30 Jan 2019

Huge flock of Corn Buntings - Tabuk

Whilst birding the Tabuk area in late January, Phil Roberts and I saw a flock of over 150 Corn Buntings in a stubble field. This is easily the largest flock seen in the Kingdom in recent years. The birds were very flighty and almost impossible to see on the ground but flew around a lot. They always remained distant and identification was difficult until we looked at photos. Corn Bunting is an uncommon and irregular winter visitor to the Kingdom with most records coming from the northern parts of the Kingdom.
Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

28 Jan 2019

Flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse - Haradh

Whilst birding the Haradh area 25 January, I saw a flock of over 50 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustus with Phil Roberts. The birds were seen in flight at a great distance but flew closer allowing me to take a couple of photos, although the midday light and heat made the photos average. They are a common and widespread breeding resident on the Tihamah and southern Red Sea coastlands, less common in the Northern Hejaz north to Rabigh with all records below 1000 metres. The species is, however, rare in Central Saudi Arabia and had not been recorded in the Eastern Province until 2013 when I was sent a photograph showing a number of birds (unfortunately) shot, apparently near Al Hassa in 2013. Phil Roberts then saw a single bird at Sabkhat Al Fasl in 2014 and tPhil and I saw a single at the same location 12 February 2016 making this record from Haradh only the fourth for the Eastern Province and easily the largest flock. They are a relatively small species, with elongated central tail feathers, dark underwing, blackish belly and unmarked head. The male has a narrow pectoral band and chestnut brown belly darkening towards rear, whereas the female is more mottled above and shows a tricoloured ventral pattern. Races differ mainly in tone of upperpart coloration with the Arabian population P. e. erlangeri sandy coloured. They typically inhabit bare semi-desert, often with scattered thorny scrubs or trees including Acacia. They feed during the cooler hours of morning and afternoon and drink 2–3 hours after sunrise, while in very hot weather some individuals drink again before sunset.
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse


26 Jan 2019

Pale Crag Martins – Tabuk

Whilst birding the Tabuk area recently Phil Roberts and I found more than twenty Pale Crag Martins flying over large pivot irrigation fields. Normally they are associated with cliffs, but these birds were catching insects well away from the cliff line which was some five kilometres distant. Pale Crag Martin is a common breeding resident in all areas wherever there are rock outcrops or cliffs, and have in the past formed flocks in winter of over 300 but there have been no records like this that I am aware of for many years. This was the largest gathering we have seen in the Kingdom and some of the views the birds gave were excellent flying around almost overhead at times.
Pale Crag Martin


Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

23 Jan 2019

Winter visitors - Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail recently I came across a number of winter visitors who spend most of the winter in the Jubail area. Species seen included Daurian Shrike, Eurasian Stonechat and Pied Kingfisher. Other species seen that are resident were Common Moorhen, Grey-headed Swamphen and Squacco Heron. Wader numbers were well down on normal with only a few Green Sandpiper in evidence but the Greater Flamingo numbers have increased to 5000+. Four Greater Spotted Eagles and 20+ Western Marsh Harriers were also seen.
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Eurasian Stonechat
Eurasian Stonechat
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Common Moorhen
Common Moorhen 
Grey-headed Swamphen
Grey-headed Swamphen
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron


21 Jan 2019

Common Chiffchaffs - Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail in January I came across a good number of Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita with groups of up to eight birds seen in various locations. The Common Chiffchaff is a common migrant and winter visitor to the entire Kingdom. They can become very common, especially in March and October with numbers reducing progressively from mid-February and stragglers remaining until mid-May. There does not appear to be a noticeable spring peak and then generally occur later in autumn and earlier in spring than the similar Willow Warbler. The race tristris Siberian Chiffchaff has only definitely been recorded twice, when birds were trapped and ringed in Jubail, although others were thought to have occurred previously but not documented properly. On 11 January I also heard and recorded a Siberian Chiffchaff, as well as saw it well but was unable to get any photos as it was in an area of tall grasses and tamarisk trees. 
Common Chiffchaff

Common Chiffchaff

19 Jan 2019

Male Citrine Wagtail - Jubail

Whilst birding at Jubail 11 January I found a single male Citrine Wagtail. The species is a regular though local winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia that was not seen until 1975. The species has become more common in the region recently (last ten years) and are almost always found near water and favour feeding on wet roadside puddles or the edges of flooded sabkha. They are not the easiest species to photograph as they are quite nervous and flighty and rarely stay still for long. March appears to be the best month when passage occurs through the region although birds are seen throughout the winter months. 
Citrine Wagtail

17 Jan 2019

Mallard - Jubail

Whilst birding at Jubail 11 January and I found a group of eight Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, three males and five females in an area of flooded sabkha. In the Eastern Province they are an uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor that generally occurs from late August until May, with peak numbers from September to March. It occurs mainly in the coastal zone where they often frequent coastal areas and inland pools. The only regular sites are the Dammam area where birds are often seen in Tarout Bay and the Jubail area that regularly has small flocks of up to 35 birds in the winter. Inland records have come from Dhahran Saudi Aramco camp percolation pond and Abqaiq lagoons where birds are seen each winter in numbers up to 15 birds. The species is extremely weary in the Kingdom and getting close to birds is extremely difficult. The group of eight birds I saw were hidden behind a group of trees and the only half decent photo, shown below, was through the trees, As soon as I moved, the birds sensed my presence and flew off.
Mallard

15 Jan 2019

Devils Thumb – Judah

This rock formation is about 160 kilometres from Dhahran near the town of Judah also spelt Goodah. It is just off the main Riyadh highway and is easy to reach. The rock formation can be reached relatively easily by car once in the village of Goodah, as although it is off-road the tracks are firm and can be easily driven as much of it is on gravel like terrain, especially near the rock formation itself. The below photographs were taken in the late evening with good light from the sun at a low position in the sky.




13 Jan 2019

Hammerkop – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley near Abha I came across a Hammerkop on two separate days at a small pool of water. The bird was shy and would not allow any sort of approach and flew almost immediately it saw me. I did manage a poor photo on the ground as well as a few flight shots as it flew off and circled around before disappearing from sight. The Hammerkop occurs mainly in Africa south of the Sahara & Madagascar but also occurs in south-west Arabia from the lowlands to the top of Mount Soudah at almost 3000 metres above sea level. In Saudi Arabia they occur in wetland habitats including irrigated land, lakes and wadies are of the sub-species Scopus unbretta umbretta. It is a locally common breeding resident in Saudi Arabia at all permanent watercourses of the Tihamah, Asir and Hejaz, in the south-west, with one record as far north as Rabigh.
Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Hammerkop


Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

Hammerkop

11 Jan 2019

Pied Kingfishers - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I came across four female Pied Kingfisher. This species is now becoming an uncommon winter visitor to the Jubail area with birds seen every winter for the last five years. The weather was very poor with overcast conditions so the photo is not the best but they are always lovely birds to see and often allow close approach. The same day there were also four birds seen at nearby Khafrah Marsh indicating they are becoming commoner each year. Common Kingfishers are also back for the winter in good numbers.