30 November 2012

Not many birds - Qaryat Al Ulya Pivot Fields

Phil Roberts and I went ‘up north’ in search of eagles, or anything else of interest last weekend. The large number of Greater Spotted Eagles seen at Sabkhat Al Fasl and Dhahran this winter made us think we may see more eagles in the north as this is the best area in the Eastern Province for seeing them. We were sadly to be very disappointed and failed to see even a single eagle. Other interesting birds also occur in the area but again we failed to locate most of them. We spent a lot of time looking around the pivot irrigation fields at Qaryat Al Ulya as well as a couple nearer to Nayriyyah and although they looked excellent for birds with short newly grown crops and a lot of water around we again failed to locate much of interest. This may have been due to the fact we had just had a large amount of rain a couple of days previously and the birds were not so attracted to the water in the pivot fields? The best birds we saw were a flock of 13 Northern Lapwing, a species that is not all that common in the winter in our region, but unfortunately we could not locate any Sociable Lapwings amongst them like Lou Regenmorter and Rob Tovey had done ten kilometrs north of Tabuk where they had seen ten birds on 15th November. Up to ten Common Kestrel were hunting over the fields and small numbers of Eurasian Skylarks were seen in a couple of large irrigation fields. Tawny Pipits and Isabelline Wheatears were the commonest birds seen with 20 – 30 of each species. One field had 30+ Namaqua Doves present but otherwise Crested Larks and Laughing Doves were all that was seen excepting a single Mauryan Grey Shrike. The photograph below of the Isabelline Wheatear looks like the background has been altered in Photoshop but this is as taken with the vivid green colour being the crops in the pivot irrigation field behind the bank the bird was standing on.
Isabelline Wheatear
Tawny Pipit
Common Kestrel
Mauryan (Steppe) Grey Shrike

29 November 2012

Mourning Wheatears & Desert Larks - Jabal Nayriyyah

A very early morning trip to Jabal Nayriyyah saw Phil Roberts and I leaving Dahran at 04:00 hrs for the 250 kilometer trip. At first light we were at Jabal Nayriyyah where we had seen a Pharaoh Eagle Owl the year before, but despite a good search of the area we failed to locate a bird this year. We did see most of the other species we were looking for here with at least six Eastern Mourning Wheatears seen as well as a couple of Desert Larks. Other birds seen included two male and two female Desert Wheatears, several Crested Larks, one grey shrike sp. and a Desert Warbler. These jebals (limestone hills) are a very good place in winter to see both Desert Lark and Eastern Mourning Wheatear and photographs were taken of both species this trip. Eastern mooring Wheatear is quite a speciality of the Arabian Peninsula and is bird sought after by the big birding groups who occasionally visit Bahrain where the species can be seen. Numbers in Saudi Arabia are much higher and easier to see, but visiting restrictions to the country make seeing them very difficult.
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Desert Lark
Desert Lark
Crested Lark

28 November 2012

Wet conditions – Dhahran Hills

The cool and wet weather has increased the water levels around the camp with the percolation pond flooded and overflowing into the surrounding areas by the side. This looks excellent for ducks and rails but is a bit disturbed; hopefully, it will attract some good birds. A few ducks have been around on the Percolation Pond recently with ten Northern Pintail, two Northern Shoveller, six Mallard and a single Eurasian Teal present. The settling pond is also almost full and the waders are using the concrete banks to feed along. Waders here in the last few days have included a single Green Sandpiper, four Wood Sandpipers, 60+ Little Stints, a Common Ringed Plover, three Dunlin, five Common Redshank, one Common Snipe and one Curlew Sandpiper which is the first bird of this species I have seen since the spring on the ‘patch’. The wet ditch had a single Green Sandpiper but looks good again for waders, and the spray fields had a really smart adult male Siberian Stonechat and 30+ White Wagtails. The three juvenile Greater Flamingos were not seen the day after they were found which was a pity, as they made an interesting sight on the settling pond.
Green Sandpiper
White Wagtail

27 November 2012

Spanish Sparrows & More (Tabuk) - Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson went birding again at his local wetland area at Tabuk last weekend and had a good number of birds including a flock of Spur-winged Plovers. This species is rare in the Eastern Province but is much commoner in the west and is even quite regular in the Riyadh area. All the birds shown here were photographed by Viv Wilson and his pictures of the Spanish Sparrows are particularly good in my opinion. He has kindly allowed me to use the photos on my website which is good as all these birds are scarce or rare in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I bird. I will have to plan a trip to Tabuk and go birding if possible with Viv one day as his local patch is very different to mine.
Spanish Sparrows
Spanish Sparrows
Little Egret (left) & Cattle Egret (right)
Black Kite
Long-legged buzzard

