31 August 2012

Black-eared Kite (Jubail) – Bird records by Tim Pinkston

Tim Pinkston took the following photographs of two Black-eared Kites on 13th July 2012 in the Murjan Compound in Jubail Industrial City. The two birds circled the compound for the better part of the day but have not been seen subsequently. These records match nicely with the group of 15 birds I saw on Abu Ali Island on 22nd June that I never saw again. Tim has kindly given me permission to use his photos on my website and these records help build a better understanding of the Sub-species occurrence in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where the records mentioned above appear to be the first ones for the region.

30 August 2012

Upgraded Camera and lenses

I have updated my camera gear over the last few days and have now swapped from Nikon to Canon equipment. I did this primarily because Canon has just produced a new 600mm F4 IS II USM lens that is significantly lighter in weight than the Nikon Equivalent, in fact being similar in weight to the older Canon 500mm F4 and therefore allowing the camera to be hand held whilst photographing birds in flight (for a short period of time). I also bought a Canon EOS-5D mk III camera 100mm F/2.8 Macro lens IS USM & EF-14x Extender (1.4x). The data will be stored on a SanDisk Extreme Pro 600x UDMA CF and be backed up on a 64GB SanDisk SDXC Card as the camera has two card slots. I will be shooting all future photos in RAW and JPEG and edit them with Cannon Digital Photo Professional 3.11 software. Hopefully this will allow me to take much better photos of the bird I see and you will be able to enjoy better quality photos with my posts on the website. These pictures will probably take some time to get to real quality as I have to learn how to use the camera system, new lenses & new photo editing software. I will, hopefully, be taking the gear out into the field over the weekend to try for the first tiime. I will be adding a tab to the website when I have time to show details of the new camera gear I have.

600mm F4 IS II USM lens - Photo from Canon Website

600mm F4 IS II USM lens - Photo from Canon Website



29 August 2012

Three European Rollers - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday at the edge of the percolation pond I found three European Rollers. They were initially sitting in the trees surrounding the pond before flying out and resting in the scrub between the pond and the spray fields. European Roller is uncommon in the area, but birds are more often seen in the autumn than in the spring and this is the first time I have seen three together. All my sightings have been single birds with the exception of one sighting of two, so three together was a nice site. Apart from the European Rollers there were a few other good birds including a first year Citrine Wagtail on the small stream along with one Little Stint, one Common Greenshank, one Green Sandpiper and three Little Ringed Plovers. Citrine Wagtail os also scarce on the 'patch' with first year birds in the autumn being the only ones seen so far although I am expecting an adult in the spring sometime soon. The percolation pond held one Western Cattle Egret, one Green Sandpiper and the two Glossy Ibis which were back after going missing for a day. They were over the back of the pond this time so no photos were obtained. Two White-winged Terns were flying about which were the first of the autumn and made a very nice end to a good days birding.
European Roller - first bird
European Roller - first bird

European Roller - second bird

28 August 2012

A few waders - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday on the ‘patch’ the Glossy Ibis’s had gone from the night before. This was no real surprise, as most birds only stay briefly at the site, and are not seen the next day. A few more migrants were in today although things are still relatively quiet. The pond held seven Northern Shovellers, two Western Cattle Egrets and a flock of ten European Bee-eaters were feeding on insects from the surrounding trees. A small stream and wet area on the way to the pond held a few waders with five Little Stints, one Little Ringed Plover and a Kentish Plover giving very good views. Fifteen Barn Swallows and three Sand Martins were flying over the pond but otherwise little else was seen.
Little Ringed Plover

Little Stint

Western Cattle Egret

27 August 2012

Two Glossy Ibis - Dhahran Hills

Yesterday whilst birding the 'patch' I found two Glossy Ibis in one of the corners of the percolation pond, feeding quietly on the muddy edge and at the reed sides. This species is not rare in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia but is uncommon ocuring mainly on passage although winter records have also occurred. I have seen birds before in Saudi Arabia at Sabkhat Al Fasl & Khafra Marsh and the species has been seen before on the percolation pond but before I arrived in Saudi Arabia. This is the 181 species I have seen on my local 'patch' with ten new species being added this year as follows:
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), 26th August 2012
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), 9th July 2012
Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor), 30th June 2012
Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala), 8th May 2012
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), 18th April 2012
Common Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia), 31st March 2012
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), 31st March 2012
Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus), 29th March 2012
Finsch's Wheatear (Oenenthe finschii), 7th March 2012
Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), 5th March 2012

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

Little else was seen with the exception of an Isabelline Wheatear at the edge of the spray fields and two Northern Shoveller on the percollation pond with the hundreds of Common Moorhen and Little Grebes. Three Clamorous Reed Warblers incuing a bgging youngster were seen in the reeds of the percolation pond and a summer plumaged Western Cattle Egret was also in the same area.

