30 Aug 2018

Shrikes- Ash Sharqiyah Development Company Farm

Whilst birding Ash Sharqiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, on 24 August it was obvious some migrants were on the move. We saw a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters on arrival but soon located a number of different species of shrikes. The first one was Woodchat Shrike sitting on some reed stems to the side of the road by the wetland area. We later saw at least one further bird. Then a Daurian Shrike was seen on a tree by the side of the main track and finally a Lesser Grey Shrike was noted along with at least a second bird present. This location can be fantastic for shrikes under the correct conditions, but three species in late August was a good return for our efforts.
Woodchat Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike

28 Aug 2018

Centipede – Raydah Escarpment

The centipede is a carnivorous invertebrate that is generally found around decaying matter all around the world. The bite of the centipede contains venom, which means that the centipede kills its prey before eating it and eats purely meat. Despite their name, the centipede has pairs of legs that run the length of the body, which are normally between 15 and 30 pairs of legs in total and not 50. The centipede is usually found on land in moist habitats usually under rocks, leaf litter, logs and occasionally in burrows in the ground or rotting wood. The centipede favours damp environments and so is rarely found in the hot and dry desert regions. The centipede is one of the oldest animals on Earth having evolved into the form it is today, millions of years ago with known fossils dating back over 400 million years.
centipede

26 Aug 2018

Greater Flamingo nests - Jizan

Phil Roberts and I found four nests of Greater Flamingo just south of Jizan in summer 2018. There is only one breeding record for Saudi Arabia when we found a very young juvenile (unable to fly) in September 2018 at Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail, Eastern Province. This record was on the other coast to the nests shown below and the fact nests were built is evidence of at least attempted breeding. Many flamingos were present at the nest location including well grown juveniles but we could not confirm they had come from the nests themselves.


24 Aug 2018

Carmine Darter – Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail looking for Egyptian Nightjars, Phil Roberts found a bright red coloured Carmine Darter Crocothemis erythraea perched on a dead reed. The Carmine Darter is a common dragonfly throughout the Middle East, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman. The male is carmine red, while the female is a significantly drabber yellow-buff colour with two paler marks on top of the thorax. It is a medium-sized dragonfly approximately 52mm in length. The abdomen is wider than other members of the family, flattened and tapering to the end. It is widespread in the Arabian Peninsula where it prefers a habitat of rocky areas and dry watercourses as well as shallow, still, eutrophic waters such as small ponds, paddy fields, and desert pools, but it avoids oases. Adults only live for up to two months. Adults spend much of their time perched on vegetation although they have a fast, darting flight and hover frequently.
Carmine Darter - Crocothemis erythraea


22 Aug 2018

Arabian Woodpecker - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area of the Asir mountains, north of Abha recently I photographed an Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocopos doraeat. 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. They are often located by their loud call, but are difficult to see in tall trees as they stay well hidden in vegetation and close to tree branches and trucks.
Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

Arabian Woodpecker - Dendrocopos doraeat

20 Aug 2018

Mexican Poppy – Wadi Talea

The Mexican Poppy Argemone mexicanais a species of poppy originally from Mexico but now widely naturalized around the world including Saudi Arabia. It is an extremely hardy pioneer plant that is tolerant of drought. It grows in sandy, well-drained soil preferring dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought but not shade. They grow up to 150 cm tall with its stem branched and usually extremely prickly. It exudes a yellow juice when cut and has showy yellow flowers. The leaves are thistle-like and alternate, without leaf stalks, toothed and the margins are spiny. The grey-white veins stand out against the bluish-green upper leaf surface. The stem is oblong in cross-section. The flowers are at the tips of the branches and solitary, yellow and of 2.5-5 cm diameter. This plant and many others were found growing in a normally wet area behind a dam wall in Wadi Talea near Abha in the Asir mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia.
Mexican Poppy

Mexican Poppy

18 Aug 2018

African Paradise Flycatcher - Tanoumah

The African Paradise Flycatcher is an uncommon breeding resident in the Tihamah, Southern Red Sea and wadi bottoms of the Asir as well as the high mountains of the Asir. Most records come from the well watched Abha and Tanoumah areas where birds build a small nest in the fork of a tree and normally lay three eggs. The female does most of the incubating but the male is always in attendance and does some of the work. The young constantly call to the adults and the adults feed the young very frequently with insects. On one day the male is the main food provider but the next day the female does most of the food collecting and feeding. The birds frequent tall juniper trees and prefer good stands of trees and vegetation to the more open areas. Birds are not easy to see in Saudi Arabia so seeing up to six birds in a day, in the Tanoumah area in summer, made for an exciting find.
African Paradise Flycatcher

African Paradise Flycatcher

African Paradise Flycatcher

16 Aug 2018

Desert Mantis – Abha area

I located a single specimen of Desert Mantis Eremiaphila baueriin the bottom of a wide sandy wadi whilst birding the Abha area recently. The insect was extremely difficult to see unless it moved, due to its camouflage. The mantids in Saudi Arabia include both praying mantis and ground mantis, with a total of 46 species known from Arabia. A common species is the cryptically coloured Desert Mantis Eremiaphila bauerialso known as the Ground Mantis. They occur in areas of sand and gravel and can survive in very high temperatures above 40 °C.
Desert Mantis

