30 June 2013

Two different Arabian Red Foxes – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the Dhahran Hills area the last few days I have had a number of sightings of Arabian Red Fox, and on one day I had two separate sightings of two different animals. One was a lot less nervous than the other and just sat and watched me for a while until a dog walker came within range and the fox fled. The second fox was much more timid and although I got reasonably close to it, as it did not see me, as soon as it did it darted into the bushes and was not seen again. It has been a good year for seeing Arabian Red Fox this year and I have had some good views as well. I know some people do not like foxes but I am always happy when I see one and even happier if I can get a photograph as well.

29 June 2013

Ringing Terns – Al Jarrim Island South (Bahrain)

A very early, 02:30 hrs, start from Saudi Arabia for a day’s ringing on Al Jarrim Island South meant we were able to board Ali’s boat at Bahrain Boat Club just after 04:00 hrs for the one-hour journey to the islands. You need Coast Guard permission to go out to these islands so after calling into the Coast Guard boat and having our documents checked we set off again and arrived at 05:00 hrs on the southernmost island. This is ideal timing as it is just getting light and the temperatures are significantly lower (32 Degrees Celsius compared to 42 Degrees Celsius) than later in the day. We ringed until 11:30 hrs when we used all the rings and left for the main island of Bahrain. Ali’s boat is a very fast fishing boat with two 200 HP two stroke engines so although thirsty on fuel, is quick. The aim of the day was to ring Lesser Crested Tern chicks and although quite early in the breeding season was the only weekend we could go due to other commitments and Ramadan starting on 9 July. We had a very good team this year with Nicole, Clem (a new helper), Ali, Ahmed, Mahmoud, Ali and I.
Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern
The Al Jarrim Islands are three man made islands north of Bahrain (see map below). They are good for breeding seabirds as they are small, low-lying and relatively undisturbed. We have ringed previously on the middle and south islands, with the south island having the biggest concentration of Lesser Crested Tern nests as well as plenty of Bridled Terns. As we could only go once this year we chose to go to the South Island again.

When we got to the island we could not see many Lesser Crested Terns but after disembarking the boat and setting up camp, which comprised a large umbrella, to keep the sun off us and the birds, as well as the cool boxes with water and food and all the baskets and blankets for keeping the birds in and out of the direct sun, we could 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, which was made out of bamboo sticks and garden netting. The corral was set up so we could close the opening to contain the tern chicks and had the bottom of the netting covered in sand to stop the birds escaping underneath the net. Here would could take them out and place them in baskets and move them up to the ringing station for ringing. At the ringing station the birds were kept under cover and in the shade until they were processed and we did not catch too many together to ensure they were kept for a minimum amount of time. The birds are incredibly tough and spend the entire day out in the direct sunlight, where they form large groups of 500+ chicks where they are fed fish by their parents.
Lesser Crested Tern
By the end of the session we had ringed 743 birds, with 143 Bridled Tern chicks and 600 Lesser Crested Tern chicks of which I ringed 100 Bridled Terns and 243 Lesser Crested Terns. This now annual ringing session to the islands is a great day out, although very tiring, with everyone concerned enjoying themselves. It is certainly an experience that not many people can, or will, have and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to go and ring there. Finally none of this could happen without the use of Ali’s boat and his skill and knowledge as a boatman, and to him and is nephew Ali I am very greatful.

28 June 2013

Plenty of Namaqua Doves – Dhahran Hills

The spray fields have not been visited too much recently due to spraying and the extremely strong winds that have been blowing almost continuously for two weeks now. Today, although it was still windy, I went for a walk across the fields and found plenty of Namaqua Doves in with the 50+ Collared Doves. Almost all the 13 Namaqua Doves were males with only three females seen. This is the highest count in the same place I have seen in Dhahran and hope it shows signs a good breeding season may be taking place. I have not seen any juveniles yet to confirm breeding has occurred but it is still a little early for this.
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
A small wet patch in the spray fields was a major attraction for the birds with plenty of Common Mynas, three Black-winged Stilts and a single Kentish Plover present. The percolation pond had 14 Little Terns including at least one juvenile, and with the water levels of the pond dropping significantly over recent days and plenty of Black-winged Stilts are using the new dried up edges for resting. The Great Crested Grebe also put in a reappearance, after being missing for two weeks which was a welcome sight.
Kentish Plover
Great Crested Grebe

