31 January 2014

Plenty of birds back on the Percolation Pond – Dhahran Hills

There are now a lot of birds on the percolation pond and the last visit produced very large numbers of Gulls. There were a minimum of 500 Common Black-headed Gulls, 15 Heuglin’s Gulls, ten Steppe Gulls and three Caspian Gulls. Five Great Cormorants were in the trees where a couple were drying out their wings and looking quite prehistoric in the process. Plenty of duck are still present with most being Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveller but a new female Garganey joined them yesterday. The number of Little Grebes has built up to double figures with the Great Crested Grebe joining them and dwarfing the Little Grebes in the process.
Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Crested Grebe
The Spray fields had a single NCT Stonechat and several Crested Larks. A pair of Graceful Prinia were singing away and a group of over 100 Pallid Swifts and a single House Martin were flying around the area. A single Marsh Harrier was over the fields in the late evening but not much else of note.
Crested Lark
Pallid Swift

30 January 2014

Windy and few birds – Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

Nicole and I went ringing at Alba Marsh on Friday and arrived at the site before first light. We set up the nets and things looked good to start with, as we caught a Bluethroat and a Common Kingfisher before it was really light. Unfortunately as the day progressed the wind picked up making it almost impossible to catch birds and meant we had to take down the nets and leave the area before we would have liked to. In total we only caught seven birds, including the Bluethroat and Common Kingfisher as well as three re-trapped Clamorous Reed Warblers one unringed bird and one re-trapped Water Pipit from winter 2012. An interesting point about the Common Kingfishers caught at the marsh is the fact that they have all been female birds without a single male. Also they have started to use the marsh as a wintering area only in the last two years as previously to this, although ringing was taking place in the marsh no birds were caught with only the occasional bird seen.
Common Kingfisher 
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Water Pipit - coutelli

29 January 2014

A few flyovers & Stonechats – Sabkhat Al Fasl

A trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl was relatively quiet but still good birding was had. The winter has had and extended period of cool weather with temperatures on arrival at first light being only 10 degrees Celsius. Plenty of birds were seen flying over with 20+ Western Marsh Harriers along with a Greater Spotted Eagle and a Western Osprey. The Western Osprey was seen later on in a different area where it was seen trying to catch fish but without luck. Other birds seen flying over in good numbers included Black-headed Gulls, LWH Gulls and Great Cormorants. A few terns were also flying about all of which were Caspian Terns.
Western Osprey
Great Cormorant
Caspian Tern

The main reed beds and lagoons were lacking birds but 20+ Purple Swamphens were seen and the reeds were alive with the calls of Graceful Prinias and Clamorous Reed Warblers, two species that breed early in Saudi Arabia. Three Daurian Shrikes and both European Stonechat and NCT Stonechats were present in small numbers. Heron numbers are increasing with 30+ Squacco Herons, several Grey Herons, 17 Western Cattle Egrets a scarce bird at Sabkhat Al Fasl, and 50+ Indian Reef Herons.
Purple Swamphen
Common Stonechat
North Caspian Taxon Stonechat
North Caspian Taxon Stonechat
Squacco Heron

The flooded Sabkhat is very extensive this year due to all the rain we have had and thousands (3000+) Greater Flamingos are enjoying the area. There were only four duck present, all Eurasian Teal with no sign of the regular Common Shelduck. Thousands of Black-headed Gulls with a few Slender-billed Gulls mixed in were also in this are with small numbers of the common waders.

28 January 2014

Great Crested Grebe returns – Dhahran Hills

The Great Crested Grebe has returned in the last two weeks to the percolation pond. It had been present for a few months prior to the lake being drained and did not take too long to return once the lake was refilled with water. It has built nests and bred on the pond in the past but not since I have been in Saudi Arabia, so let us hope a mate comes along for it and they breed again. Great Crested Grebe is not an easy bird to see in Saudi Arabia with the Eastern Province the best are to see them. Several lakes are good for the species including the one at the end of Abu Ali Island and Khafra Marsh. The percolation pond is also a regular place to see them. When seen side by side with Little Grebes, the large size of the great Crested Grebe can be easily noted and on the pond with little vegetation and few birds it stands out clearly and is very noticeable.

27 January 2014

Pied Kingfisher at Al Fanateer (Jubail) – Bird record by Chris Vowles

Chris Vowles is a birder who recently returned to the Kingdom and who is working north of Jubail in the Eastern Province. He sent me an e-mail on 24 January saying he had found a Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis at Al Fanateer Marina, opposite Al Fanateer Mall in Jubail city centre. The marina is a small place on the corniche and has a few boats tied up but not much else and is right next to Pizza Hut and the Yacht Restaurant with easy parking all around.  Pied Kingfisher is a scarce winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with most records from the Eastern Province. On 25 February 1999 there were six birds present at Sabkhat Al Fasl (Jubail) and an inland record of one at an old disused dairy farm at Thumamah 14-22 October 1999. A record from the north-west of Saudi Arabia was one at Lake Yanbu al Medina 14 April 1999. A few singles have been seen since then often at Sabkhat Al Fasl but it remains a rare/scarce bird for the country and a good bird to find. They mainly occur in coastal creeks and wetlands so one in a built up area marina was a surprise. Chris kindly sent me his record and a heavily cropped photo he took with a small pocket camera that shows the bird against a boat in the marina, which he has allowed me to reproduce below.

