30 April 2014

Some good birds north of Jubail – Bird records by Dave Kilmister

Dave sent me a couple of e-mails this week and mentioned he had, had three new species at the water treatment reed beds this week. (The water level is below the gravel, so no waders). A White-throated Robin, Common Cuckoo, and a Rose-coloured Starling. Although he had heard bee-eaters a couple of weeks ago, he saw his first Blue-cheeked Bee-eater for the season last week. Another pair of Orlotan Buntings has also arrived after the first pair that where seen about three weeks ago. The Redstarts and Blackcaps that were present seem to have moved on. Rose-coloured Starling is an unusual bird for the Eastern Province and one I have not seen myself yet. Dave mentioned he saw the Starling with the sun rising behind it and it did not stay long enough for him to get in a better position to take a photo. Dave did manage to get a good photo of the Common Cuckoo that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website.
Common Kingfisher
Dave also went to Ash Sharqiyah over the weekend and had a great day. There were a lot of Spanish Sparrows; and he was not sure if it was them or House Sparrows that were nesting in a stand of trees but it was very noisy. The bee-eaters have returned, much to the annoyance of the farm bee-keeper. There were Collared Pratincoles, a first for Dave but only a few Little Grebes on the lake which was very quiet. The only raptors were a Common Kestrel and a Pallid Harrier both giving very good views. Apart from this, all the usual birds were seen, although only one Yellow Wagtail for 26 species in total. There was also an Arabian Red Fox – Dave has seen plenty of tracks but that was his first sighting out there.

29 April 2014

Plenty of birds – Jizan Corniche

Whilst birding the southwest of Saudi Arabia in early April we spent a few hours looking at Jizan Corniche. This is an excellent area for birding and has a fantastic small inlet which waders and other water birds get pushed up at high tide. Good views of the birds can also be had here and we saw plenty of species here including most of the common waders, Broad-billed Sandpiper which I had not seen in this area before and 13 Eurasian Spoonbills some in breeding plumage. The commonest birds seen here were Crab Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits although good numbers of Ruddy Turnstones and Lesser Sand Plovers were also present. The cornice itself has both Pink-backed Pelican and Black Kite on the lampposts by the side of the road and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark feeding on and around the boulders between the road and sea. Plenty of other waders, Greater Flamingos and Indian Reef Herons were along the shore and a couple of Striated Herons were also present. A few gulls were also seen with Steppe Gull, Baltic Gull, Sooty Gull and White-eyed Gull being commonest. I will post details from the fish market and harbour with photos of some of these species in a few days time.
Crab Plover
Eurasian Spoonbill
Bar-tailed Godwit
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Eurasian Spoonbills
Lesser Sand Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Pink-backed Pelican
Black Kite
Black-crowned Sparrow Lark
Indian Reef Heron

28 April 2014

Fieldfare a new ‘patch’ species – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding our local ‘patch’ on 26 April Phil Roberts found a Fieldfare Turdus pilaris in the spray fields. The bird was only on view for a short time and then flew off into the centre of the field. Unfortunately by the time I got to the fields the bird had been lost from sight and despite looking around the fields we could not relocate it. This was a really good bird for Dhahran and was a new species for the ‘patch’ for Phil and would have been for me also had I seen it. On the 27 April I re-found the bird in the spray fields in a slightly different area where I saw it out on the track across the fields. Again it only stayed for a short period before flying off and again we could not relocate it. I managed to take a couple of distant record shots of the bird that are reproduced below. The date of this bird appears to be the latest winter record by more than a month as was very unexpected at this time of year and was my 207th species for my local patch. Fieldfare is a rare winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with the following records the only ones I know of: In the north of Saudi Arabia they have been seen at Harrat al Harrah Reserve a winter visitor in November. In the northwest one was in a small park in Yanbu 16 December 1988 and two 6 January to 23 February 1989. One was in a small park in Yanbu 29 March 1990 and one was seen near Tabuk. In the Eastern Province one was at Dhahran 23 November until 19 December 1973 one 23 January 1976 and two 5 March 1976. One was at Jubail near the Holiday Inn on 3 December 1991. One Dhahran Hills spray fields 26-27 April 2014.

27 April 2014

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler a new ringing species – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing at Sabkhat Al Fasl over the weekend of 18 April I caught an unusual pale looking warbler. It looked like an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler but appeared small and seemed to have the wrong tertial spacing for that species. Thoughts then turned to Booted Warbler but as we can get both of the former Booted Warbler species, Booted Warbler and Sykes’s Warbler, with Sykes’s probably more likely as they occur in the mangroves just north of Jubail. We took all the measurements and they appeared too big for Booted Warbler but we had no details of Sykes’s Warbler. Measurements did fit for Eastern Olivaceous Warbler so we tentatively put it down as that species. When I got home I sent an e-mail and photos to Yoav Perlman and very experienced ringer from Israel and he kindly told me it was an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler a new ringing species for me. This species is a common migrant to all areas of Saudi Arabia and is a summer breeder in varying numbers. I have only see the species once at Sabkhat Al Fasl before although they are common on my local ‘patch’ 125 kilometres south of Jubail.

26 April 2014

Spring migration still rather slow – Dhahran Hills

The last week on my local ‘patch’ has proved to be a rather slow affair, although a scattering of good birds have occurred with the best being the Black-winged Kite on 20 April that unfortunately only stayed for one day. As mentioned in a previous post this was only the second record for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and was present at the same time as a female Montagu’s Harrier that also only stayed a day. This was only the second time I have seen this species in Dhahran but they are uncommonly seen elsewhere in the province. Other birds of prey seen included a female Pallid Harrier, Western Osprey and Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Migrant passerines were few and far between with a few Turkestan Shrikes, small flocks of up to 20 Ortolan Buntings, several Common Redstarts, two Barred Warblers and four Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins. A smart male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and small numbers of European Bee-eaters added a splash of colour to the birding but the most significant arrival of birds was reasonable numbers of European Turtle Doves. A few waders are still passing through with the best being a Terek Sandpiper, only the third record I have seen on my ‘patch’, but also Wood Sandpipers, one Common Snipe, three Black-winged Stilts and a Common Sandpiper seen. The spring has been rather slow in Dhahran, as well as elsewhere in the region, but to compensate for this a few really good birds have been found making the birding exciting and interesting despite the lack of numbers.
Western Osprey
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
Ortolan Bunting
European Turtle Dove
European Turtle Dove
Terek Sandpiper

25 April 2014

Waders at Zulfi – Bird records by Mansur Al Fahad

Mansur kindly sent me details and photographs of his recent trip to Zulfi. One of his targets during his vacation to the area was to visit a small lake made by recent rainwater, as the rain in Sauid Arabia has been good this winter throughout most of the country. The lake was very small 20 x100 metres but had been larger as evidenced by the cracked ground. On March 14 & 15 a Red-necked Phalarope was seen for two consecutive days at this pool, where one was also seen two years ago. Mansur saw the bird on 15 March but unfortunately there was a severe dust storm, so photography was not possible. Mansur went again on 20 March but unfortunately did not find it. It was a good place for wading birds as can be seen from Mansur’s excellent photos which he has kindly allowed me to use on my website.
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper

24 April 2014

More Sedge and a Savi’s Warbler – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Last weekends ringing trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl meant leaving Dhahran at 04:00 hrs to get to the site and set nets before it was fully light. This was also good as the temperatures are finally reaching their norm of 38+ degrees Celsius by mid-day which is very hot when ringing. We set all our five nets but moved one to a new position between two small reed beds to see what we could catch there. This proved to have been a good move as we caught a number of birds in this net including our first site ringing record of Savi’s Warbler. This species is a rare passage migrant from late February to May and again from August to September although I have heard a number at the site this spring already indicating they are probably commoner than thought and should have a status as an uncommon passage migrant. The commonest birds trapped were Sedge Warblers with ten birds caught including one from last weekend that had put on lots of fat and had increased in weight from 11.2 to 12.2 grams indicating the bird may have just arrived when caught and is feeding up ready for it’s onwards migration. Other birds caught included a Caspian Reed Warbler A. s. fuscus with a brood patch indicating breeding at the site, seven Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers all of which were un-ringed and two Graceful Prinias. We also caught a bird I was not 100% certain of its identity and will post details of this and photos in a few days time, making a total of 22 birds of six species. By 11:00 bird activity had dropped off as the temperature rose so we packed up and went home. This site is proving much better than Alba Marsh in Bahrain where we have ringed previously with more birds caught although the species mix appears slightly less?
Sedge Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Savi's Warbler
Savi's Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Graceful Prinia