27 June 2013

Increasing numbers of waders - Sabkhat Al Fasl

My weekly early morning trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl meant picking Phil up at 04:45 hrs for the early drive to the site. Going early means less traffic, which is a bonus as driving in Saudi Arabia is very dangerous, and good light for photography when we arrive at the location. The problem with the summer is that few bids are about. The drive into the site, which produced a good number of birds in the spring had nothing and it was not until we got to the concrete bunded area that we saw the first good birds. Here a single Pallid Swift was flying about, which is an unusual summer record although birds do nest in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia occasionally. A second calendar year Black-headed Gull in worn winter type plumage was also seen in this area. Very little else was seen here except for a couple of adult Purple Swamphens and an unusual summer record of a female/immature Western Marsh Harrier. Western Marsh Harrier is an uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia but good numbers are seen at Sabkhat Al Fasl in the winter period with 15+ regularly seen. Summer records are rare making this a very unusual sighting.
Purple Swamphen
Moving around the site, little was noted except a good number of Clamorous Reed Warblers and European Reed Warblers singing from the reed beds. At least ten Barn Swallow and five Sand Martins were hawking insects over the reeds and a few Little Grebes including relatively well-grown young were seen.
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Little Grebe - juvenile
Waders had increased significantly from the previous weekend and plenty of Kentish Plovers and Black-winged stilts were still around including young of both species. Other less usual waders for this time of year included one adult Dunlin, 25 Curlew Sandpipers, one Ruddy Turnstone, 25 Terek Sandpipers and seven Greater Sand Plovers.
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt - juvenile
Dunlin - adult
Curlew Sandpiper
The only other birds of note were the terns, herons and Flamingos with plenty of White-cheeked Terns and Little Terns including juveniles of the latter species. Seven Gull-billed Terns and two White-winged terns in full summer plumage were also seen. Herons comprised 20+ Squacco Herons, which surely must breed at this site? And 20+ Indian Reef Herons of both colour morphs. The white colour morph probably outnumbers the grey morph by about ten to one. The over-summering flock of Greater Flamingos still remained with well over 300 birds present, comprising about half adults and half juveniles.
White-winged Tern - adult summer
Indian Reef Herons
Indian Reef Heron
Greater Flamingos

26 June 2013

Egyptian Vulture & Sinai Rosefinch (Bajda) – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson was out in the desert again last weekend at Bajda near Tabuk and found a number of good birds including Egyptian Vulture and Sinai Rosefinch. All the photographs below were kindly supplied by Viv Wilson and the copyright remains with him. I have not seen either of these species in Saudi Arabia as they are scarce or absent from the region I birdwatch. The Egyptian Vulture is a widespread breeding resident, migrant and winter visitor to Saudi Arabia. It is uncommon in the Eastern Province and does not occur in the large deserts of the Empty Quarter and Great Nafud. Its population and range are both declining in Saudi Arabia with the mainland population probably only about 10% of what it was 50 years ago.
Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture

The Sinai Rosefinch has a disjointed distribution with the nominate subspecies found in the northwest of Saudi Arabia. It can be locally common in its breeding range but is generally uncommon although widespread, with about 5000 pairs in total in Saudi Arabia. It is associated with Sandstone geology where it frequents gorges and cliff faces, although it can be found on the plains in small groups after the breeding season.
Sinai Rosefinch
Sinai Rosefinch
Sinai Rosefinch
Sinai Rosefinch

25 June 2013

First returning Waders – Dhahran Hills

The first returning waders are now starting to pass through Dhahran with some having bred nearby and other returning from distant breeding areas. The wet ditch at the edge of the scrubby desert is often good for waders but I haven not seen a decent bird on this ditch for a couple of months. Yesterday I saw three species of wader here with two juvenile Black-winged Stilts, one Green Sandpiper and a juvenile Little Ringed Plover.
Black-winged Stint - juvenile
Black-winged Stint - juvenile
Black-winged Stint - juvenile
Green Sandpiper
Little Ringed Plover - juvenile

Well over 100 more Black-winged Stilts were on the settling pond and percolation pond with 50+ Kentish Plovers in the same places. Two Kentish Plovers that have well grown young were on the sand at the edge of the settling pond allowing close views and a few photographs to be taken. Other interesting birds seen included an adult European Turtle Dove in the trees around the percolation and a Gull-billed Tern on the percolation pond along with four Little Terns.
Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover

24 June 2013

Ferruginous Ducks – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the local ‘patch’ on Saturday I found a pair, male and female, Ferruginous Ducks. This is an unusual summer record for Dhahran, although the species did breed here in the past. I have seen the species once before here but it was on 15 November 2012, a more typical date. The Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN 2013 Red Data List due to the species range fluctuating considerably from year to year, particularly in Asia. There have been rapid declines in Europe, but evidence of declines in the Asian populations is sparse. The current global population is estimated at c.163,000-257,000 individuals. They breed principally in South-western Asia (east to China and south to Pakistan and India), Central and Eastern Europe, and North Africa. The wintering range overlaps with the breeding range and extends to the Middle East, North-east and West Africa and South-East Asia. Below are a few record shots of the birds.