26 January 2014

Stonechats in the spray fields – Dhahran Hills

The spray fields have been reasonably quiet in recent weeks but there are always a few Stonechats to see. The trouble is they are often seen at some distance and in poor evening light. Yesterday I saw three stonechats at close range of which two were Common Stonechats, but I saw them very late in the day and was unable to photograph them. I also saw one North Caspian Taxon (NCT) Stonechat at some distance but it kept flying closer and closer to me allowing a few photos, although the light was poor as it was quite late. The stonechats in Dhahran normally stay around until late spring so I hope I can photograph these birds in better light conditions, as the days get longer. The only other birds seen in the spray fields were a couple of Western Cattle Egrets which is a very small percentage of the 121 birds I counted going to roost in the red bed of the settling pond.
North Caspian Taxon (Siberian) Stonechat
North Caspian Taxon (Siberian) Stonechat
North Caspian Taxon (Siberian) Stonechat

25 January 2014

Northern Lapwings and more – Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm

Phil and I went to Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm on Saturday setting off very early in torrential rain. The weather was very poor so driving had to be done at a much-reduced speed and we got to the site just as it was getting light. The heavy cloud cover and rain meant that even though it was about thirty minutes after sunrise birds were just leaving their roost sites in the reed beds as we arrived. The large lake held very few birds but a Black-necked Grebe was a nice site on the grey looking lake. Two male Northern Shovellers and a very out of place Greater Flamingo were new site species for us both. We then proceeded to one of the cut pivot irrigation fields and found it be very productive with 30 Northern Lapwings and fifty European Starlings in a small flock. The birds were very flighty but as I had only seen one Northern Lapwing before in Saudi Arabia we followed the flock around a little and eventually got some distant photos of them. One the way out of the field we came across a flock of 200+ Eurasian Skylarks and found a small group out in the open giving reasonable views. Ten bedraggled Meadow Pipits were also present in the field along with a male Pallid Harrier.
Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
Pallid Harrier - male
Pallid Harrier - male
Eurasian Skylark
The desert areas had a minimum of four adult male Desert Wheatears and several Eurasian Sparrowhawks. Five Common Kestrels were over and around the pivot fields, two more male Pallid Harriers, two Marsh Harriers and plenty of White Wagtails were along the main road and surroundings. A few Black-winged Stilts were in flooded areas and a single Corn Bunting was in one of the pivot fields along with 27 additional Northern Lapwing making a total of almost sixty birds. A large flock of House Sparrows had a single Spanish Sparrow amongst them and a small flock of ten Spanish Sparrow were seen on their own elsewhere on the farm. Even though the weather was terrible we had a good days birding and saw five species we had not seen before at the site, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Starling, Corn Bunting, Greater Flamingo and Northern Shoveller.
Western Marsh Harrier being mobbed by Northern Lapwing

24 January 2014

A few waders Dhahran & Dammam Wader roosts – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Phil Robert’s went birding to the Dammam Al Khobar wader roost south and Dhahran Expro wader roosts on Friday afternoon. Phil said the wader numbers were quite high with many of the common waders present including Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper (of which there has been good numbers this winter), Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt present. Phil managed to photograph all these species and kindly sent me his photos to use on my website. He also saw a few other waders not photographed including Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and Ruff but no Lesser Sand Plovers or Greater Sand Plovers were noted.
Common Redshank
Black-winged Stilt
Common Ringed Plover
Little Stint
Marsh Sandpiper

23 January 2014

Red-tailed Wheatear – Dhahran Hills

Last night whilst birding the ‘patch’ I saw the Red-tailed Wheatear Oenanthe chrysopygia again on the rocky outcrop where it has spent the winter. The bird is in exactly the same place as a bird last year and thus may be the same returning individual. As it is winter and it gets dark early the bird is not easy to see and photograph but I went straight to the area after work and saw the bird straight away allowing me the chance to photograph the bird. Birds are scarce winter visitors to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with birds occurring from late September until early April, especially in the vicinity of jebals, other rocky outcrops, dry scrub areas and semi-desert. It breeds in an area from north-east Turkey through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and western Pakistan while it winters to the south from southern Iraq, across the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India. Although they breed from 1200 – 4000 metres above sea level they winter down to sea level. Birds have even been seen in the Empty Quarter in winter. In Saudi Arabia the status is an uncommon winter visitor and can be seen in all areas but is rare or absent from the Asir mountains, the Tihamah and the Southern Red Sea coast.

