15 Nov 2019

Wonderboom Fig Tree – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding a large wadi at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment we came across a Wonderboom that was about seven metres high and had several fruits in different stages of ripeness. The Wonderboom Ficus salicifolia is an evergreen fig species that ranges from the KwaZulu-Natal midlands in South Africa northwards to tropical East Africa and into southwest Arabia. It mainly grows on outcrops, rocky hillsides and along cliffs fringing water courses and may rarely grow up to 10 m tall, and acquire a leafy spreading crown. They have elliptic-oblong, leathery leaves of about 7 to 10 cm long, are carried on long petioles, and are often noticeably folded along the midrib. The leaves are brittle and have a characteristic smell when broken or bruised. The small, smooth figs are carried on short stalks and measure about 4–6 mm in diameter. They are massed along the branchlets in the leaf axils and change from white to yellowish-red and spotted as they ripen. The figs are eaten by birds and mammals. The Wonderboom fig is sometimes deemed a race of Ficus cordata i.e. F. c. subsp. salicifolia though the latter species has yellowish sessile figs and a more westerly distribution.
Wonderboom Fig Tree

Wonderboom Fig Tree


13 Nov 2019

European Bee-eater – Raydah Escarpment

An afternoon trip to the Raydah Escarpment in mid-October produced my first records of European Bee-eaters for the site. A large thunderstorm and dark clouds made the light very poor in the wadi at the bottom of the escarpment and after walking down the wadi for some way we quickly returned to the car before heavy rain set in. Once back at the car we drove back down the same wadi we had walked down and came across a few bee-eaters flying around and landing in the trees. After a while, it became apparent more and more birds were arriving probably settling in a sheltered area to wait out the storm. Groups of birds would gather on the dusty track and dust bath a little and overall we saw well over 100 birds and probably closer to 150. As the light was very poor good photographs were difficult to obtain but I did manage to grab a couple of half-decent shots. European Bee-eater is a common passage migrant throughout Saudi Arabia and has been seen in the reserve commonly in the past but as I seldom go in migration time and am normally there in the summer months I had not seen the species in the location previously.
European Bee-eater

European Bee-eater

European Bee-eater


11 Nov 2019

King Jird – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley near Abha in October 2019 I came across a single King Jird Meriones rex. The animal was seen briefly running through some grasses and fortunately stopped partially hidden before bolting down its burrow. The King Jird in endemic to Arabia and occurs in the highlands of the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, from near Mecca in Saudi Arabia south to near Aden in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia, the species has been reported from 1,350 to 2,200 metres above sea level. This Jird lives in large burrows amongst bushes, preferring raised areas bordering agricultural land. It is active in the evening and early morning. It lives in burrows which it shares with other rodents and lizards. They are reported as common throughout their range. Although I have seen the King Jird on a number of occasions they are difficult to photograph as they are normally seen briefly disappearing down their burrows.
King Jird

9 Nov 2019

Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the road between Tanoumah and Abha in Mid-October 2019 I saw a presumed migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus. It was in the air with approximately eight Steppe Eagles which were also migrating due to the clear skys and good conditions. The species is uncommon in the Kingdom with numbers apparently declining and the southwest of the Kingdom is easily the best location for trying to locate birds. The species is an uncommon, resident breeder, in the Hejaz, Asir and the Tihama mountains of western Saudi Arabia, as well as a passage migrant. There are few records elsewhere in the Kingdom, and in the Eastern Province where I live, it is a vagrant with six records of seven birds but none have been seen in recent years. There is a small breeding colony near Riyadh. As this bird had a few features that looked odd I sent it to Dick Forsman for comments and as always he very kindly replied to me, for which I am very grateful, saying that the bird looked like a Eurasian Griffon Vulture with the exception of a few feathers around the armpit/inner greater coverts and is reasonably confident the bird is a Eurasian Griffon Vulture.
Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

7 Nov 2019

Migrating Steppe Eagles – Between Tanoumah & Abha

Whilst driving between Abha and Tanoumah in mid-October 2019 we saw 10 Steppe Eagles with a further 16 on the return journey. Birds seen included immatures, sub-adults and adults and will probably include birds that will stay the winter in the region along with migrants. These sightings were a year later than the ones we saw in 2018 and fit in well with the idea that Steppe Eagle is a long-distance trans-equatorial migrant and unlike many other eagles, the species migrates in large, loose flocks. Individuals leave their breeding grounds for wintering grounds between August and October, returning to breeding areas between January and May. October appears to be the peak month for migrating Steppe Eagles in Saudi Arabia. Like other soaring birds, Steppe Eagles minimize the length of sea crossing and appear to have a loop migration around the Red Sea, arriving via Bab-el-Mandeb Strait (between Yemen and Djibouti) and departing via the Suez, Egypt–Eilat, Israel (the northern end of the Red Sea). This is probably because the prevailing easterly winds between October and April make return migration via Bab-el-Mandeb more difficult. The Steppe Eagle has undergone extremely rapid population declines within all its range. The speed and severity of these declines justified the species being moved to ‘Endangered’ in the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment. Suspected reasons for decline include, habitat loss/ degradation, electrocution on or collision with energy infrastructure, poisoning through herbicides, pesticides and veterinary drugs in food sources, persecution, mortality of juveniles in fires, taking of chicks and disturbance.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle