21 May 2022

European Roller – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in mid-May I came across a European Roller sitting in a small tree. I was able to manoeuvre the car into a position where the light was good and the bird not to distant and was able to photograph and is shown below. The bird remained in the tree and I I left it sitting in the same place I first saw it. Saudi Arabia has three species of roller on the country list. These are Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis a vagrant, Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus a breeding resident of the southwest region of the Kingdom and European Roller Coracias garrulus a common passage migrant from March to May and again from mid-July to late September when juveniles are also seen along with adults. Birds are regularly seen in the Eastern Province in all areas but are not particularly common in the Jubail area. They are seen almost every year in both spring and autumn in very small numbers at this location but they are always good to see and photograph.

19 May 2022

Breeding Little Ringed Plover - Jubai

Whilst birding Jubail in mid-May I came across a pair of breeding Little Ringed Plovers with a small chick. This species has started to breed commonly in the Jubail area with many pairs seen daily but this is the first chock of the year that I have recorded. The chicks are very skilful at hiding when disturbed so I may have overlooked them in previous weeks. The species is an early passage migrant with small numbers seen from January through to early May, breeders remaining through the summer and more migrants arrive in August to October. A few birds stay until November and exceptionally December and they often occur on pools and lagoons sometimes well away from the coast. The prefer inland freshwater locations often well away from the coast and breed in open areas with sandy or shingle banks close to streams, freshwater and treated wastewater lagoons. Breeding numbers appear to be increasing in the Eastern Province over the last few years with birds seen in many different locations.

17 May 2022

Shrikes still passing - Jubail

As the previous week I started seeing shrikes as soon as we got to the location and by the end of the day we had seen five different species (Red-backed Shrike, Turkestan Shrike, Daurian Shrike, Masked Shrike and Lesser Grey Shrike) with some birds looking like freshly arrived migrants. The make up of the shrikes was slightly different to last week as I saw 87 Red-backed Shrike, one Turkestan Shrike, one Daurian Shrike, one Masked Shrike and two Lesser Grey Shrikes. This is the second largest number of Red-backed Shrikes I have seen in a day here in Saudi Arabia and they were basically everywhere you looked. It was a great days birding with so many shrikes and other migrants and the close views made it even more rewarding.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike
Masked Shrike

15 May 2022

Good numbers of migrants - Jubail

Phil Roberts and I went to Jubail in early May and had a great morning’s birding with lots of migrants. Immediately on arrival we saw ten summer plumage Red-necked Phalaropes, but they were quite distant so no phots were possible. Over the course of the morning, we located 62 species, a very high number for the location where 40 species is normal. The best birds seen were a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, an unusual sighting for this location, several Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Eurasian Roller, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Tree Pipit, and shrikes of various species including Lesser Grey Shrike. Waders were quite numerous with lots of Wood Sandpipers and two Terek Sandpipers seen and Pied Avocet starting to breed along with Little Tern and Black-winged Stilt. It was a good first day birding back in Saudi Arabia after a short break back to the UK.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

European Roller

European Roller

Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush

Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush



13 May 2022

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard - Jubail

Phil Roberts located an Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard in Jubail when we were last birding there, a species I have seen here before but only once. The Lizards are a blue colour if not warmed up properly otherwise they reach a bright yellow colour. Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx spp.)is a medium to large sized, heavily built lizard with a spiny club like tail, which has been likened to a small living dinosaur. They are ground dwelling and live in some of the most arid regions of the planet including northern Africa, the Middle East, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-western India. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis is most common in Saudi Arabia and is the one that occurs in the Eastern Province and is generally regarded as a subspecies of the Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia. Due to the poor weather and distance the photo is not of great quality.

11 May 2022

Plenty of Shrikes - Jubail

In early May in the Jubail area we saw many shrikes in a relatively small area. We started seeing shrikes as soon as we got to the location and by the end of the day we had seen six different species (Red-backed Shrike, Turkestan Shrike, Daurian Shrike, Masked Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike and Woodchat Shrike) with some birds relatively easy to get close to, suggesting they may be freshly arrived migrants. We saw about thirty Red-backed Shrike, five Turkestan Shrike, ten Daurian Shrike, one Masked Shrike and three Woodchat and three Lesser Grey Shrikes. Lesser Grey Shrike, is a species I do not see very often, and one I have struggled to get good photos of over the years so my efforts below were quite good for me regarding this species. I always enjoy seeing shrikes (except when they are in a mist net as they are ferocious on the hands) as they have great characters and beautiful plumage. I did not try to hard to photograph other species of shrike as the weather was very overcast, windy and dusty,

