31 October 2014

First returning Water Pipits – Dhahran Hills

Migration has been very slow throughout the Eastern Province this autumn with very few species and few birds seen. Last weekend at Sabkhat Al Fasl, whilst ringing, I flushed a few Water Pipits from some wet vegetation that were the first birds of this species I have seen this autumn. Water Pipit is a regular common wintering species in the area and occurs widely throughout the country. Even though I saw birds at Sabkhat Al Fasl it was five more days before I saw any on the ‘patch’ when five birds were found feeding around a flooded area of scrubby desert. The race of Water Pipit we get is coutelli. Otherwise birds seen in the last few days on the camp include several Daurian Shrikes, a single showy Great Reed Warbler in the scrub by the pond and plenty of duck still present. Highest counts were 21 Ferruginous Ducks, ten Common Pochard, six Eurasian Teal and 25 Northern Shoveller. Otherwise migrants were few and far between with 20+ Barn Swallows and seven Sand Martins over the pond and a Common Snipe and six Black-winged Stilts on the settling pond.
Water Pipit
Daurian Shrike
Ferruginous Ducks
Indian Myna & Common Snipe

30 October 2014

Black-crowned Night Heron near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv has taken some photographs of Black-crowned Night Heron from the main wetland near Tabuk that he has sent to me and kindly allowed me to use. Black-crowned Night Heron is an uncommon migrant to most areas of Saudi Arabia but in the Riyadh area is a common spring and autumn passage migrant passing early February to early June and again from late July to early November and rarely as late as December with birds now regularly breeding in the area. In the Eastern Province they are an uncommon migrant 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. They are uncommon in the Tabuk area in the northwest of the country with the bird photographed by Viv being an immature.

29 October 2014

Birds of Dhahran – Bird records by Harald Ris

Harald Ris the son of Mats is visiting Dhahran again and really enjoying the birding in the autumn with different species than when he last visited in spring. Harald shared his latest records and has allowed me to use them and a few of his photos. On October 24 there were quite a few Eurasian Sparrowhawks, Common Snipe, Little Stint, two Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, immature Marsh Harrier, at least 30 White Wagtails, Sand Martins and White-winged terns. On October 25 Harald had very close and nice views of a juvenile Greater Spotted eagle plus a Red-backed Shrike and a Gull-billed Tern over the pond. On October 26 he walked around the ditch and saw some waders including Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper as well as a Grey Wagtail. On October 27 he saw an Asian Desert Warbler stalking a Desert Wheatear at the golf course. This is a habit that often occurs when the two species are seen together in Arabia. Also a Masked Shrike by the golf course. Mats found a juvenile Crested Honey Buzzard coming back at lunchtime over the golf course. Also a number of Pied Wheatears. On October 28 he got a quick view of the Crested Honey Buzzard again at sunrise. At the ditch he saw two Red-vented Bulbuls and a Greater Short-toed Lark. 28 Ferruginous Ducks, 14 Northen Shoveler, one Grey Heron, one Little Egret and about 5 Little Stints were at the percolation pond. Around the small settling pond were 5 Pallid Swifts, about 30 Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. Three Daurain Shrikes in total and one Marsh Sandpiper, seven Little Stints, three Temmnick's Stints as well as one Dunlin.
Pied Wheatear
Masked Shrik
Red-vented Bulbul

28 October 2014

White-throated Kingfisher in Buraidah – Bird records by Ragu Shanbhogue

Ragu, who is a doctor living and working in Buraidah north of Riyadh went out birdwatching to his local park on 25 October and found a White-breasted Kingfisher sitting in a tree near a small pond in the park. Ragu sent me a photograph of the bird and has kindly allowed me to use it on my website. White-throated Kingfisher is a scarce bird in Saudi Arabia but has become more common over the last decade or so and now breeds in Riyadh. Records are much less common away from Riyadh and are rare from the north but this may be due to lack of birdwatchers living there rather than anything else. This is a good record from Buraidah and shows continuing going out to your local ‘patch’ birdwatching often pays off.

27 October 2014

Moulting Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler - Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 17 October we caught two Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers in active wing and tail moult. Here is a photo of one of the birds concerned. Moult of Clamorous Reed Warbler includes wing and tail moult taking place soon after arrival on the wintering grounds with wintering birds from India having tail feathers and several outer primaries re-growing in mid-October with birds almost completed their moult of primaries and secondaries as well as tail by the end of October. The birds we get in Saudi Arabia are Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers Acrocephalus stentoreus brunnescens and appear to have a similar moult to the birds described above with tail and primaries almost complete by mid-October. Our birds appear to be mainly resident with some very short distance movements of birds between nearby reed beds after the breeding season.

