26 June 2011

European Turtle Dove Breeding

Further to my last post where I said I had no proof the European Turtle Dove is breeding in the area, but they could be due to the late dates of my recent sightings, I got confirmation that they have bred in Dhahran. Today I saw a juvenile bird (top photograph) and a very confiding adult (I was in the car and drove up to the adult bird, hence the good photographs). I thought this bird may be the nominate form but Yoav Perlman mentioned the bird does actually fit arenicola better - mantle is pale brown rather than olive-grey in turtur, central rectrices not blackish as in turtur, and very broad and rather pale fringes to scapulars and coverts. Thanks for the comments Yaov - I appreciate it.

Late Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

There were a few late migrants about today (25/06/2011) with the following seen:-
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 2
Barn Swallow - 1
European Turtle Dove - 1

The European Turtle Dove may be breeding in the area although I have seen no evidence, just the late date of this and a couple of previous sightings. They breed in Bhahrain and the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia says they are a common migrant and widespread breeding species (Jennings 2010).

25 June 2011

Blubber Jellyfish Washing Ashore

The last few days at Half Moon Bay (23 & 24/06/2011) there were hundreds of Blubber Jellyfish washing ashore on the beach. Hundreds were seen yesterday whilst sailing a dingy around the bay and today I spent a hour or so re-foating as many Blubber's as I could.

Kentish Plover in Flight

At Half Moon Bay the normal summer species were seen in small numbers including:-
Indian (Western) Reef Heron - White morph
White-cheeked Tern - adult
White-eared Bulbul
House Sparrow
Laughing Dove
Kentish Plover

The Kentish Plover were on the beach edge trying to avoid bumping into stranded Blubber Jellyfish and as always never allowed a close approach. As they flew from one part of the beach to another I managed to take these flight shots.

24 June 2011

Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus) - Does it Summer in Arabia?

10/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

I saw a 2nd calendar year Steppe Buzzard on 10th June in Dhahran, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, which I thought was very late for a migrant, although possible. I then started asking other birders with far more knowledge of the region, and species, than me what was their opinion on the likelihood of Steppe Buzzard summering (staying throughout the summer) in Arabia.

These photographs are different to the ones I originally posted on this bird but from the same set of pictures.

The status of Steppe Buzzard in the region is as follows:-
Yemen - Passage across the Bab al Mandeb in November at least
Oman - Uncommon migrant & winter visitor. There are only two records in May (13th & 25th) and none for June.
UAE - Uncommon to rare autumn migrant, rarely in winter.
(Some confusion with migrant and wintering Long-legged Buzzards apparent).
Qatar – Rare winter visitor and passage migrant (late September to mid March) with only four records mentioned.
Saudi Arabia (Eastern Province) – Fairly regular, especially in the coastal zone during February & March with immature sometimes noted from April to early June. Recorded once each in July and August and more often from September to January. Usually singly with small peaks in February and November suggesting some passage movement at these times (Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Bundy, Connor & Harrison 1989).
Bahrain – Passage migrant and winter visitor.
Kuwait - Common passage migrant and rare winter visitor. It is rare by early May.
I contacted Yoav Perlman (http://nubijar.blogspot.com/) about the status of Steppe Buzzard in Israel, as this is the major route followed by most migrating Steppe Buzzards from their wintering grounds to breeding areas and received the following detailed information from him:-
Israel - One of the two main raptor species passing in massive numbers during spring passage (the pther being Eurasian Honey Buzzard). The median date of passage for adults (9th April) precedes that of juveniles (26th April) by more than two weeks for normal migration, for the bulk of Buzzards. However, lots of birds face a full range of problems, accidents and mishaps during thier northbound migration, and during May and early June we have many birds lingering in Israel (many hundreds nationwide as we speak is my guess). Many of them die from exhaustion. By late June most of these lingering migrants disapear (either migrate or die) and Shirihai mentions in his book (1996) June 26th as the rearguard of migration, but some birds oversummer (without breeding) in various places in Israel, especially in the Arava Valley over which most migration takes place. Further Steppe Buzzar breeds in small numbers (about 10 - 15 pairs) in northern Israel - Upper Galilee and Golan Heights.
This information from Israel and other data from Dick Forsman (pers comm.) said it is not unusual for young birds like the one I saw to have a delayed spring migration. This strongly suggests that the bird I saw was a late migrant, probably a bird that has wintered in Saudi Arabia, rather than a bird that may choose to summer or need to summer, due to injury or sickness. It did not look sick or injured in any way, but this remains a possibility due to the late date of the sighting.