09 May 2022

Hufuf Sparrow - Alkwifriah

'Hufuf Sparrow' Passer (domesticus/indicus) hufufae was described by Ticehurst & Cheesman, 1924, from Hufuf Saudi Arabia, and which also occurs southwards to the UAE and northern Oman. This Sparrow is currently a subspecies of House Sparrow but has quite a few distinguishing features. Hadoram Shirahai suggested I look for this sparrow in the areas near the UAE boarder if I am ever in that area, as he had seen them in the UAE not too far from the border on a recent visit. Jennings states that the status in Arabia: pre-1984, hufufae near Hufuf Oasis, perhaps eastern Saudi Arabia coastal area and possibly UAE/Oman, but indicus mostly in Arabian port areas, likely of dhow/ship assisted origin. Post-1984, indicus being more adaptable to commensal behavior, has expanded quickly into oil, agriculture & commerce based settlements and hufufae has been swamped out of existence by hybridisation and being out-competed. There are not many records I know of, of hufufae in Saudi Arabia recently so I was keen to see if we could locate some or if Jennings comments held true. Our visits to the Uqayr, earlier this year, did not yield any likely looking birds, but we were going much closer to the UAE boarder to the Salwa area and hoped we may locate some here. Whilst in the Sawa area we visited some small holdings and heard some unusual sparrow like calls coming from and extensive hedged area. Sparrows were occasionally dropping to the ground to collect nesting materials but all were females. The birds in the hedge although calling all the time were very difficult to see but eventually, we saw some very small looking males with white underparts and cheeks. We also saw some typical indicus showing both indicus and hufufae occurred side by side in the area. This suggests they do the same in Saudi Arabia from Hufuf southwards to the UAE border, assuming they still occur in Hufuf itself. Hufuf Sparrow appears to occur in much smaller numbers than indicus with a number of areas where only indicus was noted near to where we had seen hufufae. It will be interesting to see how far north this type of small sparrow occurs in Saudi Arabia and if it still occurs in the Hufuf region and even further north. In the field the Hufuf Sparrow appeared very small and gave the impression of a Silverbill (with a small bill) as they were small and slightly elongate looking. hufufae is distinctly whiter below, and with whiter cheeks, and more obvious rufous markings on the head and less white in the supercillium area, with what sounded to us like differences in calls.



07 May 2022

Yellow-spotted Agama - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in early May we came across a Yellow-spotted Agama Trapelus flavimaculatus sitting on top of a pile of rocks. Yellow-spotted Agama are a medium sized lizard about 30 centimetres in length and are also known as Blue-headed Agama for obvious reasons. The one I saw had quite a blue had but the light was very poor so it does not show well in the photo below. Their tails are very long and thin and make up over half their body length and they move extremely fast over the ground. The Yellow-spotted Agama is a common species of lizard found in arid regions of the Middle East from Egypt: North of the Eastern Desert & Northern Sinai to the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia. They are readily distinguished from the Sinai agama Pseudotrapelus sinaitus by their heavier build, rougher scales and the presence of a gular sac that is darkened and inflated as a threat display. The ear opening is smaller and its dorsal margin is partially covered by pointed scales. In the summer these lizards often sit atop Acacia trees or prominent rocks as a territorial display and to regulate their temperature. They are quite aggressive with a mainly carnivorous diet of small insects. Their skin colour varies from reddish-brown to olivegreen, and is covered in a pattern of heavy yellowish-white spots. Their tails are normally pale yellow; however, male Yellow-spotted Agamas have the ability to go from this drab coloration to something much more vivid and spectacular. The dull reddish-brownish-green skin turns vivid blue, and the pale yellow tail glows brilliant flaming orange. Sometimes a male Agama will only change partially turning just the underside of his head blue, for instance. The colour change happens in seconds and fades just as quickly.

30 April 2022

Eurasian Bittern – Jubail

After I recorded Eurasian Bittern in two different places the Eastern province in 2020, from Dhahran (spring) and Jubail (autumn), I recorded a further four birds at Jubail 14 October 2021. These additional records suggest the species may not be so rare in the Eastern Province as previously thought. Prior to these records the species was thought to be a vagrant in the Eastern Province, with the only eight records as follows: One Hofuf Lakes, 21 May 1976; One Dhahran, 24 November 1978; One Jawb, on the northern edge of the Rub’ al-Khali, 25 September 1980; One Abqaiq, 11-17 December 1982; Three Abqaiq, 19-20 October 1983; One Abqaiq, 14-21 December 1984; Khafrah Marsh, booming birds in March 1998 and again March 1999, but not heard or seen in other years despite the site being visited each month over a seven year period. The record from December suggests some might spend the winter in the Eastern Province. My recordings in the Eastern Province during passage migration seasons suggests the species is a scarce passage migrant rather than a vagrant.

24 April 2022

Hyaena – Southwest Mountains

Whilst in the southwest mountains of Saudi Arabian we came across a lot of footprints of what we thought could be Striped Hyaena Hyaena hyaena sultana. We stayed until dark and set up Phil’s camera trap in the area where we had located the footprints and left it there for the night returning just before daylight to see what we had photographed. On arrival I could see fresh tracks in front of the camera and Phil looked at the photos and although some were of dogs there were a couple of different Hyaena. Phil has kindly allowed me to use his photo on my website which is shown below. Striped Hyaena have a body length of 1.1 m a tail length of 20 cms and they weigh between 35 and 40 kgs. They are grey or pale brown in colour with 5 – 9 dark coloured, vertical stripes on their flanks. They have a mane on their neck and shoulders, a bushy tail, rounded head with pointed ears set high on their heads and have a black, pointed muzzle. On each foot they have four toes with blunt, non-retractable claws. Their front legs are longer than their hind which gives their back a sloping appearance and they have powerful jaws with strong teeth. Striped Hyenas have excellent senses of vision, hearing and smell. They are usually silent but will vocalize if excited or threatened. When they feel threatened they are able to erect their mane and the hairs on their back to make themselves appear much larger. Dwindling numbers of the Striped Hyena exist in Saudi Arabia where they have lived for thousands of years as hyaena rock art is engraved on mountain rocks in different parts of the Kingdom. They live in open land close to agricultural areas, as well as in wadis and lava fields (Harat), and live a nomadic lifestyle.