8 Jul 2016

Black Kite in Dhahran Camp – Bird records by Paul Wells

Whilst birding the old golf course in Dhahran camp Paul Wells saw and photographed a Black Kite. Summer is an unusual time to see the species and the ones that have occurred look like Black-eared Kites. The Black Kite M. migrans has two migratory subspecies that occur near the region, M. m. migrans known as Western Black Kite that occurs in northwest Africa and Europe east to Central Asia and south to Pakistan and winters south of its breeding range in Africa south of Sahara and M. m. lineatus known as Black-eared Kite that occurs from Siberia east to Amurland and Japan south to Northern India, Northern Myanmar and Northern China with birds from the western part of the range at least wintering south to Southern Iraq, Southern India and SE Asia. All records of Black Kite in Saudi Arabia are currently documented as referring to migrans with the status varying throughout Saudi Arabia, where in the east they are uncommon passage migrants, mainly in the spring, and winter visitors, whereas in the west they are common to very common passage migrants and winter visitors occurring from Tabuk in the north and increasing in numbers towards Jizan in the southwest. In central areas it is an uncommon spring and autumn passage migrant and winter visitor that passes in March and again early August to October with wintering birds arriving in November and departing early February (Stagg 1994). Recent DNA studies (Johnson et al 2005) suggest that the Black-eared Kite M. m. lineatus, is not sufficiently distinctive from migrans to justify specific status and should be regarded a distinct allopatric subspecies. The exact wintering area of Black-eared Kite is poorly known with the western extreme generally regarded as Iraq and Iran although in recent years there have been a number of records of lineatus from a number of countries in eastern Arabia. This includes Qatar where there have been eleven records in the last ten years from early April to late June and from early August to mid-November and only a single record of migrans. In the United Arab Emirates all birds are classed as lineatus and they are regarded as an uncommon to rare migrant and winter visitor whereas in Oman both migrans and lineatus are regarded as regular but uncommon migrants and winter visitors. Despite this there had not been any definite records of lineatus from Kuwait where Black Kite is a common passage migrant and scarce winter visitor, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain where it is a passage migrant and winter visitor. This was surprising as the breeding range for the species, although shown differently by different sources, is well to the east of Arabia (Ferguson-Lees 2001 & Wassink & Oreel 2008) and in a region where many other commonly occurring passage migrants to the region originate from. There is a wide intergradation zone between migrans and lineatus with the border between the two sub-species not well known but covering a wide area of Central Asia, Siberia & Mongolia. It has been mentioned by Forsman that only birds from Japan are lineatus sensu sticto, and birds originating from Central Asia are likely to be hybrid/intergrades. Intergrades between lineatus & migrans regularly occur in Kazakhstan and are likely to be increasingly common from east to west and these intergrades appear to also occur in Saudi Arabia and as a result the Black Kite situation in the country is very complicated.  Many birds are often best left unidentified to sub-species level or called lineatus type birds although it seems certain that these birds are of eastern origin. Since 2011, when I saw a large gathering of Black Kites of an interesting type near Jizan, there have been some discussions about the possibility of Black-eared Kite occurring in Saudi Arabia and since this time I have been photographing birds in Saudi Arabia in the hope of arriving at some sort of consensus as to what subspecies they are. Most of these birds have been seen during passage and winter months but on 22 June 2012 I located 15 birds resembling Black-eared Kites on Abu Ali Island near Jubail in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. There have also been many other birds photographed in the Tabuk area that have shown similarities to Black-eared Kites as well as in Jizan. Birds further south in the southwest of Saudi Arabia as well as a number of records from down the Red sea coast of the Kingdom have appeared to be Western Black Kites. The photos below were taken by Paul Wells and are used with his permission for which I thank him.
Black Kite

Black Kite

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