31 July 2011

Male Crested Honey-Buzzard - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday whilst checking the scrubby desert area of Dhahran Hills I saw a largish Honey-Buzzard fly over and away. Unfortunately it was flying directly into the sun but I could make out it was a Honey-Buzzard type and it appeared to be getting lower and maybe about to land. As we get both European Honey-Buzzard and Crested Honey-Buzzard I went to try to get better views but had no idea where the bird had gone. Fortunately as I was walking through the football field area I saw the bird on the ground and managed to get a couple of photographs of it. On looking at the bird, even though it was perched, it became apparent it was a Crested Honey-Buzzard as it was a male with a bluish head and had a dark eye. European Honey-Buzzard adult would have a yellow eye. The bird then flew off to a nearby tree and I could see it had two thick tail bars diagnostic of Crested Honey-Buzzard rather than the tree thinner tail bars of European Honey-Buzzard. A walker then disturbed the bird and it flew off showing the six fingered hand, broad wing and lack of carpel patch diagnostic of Crested Honey-Buzzard. Although the photographs are not very good they show the key identification points of the bird.

The status of Crested Honey-Buzzard is not clear in Saudi Arabia, or the remainder of the Arabian Peninsula, with more sightings being seen in both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in recent years. A record in July is very unusual though as most records are from the late autumn migration period and winter with additional records in the spring migration period of March to May. As this record was so early I sent it to Dick Forsman, and asked about timing of Crested Honey Buzzard migration. He mentioned (pers com.) “This is definitely too early for return migration, so it must be a summering individual. Interesting, as it is an adult male, when one would expect first-years to linger, not adults”. This is the first summer record I know for Saudi Arabia and possibly for the Arabian Peninsula.

Crested Honey-Buzzard records spring 2011:-
Immature - 13th March
Adult Female - 13th March
Adult Male - 5th & 6th May
Adult Female - 7th May

Marsh Sandpiper - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday evening at Dhahran Hills percolation pond I saw a Marsh Sandpiper, feeding with the other waders on the muddy waters edge. It was a bit flighty and only stayed for a few minutes before flying off north over the camp. This was a new species for me on the local patch along with a single Saunder's Tern that also only stayed briefly although did land for a short period on the far side of the pond.. A few other migrants were about also such as a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and a Barn Swallow. A good number of waders including were present including two Green Sandpipers, Thirteen Wood Sandpipers, thirty three Kentish Plover, eighteen Little Ringed Plover, fifty six Black-winged Stilt, eight Little Stint and a single Ruff. Three European Turtle Dove were also present in the trees by the side of the pond.
 Marsh Sandpiper
Saunder's Tern
European Turtle Dove

30 July 2011

Crab Plover again at Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost South

On 28th July I went again the the Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Rooast South at high tide. High tide appears to be about thirty minutes later at this site than the advertised high tide times but I was there to see the waders pushed in close to the shore. The site was absolutely loaded with birds and again a Crab Plover was seen in with the Bar-tailed Godwits. This site will, hopefully, become a regular site for Crab Plover in the Eastern Province. There were litterally hundreds of both Greater and Lesser Sand Plover as well as a couple Grey Plover and three Spotted Redshank.

Small groups of up to seven Crab Plover were seen north of Ras Tanajib during a wader survey in the spring from 12th April until 28th May 1991. Other groups of up to five birds were seen during the same survey period at Abu Ali and Batinah Islands near Jubail and Rahimah near Ras Tanurah all north of Dhahran. Tim Blackburn mentioned that he had seen four Crab Plovers on the Farasan Islands on a brief visit in March. Handbook of Birds of the World says that the Farasan Islands hold one of the 2 or 3 breeding colonies in Saudi, the others being Al Wajh bank and (possibly) Qishran Bay. All these sites are on the Red Sea side of Saudi Arabia with the Gulf coast side also holding a few breeding sites but none in Saudi Arabia. The nearest site is Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where two offshore islands hold breeding birds and Ummal Karam in Iran where up to 1500 pairs bred in the 1970's but no recent surveys have been carried out to see if the situation remains the same.
 Crab Plover
 Crab Plover
Crab Plover

 Bar-tailed Godwit
 Greater Sand Plover
 Greater Sand Plover
Saunder's Tern (adult and juvenile)

Birds seen included:-
Curlew Sandpiper - 200+
Little Stint - 100+
Lesser Sand Plover - 200+
Greater Sand Plover - 200+
Kentish Plover - 20+
Grey Plover - 2 (one adult in summer plumage)
Crab Plover - 1
Broad-billed Sandpiper - 8+
Terek Sandpiper - 30+
Ruddy Turnstone - 2
Bar-tailed Godwit - 100+
Black-tailed Godwit - 2
Common Greenshank - 20
Common Redshank - 66
Spotted Redshank - 3
Eurasian Curlew - 75
Whimbrel 25+
Saunder's Tern - 6
White-cheeked Tern - 7
Gull-billed Tern - 4
Lesser Crested Tern - 8
Swift Tern - 2
Slender-billed Gull - 8
Indian (Western) Reef Heron - 12

