31 March 2012

Black-winged Kite (Dhahran Hills) a first for the Eastern Province

In the morning of the 29th March Phil Roberts found an adult Black-winged Kite at the Percolation Pond in Dhahran Camp. The bird was sitting on top of a dead tree and was being mobbed by a flock of Common Mynas. I was out at the time but Phil left me a message and although he had lost the bird and could not relocate it I went to look for it as soon as I could. Phil had explained to me where he had seen it but as it had not been seen for a while I went to the Spray fields rather than the pond to look, and as luck would have it saw it immediately perched in the only large tree in the fields. The bird showed well, if distantly and caught a couple of small rodents on at least two occasions. Eventually the bird returned to where Phil had seen it first and allowed closer approach allowing a couple of photographs to be taken. Black-winged Kites are adept at hovering and when they see prey they drop like a stone with their wings raised in a ‘V’ formation. The bird was still present on 30th March over the spray fields and the weater is so poor, dust and high winds, that I doubt it will be going anywhere overnight.

This is the first record of Black-winged Kite in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and the first away from the West Coast area of Saudi Arabia. It has been seen regularly in southwest Saudi Arabia but its status is unclear, although it appears to be a scarce resident on the Tihama and foothills. It may, however, only be an erratic breeding visitor from Africa. It has occurred in all months, as far north as Jeddah. In the United Arab Emirates the species has been recorded on 13 occasions and has been recorded 15 times in Kuwait with almost all records occurring in the 21st Century. In the UAE, where at the beginning of the 21st Century it occurred almost annually, records are mainly from November to March with one in September. In northern Oman occurrence is more erratic with records in January, July, August and November and in Dhofar it has been recorded twice in November and February. The first record for Bahrain, an adult, was found on 2nd March 2012 at the Chicken Farm and this could well be the same bird we have seen in Dhahran as it is only about 60 kilometres away and the species is so rare in our region? The records from UAE and northern Oman as well as those from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia seem likely to be individuals from the Indian region wandering in winter.

30 March 2012

Spring still not here - Dhahran Hills

The weather has remained unsettled for the last few days with heavy rain, albeit brief, on a couple of occasions. The rain is keeping the temperatures down with daily maximums about 26 degrees Celsius, which is much lower than would be expected at this time of day. The unusual weather has not really produced the birds I was hoping for but birding has been steady on the ‘patch’ with a few good birds being seen each day. A few birds are now appearing on the grassy areas outside my office with three male Pied Wheatears, a female Pied Wheatear and a really smart Turkestan Shrike showing well. There was also a Daurian Shrike in the same bushes and three Indian Silverbills, which are first ones I have seen this year in Dhahran.
 Daurian Shrike

The percolation pond still has very few birds with only one Great Crested Grebe of any note. Raptors are still being seen over the pond on occasion with Eurasian Sparrowhawk seen on two occasions this week. Seven Black-winged Stilts and a single Green Sandpiper are the only waders present at the moment. The Eurasian Coots are collecting nesting material, but the sparse vegetation left on the pond after the winter clearance of all the reeds has made the job difficult.
 Eurasian Coot

A Little Egret was seen feeding along the edge of the duck pond in Dhahran Hills Park which is the first bird I have seen in the area for over a month and a flock of European Bee-eaters totaling eleven were catching insects from the scrubby desert area. These are the first returning European Bee-eaters I have seen this spring, although they have been seen elsewhere by other people in the last week or so. Pied Wheatears are still common with up to 15 birds being seen daily and Steppe Grey Shrike is becoming more common with three seen on a single day being the highest count. Crested Larks are singing from almost every vantage point which gives the feeling of spring even if the weather does not and a few Woodchat Shrikes still remain in the spray fields.
Crested Lark
Woodchat Shrike

29 March 2012

Various Yellow Wagtail Sub-species - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl I came across a large group of White and Yellow Wagtails. At first light there were about 30 White Wagtails and 20 Yellow Wagtails but as I spent a hour or so looking at them all tying to work out what Sub-species were involved the numbers built up to about 40 White Wagtails and 60 Yellow Wagtails. Most birds were adults in full breeding plumage and they were actively feeding on small insects on the ground and were busy running around most of the time. The majority of birds were Black-headed Wagtails of the race Motacilla flava feldegg which are the most southerly breeding birds seen in Saudi Arabia breeding from the Balkan countries, through Turkey to eastern Kazakhstan. There were at least 20 males in the group.
 Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg)
Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg)

The next most common birds were Sykes's Wagtail Motacilla flava beema, from the northern Kirghiz steppes, which numbered only four males of which three of them are shown in the photographs below.
Finally there was a single male Motacilla flava superciliaris from south-east Russia which is a hybrid between Black-headed Wagtail (feldegg) and Sykes's Wagtail (beema) or Blue-headed Wagtail (flava). These birds are the least common Yellow Wagtails along with Yellow-headed Wagtail (lutea) in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

 Sykes's Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema)
 Sykes's Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema)
Sykes's Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema)

 Superciliosus Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg x beema)

A number of females were present but it is difficult to assign race to these birds but here is a photograph of two of them to compare with the brighter coloured males. The first female is probably a female Black-headed Wagtail (feldegg) but the other female is much more difficult to assign to race.
 Black-headed Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg) - female
Flava Yellow Wagtail - female

As mentioned White Wagtails were present in good numbers with wintering bids moving off and newly arrived spring migrants passing through. The final species of wagtail seen was Grey Wagtail with three different birds seen at various places on the site. These are a passage migrant through Jubail and there have been good numbers this spring compared to last year.
 White Wagtail
 Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail

28 March 2012

Wheatears – Sabkhat Al Fasl

A good number of migrant Wheatears are passing through the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia at present with Northern Wheatears, Pied Wheatears, Isabelline Wheatears and Black-eared Wheatears all being seen at Sabkhat Al Fasl during the week. Most of the birds were in the scrubby desert area between the main road and the pools but the photographs of the Pied Wheatear were taken along the edge of the flooded Sabkha.  Pied Wheatear is the most common species being seen at the moment with at least 12 different birds seen, four Northern Wheatears, two Isabelline Wheatears and a single Eastern Black-eared Wheatear were also seen during the day. Some of the birds allowed very close approach with one male Pied Wheatear catching flies right next to the car. No Desert Wheatears were noted and they seem to be much scarcer this year than last year.
 Pied Wheatear - male
 Pied Wheatear - male
 Pied Wheatear Tail Pattern - male
 Pied Wheatear - female
 Pied Wheatear - female
 Pied Wheatear Tail Pattern - female
 Isabelline Wheatear
 Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Tail Pattern

27 March 2012

Daurian, Turkestan & Mauryan Grey Shrikes - Sabkhat Al Fasl

An early arrival at Sabkhat Al Fasl was rewarded by good views of numerous migrants on the way into the site. The bushes and desert scrub areas were full of shrikes of three different species. The most common were Daurian Shrikes of which at least 35 different birds were seen at various locations around the site. Turkestan Shrike was also fairly numerous with seven birds seen and three Mauryan Grey Shrikes (Steppe Grey Shrike) were also located. Some of the birds allowed close approach and some good photographs were taken. I am assuming this was due to the birds being tiered after their migration and they were busy feeding up ready for their onward passage. Surprisingly I saw no Woodchat Shrikes, although I did see two birds the next day at the site. The majority of birds were adult males but there were a few second calendar year birds and females around as well. Below are a selection of the best photographs I took of the shrikes during the days birding showing how they vary in plumage. The large number of birds seen were the most I have seen at a single site in Saudi Arabia but I was not birding Sabkhat Al Fasl in the spring last years as I was concentrating on the ‘patch’ to see what I could find there. As a result I do not know if this is a good number for the site or not.
 Turkestan Shrike - adult male
 Turkestan Shrike - adult male
 Turkestan Shrike - female
 Daurian Shrike - adult male
 Daurian Shrike - female
Mauryan Grey Shrike
Mauryan Grey Shrike in flight

