30 June 2012

Western Cattle Egrets - Dhahran Hills

Two adult Western Cattle Egrets were present on the settling pool at Dhahran Hills on 24th June which is an early return date for the species to the Eastern Province. They are now being seen in every month and are progressively becoming a commoner species as the years go by. The two birds were in full breeding plumage, but there have been no indications of the species breeding in Dhahran. A Western Cattle Egret was also seen at Jubail Corniche a few days earlier so they are obviously returning now. Eastern Cattle Egret has been seen occasionally in the United Arab Emirates, but I have not seen any birds resembling this type in the Eastern Province so far although I am always on the lookout for them.
Western Cattle Egret
Black-winged Stilt (juvenile)
Masked Shrike

 Other birds seen in Dhahran Hills included 58 Black-winged Stilts, including many well grown juveniles, 15 Kentish Plovers, thee Little Ringed Plovers and seven Rock Doves. Three Barn Swallows and two Sand Martins were catching insects over the percolation pond and Clamorous Reed Warblers were busy catching insects in the reeds, presumably to feed to their newly hatched young? With other Clamorous Reed Warblers still singing from the reeds. Five Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were present in the trees surrounding the pond and a single European Bee-eater was present in the same area. The Masked Shrike was still present in the same area as normal and has now been around for more than a month.

29 June 2012

Bahrain – Ringing at Al Jarrim Island (South)

After ringing on Al Jarrim (middle) we went by Ali’s boat to Al Jarrim (south) to try to ring Lesser Crested Tern chicks. As we were setting up camp Nicole caught an adult Bridled Tern that had become caught up in a discarded fishing net. She managed to release the bird before it died and I ringed it and released it. Luckily it was completely healthy and flew off happily to join the many thousands of other birds. This was one lucky bird as if Nicole had not found it; it would have died in the net.
Bridled Tern (adult)
Bridled Tern (adult)
Bridled Tern (adult)
When we got to the island we could not see many Lesser Crested Terns but after disembarking the boat and setting up camp we should see a couple of reasonably large crèches of Tern chicks. We employed our method of herding the tern chicks onto the beach and walking them down the beach to our corral. This corral was made out of bamboo sticks and garden netting, with the netting being covered with sand at the bottom. Here would could take them out and place them in baskets and move them up to the ringing station for ringing. This proved very easy this year as we had the experience of doing this last year. We managed to ring about 871 Lesser Crested Tern chicks with four ringers, of which I ringed 285 birds. We collected three large discarded, or lost, nets, and took them back to Bahrain for disposal so they would not catch and kill any more terns. We had a great day out, with a good team, and managed to catch and ring almost 1000 birds in the day ending on 977 birds. We are coming back on 6th July, weather permitting, for another attempt and ringing terns but will be concentrating more on Bridled Terns next time.
Ali's boat
Tern Corral
Lesser Crested Tern chicks in the Tern Corral
The days ringing totals

28 June 2012

Bahrain – Ringing at Al Jarrim Island (Middle)

An extremely early trip to Bahrain, leaving Dhahran at 02:45 hrs, was required on Friday as we were going to try to ring Tern Chicks on the Al Jarrim Islands. These are three man made islands offshore Bahrain and have a southern, middle and northern island. We went first to the middle island to try to catch and ring White-cheeked Tern chicks. We went in Ali’s boat and had a team of seven including Brendan, Nicole, Ali, Jason, Ahmed, Hussain and myself. The tide was on the way in as we arrived and this mean we had to wade to shore from the boat. When we got to the middle island we split up with Brendan, Ahmed and Hussain going one way and Nicole, Jason, Ali and I the other. It was relative cool as it was only 06:00 hrs and we managed to find a few White-cheeked tern chicks and ringed 88 birds of which I ringed 19. Most birds were hiding under small bushed although a few were on the beach hiding under flotsam and jetsam. One the way around the island we found two colonies of Lesser Crested Terns with perhaps 200 breeding birds in each. They just lay their eggs on the ground in full view, and these birds had not been present last year. We also found a few Bridled Tern Chicks and I ringed seven of these birds. When we got back to where the boat was moored I saw two Indian Reef Heron Chicks which I cashed after and caught. We also caught a four more and I ringed three including a dark phase as well as two light phase birds. This was a new ringing species for me as well as Nicole and this combined with the fact I had not ringed White-cheeked Tern meant we had had a good trip to the middle island. 
Indian Reef Heron (dark phase juvenile)
Jason & Nicole with Indian Reef Herons (juveniles)
Indian Reef Heron nest

