23 Mar 2019

Blue Rock Thrush - Jubail

Whilst birding the desert near Jubail I came across a small vegetated valley with a little wet pool. It was very attractive to migrants with plenty of Common Chiffchaffs, several Eurasian Hoopoes, White Wagtail and a single female Blue Rock Thrush. Blue Rock Thrush is an uncommon passage migrant through Saudi Arabia that is seen more that is more often in the spring than autumn. They are early migrants with most birds seen in February and March in the spring in the Eastern Province.
Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush


21 Mar 2019

Pharaoh Eagle Owl - Jubail area

I saw and photographed a Pharaoh Eagle Owl recently in the desert in the Eastern Province. Records suggest it is an uncommon bird in the Saudi Arabian deserts, although it is probably more common than records suggest as they are secretive and well camouflaged. The Pharaoh Eagle Owl is distributed throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, with two recognised subspecies. The subspecies Bubo ascalaphus ascalaphusoccupies the northern part of the species range, being found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, northern Egypt and Israel east to western Iraq. By contrast, the smaller, paler and sandier coloured Bubo ascalaphus desertorumcan be found in the Sahara Desert south to Mauritania & Niger and from Western Sahara, east, to Sudan, as well as in Eritrea, Ethiopia and much of the Arabian Peninsula, as far south as northern Oman and as far east as southern Iraq. They are found in arid habitats, including open desert plains, rocky outcrops and broken escarpments and jabals, mountain cliffs and wadis. Most records from Saudi Arabia have been attributed to the pale B. a. desertorumas this bird appears to be, but there appear to be many birds resembling the sub-species B. a. ascalaphusalso in the Kingdom.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

19 Mar 2019

Rush Veneer – Tabuk

Whilst birdwatching some large pivot fields near Tabuk I flushed a small moth that fortunately landed some distance away. I took a few photos of it and was able with the help of Phil Roberts identify it as a Rush Veneer Nomophila noctuella. They have a nearly cosmopolitan distribution across Europe, North Africa, Arabia, Central Asia, Pakistan and North America. They are regularly seen in alfalfa fields where they are known as pests, so the location of the sighting fits in with its distribution elsewhere. When at rest, this moth has a very elongated and narrow shape, which makes it easily recognisable.
Rush Vaneer Nomophila noctuella.

17 Mar 2019

Wheatears– Shedgum Escarpment

Whilst birdwatching at Shedgum Escarpment we saw a few interesting birds although the weather was not good so photos were average to poor. Winter birding at this location is always difficult with few species seen but it is an excellent place to see White-crowned Wheatear. We first went to the bottom of the Escarpment and looked around the base of the cliffs and found a up to five White-crowned Wheatears including young birds with black heads and no white caps. There were many Tawny Pipits feeding around in the newly grown plants that have popped up due to all the rain we have had recently. Other species seen included a couple of distant Desert Larks and several Desert Wheatears, Isabelline Wheatears and a single Eastern Mourning Wheatear. We then went to the top of the escarpment as Trumpeter Fiches have been seen breeding here at this time of year, many years ago, but we saw little except a Long-legged Buzzard and several House Sparrows. 
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Desert Wheatear - female
Desert Wheatear - female


15 Mar 2019

Red-wattled Lapwing – Khafrah Marsh

Whilst birding the Khafrah Marsh area on 9 March I saw three adult Red-wattled Lapwing. The species is scarce in Saudi Arabia with records from Riyadh, the Empty Quarter and the Eastern Province. This species is a resident breeder at wetlands in eastern Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, and is gradually colonizing westwards. It would be great to think that the birds breeding to the north and south of us are trying to join up their breeding ranges, but so far it has not yet been recorded to breed in Saudi Arabia. In the Eastern province it is regarded as a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor although records are becoming more common with over twenty birds seen together at Shaybah in recent years with others near Hofuf, Jubail and Dhahran. There have been a number of suspected breeding birds seen but no actual confirmation of the species breeding in the Kingdom. These three birds are in suitable habitat for breeding and are very flighty not allowing close approach so could potentially be thinking of breeding.
Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing


13 Mar 2019

Buntings & Larks – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah pivot irrigation fields recently with Phil Roberts, we came across a huge flock of Corn Buntings. The total seen was a minimum of one hundred birds and possibly many more. They were feeding in the grassy pivot fields but a couple of times all took to the air and landed on rough ground under the pivot irrigation equipment allowing reasonable views. In amongst the Corn Buntings were several small groups of Eurasian Skylarks and Greater Short-toed Larks. Corn Buntings are uncommon winter visitors to the region but this winter we have seen a few large flocks, like one in Tabuk and this one. Eurasian Skylarks are regular winter visitors in small numbers often seen in pivot irrigation fields. Greater Short-toed Larks are common passage migrants with flocks of several hundred often seen in suitable habitat.
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark 
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark

11 Mar 2019

Flock of 30 Bimaculated Larks - Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah pivot irrigation fields recently with Phil Roberts, we came across a flock of up to thirty Bimaculated Larks Melanocorypha bimaculate on the stony area around the pivot field. The birds were on the edge of the field in with a group of Greater Short-toed Larks and Eurasian Skylarks. We had planned our trip to get to the location at first light to get good light for photographing any larks we could find as the light deteriorates very quickly as the sun rises. We looked carefully at all the Bimaculated Larks we could see in the hope that a Calandra Lark may be amongst them but failed to turn up anything looking good for that species. Our photos of birds on the ground and in flight showed some of the Bimaculated Larks had what appeared to be pale training edges to the wing, but lacked the black underwing. The pale edges to the flight feathers were caused by the strong light. 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, eight birds in a nearby pivot field 9 March 2018 and a single bird at the same location 30 November 2018. Interestingly a few of the birds were singing from exposed rocks and also song flighting which we have not recorded before when seeing the species in Saudi Arabia. The species is not known to winter in Eastern Saudi Arabia but the fact we saw birds in the same fields at end of November and early February of the same winter suggest they may well winter here. 
Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate


9 Mar 2019

Three Egyptian Nightjars - Judah

Whilst driving off-road along the edge of a large wire fence towards our main birding location at Judah we flushed a bird off the sand track just as it was getting light. We did not see the bird well and flew off and over the fence and could not be seen again. We were hoping it may have been an owl but the brief views gave the impression of long wings so Eurasian Kestrel was mooted as a possible ID but left unknown due to poor views. Luckily a little further down the track we flushed another bird from the edge of the track and this time got views enough to tell it was a Nightjar. We saw the bird land behind the car and got out to make sure it was an Egyptian Nightjar and not the less regularly seen Eurasian Nightjar. We located the bird and got one poor photo before it flew again and off over the fence. A third bird was watched at close range hunting moths along the fence-line as the light became better. This is the first time we have seen the species in this location and a great start top the days birding. The species is an uncommon winter and also an uncommon summer (possible breeder) visitor. Egyptian Nightjars are now an easily seen species during the summer months in the Jubail area. Birds generally turn up in early June and depart in late September and are almost always associated with areas of water and reeds with associated small Tamerisk bushes. In winter birds are seen hunting in various locations often at the edge of large desert areas.
Egyptian Nightjar


7 Mar 2019

Eurasian Wryneck – Bird record by Liam Brickwood

Liam Brickwood sent me an email recently saying he took the below photographs of a Eurasian Wryneck recently in Saudi Arabia. Liam said he took the photos from his villa on Salwa Garden Village Compound (Riyadh) on 8th February 2019. The bird is probably an early migrant as migration starts very early in KSA. Having said that it is also possible it could have wintered as there are a number of records of probable wintering individuals. Liam kindly allowed me to use his photos on my website which are reproduced below.
Eurasian Wryneck

Eurasian Wryneck

Eurasian Wryneck

5 Mar 2019

Winter birding - Haradh

Phil Roberts and I went for our normal winter birding trip to Haradh recently and saw a lot of good birds. Best was 14 Sociable Lapwings which I have already posted about but we also saw a number of other good winter visitors and early spring migrants. The first pivot field we stopped at had a hugh flock of over 500 Spanish Sparrows and a nice looking are of long grass next a freshly cut area. In the freshly cut area were a number of Yellow Wagtails with several White Wagtails alongside. Whilst looking at the Wagtails were heard several Common Quail calling from the nearby grass area and saw one bird in the short grass and four more were flushed from the long grass. Both Common Quail and Yellow Wagtail are early spring migrants. Whilst walking through the long grass we saw up to twenty Red-spotted Bluethroats, the largest number I have seen at a single site at the same time and several Siberian Stonechats along with European Stonechat. Several Namaqua Dove were in the same area and a few Common Kestrel were overhead and perched. Large numbers of Tawny Pipits were also in the fields and long their edges showing that migration was in progress. 
Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel 
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Tawny Pipit
Tawny Pipit

3 Mar 2019

Desert Hyacinth - Al Asfar Lake

Whilst birdwatching at Al Asfar Lake, near Hofuf, I saw a small number of new Desert Hyacinth Cistanche tubulosa. The Desert Hyacinth is a widely distributed annual that produces a dense pyramid spike of bright yellow flowers topped by maroon-tinted buds. The yellow flowers do not smell very nice and flies are attracted to the smell and carry the pollen on their legs from plant to plant helping with pollination. They are parasitic, one of several such plants in Arabia, and live off other plants to gain their nutritional needs, as they have no green parts or leaves to synthesize chlorophyll directly. The many tiny seeds may remain dormant for years until the roots of the host plant are close enough to trigger germination. It is one of the showiest plants of Eastern Arabia with bright yellow, dense column of flowers sometimes approaching one metre in height. It has varying flower colour with the flowers either tightly packed in the spike or loose. They are widespread on sandy or sandy-silty ground and can tolerate saline environments as well as disturbed conditions, so are often seen growing near roads or tracks in the desert or along the shores of the Arabian Gulf.
Desert Hyacinth

1 Mar 2019

Greater Flamingo flocks – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I recorded plenty of Greater Flamingos in several large groups. Numbers possibly amounted to over three thousand birds, a good count to the location. I also saw Grey-headed Swamphen a species that breed in the area as well as the less common Purple Heron and Spanish Sparrow. Wintering Daurian Shrikes were around in good numbers as well but otherwise it was relatively quiet.
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo
Grey-headed-Swamphen
Grey-headed-Swamphen 
Grey-headed-Swamphen
Grey-headed-Swamphen
Purple Heron
Purple Heron
Purple Heron
Purple Heron 
Spanish Sparrows
Spanish Sparrows
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike

27 Feb 2019

African Silverbills – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley last autumn I was sitting under some bushes waiting for Arabian Red-capped Lark to come down and drink at a water hole, a few African Silverbill landed in the tree to my side allowing me to take a few closeup photos. We get Indian Silverbill in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I live but African Silverbill takes its place in the west and south-west regions. Birds are almost always seen in small groups often calling to each other to keep in contact. I forgot to post the photos at the time so am doing so now.
African Silverbill

African Silverbill

African Silverbill

African Silverbill