31 Oct 2018

Black-sting Scorpion - Judah

Whilst out looking for owls at night near Juadh we came across three scorpions, and although I am not an expert on scorpions they resemble Black-sting Scorpion Buthacus yotvatensis nigroacleatus. They were found by using an ultraviolet light that’s shows them glowing in the light, with the photos taken with strong flash showing off their colours. The Black-sting Scorpion Buthacus yotvatensis nigroacleatus is a small very poisionous scorpion. They are golden brown to greenish yellow coloured with a black sting. Thin elongated pincer-like pedipalps, jointed abdomen which ends in a swollen black sting. Antennae absent and the mouthparts are formed by small pincer-like chelicerae (fangs). There is a pair of dorsal eyes and two to five smaller pairs of lateral eyes. There are four pairs of walking legs. The legs are hair-covered and end in hooks which are used to hold on to vegatation.They are not often seen as they hide by day and emerge at night, when they feed on other invertebrates. Their poison or venom is used to kill or paralyze their prey so that it can be eaten; in general it is fast-acting, allowing for effective prey capture and is sometimes fatal to humans. They arefound mostly in rocky areas and gravel plains but also occur in sandy areas and make their burrow under bushes.Scorpions are known to glow when exposed to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light, such as that produced by a blacklight, due to the presence of fluorescent chemicals in the cuticle. The principal fluorescent component is now known to be beta-carboline. A hand-held UV lamp has long been a standard tool for nocturnal field surveys of these animals. However, a glow will only be produced in adult specimens as the substances in the skin required to produce the glow are not found in adolescents.






29 Oct 2018

First fully documented record of Ruppell's Vulture in Saudi Arabia and Arabian Peninsula - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area, along the edge of the main escarpment of the Asir mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia, 12 October 2018 Phil Roberts and I came across a group of about 50 Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in the air together, many later came down and rested on the rocks before again moving southwards. This is easily the largest gathering of this species either of us have observed in Saudi Arabia. We did not get great views of the birds when initially seen, as we saw them from the car and could not stop quickly. I parked the car as soon as possible, but the road was busy and dangerous, and by the time we returned to the area on foot some of the birds were on the ground. No birds could be seen in the air at this point but soon the birds on the ground took off and a group of about twelve birds flew around briefly before disappearing behind the cliffs. I quickly took a few photos of two birds but unfortunately, the terrain prevented any further sightings. On seeing low-resolution photographs, Yoav Perlman pointed out that one of the vultures looked odd and thought that it could be a Rüppell's Vulture Gyps Ruppelli or a hybrid, as it did not look quite right. Yoav suggested I contacted Dick Forsman for his opinion, so I sent him two high-resolution images. Dick responded saying the bird was so far from a typical adult Eurasian Griffon of the eastern type and this option could definitely be excluded. With the very contrasting black-and-white pattern to greater and even median underwing coverts, narrow head and typically marked axillars Dick felt quite sure that the bird was a Ruppell's Vulture of the NE African erlangeri subspecies. Most of the long undertail coverts seem to be missing due to moult, but the ones remaining showed the pale tips typical of Ruppell's Vulture. Dick also mentioned that having studied Ethiopian Ruppell's Vultures on many trips to the country he has a very strong feeling of them being some kind of a hybrid population between fulvus and nominate rueppellii, as mentioned in his book (Forsman 2016). Dick said the Saudi Arabian bird was a brilliant example of this type, showing features from both species. Dick’s views thus matched Yoav’s original thoughts almost exactly. The status of Rüppell's Vulture in Saudi Arabia is unclear and clouded by the records of Meinetzhagen. Recent views are that the species does not occurred in Arabia as Meinertzhagens records are discounted due to his indiscretions as documented elsewhere. When looking through the recently compiled list of species occurring in Saudi Arabia, it is not recorded, thus this record becomes the first fully documented record of Rüppell's Vulture Gyps Ruppelli for Saudi Arabia. There are no accepted records from any countries that make up the Arabian Peninsula, making it a first for this region as well. The closest and only record for the entire Middle East region is a probable third calendar year bird seen at Lakhish Hills, South Judean Plains, Israel, 5 May 2014 where the bird was associating with Eurasian Griffon Vultures away from their main colonies. The likelihood of the species occurring in Saudi Arabia was very small due to its current population of only 22,000 and the fact that it is Critically Endangered, however vulture passage has been noted down the Asir Mountains in autumn. Rüppell's vulture Gyps rueppelli is a large vulture that can be found throughout the Sahel region of central Africa in areas of arid steppe, grasslands, mountains (up to 4500 m in Ethiopia) and woodlands. Once considered common in these habitats, the Rüppell's vultures are experiencing steep declines, especially in the Western portion of their range. They feed entirely on carrion and bone fragments of larger carcasses, mainly soft muscle and organ tissue. It is named Rüppell's vulture is named in honor of Eduard Rüppell, a 19th-century German explorer, collector, and zoologist. There are two subspecies known Gyps rueppelli rueppelli (A. E. Brehm, 1852) – Southwest Mauritania and Senegambia east to Sudan and western Ethiopia, and south to Kenya and northern Tanzania. Gyps rueppelli erlangeri (Salvadori, 1908) – Ethiopia (except west), Eritrea and Somalia. The eastern subspeices is paler and more like Eurasian Griffon Vulture than its darker relative to the west. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Yoav Perlman and Dick Forsman very much for their generous help in identifying this bird. Without their help and knowledge, this bird may well have remained unidentified.
Ruppells Vulture