After catching the Indian Reef Herons I had to try and find Brendan as he had the larger rings and pliers, and this meant I had to walk all the way around the island again. I failed to find him on this walk as he had already returned the other way but it did allow me to photograph a few Bridled Terns in flight and on the ground. I also found two Indian Reef Heron nests with two eggs in each. These nests are just built low to the ground on top of the low lying vegetation. We will be coming back to this island on 6th July all going well to try to ring the Lesser Crested terns as well as any Bridled terns we may find. Brendan also found a tideline corpse of an adult Bridled Tern with a ring. The ring number was SR58087 and was ringed Brendan previously on the South Island in 2008 see here for details
Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern

27 June 2012

Great Crested Grebe - Abu Ali Island

Abu Ali Island is about 125 kilometres north of Dhahran and is joined to the mainland by a causeway. A security post is placed at the start of the causeway to check to ensure you are allowed access. I had to show my ID card but as I work for Saudi Aramco and this is a Saudi Aramco run island I was allowed over without issues. It is apparently open to all at weekends but not during the week. The island is a flat area of mainly sabkha with little vegetation, but there are a few nice muddy edges and small mangrove stands that look like they may be good for waders at the right time of year. I saw one Eurasian Oystercather, six Eurasian Curlew and one Common Greenshank as well as hundereds of Kentish Plover which have obviously bred here as I saw many well grown juvenile birds.
Kentish Plover (juvenile)

Towards the end of the island near the loading port there is a large pool on the left hand side of the road that has a thin sand island running most of its length. This island has breeding White-cheeked Terns present with many fluffy young running about. This pool also held four Great Crested Grebes which is only the second place in the Eastern Province I have seen the species with the other being my local patch percolation pond. Nine greater Flamingos were also present on this pond. Apart from these birds there was very little to be seen apart from a gathering of 15 Black Kites sitting on telegraph poles just across the causeway from the security hut. I am trying to find out what sub-species they are and will post details on these birds later. One good thing I saw whilst on the island was a number of signs saying mangrove planting was being carried out which is a good thing as the last remaining mangroves in the region are restricted in number and small in size.
Great Crested Grebe
Greater Flamingo

26 June 2012

Breeding Little Bittern - Sabkhat Al Fasl

A very ealry morning trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl at the weekend produced few birds, although a couple of good records were noted. A juvenile Little Bittern was seen perched in the reeds at the back of the site showing that the species has breed again here this year. An adult male was seen in flight in the same area as the juvenile was seen in.
Little Bittern (juvenile)

Other good birds seen included a Squacco Heron in full breeding plumage, which are much more attractive than the drab winter plumaged birds that are normally seen. This bird was seen feeding out in the open in a small area of water near to the water treatment plant, which was also unusual. Purple Swamphens are now being seen regularly again with adult birds walking out in the open, although nearly always in close proximity to reed-beds. The only warblers seen were Clamorous Reed Warblers and Caspian Reed Warblers in small numbers. A single Western Osprey was the only bird of prey seen with two different birds located. One was eating a tilapia fish it had caught and allowed reasonably close views; although they never let you get too close. Wader numbers were low with nine Pied Avocets and two Ruddy Turnstones being the best birds.
Western Osprey

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron

Purple Swamphen

25 June 2012

Little Grebes Breeding – Dhahran Hills

The Percolation Pond has had a couple of Little Grebes nesting for a few weeks, but yesterday I made an effort to count all the nests I could find. Some are out in the open but a couple of nests are well hidden in the vegetation of the pond so there is no guarantee I have found all the nests. My final total was five nests and one adult bird with two recently fledged young. This is six pairs in total and increase from four pairs noted in 2011. The species is quite a common bird here in Dhahran as well as at Sabkhat Al Fasl (Jubail) and can be found on most largish water bodies in the Eastern Province.

The water levels and amount of pond weed present at the moment make breeding conditions ideal for the species and they are making the most of the conditions. Last year a number of young were predated by the Grey Heron that is present on the pond, so let us hope that the Heron is less successful this year. Other breeding birds on the pond include two pairs of Eurasian Coot and at least ten pairs of Common Moorhen. The Common Moorhen now have well grown young that can easily be seen on the pond, whereas a week or so ago the birds were not visible at all and must have been hiding in the vegetation.

Black-winged Stilt with Chicks - Dhahran Hills

The Black-winged Stilt that has been nesting on the platform in the middle of the Percolation Pond has now managed to hatch her four eggs and has four very young chicks. This is the second attempt by this pair to breed on the island with the first being unsuccessful at the egg stage. Laurie mentioned the fact he had seen a pair nesting on an island in the Carmargue and the young swam to shore and one of the young has already entered the water (see second photograph). Hopefully it will be alright and either make it back to the platform with the help of its mother or get to shore. The pond is full of weed at the moment so it could easily make it to he bank I would have thought. It is a dangerous place to be for the young Stilts as the adult Grey Heron is always about and it is good at catching and eating young water birds. Lets hope the stilts make it safely to adulthood. One plus for them is that the adult birds make great parents and defend their nest and young aggressively from anything or anyone.

