbers. 
Arabian Serin

Arabian Serin

15 Jul 2018

Kleinia odora - Abha

Whilst birding the Abha area I came across some Kleinia odora. This plant is found in Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia and is distinguished by having succulent stems or leaves. It is common in low dry hills along coastal plains where it forms large clumps bearing dense clusters of cream or whitish flowers on the tips of the pencil-like stems. Kleinia odorais a succulent herb that grows up to one metre tall. The stems of the plant are terete, jointed, and are marked with dark lines that run from the bases of the leaves. The leaves are fleshy and 10–35 millimetres in length and the flowers are a pale yellow.
Kleinia odora

13 Jul 2018

Shining (Arabian) Sunbird – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment in June I saw a few Arabian Sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri. The birds were at the bottom of the escarpment near the village and dry wadi. It is normally treated as conspecific with Shining Sunbird Cinnyris habessinicus, but differs in males by having much-reduced and slightly duller red breast-band and more extensive and deeper blue reflectant uppertail-coverts. In females they differ by having much darker grey or grey-brown plumage. They are a larger size and have a different song. The Handbook of Birds of the World treat them as separate species with two subspecies both of which are found is Saudi Arabia. C. h. kinnearithat occurs in western Saudi Arabia from the southern Hijaz mountains south to the Asir mountains. The second subspecies C. h. hellmayrioccurs in the extreme southwest of Saudi Arabia in the Najran area, Yemen and SW Oman.
Arabian Sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri

Arabian Sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri

Arabian Sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri

11 Jul 2018

Arabian Red-capped Lark – Talea Valley

Arabian Red-capped Lark Calandrella eremicais a scarce medium-sized lark that occurs in a very limited number of sites in southwest Saudi Arabia. It had not been seen for many years until recently when some birds were found at Azeeza near Abha. In 2015 Phil Roberts and I found a number of birds, probably more than ten, coming down to drink at a small area of water in a stony wadi, in the Talea Valley. Whilst walking around this same area in late June I found up to thirty birds feeding on the dry and stony landscape including both juveniles and adults. These birds would also come down to drink at the only know area for water for miles around. Birds are obvious when seen as the adults have a rufous crown and sometimes erect their crown feathers to form a prominent short crest. Birds occur mainly on open grassland and bare ground, including stony areas. Generally found in wadis with occasional bushes and scattered trees in Arabia where it occurs mainly between 1800–2500 metres. Previously the Arabian Red-capped Lark Calandrella eremicawas treated as conspecific with Blandford’s Lark C. blanfordi, but differs in its smaller size; lower rump and uppertail-coverts not (or only slightly) shaded rufous vs strongly rufous; much paler above, including colour of crown and shade of buff and brown streaking and colour of flight-feathers; greatly reduced dark markings on underparts (i.e. blackish half-collar much less obvious, breast and belly only lightly washed buff vs strongly washed rufous), so white of throat and supercilium far less striking; bill generally much paler. Two subspecies recognized C. e. eremica from southwest Saudi Arabia southwards to Yemen and C. e. daaroodensisfrom north-east Ethiopia and northern Somalia.
Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Calandrella eremicais

9 Jul 2018

Anderson's Rock Agama - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area recently I came across an Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus. This species is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, where it is found in west and south Arabia, from Taif (Saudi Arabia) in the north to Dhofar (Oman) in the east. Its range includes Oman, Yemen, and southwestern Saudi Arabia and is the most common species of Agama in Yemen. It is a common rock dwelling lizard in Saudi Arabia mainly present in mountainous areas and is found to around 2200 metres above sea level. Populations can be found on vertical rocks, rock steps and amongst boulders often in the vicinity of water. They can occur in precipitous wadis surrounded by dense vegetation, with the animals usually seen on the top of boulders. They do not however require water, obtaining moisture from their insect prey.
Anderson's Rock Agama - Acanthocercus adramitanus

