31 October 2013

Eastern Mourning Wheatear new ‘patch’ species – Dhahran Hills

The Eastern Mourning Wheatear is an uncommon winter visitor to the deserts and rock outcrops of Central Arabia and the Gulf. In the Eastern Province it is normally seen around rock outcrops along the edge of the Shedgum escarpment and in northern jebel areas such as Jebel Nayriyyah. I have not seen one in Dhahran before and am not sure if anyone has seen one previously? It is not too surprising that one has occurred and but was behaving typically by spending all its time on the rocks and boulders, flying between them as is typical. Hopefully the bird will stay bout all winter in this area. This was a new species for the ‘patch’ and was my 199 species. What was most surprising about getting a new species is the fact it has been so quiet for migrants recently, but it shows if you stick at it you can turn u something interesting. This is what local patch birding is all about and gives me a lot more pleasure than seeing a new species in Saudi Arabia as a whole, although obviously this is also very enjoyable. The bird was only seen last thing in the evening on the way back from the spray fields across the scrubby desert area, so the photo is not very good due to poor light, handholding the big 600mm lens and distance from the bird, as I was on foot.

30 October 2013

Arabian Red Fox in the late evening – Dhahran Hills

The Arabian Red Foxes are still about in the same area of the camp but still only really showing in the late evening or at night when taking photos is difficult or impossible. I saw one the other night at 04:00 hrs on the way back to its normal area whilst setting off to go ringing in Bahrain. It is not unusual to see the foxes running though the desert/scrub areas after dark, particularly in the very early hours of the morning when hardly anyone is about. The photos below were taken at very close range without any crop to the pictures but were taken late in the evening on a very dusty day so are not as good as they could have been. It is still really amazing in my eyes to get so close to these animals and enjoy superb views even if the light is not perfect.

29 October 2013

An interesting heron – Sabkhat Al Fasl

I took a photo of an interesting heron in the spring at Sabkhat Al Fasl, which unfortunately flew off before I could take anymore and then forgot all about it until I looked through my photos again a week or so ago. The bird looks very dark on the back and almost maroon in colour, especially when compared to the Squacco heron in front, features for Indian Pond Heron. The trouble with the bird is it has rather thin and broken streaking on the head and neck rather than broad and dark and the breast is white whereas on Indian Pond Heron it should be more streaked. There is also often a very obvious dark line across the lores on Indian Pond Heron, which this bird hints at, but is probably not quite prominent enough? Also the bill shape does not look quite right and should be more blunt tipped. Although the bird superficially looks like an Indian Pond Heron, there are too many points that do not fit perfectly making me think it is probably not one. Anyone with any thoughts on this bird, please feel free to comment.

28 October 2013

Greater Spotted Eagles – Dhahran Hills

After a very poor winter and spring for birds of prey in the camp I have seen quite a few in recent weeks including Steppe Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier and today two Greater Spotted Eagles. Greater Spotted Eagles are the commonest of the large birds of prey in the camp but they are far from common. They are often seen in the trees around the percolation pond and even though there is no water in the pond these two birds were in the same place.

There were not too many other birds around of interest except three Ruff, several White Wagtails and a Garganey.

27 October 2013

Some good birds ringing at Alba Marsh – Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

An early morning ringing trip to Alba Marsh in Bahrain produced a few good birds for us. We caught slowly but steadily and ended up with 15 species of bird which is quite good for us. I know this is a laughably small amount for most ringers but we have limited places with permission to ring so beggers cannot be choosers as they say. We do catch good number of species, however, and out of the 15 birds we caught ten different species. Birds included Common Kingfisher, which was a new ringing species for Bahrain last autumn but which we have caught ten birds now. We re-caught a Clamorous Reed Warbler from two years ago (25/11/2011), ringed at the same site, and the Eurasian Wryneck ringed on 28 September. The Wryneck was caught in exactly the same net and had increased in weight from 36.2 grams to 45.1 grams an encouraging sign for the bird.
Common Kingfisher
Eurasian Wryneck
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler

Other birds caught included several more Clamorous Reed Warblers, Eurasian Reed Warbler, two Bluethroats including one Red-spotted male and a first year female, Great Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Savi’s Warbler and two Turkestan Shrikes the first shrikes we have caught this autumn. The shrikes were side by side in the same net so I suspect they had been chasing each other and both ended up in the net at the same time.
European Reed Warbler
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Sedge Warbler

26 October 2013

Trip report to South-west Saudi Arabia for free download

I have written a 51 page trip of my trip to the South-west of Saudi Arabia that I took 30 June to 6 July 2013. The report has all the details of the trip, itinerary, accommodation, car hire, timing, visa details, money, safety, locations and species seen. This report is available for free download at the below link highlighted in Red. I hope the report is of value to you and please feel free to disseminate it as you feel is appropriate.

We birded dawn to after dusk every day, with the trip proving to be highly successful with 134 species seen in the six days, including seven out of the ten Arabian endemic species - Arabian Serin, Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Partridge and Yemen Linnet, plus the Asir race of European Magpie. I saw 38 species that were new for me in Saudi Arabia on this trip taking my Saudi Arabia species list to over 300 species. We missed a couple of species that we thought we might see including the Arabian endemic Arabian Waxbill, which may have moved to higher elevations due to the mid-summer heat and Abdim’s Stork that was breeding two months previously but had also moved off from its normal areas. We also failed to find either of the Arabian endemics, Arabian Serin and Philby’s Partridge whilst in the Abha area.

25 October 2013

Satellite Tagged Baltic Gull from Sweden in SW Saudi Arabia (Jizan) – Data supplied by Per Hansson

An adult female Lesser Black-backed Gull (Baltic Gull) Larus fuscus fuscus was ringed earlier this year in Umea, Sweden at her breeding habitat, an archipelago with brackish water outside the Ume River Delta "Holmsunds skärgård". She was fitted with a satellite transmitter to record her movements and named Laura. The route Laura has used is shown on the map below and until now she has visited (or passed) the following countries outside Sweden: Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia (Kaliningrad), Poland, Estonia, (Belarus), (Ukraine), (Moldovia), Turkey, (Cyprus), Israel and Saudi Arabia. She passed the Turkish mountains at 1590 metres above sea level and her highest speed has been 94 kilometres per hour. She passed through Europe in two days with only one stop over at the Black Sea coast of Turkey. Laura took just a short rest after reaching the Red Sea coast and continued her flight along the western coast of Saudi Arabia passing Jeddah before heading on to Jizan. Laura arrived in Jizan Province (Al Sehi) on 21 September and has remained in the same location since indicating this may be her wintering ground? Many Baltic Gulls winter in this area and it will be interesting to see her movements.
Laura's Route
Baltic Gull - Photo curtesy of Rob Tovey

 Help is needed by the ringing team to contact some local people from Jizan, and hopefully a photographer who can take a picture of her or the flock she joins. The point of the project to connect people who are inspired by birds. If you can help with this matter please contact me (see details under Contact Me Tab at top of this page). I would like to thank Per Hansson for informing me of this bird and its location.

24 October 2013

The first returning Water Pipits of the winter – Dhahran Hills

The Western White Stork has not been seen for three days now so may have moved off to pastures new. It is possible it has changed locations and is still about but I have not seen it. The field where it was present had a single Water Pipit on it, which was the first returning bird I have seen. They are common winter visitors to the Eastern Province but they normally return in early November. Two more Water Pipits were found on the rough ground near the spray fields. Other returning wintering birds that are now increasing in numbers are White Wagtails. There are now well into double figures of these birds including adult male, female and juveniles. Yellow Wagtail numbers remain high with 25+ birds in a small flock by the settling pond. The pond had two Garganey, one female Northern Pintail, 15 Ruff and six Little Stints. A Curlew Sandpiper was in a wet field with a Green Sandpiper and a large Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew over low hunting for small birds.
Water Pipit
Curlew Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper

23 October 2013

A Wader Flock – Dhahran Hills

With the percolation pond still drained of water the only real wet area on the camp is now the settling pond. This is attracting a lot of birds now and today had a big flock of waders. There were 27 Black-winged Stilts, 11 Ruff, five Common Snipes, four Curlew Sandpipers, three little Stints, one Bar-tailed Godwit and one Common Sandpiper. A wet field had three Wood Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper making up a good selection of waders for the ‘patch’. The Bar-tailed Godwit was a first for the year for the 'patch' for me and although the light was poor by the time I found it, gave reasonably good views. The settling pond also had three Garganey and three Little Grebes as well as a big mixed flock of 50+ Yellow Wagtails and White Wagtails with Yellow outnumbering White by about five to one. Despite looking on most of the bushes the best I could come up with was a Turkestan Shrike and a Spotted Flycatcher.
Wood Sandpiper
Bar-tailed Godwit
Yellow Wagtail
Turkestan Shrike

22 October 2013

A small influx of Yellow Wagtails – Dhahran Hills

The weather yesterday was windy and dusty with poor light in the evening so photography was difficult. There were a few birds about including a small influx of Yellow Wagtails most of which were beema types. Yellow Wagtails passed in good numbers a month ago but numbers have dropped off and this is a small second wave coming through. The birds were feeding around the sandy area by the settling pond and with them were a good selection of waders. These included at least elven Ruff, seven Kentish Plover, ten Little Stints and five Black-winged Stilts. Five Little Grebes were on the water as well as a female Northern Pintail and female Garganey both new birds on the patch this autumn for me.
Yellow Wagtial
Little Stint

The spray fields had virtually nothing but a fine adult male Eurasian Hobby was sitting on the ground at the edge before flying off prior to me getting my camera on it. The wet fields and ditch had three Black-winged Stilts and three Green Sandpipers.
Black-winged Stilts
Green Sandpiper

21 October 2013

Western White Stork becoming more tame – Dhahran Hills

The Western White Stork is still showing well on the football pitch at Dhahran Hills and is now becoming more used to people. When I first found the bird on 17 September 2013 it was quite flighty and nervous and would fly off when anyone got to within about 50 metres of it. Over time it has become more used to people and now obviously feels safer in the area. Recently I got to within about ten metres of the bird and it showed no signs of being afraid and just kept on feeding on the grassy field. Luckily for the Stork the camp is a very safe area and no shooting is allowed, so as long as it stays in this area it will have no problems. The issue is if it moves away from here and thinks things will be the same outside it is in for a shock, as hunting goes on in many areas of Saudi Arabia and I would imagine a bird like this would attract attention and be a high priority for the hunters. It would be great if the bird stayed all winter, as this has happened once before in the Eastern province, but it is more likely the bird will continue on its migration to Africa.

20 October 2013

Arabian Red Fox again – Dhahran Hills

The Arabian Red Fox has been seen quite a few times over the last six months and occasionally gives very good views. Unfortunately for taking photographs this tends to be when it is getting dark so the pictures are not as good as they could be. Yesterday I saw one out a bit earlier than normal and managed to take a couple of quick photographs in sunlight before it ran off and disappeared. These photographs show the colour of the animal better than the ones taken later in the day. This is the same species of fox as the one that lives in the United Kingdom although it looks very different. The main difference is the large ears of the Arabian Red Fox which are used to dissipate heat as well as listen for prey.

19 October 2013

Possible breeding of Great Reed Warbler a first for Bahrain – Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

On Saturday 12 October 2013 Nicole and I caught a very young Great Reed Warbler at Alba Marsh in Bahrain. The bird had a patch on the belly indicating it was just out of the nest as well as a fairly obvious yellow gape (see photographs below). Due to these reasons we initially thought the bird was a Clamorous Reed Warbler as they breed in Bahrain at Alba Marsh but after taking wing measurements it became apparent the bird was a Great Reed Warbler. We also caught three other Great Reed Warblers on the same day including adult birds. The fact the bird was so young suggests it may have bred at the site, which, as far as I know, would be a first occurrence for Bahrain. Bill measurements as well as all other ringing data also confirmed the bird was a Great Reed Warbler rather than a Clamorous Reed Warbler. Great Reed Warbler has bred in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as well as in Kuwait but most records refer to birds breeding in the summer months. They breed from April to August in northern Europe, but during the winter in parts of Africa so it is possible they could breed much later than August in Bahrain. The late date of this bird could indicate it was a passage migrant, and I am unaware of how young birds can be before migrating? I am trying to find out more information on the breeding of Great Reed Warbler and will report further if more interesting information becomes available.