Northern Bald Ibis - News from Saudi Arabia

Northern Bald Ibis is the most threatened bird in the Middle East but this year there has been some good news regarding the species. Despite a tiny population of one pair breeding in Syria, the birds have enjoyed the best breeding season for three years and raised two healthy young. These birds have left the nest and started their migration with adults moving to the highlands of Ethiopia for the winter. It is unsure where the juvenile birds move to.

Saudi Wildlife Commission (SWC) helped to survey stop over areas of the species last year and is again doing the same this year. Mohamed Salima of SWA and his team have successfully located one of the adult birds being tracked by satellite (Odeinat), roosting on an electric pole in Saudi Arabia. The next morning he was seen together with his mate Zenobia. This is a great achievement, and was due to speedy mobilization and a good chain of communication. Another adult bird (Salamah) was located in Yemen, but the latest indication is that Salmah has returned from Yemen back into Saudi Arabia - maybe to join with Odeinat and Zenobia?

The wild population of Northern Bald Ibis was feared extinct in the Middle East, when in 2002 birds were found nesting in the mountains of Syria, near Palmyra - after not being seen in Syria for seventy years. Since then conservationists have sought to give the birds protection by working with local people and by using state-of-the-art technology to track birds' movements. The Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis was once widespread across north Africa and the Middle East. Aside from Syria, the only other breeding population occurs in Morocco, where just over 100 breeding pairs still occur in two coastal locations near Agadir, on the Atlantic Coast. The outlaying birds in Syria will be an important addition, but only if the population can be sustained (http://www.rspb.org.uk/)

Four birds are being tracked by satellite transmitters - two adults from their breeding grounds in Syria and two juveniles released from the semi-wild population in Turkey. A website has been set up by the RSPB and you can follow their daily journey here

Eurasian Golden Plover - Saihat

Phil Roberts took me to Saihat a town about twenty minutes drive north of Dhahran, where there is still a small area of Grey Mangrove and associated mud flats. This area was full of wading birds and herons, mainly Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Flamingo and Indian Reef Heron. The birds were using the mudflats associated with the mangroves to rest at high tide and to feed as the tide was falling. Whilst checking the large group of waders through a telescope I came across an adult summer plumaged European Golden Plover which is a very unusual record as the species is rare / scarce in the Middle East and most records are from the winter months of September to April. Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia by Bundy, Connor & Harrison 1989 states there are only three records of five birds with only one in Summer plumage on 28th April in Al Khobar. Pacific Golden Plover is a much commoner species in Saudi Arabia but as this was an adult in summer plumage the identification was fairly straight forward.
 Little Bittern (juvenile)
 Indian Reef Heron (adult)
 Indian Reef Heron (juvenile)
Greater Flamingo

Other good birds seen at Saihat included:
Little Bittern - 1 (juvenile)
Crested Tern - 50+
White-cheeked Tern - 5
Saunder's Tern - 10
Greater Flamingo - 250+
Caspian Tern - 1
Gull-billed Tern - 2
Greater Sandplover - 250+
Lesser Sand Plover - 250+
Curlew Sandpiper - 250+
Eurasian Oystercatcher - 2
European Golden Plover - 1
Grey Plover - 1
Indian Reef Heron - 50+
Socotra Cormorant - 2
Slender-billed Gull - 75+

29 July 2011

Evening light at Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost

On 28th July I went to the Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost in the evening just as the tide was dropping and managed to see and photograph a good number of waders. The light was beautiful for photography and some of the waders were quite close to the roadside.
 Eurasian Curlew
 Common Greenshank
 Broad-billed Sandpiper
 Curlew Sandpiper
 Curlew Sandpiper
 Curlew Sandpiper
 Ruddy Turnstone
 Terek Sandpiper
Saunder's Tern

Isabelline Wheatear Returning - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Yesterday we went to Sabkhat Al Fasl and this time there was more water in the area as they had been filling it up for more than a week through two very large water pipes. The additional water was very attractive for waders and a good selection of species were seen including, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Little Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and a Single Marsh Sandpiper which was a new species for me in Saudi Arabia. Whilst scanning the waders we located an Isabelline Wheatear on the mud, which is the first retuning wheatear I have seen this autumn. We looked for the Egyptian Nightjar again in the same place but without luck today but on the way there we did see a Western Osprey with a large fish in its talons and a Caspian Tern flying over both of which were new species for me in Saudi Arabia. We also saw a juvenile Namaqua Dove indicating the species has bred in the area this year.
 Terek Sandpiper
 Terek Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Isabelline Wheatear
 Caspian Tern
 Namaqua Dove (Juvenile)