7 Jul 2018

Little Owl – An Namas

Whilst birding the An Namas area of the Asir mountians 150 km north of Abha I came across a Little Owl Athene noctua sitting in a tree. Th e owl flew from the tree on observing me and flew down to a dry stone wall where it sat for some time before entering a hole. Another bird was also present on the wall, where they may be breeding. This is only the second time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia and all have been on dry stone walls, in the An Namas area. The species is not mapped as occurring in the An Namas area of Saudi Arabia in the field guide to the region, with the dark colour of the birds making them likely to be the subspecies Athene noctua saharae. This subspecies 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. 
Little Owl - Athene noctua

Little Owl - Athene noctua

Little Owl - Athene noctua

5 Jul 2018

Arabian Skittering Frog – Saleh Al Dahna

Whilst birdwatching Salal Al Dahna valley, at 1900 metres in the Asir mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia I found a large pool of water with several adult Arabian Skittering Frogs. The Arabian Skittering Frog or Arabian Five-fingered Frog Euphlyctis ehrenbergii is a species of frog in the Dicroglossidae family found in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It has previously been treated as a subspecies of the Skittering Frog Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis, but is now considered as a valid species. The frog is restricted to areas of permanent and temporary water in the Red Sea coastal region of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It has an altitudinal range from sea level to 2,400 metres above sea level and lays its eggs in water. The species may aestivate during the dry season, meaning it spends the hot or dry period in a prolonged state of torpor or dormancy.
Arabian Skittering Frog

Arabian Skittering Frog

3 Jul 2018

White-browed Coucal – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment in June 2018, I heard and saw a White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus. I eventually found the bird and after waiting some time, it came out into the open allowing some reasonable photographic opportunities. The subspecies of White-browed Coucal we get in southwest Saudi Arabia is Centropus superciliosus superciliosus. They occur on Socotra and southwest Arabia as well as eastern Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and western Somalia south through Kenya and northeast Uganda to northeast Tanzania. In Saudi Arabia, they are an uncommon breeding resident in the Tihamah and have been recorded on the Farasan Islands. They are normally located by their distinct song/call that is a series of 10 – 20 notes, descending in pitch and increasing in tempo. They may call from deep inside vegetation but occasionally do so from an exposed perch. The best places to see the species in the Kingdom appear to be Malaki Dam Lake and the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment where they can be seen near the village and in the dry wadi at the bottom of the escarpment. This is a difficult species to photograph well as they spend much of the time hidden in vegetation.
White-browed Coucal - Centropus superciliosus

White-browed Coucal - Centropus superciliosus

White-browed Coucal - Centropus superciliosus

White-browed Coucal - Centropus superciliosus

1 Jul 2018

Arabian Cicada - Tanoumah

Whilst in Tanoumah in June I photographed what I believe to be an Arabian cicada Platypleurini arabica on a metal light-post. Insects were calling all around but are extremely well camouflaged and therefore difficult to see. Luckily Arnold Uy who was with me found the insect after a little searching. The adult Arabian cicada emerges during the summer months, from April to August, when the males produce a loud, monotonous call to attract females. These calls are produced by a pair of thin membranes within the abdomen, which are vibrated to produce a rapid train of pulses or clicks. The adult Arabian cicada feeds on various tree species, using the specialised mouthparts to pierce the trunk and suck up the sap. A common sight on trees and bushes in summer months, the Arabian cicada is also well known throughout its range for the loud, continuous ‘singing’ of the males. This relatively large, up to 26mm, robust insect has a brown body with lighter bars of colour at the base of the wings, which are transparent, with dark veins. Like other cicadas, the Arabian cicada has sucking mouthparts, and the rostrum (the projecting part at the front of the snout) originates from the underside of the rear of the head, rather than from the front as in ‘true’ bugs (suborder Heteroptera). The antennae of cicadas are very short and end in a bristle, and the membranous forewings are held in a tent-like position over the body extending past the end of the abdomen. The first two segments of the abdomen are modified for sound production. Often heard chirping in the warm part of the day, but if danger arises they will stop chirping immediately.
Arabian cicada - Platypleurini arabica

Arabian cicada - Platypleurini arabica

Arabian cicada - Platypleurini arabica