25 September 2023

Collared Pratincole – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the Dhahran Hills Cricket Field 15 September, I found and photographed a single Collared Pratincoles Glareola pratincola. This species is an uncommon passage migrant to the Eastern Province with birds seen in small numbers most years. They occur from late March to May and in August and September. During the remaining summer months and in October it tends to be scarce and irregular. Records are more common in the autumn than spring in Riyadh with autumn movement from late July to late October, peaking late August to early September, when flocks of 40 plus (mainly juveniles) are regularly encountered. In the southwest, west and northwest of the country records are more common mainly at freshwater inland areas where flocks of over 100 have been recorded at Tabuk. The bird I saw looked like it may have just arrived as it allowed close approach, even on foot, which is not common. They more often than not occur in groups rather than singly.

24 September 2023

Baltic Gull - Jubail

 Whilst birding Jubail 22 September 2023 I came across an interesting gull on the side of the flooded sabkha. I grabbed a couple of photos and after a quick look thought it looked good for a third or fourth calendar year Baltic Gull Larus fuscus, fuscus a rare gull in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. As I was moving to get the sun in a better position to photograph the bird a security vehicle pulled up scaring it into flight. I had my camera on the wrong setting for flight mode but luckily managed to get a few photos as it flew past very close. This is only the third confirmed sighting I have had of this subspecies of Lesser-Black Backed Gull in the Eastern Province. They are commoner in the Red Sea area where approximately 1% of the large white-headed gulls are fuscus and they are seen infrequently. Identification of both fuscus and heuglini can be initiated by their mantle colour with fuscus the smallest and darkest species, with almost black upperparts in 3cy to adult plumage and a long-winged appearance. Any blackish bird with an unstreaked head, little or no covert moult and a full set of primaries (or with only P1-2 dropped) in September or later is a strong fuscus candidate. On an individual bird, once moult has commenced it tends to occur in parallel in different feather tracts. Thus, the extent of head streaking, the extent of covert moult and the stage of primary moult are directly correlated, i.e. no wing moult also probably means a white(r) head. A few identification points below for subadult/adult birds.

  • Small size, the smallest of the LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • Bill is long and straight and rather thin with small unnoticeable gonys
  • Legs are very short and moderately thin
  • The primary projection beond the tail is typically 1.3 times the tarsus length.
  • Elongated rear end that looks slender.
  • Eye is pale in adults with red orbital ring
  • Head is gentle looking but not rounded with a noticeable slope to the forehead
  • Dark coal black upperparts, the darkest of the LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • The black on the primaries do not usually contrast with the rest of the upperwing
  • Totally dark secondaries, all underwing remiges are dark
  • Normally shows a white mirror on P10
  • Moults later with active moult in February and March.

22 September 2023

Herons – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst checking out the birds on the Dhahran Waste Water Lake, just after first light, I stopped for a while to photograph the herons present. I saw eleven Purple Heron, six Grey Heron, 20+ Black-crowned Night Heron and a single Western Great Egret. All these birds are common on the lake and stay all year, but the gathering of Purple Heron was one of the largest I have seen in Dhahran. The birds spend most of their time sitting on the water’s edge catching fish and frogs and occasionally fly if disturbed. I was a little surprised I saw no Cattle Egrets as there are a few around now on the nearby Cricket Field.

Black-crowned Night Heron - adult

Black-crowned Night Heron - adult

Black-crowned Night Heron - juvenile

Purple Heron

Purple Heron

Purple Heron

Purple Heron

Western Great Egret

Western Great Egret

20 September 2023

Greater Short-toed Larks – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding Dhahran Hills Cricket Pitch I am across two Greater Short-toed Larks.  Birds that pass through Saudi Arabia are migratory populations, which breed from Ukraine to Mongolia and winter 2,000 km south. In Saudi Arabian it has a status as a rare breeding migrant, very common passage migrant and common winter visitor. They prefer open sandy or gravel plains with herbs and grasses, or cultivated areas and feed mainly on invertebrates in spring and autumn and seeds in winter. They usually forage alone or in pairs, as these birds were doing but can form large groups. 

18 September 2023

Sykes Yellow Wagtail – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birdwatching the Dhahran Cricket Field in mid-September I came across a small group of Yellow Wagtail with a couple of nice Sykes Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava beema amongst them. The Yellow Wagtail is a common passage migrant through the whole of Arabia with many thousands passing through the Eastern Province alone. Birds are common in the spring migration period but less common in autumn and nice plumaged birds like the one in the photo below are not common during this period. As the birds are constantly on the move looking for food they are not so easy to get good photos of, although this bird was quite obliging as it walked very close collecting insects from the wet grass that had just beed sprayed with water. This bird has a longer, larger and bolder white supercilium than most individuals giving it quite a striking appearance. 

17 September 2023

Whimbrels – Dhahran Cricket Field

Below are a few photos of Whimbrel I have taken over the last two weeks. I have been trying to get photos of birds on the ground as well as in flight to check the wing pattern, especially the underwing for signs of Steppe Whimbrel. I failed to find any birds looking like this subspecies but managed to get a few decent photos. Trying to take photos of the birds in flight was quite difficult when on my own, as the birds just run away and keep their distance. On occasions a runner or dog walker would flush the birds and if very lucky they would sometimes fly over me or circle around allowing some photos. Up to eight birds were on the cricket field and nearby grass football fields for the entire period mentioned with others joining and leaving after a day or so, making at least twelve birds in total.