24 June 2012

Eurasian Spoonbill - Dammam Port Mangroves

I made another visit to Dammam Port Mangroves a couple of days ago at high tide and saw a juvenile Eurasian Spoonbill amongst the small wader flock. This site is the best place to see Eurasian Spoonbill in the Eastern Province as far as I am aware with birds seen regularly throughout the year. This species has obviously become more common in the Eastern Province over the years as I have seen quite a few now and they were a scarce bird in the late 1980's. Other birds seen here included 50+ Greater Sand Plovers, five Eurasian Curlew, 15 Saunder's Terns, one Western Great Egret and six Indian Reef Herons. One the way out of the site I saw a House Crow flying across the road.
Saunder's Terns

One word of caution for anyone who may be thinking of birding this site, and that is the local coast guard are very active here. They do not really like me being there and certainly object to the camera hence the lack of photographs from this site. They do tolerate me when I show my identification card but be aware they will more than likely stop you if you go there. They have always been very friendly to me but have asked me to lave on a few occasions, although allowed me to stay on many more occasions.

23 June 2012

Which way to Tern? - Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost South

The tides have been good for the Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost South in the last few days so I went down again to see if I could see the Crab Plover again. The bird I saw a few days ago was not about when I got there but the tide was pushing birds in close to shore. The waders were mainly Greater Sand Plovers (300+) with a few (10) Lesser Sand Plovers mixed in, but there were also two Ruddy Turnstones and one Terek Sandpiper. Kentish Plovers were numerous with many birds with well grown young showing they had a good breeding season. The only large waders were 16 Eurasian Curlew and my first returning Bar-tailed Godwit of the year.
Greater Sand Plover
Kentish Plover
Terns were about in good numbers with 22 Caspian Terns, all adults and seven Gull-billed Terns including a family party of two adults and a begging juvenile. Saunder's Tern were also plentiful with 25+ birds including a well grown juvenile bird sitting on a sand bank. The only other birds of note were a single Sand Martin, one Grey Heron, five Western Reef Herons and a Western Osprey perched on a fence.
Saunder's Tern (juvenile)
Caspian Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Terns - family party
Western Osprey

22 June 2012

Masked Shrike - Dhahran Hills

A trip to the Percolation Pond produced a couple of good birds. The first was a Masked Shrike sitting on the wire fence surround to the pond and giving quite good views. I have seen this bird on a couple of occasions now but these are the best views I have had. It seems to be catching mainly day flying moths but also eats the occasional beetle if one is unlucky enough to cross its path.
Masked Shrike

Masked Shrike

Masked Shrike

Another good bird seen was a male Little Bittern catching small fish on the muddy edge of the pond. It later flew off into the main Phragmites reed stand, where its mate is probably nesting. It is good news the birds are again showing all the signs of breeding on the pond, where I first recorded them as a breeding species for the area last year. The fact all the reeds were grubbed out in the winter left me with the feeling that Little Bittern and Clamorous Reed Warbler would not breed again this year but both species appear to be doing so. Other interesting birds seen were a single Barn Swallow, three Little Ringed Plovers, four Black-winged Stilts (plus four more - two breeding pairs) and four Kentish Plovers.

21 June 2012

Abu Ali Island/Ras Abu Ali - Jubail

Sander Willems was birding again in the Jubail area on 8th June, and this time went to Abu Ali Island/Ras Abu Ali. Thi is an island now joined to the mainland by a causeway and is a crescent shaped peninsula just north of Jubail. It is famous for having huge numbers of terns in September where they go to moult as well as good waders. Sander saw the following species:-
Greater Hoopoe-lark, one pair that was probably breeding, and two more individuals. Their flight behaviour was typical for the speices and interesting to see.
Black-eared Kites, six birds together. I have seen Black Kites before and these birds were lighter colored (possibly juveniles) and had a clear dark patch behind the eye, plus a clear white patch in their primaries. I believe I have seen the same group several weeks ago circling around just north of the Intercontinental hotel area in Jubail.
Eurasian Curlew 2
Great Cormorant 60+
Greater Flamingo 20
Hundreds of Terns, most of them seemed to be White-cheeked Terns, possibly nesting on a sandbank in a large pond, but I would have needed a spotting scope to be sure.
Kentish Plovers, Crested Larks and some Egrets.
Greater Flamingo

20 June 2012

Crab Plover - Dammam-Al Khobar Wader Roost South

Yesterday I went down to the Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost South after work as the tide was right for the birds to be pushed up close to the shore. This is the first time I have been down for some time and I was rewarded with close views of a Crab Plover. This is one of the best sites in the Eastern Province for the species and birds are regularly seen here from July onwards until late October or even later. Mid June is a early record for me, but as I have only been doing the site for a year I am not sure if it is unusual or not. This site is being redeveloped for housing so it may not be possible to get to in the next couple of months but I hope that they do not destroy the seafront habitat that attracts the wading birds to this site.

Other birds seen at the site included 300+ Greater Sand Plovers, six Lesser Sand Plovers, six Kentish Plovers, 12 Common Redshanks, eight Eurasian Curlews, one Whimbrel, four Terek Sandpipers and three Sanderlings. Nine Caspian Terns and a Western Osprey were also seen. I will, hopefully be able to go to this site more regularly over the nest couple of months and will post what I see there as wader numbers should build up over the next few weeks.

19 June 2012

Greater Sand Plover – Dhahran Hills

A trip to the percolation pond yesterday evening produced a few good birds with the best being a Greater Sand Plover. This is only the second time I have seen this species on my local patch with the first one I recorded being in August 2011. The bird is probably an early returning migrant and was seen on the muddy shoreline of the pond. It was disturbed by something and flew and landed on the floating platform (the one not being used by the nesting Black-winged Stilt), where it stayed for an hour or more until it got dark. Greater Sand Plovers are common on the coast but scarce inland and they have only just started to return to the coast after the breeding season. Also with the Greater Sand Plover were a single male Kentish Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover, which are probably local breeding birds.
Greater Sand Plover

A few other good birds were seen over the pond including two Blue cheeked Bee-eaters, two Barn Swallows and a Sand Martin. A walk around the area produced few birds as the temperature is now very hot but both Laughing Dove and Namaqua Dove were seen in good numbers and a single Masked Shrike was catching insects and beetles from the fence surrounding the pond. This is a different bird to the one I saw a week or so ago and a species I did not see in the summer at all last year. Clamorous Reed Warblers are singing from the tall reeds still and a couple of Reed Warblers were seen in the reeds as well. This species has not be confirmed as breeding in Dhahran but, hopefully, this year I will see adults feeding young or something similar to confirm the fact they breed here.

Laughing Dove

18 June 2012

Birding Trip to Saudi Arabia - Danny Danford

Danny Danforth has just sent the following information on a trip he made to Saudi Arabia on the following dates: April 25 - May 9 in the Eastern Province, May 10-12 in Riyadh, May 12-14 at Madain Saleh, and May 15 to 22 in Jeddah & Kaust. Danny was travelling with a group of students and was not solely birding but saw a few good birds on his travels the best of which are noted below:-

Indian Reef Heron

Indian Reef Heron - 1 Kaust
Socotra Cormorant - a few Kaust
Eurasian Coot - a few Aramco Compound
Crab Plover - 5 Kaust
Kentish plover - 8 Kaust
Eurasian Curlew - 1 Kaust
Common Redshank - 3 Kaust
Common Greenshank - 1 Kaust
Terek Sandpiper - 1 Kaust
Sooty Gull Many - Kaust
Caspian Tern 1 - Kaust
Lesser Crested Tern - 1 Kaust
White Cheeked Tern - Many Kaust
Eurasian Collared Dove - Many Aramco compound
Laughing Dove Many - Aramco compound
Rose-ringed Parakeet - One Aramco compound
Pallid Swift Many - Al Hasa Hofuf
Eurasian Hoopoe - 10 Aramco Compound
European Bee Eater - 20 Aramco Compound - sand golf course wires
Masked Shrike - 1 Aramco compound
Daurian Shrike - 1 Aramco compound
Lesser Grey Shrike - 1 Aramco compound
House Crow - Many Aramco compound
White Eared Bulbul - Many Aramco Compound
White Spectacled Bulbul - Many Jeddah
Crested Lark - 3 Aramco compound Sand golf course
Common House Martin - Many Aramco compound
Barn Swallow - Many Aramco Compound
Great Reed Warbler - 1 Aramco compound Golf course pond.
Mangrove Reed Warbler - 1 Kaust
Eurasian Blackcap - 1 Aramco Compound
Common Myna - Many Aramco compound
Tristram’s Starling - 1 Jeddah
Northern Wheatear - 1 Aramco compound
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Palestine Sunbird - 1 Madain Saleh
House Sparrow - Many Aramco Compound
Water Pipit - 1 Aramco compound
Sinai Rosefinch - 1 Madain Saleh