26 October 2014

Not much change – Dhahran Hills

There has been little change in numbers or species seen on the camp in recent days. Migrants have been few and far between with the only notable numbers being Barn Swallows that have increased steadily in numbers with about 50 most days. The same single White Wagtail is still the only one present and is faithful to the settling pond area, although numbers are building up at Sabkhat Al Fasl and elsewhere in the Eastern Province. Probably the best bird seen has been a Juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle seen twice in the trees around the percolation pond. A Daurian Shrike was new in on the fence surrounding the pond bit little else was seen. Duck numbers remain high on the pond with 33 Northern Shoveller, seven Common Pochard, three Garganey and 16 Ferruginous Ducks. A Little Egret and a Squacco Heron were new arrivals on the pond this week.
Daurian Shrike
Northern Shoveller

25 October 2014

KFUPM update – Bird records by Lorna Mackenzie

I received an update on the birds of KFUPM, next to Dhahran Saudi Aramco camp from Lorna. She mentioned there was not much news actually, quite a quiet week for migrants but a couple of nice birds during the week or so past. Small numbers of Swifts and Swallows this week, a few this morning flying around me at street level. A couple of Shrikes on Saturday, both Isabelline one female and one 1st winter. Also of 1st winter birds I've had a stunning Great Reed Warbler this week, in fact I saw it first a couple of weeks ago but was somewhat mystified by just a glimpse of quite a rich red-brown colouring. I caught a brief sight of the reddish colouring a couple of times and then on Friday was rewarded at the same location by it's rather bolder appearance in more open view. Impressive, and beautifully lit in early morning sunshine. Also a couple of Spotted Flycatchers again this week, and a Lesser Whitethroat. There has not been too much more on the camp over this period showing that things are quiet over a large area pf the Eastern Province at least.
Spotted Flycatcher

24 October 2014

Spotted Toad-headed Agama at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Record by Andre Marais

Andre Marais sent me a photograph of a Spotted Toad-headed Agama, identified due to its colouration, size and shape, transverse bars on the body and tail and the fact it was in Sabkha habitat rather than sandy habitat. Andre has kindly allowed me to use his photo om my website. The Spotted Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus maculatus), also called the Blacktail Toad-headed Agama, is a member of the Agamidae family, and has a body colour that is highly variable, but typically has distinct brown bars across the body and tail. It also tends to match the colour of its background and lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those on red, inland sands. The agamid lizards are also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. The head is short and broad, with a deep forehead and snub nose, and the flattened body is wide and strong and covered in rough skin with overlapping scales. The long, flattened tail is rounded at the base and has a black tip on the underside which, when raised, is used in visual signals. The spotted toad-headed agama is known from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Oman, northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The species inhabits harder sandy surfaces where it is often associated with coastal salt flats known as ‘sabkhas’ ad rocky islands. The Arabian Toad-headed Agama prefers sandy desert areas. They are active in all but the hottest hours of the day looking for insect prey and during the hottest periods, they will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. They are able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. They lay eggs, producing a clutch of one to seven which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow.

Two species of Toad-headed Agama live in the region with Arabian Toad-headed Agama (P. arabicus) being the second species. The species are relatively easy to identify by the relatively longer tail compared to snout-vent length in P. maculatus of 130-160%, as opposed to 100-125% in P. arabicus. The two species can also be told apart by their shape, colour & number of scales present between the eye and lip. P. arabicus is short-bodied dark grey above with creamy white spots and the upper-side of the tail paler than the body and lacking the spots. The ventral body parts were white with the under-side of the tail orange from the vent to the dark tail band and the species has three to four scales between the eye and lip. P. maculatus is relatively slim and long-bodied and appears larger than P. arabicus and has five to six scales between the eye and lip. The upper-side of the body is sandy grey with five broad dark brown cross bars, with the bars continuing on the tail from vent to the end of the tail with a longer dark terminal tail band, about 20% of the tail length (Al Sirhan & Brown 2010).

23 October 2014

A few warblers – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing on 17 October we caught a two Great Reed Warblers and three Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers as well as a few other birds including Common Kingfisher, Little Bittern, Graceful Prinia and Bluethroat. It was a little windy and we were limited on time so set out at 03:30 to allow us to reach the site and set the nets before first light. We put up five nets in our usual positions although the wind made moving one to a less windy position necessary after about one hour. All the nets caught birds but it was quite slow. Sabkhat Al Fasl is proving to be a much better ringing location than Alba Marsh, and although we do not catch too many birds the numbers are significantly higher than Alba. On the 17 October we caught eleven birds of six species whilst at a similar time of year last year at Alba we caught three birds all of which were Great Reed Warblers. The subspecies of Great Reed Warbler we get is zarudnyii which is the eastern breeding race and is generally lighter in colour with more olive, less rufous brown upperparts than nominate arundinaceus. Acrocephalus arundinaceus zarudnyiis sometimes treated as an eastern subspecies of Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus and sometimes as conspecific with A. a. arundinaceus. A. a. arundinaceus occurs from Europe east to the Volga River and A. a. zarudnyi occurs from the Volga River east to southern central Siberia, although birds resembling zarudnyi occur in western European populations of arundinaceus. It has thus been suggested that they are actually colour morphs with darker birds in the west and paler ones in the east.
Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Common Kingfisher

