30 November 2014

Pied, White-throated and Common Kingfishers near Riyadh – Bird records by Mansur Al Fahd

A Pied Kingfisher was found at Wadi Hanifa, south of Riyadh three weeks ago and photos were sent to a birdwatcher who informed the Riyadh birders of the sighting. On 21 November Mansur and Mohammed went to look for the bird and found it again. Mansur managed to take a couple of photos of the bird as well as some great photos of both White-breasted Kingfisher and Common Kingfisher. It has been a good year for photographing Common Kingfisher by others but I am still to get and decent photographs of the species. The Pied Kingfisher is a rare and irregular winter visitor to coastal creeks and wetlands although there have been a number of inland records such as the one at Riyadh. Mansur also saw one at Al Hayir in 2008 and Mohammed saw one in Zulfi around the same year. In the last few years there have been birds at Sabkhat Al Fasl in Jubail and Al Fanateer Harbour also Jubail. White-throated Kingfisher is a scarce visitor to the Eastern Province but an uncommon resident breeder in the Ryadh area where the below photo was taken. I thank Mansur for sending me the photos and details and for allowing me to use them on m website.
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher

29 November 2014

Another Finsch’s Wheatear - Qaryat Al Ulya Pivot Fields

Our trip ‘up north’ had proved fairly successful with Hypocolius and Finsch’s Wheatear already seen and we had not even explored many of the pivot irrigation fields, that are mainly around Qarat Al Ulya. We continued in this direction stopping at any good-looking fields with access. The normal fields we have checked in the past were barren but a few new ones had appeared so we looked in these. Almost every field had good numbers of Eurasian Skylarks with groups of up to 60 birds but normally around 30 in each field. As the crops were short it was easy to examine the fields but the only other birds seen in numbers were Isabelline Wheatears and Water Pipits. A few Common Kestrels were around the fields as always and Laughing, Eurasian Collared and Namaqua Doves were regularly seen. Otherwise apart from a scattering of White Wagtails things were quiet. We spent quite a bit of time looking at Pipits but could not locate anything out of the ordinary. Another bird that was commoner than normal in the fields and nearby areas was Desert Wheatears. We normally see one or two on a trip up here but this time saw more than ten. Whilst checking the Wheatears I found another male Finsch’s Wheatear in a pivot field and although as normal for the species it was wary and timid, I managed to get a poor flight shot showing the tail pattern as well as one on the ground. At one stage we also saw a Mauryan Grey Shrike on top of a set of haystacks that was nice as this type of grey shrike has been scarce in the local area this year.
Finsch's Wheatear
Finsch's Wheatear
Water Pipit
Water Pipit
Mauryan Grey Shrike

28 November 2014

Birds from Buraidah – Bird records by Ragu Shanbhogue

Ragu Shanbhogue has been sending me a few photographs he has taken in Buraidah in the north north of the Kingdom in recent weeks with the photos below some of the best ones. He has been seeing a number of good migrants in his area some of which are struggling to make it to the Eastern Province n numbers this year in particular Spanish Sparrow and Masked Shrike. Like the Eastern Province some of the main wintering species such as White Wagtail are starting to appear in good numbers in Ragu’s area as well with these numbers building up over the net couple of months.
Masked Shrike - juvenile
Barn Swallow - juvenile
Common Chiffchaff
Eurasian Blackcap
Spanish Sparrow

27 November 2014

Common Kingfishers at Sabkhat Al Fasl – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Phil Roberts was birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl in early November and mentioned he had seen plenty of Common Kingfishers and said he had taken a photo of one eating a fish. Phil sent me a couple of the photos and has kindly allowed me to use them on my website. He has captured the Kingfisher throwing the fish up to get it in a better position to eat in one of the photos. The bird eating the fish is a female as it has a red base to the bill whilst the bird with the completely black bill is a male. Sabkhat Al Fasl is an excellent place to see Common Kingfishers but they are not easy to photograph so Phil has done very well to obtain these photos of the species particularly when you take the action into account.

26 November 2014

Finsch’s Wheatear - Jabal Nayriyyah

On Phil and my November trip to the north of the Province on 21 November, we stopped at Jabal Nayriyyah to see if we could see Desert Larks and Eastern Morning Wheatear that are regularly see there. We did not see either species but I did find a Finsch’s Wheatear below one of the Jebals. It was very flighty and would not allow close approach but following it about for some time and careful study showed it to be this species, with the white down the back and the ‘T’ like tail pattern diagnostic. This was only the second time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia and it was a new bird for Phil so we were very happy with the stop. Very little else was seen here apart from an Asian Desert Warbler and an Isabelline Wheatear along with a Red-tailed Wheatear. I have only seen Red-tailed Wheatear in one site before in Saudi Arabia and this was my local ‘patch’. Finsch’s Wheatear is a rare to uncommon winter visitor to the Northern Hejaz, Tabuk, Northern Deserts, Summan Plateau and the northern part of the Eastern Province.

25 November 2014

Hypocolius - Al Khafah

Whilst birding the area near Jebal Nayriyyah at a small settlement called Al Khafah that has a number of date palm trees nearby, we found a Hypocolius. It was a female sitting quietly in a small tree and was located due to the flock of Spanish Sparrows that were nearby. This area is north of Hanidh and is only the second time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia as they are unobtrusive and easily overlooked, frequenting thick palm scrub in oasis and cultivated areas often near settlements such as this location. Hypocolius is a regular but local winter visitor from November to April. In the Eastern Province it has been noted at widely scattered locations from Hanidh in the north to Haradh in the south. The highest counts have been 85-120 at Salasil in December 1983. Migrants have been seen in November and April, with odd males at Haradh and Al Kharj away from the normal palms suggesting migration during those months. In Saudi Arabia as a whole they are an uncommon, but may be a locally common winter visitor to Central Arabia, Northern Hejaz, Hejaz and Northern Red Sea. Flocks of over 100 birds have been recorded in Riyadh each winter.

24 November 2014

Red-tailed Wheatear and a few other passerines – Dhahran Hills

The Red-tailed Wheatear is still present on the boulders behind the pond and looks like it may remain for some time. I have still not managed to get any proper photographs of the bird as I always see it in the late evening after work and the light is already poor. As a result the photos below were taken with a high ISO and are not as good as they could have been. Hopefully this weekend I will be able to take some better photos in better light if I can find the bird again. Other passerines are not that common but a few Common Chiffchaffs, a Lesser Whitethroat and several Daurian Shrikes have been around. Other birds of note have been three Tawny Pipits in the spray fields that do an excellent job of hiding in the grass and keeping themselves well hidden and a few Eurasian Skylarks remain from the small flock I found a few days before. Other winter visitors seen include a few Water Pipits and several White Wagtails including some males still in full breeding plumage. Several Rose-ringed Parakeets have been seen in the late evening as whilst I have been watching the girls playing football in the main camp. These birds very rarely come to the Hills area so I do not often see them and have never managed to photograph the species in the camp even though they are common in the main camp, but this is not part of my ‘patch’ for birding. Also seen were two Western Marsh Harriers over the spray fields an adult male and a female.
Red-tailed Wheatear
Red-tailed Wheatear
Daurian Shrike
Western Marsh Harrier - female
Western Marsh Harrier - male

23 November 2014

Common Starlings & Eurasian Skylarks – Dhahran Hills

A couple of interesting groups of birds have been seen on the ‘patch’ in the last few days. The most interesting sighting was a group of 11 Common Starlings that were seen flying around the percolation pond getting ready to roost in the reed beds. This is only the second time I have seen the species on my local patch with the first some years ago when three birds were seen on a football field near my house. Common Starling is not an unusual visitor to the region in winter but rarely gets onto the camp. This is what having a real local ‘patch’ is all about, finding good birds on the area you bird regularly even if they are not rare, even locally. The other interesting group of birds was 13 Eurasian Skylarks in the edge of the spray fields. Again this species in not uncommon as a winter visitor but do not occur so often on the camp. They occur every autumn in small numbers and are almost always in the spray fields, but this was the first sighting of the winter. Other interesting birds included a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, 21 Little Stints, Curlew Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and five Common Snipe. Duck numbers still continue to rise with an amazing 105 Common Pochards now present on the percolation pond with three Tufted Ducks, nine Ferruginous Ducks and 65 Northern Shovelers.
Common Starling
Eurasian Skylark

