31 May 2012

Two new ringing ticks - Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

I went ringing again at Alba Marsh with Brendan at the weekend and we had a reasonably successful time. We were joined by Abdulla for some of the time as well, which is always nice. We set up three nets this weekend as the weather was slightly cooler than the weekend before and we did not feel so drained after putting up the first two. We caught 13 birds including two Kentish Plover Chicks and five Reed Warblers as posted previously. We also caught a very young juvenile Clamorous Reed Warbler, that appeared to be just out of the nest. This bird combined with the fact we have caught the same adult Clamorous Reed Warbler (originally ringed in Qatar) with a similar brood patch both times suggests that the first young have already left the nest and a second cycle of breeding is currently underway.

Clamorous Reed Warbler (Juvenile) - Photo by Brendan Kavenagh

Clamorous Reed Warbler (Juvenile) - Photo by Brendan Kavenagh
Other birds caught included two House Sparrows, one adult female Little Bittern and a Sand Martin. Both the Little Bittern and Sand Martin were new ringing species for me so I was very pleased. We caught both birds just as it was getting dark. We had taken down one net and Brendan suggested we leave the other two nets up until we had taken some of the equipment back to the cars. This turned out to be a good idea as, as we were walking out I saw a Little Bittern fly into a small Tamarisk bush. I pointed it out to Brendan and on the way out it flew and ended up flying straight into one of our nets. I have never seen Brendan move as fast as he did getting to this bird and it was safely extracted from the nets. We then went back to close the remaining two nets and a Sand Martin, which had been gathering in numbers to roost in the reeds was caught in one of the nets making a fine end to and enjoyable evening ringing.
Little Bittern (adult female) - Photo by Brendan Kavenagh

Reed Warblers - Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

I went ringing again at Alba Marsh with Brendan at the weekend and just as last week I flushed a Reed Warbler into the nets walking out after having put up the second net. This bird looked quite yellow on the under-parts and more greenish on the upper-parts than our normal Caspian Reed Warblers so we checked it carefully to see if it might be a Marsh Warbler. Using all the data available including the Wallinder method the bird turned out to be Reed Warbler. We caught anther five Reed Warblers, three being the greenish birds as the first one and two being our normal Caspian Reed Warblers (fuscus). The wing measurements of these birds also differed, with the Caspian Reed Warbler having wing measurements of 64 centimetres and the greenish birds having 67 – 71 with an average of 68.5 centimetres. We are only meant to get fuscus in Bahrain and the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia but these birds may show a second race passes through in May. We will keep a check on these birds over the next few years to see if I can get and firm data on what they are. Another interesting fact concerning these Reed Warblers is that one of the fuscus Caspian Reed Warblers had either a brood patch or was juvenile just out of the nest. This species has not been recorded breeding in Bahrain and has just been recorded as a passage migrant, but this bird indicates that breeding may occur at Alba Marsh. Again we will keep an eye out and continue ringing in the summer at Alba Marsh to try to find out if the birds are breeding here or not.
Reed Warbler - Photo by Brendan Kavanagh
Caspian Reed Warbler - Photo by Brendan Kavanagh

Unfortunately, although I took my camera with me, I left the card at home so was unable to take photos of the birds caught, and Brendan, who has just bought himself a new camera left his at home as he was looking at how to operate it and forgot it. As a result the only photos we could manage were with Brendan’s I-Phone and I thank him for permission to reproduce a few.

30 May 2012

Western White Stork – Sabkhat Al Fasl (Bird records by Sander Willems)

Sander Willems visited Sabkhat Al-Fasl on Friday 25 May 2012. It was a windy day, with poor visibility but a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius. He found a good bird for the Eastern Province in the shape of a White Stork. White Stork is much commoner than Black Stork in the Eastern Province but is still a scarce migrant and one I have yet to see in Saudi Arabia. The bird was seen briefly in flight and later feeding on the sabkha area by the new Power Generation buildings. Another highlight was the tern diversity, with six different species being seen at the site including 20 Common Terns which are also an uncommon but over-looked species in the Eastern Province. Sander had four new species (lifers) so had a great day.

Other birds seen include:
Little Grebe 10
Greater Flamingo 600
Squacco Heron 2
Cattle Egret 1
Little Egret 15
Western Reef Heron 25
Great Cormorant 1
Western Osprey 1
Black-winged Stilt ++
Pied Avocet 10
Kentish Plover ++
Lesser Sand Plover 8+
Little Stint ++
Curlew Sandpiper 2
Terek Sandpiper 6+
Common Greenshank 3
Slender-billed Gull 100+
Caspian (?) Gull 1
Caspian Tern 50
Little Tern 20
Saunders's Tern 2
Common Tern 20
White-cheeked Tern 10
White-winged Tern 2 (adult summer plumage)
Crested Lark 20
Sand Martin 40
Barn Swallow 8
Laughing Dove
Yellow Wagtail (flava?) 1
House Sparrow

29 May 2012

European Roller - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday on the 'patch' things were fairly quite as the migration season is almost over. I still managed to find a European Roller hidden in one of the large trees surrounding the Percolation Pond which is the first European Roller I have seen this spring although there have been records from Sabkhat Al Fasl and the Riyadh area this year. In the spring they are an annular but rather scarce migrant in the Eastern Province from March to May, with a peak in late April. This individual was very active flying from tree to tree and often catching insects to eat. On three occasions it flew down to the ground to catch beetles. Last year I saw two spring birds and five autumn birds which fits in with the previous records for the region where autumn birds are more frequent the spring ones.

28 May 2012

Ringing Kentish Plover Chicks - Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

I went ringing at Alba Marsh at the weekend with Brendan. As we arrived, Brendan noticed two young Kentish Plovers running around with their parents looking on. Brendan asked me to look at one of the young birds as he got out of his car so we could see where it went to. It ran into a small bush of low vegetation, but when we went to eh bush that could not have been more than 1.5 metres in diameter we could not see it due to the fact it was sitting very still and was incredibly well camouflaged. Eventually after about three or four minutes of looking I found the bird and we took it out and ringed it. I had ringed adult Kentish Plover before but never a young bird like this and it was a really cute looking bird.

Kentish Plover (chick) - photo by Brendan Kavanagh

Driving back to our normal ringing site I saw the second young bird running with an adult near to the a small pool at the side of the main reed beds, and informed Brendan. This bird made a run for the reeds and water and tried to hide but Brendan found it straight away and we ringed this bird too. Not a bad start to our ringing session with two Kentish Plover Chicks ringed before we had even set up any nets.

27 May 2012

Little Grebe breeding - Dhahran Hils

Yesterday on the percolation pond there was some sad news of the breeding Black-winged Stilts. There was no sign of the breeding bird on the platform and all the eggs have gone. This did not look like a good place to breed for the birds and so, unfortunately, it has turned out. The two adult birds were still around on the edge of pond so, hopefully, will find a better place to nest and breed again. Better news was that I found the nest of a Little Grebe on the edge of a small patch of Phragmites reeds growing well out in the pond. Last year two pairs of Little Grebes successfully raised young on the pond. Another encouraging sign of breeding is the fact that both male and female Little Bitterns are still present on the pond and they bred here for this first time last year.