26 March 2012

A good number of migrants - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl over the weekend was quite rewarding with plenty of migrants on offer. The scrubby bushes and trees on the way into the site produced quite a few Daurian Shrikes as well as two Turkestan Shrikes and a single Mauryan Grey Shrike. Wheatears were also plentiful with four Northern Wheatears and six Pied Wheatears in the scrubby desert area. A few Common Chiffchaffs were jumping around the bushes and plenty of Crested Larks were setting up breeding territories in the area. Unfortunately I failed to locate any Rock Thrushes, as both Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and the much scarcer Blue Rock Thrush had been seen at the site in the previous couple of weeks.
Crested Lark

A drive to the back of the site to look at an open area of water was rewarded with six Whiskered Terns, two in full breeding plumage and seven Squacco Herons were hiding in the reeds. This area also held a large mixed flock of White and Yellow Wagtails (see post in the next few days for details). Two Common Starlings were also seen in the reeds, with these being the only ones seen during the day. Most of the birds must have moved off for the summer, although they are never easy to see even though large flocks of several hundred roost in the reed beds in the winter. Whilst birding the reed edges and looking through the few openings in the reeds that have been made by hunters, I located three Wood Sandpipers and a female Ruff (reeve). A couple of Marsh Sandpipers and a number of Little Stint were also seen. Birds of prey seen included two Greater Spotted Eagles and a female Common Kestrel, which was very flighty and would not allow close approach. Kestrels are very timid in this area as the locals often try to catch them. Up to 13 Western Marsh Harriers and a single Western Osprey were also present with the Western Osprey spending most of its time sitting on a metal post surveying the scenery.
 Squacco Heron
 Common Kestrel - female
Common Starling

Sightings of Purple Swamphens have been thin on the ground in recent visits but this time I saw three different adult birds. One adult had two fluffy, newly born, chicks with her which is again proof of successful breeding at one of only two breeding sites for the species in Saudi Arabia. It is now apparent that the reason the sightings of the species has dropped over the last month or so is because they were breeding and keeping a low profile. Whilst watching the Purple Swamphen a nice male White-spotted Bluethroat came out of the reeds and performed well, but distantly.
 Purple Swamphen & Young

Finally I went to the wet flooded sabkha area to look for waders and here it was obvious the number of Greater Flamingoes had decreased from several thousand to only about 200 birds. Waders were still not about in huge numbers but 100+ of Little Stint, Ruff, Common Ringed Plover and Pied Avocet were still present and Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper were also seen in numbers above 10 each. A single Temminck’s Stint was feeding along a muddy pool and close by where two Common Sandpipers and a number of Kentish Plover.
Common Sandpiper

25 March 2012

Heavy Rain - Sabkaht Al Fasl

I went birding on Saturday as it was a long weekend at Saudi Aramco. As a result I managed to persuade my wife and children a trip to Sabkhat to look at a few colourful birds, Yellow Wagtails of various Subspecies, Shrikes and Greater Flamingos was a good idea. As I was travelling with the family we left later than I normally do and although it was overcast at Dhahran the weather looked like it might be brightening up. This proved wrong because almost as soon as we arrived at Sabkhat Al Fasl it started raining and quite hard at that. This meant our picnic had to be done in the boot of the Landcruiser which was great for the girls but a not so good for Lidia or me. The poor weather meant we had to stay in the car most of the time but there were good birds about including a very confiding dark-throated Eastern Black-eared Wheatear which was catching insects right next to the car. The following photographs are a bit unusual for Saudi Arabia as all the birds are wet, something they and I do not expect.
 Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (2nd calendar year male)
  Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (2nd calendar year male)
  Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (2nd calendar year male)

Yellow Wagtails, mainly Black-headed (feldegg) and Sykes's (beema) were about and caused a lot of nice comments from the car. Several Shrikes of four species were seen including Turkestan, Durian, Mauryan Grey Shrike (palidirostris) and Woodchat many allowing quite close views. The rain caused photography to be difficult and te fact that my two young girls cannot keep quite also made things tricky but some birds still behaved nicely and allowed photographs.
Turkestan Shrike (adult male)

The only species I saw today that I had not seen on my previous visit was Collared Pratincole of which I saw a flock of 21 birds flying about in a flock and also gathered together on the ground. They were one species that did not like the loud noises coming from the car so the photos are not as good as they may have been but they were great to see and this is the largest flock I have seen in Saudi Arabia so far.
 Collared Pratincoles
Collared Pratincole