30 June 2014

Little Grebe chicks – Dhahran Hills

Little Grebe chicks can now be seen in reasonable numbers on the percolation pond with parents in attendance although a number of Little Grebes are still sitting on eggs. The number of breeding pairs this year must be over 20 which is a good breeding season for them. Other signs of breeding birds on the pond include both, Eurasian Coot with four pairs and Common Moorhen with a minimum of ten pairs but probably many more. With all these birds and young as well the pond has plenty of activity now although I cannot find anything out of the ordinary with them. The trees surrounding the pond are also very quiet with a few White-eared Bulbuls and plenty of House Sparrows about all that I can find.

29 June 2014

Adult Black-crowned Night Heron – Dhahran Hills

I went out birding on the ‘patch’ at first light 04:00 hrs on 28 June in the hope of seeing the Crested Honey Buzzards that have been around for the last three weeks. Unfortunately they did not show and so I went to my normal area of the spray fields and the ponds. When I got to the percolation pond I found an adult Black-crowned Night Heron fishing at the pond edge very close to the track. Unfortunately the bird was directly into the sun making photography very difficult and it flew before I was able to get into a better position. I have seen Black-crowned Night Heron on a couple of occasions in Dhahran but only in September and October previously, with both adults and juveniles seen. The last ones I saw were two years ago so this was a very pleasant surprise showing that birding in the summer when nothing appears o be about still turns up surprises. As far as I am aware there has only been one summer record of the species in the Eastern Province. The Black-crowned Night heron is an uncommon migrant in the eastern province noted more often in autumn than spring. Juveniles occur from September through November and sometimes into February. Spring occurrences are irregular from April to May and there has been one June record and an immature present at Abqaiq from 22 July to 22 August 1983.

28 June 2014

Locust Swarm and Digger Wasps at Khamis Mushait - Report by Farah Imran Shams

On 26 June 2014 Farah Imran Shams had the chance to witness a locust swarm and sent me the following details “This is the first time I have seen one in the 8 years that I have been living here. It was not a very large swarm, but it stayed in my compound for half an hour, more than enough time for me to photograph some of this phenomenon. This incident happened at around 11 am in the city of Khamis Mushait. The pictures were taken in a housing compound called ISKAN II, which is a compound for military hospital doctors. The locust swarm was followed by an army of large digger wasps, a kind that I have not seen before. They were hunting the locusts by the hundreds and burying them in quickly dug nests in the sand. Three hours later, all the wasps had left as well, leaving dozens of holes in the kids play area. It was a very interesting and unique phenomenon, and my boys loved it”. Farah sent me a number of photographs of the event that I have reproduced below with kind permission. I have not seen anything like this in the time I have lived in Saudi Arabia and it certainly looks like an even to behold if I ever do get the chance.

27 June 2014

A few birds on the ponds – Dhahran Hills

The land areas and almost devoid of birds now with the exception of the local resident breeders. As a result most of the action during birding takes place on the percolation and settling ponds. Here there are lots of Little Grebes with young and Common Moorhen and Eurasian Coot with chicks as well. Waders are beginning to increase with plenty of Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and a few Little Ringed Plovers all of which have probably bred nearby. The best birds seen on the percolation pond have been a pair of Little Bitterns and fortunately their favoured fishing spot is close to the main track and allows good and close observation. There is a chance the Little Bitterns have bred this year but I have seen no sign of any juveniles yet.
Little Bittern
Little Grebes
Kentish Plover

26 June 2014

A Wildlfie Experience at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Post by Clément Crozet

My name is Clément Crozet and I’m from France. I’m in Saudi Arabia to work about Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility for a company called  MaSa. It’s a company providing Potable Water, Sea Water Cooling and Reclaimed water for Jubail and Yanbu  Industrial cities. One part of the water in Sabkhat Al-Fasl comes from our Waste Water plants.

We would like to set up a campaign of cleaning around Sabkhat Al-Fasl with the participation of our employees and also to set up an awareness campaign of our employees and public about wetland, water treatment and biodiversity. We will invite school children, our employees and families to discover our activities (Reclaim Water, Sea Water Cooling and Potable Water) and to discover the biodiversity (visit to Sabkhat Al-Fasl).

We are planning to have this event in October, 2014. It will be a three day event:
•             One day for cleanup Sabkhat;
•             One day for school children;
•             One day for the community of Jubail.

