27 Sep 2020

Red Avadavat at Al Hair – Bird record by Munzir Khan

Whilst birding Al Hair, near Riyadh recently Munzir Khan came across a number of Red Avadavat and took the below photograph that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website. This species has been noted breeding in this area for the last twenty years with the birds almost certainly originating from escaped cage birds but now are part of the Saudi Arabian breeding species avifauna.



25 Sep 2020

Arabian Sand Gazelle – Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

My family and I saw a number of Arabian sand gazelle Gazella marica, in Mahazat As-Sayd Protected Area on out trip there. The Arabian sand gazelle Gazella subgutturosa maricaknown locally as Al reem is a species of gazelle native to the Syrian and Arabian Deserts. Today it survives in the wild in small, isolated populations in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and southeastern Turkey. The total population of wild sand gazelles is thought to be less than 3,000 although significantly more are held in captivity, reserves, or breeding programs. Until recently, the sand gazelle was considered a subspecies of the goitered gazelle Gazella subgutturosa, however a 2010 genetic study established that it was a distinct lineage and it is now considered a separate species. Further genetic analysis reported in 2012 found that the sand gazelle was closely related to two North African gazelles, Cuvier's gazelle Gazella cuvieri and the rhim Gazella leptoceros, perhaps even belonging to a single species. Known locally as Al reem it has declined significantly in numbers mainly due to illegal hunting and habitat loss. In Saudi Arabia, the majority of historical records are from the northern gravel plains and black lava deserts in the north and west of the Nafud desert. Due to the decline, a national captive-breeding program was started by the Saudi Wildlife Authority at its King Khalid Wildlife Research Center near Riyadh to produce Sand Gazelles for reintroduction in the wild with the objectives to establish a free-ranging, self-sustaining population in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area. This protected area had previously held Sand Gazelle and the number of animals present suggest the reintroduction plan has worked well. Arabian sand gazelle is a graceful gazelle native to deserts in the Arabian Peninsula. It lives in sand dunes and coastal flats, and avoids steep and rocky areas.
Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

23 Sep 2020

Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

In August, my family and I went to Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area with the kind permission of the Saudi Wildlife Authority and other government agencies to who we extend our heartfelt appreciation and thanks. We entered at first light in our own four-wheel drive car and had a Mahazat ranger with us at all times to help guide us and show us the best wildlife and prevent us getting lost in the large reserve. Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area is a 2,244 sq. km fenced area located on the arid plains of western Saudi Arabia, 170 km north-east of Taif. It has been protected since 1988 and was surrounded by about 220km of chainlink fence, topped with barbed wire to a height of 2.1m by March 1989. Owing to the perimeter fence, Bedouins and their livestock have no access to the Reserve preventing livestock overgrazing the plants and as a result the habitat has become much improved over the years. It was protected mainly as a reintroduction site in Saudi Arabia for the Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx, Arabian Sand Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa marica, Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii and North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus. Mahazat as-Sayd is a hot and semi-arid to arid desert steppe habitat, typical of the central plateau of the Arabian Peninsula, gently undulating at elevations of 900–1050m above sea level. Three distinct substrates occur; a gravel plain, a basalt undulating plain, and a chert area interspersed with basaltic outcrops. Sand and fine gravel are the dominant surface substrates covering over 95% of the Area. Mean monthly maximum temperatures range from 19°C to 42°C and minimums from 6°C to 25°C. Rainfall averages 100 mm a year, and typically occurs between March to May each year, but with occasional important rain events at other times. There is no permanent source of water above ground level in Mahazat as-Sayd but ephemeral pools exist for short periods after heavy rain. After completion of the fence 156 vascular plant species were identified, 16 mammal species have been recorded and 159 species of birds, of which 17 have been confirmed as breeding. We saw many animals including large numbers of Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx, possibly twenty Arabian Sand Gazelle - Gazella subgutturosa marica, one Mountain Gazelle Gazella gazella or “Idmi” and a single Ruppell's Fox Vulpes ruppelli sabea. Over ten different Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia were located almost always close to their large burrows. Bird wise we saw plenty of Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Lappet-faced Vultures as well as North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus. We also saw a few Great Grey Shirkes and several flocks of House Sparrows.
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike 
House Sparrow
House Sparrow

21 Sep 2020

Bosk's Fringe-toed Lizard - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the mountains of Tanoumah we came across an area of permanent water with good bird and insect life. Here I sawa number of Bosk's fringe-toed lizard Acanthodactylus boskianus always near to vegetation of low-lying shrubs. This is the most widespread species of its genus as well as the largest Acanthodactylus species measuring 16-23 centimetres in total length. Its range includes all of Saharan North Africa and the Middle East including Arabia (widespread in Saudi Arabia), the Levant and Mesopotamia (including the Turkish border), as well as north- western Iran. It has a long, cylindrical body and well developed legs and is known as a fringe-toed lizard due to the presence of a series of scales on the fingers that provide traction for running over loose sand. The general body colour of this species ranges from darkish or silvery grey, to yellow or reddish brown, with seven contrasting dark, brown longitudinal stripes that run the length of the back. With age, these stripes generally fade away or become grey in colour. It frequents a range of stony and sandy environments and is sometimes common in rocky areas with some shrubs. They excavate burrows in hard sand, some of which are equipped with multiple entrances to allow quick retreats and act as a nightly resting place and as a refuge from periods of intense heat. They emerge from their burrows around mid-morning. It is a voracious predator and eats a wide variety of small insects and other invertebrates. Some of the lizards we saw retreated down their burrows when we disturbed them.
Bosk's Fringe-toed Lizard

19 Sep 2020

African Paradise Flycatcher with brown Tail streamers - Tanoumah

Whilst birding Tanoumah I came across and photographed a male African Paradise Flycatcher with brown tail streamers as well as two females. This is the first record I have had like this of a bird with brown tail streamers as all the previous males I have seen have had white tail streamers. I have probably seen more than twenty males previously so the ratio of white to brown streamers must be very high in favour of the white colour.
African Paradise Flycatcher with brown Tail streamers

African Paradise Flycatcher with brown Tail streamers