02 July 2013

Birding Article in Saudi Aramco International Dimensions Magazine

The Spring 2013 Saudi Aramco International Dimensions Magazine has an article about me and my website. Saudi Aramco, the company I work for in Saudi Arabia, approached me to write the below article to talk about birdwatching in Dhahran. I agreed as I hope it will spread interest amongst the many Saudi families and others that read the magazine.

Many people look at the desert landscape that comprises much of Saudi Arabia and assume there is not much wildlife to be found in
the Kingdom. As Dhahran’s local bird watcher Jeremy Babbington knows, that assumption couldn’t be further from
the truth. With more than 40 years
of birding experience, Jeremy knows that the Eastern Province is rich with a variety of birds and other wildlife, and he shares that knowledge through his Birds of Saudi Arabia website: (http://www.birdsofsaudiarabia.com). Jeremy updates the site daily to
chronicle the birds and wildlife he sees
here in Dhahran and in other locations
throughout the Eastern Province, and his
efforts have been a hit with the bird watching and naturalist community since the website debuted in May 2011. It now attracts as many as 700 visitors daily.

Growing up near London, Jeremy says he did not get much exposure to wildlife or nature as a child. But a trip with a teacher to a local reservoir to look at birds ignited within him a lifelong passion for bird watching. Jeremy says that he as a child with boundless curiosity. “If I saw something, I had to know what it was, I wanted to know all about it, and that included birds,” he said. After that first bird-watching expedition, Jeremy got a paper delivery route, and the first purchase he made with the money he earned was a pair of binoculars to use for birding. Throughout his school years and while at university, Jeremy studied birds and the art of bird watching. This passion to see and document unique birds has taken him to more than 50 countries, including Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, the Galapagos Islands and most countries in South

In the past two years, Jeremy has observed 186 bird species within the Dhahran compound, and he says that there are more than 375 different species of birds within the Eastern Province. Jeremy’s “local patch” - birding lingo for the area a bird watcher frequents most commonly - is the local retention pond and
the surrounding spray fields. This area, and in fact, the entire compound, is very attractive to birds and wildlife because of the extensive landscaping and water supply. “There is a lot of wildlife and birds that you would never believe are here,” Jeremy said. Because of Dhahran’s location near the Arabian Gulf, land and sea birds alike can be found on the compound. Another reason this area boasts such a wide variety of species is that three major migration pathways all overlap in Saudi Arabia, which brings more than 3 billion birds through the Kingdom during every migratory season.

Jeremy’s specific focus when bird watching is to look for rare birds that have never before been seen in Saudi Arabia, the Eastern Province or within the community. He explains that birds can appear in areas in which they have never previously been because of a variety of causes, such as getting pushed off course by a storm or by simply making a navigational error while migrating. Birds that he has recorded here in the Eastern Province that have not been seen here previously, or have only been seen very rarely include the Black-winged Kite as well as a Black Stork. “The birds found here are changing all the time,” Jeremy said, noting birds that were once rare in the Eastern Province, such as the Western Cattle Egret and the Common Myna, are now common and seen regularly.

All of these birds are documented and written about on his website. Jeremy spent several months learning how to build the website before taking it live. He explains that his ultimate goal is to inspire more people to take an interest in nature. Jeremy believes that when people, and especially children, are exposed to nature, they will grow to respect the environment and take an interest in conservation. “This desert habitat is very fragile, and we must respect and protect it,” he adds. Visitors to Jeremy’s Birds of Saudi Arabia website can enjoy the numerous photographs he shares of the birds and other animals, such as foxes, snakes, dolphins and more, living in the wild here in the Kingdom. If visitors are inspired by the thrilling footage to take up bird watching themselves, Jeremy advises, “Bird watching is a great hobby; you get to be outside in the country with the fresh air. It’s good exercise, too. You pick up a lot of knowledge, and while it takes some effort, the payback is definitely worth it.