We would really appreciate to benefit from your expertise. Indeed, we are looking for some ornithologists able to make discover the world of birds to our employees, school children and the inhabitants of Jubail. We are not expecting keen birders but just people that can show their passion to other people and increase their awareness of the wildlife surrounding the Jubail area.

We already did some wildlife visits with our employees (pictures attached). The success of these visits went beyond our expectations and we are about to plan additional ones. It demonstrates that people want to learn more about wildlife in Saudi Arabia. All the employees were really impressed to see that this former desert is becoming a nice place for biodiversity thanks to reclaimed water.

You will find below some pictures of birds and animals that we saw during our wildlife visits .

If you are interested to step in this event of raising awareness with us and other specialists of the water treatment, please let us know at the following mail address: clement DOT crozet AT wanadoo.fr 

Thank you.

Clément Crozet

25 June 2014

Dhahran – bird records by Mats Ris

Mats was out birding the camp whilst I was away ringing terns in Bahrain and reports a rather good morning better the last week-ends. Two Crested Honey Buzzards lifted at 04 55 from the trees where I have seen these before, one came back at 05 25 (see photograph). Mats walked around on the golf course for about one hour but did not find any signs of a nest. Mats also saw  two Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin at the Golf course, and uncommon summer breeder in the Eastern Province. Mats also found a Red-vented Bulbul and nest another uncommon resident of the camp, with very few records each year. Around the percolation and settling ponds were 20 Black-winged Stilts, two Kentish Plovers, four Eurasian Hoopoes, three Namaqua Doves, three Pallid Swift and a Green Sandpiper. Mats sent me the two photos below of a couple of the good birds he saw and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website.
Crested Honey Buzzard
Red-vented bulbul
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

24 June 2014

Ringing terns - Al Jarrim Island south (Bahrain)

On Friday 20 June I set off at 02:30 hrs to go to Bahrain to ring terns. I met up with Jason, Nicole, Ali, Mahmood, Ahmed and a couple of others to go out to the island at 04:00 to ring tern chicks. This is one of the best days ringing of the year for me and it is amazing to be on an island full of breeding terns. Ali has a new more powerful boat now that he also uses to take people diving in Bahrain and it has two 250 HP engines and a covered roof, so is very fast.  We arrived at the island at 06:00 hrs and set about first ringing Bridled Tern chicks. They nest under cover of the vegetation and are incredibly well camouflaged and sit tight so good eyesight and a lot of help are required. We do these first as it is extremely hard work and want to do it in the coolest part of the day before temperatures rise into the 40’s Celsius. There were three ringers and we ringed a total of 143 Bridled Tern chicks that is slightly less than normal.  After this we set up our corral to catch Lesser Crested Tern Chicks that are all gathered together in large crèches of baby terns with hundreds of adults looking after them. As they are all in large groups we walk the birds down into our corral and transfer them to large baskets for processing. Since this capture technique was devised we have become much more proficient and we catch lots of birds in a short time and process them as quickly as possible so they can return to their parents for shade. We keep the birds in covered baskets with a wet towel on top to keep them cool and we have not lost a single bird doing this. We ringed 997 Lesser Crested Tern chicks and ran out of rings, this being the biggest number of birds we have singed in a single day since we started going to the islands. We also ringed three White-cheeked Tern chicks a species that has not bred on this island in the previous three breeding seasons I have visited. They do breed on the middle island but we have only been here once and it was a nice surprise to see the adults feeding young on the south island. Another nice surprise was to see an adult Bridled Tern I photographed with a ring on, indicating it is one of our birds. We have ringed hundreds of young birds and a single adult that Nicole rescued from a fishing net so it is impossible to tell if this is a young bird returning to breed or not. We also found at least ten Indian Reef Heron nests with large young in them. Normally there are only one of two nests but this year the numbers are much higher so some reason. An interesting fact was that under every Indian Reef Heron nest a Bridled Tern chick was hiding. I would like to thank Ali and all the helpers for this excellent days ringing.
Al Jarrim Island South
Lesser Crested Terns
Ringing Corral
Bridled Tern egg
Bridled Tern chick
Ringed adult Bridled Tern
Indian Reef Heron
Ali's Diving boat
Ringing Team
Ringing Team

23 June 2014

Summering Greater Spotted Eagle and more – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding Sabkhat Al Fasl on 13 June we saw the summering second calendar year Greater Spotted Eagle again. It was in the same place where we have seen in the two previous weekends and looks set to spend the summer here. I have now seen Greater Spotted Eagles in every month of the year at this site, but they are mainly a winter visitor between September and April. Phil Roberts took a photo of it just as it was taking off from a post that shows the underwing nicely. Also still present was the Red-wattled Lapwing in the same place as the weekend before and a summer Western Cattle Egret. Apart from these tree very good records there was nothing else out of the ordinary although birding was still very enjoyable. Waders were about in good numbers with young Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers all seen in good numbers. Other birds seen with young included Purple Swamphens with young of various ages, with this being the only breeding site in Saudi Arabia for this species. The only migrants seen were two Barn Swallows and two Sand Martins. Common birds seen in good numbers included Eurasian Collared Doves, Graceful Prinias, Caspian Reed Warblers and Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers. The sabkha still had thousands of Greater Flamingos and plenty of Indian Reef Herons of various colours. The majority were white phase, with a few juvenile birds amongst the adults and a number of dark phase birds of various shades of grey from light grey to almost black. The only other obvious birds were plenty of White-cheeked Terns, Little Terns and two Eurasian Spoonbills.
Greater Spotted Eagle - 2nd calendar year (courtesy Phil Roberts)
Black-winged Stilt - juvenile
Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover - feigning injury
Little Ringed Plover
Eurasian Collared Dove
Purple Swamphen
Indian Reef Heron - juvenile pale phase
Indian Reef Heron - dark phase

22 June 2014

Big arrival of Kentish Plovers – Dhahran Hills

There have been relatively few birds about on the camp in the last few weeks but on 17 June there was a large arrival of Kentish Plovers and Black-winged Stilts. Normally there are a few Kentish Plovers as birds breed on the camp in small numbers but this number increased from less than ten to 38 birds with almost all of them on the settling pond and the flat areas surrounding it. Numbers of Black-winged Stilts are building up as well with many more juveniles seen now. The best places for seeing these are the settling pond and percolation pond with over 50 birds present now. The great thing about doing a local patch is that you immediately recognize anything unusual and although Kentish Plover is common on the coast with hundreds seen each day they are less common on the patch and this high number for my ‘patch’ made my day. Things like this keep birding interesting even in the quietest part of the year.

21 June 2014

Red-wattled Lapwing again – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding Sabkhat Al Fasl on 13 June we found the juvenile Red-wattled Lapwing again in the same place as we originally found it. The bird was feeding actively and allowed quite close approach in the car. It was feeding along the edge of the main flooded sabkha and as cars and busses regularly drive up here it has presumably become used to the traffic. Last weekend if flew off when a bus came along but this time one passed right by and it stayed put. This gave us confidence we may be able to approach with the car and not disturb it, which is what happed. Initially we were again photographing into the sun but after passing the bird we came back about a hour later and got the sun behind us allowing me to take the best photos yet of the species in Saudi Arabia. The Red-wattled Lapwing is a scarce species in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and rare elsewhere in the country.

20 June 2014

Female Little Bittern – Dhahran Hills

There is now just the regular breeding birds to see on my local ‘patch’ where I go birding almost every day. Even though things are very quiet it is still worth going out as any unusual occurrence is worth note if you have a local birdwatching area. The last month or so I have been seeing an adult male little Bittern at various times and places. Firstly I saw it in the unusual place of the spray fields but then it made its home on the percolaton pond where it could occasionally be seen along the pond edges. This is a place where birds bred in 2011 but there have been no further signs of this happening. On 15 June I found an adult female on the edge of the pond in the same place where the male usually fishes. This may mean that they are a pair so I will be keeping an eye out for any juveniles in the next couple of weeks. Apart from the Little Bittern the only interesting thing to not is the number of Black-winged Stilts are building up with plenty of juveniles amongst the adults. Numbers now are 37 and they should continue building up over the next month.

19 June 2014

Afro-Asian Sand Snake – Dhahran

This snake is an Afro-Asian Sand Snake Psammophis schokari. I originally thought this was a Rat Snake or possibly a Wadi Racer but Mansur Al Fahad kindly supplied the correct identification. It was seen in Dhahran and it was about one metre in length. This is one of the fastest snakes in Arabia and has variable coloration and patterning and an elongated head. The variable colour matches the habitat where they are found. In Arabic it is known as  Zaroq which means speedy. Thanks to Mansur for identifying the snake and supplying details of its Arabic name and translation.