28 July 2011

A Few Common Camp Birds

Best birds seen yesterday were a Little Egret and a juvenile Indian (Western) Reef Heron together on the percolation pond. Waders seen at the same site included five Ruff, seven Green Sandpiper, ten Little Stint, eighteen Wood Sandpiper, twenty one Kentish Plover, thirty eight Little Ringed Plover and two hundred and twenty six Black-winged Stilt. There were three pairs of Little Grebe with nine young present on the pond.

Today I took some of photographs of a few of the common camp birds, Common Myna, Rock Dove and Crested Lark. All these birds are resident in Dhaharan camp and can be seen in good numbers at all times of year.
Crested Lark

Rock Dove

Common Myna

27 July 2011

Caspian Turtle

Yesterday I saw a Caspian Turtle (Mauremys caspica) on the dried up edge of the percolation pond. They are a cold-blooded, freshwater, medium sized semi-aquatic turtle. The carapace is normally tan to olive and the head is not enlarged and is olive to dark brown with yellow or pale cream-coloured stripes. Females are generally larger than males. Siebenrock's Caspian Turtle(M. c. siebenrocki) occurs in Iran and Iraq with relict populations in Saudi Arabia and Bhahrain.

The best bird of the day was a Southern Grey Shrike (aucheri) also known as Arabian Grey Shrike. Other good birds included a Gull-billed Tern, Little Tern, eight Little Stint, one Green Sandpiper, seventeen Wood Sandpiper, twenty three Little Ringed Plover, fifteen Kentish Plover and two hundred and sixteen Black-winged Stilt.

26 July 2011

Crab Plover - Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost South

Last weekend (Friday 22nd July) I went to the normal wader roost Dammam and Al Khobar in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with Phil Roberts. Plenty of waders were present at the site but they all appeared to be small waders with very few of the larger waders present. As a result we looked further back towards Al Khobar, and as the tide was very high, and managed to find a large group of roosting larger waders including good numbers of both Whimbrel and Eurasian Curlew for Saudi Arabia. Whilst checking these waders I also came across two Crab Plover which was an unexpected surprise and was the first time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia and only the third time Phil has seen it in the country. Phil had only once before seen a bird in the Eastern Province, flying over Sabkhat Al Fasl but this should be a good period for seeing birds, with August being the month with most records. The two birds were together in the high tide wader roost where the larger waders gather.
Crab Plover are a very common summer visitor and breeding species in Kuwait the country to the north of Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf.  They are a locally common resident, passage migrant and winter visitor to the United Arab Emirates, and also breed on a couple of islands off Abu Dhabi, which is the country south of Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. In Qatar they are regarded as an uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor with a date range of late June to late March and in Bahrain are a passage migrant.

I will be returning to the site next weekend, and many more times over the next few years , to see if there are any further sightings and try to obtain a record of their occurrences.

This roost also had large numbers of Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Little Tern and a single adult Lesser Crested Tern.
Crab Plover
Crab Plover
Crab Plover

Juvenile European Roller

The bird of the day today was a juvenile European Roller which was very flighty and would not allow any photographs to be taken of it. It was first seen in the trees surrounding the percolation pond and then flew to the overhead wires behind the scrubby desert area where I tried to get close by using the car, but to no avail. It then flew off over the military base and away. I saw two adult European Roller in the spring but it is a good bird for Dhahran Camp. Wader numbers are still on the increase with seven Ruff, two Little Stint, twenty Wood Sandpiper, two Green Sandpiper, fifty one Black-winged Stilt, thirty seven Little Ringed Plover and twenty two Kentish Plover. A Sand Martin was also present hawking over the percolation pond.
Common Myna

25 July 2011

Indian Reef Heron Catching Fish - Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost

On Friday 22nd July 2011, at the Dammam - Al Khobar wader roost I was entertained by a couple of juvenile white phase Indian Reef Herons fishing in the water at high tide. These birds were both very active and had been pushed up the far end of the creek by the rising water levels and allowed good views. They were constantly seen chasing fish with large numbers of small fish trying to elude their sharp beaks as they regularly plunged them into the water.

Wader Passage Increasing

Yesterday at the local patch the number of waders was really starting to increase. There were two Ruff, five Green Sandpiper, fifteen Wood Sandpiper, three Little Stint, fifteen Kentish Plover and thirty two Little Ringed Plover at the percolation pond. The water level of the pond is again starting to drop and the habitat looks great for waders with plenty of muddy edges and shallow water.
 Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper