08 May 2014

Birds of the KFUPM Campus – Bird records by Lorna Mackenzie

I have been getting weekly update from Lorna Mackenzie recently who is a birder in the university campus next door to the Saudi Aramco camp where I bird. Lorna says she is a relative newcomer to Eastern Province but has been an amateur birder for over 25 years, since her days as an undergraduate student in Scotland.  Lorna’s local ‘patch’ is a 5km route that she walks regularly around part of the campus twice a day. Lorna says she sees a lot of the birds I mention in Dhahran, but often in smaller numbers which she puts largely down to the lack of water-reclamation activities on the site with no bodies of water or wet land that she knows of. Having said that, there is a great deal of cultivation and landscaping and the irrigation that goes with it and which supports a sizeable resident bird population, winter visitors and migrants.
Red-backed Shrike - male
European Bee-eater
Recently Lorna has been seeing “Bee-eaters periodically, Meadow Pipits, and disturbed a Nightjar one evening, I think European, but it was dusk and he didn't hang about for long; plenty of Spotted Flycatchers around, and otherwise the most interesting have been Warblers including Olivaceous and Willow. Incidentally I forgot to say that my first sighting of the Bee-eaters this year was, I think, quite early. During the last week in March we had a heavy downpour of rain one day, the last real wet day we've had, maybe the 26th or 27th. Out for my walk that evening it occurred to me that the rain should be great for getting the insects out and I should start keeping my eyes open for the Bee-eaters. Next afternoon I happened to be outside in our small garden room, when I heard first and then saw a good sized group of them overhead, feeding and passing over but at least a couple of dozen birds, there may have been more as they were pretty spread out. I also saw a Golden Oriole, wow, what a spectacular surprise. He was keeping to the treetops but I followed him around for a bit until he flew off”. On the 4 May “the campus is absolutely alive with new arrivals today, I saw my first male Red-backed Shrike of the season yesterday, although I did see a female a couple of times last week. I actually didn't see them until this time last year and did not see any a month ago when you were reporting them. They are everywhere today, almost jostling for the good perches. Also a good few Lesser Grey Shrikes, looking fantastic, and my first pair of Southern (Great) Grey Shrikes of the season, again looking marvellous. There are Warblers in every bush, tree and clump of grass right now, but I have suspended the compulsion to try and identify every one at the moment. I reckon it will be good for me just to get familiar with those I see, there is such incredible diversity and great numbers of them. The Eurasian Golden Orioles, there are at least thee of them around here at the moment. I was watching a female/1st summer male feeding, when I watched an adult male and a second female/1st summer male fly in to the same tree. A bit further on my route I saw an adult male flying around, not feeding this time but I think just showing off his amazing dramatic plumage. The 5 May there were about 25 Euraisain Golden Orioles present feeding on small figs with some flying low through the trees.". Lorna has kindly allowed me to use her sightings on my website and I will keep addiing her data if/when it comes. It is interesting to note that a few birds seen in KFUPM have not been seen this year in Dhahran camp such as Eurasian Wryneck and Eurasian Golden Oriole. They may be here but being overlooked as I do not bird the best habitat for these specie son the camp, although have seen them both in preious years. Lorna's flock of Euraisian Golden Orioles is the largest gathering I have heard of in Saudi Arabia and must have been a spectacular sight. It is great that I am getting more feedback from birders in Saudi Arabia who are allowing me to add their data to my website and this is helping build up a picture of where birds are occurring and when.