27 Oct 2018

Migrants in the southwest

Whilst birding the southwest mountains in mid-October we saw a few migrants. Numbers were low but we saw a good selection of species. They included Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Pied Wheatear, Barn Swallow, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Steppe Eagle, Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Turkestan Shrike, European Bee-eater, Ortolan Bunting and Common Swift. The habitat looks ideal for good numbers of migrant but the numbers seen were low with single birds or a few of each species only.
Common Snipe
Common Snipe
Common Snipe
Common Snipe
Eurasian Bee-eater
Eurasian Bee-eater

25 Oct 2018

Migrating Steppe Eagles – Between Tanoumah & Abha

 Whilst driving between Abha and Tanoumah in mid-October 2018 we saw 28 Steppe Eagles with a further 51 on the return journey. Birds seen included immatures, sub-adults and adults and will probably include birds that will stay the winter in the region along with migrants. These sightings fit in well with the idea that Steppe Eagle is a long-distance trans-equatorial migrant and unlike many other eagles, the species migrates in large, loose flocks. Individuals leave their breeding grounds for wintering grounds between August and October, returning to breeding areas between January and May. In Saudi Arabia 500 Steppe Eagles have been counted passing through Taif escarpment (IBA), daily, during month of October and many hundreds were seen at a rubbish dump 50 kilometres north of An Namas also in October. These records indicate October is the peak month for migrating Steppe Eagles in Saudi Arabia. Like other soaring birds, Steppe Eagles minimize the length of sea crossing and appear to have a loop migration around the Red Sea, arriving via Bab-el-Mandeb Strait (between Yemen and Djibouti) and departing via the Suez, Egypt–Eilat, Israel (the northern end of the Red Sea). This is probably because the prevailing easterly winds between October and April make return migration via Bab-el-Mandeb more difficult. There are two recognised subspecies of steppe eagle, Aquila nipalensis nipalensisand Aquila nipalensis orientalis, the latter being slightly smaller, with paler plumage. Birds from European Russia, eastern Kazakhstan and Turkey (A. n. orientalis) winter in the Middle East, Arabia and East and Southern Africa. Birds from Altai, Siberia eastwards (A. n. nipalensis) winter mainly in south and south-east Asia. The Steppe Eagle has undergone extremely rapid population declines within all its range. The speed and severity of these declines justified the species being moved from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Endangered’ in the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment. Suspected reasons for decline include, habitat loss/ degradation, electrocution on or collision with energy infrastructure, poisoning through herbicides, pesticides and veterinary drugs in food sources, persecution, mortality of juveniles in fires, taking of chicks and disturbance.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

23 Oct 2018

Three species of Rock Thrush in one morning – Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area in Mid-October Phil Roberts and I saw all three species of Rock Thrush that occur in Saudi Arabia in a single morning. We located both Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Little Rock Thrush in a well-vegetated valley with the first species an uncommon passage migrant and the second a common breeding resident. We then went to Salah Al Dana and located a male Blue Rock Thrush on a pile of waste rocks and earth. This species is an uncommon passage migrant and one I had not seen in the southwest previously. Rock Thrush are always great to see as apart from their beautiful plumage they also have great character. 
Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush

Little Rock Thrush

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

21 Oct 2018

Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area in Mid-October 2018 we saw the amazing site of 50 Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah in the air together, many later came down and rested on the rocks before again moving southwards. These birds are almost certainly migrating down towards the Bab-el-Mandeb straight, a relatively easy and short distance crossing from Arabia to Africa where the birds will winter. The Bab-el-Mandeb is a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. It connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and is a proven flyway for many birds of prey. Tanoumah is positioned along the edge of the main escarpment of the Asir mountains and has very steep cliffs where Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus can roost and rarely breed. The species is uncommon in the Kingdom with numbers apparently declining and the southwest of the Kingdom is easily the best location for trying to locate birds. The species is an uncommon, resident breeder, in the Hejaz, Asir and the Tihama mountains of western Saudi Arabia, as well as a passage migrant. There are few records elsewhere in the Kingdom, and in the Eastern Province where I live, it is a vagrant with six records of seven birds but none have been seen in recent years. There is a small breeding colony near Riyadh. This gathering of Eurasian Griffon Vulture is easily the largest group I have seen together since I have been in Saudi Arabia with the previous largest group being thirteen. 

Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah

Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah

Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah


19 Oct 2018

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard- Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm

Whilst birding Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, in late August Phil spotted an Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard sunning itself by its hole. This individual was not too large but was a bright yellow colour as it had obviously spent some time warming up in the hot sunshine. These lizards are relatively common and widespread across Saudi Arabia preferring hard stony ground to excavate their holes. They are ground dwelling and live in some of the most arid regions of the planet. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia microlepisoccurs 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'.


17 Oct 2018

Little Swift Nesting – Wadi Grosbeak

Whilst birdwatching near Wadi Grosbeak in the Bani Saad area south of Taif, Phil Roberts and I found a number of Little Swift Nests on a building. The Little Swift is probably a breeding visitor from Africa as it is very scarce in November and December. in the southern Red Sea, Asir, Hejaz and the Tihamah areas. They are regularly seen near Jeddah and rarely Riyadh but are a vagrant in the Eastern Province where I live. The breeding range is from Jeddah southwards to Yemen. The photo of the nest below was taken by Phil who has kindly allowed me to use it on my website.


15 Oct 2018

Blister Beetle – Wadi Grosbeak

The Blister Beetles (Coleoptera: Meloidae) are global distributed insects except for New Zealand and the Antarctic region and are also called Oil Beetles. The species seen near Bani Saad was Mylabris calida that has a distribution in central Asia (east to China and Korea), Caucasus and Transcaucasia, southern Balkan Peninsula, Near East, Levant and Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa. The insect was common in the area where we saw them always on flowering plants. Adult beetles can be recognized by morphological characteristics such as soft body, bright coloration, rather elongate, head deflexed with narrow neck, pronotum not carinate at sides, heteromerous tarsi, smooth integument. The bodily fluids of blister beetles contain the skin irritant cantharadin, giving the family its common name. It is possible that cantharadin acts as a protection against accidental beetle consumption by large herbivores, as some animals will avoid grazing on vegetation supporting large numbers of orange, red, or otherwise brightly colored blister beetles.


13 Oct 2018

First Autumn European Turtle Dove – Jubail area

The European Turtle Dove is a long-distance migrant breeder across much of central and southern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, wintering mainly in the Sahel zone of Africa. The species is in serious decline because of loss of suitable habitat in both the breeding and non-breeding range, unsustainable levels of hunting on migration and disease. In Saudi Arabia the species breeds in very small numbers but is mainly a passage migrant. Numbers seen in recent years on migration in the Kingdom seen to also be declining with the bird seen near Jubail the first record for me this autumn. 
European Turtle Dove

European Turtle Dove

European Turtle Dove

11 Oct 2018

Yemen Rock Agama – Wadi Grosbeak

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, where these individuals shown below were taken. 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. Females are bull brown whereas males can become very bright blue when trying to attract a mate.



9 Oct 2018

Migrants passing – Jubail area

The last few weeks a few more migrants have been passing through with plenty of warbler seen. Most have been Eurasian Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat and Barred Warbler but also a few Eastern Olivaceous Warbler have been seen and one or two Asian Desert Warblers. Wheatears have also arrived with Black-eared and Pied being the most numerous with the Asian Desert Warblers almost always associated with the Wheatears feeding in close proximity to each other. Eurasian Bee-eaters and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters have also been plentiful with small groups seen regularly over the last few weeks. Shrikes have been seen in small numbers but many less than previous years. Woodchat Shrike has been the commonest with a few Mauryan Grey Shrikes also seen with the odd Red-backed Shrike also present. 
Asian Desert Warbler
Asian Desert Warbler 
Barred Warbler
Barred Warbler
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Pied Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike