12 Aug 2020

Blandford's Agama - Wannan

Whilst searching the desert areas in the middle of summer we found very few birds of interest but a couple of lizards. One was a Blandford's Agama Trapelus ruderatus that was out hunting in the sparse vegetation and 46 degrees Celsius temperatures. This lizard has a range from north-eastern Jordan and southern Syria, through northern and eastern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and southern and central Iran as far south as Shiraz. The species occurs from close to sea level to around 1,000 metres above sea level. It can be moderately common in suitable habitat. This ground-dwelling species is associated with low shrubs (Nitraria) on the fringe of sandy dunes in arid areas and in sandy desert areas. It can sometimes be found perching on bushes but is not found in modified areas. 
Blandfords Agama

Blandfords Agama

Blandfords Agama

10 Aug 2020

Sand Partridge – Abha area

Whilst birding an area of Abha without access to the general public, I came across a few Sand Partridge. I had not managed to get any decent photographs of this species since I arrived in Saudi Arabia so was pleased to see the birds and get the below photos. Sand Partridge has a large range, and is mainly found down the western side of the Kingdom where it is a common breeding resident of the Northern Hejaz. It is also common in Central Arabia and the desert fringes of Asir and Hejaz. They are locally common on the Tuwaiq Escarpment where groups of up to 70 have been seen together at waterholes, and it occurs as far east as Riyadh. They have not been seen yet in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I live.

8 Aug 2020

Petroglyph chronology

The chronology of Saudi Arabian rock art remains largely tentative. The earliest Phase 1, tentatively attributed to the Neolithic, are distinctive in having large-sized human and animal figures depicted in low or bas-relief with detailed realistic physical features, except the faces, which are usually obscure and ambiguous. The art of the later Neolithic period represents highly skilled and artistic images of human and animals. In Phase II a change occurred in the art style with no more large-sized human and animal figures, with realistic physical features being produced. Instead, the figures became comparatively smaller and schematized. The typical funnel-shaped faces of bovids of phase 1 were replaced by triangular or conical shaped faces, while the horns remained exaggeratedly large and highly stylized. In Phase III, large compositions of human and animal figures, associated with a variety of animal species and non-representational and geometric motifs became common. The figures became schematic, mostly outlined, and, for the first time, stick or linear, and simplified human and animal figures appeared in rock art compositions. Foot and hand prints were seen for the first time along with a variety of animal species, such as presumed camels, ibex, deer, lions, dogs, wolves, and gazelles, becoming common. Phase IV is represented by a period preceding the introduction of writing or the literary period in Arabia. Highly schematic, abstract, stick-like linear human and animal figures, along with geometric and non-representational motifs, were depicted as signs and symbols. With the change in Arabian climate and environmental conditions, from cool and humid in the Neolithic to the extremely hot and dry in the Bronze Age, the camel became the main animal of rock assemblages. 

6 Aug 2020

Breeding Little terns - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I came across a few Little Terns some of which had well grown young to feed. As most of the area is flooded the birds were on the edge of some large flooded pools. In the Eastern Province the Little Tern is a common passage migrant and summer visitor that is scarce in the winter. Care must be taken not to confuse it with the very similar Saunder’s Tern that also occurs in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in the summer and breeds on offshore islands. It has bred in freshwater and brackish areas of eastern Saudi Arabia and possibly the Red Sea also. Birds are scarce inland but have been recorded in all areas including Riyadh. In the summer months the chance to try to get photos is increased as adults were feeding young and continually flying backwards and forwards with food. The harsh light is a drawback but the best photos I managed are shown below.

4 Aug 2020

Petroglyphs (Rock Art) – Near Hanidh

Whilst in the Hanidh area of Saudi Arabia, approximately 100 kms off the Dammam/Riyadh highway we saw some petroglyphs. Saudi Arabia is among the four richest rock art regions of the world with more than 1500 rock art sites and it is thought they were drawn by Bedouin or desert dwellers. Hundreds and thousands of petroglyphs, painted rock art, and ancient Arabian inscriptions sites are located all over the country, representing various cultural phases. The rock art of Saudi Arabia represents an era from early Neolithic (c.14,000 BP) to early Islamic period (c.1,500 years BP). A scientific project begun in 2001 under the direction of the Deputy Ministry of Antiquities and Museums and is continuing under the auspices of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. It has led to the discovery of large rock art site complexes numbering tens of thousands of motifs, and to the successful nomination of major rock art properties to the UNESCO World Heritage List. More specifically, the work of this project has also resulted in a preliminary chronological sequence of Arabian Peninsula rock art. One can see the naturalistic, schematic, abstract, mythical, and mystical images representing ancient ideology, thoughts about the metaphysical world, religious entity, economy, environment, human activities, and variety of animal types, according to particular climatic and environmental conditions. Due to excellent work by the Saudi Arabian authorities by the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia had one of the best rock art protection programs in the world so many of the locations are well protected from possible damage such as the site at Hanidh. It had become apparent that the traditional approaches, specifically the determination of meanings and unsubstantiated rock art sequences were incompatible with scientific practice. Because of the archaeological importance of facilitating the creation of a chronological framework it was suggested that the 2001 mission would focus on the specific aspect of rock art dating. The project commenced with a minimum amount of credible empirical information about its subject as most published data about Saudi rock art lacked basic evidence, such as details of site morphology, geomorphic surface conditions, types of accretionary deposits, assumed rates of exfoliation or patination, petrographic descriptions, weathering rates or indeed any forensic information relating to the rock art. Such knowledge has since been acquired for more than one hundred sites from the northwest to the far south of the Kingdom. The scientific investigations into Saudi Arabian rock art have yielded a rough chronological framework through the acquisition of forensic evidence from many of the sites. The interpretation of these rock art remains in a nascent state but it is currently being developed ethnographically, assisted by epigraphic studies of accompanying texts of several pre-Islamic alphabets. One of the Kingdoms preeminent experts on Saudi Arabian Rock Art is Dr Majeed Khan, who has authored many papers and books on the subject. I contacted Dr Khan about the rock art I saw and received the following response “The rock art in the photographs all belong to same cultural period, possibly iron age c.1500 years before present. Both horse rider and camel rider are associated with Wasm or tribal symbols”. With the establishment of large-scale communities, developments of tribes and clans, and the beginning of large-scale domestication of camels, the use of animal brands occurred, locally called Wusum. In Arabia they were used for several purposes such as marking territorial boundaries and as symbols of tribes.