26 November 2012

A few waders at Five Fingers Bay - Bird records by Jessar Inocencia

Jessar Inocencio went out for birding in the morning of 22nd November 2012 together with fellow birder Delbert Harder at Five Fingers Bay (near the Khobar Water Treatment Plant) to check for some winter birds. They were only a few of them there and they saw 14 Large White-headed Gulls (mainly Steppe Gulls) which are lifers for Jessar. There were also one Common Redshank, one Common Ringed Plover, one Kentish Plover, five Indian Reef Herons with both Grey and white morph present, one Eurasian Hoppoe, five Crested Larks, and a number of Common Mynas and Doves. Jessar kindly allowed me to use some of his photos to go with this report which are shown below.
Common Redshank
Common Redshank
Common Ringed Plover
Common Ringed Plover

25 November 2012

Juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle (Tabuk) – Bird records by Viv Wilson

The Eastern Imperial Eagle is an uncommon winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with most records coming from the north of the country where they are generally seen inland rather than near the coast. The species breeds from Eastern Europe across Asia to China and winters in the Middle East, east Africa south to Tanzania, the Arabian Peninsula, India, and from Thailand to Korea. Viv Wilson saw a juvenile bird in Tabuk, which is inland, in the north-east of the Kingdom a couple of weekends ago and managed to get a few really good flight shots of the bird. Viv has kindly allowed me to reproduce his photos on my website shown below. Currently Eastern Imperial Eagle is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as it has a small global population and is likely to be undergoing continuing declines, primarily as a result of habitat loss and degradation, persecution and prey depletion.

24 November 2012

Three Greater Flamingos – Dhahran Hills

An e-mail from Phil Roberts, was luckily for me seen quite quickly, as it informed me he had found three Greater Flamingos on the settling pond. A quick change of plan allowed me to get into the field and I drove to the percolation pond as that is where I thought the e-mail said the birds were. The birds were not there and I was a little disappointed but decided to drive to the settling pond to see if they were there. On the way I met Phil who said they were still there, and this is in fact where he had said they were in the mail, but I was in too much of a rush to get out and obviously did not read it properly. Luckily they were still present and it appeared the birds were set to stay the night as it was quite late and they appeared to be settled. These are only the second records I know if Greater Flamingos in the camp are are a very welcome addition to my ‘patch’ list. The first record was a group of seven birds seen on the percolation pond some years ago. There were also a good number of waders on the settling pond including 35 Black-winged Stilts, 60+ Little Stints, 13 Common Redshank, one Marsh Sandpiper, four Wood Sandpiper, five Dunlin, three Common Ringed Plover and a Temminck’s Stint. The Percolation pond had six Gadwall (one male and five females), one Northern Shoveller and a Squacco Heron.
Greater Flamingo - juvenile
Greater Flamingo - juvenile

23 November 2012

Plenty of Little Grebes – Dhahran Hills

Winter is certainly here now and the late rising and early setting sun make birding before and after work difficult as not enough time is available to do the sites justice. It is still worth having a look as anything can turn up in Dhahran and I am still finding the occasional new species, for me at least. The pond is the best area to check as it holds the most birds and they can be seen relatively easily, so if anything is present there, even in a short period of time, you have a chance of seeing it. The majority of birds seen on the pond at the moment are Little Grebes and Eurasian Coot, both of which had good breeding seasons this year. There were 25 Eurasian Coots and 31 Little Grebes present along with 20+ Common Moorhens. An early morning trip to the percolation pond resulted in a single Greater Spotted Eagle, 15 Mallards, two Northern Shoveller and a flock of 35+ Cattle Egrets flying out of the reeds where they had spent the night roosting. Mallard is a very shy bird here in Saudi Arabia and is always the first duck to take flight when disturbed, which is very different to those I am used to seeing in the UK where they are very tame and sometimes even take bread out of your hand. The spray fields have a few pipits in them now with Red-throated Pipit, Tawny Pipit and water Pipit all present and the occasional Bluethroat also being seen.
Little Grebe

22 November 2012

Greater Hoopoe Lark - Abu Ali Island

I went on a trip to Abu Ali Island in the hope of finding Black-necked Grebes that have been seen previously in good numbers during the winter months in the area. Alas there were no grebes but a few interesting birds were seen. The island is probably one of the best places in the Eastern Province for seeing Greater Hoopoe Lark that are resident in the area and as normal I saw a number of birds whilst driving along the main road to the large pool area at the end of the island. Birds are very distinctive if they fly across the road and at one point I was able to stop the car and get a photograph of a bird, although not really showing its natural environment as it ran and stayed near to the tarmac road. Other birds seen in the scrubby desert areas of the island included Desert Wheatear, Tawny Pipits and Crested Larks. 
Greater Hoopoe Lark

 The large lake held very few birds with only a few Greater Flamingos and Slender-billed Gulls. A single Tern was present that appears to be a White-cheeked Tern in winter plumage. A scattering of waders, including Greater Sand Plover, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Dunlin and Little Stint were feeding along the dropping tide edge and Greater Cormorant and Indian Reef Heron were also present in numbers of >20. The only other bird of interest was an adult Heuglin’s Gull sitting on a small island in a large lake.
Greater Flamingos
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
Indian Reef Heron
Greater Sand Plover

21 November 2012

Greater Spotted Eagle with some fulvescens characteristics – Dhahran Hills

Early in the morning of 19th November, I went to the percolation pond to see if I could photograph an eagle I had seen in the dark the previous evening, perched in one of the trees. I had gone to the pond after dark the evening before to see if the Greater Spotted Eagles that have been around recently had come in to roost in the trees. I could only locate a single bird but it was sitting in a tree that would afford good photographic opportunities if the bird stayed until the light got better the following morning. On driving to the pond in the morning I could see the eagle still sitting in the same place but it was still dark when I arrived. I waited for the light to improve to take some photos but the bird flew off before the light had improved significantly. I did manage to get one reasonable shot before the bird departed but it was on a slow shutter speed and high ISO so is not pin-sharp. The photograph does show the difference between bird showing some characteristics of a fulvescens Greater Spotted Eagle and the normal type bird (photograph taken in the same tree in October 2012). This is not a real fulvescens bird as although its under-parts are good, albeit a bit darker than a typical fulvescens which has a milky tea colour, the upper-parts are normally coloured. In a true fulvescens the upper-wing coverts should also be very light, almost whitish, and there are no drop-marks anywhere on the plumage. This bird has now been around the Dhahran area for over a month and is a really beautiful bird – hopefully it will stay around and allow better photographic opportunities.

Greater Spotted Eagle showing some characteristics of fulvescens
Greater Spotted Eagle - juvenile

This eagle looks superficially like both a Tawny Eagle and an Eastern Imperial Eagle and shows that reasonable views of birds need to be obtained before positively identifying them. Tawny Eagle does not occur in the region with a distribution in Sub Saharan Africa and India. Eastern Imperial Eagle does occur as a winter visitor but is normally seen further north in the Dibdibah Plains area, although I have seen birds at Sabkhat Al Fasl. Dick Forsman mentioned to me pers comm that he estimated that only 2-3% of birds in Oman are of this form and it is very rare in Europe. They are, however, more common in the Middle East and clearly more common in Arabia than Israel or Egypt.

20 November 2012

Clamorous Reed Warblers still calling – Dhahran Hills

Clamorous Reed Warblers are common in the reed beds around the percolation pond and as the reeds have grown really well this year there seem to be more birds than usual. The species is mainly resident in the region but small scale local movements do occur to good wetland sites, so the pond has probably got a few more birds now than in the breeding season. Common Snipe are not easy to see on the ‘patch’ as there is quite a bit of cover, but if you can find an open wet area Common Snipe are often present at this time of year. Other good birds seen include the first Pallid Swift for many months flying over the percolation pond and a Western Marsh Harrier.
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Common Snipe

19 November 2012

Greater Spotted Eagle numbers increasing – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Unfortunately I was only able to go to Sabkhat Al Fasl on Friday as I was busy on Thursday. Friday is not a good day to go as there are too many Pilipino fishermen at the site who disturb much of the bird life. I got to the site just as it was becoming light and most of the Greater Spotted Eagles and Western Marsh Harriers were still roosting in the long grass and reeds. As it was early morning I was again able to get reasonably close to some of the birds. The Greater Spotted Eagles were mainly juveniles with only two adults seen out of at least fifteen birds. Fifteen is the highest single day count I have had at the site so far and this combined with the record numbers seen at Dhahran indicate the species has had a good breeding season and numbers are still increasing in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. 

18 November 2012

Relatively quiet – Sabkhat Al Fasl

As always the Western Marsh Harriers I saw at Sabkhat Al Fasl were almost all females although a really smart adult male was also seen which was the first one I have seen this winter. Apart from the Greater Spotted Eagles, the only other bird of prey seen was a single Western Osprey sitting on the new power lines with its catch of a Tilapia fish. Other interesting birds seen included three Common Chiffchaffs, one Daurian Shrike, two Bluethroats, several White Wagtails and 50+ Water Pipits. There were quite a few waders present on the flooded sabkha area with three Ruff, four Grey Plover, 34 Common Ringed Plover and hundreds of Dunlin and Little Stint. A flock of 250+ Greater Flamingos are now present and building up in numbers for the winter but I did not see any duck this time although Phil saw six Common Shelduck on 13th November in this area. Purple Swamphens and Squacco Herons were quite common and good numbers of Western Reef Herons were also in the wetter areas but otherwise things were relatively quiet.
Western Marsh Harrier
Purple Swamphen
Western Osprey
Daurian Shrike
Common Chiffchaff
Grey Plover

17 November 2012

Good numbers of pipits - Dhahran Hills

The 'patch' was devoid of all the good birds from yesterday with no sign of the five Greater Spotted Eagles or the two Ferruginous Ducks at the pond. The pond did have a couple of birds of prey with a single Western Osprey and one Eurasian Sparrowhawk present. The only other birds of interest on the pond were a Squacco Heron, one Great Crested Grebe, one Slender-billed Gull and three Mallards. The spray fields were quiet but I had really nice views in the late evening of a Corn Bunting at the side of the fields, which is an uncommon to scarce bird in the area. The best area recently has been the settling ponds where good numbers of waders have been present with one Common Greenshank, one Common Redshank, five Little Stints, four Wood Sandpipers and three Common Snipes. The rough area just outside the fence to the settling pond had 50+ Water Pipits and a Red-throated Pipit along with 10+ White Wagtails and the Water Pipits (at least 70) were seen going to roost in the reeds at the percolation pond in the late evening.
Water Pipit - A. s. coutelli

16 November 2012

Ferruginous Duck a new patch 'tick' - Dhahran Hills

A visit to the pond last night with my daughters produced a lot of good birds. We only stayed in the car and visited mainly the spray fields and percolation pond but ended up seeing some very good birds including a new species for me on the 'patch' Ferruginous Duck. There were quite a few duck on the pond with 12 Mallard, 14 Northern Shoveller and two Ferruginous Ducks. Ferruginous Duck was a common species on the pond thirty years ago with up to 50 being seen regularly but the species has declined in numbers and is now rare with these being the first birds seen since I have been here (two and a half years). Other good birds on the pond included a Squacco Heron, 22 Western Cattle Egrets, one Greater Cormorant and a Great Crested Grebe.  There were also five Greater Spotted Eagles in the trees at the edge of the pond with one adult and four first year birds including a first year fluvescens bird. This is easily the highest number I have seen together in Dhahran and is a good indication numbers are increasing in the area.
Ferruginous Duck

The photo above is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by Alessandro Musicorio. I was unable to photograph birds as I was with my daughters so have used this photograph.

The spray fields had a single female Desert Wheatear, one Siberian Stonechat and a single Tawny pipit and the wet ditch had a Grey Wagtail. The settling pond had a Spotted Redshank, a Marsh Sandpiper and five Wood Sandpipers and a Steppe Grey Shrike was sitting on top of a bush in the scrubby desert.

15 November 2012

Water Pipit & White Wagtail numbers building - Dhahran Hills

Birding the 'patch' in the last few days has produced quite a few sightings of Greater Spotted Eagles as well as Arabian Red Foxes. One evening, at last light, four greater Spotted Eagles were seen together in the trees surrounding the percolation pond of which they were all juveniles. One was a really smart vulvescens race bird with typical ginger plumage. This the easily the highest number of Greater Spotted Eagles I have seen at one time in Dhahran with the previous record being two. A single Eurasian Sparrowhawk has been seen hunting over the spray fields and pond in the last few days. The pond has been quiet with only Squacco Heron, two female Mallards, seven Great Cormorants, Gull-billed Tern and the Great Crested Grebe being of note. You know winter has arrived when the Great Cormorants start coming back to the percolation pond, where numbers will gradually build to thousands over the next few weeks. Large numbers of Water Pipits and White Wagtails are now in the spray fields and around the settling pond and wader numbers are really quite immersive on the settling pond. There were 11 Common Snipe, two Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, five Wood Sandpipers, 26 Little Stints & six Dunlin. Large roosts of White-eared Bulbul can also be seen in various trees in the camp where their calls give ten away.
Water Pipit
Common Snipe
White-eared Bulbul