02 December 2023

Yellow-billed Egret – Wadi Jizan Dam Lake

Whilst birding Wadi Jizan Lake I saw at least two Yellow-billed Egrets. This has just been split from Intermediate Egret a species that has only just started to be seen in Saudi Arabia, almost always in the southwest. Birds have been seen previously at Wadi Jizan Lake, Jizan Heritage Village and along the coast to the Jizan Sewage Treatment Plant. This is the first time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia, but I could have overlooked them in the past? I could not get close to the birds and the below photos are poor but you can see the yellow bill with black tip and the yellow below the eye stopping under the eye rather than behind like Great Egret. The head and neck shape and overall size was also different to Great Egret.

01 December 2023

Gull-billed Terns – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

The numbers of Gull-billed Tern have remained over ten birds at the Dhahran Waste Water Lake and Cricket Field over the last month. This species is and extremely rare breeding migrant, common passage migrant and common winter visitor. They occur on passage from February to March and again from August to November where they mainly favour coastal sites, including bays, mudflats and brackish lagoons but also occur at inland sites, such as fish farms, wastewater lagoons and rubbish dumps. The Dhahran Waste Water Lake is a favoured place for them and they can be seen there almost every day. When they have feed enough on the lake they move to the nearby Cricket and football fields to rest.

30 November 2023

Oasis Skimmer – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst birding the Dhahran Waste Water Lake recently I found an Oasis Skimmer Orthetrum Sabina. This dragonfly is of medium-size with a wingspan of 60-85mm with adults being grayish to greenish yellow with black and pale markings and large green compound eyes. Its abdomen is long slender and ends with an enlarged area which is greenish yellow, marked with white and black. Males and females look identical. They are found mostly around stagnant water holes with some vegetation around and are often seen patrolling the water for potential prey but are also occasionally seen partly suspended under leaves or grass stalks. They prey upon other dragonflies and damselflies and other flying insects such as desert whites and are active all year round. Although I have seen this dragonfly many times in different areas of Saudi Arabia, it is the first time I have seen it in Dhahran where I live and spend man-hours birdwatching.

28 November 2023

Common Black-headed Gulls - Dhahran Waste Water Lake

I have been seeing quite a few Common Black-headed Gull in the last week in Dhahran. This species is an uncommon passage migrant, very common winter visitor and erratic summer visitor. It is most common on the coasts in winter from November to March, and in recent decades has become a common and widespread winter visitor to inland water bodies such as the Dhahran Waste Water Lake where it is now seen every winter in good numbers. Most birds are adults, but a few younger birds also occur. Birds mainly stop off in the early morning to catch small fish and bath at the lake but are often seen flying over in the morning and evening to their main feeding and roosting areas.

26 November 2023

Good numbers of Water Pipits – Dhahran Hills

Birding the football and cricket fields in Dhahran Hills over the last few weeks has produced more than fourty Water Pipits. This species is a common winter visitor occurring from October until April with numbers only building up this year from the end of October and early November. The birds feed on the short grass of the Cricket Field and football fields finding plenty of small insects and larvae to eat. Although they are common in the Eastern Province, As I could drive the car close to the pitch, I was able to get close to a few different birds. Most were in the centre of the football field, but a few were closer to the field edge, allowing some close-up photos to be taken. A few Red-throated and Tree Pipit have also been seen but no photographs were taken.

24 November 2023

Desert White – Dhahran

Whilst birding Dhahran in mid-November I came across a couple of Desert White Butterfly Pontia glauconome, which is a striking white butterfly of arid regions occurring in deserts and on mountain slopes and foothills with sparse vegetation, up to around 2000 metres above sea level. The Desert White is a widespread species, ranging from North Africa through Arabia and the Middle East to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a small white butterfly (10-15mm) whose antennae are clubbed, ending in a white tip. The inside of the forewings are black tip with white dots. Underside of both wings has characteristic yellow veins, with light brown colour pattern and they have large round compound eyes with black dots. It is relatively common from early March to early December in a multitude of overlapping broods that differ from area to area depending on the rains. The Desert White is variable especially with regard to the amount of ‘green’ pigmentation on the underside that can be very heavy to almost absent. This variability can be large and can even occur between generations.

