13 July 2014

Egyptian Nightjars – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl in the early morning of 4 July Phil and I found two Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius resting under different bushes in different parts of the site. One was well hidden in the shade but the second was more out in the open. The birds have complete confidence in their ability to hide and this allows very close approach in a car. The second bird allowed us so close that it completely filled the frame of my camera and did not move the entire time we were there. The status has changed in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in the 21st Century where it was previously regarded as a vagrant, with only six known records Mach to April & September to December (Bundy et al 1989). It is now known as a scarce passage migrant from June to September and scarce winter visitor with spring records very scarce. July & August is the best period for locating them and Sabkhat Al Fasl the best single site. Birds have also started wintering in very small numbers with probably less than five birds seen each winter. Summer records have also been noted in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia since 2004 when a pair was discovered at Khafrah Marsh 24 June where the possibility of this nightjar being overlooked as a breeding species was briefly discussed (Meadows 2005). Since 2006 additional birds have been located at Sabkhat Al Fasl (Jubail) in August with the highest count being ten birds together on 22 August 2008. Birds have been seen every year in August at this site since 2006 with birds also seen in July from 2011 to 2014 and the earliest record 27 June 2014. These summer records are interesting as the subspecies that occurs Caprimulgus aegyptius aegyptius occurs in north-east Egypt and northern Arabian Peninsula, eastwards to extreme central-west China, north-east Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, extreme western Pakistan and south-east Iran and winters in the eastern Sahel arrives on its breeding grounds in early April to mid- May and leaves in September. Birds in Iraq arrive in mid-March and are plentiful in April and depart in September with numbers increasing in August & September (Cramp 1985). Migrant birds further to the east in Kazakhstan, where the species also breeds, occur from mid-April to mid-May and from late August to early October (Gavrilov and Gavrilov 2005). There have been no confirmed breeding records of Egyptian Nightjar in Arabia (Jennings 2010) but he mentions that summer records are normally seen in areas where freshwater can be found. These records indicate birds are breeding, attempting to breed, or are very early migrants to the region. If they are very early migrants as it appears then they presumably breed somewhere much closer than current knowledge indicates?