03 March 2012

Armenian Gull, Heuglin's Gull & Steppe Gull – Dammam – Al Khobar Wader Roost South

Over the last few days I have been seeing a number of Large White-headed Gull (LWHG) at various locations in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Many of these birds spend the winter in the Eastern Province, but many more pass through on passage with the peak return passage being between February and April. Shown here are a few photographs taken at various locations on February 17th 2012. The first bird is an adult Steppe Gull photographed at Sabkhat Al Fasl (Jubail) where gulls like to stand on this lone island in the middle of a small lake. All three photographs are of the same bird. This is the commonest of the large gulls seen in Saudi Arabia with approximately 75 – 85% of all LWHG being this species.
 Steppe Gull (adult)
 Steppe Gull (adult)
 Steppe Gull (adult)

The remaining photographs were taken at the Dammam – Al Khobar Wader Roost South, where a large group of LWHG were present. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph the birds on the ground as they were all flushed by a passing truck before I could get near to them. Fortunately though a few LWHG were sitting on the one remaining island as the tide was coming in and I could get reasonable views through the telescope. It became clear that although there were six Steppe Gulls there were also a couple of different types. One was a very dark adult Heuglin's Gull (Larus fuscus heuglini), showing its long primary projection, fierce look, long bill and typical upper & under-wing pattern. This is an uncommon winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with approximately 8% of all birds seen being this species.
Heuglin's Gull (adult)
Heuglin's Gull (adult)
Heuglins Gull (adult)

The last type was an Armenian Gull which is a very scarce to rare visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. This is the first time I have seen the species here and although it is a scarce winter visitor to Kuwait it is not often seen further south with the following records noted from the Middle East
Kuwait – Scarce winter visitor
Bahrain – Scarce passage migrant and winter visitor from August to May
Qatar – No confirmed records
Oman – No confirmed records
Israel – Commonest gull seen year round but with larger numbers in winter
UAE – No confirmed records

Heuglin's Gull (adult) left, Steppe Gull (adult) middle & Armenian Gull (adult) right
Armenian Gull (adult)

There has been much confusion in the past on the identification of Armenian Gull in the region with the simplistic idea that any gull with a four tone bill and complete black bill band was an Armenian Gull being used. This was due to the lack of knowledge about the species and it is now clear that Steppe Gull can show these features in winter. As a result the status of Armenian Gull in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is not clear. Some very good birders who have been present in the region for some time have failed to identify the species so it is probably a rare winter visitor at best.

If you want to see details on the identification of these birds go to the tab at the top of the page entitled Large Gull ID Help or click the link here Large Gull ID Help