Little Grebe on nest

26 May 2012

Purple darter (Diplacodes lefebvrii) - Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking around the percolation pond area yesterday I saw quite a number of small dragonflies flying about and landing regularly. They were a dark purplish-black colour and much smaller than the other dragonflies I have encountered on my birdwatching trips. As they regularly perched in the open I was able to get a few nice photos of them and they turned out to be Purple Darter (Diplacodes lefebvrii) and not the very similar Desert Darter. This darter has an iridescent dark-purplish sheen which gives rise to its name the purple darter. It is a small dragonfly, the smallest Libellulid, and is also known as the black percher, due to the male being almost entirely black, and to the species’ habit of regularly perching on grasses and other vegetaion. In contrast to the male, the female is a vibrant yellowish-green, with small black stripes across the thorax. The wings of the purple darter are very clear, although they turn slightly amber towards the base of the hind-wing. This amber patch is bigger and darker in females. Both the male and female purple darter have a greyish-brown cell, known as the pterostigma, near the tip of the wing. The purple darter has a widespread distribution, primarily occurring in Africa, outside of forested areas but can also be found on several islands in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as across the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula, and through Arabia to the Indian subcontinent. They can be found in a diverse range of well-vegetated freshwater habitats, such as swamps and marshes and can also inhabit small stretches of river, provided there is an abundance of tall grasses either side.

Both sexes can be easily confused with Desert Darter (Selysiothemis nigra) and close examination of wings is necessary to distinguish them. Desert Darter is less common than Purple Darter although is frequently encountered in Eastern Saudi Arabia and is migratory over large distances. It does not frequent waterways, but is found in open spaces settling on stunted grass. It is distinguished by its large, fragile-looking wings and distinctive ‘equals sign’ shaped pterostigma, the dark coloured cells near the tip of the wings. The wings are clear and shiny making the veins difficult to see.

25 May 2012

Last few good migrants - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday I went to the 'patch' as always and was not expecting too much as there has been little of interest about for a few days and it looked like the migration season may be over. There were , however, a few good birds to keep me happy. The pond was very quiet but a large flock of 53 Sand Martins and a single Red-rumped Swallow were flying around catching the now plentiful mosquitoes. The Red-rumped Swallow was the first one I have seen in Dhahran for almost two months and a surprise to see. The spray fields had 14 Sand Martins and a large flock of House Sparrows including many juveniles. 30+ Indian Mynas were also making a commotion in the same area as the Sparrows and seven White-eared Bulbuls were flying from one look out position to another mainly keeping in pairs.
House Sparrow

White-eared Bulbul

A walk around the pond produced a couple of good warblers with the first being a Great Reed Warbler busily eating insects in a mesite tree. It gave very good views but as the light was fading no photos were taken of it. The second good warbler was an Upcher's Warbler in the opposite corner from the Great Reed Warbler and it showed reasonably well before flying off to the scrubby desert area where I lost it. Four Eastern Olivaceous Warblers are holding territory in various places around the pond and Clamorous Reed Warbler singing males also totalled four birds. Three European Turtle Doves were perched in three different trees and a Spotted Flycatcher was catching flys from the top of the tallest tree in the area, making a good evenings birding for late May.
European Turtle Dove

24 May 2012

Immature Black Stork - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday whilst birding the ‘patch’ I found an immature Black Stork flying over the percolation pond, which is the second Black Stork I have found at the same site in just over a year. The day had been a windy one with plenty of dust in the air just like the last time I saw an immature Black Stork in the same place on 4th May 2011. This time I did not see the bird on the ground, just in flight, and the bird flew off over the back of the camp and did not land before it was out of sight. I did manage to get a couple of very poor shots but you can make out it is a Black Stork at least.

Black Stork is a rare bird in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with The Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia by Bundy, Connor & Harrison (published in August 1989) only having five records of six birds. There are at least two more records for the Eastern Province both of which occurred in the same place as this record, one in spring 2009 and one I found last year on 4th May. This is another example of how dust storms can bring down migrants in the most unlikely places.

23 May 2012

Black-winged Stilt completes Clutch of eggs - Dhahran Hills

There has been little of note on the 'patch' the last couple of days but the Black-winged Stilt has completed her clutch of eggs. My last post on the fact the birds were breeding saw Laurie mention he presumed the bird would lay a couple of more eggs to complete the clutch of 4 - worth keeping an eye on the progress. I can say that Laurie was spot on in this regard and there are now four eggs in the nest. He also mentioned that he had seen a family of Stilts in the Camargue many years ago that had nested on a large island. After the young had wandered around and fed for a few days they entered the water and swam to another sandy island a couple of hundred yards away, so, hopefully, this is what these birds will do as they are about the same distance from land as the birds Laurie saw in France. There is a Grey Heron that often uses this platform for resting but the bird is now using the other platform and is being kept at bay by the male bird who is on constant watch for trouble. Black-winged Stilts are great parents so lets hope all works out for the best with these birds. Again apologies for the poor photo but you can make out the four eggs now.

22 May 2012

Ringing at Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

As the temperatures are getting hot now we decided to ring in the evening rather than the morning when the temperatures are more bearable. We arrived at the marsh just after 15:00 hrs and set up two nets in the two prime locations. Bird activity was very low as the main migration period is now finished for the region, but the heat prevented us from setting more nets. I flushed a bird from the reeds into the net on the way out after having set the second net which turned out to be a Caspian Reed Warbler. Brendan and I had quite a discussion on this bird and took all sorts of measurements to rule our Marsh Warbler and Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Whilst we were doing this Adbulla and Mubarak arrived to lend a hand.

Clamorous Reed Warblers

Clamorous Reed Warblers

Clamorous Reed Warblers

Clamorous Reed Warblers

We caught thirteen birds in total, which was more than I had envisaged prior to arriving. This included five Caspian Reed Warblers, two Clamorous Reed Warblers, three Common Moorhen, one Black-winged Stilt (chick), one House Sparrow and one Graceful Prinia. Abdulla ringed the Black-winged Stilt and one Common Moorhen as they were ringing ticks for him and I ringed the other birds. The main excitement was from one of the Clamorous Reed Warblers that was a re-trap of the bird ringed in Oman in 2008 (see previous post on this bird). The bird is a female and is starting to sit on her second clutch of eggs as she had a brood patch similar to when we caught her in early April. The adult Common Moorhens had very worn fight feathers and looked a bit worse for wear.

Common Moorhen (adult)
Common Moorhen (juvenile)

21 May 2012

Caspian Reed Warbler - Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

Whilst ringing at Alba Marsh last Friday Brendan and I caught five Reed Warblers. These are the first Reed Warblers we have caught for two months and were interesting as they are fuscus race Caspian Reed Warblers

Eurasian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus fuscus is sometimes treated as a separate species Caspian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus (s) fuscus based on a paper by B. Leisler, P. Heidrich, K. Schulze-Hagen & M. Wink, Taxonomy and phylogeny of reed warblers (genus Acrocephalus) based on mtDNA sequences and morphology Journal für Ornithologie 138 (1997): 469-496
Caspian Reed Warbler breeds from the northern Caspian Sea to north-east Kazakhstan and east Iran; Asia Minor; Cyprus; Levant. They winter in Africa south of the Sahara.
European Reed Warbler breeds from North-west Africa & Europe east to central European Russia, Crimea & West Asia Minor. Winters in Africa south of the Sahara.

Some of the fetaures for Caspian Reed Warbler include white tips to the outer three or four tail feathers usually more obvious than Marsh or Reed Warbler. Pale grey-brown upper-parts, crown greyish, rump sandy coloured and slightly warmer toned than rest of upper-parts. Pale under-parts with only flanks brownish. Less rufous than European Reed Warbler

20 May 2012

Gambusia Fish – Dhahran Hills

The percolation pond has a large number of Gambusia, probably Eastern Mosquitofish, in which have been introduced to eat mosquito larvae. There are over 40 species of Gambusia of which I do not know exactly which one this is, but if anyone can help please contact me and let me know. This fish is also food for many of the herons that like to use the pond for feeding, so is good for wildlife as well as good at reducing the number of mosquitos present in the area.
 Gambusia sp.
Gambusia sp.

Gambusia species are often called topminnows or gambusias; but are also known as mosquitofish, which, however, refers more specifically to Gambusia affinis Western Mosquitofish & Gambusia Holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish. Eastern Mosquitofish can grow to 3.5 centimetres in length and have been introduced into ponds in Saudi Arabia to eat mosquito larvae and they are native to the eastern and southern United States of America. The species consumes algae and detritus, is extremely hardy, and thrives in shallow, slow moving, freshwater between 31 & 35 degrees Celsius. The species gives birth to live young and can have up to nine broods per breeding season and live for one to two years

19 May 2012

Little Bittern again - Dhahran Hills

The 'patch' is getting very quiet now with few migrants passing. The percolation pond still has the breeding Black-winged Stilt, with two eggs only, and the Little Grebes have finished building thier nest in a patch of pharagmites reeds in the centre of the pond. The only birds of note on the pond were a Grey Heron and the female Little Bittern in almost the same place as I saw it a couple of days ago. The trees surrounding the pond held a couple of Turtle Doves and a sigle Spotted Flycatcher but very little else.
Little Bittern - adult female

Little Bittern - adult female

The spray fields had numerous White-eared Bulbuls in as well as 50+ Common Mynas. House Sparrow numbers are building up with many freshly fledged birds in the flocks. The only migrants seen were one Common Swift, one Sand Martin and four Barn Swallows and a few laughing doves were paired up and sitting together in the trees.
White-eared Bulbul

Laughing Dove

18 May 2012

Spotted Toad-headed Agama - North of Jubail

On 7th July 2011 I saw a Toad-headed Agama on the Sabkha north of Jubail. At the time I thought this was an Arabian Toad-headed Agama, but AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan has pointed out to me this was a Spotted Toad-headed Agama due to its colouration, size and shape, transverse bars on the body and tail and the fact it was in Sabkha habitat rather than sandy habitat. AbdulRahman has co-authored and excellent paper on the two species of Toad-headed Agama in Kuwait referenced at the end of this post. I would like to thank AbdulRahman for pointing out my mistake and alerting me to the correct species.

The Spotted Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus maculatus), also called the Blacktail Toad-headed Agama, is a member of the Agamidae family, and has a body colour that is highly variable, but typically has distinct brown bars across the body and tail. It also tends to match the colour of its background and lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those on red, inland sands. The agamid lizards are also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. The head is short and broad, with a deep forehead and snub nose, and the flattened body is wide and strong and covered in rough skin with overlapping scales. The long, flattened tail is rounded at the base and has a black tip on the underside which, when raised, is used in visual signals. The spotted toad-headed agama is known from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Oman, northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The species inhabits harder sandy surfaces where it is often associated with coastal salt flats known as ‘sabkhas’ ad rocky islands. The Arabian Toad-headed Agama prefers sandy desert areas.

They are active in all but the hottest hours of the day looking for insect prey and during the hottest periods, they will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. They are able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. They lay eggs, producing a clutch of one to seven which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow.

Two species of Toad-headed Agama live in the region with Arabian Toad-headed Agama (P. arabicus) being the second species. The species are relatively easy to identify by the relatively longer tail compared to snout-vent length in P. maculatus of 130-160%, as opposed to 100-125% in P. arabicus. The two species can also be told apart by their shape, colour & number of scales present between the eye and lip. P. arabicus is short-bodied dark grey above with creamy white spots and the upper-side of the tail paler than the body and lacking the spots. The ventral body parts were white with the under-side of the tail orange from the vent to the dark tail band and the species has three to four scales between the eye and lip. P. maculatus is relatively slim and long-bodied and appears larger than P. arabicus and has five to six scales between the eye and lip. The upper-side of the body is sandy grey with five broad dark brown cross bars, with the bars continuing on the tail from vent to the end of the tail with a longer dark terminal tail band, about 20% of the tail length (Al Sirhan & Brown 2010).


Al Sirhan, A-R & Brown, G. 2010. The status of the two Toad-headed Agamas, Phrynocephalus arabicus (Anderson, 1894) & P. maculatus (Anderson, 1872), in Kuwait. Zoology in the Middle East 51, 2010: 23-30

17 May 2012

Little Bittern - Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the percolation pond yesterday I found a female Little Bittern hiding amongst the reeds. I managed to creep up quite close to the bird but it was always behind reeds of some sort, which is probably why I managed to get so close. Last year a pair of Little Bitterns bred for the first time in Dhahran and last week I saw a male Little Bittern at the same site. Little Grebes are nest building now the pond is at a low level and the weeds are easily accessible. The Black-winged Stilt is still on her nest and Eurasian Coots and Common Moorhens are feeding young. The only wader on the pond with the exception of the Black-winged Stilts was a single Kentish Plover.

Little Bittern - adult female
Little Bittern in flight - adult female

A walk around the pond produced three Spotted Flycatchers, three Eastern Olivaceous Warblers in full song and a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin. A European Turtle Dove was seen perched in an acacia bush and 20+ Barn Swallows and two Common Swifts were flying over.

European Turtle Dove

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

16 May 2012

Black-winged Stilt nesting - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday whilst walking around the percolation pond I noticed a Black-winged Stilt crouching very low on one of the two floating platforms. It looked very strange and I thought it may be sitting on a nest as it was in such a strange position. After a while of waiting the bird stood up to collect some water for putting on its breast feathers to keep herself and the eggs cool in the hot temperatures. As she stood up I could see two eggs on the platform showing the species has again bred in Dhahran Camp for the second year running. I am very interested to know how the young will get off the platform when they hatch as the platform is anchored in the middle of the pond.

As the water levels are quite low at the moment and there is a lot of weed about, hopefully they will be able to walk on the weed and get to the edge? Apologies for the poor photos but they show you the fact the birds are breeding at least.

15 May 2012

Namaqua Doves - Dhahran Hills

Namaqua Doves are now becoming more visible and pairs can be seen regularly around the percolation pond and scrubby desert area. Mainly males are seen but occassional females are seen with them. The species breeds in Dhahran in small numbers and becomes very scarce in the winter when only one or two birds are seen occassionally. They are the least approachable of all the doves that occur in the region but are really beautiful when you get good views of them.

The only other birds of note seen on the 'patch' in the last couple of days are a female Pallid Harrier seen resting on the ground in the scrubby desert area, but unfortunately not long enough for me to get any photographs and two Grey Herons on the percolation pond which are the first birds of this species I have seen here for a month or so.

14 May 2012

White-cheeked Terns - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Another early morning trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl saw me arrive at 06:00 hrs. On entering the site I failed to see Great Spotted Eagle which is normally the first bird I see but later on I saw an adult sitting in the flattened reed area at the back of the site. A few shrikes were in the scrubby Desert area on the way to the reed beds including three Daurian Shrikes, Turkestan Shrike and one female Red-backed Shrike. A Northern Wheatear was the only other good bird present. The main pools held a good number of terns with 78 Whiskered Terns, 28 White-cheeked Terns, three White-winged Terns and six Saunder's Little Terns. The White-cheeked Terns are the first ones I have seen for some time at the site and included pairs of birds of which one would catch a fish a feed it to another. Six Caspian Terns were flying around the main flooded sabkha area which is now drying out quickly as the temperatures have increased significantly over the last two weeks (40 degrees Celsius today).
White-cheeked Tern

A few migrants were still about including seven Willow Warblers, two Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and a Corncrake (see previous post). Waders were thin on the ground but there were still a few Ruff and two Spotted Redshank to liven things up. Kentish Plovers were plentiful with many using distraction techniques of pretending to be injured to lure me away from their young. A few Purple Swamphens are still visible out in the open but little else of note was seen.


Kentish Plover
Purple Swamphen