23 April 2014

Looking for nightjars and sandgrouse – Abu Arish waste water treatment Ponds

We spent the late afternoon of 5 April until after dusk birding the Waste Water Treatment Ponds with the best area the bushy hinterland and basalt plain area near the last and cleanest lake and the small stream runoff areas. There is extensive vegetation in these areas and many bird species can be found. There is, however, a significant issue with this location now and that is it is being destroyed by a quarrying operation with much of the surrounding area already destroyed and large amounts of dust from the operation covering much of the vegetation. The pools still remain and had three Northern Shoveller, two Eurasian Teal, 30+ Glossy Ibis, 100+ Western Cattle Egret and five Squacco Herons. Waders included 20+ Black-winged Stilts, one Common Sandpiper and one Green Sandpiper with other water birds being 10+ Whiskered Terns, Temminck’s Stint, Little Stint, Common Greenshank. The vegetated areas had White-browed Coucal, 15+ Ruppell’s Weaver, ten Arabian Babblers, three White-spectacled Bulbuls, Barred Warbler, several Nile Valley Sunbirds and three Black Bush Robins. Whilst searching the tall vegetation we flushed several sandgrouse that appeared to be Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse but they disappeared before positive identification could be made. This was a pleasant surprise as the area does nt very suitable for the species now the quarrying is in full swing. We stayed at the site until dusk looking for Nubian Nightjar and as soon as dusk approached we had a single Nubian Nightjar by the side of the road. As it got dark, a number (six?) of Nubian Nightjars started calling and over the next hour or so we managed to spotlight another five birds either on the road, the basalt hillside or under vegetation near the road.
Glossy Ibis
Nile Valley Sunbird
Nile Valley Sunbird

22 April 2014

A low elevation record of Bruce’s Green Pigeon – Wadi Juwwah

Wadi Juwwah (16 56.75N, 43 01.80E) is alternatively written as Wadi Jawa or even Wadi Giwa and is a rare north-south wadi in south-west Saudi Arabia as most of the wadis are west-east. The wadi has one of the highest diversities of breeding species known in Arabia including Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris although we did not see this species on this trip. It lies at an altitude of 100-300 metres in the foothills east of Abu Arish and south of al-Arida, inland from Jizan. It consists of a sandy and clay bed surrounded by often steep volcanic rocky slopes. Scattered Dobera and Ficus trees dominate the landscape and there are many remnant patches of Acacia and Salvadora scrub. The rocky outcrops and bordering slopes are only sparsely vegetated with Acacia and succulents but can have a surprising cover of grasses after heavy rain. The wadi is densely populated and most of it is cultivated with sorghum and millet. We bird-watched the area on 5 April and saw Abyssinian Rollers, Nile Valley Sunbirds, six Black Bush Robins, Ruppell’s Weavers, Arabian Babblers, Laughing Doves, Namaqua Doves, one Desert Lark and a Graceful Prinia. A pair of Gabar Goshawk was seen flying around for several minutes over the wadi and a few Green Bee-eaters, three Masked Shrikes and White-spectacled Bulbuls were also seen. The most interesting sighting was a Bruce’s Green Pigeon in a tree in the wadi which is below the general elevation levels recorded for the species of 500-2400 metres. I have previously regarded this species as a high elevation bird but this record clearly shows this assumption to be incorrect. They may move to lower elevations in the winter months like many other high elevation species.
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Abyssinian Roller

21 April 2014

Second Black-winged Kite for the Eastern Province – Dhahran Hills

Yesterday on the ‘patch’ Phil and I independently found an adult Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus, which was only the second record for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The first bird was also an adult present at Dhahran Hills from 29 March to 17 April 2012 found by Phil. This bird, like the previous one, appeared to be of the eastern sub-species Elanus caeruleus vociferous as it had very dark under-wing markings on the secondaries unlike the more western race Elanus caeruleus caeruleus. E. c. vociferous occurs from Pakistan east to southern & eastern China, Indochina and the Malay Peninsula and E. c. caeruleus occurs in the south-west Iberian Peninsula, most of Africa and South-west Arabia. Its status in Saudi Arabia is a rare visitor to the southwest where it has occurred as far north as Jeddah & Taif. The bird was initially seen near to the spray fields and then spent some time hunting over the fields where at one stage three Black-winged Stilts chased it. This was very helpful to Phil and I as it flew right overhead allowing us to get some close up photos.