26 August 2012

Violet Dropwing – Dhahran Hills

There are quite a few dragonflies about at the moment with the majority being Violet Dropwing. They spend most of their time perched on the grasses around the percolation pond and unless they fly they are quite difficult to see, despite their bright colours. The Violet Dropwing Trithemis annulata is easy to recognize due to its colour and the way it holds its wings. It has a total length between 32 and 38 mm with the males having a metallic purple vertex and frons (parts of head), red veins in their wings and a deep amber patch at the base of their hind wings. They have a plum-coloured abdomen and red eyes and are also known as Plum-coloured Dropwing. Immature males are at first yellowish, turning orange and then red before their final violet colour is obtained. The females are brown-yellow with yellow patches at the base of their hind wings and reddish eyes and have a white-yellow thorax, marked with strong black lines. They are active mainly during the summer months April to October with males perching on waterside grasses and plants and are very tolerant to heat. They favour standing shallow water and large pools and perch with their wings held down and during very hot periods also have their abdomen pointing vertically at the sun. They are native to tropical Africa and the coast of Mediterranean as well as the Middle East including Arabia.

25 August 2012

Breeding Bird Records from Dhahran Camp 2012

Little Grebe
At least fifteen pairs were seen breeding on the Dhahran Camp percolation pond. The birds were seen building nests out of pond weed and later seen sitting on eggs. In early May, June & July adults were seen with very small young who would climb on their parents backs to avoid danger. At least two broods were had by some birds.
Little Grebes

Little Bittern
A pair (male and female) of adults birds were seen in May, June & July, in the reeds of the Dhahran Camp percolation pond. In early July a juvenile was seen in the same reeds and was still present at the end of July. This is the second year the species has bred in the reeds of the pond

Common Quail
Singing / Calling males were present in suitable habitat of the spray fields at Dhahran Camp in March and April. There was no other evidence of breeding and I assume these were just passage birds.

Common Moorhen
Adults with well grown young were seen on the percolation pond at Dhahran Camp in May, June & July. No nests were seen so these were presumably well hidden in the reed beds as at least fifty five young seen together on the pond in June & July. At least fifteen pairs bred this year, using the reeds to hide their nests.

Eurasian Coot
Adults with very small young were seen in early May, June & July on the percolation pond at Dhahran Camp indicating at least two broods. At least four pairs bred in Dhahran Camp this year.

Black-winged Stilt
A nest with four eggs was found on one of the floating platforms in the percolation pond. The first attempt failed but the second attempt in the same place was successful. Three other pairs bred in various places around the edge of the pond, so four pairs bred successfully on the percolation pond Dhahran Camp this year.

Little Ringed Plover
A pair where seen in suitable breeding habitat at Dhahran Hills, Dhahran Camp in June & July but no young or other proof of breeding was noted.

Kentish Plover
A pair where seen with very small young were seen in early March on the settling pond at Dhahran Camp. Another pair where seen with very young chicks in the same place in July. A number of other birds (four to five pairs) were seen with young at the percolation pond and others in suitable breeding areas throughout the summer but no evidence of breeding was seen.

Rock Dove
Up to ten pairs of what look like pure Rock Dove where present in suitable breeding habitat in Dhahran Camp throughout the summer. There were also a number of feral pigeons associating with these birds. No direct evidence of breeding was noted.

Laughing Dove
Many pairs breeding within the camp and many others in suitable habitat. At least eight juveniles around the spray fields and percolation pond in June & July.

European Collared Dove
Many pairs breeding within the camp and many others in suitable habitat. At least two juveniles, that were able to fly but where very young, with adults in attendance were present around the percolation pond in June & July.

European Turtle Dove
Up to four pairs (aranicola) were present throughout the summer in suitable habitat. At least two juveniles, that were able to fly but where very young, with adults in attendance were present around the percolation pond in June & July.

Namaqua Dove
Four pairs of adults and a young juvenile were present is suitable breeding habitat in June & July in Dhahran Camp mainly around the edge of the spray fields.

Namaqua Dove - juvenile

Eurasian Hoopoe
A number of pairs where present throughout the breeding season in suitable habitat but no direct evidence of breeding has been found.

Crested Lark
An adult with a quite large juvenile was seen in early July. More than ten pairs where in suitable habitat during the breeding season but no further evidence of breeding has been found.

Crested Lark - juvenile

White-eared Bulbul
An adult with well grown juveniles was in the tress surrounding the percolation pond in July with the young birds was seen begging food from and adult on a number of occasions.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin
At least two pairs were holding territory during most of June and July in different areas of scrub by the side of the percolation pond in Dhahran Camp. In July, adults were seen carrying food indicating breeding had taken place.

Graceful Prinia
At least three pairs were holding territory during most of April, May, June and July in the trees and reeds around the percolation pond. Adults seen carrying food in July.

Clamorous Reed Warbler
At least six pairs were holding territory during most of April, May, June and July in the reed beds of the percolation pond at Dhahran Camp. Singing was heard continuously and adults were been seen carrying food in July.

Caspian Reed Warbler
At least six birds were seen throughout the summer months in the reed beds of the percolation pond at Dhahran Camp. No direct sign of breeding was noted

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
At least three pairs were holding territory during most of May and June in different areas of scrub by the side of the percolation pond in Dhahran Camp.

Common Myna
Up to twenty juvenile birds were seen in small flocks from June onwards mainly around the spray fields.

House Sparrow
Large numbers of juvenile birds were seen in small flocks from June onwards.

24 August 2012

Eurasian Collared Dove - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Eurasian Collared Dove is a very common species in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and one that is seen at almost every birding site. These photographs were taken at Sabkhat Al Fasl where this bird was quite happy sitting on its post whilst I drove right up to it in the car. The post detracts from the photo but a lot of details can be seen on the bird itself. The species is a common breeding resident that has only become common in the last fifty years when it spread from the north of the country to the south colonising almost all areas in the Eastern Province on its way.

23 August 2012

Black Pennant Selysiothemis nigra – Dhahran Hills

A good number of Black Pennant Selysiothemis nigra are currently around the edges of the percolation pond in Dhahran Hills. They are mainly using the grasses as perches but are not see away from the scrub surrounding the pond so presumably they like the water available at this site which is not surprising as they favour standing water, brackish lagoons, salt marshes and ponds especially in desert regions with adults hovering frequently, a meter or so above the ground. They are common in the Middle East and seen regularly in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where many are thought to be migratory. The female releases eggs as she strikes the water surface with the tip of her abdomen.

The Black Pennant is a small and graceful dragonfly, distinguished by its large, fragile-looking wings and distinctive ‘equals sign’ shaped pterostigma (the dark coloured cells near the tip of the wings). The alternative name ‘the Desert Darter’ comes from the way in which it makes short flights, from perch to perch when it hunts or flies. The male is uniformly black in colour (often blue black), although occasionally develops a whitish patch on the thorax and abdomen, giving it a frosty or dusty appearance. Females and immature males have a more sandy-brown colouration, with extensive black markings. The wings are clear and shiny, with very fine veins patterning the surface. It has a scattered distribution in northern Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and in several European Mediterranean countries. It uses wetland habitats such as temporary pools of water, shallow standing coastal waters, reservoirs, canals and irrigation ditches during the aquatic stages of its life cycle, while terrestrial habitats of the adult include desert and grassland. An energetic dragonfly, the black pennant is an opportunistic predator which will catch a wide variety of small insect prey. Like other dragonflies of the Libellulidae family, the black pennant may adopt a distinctive ‘obelisk posture’ when temperatures soar during the day, pointing the abdomen directly at the sun in order to prevent the body from overheating.

22 August 2012

European Turtle Doves – Dhahran Hills

The very hot temperatures do not seem to be disturbing the breeding European Turtle Doves who are showing well in the tall trees and shrubs around the percolation pond. The birds are very beautifully marked with the birds we get in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia being the more eastern sub-speces arenicola rather than turtur which occurs in the United Kingdom. The main differences are that arenicola has a pale brown mantle rather than the olive-grey of turtur, and the central rectrices are not blackish as in turtur with arenicola also having very broad and rather pale fringes to scapulars and coverts. There is something very special about seeing European Turtle Doves for me and every time I see one I am very happy. The species is not too common in Saudi Arabia with Rob Tovey, active birder in the Riyadh area, failing to find any this year despite extensive searching. He has come to the conclusion they may not breed in that area anymore, although they still breed in reasonable numbers in the Eastern Province as well as in Bahrain.

21 August 2012

Al-Jandaliyah Established Protected Area - Location Details

Al-Jandaliyah is a small reserve, approximately 1160 km2, to the south of the Hafr al-Batin road. The area was selected as a typical representative of the Dahna’ sand belt biotope. Dunes border the reserve to the north, while mixed sand and gravel plain constitutes the principal habitat. The area is of interest as a stop-off site for migrant Macqueen’s Bustards. Management objectives of this reserves are to maintain the ecosystem without degradation of its biological diversity and productivity; to conserve and restore the populations of threatened species and other key taxa; to reintroduce species that have disappeared from the site, possibly including the Reem Gazelle, Ostrich, and Arabian Oryx; to safeguard the site’s natural processes and the ecosystem services they generate, to restore degraded habitats, to enable the local communities to benefit through sustainable use of renewable natural resources, and to provide opportunities for scientific research, environmental education & sustainable nature-based recreation.

Abu Ali Island - Location Details

Abu Ali Island is situated close to Jubail Industrial City 125 kilometres north of the Dammam/Al Khobar/Dhahran area. This site is in the Arabian Gulf northeast of Jubail, and covers an area of approximately 12,500 hectares. It consists of two long, flat islands, Batima and Abu Ali, the north and west coasts of which were affected severely by the 1991 Gulf oil spill. Both islands are close to shore and connected to the mainland by causeways with access restricted, owing to the presence of an important oil and military installation. Sand and sabkha dominate the terrestrial habitats with the sandy central areas of the islands becoming well vegetated with grasses and herbs following winter rains. The northern shores are exposed with the more sheltered southern shores having inter-tidal mud-flats and sand-flats, surrounded by saltmarshes. Comparatively small numbers of White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa (120-150 pairs) and a few (c.10 pairs) Saunders' Tern Sterna saundersi and Little Tern Sterna albifirns breed on the islands. Many terns congregate to moult on these islands after the breeding season; approximately 14,000 Saunders' Tern/Little Terns, in excess of 8,000 White-cheeked Terns in September, 2,000-3,000 Sandwich Terns S. sandvicensis and nearly 5,000 Lesser Crested Terns S. bengalensis. Additionally, up to 8,000 Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo winter around the islands. A maximum of 135 Crab Plovers Dromas ardeola has been recorded passing through the site on migration.

 Specialties occurring at the location include:-

Black-neced Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Black (eared) Kite
Slender-billed Gull
Greater Flamingo
Indian Reef Egret
Lesser Crested Tern
White-cheeked Tern
Suanders Tern
Little Tern
Grey Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Kentish Plover
Bar-tailed Godwit
Eurasian Curlew
Terek Sandpiper
Common Redshank
Common Greenshank
Ruddy Turnstone
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Crab Plover
Greater Hoopoe Lark

20 August 2012

Greater & Lesser Sand Plovers - Dammam - Al Khobar Wader Roost South

Numbers of both species of Sand Plover have gradually built up over the month with Lesser Sand Plover numbers being about one tenth that of Greater Sand Plover. Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius altifrons is a very common passage migrant and common winter visitor to the coast, with some birds over-summering. The sub-species that occurs is C. a. pamirensis although C. a. altifrons may possibly occur particularly on Red Sea coast. The Tarut Bay area where I do most of my coastal birding is probably the best site for Lesser Sand Plover with 2500+ birds seen on some occasions.

Lesser Sand Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Lesser Sand Plover

Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii is also a common passage migrant and winter visitor to the coast with some birds over-summering. The sub-species that occur are C. l. crassirostris although C. l. columbinus occurs on the Red Sea coast and possibly northern Gulf. It is regarded as less common then Lesser Sand Plover over the year but is currently much more common. The Tarut Bay area is again the best site for Greater Sand Plover with 500+ birds seen regularly.
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover

19 August 2012

Southern Grey Shrike but which sub-species? - Dhahran Hills

I saw a Southern Grey Shrike in Dhahran in April and managed to get a few photographs of the bird. I have seen quite a few birds in the last year and although not common have seen them throughout the year, so assume they are resident. All the birds I have seen look similar to the ones in the photos shown here, which are of two different birds (bird two in last two photographs) seen at different sites within Dhahran. ‘Shrikes – A Guide to the Shrikes of the World’ (Lefranc & Worfolk 1997) does not show Southern Grey Shrike as occurring in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia on their map, but birds certainly do occur in this area, although possibly not too much further north as they there are only two records from Kuwait.

Lanius excubitor aucheri breeds in Arabia, eastern Egypt, norhern Sudan, Israel, Iraq & Iran. Lanius exubitor elegans breeds most Sahara and north Africa and Egypt west of the range of aucheri. This suggests that birds from the Saudi Arabian region are aucheri , with it being a very common & widespread breeding resident that is noted on passage and as a winter visitor in the United Arab Emirates. The bird I saw looks like a cross between elegans and aucheri, but closer to elegans in plumage, especially the white patch in the wings and the white under-parts colour, lacking the grey wash of normal aucheri. Although the black reaches over the bill, it is more restricted than drawings of aucheri I have seen and seems to fit elegans better. The birds do not appear to be palidirostris as the black goes over the bill, the black on the lores appears too extensive and the white of the under-parts to clean, not pinkish washed. The bill is completely black and this would not be expected in a palidirostris which normally shows a pale horn coloured area on the bill. There is a possibility of these birds being a pale type aucheri. In Sinai, Negev & parts of central Israel there is a continuous intergrading population between elegans & aucheri, beginning in the eastern desert of Egypt (Shirihai - Birds of Israel 1996) so maybe it s something like this? Any ideas or suggestions on where these birds fit in the Southern Grey Shrike complex would be welcome.  

Race elegans has a very thin, often absent, line of black feathers on the forehead and a moderate white line above the facial mask on most birds. This is unlike the prominent / broader black frontal mask and much reduced or absent white line of aucheri. In elegans the mantle is paler ashy-grey, the under-parts cleaner rarely with any hint of pink or grey and has an extensively white tail with T6 entirely white apart from a partly dark shaft. The secondaries are also completely, or nearly so, white on the inner webs and has a larger white area on the scapulars, as well as a larger white wing panel beyond the upper primary coverts (15-30 millimetres). In aucheri there is always a varying degree of grey wash to under-parts, the mantle is always darker and the tail is more black with T6 having a black base on the inner web and a broader and more protracted dark area on the shaft. In aucheri the secondaries are largely dark grey or just partly white and the white area beyond the upper primary coverts measures only 7-18 millimetres (Shirihai - Birds of Israel 1996).

18 August 2012

Crested Lark - Dammam

Crested Lark numbers are still high and this is definitely one of the commonest species seen in the Eastern Province. Birds can be seen on any birding trip in almost any habitat although they appear to prefer rough ground with a reasonable covering of vegetation. They are seen from the coast to well inland and are a resident breeding species with young birds occurring from early spring throughout the summer months. Adult males performing song flights are also seen regularly but this is mainly in the spring and appears to stop in the heat of the summer although birds can still be heard singing from suitable shrubs and bushes.

17 August 2012

Displaying male Yellow-spotted Agamas - Sabkhat Al Fasl

A trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl produced four Yellow-spotted Agama’s sitting on top of various tall bushes or dead sticks. A couple of them were displaying for mates and had bright blue throats and belly & orange tails. When approached, they quickly return to their normal colouration so I failed to capture any photographs of them in their really bright colours although a couple of shots show some bluish pattern remaining. They are a medium sized lizard about 30 centimetres in length and are also known as Blue-headed Agama for the reason mentioned above. They like sunning themselves in trees and are quite difficult to see unless they are displaying to females when they wave their heads back and forth to show off the blue pattern. Their tails are very long and thin and make up over half their body length. Males can be quite aggressive and open their mouths and make hissing noises and can give a nasty bite if you foolishly try to catch one by hand. The move extremely fast over the ground, and leave a classic lizard track which is a medium width and has a drag mark of the tail. This tail mark is not present if the animal is running as it holds the tail off the ground. There are two different lizards in the photographs below with the top photograph being one animal and the others photos a second lizard.

16 August 2012

Little Ringed Plover - Dhahran Hills

Wader numbers are slowly picking up as the autumn progresses, with 17 Curlew Sandpipers seen flying over the pond one day. Seven Green Sandpipers, one Common Sandpiper and two Wood Sandpipers were feeding along the muddy edges and 23 Black-winged Stilts are still present on the pond and settling pond. Little Ringed Plover numbers have decreased over the week but there are still four birds present along with six Kentish Plovers. A white phase Indian Reef Heron was seen briefly in the reeds before flying off and the only migrants were ten Barn Swallows and a single Sand Martin.
Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Kentish Plover - juvenile