22 January 2014

Adult Eastern Imperial Eagle Jubail – Bird records by Andre Marais

Andre Marais saw and adult Eastern Imperial Eagle on a fence near Jubail Sanitary Waste Tip on 17 January. Eastern Imperial Eagle is an uncommon winter visitor to the Eastern Province with most birds I have seen being in the north around the Dibdibah plains. Juabil Sanitary Waste Tip was previously an excellent site for seeing the birds but lack of access in recent years has made records from the area thin on the ground. The nearby Sabkhat Al Fasl site has produced a few records each year but Greater Spotted Eagles are much commoner here. Greater Spotted Eagles have also been seen in good numbers at the Jubail Sanitary Waste Tip in the past. Looks like I may have to try to get onto the site again as birds obviously still use the area. The relatively nearby Abqaiq dump does not appear to attract any large birds of prey as I have been there many times looking for Gulls without a single record of Eastern Imperial Eagle or Greater Spotted Eagle to my name. Andre kindly allowed me to use his photos on my website, pictures he said were hastily grabbed whilst driving past and have been heavily cropped.

21 January 2014

Ducks & Grebes are back on the pond – Dhahran Hills

The percolation pond is full of water again and has been for about a month. Birds have just started finding the pond again with a few Great Cormorants being the first closely followed by Black-headed Gulls and Little Grebes. In the last few days duck numbers have increased with 28 Eurasian Teal, six Northern Shoveller and six Tufted Ducks seen. The Great Crested Grebe has also returned which was slightly surprising as very little in the way of reed beds are still present. The areas around the pond have a few Common Chiffchaff and a single Daurian Shrike with a flock of 100+ Pallid Swift and a single House Martin over the pond. This maybe the first signs of spring migration starting as it occurs early in Saudi Arabia and lets hope it will be a good one. The spray fields are holding a few birds now and my first singing Graceful Prinia of the year was seen there along with a few Water Pipits and White Wagtails. The North Caspian Taxon (NCT) Stonechat was still present in the same area along with plenty of Painted Lady Butterflies. Apart from this a single Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew over at last light and the Red-tailed Wheatear was still present on the same rocks where it has been for over a month.
White Wagtail
Water Pipit
Graceful Prinia
North Caspian Stonechat
Painted Lady

20 January 2014

Greater Flamingos Al Khobar corniche – Bird records by Hatem Achouri

I received an e-mail the other day from Hatem Achouri with two very good photos of Greater Flamingo’s attached. Hatem mentioned he had seen the birds along the Al Khobar Corniche where I have also seen them in the past. Flamingo numbers are not very high in Dammam / Al Khobar when compared to Jubail but still several hundred birds use the Gulf close to the urban areas and are always a pleasure to see. The fact the birds are so large and colourful and close to areas where people live they are favourites among the general public and I get asked many questions about this species from people with a general interest in nature. If you live in the Dammam / Al Khoabr area keep an eye out for the birds as you drive or walk along the cornice, in the winter months as they should stay for another month of two. A bird with a large white plastic ring, originally ringed in Turkey also spent last winter in the Al Khobar area so also look for birds with plastic rings and try to read the numbers and letters if possible. I thank Hatem very much for allowing me to use his photographs on my website and for sharing his sightings with me.

19 January 2014

A few re-traps – Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

An early morning visit to Alba Marsh saw us arrive well before first light to set up the nets. It was a very cold but windless day, with almost perfect conditions for catching birds. We never catch very many birds in Bahrain and I am very envious of the numbers caught and ringed in a day in Israel and Turkey for  example but we still continue to see what we can catch and learn. Last weekend saw us re-trap a number of birds including three Clamorous Reed Warblers (20/4/2012, 25/10/2013 & 03/01/2014), Common Kingfisher (25/10/2013), Graceful Prinia (20/01/2012) and Water Pipit (09/08/2012). A couple of these were interesting for us and although all birds had been ringed by us at the same site we had not had a re-trap of a Water Pipit from a previous year before. This shows that Water Pipit, along with Bluethroat are site faithful over the years to this small marsh where they return in the winter. The Graceful Prinia is also the oldest re-trap we have on record for this site and was re-trapped almost two years to the day it was first ringed.
Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Graceful Prinia
Other birds caught included an adult Common Moorhen, a common bird at the site but one we do not often catch as we keep the nets well above the water level so birds can not get caught in the bottom shelves and fall into the water. As a result crakes & rails can walk under the nets without getting caught. We also caught an Isabelline Shrike, which looks like a Daurian Shrike, which was a surprise as we had not seen the bird prior to capture and we do not often catch them in the middle of winter. Other birds caught included two male Little Bitterns and a male House Sparrow.