07 December 2012

Steppe Gulls – Al Khobar Corniche

An early morning trip to the seafront along the cornice looking for gulls and waders started off fairly poorly. The seafront was very busy with fishermen, even though it was first light, and there seemed little chance of finding any groups of waders or Gulls. I decided to drive further down the cornice to go the Five Fingers area where Jessar had seen gulls and waders previously. One the way there I noticed a few Black-headed Gulls in a small puddle left by the recent rain so turned the car around to have a look. When I got back to the area there were quite a large number of Large White-headed Gulls sitting on a recently excavated area near to the coast. I stopped and had a good look at the birds as they were reasonably close and I am in need to getting to know these birds better. After looking through the birds carefully using the telescope I identified 80+ Steppe Gulls, 17 Heuglin’s Gulls, nine Caspian Gulls and a single Armenian Gull. Now I have found this area where good views can be obtained I will be going back over the winter to allow me to get better views and sharpen up on my identification skills. This is the first site I have found in Saudi Arabia where I have been able to get good views of the Large White-headed Gulls since I have been in the country and I am very pleased to have found it. As I have already mentioned 80+ were Steppe Gulls Larus barabensis and my current thinking is that approximately 75% of the white-headed gulls in Saudi Arabia are Steppe Gulls which is close to the percentage seen in the Al Khobar Corniche flock. They are a common passage migrant and winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and start arriving from mid-August onwards, as they leave their steppe breeding grounds in early August. Numbers build up to reach a peak in November and December and most birds have generally departed by March. They remain largely white-headed in winter which is a feature more of the southern taxa than the northern ones but are currently included with Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (polytypic, including fuscus, intermedius, graellsii, heuglini, taimyrensis, barabensis). Steppe Gull has a breeding range from western Siberia - Steppes of north Kazakhstan and they winter mainly in the Persian Gulf.