18 October 2013

Great Reed Warbler & Clamorous Reed Warbler - Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

Whilst ringing at Alba Marsh (Bahrain) in the early morning of last weekend we caught four Great Reed Warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus and a single Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus. We caught a Clamorous Reed Warbler and a Great Reed Warbler in the same net on the same net round allowing me to take a few photographs of both species in the hand together, something that has probably not happened too often. The Clamorous Reed Warbler is mainly sedentary, although some perform short distance migrations, and the Great Reed Warbler is a long-distance migrant throughout its range. The Clamorous Reed Warbler is largely a breeding resident in Arabia with the only positively identified race occurring in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as Bahrain is A. s. brunnescens which has a longer primary projection and shorter thicker bill than A. s. stentoreus making it look more like a Great Reed Warbler than many people think. We do trap birds on passage in autumn with much narrower and longer bills with shorter wings, such as the one shown below. These birds may be from the northern form A. s. stentoreus? Although currently this subspecies is only recorded as occurring in Egypt, including Sinai and Levant. They are darker/warmer and more buff coloured over most of the under-parts with a very restricted whitish area on the mid-belly, throat and chin, which is sometimes absent. Breeding birds in the region prefer phragmites reed beds rather than mangroves which is their preferred habitat in the United Arab Emirates.
Great Reed Warbler (left) & Clamorous Reed Warbler (right)
Clamorous Reed Warbler (left) & Great Reed Warbler (right)
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler

Above are a few photographs of both Great Reed Warbler and Clamorous Reed Warbler with side by side birds in a couple. All photographs were taken in Bahrain in October 2013. A good way to identify the two species are the wing shape and primary length with Clamorous Reed Warbler A. s. brunnescens having a short primary projection about two thirds the tertial length (half the tertial length on A. s. stentoreus) and Great Reed Warbler A. a. arundinaceus having a longer primary projection as long as the exposed tertail length. The longest primary is normally p3 for Great Reed Warbler and P3/4 for Clamorous Reed Warbler.

17 October 2013

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin – Offshore Farasan Islands

One day on the Farasan Islands we went to some offshore islands and spent quite a bit of time looking for Dolphins. There are three species of dolphins in the Farasan Islands, Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphin Sousa chinensis Spinner Dolphin Stenella longirostris and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops aduncus. Initially we could not find any dolphins in the main area where they occur but on the way back to Farasan Kabir I found a large group of 50+ Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin feeding in some open water. We spent two hours at very close quarters looking at them which was a really amazing experience and the family had a great time with the dolphins feeding and playing right in front of the boat. Although there was a minimum of fifty animals present trying to photograph them on a moving boat at close range with a big 600mm lens was very difficult.

The Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin T. aduncus resembles the Common Bottlenose Dolphin T truncatus, having a relatively robust body, moderately long beak, and a falcate dorsal fin, however, the species tends to be smaller than T. truncatus, has a proportionately longer rostrum and, most distinctively, develops ventral spotting at about the time of sexual maturity. Maximum size can reach over two metres in length and 150 kilogramms in weight. Information on the distribution of T. aduncus suggests the species is widespread along the entire eastern coast of Africa, through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, eastwards as far as Taiwan and south-eastward to the coastal waters of Australia. Known large concentrations are found in regions with large shallow-water areas such as the Farasan Islands. Preferred habitat appears to be bare sand habitats; however, they also use areas with rocky and coral reefs, or sea grass. They can be found over waters 200 metres deep but are encountered most frequently in waters shallower than 100 metres, generally with water temperatures of 20-30°C. They seem to prey mainly on small to medium sized benthic and reef-dwelling fish and cephalopods.