31 August 2014

Two Red-necked Phalaropes - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Phil and I went to Sabkhat Al Fasl as normal on Friday and arrived at site at 06:00 hrs just as it was getting light. The weather conditions were not ideal with high humidity and plenty of mist. As a result we went to the main sabkha area first giving the sun a chance to burn off the list and allow better conditions for photography. We saw plenty of waders including thousands of Little Stints, several Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and a few Marsh Sandpipers, Ruff, Common Redshank and Ruddy Turnstones. The best birds on the sabkha however were 50 Garganey, nine Greater Flamingos and two Red-necked Phalaropes. Red-necked Phalarope is an uncommon bird in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, although Sabkhat Al Fasl is the best place in the Province to see them. They were regular at the site in years gone by but have become increasingly scarce. Last year there were three sightings in May, June and September. All three birds last year were seen on the same small pool but this year in June a bird was seen on the main flooded sabkha, the same area where we had our two birds. The birds seen on Friday were very distant so the photo below was taken of two birds seen at the same site in May 2012.
Red-necked Phalaropes
Little Stint

30 August 2014

Breeding Little Bitterns - Dhahran Hills

The last few days I have been seeing a juvenile Little Bittern on the percolation pond. Prior to this I had seen adult males and females over the entire summer period and suspected that breeding may be taking place. On 27 August I saw the male, female and juvenile all together on the pond indicating breeding has taken place again this year in Dhahran. I recorded breeding at the same site in 2011 but not since so it was a very nice surprise to see all the birds together. The lack of cover on the pond at the moment makes seeing the birds easier than normal but fortunately a large enough patch of reeds was available for breeding. The species has a status as an uncommon passage migrant to all areas of Saudi Arabia and is a locally common breeding resident in some Gulf wetlands such as Sabkhat Al Fasl and the Riyadh wetland areas. Migrant birds normally occur from March to early June and again from August to October and can be found in most habitats with at least some water.

29 August 2014

A good days birding - Sabkhat Al Fasl

A good days birding was had at Sabkaht Al Fasl last Friday with a scattering of migrants and the highest ever Saudi Arabian count of Egyptian Nightjars (see previous post). A flock of 20 Garganey flew over, along with three Northern Shoveller, but the commonest migrants were Barn Swallows and Sand Martins with tens of each. Small groups of European Bee-eaters passed over most of the morning and two Great Reed Warblers were also seen at the edge of the reed beds and nearby scrub. The majority of birds seen were herons and waders with good numbers of Squacco Heron, Grey Heron and Indian Reef Heron and a group of eleven Eurasian Spoonbills, a very large group for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Waders included 2000+ Black-winged Stilts, 1000+ Kentish Plovers, 1000+ Little Stints and 100+ Curlew Sandpipers. Lesser numbers of Common Ringed Plovers, Greater Sand Plovers, Lesser Sand Plovers, Marsh Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and Dunlin were seen as were a single Temminck’s Stint, one Pied Avocet and one juvenile Collared Pratincole. A single Sanderling was also seen a new species for the site for both Phil and I along with large numbers of Little Terns, Caspian Terns and Gull-billed Terns. A good return of scarce and unusual species were seen making it a very good days birding especially as it is only mid-August.
European Bee-eater
Great Reed Warbler
Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Pied Avocet
Caspian Tern

28 August 2014

Slevin’s Sand Gecko at Zulfi – Record by Mansur Al Fahad

The Slevin’s Sand Gecko Stenodactylus slevini is seen in the same areas as the Middle Eastern Short-fingered Gecko and has the same local name Abras Bar, meaning desert gecko. This photo was taken by Mansur in Zulfi and he has kindly allowed me permission to use it on my website as well as provided details on the Gecko. It is a small gecko with a large head and eyes with a pupil that contracts to a vertical slit, a tapering tail, and relatively slender, rounded toes. It has a fairly dark sandy colour, lighter on the underside, and with bands and mottling ranging from orange to brown and a chevron mark on the back of the head. It is a nocturnal, ground-dwelling gecko that probably feeds on insects and other small invertibrates. They occur in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, southern Iraq, Yemen, the western United Arab Emirates, and Qatar and inhabit areas of relatively firm sand in sandy plains and stony desert.

27 August 2014

Breeding Yellow Wagtails? – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 4 July we found two male Black-headed Wagtails and a female. This is an unusual time of year to see the species in Saudi Arabia and indicates the birds may be breeding or attempting to do so at the site this year? Per Anders Bertilsson found a breeding pair of Yellow Wagtails in July 2000 at The Al Safi Dairy Farm, near Riyadh when he saw 3 recently fledged juveniles, being repeatedly fed by adult birds. This was the first known breeding of Yellow Wagtail in Arabia (Phoenix Number 20 January 2004). It will be great if we seen juveniles here during the next couple of months and can prove breeding here. Black-headed Wagtails breed near water throughout their breeding range, so Sabkhat Al Fasl is a suitable breeding site. A possible breeding occurrence happened in the Eastern Province at a sewage lagoon when birds were seen in late May and June. Elsewhere in Arabia the only other breeding record occurred in Dubai, so this will be a good record if it can be proved. The below photographs show both the male birds seen. Adult birds remained being seen at the site until 18 July at least with the birds seen this date the last two photographs.

26 August 2014

Waders passing through - Dhahran Hills

The last few days have seen a marked passage of waders in the area and the camp has been good for them as well. The three areas of permanent water that are on my local ‘patch’, the wet ditch, settling pools and percolation pond have all had good birds on them in the last few days. The ditch had a couple of Little Stints, Wood Sandpiper & Little Ringed Plover, all of which allowed good photographs to be taken. The settling pond had a good gathering of waders with the majority on Saturday 23 August including the second record of Sanderling for me on the ‘patch’ as well as Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, two Ruff, two Little Ringed Plovers, 20 Black-winged Stilts, seven Kentish Plovers and 14 Little Stints. Waders seen on the percolation pond included my second record for the ‘patch’ of Pacific Golden Plover and only the third record for me in the Eastern Province which was an early record for the species in the area as well. There were also plenty of Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints, Black-winged Stilts and Kentish Plovers on the muddy edges of the pond, but there was no sign of the White-tailed Lapwing.
Wood Sandpiper
Little Ringed Plover
Little Stint
Little Stint
Little Stint
Black-winged Stilt
Pacific Golden Plover

Other migrants seen included a juvenile Lesser Grey Shrike, one Yellow Wagtail, one Sand Martin and several Barn Swallows. The first autumn record for me of Spotted Flycatcher was also seen along the fence line of the pond. Two Garganey were on the percolation pond with hundreds of Little Grebes.

25 August 2014

Thirteen Egyptian Nightjars - Sabkhat Al Fasl

As mentioned in a previous post it is clear that the status of Egyptian Nightjar has changed in eastern Saudi Arabia in the 21st Century, with the majority of birds no longer seen during the migration periods of early November & March to mid-May. In Saudi Arabia it was previously regarded as a vagrant (Bundy et al 1989) but is now known as a scarce passage migrant, summer and winter visitor, with July & August the best period for locating them. The below photos were taken by me at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 22 August 2014, and are of a number of different individuals, when a minimum of thirteen birds were seen. Thirteen birds is the highest day count for the species in the country beating the previous high count of eleven from the same site some years ago. Sabkhat Al Fasl is certainly the best place in Saudi Arabia for seeing the species and one of the best sites in Arabia as these records suggest. Seeing so many birds in such a small area of the site was an amazing experience and at one stage eight birds were seen in the air together.

24 August 2014

Anderson's Rock Agama - Tanoumah

Whilst birding in the Tanoumah area in July 2014 I saw many Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus most of which were sitting on top of boulders and rocks showing off their incredible blue colouration. They allow close approach and are very photogenic with the below photos taken in the Tanoumah Cliff area just to the north of the city. The species is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, where it is found in west and south Arabia, from Taif (Saudi Arabia) in the north to Dhofar (Oman) in the east. Its range includes Oman, Yemen, and south western Saudi Arabia and is the most common species of Agama in Yemen. It is also common in Saudi Arabia where it occurs on rocks in mountainous areas and is found to around 2,000 metres above sea level. Populations can be found on vertical rocks, rock steps and amongst boulders often in the vicinity of water. They can occur in precipitous wadis surrounded by dense vegetation, with the animals usually seen on the top of boulders. They do not however require water, obtaining moisture from their insect prey.

23 August 2014

White-tailed Lapwing - Dhahran Hills

On Thursday I relocated the White-tailed Lapwing Vanellus leucurus that Phil had found about ten days earlier on the muddy edge of the percolation pond. This is only the third record I know of for the camp although there have been quite a few records for the Eastern Province. Phil also found four birds on the spray fields on 22 February 2014 that were the first ones I had seen on the camp with this one only the second record for me on my local 'patch'. The bird was very timid and flighty and would not allow close approach but luckily when some runners flushed the bird it flew right overhead although the light was not particularly good for photos. It has been a good year for Lapwings in the Eastern Province this year with Red-wattled Lapwing at both Dhahran and Sabkhat Al Fasl, Northern Lapwing in the north of the province and White-tailed Lapwings as mentioned above.