15 August 2014

Changing Status of Eurasian Spoonbills in Saudi Arabia

A trip to Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail on 16 May produced four Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia on the flooded sabkha. All four birds were adults and with the majority of birds seen at this site being in spring and summer it is a nice thought to think they may be breeding somewhere nearby or at least thinking about doing so. This is, however, unlikely, as records still remain uncommon, although birds do breed in nearby Kuwait Bubiyan and Warba Islands, to the north. The status of the species has changed over the years in the Eastern Province, with it being regarded as a rare and irregular visitor usually involving immature birds until the end of the 1980’s. Records occurred from November to December and April and June with most on the coast at Taraut Bay, Qatif, Abu Ali and Al Khobar. The only inland record was one at Abqaiq 30 September to 1 October 1976. Today it is an uncommon visitor in all months to the province. In Central Saudi Arabia the status of the species has also changed with the List of Birds of Saudi Arabia (Jennings 1981) saying there were no inland records for the country. By the mid 1980’s the Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) stated that prior to 1987 the Spoonbill was a rare autumn visitor. Since then it made frequent appearances along the Riyadh watercourse and became a spasmodic spring and autumn passage migrant and a regular winter visitor in growing numbers. Wintering birds arrived occasionally in November but mainly January and were seen thereafter until May with the largest group 11 on 23 November 1990. In the late 1990’s the species was not recorded at all by the local birders and is still regarded as a scarce bird in the area. The main stronghold for the species in Saudi Arabia is the Red Sea where it is a common resident breeder. Largest numbers are seen in the southwest near Jizan but birds have been recorded all along the coast to north on Yanbu.