30 November 2018

Quraish Valley – Tanoumah

Whilst birding a valley on the outskirts of Tanoumah near the village of Quraish I came across a few good birds. There were plenty of common species such as Laughing Dove and White Spectacled Bulbul, some summer visitors such as Violet-backed Starlings and a few good south-west highland resident species such as Shikra and Palestinian Sunbird. Shikra is a scarce breeding resident of the southwest of Saudi Arabia with a few scattered records of migrants elsewhere. Nets were set at one point and Yemen Thrush and Little Rock Thrush trapped.
Laughing Dove
Little Rock Thrush
Palestine Sunbird
Violet-backed Starling
White-spectacled Bulbul
Yemen Thrush

28 November 2018

King Jird – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley near Abha in October 2018 I came across a King Jird Meriones rex. The animal was seen briefly running through some sparce grasses at the base of large acacia trees. It disappeared almost immediately down a burrow and out of site. Phil Roberts then saw another on out in the open further down the wadi and after creeping up on foot I managed to get a couple of photos of it sitting next to its burrow. We then sat down a little way away and waited to see if others came out of their burrows. After some time a single Jird popped its head out of its burrow and allowed a quick photo before it disappeared and the sun disappeared making it impossible to take further photos. The King Jird in endemic to Arabia and occurs in the highlands of the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, from near Mecca in Saudi Arabia south to near Aden in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia, the species has been reported from 1,350 to 2,200 metres above sea level. This Jird lives in large burrows amongst bushes, preferring raised areas bordering agricultural land. It is active in the evening and early morning. It lives in burrows which it shares with other rodents and lizards. They are reported as common throughout their range. Although I have seen the King Jird on a number of occasions they are difficult to photograph as they are normally seen briefly disappearing down their burrows.
King Jird

King Jird

King Jird

26 November 2018

Dusky Turtle Dove

Whilst birding the southwest of the Kingdom at various times from spring through summer I came across good numbers of Dusky Turtle Dove. Numbers have been much higher this year than any previous years I have been to the southwest. The species is a breeding resident in the Asir notably the Abha and Jebel Soudah areas. It is thought birds may move to lower elevations in winter as it has been found in the extreme southwest in January. I have seen them in various habitats including ploughed fields, valleys with tree cover, farms on the Raydah Escarpment and juniper covered slopes.

24 November 2018

Three Unidentified Types of Beetle – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birding the dry wadi at the edge of Wadi Thee Ghazal I came across three types of beetle species I have not seen in Saudi Arabia before. One type of beetle was in a tall flowering tree with many together with another type of beetle either attacking or enjoying the company of this beetle. The third type of beetle was seen on a flowering plant. If anyone has any idea of the identification of these beetles I would be very happy to hear from you.

22 November 2018

Birding Wadi Wadj – Taif

Wadi Wadj in Taif is a wet area with flowing water in the centre of Taif. It attracts a good number of birds and is a great place to see Graceful Prinia in the reeds that grow along the waters edge. Other good birds are often seen here and during my last visit I saw a pair of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers a species I have not seen here before. If you have a four wheel drive it is possible to drive down the wadi through the water but it is better to bird on foot and jump across the flowing water when required to get to the bottom of the wadi.

20 November 2018

Red Thumb – Al Asfar Lake

Whilst birding Al Asfar Lake near Al Hassa I found a couple of nice examples of Red Thumb Cynomorium coccineum. This plant is a parasitic, leafless plant without chlorophyll. It is a fleshy, reddish, club-shaped perennial herb that can grow up to 30 centimeters high and is parasitic on the roots of desert shrubs. It is only visible above ground during its spring flowering period. The flowering stems may emerge from the ground singly but more often they are grouped several together. The interflorescence is dark-red to purplish and is made up of minute scarlet flowers that may be male or female. Flies are attracted by the smell given off from the plant and are thought to be pollinators of the plant which once pollinated turns black. They grow on sandy, saline, ground. The plant is known as 'tarthuth' by the Bedouin and is also known as Maltese Fungus and Desert Thumb and is used in many herbal medicines around the world. Due to its' dark red colour it was thought to be able to cure aneamia and other blood-related diseases and dried spikes were carried by the Crusaders in order to treat wounds. Research being carried out into the plants' actual medicinal properties seems to provisionally confirm several of the traditional uses with extracts of the herb appearing to inhibit HIV, improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.

18 November 2018

Birding Wadi Thee Ghazal – Taif

Wadi Thee Ghazal is an excellent site on the outskirts of Taif that is always a great place to see some of the Arabian Endemics. Arabian Wheatear, Yemen Thrush and Arabian Serin are normally easy to find at the site and other southwestern specialities such as Little Rock Thrush can be located quickly. The dry wadi bottoms are normally very good for locating good birds with the chance of seeing Arabian Waxbill among other species. We did not locate this species this visit, however.
Arabian Wheatear
Arabian Wheatear - juvenile
Arabian Wheatear
Arabian Wheatear - female
Little Rock Thrush
Little Rock Thrush
Yemen Thrush
Yemen Thrush

16 November 2018

Female Carmine Darter

Whilst birding Saudi Arabia over the last few months I come across a couple of Dragonflies I did not know how to identify. Alejandra Ortega kindly sent me an email letting me know they were female Carmine Darters. The first was seen in the Talea Valley near Abha (first four photos) and the second in Tanoumah at Salah Al Dana (last photo).

14 November 2018

Breeding Gambaga Flycatcher – Wadi Grosbeak

The Gambaga Flycatcher breeds from Africa (Ghana to Somalia) and into south-west Arabia. It is a breeding summer visitor to the highlands of the Asir. It frequents lightly wooded areas and open wooded hillsides particularly where acacia occurs and mostly above 1500 metres often near water. Nests are usually placed in the fork of a tree, as was the case with this pair. This bird was breeding, and still sitting on eggs on 29 August, a late date as most birds return to Africa in September.

12 November 2018

Robber Fly – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birding Wadi Thee Ghazal I came across two Robber Flys. These were the first ones I had seen in Saudi Arabia and then amazingly a few weeks later I saw a similar one near Tanoumah several hundred kilometres south of the first sighting. The Asilidae are the robber fly family, also called assassin flies and have 7000 described species. They are powerfully built, bristly flies with a short, stout proboscis enclosing the sharp, sucking hypopharynx. The name "robber flies" reflects their notoriously aggressive predatory habits; they feed mainly or exclusively on other insects and as a rule they wait in ambush and catch their prey in flight. Many Asilidae have long, tapering abdomens, sometimes with a sword-like ovipositor. Larvae generally seem to live in soil, rotting wood, leaf mould and similar materials.

10 November 2018

Arabian Warbler – An Namas

Whilst birding the An Namas area north of Abha in the Asir Mountains in the summer I came across a pair of Arabian Warblers. The Arabian Warbler is a locally common breeding resident in bushy areas of the Hejaz and Asir mountains occurring in the eastern desert fringes as well as on the temperate summits. It has a somewhat narrow habitat preference, of thick acacia scrub in dry locations, notably scrub-covered hillsides, and is not so easy to locate. The Saudi Arabian sub-species is Silvia. I. leucomelaena.The birds I saw were in exactly the type of habitat mentioned above and performed very well allow some good photographs to be taken. 

08 November 2018

Lesser Egyptian Jerboa – Judah

The worldwide distribution of extant jerboa species is extensive throughout the arid and desert regions of North Africa and Central Asia. The Lesser Egyptian Jerboa Jaculus jaculushowever, is found in North Africa, throughout the Arabian Peninsula, and as far north as Southwestern Iran. Although several species of jerboas have been designated as vulnerable or threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), J. jaculusis considered of “least concern”. They are mouse-like in appearance with large eyes and ears with brown and grey fur with a pale coloured belly. The animal is very small at only 95 to 110 millimeters long and 43 to 73 grams in weight, averaging 55 grams. The Lesser Egyptian Jerboa can jump one meter from a standing position and 1.5 meters at top speed and has been recorded travelling up to ten kilometers in one evening in search of food. This is due to the animal's long bald tail except for a clump of fur at the end for balance and huge feet with a posture and stride that is similar to that of a kangaroo. They live in burrows in the sand, sleeping during the day and feeds on seeds, grass, grains and even some insects at night. The species dies nit hibernate and can live up to four years in the wild. Their main predators are foxes and snakes.