29 September 2018

Fairy Mantis – Tanoumah

There are a number of different mantis species in Saudi Arabia and when I was birdwatching in Tanoumah with Phil Roberts I found a Fairy Mantis Oxyothepis nilotica. It was not easy to photograph with the below photos the only good one I got. I have only seen this type of mantis once before in Saudi Arabia and that was at a site only a few kilometres form where I photographed the individual shown below.

27 September 2018

Eurasian Hobby – Jubail

Whilst birding near Jubail in September I found an adult Eurasian Hobby sitting on the small tree in the early morning. The weather conditions had been foggy and large numbers of birds had been grounded by the weather most of which appeared to be Spanish Sparrows. I assume the Eurasian Hobby was part of the movement halted by the weather as the bird appeared to be tired and allowed close approach before moving off only a short distance. As the bird was tiered we left it in piece after getting a few photos and as the light was poor due to the fog the below photos are not as good as they may have been. I have only seen Eurasian Hobby a few times before in Saudi Arabia with all records being in Dhahran Camp with the exception of a single bird seen at near Jubail. Most records are from the spring migration period, so this record was a slight surprise. The species is an uncommon passage migrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where it often hunts small birds and insects over wetlands and fields. Birds are mainly seen in the early morning and late evening.
Eurasian Hobby

Eurasian Hobby

Eurasian Hobby

25 September 2018

Juniper – Tanoumah

Juniperus procera is known locally in Arabic as arar and as Juniper in English and is an afro-montane tree often reaching 30-35 m high and is the largest tree of its genus. The trunk is straight but sharply tapered, often with a pronounced twist and the bark is pale brown to reddish-brown, thin, fibrous, with thin shallow longitudinal fissures, exfoliating in thin papery strips. The leaves are grey or glaucous when mature; about 1 mm long and as the plant ages, the leaves gradually change until the foliage is characteristic of the mature tree is produced.  The fruit is berrylike, reddish-brown to blue-black, waxy and is 4-8 mm in diameter when ripe. Juniperus is the classical Latin name of the junipers, from the Celtic word for rough, referring to the texture of the bark. The specific name, ‘procera’, is Latin for tall or high. The species flowers and seeds only periodically every several years, with the tree wind pollinated. The photos below were taken at Wadi Thee Ghazal near Taif in the mountains of western Saudi Arabia last weekend. The height was almost 2000 metres above sea level and there were plenty of large mature Juniper trees some of which were in fruit as shown in the photos below. Many birds were enjoying the fruits of the tree including Song Thrushes and Tristram’s Starlings.

23 September 2018

Greater Hoopoe-Lark - Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm

Whilst birding Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, in late August I came across a Greater Hoopoe-Lark. This is probably one of the best locations for seeing the species in the Eastern Province. The birds are almost always on the move so getting excellent photos of them is not so easy. Luckily this bird stood on top of a sand dune for a short while allowing some photos to be taken in good light. The Greater Hoopoe-Lark is a common breeding resident in all sandy desert areas of the Kingdom including the Empty Quarter, the desert regions of the Southern Red Sea and the Tihamah. They are uncommon in the North-west. They are common in the Eastern Province but normally seen in small numbers except in winter when large gatherings can occur near pivot irrigation fields and surrounding desert areas. 

21 September 2018

Desert White – Wadi Wadj

Whilst birding Wadi Wadj in Taif I came across a Desert White Butterfly Pontia glauconome.This is a striking white butterfly of arid regions occurring in deserts and on mountain slopes and foothills with sparse vegetation, up to around 2000 metres above sea level. The Desert White is a widespread species, ranging from North Africa through Arabia and the Middle East to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a small white butterfly (10-15mm) whose antennae are clubbed, ending in a white tip. The inside of the forewings are black tip with white dots. Underside of both wings has characteristic yellow veins, with light brown colour pattern. Large round compound eyes with black dots. These butterflies are seen regularly in the mountains in the Taif area but are less common in the Eastern Province where I live.

19 September 2018

Summer Records of Crested Honey Buzzard

Whilst birding the southwest this summer Phil Roberts and I found two Crested Honey Buzzards in different areas. The first was an adult female seen flying just overhead in the Bani Saad area and the second a few weeks later was an adult female at some distance at the bottom of Wadi Wadj in Taif. The species has only been seen three time previously in the summer in the Kingdom, an adult male in Dhahran in two sperate years and a female near Tanoumah in the sout-west of the Kingdom. These new records mean that birds have been seen along most of the Asir mountain range in summer and show a few birds may regularly summer there. The area has very poor coverage outside Abha and Tanoumah so it is worth keeping an eye out for this species if in the area birdwatching. 

17 September 2018

Common Zebra Blue – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birdwatching the Wadi Thee Ghazal area of Taif in the Mountains of western Saudi Arabia, I came across a number of small butterflies using a damp area in a dry wadi bottom. These butterflies were Common Zebra Blue Leptotes pirithousa butterfly of the family Lycaenidae. It is also called Lang's Short-tailed Blue. It is a small butterfly with a wingspan of 21–29 mm in males and 24–30 mm in females. The uppersides of the wings are purple bluish in males, bluish-brown in female. The undersides are dark beige striped with white lines. The hindwings show marginal orange and black spots and two small tails. These butterflies fly from February to November depending on the location and are regular migrants.

15 September 2018

Arabian Scops Owl – Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching the Tanoumah area in summer 2018 I managed to hear a number of Arabian Scops Owls Otus pamelae and photograph one. The Arabian Scops Owl has recently been split as a distinct species from African Scops Owl O. s. senegalensis. Recent work (Pons et al 2013) has shown African Scops Owl, represents a very distinct lineage and is well differentiated phylogenetically, morphologically and vocally from O. s. senegalensis. As a result it has been recommend to elevate it to species status, as Arabian Scops Owl Otus pamelae. The reasons for this are this southern Arabian taxon is highly divergent from African senegalensis (uncorrected-p mitochondrial genetic distance = 4%). The song of pamelae is very different from that of Eurasian Scops Owl O. scops and Pallid Scops Owl O. brucei but more similar to that of African Scops Owl O. senegalensis. It nevertheless differs from the latter’s song in being higher pitched, sounding ‘scratchier’ and having more prolonged notes; the song sounds two-parted, due to the much quieter first note. In terms of biometrics, results clearly suggest that pamelae is longer winged and longer legged than mainland African populations of senegalensis. In comparison with populations of O. senegalensis in continental Africa, Arabian pamelae is distinguished in being paler overall, with less distinct streaking over the underparts and a less obvious whitish line on the scapulars. Arabian Scops Owls possess several diagnostic genetic and phenotypic characters and it is therefore consider the most appropriate taxonomic treatment is to recognize Arabian Scops Owl as a species and not as a subspecies of O. senegalensis as it was originally described based solely on morphological data. This change means that Arabian Scops Owl becomes a new Arabian endemic, found in South-west Saudi Arabia, South-west Yemen and north-east to southern Oman and African Scops Owl is now no longer found in Arabia but instead occurs in parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea & Somalia.

13 September 2018

Dark Grass Blue – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birding Wadi Thee Ghazal in the Taif area I came across a small number of Dark Grass Blue Zizeeria karsandraalso known as Asian Grass Blue. It is a small butterfly found in the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman as well as the Southern Mediterranean, in a broad band to India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and northern and eastern Australia. They are abundant throughout the northern part of Saudi Arabia excepting the boarder are with Jordon but also occur in the mountians as far south as at least Taif. They are weak flyers keeping low and are not strong migrants. Colour and size varies probably depending on food source availability.

11 September 2018

Pied Cuckoo – Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching the southwest of the Kingdom in July, around Tanoumah, I came across at two Pied Cuckoo Clamator jacobinusa species not often seen in the Kingdom. The Pied Cuckoo is a scarce and irregular summer visitor to the southern Red Sea, the Tihamah, Asir and Hejaz north to Taif. It is unclear if it breeds or is a migrant but the timing of birds in the middle of the summer months of June and July suggest it breeds in Saudi Arabia. They occur in thorn-scrub, cultivated areas, and parasitise mainly Bulbuls and Babblers. They normally occur below 1000 metres but have been seen in the mountains of the west of Saudi Arabia up to 2000 metres. The subspecies that occurs is C. j. pica that occurs from sub-Saharan Africa S to northwest India and Myanmar. This record was at 2000 metres above sea level so at the top of the elevation range for the species in Saudi Arabia.

09 September 2018

Arabian Rock Brown – Wadi Grosbeak

The Arabian Rock Brown Hipparchia tewfiki is a butterfly in the family Nymphalidae. It is found in south-western Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And so is endemic to Arabia. Another member of this genus flies in the Sinai and north to Lebanon, another from Libya to Spain and a fourth on the Canary Islands suggesting the species lived in the Sahara and subsequently fragmented into four species. In courtship the butterflies spend more than 30 minutes with each other consisting of a lot of mutual touching and joint flights. I saw a number of butterflies in the Wadi Grosbeak area in summer.

07 September 2018

Saudi Arabia’s largest flock of Lesser Flamingo – Jizan

Whilst birding the coast just south of Jizan with Phil Roberts we came across a large group of Flamingo’s. There were at least 500 Greater Flamingo and a minimum of 100 Lesser Flamingo. As the birds were continually on the move it was difficult to get an accurate count but the highest we achieved was 105. The species is a vagrant to Saudi Arabia and I know of only five pervious documented records of the species with one Jizan Harbour, 24 June 1984, amazingly an immature on the Riyadh watercourse on 10 June 1988, 50 at Jizan Bay December 1999, 10 birds flew south just north of Al Birk in May 2002 and 20 at an inland pool, 1 kilometre north on the Yemen boarder, south of Jizan 6 February 2015. Our group was at least twice the count of the next largest group making it an extremely important record. The birds were very nervous but we managed to creep along an earth embankment and sit at the end at a distance of several hundred metres and the birds remained feeding although constantly on the move. At the first disturbance they all took to the air and disappeared but we stayed photographing and watching them for more than an hour.

05 September 2018

Small Copper - Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching in Tanoumah 100 kilometres north of Abha in the Asir mountains in the west of the Kingdom I came across a Small Copper butterfly Lycaena phlaeas shima. The Small Copper is a fast flying butterfly that, once settled, is unmistakable with its bright copper-coloured forewings. The upperside forewings are a bright orange with a dark outside edge border and with eight or nine black spots. The hindwings are dark with an orange border. The undersides are patterned in a similar way but are paler. The black spots on the forewings are outlined in yellow and the dark colouring is replaced by a pale brownish, gray. The hindwings are the same brown/grey colour with small black dots and a narrow orange border. It is widespread and common across Europe, Asia, and North America, and also found in North Africa south through to Ethiopia.

03 September 2018

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl – Tanoumah

Whilst in Tanoumah in June I managed to see and photograph an Arabian Spotted Eagle-owl. I initially saw the bird fly up from the ground onto some overhead wires where it stayed for a few minutes before flying off. Whilst I was there a car drove underneath the bird and did not frighten it, suggesting it may use the overhead wires as hunting positions. The subspecies in Arabia is an endemic sub-species to southwestern Arabia and although not rare is difficult to locate. Birds are resident near the Red Sea coast north to Jeddah and can be seen in the Tihamah and Asir areas including Najran and Hejaz north to Taif. Other birds have been seen in a wooded wadi eight kilometres east of Wadi Juwwah in April near Tanumah at various times of year. The taxonomic status of form milesi, significantly isolated in southwest Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, is uncertain. It is more tawny in colour and smaller than nominate and tanae both from Africa, and its vocalizations differ (though fuller details are required) and is possibly specifically distinct. The species African Spotted Eagle-owl is a rather small eagle-owl with long, erect ear-tufts and with race milesi smaller and more tawny coloured. They use a variety of habitats, from rocky outcrops in desert to woodland with sparse ground cover: particularly favours areas with mosaic of low hills, grassland and scrub; prefers semi-open woodland, and rocky hills with scattered trees and bushes; also found in thorn savanna; avoids dense forest. From sea-level up to c. 2100 m.

01 September 2018

Common Three Ring – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birdwatching the Wadi Thee Ghazal area of Taif in the Mountains of western Saudi Arabia, I came across and photographed a Common Three Ring Ypthima asterope. It is also known as the African ringlet and is a species of Satyrinaebutterfly found in most dry areas of Africa and Asia. The wingspan is 30–34 mm in males and 32–38 mm in females. Adults are on wing year-round. They were common at a single location where a small wet area existed in a very dry wadi bottom, where a number of other species of butterfly were also seen.