In Saudi Arabia, the Ferruginous Duck is primarily a winter visitor occurring from September to April, although the species has also been recorded breeding, mainly in the Eastern Province, but also near Riyadh, on the western coast near the Red Sea and in the extreme north-west. Birds are seen on wetlands and are often difficult to locate as they are very adept at hiding in the reeds and other vegetation and rarely come out of hiding to open water areas.
In the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia breeding of this bird was first confirmed from Abqaiq in 1983 followed by Al-Hasa lagoons incuding Al Asfar Lake where 10 breeding pairs were noted in 1983 and the species bred regularly around that time. A count of 150 birds, mostly males was once reported in July near Dhahran, at a site where a female and ducklings had been recorded on the same day and 87 birds were recorded at Abqaiq in September. The Atlas of Breeding birds of Arabia states that there might be 100 breeding pairs in the Eastern Province.

23 June 2013

Summer Greater Sand Plovers – Sabkhat Al Fasl

The Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultia is a common passage migrant and winter visitor to the coast of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia very few of which some over-summer. The sub-species that occur in the Eastern Province are C. l. crassirostris although C. l. columbinus occurs in the northern Arabian Gulf to Tarut Bay. The peak winter count is from Tarut Bay and concerned 900 birds in 1991 – 1992 with the highest count from Sabkhat being 430 birds seen in the winter. Returning birds generally arrive in early July but this year there have been quite a few birds in June, which is quite early, although they may be over-summering birds? The highest number seen in summer was seen on Thursday when seven birds were located, including one in summer plumage, at Sabkhat Al Fasl along the edge of the flooded Sabkha. Three of these birds are shown below. This area is now looking more attractive to waders as it has dried out considerably and large expanses of mud are available for birds to feed on. When seen side by side with Kentish Plovers, the large size and bull-headed nature of the Greater Sand Plover can easily be seen.

22 June 2013

Yellow-bellied House Gecko – Dhahran Hills

My daughters found a Yellow-bellied House Gecko Hemidactylus flaviviridis in the upstairs bathroom of our house last night and called me to see it. It was a small Gecko, measuring only about 15 centimetres long including the tail. I managed to catch it and took a few photographs before releasing it on the outside of our house. They occur through parts of the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia as well as Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and Somalia and can vary their body colour depending on the time of day, being greyish, olive or brown, patterned with indistinct bands on the back and yellowish on the underside. During the day, the gecko is usually much darker in colour, with contrasting, chevron-shaped bands on the body with the toes having broad pads and small claws. They are associated with man-made structures such as houses, but during the day, they retreat to undisturbed crevices and other such hiding places coming out at night to feed primarily on insects. They can climb vertical walls and walk on ceilings which is achieved by having specialised toe pads, which are covered in small scales called ‘scansors’ which can have up to 150,000 microscopic, highly branched, hair-like structures, known as setae, which form hundreds of saucer-shaped ‘end plates’. This gives the Gecko an enormous surface area in relation to its body size, enabling it to grip all kinds of surfaces. This species of Gecko has particularly large and sensitive eyes, with pupils which open-wide at night to let in maximum amounts of light, giving it excellent vision in the dark. The pupils contract to vertical slits during the day to protect the retina from harsh sunlight, while the eyelids are fused to form a transparent cover for additional protection. Any dust or debris in the eye is licked away by the gecko’s extremely mobile tongue, which must have been useful recently as the weather has been very windy causing large amounts of dust to be blowing around.

21 June 2013

Common Black-headed Gull – Dhahran Hills

The Common Black-headed Gull is an abundant passage migrant and winter visitor but summer records of the species are scarce. I was thus quite surprised when I found one sitting in amongst the terns and waders on the percolation pond last night. The bird was an adult in quite worn plumage as is normal with any of the gulls that stay the summer in the region. This is the first time I have seen the species in June on the ‘patch’, which I am very pleased about (the photograph below is not the bird seen yesterday but one seen a month ago in the same place). The waders that were with the Common Black-headed Gull were 125 Black-winged Stilts, a significant increase in numbers over recent days and 30+ Kentish Plovers. The Little Tern numbers had also built up to 22 birds, easily the highest number I have seen on the ‘patch’. The only other interesting birds I saw were several Graceful Prinia singing from the reed stems and scrub next to the pond.
Black-headed Gull
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
The settling pond had three calling Clamorous Reed Warblers in the small reed bed there and 22 Black-winged Stilts and six Kentish Plover. A female Common Kestrel was sitting on the surrounding fence, which is the first time I have seen the species for several months. The great thing about doing a local ‘patch’ is that although I did not see any scarce or unusual birds I was very happy with my birding as I saw a Common Black-headed Gull for the first time in June, the largest group of Little Terns I have seen to date and the first Common Kestrel for several months. These birds would have meant significantly less if I had seen them away from my regular birding spot.