22 November 2014

Still plenty of duck on the percolation pond – Dhahran Hills

Birding the ‘patch’ the last week has been livened up by the number of duck on the percolation pond. Construction work in the area has prevented many people walking their dogs and driving their bikes around the area of the pond and as a result the number of duck has increased significantly. High counts include 45 Common Pochards, 110 Northern Shovelers, seven Mallards, three Gadwalls, four Tufted Ducks, ten Ferruginous Ducks and six Eurasian Teal. The Black-necked Grebe found the previous week was still present and five Little Egrets and forty Western Cattle Egrets were also using the pond to roost in. Numbers of Great Cormorants have also built up in recent days and now over twenty are using the pond in the evening. Other interesting birds around the pond have included Bluethroat, Water Pipits, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Indian Reed Warblers and Common Chiffchaff.
Common Pochard
Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe

21 November 2014

European Bee-eaters near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv has taken some photographs of European Bee-eaters from the main wetland near Tabuk that he has sent to me and kindly allowed me to use. They are a common passage migrant from mid-March to late May peaking in April and are slightly less numerous in autumn from August to early November peaking in August. Birds can be seen throughout Saudi Arabia and are often located by their liquid calls as they almost always travel in groups. This autumn birds have been seen commonly in Dhahran but the numbers, like most other migrants, are down compared to previous years.

20 November 2014

Birds still thin on the ground – Dhahran Hills

Birding the ‘patch’ the last week has been slightly more interesting than the previous weeks although birds still remain thin on the ground. There have been a few shrikes about with most being Daurian Shrikes but a Red-backed Shrike was also present. Most of these birds have been in the spray fields although a few have been in the recently cleared scrubby desert. Other birds seen in the spray fields have been the winter first Stonechats with three European Stonechats and one female Eastern Stonechat. An Isabelline Wheatear was also on one of the spray heads one evening. Waders have been plentiful and the settling pond has had a good number including two Marsh Sandpipers, eight Wood Sandpipers, three Green Sandpipers, ten Little Stints, one Common Redshank, one Common Sandpiper and two Dunlin. The wet ditch also has had a few waders with four Common Snipe, one Green Sandpiper and one Wood Sandpiper. A few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are still passing through and the Red-tailed Wheatear is still present on its favourite boulders.
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Eastern Stonechat
Green Sandpiper
Common Snipe

19 November 2014

Good ringing catch – Sabkhat Al Fasl

On Friday 14 November we went ringing again at Sabkhta Al Fasl and as the wind was very light and we had a few more nets to put up we were hopeful of catching a few more birds than normal. This locality is a reed bed with interspersed areas of low tamarisk growing from sabkha and most birds caught are reed bed dwellers as would be expected. Normally we set six nets but this time we put up nine including two 12 metre double shelf nets hoping to catch a few Water Pipits and White Wagtails that are very difficult to catch in the large nets, as they can see them too easily. Both these species are winter visitors to Saudi Arabia and are just arriving in good numbers now. The mornings ringing turned out to be the best yet at the site with 32 birds caught including two Water Pipits a new ringing species for us in Saudi Arabia and five Bluethroats including a smart male Red-spotted bird most of which were caught in the two panel nets. We also caught five Common Chiffchaffs, three Graceful Prinias, one late Great Reed Warbler, one House Sparrow and plenty of Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers. One of the Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warblers was a re-trap of the very first bird we ringed in Saudi Arabia in February 2014 and was caught in almost the same place where it was originally ringed 270 days after its first capture. Other re-traps included three more Indian Reed Warblers and a Bluethroat all of which had been ringed this autumn in the last two months. It will be a few weeks before we are back at the site ringing but when we are we will try some new nets and new positions to help maximize our trapping success. As the Water Pipit and White Wagtail numbers build up over the winter we will hopefully be able to catch a few with the new double panel nets.
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Indian (Clamorous) Reed Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Graceful Prinia
Great Reed Warbler
Water Pipit

18 November 2014

Common Kingfisher near Tabuk – Bird records by Viv Wilson

Viv has taken a nice series of photographs of Common Kingfisher from the main wetland near Tabuk that he has sent to me and kindly allowed me to use. The species is not easy to photograph from my experience and Viv has done well to capture the images shown below. The Common Kingfisher is an uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor to all coasts in Saudi Arabia. Most birds are seen at marshy and reed fringed freashwater sites close to the coast with most of the inland records from the Tabuk and Riyadh areas. I have not seen this species on my local ‘patch’ although a few records have been noted. They are common at Sabkhat Al Fasl and we have caught and ringed a number of birds there this year including birds wintering in February and the first trapped returning birds for winter 2014-2015 in October.