22 October 2014

Duck numbers increasing – Dhahran Hills

Although migration is slow this autumn the number of ducks have increased over the last few weeks. Common Pochard is scarce on the ‘patch’ with one being present for the last week. On 19 October there were seven with three males and four females. Northern Shoveler numbers have increased to 27 with a mixture of males and females along with six Garganey. Other migrants seen were mainly wheatears with both Pied Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear present with most Pied Wheatears being first year males. A few Barn Swallows were new in with ten plus over the spray fields and percolation pond in the evening. There was a small group of waders present on the settling pond including two Marsh Sandpipers, two Little Stints, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint. Otherwise the only other interesting birds were a single Grey Heron and 21 Western Cattle Egrets.
Northern Shoveller
Pied Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear

21 October 2014

Adult male Montagu’s Harrier near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me some nice photos of an adult male Montagu’s Harrier near Tabuk taken in early October 2014 that he has kindly allowed me to use. This is a scarce passage migrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where they are seen in April, September and October with up to eight seen in a day at Haradh in September. The only birds I have seen on my local ‘patch’ were a second calendar year female and second calendar year male over the spray fields on 22 April 2103. In the Riyadh area they are scarce but regular passage migrant that passes in March and again in late August to mid-October that since 1988 have taken up residence around alfalfa fields south of Riyadh during December and January. In the north where this bird was photographed they have been seen at Harrat al Harrah Reserve where they are a passage migrant mainly in April and September but have also been seen in December. The species has been recorded rarely throughout the rest of Saudi Arabia all the way down to the Yemen boarder near Jizan.

20 October 2014

A few more birds – Dhahran Hills

There have been a few more birds around recently but things are still very quiet. An immature Greater Spotted Eagle has been seen around the spray fields ad percolation pond often perched in the large trees. Duck numbers have increased on the pond with 21 Northern Shovellers, 12 Ferruginous Ducks, three Garganey and the Common Pochard is still present. The pond also had an adult Grey Heron and a single Little Egret, a species that is not seen very often on the ‘patch’ as well as 20+ Western Cattle Egrets. A small fall of Pied Wheateras occurred on one day with seven birds, mainly first year males present in the scrubby desert area. The spray fields had a single Turkestan Shrike, one Red-backed Shrike perched on one of the spray heads and a single White Wagtail was still around the settling pond.
Pied Wheatear - first year male
Red-backed Shrike
Common Pochard

19 October 2014

Common Redshank but not much else – Dhahran Hills

The evenings birding produced the same Common Redshank as seen a couple of days ago in the wet ditch. It has become a bit more tolerant of disturbance in the last few days so I was able to get quite close to take photos. Also on the ditch was a single Black-winged Stilt but not much else. The settling pond and spray fields only had a single White Wagtail, the first for the winter for me. Numbers of this species should build up considerably over the next two months as additional wintering birds arrive. A female Pied Wheatear was in the spray fields but nothing else of note. The percolation pond had a Marsh Sandpiper, 16 Ferruginous Ducks, one Common Pochard was still present, three Northern Shovellers and two Garganey otherwise it was very quiet.

18 October 2014

Camel Spider near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

This young? Camel Spider was photographed by Viv Wilson in the desert near Tabuk and he has kindly allowed me to use the photos on my website. The Camel Spider is not a spider but belongs to the class Arachnida, but while all spiders are arachnids, not all arachnids are spiders. Another common name is wind scorpion, but it’s not a scorpion, either. The camel spider is of the Solifugae order, which is Latin for “those who flee from the sun”. and are primarily nocturnal. Solifugae live in dry desert climates; have powerful fangs, and a segmented abdomen. Though camel spiders appear to have ten legs, they actually have eight. The two extra leg-like appendages are sensory organs. Camel Spiders can reach up to 15 cm in length and weigh about 55 grams. They have powerful jaws, which they use to catch prey and which can be up to one third of their body length, but are non-venomous. They are most commonly found in Middle Eastern deserts and are carnivores that eat other insects, lizards, small birds and rodents. There are hundreds of species of Camel Spider in the world.

17 October 2014

Pallid Scops Owl at Ras al Khafji – Bird records by Mick James

I received an e-mail from Mick James in early October informing me of an interesting owl at Ras al Khafji near the Kuwait boarder in the Eastern Province f Saudi Arabia. Mick sent me a photo and has kindly allowed me to use it on my website with the following information “I was somewhat surprised to find this fella in our car park at work (Ras al Khafji - KJO port) on Saturday morning (4th October 2014). Looks like it has made its home beneath some of our raised modular office buildings & from the various website photos I have searched I think it’s a  Pallid Scops Owl”. The Pallid Scops Owl is a rare or scarce winter visitor to most areas of Saudi Arabia with the majority of records coming from the northern areas of the country.