I very much appreciate the information supplied by the following people: Tommy Pedersen (UAE), Jamie Buchan (Qatar), Simon Tull (Oman), Ian Harrison (Oman & Yemen), AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan (Kuwait), Yoav Perlman (Israel) and Dick Forsman.

22 June 2011

Common House Martin, Asian House Martin or Hybrid?

21/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

Whilst bird-watching at the percolation pond I noticed a group of four Barn Swallows and a martin which were late for the species. I have not seen a Common House Martin in Dhahran since the 20th May and this was a month after the previous one. The martin looked slightly odd as, although distant it appeared to have a very dingy appearance including the rump. I gradually got closer to the bird and took a few photographs although this was second to trying to get details on the bird in the field. Unfortunately the martin was on its own with no other martins to gauge size on. At close range, although in evening light, the bird did not look clean as all the previous Common House Martin have looked that I have seen here. The most striking thing was the pale rump appeared very small for a Common House Martin and also was not white but had a slightly dirty wash (possibly slightly orange?). This combined with the brownish washed throat, under-wing coverts and under-tail coverts and paler although not white belly gave the bird a distinct but not typical Common House Martin appearance.
Thoughts then turned to Asian House Martin, due to the restricted pale rump, although the bird did not fit my recollection of these birds. Size was not possible to tell as it was only with Barn Swallows and I could not see any dark feathering below the bill on this bird despite watching it for maybe 30 minutes until it became too dark. The bird had brownish under-tail coverts which I remember was a feature of Asian House Martin but had a dusky wash across the throat which should be white in Asian House Martin. The under-wing coverts, although not as pale as on some Common House Martin, were not as dark as on Asian House Martin and are not darker than the rest of the under-wing. The tail fork was also not easy to assess as the bird had quite worn plumage but the bird did not give me the impression of having a particularly short (squariesh ended when spread) tail. Asian House Martin has not been recorded in Saudi Arabia.
Another possibility is that the bird is a hybrid Common House Martin x Barn Swallow or similar? Many of the features fit this well as it structurally looks quite like a Barn Swallow and would probably have longer tail streamers if they were not so abraded. It also has a clean cut throat pattern with a buffy throat and greyish boarder that many Barn Swallow hybrids have. Hybrid Common House Martin x Barn Swallow is rather common in Italy apparently.

A point to note here is that hirundines in the Middle East can become stained due to oil – see earlier post on the website about the subject (Unusual Hirundines – May 2011). This, however, does not look the case with this bird as the throat and under-tail coverts are the darkest and belly the palest.

European Turtle Dove & Barn Swallows

21/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

Today there were a few more birds with some late migrants including:-
European Turtle Dove - 1
Barn Swallow - 4
House Martin type - 1

The martin was an odd bird that resembled Common House Martin but had a smaller, pale but darker rump. Darker underpart colour, darker underwing. It had fetures suggesting Asian House Martin but did not look exactly like this species either. The possibility of a hybrid Common House Martin x Barn Swallow also needs looking into. See next post for more details.

21 June 2011

Eastern Nightingale - Overwintering Record

20/06/2010 – Al-Khobar

An interesting record of a Eastern (Common) Nightingale (Luscinia (megarhynchos) golzii) was mentioned to me a few days ago by Adrian Drummond-Hill. He had a bird in his back garden in Al-Khobar, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia from before Christmas 2009 with the bird still present on June 20th 2010 when he moved house. The photograph was taken by Adrian through his house window, and he kindly allowed me to use it on my website (http://www.ajdrummond-hill.co.uk/gallery_214001.html). Birds have been known to overwinter in the UAE but this has not been recoreded as far as I know in Eastern Saudi Arabia. The last date is also quite a late date for the species, but again the UAE has the occasional summer record. There are no breeding records of Common Nightingale in Arabia and all breeding records come from much further north. Eastern Nightingale is sometimes regarded as a separate species from Common Nightingale and breeds in Eastern Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Kazakhstan & Afghanistan and they winter mainly in southern Africa.

Identification differences from Common Nightingale include:-
Pale fringes to the terials
Pale fringes to the greater coverts
Pale supercillium (often hard to see in the field)
Upperparts less rusty in tone (often greyish)
Paler underparts
Longer wing and tail lengths

20 June 2011

White-eared Bulbul & House Sparrow

17/06/2011 – Half Moon Bay

I did not go out birdwatching today for the first time since February so I am posting some pictures taken at the weekend at Half Moon Bay, a beach area near Dhahran. There were not many birds at Half Moon Bay, Al-Khobar on Thursday, but the few that were there all wanted to join us in a picnic on the beach. The following photographs were taken of the birds lining up to feed on any scraps of food left behind by us. The top two birds are White-eared Bulbuls and the bottom photograph a male House Sparrow.

19 June 2011

House Sparrow Breeding

18/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

I saw the first positive signs of House Sparrow breeding successfully this year in Dhahran when I saw a fully fledged youngster on the netting around the percolation pond.

Otherwise things are very quite now here and the only late migrant I saw was a single Barn Swallow over the scrubby desert and agian over the percolation pond.

I also saw a large blue dragonfly that I think was an Arabian Emperor (Anax parthenope) - the first one I have see here at the edge of the percolation pond but was not able to get any photographs as it did not land. I need to check on this to make sure of the identification.

18 June 2011

Indian (Western) Reef Heron & Kentish Plover

17/06/2011 – Half Moon Bay

There were not very many birds about at Half Moon bay this morning as the weather was quite windy but  I saw two white morph Indian (Western) Reef Heron (Egretta (gularis) Schistacea) , one flying a long way out to sea and another flying just along the tide-line that I managed to get a good photograph of. As always, there were a number of Kentish Plover feeding along the sandy Beach edge.

17 June 2011

Little Ringed Plover Breeding

16/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

Further to my post on possible breeding of Little Ringed Plover, I went out today just behind our house and saw the birds again, although again with no proof that they have chicks or eggs to show that they breed in the Dhahran area. They are, however, still present and performing distrction displays. Adrian Drummond-Hill (http://www.ajdrummond-hill.co.uk/gallery_214001.html) kindly sent me his excellent photographs of a bird he saw feigning injury to distract him (probably from a nest site) in Al-Khobar, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia on 27th May 2007.

16 June 2011

Namaqua Dove

15/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

Today a few pairs of Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis), which is a resident species which also breeds in Dhahran camp on the desert fringes, were evident around the fringes of the spray fields and scrubby desert area. The birds are paired and appear to have set ranges, but I have not seen any firm evidence of breeding yet. The ABBA Atlas (Atlas of Breeding Birds in Arabia) published in 2010 says the species is widespread with erratic occurrence of breeding.

Total Lunar Eclipse

15/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

The Lunar eclipse (when the moon enters the shadow of the earth) last night 15th June 2011 was the darkest lunar eclipse for almost 87 years as the centers of the sun, the earth and the moon were nearly in a straight line. The last darker lunar eclipse was almost 40 years ago on 6th August 1971 and the next one that will be darker will be in 47 years from now on, 6th June 2058.

We were lucky here in Dhahran as we could observe the entire eclipse from beginning to end with the total eclipse phase lasting for 100 minutes (the fifth longest this century – longest 27th July 2018). The lunar eclipse is due to the earth being directly between the moon and the sun, blocking the sunlight from reaching the moon, and during totality, the moon is illuminated only by light that has been refracted through the upper part of the Earth's atmosphere, hence the coppery-red colour of the eclipsed Moon.

Timings were in local time:-
Began - 21:23 hrs
Total Eclipse - 10:22 - 12:03 hrs
End - 01:02 hrs on 16th June 2011

15 June 2011

Eurasian Collared Dove

14/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

The only bird of interest seen today was a European Turtle Dove. Other doves were seen in good numbers including Namaqua Dove, Laughing Dove and Eurasian Collared Dove.

Pitted Beetle (Adesmia cancellata)

14/06/2011 – Dhahran Hills

Pitted Beetle (Adesmia cancellata), is a type of Darkling Beetle, was active today in good numbers. This is a day active black coloured desert beetle and is among the most successful animals of the desert, and often the only one to be seen during the day. Generally, black beetles are extremely well adapted to live under very hot and dry conditions with the genus Adesmia belonging to a tye called "fast runners" whihc can reach speeds of one meter a second. More details are on the weildlife page (see tab at top of page).