Desert Mantis

Desert Mantis

Desert Mantis


14 Aug 2018

Southwest species – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley in summertime it is very hot quite hard work. A few birds breed in the dry and rocky wadi bottom but seeing anything is not that easy. The bright light and high temperatures here make photography difficult and as I almost always arrive at midday, as I go to the Raydah Escarpment at first light, it is even more trying. Good birds can be seen if you persist and below are a few southwestern specialities I saw on my last visit. Arabian Babbler can be seen occasionally as they keep in small flocks and call to each other to keep in contact. Abyssinian White-eyes can occasionally be located in the tall acacia trees in the wadi bottom. Scarcer birds are Dusky Turtle Dove and African Silverbills that come down to drink if there is any free standing water. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting is only present in summer and is not there in winter of spring so presumably moves to lower altitude as it is resident in Saudi Arabia.
Abyssinian White-eye
Abyssinian White-eye
African Silverbill
African Silverbill
Arabian Babbler
Arabian Babbler
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting 
Dusky Turtle Dove
Dusky Turtle Dove

12 Aug 2018

Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a number of Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus opheodurus down a tree filled wadi. The lizards were very active even during the hottest part of the day and where always found near small low-lying plants with hard sandy soil. It is superficially similar to its larger congener Acanthodactylus boskianus, and was described officially in 1980. As its name suggests, this species has a particularly long tail and, in common with other Acanthodactylusspecies, 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. 
Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard

Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard

10 Aug 2018

Bottom of Raydah Escarpment in summer

I was at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment in late June and the number of birds was significantly less than in May. There were a lot less African Grey Hornbill and Violet-backed Starlings but White-throated Bee-eaters had arrived that were not present in early May. The number of Bruce’s Green Pigeons remained high and a few Ruppell’s Weavers were building nests. A single Black-crowned Tchagra was seen at a location where I saw my only other sighting in the Kingdom. Grey-headed Kingfishers were seen and heard a number of times with one bird allowing some reasonable photos to be taken of it. 
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Long-billed Pipit
Long-billed Pipit
White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater

8 Aug 2018

Bosk's fringe-toed lizard – Abha area

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across two Bosk's fringe-toed lizard Acanthodactylus boskianus both were near to vegetation of low-lying shrubs. This is the most widespread species of its genus as well as the largest Acanthodactylus species throughout its range, measuring 16-23 centimetres in total length, which includes all of Saharan North Africa and the Middle East including Arabia (widespread in Saudi Arabia), the Levant and Mesopotamia (including the Turkish border), as well as north- western Iran. It has a long, cylindrical body and well developed legs and is known as a fringe-toed lizard due to the presence of a series of scales on the fingers that provide traction for running over loose sand. The general body colour of this species ranges from darkish or silvery grey, to yellow or reddish brown, with seven contrasting dark, brown longitudinal stripes that run the length of the back. With age, these stripes generally fade away or become grey in colour. It frequents a range of stony and sandy environments and is sometimes common in rocky areas with some shrubs. They excavate burrows in hard sand, some of which are equipped with multiple entrances to allow quick retreats and act as a nightly resting place and as a refuge from periods of intense heat. They emerge from their burrows around mid-morning. It is a voracious predator and eats a wide variety of small insects and other invertebrates. 
Bosk's fringe-toed lizard

6 Aug 2018

Record count of Egyptian Nightjar – Jubail

Egyptian Nightjars are now an easily seen species during the summer months in the Jubail area but this year the numbers are higher than ever with sixteen birds seen. Birds generally turn up in early June and depart in late September with records of early and late birds occurring every year for the past few years. This year I have been away in the southwest of the Kingdom for much of the summer so this is my first trip to count them. Numbers have increased almost every year since they were first found in 2006. It is quite likely birds breed in the area or very nearby but I have not had any confirmation of this yet. The photos below show a number of different birds. You can get very close to them in the car without disturbing them as they are convinced their camouflage can hide them from anything.
Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian NightjarEgyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar


4 Aug 2018

Anderson's Rock Agama – Abha area

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a few Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus. The 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. It is common in Saudi Arabia where it occurs on rocks in mountainous areas and is found to around 2,000 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. They are sexually dimorphic, with males often taking on a vivid colouration of blue and orange during display, but a duller light brown with faded orange tail colour when blending in to the environment. The males were very visible due to their bright breeding colours but the females are dull and always stayed high up on the boulders.
Anderson's Rock Agama

Anderson's Rock Agama

Anderson's Rock Agama

2 Aug 2018

Steppe Eagles - Abha

Whilst in Abha in April, Phil Roberts and I came across a number of Steppe Eagles that have presumably wintered in the area. These birds will soon be moving back to their breeding areas and are quite late stayers. 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. 
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle