31 January 2013

Common Greenshank – Dhahran Hills

The winter has been exceptional for Greater Spotted Eagles in and around Dhahran with a maximum count of five birds together. Having said this it is almost a month since I saw my last one, a juvenile. Whilst walking through the spray fields I saw three large birds of prey over the percolation pond, two were Western Marsh Harriers but a larger bird turned out to be an adult type Greater Spotted Eagle. It flew around a little following the Western Marsh Harriers and then settled on a bank before flying off and landing in the trees surrounding the pond. Adult birds are much less common than first year birds so this was a good sighting. The spray fields held little except two Siberian Stonechats and two Daurian Shrikes. Pipits were present with at least two Meadow Pipits and 30+ Water Pipits and Crested Lark was the only lark species seen despite a good look for Eurasian Skylark. The settling pond had Common Greenshank, two Common Redshanks and one Common Snipe and the percolation pond still had two Northern Shovellers, three Garganeys, two Eurasian Teals, thirteen Eurasian Wigeons and seven Gadwalls.
Common Greenshank
Crested Lark

30 January 2013

Common Stonechat S. t. rubicola – Dhahran Hills

There are a number of different races of Stonechat that occur in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and I photographed this male Stonechat in the spray fields a couple of days ago. The spray fields are a good area to see Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’ and at least two are currently present. Male Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’ are often striking, but things are complicated by the appearance of some brighter, more contrasting Continental Common Stonechats S. t. rubicola from the north (Continental Europe). Spring 'maurus' can still usually be identified by carefully looking at the rump and upper-tail covert pattern as well as the under-wing colour, the extent of the neck collar and breast and flank pattern (male 'maurus' has black axillaries and under-wing coverts and this subspecies probably never shows obviously dark-streaked flanks as shown by many rubicola). This bird although closely resembling 'maurus' seemed to fit Continental Common Stonechat 'rubicola' better as it had a broad white rump and upper-tail coverts with slight grey shaft-streaking and tips to some of these upper tail-coverts. It also had an orange breast with extensive white belly extending to the centre of the breast and white flanks and a large white neck patch, which are considered characters of S. t. rubicola (Walker 2001) (Urquhart 2002). Fine dark shaft-streaks on the rear flank just above the legs are a feature more commonly seen in S. t. rubicola than S. t. maurus. In flight, its large white shoulder patches and large area of white on the rump were obvious; however, the pure white part of the rump is somewhat restricted and does not extend onto the lower back, features fitting S. t. rubicola (Hellstrom & Waern 2011).

Hellstrom, M & Waern, M. 2011. Field identification and ageing of Siberian Stonechats in spring and summer. Brit. Birds 104: 5: 236-254.
Urquhart, E. 2002. Stonechats: a guide to the genus Saxicola. Christopher Helm, London.
Walker, D. 2001. Apparent Continental Stonechats in England. Birding World Vol. 14 No. 4: 156-158.

29 January 2013

Good numbers of Caspian Gulls – Abqaiq Landfill

At Abqiaq Landfill I saw about 50 Caspian Gulls which is the highest number of Caspian Gulls I have seen since I have been in Saudi Arabia. As the light was good, due to the cool north-westerly wind having cleared much of the dust out of the air, I managed to get a few decent photographs of birds in flight. It will be interesting to see if the number of Caspian Gulls build up in late winter or if they are birds arriving due to the cold weather? The normal numbers of Caspian Gulls I have seen so far are about 2% of the Large White-headed Gulls population but at Abqaiq last visit this had increased to about 5%.


28 January 2013

Steppe & Heuglin’s Gulls – Abqaiq Landfill

As the weather was still cold I went to Abqaiq Landfill again in the hope that something unusual may have turned up with all the gulls. Unfortunately this was not the case but the normal gulls were still present in large numbers. I went later in the day than the last two visits in the hope of seeing the birds on the ground and being able to photograph them. As soon as I got there I found a large group of Large White-headed Gulls (LWG) but they were in an area that was difficult to access. Eventually I found a route to where they were but they were very flighty and did not allow close approach. They did afford good flight views though as the sun was well up and the birds were flying overhead. I also managed to get ‘scope’ views of them on the ground. The breakdown of birds was 90% Steppe Gulls, 5% Caspian Gulls and 5% Heuglin’s Gulls. Total numbers were 1000+ LWG and 3000+ Common Black-headed Gulls with the only other bird of interest seen being a female Desert Wheatear.
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Heuglin's Gull

27 January 2013

Three species of Pipit – Dhahran Hills

The pipits are still present in good numbers around the edge of the settling pond in the early morning and late evening along with large numbers of White Wagtails. I have been spending a lot of time looking through them all in the hope of finding something different but so far have drawn a blank. I have been able to get a few decent photographs of the pipits though which are mainly Water Pipits with five Tawny Pipits and four Meadow Pipits. There are at least 100 White Wagtails as well, but agin nothing of note has been located amongst these birds either yet. There is still time and hope that this may change before the birds move off in the spring.
Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Tawny Pipit
Water Pipit

26 January 2013

Western Cattle Egrets – Dhahran Hills

The number of Western Cattle Egrets around the camp seems to have stabilized for the winter around the 100 bird mark. Good views can be had of the birds as they feed along the roadside grass verges finding insects in the soft ground after the grass has been watered. Many people in the camp have mentioned to me about the Western Cattle Egrets here and they are a popular bird with the residents who are interested in nature. The birds spend the evening roosting in the pharagmites reed-beds of the percolation pond where they arrive just before dark and leave just after first light. Good numbers of birds were first seen in the early 2000’s and have increased to toady’s numbers slowly over the last ten years. Other good birds seen on the camp over the last few days have included five Eurasian Teal and five Gadwall on the Percolation pond, and several waders still on the settling pond including new birds in the shape of Common Ringed Plover and Common Snipe. Quite a few Large White-headed Gulls are still using the percolation pond to bath in in the early morning and late evening, most of which are Steppe Gulls.

25 January 2013

Tufted Ducks a new Patch Tick – Dhahran Hills

Birding on 22nd January at the Patch was very rewarding with a group of 13 Tufted Ducks seen on the percolation pond. As I was arriving I saw a group of nine Tufted Duck fly in and land and when I got around to an area I could view there were 13 birds including three males. I had not seen Tufted Duck on the patch before so I was very happy, in fact it was a new bird for Saudi Arabia for me as well. They are scarce visitors to the region in the winter and Phil saw a couple last winter on the pond but I did not see them. Whilst looking at the Tufted Ducks through the telescope I also saw a male and a female Garganey  which is an unusual date to see them. They are very scarce in the winter in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Other duck included a female Eurasian Wigeon and seven Gadwalls. A small flock of 20+ Pallid Swift were over the pond in the late evening and a white morph Indian Reef Heron was a new bird for the year and the first one I have seen for some months on the pond. An adult Caspian Gull and four Adult Steppe Gulls flew over the pond. The settling pools had ten Black-winged Stilts, two Green Sandpipers, one Common Snipe and one Common Redshank.
Tufted Ducks
Steppe Gull - adult winter
Whilst walking around the Golf Course in Dhahran on Friday 18th January, I saw four Crested Honey Buzzards in the air together. One was a male, one female and two juveniles and at least one appeared to go to roost in the trees in the center of the Golf Course as it got dark. I have seen quite a few Crested Honey Buzzards in Dhahran since I have been here but never four together, so this was quite a sight a see. As I was out with the family I did not have my camera with me so was unable to get any photographs, but hopefully, the birds will stay about and allow photographs to be taken at a later date. 

24 January 2013

Clamorous Reed Warblers – Alba Marsh

At the weekend we caught six Clamorous Reed Warblers all of which were re-traps. All birds had been ringed originally at the same site with two birds caught in winter 2011, the earliest one on 8th February 2011. This shows that birds are site faithful and that the Marsh is a suitable place for quite a few wintering/breeding pairs of birds. One thing we noticed was the eye colour on the older birds was orange compared to the dark brown of the younger birds (birds aged through re-trap data). This may be a good way of aging birds if it remains constant – we will keep a check on this to see if it is an age related occurrence or not.

23 January 2013

Ringing at Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

Nicole and I went ringing again at Alba Marsh very early in the morning. This was our first ringing trip for a month as I was away for Christmas and we were interested to see what had changed. We got to the site before sunrise and set up all five of our nets. One in a new area across some water with tamarisk scrub nearby. This net caught three birds including Water Pipit, Clamorous Reed Warbler and Bluethroat and looks like a reasonable place to set the net. Although there was not too much bid activity we caught 13 birds of five species with the addition to the above of Common Chiffchaff and Common Kingfisher. Nine birds were re-traps including six Clamorous Reed Warblers (see tomorrow post for more details), two Bluethroats and one Common Kingfisher. The Common Kingfisher is obviously wintering in the area as it was originally caught 5th October 2012, as are the Bluethroats, one of which was caught almost a year to the day ago showing they use the same sites to winter year after year. The only other birds caught were a single Common Chiffchaff and two Water Pipits of the race coutelli
Common kingfisher - female
Common kingfisher - female
Common kingfisher - female
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male
Red-spotted Bluethroat - male
Bluethroat - female
Bluethroat - female
Water Pipit - A. s. coutelli
Water Pipit - A. s. coutelli

22 January 2013

Bluethroat – Dhahran Hills

Although Bluethroat is not a common bird everywhere in the Eastern Province it occurs at many sites in good numbers if the habitat is correct and is a common passage migrant and winter visitor. They like reed beds and rank vegetation, mainly near water and generally occur from late August to early May. Birds seen in late August and early September as well as April and May are almost certainly passage birds. Most birds seen are of the Red-spotted variety although White-spotted birds also occur in very small numbers, with only adult males in full breeding plumage being safely assigned to race. Whilst birding the ‘patch’ the last few days good numbers of Bluethroats have been seen around the percolation pond and in the spray fields as the water levels are high. Excess water is being sprayed on the spray fields and small pools have formed outside the perimeter fence of the pond. This is ideal habitat for Bluethroat and good views can sometimes be obtained, with good photograph opportunities occasionally presenting themselves as was the case with the bird below, which allowed approach to a few of metres.