02 May 2017

Six Crested Honey Buzzards still in Dhahran – Records by Harald Ris

A maximum of eight wintering Crested Honey Buzzards (CHB) have spent the winter of 2016-2017 in Dhahran with six birds still being present into April 2017. Harald has managed to photograph at least five different birds and has sent me a photo, shown below, and allowed me to use it on my website. In Saudi Arabia, published records of CHB are few, and recent references refer to it as a vagrant. There has, however, been a steady increase in records since 2000 and particularly since 2009 with birds recorded in every month of the year (save August) and records peaking during the winter months (January–March). Smaller peaks also occur in April and October–November dates that fit well with the CHB’s migration period in Kazakhstan (where birds occur late April–mid June and late August–mid October, peaking September). The current status, of CHB in Saudi Arabia is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor that also occurs rarely in summer. Most records are from the Eastern province in winter and spring with additional records in the west of the country in autumn, winter and spring. The first confirmed record of CHB for Saudi Arabia was in Asir province 11 October 1994, with another bird 5–10 km south on the same day. The only other records prior to 2000 were in Riyadh (October 1997) and on 6 January and 25 February 1999 in Jubail, eastern Saudi Arabia. Since 2009, records of CHB have become much more frequent. A male at Jeddah, from mid October 2009, was observed on 13 November in active wing moult and over-wintered, the first CHB to do so in Saudi Arabia. Since then birds have wintered annually. To date, there are three summer records of CHB from Saudi Arabia: an adult male at Dhahran, Eastern province, 30 July 2011, a second calendar year female at Tanumah, Asir province, 5 July 2013 and a male and female (both second calendar years) at Dhahran 8 June–5 July 2014. It is not yet clear if some individual CHBs spend the entire year in Saudi Arabia but the 2014 Dhahran record was from the same site as three wintering individuals (including two juveniles) present 30 November 2013–8 March 2014 (Plate 6) and it is likely that the juveniles remained all summer. These summer records also support the notion that CHBs may have only recently started wintering in the region with the first wintering record (as opposed to migrant) for Israel in 2008, Saudi Arabia in 2009 and Kuwait in 2010, although mid-winter records have been annual in the UAE since 1996. Whilst speculative, one reason for the dramatic increase in records of CHB is the recent availability of suitable habitat. Most records in the Arabian peninsula are from anthropogenic sites with extensive shade such as farmed areas, suburban parks, golf courses and plantations of mature watered trees (mainly ghaf Prosopis cinerea, but tall gum Eucalyptus plantations are also utilised). An investigation in Saudi Arabia found that hymenopteran nests are present every month of the year in the Eastern province, with searches revealing two to six nests each calendar month. As CHBs specialize in feeding on the larvae and honey of social bees and wasps potential food sources are clearly available year round. Such habitats (and densities of food sources simply did not exist in the Arabian peninsula until the early 1990s and have been created at an accelerating rate since.
Crested Honey Buzzard