22 November 2023

Late Spotted Flycatcher – Uqair

Whilst birding the date palms along the coast at Al Uqair in mid-November I saw a small flycatcher perched in one of the date palms. It looked superficially like a Red-breasted Flycatcher but on closer approach turned into a Spotted Flycatcher. This is easily the most common flycatcher in Saudi Arabia but is a passage migrant with birds not generally seen after late October. Apart from this bird there was relatively little around with a few White-eared Bulbuls and House Sparrows some resembling hufuae subspecies. Graceful Prinia was heard singing in a few locations and otherwise there was very little. On the ocast we saw a few waders with one Greater Sand Plover, two Dunlin and several Kentish Plover. Five large white-headed gulls were seen all of which appeared to be Steppe Gulls but they did not allow close approach and flew almost immediately we tried getting closer. 

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover

20 November 2023

Regular species – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst birding the Dhahran Waste Water Lake I saw a good number of birds but mainly the regular species. Two pairs of Eurasian Coot breed on the pond most years and at least two birds are present all the time. The heron numbers have changed slightly with no Night Herons seen but still over ten Grey Heron, two Purple Heron, Little Egret, Great Egret and ten plus Squacco Herons. A few Great Cormorant are returning and at least two Gull-billed Tern were fishing although I saw eleven sitting on the nearby cricket field. Pallid swift are still common as are Rose-ringed Parakeets, but they are both only seen in flight in the early mornings.

Eurasian Coot

Eurasian Coot

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift

Purple Heron

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron

18 November 2023

Over one hundred Hypocolius – Uqair

Phil Roberts and I went to Uqair in the hope of finding some Hypocolius as they here had been a large flock of several hundred birds in every winter since 2020. We arrived just as it was getting light and saw a few White-eared Bulbuls flying around but no Hypocolius. After about 15 minutes I saw a single male bird fly and land in a tree, but at some distance. We walked around the area and during the next 30 minutes saw a few more birds taking the total to about twenty birds. We then started seeing a few flocks of 10 plus birds flying over all heading south. Eventually some started to land in the palm trees but getting close was difficult on foot and over the next hour we were present we eventually saw a conservative number of 100-150 birds. Hypocolius are quite difficult to see worldwide as they occur in regions that are not so easy to access like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hypocolius is mainly a short-distance migrant, although small numbers remain in western Iran throughout the year, but the majority migrate south and east to their main wintering areas in southern Iran, Pakistan, western India, west and central Saudi Arabia, and Arabian Gulf States (notably Bahrain). Departure from the breeding areas mainly occurs in August with birds arriving back in April. In Saudi Arabia as a whole, they are an uncommon, but may be a locally common, winter visitor to Central Arabia, Northern Hejaz, Hejaz and Northern Red Sea. Flocks of over 100 birds have been recorded in Riyadh each winter for many years and in the last three winters a large flock of about 100 birds has been at Haradh and these birds in Uqair.

16 November 2023

Pair of Tufted Duck – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst birding the Dhahran Hills area recently I saw a pair of Tufted Duck. This is an unusual visitor to Dhahran where it is one of the rarer of the regularly occurring duck species. The birds were seen at first light, and at long distance, but I managed to walk around the lake and get closer without them noticing me. I saw a pair earlier this year and wonder if they are the same returning birds? The species has migratory populations breeding in Iceland and northern Europe across most of Russia and wintering 6,000 km south in northern and eastern Africa and southern Europe through India to Japan and south into the Arabian Peninsula. In Saudi Arabia it has a status as a scarce passage migrant, uncommon winter visitor and very erratic summer visitor. They are mainly seen between October and February on large, open wetland sites, particularly with pools lacking surface vegetation, such as reservoir lakes, the Riyadh River and ornamental lakes.